Challenging times for the self-employed

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The start of the year is often a good time to take stock of a situation and make a plan for the coming 12 months. As those in the self-employed sector look ahead they will see a number of challenges, including the continued rise in living and working costs, the need to undertake training to keep up with workplace evolution and difficulties in dealing with HMRC.

Feeling the squeeze

The cost-of-living crisis continues, with the rate of inflation rising again in December. The past year has seen the cost of the weekly supermarket shop spiral while may will have seen rent or mortgage payments rise.

Unfortunately, the energy price cap rose by 5% at the beginning of 2024 while still more people will need to re-mortgage this year and will be faced with paying a higher rate of interest.

Sadly, increases in rates for freelancers have rarely kept pace with inflation while many are reporting a rise in late payment among clients, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).

Meanwhile, some freelancers are still paying off debts incurred during the pandemic. All these hurdles combine to impact on the profitability of a self-employed business.

Increases and side hustles

One option for freelancers is to increase the rate they charge clients. This does carry risks, so considering how clients may react is key. Communicating any increases and the reasons for making them will be essential.

If increasing rates is not possible then there are other options, including trying to generate more business, diversifying or establishing an entirely new side hustle altogether.

This may reduce reliance on client work and provide an additional revenue streams which in turn may help alleviate the pressures of rising living costs.

Retraining or upskilling

Developments in the world of work, from a widespread shift to remote working to a boom in free-to-use generative AI tools, are transforming our understanding of working practices.

These rapid cycles of innovation also create opportunities for freelancers to boost their efficiency and diversify their offer, but only if they can find the time and money to get ahead of the curve.

Finding the time to train

Learning new skills, and keeping current ones up to date, can help freelancers reinvigorate a business offering and escape a cycle of stagnant income.

However, for freelancers, time spent learning something new is time not spent on their core business activities, working on projects or generating leads, something that many freelancers can't afford. In addition, money spent by freelancers on learning new skills is not tax deductible.

Despite these obstacles finding training opportunities is important. It is also true that non-core skills – such as thought leadership, networking or public speaking – could bring new opportunities.

Taxing times

It is a fact for the self-employed that tax can take up a lot of time. That might be time spent filling in and filing self assessment returns, locating tax forms or corresponding with HMRC.

Talking to the tax authority is currently a fraught and time-consuming business. Data shows that the average wait time for HMRC's phonelines has increased by more than double since 2020, from 10 minutes to 24 minutes.

On top of this HMRC announced it would only be answering 'priority queries' in the run-up to January's self assessment deadline. It is doubtful that the self-employed would be using their valuable time to call HMRC if their query were anything other than a priority to them.

Financial health

The scrapping of Class 2 National Insurance contributions (NICs) in the Autumn Statement was welcome, as was the recent announcement of a new 'offset' mechanism for the off-payroll working rules from April next year.

It remains imperative that freelancers take time and care to manage the financial health of their business. By regularly updating invoices and expenses, managing key financial deadlines, tackling administrative tasks promptly the self-employed can save time and money overall.

A helping hand

We have many years of experience of self-employed tax and business matters. Our expert team can advise on tax returns and allowances, business structures, business plans, cashflow, trading forecast and budgets.

To discover how we can help you, please contact us.