Enterprise and self-employment

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the links below for the answers to our FAQs. If you still can't find the information you are after then please contact us.

Enterprise skills refer to the ability to be creative but also business-minded, to take initiative and problem-solve, to identify opportunities and take calculated risks, to be a good communicator delivering messages to a non-expert audience and be a good negotiator.

Find out more at What is enterprise?. Here you can also read about what an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur are.

The University of Exeter provides support to any student who has an interest in enterprise and developing their enterprise skills and knowledge, has a business idea or is already running their own business. The University is keen for its students to be entrepreneurially minded, so has formed a Student Entrepreneurship Support Group in collaboration with the Innovation Centre and the Students' Guild. This group provides the following support to students:

  • workshops;
  • enterprise modules;
  • talks from successful entrepreneurs;
  • mentoring opportunities;
  • student membership of the Institute of Directors; 
  • support for international student entrepreneurs running a business in the UK;
  • Inspirational success stories
  • enterprising student societies;
  • competitions and funding awards;
  • a range of activities during Global Entrepreneurship Week (November every year) and University of Exeter's own Spring Enterprise Week (March every year).

Find out more at the Student Enterprise Support website.  

Here at the University we have a number of people who can help, depending upon how developed your idea is and how far you have taken your business.

Don't know where to start?

For a discussion of how to develop your idea into a viable proposition, email thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk.

Got a great idea but need help funding it?

Get in touch with our Entrepreneur in residence, who can provide advice on what is on offer from the University's business acceleration centre, the Innovation Centre, as well as on the University's SETsquared Partnership with the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Surrey. You can book an appointment by emailing thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk.

The University of Exeter may provide seed and growth investment funding for entrepreneurs. You can read more about the level of funding which you may be eligible to apply by visiting the Student Enterprise Support site

For any form of funding, you have to develop a business plan. To learn about how to compile a business plan, you might like to attend the 'Think about Creative Planning' workshop. Find out when workshops are running here.

The support is available to all students, both undergraduates and postgraduates. The support we offer is also available to early career researchers and graduates up to five years after graduation.

Research students can learn how to develop knowledge transfer relationships with businesses through the Researcher Development Programme and Innovation, Impact and Business.

Yes, although there are restrictions for students from a non-European Economic Area (EAA) setting up a business in the UK. Go to the UK Government official page on Work Visas and see which best suits your needs and how to apply. 

International students with Tier 4 study visas are not permitted to be self-employed or engage in business activity. This would include the following:  

  • setting up a business as a sole trader or under a partnership arrangement and that business is either trading or establishing a trading presence;
  • being employed by a company in which you hold shares of 10% or more (including where the shares are held in a trust for you); or
  • working for a company where you also hold a statutory role, such as a director.

The Think Try Do Student Startup Support programme can assist you in carrying out public market research to investigate the viability of a business idea. This might include developing a website or prototype to carry out research and development of a business idea, product or service.

No, the enterprise skills workshops are for everyone, irrespective of whether you ultimately choose to start your own organisation. Graduate employers are increasingly looking for applicants to demonstrate enterprising and entrepreneurial skills within their organisation. The support available to you whilst at University includes workshops and competitions which can help you enhance your enterprising and entrepreneurial skills and knowledge, whether those are for running a business now or in the future, or running an intrapreneurial project inside an existing organisation.

The University offers a range of experiential learning activities to help you decide for yourself if you’ve got what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Taking part in these activities helps you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and will help you develop the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for running a successful venture. Examples of activities we offer include: 

  • eXfactor;
  • business strategy competitions;
  • Think - Enterprise Skills Sessions;
  • Career Mentor Scheme;
  • internships;
  • student-led provision of enterprise skills training in schools – part of the Aspirational Teachers Programme (ATP);
  • International Entrepreneurs in the UK Scheme;
  • Enterprise societies;
  • Enterprise fairs during Global Entrepreneurship Week and Spring Enterprise Week;
  • Business plan competitions;
  • SETsquared activities.

Enterprise skills sessions, run by Think, are a good place to start. They are highly interactive and provide a good outline of the important aspects to consider when looking to start a business. These workshops provide you with the opportunity to work as part of a group on an idea for a product/service you would like to bring to market, and will help you investigate the stages involved in doing so. Sign-up now for our Enterprise Skills Sessions.

