August Contractor News Round Up

Your monthly round-up of August’s top contractor news.

Small and Medium enterprise interest in freelancers is growing. The appeal of a short-term solution without having to shell out large employment costs. Hiring freelancers is becoming much more cost-effective for the companies. A report for the second quarter of the years shows that rises in specific industries ranged from 9.2% (logo design) up to a whopping 23% in the accounting sector. This shows that the self-employed are increasingly permanent fixtures in the everyday lives of some businesses. Read more…

Contractors are soon to have a say on their benefits and expenses. A report published by the Office of Tax simplification has identified ‘quick wins’ on how expenses and other tax dispensations can be dealt with. It reports that the P11D form and filling process will be subject to further work as it is known to be widely misunderstood. There will also be a ‘wholesale review’ of the current benefits and expenses.  The chair of the Association of Recruitment consultancies, Adrian Marlow said: “…Simplification of the tax system would probably result in removing the risk for agencies relating to the more extravagant tax avoidance schemes currently on offer. Therefore, this review can only be good for agencies, workers and the recruitment industry in the long run.” Read more…

According to a new jobs report, contractor vacancies in Scotland have reached a 31-month high. The decline in contractor availability paired with billings rising at their slowest pace since March of this year points toward an emerging skills crisis in Scotland. This means that there are just not enough suitably skilled contractors to meet demand. The biggest rise in demand and fall in applicants was seen in Aberdeen and its oil and gas industry, confirming that the industry is booming but the availability of skills is not. Read More…

HMRC have created a new scheme designed to help small companies and contractors/freelancers with their tax disputes. Following a two year trial HMRC have created a national team of trained facilitators to help resolve disputes using the ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution Service’. For a while now the service has helped businesses and individuals in disputes by being the middle man and helping each party understand each other and decide on an agreement.  Richard Summersgill HMRC’s Director of local compliance said: “Evidence has shown that by using the simple ADR service many disputes can be significantly shortened and resolved without recourse to Tribunal.” Read more…

How Can Contractors Avoid Late Payment?

You probably know the feeling. You have a meeting with a client; learn their work goals, complete the work and then months pass by without being paid for your work. It can be off-putting to realise a small number of clients just won’t do the right thing. So what do you do in this scenario? Here are some tips to help you deal with late payment.

Don’t assume the worst

First off, don’t assume the worst, the client may be in a very busy period and at points like this can become disorganised in paying different contractors and freelancers. Don’t lose your cool, check they have a valid reason for having not paid you on time and give them a solid second date to pay by.

Always have a contract in writing

This is the first thing you should do when agreeing to work, have a contract written up and set clear payment guidelines including date to be paid by and the amount. To cover yourself in case of a client not paying it can be good to write penalties into the contract, such as getting the other side to cover legal cost should you need to pursue them for payment. You could also include monetary penalties for late payment, this is entirely up to you though and will depend on the relationship you have with your client.

It can also be a good idea to secure a deposit before work commences, this isn’t ideal for all clients, but it is a good idea if you are concerned that the client will not be able to pay or will be late with their payments.

Consider alternatives

Find out why the client is late with their payment, if it is financial troubles at their end then attempt to agree a payment plan with them. If you are concerned about keeping a good relationship with the client you could even consider bartering a swap in trade or services that they could provide for you, in this situation you need to be creative.

Keep in mind that you may have to take legal action and be prepared to have all the appropriate documentation and witnesses if it reaches that point.

Make it worth your time

If you do decide to take the client to court then make sure it is worth your while, you don’t want to be spending the amount you’re trying to recover on legal fees.  Remember to factor in your time as well.  You could spend a significant amount of valuable work time on legal proceedings. Writing in the clause mentioned above into your work contract can help to secure legal fees from the opposite side.

The simple act of threatening legal action could be enough to get the client to pay up, send a letter stating that if they don’t pay within a certain date then you will be forced to take legal action. For added impetus, get a lawyer to write the letter to them on your behalf, but obviously don’t spend out of your means.

