26 Jun Setting up as a self-employed Maternity Nurse or Sleep Expert
There is great demand for the services of good sleep consultants. Setting up as a self-employed sleep practitioner can be very appealing for those with the right expertise: as well as providing a valuable service for exhausted parents, it promises an independence and autonomy that can be hard to find in an employed position. However, if you are considering becoming a self-employed sleep consultant, there are a few things to think about before you start.
Promotion and marketing
No matter how good your skills, they can only ever be as good as your marketing. In time, word-of-mouth recommendations may produce a steady stream of new clients but, particularly at the outset, a good website is a must. It is possible to pay someone to design a website for you but you may feel confident to undertake the exercise yourself. This will also help keep costs low: it is perfectly possible to keep your initial outlay to around £20 per year. You will need:
- A domain name – This should reflect the name of your business. You can register your domain with any one of several companies (GoDaddy is one of the most popular). A .co.uk domain usually costs around £10, and a .com not much more. If the name you want is not available because someone else already owns it, it may be possible to buy it from the owner but this can be expensive. Unless there is a very good reason why you need a particular name, it is probably sensible to pick a domain name that is currently available.
- Web hosting – Essentially, this means a space on the internet to store your website. Some companies that sell domain names also offer web hosting, and this can be a convenient and quick way of getting started. The cheapest hosting packages available currently cost around £2.99 per month. You may also want to ensure that your set-up criteria includes ‘MySQL database’. This is essential if you plan to include a blog or a forum as part of your website as it allows you to install an easy to use publishing platform, such as WordPress.
- To upload your information – The simplest way of doing this is to ensure you host your website with your domain name provider. You will then have access to cPanel, which will enable you to set up a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) account. It is this which allows you to access your website’s folders, usually via an application such as Filezilla.
As well as a domain name, you may also want to consider a logo or other branding for your business. If this is not something you are confident doing yourself, you may wish to outsource the job to a graphic designer. Make sure you see examples of their previous work and ensure that they understand what you are looking for before hiring someone.
It is also worth considering more old-fashioned forms of marketing, such as leaflets and business cards. The latter are handy to distribute in social situations (provided you remember to keep a stock on you) and it may be possible to arrange for leaflets to be left in places where parents of young children gather. This might include nurseries, playgroups, baby classes, libraries and similar. A business card need contain little more than your name, job title, contact details and logo. Leaflets can also be similarly uncomplicated and, indeed, are perhaps more likely to be read and acted on if they are simple and clear. Local printers often offer surprisingly good deals for printing bulk orders of such materials or, of course, you can produce them at home if you have a decent printer.
Introducing your services
Whether you are marketing yourself over a website, through a leaflet or both, you’ll need to think about how to present exactly what you are offering. For example, what methods of sleep training do you use? Will you spend the night at the client’s house? How many nights? Do you offer follow-up phone calls or other support to parents? These are just some of the questions parents are likely to want answered before committing to your services.
It is important to invoice promptly and to give clear parameters about when you expect to receive payment. To do this effectively, you will need to keep clear records of your clients and the services you have provided. You must also decide whether you charge hourly or offer a packaged rate.
It is usual to allow a fixed period of time within which payments must be made. Fourteen days is fairly standard but the period you choose is up to you, as are any discounts you may wish to offer for early or upfront payment. If you do not stipulate a payment date, the client must pay you within 30 days of receiving your invoice. If they exceed this deadline, you can issue a statutory demand to request what you are owed. You also have the right to charge interest for late payment.
HMRC and self-assessment
This is not something many people regard with much joy but dealing with HMRC is an essential part of working for yourself. Apart from anything else, it ensures that you pay the correct amount of Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions. You can register as self-employed here – and if you’re uncertain as to whether you really are self-employed, HMRC’s website also contains useful guidance to help you decide.
As a self-employed individual, you are required to complete an annual self-assessment for Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions. This requires you to register for self-assessment on HMRC’s website. You, or an accountant working on your behalf, can then fill out a paper form or complete the return online. Paper returns must be filed by midnight on 31st October. Online forms must be filed by the later date of midnight on 31st January. Late filings incur an automatic penalty. When you have submitted your self-assessment, HMRC will tell you how much tax you owe and how to pay it.