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Posts for April 2010

Pop star politicians? Sorry, I’ve got a business to run…

April 30, 2010 by Ross Campbell

I’m not naturally a cynical type of chap, however politics seems to bring a side out of me that I don’t really like.

While trying to decide who to vote for, I find myself muttering phrases such as

“Well, they’ll never actually do that, will they?” This really isn’t like me at all.

Apparently this time we are to be “helped” in our decision by the TV debate. As far as I’m concerned, this X-factor style circus only makes it more likely we’ll end up with a pretty boy/girl with lots of style and little substance.

What I’d like to do is vote for the party whose policies are best aligned with my life and that of my family. I couldn’t give a hedgehog whether the leader smiles or can remember someone’s name, but I do want to know if they know what they’re talking about.

I have a business to run – much like the rest of you. If I spend the required time trawling through all the information that would allow me to decide which party will make my business run better, then somebody else will no doubt be spending that time making their business run better than mine.

So I have to guess, basically. My guess is that Brown is an economist, whilst Cameron and Clegg are basically pop stars in suits. I think that Brown will probably ultimately be seen to have dealt well with the financial upheaval of the past 18 months, and that on that basis he should be retained. That’s enough thinking for me. Back to work.

Ross Campbell, The Exercise Club, Clifton.

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Ingredients for a tasty business

April 29, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

It may sound a little strange, but in retrospect, I can’t think of a better time to have started my business than during the recession. I trained myself up on food safety and manufacturing, as well as on managing a business during the depths of the economic downturn. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way, but in reality, now I’m ready to scale up, the general atmosphere for businesses is much more positive. Now, I realise I have some ingredients for a tasty business which can succeed:

  • the sector of the market I’m operating in has had a record-breaking 12% rise last year despite the recession;
  • my never-ending, and indeed, increasing passion for cooking the best authentic Mexican food there is in the land;
  • importantly, the great, fantastic people I have met along the way who bring different experiences and skills ...

All of this seems to be combining to create something very special. Maybe entrepreneurs are like passionate foodies in the kitchen, combining the different ingredients to create a delicious meal, where timing, quality of input, skill, and the heating element of their passion all have a part to play to create success.

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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Why some arguments are lovely

April 29, 2010 by Ross Campbell

Everybody knows that if you stand still you are, in reality, going backwards.

My company, a Bristol gym, is fortunate to be in a location that is conveniently close to its target market, which makes advertising virtually unnecessary.

Most readers will be aware of the statistic that most gym members stop going after between one week and three months, after having paid for a year’s membership.

It seemed clear to me from the outset that we ought to focus our time, energy and money on what we offer the member once they have joined, as opposed to the industry model which, as some of you may be aware, is to promote heavily, sign people up and then just ignore them.

We hold about four staff meetings each year. Last Tuesday we spent one and a half hours discussing whether we should alter the number of repetitions (ie complete lifting and lowering of a weight) that we advise members to attempt, on the basis that it might be easier for them to understand what we wanted from them, if we gave a lower figure.

It’s easy to forget how much resistance there can be to change, simply as a gut instinct. I personally find the process draining, possibly because I don’t like to tell my staff what to do, I’d rather work through some questions and examples in the hope that they will feel empowered by their decisions.

In the initial stages, progress is slow, because people have different levels of understanding. But the best bit for me is always the passion they show for their jobs and for our customers – the members. They show this passion by arguing with each other about what’s best. I think this is lovely.

Ross Campbell, The Exercise Club, Clifton

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Have your say! Business support - Part 3

April 28, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

Put simply, Doug Richard has suggested that we should scrap Business Link and move government-funded business support online.

In Part 1 of this blog I summarised the recent history of business support in the UK. I concluded that, after 20 years of heavy expenditure, one precious asset that we have is a brand that most business people recognise. Business Link is “the place to go to access whatever help is available”.

In Part 2, I looked at who ‘the customers’ of business support are, and how they would like to receive help. I concluded that it is a very broad audience and that business novices make up a large proportion of the group. The latest research confirms that they prefer one-to-one help to online help, although I am the first to agree that online business support is extremely cost-effective and is more popular with experienced business people. (The popularity of one-to-one support should not come as a surprise to anyone, as it mirrors the way we behave in the rest of our business lives. When we have a question, we usually approach ‘someone who knows’ for the answer.)

So the question for the final part of this three-part blog then becomes something like ‘How is this offline help best given?’, ‘Who should be doing it?’, and ‘What tools/methods can make these delivery methods more cost-effective?’.

Let’s see; what do we already do that works well? Answer: loads of things.

Take start-ups. In the UK we provide start-up packs, start-up seminars, start-up advisers, telephone helplines, and start-up premises (if there is a vacant premises lying around). Although the quality of business support services vary from place to place and from adviser to adviser (more on that later), the business novices who I meet tend to be pretty grateful for the support they have received and think it really has been useful.

Start-ups need to get their hands on a lot of information very quickly, such as information on how to do basic book-keeping. But a typical question from a start-up is not “How do I sell?” but “How do I sell to Mr Smith at ABC Ltd?”. And the person asking this question is really asking for two things. Firstly, they want some suggestions on which types of approach might work best in that specific situation. And secondly, they want reassurance and encouragement from a fellow human being along the lines of “I know that this is totally outside your comfort zone, but go on, you can do it!”. Let’s face it, starting up a business is a lonely, worrying, risky thing to do, so the emotional side of business support is massively important.

Did you notice how difficult that question was by the way, the one about selling to Mr Smith? Most people would struggle to give a good answer to that question. Which brings me on to my next point.

With the right team, you can work out what the 100 most common questions are from start-ups on the topic of sales, and you can then find 1-5 good alternative answers to each question. You can put these questions and answers on a website, for those people who like to browse businesslink.gov. And you can also put them into a business support knowledge bank, which is exactly what clever East Midlands Development Agency has done, so that anyone in any local business support organisation can use (and contribute to) these questions and answers.