The Promp Payment Code is a scheme designed to help businesses (including contractors and freelancers) assess the reliability of their clients when it comes to settling accounts on time.  You can visit the site to review current signatories and have the option to challenge any that subsequently let you down.  You can find a summary of the code here.

How Can Contractors Benefit From Running A Blog?

Having a blog is a great way to keep your clients and the world at large updated on what you’re working on and any offers or promotions you may be running, as well as sharing your experiences and any industry news.  Get it right and could even generate new business leads. The only problem is that it seems to take a lot of effort to keep the blog going and often a freelancer’s blog can end up as a bit of a wasteland, with large gaps between posts.

Here are some tips on how to keep your blog interesting while helping to generate new business for you.

Choose your topic wisely

Choosing a topic for your blog is crucial, it will have to be something you truly understand and enjoy talking and reading about, otherwise the blog will fall flat and you’ll be able to tell that the passion isn’t there through the writing.

Try a topic related to your work, offering tips and advice to others within your industry and keep it topical with news updates from the industry too. Any possible clients who discover your blog will see that you are active within the industry and the fact you offer help and advice to others should create a very good first impression.

Another option is to choose something entirely unrelated to your business  that you have a passion for.  It may seem that a blog unrelated to your industry is frivolous and unlikely to generate the readership you need to generate new business.  In fact, you’re much more likely to generate a readership and word of mouth recommendations by writing about something you have a passion for than you are something you have little interest in, or by starting a blog that you struggle to keep up to date.  If you’re not interested in what you write about, there’s a good chance no-one is going to be interested in what you write.  Think of a blog as a self-marketing tool.  If it generates interest, it will generate business too.

If you specialise in a particular industry a blog providing a service to your clients and prospects is a great angle to take.  You can demonstrate you knowledge and expertise in the area by offering tips and advice which is sure to appeal to prospective clients. You can teach them a little about your own industry so they can pick up some skills themselves and better understand the processes you follow when contracting for them.  This is a simple blog to maintain as you won’t struggle for relevant content.

Drive lead generation

Although it’s not recommended to turn your blog into an extended catalogue of services there are multiple ways in which it can help freelancers or contractors to create business leads.  Simply inserting a ‘hire me’ button on your blog homepage will give prospective clients an easy way to see you are available for hire and give them quick access to your contact details.   Creating a subscribe button will not only make sure  your readers receive an email when your latest post goes live, it will also give you access to their email addresses so you’ll know who they are, often where they work and then design any marketing campaigns based on the information you collect.

New Content

Make sure that your blog is updated regularly, this can be a difficult discipline to maintain but a dormant or sporadic blog is frustrating for your loyal readers and they’ll soon find something else to read and stop recommending your page to their peers.  Make your blog entry a part of your routine.  Ideally post a minimum of once per week.

Finally, make post headlines strong for SEO purposes and make sure the content is relevant to the title, as well as delivering interesting and useful information.  Another important aspect is blog engagement, if prospects can see comments and your responses on blog posts and any social sharing it will be much more likely to generate new, regular readers. Encourage commenting and sharing whenever possible without being spammy.

Most importantly, never begin a blog for the sake of it.  If it’s something you feel you have to do, rather than want to do, it’s probably not for you.  A blog should reflect your enthusiasm and knowledge for the topic, not feel like a chore to write, or read for that matter.

Clients You Should Avoid As A Contractor

As a contractor you probably want to jump at every work opportunity that comes your way, though realistically you should probably be looking out for the clients you don’t want to work with. You probably already know a few. Here are some warning signs of those you probably don’t want to be working with or for.

“I’m not entirely sure what I want”

You may be getting a feeling of déjà vu here; this client is never going to be satisfied with the end project, regardless of the quality of your work and any advice you may give them. The other problem may be that they do secretly know what they want but their expectations are way too high for what you could ever accomplish for their budget or timescale.

The best thing to do after you’ve spotted this client (probably because you’ve heard a phrase similar to that of the above) is to make sure you set up a meeting or conversation to go over expectations and to discuss the nearer goals. Also check on how they will measure the success of the project, and check that you both have the same gauge on what you are expecting.

