In Praise of a Good Accountant at Tax Time

This should probably be one of my Billy Sheahan Photography School Courses. But for now this will have to do.

I’ve had the same accountant since 1993 when I got my first real financial scare. I had been working a lot of freelance work the prior year and didn’t understand the importance of putting some of it away for tax time. My little government issued 1040Easy Tax Form was telling me I owed the IRS thousands of dollars.

Panic.

These were not the salad days for me. It might as well have been a million dollars.

An art director friend of mine suggested I use his tax guy. “He’s good,” he offered. “And he knows the advertising industry really well.”

So I packed up my little shoe box full of statements and tax documents and headed over to his office, head held low, still convinced I was screwed.

My friend’s tax guy was good. Great bedside manner to start. He taught me about deductions and write-offs and before I knew it, not only was I not going to owe anything. I was getting a refund!

I never did my own taxes again after that. It’s been the best money I have ever spent.

A few years later when I filed the paperwork to officially create Billy Sheahan Photography as a business, he encouraged me to replace my method of going through hundred of receipts every year and typing them out in a text document and to get more organized with actual accounting software.

Yes, I know. For artists, accounting software is like holding a cross up to a vampire. Hissssssssssss. I had the same reaction. But honestly, if your business is a real business, you have to do it.

I tried a few different programs before settling on QuickBooks for Mac, mostly because that’s what my accountant uses and it’s easier if we’re both running the same software. Plus, as an aesthetically demanding artist, accounting software for a Mac is slightly less terrifying than a PC program. Crazy sounding maybe, but aesthetically pleasing software helps to narrow the vast chasm between artists and bean counters. I still couldn’t do it without guidance from my accountant, but the bookkeeping and entering and keeping track of every dollar that goes in and out – that’s all me.

I’m still not great at it. When we meet a few times a year, he has to do a lot of fixing when I’ve mis-categorized something, which is often.

“Clean-up in Accounts Receivable, please!”

But ever year I manage to wrap my head around it a little more and it gets a little less painful for him. He’s a very patient man. Baby steps.

Plus there is something rewarding about seeing your business grow every year on paper. Somehow, no thanks to the financial “wizards” on Wall Street who recently brought the world economy to its knees (Yes, by all means let’s make sure they get their big Wall Street bonuses after being bailed out by the taxpayers. We’d hate to lose top tier talent like that! -End Sarcasm), Billy Sheahan Photography had it’s best year ever last year.

Meanwhile the rest of us continue to make an actual product you can hold in your hand.

Sorry. I digress. It’s been a little painful for those of us who didn’t get bailed out.

My point here is that it’s really important to learn the accounting side of business, especially if, like me, you happen to be your own bookkeeper as well because you can’t afford a properly trained bookkeeper. Business margins are tighter than ever these days and anything you can do to really keep on top of your costs and make sure you’re claiming every deduction possible is more critical than ever.

It can be the difference between a small business making a profit or a loss.

So as I close this week of tax preparation and, with the help of my accountant, manage to survive another year as a small business, I raise my glass to him and those like him, who deal with we poor business minded artist folk year after year with grace and patience.

Cheers!

The photo above is of my actual coffee table covered with actual receipts and other paperwork that my accountant manages to make sense of.

Yeah, he’s kind of a genius.

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