The Secrets of Self-Employment

ShhhhGoing from a ‘secure’ job to self employment is, for many, a tough decision, especially when it affects so many things, such as your lifestyle, family and friends.

Yet, the first question many ask themselves is ‘do I have the skills? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a valid question, especially as it could mean going from the role of a Web Developer, Accountant or Hairdresser to now adding Head of Finance, Sales and Marketing amongst others.

We asked a number of our co-working community to help you by answering the question: “What are the secrets that no-one tells you about going self-employed?” These are their answers:

  • It’s more secure than a ‘job’.
  • You sometimes miss having a boss. (It’s worth noting that this point was largely disputed)
  • It’s lonelier than you imagine it to be while you’re longing to be rid of your annoying boss/co-workers. So plan for it.
  • Businesses (even large) are just as close to no money as you, they just have a department to worry about it.
  • There’s nowhere to hide in your own business.
    • (although, if you work at home, your TV set will tell you otherwise)
  • Removing the safety net of your salary is far outweighed by the removal of the upper limit of your potential earnings.
  • Failure is positive because it means you’re actually trying to achieve something.
  • Your partner/family will feel it so prepare the ground.

What about you? What have you learnt about running a business that you didn’t know before you started? And, if you did know, would it have made a difference?

Email us at or on twitter @CamBizLounge. We’d love to hear from you.

10 Tips For Starting a Business

Each week, we ask the coworkers at Cambridge Business Lounge, as well as other members of our growing business community, for their thoughts and ideas to help other start-ups and  small businesses.

This week, we asked the question “What advice would you give to a new start-up?

As ever, we weren’t short of responses (thank you to every one who contributed) and the responses were…

  1. Don’t take all of the revenue out of the business – re-invest!!

  2. Make every friend possible and help them.. It pays back.

  3. Be flexible and provide what the market wants, not what you want them to have

  4. Get your product sold to paying customers asap. i.e. validate that people will pay

  5. Sometimes things that are really low cost are great, but sometimes a false economy. Learning which is which can be painful – best consult people who’ve done something similar and vet your vendors carefully

  6. – Consult people lots

  7. Being self employed, doesn’t need to mean ‘being by yourself-employed’

  8. Fail often and learn

  9. A start up is like having a baby. Think twice before doing both at once.

  10. Do at least two years of financial projections before you go ahead

What about you? What advice would you give to a new start-up business. Email or tweet @CamBizLounge and we will post a selection of responses below.

Being Self-Employed Shouldn’t Mean Being-By-Yourself-Employed

When you’re an employed member of a team, you will most certainly have a boss to provide you with direction, motivation and support, as well as other members of a team to bounce ideas, frustrations and excitement off and socialise with. But, who do you turn to when once you’ve taken the plunge to work on your own?

coworkingAccording to research from Startup Britain, more than 500,000 businesses were launched in 2013 and, I’m sure, many of them will be experiencing that feeling of isolation that comes from self-employment and the challenges that remote working brings.

The absolute best way to over-come these challenges is to go out and meet others who feel exactly the same. So, over the next week, work somewhere else for one day, such as your nearest coworking space. Not only may you even be more productive than you are at home, but you’ll be part of a small business community that wants to help you and needs your input too.

Once you do, you’ll quickly learn that being self-employed, doesn’t have to mean being by-yourself-employed!

Find out more by working at CBL for a day. CLICK HERE for details…. Your first visit is free. 

Starting a Business? Never Be Afraid To Ask For Help

The Start-Up A-Z: Dangers of Disappearing Data

The process of starting a business means that you’re going to collect a considerable amount of data.

D - DataInformation that will include your business plan, contact information, forecasts, reports, designs, images and more. In fact, you’re likely to create more data during the set up stage of your business, than at any other time during the first 12 months. And while some of this will be automatically stored in the cloud, how much of your personal and private information that you have right now…isn’t?

Now, here’s a story courtesy of Neil Hamilton-Meikle, Business Development Manager at Safebox

Sunburn in Cyprus – lost forever.

So you’re a new business, you’re eager, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, you have clients on board, suppliers, you’ve done the marketing and even the bank manager thinks you’re onto a winner; its all looking very positive.

Right, off you go then, oh watch for that printer cable on the floor……

As you break your fall whilst failing to remain composed, you see your laptop, which until just a few moments ago was tucked safely under your arm, spinning away into the distance, its date with the floor at speed confirmed. You scamper over to it and cradle it in your arms as if it were an injured child, but as laptops and gravity don’t mix to well, sadly the last few moments of life slip away. The hard drive stops beating, death has taken its grip.