“I’m out of the office until… forever”

This client is the one who never replies to anything. The sort who you start work for and need a bit of follow up information or feedback so you send them an email.  Then you send a follow up email and then a follow up call and then ten more, all with no reply. They disappear off of the face of the earth when it matters most. If an initial question you have for them during the pitching process takes 4 days to be answered then you probably should take note and think about backing out gracefully from working from with the client, it’s likely you’ll have this problem throughout your work with them and you don’t want that especially when it comes to being paid.

“I can’t pay you, but I can offer you…”

No. Nothing good will come from this transaction.  Unless they’re offering you the best seats in the house at the concert you’ve been dying to go to, then don’t make a deal with this person. Even then it’s probably not recommended, unless it’s a reasonable request of you and your work. When you meet this customer and you decide to go ahead ahead, make sure you set out an agreement of what you both expect from each other. Also make sure that the amount of whatever is being given in the trade equates as closely as possible to a monetary value for the time you’ll spending doing the work for them.

“How is it going? Any updates? Just calling to see if we can have a meeting?”

The over eager client constantly calls and emails for an update and wants a face to face meeting at a base. They act like an overly attached partner. You’ll want to avoid this client because it will take up your time, whether it be delaying their own project or taking time out of other things you’re working on. You can spot these clients straight away as they’ll unrelentingly contact you in the early stages of a project. It would probably be advised to avoid them as clients as the frustration of constant interruptions will inevitably have a detrimental effect  on your relationship with them, leaving your chance of a recommendation slim and your attitude affecting your work.

Do you have any stories of clients you wish you’d never contracted for, or any near misses?  let us know in the comments box.

 

How To Retain Clients As A Contractor

You’ve found the perfect client.  You enjoy the work, you communicate well and they’re reliable payers.  Your existing customers could well be the foundation of a thriving business so it feels crucial that they keep coming back to you. When you’re good at what you do, returning customers are generally more profitable than new ones and it’s definitely easier to get business from them than to go out scouting for new business.  Here are some tips and incentives on how to retain clients as a contractor.

If they’re a valued customer, make sure they feel like one.

It might seem obvious but it’s surprising how many businesses take their existing clients for granted and loyalty to a supplier only goes so far when everyone is fighting for a contract.  It’s important not to pander to your new or prospective clients so much that you forget your best clients. Returning customers have given you more work than anyone and may have even referred you to others so put them first.  Offer them exclusive offers or services to show that you value their business. Make sure you also take note of important dates.  The personal touch goes a long way to securing customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Just remembering and making reference to conversations you had with them last month can make a big difference, as can a personal message on the company’s anniversary or a key contact’s birthday.

Create special promotions for existing clients

If you want a client to keep returning to you it makes sense to reward them when they do.  Traditionally most businesses have a couple of sales a year so why shouldn’t you?  It’ll be seen as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to those existing customers.  Perhaps basing a ‘sale’ or reduced price period around an event would work well, for example, a summer sale or a birthday promo, especially if you know there’s a lull in work at specific times of the year.

Make the effort to stay in touch

A client may not always have work for you but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the relationship during quiet periods. Make the effort to touch base with them every now and then to see how they are getting on.  Clearly they won’t want to be bombarded with marketing , but a personal email or phone call every so often will make them less likely to start shopping around.  Keeping in touch with any important news associated with the industry can be a great way to create discussion with a company and to show you genuinely understand them and what has an impact on their business.

Create something just for them

You could create your own personal newsletter to send out to an email list of existing clients (with their permission), an update on any ‘special offers’ (see above) or hints and tips about your industry and any other news that may be relevant to them.  Some freelancers provide an information package when they win a new client so that they have relevant contact details, pricing and process information to hand when they need it.

Of course, keeping the business ‘hopper’ full also relies on new business so our next blog will feature some tips for winning business and some of the top websites for finding those new contracts that could lead to valued, long term clients.

If you have any other ideas to share, please add them in the comments below.

June Contractor News Round Up

Your monthly round-up of June’s top contractor news.

