The FreeAgent Blog
A new year is a great time to review your current processes and make sure you’ve got the time to focus on those goals. That’s where the power of automation comes in! Here’s how to make some common small business tasks happen automatically, freeing up your time and energy to concentrate on making 2017 your best business year to date.
Sync your data with Zapier
Zapier connects together web apps, so when a trigger happens in one app, it will automatically perform the action in another app. Use Zapier with FreeAgent to sync your data to the web services you are already using on a daily basis, for example, add MailChimp subscribers for new FreeAgent contacts or get messages on Slack for new FreeAgent invoices.
Get automatic social insights
Useful for business of all sizes, Brand24 gives you instant access to mentions about your brand or product across the web, from social networks to influential publishers. You can discover what people are saying online about you as it unfolds in real time and there’s no need to waste time searching.
See the bigger picture for your business
Tracking cash flow is a top priority for any business. FreeAgent’s cashflow view automatically gives you a monthly snapshot of the money coming in and going out of your business, so you’ll always know if you're making or burning cash - no calculations required.
Save time with ‘If This Then That’
IFTTT is a free web-based service that allows users to create chains of simple conditional statements which are triggered based on changes to other web services. You can use it for loads of tasks such as automatically backing up your contacts to a Google Spreadsheet, having all incoming email attachments automatically saved to your Google Drive folder or even turn off your phone’s wifi when the battery is low.
Send emails automatically
FreeAgent can help you by sending automatic emails with new invoices, thank yous and chase late paying clients - leaving you free to get on with work. Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor are also great tools for creating great-looking emails and setting them to send automatically - for example, on anniversary dates or after someone fills in a form on your website.
Don’t waste hours wading through paper receipts
Ideal for busy freelancers, Receipt Bank gathers paper receipts, scans them and processes the data into FreeAgent. Save valuable hours by pulling information from receipts and invoices quickly, accurately, and efficiently.
Regularly backup data without lifting a finger
Configure safeguardmy to perform a simple data backup for all your FreeAgent cloud accounting data, and set the schedule for a weekly or monthly delivery. That’s all you have to do. It doesn’t access or store your login details, but builds a spreadsheet with your data, compresses it all into a zip file and password protects it.
FreeAgent’s easy to use online accounting software has lots of simple automation features that will save you hours and let your accounts run unaided - here's a list of third-party applications, widgets and other add-ons that FreeAgent integrates with here. With a few simple automated tasks in place you’ll be free to spend your time putting those business New Year’s Resolutions into action!
It’s pretty common to read about small businesses, but it’s a lot rarer to hear about micro-businesses, the smallest type who either have no employees or only employ up to 10 people. In reality, micro-businesses make up a staggering 95% of all businesses in the UK - that’s over five million people whose unique challenges aren’t often talked about in the media, and we wanted to help tell their stories.
Earlier this year, we asked micro-business owners what it was really like to run the smallest kind of businesses in the UK. Over 500 people replied, weighing in on everything from Brexit and funding to work/life balance and the government’s digital tax proposals. Here are some of the stories we found.
The majority of micro-business owners were against Brexit
Back to June - before the referendum even took place - we discovered that nearly three quarters (73%) of survey respondents were not in favour of the UK leaving the EU. In addition, 72% said that they thought Brexit would have a negative impact on the UK economy, while just 5% said that it would be beneficial for their business.
Obviously, this had little effect on the result of the referendum itself, with a slender majority of voters opting for the UK to leave the EU. But we were able to highlight our survey results in a number of follow-up stories and argue that Brexit wasn’t what the micro-business sector had wanted and was unlikely to be beneficial for it.
Note: If you want to weigh in on Brexit’s impact on your business and other issues, our 2017 survey is now open.
Many micro-business owners didn’t know about Making Tax Digital
Making Tax Digital is a flagship proposal by the government to fully digitise tax by 2020 and essentially put an end to the traditional tax return (there was a consultation about the plans in the second half of 2016 - read our take here).
However, while those who were aware of the plans were generally positive about them, nearly half (43%) of those surveyed in the Micro-Business Monitor said they didn’t actually know what Making Tax Digital was.
Most micro-businesses don’t start up with government funding
Although the government revealed figures earlier this year showing that the Start Up Loans Company had reached total lending levels of £250m, our survey showed that the overwhelming majority of small businesses do not rely on any kind of government funding to help cover their start-up costs.
Most micro-business owners think the UK tax system benefits big businesses
In the wake of the European Commission deciding that Apple needed to pay the Republic of Ireland €13 billion in tax, we revealed that the nearly three quarters (71%) of survey respondents said they thought the tax system benefited big businesses more than smaller ones.
A good work/life balance comes at a price
While 74% of people surveyed said that they felt they had a good work/life balance, many still had to work long hours with no time for a proper break. Nearly a third of respondents said they worked over 48 hours per week on their business, while 44% said they hadn’t felt in a position to take a holiday in the last six months.
2017 survey now open
We’re currently collecting responses for our next report, so if you’d like to be represented, take the survey now to add your voice!
We’ve recently released a stack of features for FreeAgent Mobile, meaning it’s simpler than ever to keep a finger on the pulse of your finances.
With FreeAgent’s ever-popular desktop Dashboard widgets now added to our iOS and Android apps, FreeAgent Mobile makes tracking your business health on the go a breeze. It’s a bit like a Fitbit for your finances, but with less sweating and grunting, hopefully!
Tax Timeline and notifications
We’ve included the ever-helpful Tax Timeline so you can see your upcoming important tax liabilities and when you need to file them.
Even better, you can now enable notifications for Tax Timeline events, so you’ll never forget to file your VAT return again! You’ll be asked to enable notifications when you first use the app or you can set them up in Settings > Notifications.