I know this is all possible, because it is what my company does for a living. We find out what all the most common questions are, then provide the answers and keep the whole library up to date each year. Any company with our skill-set could do it.

It is worth noting that the involvement of an outside ‘supplier’ seems to be essential. The Training and Enterprise Councils, Business Links and Regional Development Agencies have never been good at knowledge banks; hundreds of new items of “useful” information simply pile up month after month without being organised, tagged, edited, de-duplicated or later updated.

In the UK we seem to have spent the last 30 years squabbling over budgets and contracts and who does what - and always with a focus on the delivery end of things. It is only since the businesslink.gov website came along that we have started to realise the value of providing excellent tools for those delivery organisations to use.

Look at Tesco. How would they run business support in the UK? They would hire the best of the best to create (and keep up-to-date) a set of integrated ‘products’ that their network could then deliver. They would have three suppliers of each type of product at any one time, to keep the suppliers on their toes (think CRM software, training courses, brokerage system, knowledge bank, CPD, and so on). But they would pay the suppliers properly and they would enable the suppliers to build up capacity and world-class know-how in their niches (rather than stopping to re-tender the contract every five minutes like the public sector does).

Would Tesco keep the regional Business Link offices? They could not say, until they were a lot clearer on their budget and their objectives for the next decade. But we can be sure that they would end up with a slick, branded, easy-to-access service that achieved what the customer wanted. They would use ‘invisible shopper’ market research to improve the service, as this quickly identifies the problems and the opportunities for improvement.

Let me finish on this point of economics. Business support is not just a cost. Every time we help a good company to be brilliant, we boost employment and GDP. And, looking at the other end of the scale, every time we help a long-term unemployed no-hoper to start in self-employment (even if it is just as a gardener or window cleaner), we boost employment and GDP and reduce the welfare burden on the state.

Last year the UK spent £80bn on education. We spent £97bn on welfare. And every year we happily dish out taxpayer-funded training to public sector employees on everything from assertiveness and teambuilding to you-name-it. These are vast sums of money and any spending on business support needs to be judged in comparison with these other budgets and what they achieve for our society.

Just as it makes economic sense to have a workforce that is literate and numerate, it makes sense to have owner managers who know how to start-up, run and grow a business. Personally, I do not think that taxpayer-funded business support needs to be an expensive operation, but it does need to be high quality and accessible, both online and offline.

I look forward to your comments.

Read Doug Richard’s Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto

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Ten sites for selling your wares

April 28, 2010 by Emma Jones

Whether you’re selling your knowledge or products crafted by your own hands, there are online platforms to help you reach an audience of customers and make sales. Here is my top ten:

Business services  If you’re an IT contractor, graphic designer, business coach or expert translator, these sites might help you:

  • Peopleperhour.com – more than 45,000 freelancers use this site to source work and new clients. As the freelance, you respond to job opportunities, pitch for work and receive payment, all via www.peopleperhour.com
  • Business Smiths – companies needing anything from business plans to web design head to www.businesssmiths.co.uk to find experts who can help.
  • Wooshii – a new kid on the block, this site has been created for creatives who produce video and rich media. Companies upload their projects to www.wooshii.com and Wooshii-registered creatives respond with their best offer.
  • Lingo24.com – for linguists, Lingo24.com can become your business development tool as work is sourced on your behalf. Clients include multinational companies and government bodies and Lingo24.com services these clients with a workforce of thousands of freelance translators spread across the globe.

Personal services If health, beauty and wellbeing is more your thing, here’s where to head:

  • Return to Glory – London’s largest home massage and mobile beauty company, the site is a displaying ground for beauticians and health experts who deliver treatments in the client’s own home. Visit www.returntoglory.co.uk
  • Wahanda – welcome to the world of therapists, stylists, practitioners and trainers. They gather at wahanda.com as customers come looking, ready to order their services.

Handmade crafts There is a growing number of sites for the artisan and handmade community. Here are just three of them:

  • Etsy – the mother of all craft sites. Since the company launched in June 2005, more than 250,000 sellers from around the world have opened up Etsy shops.
  • Notonthehighstreet.com - this site offers personalised gifts and other delights you won’t find on the high street. At the end of 2009, the company reported 1,500 craft designers using the site with sales of £6.4m. Visit www.notonthehighstreet.com

Manufacturing

  • Alibaba.com – through this site you can make your niche manufacturing dreams come true by sourcing production in China and then selling the finished item. Visit www.alibaba.com 

Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation, the home business website, and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’. Her next book, ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’, will be published in May 2010.

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Stop the credit rot

April 27, 2010 by Chris Barling

I’m infuriated by the election campaign. When things were booming, the Government poured more petrol on the fire, preventing any correction and encouraging the whole population to binge on debt. Then times turned bad, so they borrowed even more. Spending has to reduce because we’re spending more than we’re earning. We understand that on a personal and business basis so why not on a national one?

In business we know that delay makes things worse. Every day of piling on more debt steals from the future. Japan blazed the trail we’re following and got 20 years of stagnation with still no end in sight. And the Government is running on a record of being a safe pair of hands! Yeah, right.

The opposition isn’t getting the point across, because they think we don’t want to hear bad news. They are too scared to say that public sector jobs and benefits will have to be cut.

Sometimes the future of the country should be put before immediate electoral gain. And sometimes a gutsy and principled stand is rewarded. But we aren’t really engaging with the issue and the political commentators aren’t making much of it either. Maybe I’ll take a holiday in Greece this summer. It will be nice and familiar.

Chris Barling is Chairman of SellerDeck

Do you agree with Chris? What do you think about politicians’ promises and their handling of national debt? Leave your comment below.

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Should you start up as a sole trader or form a limited company?

April 26, 2010 by Raphael Coman

If you’re thinking about starting up, you must carefully consider whether to form a limited company straight away or hold off for a while and become a sole trader. 

You may think forming a limited company will save you tax and must therefore be the best route.  However, many start-ups incur considerable costs in their initial months. And even if you do not have sizeable initial outgoings, you should still factor in a realistic margin for error in your budgeting. 

