Flipping cars as a side hustle can be a great way to provide an additional income, pay down debt or fund a holiday. The vast majority of car flippers, flip cars on the side while holding down a full time job.
But it can also be a full time job. Dealing in cars has provided me with a full time wage for the last 23 years. But it’s not a lifestyle or business for everyone. Below I explain what you need to do and consider if want to flip cars as a full time job.
Is starting a used cars business for you
People get into car flipping to make some extra cash. Which is great if you are doing it as a side hustle. But when starting a business you need to be interested in more than making money. You need to have a real passion and drive for what you are doing. Even after all the years I have been running my business, I’m still passionate about it and I’m still car crazy.
If you don’t have this passion for the business you will find it hard to succeed. Business is hard sometimes and it’s the passion that makes a business successful. If you are just in it for the money you are best to keep your job and just flip cars on the side.
The key to to success is passion, if you’re passionate enough to give it everything the money will follow. If you think you have the passion and drive to start you own business, don’t quit you day job until you know your new venture can produce at least the same level of income you currently enjoy. You also need to make sure you have adequate funds in the bank to cover living expenses for at least six months.
You will also need to think about the risk of starting a business. If you have a large mortgage or family commitments starting a business might not be for you. You will have to take risks if you are going to make money flipping cars, more risks than you will have probably taken before. This is of course true in any business, and the reason people make so much money with their own business is because they choose to except the risks. But it’s important that you understand the risk and except them before taking the plunge.
What you need to get started
For most UK-based car dealers setting up a business is quick and easy. In fact it’s possible to set up a car business in a day. All you need is mobile phone and some money to get started. But there are lots of other things to think about when starting out.
Do I need premises to trade from?
You don’t actually need premises to become a car dealer. You will however need an address to start a business from, but this can be a private residence. Lots of dealers, myself included run large a business from a mobile phone and there is nothing stopping you from doing the same.
If you are thinking of scaling the business or offering mechanical repairs obviously you will require a suitable commercial unit or garage. The benefits of a having a forecourt in a busy location should not be underestimated.
Different kinds of self-employment
If you’re thinking about starting your own car flipping business or becoming self-employed, you will need to think about your business structure. The car flippers are choose one other the two below. But do some research and decide which model is best for you.
This is the simplest form of self-employment. You will run the business as an individual and keep any post tax profits. However, your personal and business assets are not separate. This means you’re personally responsible for debts associated with the business. A sole trader is just that, you, working for themselves. This is the most common way of operating a small business. To become a sole trader, all you need to do is register as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs.
Private limited company
A private limited company, is a separate legal entity and is completely separate from the person owning and running it. The company will have a director (yourself) who is responsible for running the company, and at least one shareholder (again yourself). The company will need to submit its annual accounts to Companies’ House and a tax return to HMRC. The director will also need to fill in a Self Assessment tax return, but will only pay tax on the money they earned by running the business, not the overall business profits.
Accounts, VAT and record keeping
I recommend seeking out the advice of an accountant at the very beginning. They can advise on what records you need to keep, VAT registration and help you understand your tax liabilities. Tax’s on a self-employed persons earnings are payed in arrears, typically 1-2 years after the profit has been made. So you will need advice on how manage cashflow and prepare this.
A good relationship with an accountant is a must.
If you are a sole trader, you do not legally need to have a business bank account. But I would advice getting one anyway. It allows you to keep your business and personal finances separate. Makes record keeping easier and makes the business look more professional. If you are a running as a limited company you do need to have a business bank account. But again speaking to an accountant for advice.
Insurance, health & safety and data protection
You will need full specialist motor trade and public liability insurance. You may also want to consider medical and business insurances. If you are working from a premises you will also need to make sure you are compliant with all health and safety requirements.
An insurance adviser will be able to guide you through what insurances you require, and the UK government offers plenty of online advice regarding health & safety, and data protection requirements.
Consumer rights act
Flipping cars as a business means you fall under the consumer rights act. If you are doing your job properly, selling good cars that are mechanically sound and of good quality. The act is nothing to worry about. But I would advice you familiarise yourself with the rights of the customer and the best practises.
You can find specialist lawyers offering advice on the subject. But in truth with good customer service and common sense any issues are easily rectifiable.
The next step is consider the branding and business name. Branding may sound like an unnecessary step if you are just planning to flip cars. But a quality set of business card, invoice books and a good logo, can go along way when meeting a potential customer or trade contact.
You may also want thumbnail images for classified sites, social media etc. These little things can make your business look much larger and more established than it is. There are lots of small design and advertising agencies that can help with branding, with most offering fledgling business great service for very little money.
Once you have decided on a business name and logo. The next step is to buy domain name and set up a website. I’m not suggesting you set up a site to sell cars from, although you may want to do this in the future. But it’s important to have a web presence, most people will google your business either before they decide to use your services to view a car.
So some form of website is important. Even if it’s just a simple single page design, explaining what the business does and who you are. You may also want to set up various social media accounts. These again help establish credibility and can also be used for marketing.
A design agency may be able to help you setup a website. Alternatively you can use a Vix, Weebly or similar if you are want to do this yourself. A website shouldn’t be expensive but it’s important to get it right.
It’s also important to look at your personal internet presence. Potential customers and trade suppliers will also google your name. So you may want to look at your social media privacy settings or remove any inappropriate post or photos.
When flipping cars personal branding is just as important as business branding, what we now call ”personal branding” was once called ”reputation”. Reputation is very important in business. With a good reputation selling cars in your local area is easy, new business and opportunities will often find you.
The key to being successful is still a good supply of cars. The main and obvious difference is you will need more cars, the supply of cars will be the key deciding factor in your new businesses success.
I have already covered how to find cars in other articles on this site. Where I favour developing a relationship with franchised dealers in your local area. These relationships are essential if you are going to make car flipping a full time job. If you have failed to nurture these relationships and are relying on auction, classified sites and word of mouth to fine cars. You are going to struggle to fine enough cars and maintain a steady income.
Ideally the majority of your cars should come from a main dealer. However its best not to keep all your eggs in one basket. The turn over in staff in the motor trade is very high, so these relationships can change or simply disappear. So you need to still be visiting local auctions, looking at classified ads both online and in the local papers. As a business you can also take car in part exchange which can be a great source of stock.
We cover the topic in greater detail here – How do I buy cars at trade money.
You must focus on marketing your business, especially in the first few years. If you don’t sell any cars, you don’t make any money. If you don’t make money you can’t save money or grow the business. The businesses value will drop and so will your wealth. So it’s important to get the marketing correct.
You need to find the most cost effective way to get to your target market. Marketing cars as a business differs slightly from selling cars privately. You can now sell with more authority and take advantage of trade advertising packages and branding opportunities.
The most cost effective way to market cars is online and I have had great success with classified advert, but social media is also a powerful tool. Find our article on how to market a car effectively here – The best way to advertise and market a car.
In a similar way to a private sale you will need to provide an invoice to your customer. There are several ways to do this and its something you accountant can advice you on. But its important that both parties have a copy of the receipt and that it contains all the relevant car details.
Processing the logbook
As a motor trader you are responsible for contacting the Drive & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) when buying or selling a motor vehicle. It is essential that you follow their guidelines. They can advice you on your current obligations and responsibilities. Follow out link to learn – How to transfer ownership of a car in the UK.
Once you have considered all the points above. The next step is to focus on your actual business. The basics of a car flipping business are the same wherever you are living. But every business is different and the market and opportunities are constantly changing.