Guest blog exploring the Legal Fundamentals of being self employed by William Blumenthal, owner (and self-employed sole trader) B-Law
Being in business on your own can be exciting. If you are entrepreneurial and enjoy taking risks, seeing rewards for your efforts and have ambitions to grow a healthy and successful business, achieving that success is very fulfilling. But getting there involves navigating a maze of regulation, compliance and laws which sometimes do not appear to contribute to that success. Others have written about registering your business with HMRC for tax and (if relevant) VAT, accurate record-keeping, the need for and content of your website and how to get the best out of social media.
One area which is often overlooked (I would say at your peril) is the law. I well understand that engaging lawyers is often a mystifying and (some would argue) expensive process which most self-employed people would almost go to extremes to avoid. However, budgeting for some constructive advice and support is a sensible and essential step in creating any business strategy. Here are a few areas where legal input will significantly help to derisk your business and contribute to problem-free trading.
Terms of trade: If you regularly sell products or services, you should be clear about the terms on which sales are made. When do you expect to be paid? What happens if payment is late, can you charge interest or sue for recovery of your debt? What if the product or service is not as the customer expects and what responsibility will you expect in putting it right? If you are delivering goods in the future, is there a fixed date for delivery and when does ownership of the goods pass to the buyer?
Website: If your website is more than just an online advert or brochure, if you are collecting people’s names and addresses, are you complying with data protection laws? If you are using it for trading, do you have your terms of trading clearly accessible? Is your website compliant with disability legislation? Are you making statements on the website which accurately describe your products or services?
Employees: If you employ anyone, do you have terms of employment which comply with numerous regulation and complex employment laws? Have you given them a statement of their terms of employment covering everything which statute requires?
You may think that these issues only apply to larger businesses, but many self-employed people have ambitions to develop what they are doing into a business with employees and to grow their revenues. Just as it pays to plan, so it also pays to ensure that these and other areas which affect trade and business have good foundations. Having legal support from people who understand these issues makes sense. From my own perspective, I left employment and a corporate environment to enter into the world of self-employed consultancy and therefore have personal experience and perspective on many of these issues. The last thing you want is to be befuddled by jargon. Having an adviser who has been there and done that and can explain in terms that make sense to a businessman (rather than just to another lawyer) is essential.