You will more than likely have a “learning curve cost” if this is your first time in business or if you’re going to be operating within a sector of which you have no prior experience. In either case, you should not expect the same return straight away as your more experienced competitors. 

If you make a loss as a sole trader, it can be set against your employment income for previous years, which in all likelihood will give you a handy refund after the first tax year. If you make a loss as a limited company, it can only be carried forward and set against future the company’s profits.  If the company never makes a profit, it will be wasted.

Even if you’re more confident that your business plan will be a success, you may still profit from waiting until you form a company. As a sole trader, you can build up custom, contacts, brand awareness and reputation in the business. From a tax point of view, this goodwill can be sold to the company. Future drawings from the company can be taken in the form of a director’s loan repayment, which will be especially beneficial if you expect to be paying tax at a higher rate.

You can set up as a sole trader by simply telephoning HMRC or registering online, whereas the route for a company formation is more complex.  Ongoing accountancy costs are bound to be higher and Companies House will publish your company’s financial results for anyone to see – including your competitors, suppliers and potential clients.

Yes, if your salary and dividends are organised properly, a company can save you considerable tax. It can also limit your liability to company debts. But the decision is not so straightforward. If you want to protect your trading name, you can always form the company and leave it dormant at Companies House until you are ready to start trading.

A limited company can save you tax in certain situations, but it is not always the best way to start out. A brief review of the options with your accountant could save you time and money in the long run.

Raphael Coman is the owner-manager of chartered certified accountants Coman & Co

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The Future of Ecommerce

April 23, 2010 by Chris Barling

There are a huge number of companies peddling different solutions to boost ecommerce sales, and of course they all state that they are the future. Some claim that they will address the “trust” issue of online commerce; others are working on smart imagery, providing the consumer detailed product information via zoom, crops and 360 degree transitions. Then there are the latest developments enabled by smart phones, including augmented reality.

Anyone considering starting an ecommerce business needs to take all of this into account. There are many different things to think about, and in this blog I try to touch briefly on a number of them.

SellerDeck has around 12,000 sites using our solutions to sell online, so I do feel that we have acquired some insight into what works and what doesn’t. Interestingly, the most successful sites seem to focus on some of the most basic things: like a great range, helpful descriptions, competitive pricing and a dedication to customer service.This may be the case, but complacency is not a business virtue. So what is really likely to prove important to the future of ecommerce?

Payment on the mobile

The first area is payment. It’s difficult to make payments online, and the fact that it’s still possible for buyers to see charges appear on their card if their details are stolen is a real issue. We’re waiting for the banks and the mobile operators to get their collective acts together. There’s lots of optimism that the next couple of years will see progress towards the mobile being the prime payment and payment validation device.

Multiple channels

It’s never been easier or more cost effective to sell online, and the trend is to put online, in-store and telephone sales together in one integrated application. It makes sense that some people want to see merchandise for themselves, think about it at home, then order online. Conversely, some people want to look at what’s available in the web store, then visit the shop to pick up the goods in person. As demand has risen, ecommerce suppliers have been able to provide these integrated systems without breaking the bank.

Mobile commerce and augmented reality

Nowadays a large and growing proportion of the population are carrying around sophisticated computers – aka smart phones – that know their geographical location, can combine this with real time pictures or sound and are continuously talking to the web. This is very exciting and brands such as RayBan sunglasses and IKEA are already demonstrating the possibilities. Companies such as Red Lazer are also working on innovative applications that allow you to use the power of the smart phone to combine real world items with online shopping; I’m convinced that there is much more to come.

Reputation management

One area that has moved from beneficial to vital in ecommerce terms is reputation management. I’m very excited about this  because my company has recently done a deal with one of the companies that we see as a rising star in this field – Feefo. This area is about managing online merchant’s reputation online, and services like Feefo have a vital role to play. Feefo (which stands for Feedback Forum) runs an independent service which asks customers for feedback on both merchants’ service and products. The merchant can’t change the feedback (anything illegal or obscene is edited), but has a right of reply. There will always be feedback about merchants on the web. Having it in one place where the positive balances the negative, and having a right of reply are major benefits of an independent feedback service. The result tends to be around a 10%  rise in sales, more on some sites.

The final word

We are now in the second ecommerce boom. The first, around the year 2000, proved partly illusory and partly a harbinger of the future. This time it’s for real. Someone contemplating a start up needs to assess pursuing brand new areas enabled by the latest technology and where much more technical skill, money and luck is required. In contrast there’s more chance of success with a traditional ecommerce venture, although the potential rewards are smaller and it’s still vital to be aware of the latest trends.

Budding entrepreneurs need to decide whether to build a traditional business with reasonable chance of success, or shoot for the stars in areas that are yet to be discovered. Whichever route you take, good luck.

Chris Barling of SellerDeck

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PAYE – new late-payment penalty legislation for the 2010-11 tax year

April 22, 2010 by Tim Haggard

We’ve seen many new taxes come in under the radar over the past few years, but for me, this is probably the most badly thought-out, badly communicated of the lot. And once again, it’s being left to accountants and tax advisors to communicate the bad news.

If you employ staff, you’ll be familiar with the need to pay monthly PAYE and NI contributions to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by the 19th of the following month.

Up until now, the legislation has been such that if you pay late, it doesn’t really matter. HMRC might write nasty letters – or even send someone round – but ultimately, there was no penalty for paying late. The trick was to get everything square by 19 May annually, and there was no comeback.

This changed on 6 April this year, when the new legislation came into effect.

Here is a brief synopsis of the new rules and penalties for those on the main monthly scheme:

  • pay your monthly liability by the 19th of the month following (this is the date by which the funds must be deposited in the bank account at HMRC – so beware of paying online on the 19th. Confirm with your bank that it will get there on time);
  • pay late once in any year and there’s no penalty – unless the payment is more than six months late – see below;
  • pay late two-four times in any year, you’ll be fined 1% of the total amount that is late (ignoring the first late payment), so, if your monthly payment is £10,000 and on four occasions you’re a day late paying, the penalty will be 3 x £10,000 x 1% = £300;
  • pay late five-seven times and you’ll be fined 2% of the total amount that is late (ignoring the first late payment);
  • pay late eight-ten times and you’ll be fined 3% of the total amount that is late (ignoring the first late payment);
  • pay late 11-12 times and you’ll be fined 4% of the total amount that is late (ignoring the first late payment);
  • if any payment is more than six months late, you’ll have a pay a penalty of 5% of the overdue amount. If the payment is 12 months late, you will pay a further 5%.

