This advice applies to England. Change country
Why become self-employed
There is encouragement from the government for people to become self-employed and at first it seems attractive, especially if you have recently become unemployed or redundant. Although one of the main attractions of becoming self-employed is no longer having to work for somebody else there are several disadvantages you should consider. These include not being certain of having a regular income, having to arrange your own sick pay and pension and probably having to work long hours.
What kind of business
If you are considering self-employment and do not already have an idea of what you want to do, you could consider something which uses your experience or skills or something which you have previously done as a hobby. As well as the organisations listed in this information (see under heading Who can give further advice) you may be able to get ideas by looking at books and leaflets in the local library or job centre.
Training in either practical or management skills may be necessary. Training is available from a variety of sources such as courses run by the organisations listed in this information (see under heading Who can give further advice), evening classes at local colleges, books.
How to trade
If you are considering self-employment, you will need to discuss with one of the organisations listed under heading Who can give further advice the different ways of trading and which would be most appropriate for your business. The business could take one of three legal forms:-
- a sole trader. This is the simplest way of starting a business
- a partnership. This is similar to a sole trader except that two or more people run the business
- a limited company. This gives the business a completely separate identity from the people who run the business. It is more complicated to set up.
In addition to one of the above legal forms, self-employment can also involve one of the following trading practices:-
- a co-operative. This is a business which is collectively owned and controlled by the people who work in it. At least two people must be involved
- a franchise. A franchise is an agreement which allows the person buying the franchise the right to run a branch of a business that someone else has set up.
As a self-employed person, you will need enough money to live on as well as money to start up the business and keep it going. You may be able to get money from the following sources:-
- family or friends
- grants from charities or trusts
- loans from banks and building societies.
Budgeting is an important skill for anyone who's self-employed. Use our budgeting tool to get a good picture of your incomings and outgoings.
Book-keeping and accounting
It is extremely important that accurate and detailed records of the business are kept. You may be able to keep your own books or employ a bookkeeper or accountant, but if you are trading as a limited company you will need the help of an accountant.
As a self-employed person, you will be responsible for paying income tax on your earnings and will usually need the help of an accountant. There are special tax reliefs and allowances which self-employed people can claim. If you are newly self-employed, you must register with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). You can do this online at https://online.hmrc.gov.uk.
You can get more information about income tax for self-employed people from the HMRC website at www.hmrc.gov.uk or by calling the HMRC Newly Self-Employed Helpline on 0300 200 3504.
You can also use an HMRC e-learning site, which covers tax, national insurance, Self Assessment and other related issues when you start a business. Go to www.hmrc.gov.uk.
Value Added Tax
Value Added Tax (VAT) is a tax on goods and services which is paid to HM Revenue and Customs. Whether or not a self-employed person has to pay, and in some cases has the right to choose to pay, VAT depends on the type of business and how much the business sells.
You can get more information about VAT from the website of HM Revenue and Customs at: www.hmrc.gov.uk.
You could consider trading in the following ways:-
- from home. This has the advantage of low costs but you will need to make sure that the tenancy agreement, mortgage agreement or title deeds of the property do not place any restrictions on business use. You may also need to get local authority planning permission
- from premises you have bought or rented. You should consider how much space you need as well as heating, lighting and ventilation requirements. You need to make sure the property has been approved for business use. Planning permission may also be necessary. If you are considering buying or renting premises you should see a solicitor
- from a market stall. The local authority will have details of where and when these are available and how much local markets charge
- at craft fairs. The local authority will be able to give details of where and when these are held.
Business rates have to be paid to the local authority on most business premises. These include shops, offices, warehouses and factories. In some cases, for example, in a property which contains a shop and a flat, or if you work from home, you may have to pay both business rates and council tax. Some types of business premises are exempt from rates, for example, agricultural land. For more information about business rates in England, see the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.
For more information about business rates in Wales, see the Welsh Government website www.wales.gov.uk.
For more information about business rates in Northern Ireland, see the website of the Land and Property Services at: www.lpsni.gov.uk.
For more about business rates in Scotland, see Scottish Government guide on non-domestic rates.
For more information in England, Wales and Scotland about council tax, see Council tax.
Health and safety
As a self-employed person you have a duty to make sure that your business premises and working environment meet health and safety requirements. Further information about health and safety requirements is available from the local health and safety executive or environmental health department of the local authority. In Scotland, local authority refers to the District and Islands Council.
