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sole proprietor tax

Bookkeeping for a Sole Trader: How to Manage Accounts


Being a sole trader entails shouldering the responsibilities of bookkeeping and account management. Juggling numerous aspects of your business as a self-employed individual may often lead to the neglect of these crucial financial tasks. This article provides guidance on effectively handling your accounts and bookkeeping as a sole trader, addressing essential steps such as setting up, understanding relevant taxes, registering for VAT if required, and maintaining financial control.

Bookkeeping and why is it important?

Bookkeeping is the meticulous practice of maintaining accurate records of all financial inflows and outflows within your business. Although it may seem formidable, this task is vital for generating precise tax returns and formulating effective business plans. While accounting encompasses broader account management and strategic planning, sole trader bookkeeping delves into the intricacies. Every financial transaction, ranging from business dealings to company expenditures, requires documentation. This daily process ensures the accurate logging of all transactions from the day.

As a sole trader, the onus of legal and financial responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders. Any mistakes resulting in fines or legal repercussions directly impact you, given the absence of protection afforded by a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Establishing good habits from the outset is beneficial, with the recommendation to institute a sensible workflow that facilitates the automation and streamlining of various aspects of the bookkeeping process.

Registration with HMRC

The initial steps in managing your accounts as a sole trader begin with registering with HMRC and ensuring a comprehensive understanding of its regulations concerning business operation and nomenclature. As the responsible entity for the business, you, as a sole trader, are categorised as self-employed, even though the option to employ staff remains open.

Essential obligations for a sole trader include:

  • maintaining records of sales and expenses
  • submitting an annual Self Assessment tax return
  • paying income tax on profits
  • settling Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance
  • registering for VAT (if turnover exceeds the VAT threshold)
  • taking accountability for any business debts

It is imperative to retain records of invoices and receipts for a duration of six years. Given that HMRC conducts random checks to verify businesses’ adherence to tax regulations, meticulous record-keeping is crucial. Accuracy and up-to-date documentation are paramount to ensure compliance.

Business costs play a pivotal role in reducing the year-end tax bill, encompassing items such as

  • computer equipment
  • internet access
  • rent
  • stationery
  • phone bills
  • travel to customer premises
  • motor expenses

Inculcating good habits from the outset is advisable, particularly in tracking receipts. For instance, if regular train travel is part of client visits, it’s prudent to keep tickets in a designated section of your bag or purchase them online for an email record. Whenever a business-related purchase is made, including expenses like a coffee, obtaining a VAT receipt is essential, as some establishments may not automatically issue one.

Expenses you can claim as a sole trader

As a sole trader, you have the opportunity to offset your expenditure by claiming various expenses. These allowable expenses include:

  • Office supplies: This encompasses items such as office furniture, work computers, and stationery.
  • Travel and accommodation: You can claim costs related to work-related transport, including fuel expenses or hotel stays incurred for business purposes.
  • Some clothing: Expenses for uniforms or performance-specific clothing, for example, are eligible for claims.
  • Your staff: This includes payments made to contractors or staff salaries.
  • Commodities that you buy and sell: Stock and raw materials, such as gold, fall under claimable expenses.
  • Insurance and other financial costs: Expenses like bank charges are eligible for claims.
  • Your business premises: Costs associated with your business premises, including heating, lighting, and business rates, can be claimed.
  • Your business promotion: The expenses related to running websites, marketing, and advertising for your company are all claimable.
  • Business and employee training: The costs of courses aimed at advancing your skills or those of your team are also eligible for claims.

Payable taxes for the sole trader

As a sole trader, fulfilling your tax obligations to HMRC involves several key components:

Income Tax

Detailed bookkeeping is essential for a sole trader, as business profits must be reported at the end of each tax year. Your accountant, if employed, will require a comprehensive set of accounts detailing your sole trader income and expenditure to calculate your tax liability. Payment of income tax is due by January 31st, along with the submission of your tax return. Subsequently, tax payments are required twice a year, on January 31st and July 31st, known as payments on account. Each payment is equivalent to half the tax owed from the previous tax year. A recommended practice is setting aside 30% of earnings, ideally in a separate account dedicated to covering tax, National Insurance, and VAT expenses.

National Insurance

Upon setting up as a sole trader, notifying HMRC is crucial. Quarterly payments of Class 2 National Insurance contribute towards your future state pension. Additional Class 4 National Insurance payments, if applicable, are calculated by your accountant at the end of the tax year. It’s essential to ensure there is no duplication of National Insurance contributions, particularly for individuals engaged in both permanent employment and freelance work.