No due reflection is given to the extent to which you’re late. If you are one day late, the penalty will apply.

From an administrative point of view, the law allows HMRC to charge penalties at any stage during the tax year, or after the end of the tax year up to two years of the due date.

In 2010-11, penalties will be charged after the end of the tax year. Therefore, penalty notices will not be sent out until April or May 2011. So please don’t test the system and think you’ve got away with it – you will get a nasty shock in April next year!

 Tim Haggard is founder and managing director of My Bookkeeping Online Ltd

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Social Networking: Tips to Keep Yourself Secure

April 21, 2010 by Administrator

You may well be using various social networking sites to promote your new business, but are you exposing yourself (and the company) to identity theft and malware attacks in the process?

In March 2010 my company published results from a survey of over 1,100 members of Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and other popular social networks. It showed an increasing awareness among social network users of how to keep personal information private, BUT it also revealed how they still put their identities and sensitive information at risk. For instance, 28% of respondents never changed their default privacy settings and over 60% published their date of birth (a key piece of information for identity theft).

What can you do?

To help business owners understand and protect themselves while online, here are some tips as a guide for safer social networking:

  • Make personal information private -- Protect yourself by updating privacy settings on all your profiles to restrict or omit access to any personal data. Users of popular geo-location services that allow you to share where you are should be especially careful not to disclose your location to the wrong people.
  • Read between the lines -- Familiarise yourself with the social networks’ privacy options to ensure you’re taking advantage of any enhanced security features.
  • Think before you click – You and any employees might know not to follow a link in an email message from an unknown source, but if that link appears in a message from a social networking “friend” or in a tweet from someone the employee is following, it might be a different story. A bad link would result in malware being downloaded to your company network.
  • Protect your password -- As a critical line of defence, it is more important than ever for you to choose passwords wisely, and make them different from one site to the next. Incorporating numbers, letters and special characters like !, $, and * into your password makes it stronger. Microsoft has a free password checker. If the green bar doesn’t show “Strong,” change the password.

Use a free password generating tool like LastPass if you can’t come up with a good one yourself. I’d also recommend changing your password at regular intervals, and never use the same password at more than one site.

  • Suite security -- Protect your PC with an internet security suite that includes antivirus, antispyware and firewall technologies. Remember to schedule updates daily and to scan the whole machine for malware weekly.
  • Always automate software updates -- If you’re already using anti-malware software, be sure to install updates which include the latest malware definitions. Do the same with updates to your operating system, web browser and other key applications. However, watch out for fake software updates like emails that purport to be from Microsoft or Adobe which require you click on a link to update your computer. Try using Secunia PSI, a free tool, to double-check that any automatic update is genuine.
  • Check shortened URLs – Especially on Twitter with its 140 character limit, and Facebook, the use of URL shortening has exploded. But these anonymous links can lead to a malicious payload. If you use TweetDeck then set it to display a preview of the shortened link including the full URL , its page title and number of visitors. Also most web browsers offer a plug-in that shows you the long version of the URL when you hover over a shortened link.

Jeff Horne, director of Threat Research at internet security software supplier, Webroot (www.webroot.co.uk)startupdonutbannerbutton728x90

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Birthday news from Rory MccGwire, founder, Atom

April 20, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, Atom, I admire SMEs more than ever.

 

Why I started the Donut

I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company Atom, I admire SMEs more than ever.

Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where Atom content comes in.

We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.

So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.  

What we’ve achieved in a year

As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.

We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.

All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at Atom is one big deadline.)

Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.

Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.

The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, Atom had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.

2010-2011: what’s in it for you?

As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.

We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.

We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.

An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.

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Have your say! Business support part two

April 19, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

Scrap Business Link?

In Part 1 of this blog I summarised the recent history of business support in the UK. I concluded that, after 20 years of heavy expenditure, one precious asset that we have is a brand that most business people recognise. Business Link is “the place to go to access whatever help is available”.

I take this view notwithstanding the fact that I’m still hearing the same things now as I’ve heard every single year during that period.

“Business support is too fragmented.” “I don’t know where to go for help.” “It needs to be more practical.” “The advisers need to be people who have run SMEs.” “It must be local.” And meanwhile the civil servants seem as keen as ever to have a service that is “innovative”, a word that is prominent in every tender that comes across my desk at BHP, the company behind the Donut websites.

In his intentionally controversial Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto, Doug Richard proposes scrapping Business Link and moving business support online.

Traditionally, business support has been delivered one-to-one through business advisers and telephone helplines, together with an extensive calendar of training courses and networking events.

But hold on a minute, let’s start by asking what we are trying to achieve. What are the objectives of government business support?

Well, it’s support for businesses of course. There are about four million of them.

Some of them are like Doug Richard and me: successful (OK, he’s a lot more successful than me, I’m the first to admit it), confident, experienced, and so on. Do these individuals seek Business Link’s help on how to start a business, or how to comply with all the regulations surrounding employing someone? Probably not, but we do take advantage of tailored support for ‘high growth’ companies. The UK invests a lot of money helping its most capable businessmen, not least because the next Google, Dyson or Nokia may be among the businesses that they start. I have mixed views on this.

I generally prefer ‘pull’ to ‘push’. So who are the people who actually come looking for help?

In a word, novices. It is people who feel they would like to be self-employed, but want to bounce their idea off someone with some experience who can also tell them how to go about getting started.

One obvious group that springs to mind is women who are returning to work once their children are in full-time education. They have a high propensity to seek help.