Depending on the business and how you trade, you will be required by law to take out certain types of insurance. Other types of insurance are not compulsory but it is important to consider which ones are appropriate. The types of insurance you may need are:-
- employer’s liability insurance. If you employ other people you must have this insurance. It provides cover for claims made by employees who are injured or become ill as a result of their employment
- vehicles insurance. Vehicles used for business purposes must be insured even if already insured for private use
- public liability insurance. This provides cover against claims by members of the public who have been injured or had property damaged as a result of carelessness at work by you or your employees
- premises insurance. Insurance will be necessary for the premises you work from, even if you work from home and there is already a policy. This is because the insurance will usually only cover residential use
- contents, stock and materials insurance. This insurance will be necessary to cover the replacement costs of stock, materials and the contents of the premises even if is work is being done from home and there is already a home contents insurance policy
- health and accident insurance. These will pay a regular income or lump sum if you are unable to work because of an accident or sickness.
As a self-employed person you will get state retirement pension if you have met the contribution conditions.
For more information about Retirement Pension, see Benefits for older people.
You could also consider getting a private personal pension.
Setting up in business may affect your immigration status and you should therefore consult an experienced adviser before doing so. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Employing other people
If you employ other people you will be responsible for paying wages, tax and national insurance contributions where relevant. You will have to meet the requirements of employment law and health and safety regulations.
When employing other people, it’s important to make sure you recruit and manage your staff fairly. The Equality and Human Rights Commission gives employers guidance about their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, and also gives tips for avoiding and sorting out problems at work. In Northern Ireland the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland gives employers guidance about their responsibilities under equality laws. ACAS also offers advice and training about employing other people, as well providing a confidential advice service for discrimination and equalities issues. In Northern Ireland the Labour Relations Agency (LRA) offers advice and information on employing people including recruitment, selection and induction, see under heading Who can give further advice.
National insurance contributions
As a self-employed person you may have to pay national insurance contributions for yourself and any employees. Whether you have to pay contributions for yourself, and if so what type, depends on how much you earn. Whether contributions have to be paid for any employees depends on what they earn. The payment of contributions will affect the benefits a person can claim in the future.
You can find more information about national insurance contributions for self-employed people on the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) website at www.hmrc.gov.uk. HMRC also provides a National Insurance Self-employed Helpline for telephone enquiries on 0300 200 3505.
Benefits and Tax Credits
As a self-employed person you may be able to claim benefits or tax credits, depending on your income and other circumstances.
To check what benefits or tax credits may be available, see Benefits and tax credits for people in work.
If you are self-employed you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau, for help in working out how much benefit or tax credit you are entitled to. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
Trading names and licences
You need to consider whether you wish to use a trading name for the business. If so, there are restrictions on the names businesses can use. You may also need to get a licence depending on the type of business. For organisations that can advise on trading names and licences see under heading Who can give further advice.
The services offered by banks vary greatly and so do the fees they charge. Some banks have special teams who handle business accounts. They may also have useful information for start-up businesses. It's a good idea to shop around for business banking services, for example, by using a financial comparison website.
The British Bankers Association has a website that can help you find the business account that suits you. For more information, go to: www.bba.org.uk.
Chambers of Commerce
A Chamber of Commerce is a local network of businesses. It can provide information, advice and training to businesses in your area. Most give free advice to members, but charge for services to non-members. Some Chambers of Commerce serve particular ethnic minorities.
Business.wales.gov.uk (Wales only)
The Welsh Government's business.wales.gov.uk service helps and supports people who want to start, maintain or expand a business in Wales.
Tel: 0300 060 3000
This website provides an online resource for Scottish business to find the information they need from government and the wider public sector. You can access it through the mygov.scot website
Business Gateway (Scotland only)
Business Gateway provides access to publicly-funded business support in Scotland. It gives free, impartial advice to people starting or growing their business, providing online support and information. It also runs a fully-funded programme of workshops and events.
Tel: 0300 013 4753
Nibusinessinfo.co.uk (Northern Ireland only)
Nibusinessinfo.co.uk is a free business advice and support service for businesses in Northern Ireland. The "My New Business" section of their website provides information and learning resources for starting a business.
Tel: 0800 181 4422
Invest NI (Northern Ireland only)
Invest NI is an economic development agency. It offers a range of services to client companies, including financial assistance to eligible companies with a focus on export potential.
Local enterprise agencies (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only)
Local enterprise agencies give free general advice and support to small businesses. Training courses are also available, which are often free. Details of local enterprise agencies are available from the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies or in Northern Ireland from Enterprise Northern Ireland - see below.
Enterprise Northern Ireland
Aghanloo Industrial Estate
National Federation of Enterprise Agencies (England and Wales only)
NFEA is a network of local enterprise agencies in England and Wales. Its general website has details of how to find your nearest local enterprise agency.
Scottish Enterprise is a network of regional offices and the national Scottish Enterprise organisation. The network helpline and website give details of regional offices and assistance offered.
50 Waterloo Street
Helpline: 0845 607 8787 (from within Scotland)
Helpline: 0141 228 2000 (from anywhere in the UK)
Helpline e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Firstport (Scotland only)
Firstport offers free support to people who want to set up a business which will have direct social or environmental benefits. It also administers the Scottish Government's Enterprise Fund.
