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Why Xero is the Best Small Business Accounting Software

What is Xero cloud based accounting?

Xero is an innovative cloud based accounting software that has all the tools you need to grow and scale your small business. It is a software that understands both the necessity and pain of accounting for small business owners and introduces a number of solutions for each through its simple to use functionality and integrations.

You are able to view and share interactive reports and budgets, import bank transactions, send invoice reminders and much more. Whether you’re setting up a new business or migrating your existing business accounts, Xero is a fast and simple software that will help you to spend less time in spreadsheets and more time focusing on your business.

7 Reasons why Xero is the best all round accounting software for small businesses

Xero is used by millions of small businesses worldwide and can be easily accessed anywhere via the cloud. We have listed 7 of the best reasons why Xero is and continues to be the best accounting software solution for small businesses.

If you are interested in using Xero for your business regardless of size, please contact us to talk about the range of pricing packages available.

1. Time saving capabilities

Xero gives you the opportunity to take control of your business finances anywhere in the world via the mobile app and simple online log in. Xero helps to create endless efficiencies by reducing the amount of time you spend manually inputting your finances. You can view real time financial details including information such as outstanding invoices and bills as well as set up rules, repeating invoices and much more.

2. Automated Bank Feeds

Xero automate bank feeds, this means that instead of manually importing bank statements into Xero, you can connect your bank and credit card account directly to Xero, which reduces the likelihood of error. With these being automated, it’s going to save you a lot of time and it’s a more efficient way to manage your accounts.

3. User-Friendly

One of the biggest benefits of Xero is how user-friendly it is. The whole system is easy to navigate your way around and the terminology is easy to follow. Even without in-depth accounting knowledge, Xero is simple to understand and use which is what makes it so great for small business owners.

4. Always Improving

Like any system, there is always room for improvement. The great thing about Xero is that they release monthly product updates to keep you up to date with any changes and improvements. Cloud-based software can be used on any devise with internet connection, keeping small business owners connected with their business and accounts. Xero are working on flexibility with remote working, making data fluid and accessible.

5. Payments made easier

Late payment of invoices are a big problem in the UK, but using Xero is a great way to prevent cash flow issues. Xero allows you to see when an invoice has been opened, send statements to customers, set up automatic reminders and maintain your customer accounts quickly and efficiently.

6. Making Tax Digital

Making Tax Digital is a key part of the government’s plan to make it easier for businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their finances. Making Tax Digital means you are no longer able to keep and submit manual VAT records and returns.

Instead, HMRC will only accept VAT returns sent using software that supports Making Tax Digital for VAT, such as Xero. This is now mandatory, for VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold (£85,000).

HMRC also have plans for Making Tax Digital for income tax and corporation tax in the not to distant future and Xero are committed to ensuring they remain compliant with HMRC requirements, this means your business will be future proofed for evolving tax legislation.

7. Xero integration with apps

Xero integrates with hundreds of apps that small businesses use and this makes the process and interaction between them seamless and efficient. We have included a few examples below but there are many more in the Xero app section that may be relevant to your business.


A big challenge for small business owners is keeping their books and records up to date and understanding their financial position, Dext and Xero can help small business owners to take control of their finances.

Dext is a data capturing tool which extracts key data from documents and then creates transactions in Xero at the click of a button. Dext allows you to email bills and receipts straight into your Dext organisation as well as link direct to specific supplier accounts.

Dext is easy to use, with a mobile app to upload a photo and set up automated connections so whenever you get a bill from a supplier it goes straight into Dext. Like Xero, you can invite your accountants, bookkeepers or team members into your Dext organisations and decide how much visibility you want them to have.

Dext also stores documents therefore you are not required to keep any paper copies of bills and receipts freeing up space and reducing paperwork.

Hubspot – CRM integration

HubSpot’s CRM platform has all the tools and integrations you need for marketing, sales, content management and customer services. Xero and HubSpot integrate together for visibility into your customers’ journey and time saving.

HubSpot helps develop those leads your website attracts, meaning you can start to build better relationships with potential clients and existing clients through personalised conversations.


Collecting payments, chasing invoices and subscriptions can be time consuming and can put people off starting a business, however with GoCardless you don’t need to worry about that. It is made for recurring payments and puts you in control of when you get paid.

GoCardless is made for businesses that bill their customers on a recurring basis. It’s ideal for collecting payments for both intermittent and repeating invoices.

The GoCardless and Xero integration will end late payments, predict your cash flow, reduces bookkeeping and international payments are available with no mark-up on foreign exchange.