Another group who ask for help is people who have never run a business, but suddenly find themselves out of work. (By the way, Tony Robinson, the well-informed boss of SFEDI, the standards-setting body, was quoting a UK statistic that if you’re made redundant at age 45 you only have a 10% chance of getting a new job.)

There are lots of subgroups like this. Some of them get lumped together in reports under the unflattering name of ‘disadvantaged groups’, or ‘the hard to reach’.

Do these guys all use the web for business support? Er, no. The latest research from the Small Business Research Trust reveals the true extent of this non-use.

In 2007, ‘information on websites’ was the most popular form of business advice, having just pushed ‘face-to-face contact with an adviser’ into second place. But the latest data, published in December 2009, puts the business advisers back at the top of the charts. I guess there is simply too much information out there on the web for people to cope with.

BHP’s own user-testing bears this out. Users with a specific business question are unlikely to be able to find the answer online. Their first port of call is businesslink.gov, which is also their best chance of finding the answer. So it should be after the vast sums of money that have been invested in it. Happily, they also find the Donut websites useful for the topics that we cover. And likewise a specialist website such as j4bgrants is a treasure trove for that specific search. But while other small business websites are brilliant in other ways, they don’t always give you direct answers to direct questions.

As the data shows, businesses are once again finding it easier to simply ask someone: a friend, an accountant, an adviser, or whoever.

Business Link, and the plethora of business support organisations that it acts as the signposting for, delivers this face-to-face support. So it’s no good simply scrapping it. The question is, how can we improve it and which organisations should be delivering this one-to-one business support?

I’ve got lots more to say on this fascinating topic. On call centres; on how to objectively establish the success and value of a service; on the psychology of start-ups and micro businesses; on how to make the front line and the back-office of Business Link (etc) hugely more cost-effective; on how to involve the banks (an old idea, but a good one); on how to get the support/messages of 1,001 different public sector organisations out to small and medium-sized enterprises; on how to do public sector procurement without financially damaging so many of the bidders; and, sticking with procurement, on how to tap into the specialisation, experience, passion and sheer hard work of the smaller suppliers more than we do now; and that is just the first list of things that springs to mind…

But let’s see what others have to say first. Comments please!

(By the way, thank you to everyone who commented last week on my business regulations blog, I’ve enjoyed reading them all.)

Rory’s other Have your say! blogs

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Have your say! Business support – Part 1

April 15, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

Scrap Business Link?

In his manifesto, Doug Richard calls on the new government to scrap the Business Link business support service to provide savings and to migrate all government business support services online to promote efficiency.

In the report he wrote for the Conservative party earlier, I think he also recommended using the universities and specialist providers such as the British Library as a replacement business support network on the ground. More recently, Mark Prisk, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Business, has been talking about using the existing network of Enterprise Agencies for this role.

I’m sure Doug is as pleased as I am to see that the government is already going flat out to move the whole business of government online. Thousands of disparate systems and websites are being corralled into three mega websites: direct.gov for individuals, and nhs.uk for health. 

Yes, this is expensive, but what an improvement.

Lots of individuals lack a computer, but most businesses are online and will readily engage with businesslink.gov, as the evidence already shows. We small and medium-sized enterpriseslike being able to do tax returns and company searches etc online; it is a real convenience. We also use the huge library of advice pages. 

So let’s talk about the more contentious idea of scrapping face-to-face business support. But first, a bit of history. 

In the 18 years I’ve run BHP, I’ve seen governments come and go. At every general election, there’s a clamour to change the way government delivers business support. And we do change - all too frequently. 

In the 1970s, we had Enterprise Agencies, which were hailed as fulfilling an important need. 

Then someone said “No let’s have Training and Enterprise Councils”, so we had 82 TECs, with a £1.3bn budget to help SMEs in England and Wales. Scotland decided to have 22 LECs. 

Why 82 TECs? Because support had to be local, as everyone seemed to agree that “a business in Preston has a different set of needs to a business in Portsmouth” (nonsense on the whole, but that’s a topic in itself…). 

Then someone (I won’t mention Tarzan by name, as I’m trying to stay clear of party politics) said “No, these TECs are failing, let’s have a one-stop shop for business support. We’ll call it Business Link”. So we had had 82 Business Links, as local was still flavour of the month, while Wales invented something else new called Business Eye. 

Meanwhile the government had also created a network of nine massive organisations called Regional Development Agencies (in England only), each with a list of tasks and targets that went on for pages and pages. 

At this point someone said “Crikey, this costs a fortune and the quality and type of business support varies far too much, so let’s take the 82 Business Links and make them into nine Business Links”. 

And that’s where we are today. Endless change. If you ran a business like this, you would have gone bust over and over again. The cost of this never-ending change is too much to even contemplate. 

But, finally, we have a brand that, like any commercial brand, has been allowed time to establish itself. Hallelujah. There are even road signs saying Business Link in some towns. 

The question now is what we want the brand to offer, and how business support should be delivered. I’ll deal with that in my next blog. 

Rory’s other Have your say! blogs

  • Business regulation
  • Have your say! Business support – Part 1
  • Have your say! Business support – Part 2
  • Have your say! Business support – Part 3
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    Have your say! Business regulation

    April 14, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

    Earlier this year, entrepreneur and founder of The School for Startups, Doug Richard, published his Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto – a “declaration of rights” for small businesses.

    The manifesto sets out eight demands to a new government, each of which addresses a different key concern for businesses. In the build-up to the 6 May general election, Donut MD Rory MccGwire is offering his thoughts on the issues raised by Doug Richard.

    In his manifesto, Doug Richard argues that business regulation should be streamlined so that people can start businesses more quickly and run them more easily. 

    I agree. But in order to achieve this, I think the law must make an important distinction between small and large businesses. They have different regulatory requirements. What is fair and suitable for one is often neither fair nor suitable for the other. 

    It’s also important to recognise the natural bias in our regulations, a bias that stems from the fact that regulations are always going to favour the people who make them. So our regulatory system is heavily skewed towards the preferences of the government, the public sector, big business and the trade unions. 