At the University we can help you explore that idea, and we offer a number of workshops to help guide you and develop your entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. These skills sessions range from helping you to develop a business plan, through to determining your potential market. The Think programme offers the following skills sessions:

  • Think about business start-ups
  • Think about social entrepreneurship
  • Strategic marketing for a new business
  • Commercial awareness
  • Think about corporate social responsibility
  • Think about creative planning
  • Think about project planning
  • Think about project management

Read more about the sessions and sign up on My Career Zone. If you have a draft business plan, the University may also be able to offer funding for start-ups. For more information on the funding available, please see the Student Enterprise Support site and/or contact the Entrepreneur in Residence at seir@spaceforsuccess.co.uk

Writing down your ideas in a business plan format will help you bring your ideas together and put things into perspective. It will help show that you are a professional and help you attract interest from both possible investors and prospective partners, employees and mentors. A business plan can provide information for due diligence and provide a roadmap for ongoing business performance.

If you would like to use the Find Invest Grow software at the University to help you write a business plan, please contact thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk.

The support we offer is for all types of businesses or enterprises, including sole trader, partnership, company registered in the UK.  

For more information have a look at our self-employment leaflet and the AGCAS self employment document (developed by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), 2011)

Many sectors and careers lend themselves well to self-employment, including journalism, certain legal and medical professions, and the creative and performing arts sectors. Information is given for those who want to set up a business either full-time or part-time, work as a freelancer or contractor, or buy into a franchise. Advice is given on areas including business plans, funding, and sales and marketing as well as many others.

The legal structure you choose for your new business will define your legal responsibilities (such as registering your business, taxes to manage and pay, how to take the profit your business makes and personal responsibilities if your business makes a loss).

If you are not sure about what the correct legal status is for your business, it’s best to explore in greater depth the advantages and disadvantages of each option. For more information, visit: www.hmrc.gov.uk; www.companieshouse.gov.uk; www.gov.uk.

The University is not able to offer legal or accounting advice. However, the Innovation Centre often runs legal and accountancy surgeries and workshops for students with businesses. Please contact thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk the Entrepreneur in Residence at seir@spaceforsuccess.co.uk for further details of these events.

You can also talk to a solicitor under the Law Society's ‘Lawyers For Your Business (LFYB)’ scheme. This scheme is aimed at people setting up or running a small or medium sized business, and provides an initial free session to help you to understand the basics or to help with a particular task such as:

  • Set up your new company or partnership, or to advise you on taking up a franchise.
  • Buy, sell or rent premises.
  • Collect debts.
  • Draw up a standard employment contract for your employees.
  • Draw up standard terms of trade, or a specific contract for a major piece of work.
  • Advise you on protecting your rights to new ideas and designs.
  • Act for you in a legal dispute, and if you have to go to court.

The initial free session will also give you an idea of whether you need any extra legal help, and how much it would cost. Solicitors usually charge in two parts: (1) their fees, which are based on hourly rates; and (2) any money they have had to spend on your behalf ('disbursements'). It is worth noting that work done by partners will be more expensive than work done by assistants. In addition, to keep costs under control, make sure to prepare in advance for meetings, draw up a written agenda and give your solicitor clear instructions about what you want done.

Getting an accountant to help with the accounting, tax and finance issues should be able to save a start-up business more time and money than the cost of the accountancy fees. Here is a guide to choosing an accountant and what an accountant can do for you.

You need to pay tax irrespective of the type of business you have set up.

HMRC provides a great deal of information on:

  • the taxes affecting a start up business;
  • what can be claimed as expenses;
  • how to calculate National Insurance (NI) payments;
  • how to pay less tax.

Telling potential customers about your product/service and ensuring that the right people get to hear about your business is an important consideration. Think, Try, Do offers several skills sessions on strategic marketing every year, which can be booked through My Career Zone.

The University recommends that students do not work more than 15 hours per week in employed or self-employed work during term time.

In order to have your own website, you need to consider the following:

Domain name registration

A domain name the www. address that directs web browsers to your site.

You can register a website domain name with domain registration companies for a yearly fee.

When choosing a name, it is important to have a domain name that is closely related to the search query that your users are likely to enter into internet search engines.


Webhosting provides you with “file space” on the Internet to store the files that make up your website. You will also need to “direct” your domain address to your hosting by using a “DNS control panel”. Your webhosting provider should be able to help you with this.

