I'm self-employed and don't know how I'll cope financially

Baking has always been a huge passion of mine.

I find it therapeutic and stress-busting, and have even entered the odd baking contest, including applying for The Great British Bake Off.

In July 2019, I decided to take things a step further and start a side hustle. I baked in my kitchen, and travelled around Manchester and Cheshire artisan markets selling doughnuts, cronuts, yum yums and cannoli. Before I knew it, I was booking markets every weekend and catering weddings. It was incredibly exciting and rewarding.

In January 2020, my full-time job in social media came to an end and I decided to make Sam’s Bakehouse my full-time job. But just a few weeks later, COVID-19 arrived and the hospitality market collapsed. 

Like many in the UK and around the world, my new small business is being hit hard by coronavirus – and I feel helpless. There’s nothing I can do to support the business myself and there’s no help offered by the government for those who are self-employed. 

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Most markets are now completely cancelled and big events like weddings are all being postponed.

While turnover has fallen dramatically, panic buying has also caused costs to go through the roof. Wholesalers have run out of stock, supermarket shelves are bare and even flour mills have stopped taking orders due to huge backlogs.

It’s been incredibly difficult and costly to get what I need just to be able to stay open. 

I’m working harder and longer, just to earn less. And I can’t get into a full-time salaried position because interviews are being cancelled – some due to social distancing, and some because firms can no longer afford to hire. 

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak’s announcements regarding help for businesses have done little for the self-employed so far.

I don’t own commercial premises, so business rate reliefs don’t apply and I have no staff, so the guarantee for paying 80 per cent of retained staff wages doesn’t cover what people in my situation are desperate for.

The loans may look like an attractive concept, but it would be incredibly tough for a small business like mine to pay these back, especially if trading conditions continue as they are. 

Ultimately, there’s no safety net for people like me.

I don’t qualify for sick pay, I have no cash reserves, and I’ve only been registered as self-employed for nine months, so even if the government were to implement a scheme offering to guarantee income for those who are self-employed, I don’t have a full year of accounts to prove my income. 

On a personal level, it’s incredibly tough to keep a positive outlook on the situation. My husband and I have both been losing sleep over how we’re going to make things work. He works in the public sector and doesn’t know whether the government will guarantee wages in the same way they have already done for the private sector.

With my wage being slashed to the bones and his in a level of uncertainty, we don’t know how we’ll cope for the next month, let alone 12. 

In order to survive, the government must make more assurances to those who are self-employed and guarantee a steady income, or assist in reducing costs associated with operating. 

I’m trying to take each day as it comes, but if the next 12 weeks are as tough as the last two, I don’t see myself being able to continue – financially, physically and emotionally

Even something like guaranteeing a council tax break – and knowing that there’s one less bill to come out at the end of the month – would relieve the pressure tremendously.

I must however give credit to all of my customers in the past couple of weeks.

To keep my business afloat, I’ve started a delivery service for people in my area, and the response has been incredible. Shoppers are seeing the value in buying local and supporting businesses.

The response from social media, local media titles, and other local businesses has also blown me away.

At the moment, I don’t know what the future of Sam’s Bakehouse will be. I’m trying to take each day as it comes, but if the next 12 weeks are as tough as the last two, I don’t see myself being able to continue – financially, physically and emotionally. 

I’m flipping between deep regret for leaving my comfortable job, and determination to make it work. I’ve poured my heart and soul into getting my business off the ground and the feeling of helplessness while watching it crumble is heartbreaking. 

With the government’s position changing daily, I guess we’ll just have to see what happens next.

Sam Wright is the owner of Sam’s Bakehouse.

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