Get LinkedIn working for you

LinkedIn

Today’s job market is becoming increasingly competitive, especially as contractors are becoming progressively more important in bridging the skills gap throughout the UK. It follows, therefore, that creating an extensive network of influential contacts is an invaluable way for contractors to compile a prospective client list and raise their profile online.

LinkedIn really is an invaluable tool for this exact task. It can help position you as an expert in your field, catching the attention of specialist recruiters and potential clients. What’s more, you can use your LinkedIn profile to highlight your skillset through client recommendations, endorsements and membership of professional groups.

If you want to get more digitally savvy, sprucing up your LinkedIn profile and keeping it totally up to date is a great place to start. What’s more, you need to know how to make the most of LinkedIn’s special features to make sure that you’re maximising the potential to secure your next, big, game-changing contract.

Here are some of our most important tips to getting the most out of your LinkedIn profile and fully harnessing the power of the professionals’ social media network to make sure that you’re making waves in your industry.

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The Top Ten Tips for New IT Contractors

IT Contractors

We’re big fans of a good list here at Kingsbridge HQ. It’s lucky for us, then, that the lovely people over at Intouch Accounting have put together the top ten tips for new IT contractors. Read on below.

Moving away from permanent employment and into contracting can be a confusing time for an IT  professional. As well as the holistic adjustments, you will want to understand the finer details before you make the leap. From decisions regarding operating under an Umbrella Company or setting up your own Limited Company to how taxation works to the benefits of contracting, it can be an overwhelming time – but it can also be a great opportunity to adapt in the industry and hone your skills.

As an IT professional, the decision to branch out into contracting doesn’t come easy – and whether you’re certain it’s the route for you or still making your mind up, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 tips for new IT  contractors to help you on your way.

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Contractors: How to Handle Non-Compete Clauses

Non Compete Clause

Our friends at Lexoo have put together a great piece on non-compete clauses and how best to deal with them. Read on below.

Imagine you’re about to finish some contract work for the best known brand in your industry. It was  tough to come by so you were thrilled to get the job and with the boost it provided for your CV. Just days before the contract is up, a similarly well-known company in the same industry approaches you with an offer of employment. You’d be forgiven for thinking that everything was working out well, but unfortunately that’s not the case.

Remember that non-compete clause you signed as part of the contractor agreement?  Well, it’s come back with a bite. You were so happy to get the contract that you didn’t even read it.  The result? You can’t take the job you’ve been offered, or any like it for the next two years.

This scenario might sound farfetched, but it’s something that can and quite regularly does happen to those not diligently inspecting their contractor agreement. Most contractor agreements contain a ‘non-compete’ clause, which essentially sets out to what extent you are limited in working for other similar businesses in the immediate future.

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Getting accredited: the benefits of professional memberships

Accreditation

Trust is a remarkable thing, especially in the world of contracting. If a client trusts you and the quality of your work then you build a reputation as a trustworthy professional and this can do wonders for your career and the opportunities to which you are exposed.

During the course of your career as a contractor you may have considered joining a professional body and becoming accredited as a way of further cementing client trust in your work.  You may have already done so as a result of certain, industry specific legislation, or you may be considering doing so for the business benefits. In this blog we’re going to look at some of the ways that becoming an accredited contractor can add value to your business.

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The insurance products no engineer can afford to forget

Engineering Insurance

We understand that when you’re freelancing, you want to focus on the job at hand and creating the best work possible. Sometimes, insurance products don’t come at the top of your to-do list and can seem like an unnecessary expense.

However, if you’re a freelance engineer, you occupy a unique and interesting position when it comes to insuring yourself. Your work is based on problem solving and solution finding, and more often than not, your work product will affect the public, not just your end client. It is for that reason that gaining access to adequate insurance cover should be at the very top of your to-do list!

What’s more, many (if not all) freelance contracts stipulate that a freelancer must be covered by a minimum amount of insurance, so your future contract jobs could depend on having access to quality insurance.

