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According to Government figures, there has been a net increase of 146,000 businesses in the past year, taking into account all start-ups, closures, takeovers and mergers. It means more businesses have started than closed.
The Business Population Estimates also show the number of businesses that employ people has grown for the second year running, with 35,000 more at the start of 2015 than in 2014.
Small businesses continue to make up 99.3% of all businesses and generate over £1 trillion turnover for the UK’s economy.
Business Accountants (Association of UK Accountants) are Chartered Management Accountants (CIMA) and when you start your new business they are will tell you:
- Choose the right business structure for your business – most businesses start out as sole traders but once they start making profits convert to limited companies, this is because sole traders pay more tax than company structures
- Choose the best VAT Scheme
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Losses and profits
You might think that HMRC is being unfair in refusing loss relief, but if your activity is a hobby you won’t have to pay tax on profits either. This rule can be tricky as revealed in the case of P, when HMRC dismissed his claim for loss relief.
Trade or personal loss?
HMRC challenged P’s claim at a tribunal because in its view it related to non-business transactions and so was a personal financial loss and not one arising from a trade. Non-trading losses can’t be set against taxable income and it’s not just HMRC being difficult.
HMRC and tax specialists refer to the so-called “badges of trade” to decide if a trade exists. These tests were set out in a court judgment decades ago, but remain valid today. One of the tests to establish if a trade exists is that there must be an intention to make profit from a business. In P’s case the tribunal extended this test a little further.
Incapable of making a profit
P started two “businesses”, neither of which made a profit because, in the tribunal’s view, he was inexperienced and couldn’t devote enough time to them. Neither venture was capable of making a profit without P reducing the hours he spent in his main job. In essence P didn’t have the business acumen or time to devote to making his business profitable.
Putting the boot on the other foot
The ruling in P’s case is useful, not just for guidance on when losses are deductible, but for countering HMRC if it claims money you make from a hobby is taxable. Its view has always been that if you advertise your hobby in a newspaper or online you’re probably trading. But the tribunal’s judgment, supported by HMRC, dispelled that idea. If you don’t have the time or intention to carry on a trade, profit you make from isolated sales isn’t liable to income tax.
Turn your hobby into a business
For advice on converting your hobby to a profitable business, including help with setting up a limited company or registering for VAT, please contact Alterledger.
How to maximise your VAT reclaim
Plan ahead and reclaim everything
If you are setting up a business and can ahead, you can register for VAT from the date your business will start. For most traders there is not any restriction on the date the business can start, but for some professional services eg barristers and advocates, no trade exists until they qualify. To maximise the VAT to be reclaimed, the sole trader can register for VAT in advance of date of commencement, effective the date they are due to qualify. This means that the VAT registration will be in place from the 1st day of trading and all sales invoices can be issued as VAT invoices.
There are specific rules allowing pre-registration VAT to be reclaimed, but any claims to recover pre-registration VAT must relate to the same trade and made by the same person. A sole trader who incorporates the business is not the same legal person as the new company. Any VAT suffered by the (unregistered) sole trader can’t be claimed as pre-registration VAT by the new company.
Get help with registering
Your accountant will be able to register you for VAT and recommend the best scheme for you. It can take a few weeks for HMRC to process applications, but accountants who are registered as agents with HMRC are likely to have a quicker turnaround time. For advice on registering for VAT and setting up your invoices, please visit the Alterledger website.
Anyone who works with businesses is fully aware of how important accounting is for the success of a company. Yet many business owners have a negative attitude towards accounting. A high percentage of entrepreneurs see accounting as a necessary evil and often a hindrance to starting a new company.
How is that possible? Wasn’t accounting invented to help companies manage their business?
The IT industry has brought us computers and the ability to create software to automate bookkeeping. While there is no doubt that accounting software has been a great help, when we look at the usage of it, something is wrong. More than half of the businesses in the UK keep track of their finances by using a combination of spreadsheets and word processors rather than using accounting software. In an age where computing power is ubiquitous and virtually never too far from our pocket, we should be able to do better than this.
In 2013, international accounting software provider e-conomic was considering what its next generation accounting software should look like. And decided to take a different approach. What would happen if we created a piece of accounting software for people who had no knowledge of accounting? And what if we made the basic functions free for people to use? We hoped that it would make accounting approachable by virtually anybody.
That’s how the Debitoor invoicing and accounting software was born.