GoCardless and Xero has a simple setup. You are able to create a GoCardless account directly within Xero, you then send out your invoices and GoCardless will automatically collect payments when they are due. Once payment has been received through GoCardless, the invoice in Xero will be marked as ‘paid’. GoCardless is a lower cost alternative to card payments and helps take the stress away from invoicing.

Workflow Max

Manage your workflow from quotes through to invoicing while tracking time and costs. Improve your project budgeting and gain critical insights into your business. Workflow Max and Xero integration is designed to improve profitability and gain insights. Workflow Max can configure to suit the needs of your business and track leader, proposals and sales pipeline all in one place.

Convinced that Xero is for you but need some training on how to use the software?

We are certified Xero advisors here at The Orenda Collective and we offer Xero training packages to clients and non-clients alike.

Some of the topics covered on the basic training include:

  • Xero set up including organisation settings, financial information and branded invoice templates
  • Connecting Xero to your bank through bank feeds
  • Changes to the standard chart of accounts to make your accounting template bespoke to your business
  • How to raise an invoice, send it directly to a customer, chasing the invoice with customer statements and reconciling the payment received against the invoice
  • How to enter bills and receipts from your suppliers/ providers and how to reconcile the payment against the expense
  • Reconciling the bank (a key control!)
  • How to access reports and meaningful data within Xero and what it all means to you as a business owner
  • Q&A time for you to go through any questions and concerns you may have

Our 60 minute training sessions are £150 and include a 15 minute call in advance of the training to ensure we set your training outcomes and cover anything specific to you within the session.

For more information or to discuss a tailored Xero training program please contact us.

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How to Become a Freelance Graphic Designer

There are many reasons why you may want to go freelance. It might be that you are fed up of working for someone else, you would love to be your own boss or you want to choose your own hours and work from home. Whatever the reason, we have put together a guide to talk you through the steps on how to become a freelance graphic designer.

How to become a freelance graphic designer:

  • Choose your business structure
  • Register your business
  • Get a business bank account
  • Get appropriate insurance
  • Understanding record keeping requirements 
  • Understanding accounting and tax requirements

In this guide we walk through each of these steps in detail to give you the confidence and knowledge required to become a freelance graphic designer.

Choose your business structure for your freelance graphic design business

You have decided you want to become a freelance graphic designer, but don’t know where to start. There are multiple options when deciding what structure is for you, the most common structures include:

For the purposes of our becoming a freelance graphic designer guide there are two structures that we will focus on; Self-employed and Limited Companies. For further detail on other business types, please get in touch.

So what is the difference between being a sole trader and a limited company?

To put it simply, being a self-employed/sole trader means you are trading as an individual, while being a limited company means you are trading as a company, albeit a company of one.

Do you need an accountant which specialises in graphic designers?

Self-employed/Sole Trader

A self-employed individual, often known as a sole trader, does not work for a specific employer who pays them a consistent salary or wage. Self-employed individuals earn an income by offering their services or products directly to customers or businesses. They are required to win design work or customers themselves and take responsibility for the success or failure of their freelance graphic design work. As a freelance graphic designer this would mean you would have to go out and find clients yourself.

Benefits of a freelance graphic designer being self-employed

  • Simple freelance business structure without the administration burden of a Limited Company
  • Free and simple registration of your business with HMRC
  • Flexible freelance business structure that can later transition to a Limited Company

Considerations of a freelance graphic designer being self-employed

  • You are personally responsible for any losses the freelance business makes
  • You are taxed at income tax rates which can be less tax efficient than operating as a Limited Company
  • Potential Clients may see sole traders as less attractive than Limited Companies

What is required of you as a self-employed individual

  • Register with HMRC at
  • Record keeping of all income and expenses
  • Submit a tax return each year

Limited Company

Many of the indicators of a self-employed individual also apply to owners of a limited company, however, instead of being self-employed you are considered both an owner (shareholder) and office holder (director) of a limited company.

A Limited Company is a general form of incorporation that limits the amount of personal liability undertaken by the company’s shareholders and directors. This means that as a director and shareholder of a Limited Company, the business and you are seen as separate legal entities, which provides a layer of protection to your personal assets as a freelance graphic designer.

