If you’re thinking about switching payroll companies because your current workflow is wasting your team too much time, awesome. But be sure you’re actually switching to a company that fits your needs. Production payroll comes with a slew of unique demands, unlike any other industry. So we curated a list of the best questions to ask payroll providers before you make the switch.
As simple as this question may be, being thorough in understanding the services a prospective payroll service provides will likely be a game changer in deciding which company you choose. We’re going to get more specific about which services to ask for in later sections, but there are some foundational needs to consider first.
Before you switch, ensure your new company is well-versed in your industry. Particularly for the world of entertainment and production, there is a unique set of challenges that need to be expertly handled. You want to ensure that you’re working with a company that knows firsthand how complicated running payroll for projects can be. And you want a provider that understands how payroll companies have failed to alleviate that process in the past. Which is why we wanted to bring up these questions within this first section.
We won’t give advice per se, because you know your business better than anyone else, but being in the entertainment payroll sector, we recommend asking about these services before you switch.
Ask about their timecard process. The very first service you look for should always be how your team gets paid. Is it simple? Streamlined? Or is it a mess?
Ensure it’s an accessible program allowing crew to submit their own timecards digitally, so these can be easily approved by production coordinators on the same platform. Payroll services should streamline this process as much as possible.
Also, ask to see the product. You’re working with so many people all of the time, make sure the interface is clean and simple to use. It needs to be understood by everyone on board---more necessary for your crew members and production coordinators.
How your payroll provider handles compliance is one of the important questions to ask payroll providers, as it also distinguishes what responsibilities fall on your company’s end. In choosing a payroll provider, look for companies that handle and transparently communicate with you about payroll disbursement, tax compliance, and union guidelines.
With many third-party payroll providers, you’ll find that your production company will be responsible for more tax compliance matters, such as registering each project and crew members in the state where the project is filming. That’s why, for production companies, we recommend working with EORs (Employer of Record) who file your company’s payroll under their respective Federal ID number and handle all matters of tax compliance. This includes withholdings, withdrawals, and larger compliance.
Most companies handle compliance through third-party software, such as Symmetry, which will ensure that compliance stays up to date.
Your provider should know the ins-and-outs of federal and state payroll taxes as well as workers’ compensation.
Once you ask these questions, if you’re satisfied with your provider’s answers, awesome. But getting these answers is only the baseline. Consider downloading our ebook to ensure you're switching to a provider that's the right fit.
Now, let’s get into the more nitty-gritty questions you might consider asking.
Not all payroll providers take on the same responsibilities when it comes to your tax obligations. As we discussed earlier, you will be responsible for handling more of your tax filings and returns if you choose a payroll provider that isn’t an EOR. As a production company, you’re already managing multiple crews and projects, so we recommend looking at EOR payroll providers as they file returns and make deposits on your behalf.
Be sure you know exactly what you will be responsible for so that you don’t end up hit with heavy fines from the IRS.
As a production company, you work with a particularly unique workforce that will often change project-by-project. With such a large and mobile group of employees, you need to make sure that your crew’s tax documents are processed for each job and made readily accessible to each member so that they can smoothly file their own tax returns.
So look for providers who make this easy.
Find a company who uses digital profiles for each employee, this way the payroll company can automatically process each crew members’ information from these profiles and curate their respective W2s or 1099s. If everyone is working in the same system, your crew can simply download this necessary paperwork.
As a producer or production company, you do want a streamlined digital solution, but not at the expense of forgoing real people to help you. You need to have a comprehensive support team where you can easily communicate with a person when necessary.
With a digital service, you are inevitably going to run into tech problems that need fixing. But you’ll also run into broader concerns about how you’re running your payroll that also deserve attention and care from your provider.
For the more day-to-day concerns, you’ll want to ensure that you’re working with a company that provides thorough technical support. Remember to inquire about how technical requests are handled. Ensure that your providers offer both email and phone support. Ask about how quickly they will be able to respond to inquiries and what hours they offer for phone support. You should look for companies that provide a maximum 3-hour response time and ensure full resolution within 24 hours.
With today’s providers, you should also look for companies that pair you with a direct contact for your broader payroll inquiries. Success teams are an emerging department within companies that recognize the need for long-term support for their clients. They might call themselves “Success” or “Customer Support.” Every provider will be different, but this is different from tech support. Prioritize services that make this a key part of their customer relations, as they will be the first person to contact for all of your payroll inquiries.
When you’re thinking about switching providers, dig deeper into the support question. Avoid just asking if they have it, ensure you know how accessible their support really is. The ease of connecting to support will be integral in avoiding any future headaches.
Contacting support should be among your questions to ask payroll providers because you want to make sure that both you and your crew can easily access a support team member when needed. The last thing you want is a production coordinator to become the sole point person for your entire crew’s technical questions.
This is straightforward and needs no explanation. Avoid runarounds and just ask your prospective company directly. You can start by giving them an example of your past payroll and see how it compares.