 

Kingsbridge Professional Solutions launch a new BIBA scheme

KPSol have just launched professional indemnity scheme for freelance professionals with BIBA (British Insurance Brokers’ Association).

The scheme has been designed to allow other brokers access to a policy, specifically designed for freelancers and contractors or those who are working as sole traders.  It’s available exclusively to BIBA members.

With freelancing being the fastest growing sector of workers, (over 1.56 million working in 2012) the scheme caters specifically for their business needs and is available at an extremely competitive price.    Brokers can benefit from our experience in this rapidly growing sector and get access to a scheme which provides comprehensive cover and peace of mind for their client.  A white label solution is also available.  Visit our website for more details.

Boom in youth self employment

Britain is likely to see a boom in self-employment amongst the young workforce; currently only about 5% of the young population are already self-employed. This is all according to a report from the Prince’s Trust that shows a sizeable number of young adults aspire to follow that 5% into self-employment. A quarter of those surveyed said that with the job market becoming ever more competitive, they would rather work for themselves than search exhaustively for more traditional ‘employee’ role.

High youth unemployment rates between the ages of 16-30 are the reason behind the spike in young self-employed professionals.  Many are drawn to the appeal of self-employment because of the freedom that can accompany it especially as, with the development of on-line technology, work can be much more portable.   46% of young adults predicted that it will soon be possible to work at any location on the planet.

The research reveals an upturn in entrepreneurial moods from young adults and more and more are seeing self-employment as a way to break the cycle of joblessness.

Zero-hours contract workers earn £6 an hour less than colleagues

Another survey this month has revealed that contract workers on 0 hour contracts can earn up to £6 an hour less than colleagues.

Employers have been shown to exploit the flexible arrangements of contractors by paying them low wages, some employees on 0 hour contracts were paid £6 per hour less than those with set hours. The resolution foundation has warned the government that increasing implementation of these 0 hour contracts across public and private sectors is undermining basic employment rights and hitting younger workers especially hard.

Vince Cable has refused to ban the practice, but has hinted he may be willing to fight for stronger protections if employers are found to be abusing the system. The contracts mean that employers can adjust staff hours week to week with no set minimum wage for the week.

It was also admitted by The Resolution Foundation “…that the benefits these contracts provide for employers come at too high a price for the majority of those employed on them.”

Are you noticing an increase in young contractors and freelancers or have you lost out by signing a zero hours contract?  Tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment below.

 

 

Meet The Kingsbridge Team – Lauren Costello, Client Services Advisor

As promised, here’s the next installment in our ‘meet the Kingsbridge team’ series.  Our next victim participant is Lauren Costello, champion show-jumper and future zoo keeper.  Thanks for taking part Lauren.

Name: Lauren Costellolauren

Role:Client Services Advisor

How long have you been working with KPSOL?

Since November 2011

What does your job role include?

I speak with at least 50 people a day on the phone as well as responding to email enquiries.  Most of the conversations I have are with freelancers and contractors who are interested in the KPSol insurance package and either want to put a policy in place or have questions about the cover levels and whether it’s the right policy for them.

I also work with some of our business partners.   Often accountancy firms are keen to ensure their contractor and freelancer clients have the necessary insurance in place and many recruitment agencies insist on it before they’ll add them as candidates.  KPSol works closely with them to help them provide an end to end service.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A famous show jumper, a vet or a zoo owner (I’d actually still like to own a zoo)

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Making a difference for a client is important to me and when I can do that I get a real buzz.  I also count myself as lucky to work with some brilliant people so just being in the office is enjoyable, even if I’m having a tough day.  We have a lot of fun.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Last year I went to the Gastech exhibition at ExCel in London.  One of our specialisations is in providing cover for Oil and Gas professionals and this is a huge, global event for the industry.  It hadn’t been held in the UK for 40 years (it’s in South Korea next year!) so I was really lucky to be able to attend and meet so many people in the industry.

What is your favourite thing about the company and what makes them different to work for?

The company has grown quickly over the last few years and it’s given opportunities to and invested in a young team (myself included) and it continues to do that.  Although traditionally the Client Services team would probably be referred to as a call centre, we’re encouraged not to be robotic, to build a real rapport with our clients.  We’re involved in planning and agreeing processes and we have regular communication from senior management around strategy and developments in the business.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Horse riding and watching the rugby.  I’m also a cinema addict!

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

When I was younger I won the regional Jump Cross event on my horse, it’s a mixture between show jumping and cross country.  I was also on a TV show with Eddie Izzard once, I can’t remember it though!

Any advice you could give to someone looking to get a job in a similar environment?

You need to be very proactive.  Although most of the enquiries the Client Services team deals with are inbound, we still have to actively build relationships with our clients and make sure we’re answering their questions quickly and accurately.  You need to have a passion for customer services and also a willingness to learn and develop a good understanding of your clients’ needs and the insurance industry in general.  It’s hard work, but really satisfying.

What do you think makes Kingsbridge stand out from other insurance providers?

We’re often able to cover people who haven’t been able to get insurance elsewhere, or who thought they would have to pay thousands to get cover.  The set package of insurance is designed so our clients have peace of mind that they have the right cover, without the time and confusion they can experience from sourcing separate policies from multiple providers.

Any advice you have for freelancers or contractors looking for insurance?  

It’s vital that you’re adequately protected and equally, that you’re protecting anyone who might be affected by the work you do.  Don’t assume that you are automatically covered by your agency, your accountant or your professional body.  This is not always the case and we have so many contractors getting in touch, panicking as they won’t get paid until they can provide proof of insurance.

 Where do you hope to be in a few years’ time?

The plan is to get more involved with the work that the team that manage our partnerships and affiliations do.  I’m training with them at the moment, working towards a role as an account manager. 

We’ll be featuring more Client Services profiles over the coming months.  If you need to talk to a member of the team for a business insurance quote you can call on             01242 808740 or send an email to enquiries@kpsol.co.uk.

 

Time Management Tools For Freelancers And Contractors

Time management tools are very useful for contractors and freelancers. Not just for your client so they can see where the hours have been put in, but also for yourself. Using a tool like this allows you to track your work if you charge by an hourly rate, but also should help you keep your productivity up. The feeling that something is watching over your work makes for time well spent.  Many of these tools are also available across mobile and tablet devices, so useful if you’re working out of office.

So with that in mind we thought we’d give you the low down on some of the best time tracking tools out there.

Toggltoggl

Toggl is a great and esay to use tool, which you simply stop and start when you begin and end work. It can massively aid in productivity and it’s fun to use. The basic version is free, to gain access to more tools and features there is a fee of only $5 per month.

Yanamo Yanomo

Yanamo is particularly useful if you’re working in a team. It syncs with your Google calendar, tracks your time and you can share updates with team members. It does come at a price, but you can try the free trial for 47 days!

TSheets TSheets

TSheets is paid software but it’s probably money well spent if you want to track manage and report your time. Especially useful if you have clients that are strict about where your hours have gone. It’s easy to use and has a clean interface. There’s a 14 day trial if you want to test it out.

Get Harvestharvest

Harvest is a time tracking, reporting and invoicing app and desktop tool. It is available at 3 different price plans, but the basic plan is all you’ll need as a solo freelancer. With a simple intuitive interface, this is a handy tool for your daily timekeeping.

 SlimTimer SlimTimer

SlimTimer is a very simple to use time tracking tool which can also run reports which you can export. To track time you simply name a task, click on it and click again to stop. You can also sign up for free!

So those are 5 of the best time tracking tools we’ve found, do you have any other recommendations? Let us know below.

May Contractor News Round Up

Your monthly round-up of May’s top contractor news.

There are so many information sites for Freelancers and Contractors (see our Top 10 sites for freelance and contractor news post) and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to stay up to date with the latest news.  So, we thought you might appreciate a monthly roundup from some of our favourite sites.

Youth entrepreneurship is soaring:

New figures have shown, that despite what people may think or say about the youth of Britain, that many are trying to become productive members of society by going down the entrepreneurial route. Many are taking the option to become self-employed instead of waiting for the right job to be available for them.