    The seemingly simple task of taking a chunk of time off for a family holiday is a struggle for many people running a small business, so it’s hardly surprising that they do not have time to assist in the law-making process. 

    Nor do the various small business membership organisations have the power to make much of a difference. Think back to when the government raised CGT by 80 per cent without realising until afterwards that for many small businesses the only “pension” available at retirement is the proceeds of the sale of the business. A £1m threshold was hastily added, but not before it became obvious that the small business lobby groups had not even been consulted on this legislation, let alone listened to. 

    Yet it’s small businesses that end up paying the price for so much of the legislation. Take a law requiring organisations to offer wheelchair access to their premises. I’m sure everyone agrees that society wants to help make life less difficult for disabled people. But few people stop to consider who will be forced to pay for the door widening. We all pay for the doors to be widened in the public sector buildings and the corporate buildings, through our taxes, pensions and savings (some of which are invested in listed shares), which seems completely fair. 

    But when it comes to all the properties owned by small businesses, it’s the business owner who pays. So if I earn a £20k salary working for the local council or for a big company, I am not affected at all, but if I would have earned £20k from owning a shop, I might be left with just £17k after the adjustments to my shop front. How can that be fair? It’s not. It is merely convenient, both for the lawmakers and for the Treasury. 

    It’s the same with employee rights. Nobody questions the need for new parents to spend more time with their children. But who pays? There’s no compensation to any of the small business owners who pick up these costs. In a small business, every member of staff is a key person and losing them, even temporarily, is a considerable blow. Larger businesses have the resources to cushion the blow; small businesses don’t. 

    Given that small businesses employ a very considerable proportion of the workforce, I suggest that society ought to compensate small businesses if we all want to have those benefits. If not, you end up with a situation where business owners are terrified of employing women of a certain age. It’s discriminatory, but it happens; the law has massive unintended consequences. 

    Sensible regulation is essential to protect customers, employers and employees. But it must recognise the reality of running a small business. 

    So much of our business regulation is designed for Hewlett Packard and Rolls Royce, not for “mom and pop” businesses. But, in my view, firms with fewer than five employees should have a completely different set of regulations. If you choose to work for them, perhaps you shouldn’t have quite the same rights as employees in larger companies, simply because these rights amount to robbing Peter (the employer, who is a person) to pay Paul (the employee). But then you would be discriminating against employees of small businesses, which is clearly wrong. 

    So the only fair solution is for society (aka the taxpayer) to face up to, and pay for, the cost of implementing all these rights, instead of turning a blind eye while the costs fall onto the shoulders of small business owners. 

    Doug Richard is right and all the political parties seem to agree. We need to do something to enable the moms and pops to run their businesses in a more flexible and efficient way. Now let’s see if anyone actually does anything. 

    What do you think? 

    Rory's other Have your say! blogs

  • Have your say! Business support – Part 1
  • Have your say! Business support – Part 2
  • Have your say! Business support – Part 3
  •  

    What do you think about the regulations affecting small businesses? Please leave your comment below.

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    First impressions count

    April 13, 2010 by Heather Townsend

    First impressions are everything. Get it right, and everything becomes easy. Get it wrong and you are pushing water uphill with a sieve.

    Many people will warble on about you have to be your authentic self when meeting people. Get that right and you will make the right impression. They are sort of right but what happens if your authentic self doesn’t make a great first impression.

    So, what do I mean by a great first impression? People respond well to warm, positive and confident folk. Very simply, that means offer your handshake first, give them a warm smile and be positive and enthusiastic.

    As a slight aside, when I talk about handshakes, there is nothing worse than a wet fish handshake OR a bone-crushing handshake which leaves you gasping for breath. If you don’t know how your handshake is perceived, test it out on friends and get their feedback.

    How do I put this delicately? Appearances do count and stereotypes do exist. If you think of a lawyer, you expect to see a well-tailored suit and a neat appearance. Lawyers take note; however much you want to break out of the mould, a well-fitting suit is probably necessary for your credibility. As many image consultants will tell you, details are important. Chipped nail polish or dirty nails is a no-no, as is missing buttons from a coat, or messy hair. If you have young children, do carefully check your appearance in the mirror before you go out, baby sick down the back is a ‘no-no’!

    If you look good, and have a confident handshake, then the battle for the right first impression is nearly won. The last piece of the jigsaw is how you introduce yourself. For many professionals, a big trap is waiting for them, when asked (the almost standard question at a networking event), ‘so what do you do?’ Do you confess and say, I’m an accountant... lawyer... coach...  and fall into the trap. Or do you describe what you do by the value you bring to your clients?

    The right answer is to have the one sentence sound bite prepared, which succinctly (yes, succinctly) talks about the value you bring to your clients. It wouldn’t surprise you to know that my sound bite is “I help professional advisors gain better business results for less effort”. Many people worry that if they use this type of opening, people wouldn’t know what they do. I can see that this is a genuine concern, however, in my experience, whenever this type of opening is used, the next question is ‘oh, that sounds interesting, how do you do that?’. And then you are off, the conversation is started, and you have moved straight into a business conversation.

    Heather Townsend is The Efficiency Coach

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    The importance of staged growth

    April 08, 2010 by Administrator

    Turning a good idea into a multi-million pound global business venture doesn’t happen overnight. As founder and managing director of UK translation company Lingo24, this is a fact I know only too well.

    My company now has 120 employees working on three continents, clients in more than 60 countries and in 2009 our turnover was £3.65m. The key to our success has been following a carefully managed growth model.

    Growing the business in stages has been crucial. Trying to expand too much too soon can spell disaster for many new businesses.

    Home economics

    So what is “staged-growth”? To use Lingo24’s formative years as an example, the business was run entirely as an online home-based (Aberdeen and London) enterprise for the first three years, which gave us one key advantage over our established competitors.

    Although the short commute from my bedroom to my desk was super convenient, it also meant I didn’t have to pay for premises. That meant I could offer customers prices up to a third cheaper than our competitors.

