The FreeAgent Blog
The festive period is a great time to take a break and recharge your batteries. You may be looking forward to some well-deserved downtime but if you’re keen to take advantage of a quiet period in your business and catch up on some admin, this could also be a great time to roll up your sleeves and get started on your 2014/15 Self Assessment.
Tackling your tax return over the festive season might sound like a step too far, but it’s becoming an increasingly popular option. Last year, almost 25,000 people filed their tax return with HMRC between December 24th and 26th, and that includes 1,773 people who filed on Christmas Day!
Although it might not be the best time of year for everyone, there are some great reasons why you might want to think about tackling your Self Assessment over the festive period if you get the chance.
You may have more time and fewer distractions
Many businesses face a slight slowdown during the festive season - especially on Christmas Day and Boxing Day when clients are usually having a break too - so this can be a good opportunity to get your ducks in a row for January. Whether it’s gathering your figures together in order to get your Self Assessment started, or making some headway with filling out the forms, you’re likely to get more done while your clients are taking some time off and the phone isn’t ringing off the hook!
You should be less likely to make mistakes
If you're rushing to pull everything together in the weeks or days leading up to the Self Assessment filing deadline of 31st January, you’re far more likely to enter incorrect information or accidentally forget to include something important. Getting started nice and early over the festive period means you’ll save yourself the stress and worry of trying to pull all your figures together in a hurry.
You could take time out from Christmas stress
Tired of turkey? Bored of board games? Sick of squabbling? Self Assessment may not be the most enjoyable task in the world, but when Christmas starts to feel a bit much, it’s a great reason to excuse yourself from the festivities and have some quiet time away from the hubbub - and the best part is you’ll make some progress on your tax return while you do it!
You’ll have a more productive (and peaceful) January
At the start of a new year, many freelancers and small business owners make resolutions and seek to implement long-lasting changes in their businesses. For you, that might mean reviewing your profit margins, taking on new clients or branching out into new markets - but it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to make that fresh start with the prospect of an outstanding tax return looming in the background. If you complete and file your tax return over Christmas, you’ll have all of January to concentrate on getting 2016 off to a great start!
Following the devastating floods in Cumbria, my home county, I decided to take a day out of the FreeAgent office and volunteer for the relief effort with Cumbria Flood Volunteers.
I spent the day at the Old Fire Station in Penrith, the co-ordination centre for donations and relief. Since the flooding began, donations have come in thick and fast from members of the public who wanted to help. The space where fire engines were once parked was crammed floor-to-ceiling with donations of food, bottled water, cleaning materials and electronic goods.
During the day, some of the volunteers at the Old Fire Station were busy receiving people who needed help, giving them a hot drink and something to eat, and fitting them out with whatever they needed from the donations. Meanwhile, other volunteers were packing up boxes of food to be driven out to the affected areas by volunteer drivers with vans or lorries.
I joined the small admin team in the back office and was given the job of sourcing free meals for the volunteers from local supermarkets and takeaways. This was a totally new experience for me, but I happily picked up the phone and put my very best manners to use. By the end of the day I’d successfully arranged four free meals to feed a team of 20 volunteers over the evening and weekend.
Having finished the day by collecting some of the hot pies I’d sourced earlier for the volunteers’ supper, I drove home utterly exhausted but very happy indeed that I’d done something really worthwhile for the flood relief effort in Cumbria.
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.
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