The festive season can be fantastic for the self-employed- with the ability to set your own hours, and take meaningful breaks away from work. This being said, the season throws up important dilemmas- do I attend my client’s Christmas work party? How long should I take off work? Chris Piggott-McKellar offers the freelancer’s guide to the festive period.
Stores are lining their shelves with stocking stuffers while the sounds of sleigh bells ring through the air. Whether it’s come too soon for you – or hasn’t come quickly enough – it’s certainly beginning to look, and sound, a lot like Christmas.
For most self-employed people, there’s no better feeling than being your own boss. You have the freedom and flexibility to pick and choose your own hours, which technically means you can set your own holidays.
However, nothing puts an end to the festive mood for a freelancer faster than a last-minute phone call from a client, or a poorly managed workload, just when you’re planning some quality downtime. Instead of picking presents for family, or planning to make Gran’s secret baked pudding, finding yourself rushing to meet a client deadline is as appealing as listening to a barely perceptible Christmas carol screech its way out of a child’s recorder.
Modern Work has compiled the following tips to ensure you get the most out of the festive season and are ready to hit the reset button come 2019.
Take a break- and plan for it
Being self-employed essentially means running your own small business, so for most freelancers, the line between work and family life is perennially blurred. Taking a break, and planning properly for it, can be a real circuit breaker from the hurly-burly of running your own business.
“You wouldn’t run your car constantly without sending it in for a service, and your body is the same,” says experienced accountant to small businesses and start-ups, Bobby Lane. “Your body is the same. Take some time out from the business to enjoy with family.”
If you find that it’s impossible to switch off completely, or you have arranged with clients to be available over the festive season, there are still ways to use your time effectively to lower stress.
“Think about what you want to achieve in the coming year,” says Bobby, who is now a partner at Blick Rothenberg.
“Start writing down objectives or preparing a business plan. Looking at the business from the outside with a fresh perspective rather than constantly running at 100 miles per hour can be incredibly valuable.”
Network, network, network- but what about clients' Christmas parties?
There’s an assumption that if you’re a freelancer who operates through a limited company, you shouldn’t attend your clients’ staff Christmas parties as it may affect your IR35 status.
However, Andy Chamberlain, deputy director of policy at freelancer advocacy body IPSE, said it was unlikely that an IR35 decision would turn on whether someone attended a Christmas party. “As far as I am aware, it hasn’t been a material consideration in any of the cases which have gone before the tax tribunal. However, it may not be helpful when trying to demonstrate you are not part and parcel of the client organisation.”
Many businesses may also host clients’ drinks and festive networking events, which can be great opportunities to extend your contact base. And attending these won’t affect your IR35 status.
“In the early days, but also as your business grows, owners must continue to meet new people and identify new opportunities, both in the traditional sense and as social media networking becomes incredibly important,” says Bobby.
A handwritten Christmas card to established clients can also be the perfect way to reinforce meaningful client relationships, and help you stand out from the crowd.
Keep your finances under control
Talking about finances ahead the festive season is the equivalent for most people of unwrapping a lump of coal, and that’s before the Christmas bills arrive. Getting small businesses – including the self-employed – to understand the importance of sound financial management is the key to improved health and happiness, says Bobby. He uses the ‘water tank’ analogy with his clients.
“If you imagine the bank account of your business is the water tank. Money will come into the business as you sell your services, and water will flow into the tank. As you spend money on direct costs money flows out of the tank. As long as there is more water coming in than going out of a business, there is cash to pay expenses and the owner. Managing the water in the tank is one of the most important areas to focus on.”
If you’re going to spend money on one thing for yourself this Christmas, it can be a good idea to invest in some quality financial and/or accountancy advice. This will give you more time to focus on what you do best, providing clients with your specialised skill.
Plan to upskill
With a new year comes new opportunities, and planning to upskill should be on every freelancer’s resolution list. Gaining new skills can help you be more efficient, enables you to expand the services you offer to your clients, and ultimately opens up new revenue streams.