There are three types of people I just don’t understand: skydivers, long-distance runners and small business owners who do their own payroll.

Jumping out of a plane for the thrill of it just seems silly. There plenty of ways to get yourself killed right here on earth, so why push your luck? Running long distances also seems like a bad idea – the human body wasn’t built to endure that pounding and whenever I look at the faces of the people who finish a marathon there’s never an expression of joy…just agony.

And finally, there’s payroll. Payroll, like skydiving and long distance running, is something that no business owner should undertake.

Sure, there are plenty of great technologies and services that are available for you if you want to do your own payroll. Intuit, Sage and other accounting providers have good standalone payroll products that integrate with their accounting systems. Gusto’s payroll technology is definitely powerful and easy to use. And even human resources platforms like Zenefits, Bamboo and Namely all have payroll options in addition to all the features they offer to manage your staff. If you want to do your own payroll, there are plenty of great options to help you.

But all this great technology cannot protect you against the one thing that can make payroll an enormous burden. And that’s you.

You (or your bookkeeper) are going to make a mistake. It will probably not be a big one either. Maybe it’ll be the transposition of a number. Or you’ll forget to update a tax rate. Or you’ll inadvertently misspell someone’s name. Or maybe you’ll just blank and forget to file an obscure local tax form that’s due when there’s a full moon. None of these are enormous mistakes, of course, but no matter how great your technology is, it will not be able to protect you from being less than 100% accurate. The problem is that once you make this mistake, no matter how insignificant, the repercussions will be swift and merciless.

I know this. I have clients who have tried doing their own payroll with software that they own or rent because it seemed like a good idea. The cost was less than paying a big-box payroll service like ADP or Paychex. The software was easy to setup and use. The process was simple. But in every case, a mistake was made. One of my clients committed a heinous data entry error when submitting his 941 quarterly return. Another forgot to update an employee’s home address on a state return. And another printed, but then accidentally forgot to mail in his federal reconciliation. So what happened?

Letters from the IRS and the state, notices from state agencies, warnings from federal officials and requests for more information. Which meant more time spent fixing the problem and re-submitting the form. You would think that would end the story, but in many cases, it didn’t. For every one response sent back by one of my clients, the IRS would respond in kind with three letters, all saying different things. Checks are sent, then cancelled and re-sent. Copies are made and filed. Phone calls are made. And most important, time is lost.

Payroll technology is great until something goes wrong. You are a business owner. You’re not a tax expert. And no matter how conscientious you are, someone’s going to make a mistake. And when that happens, you’ll pay – mostly in time and aggravation. So yes, you may save a few bucks with software instead of just outsourcing your payroll to a service. But the smartest business owners I know do what they do best and outsource the rest. Payroll services are experts in doing payroll. Are you?

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