Benefits of a freelance graphic designer operating as a Limited Company

  • Retain more of profits by utilising tax efficiencies
  • Limited personal liability, this means that if a Company is in debt, the personal assets and finances of the shareholders will be protected by law
  • Limited companies have a certain level of prestige in terms of brand image that sole traders do not

Considerations of a freelance graphic designer operating as a Limited Company

  • More complex and expensive to set up than a sole trader
  • Limited company accounts and tax are more technical than a sole trader
  • There are additional costs incurred when operating a limited company

What is required if you register as a Limited Company

  • Incorporate your company with Companies house and register for company tax with HMRC
  • Record keeping of income and expenses in line with company regulation
  • Submit Financial Accounts and Corporation tax return each year (as well as a self-assessment tax return for you as a director and shareholder)

Further information on both structures can be found in our blog on setting up as Self-employed versus Limited Company.

So which should I choose?

Ultimately the choice as to whether operate as a sole trader or a limited company is completely up to you and personal to your specific situation.

If you are looking for a simple way to set up as a freelance graphic designer then a sole trader is probably the best place to start. However, there are certainly many advantages to operating as a limited company, especially if you intend to grow and scale your business in the future.

Whichever option you are leaning to we always recommend you discuss it with an accountant to get their professional opinion and ensure you are set up correctly from the start.  We offer a free consultation call for new clients, contact us here.

Registering yourself as a freelance graphic design business

Once you have decided on an operating structure you will register your freelance graphic design business. The process is different for sole traders and limited companies.

Self-employed/Sole trader registration

Registering as a sole trader is fairly straightforward, you must create a government gateway account with HMRC and complete the registration from.

You’ll receive a letter with your Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR) number within 10 days and subsequently you will receive an activation code. You will need your government gateway log in details and UTR number to file your taxes, so make sure to keep it safe.

Once you are registered you will be required to keep on top of your record keeping and deadlines for filing your tax return.

Limited company registration

To start up as a limited company there are a few more steps that need to be taken.

  • Decide on a company name
  • Decide who will be the director(s) of the company
  • Decide who will be the shareholder(s) of the company
  • Prepare documents on how to run the company (articles of association)
  • Incorporate your company with Companies House
  • Register for Corporation Tax (and other taxes such as PAYE and VAT as appropriate) with HMRC

We would recommend using a professional to help you with registration of a Limited Company to ensure you meet all of the legislation requirements.

Apply for a bank account for your freelance design business

The number one thing you should always do when you set up as a freelance designer, whether you are self-employed or a limited company, is set up a business bank account specific to your freelance design work.

Setting up a business bank account means that you are able to keep all of your graphic design income and expenditure separate from your personal finances. This makes is much easier when you come to your tax and accounts at year end. Furthermore, as a Limited Company you are required to have a company bank account as the company is a separate legal entity in its own right.

What is required to set up a bank account?

It is easy to set up a bank account. You will provide the bank with the following information:

  • Business name and address
  • Photo identification such as a driver’s license or passport and proof of address
  • They may require a letter from your accountant

What banks could I look at?

You can apply for a business bank account from most banks. You could choose a traditional high street bank or an online bank.

There are a few things you should consider whilst deciding which bank to go with such as:

  • Are there any extras/benefits you will receive as part of using that bank account?
  • How quick is it to set up?
  • Is there a fee? If so, is it a one off fee or monthly?
  • Is there an app?

Apply for appropriate insurance

As a freelance graphic designer there are many types of insurance that may be applicable to you, such as public liability insurance, employers liability and professional liability insurance.

Public Liability Insurance

Public liability insurance is an insurance product for business owners. It protects you in case your business is brought to court by a client, a customer or a member of the public. If your business is sued, public liability insurance will cover the cost of your legal defence, plus any compensation or settlement money you have to pay out.

Public liability doesn’t cover any injury to yourself or your employees. It covers the cost of legal action and compensation claims made against your business if a third party is injured or their property suffers damage while at your business premises or when you are working in their home, office or business property.

You’re not legally required to have public liability insurance, but if you’re a business owner the chances are you’ll need it. Public liability insurance covers your costs if someone else sues your business – and without cover, unexpected legal costs could bankrupt your business.

Public liability insurance is particularly important if your business involves interacting with the public. If a customer has an accident on your premises, they might sue. You may still need public liability insurance if your business doesn’t have a physical premises. If you’re a freelance graphic designer, you could accidentally damage a client’s property while visiting them. Even if you sell your services from home, there’s always a chance that a customer could bring you to court.

Employers Liability Insurance

Employers’ liability insurance covers you and your business for compensation costs if an employee becomes ill or injured as a result of the work they do for you. It’s legally required of all businesses with one or more employees.

Employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement if you have employees – including many types of subcontractor. If you are caught without cover, your business can be fined up to £2,500 per employee per day.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional indemnity insurance can cover compensation payments and legal fees if a client makes a claim against you. The compensation payment will usually take into account the financial loss that the client has suffered.