If you have filed your return through FreeAgent you’ll see this marked on the mobile Tax Timeline and notifications won’t be sent out.
Profit & Loss
We’ve also introduced the Profit & Loss screen, which displays your year-to-date income and running costs for the business to FreeAgent Mobile.
Drilling down, you can see your operating and retained profit (or losses 😱 ) for the year, as well as your distributable profits, so you know how much you can safely take out of the business.
Finally, we have a new Cashflow screen which displays the total money coming in and out across all of your bank accounts in FreeAgent.
You can look back at three, six or nine-month views and even highlight specific months for more detail.
If you’re not using the FreeAgent Mobile iOS or Android apps then now would be a pretty good time to start:
Until next time,
Roan and the team at FreeAgent
A recent survey found that 34% of microbusiness owners were using spreadsheets as the main method of managing the business’ day-to-day financial accounts*.
Helen Christopher, Operations Director of OrangeGenie Accountancy, gives us her experience of the risks that spreadsheets pose from an accountant’s perspective - and reveals how switching to FreeAgent resulted in a cool £11,000 tax refund for one happy client.
For the last nine years I’ve worked exclusively with contractors and freelancers, heading up teams at national specialist accountancy firms. I’ve experienced both spreadsheets and cloud accounting software over this time so I have pretty robust knowledge of both methods of bookkeeping. When we were using spreadsheets, I knew no different and we managed! But with hindsight, we could have done so much more and served our clients better with simple online accounting software such as FreeAgent.
The problems with spreadsheets
In my experience, spreadsheets were responsible for a range of problems back in the bad old days. Spreadsheets are prone to error; they’re often delivered to accountants on deadline days at the last minute, incorrectly completed, sometimes even corrupt and therefore practically useless! We could end up with a document we just couldn’t work from and clients were often frustrated when we needed to contact them during busy working hours to resolve the problems with the spreadsheet. Duplication was also a common issue. It wasn’t unheard of for various copies of spreadsheets to exist and for client and accountant to be looking at what they thought was the same document, that turned out not to be.
When I set up OrangeGenie Accountancy, I was determined to do things differently. Our clients deserve better than spreadsheets and the stress they cause. Spreadsheets leave us being reactive accountants, rushing to put things right in time to file documents and often delivering bad news with no time to rectify problems prior to deadlines. Introducing FreeAgent’s online accounting software has fundamentally changed the way we work with clients and vastly improved their experience. A win all round.
An easier way to work together
FreeAgent is intuitive to use and most clients pick it up very easily. If clients add the basic data correctly then they can step back while the software does the “number crunching” and we as their accountants support them with our expertise. No matter where our clients are, they have real time access to their full accounting records across all their devices. We can be sure when talking to them that both parties are looking at the most up-to-date information and the only version of the data! Through FreeAgent’s document centre there’s no need for copies of spreadsheets and documents to be emailed, because all important information can be uploaded directly to the centre. Data accuracy and security is far better using the cloud system.
Features that spreadsheets can’t offer
The benefits of FreeAgent over spreadsheets just go on and on. The software can easily cope with multi-currency transactions, it also can prepare profitability reports for individual contracts and jobs and provide high level financial reporting. Unlike spreadsheets, it incorporates both payroll and VAT functionality so all of your business’s records are in one place, easily accessible and constantly updated. Contractors can invoice their clients professionally and use the software to help them ensure they are paid on time, which is a huge priority for everyone.
As accountants, we always remind clients of important tax filing dates, file approved returns and provide details of how to make the payments. FreeAgent supports this with their Tax Timeline, which highlights future deadlines and liabilities based on the records that have been entered. We monitor the records of all of our clients and send monthly or quarterly advisory health check reports, providing tax planning advice and opportunities. We can analyse and interpret the data, identify trends, spot issues and provide solutions much earlier than in a spreadsheet world. FreeAgent creates reports, we interpret and can then advise at any time and very quickly.
How switching from spreadsheets saved one client £11,000
A particular client stands out in my mind as having turned his business accounting around by switching to FreeAgent. For years with his previous accountant, the client had paid large tax bills; almost always late because his accountant had to sort the spreadsheet. He just accepted the filing penalties and thought that it was the norm. He was eventually referred to OrangeGenie Accountancy by a friend. We use FreeAgent for all of our clients and having got him set up we spotted some obvious opportunities. It wasn’t enough for us to accept the past and move on – we restated two years’ worth of accounts and managed to get the client an £11,000 tax refund in time to pay for his wedding! He is now on track every year, pays nothing like the tax he used to, despite his business being more profitable. He’s in control and that’s due to ditching the spreadsheet!
Cloud software has allowed us as accountants to collaborate better and forge deeper relationships with our clients. We can spend time getting to know clients, understand their business and aspirations, and work with them to ensure they achieve their goals knowing we have accurate reports and systems to rely on. Gone are the days when an accountant was only contacted at the yearend for a set of accounts and a commentary on what their client should have done to reduce tax bills. Now we can talk to clients all year and everyone involved feels secure in the knowledge that they’re working with the safest, most efficient accounting solution on offer.
*YouGov 2015, Microbusiness Owners and Their Finances
About Orange Genie
Orange Genie Accountancy are a specialist firm of Contractor Accountants. We focus on building exceptional relationships with our clients, working together to achieve their aspirations. Working in partnership we can ensure that clients stay on top of ever evolving legislation and changing rules, they benefit from efficient tax planning and they can concentrate on their business in the safe knowledge that we understand theirs.
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- New Year, new plan: how automating tasks can make 2017 your most successful year yet
- Five things we’ve learned about the UK’s smallest businesses in 2016
- FreeAgent Mobile: don't sweat your business health
- Spreadsheets versus FreeAgent: an accountant’s point of view
- Autumn Statement 2016: contractors feel the impact