2020 review of the year

Despite the general chaos, I’ve been luckier than most in that my business hasn’t been badly affected in 2020. I’ve had chance to learn some new skills, improve my admin, and set some goals for 2021.

Things I did for the first time

Payment processing: In the course of building an e-commerce platform from scratch, I integrated payment processing with PayPal and Stripe. In the past I’ve redirected users to a third party system, but this was the first time I had fully integrated a payment processor from scratch.

Developed and deployed software for Windows: Most of the software development I do involves building web applications, where the operating system has far less impact than whether the user is on mobile, tablet or desktop. However, one of the projects I worked on this year involved replacing an existing piece of software for Windows, which was an interesting challenge and an opportunity to learn Go.

Things I’ve changed

Separate phone for business: For a long time I’ve advocated keeping your personal and business lives separate when freelancing, and this year I finally got round to buying a separate phone and SIM card for business calls. As well as making it easy to ‘switch off’ in the evenings and weekends, it also means any business calls are charged directly to my business account.

New accounts system: My previous accounts system consisted of a Python script to generate invoices and a spreadsheet to track income and expenditure. Although this worked well throughout the year, it was a lot of work to reconcile my expenses when preparing my tax return. This year I’ve built a new system where everything is recorded in a single database. I’m also recording the paid date for each invoice and expense so I can generate a list of transactions to match against my bank account statements.

Things to improve for 2021

Reduce time spent on admin: There are a lot of repetitive tasks that I perform on a regular basis, such as raising monthly invoices and updating systems. I want to automate as many of these as possible, and I’ve made some progress already with WordPress updates.

Calculate tax liability: At the moment I calculate an estimate of my tax bill as a fixed percentage of my profits. This is sufficiently conservative that I always have enough money put aside to pay the twice-yearly bill, but I want a more accurate assessment of my liability on an ongoing basis, including taking account of things like pension contributions. My new accounts system should help with this, especially after April 2021 when I will have been using it for a full tax year.

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