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Three lessons every British small business can learn from the US

March 30, 2015 by Guest contributor

Three lessons every British small business can learn from the US{{}}Launching our first American office earlier this year provided many learning opportunities for my business, Moneypenny. Here are three lessons that every British small firm can learn from their US counterparts…

1 Be more bullish (sometimes)

This isn’t always something that sits easy with us in the UK, but being direct is an essential skill that every entrepreneur needs to develop. US small businesses seem to be a lot more comfortable with this.

We’ve found, for instance, that our American clients are much more forward when it comes to requesting to chat with current clients about their Moneypenny experience. This rarely happens in the UK, where we’re generally more reserved. Make no apologies for wanting the best for your business. If you’re naturally reserved or quiet, this can be easier said than done, but practice and refine this skill over time – it’s well worth it.

2 The customer is king

If you’ve ever been to America, you’ll no doubt have noticed customer service is one arena in which businesses really do excel. That’s not to say we’re no good at it in the UK. On the whole, we are, but there’s always room for improvement.

As a small business, the ability to control the service you offer is one of the key advantages you have over larger competitors. Think of some ways you can improve your existing service. Perhaps it could be something small such as sending a personalised birthday card and voucher to your most loyal customers. Or maybe it’s the initial greeting and smile when customers walk into your shop or call your company.

It doesn’t have to mean saying ‘have a nice day’ at the end of every sentence, but think about what will make your customers feel special. Excellent customer service has always been at the heart of what we do, and is one of the biggest factors in our success. Never underestimate its power. 

3 Post-work socialising

Fancy a pint? For many Brits this immortal phrase is the one most associated with post-work socialising. In the US, however, it’s quite different. From coaching children’s little league baseball to volunteering in the community, many Americans take part in a huge variety of activities outside of the office.

This is something we’ve always promoted at Moneypenny. So many of our staff have established genuine friendships and socialising is a big part of our company culture. From half marathons to the Moneypenny choir, we’ve made it our mission to organise a diverse range of activities that encourage this. Not only do they boost staff morale, but they also help us create an extraordinary working environment.

Are there ways in which you could improve what you do? It doesn’t have to be expensive, just think creatively or open it up to your team. Our employees suggested some of the best events we’ve ever held.

Copyright © 2015 Ed Reeves, co-founder and director of telephone answering specialist Moneypenny (follow on Twitter).

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Why SME owners need to be more focused on management not leadership

March 23, 2015 by Guest contributor

Why SME owners need to be more focused on management not leadership {{}}Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These are the people that many business owners aspire to, leaders with incredible vision who have built empires through their powerful leadership.

But while Steve Jobs was envisioning the iPhone, Steve Wozniak was building Apple. While Bill Gates imagined a PC on every desk, Paul Allen was building Microsoft. Next to these monolith leaders was an equally monolith manager – and that's really important.

Leadership and management are NOT in competition. One is not better or more important than the other. Each has its own required functions and activities and both are essential for success.

In fact, if you have leadership in an organisation with ineffective management, it could be much more disastrous than the other way round.

As the business owner, many of us must wear the hats of both the leader and the manager. Therefore, it is critical to make a distinction between your roles, and be aware of what you're doing and how you're doing it.

Here are three essentials in every business and how the roles of leader and manager differ for each:

  1. Deciding WHAT needs to be done.
  2. Creating NETWORKS OF PEOPLE who can accomplish this.
  3. Ensuring these people ACTUALLY DO their job.

In these three essentials, as a leader and manager, you will play very different – but equally critical – roles. Let's look at each in turn:

1 Deciding WHAT needs to be done

Leader – sets the direction of the business and develops the vision of the future.

Manager – sets targets, creates plans and allocates resources to achieve that future.

2 Creating NETWORKS OF PEOPLE who can accomplish this

Leader – aligns people and communicates the direction to the key personnel who create leverage and move the vision forward.

Manager – creates the organisational structure, including a set of roles that will be required to achieve the goals.

3 Ensuring people ACTUALLY DO their job

Leader – motivates and inspires people by tapping into emotions to get them moving in the right direction and get them excited about getting there.

Manager – controls problems and systemises the solutions, as well as monitoring the plan in detail and identifying, and correcting, any deviations.

Leadership is overrated in SMEs

In an SME, the management side of things is actually the more critical part of running the business. Most large corporates are over-managed and under-led. Managers will sit at various levels of the company, monitoring people. There is usually no one relaying the purpose, re-energizing the motivations and inspiring the employees to align with the company culture.

Most SMEs, however, are undermanaged and over-led. SME business owners are inspired, excited entrepreneurs who overflow with passion and charisma. The leadership comes naturally – people are automatically inspired. If you, as a leader, are undermanaging your employees, you could end up with a team who are really excited to be working with you, but who are simply unable to deliver. That's because they need systems to deliver. And the manager builds the systems: so you need to be the manager.