Designing and building the website

A website can be easily set up and built at low cost on blogging platforms like Wordpress (www.wordpress.org), using pre-designed templates. This may be a good place to start if you need something quick, but if you are after a fully-branded unique layout you might like to have your website professionally built. The cost for a professional website can be between several hundred to several thousand pounds. How much you spend on your website should depend on your business model.

Website design and services company Squarespace also offers a range of services. Membership to Squarespace is 50% off for University of Exeter students. 

Search Engine Optimisation

A key consideration is also the content of the website and the inclusion of key words that are likely to be used by your customers. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is an important part in getting a website to the top of Google.

For more information, see Google SEO starter guide

www.startups.co.uk offers a detailed outline of the compulsory and optional covers any start-up needs to consider carefully.

‘Going freelance’ means setting yourself up as a business. To do this, you have to formally set up a legal business structure and let the tax authorities know that you are operating.

You need to be aware that ‘freelance’ is a layman’s term, and not an official category used by the Government to classify workers. Freelancers themselves use different terms to describe what they are, such as freelancer, contractor, consultant, independent professional, interim, portfolio worker, self-employed, business owner.

The unifying factor is that freelancers are their own bosses and have business-to-business relationships with their clients. There is a strong tradition of freelancing in certain industries such as media, IT, consulting; artists and designers often freelance as they work on short-term projects. Therefore, some freelancers work on long-term contracts, others on a series of fast turnaround projects, whilst others work with several clients at a time.

As a freelancer, you can use a range of legal structures to run your business. Please see the table below for the most used trading structures:


Trading structure

Legal category*

Your tax status

Sole trader






Limited liability partnership



Limited company


Company director and/or employee of your company

*Incorporated = your business is a legal separate entity; Unincorporated = you and your business are one and the same, there is no legal separation

Some freelancers work through recruitment agencies. A list of agencies is published on the IPSE’s supplier directory. Please see here for the IPSE guide for working with agencies. It is important to remember that if you are a sole trader, you can only be paid by the end client and not by the recruitment agency. In this case, you invoice the client directly and the agent charges the client a separate commission for finding you.

Other freelancers work directly with their clients. Please see here for the IPSE guide to finding contracts.

Because as a freelancer you are contracting your services to a client, it is important to draw up a contract with your client for the services your business will provide. Therefore, this is not a contract of service with you personally but with your business. The contract should accurately reflect the relationship between the two parties, and should include (a) clauses that demonstrate your ability to send substitutes, (b) the lack of mutuality of obligation and that (c) you have direction and control over your work. Please see the IPSE guide to how to draw up a contract for services.

As with any business, remember that you need to have insurance that is required by law as well as insurance for what makes sense from a commercial point of view. Please see the IPSE guide to business insurance.

To find out more about the above, please see the IPSE Guide to Freelancing.

You may find the following books helpful. These are available from the Career Zone in the Forum:

  • Working For Yourself, an Entrepreneur's Guide to Basics, J. Reuvid, Kogan Page
  • The Beermat Entrepreneur, M Southon & C West, Pearson Books
  • Commercial Awareness, C Stokes, Longtail

Websites that you may find useful are listed below:

Graduate Startup Jobs - job board and career advice website for graduates interested in working in UK startups

Prospects - self-employment section

Freelance Advisor

Careerplayer - videos of entrepreneurs talking about their businesses

Guardian careers community: How to become a graduate entrepreneur - Q&A forum with panel of experts (2 August 2010)

What do researchers do? - career profiles of doctoral entrepreneurs

Startups: Build a Better Business - information on starting up your own business in relation to marketing, employing staff and legal issues

National Business Register - support for entrepreneurs and new businesses including information on business names, limited companies, trade marks and domain names

Enterprise Nation - information and advice for people starting and growing home businesses

The Enterprise IT Guide - website offering entrepreneurs and start-ups guides on choosing and using IT. 

eSellermedia - guide to increasing web traffic and brand visibility

Doug Richard's School for Startups

Getting British Business Online - online tool to create a free website for your business

Creative Boom - online magazine for the creative industries aiming to support and promote freelancers and businesses

Start Up Britain - new campaign offering a range of business support for new and growing businesses

The Co-operative Enterprise Hub - advice, training, funding and consultancy on how to set up, run and grow a co-operative business

Office Genie - find office space for small businesses, start-ups and freelancers. Can search for spare desk space, shared offices and serviced offices to rent

Enterprise First - graduate opportunities and summer courses available

Brightside Start-Up Loans - brightside offers young people free help to develop a business plan, a free business mentor from a relevant industry and a loan of around £2,500 to start a business

Kauffman Global Scholars Program - an opportunity for recent graduates to develop their entrepreneurial skills and ideas, competencies, and capabilities to start a business

Websites providing legal advice are listed below:

Legal Structures: the basics - information from Gov.uk

Law Society - Lawyers for your business

Companies House

InventionCalculator - An app to help you work out what the market is for your product and how much profit you could make 

Intellectual property (IP) can help you protect your ideas. Try runs workshops on intellectual property which provide an introduction to patents, trademarks, copyrights, and registered designs. The workshops also consider how you may protect your intellectual property and how this may be translated through commercialisation into useful products and services for the benefit of society and the economy.