As a freelance producer or one running their own production company, you have a team of people entrusting you with their most sensitive info. You need a payroll service that can provide that level of security for you and your crew.
Whether they ensure secure financial transactions, data encryption, third-party audits, or a whole lot more, find this out ahead of time.
One of the key questions to ask payroll providers is how they integrate payroll with budgeting and accounting solutions. Because payroll impacts the whole financial structure of your production, small changes or mistakes made in one payroll cycle can amount to significant issues across your accounting and budgeting logs. If these aren’t connected, you’re left having to make manual edits across multiple platforms. And this is such a time drain.
The problem with many of the types of payroll services available for production companies is that they leave producers with the unnecessary step of manually transferring all of their data from one program to another. For every inevitable edit of timecards, those running payroll can get overwhelmed in an instant.
Smart integration is one of the key elements for how to choose a payroll provider. Before you decide to switch, ensure that your new company can integrate with other budgeting and accounting software, preferably those you’re already using like Hot Budget, Point Zero, or QuickBooks.
*If there are other programs you enjoy using that your prospective payroll company doesn't yet integrate with, ask them about this. Great companies are built to serve. If they don’t yet have something you want, ask about timelines and gauge their open-mindedness level.
Which brings us to our next question.
We’re not just talking about bug fixes here. While your provider’s product team should swiftly handle any bugs that come up, ask your future payroll company how they innovate.
Prioritize payroll providers that prioritize you. Are they willing to get you on the phone with a product developer? How often do they listen to your feedback when suggesting product changes that will make your life easier as a producer?
Look for companies that give regular timetables for product improvement.
Additionally, laws change all the time. Make sure they address how they keep up with federal and state requirements, as well as union guidelines.
Training is also among the key questions to ask when outsourcing payroll because it encompasses not only their support, but also the larger usability of their software. We mentioned this briefly earlier, but before you switch, make sure the software is easy for everyone to use. Since you’re likely working with so many freelancers, you want a program that doesn’t demand hours of training.
For crew members, they should be able to create an account and submit timecards with little training, (maybe 20 minutes). For your production coordinators, they should only need an hour to get them up and running. Of all the different types of payroll services, prioritize the one that can be intuitively used by your employees.
Your relationship with your payroll provider will inevitably be a collaboration between you and them. But that being said, different types of payroll services vary in the responsibilities they take on. So before you switch, definitely ask ahead of time whether or not you're switching to an EOR or another type of provider. This will ensure you have some basic understanding of what they’ll handle vs. what you’ll have to take on.
As an example, let’s look at if you’re using an EOR what your day-to-day would look like.
Again, EORs are a great choice for production companies since they hand off the responsibility of tax compliance to the payroll provider. In this case, your payroll company will handle both your federal and state taxes.
You’ll need to communicate with your provider about where your projects are filming, so that they ensure they’re processing your payroll properly.
As for bank account management, that’s the responsibility of your production team. Your payroll provider will have access to the bank account from which you pull payroll, but it should be monitored by a member of your company. You’ll communicate with your team to get timecards in and make sure the funds are there. Your payroll provider will handle the rest of payroll disbursement and tax compliance.
In terms of crew management, hiring, and communication, that responsibility would remain in your hands.
Now, if you’re working with or switching to a PEO (Professional Employer Organization), they take on an even larger responsibility with managing and choosing your hiring. For production companies, this option doesn’t make sense with the nature of your workforce. With an EOR, you will be responsible for clearly communicating with your crew when to submit their timecards and for then approving and/or editing those submissions.
Migrating to an EOR is incredibly simple and requires no migration of previous data. Normally, you’ll have a laundry list of to-do’s before you make the switch where companies provide payroll migration checklists and all the rest. But luckily, you don’t really need that when switching to an EOR, especially if you’re switching early in the year or whenever you run your first project of the year.
That being said, when switching mid-year, there are some things to keep in mind.
The main thing about switching mid-year is that unemployment starts again so there is a possibility you will pay more for the same employee. Bring this up to the company you want to switch to and see how you can still switch reasonably and efficiently. If you’re still experiencing the annoyances of tracking people down for timecards, paperwork, or any other need, you’re probably already wasting too much time per project. And there’s a chance you may even be un-phased by a few extra bucks (dependent of course).
If your current workflow is slowing you down and already wasting you a ton of time and money, anytime might be the right to switch.
Ultimately, talk to your provider and see what this looks like for you.
Once you know what questions to ask payroll providers and what features to look for, you’ll be able to approach your search with a clear perspective on how to choose the right one. Once you decide on a new company, if moving to an EOR, the switch itself is fairly simple.
At Wrapbook, many of us were filmmakers first. Because of that, we’re committed to the process of not only knowing how to choose a payroll provider, but also being the solution for the industry we care so much about. Learn how easy the switch can be or reach out to us with any questions about switching or general inquiries you may have.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.
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