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Setting up as a Sole Trader

Becoming a sole trader is the simplest way in which you can trade. 

The first thing you have to do is register as self employed with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You can do this by going online and filling in the 'Becoming self-employed and registering for National Insurance contributions and/or tax' form, or by completing a CWF1 form within three months of setting up. This enables HMRC to send your quarterly bills for what is known as 'Class 2' National Insurance, which will ensure that your state pension is not adversely affected in any way in the future.

As a sole trader you will need to do a number of things:

  • Keep all of your invoices to clients and any receipts for business expenses for six years.
  • Keep a full record of the money you have earned each year, and all business expenses. It is a good idea to do this from day one anyway as you will need these figures for your end of year accounts.
  • Complete a Personal Tax Return which declares your profit for the tax year which ends at the 5th April.
  • Pay your own Self Assessment Tax and Class 4 National Insurance contributions.

The Basics

Registering Your Business Name
As a sole trader you do not have to register your business name in the same way as you would have to if you were setting up a Limited company. This means that technically you can choose pretty much any name you like, but if you do want to register your company name as a Limited company in the future there will be some restrictions. So even if you are only setting up as a sole trader now, you might want to register your name straight away, to protect it for the future. Also, by registering your name you will make your details present on the Companies House website, which provides credibility and helps to build client confidence.

Setting up a Business Bank Account
You do not have to set up a business bank account, but most sole traders choose to do so. It is a good idea to keep your personal and your business finances separate, as it simplifies everything and makes it clearer to see what funds are where.

Register for National Insurance
Once you have set up as a sole trader, whether full or part time, and have let HMRC know by completing the relevant form, they will then send you a quarterly bill for Class 2 National Insurance. This is a basic payment which ensures that you pay enough to cover your future state pension requirements. All additional National Insurance payments (Class 4) are calculated by your accountant when your end of year figures are completed, and the amount owed is included in your tax bill.

If you have income from more than one job - i.e. you are freelancing whilst still in permanent employment, you should take care to ensure you are not paying more in NI contributions than you need to.

VAT
You will not need to register for VAT unless you hit the VAT threshold, which is currently £81,000 for the year commencing April 1st 2013. Even if you are below the threshold, many people choose to register for VAT to give their business more ‘kudos’ with customers, or simply to make it appear larger than it really is.

If you do choose to register for VAT, then there is the advantage of being able to claim the VAT back on everything you purchase for the business, but the ultimate benefit of this will depend on the type of business you have. If you buy things in and sell them on as part of your business function then it will be an advantage, but if you simply charge for your time, then it may not.

Flat Rate VAT

Instead of registering for the standard VAT scheme as outlined above, it may be more beneficial for you to register for the Flat Rate VAT scheme. Within this scheme, you charge your clients at the standard rate of VAT (20%) and pay HMRC at a lower rate of the gross amount. Different company types have different rates and you would need to check what your rate should be before deciding if this option is for you.

Below is an example for an IT professional whose flat rate is 12% in their first year (new companies get a 1% first year discount):

Amount you invoiced £50,000 plus 20% VAT (£10,000)
Total amount received £60,000
VAT paid to HMRC £60,000 x 12% = £7,200

Note here that you calculate the 12% on the £60,000 (VAT inclusive figure) not the £50,000 (VAT exclusive) figure.

The difference between the VAT invoiced (£10,000) and the flat rate paid back to HMRC (£7,200) is yours to keep as profit - £10,000 less £7,200 = £2,800. But bear in mind you will be taxed on this as additional income!

The reason for the saving to you is that the Flat Rate scheme simplifies VAT administration for HMRC and so the financial benefit is passed on, to a point. The rate you pay will vary depending on your business type and when you register for VAT this will be assessed and agreed up front. Ideally you should speak to an accountant before deciding if you should register for VAT, and if so, which scheme you should use.

Making sure you pay your tax bill
If you are operating as a Limited company, then there are very specific Limited company tax rules. However, if you are operating as a sole trader then it’s all a lot more flexible. You will need to pay tax twice a year, on 31st January and 31st July via what is known as ‘payments on account’, and your accountant will be able to advise you on this.