Your thoughts suddenly leap to the loss of that rather amusing wallpaper picture you had of you on the beach in Cyprus with the amusing sunburn. But don’t worry, you had everything backed up, I mean who is this day and age would be daft enough to have their entire business on only one device with no back up. I mean really?


This story isn’t as far fetched as it may appear. Only last year when I was working from home, I walked up the stairs with an open laptop and a cup of coffee. Well, you can imagine what happened when I tripped up the last step. It’s not just accidents that are a risk either. A few years ago when I was working for a major High St bank, a customer told me of her painful experience:

We had a break in and all 7 desktops were stolen. I had no choice but to shut down and start again as I just didn’t think it would happen to us

KTS Computers even states on their website that “Statistically, a hard drive crashes every 15 seconds and 60% of businesses who lose their data go bankrupt within 6 months”

The common responses when suggesting data back up are:

“I’m too busy to back up”
“I do it at the end of each month”
“It won’t happen to me”
“I don’t know how”

My answers to those are: Read Neil’s story, That’s not often enough, and It might and that’s a good enough reason”

On the last point, the ways to back up are on CD, USB Drive, External Hard Drive and the easiest and most cost effective of them all, online. The system I use it I-Sure which is just £2.75 per month and backs up everything for me daily without me having to do anything.

Now you’ve read this article, act on it before it’s too late and as Neil says “Treat your business data as you do your family photos, which are probably on CD, data stick, laptop, phone, etc. Just as your business data should be.”

How do you back up and what would you recommend? If you’re not, what’s stopping you? What support do you need? Email your comments and thoughts to

Breaking The Back of Bookkeeping

b imageFollowing on from “Why You Need an Accountant When Starting a Business”, I want to focus on the financial paperwork that you can (and need) to manage yourself, and that you don’t need an accountant for.

Imagine this dark scenario…

You’ve done your research; got your product or service to market, found customers who are interested in what you do…and then you run out of cash. A dramatic, but not uncommon, situation and one not caused by banks not lending.

This situation is often created by not knowing who owes you money, who you owe money to and HMRC penalties for late or incorrect payment and filing of returns. There are more benefits for having your house in order as Emily Coltman FCA, Chief Accountant to FreeAgent Central, explains “Not keeping your books up to date is very risky. Plus, you won’t be able to make informed decisions such as which new markets or new products to try if you don’t have accurate and up-to-date financial information”

“I don’t have the time”

It’s vitally important to make the time, and how much time often depends on the complexity of the business. If you’re a retailer selling a high volume mix of VATable and non-VATable products, your bookkeeping is likely to be more involved than a business which raises 5 invoices per month. A good system will be easy to use, easy to understand and as Emily suggests “we believe that spending just one hour a week on your books will make all the difference.”

It certainly will be if you put these tools in place when you set up your business, rather than play catch-up when you’ve been trading for weeks or months.

“Which system should I use?”

There are a plethora of bookkeeping systems out there, far too many for me to list. So, if you haven’t used one before, seek advice from your peers, accountant or bank manager. An accountant may even suggest using the same system as them, which could be a benefit to you and may even help to reduce your accountancy bill. But is it the right system for your business? Emily warns “Don’t accept an antiquated bookkeeping system because it’s what your accountant has always used. Look for a system that puts YOU in control – after all, this is your business and you are responsible for it to HMRC!”

Using a system that’s different to the one your accountant uses shouldn’t hinder your professional relation with them, as Emily explains “With the right system for you, you will be able to work more closely with your accountant, who will be able to give you proactive business advice such as whether your prices aren’t high enough or you’re paying too much in bank charges.”

Download Software Vs Cloud Based Systems

Market leading tools have historically been QuickBooks and Sage and there is a growing increase in the number of online tools available, with the most popular versions being FreeAgent, Xero and KashFlow. Others are available, but I’d recommend one of these as the starting point for your research.

Online accounting software is, in my opinion, the best way to go. Your information is then accessible from anywhere in the world and, more importantly, it is safe and secure. Also, many online systems offer free trials so you can see how intuitive they are before you commit. When you do try one, also test their customer service/tech support as these will be invaluable to you in the early days of use, and you don’t want to be spending more time on hold or with an unsupportive advisor than you need.

To summarise:

  • Start as you mean to go on, and put systems in place now.
  • Use the tool that’s right for you and YOUR business, not your accountant or bank manager
  • The time spent on this will actually save you time in the future.

