January 31: the only date (probably) that's likely to strike fear into any business owner. But getting your self-assessment form in on time is as satisfying as removing the petrol pump from your car just as it hits a good, round number. Or finding the exact change for the parking meter in your glove box. Or - and here's the best one - realising that carrot cake is actually (probably) one of your five-a-day.
But enough about my obsession with cake; here are a few tips to surviving the dreaded tax season as a self-employed copywriter. Read on...
Just Do It...
Cheers Nike, for the sub-heading. My guess is that 'Just Do It' was coined, not by an expert marketer, but by a copywriter who was also in the midst of TRP (Tax Return Procrastination).
The point is, the annual self-assessment tax deadline will be here soon - whether we all like it or not. And trust me when I say it's never a good idea to leave it until the last minute. I have a friend who does the very same; he'll do anything at all to avoid sitting down and cracking on - batch cooking the week's meals, weeding, paying overdue bills, calling old friends - you name it; he does it. But to be frank, I think secretly he enjoys the 'will-I-won't-I-complete-it-in-time' pressure of it all.
For most of us, though, that pressure is excruciating. So don't do it to yourself. Open your laptop, grab those receipts and knuckle down. You'll thank me for it. My pal, on the other hand, can probably be found hitting 'send' on his tax return at precisely 11.59pm. Not you, though; because this year, you're going to be organised. Hey, why not reward yourself after? Now, there's an incentive to get going.
...Or Hire Someone Else to Do It
My editorial assistant salary at the newspaper I worked on, aged 21, wasn't great. So I beavered away in my own time to earn an extra income. Back then, I'd file my tax return myself; there was hardly anything to note down on the self-assessment form, so it made sense to save some money.
But the books soon became more complex when I transitioned from being employed by someone else to being employed - and full-time at that - by myself. So, if you’re transitioning, too, I suppose now’s a good time for me to extol the virtues of a bookkeeping firm, who can take the headache away from filing your taxes.
Cue Relative Accountancy here in Huddersfield, who've not only taken the stress away from the dreaded tax return, but helped to demystify some of the self-assessment jargon for little old me.
If you've taken the plunge to go full-time freelance, believe me when I say one of the best investments you can make is to hire an accountant. Plus, it'll save you on paracetamol for those headaches.
Too late to find an accountant to file this year's tax return? Make it your business to find someone ahead of April 1 and get a good headstart on next year's books.
Hang Onto Those Receipts
No matter how irrelevant they may seem now, hang onto all those even slightly business-related receipts. Lunches out, stationery for your home office, even magazine subscriptions you may need to do your work; they may all add up to a great saving on your tax return.
Establish a System That Works
So, you may have found a great accountant to save you time and money on your taxes. But hiring a bookkeeping company doesn't mean you can switch off and put your feet up. You'll still need to do some work, keeping track of your receipts (the easiest option is to chuck them in an old shoe box, clearly labelled 'Tax Receipts', so a well-meaning partner or pal doesn't throw it out), expenses, and earnings.
If you're a whizz on Excel, you may be able to put a fancy schmancy spreadsheet together, which keeps track of your profits and your expenditure and 'tots' everything up for you, too. Don't know what you're doing? Ask your accountant; mine put me an absolutely brilliant one together, which makes keeping on top of all things money so much easier.
In the meantime, use a bookkeeping website like BrightBook (one of the few free accounting sites out there!) and send invoices directly to clients. It's transformed the way I work and it's meant I've got into a great routine when it comes to sending and logging payment of invoices.
Work Out What You Can & Can't Claim For
I'll admit that when I was freelancing on the side of a full-time job, I had no idea what I could and couldn't claim for - and was therefore doing myself, and my finances, a huge disservice. I'd attend gigs as part of commissions for NME magazine and not even think about claiming travel expenses. And I once spent some of my savings on a short course for work, without realising I could have put that through my books, too.
So if you've just dipped your toes into freelancing, or self-employment, now's the time to discover what you can and can't claim for. The Guardian team answers a few frequently asked questions, just in case you'd like to know more on that very subject.
And Remember: It'll Soon be February 1!
I'll leave you with some sound advice of my Dad's. Whenever I was worried about something as a kid - be it a school exam or presentation - he'd say: just remember; it'll soon be tomorrow. And he's right, you know. You spend days, weeks, sometimes even months, worrying about something - and guess what, it's over before you know it. Don't stress; it’ll all be fine. Why? My Dad says so. And he's never wrong.*
* At least that's what he thinks
Until next time...