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A Contractor’s Guide to Public Liability Insurance

Public Liability Insurance

Whether you’re a career contractor or you’ve just dipped your toe in the world of professional freelancing, you’ll have likely heard about Public Liability insurance. And there’s a reason for this; it’s one of the most important types of business cover and it’s an absolute essential for any contractor.

Why is it so essential? Well, as we all know, accidents and mishaps can happen, but that doesn’t mean that you, or your business, need to be out of pocket as a result. Public Liability insurance protects you and your business in the event of an accident or damage being caused where you could be held liable.

If you don’t invest in Public Liability insurance, and someone is injured or property is damaged as a result of your actions, then you could become legally bound to pay them compensation. Simple mistakes can become expensive, fast!

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Should I get my freelance contract reviewed for IR35 compliance?

IR35

IR35 is the legislation on everyone’s lips and it’s a subject that we have covered a number of times.  Since its passing into law in 2000, it’s been a priority for freelancers and contractors to make sure they don’t get caught in the IR35 net.

Some professional organisations now offer independent reviews of your contracts that check for IR35 compliance, giving you the peace of mind from the outset that you are not at risk of being caught out. This week, we’re going to investigate if these contract reviews are really worth it for independent professionals today.

IR35 – the risks

IR35 is aimed at uncovering ‘disguised employment’. This affects people that provide their services through a limited company, known as a personal services company. ‘Disguised employment’ is when a freelancer works on a contract through their limited company, but their working conditions and their contract indicates that they are working in the same way as a traditional employee.

If one of your contracts is caught by IR35 legislation i.e. – your work appears to be more like that of a traditional employee –  your income will then become subject to normal income tax and National Insurance contributions and you will lose the advantage of the low salary, high dividends tax arrangement that many freelancers benefit from.

IR35

The Assessment

If you are selected by HMRC to undergo an IR35 compliance investigation they will investigate both your contract and your working arrangements. That means that the way you work and the language of the contract you are working under need to be in agreement.

This is where the skills of a professional contract assessor really come to the rescue for a busy freelancer. Employment status experts will investigate the terms of your contract as well as delving into your working practices through the eyes of an HMRC investigator. That means that you have an objective onlooker examining your compliance for IR35 without you having to get bogged down in the finer details of this often very hard to understand legislation.

This way, you can be secure that both the wording of your contract, and the way in which you actually complete the work in the contract, are compliant with IR35, limiting your exposure to the risks of having an unexamined contract.

This, to us, is the biggest advantage of having an employment status professional review your contract and the way in which your services are delivered. It’s sure to give you peace of mind that a professional can help you prove to HMRC that you’ve taken reasonable steps to IR35-proof your contract.

When HMRC investigate the validity of your contract against the stipulations of IR35 legislation they carry out a series of Business Entity Tests.  These tests function as one of the ways to prove that your contract is at low, medium or high risk of being caught out by IR35.

Being covered by Professional Indemnity (PI) insurance can improve your IR35 stance and forms part of the Business Entity Test. That means that ensuring that you are fully covered as a freelance contractor is a vital step to cover yourself at every level. At Kingsbridge we have designed our core insurance package to cover the risks you’re exposed to as a freelance contractor. This includes Professional Indemnity, Public Liability and Employers’ Liability cover, all at levels that suit the needs of the modern freelancer.

If you wish to discuss your cover requirements then simply call our friendly, professional team at Kingsbridge on 01242 362160 and we will be happy to discuss your needs with you. Or, you can apply online to get access to cover almost instantly.

Five mistakes every freelancer makes and how to avoid them

Avoiding Mistakes

Whether you are new to freelancing or you’re a long-term independent professional, it’s fair to say that we all experience our fair share of mistakes. From missing out on a game-changing client to overworking yourself out of a combination of enthusiasm and deadline driven stress, it’s key to take note of these mistakes and stop them in their tracks before they become routine bad habits.

Read our list of five of the most common mistakes a freelancer makes and how to avoid them!

Setting your rates too low

Are you under-pricing yourself in a bid to remain competitive in the market? Worried that a cheaper option will always win the work? This is a common trap that many contractors fall into because many people simply fail to research typical prices in their industry, thinking that setting their prices low will win them business.

