Dealing with VAT is no laughing matter, says award-winning comedian

Zoe Lyons talks of being taxed as a performer and how Edinburgh-based accountancy software FreeAgent has helped her through the process

For most of her career, award-winning comedian Zoe Lyons readily admits she was happy to be pretty hands-off when it came to the nitty gritty of bookkeeping.
The 2004 Funny Women Awards winner – who has gone on to star in a number of high profile TV shows including Mock the Week and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow – was much more interested in working on her award-winning comedy routines than delving into ways to improve her business finance systems:
“As a comedian, your finances are actually all pretty straightforward, she says.
“It’s simple money in, money out stuff – you perform a show, you get paid and then you have to remember any expenses you have, such as your advertising, production or venue hire costs.
“Sure, you may sometimes have to wait a few months to actually get paid, but you don’t have to have loads of accounting knowledge to stay on top of things.
“The problem I have, however, is that I go into a default setting of freefall panic whenever it comes to anything seriously financial.
“It kind of terrifies me and I usually try to avoid anything to do with tax and accounting, which is why I’ve always had an accountant to do all of the hard stuff.
“I just keep a simple, basic money in vs money out spreadsheet, so I don’t have to worry about any of the fiddly financial stuff, other than the four or five days sorting through expense receipts that I have to do when my tax return is coming up.”
Zoe: VAT is no laughing matter
However, Zoe’s decision this year to become VAT registered proved to be more stressful than she expected – finally forcing the comic to look deeper at her business finances for the first time in her career.
“I just didn’t know what I was doing.
“All of a sudden there are all of these extra tax rules and they are really confusing to get your head around. I also left it a bit late in organising and applying for a VAT registration number, which made things even worse and I ended up scrambling around on Google in a panic looking for stuff like ‘help with VAT’.
“It became increasingly clear that I needed to really get a handle on things and try to understand this stuff.
“While I was seeking advice, thankfully FreeAgent was one of the options that popped up. I read the free ebook, ‘Very Awkward Tax’, that was written by their chief accountant, Emily Coltman, which explained everything VAT-related in the most easy to understand way possible.
“From there I signed up as a FreeAgent customer.
“The service is fantastic: all I have to do is log all of my VAT as a business and FreeAgent fills in my VAT return for me.
“Emily’s guide was great too, as for all my returns I’ve made sure I’ve claimed back everything I’m owed.
“And as I’m on the road for a lot of shows, claiming back the VAT on all the miles I’m racking up is very important for my business.
“What’s also great is that, now I realise that I need to do more with the rest of my finances, I can start using some of FreeAgent’s other features such as expense management and invoicing.
“I know I’m not using it to its fullest potential yet, but I think I’ll definitely get there before too long.
“Having that peace of mind over tax and finances is really important, because having the tax man knocking at your door is no laughing matter!”
Zoe’s newest show, ‘Little Misfit’ will run from 10-28 August at the Gilded Balloon Teviot as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
FreeAgent provides an online accounting system specifically-designed to meet the needs of contractors, freelancers, micro businesses and the accountants they work with.

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