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Why should I register as self-employed?

After leaving art college, you may be unsure about what to do next. You may be apprehensive about taking the first steps in establishing yourself as a professional artist or designer.
If you are planning to undertake freelance work – namely where the person asking you to do the work expects you to pay your own Income Tax, National Insurance and usually to have your own insurance cover – then you should register as self-employed (being self-employed is also referred to as being a sole trader).

If you have been asked to submit an invoice to a customer or client, this means that the client presumes you are ‘trading’ and you are not on the payroll of the organisation or company.
Equally, if you intend to undertake commissions, run workshops or sell your artwork, creative products or services, then you should register as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs. Registering with HMRC is free in the UK.

You should start thinking about registration, whatever the amount you think you will earn. If you intend to trade, even if you will be making a loss, then you should register. There can be advantages to registration even if, initially, you are making a loss or only trading on an ad hoc basis.

If you have a job and are also working for your own clients or selling products outside your working hours, you should be aware that in most cases this counts as trading and you should register as self-employed. Many artists and designers are employed and self-employed at the same time.
Increasingly, employment contracts request that you ask or inform your employer about running a business outside your contracted hours. You may discover that the terms of your contract restrict or even prohibit your ability to run a business while employed.

Please note that if you are a foreign national and not from the European Union, then you will need to seek advice from an immigration solicitor before commencing in business. Student and work visas do not grant non-EU citizens the automatic right to trade.


Business support (enterprise agencies) (lawyers for your business)

National business support services (England) (Wales); (Northern Ireland); (Scotland) (for those over the age of 50), Institute of Business Consulting (request or download the registration form CWF1 here)


The Essential Guide to Business for Artists and Designers, Alison Branagan (London: A&C Black 2011)
A comprehensive enterprise guide with a detailed list of professional bodies.

Key arts and business organisations

Arts councils (England) (Wales) (Northern Ireland) (Scotland)

Crafts councils (Northern Ireland)

Other business organisations (grants for overseas trade fairs) (information, regulations and grants)

Immigration and visa information

Taken from A Pocket Business Guide for Artists and Designers, by Alison Branagan. A&C Black publishers, 2011.

Available to buy from:

If you found this article useful, you might like to take a look at:

Marketing yourself as an artist

Is seeking guidance advisable?

Websites for artists