tax & finances filmmaker

Tax & Finances for Freelance Filmmakers

Are you a freelance filmmaker? If you recently have or are thinking about making the jump to fulltime freelancer, congratulations on taking a bold step in your career. Finding regular clients, networking, and getting that slick website up and running are the staples of any freelancer’s life. However, there is a slightly less glamorous task that needs just as much attention; it goes by a simple name, but if neglected it can become painfully complex, and that name is finances.

Quoting, invoicing, keeping track of your expenses, and the dreaded tax return are all essential to running a successful small business. Daunting as they may appear at first, if you have a system in place, it doesn’t need to be a complete headache. So, let’s get stuck into the essentials.

Quoting

I’ll cover quoting in all its complexities in more detail in a separate article, but for now here are the basics. When a quote is requested from a potential client, it is vital you create a standalone document to send them. It should include the following. 

  • Job code – Something to help you identify the project.
  • Cost – Include any expenses, break down your services and be as transparent as possible.
  • Terms and Conditions – You don’t need to be too detailed but ensure you include payment terms (30 working days is usually the standard). It is also worth stating the client has no rights to use the video until payment is complete.
  • Client Name and Address – This is important for legal and data protection reasons.
  • Deposit – If it is a sizeable job, you may wish to request a deposit, which should be noted in your quote.

You can generate free customisable terms and conditions easily online, however, becoming a member of an organisation like FSB (Federation of Small Business) or the IoD (Institute of Directors) will give you access to a wealth of tax documentation, legal support and advice.

Quoting maybe a little work, but it is crucial to take the time to get it right, as this can prevent you from being taken advantage of by the occasional bad client. A quick online search will bring up a host of free to download quote templates, alternatively accountancy platforms offer a full quoting system.

Keeping Track of Your Outgoings

While you are working, you are going to incur expenses, whether it is lunch while on a shoot, travel and accommodation or a new piece of kit. Your costs will be needed to work out how profitable your business is, and ultimately how much tax you will need to pay, so it is important you keep track of all of those receipts.

If you are incredibly organised and have the time, you can take photos of your receipts to store digitally. Alternatively, tax software such as Receipt Bank can help you get organised and stay in control of your finances.

If you’re using accountancy software, every transaction you make on your debit card will be logged. You will still need to keep a copy of the receipt as the transaction listed with your bank will only detail the vendor at best.

Invoicing

Invoicing is one of the most exciting parts of the finance process – the work is done, and you can get paid, maybe. No matter how prepared and you are, you will without a doubt come across a client that either pays late or refuses to pay altogether.

Invoicing is not only the way you request payment from a client, but it is a way you protect yourself against non-payment. While an invoice doesn’t ensure you will be paid on time, it does offer documentation that can help you if you need to begin legal proceedings. Your invoice should include;

  • Job Code – the same one as the quote
  • Client Name and Address
  • Break Down of Costs – including any amendments, again, be transparent.
  • Terms and Conditions
  • Your Business name, Address and Registration Number
  • BACS Details

If a client causes you to take legal action against them, you will need to be able to provide the Quote, Invoice and any communications between you as evidence. You can only bring legal action against the company/individual to which you provided services, for which you will need their full name and registered address.

All this information may sound scary, but don’t worry; instances of non-payment are few, but it’s nice to have something to back you up just in case.

As with quotes, there are a considerable number of free to download templates that you can use. Accountancy platforms can also centralise and store all of your invoices, giving you reminders when a client is late paying so you can send a reminder.

Accountancy Platforms

I’ve mentioned accountancy platforms a few times now, but what is one and why is it a must for any freelancer?

There is no shortage of options for accountancy software that will make your life easier. Websites like Quickbooks, Zoho, and Xero are among the most widely used for small businesses. Broadly speaking they are all the same, I currently use Xero, but that’s not to say other platforms aren’t just as user-friendly.

Put simply; the software keeps all of your business financial information in one place, where it can easily be accounted for, viewed, and edited. When a quote is sent to the client, they have the option to accept or decline it (and in doing so, accept your T&Cs).

When a job is completed, the quote can be used to generate an invoice, which can be sent to your client directly from the platform. All accountancy software allows your clients to pay directly via the link and will provide you with a ‘waiting for payments’ breakdown. Need to know at a glance when money is due in, problem solved.

The tax software tracks your company bank feed, allowing it to see when money comes in or goes out. You are then able to “reconcile” (match) all in and outgoings to invoices and receipts. Programs like Receipt Bank allow you to store digital copies of your receipts and accountancy software can pull on this information.

If all this is done correctly, the software can generate profit and loss statements, and help with PAYE and Pension payments. Having your quoting, invoicing, and expenses managed all in one place will pay dividends when it comes to filling your Tax Return as all the information is neatly disseminated.

Tax Return

Perhaps your most critical legal obligations when self-employed, are those towards Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. It is possible to complete and submit documents to the tax man entirely on your own, and the HMRC website offers extensive guidance on every aspect regarding self-employment. The tax submissions you’re required to make, depend on your exact employment status and trading position.

If you decide to set up as a Sole Trader you must register this with HMRC, so they know to expect a Self Assessment tax return every year. They will also expect contributions to Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance, as well as Income Tax paid on profits above a threshold.

Self Assessments should list how much you earned through your business activities in a given financial year, as well as all your legitimate business expenditure. This will determine how much (if any) profit was made, which in turn determines how much Income Tax you’re required to pay. As a Sole Trader, this information also acts as your company accounts.

If you choose another method of company formation – such as Partnership with other people – that business will require its own specific tax return, alongside your self-employment information. If you only operate under the banner of the Partnership, your self-employment details are essentially your share of the Partnership’s profit or loss.

If you choose a more formal company structure, such as a Limited company, your obligations increase to include not only Self Assessments but also Corporation Tax, PAYE, publishing of annual accounts and yearly tax returns to companies house. These advanced subjects will be covered in a separate article, but for now, that’s the basics covered. Alternatively, you could opt to do what I’ve done for the last few years, hire a charted accountant to take all the stress off your plate!

Wrapping Up

Keeping your finances organised and complete is a massive task and one that should be given the time it needs. You may feel that you are an organised person who can handle the intricacies of the task at hand, and you may be right.

However, it is unlikely that you decided to become a freelancer for your love of paperwork. The various platforms discussed here can help you spend more time meeting clients and making films while giving you the confidence to quote and invoice for work in the knowledge that your legal obligations are met.

Are you a seasoned filmmaker or videographer? Let us know your top tips on finances and tax returns in the comments below.

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