Introducing simple accounting to the world
Today, more than 33,000 people in the UK and almost 300,000 people worldwide have signed up for Debitoor and have given us the privilege of approaching accounting in a different way. Debitoor is used in more than 30 countries, from the UK to South Africa, from Colombia to Australia and New Zealand.
Debitoor is an accounting package for very small businesses. It allows them to manage their customers, create quotes and invoices. It allows them to register their purchases, deal with bank and payments and helps them report their VAT directly to HMRC at the click of a button. Debitoor helps those small companies manage their assets and keep track of what’s on their balance sheet in a very simple manner. Finally, Debitoor helps business owners collaborate with their accountants by allowing them to share their data with them.
Debitoor’s mission is to make accounting cool to work with. Two years after we started, the typical reaction we get from accountants is: “Wow, convincing my clients to use this is going to be super easy!”. We have captured the essence of Debitoor in this video.
Letting users shape accounting software
But what have we done to make this possible? The most important ingredient has been a clear focus. Our mission has always been to make accounting easy for small business owners who know very little about accounting.
Here are some of the key principles we followed to build the Debitoor invoicing and accounting software:
– Approachable: We have removed any obstacles to getting started. There is no setup needed, we do not ask questions, users can start on the free package, the program is ready to go.
– Natural: We have eliminated all technical lingo. You will not find the words “debit” and “credit” in Debitoor. The workflows in the program follow the natural flows of a user with no accounting knowledge and the program uses the typical words he’d use.
– Forgiving: People make mistakes; and accounting systems typically make it quite complicated to correct mistakes. In Debitoor, actions can be undone and mistakes can easily be corrected.
– Instructive: We assume people do not know much about accounting, so we have structured the entire program to let users learn along the way. This is not just functionality but it encompasses the entire packaging of the product.
– User-driven: In an open forum, users can give their feedback and suggest new features, vote for their own or others’ suggestions and influence the further development of the software. This transparency is super important for us to develop a truly user-driven program.
– Collaborative: Most of our users share their data with their accountants in order to get help with taxes, reporting and ensuring quality.
We also had the privilege of building the product with the technology which was available in 2013. This has huge benefits for our users because it allows us to provide them with a service which is reliable, improving at a fast pace and very secure. Having a modern architecture also ensures that Debitoor is very easy to connect to other popular cloud services.
Debitoor’s user base is very diverse as its appeal is quite broad. Many of our users are freelancers, artists, consultants, designers or other creative people, but we have also small artisans and shop keepers or owners of clinics and small distributors. They all have missions and purposes in their lives and we try to help them with their accounting.
Changing how an industry works
As with any change in technology, this brings great opportunities to the industry it affects. The introduction of new technology, however, takes a bit of time to mature. When television started to gain mass adoption in the 1950s, broadcasters used it as it was radio. The first shows had older men with glasses reading papers in front of a microphone. This was how it used to be with radio programs.
The availability of cloud software has created a set of providers who simply made traditional accounting software available on the internet. This, we believe, will change and we will see more and more software which is transformational in nature. That is what we are trying to do with Debitoor.
We are only at the beginning of this journey. The roadmap for Debitoor will focus on three main aspects:
1. Continue to add simple flows to support what today are very difficult accounting scenarios
2. Introduce more and more automation and intelligence to enable our users to do more with less knowledge
3. Strengthen the collaboration between users and their accountants by facilitating the sharing of data between them.
What will this mean for accountants and the accounting industry? This is what our users are telling us: They love doing their invoices and keeping track of their costs in Debitoor. It gives the nice feeling of being in control, it keeps them organized and allows them to focus on their business going forward.
At the same time, they also tell us that they need help from their accountants. They need help with taxes, they need help with reporting to authorities and a lot of them need a quality check from the experts. In addition, most of them need legal and financial advice on ad hoc issues they encounter in their life as entrepreneurs.
The biggest change for accountants is to be prepared to embrace the possibilities that technology gives us. Things like cloud storage and online applications will substitute manual processes, paper and data disks. Everything is now available via a web browser on your computer or on your phone.
In order to be successful, accountants will have focus on services that draw on their knowledge and experience and they will need to be prepared to serve their customers as they move towards those new technologies.
Increased access will not be limited to technology but also to services. This will also mean increased competition. The best thing an accountant can do is embrace change and be ahead of the curve, start small but start early. The customers are already going there.
Almost a third of British workers run some kind of creative business outside their main job contributing an estimated £15bn to the UK economy, according to new research from Moo.com. Profitability among this group of enterprises has increased by 32% in the past year. One in ten part-time creative entrepreneurs plans to leave their job to focus on their business full-time within the next year. However, 60% said it was their passion for the business, and not making money, that motivated them. The most popular part-time creative ventures are in food and cooking, gardening, photography and knitting. (According to Law Donut)
So why are micro businesses taking off:
- You can start off working at home
- Your start up costs are low
- You can do it part time when it suits you
- With wages frozen and costs rising it can provide a useful additional income
- Its easy to be price competitive with low overheads
- The Internet makes it easy to sell your goods and services
- Your social capital can be used to generate sales ie use your contacts and connections
- There could tax advantages – employees generally pay more tax than sole traders
- Some clients prefer the personal touch
- It could be start of something big
Here are my top 20 home based business ideas:
- Get a lodger – Under rent-a-room a taxpayer can be exempt from Income Tax on profits from furnished accommodation in their only or main home if the gross receipts they get (that is, before expenses) are £4,250 or less
- Ironing and Laundry Services – Always popular and you can start with friends and family
- E Bay Trading – as E Bay say… The first task is to sort through those bulging drawers and messy cupboards, finding stuff to flog. Get a big eBay box to stash your wares in, and systematically clear out wardrobes, DVD and CD piles, the loft and garage. Use the easy 12-month rule of thumb to help you decide what to offload: Haven’t used it for a year? Flog it.
- Blogging – Blogging has taken off and many businesses are looking for people to write blogs for them
- Candle Making – You can sell the candles on line and its easy to buy the wax and things you need to make the candles
- Car Boot Sale – As with E Bay but without going on line
- Cake Making – Make sure everything is labelled correctly and you comply with Health & Safety issues
- Data Entry – The internet makes it easy to enter data from where ever you are
- Social Media – Similar to blogging, businesses need help to manage Twitter, Facebook and Linked In
- Website Design – If you have the expertise, go for it
- Sales Parties – Cosmetics to Ann Summers, there is a long list of opportunities
- Sewing and Clothes Alterations – Perfect before and after Christmas
- Jewellery – Making and selling jewellery is always popular and great for Christmas presents
- Car Repairs – Assuming you have the skills needed and comply with legal requirements
- Pet Care – Walking dogs or grooming is popular
- Virtual Assistant – Also personal organiser or personal shopper
- Wedding Planner – You could start by creating a blog about your expertise
- Direct Sales – For example http://www.netmums.com/back-to-work/working-for-yourself/direct-selling-opportunities
- Computer Repair – Great provided you have the skills
- Marketing – Telesales to leaflet design and freelance writing
The criteria used to assess if an activity is a hobby or a business are:
- The size and commerciality of the activity.
- The frequency of the activity and transactions
- The application of business principles.
- Whether there is a genuine profit motive.
- The amount of time devoted to the activities.
- The existence of arm’s-length customers (as opposed to just selling your wares to family and friends).
HMRC have some great examples to help you decided, for example
Gail is a full-time employee working for a stationery company. She pays her PAYE tax on this employment every month.
In her free time Gail makes cushions and uses most of them in her home. Occasionally she sells them to friends and work colleagues for an amount that just covers the cost of materials of £15. Sometimes she makes a loss. Any money she does make goes towards her holiday fund.
She decides to make extra cash by selling cushions on an Internet auction site and starts auctioning three or four to see how they go. They all sell for more than £50, a profit of at least £35 each.
She uses this money to buy more materials and within a month she is selling around ten cushions a week, always at a profit, and is considering setting up her own website.
Gail’s initial sales of cushions to friends are not classed as trading. It lacks commerciality and she does not set out to make a profit. The occasional sales are a by-product of her hobby. Once she begins to auction her cushions, she has moved into the realms of commerciality.
She is systematically selling her goods to make a profit. She will need to inform HMRC about her trade, and keep records of all her transactions. On the level of sales shown in the example the potential turnover of around £26,000 is well below the VAT annual threshold so Gail does not need to register for VAT.
You can find more examples at HMRC
Many traders start off in a small way and don’t realise that they need to register with HMRC, they assume their activity will be treated as a hobby, but things can grow quickly.
You should register as Self Employed as soon as your hobby becomes a commercial venture, even if you are losing money!
If you don’t register, HMRC will be looking for you and if you have an online business it won’t be hard for them to find you.
Ebay say they work ‘hard to ensure that businesses that trade on the platform are aware of their tax obligations’.
It added: ‘We do not hesitate to share information with government agencies should there be evidence of wrongdoing. We require all sellers trading as a business on eBay to register for a business account.’