Email your comments or questions to

Why You Need An Accountant When Starting a Business


a imageTo kick start our new A-Z series for anybody who has recently started a business, or is thinking of doing so, we look at A for Accountants…

The focus for many, when starting a business, is to bring their passion, skill or product to market and then find the customers to buy into it. The thought of talking to an accountant often doesn’t even come up at the start up stage, let alone worry about finding the right one. However, the right support can so often make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful business, and an accountant is one the most valuable ports of call that you have. But why? And how can they help?

Why Does My Start-Up Business Need An Accountant?

Will you start trading as a limited company or sole trader? Should you be VAT registered? What taxes will you be liable for? What documentation should you keep track of and how? And, what do you need to know to set up your business that you don’t know now? It is these questions that you will need answers to and, as Elaine Clark, MD of the award-winning Cheap Accounting states “not seeking advice from the offset can often prove to be a false economy

What Else Will An Accountant Do For Me?

Accountants are known for being tax experts and supporting both businesses and individuals on Self-Assessment, VAT, PAYE, Year End and more. In my opinion, an accountant should be a professional friend and confidante for a business. Elaine goes on to state that, like a friend, an accountant will stand with you throughout “It’s not just about today and what needs to be done at start up. A good accountant will be around for all key events during the life time of the business.” she adds “An accountant should listen to the objectives for the business including the aspirations for the future and advise the owner on the best way to structure the business & set up the system of accounting both now and for the future, explaining this in language that the business owner can understand of course.

How Do I Find A Good Accountant?

A qualified account is a great starting point with ACCA, ICAEW, CIMA and AAT helping you here, but as Elaine says “having letters after a name is not always a sign of quality” she goes on to advise “Ask the accountant what professional body they belong to, do they have professional indemnity insurance and what is their complaints procedure. Failure to provide any of these details should start an alarm bell ringing – listen to it.” Remember that if something does go wrong, you can refer back to a professional body. A option not available if you work with an unqualified accountant.

However, like a decorator, motor garage or website designer, one of the best places to find an accountant is by asking a trusted friend or advisor. Find out what the accountant has done for them and what impact they think it would have had on their business without one. Many accountants will also offer a free initial consultation period, usually around an hour. Use this to find out what the personalities of the people you may be working with are like and understand how genuinely interested in your business they are.

Finally, finding the right accountant could save your business a lot of hassle, time and money. Look for one as early as possible as “Starting a business is like learning to ride a bike” says Lance Uttridge, owner of Cambridgeshire based Uttridge AccountingSome will take to it very quickly others will take longer, but to succeed everyone needs advice, encouragement and support. That is what a start-up needs and what an accountant will give

It’s Okay To Ask For Help For Your Business

helpStarting a business can be an extraordinarily exciting, yet daunting experience and the need for peer to peer support is greater than ever…

One morning, a boy was playing in his sandbox with his box of cars and trucks, his plastic pail, and a shiny, red plastic shovel. In the process of creating roads and tunnels, he discovered a large rock in the middle of the sandbox and, with a little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the large rock across the sandbox by using his feet. However, when the boy got the rock to the edge of the sandbox, he found that he couldn’t roll it up and over the wall.

Determined, the boy shoved, pushed, and pried, but every time he thought he had made some progress, the rock tipped and then fell back into the sandbox.

All this time the boy’s father watched from his living room window as the drama unfolded and, at the moment his tears fell, a large shadow fell across the boy and the sandbox.

Gently, but firmly, the father said, “Son, why didn’t you use all the strength that you had available?” Defeated, the boy sobbed back, “But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!”

“No, son,” corrected the father kindly. “You didn’t use all the strength you had. You didn’t ask me.” and, with that, the father reached down, picked up the rock and removed it from the sandbox.

I have absolutely no doubt that you are great at what you do and that you are incredibly passionate about the products or services that you offer. But what don’t you know? And what is stopping you from getting your rock over the wall? I suspect that many don’t ask for help because pride gets in the way, or that we don’t know who to ask outside of traditional businesses like accountants or solicitors. Or maybe because a mental cry for help is closely followed by “but I wonder what it will cost me”.

But there is so much more help out there. In fact, at the time of writing, almost ¼ million businesses started up in the UK* this year alone and many will be sharing the same challenges and feeling the same frustrations.  So, get out there to networking events and coworking spaces; find other start-up businesses, whatever their industry, and support each other. You’ll be amazed how quickly your rock is removed and how much it will help your business to grow.

” Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller