Leaping from a full-time job to becoming self-employed is exciting and can be very rewarding, but it’s important to be financially prepared.
Moving from a regular wage to working for yourself with an irregular income means you need to ensure you have enough money to live on.
You should have enough savings to see you through the early stages of self-employment and sufficiently budget your finances opens in new window as your business progresses.
This guide outlines how to do it successfully.
Understanding the financial shift
When you have a salaried job, your employer is responsible for calculating your tax and National Insurance liabilities and deducting them from your wages through PAYE opens in new window.
As a self-employed individual, you need to work out how much you owe in tax and file an annual Self Assessment tax return opens in new window with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
Employees typically pay their taxes monthly through PAYE, whereas the self-employed typically pay taxes twice a year.
Payment of a Self-Assessment tax bill opens in new window is due by 31 January following the end of the tax year.
If you are self-employed, you must usually also make advance payments towards your next tax bill.
These ‘payments on account opens in new window’ are usually due on 31 January and 31 July.
These arrangements mean you must ensure you set enough funds aside to pay your taxes by the deadlines.
Failure to do so could result in penalties and interest.
In self-employment, your monthly income will likely be more irregular than you’re used to, so you need to factor this in with funds in place before making the leap into working for yourself.
Initial business expenses
Typical start-up costs include:
- accountancy and legal fees – money spent on professional services such as an accountant opens in new window and solicitor for activities such as business plan opens in new window advice and registering as a limited company if you decide to go down that route
- business registration – this includes fees for Companies House registration, setting up a registered office, and licences
- marketing – this is money spent on activities such as creating a website opens in new window, logo design, printed marketing opens in new window materials, social media opens in new window assets, and market research opens in new window
- office, property, and equipment – costs such as rent, using co-working spaces, stationery, broadband, business rates, energy, insurance, laptops, and furniture.
Before becoming self-employed, calculate your start-up costs so you know you have enough funds available.
Think about the expenses you’ll have for launching your business and the likely costs during your first 12 months of trading.
You can then work out how much business you’ll need to generate to ensure you at least break even, or ideally make a profit.
Read our guide for more tips on calculating start-up costs opens in new window.
In the early stages of self-employment, it’s a good idea to keep costs as low opens in new window as possible.
Ways to do this include:
- working from home opens in new window
- claiming business expenses opens in new window
- booking travel in advance to get the best prices
- using video conferencing to reduce travel expenses
- seeking out the best deals for expenses such as broadband, phones, and insurance.
Budgeting for irregular income
Freelancers and the self-employed often have fluctuating incomes, so budgeting is vital.
Work out your minimum income you’ll require to cover all your expenses as you start your self-employment journey.
This includes fixed costs like rent, mortgage payments, utility bills opens in new window, and variable costs such as entertainment, travel, and clothing.
As your business develops and you have been trading for several months, you will be able to work out your average income, which you can use to refine your budget.
As you don’t pay taxes monthly when you’re self-employed, it’s vital that you budget for these payments so you can settle your tax bill when required.
Once you are paid to do some work, calculate how much tax is due and put it aside.
As a sole trader, you can use your personal bank account for your business finances opens in new window, but this approach can make life harder in the long run.
Using a separate bank account opens in new window for your self-employment income helps to stay on top of cash flow and makes budgeting easier.
It is advisable to have an emergency fund for unexpected expenses or a future financial crisis.
Use savings or allocate some of your monthly income to this fund.
Finding and securing funding
You may need external finance to manage your cash flow opens in new window or fund growth.
To be approved for funding, you typically need to provide a business plan with cash flow and revenue forecasts.
For some types of finance, you need a good credit history.
A grant opens in new window is an amount of money for a specific business purpose that you don’t have to pay back.
Public sector organisations often provide grants, although private businesses offer them too.
You’ll receive the full amount for some grants, but others are match-funded, which means you’ll need to provide a proportion of the funding yourself.
Grants are listed on the gov.uk website opens in new window, with country-specific databases on government sites for Wales opens in new window, Scotland, opens in new window and Northern Ireland opens in new window.
Loans are money you pay back with interest over an agreed period.
Loans can be:
- secured – where you use an asset from your balance sheet as security, such as equipment or property
- unsecured – no business assets are required as security.
Sole traders may find accessing bank loans more challenging than limited companies because lenders may perceive them as riskier.
Sole traders may find it easier to get a personal loan opens in new window.
An example is a Start Up Loan opens in new window, which is government-backed funding between £500 and £25,000 with a fixed annual interest rate of 6%.
A credit card opens in new window provides credit you must repay once you’ve used it.
Although some credit card companies offer interest-free periods, you must typically pay interest on balances you do not clear each month.
Here are some helpful tools and resources for financial planning and budgeting:
- Download a cash flow forecast template opens in new window
- A guide to business forecasting opens in new window
- Download a personal survival budget template opens in new window
- How to set realistic expectations as a start-up opens in new window
- Profit and loss account explained opens in new window
- 10 ways to strengthen your cash flow opens in new window.
Becoming self-employed is exciting and provides a significant opportunity to control your destiny, enjoy financial rewards, and achieve personal growth.
But when you work for yourself, it’s essential to plan and keep an eye on your finances to have sufficient money to enjoy the experience.
Have a continuous learning attitude and seek professional advice when needed to adapt your financial strategy.
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on sustainability in the workplace.
Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses opens in new window include:
- Effective communication in the workplace opens in new window
- Succeed in the workplace opens in new window
- Leadership and followership opens in new window
Plus free courses on climate and sustainability, teamwork, entrepreneurship, mental health and wellbeing.
Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.