Imagine, for example, that you are handling client data, but you or an employee copies the wrong person into an email when sending on the data. Your client sues you for breach of confidentiality. In this case, your professional indemnity insurance could pay for the cost of the compensation claim, along with legal expenses.

Professional indemnity insurance isn’t mandatory under the law, but, as mentioned above, protects you and your business if something goes wrong. It’s also required by some client contracts.

How much are these insurances for freelances graphic designers?

The cost of insurance will differ depending on the size of your business and the services you provide. There are a lot of comparison search engines online which will help you decide which insurance is best for you and your business, speaking to an insurance broker will also allow you to get quotes from a variety of insurers.

Understand your record keeping requirements

The requirements for record keeping for sole traders and limited companies are different.

Self-employed/Sole Trader

As a sole trader you must keep records of your graphic design income and expenses for your tax return.

Types of proof include:

  • All receipts for goods, services and stock
  • Bank statements
  • Sales invoices, till rolls and bank slips etc.

How to keep track of records?

As a sole trader it is possible to keep track of records in a spreadsheet (though this is likely to change in the future with the implementation of Making Tax Digital for income tax). We would recommend looking at your records on a regular basis e.g once a month and entering all income and expenditure into a spreadsheet. This means when you come to complete your tax return at the end of the year you have all your details in one place. As a sole trader you could also use an accounting software system, see limited company section for further details regarding accounting software.

Limited company

As a limited company you are required to keep more records than as a sole trader.

Records about the company

  • Details of directors, shareholders and company secretaries
  • The results of any shareholder votes and resolutions
  • Any details for the company to repay loans at a specific date in the future and who they must be paid back to
  • Details for the company to make payments if something goes wrong and it’s the company’s fault
  • Transactions when someone buys shares in the company
  • Loans or mortgages secured against the company’s assets

Accounting records

  • All money received and spent by the company, including grants and payments from support schemes e.g. coronavirus support scheme
  • Details of assets owned by the company
  • Debts the company owes or is owed
  • Stock the company owns at the end of the financial year
  • All goods/services bought and sold and who you bought and sold them to and from

How to keep track of records?

As a limited company we would not recommend keeping track of your records using a spreadsheet. We would instead recommend you use an accounting software.

The benefits of using cloud accounting software is that it provides 24/7 access to all your financial data from anywhere in the world, electronic filing for all of your invoices and receipts to minimise the need for paper and integration with multiple applications such as Hubdoc, Shopify and PayPal.

This could mean for example that when you invoice for a piece of branding work you have completed for a client the software will automatically speak to PayPal and when the client pays the records will be updated in the system to show the invoice as paid without you having to do anything. The other great thing is that your accountant has real time access to the software to help you with any queries you have.

Examples of accounting software are Xero, Quickbooks and Freeagent. As partners of Xero we would highly recommend this as a great tool but as always research to decide which software suits you best.

Understanding you accounting and tax requirements

There are different requirements for sole traders and limited companies when it comes to accounting and tax

Self-employed/Sole trader

As a sole trader you are required to complete a self-assessment tax return at the end of each tax year. You will be required to complete the tax return including detail from the 6th April in one year to the 5th April the following year and you have until the 31st January after the tax year ends to file your tax return (assuming your year end is in line with the tax year).

For example:

You register as a freelance graphic designer on the 6th April 2020, you will complete a tax return for the year ending the 5th April 2021 and you will have until the 31st January 2022 to complete the return.

You must include all taxable income on your self-assessment tax return.

As a sole trader you can complete the return yourself on the HMRC website or you can engage an accountant to complete it for you.

Limited Company

In keeping with the trend of limited companies being more complex, there are more accounting and tax requirements for a company.

As a limited company you must complete the following:

  • Corporation tax return to the financial year end
  • Company accounts to the financial year end
  • Confirmation statement
  • Dividend vouchers & minutes
  • VAT returns (if appliable)
  • PAYE returns (if applicable)

For your corporation tax and company accounts you have until 9 months after your financial year end to complete them.

For limited companies, the financial year is generally set according to when the company was incorporated. In the UK, companies are given an accounting reference date (ARD) which refers to the last day in the month the company was incorporated.

For example, if a company incorporated on 20th of May, their ARD would be the 31st of May. Their financial year would therefore run from June 1st – May 31st.

What happens if you miss your deadlines?

If your deadlines are not met, as either a sole trader or a limited company you will incur penalties and often interest.

