Self employment: a session with Juliet Brain, Artsmonkey
Juliet's session equipped us with some fundamental tools for life as a self-employed creative professional, such as how to correctly format an invoice, and a lovely hand-decorated notebook with helpful printouts to write them in.
The day began with defining the difference between a hobbyist and a professional by the level of training they are equipped with. A professional is able to competently navigate whatever situation they find themselves in, they are not just trained to make their work. As a group, we all wrote what training we have received so far on post-it notes and covered the wall with them. We then discussed how all of it was valid and useful, from ladder training to food hygiene to master's degrees, because you never know when you may be called upon to safely climb a ladder!
One of the richest activities was working in small groups to research a topic (work, registering for tax, intellectual property, safeguarding or brand names), before feeding back our findings to the wider group.
Juliet underlined that even though we are relatively new in our careers, we should always value our work and ensure it is valued by those we work for. It doesn't have to be in the form of financial payment, the experience of working on an interesting project can be priceless in itself and lead to paid work. If we are offered payment, we should ensure all the 'hidden' time such as time spent preparing is included in the contract. Young people can be taken advantage of with promises of exposure or experience, so it's always worth thinking critically about whether what they are offering is as valuable as what we are bringing.
Brand names can be registered online via gov.uk. Registering your business with a trademark is important because:
•Your business can be prevented from expanding later without it.
•It can protect your business from people trading under the same name and damaging your reputation, and from other people later registering with your name and taking legal action to prevent you using it.
•It gives an implicit value and validates the history of your business - investors will look into whether or not you have a trademark.
Safeguarding means taking responsibility to equip yourself with the knowledge and awareness to prevent and navigate unsafe situations, and ensure as far as possible that those you are working with have a comfortable and safe experience. It means preparing yourself with any appropriate insurance, making yourself aware of what the procedures are in the event of an unsafe situation, knowing who is responsible, who to contact, and afterwards, who may be liable. Safeguarding is good practice for all workers, not just freelancers.
You have intellectual copyright if you own, have bought, or have registered something. This only applies to the thing itself, such as an image or song, and cannot be extended to a concept or idea. For example, if someone directly used lyrics or a photograph without permission, it would be copyright theft, but if someone wrote a song or devised their own photography project about the same subject, it would not be. An exception is with design right, but proving design right is difficult and has traditionally been done by signing and dating your design then posting it to yourself in an unopened envelope. As media changes, so does the copyright law surrounding it - it's worth updating your knowledge every now and then.
Registering for tax
•As creative professionals, it's most likely that we need to register as a sole trader – meaning we run our own creative business as a self-employed individual, and can take on staff.
•Firstly, you need to contact the tax office and request your Unique Tax Reference number (UTR) - you can't submit a self-assessment without quoting it.
•You absolutely need to keep all records of business sales and expenses, i.e. all receipts and invoices. They are needed for self-assessment, as tax is only deductible from your profits (sales minus expenses).
•The deadline for submitting your tax self-assessment is 31st January each year.
•Capital gains - buying tools or equipment for the business which 'belong' to the business, such as a van for a delivery company, is more complicated. It raises the question of what happens to the tools if the business fail, so it's best to seek advice from an accountant.
The day finished with a series of consolidating activities to add to our toolbox for leading our own sessions, such as the semi-formal SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), and a less formal 'Head Heart Bag Bin' (what we learned, what we loved, what we'll take away, what we'll leave behind). We wrote postcards to ourselves in a year's time with something to remember from today - I'm looking forward to stumbling across mine!