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Have you done your self-assessment?

If you are self-employed then you need to start thinking about completing your self-assessment tax return. If you are completing it online then you will need to have done it by January 2022 but if you want to apply for the fifth grant or have to report your income to tax credits then you may need to complete it before the end of July.

Some people chose to do their tax return themselves whilst others many enlist the help of an accountant. You may wish to keep records and spreadsheets of all incoming and expenditure and then pass it across to your accountant to check through or you may decide that you just want to be able to give them bank statements and receipts and let them manage everything for you. Obviously, the more work they have to do the longer it will take and the more they will charge you. You need to find an accountant or accountancy firm that you can trust as they will be handling sensitive information about your finances. It is often a good idea to use an accountancy firm or individual that has been recommended to you by a friend or colleague.

What does it take to be a good consultant?

If you are thinking of getting into the consultancy business, it’s not all just about the qualifications you have acquired. There are a number of specific skills you need to be a good consultant. Some of these qualities can be learned over time and others are to do with your personality and may be not so easy to adapt to if it does not come naturally to you.

Consulting is not just about telling someone what to do it is also about helping them learn and grow. You need to have a certain amount of teaching skills under your belt and you will need to be patient as some people may take longer than others to pick things up.

As a consultant it is vital that you have the trust of the business you are working with. It can be a quite a daunting time for them as they will need to allow you to have access to personal information and allow you in to see how the business is being ran. Building up trust can take time especially with some companies. BE open an honest with them and always keep them informed of what your plans are and why you want to do something. 

Discipline when working for yourself

There are a huge number of different types of jobs that can be done on a self employed basis. Some will still require you to go out to factories, offices, shops or driving in a car but others can often be done from home.

If you are looking to go self-employed then you must have a certain level of discipline to ensure that you get your work finished on time and to a high standard. Unlike an employed position, where you will often have to report to senior management, you will not have anyone checking up on what you have accomplished. This may seem like a bonus to start with, but if you are not careful it is easy to get complacent.

Time management is often one of the hardest things self-employed people struggle with, especially if you are working from home. There are often a number of distractions in and around the home which can very quickly and easily encroach on our work time. If this happens you will often find you get behind with your work and then have to work late nights or weekends to catch up. You may find it hard to switch off and if clients have your mobile number, they may contact you out of usual office hours. This can make it feel like you are always working and never have any time off.

Are you struggling to manage you accounts?

When many people set up their own self-employed business, they may start off by doing their own books. Often when you are first starting out; it is relatively easy to keep on top of everything and you make sure that you do everything right. As you get busier, it is easier to forget and lose track of what you need to do and very quickly you can find yourself in a bit of a mess.

You need to have processes in place to help you manage your accounting. If you have receipts lying around everywhere and do not have places to keep things then you will quickly discover that doing your tax return is a nightmare. Some people do hardly any accounting work throughout the whole year and then instead do it all in one go when it comes to April. This can make it a massive task and you may find that you miss things because you are trying to go back almost 12 months.

If you do not think you can manage your accounts or do not have the knowledge and experience then it really does pay to hire an accountant or and accountancy firm. Often the money they can save you through their advice on tax and how to manage your finances, pays for their time.

When looking for an accountant or an accountancy firm, it is important to find one that you can trust. If you decide to go with a firm you may be allocated a specific person who handles your accounts. This can be handy as if you have any questions later on down the line they will already be familiar with your business so they can advise you easily.

If you do decide you want to continue handling your accounts yourself then you should try and set up your files and folders to make the job easier. Ideally you should update your records on a weekly or monthly basis so that it is not left too long. HMRC are going to be asking self employed people to update their accounts on a monthly or quarterly basis very soon so it is important to get in to the habit of doing this now. Having spreadsheets set up on your tablet or laptop where you can quickly record expenses in an evening will help you manage your business records effectively. There are also some great software packages out there that make accounting easy.

Facebook marketing for all types of businesses

Many companies are now using social media to marketing sites such as Facebook and Twitter for their business. There is a number of popular social media sites that you can use and some will work better than others for you, depending on how much time you have to update them and what you are trying to sell. Facebook is often the first one that businesses use as it is fairly easy to set up and you can quickly build up a decent following on there.

You need to make sure that you set up the right sort of profile on Facebook as this can restrict what you can do. If you want a profile which can also have discussions on and other members share ideas etc then you may want to set up a group page. If you want a page that only you can add content to and people can like then you may need to set up a page instead. You will need to have at least one private profile that is linked to the page and can be admin.