At the end of the tax year (5th April) you will need to provide your accountant with a full set of income and expenditure figures. From these, they will be able to work out your tax liability and will tell you what your payments on account will be for the following year. You will still need to fill in a normal personal tax return though, and the timescales for completion of this are the same as for an individual – but the sooner you do it after 5th April, the sooner you will have an exact tax liability figure for the following year.

As a general rule of thumb, if you put 30% of everything you earn to one side, this should cover you for tax and National Insurance, but you will be able to adjust this over time as you get a feel for your likely tax bills. Don’t however make the mistake of not putting anything aside, as you will be in for a nasty shock when the bill comes in.

Claiming for Expenses
Basically, anything which is a business cost is tax deductible. For example:

  • Stationery
  • IT equipment
  • Premises rental
  • Internet access
  • Business phone bills
  • Travel to customer premises - e.g. train ticket
  • Motor expenses - if you use your vehicle for both personal and business use then you simply reclaim the cost that relates to your business usage

Mortgages for Sole Traders
In the past, sole traders have typically faced significant difficulties when it came to applying for mortgages. However, with time, mortgage lenders have become somewhat more relaxed about granting mortgages for sole traders. Most mortgage brokers charge a fee for their services which can be as much as 1-2 % of the loan, but Easy Accountancy has arranged a special offer with freelancer mortgage specialists Contractor Mortgages Made Easy, and visitors to their website will not be charged a penny.

Sole Trader Insurances
This may or may not be relevant to you, depending on what type of sole trader you are. There are many different types of insurance which you might want to consider, the most vital being professional indemnity and public liability insurance. On top of this, you may also want to think about some type of insurance to cover you for lost earnings if you cannot work through illness or injury. Sole traders have no sick pay to fall back on!

In general, insurance policies of this type are far less expensive than you might expect, although costs do depend on individual circumstances, specifically the annual turnover of your company and the nature of your business. For more details on what insurances you need to consider look at our Sole Trader Insurances section.

How can Easy Accountancy help you?

Using an accountant will ensure that you do not put yourself at risk of incurring the various HMRC penalties and end up having to pay interest that is charged for late registration, late submission of tax returns and late payments of tax. Easy Accountancy offers sole traders an all-inclusive, fixed-free accountancy package of £60 plus VAT per month. This includes unlimited access to your very own accountant via telephone or email throughout the year, for help and advice.

Setting up as a Sole Trader, Freelancer or Small Business Infographic

We understand that sometimes you don't have the time to read through pages and pages of documents. As a result, we have produced this handy infographic to give you a quick look into the main processes involved with starting your own business. Please click on the image below to see a larger version of the resource and gain a quick overview to setting up your own business. 

For more advice on how Easy Accountancy can help you and business, or to find out more about our fixed fee packages, please call 0500 234 111 / 01442 275767 or email heather@easyaccountancy.co.uk.

You may also find the following pages useful:

Why Clients Choose Easy Accountancy

Easy Accountancy offers a low cost, fixed fee accountancy package with all clients receiving their own dedicated, friendly, approachable accountant.

All of our accountants specialise in providing accountancy services to the self-employed, freelancers, sole traders, small to medium sized limited companies and private individuals. All accountants are employees of Easy Accountancy and we never outsource or offshore work.

Our low cost, all-inclusive fixed-fee accountancy service includes unlimited access to your own dedicated accountant throughout the year and covers all your business and personal tax affairs needs.

All our accountancy services include:
  - Unlimited access to your accountant
  - Ongoing advice on how to manage your business
  - Proactive tax advice throughout the year
  - Updates and reminders so you'll never miss a deadline
  - Free bookkeeping software

As a sole trader our fees start at just £60 + VAT a month, for this you receive the above plus:
  - Completion of your Self-Assessment tax return
  - Advice on how much Income Tax to pay
  - Guidance on National Insurance contributions

As a limited company our fixed fee packages are bespoke to your needs, however typically you’ll receive the above, plus:
  - Completion of your year end accounts*
  - Completion and submission of your annual return Companies House
  - The director/s Self Assessment tax return
  - Payroll bureau
  - Dividends and corporation tax computations

We’ve saved our clients up to half on their accountancy bills – if you’d like a quote, click on the quote me button to the right of this page. Alternatively, call us on 0500 234111 / 01442 275767 or email heather@easyaccountancy.co.uk.

*If you would like us to complete your company year end accounts we simply ask that you have been a client of Easy Accountancy for one year or have made 12 monthly payments.