To ensure you comply with financial regulatory standards we would recommend using an accountant to complete these for your company.

Round up

You may be feeling overwhelmed by the information detailed within this guide, so to break it down the next steps to do are:

  • Decide if you will operate as a sole trader or as a limited company
  • Register as self-employed or incorporate your company
  • Open a business bank account
  • Apply for appropriate business insurance
  • Decide how you will maintain your records; spreadsheet or accounting software
  • Put the accounting deadlines in your calendar so you ensure you meet all requirements

A great idea before deciding on any of the above, would be to speak to us about becoming a freelance graphic designer. We will make sure you understand exactly how to get started and ensure you are being tax efficient and complying with all the rules and legislation.

If you would like to get in touch with us, we offer a free no obligation consultation where we can discuss all of the above steps and support you in your journey to becoming a freelance graphic designer.

Related questions 

What is a confirmation statement?

A confirmation statement (CS01) is a snapshot of general information about a company’s directors, secretary (where one has been appointed), registered office address, shareholders, share capital and people with significant control.

What is a Limited Liability Partnership?

A Partnership is an arrangement between two or more people to manage and operate a business and share its profits. The profits are shared in line with the agreed partnership terms, for example if there were two partners this could be 50% for each partner or 75% for one partner and 25% for the other.

For example, Accountants, Doctors, Dentists or Solicitors often operate in a partnership.

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Should I register as Self-Employed or a Limited Company?

Self-Employed vs Limited Company

Setting up a new business is an exciting period, though often we hear from business owners that they aren’t sure which structure is right for them. This guide will explain the high level advantages and disadvantages of each structure so that you can make an educated decision as to which structure suits you best.

As a self-employed individual you would be personally responsible for the businesses debts, meaning your personal assets could be at risk. Whereas operating as a limited company offers limited liability therefore reducing the risk to personal assets. This is because you and the company are seen as separate legal entities.

Generally speaking, limited companies stand to be more tax efficient than self-employed businesses, as instead of paying income tax companies pay corporation tax on their profits. Additionally, there is a wider range of allowances and tax deductible costs that a limited company can claim against its profits compared with a self-employed business.

Both self-employed individuals and directors of limited companies are required to submit a Self-Assessment to HMRC, but those operating a limited company must also submit extra paperwork to regulatory authorities (CT600, Annual Accounts to Companies House, Confirmation Statements, VAT returns if VAT registered and Payroll submissions if operating a Payroll). The administrative burden of a self-employed individual is therefore considered less than that of a limited company.

Key points to consider when determining whether to register as Self-Employed or a Limited Company?

  1. Expected income and profits of the business
  2. Your other earnings and personal tax position
  3. The level of personal risk or financial liability you are comfortable taking
  4. Brand perception and customer preferences
  5. Future plans and flexibility required for the business

Deciding on the best legal structure for your business is a crucial decision and one we recommend you consider carefully, where possible taking the advice of an appropriately qualified accountant.

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages for each structure that you will need to weigh up in order to determine which business structure is best for you.

What does being self-employed or a sole trader mean?

A self-employed individual, often known as a sole trader, does not work for a specific employer who pays them a consistent salary or wage. Self-employed individuals earn an income by offering their services or products directly to customers or businesses. They are required to win work or customers themselves and take responsibility for the success or failure of the business

Sole traders often have multiple customers at one time, and are responsible for determining their own working pattern and place of work. Additionally, they are generally required to provide any tools or equipment required to complete their service or product offering.

Examples of self-employed individuals are:

  1. A hairdresser or beautician that provides their services from home, is responsible for buying the products required for treatments and for marketing their services to potential customers.
  2. A photographer that purchased their own photography equipment, schedules their own shoots and has multiple clients they take photos for.
  3. A coach that advertises their services, pays expenses such as insurance, zoom etc. and organises their coaching sessions directly with their clients.

What does operating as a limited company mean?

Many of the indicators of a sole trader also apply to owners of a company, however, instead of being self-employed you are considered both an owner (shareholder) and employee (director) of a limited company.

A Limited Company is a general form of incorporation that limits the amount of personal liability undertaken by the company’s shareholders and directors. This means that as a director and shareholder of a Limited Company, the business and you are seen as separate legal entities, which provides a layer of protection to your personal assets.

This means, that should the company fall on hard times and be unable to pay suppliers for example you as the business owner would not be responsible for settling the company’s debts with your personal funds.

