Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Please help me save my business.

I'm sorry if the title shocked you - but I am really afraid of the future for my business at the moment. Not because I don't love what I do anymore, or am running out of ideas, or projects, quite the opposite. It's because of the planned changes in the EU legislation regarding taxation for businesses.

If you've been reading along for a while, or have read yesterday's blog post, you will know about the changes in the EU VAT for digital goods, and the mess it brought along. (If you have no clue what I'm talking about now, go back to yesterday's post to have VAT and EU VAT explained, or go straight to the EU VAT Action Group's info page. Or TL;DR: We sellers have to cope with a mess of new rules to sell outside our home country since January 2015, and these rules are literally impossible to comply with.)

So. I can tell you, by now, that I have been losing sales on the Pirate Robert hat because I'm offering it as a printed pattern and not as a pdf file. A lot of knitters are annoyed that they're not able to just download it. I can understand this, even though (obviously) I'm not thrilled about it.

It gets worse, though - much worse. An extension to all goods and services is on the slate for 2016. All goods and services. So if you'd like to buy a spindle in the US? May well happen that the seller refuses to sell to you, because of the VAT paperwork that would entail. Things like this are already happening - sellers are blocking anyone from the EU and refuse to sell to them. (Even EU businesses though there are different rules for this, and they could sell to them no problem.)

This extension might mean the end of my business, too. I have built up what I am doing, and developed the products I am selling, for eleven years now. My business is not making a lot of money, but it's enough to let me keep flying, and that's all I ask for.

Serenity by BKSmith
A lot of the sales I make are in other EU countries, so this legislation would hit me really hard, right in the face. I could probably cope with that. I'm not sure I could cope with the additional anxiety, though. Running a business as a single entrepreneur always means a lot of bureaucracy, and always means you can slip up and mess something up, or not be aware of a change only to find out a year or two later you have not complied because you freaking did not know about it. You are only a single person, after all, and you want to spend most of your time and energy on developing and promoting your business, and not jumping red tape.

Now, I'm a person who worries about stuff, especially about getting stuff wrong. Every year around tax time, I have a few weeks of feeling ultra stressed, having to file about six individual report thingies, which all have to be correct. Every time I put something new up in the shop I triple-check to make sure it includes the correct VAT. Every time I find out about a change of rules and regs, I spend a few hours making sure I'm compliant, and several more days to weeks feeling stressed about the fact I might have missed something. And there are really stupid changes, too - such as having to label the button for "buy now" something different (equivalent to "yes, I do agree I will have to pay for the order if I press this"). There's newsletters you can get to try and keep up to date, and every single instance of these letters begins with some news on how you can be served notice for this typo or that wording or that attempt to explain how your shop works to your customers. (Very, very helpful. Thank you so much. Not.)

So. I am wishing very, very hard for this plan of extension to all goods to go away, and since that was never enough in this world, I'm also doing what I can. I have written to Members of the EU Parliament, and politicians here, and donated to the EU VAT Action Group, and tried to spread the word. But the more people that do things to make the EU realise we need help, and we need it now, the better.

And here's where I ask you to please help.  The EU Commission is running a survey with a long title about the EU VAT. The aim of this survey is said to see how the current system is working, more or less.

The survey is a very, very good thing, because it means there is awareness of our problem (our meaning small businesses like mine).

Unfortunately, it is also all written in Legalese, and I find it complicated to understand in both English and German. Some of the questions are highly confusing, in some cases even misleading, or open to interpretation. In short, the whole survey feels very weird to me. (I'll do a separate post about that, probably tomorrow.) In several of the questions you are asked whether you agree to blah and chatter, and it is impossible to discern whether your "I agree" would mean you agree to blah, or to chatter, or to both of them, or to the general idea behind both blah and chatter - so your answer would be open to interpretation. Also, Legalese. Never good in a survey that's supposed to be inclusive...

Still, the fact that we have this survey is a very, very good thing. It looks daunting, but it is actually rather easy to work with.

The survey does not have any field that is compulsory. You do not have to fill out or answer anything (which includes the fields for your name and email addy at the top) in that survey. So please don't be scared off by all the legalese, or the length of it.

If you would like to help my business, and countless others like it, you can do so easily with help of that survey.

Click the link to open up the survey (it opens in a new window).
Ignore all questions that you don't understand, or don't feel comfortable answering. Just leave them blank.
It would be nice if you could answer questions 1, 4, and 15 to help those evaluate the survey get an idea of where you are from, and for statistics about how many people are affected by the new rules, especially as customers.

Now for the important bit. Go down to the box. If you have taken the time to read the survey and you found any of the questions were hard to understand, or if you felt any of the questions was skewed, or open to interpretation, or uncomfortable - tell them so in the box.
If you only heard about the EU VAT rules today in my blog, tell them you only learned about it today even though it's been active for nine months.
If the new legislation has impacted you in any way whatsoever, tell them so in the box. In any way. This could mean a business not selling pdf patterns to you anymore (I have switched to print, for instance), geo-blocking you, or having to cope with lots and lots of clicks in checkout. If you feel concerned about all your customer data being kept for 10 years (one of the new rules), tell them so.
If you feel there has been way too little education about the new rules to businesses, customers, or both, tell them so.

If you agree that it will be desastrous for micro-businesses that are suffering already to wait for several more YEARS until the legislation is amended and a threshold is introduced, tell them so. Small businesses need a cross-border digital sales threshold, below which domestic VAT rules will apply, and a 'soft landing' threshold above that, for the next phase of business growth.

If you feel concerned about a huge impact on your abilities to buy things from smaller vendors from out of your country when this goes into effect for all goods and services (and I think you should be concerned about that), please tell them so! (Personally, to me, this would be the most important thing in the survey that you could do.)

Please help me save my business, and help save countless others (most of which are probably not even aware of the trouble coming up). Fill out the survey. Spread the word. Link posts about the EU VAT. Tweet about it. Tell your facebook friends. Tell your real friends. Tell any politician you might know. Feel free to comment here, too, if you have any questions or would just like to vent about these quixotic laws that completely ignore the reality of small traders. The more this is spoken about, the more voices that are raised, the better. We small traders need your help, and we need it now, before the brown stuff really, really hits the fan.


Lena said...

I filled in the survey, and I hope it helps. You're definitely right about legalese and the occasional confusing questions. Several questions seem to have been intended for business only, but they forgot to put that bit in (such as 4: in what country is your company based). I guess they changed their intentions part way through to make the questionnaire public rather than only for business.

a stitch in time said...

Thank you, Lena! Every single survey helps making our voices heard, and our concerns seem important.

Nicholas Taylor said...

I completed the survey and feel that you have a genuine right to feel anxious. I have to admit that it was a bit difficult to understand bits of it, but I did the best I could. It looks like some of the questions, as you rightly say, can be 'interpreted' and are highly ambiguous. I guess this is what you can expect from 'legal speak.'

Nicholas Taylor @ Vancouver Business Brokers