& What To Do About Tax etc.
Many entrepreneurs/sole traders only succeed if they’re good at business. Now while I’m aware this is open to debate, the whole concept is based around one simple thing. If you don’t know about business then you need to understand who it is you can lean on for business advice. If business acumen isn’t important to you, how can you grow, develop or sell your product/service?
When I set up my blog, it was a small non-profit website with very few followers. Inspired by my new hobby (tech, website design, SEO and fashion) I started it alongside my day job at a well known magazine. Back then I never intended on blogging full time. I just wanted to practice writing and constantly tweak my site to improve it. I’ve no shame in admitting that my initial posts were terrible but rather than quit I stuck with it, driven by my enjoyment of learning new things and seeing those few extra followers each week reading my posts and clicking links. I never worried about registering as a company, paying tax and National Insurance because I wasn’t earning money from it. When I did start earning money from blogging though, I knew I had to set aside 40% for tax because of my other salary too. Tax on two ‘jobs’ depends on total income: £0 – £5,000 (0% tax), £0-£32k (20% tax), £32-£150k (40% tax), £150k+ (45% tax).
Developing Your Idea
If you’ve got a great idea that’s just the first step. It takes a specific character type to start their own company. Determination, stamina and a good head for strategy is key. For me, I always knew the first year or two being self employed would be a massive gamble. Yes I could look over the past 6 months and hazard a guess as to how much my blog could make me for the next year but it’s not that simple. No one has a crystal ball. Ask yourself do you have what it takes to get through the worst times as well as celebrate your successes? As with any great business idea it should never start just because it’s ‘fashionable’.
Narrow down your idea to one or two key offerings. Are you selling a product? What is your main service? Identifying this early on helps with branding and communicating with customers/readers/brands. Knowing who your audience is before starting is also paramount to your company’s success. Are your target market of a certain age, a specific gender, those with a particular interest?
A Business Plan
Successful business plans are those that were well structured. Before you start, ask yourself do you need investment/budget to get your business off the ground? If so, explore what’s available online to help you build a sound business plan for investors. Sites like this one will help. If asking for investment make sure your numbers add up. Investors will want to know forecasted projections for the year (sometimes five), estimated sales numbers and ultimately what their return will be on their investment (their share of profit). For bloggers and most freelancers, an idea doesn’t need a wealth of investment just a bit of saving.
My business plan didn’t require investors so it was less detailed:
- Company name and summary
- Purpose of the blog
- Target market
- Blog topics of interest
- Handles of my social media accounts (and which platforms I’d use)
- Audience statistics starting out
- Possible small expenses (coffees, travel, clothes, props)
- Timed expenses (a new camera, memory cards, funds for a laptop upgrade in (x) amount of years). Remember, a blog needs constant upgrading, development and other expenses at certain times of the year.
- Supporters (contacts – I was fortunate to have made some great contacts in advertising given my previous roles)
- Troubleshooting (who to contact if I need help with my site, SEO etc)
Registering Your Company
So you have the idea and you’ve got your business plan in writing. Next you need to register your company and make sure no one else is trading under the same name. There are a few ways of doing this. Firstly consider if you’d rather set yourself up as a ‘Limited Company’ or a ‘Sole Trader’. Each has its benefits but if you’re starting out, it’s easier to be a sole trader in the beginning (personal preference). This handy calculator can help you decide if you’d save more by being a limited company.
A sole trader means you and only you are responsible for your own business. You just pay tax on any profits your business makes. This is after all expenses have been considered (even electricity if you work from home). To register as a sole trader, you don’t need to register your business with Companies House. You just register as self-employed with HMRC.
Limited companies are legally separate from the people who run it and has separate finances from your personal ones. If you’re becoming a limited company, register your business here. Tax is usually about 20% on anything under a certain amount but you have to pay yourself a sum each month and take dividends if you need more.
Accountants are invaluable. Prices vary (and are generally more expensive in London) but worth it. You can usually pay monthly or yearly – monthly being easier rather than being lumped with a big bill once a year. I studied year one (BA) Hons Accounting and Finance and still use one! They can help you put through expenses (travel, coffees etc.) and arrange your tax returns on your behalf. If you’d rather do it yourself, make sure you’re organised. Simple book-keeping like recording incomings and outgoings are essential. Never try to hide money coming in – it’ll be on the business books of whoever it’s leaving and these things always get found out.
When I started out I had my GQ salary and blog sponsored posts income as well as affiliate revenue all going into my personal bank account. When you have a mortgage and various other bits going out as well as setting aside tax etc. it gets messy. Set up another bank account purely for your business. PayPal is also a useful payment system sometimes preferred by brands and customers. When you’re starting out, be frugal with your money. I personally prefer to reinvest the money back in to my blog. Sometimes there might be occasions where you may need to ask to borrow money – be it from the bank or family so keep your financial situations hygienic.
Setting up a business and being self employed is completely different to working as an employee with managers and offices. I wrote about this in my ‘What It’s Really Like Being Your Own Boss After GQ’ post. It’s important to determine where you will be working from (home, rented office space, warehouses?) and to work out your work hours. You’ll more than likely be irritable, stress is heightened and you’ll often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work there is to do. But hey, no one said it would be easy. And just think of the rewards – they’re all yours.
Lean On Your Resources
My magazine experience taught me a lot so blogging came a little easier to me. I always say I’m impressed at how some of the big bloggers blew up with little to no previous digital experience for big brands! My experience meant I already had a big contact list of advertisers and senior brand contacts. It also meant I was more au fait with networking and working with PR’s.
Identify what resources you have available to you. It can be anything from a sister who works at a shoe shop and can give you insight to upcoming launches right through to your husband’s cousin’s friend who is an ace at promotion. Are you working with the best suppliers/designers/ routes to market?
Ever heard of that girl/guy who inflated numbers beyond belief then eventually got found out? Heard the one about the person claiming to live in a massive house with a villa abroad but turns out lives in a semi detached down the road? Be honest because people will always get found out. Whether your business is online based or in store, investors and customers will want (and expect) transparency.
Competition versus Networking
Ever discovered a new blog that you love? Within an hour and a half you’re 8 pages deep into the archives and you’ve wasted all that precious time that could’ve been devoted to your own work. Whilst it’s good to identify the competition, don’t join them and copy them. Be you. Your business will thrive if it’s individual, different and offering customers/readers something someone/something else can’t. Networking is something identified in your business plan. Are you attending the right, relevant events? Are you emailing new people, collaborating with exciting people and meeting new customers/readers?
When setting up a new business, it’s no secret that payment terms are something of a grey area. It’s good to set up your own payment terms with consistent T’s & C’s on every invoice but be prepared to sometimes have to work with a client’s payment terms instead. As a new business, you will have teething issues. Keep on top of your invoices with unique invoice numbers. Put them into a spreadsheet and colour code them – grey is paid and yellow is unpaid. This makes is super easy to check at a glance what money you’re waiting for.
It’s a big graft setting up a new business. When it’s your entire livelihood at stake, that cocktail the other side of London which could turn in to 10 and a raging hangover suddenly doesn’t sound too appealing (and think of the £££). I made a conscious effort to get a good work/life balance in the beginning. Having your own business (and hopefully one that you enjoy) does require hard work often at the expense of social occasions. Make sure you’re not becoming a recluse and alienating your friends.
The photos used in this post are from a sponsored collaboration coming up later this week. Keep an eye out for where to buy the outfit in that post! x