The FreeAgent Blog

Case study: How I use FreeAgent’s integration with Timestamp

Posted on 31 August 2015 by FreeAgent Guest Blog – 0 Comments

Will Richardson is the founder and CEO of Green Element, an environmental management consultancy that helps companies manage their impact on the environment.

Accounting software to support my growing business

In the past, I relied on spreadsheets to keep track of my business finances. In the short term this approach worked reasonably well, but as my business started to grow, I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable. I believe in laying down good foundations for the future and I could see that FreeAgent would both accommodate and support my business as it grew.

All the information I need - at my fingertips

FreeAgent gives me a really comprehensive understanding of how my business is doing and what my up-to-date figures are - information that’s vital for any business owner. The software pulls together everything I need to know in a really clear and concise way, giving me ready access to vital data such as my profit and loss report and monthly sales figures.

FreeAgent also enables me to take care of daily admin like tracking expenses and managing invoices without having to spend endless hours on it. As a result, I’m completely on top of my business bookkeeping, and this frees my accountant up to advise me on broader, more complex issues. In fact, I now see my accountant more as a consultant to the business than a traditional number cruncher.

Making the most of my data with FreeAgent’s integration with Timestamp

As an environmental management consultancy with a team of five busy consultants, Green Element has a great deal of projects to manage and an awful lot of time to track! As this kind of information is so valuable to the business, I decided to check out FreeAgent’s integration options to see if I could gain an even deeper insight into my project and time tracking data. I was immediately drawn to Timestamp and became one of their first customers last year.

FreeAgent’s integration with Timestamp allows me to gain a really detailed view of how each of my projects is progressing and whether we’re on track to meet the budget and timeframe requirements set by our clients. Timestamp’s detailed reports are also extremely helpful and provide me with that extra bit of extra insight into what my consultants are spending their time on and how profitable our projects are.

Growing from strength to strength

FreeAgent has helped me take Green Element from strength to strength; I’ve used it since I started out as a sole trader and it’s continued to be a vital business tool for Green Element as we’ve grown into a limited company with a team of consultants. FreeAgent’s integration with Timestamp gives me an incredibly valuable insight into my project and time tracking data, which helps me both run Green Element more effectively and grow the business even further.

Rebecca Shipham is a self-employed designer and the owner of Ships and Pigs, where she specialises in exhibition design. She is also the co-founder of Creative Briefs, an initiative that delivers educational sessions to introduce young people to design, creativity and entrepreneurship. Rebecca is IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year for 2015 and she won a year-long subscription to FreeAgent as part of her prize.

Taking the plunge

I decided to go freelance six years ago, after being made redundant. I was at a career crossroads and decided the time was right to go for it. At first I was terrified; I realised that although I knew a lot about design, I didn’t know very much about running a business! It was do or die in the first few months, so I put my best foot forward and learned as I went along.

And the winner is...

Winning IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year award was a brilliant moment, but it’s been a long journey with lots of twists and turns and I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way. Some of the biggest challenges I faced in the early days were knowing how much to charge in relation to my competitors and, once I was up and running, learning when - and how - to say no to certain projects. Another challenge that I’m still learning how to handle - I think most freelancers are! - is chasing late paying customers. Yes, it can be awkward, but I’ve learned over the years that it simply has to be done!

After being named IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year for 2015, I was on cloud nine for a few months! In addition to being invited to an event at Number 10 Downing Street the next day, I was also awarded £5,000 cash and a year-long subscription to FreeAgent, as well as a host of other prizes that were designed to make my life as a freelancer that bit easier. Winning was such an honour; I was really pleased to have made it to the final 15 but when they announced that I was the winner I simply couldn’t believe it! I’ve watched the recording of the ceremony and my face was an absolute picture when I went up to collect the award - I was in total shock!

I would definitely encourage other freelancers to put themselves forward for IPSE’s next Freelancer of the Year award (the deadline for this year's applications is Tuesday 1st September). Regardless of whether you win, entering competitions can really help to boost your confidence and they’re a good (and usually free!) way to promote yourself. IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year competition recognises that freelancers are a growing force; there’s more of us now than ever before and we need a pat on the back like this from time to time!

