How To Find An Amazing (Arts) Accountant

A few years ago, I went to my accountant with a costing question. He took a 5-second glance at my carefully-prepared folder of data, and utterly ignored my question. I was grumbling about this to a harp student’s parent, when she said ‘Well, I used to be an accountant … how about I take a look?’ She took away my file, pored over it, spotted a serious mistake he’d overlooked, and got me a refund of over €700. My take-away? It’s vital to 

find an accountant who really cares about you.

In my experience, the self-employed artist is a financial paradox: they have to submit accounts, but there’s generally very little in them. ! All a typical self-employed artist really needs from an accountant is…

  • one initial meeting with explanation of business models, record-keeping, allowable expenses, preparing accounts
  • initial registration with ROS and a demo of how to file a tax return
  • answering a question via email once or twice a year.

So how does one find the perfect arts accountant? Well, in theory your accountant will have knowledge in, and experience of, the arts. However, in my experience, this is only secondary to them caring deeply about your welfare. The lady who helped me with my accounts question was a stay-at-home parent who used to do budgeting for a fuel company. She didn’t have a clue about artists’ exemption, and wasn’t au fait with lodging personal tax returns. However, she is a really lovely person, plus hyper-brainy. So with a couple of phonecalls to Revenue, a bit of Googling, lots of tea, and a bit of craic, we figured it out together.

If you’re both on the same page, you can figure out the finer points of an artist’s tax return with a few calls and the ability to read.

It’s also really important to be clear on an accountant’s fees, and what’s included in their service. In my experience, there’s a massive disparity in accountancy fees. From what I can see,

some accountants are like handbags. Their price is based on prestige, rather than the actual product.

For example, the exact same accountancy service – auditing – can cost €800 or €2000, based on the status of the firm. Filing a tax return can cost €240 or €0, depending on the accountant. This makes it even more important to research your accountancy options!

So if I could go back in time and get an accountant for the first time, I would… 

  1. Ask MULTIPLE, seniorself-employed people in my artform to recommend an accountant
  2. Interview multiple accountants, doing my best to evaluate who has integrity, getting information on how they structure and charge for their services, and asking about their experience working with artists. 

So if you’re at that stage, you may appreciate these brainstorming questions … 

  1. Is there any senior self-employed artists in your artform you have a good relationship with, whom you could ask for recommendations?
  2. Is there any self-employed artists outside your artform you could ask for recommendations? E.g. do you know any playwrights, authors, poets, composers, classical musicians, pop musicians, trad musicians, rock musicians, visual artists, sculptors, actors, directors, or theatre technicians you could contact? 
  3. Do you know any self-employed people, whose opinion you respect, who could recommend someone?
  4. Best of all… do you know of anyone in your artform who double-jobs as an accountant? E.g. a theatre maker who did accountancy in college, an uilleann piper who’s an accountancy teacher?

I would ring up 3 people from that list and ask for their recommendations. (If I couldn’t think of any self-employed referees, I would simply Google ‘accountant arts <my local area>’).

I would ring up my shortlist of recommended (or Googled) accountants, and informally interview them on the phone / during a free initial consultation. 

I would then choose an accountant based on these factors, in this order …

  • their integrity – this is crucial.
  • how much of a good communicator they are – if you don’t understand what’s going on with your money, you are dangerously vulnerable. It is vital that they communicate clearly and promptly about your finances.
  • their availability – it’s no use having a genius accountant if you’re not a priority for them. 
  • their location – I like to meet my accountant in person for an initial consultation, and thereafter once every year / two years. 
  • their cost – all other things being equal…
  • how much I like them – bring on the craic!
  • their experience in the arts – this is a cherry on the comptrolling cake! 

So that’s my two bitcoins. I hope you learn from my experience, and that these ideas help you find a brilliant book-keeper!!

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