Limited companies come in all shapes and sizes, some examples are:

  1. A marketing and branding company, that is owned 50/50 by 2 shareholders and directors, that employees 2 administrative staff on a casual basis and subcontracts specific client projects to self-employed individuals.
  2. A graphic design company that is owned by one shareholder and director that works with multiple clients on a fixed price project basis and from time to time subcontracts work during busy periods to other designers.
  3. A service provider that sells a variety of trade services to business and consumer customers

Self-employed/ sole trader vs limited company

Setting up as either structure will bring its own advantages and disadvantages, so starting with the self-employed option let’s delve into the detail.

Benefits of being Self-Employed

  • Relatively straightforward and easy to set up and register HMRC, the registration is also free
  • A simple way to operate your business without the administrative burden that comes with running a limited company. For example only required to file a self-assessment tax return for HMRC annually
  • Offers greater privacy than that of a limited companies whose details are published at Companies House
  • Broadly speaking self-employed businesses are easy to close and also simple to transition to a limited company in the future

Considerations of being Self-Employed

  • Sole traders or self-employed individuals have unlimited liability, as they’re not viewed as a separate entity by UK law. This means that if the business gets into debt, the business owner is personally liable. As such, self-employed individuals could lose personal assets if things go wrong
  • Raising finance can be tricky, as banks and other investors tend to prefer a limited business. This limits the expansion opportunities of sole traders or self-employed individuals
  • Tax rates on self-employed individuals aren’t always as favourable as they are on limited companies. When you reach a certain level of earnings, it might not be as lucrative to stay self-employed as the tax rates are higher
  • Clients or customers may see sole traders or self-employed businesses as less attractive than a limited business, this is because there is a certain prestige that comes with being limited

Benefits of being a Limited Company

  • Unlike a sole trader a limited company has the benefit of limited liability, as incorporation forms a legal distinction between the business owner and their business. This means that personal assets aren’t exposed – you only stand to lose what you put into the company
  • Once you’ve registered a company name nobody else can use it, in contrast to sole traders who aren’t offered the same protection, it is worth noting though that it does not give you the same protection as a trademark.
  • Generally speaking, limited companies stand to be more tax efficient than self-employed businesses, as instead of paying income tax companies pay corporation tax on their profits. Directors then extract personal income from the company through a combination of relatively low salary and dividends. You could for example take a salary below the tax-free allowance, and assuming you have no other income (e.g. from another job or a rental property) it would not be subject to tax and only attract minimal national insurance contributions if any. Then you could take the remainder of your required income as dividends assuming there is adequate profit generated, which are subject to lower tax rates than income tax. Additionally, there is a wider range of allowances and tax deductible costs that a limited company can claim against its profits compared with a self-employed business
  • A limited business has a certain level of prestige in terms of brand image that sole traders do not. Generally people consider a limited business as an established business, often making them appear more professional than sole-trader businesses, though in reality this may not always be the case
  • Operating as a limited company can make it easier to attract clients, investors and obtain debt compared with other business structures
  • As a director of a limited company, you can make company contributions to a personal pension scheme. This means the company gets the tax deductibility of the pension cost and the director doesn’t have to pay to take the money out of the company and then invest it into a pension, resulting in tax savings

Considerations of operating as a Limited Company

  • Operating as a limited company brings added responsibilities. These come in the form of what’s called the Director’s Fiduciary Responsibilities, which basically outline what a limited company director must do legally. You’ll need to file a yearly annual return for one, as well annual accounts
  • These added responsibilities of being a limited create a layer of cost as you will need to hire an accountant, compared with being self-employed where it is possible to do your tax return yourself (though many self-employed people opt to use an accountant due to the tax advisory element)
  • It can also be more time-consuming to operate a limited company, as you’ll need to deal with this extra responsibilities and paperwork, you will also need to pay a fee to register the company
  • In contrast to sole traders information on your business can be found via the company register, details on directors and your company’s earnings required to be shown publicly (though do bear in mind ‘small companies’ as defined by the Companies Act 2006 have less disclosure requirements). This sort of transparency may not appeal to all

Simple summary Self-employed vs Limited Company:

Sole trader/ Self-Employed

Limited company: you are director & shareholder

You are the business. The business is a separate legal entity.
You are the owner. You are a shareholder; you hold all or a proportion of the company’s share capital.
You are the manager or proprietor. You serve the company as its officer as a director.
In the event of any legal dispute, you will be sued personally unless you have suitable insurance e.g. products and services liability, professional indemnity, employer’s liability etc. In the event of any legal dispute, the company will be sued unless it has suitable insurance cover. It is exceptionally difficult and rare under UK law for anyone to sue a director personally for a company’s wrongdoing. It is worth noting however, that there are exceptions where the ‘corporate veil’ may be pierced and a director may be held personally accountable.

