The Complex maze that is VAT

In my day job I am fortunate enough to work in the entertainment industry in a financial and operations role.  It keeps the job interesting and exciting as there is a new band, club, comedian or theatre company performing at the venue almost daily but with this brings a complicated mix of vat.  As a company limited by guarantee with charitable status with a trading arm we have to calculate vat under three strands:

Cultural and Educational Exemption
Partial Exemption
Standard Rated

I have recently been in discussions with vat specialists to ensure ticket sales, bars sales, productions costs and shared costs are calculated and apportioned correctly.  Even the specialists have differences of professional opinion so how are us mire mortals meant to understand it.

vat-department-order-disturbs-delhi-traders-250x250

Saying all that the more complex it gets and the less I understand the more I want to learn more.

WeLoveVAT

Financial Statements

I am currently revising for my final AAT exam and am enjoying it much more than I thought I would.  Many have said it is the hardest and toughest level 4 unit but so far things are making sense.  There is plenty I still don’t know but that is what revision is for.  I am really hoping to take the exam in September so I can go away on my belated honeymoon and not have to retain the information!!!

MemorySkills

Revision v’s Running

There has been a lot of this lately

IMG_20140805_092525 IMG_20140805_092542

And not enough of this…

 Capture 578524_10151958572409369_440141650_n

Financial Performance revision took over my life recently as there was so much to take in and I have found it difficult to get a balance of revision and running. By the time I booked the exam I felt confident that I could do no more and actually there were only a couple of surprises on the day!

With 17 exams taken
1 result pending and
1 module still to study
The end of AAT is within my grasp
and I’ll be back to get muddy very soon!

Virtual Reality

After chatting to a number of fellow distance learning students over the past three years we have built up a really good, health, sarcastic, funny, supportive friendship.  Last week we decided to move out of the virtual world and into reality!

There was some apprehension as to whether the world would implode if we finally did meet up in person! haha but in fact meeting Carol Rogers from Chromium Bookkeeping  was like we had met a 1000 times!

This inspired me to keep up the shift from my virtual support network and I met with Gareth John one of the founders of First Intuition to thank Gareth for his contribution to group in but also to take advantage of all his skills and knowledge and to discuss the development of the AAT Distance Learning Group as well as my own personal development.

Watch this space for meet ups in the future!

Jo and Carol 10478558_10154421663015300_3424128596612461126_n

Love Life Love Distance Learning

Well it has been a while since I last posted but I have been inspired by Natasha Everard to pull my finger out and start writing again. I thought I would start with an article that I wrote for the AAT blog AAT comment in July.  Here you will be able to read the full unedited version (be warned it is quite long)!

Don’t worry if you do not have time to read this one then you can read the edited version here! http://www.aatcomment.org.uk/aat-view/continuing-professional-development-cpd-aat-view/distance-learning-its-all-about-peer-support

 

Love Life Love Distance Learning

1405203211811In early 2011 there were rumours of redundancy looming at work due to losing our Arts Council England funding.  I had been working for an arts charity for 10 years at this point and seven of those were in a finance role.  I used this pending news as an opportunity to look around for other jobs staying within finance  but it was difficult to get an interview as my CV showed no financial qualifications.  I really enjoyed learning on the job and progressing in a small charity but if I wanted to make a career within finance now was the time to start studying for a professional accounting qualification.

AAT came up a lot in the job adverts that I saw so the decision was made very quickly on which vocational qualification to apply for.  The hardest decision was choosing a training provider.  I looked at studying in a classroom but the cost was too great to justify compared to studying as a distance learner, being on an average annual salary and at risk of losing my job it really was the only option for me.  I researched three training providers and in the end I decided on Kaplan Financial as they had a big presence on the internet, seemed a very well established training provider and so the decision was made.

I started on Level 2 due to the recommendation of aatskillcheck.org more than three years ago and I now have just two exams remaining on Level 4.  I am so close to completing the qualification it is sometimes difficult to knuckle down and just get on with it.

The main downside I found studying as a distance learner is that you can feel lonely and isolated and feel like you are missing out on that peer-to-peer support and banter that you get within the four walls of a classroom environment.  I was the kind of girl at school that sat at the back of the class, swinging back and forth on the two legs of my chair laughing and giggling and when I started to study this feeling came flooding back; the need to have a laugh whilst learning something new but also having the support when you are struggling with a subject or a motivational kick up the behind when you just cannot be bothered anymore.

I found all of this when I joined an AAT group on Kaplan Interact (Kaplan’s student chat/ forum group).  Before long I set up an AAT Level 3 group where we would chat a lot.  We would help each other out and motivate each other to pass.  Some members were further ahead so knew what I was going through and that was an invaluable resource.  At the end of 2012 Kaplan closed the Interact group over Christmas for an upgrade and that was the end of that really!  The site was down for about six weeks and when it eventually came back up all the conversations and groups had been deleted and replaced by individual module groups.

Kaplan had taken control of how we communicated with each other and it lost that feeling where you were chatting in a canteen having discussions about all sorts of things not just about the book you were studying at the time.  Conversations were about the pressures we put on ourselves to ‘know it all’, or beat ourselves up because ‘we just don’t get it’ and for others to be there as a calming influence saying that ‘it will sink’, ‘just give it time’, and ‘it will just click’.

It was a difficult time for me when I could no longer reach out for support, that creeping doubt and loneliness was starting to envelop me.  I had begun to rely on these virtual people that I had never met to pick me up, to help me get through and to keep me motivated. Especially as people at home didn’t really get what I am studying or why I am doing it!  Does anyone else feel like that with the people you live with?!! Hmmmm.