As a result of this workshop, students should be able to:

• recognise different types of intellectual property;
• identify and evaluate commercial opportunities and how to market intellectual property arising from research;
• know when it is appropriate to choose a licensing or new venture creation strategy;
• appreciate the basics of preparing a business case, forming a new venture and raising investment.

Find out and sign up to the workshops on My Career Zone.

For online resources and more information about protecting your business ideas please look at: The Chartered Institute of Public Relations guide to intellectual property, UK Intellectual Property Office, British Library resources and Intellectual Property Advice for the Creative Sector.

Yes. If you run your own business you can count the hours spent on running your business towards the Exeter Award, providing the business is actually trading. Please use a University/Innovation, impact and business/Guild/FXU member of staff as your supervisor/contact person on your Exeter Award work experience form.

For information on the University's policy on intellectual property see here.

This is likely to involve two separate tax routes. The student will be taxed at source by their employer through PAYE for their part-time job. In addition, the student will need to complete a self-assessment tax form at the end of the year where they will put (a) the amount they have earned in their part-time job, (b) how much tax they have already paid through this employment, (c) how much they have earned whilst doing their self-employed work. If this is done online (the most usual route), then the form will automatically calculate if they have underpaid or overpaid tax for the year. If they have overpaid, this will be refunded. If they have underpaid, they will be presented with a bill. Either way, they same tax allowances remain. 

This figure is the low earnings threshold for self-employed people in relation to their Class 2 National Insurance contributions (this does not have anything to do with the amount of tax they pay). As a self-employed person, if you earn less than £5885 per year you can apply for a Certificate of Small Earnings Exception and not pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions. However, you might decide to carry on paying them voluntarily to keep your entitlement to the State Pension and other benefits.


In relation to tax, the personal tax allowance for 2017/18 is £11,500 for earned income. No tax is paid up to this amount of earnings.

This is a complicated question that does not have a direct answer, but on balance it is highly unlikely that the student would be better or worse off - if they have an earned income via self-employment, then they will need to declare their self-employed earnings via the self-assessment process and pay the due tax. Once they start working they have up to 3 months to register themselves as self-employed with the HMRC. If they are an employee, then they pay tax through PAYE and have this tax deducted for them by their employer. 

Students need to declare their earnings by filling out an annual tax return which will help HMRC work out how much tax they need to pay. It is estimated that about 80% of students who work do not exceed their personal allowance in the year. However, because student income varies considerably during the year with students possibly working full-time during the summer holiday and only part-time or not at all during term-time, and although their overall earnings do not exceed their personal allowance, students can overpay tax - tax may be deducted in the summer on the assumption that the student's earnings will continue at that amount for the full tax year. If students have overpaid tax they can reclaim it, and they can do so up to 6 years after the tax year for which they are reclaiming.

If any student is employed but earns below the tax threshold during the tax year, they may have to claim back any tax they have paid through PAYE from the HMRC. However, if a student is self-employed and does not earn a taxable amount (over the personal tax allowance) then when they complete their self-assessment tax return, there will be no tax to pay at the end of the tax year. Therefore a student may see themselves as better off if they never had to pay tax in the first place and claim it back. However, in reality no tax is actually paid in either case. 

Please refer to the HMRC guidance for further details.

International students with Tier 4 study visas are not permitted to be self-employed or engage in business activity. This would include the following:  

  • setting up a business as a sole trader or under a partnership arrangement and that business is either trading or establishing a trading presence;
  • being employed by a company in which you hold shares of 10% or more (including where the shares are held in a trust for you); or
  • working for a company where you also hold a statutory role, such as a director.

The Think Try Do Student Startup Support programme can assist you in carrying out public market research to investigate the viability of a business idea. This might include developing a website or prototype to carry out research and development of a business idea, product or service.