If you’ve landed here, chances are you’re considering self-employment. The way we work in the UK is set to change drastically over the coming years. From Brexit and near-constant shifts in government to a trend towards contracting and gig work, the generally accepted forecast is that our current methods of doing business will be entirely different in a decade – maybe less. Now is as good a time as any to make the leap to contracting.
There are a plethora of benefits to being self-employed, but there are a lot of uncertain factors that cloud the decision too. Contracting isn’t right for everyone, but is it the right route for you? Read on for a balanced (realistic) argument to help you decide.
Pros of contracting
There are some obvious positives to working for yourself, but there’re some that may not be as apparent right away.
Being your own boss
The most common reason people go self-employed is to shrug off the traditional employer-employee relationship. Being your own boss puts you in control of your work hours, your creative direction and your client manner. It also lets you set your own rates and puts you in the driver’s seat of your own career. There are no employee benefits like organised training or one-to-one support, but you have room to expand your skills without hitting limits or having to justify yourself.
Once again, this comes down to being able to manage your own time. When in a conventional job, you work 9-5; if your days’ tasks are done before then, you’re given more to do. If you rattle through your to-do list as a freelancer, that time is unapologetically yours. It’s also difficult to force creativity for 8 hours a day, particularly if you work best early in the morning or late at night. When you’re self-employed, you can work the hours best for your personal productivity – working in short bursts throughout the day, you may find that work comes much easier and you actually gain free time.
As a contractor, you have complete freedom to pick and choose the projects you take on, the finished work you submit and how you present your services to clients. Your output is very much dictated when working in-house and while agency roles may offer a little more leeway, there are still certain style and tone guidelines to consider to fit into your agency’s brand. Working for yourself allows room for versatility and to develop your own ideas from concept through to finished piece – a satisfying 360 process that you rarely get when working for someone else.
Being able to curate your clients lets you produce work that compliments your particular skills. It also lets you build a comprehensive portfolio that presents exciting opportunities to diversify your talents. You have control over whether you want to work with a company again or not; coming across people that you don’t get on so well with is inevitable, but you can choose to avoid those people when working for yourself.
Cons of contracting
Many contracting positives are about freedom, but the worries about self-employment are often more tangible.
One of the biggest dissuaders to making the leap to contracting is the uncertainty of pay from month to month. Being self-employed means being fully responsible for how much you earn, so it’s advisable to have a little money saved, especially for the first few months while you get into the swing of things. Income shouldn’t be a worry after you build a solid client base but the reality is that it could take some time to win a steady flow of work. Most contractors also struggle with clients paying them late (or not at all) at some point in their career, so make sure you have them sign a contract with a clear payment clause before starting a job.
Working from home sounds great, but the reality is that many freelancers can get lonely; until you’re without it, you don’t release how much of your daily interaction is within office hours. Working from a local coffee shop (or, even better, pub) can help relieve the onset of cabin fever, while there’s a growing trend towards shared office spaces.
Handling your accounts
Filing your own tax returns, tracking expenses and overheads and working out profit sounds intimidating to anyone that isn’t looking to freelance in accountancy, so it’s understandable that it would factor into your decision. There are reams of relatively cheap accounting software options online - QuickBooks and Zoho are popular picks - that are well worth investing. Hiring an accountant from the outset of self-employment is generally a good idea, however; making sure your books are in good shape from the word go puts you in the strongest position not just for tax returns but spotting business growth opportunities too.
Self-discipline when working
If you’re the type of person who needs a motivating factor – i.e. a boss – to hit deadlines, you may struggle a little with procrastination, to begin with. Being in charge of your own to-do list lets you work the way you want, but also puts no consequences between you and your client’s expectations. While it can certainly be difficult to get into a flow some days, if you love your work and have good client relationships, you’ll naturally settle into a working routine.
Is contracting right for me?
No matter how extensively you consider the pros and cons of self-employment, there will always be an element of risk to going it alone. If you’re truly committed to the idea of being your own boss, and all of the freedom that comes with it, then you’ll plough the effort and time into your business to make it work.
We offer a wealth of contract reviews and business insurances for over 370 professions. Should you be concerned about your own IR35 status, we offer a full contract review amongst other services to help you prepare for April 2020. We’ll give an explicit pass or fail based on the current contract you hold, along with comprehensive comments on how to improve any problem areas.
We also offer IR35 tax investigation insurance (TILI) which protects against the court costs that could arise from an HRMC case. It also covers representation by a tax specialist at a tribunal.