    Furthermore, outsourcing work to freelance translators rather than having tens of in-house staff meant Lingo24 only needed to pay for services when we needed them, we didn’t have to pay wages regardless.

    If we had a lot of demand for English to French translations, we’d pay for the services of translators with those skills. If project demand switched to English to German, we could pay freelance German translators and so on.

    Benefits of outsourcing

    Outsourcing is a very effective strategy for businesses young and old. If you can afford it, you can easily and effectively outsource aspects of your operation – accounts, HR management, marketing, design, etc. All are freely available to use on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis.

    My main aim for Lingo24 from day one was to build the ‘top online brand’ for translation services, not purely for UK markets. The advent of the internet made cross-cultural communications much easier, so we established similar home-based hubs in New Zealand (2003) and China (2004).

    We recruited talented management and linguistic personnel in both countries and because we could then operate across multiple time zones, in effect, we were never closed. When our handful of home-based UK staff clocked off for the night we simply passed the baton to the other guys in Asia and Oceania. The internet effectively enabled Lingo24 to go global.

    Tapping into emerging markets

    The round the clock service advantage Lingo24 offered its clients was crucial. But the internet had other advantages over internal communications. We soon realised that foreign language internet was the best – and most cost-effective – way to tap into new and emerging markets.

    Only a quarter of the Earth’s population speak English and more than 90 per cent of those do so as a second language. I arranged for Lingo24’s website to be translated into ten or so languages in our key target markets in Scandinavia, Western Europe and Asia. By talking to clients in their own language, they knew instantly we were a serious translation company.

    Lingo24 opened its first physical office space in Romania in 2005, followed by Panama in 2008 – key locations that allowed us to tap into fantastic technical and linguistic skill-sets locally. I chose these international hubs carefully. Timisoara in Romania has a great technical university and it’s also a very multilingual city. Panama already had a very strong international service sector with multilingual contact centres when Lingo24 turned up in 2008 – the skills were already there.

    Lingo24’s first physical UK office opened in Edinburgh in August 2008, with a second scheduled to open in London in April 2010.

    I firmly believe that staged-growth has been key to our success. We have no debts and I anticipate turnover will rise to some £5m this year. The future is looking very good, but there’s still a lot of work to do. From home-based offices and outsourcing, to cross-cultural websites and talented staff across multiple time zones, it seems businesses of all sizes can go global.

    Christian Arno, Lingo24

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    Getting the boring essentials right from the start

    April 07, 2010 by Chris Barling

    There’s a dilemma when you are starting a company. There are lots of boring essentials like company formation, VAT, Data Protection Act, employment law and, depending on which industry you are in, a host of other legislation. Yet complying with these doesn’t help you to sell anything, build a customer base or most importantly turn a profit.

    It’s incredibly difficult to find the balance between being too gung ho about regulations (with risks starting at inconvenience and ending in prison), or over egging things, with a bigger risk of business failure. Hovering around are lots of professional advisers with fees to match - that’s the accountants, lawyers and consultants. Unfortunately it’s hard for them to be entirely impartial as their business is about charging fees.

    Here are my top tips for getting this balance right.

    1. First you need to understand the issue. You need to know what laws may apply to you. Books and the web are the cheapest forms of education along with free seminars from Business Link or professional advisers offering free consultations in the hope of getting your business.
    2. Then make sure you stay legal with the minimum of work and elaboration. Remember your principle aim is to serve customers, not produce a gold encrusted employment or health and safety manual.
    3. Be appropriate. If you work in an industry that is potentially hazardous, then actually health and safety is the top priority. If you are selling cuddly toys over the internet, just make sure they don’t contain dangerous substances or harmful parts.
    4. Until you are cash positive, don’t worry about issues that can wait until tomorrow.
    5. Once you know that the business has a future and you can afford it, start employing the professionals to help.

    When you’re starting off, anything that isn’t directly related to making sales or pushing the business forward is an irritant. But completely neglecting other issues can cause huge frustration when you are forced to comply; it can also substantially reduce the value of your business or may even cause its demise.
    It’s different if you are well capitalised and have had previous business success. But if this is your first start up, then these tips are well worth a thought.

    Chris Barling, Sellerdeck

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    Why it’s wise to rent desk space

    April 07, 2010 by Administrator

    While working from home has its merits, there are many good reasons why renting yourself some desk space in an office might be the better option.

    After all, if you're stuck in a corner of the lounge or upstairs in a spare bedroom, there can be an awful lot of distractions. Even well intentioned family members can often be more of a hindrance than a help when they knock on the door offering you the umpteenth coffee of the day.

    If you’re starting a new business or looking to expand an existing venture and feel you’ve either outgrown the spare bedroom or can't take much more of those well meaning interruptions at home, the next logical place to consider is an office all of your own.

    Thanks to the growing phenomenon of renting desk space here in the UK, it’s now possible to get your own dedicated workstation in an office where you simply pay rent and let the landlord handle all of the other stuff.

    Turning yourself into a ‘desker’ means that you have all the benefits of a professional workplace environment, including high-speed internet access, utilities and round-the-clock security all for a flat fee. While these charges are generally payable monthly, you'll also be able to search for pay-what-you-use desk space too, which is perfect if you're a start-up that has to keep a firm grip on costs.

    By searching out the right type of desk space, which can be done online using the free services of Desk Space Genie, you can find a place to work that’ll offer a more productive environment than being at home.

    What's more, you'll get a credible office address and chances are the location might be more useful for making new contacts and networking. Renting desk space can invariably prove much cheaper than acquiring a whole office, the contract terms are often more flexible and the landlord does all of the management and maintenance of the facilities.

    Being able to get up and leave your desk without having to worry about emptying the bins or putting the vacuum cleaner round at the end of the day can be undeniably handy. Better still is the fact that having a dedicated workstation away from home means that it's much easier to separate your work from your home life.

    It's certainly more cost effective too, with average costs outside of London averaging just over £200 per month, although be prepared to pay a premium if you're desperate to be in a city centre location where rents are always higher.