For any business owner getting the right financial advice when you start the business is critical, here are some Do’s and Don’ts
Separate your bank accounts
Many start ups try mixing business and personal transactions in their personal bank accounts, its a total nightmare, don’t do it, get a business bank account.
Mixing things up will almost certainly have tax implications.
Get help and register for Tax
Getting things right at the beginning is extremely important and a CIMA Accountant can makesure you choose the right business structure and help you register for VAT, PAYE, CIS and other taxes. Choosing the right VAT scheme will save you tax – take a look at this blog
Not registering and filing returns will have severe consequences and lead to fines and penalties.
Ask your Accountant to review you contracts, they will be able to give you lots of useful tips.
Draw up a Budget and Cashflow and forecast how much cash you will need to run the business, looking at your cash cycle and managing it will be vital.
If you need funding ask your Accountant for help, they will be able to look at all the options and help you choose the option thats best for your business.
Many start ups fail to keep control of their accounting, by working with an accountant you can avoid this problem and they can help you choose the best accounting solutions for your business.
Last months ONS figures show more people are becoming self employed than ever before.
Budding female entrepreneurs are set to benefit from superfast broadband with a new £1m challenge fund, enabling them to work effectively, access new markets and grow their business online.
The fund will be part of the Government’s Superfast Broadband rollout and will help women take full advantage of all the opportunities superfast broadband can bring to business. There are 40 local broadband projects in England, already delivering the programme and they submitted bids to the £1m challenge fund in May 2014.
This forms part of help the Government is already providing to female entrepreneurs, which includes:
- £1.6 million to support women’s enterprise in rural areas;
- access to over 15,000 free business mentors; and
- from next year, the introduction of Tax Free Childcare will mean that, for the first time, many self-employed parents will have access to support with childcare costs.
Are we doing enough to help women in business?
Economy in recovery
It now looks like the UK economy is in recovery. Even if this isn’t the case, when people think that times will get better they start to spend money again. With interest rates at historic low rates there is little incentive to stockpile cash in the bank for consumers and for entrepreneurs debt is relatively cheap to finance a new venture.
What’s your plan?
If you are starting a new business, it is important to work out what you will be selling, but to survive the early days of a start-up you will need good projections of your cash flow. As you grow you may need investment from banks or other third parties. Without good quality management accounts is it more difficult to persuade a potential investor to part with their cash.
Ask for help!
You can’t do everything on your own. Work out what your core activities are and how much time you need to do them. If you have time left over for ancillary activities then you are better completing these yourself too. The cost of hiring specialist help, whether it be an accountant, web designer or lawyer can seem to be too much for a nascent company to bear. However if you are spending so much time working out your accounts that you don’t have time for your customers you will cost yourself more in the long-term.
Business booming in Scotland
According to this article from the BBC more Scots are starting up their own business. Records from Companies House show that more than 340,000 companies were formed in Scotland last year. Glasgow and Edinburgh are at the forefront of the economic recovery in Scotland. If you have a good business idea, now could be the time to let that idea take form, especially if you have a service that supports other new businesses.
Give yourself a break
To give your business the best start, make sure you understand your finances. Don’t forget that if you registered a company you are obliged to file accounts with Companies House as well as HMRC. For more information on company formation see my blog here.
For support and advice on the finances of your business contact Alterledger or visit the website alterledger.com.
Business start-ups can take part in four free live tax webinars run by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on 15 February
HMRC Start-up Saturday webinar programme, between 10am and 5pm, is aimed at new and prospective businesses. Each live webinar lasts an hour and gives the opportunity for questions.
The HMRC webinars are:
Self-Employment and HMRC – What You Need to Know
10am to 11am Saturday 15 February
This session concentrates on the information sole traders or partnerships need when they start. It covers registration, National Insurance, Self Assessment and record keeping.
Company Directors – Your Responsibilities to HMRC
12pm to 1pm Saturday 15 February
This webinar is aimed at businesses considering setting up as limited companies. It provides the basics on incorporation and registration with Companies House and HMRC. It also looks at when companies become an employer, and the timetable for paying Corporation Tax online.
Business Expenses for the Self-Employed
2pm to 4pm Saturday 15 February
Sole traders or partnerships need to know which day-to-day expenses they are able to claim for tax relief. They also need to start keeping records of these as soon as the business starts. This webinar provides an overview of the most common expenses, including motoring costs.
What is VAT?
4pm to 5pm Saturday 15 February
New businesses are often worried about VAT, what it is and when they need to register. This webinar answers these questions and explains in simple terms how VAT works.