Creating the brand identity for your new company and buying the business essentials like a laptop and phone is exciting and the business expenses you incur can be claimed through the business once you are up and running.
In the first of this new series of articles we’re looking at the pieces of kit and tools that can help you build your brand and get your new company up and running.
Even though every business is different, as a contractor, consultant or small business owner there are a few essentials that you’ll need. We’ve covered the core essentials as well as some great tools and apps that can make keeping track of your business simpler.
Purchasing and keeping records
You may not have your company up and running when you make the initial purchases. Many new business owners incur business expenses personally until their limited company is incorporated and their business banking is set up. It is essential that you keep an accurate and auditable record of all the business expenses you incur personally so that you can claim them back from the business and they will hold up to potential scrutiny from HMRC at a later date.
Keep a record of every purchase and the receipts safe. Some of our clients opt to keep both the original receipts as well as a scanned copy. Given that legally all business records must be kept for six years (and it is good practice to keep them for at least seven) having scanned copies frees up your office space considerably.
When purchasing the items, ensure that you obtain a VAT receipt, that way you can claim the VAT back on large purchases when you register your company under a VAT scheme. For more information, see our article on the benefits of registering under a VAT scheme.
Starting out on your own means investing in some core essentials. For the majority of contractors and consultants this means a laptop, relevant software and a phone. You might also need a printer, scanner, storage devices and office furniture too.
Think of these items as investment in your company, they will be listed as company assets and although they will be subject to depreciation in value over time, they need to withstand daily use for at least a few years.
- Laptop – although laptops marketed for home use are often less expensive, laptops for business use often have harder-wearing components and are designed for heavier use. Check that the laptop you select is up to the job and has the support package you need should anything go wrong with it.
- Software – ensure that you purchase the correct licence you need to run the software, especially if you have multiple users.
- Mobile phone – As well as the make and model, take time to look at all of the packages available. If you are out of the office a lot and have problems accessing Wifi within client’s offices it is wise to opt for an unlimited data package so that you can use your phone as a hotspot to link your laptop to for online access wherever you are. Check on network coverage for the areas you are likely to be working in too.
- Office furniture – If you’re a contractor or consultant and likely to spend the majority of your time in client offices, you probably don’t need to invest in office furniture, but if you are spending more time working from home it is wise to ensure that you have a comfortable office environment. A good office chair and workstation are essential if you are spending a lot of time working whilst sitting.
- Storage facilities – Storage is often overlooked but given that you’ll need to store your own business records and client files securely, you should invest some time looking at cloud-based options as well as physical storage devices such as portable hard drives and even filing cabinets. For all storage options, you need to ensure that they are reliable and secure from both physical and cyber risks. Failure to protect your company and client files can result in severe business interruption and potential legal implications through inadequate data protection.
- Other kit – Training and professional subscriptions are all legitimate business expenses so subscriptions to trade bodies and publications as well as relevant resources can be a valuable part of your business investment.
Branding for contractors and consultants
Building your brand and professional image can often be one of the most exciting parts of starting out on your own as a contractor or consultant. You are no longer an employee and as you are trading as a company in your own right, you’ll need to ensure that you invest in your company’s brand. It needn’t be costly, but prudent investment in your brand image not only shows your clients you are serious, it also helps towards showing you are a separate entity working outside IR35 regulations.
Having a suite of materials that potential clients can refer to and recruitment agents can use to market you is a great way to build credibility and help you stand out in a crowded market place. It’s all about making it as easy as possible for potential clients and agents to find out more about you and choose you.
- Branding – a small amount of investment in developing something as simple as a logo can help you stand out from your competitors. Your logo encapsulates who you are as a business and can make you instantly recognisable. It acts as a visual cue on business cards, websites, promotional materials and letterheads.
- Stationery – a business card and great email footer are a must. It’s the ideal way to draw attention to your contact details. The more contact details you provide, the easier it is to contact you and seal the contract. You can also look at developing letter head and headers & footers for any documentation you produce as part of your service to the client. The more you get your company name and logo out there, the better.
- Website – a website is an excellent support tool for supporting your company. You may not trade online, but a website provides a digital space for you to showcase what you do. Think about what you have to offer clients and what they’d like to know about you. Most small businesses have relatively simple websites that give a brief description of their services, a list of clients, testimonials and case studies, information about their skill set and contact details. You can use the website as an ongoing marketing tool by adding a blog or article where you can share updates with clients, recruitment agents and potential business contacts.
- Professional profile services – many consultants and contractors invest in a professional to write their online profiles and CVs. Recruitment agents often offer a CV writing service, but your online profile on LinkedIn and professional body sites needs attention to ensure that it is in line with your company profile and what you are trying to promote. Take time to polish up your LinkedIn profile as a minimum. Google yourself to see what others see and invest some time in ensuring what’s out there online is what you want potential clients to see.
App for contractors
Working smarter means you can spend less time running your business and more time earning money through contracts and building your client base. There are hundreds of tools and apps out there developed to help you work smarter.
Here are just a few that we’ve found are most popular among contractors and consultants.
Workspace and tracking
- Evernote: An online workspace for tracking projects, brainstorming, sharing files and notes, running team meetings and capturing thoughts on the go. It even has the ability to capture handwriting via tablet and a facility to make notes on the go. Evernote Hello is a great tool for keeping track of client interactions so you have when you last met/spoke at your fingertips.
- Receipt catcher app: An app for making quick notes on expenses that you can upload into your accounting system when you get back into the office. Search for ‘Receipt catcher’ in your app store for more information.
- Tripit: A travel organiser that amalgamates all of your travel arrangements into one online itinerary.
- CamScanner: Turns your phone or tablet into a scanner. The app captures documents via the camera and converts them into PDF or JPG and you can annotate, merge, password protect and share them at the touch of a button.
Collaboration and communication
- Dropbox: Cloud-based storage and sharing space.
- Google Drive: For sharing, storing and collaborating on document online.
- Mailchimp: A free email tool that allows you to design, write and send email newsletters as well as storing your email contact lists.
- WordPress: Used by millions of websites as the content management software, it can be added to any website to run blogs and content areas that are updated regularly.
- Basecamp: Provides project management tools and space for project teams to collaborate wherever they are.
- Hootsuite and Tweetdeck: Both provide a platform to manage all of your social media activity in one place – pulling feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others, scheduling posts and tracking your clients’ activity.
- Skype: It’s excellent for remote working to make voice and video calls as well as sending messages from anywhere you have internet access.
- FFB: Provides a telephone answering service from a dedicated PA when you can’t get to the phone yourself.
- Ring Central: Enables you to set up a single phone number for your business that you can route through to your mobile or landline so your clients have one number to call but you can be reached wherever you are.
Having the right tools can help you work smarter and faster. It’s worth doing some research on each of the items mentioned in this guide, as a lot of the efficiency gained by using the apps and the hardware is down to user preference. If you don’t like using something, it’s more likely to slow you down or become a wasted resource.
Investing in kit is an exciting element of starting out on your own, it is a reward for staying motivated while you get your business up and running. You now have company assets and you are ready to face the world as a contractor or consultant.