I needed to find my study buddies again so I set up the facebook group  facebook.com/groups/aatdistancelearning and went in search for and eventually found Neil Concannon, Carol Rogers, Juliette Bee, Samantha Lawrence and Mira Dixon and the group was formed.  Two have now fully qualified and the four of us remaining have our last one or two exams to go.  It’s been a long journey but we have been through it together and that is precious.

The really amazing thing which I had not considered at the time about moving away from the training provider platform and onto an unbiased platform is that we are now more widely and easily accessible to distance learning students from all training providers.  This enabled wider discussions about study methods, quality of service, and costs etc.  The main rule in the group is ‘If you ask for help make sure you return the favour and help someone else when you are in a position to do so’.  That way the group manages itself as each new round of newbies can get support from those that have moved up a level.

Kaplan provide some great resources including the Kaplan Engage study platform with additional practise assessments and quizzes as well as the usual study book, revision book and pocket book.   Aside from that my first point of call is always the facebook group.  At your finger tips are students who have just completed what you’re about to do and they are more than happy to pass on their ‘wisdom’.  You are tested all the time when a student posts help with a question and it is a race to see who can answer first to show off what you have learnt!!  It is only since I have reached level 4 that I have found myself writing out flash cards (Business Tax) and sticking up A4 sheets of paper with performance indicator ratios and variance formulas written in coloured pens (Financials Performance).  I stuck these up on the kitchen cupboard but quickly realised I do not spend enough time in there to make it useful so I now have them stuck up at work.

The disadvantage to studying as a distance learner is that you do not have to stick to a timetable so time can slip away from you if you just get out of the habit of studying.  If life gets in the way and you cannot study due to changing jobs, buying a house or getting married *cough, cough* then don’t beat yourself up about it as that is exactly what distance learning is all about.  It is also a lonely place but the facebook group has filled that gap as we have members in the group from all over the world so there is always someone chatting away!!!

The skills and confidence that I have gained through studying AAT has been invaluable.  There are a number of things that I would like to achieve once the studying is over and I can proudly say ‘I have done it, I am MAAT’  1. start a family, 2. start my own business (by setting up as self employed or maybe going into partnership with some of the facebook group members), 3. moving on to ATT (Association of Taxation Technician).  Like AAT, ATT appeals to me as you don’t have to commit the next three years of your life to it, you can do one module at a time of which there are only six and you may be exempt from one of two modules depending which options you chose at AAT Level 4.

If I was starting studying as a distance learner today I would research more thoroughly which training provider to go to.  At the time I just had the web to help but having feedback from other people who have gone through what you are about to go through and learning from them is invaluable.  I do not know whether it is that I am much more aware or whether smaller training providers are much more prominent today but it seems that you generally get a better and more personal service with a smaller training provider.  I would also check how often you can book exams and how much notice you need to book them.  Having this flexibility will help to speed up your study progress.

I would like to add a thank you to Nick Craggs from Premier Training, Gareth John from First Intuition and Henry Cooper (Previous Chair of AAT) for their contribution to the facebook group.  Each of them have led a live Questions and Answers session on different subject matters which the group members have thrived from and these have been left behind as a resource for new members.  Watch this space for more Q&A’s throughout the year.

I would also like to thank the other Admins of the group Neil Concannon for his witty way with words, Carol Rogers for her support and contribution to those setting up as self employed and our newest Admin due to the increase in members, Natasha Everard for her Friday question!

If you are thinking about studying AAT as a distance learning student, don’t think just do, you will not regret it I promise.

The Road to Something

ImageI feel like I’ve been on the road to something for a while now.

It started following a conversation with a friend/ colleague and as we sat in the office, just the two of us, day in day out, under worked and under stimulated we began to discuss going back to school.

I had worked in an arts/ charitable organisation within financial and general management roles but with no qualifications.  I don’t know why I never thought to do it sooner but after some research I began studying as a distance learner working towards an Association of Accounting Technician’s (AAT) qualification.

When I first started studying my life was very different to what it is now.  My work had become tedious, my social life was non-existent and my then boyfriend, now husband(!) was working evenings and weekends.  I had moved away from my family so it was a great way to fill a lot of time and before you know it level 2 qualification was complete!

Over the course of the next couple of years we joined an outdoor fitness group which not only helped to get us fit, lose some weight but also gave me a social life and what has now become an extended family.  I got made redundant; started a new job with a 2.5 hour round commute (that was the study time gone then); we sold our maisonette and bought a house (which had no work done on it since it was build in 1979); and finally, we got married! To some the last one is not such a big thing but after 16 years to finally have my moment I cried like a baby all the way down the aisle and through the ceremony!!!  And within all of this level 3 qualification complete!

Looking back a lot has changed in a short space of time and all for the better but I’m still seeking more.  At the time that I got made redundant so too did my friend.  We took different paths afterwards – I went from one office job to another whereas my friend decided to use this opportunity to become self-employed.  It’s not been easier but she’s never looked back since.

I’m looking for that drive for me.  I have something to offer which I think people will value and benefit from but how to make that next step.  I’m going for baby steps.  Continue working whilst building up real experiences with individuals that need the kind of help and support I hope to build a business on in the future.

Oh yes, and there is the small matter of completing level 4 AAT.  With one one exam passed and 5 still to go, here’s to a road to something, where it goes nobody knows!