SME leaders need to become more focused on management, not leadership, if they want to start seeing the visions they have for their business become a reality.

Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder of The London Coaching Group, which you can follow on Twitter.

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Why online is the new landline

March 18, 2015 by Guest contributor

Why online is the new landline{{}}Consumer behaviour has changed. As a shopper, I literally cannot remember the last time I went into a supermarket superstore.

Virtually everything that I buy I purchase online. My behaviour is not exceptional and I don’t think that the evolution of my buying habits is especially unusual either.

Even if I am, arguably, more ecommerce-active than the average consumer, it seems to me that my online buying behavior will soon become the norm. The shift to e-commerce is utterly inevitable.

And yet, many businesses are stuck in the past.

UK government stats show that in some sectors as many as half UK businesses don’t yet have a website at all. And of those that do, almost half are non-transactional.

The research suggests that e-commerce penetration of the total UK business population is about one third. In other words, two out of every three businesses do not have a transactional website. These are incredibly alarming findings.

There are many reasons why business people choose not go online. Typical comments that I hear include:

  • “I have enough business already, I don’t want/need any more custom”;
  • “I don’t know how to do it”;
  • “Yes I use the internet but my customers don’t”.

And yet, not one of them would argue with the need for a telephone landline.

I know from firsthand experience, having run the business division of O2, that just three years ago the majority of UK business owners were adamant that having a landline phone number was essential to being in business.

Online is the new landline

Today, British businesses should consider having a presence online as even more important than having an office telephone number. In other words, online is the new landline.

A landline number used to be a mark of authenticity for businesses. The move to a digital economy has meant consumers are now more likely to trust a business with a website and they will consider a business more credible if they offer the ability to transact seamlessly online.

Irrespective of a business’s appetite to win more customers; regardless of the business owner’s desire and ambition to scale-up; in the digital economy I passionately believe that:

  • every business now has to have a website, whatever business they are in.
  • there are no exceptions. None.

Being online is not just about doing business, it is about being found. It is about saving time (for both you and your customers). And most importantly, it is about being trusted.

Copyright © 2015 Simon Devonshire. Simon is the Government’s entrepreneur in residence and director at Wayra Europe. You can find out more about online opportunities on the government website.

Why trustmarks matter for small online businesses

March 12, 2015 by Guest contributor

Trust{{}}Although consumers have been shopping online for many years now, they still want reassurance that they're safe to shop on a website they may not have visited previously.

What are trustmarks?

A web store with a trustmark such as Norton Secured, McAfee Secure or TRUSTe, makes shoppers feel safer. A site displaying such a seal means that the issuer:

  • has verified it as a legitimate legal business entity.
  • scans the website daily for thousands of known malware exploits, malicious links and phishing scams.

A trustmark is more than just a logo. You paste a block of code into your site that shows dynamic content from the issuer, including the date the site was last verified as secure. When a customer hovers over a trustmark or clicks on it, they see full details about the website, which can be independently verified on the issuer’s own site. When a website is compromised and this is detected in a scan, the seal disappears until the business rectifies the issue.

Trustmarks are far more important to small businesses than to well-known brands. Amazon, eBay and John Lewis, for instance, don't display a trustmark because people are already confident that they are serious about security with a proven track record. However, a small retailer with an unknown brand doesn't have the same luxury, so needs to do all it can to reassure shoppers that it is trustworthy.

“Concerned visitors don't become customers. 45% of people have abandoned online shopping carts due to security worries” – Mcafee Secure.

How do trustmarks help?

Shoppers are now much more familiar with a number of popular computer security companies as a result of their anti-virus software being installed on new computers as standard. A consumer who's already placed their trust in any of these companies will readily extend that trust to a website that's been accredited as secure by those same organisations.

An eConsultancy consumer survey in 2014 found the most widely recognised trustmarks are from companies who are also strong in the consumer security software business, with 35.6% of shoppers choosing Norton Secured and 22.9% choosing McAfee Secure as their preferred mark of safety.

Other measures

A trustmark is just one tool in a suite of measures online businesses should use to build customer confidence.

  • You also need to display your secure payment processor's logo (eg PayPal, Sage Pay or World Pay). This further builds the consumer’s confidence that their financial transaction will be handled by a well-known PCI DSS-compliant solution with robust protection against anti-fraud and identity theft.
  • It's equally important to have a well-designed website that's easy to navigate, with detailed product descriptions and quality imagery. Your business contact details should be clearly visible and all enquiries must be handled in a timely manner.

All of these aspects contribute to establishing your business as trustworthy and overcoming a customer's fear – which could otherwise lose you the sale.

Copyright © 2015 Simon Horton of hosted shopping cart and ecommerce plug-in provider ShopIntegrator.