Employment status

You are self-employed; you cannot be your own employee.

Employment status

A director is an office holder, this does not automatically make you an employee in terms of employment law, the National Minimum Wage or for Tax Credits.

For Income Tax and National Insurance purposes company officers are treated as employees.


If the business fails you will be personally (or jointly with your partners) liable for its debts. You may go bankrupt.


If the company fails, your liability is limited to the amount unpaid on your shares (if any) unless you have made a personal guarantee for the company’s borrowing (which is often required by banks).

As a director, you can be held personally accountable if you continue trading when your company is insolvent and this causes financial loss to creditors. This could result in your personal bankruptcy.

Tax on profits

You pay Class 2 & 4 National Insurance and Income Tax on the taxable profits of your business.

Your profits are subject to income tax rates in the year you earned it.

Tax on profits

The company pays corporation tax on its taxable profits. Company tax rates are lower than higher rates of Income Tax.

Employees and officeholders are subject to PAYE and NICS on their earnings from employment and many benefits attract Income Tax too.

Shareholders are subject to Income Tax on Dividends.


There is no requirement that you prepare accounts for tax purposes. You may find that it is difficult to keep on top of your business, collect debts and work out profits without keeping accounts.

You may need annual accounts to complete your personal tax return which includes a balance sheet section.

Your taxable profit under Self-Assessment must be prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP) for tax purposes unless you are cash accounting.


You must prepare annual accounts under the provisions of the Companies Act, these can be abbreviated for filing with Companies House.

HMRC require full accounts for the CT600 which must be submitted online in iXBRL format.

Accounts must be prepared in accordance with accounting standards.

Related questions

What is a shareholder?

A share is a piece of a company, each piece represents a certain percentage of the company. Anyone who owns shares in a limited company is called a ‘shareholder’. The number of shares held by each shareholder determines how much of the company they own and control.

If you intend to be the sole company owner, you will need to be the sole shareholder of the company. However, if you intend for two or more people to own the Company you will need two or more shareholders. It is very important you consider what the share ownership structure will be and what the value of the shares will be.

Take note that if you have more than one ordinary shareholder any dividends you decide to take will be split by the percentage of your shareholding, for example, if two of you both have 1 share each then any dividends paid would be split 50% each.

What is a director?

A company must have at least one director. Directors are legally responsible for running the company and making sure accounts and reports are properly prepared.

This includes:

  • the confirmation statement
  • the annual accounts
  • any change in your company’s officers or their personal details
  • a change to your company’s registered office
  • allotment of shares
  • registration of charges (mortgage)
  • any change in your company’s people with significant control (PSC) details

You can hire other people to manage some of these things day-to-day (for example, an accountant) but you’re still legally responsible for your company’s records, accounts and performance.

When must I register as a sole trader/ self-employed person?

You must register as self-employed if you earned more than £1,000 from self-employment in a tax year. We recommend you register as soon as you have reached this limit, but the absolute latest you can register is 5th October following the end of the tax year.

When do I need to register a limited company?

You must register a company before you start trading, as effectively if you don’t you are just operating as a sole-trader/self-employed.

Am I self-employed if I have a limited company?

As a director of a company there are specific rules that mean you are treated as an office holder by HMRC, rather than self-employed. This means any payments you receive for your role as a director must be as salary and subject to PAYE.  This does not change the fact that if you are also a shareholder you can receive dividends from the company which are taxed as investment income rather than income tax.

Does a limited company have to be VAT registered?

A limited company does not need to VAT register automatically. The same rules apply whatever your business structure, they stipulate that you must register for VAT if your VAT taxable turnover goes over £85,000 (the threshold) or you know that it will. Your VAT taxable turnover is made up of the total of everything sold that is not VAT exempt.

You must register for VAT if:

  • You expect your VAT taxable turnover to be more than £85,000 in the next 30 day period
  • Your business had a VAT taxable turnover of more than £85,000 over the last 12 months

You may also need to register in some other cases, depending on the kinds of goods or services you sell and where you sell them.

Book a free consultation

Ultimately which option is right for you and your business depends on a number of factors, and is often a complex decision with lots of pros and cons of either business structure. That is why we always recommend speaking to an accountant before choosing either structure. We offer a free no obligation consultation so we can discuss your specifics, give advice and you will have the opportunity to ask questions so you feel confident and comfortable with your choice.

