Sole trader: Freelance consultant 

Jo Turnbull is a freelance SEO consultant, providing online marketing advice to small and medium-sized businesses. She talks about starting up on her own after being put out of a job.

What were you doing prior to starting a business?

I was working as an SEO account director for a media agency. Prior to that I was working at another agency in London, which went into administration. The company closed within 24 hours and we were all out of a job. I really wanted to set up my own business then, but I did not have enough cash or clients to set up at that time.

Why did you decide to start?

I have always wanted my own business from a young age. I took part in Young Enterprise at school and we were the only company out of the ten or eleven Young Enterprise companies to last the full year and make a profit. I set up the blog SEO Jo Blogs back in February 2009 as I wanted to have an online presence for when I had enough capital to launch my own business. After the company I worked for went bankrupt, I started speaking to potential clients and set up my company six months later.

How did you get the information you needed to set it up?

I used to work for a company that helped people set up their own business. While I was working there, I found out about the information I needed before I set up on my own. I decided I wanted to work freelance to begin with which was much more feasible than employing a team to work with me. If I received a lot of work, I decided I would outsource it.

What were the procedures you needed to undertake?

I had to register as self-employed with HMRC. I went to the website and registered online, which was very straightforward. I set up a separate bank account for all my business transactions. This way I could easily track my income and my expenses.

I made sure I did not spend all my money and saved some for tax. I found a really good accountant who helped me with my tax return. It is really important to stay on top of your taxes as a small business owner, otherwise you could face a large bill.

Any challenges you had to overcome in the early days?

There were no unexpected challenges in the early days. I knew I had to make sure I kept on top of my tax. I was working full time while I was setting up my business and therefore I had to keep these two incomes separate.

A challenge that many new businesses face is finding the right clients. Not every client is worth pursuing or working with; their business objectives may not be aligned to the marketing plan you have laid out. I have had to chase people for payment but that was something that only happened in the early days with certain clients.

What advice would you give to aspiring sole traders?

I would say if you really want to work for yourself, go for it. But make sure you test the waters first. Keep your full-time job, build up your client base and when you have enough cash and clients, quit the full time job. I help a lot of businesses with their online marketing, which they can do while working at their current job.

What have been the highlights of your experience?

Working freelance has allowed me to travel to 11 countries this past year, discovering new places. It has also allowed me to attend many search events, meeting many search professionals in the industry at conferences.

Working as a sole trader has given me the opportunity to blog on a number of business sites and also for State of Search, the 2012 winner of the Best European Search Blog.

There are always going to be challenges working for yourself or for another company. However if you really want to set up on your own, a little bit of planning before you launch yourself into your business will help you go a long way.

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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