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21 July 2016

No jokes, the taxman's here to help - MySmallBusiness

By Kate Carnell

What if I told you there was a way to cut down on the time you’re spending on paperwork so you can instead dedicate more of your energy towards growing your small business?

Judging by the submissions to the ASBFEO’s recent consultation period, most small business owners would jump at the offer, with many identifying red-tape as among the most annoying bugbears of running their business.

I know from personal experience – having run my own small business for many years – how the stress of doing paperwork can feel like a dark cloud hanging over your head; it’s one of those time-consuming jobs that you can never quite get to, with pressing business and family commitments often getting in the way.

This sentiment is backed by the results of various surveys undertaken in recent times on the subject.  To give you one example, ACCI’s 2015 National Red Tape Survey found that when they eventually get around to it, one in four business owners spend 11 hours or more per week dealing with compliance, often filling their evenings and weekends with pesky paperwork.

Apart from being incredibly frustrating, it’s time that could be put to better use; the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has realised this and has unveiled a suite of digital initiatives – crafted with the help of small business people – to help streamline ATO reporting requirements.

‘The tax man, here to help?’ I hear you scoff. ‘Surely there must be a catch?’

When I was running my own small business, I would have had the same reaction.  But despite often being perceived as the scary bogeyman out to make life miserable, the ATO can actually help make life easier – particularly with their new online services – so you can get on with running your small business and watching it grow. 

Even for the digitally-challenged, the tools are easy for everyone to use and benefit from.  If you’re wondering how to get started, the free ATO app is a good place to start.  It gives users access to calculators, frequently asked questions and key dates and reminders.

From there, a whole world of information is available at your fingertips.

For sole traders out there battling mounds of paperwork after-hours instead of spending time with their family, help is at hand.  Those struggling to manage activity statements and PAYG instalments for example, can now use their myGOV account – linked to the ATO – to do all of this.  They can also view income tax accounts and make payment arrangements.  And for the ultimate futuristic experience, business owners can use voice authentication to quickly and securely access online services.

Even though you’d rather spend your evenings doing other things, the reality is it’s often the only time available for you to get on top of your paperwork.  Again, the ATO has recognised this and now has a free after-hours call back service that provides you with the help you need when it’s convenient, as opposed to when you’re flat-out with customers during the day.

When it comes time to hiring workers, the paperwork can be overwhelming, with many business owners unsure about how to go about it; should they be taking someone on as an employee or contractor; what are the legal rates of pay; how do they go about making employee Super contributions.  Sorting it all out can be frustrating and time consuming, and getting it wrong potentially risks penalties.

The good news is there’s a checklist would-be employers can use to find the answers to these questions.  The ATO's Employee/contractor decision tool provides reliable answers to questions about working arrangements, and most importantly, it’s free and easy to use and is a big time saver!

This is just a snapshot of some of the ATO services on offer.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for part two where I’ll explore more of the products available to help you get on top of your paperwork, so you can spend more time on your core business, and maybe even find some free time for yourself!

And who knows, you may even find that the tax man isn’t so scary after all.

The ATO small business support tools can be accessed here: www.ato.gov.au/SBsupport