Starting your own business

Niall Deakin
05 Feb 21

So you want to start your own business?

Let me stop you right there. This avenue isn’t for everyone.
There’s a lot of hard work, long hours, and probably more stress than you can imagine.

Everyone’s reasoning and goals are different, but I couldn’t morally let people go ahead without some warning.

But I don’t want to dump all over people’s dreams (as some did for me).
Let me go through what I did to get started.

A brief history

My story began ages since, in a time almost lost to history.

I’ve been through a lot in the years I’ve been working for myself. To be honest, I cannot remember the year from the top of my head, but I’ve had enough ups and downs and different stages of “working for myself” that it does feel like a few distinct lifetimes.

All I remember that in my early 20’s I wanted to work for myself. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work when I wanted, and not for the sake of money.

If there was something that I needed to do, such as some DIY, some shopping, or just to have some time to relax, I didn’t want the pressure of sitting for 2 hours in rush-hour traffic per day and end up spending roughly £10-20 at Starbucks per week just so that I wasn’t late for work (and that’s precisely what I did).
Ultimately, I needed super flexi-time.

I’ve had a few jobs over the years. I’ve been a warehouse worker, an intern, bar staff, head of finance, and ultimately ending in web development, so I like to think I have a range of experience.

Perhaps that has helped me hone my skills in order to run my own web development business. I’m good at it, I enjoy it, and I like making my clients happy.

I left my last employment with a sigh of relief. It wasn’t a horrible place to work in by any stretch of the imagination, I actually learned quite a lot and valued my time there, but having that freedom and that push to actually pursue my dreams was literally a breath of fresh air.

To begin with…

Story time is over, let’s get down to some practicalities.

This is from my own experience, “going it alone”, and within the UK.
Things have also changed a fair amount (hello IR35), so please do your own research into what to do. I just hope this helps point you in the right direction.

Okay, so if you’re operating within the UK, you need to get yourself sorted out with HMRC.
There are multiple options available (all make you “self employed”):

  • Sole Trader
  • Partnership
  • Limited Company

For once, the GOV website came in handy for me to explain what each is (see more here), but the gist is…

Sole Trader

You work for yourself, however you please. You find work to do, and invoice for it. All the money is yours, and all the responsibility.
All you have to worry about is the Self Assessment each year.

Read more at: https://www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader

Partnership

Similar to a Sole Trader, a Partnership is basically saying “I’m working with this entity”. I say “entity” because it could be a person, or a company, or multiples of each.
Each partner files their own taxes, etc., like a Sole Trader, but the responsibilities are shared between.

More info: https://www.gov.uk/set-up-sole-trader

Limited Company

Okay, now we’re serious.

This is requires the most work, due to the level of admin (Registration, Accounts, Tax Returns, Confirmation Statement).
Even after doing this for years and having a good system in place, I am always anxious about it.

That being said, there really isn’t much change to how your business will operate. You still need to win clients, get work, and be paid. However, it did come with some perks for me.

Being a Limited Company does offer some protections, and advantages.

When I first started out contracting, for whatever reason, I had to operate as a Limited Company, or under an Umbrella Company.
I’m assuming for taxes and stuff, but I didn’t get into freelancing for someone else to take a percentage of my pay, so I moved from being a Sole Trader to a Limited Company.

It costs £12 to set up a Limited Company, but it isn’t so straight forward. Luckily there are agents and other methods out there to do this for you, if you’ve got the money.

Some light reading: https://www.gov.uk/limited-company-formation

Keeping Your Accounts

Okay, “accounts” basically means bookkeeping or dealing with money.
So you need to keep track of everything coming in and going out, and making sure they all match up.

When I first started, I did this with a spreadsheet. It worked pretty well, when business was simple, but it quickly got crazy when I didn’t keep it up-to-date or missed something.
Then there were the annual returns.

One thing I’d heavily recommend is a business bank account. I’m not sure if this is mandatory for Limited Companies, but for Sole Traders, you can get away with a personal bank account.

I’ve read some articles that banks don’t like personal accounts to be used for business, but considering that having a separate account for business uses made keeping my Accounts far easier.
I wouldn’t have to go through each transaction and see if it was business related or not, and I could quickly see when I “paid” myself.

The downside to using a business bank account is the cost. I’ve yet to see a completely free business account, but when I signed up, I got a year’s free banking, so I wasn’t charge, and then it moved to fee per transaction, with £5/month minimum.
It has since scrapped the minimum amount, and is just the “per transaction”, which is nice now, but after years of scraping by, and on average costing less than £1/month in fees, they took a LOT from me.

However, I do get something for free from my Bank (more later), so perhaps it’s paying itself off now.

You can move from bank to bank to keep the year’s free banking and get the best deals, but this costs time, sometimes money, and you’d have to change all your payments terms, etc. It also looks bad (“why do you keep switching banks?”)

Honestly, find a decent one and stick with it.

Book Keeping

Ah ha! Now on to the fun part (remember, I was the Head of Finance at one point).

As I mentioned earlier, I used a business bank account and spreadsheets to keep track of my accounts. This works really well to begin with, but then you run into so many issues.

Luckily, my experience helped me understand the process and know what I needed, but hiring an accountant to do this for you, or using specialist software helps a great deal.

Sure, it’ll be easy to keep track of how much money you’ve got, but there are things like taxes and returns which need to be filed correctly, and you don’t want to make things more difficult for yourself.
Trust me, I’ve lost countless nights stressing over this nonsense and you’ve got to remember those deadlines (and there are a lot if you’ve setup like me).

This is where FreeAgent comes in

Let me be clear, I get this software for free because of my bank, but I would heavily consider paying for it if need be (I’m a developer, so I’d be tempted to make my own).
Since I don’t pay them for it, there is no incentive for me to recommend them. They do have a referral scheme, but I’m not eligible.

Honestly, they’ve been a life saver since I’ve been using them and I don’t think I could ever go back.

The support is excellent and they keep adding new features to make running a business easier.
Whereas before, “doing my taxes” took several days, I can get it done in less than an hour. It’s true, I recorded it in their Time Tracking system.

They’ve got so many great features, this whole article could be just dedicated to them. Go check them out, and tell them I sent you. Maybe they’ll be nice and send me a gift.

If not FreeAgent, get some software to help you keep track. Maybe you’ll be lucky and get it free from your bank too.

Final Notes

I’ll end this article here. It’s very rare for me to write so much, so I’m quite surprised I’m going to make this a 2-parter. Who knows, maybe even a third!

It isn’t “easy street”, but it is well worth it. Even as I pile more admin upon myself by growing and expanding (I know have to sort out pensions since I’m taking on employees), I don’t think I could ever go back.

In the next article I’ll be explaining things you may want for your business (websites, emails, software), and luckily for you, I know how these things work… so perhaps you can trust me?

Until next time.

Accounting, Bank Accounts, Book Keeping, Business, Business Startup, Companies House, FreeAgent, freelance, GOV.UK, HMRC, Limited Company, Partnership, Self Assessment, Self Employed, Sole Trader, Tax Return, Taxes, UK