A new way of ‘doing the books’

I had heard of FreeAgent before winning the prize. One of my friends is a very loyal customer who had been encouraging me to give it a try for ages, so I knew it was going to be fun to use! Until then, I’d been managing my accounts the old school way: with pen, paper and a giant ringbinder! It was a way of working that I felt comfortable with but it took up a great deal of time - usually one or two whole working days a month. Now I use FreeAgent, ‘doing the books’ has become part and parcel of my daily workflow. Instead of sitting down to two whole days’ gruelling admin each month, I log in each day, make sure everything is as it should be and then I sleep soundly at night!

I was really impressed with how easy it was to get started with FreeAgent and how quickly I was able to get my head around everything it could do for me. One of my favourite features is FreeAgent’s bank feeds, which import my bank transactions every day so I can see exactly how much money I have in the bank. I also love the invoice timeline, which gives me an at-a-glance view of how many unpaid and overdue invoices I have at any time.

FreeAgent has even taken the awkwardness out of the dreaded payment chaser email; I can set it up to send an automated reminder to my client as soon as an invoice becomes overdue. It makes the whole process of chasing payment feel a lot more official and less personal. FreeAgent’s invoice templates also give a really professional impression to clients - and they’ve made me take myself a bit more seriously too!

Saving time - and stress!

Since I started using FreeAgent, I’ve saved a huge amount of time. Not only does my bookkeeping feel less cumbersome and disruptive, but I feel like I spend a lot less time chasing - and worrying about - overdue invoices! I plan to continue using FreeAgent once my year’s subscription is up and I’ve been recommending it to all of my freelancer friends since I started using it. Designing is an all-consuming job with long hours and the last thing you’ve got time to do at the end of the day is get the pen and paper out to do your accounts! FreeAgent makes it really easy for me to fit my bookkeeping around a busy schedule of design work.

Five HR tips for first-time employers

Posted on 20 August 2015 by FreeAgent Guest Blog – 0 Comments

Taking on your first employee can be really exciting but if you haven’t had to think about issues like employment law or company inductions before, it can also be a little daunting! If you’re not quite sure where to start, these top five tips from Georgina Read, co-founder and director of citrusHR, an HR support service for small businesses in the UK, should come in handy!

Draft an employment contract

First thing’s first: you’ll need to draft an employment contract for your new employee and give it to them within the first two months of their employment with you - it’s a legal requirement!

The type of contract you need to issue depends on how the employee is going to work. Different contracts are required for the following types of employment arrangements:

  • Full time
  • Part-time
  • Interim (ie. when the employee works with you for a fixed period of time)
  • Flexible hours contracts
  • Zero hours contracts

Once you know what kind of contract you need to issue, you may want to search for a legally compliant (and up to date!) template online to help you get you started, such as the statement of employment template from ACAS. Regardless of whether you choose to use a template, you’ll need to makes sure you include the following information in the contract of employment:

  • Your name
  • The employee’s names
  • The employment start date
  • The employee’s job title or a brief description of their role
  • Salary rate and pay date/frequency
  • The hours of work
  • Where the employee should carry out work
  • How long the contract is expected to last (for interim contracts)
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Sick pay provisions
  • Details of pension arrangements
  • Notice period
  • Any collective agreement in place (if appropriate)

Consider putting employment policies in place

While it’s not essential in law, it's a good idea to think about putting employment policies in place and recording them in a ‘staff handbook’. This not only ensures that you have a written record of how you expect your employees to behave at work; it can help protect your business too. There's a whole range of policies that you can include in a staff handbook - too many to go through here - but for more information, check out this helpful guide to staff handbooks for new employers.

Check that your employee has the right to work in the UK

If you don't properly check your new employee's right to work in the UK and it transpires that they don’t have the appropriate immigration status, you could be liable for a fine of up to £20,000. ‘Obtain’, ‘check’, and ‘copy’ are the three key words you need to remember here. As long as you take the following steps, you should be covered:

  • Obtain the right documents - more details on these can be found here.
  • Check that the documents are valid and not forgeries, to the best of your ability.
  • Copy the relevant pages with all the identifying information you need and keep them on file.
  • It’s good practice to ask a potential employee about their right to work in the UK after you’ve offered them the job and they’ve accepted - you don’t want to face a discrimination claim if you choose not to hire them. If it transpires that your new employee isn’t eligible to work in the UK, you can - and should - terminate their employment immediately.