It’s always best to consider your billable time alongside any purchases and materials you need to complete a job, your overhead and the profit you require to keep your business running. It does your clients and your business a greater service to charge for the true quality and value of your work and time. Sara Horowitz’s The Freelancer’s Bible has a great chapter on how to make sure you’re setting a fair rate for your work – a great place to start!

Not keeping your taxes organised

We’ve written about this before, but keeping organised ahead of your self-assessment tax deadline is key! Very often, those new to freelancing underestimate the amount of time it takes to properly fill out a tax return, so keeping track of receipts, jobs, outgoings and incomings from the very start is of vital importance. Failure to do this can land you with an automatic fine that will only keep increasing and nobody wants to be faced with that at the start of the year.

Networking

Not networking

The word ‘networking’ can strike fear into the shyer amongst us. We get it, sometimes it’s awkward and scary to walk into a room of complete strangers and try to sell yourself and your abilities. However, the simple truth is, networking is the lifeblood of making your freelance business work. Engaging with fellow contractors in the same field will have many benefits for your business; it can result in collaborative projects, potential leads, referrals and access to new resources.

Not learning how to manage time

We understand the desire to work every hour you’re not sleeping in order to make a good impression and race against burgeoning deadlines. However, this is not a healthy way to run a business or live your life. It doesn’t get your best work done and you will eventually burn out.

Head over to our infographic on time management to pick up some tips on how you can be more productive, carve out some time for yourself and work smarter, not harder!

Not investing in insurance

There is a lot to think about when you’re a freelancer; you have to keep many plates spinning all at once. As with keeping organised ahead of your tax return, sometimes details such as investing in comprehensive freelance insurance can easily pass you by. As almost all modern freelance contracts stipulate contractors be covered by their own freelance insurance it’s vital that you don’t forget this step!

With Kingsbridge, one thing you don’t have to worry about is having a fully comprehensive, freelance insurance policy. Our key insurance package includes Public Liability, Professional Indemnity and Employers Liability cover combined into one policy. Designed exclusively for the potential risks of freelance contracting, you can gain access to cover from us almost instantly online.

Call our friendly, professional team at Kingsbridge on 01242 362176 where we will be happy to discuss your requirements. Alternatively, apply for a quote online to gain access to cover instantly.

The funniest excuses for late tax returns

Tax Time

For the last few years HMRC has revealed its top ‘oddest’ excuses they receive for the submission of late tax returns. The creativity and, let’s face it, boldness, that’s required to approach HMRC with excuses dragged straight from the ‘dog ate my homework’ school of thought is really something to be marveled at.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, we’ve collected some of our favourite creative excuses published by HMRC in recent years:

  • My pet dog ate my tax return…and all the reminders.

A classic, ‘dog ate my homework’ turn;  it would appear that somebody’s dog has quite the taste for tax returns.

  • I fell in with the wrong crowd.

This is quite an impressive excuse…if you’re a teenager on the brink of being expelled from secondary school. We’re not sure with regard to self-assessment though.

  • I’ve been busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots and some fox cubs.

While a pretty admirable pursuit, we’re not quite sure a flock of parrots counts as a reasonable excuse for filing your tax return late!

  • Our business doesn’t really do anything.

So bold. Almost so bold, in fact, for it to inspire respect. Almost…

  • I was in Australia.

And yet, you still owe tax in the UK!

My Dog Ate My Tax Receipts

But, what is a reasonable excuse?

Tall tales aside, sometimes life events can happen that are far beyond anyone’s control and this, naturally, can affect a freelancer’s ability to successfully complete their self-assessment return. You can appeal certain penalties incurred by late submission of your tax return, as long as you have, what HMRC terms as, a ‘reasonable excuse’.

Reasonable excuses in the eyes of HMRC include:

  • The death of a partner
  • An unplanned hospital stay
  • Computer failure during the process of submitting your tax return
  • Service disruptions on behalf of HMRC
  • A fire
  • Unexpected postal disruptions

In short, a reasonable excuse extends to events that are completely out of your control and that are unexpected. You can find out further details about HMRC’s reasonable excuses here or the tax appeals process here.