The stats were found in a YouGov study, with 30% of those questioned saying that they would be self-employed in the future, whilst a quarter said they’d be their own boss within five years. If these young people followed through on their plans, then it would see an increase in 5% on top of those young workers who are currently self-employed.

Since 2008 the amount of young self-employed has risen by 71,000. This is obviously due to the lack of employment options for graduates. So it does make sense for them to try working for themselves which can only be good news for the economy

Umbrella companies are suffering from low usage from freelancers

According to new stats, only 15% of freelance workers are using payroll umbrella companies. There are thought to be around 1.6 million professional freelancers in the UK and so this new statistic means there are over 1.35 million who are not using an umbrella company to help them manage their earnings.

Main issues people had when surveyed were the costs associated when using an umbrella company and misunderstandings over the role and benefits from these types of companies.

Phil McDonald the Managing Director of Paraplus, who conducted the survey said, “These findings should be a wake-up call for the umbrella industry. It makes for tough reading that 26.5% of freelancers don’t understand exactly what an umbrella company does and 14.5% don’t even know that one could help them.”

Will the self-employed be re-categorised as employees?

The taxman now says that there are two situations in which individual LLP members will next year be treated as if they were employees and therefore liable to pay income tax.

There are two situations in which, from April 2014, LLP members will be treated as if they were employees of the LLP, who will then have to operate PAYE on payments to the member.

These are the two situations:

  • On the assumption that the LLP is carried on as a partnership by two or more members of the LLP, the individual would be regarded as employed by the partnership by reference to the normal tests of employment.  These deal with matters such as control, the requirement for personal service, financial risk, the ability to profit from sound management, and so on. In some cases it will be plain that the terms on which the “salaried member” is engaged are indistinguishable from employment: in others (especially in ‘eat what you kill’ partnerships) it may be very easy to show that relationship is not one of employment.
  • Alternatively, HMRC proposes to treat a salaried member as an employee if he or she is not an employee under the first test but is nonetheless someone who:

– Has no significant economic risk (loss of capital or repayment of drawings) in the event that the LLP makes a loss or is wound up;

– Is not entitled to a significant share of the profits beyond the “fixed share”; and

– Is not entitled to any significant share of surplus assets arising on any winding-up of the LLP

That’s our May round-up of Freelancing news. If you have any comments or questions, leave a post below.  We’d also love to hear from you if you have any other sites to reccommend or regular features you’d be interested in reading.

The World’s Most Inspiring Offices

The environment you work in can influence your productivity and mood just as much as who you’re with or what you are working on. Freelancers and Contractors often have to make do with a client’s hot desk or a home office, but we can all dream.  Here are some of the world’s most inspiring offices:


Selgas Cano – Madrid, SpainSelgas Cano

This Architects’  office is placed half underground with an outward view of the forest scenery. This would be perfect with the recent sunny weather we’ve been having!

 White Mountain – Stockholm, SwedenWhite Mountain

This Bond villain-esque office belongs to Swedish internet provider, White Mountain.  The site is a disused anti-atomic shelter 100ft below the city – converted into a cool, modern office which is sure to impress clients.

Mind Candy – London, UKmind candy

This office is on Silicon Roundabout in Shorditch – The online entertainment company have created an office which helps spur imagination and creativity with outdoors themed rooms, including a tree house meeting room and a slide

 Red Bull Red Bull

The Red Bull offices were designed to create an open, dynamic workplace. The design is cool and modern, with quirky features like the slide and a Ping Pong meeting room table.

Google – London, England google

 

 

Google are renowned for their creative workspaces. The London office has various themed rooms including  Granny’s Flat and the Lala library (pictured above).  ‘Hedge your bets’, a roof garden, gives employees a space to work or relax outside of the office environment.

 Richard Branson – EverywhereRichard Branson

Branson has as always worked outside of a traditional office, the image above shows him and his team discussing business ideas on his private island.  Okay, so we’re not all lucky enough to own our own island paradise to work on – but we like the idea of remote working in different locations to find inspiration!