If you have a business that deals direct with the public then social media is especially important as you can connect with individual users on a personal basis. For example if you own a dog grooming business, then Facebook can work well as you ca join local groups and ask people to follow you. Although business to business companies may find social media a little harder, social media profiles can help establish and build a brand.

The beauty of social media, is that much of it is free, it just takes time which some businesses simply do not have.

Don’t get complacent with your record keeping

This year has been a very strange one for many businesses and has financially hit a lot of people hard. The government has been giving out loans, grants and tax reliefs to many who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Many self employed people, who qualified, were given a number of grants based on their previous earnings to live off. These grants where to top up the wages of those that have been out of work or who have suffered a loss in revenue due to the lockdowns and therefore being unable to work as much as they normally would.

It is important that anyone who is self employed ensures that they keep all of their financial records up to date and holds on to any evidence they may require at a later date.  IT may be that HMRC start to carry out audits and spot checks on self employed people to find out if they have claimed what they should of and if they owe any extra in tax. With the country in a bit of a financial crisis, they are likely to want to reap back in as much money as they can.

Tax deadline is looming

For those of you that haven’t already submitted your 2019-2020 tax return, you only have a couple of weeks left to do it. The deadline for online submission is the 31st January and those that do not submit their return by this time will incur additional fines. Even if you have not made a profit or have earned below the tax threshold, you still need to submit your return. It may be that you use an accountant or book keeper to help you with your tax return. If this is the case then you need to speak to them ASAP as many are already fully booked and will struggle to get the submissions in on time.

If you do your book keeping yourself, work out all the figures you need to input first. This will allow you to do it in one go without having to keep saving it and going back to it. If it is the first time you have done it you may want to put all your figures in and print it off before you submit it. This will give you the opportunity to read over it and double check that it is all correct before you hit the button to submit it to HMRC.

Be sure to give your accountants plenty of time before HMRC deadlines

If you own your own business then you will need to submit certain information to HMRC at relevant times. If you are self employed then the self-assessment deadline is looming for January and you need to ensure that your accountants have everything, they need to complete it and submit it on time.

Depending on what information you give them, they may need a good few months to sort out all the information in order to submit your return. Some people just hadn’t heir accountants a box of receipts and bank statements, others will put it all on a spreadsheet and basically do a lot of the hard work. Often the accountants will charge a different fee depending on how much work they have to do. The advantages of using an accountant is that they may be able to spot error you have made and will also be able to advise you on ways in which you can possibly recue your tax bill. It is important to find an accountant you can trust and that is experienced in dealing with returns. Ideally, you should use someone that has been recommended to you or that you know has a great reputation in the industry.

Record keeping for the sole trader

If you are self employed as a sole trader you will need to fill in an annual tax return each year and submit it to HMRC showing any earnings you have received and any expenditure that you can claim for. By law you need to keep these records for five years from the latest date of sending back your tax return.

Many small businesses use cash basis accounting and record income and expenses when they receive money or pay a bill. It is the most straightforward way to record transactions. It is important to keep proof of income and expenses even though you do not need to send these to HMRC when completing a tax return.

The important records that should be kept are evidence of all sales and income, all business expenses and records of any personal income such as pensions and other employment. If you use a vehicle for your work, receipts for fuel and other vehicle expenses should be kept as this will be part of your expenses. It is a good idea to keep a record of the mileage of the vehicle as sometimes it is better to claim mileage costs rather than the actual costs of fuel etc.

Why it is important to practice good record keeping

When it comes to running your own business, you need to ensure that you are keeping the correct documents and evidences and that it is being kept as securely as it is needed to be.

When it comes to accounting you should keep your documents for at least 5 years and be sure to keep comprehensive records that are easy to find should you need to. If HMRC ask you to show receipts for expenditures you have claimed for your business you need to be able to show them these quickly and if you cannot then you may find yourself having to pay money back and also having a fine.

Its not only for HMRC’s benefit that you should keep records. At times in your business you may need to refer to a similar case you had or to look up details for a previous client. It may be that you want to get in touch with clients that had made purchases off you before and so you need a place to store their details securely. Since GDPR came into force, you need to be able to prove that you have consent off everyone, that you can contact them in the future. If your database is quite old then you will need to update the information to ensure you are still ok to contact them in the future.