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How much tax do I need to save?

A common question asked, is how much tax self-employed individuals need to save to pay their tax bill at the end of the year. Often accountants give a complex answer, but we are here to change that. We will break it down into simple steps to make sure you understand what tax band is applicable to you, so your tax bill does not come as a surprise.

Step 1 – Estimate your profit for the year

How, I hear you ask?

  1. Total up all business income
  2. Total up all trade related expenses
  3. Business income less trade related expenses equals your estimated profit for the year

Step 2 – Determine what tax band you fall in based on your estimated profit

There are different rates depending on which tax band you fall in, so it is key that you get this bit right.

Estimated Profit Tax band Rate
£0 and £12,500 Personal allowance 0%
£12,501 and £50,000 Basic rate tax 20%
£50,001 and £150,000 Higher rate tax 40%
Above £150,001 Additional rate tax 45%

Step 3 – Apply the rates applicable to your tax band

Now you think it would be easy to work out your tax, right? Multiply your profit by the rates above, but there is a little bit more to it. Don’t worry though, we have given examples below to break it down for you!

Your profit falls between £12,501 and £50,000

In this example the profit is £35,000, but you can follow the same steps substituting your profit figure in. To estimate your tax, follow these steps:

  1. Profit (£35,000) – personal allowance (12,500) = £22,500
  2. £22,500 x 20% = £4,500
  3. Total tax to pay £4,500

Your profit falls between £50,001 and £150,000

In this example the profit is £75,000, but you can follow the same steps substituting your profit figure in. To estimate your tax, follow these steps:

  1. Profit (£75,000) – basic rate band (£50,000) = £25,000
  2. £25,000 x 40% = £10,000
  3. £50,000 – personal allowance (£12,500) = £37,500
  4. £37,500 x 20% = £7,500
  5. Total tax to pay = £10,000 + £7,500 = £17,500

Step 4 – Estimate your National Insurance

Self-employed individuals must pay Class 2 and Class 4 national insurance (“NI”).

Class 2 NI

If your profit is above £6,475 you must pay class 2 NI at £3.05 a week. This is equal to £158.60 a year.

Class 4 NI

Profit NI rate
Up to £9,500 No NI
£9,500-£50,000 9%
Over £50,001 2%

So, using the same examples as above:

Your profit falls between £12,501 and £50,000

In this example the profit is £35,000, but you can follow the same steps substituting your profit figure in. To estimate your NI, follow these steps:

Class 2 NI

£3.05 x 52 = £158.60

Class 4 NI

  1. Profit (£35,000) – NI lower profits limit (£9,500) = £25,500
  2. £25,500 x 9% = £2,295
  3. You will pay £2,295 of class 4 NI

Your profit falls between £50,001 and £150,000

In this example the profit is £75,000, but you can follow the same steps substituting your profit figure in. To estimate your NI, follow these steps:

Class 2 NI

£3.05 x 52 = £158.60

Class 4 NI

  1. Profit (£75,000) – NI lower profits limit (£9,500) = £65,500
  2. £65,500 – NI upper profits limit (£50,000) = £15,500
  3. £15,500 x 2% = £310
  4. NI upper profits limit (£50,000) – NI lower profits limit (£9,500) = £40,500
  5. £40,500 x 9% = £3,645
  6. £3,645 + £310 = £3,955
  7. You will pay £3,955 of class 4 NI

Step 5 – Bringing it all together

The last thing you want to do is add your tax, class 2 NI and class 4 NI estimates together, to arrive at your total expected tax bill.

Your profit falls between £12,501 and £50,000

Tax = £4,500

Class 2 NI = £158.60

Class 4 NI = £2,295

Total = £6,953.60

Your profit falls between £50,001 and £150,000

Tax = £17,500

Class 2 NI = £158.60

Class 4 NI = £3,955

Total = £21,613.60

Points of note:

  • This is for tax year 2020/2021 and only applies to those with ONLY self-employed income, if you have other forms of income get in touch and we will be happy to advice.
  • Your taxable profit will differ from your estimate due to the required adjustments made by your accountant, though this will be a good indication to get you started.
  • The above method is not a substitute for using an accountant to file your year end tax return to HMRC. This is because there are multiple factors that will impact your final taxable profit for submission to HMRC.
  • The above methods do not work if you earn over £100,000 as you begin to lose your personal allowance, but we don’t want to over complicate things. Feel free to reach out to us if you need help here.

If you follow the steps above, you should get a good indication of how much tax and NI to save, but as always, we are here to help! Please reach out to us if you have any questions.