Sole traders need to register for VAT if their turnover exceeds the current threshold of £85,000. Voluntary registration is an option even if below the threshold, signifying a more established and trustworthy business. VAT registration allows you to claim back VAT on business purchases, proving advantageous for those involved in buying and selling stock. Choosing between the standard VAT scheme or Flat Rate VAT depends on the nature and size of your business. It’s crucial to select the right category, consulting with your accountant to ensure compliance.


If, as a sole trader, you decide to employ staff, accurate recording of PAYE and National Insurance details is essential. These records, including employee pay, deductions, leave, sickness, expenses, and charity-matching expenses under the Payroll Giving Scheme, must be meticulously maintained for three years from the tax year-end they are incurred.

Opening a dedicated bank account for the business

Establishing a dedicated business bank account is a prudent move when embarking on your entrepreneurial journey. By segregating personal and company finances, you facilitate the streamlined management of accounts and bookkeeping as a sole trader. This initial step not only eases your current financial oversight but proves invaluable as your business expands, navigating an increasing number of transactions.

Maintaining a separate business account aids in monitoring cash flow, a crucial aspect of successful business management. Cultivating the habit of early invoice chasing ensures an ample reserve to cover your business expenses. Additionally, adopting practices such as requesting deposits and implementing staggered payments on larger projects can enhance financial stability. Rather than waiting for a project’s completion before invoicing, these strategies contribute to a more sustainable and predictable cash flow, fortifying your business’s financial foundation.

What record a sole trader should keep and for how long period?

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records is integral to effective sole trader bookkeeping, constituting a daily process. In compliance with potential HMRC requests for a comprehensive breakdown, it is crucial to be well-versed in the types of records that should be meticulously tracked, including:

  • Business sales and income: This entails keeping records of invoices and receipts.
  • Personal income: Documentation of personal income is essential for a comprehensive financial overview.
  • Business expenses: Records of both your business expenses and those incurred by any employed staff must be diligently maintained.
  • VAT records: If registered for VAT, keeping track of applicable VAT records is imperative.
  • Staff PAYE records: In the case of employing individuals other than yourself, maintaining accurate PAYE records is mandatory.

Additional records that may need to be retained include outstanding receivables, year-end bank balances, and any withdrawals made for personal use. All records and receipts must be preserved for a minimum of five years from the 31 January submission deadline of the relevant tax year. This rigorous record-keeping ensures compliance with regulatory requirements and facilitates the provision of detailed information if requested by HMRC.

How supportive could be the use of cloud accounting software?

Effectively managing your accounts and bookkeeping as a sole trader is significantly enhanced by the implementation of cloud accounting software. The advantages of using such a system include:

Accurate Records

Entering transactions into cloud accounting software throughout the year ensures the maintenance of accurate records. This not only provides a real-time overview of your financial status but also minimizes the reliance on paper, saving both money and space, especially in smaller home offices or workshops. Additionally, recording the full contact details of each new supplier in the system eliminates the need to manage a separate address book.

Improved Invoicing and Payments

Regularly managing your accounts, whether on a monthly or weekly basis, enhances the likelihood of getting paid on time. Cloud accounting software allows you to swiftly address any discrepancies or outstanding payments, ensuring a smoother financial process. The capability to generate customised quotes and invoices, branded with your details, facilitates quicker communication with customers and expedites the payment process.

Efficient VAT Returns

Cloud accounting software streamlines the process of submitting VAT returns to HMRC. The system enables you to generate and review your VAT return rapidly, ensuring both speed and accuracy. Setting up a direct debit for payment on the 10th of the month following your VAT quarter eliminates the risk of missed deadlines and associated penalties. This feature proves especially advantageous for sole traders closely monitoring their bank balance.



How bookkeeping software could be supportive of sole traders?

For sole traders, the use of bookkeeping software can significantly simplify the demanding task of record-keeping. The transition to digital forms of accounting is underway, and from April 2026, Making Tax Digital for Income Tax Self Assessment will necessitate the use of cloud-based software for accounting. Embracing bookkeeping software now allows ample time to adapt to the upcoming mandatory requirements.

Do I require an accountant as a Sole Trader?

While operating as a sole trader involves wearing multiple business hats, accounting is a facet where cutting corners is not advisable. Any inaccuracies or failure to register correct tax information can have personal repercussions. Engaging the services of a proficient accountant tailored to your sole trader business can alleviate the burden, freeing up your time to focus on crucial aspects such as sales, marketing, or strategic planning.

Do I pay VAT taxes as a Sole Trader?

Sole traders with a business income exceeding £85,000 in the past 12 months or expected to surpass this threshold in the next 30 days are obligated to register for VAT within 30 days of exceeding the threshold. The government has also declared the Making Tax Digital for VAT mandatory, requiring VAT-registered businesses, including sole traders, to submit all VAT returns digitally and maintain records using cloud accounting software. Compliance with these regulations is essential for sole traders navigating the dynamic landscape of financial responsibilities.

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