    Provide new employees with a company induction

    Staff inductions are an important part of taking on your first employee, not least to ensure that they know how to find their way around the workplace! A company induction should also give a new employee all the information and tools they need to do their best in the role.

    Make sure you go over the general housekeeping bits and pieces (e.g. how to find the bathroom and kitchen) and then go into more detail about how you expect them to carry out their role. It’s also important to give new employees the chance to ask you any questions they might have! For more on how to conduct staff inductions, check out our checklist on Slideshare.

    Don’t forget about health and safety!

    Remember that as an employer, you have a legal requirement to keep your staff as safe as possible and to take the necessary steps to minimise any risks there might be to them at work.

    You are also legally obliged to display a Health and Safety poster from the Health and Safety Executive and to have a first aid kit in the workplace. If you have more than five staff members, you will also need to have a written health and safety policy in place.

    It’s a good idea to talk new employees through the health and safety procedures that you have in place as part of their induction. You should be able to demonstrate that you have safe systems of work in place and that your employees know what these are.

The summer months are upon us and the 31st January deadline for online Self Assessment filing may feel like a far-off prospect. While you might be tempted to leave it for a rainier day, here are four reasons why now is a great time to get your Self Assessment sorted.

You’ll be able to register with HMRC more easily

If this is the first year you’ve prepared a tax return, you'll need to register with HMRC to file your returns online, if you haven’t done so already. Registering to file online isn’t as immediate as you might think: it involves HMRC sending you an activation PIN code in the post, which takes at least seven days to arrive.

If you register with HMRC now, then you should be all set to file your tax return in the next couple of weeks. Wait until December, however, and you’ll risk your letter and activation PIN from HMRC getting caught up with the Christmas post and potentially taking longer to arrive - not ideal!

You’ll have more time to find an accountant

Unless your business is the very simplest and smallest of sole trades and you have no other income (e.g. income from a job or property), it’s a good idea to ask an accountant to help you prepare or check your tax return.

When it comes to choosing an accountant to work with, it’s worth taking the time to find someone who you feel comfortable with and who understands your business - something you may not have the chance to do if you leave your Self Assessment filing to the last minute! Unsurprisingly, accountants are very busy in the run-up to tax return season and many of them charge an extra premium to new clients who join them in the months prior to the Self Assessment deadline.

Starting now will give you a much better chance of finding an accountant who will not only help you prepare this year’s tax return, but will work effectively with you on an ongoing basis.

You’ll be able to budget for the rest of the year

Once you’ve completed your Self Assessment tax return and you know how much your tax bill will be for the 2014/15 tax year, you’ll be in a far better position to budget for the coming months. Remember that if you file your tax return now, you won’t have to pay your tax bill until 31st January 2016, so there is plenty of time to plan ahead.

Bear in mind that if your tax and NI bill is over £1,000, you may also have to make a payment on account in July 2016. HMRC should notify you if this is the case.

You’ll avoid incurring any fines

Once you’ve filed your Self Assessment tax return and paid your 2014/15 tax bill, you can relax in the knowledge that you won’t incur any of the following penalties for late filing:

  • a £100 instant fine for not submitting your return by the January 31 deadline
  • £10 a day fines for up to 90 days if you don’t file by April 30th
  • a £300 fine (or 5% of the tax you owe – whichever is the greater number) if you still don’t file your tax return for 90 days after April 30th
  • an additional £300 (or 5% of the tax you owe – whichever is greater) if you still haven’t filed within a year
  • additional penalties if HMRC believes you are intentionally delaying your filing - this may include a fine of up to 100% of the amount of tax you owe

Remember that if you were to file late, you’d also need to pay the tax you owe and HMRC would issue additional penalties for late payment.

Summer may not be the traditional time to tackle your Self Assessment tax return but getting it sorted in plenty of time is a great way to give yourself an early gift of a stress-free Christmas and new year!

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