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Why you need to switch off your mobile phone while driving

March 04, 2015 by Guest contributor

Why you need to switch off your mobile phone while driving{{}}At the beginning of the year, a motorist from the Isle of Wight was given a six-year jail sentence after being found guilty of causing a fatal crash. The court heard the 27-year-old driver had been checking a text message from his wife on his mobile phone when he drifted onto the wrong side of the road and collided head-on with another vehicle.

Sadly, this case isn’t isolated. A recent report from road safety charity BRAKE found that drivers speaking on mobile phones, whether on a hands-free or hand-held device, are four times more likely to be involved in a crash that causes injury. Moreover, their risk of crashing remained higher than normal for up to 10 minutes after the call has ended.

Smartphone addiction

As for drivers reading or writing messages such as texts or emails, they’re 23 times more likely to crash than a motorist paying full attention. And all this comes at a time when UK experts have warned we’re seeing increased levels of smartphone addiction, something that many small-business owners can relate to.

Of course, it’s not just the most tragic of cases that could affect you if you own a small business. Imagine, for a second, that you lost your licence after accruing too many points. The effects of such a ban can be disastrous. Whether you’re a plumber, an architect or a florist, the majority of business owners rely on their vehicle to do their job. Without it, most businesses would undoubtedly suffer a serious loss in income, as well as reputation.

Small-business owners also have a legal responsibility to ensure that employees don’t use their mobiles while driving. This can include anything from turning an alarm off to checking Twitter. A sobering thought.

Three top tips

There are solutions though. Here are my three top tips for being safe on the road:

1 Switch off and divert calls

For those who have a colleague they can divert their calls to, this can be a simple solution. Don’t compromise on the quality of your response though. Make sure that whoever answers your calls is doing so in a professional and friendly manner. If, however, you work alone, activate your voicemail and switch off your mobile entirely. While not ideal from a business perspective, doing so will at least ensure you’re free from distractions.

2 Disable your mobile

Technology to disable certain smartphone functions – such as making calls or sending text messages – is now filtering its way into the UK. Apps such as No Text and Drive and iTextGuard can sense when you’re travelling over a certain speed and will automatically prevent you from sending a message. Likewise, The Safe Drive App goes one step further and prohibits incoming and outgoing calls, internet browsing and other functions, while still allowing you to make emergency calls.

3 Use a call answering provider

This is a particularly popular option for sole traders or businesses that don’t have full-time employees to whom calls can be directed. Select a provider that can offer flexibility and reliability, as well as represent your business to the high standard that you would yourself, then you can drive with peace of mind, eyes on the road, hands on the wheel with your business all taken care of.

Ultimately, safety has to be your priority. Don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked. A business deal to die for? I don’t think so.

Copyright © 2015 Jon Williams, client support manager for call-answering service provider Moneypenny.

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A guide to limited company addresses

February 24, 2015 by Guest contributor

A guide to limited company addresses{{}}There are several types of addresses associated with limited company formation, some are legally required and others are optional.

The most important ones are the registered office and service address, both of which Companies House request during the incorporation process. Directors must also provide their residential address, but this information will remain private unless a home address is used for registered office or service address purposes.

Regarding optional company addresses: you may use a SAIL address (explained below), a business address and a trading address. They all sound like ‘much of a muchness’, but they serve very different purposes.

Registered office

This is the official ‘headquarters’ of a limited company. Details are placed on public record and are primarily used to receive mail from Companies House and HMRC, as well as being the required inspection location for statutory company records.

Any type of physical postal address can be used, with the exception of PO Box numbers, as long as the address is located in the same jurisdiction in which the company has been incorporated (England/Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland).

Residential addresses are permitted but, due to public disclosure of this information, non-residential addresses are more suitable in terms of privacy and professionalism.

Directors’ service address

This is the official contact address for company directors, to where their statutory mail is delivered. It can be any physical postal address in the UK or overseas. Residential addresses can be used but, again, this information will be available to anyone with access to a computer and internet connection.

SAIL address

A SAIL (single alternative inspection location) address is an optional address where a company can keep some or all of its statutory records for inspection purposes. This can be ideal if your registered office is not conveniently placed for inspection purposes or you use your home address as a registered office and you don’t want strangers coming into your house. It’s usually just HMRC that asks to inspect company records but, nevertheless, some of us are a bit funny like that.

Business address

This is a professional contact address that you can give to clients, suppliers, service providers, banks and other contacts. You can use any address you like, in fact, you can have multiple business addresses if you want to establish and grow your business in different parts of the UK or overseas. Unlike a registered office, a business address doesn’t have to geographically restrict your company to one place.

Trading address

This is exactly what you think it is – the place where your main business activities are conducted. It’s also where most businesses keep their stock, equipment and assets. There is no need to disclose this address to anyone, unless it is the same as one of the aforementioned company addresses. 

Copyright © 2015 Graeme Donnelly, CEO of company formation agents 1st Formations Ltd. You can follow 1st Formations on Twitter.

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