    There are added benefits that come with renting desk space and these can often include a parking space, use of meeting room facilities along with easy access to your workstation round the clock. Most contracts will generally include a typical workstation setup, so look to expect a desk, chair and possibly tea and coffee facilities.

    A telephone line is generally not included, although broadband probably will be, and you'll also need to use your own computer. However, if you're making moves with your business, you'll probably be enjoying the freedom of a laptop and mobile phone already, so with access to high-speed internet and email you'll be up and running in a matter of minutes.

    Desk space contracts often run on a monthly rolling basis, with perhaps an initial fixed rental period to check that you're in a reasonable position to pay the rent. Simply search Desk Space Genie for available locations in your area and the site will reveal a selection of possibilities. It could end up being the best thing you've done since starting your new venture.

    Ciaron Dunne, Desk Space Genie

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    Ten top tips for completing your Employer Annual Return

    April 06, 2010 by Elaine Clark
    1. File the returns by 19 May 2010. Late filing can result in a penalty which is £100 per 50 employees for each month or part month that your return is outstanding.
    2. Nearly all returns must now be filed online. Make sure that you are set up to do this well in advance of the due date.
    3. You must have paid any outstanding PAYE and NI by 19 April 2010 (22 April 2010 if you pay electronically).
    4. You have to complete a return for all employees who have been paid at or over the lower earnings limit.
    5. By 31 May 2010 you have to give a form P60 to all employees who your completed a P11 for and who still worked for you on 5 April 2010.
    6. You need to complete a P11D for relevant employees by 6 July 2010. Late filing can result in a penalty which is £100 per 50 employees for each month or part month that your return is outstanding.
    7. Any NI due on expenses and benefits on kind must be paid by 19 July 2010 (22 July 2010 if paying electronically).
    8. If you are set up as an employer you must still file a return. If you have no entries then you will file a nil return.
    9. If you are a sole director/employee company paying yourself a small salary you may still need to file an Employer Return. Your accountant may do this for you but check that it is included in your fee.
    10. If this all sounds too complicated – get an accountant to do it for you!

    Elaine Clark, www.cheapaccounting.co.uk

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    Too much salsa on my plate?

    April 05, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

    I was up until til 2:30am cooking to fulfil orders and make samples. I am feeling hyper and excited, with that butterflies-in-stomach feeling about what lies ahead and the opportunities that I have. I am equally overwhelmed about what to do next and I'm tired. Whatever I do, it means that I’m not doing something else that is equally important.

    The bookkeeper came this morning and we are getting our new system in tip-top condition. It required my attention because we are changing to a new accounting system and I need to know how it works. So I couldn’t make the follow-up sales calls I needed to do, or pay the bills, or organise tasting sessions, etc. I also teach Spanish on a Wednesday and I haven’t prepared yet.

    More orders are coming through, but I'm not able to cook tomorrow because I’m at a “Meet the Buyer” event. I hope the buyers do buy! So it looks like another 2:30am bed time tomorrow, as my kids are in a local panto and I won’t miss their debut!

    Wish me luck, I’ll keep the coffee flowing...

    You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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    10 top tips for saving money on office printing

    April 01, 2010 by Matt Bird

    It is a well-known fact that ink is now more expensive than gold – and last time I checked not many companies were printing in gold. So how can you minimise your long-term printing expenditure? Here are my ten tips.

    1 Separate cartridge slots
    Great saving potential lies in simply switching from a printer using tri-colour cartridges to one with individual colour cartridges. You only replace what you use, thereby minimising waste and with ink/toner now containing chemicals to counteract drying out, you needn’t worry about cartridges sitting dormant.

    2 Draft print mode
    Draft uses up to 50 per cent less ink than the default print mode, with the only downside being a small loss of print quality. It’s a great money-saver and you can easily switch back to the standard setting when printing important or presentation-quality documents.

    3 Greyscale prints
    Do you need to have colour in all letterheads, text and images? If not, select greyscale in your printing options. This only uses the black cartridge, saving the more expensive coloured ink for important pages.

    4 Low ink performance
    Some printers will mix all three colour cartridges to maintain printing, even when the black has run out. Check your printer guide. If yours has this feature, you need to monitor black ink levels rigorously to avoid draining your colour reserves at a horrendous rate.

    5 Duplexing
    Technology is your friend. Duplexers (printing on both sides of the paper) save not just time and effort, but paper costs too. Even budget-end printers may now include this feature.

    6 Print in batches
    There are two important factors to remember for each separate print request sent to your office printer:

    • Laser printers must warm up.
    • Inkjets lubricate print heads.

    You will use less power and ink/toner if you send print requests through together, instead of forcing the printer to run numerous start-up and cool-down procedures.

    Additionally, certain printers perform print head cleaning every time they turn on, which wastes ink. If your printer manual lists this attribute, either limit how often you turn it off or only turn it on when you need to do groups of printing.

    7 Paper quality
    Printers have become more tolerant of lower weight (ie thinner) paper, making it an ideal way to limit costs for documents that don’t need a professional finish. Look out for reams of 80gsm paper, as this stock can still give nice prints and good cost savings.

    8 Paper settings
    Not many people know that their printer’s paper settings can impact their ink usage, and thus your costs. Different papers have varying absorption and dispersion rates, which will be pre-programmed into printers. To confirm your setting matches the paper you’re feeding into the printer, when you select print, quickly take a detour through to “Properties”, locate the “Paper type” option (typically in the form of a drop down or tab) and ensure they match. This will eliminate any ink wastage and help reduce costs.

    9 Recycle paper
    Make it a habit to check if sheets of paper are blank on the reverse before binning them. If there’s no print and the edges aren’t damaged, you can add them to the printer tray and use for producing draft prints. This saves a lot on cost, as well as being more environmentally responsible.

    10 Go compatible
    The stereotypical dodgy refilled cartridge vendors have been rendered obsolete by advancements in quality requirements. Compatible (third party) cartridges must now meet stringent testing requirements to be listed on respectable retailers’ shelves and websites – and are of course cheaper.

    Matt Bird works for printer cartridge superstore StinkyInk.

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