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5 Things you must do when you go self employed

January 3, 2017

One of the main benefits of becoming self employed is the ease with which you can start up and run your new business.

You can even become a sole trader (another term for self-employed) whilst working as an employee for someone else, so you can test the water and see if you’re suited to working for yourself.

Here are 5 things you need to do when you decide to go self employed:

1. Register as self employed with HMRC

Once you set up as a sole trader (or work as a partner in a partnership if there’s more than one of you), you will be responsible for paying your own income tax and National Insurance (NICs).

If you start working as self-employed, you must register with HMRC. You can do this at any time up to 5 October of your business’ second tax year.

A tax year runs from 6 April to 5 April of the following year. So, for example, if you started working as a sole trader in January 2017, you must register as self-employed with HMRC by 5 October, 2017 at the very latest. That’s because January 2017 is in the 2016/17 tax year, so 5 October 2017 will be in your business’ second tax year (2017/18).

How you register your self employed status with HMRC depends on your own particular circumstances. These are explained fully in our guide on How to register as self employed.

If you are unsure whether or not you need to register with HMRC, here is some help to establish whether you are employed or self employed.

Once you start operating as self employed, you will need to complete a self assessment tax return every year and pay your own National Insurance contributions (NICs).

As a sole trader you need to pay Class 2 NICs on your income – which is £2.85 a week for the 2017/18 tax year. If you make profits of less than £6,025 a year (2017/18 tax year), you will not have to make these NI contributions.

Self employed workers also need to pay Class 4 NICs. For the 2017/18 tax year this is 9% on any annual profits you make between £8,164 and £45,000, and 2% on any profits above £45,000.

In the Spring 2017 Budget, the Government announced that Class 4 NICs would be increased to 10% and then 11%. However, within days the proposed increases in Class 4 NICs were scrapped.

You can find more details on tax for self employed people in;

2. Work out whether you need to register for VAT?

As of April 2017, if your business has an annual turnover of £85,000 or more, you must register for VAT.

At any stage of the business cycle, if you look like you’re going to hit this annual VAT threshold over the coming 12 months, you must also register. The threshold usually rises by a few thousand each year. Make sure you let HMRC know within 30 days, or risk paying a fine.

In many cases, you might decide to register for VAT even if you don’t need to. You may gain more credibility by having a VAT number, and you’ll be able to claim the VAT back on eligible purchases you make.

You might also consider the flat rate VAT scheme, which makes accounting for VAT much simpler. Your accountant will be able to advise you if you’d be better off on the Flat Rate or standard VAT scheme.

3. Open a business bank account

As a sole trader, although your business income will be taxed alongside your personal tax, it is vital to keep your business records and finances separate from your personal affairs.

For this reason, we recommend you open a separate business bank account. Small business current account fees aren’t much – usually £6-£10/month – plus some transaction fees.

Shop around, as most of the High St banks usually offer up to 12-18 months free business banking for new businesses.

Typically, your new account will be “John Bloggs trading as, or T/A, your Business Name”. Once again, it looks more professional to have your business name on cheques and invoices.

If your business won’t need to write or pay in cheques, there are now viable alternatives to opening a business account with a High St bank. These can be a particularly good option if you have a less than perfect credit history, and if you are in a hurry to open your account. For example, Cashplus claim they can open a business current account in just 6 minutes.

If you’re likely to hold cash for some time, you should also open a business deposit account to get a little interest on your money, even if rates are still at historic lows.

4. Insure your new business

When you are in business, you are required by law to have certain insurance policies in place. The cover you need to take out depends on the type of business you are, and the industry you’re in. You might also want to have the reassurance of other optional insurance cover.

If you employ another person, even if it is only an occasional part-timer, you are legally required to take out employers liability insurance. You will need cover of at least £5 million and you must display your certificate of insurance where employees can easily read it. You can expect a very heavy fine for failing to have a policy in place.

Most small businesses take out public liability insurance, especially if customers visit you on your premises or if you do work on theirs. It will protect you if a third party injures themselves, or damage is caused to property because of your business activities.

If you provide any type of professional service or advice to clients, you should also consider getting yourself insured for professional indemnity. It will cover you if a client sues you because they are unhappy with work you have done or advice you have given.

ByteStart’s guide on Which types of insurance must your business have? will give you more help to work out what other insurance policies you might want to consider.

5. Keep accurate and up-to-date financial records

To be a successful sole trader, you must keep on top of your books.

From the start, you are obliged to keep clear and accurate records of all your business transactions. Not only will this ensure that you keep the tax authorities happy, but you’ll find it so much easier to operate your business if you are organised and your paperwork is constantly updated.

Our Beginner’s guide to setting up accounts for a sole trader will help you to get to grips with your accounts.

When the time comes to submit your VAT return (if you’re VAT registered), pass your accounts information to your accountant and complete your annual self-assessment tax return, you’ll be able to get these done quickly and efficiently – giving you more time to work on your new business.

Many small businesses now use online accounting packages that help to simplify financial record keeping. Our guide on How to choose the best online accounting system for your business explains more about how these work and your options.

Going self employed or setting up a limited company, which is best?

If you are thinking of going into business, working out whether to go self employed or to set up a limited company is one of the first big decisions you have to make. It can be a bit daunting but ByteStart has several guides that will help you understand the differences and come to the right decision;

More on ByteStart to help you get your venture off the ground

ByteStart brings you help and tips on all aspects of starting a successful small business. Check out some of our most popular guides;

Starting Up

Funding your business

Money & Tax matters

Legal issues