2 Melville Street
Local authority economic development units
Some local councils have set up units which give advice and help to businesses in their area. Some have bilingual advisers and are intended particularly to help ethnic minority small businesses. They tend to be mainly in inner-city areas. The advisers are employed by the council and will usually have a business background or related skill, such as banking or accountancy.
National Federation of Small Businesses
England and Wales
Sir Frank Whittle Way
Blackpool Business Park
Tel: 01253 336 000
Fax: 01253 348 046
143 Royal Avenue
Tel: 028 9032 6035
The National Federation of Small Businesses is a pressure group which promotes the interests of all self-employed people. There are a number of regional offices and many local branches. There is a subscription fee.
The Federation publishes a free magazine and runs a legal fees and advisory scheme, which provides 24 hour legal advice, and various insurance schemes.
British Franchise Association
85f Milton Park
The British Franchise Association (BFA) is the trade association for franchising companies. It was set up to promote franchising and establish standards. To join, franchising companies have to show that their franchise works and they have to agree to abide by a code of ethics designed to protect franchisees.
The BFA produces an information pack (£29 including postage and packing) for prospective franchisees which includes a list of checks to be made before buying a franchise.
The Prince’s Trust
9 Eldon Street
Prince's Trust Cymru
16 Ocean Way
Prince’s Trust Scotland
17 Renfield Street
Prince's Trust Northern Ireland
Unit 8a Weavers Court
The Prince’s Trust helps young unemployed people aged 18-30 to set up their own businesses. The Trust can give loans, on-going business advice and help with marketing. The Trust is particularly interested in helping people from ethnic minorities, disabled people and ex-offenders.
PRIME Business Club
PRIME is no longer funded to provide business advice and no further courses are planned. For help with starting your own business, the following may be useful:
- Great business (business support and advice from GOV.UK)
- GOV.UK (business finance and support finder)
- Enterprise Nation 50 plus (business training for people over 50)
Business mentoring organisations
Here are some organisations that offer business mentoring:
- Mentorsme (online gateway for business mentoring)
- Horsesmouth (social network for informal mentoring)
- Mentoring and Befriending Foundation
Shell LiveWIRE UK
65 Westgate Road
Newcastle Upon Tyne
Livewire is a national scheme sponsored by Shell, to help young people aged 16-30 to set up in business. Young people with projects can discuss their ideas with local advisers and financial awards may be given. There is usually a closing date for the scheme each year. Each entrant to the scheme will be paired to an adviser who will help them on an individual basis to plan and develop their business idea.
Co-operatives UK is the central organisation for co-operative enterprises in the UK. It is member owned and led, and works to represent the interests of its member co-operatives. It provides a wide range of support services to its members.
Brecon Business Centre (Wales only)
61 Brecon Business Centre
Tel: 01874 610 054
Fax: 01874 610 794
Brecon Business Centre is responsible for the economic and social development of mid-Wales. It provides advice and support to small businesses, including advice about setting up in business, preparing a business plan, advising on whether the business idea is viable and can help investigate sources of money, find suitable premises and set up financial control systems, for example, book-keeping. It runs training courses, and provides advice locally through a number of Business Centres.
Rural Development Council (Northern Ireland only)
The Rural Development Council (RDC) is a rural development organisation that provides a range of development, support, training and delivery services. It provides advice and support to people, farmers and groups.
Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) (England, Wales and Scotland only)
If you are an employer, you can get free advice on employment matters from the Acas website at www.acas.org.uk and on its telephone helpline, 0845 747 4747. Acas also provides training courses on employment topics that may be useful for small businesses. The Acas Equality Direct helpline, on 0845 600 3444, provides a confidential advice service on discrimination and equalities issues.
LRA (Labour Relations Agency) (Northern Ireland only)
If you are an employer, you can get free advice on employment matters from the LRA website at www.lra.org.uk and on its telephone enquiry point, 028 9032 1442. The LRA also provides training courses on employment topics that may be useful for small businesses.
Skills Development Scotland (Scotland only)
Skills Development Scotland
11 George Square
Advice for individuals: 0800 917 8000 (Monday to Sunday from 9.00am to 5.30pm)
Employer helpline: 0800 783 6000 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Tel: 0141 285 6000 (head office)
Website: www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk and www.myworldofwork.co.uk
Skills Development Scotland for business is a service that provides businesses, learning providers and individuals with appropriate training, skills and funding advice.
Disabled Entrepreneurs Network (England and Scotland only)
The Disabled Entrepreneurs Network is a regional networking service for disabled people. It provides advice and support for disabled people who run their own business or who want to set up in business.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) (England, Wales and Scotland only)
The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides guidance for employers about their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. They also give best-practice tips for avoiding and sorting out problems at work.
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) (Northern Ireland only)
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland provides guidance for employers about their responsibilities under equality legislation. They also provide model policies and procedures for employers to use.