Despite the light-heartedness of some of these excuses, it does serve as a good reminder that to file your return sooner rather than later is prudent, as, if you don’t have one of the excuses listed above, you could face financial penalties.

There is an immediate £100 late fine that comes into force at midnight on February 1st. Then if your self-assessment isn’t returned after three months, HMRC will charge daily penalties of £10 per day for a period of up to 90 days. So that’s at least £1,000 in late fees that you’ll face, all for the sake of a hungry dog with a craving for HMRC documents. Doesn’t seem worth it to us.

What are some of the most outrageous excuses you’ve heard for failing to file a tax return? Have you been caught out in a lie? Or do you have any tips or fool proof strategies to avoid having to think of an elaborate excuse in the first place? Let us know in the comments or connect with us via Twitter or our LinkedIn page.

Tools to keep you organised ahead of January’s self-assessment deadline

Don't Miss the Deadline

It’s no secret that January can be a testing time for freelancers. We’ve written before about the pressure to stay organised so that the march to 31st January isn’t a time you face with utter dread every year.

It’s fine to say that you need to be organised, but it can be harder actually doing what you need to. We all need a little help sometimes. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of five of our favourite organisational tools that will help you keep track of time, organise your documents and your finances and make January’s deadline less of a burden on your time.

1.       Dropbox

Dropbox is nearly ubiquitous amongst modern freelancers, especially if you’re embracing the digital revolution as it advances into nearly every aspect of our lives. Syncing all of your devices from phone, to tablet, to laptop, Dropbox ensures that all of your digital documents are accessible anywhere. And if there’s something you need to update or edit, your changes will be saved across all platforms too. An absolute must if organisation is one of your business resolutions this year.

2.       Teux Deux

We don’t know how you feel about “to-do” lists but we love them. They keep us focused, accountable and gives us a great sense of achievement every time we get to cross something off our list!

To-do lists are great for organising your time. This is especially true if you have to give over some of your precious time to organising your tax details in preparation for the all-important 31st January deadline. Teux Deux offers a really simple interface that allows you organise your list of tasks digitally. What’s more, they have an iPhone app that allows you to take your lists with you on the go. Now there really is no reason to go off track.

3.       Central Desktop

If you want to win back some time during the run-up to the self-assessment deadline then Central Desktop could be the perfect way to do it! Now, we all know that the customer (or client) is always right and pleasing them is a top priority for any freelancer. However, sometimes when you’re knee-deep in receipts in your designated self-assessment time a client call, requesting emails or documents, can be the last thing you want to deal with.

With Central Desktop you can create an online collaborative workspace that connects you and your clients. That way, resources such as project plans, agreements and progress reports are stored in the cloud and accessible by you and your clients, removing the need for unnecessary emails and gifting you extra time to focus on the important tasks at hand.

HMRC

4.       Shoeboxed

What image comes to mind when you think about the task of collecting all of your receipts together before you submit your self-assessment? We’d bet that for a majority of you it would be the frantic dash to fill an old shoebox with crumpled petrol receipts and the bill for a client dinner or two.

Shoeboxed have taken that concept and updated it for the digital generation. Giving you the ability to scan and upload receipts and business cards, Shoeboxed will turn these into expense reports and contact lists. Helping you to cut down on admin time and admin costs, this is one tracking system that could well be a self-assessment game changer.

5.       FreeAgent

FreeAgent is the ultimate accounting tool for the time-starved freelancer. If you’re not so comfortable with accounting (and it’s fair to say that not all of us are) then FreeAgent allows you to organise your expenses and  income by project, so keeping track is easy. Another freelance friendly feature is a one-click report that produces a self-assessment summary that you can copy straight to your tax return. If that’s not a time (and stress) saver, we don’t know what is!

As you can see, it’s always worth embracing what the digital world has to offer in terms of productivity and organisational tools. There are hundreds of different apps, web based programmes and software that can help you keep stress at bay and make sure you’re super organised every January!

What are some of your favourite tools to keep you organised ahead of filling out your self-assessment return? Have we missed anything out? Let us know in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter!