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Posts for May 2010

Taking exhibition space to promote the Donut sites? Now there's an intriguing idea

May 27, 2010 by Martin Read

The Donuts are lively little blighters with plenty of reader-on-editor action, but until now our relationship with you, the audience, has been conducted entirely from eyeball to screen. Communicating face to face, and convincing new readers to pay the sites a visit, was always going to give us a fresh perspective on Project Donut. So it was at last week's Business Start Up Show in London's Docklands.

As a form of marketing, exhibitions can be a bit hit and miss. You have to choose the right event, but when you do you're pretty certain to meet useful new contacts and kick start a few potentially lucrative projects. Why? Because exhibitions afford the opportunity for business folk to do what comes naturally - talk. For all our tweeting and texting, technology can never replace the power of a face to face meeting. Get it right, and the contacts you make at an exhibition can lop weeks off your marketing schedule.

Be warned, though - exhibitions require a lot of organisational skill. It pays to use a checklist and work through it before you go. Lights, stand graphics, power supplies, presentations, sales collateral - get them all organised well in advance. I've been to plenty of shows and I don't think I've ever been 100% happy with how things turned out. This time, we suffered from a lack of napkins (we gave away donuts, natch) and blue tack (for the wall-mounted screenshots). Something will always crop up, but at the very least you should download this indispensable checklist and work through it.

And don't forget to take care of an exhibition stand's most important apparatus - your people. Organising a roster which gives everyone a break has the dual effect of ensuring the stand is properly manned for the duration of the show. Also, don't forget to drink as much water as possible. Exhibitions can leave you dehydrated and the air is made thin by all that constant chatter - to which you'll be contributing.

Finally, don't scrimp on stand graphics. The man who designed ours, and the people who designed our pop-up stand, are nothing short of geniuses. The stand fits in a wheelie-bin, and the wheelie bin doubles as a plinth. Add our rather colourful graphics and it's an awesome combination - as you can see here.

Martin Read, BHP Information Solutions

  • You can read Anna Kirby's thoughts on the Business Start Up Show here

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Six common misconceptions about remanufactured toner cartridges

May 26, 2010 by Matt Bird

1. Remanufactured cartridges void your warranty

Often seen as the greatest barrier to effective third-party cartridge distribution, most people wrongly believe this to be true. Pressure from EU and American trade laws mean it is illegal for a manufacturer to void your printer warranty purely due to the use of third-party cartridges. Look in chapter 50, section 2302 of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act for further details.

2. Remanufacturers only replace the toner

Prevalent in the “drill and fill” region of the market, this leads to poor performing cartridges due to the strain experienced from repeated use. Professional third-party providers replace all worn and damaged components in the remanufacturing process. They are then cleaned and tested to standards approaching the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) stringent guidelines to ensure the quality performance you would expect.

3. Remanufacturers reuse toner in their cartridges

Ignoring the fact OEM cartridges all have different chemical formulations and are thus unable to be mixed, as soon as toner leaves the cartridge and is applied to the page it cannot be reused. Laser printers undertake a complicated series of positive and negative electrical charges to transfer the toner from a cartridge, to a printer drum, to the paper. The moment the toner is ‘polluted’ by particles from the environment such as paper dust, it cannot be reused.

4. Remanufacturers contain lower quality toner

Nearly all OEMs now use chemical toner technology, which provides finer particles in a consistent shape for more accurate printing. Remanufacturers also use this technology, meaning your third-party toner particles are of a similar quality. However, it is true OEM toner can contain more chemicals than remanufactured counterparts, as they are scientifically ‘constructed’ from the ground up for performance in specific printer models. Just remember you will only see their benefits when printing high-resolution images and text onto the original manufacturers paper; often up to double the price of remanufactured options.

5. Remanufactured cartridges can damage your printer

The process laser printers go through to print means the cartridge rarely makes contact with any part of the printer, the only issue is leaking toner. All cartridges lose some toner inside the printer, hence the existence of waste toner collectors within most laser printers. There is still the risk of excess waste through poorly manufactured cartridges, so ensure your supplier is quality tested with a performance guarantee.

6. Returned cartridges to OEMs are all reused

A mere 20% of toner cartridges are reused in the entire market, with OEMs falling behind on this statistic. This is compounded by an InfoTrends study into cartridge remanufacturing, which highlights third-party suppliers collecting 70% more empty OEM toners than the OEM themselves. Furthermore, research highlighted OEMs’ preference to recycle the returned cartridge and use only part of the materials for new cartridges, whilst third-party producers will almost always re-use cartridges once (after inspection and cleaning), saving energy and overall waste levels.

So the bottom line is that you can seriously consider buying third party cartridges in future and save yourself a bob or three.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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Coming in August: great IT advice for businesses

May 25, 2010 by John McGarvey

IT Donut logo

I’m pleased to report that the wraps are off: The IT Donut, a new website for small businesses, will be launching the week of 23 August.

The IT Donut will be the fourth in a family of websites. You might already have seen the Marketing, Law and Start-Up Donuts. Its aim will be to demystify every aspect of business technology.

Expect heaps of advice about choosing, using and generally not getting totally frustrated with IT in your business.

I’ve taken on the role of editor (the next few months are looking to be very busy), but thankfully there’s a whole team of great people from BHP Information Solutions working hard on the site too. And because you can’t substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience, we’re on the hunt for experts who know all about IT at the sharp end of business.

You see, when businesses use IT, there’s an ideal world, and there’s what actually happens. The two often differ quite considerably.

The IT Donut isn’t going to live in the plain sailing, smooth running and largely theoretical ideal world. It will acknowledge the situations and challenges businesses face every day with their IT.

Although the team behind the website is packed with experience (I’ve been writing about small businesses and IT for years now), we need people who’ve been there and done it to help us cover every area. These IT experts are the people who’ll really bring the site to life.

So if you know a bit about IT in business, I want to hear from you. You might be an expert in web hosting, networking or accounting software. Or you might be a business that’s experimented with cloud computing, open source software – or gained some other knowledge that you’d like to share.

Whatever your expertise, give me a shout. It’s your chance to be involved in one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on – and to get some great PR while you’re at it.

John McGarvey is the editor of the forthcoming IT Donut and is happy to discuss ideas and opportunities with you.

What a show

May 24, 2010 by Anna Mullinder

MyDonut exhibition standI only found out that I was going to be on the Start Up Donut stand at The Business StartUp Show at Excel a couple of days beforehand so there wasn’t much time for the reality of what this meant to sink in.

People kept saying to me that it would be hard work, but I don’t think I realised just how hard! I’m not shy when it comes to speaking to people or striking up a conversation and I project manage the Start Up Donut so I felt confident about singing its praises to people running small businesses. But what I didn’t realise is that you’re talking constantly to a seemingly never-ending stream of people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we were so busy and I’m really pleased that I got to speak to so many people, but by the time I got on the coach home I was ready to fall asleep.

As a start-up or small business, I’d imagine attending an event like this is well worth the time and effort. With exhibitors ranging from those offering training and motivation to advice on intellectual property to business support there’s a huge range of information, resources and potential contacts in one room. Not to mention the array of the seminars and workshops.

The highlight for me, however, was meeting so many different characters. When you work on a project/website every day it is so nice to meet people who have heard of it or visit the website regularly and who have feedback for you, even if it's things you could change or ways to improve the site. I found it really interesting to explain the Start Up Donut (and also the Marketing Donut, Law Donut and the IT Donut which is due to launch at the end of the Summer) to people who’d never heard of them and to explain all of the features and gauge their reactions.

Next time you go to an exhibition, remember to say hello to the people you’ve heard of and let them know what you think of their product or service. You might just make their day.

Anna Kirby, Start Up Donut

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Sales leads and breaking even

May 24, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

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

Networking tips for mums in business

May 21, 2010 by Antonia Chitty

Antonia Chitty discusses the benefits of online and offline networking.

Antonia Chitty, Family Friendly Working

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How to make your website more SEO friendly

May 19, 2010 by Alex Astell

Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves taking steps to improve the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google via natural or unpaid search results.

The higher your website appears in the search results list, the better its chance of attracting visitors – and converting that interest into a sale, of course.

If you have recently paid an agency or freelance to create a website for your business, they should know all about SEO and it should have been a key deciding factor in the finer detail of the work they did for you.

If your website is many years old or if you are planning to create your own website, then you will need to get to grips with a few SEO basics, if your website is to be fully optimised for search engines.

Where to begin? Buy or (better still borrow) a good introductory guidebook. I recommend Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman. For more detail, try Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies by Peter Kent or When Search Meets Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica.

If someone else has designed or maintains your website, check with them that your site has been fully optimised for search engines. This applies to headings, alt tags, meta tags, page structure, page titles and meta descriptions/keywords. Each is essential to improving your SEO results.

Keywords must appear with sufficient frequency in main copy on each page. For example, if you are offering plumbing services in Wiltshire, then the words ‘plumbing’ and ‘Wiltshire’ should make up about 5-10 per cent of all words used. The trick is to be natural in use of language, as (apart from reading badly and so putting people off) deliberate/ham-fisted repetition of the same words (or deliberately hiding keywords) will make search engines ignore your site.

Submit your site to the major search engines. Make sure you register your website with Google Analytics, so that you can measure your traffic. Check out Google AdWords if you want to pay to advertise, they have a starter package that is very easy to use.

Try also to source appropriate websites that can link to yours, but avoid those that promise to put your link on 600 other sites (most of which are often totally irrelevant), it will just look as though you’re spamming.

Google your keywords and check which sites come up in the results. If there are directories on the list or websites open to having relevant links (sometimes linking from yours back to theirs in return), contact them.

Analyse your results carefully and learn from them. Check Google Analytics, search on the major search engines at regular intervals to check your position in the results and keep your content fresh and up to date.

By following this simple advice, you should be able to make your website more likely to appear in search engine listings. If reading this has left you none the wiser about SEO, then you should probably seek the services of a specialist, otherwise you could be left counting the cost in disappointingly low visitor numbers to your website.

Alex Astell, Manage My Website

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How to keep in touch with customers in the startup stage

May 17, 2010 by Tim Fouracre

Starting a business for the first time is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things you can do (if you enjoy business!). However there comes a point where customer demands can weigh on your ability to progress. Here are five tips on how to keep your customers happy during the start up stages.

1. Be honest
Some business owners feel that they have to present their company as bigger than it is, which can lead to customers placing greater expectations in terms of support and business development. It would be better to be honest with your customers and for you to tell them exactly how big your business is, if not understate your size. This is not suggesting that you slack on customer service. As a customer, if you know the size of the business you would rather be told that your problem will be dealt with tomorrow and then have the issue dealt with well, rather than the issue being sorted today and receiving a half hearted response. Having a set policy (see point number two) to customer support will make customers used to what to expect, it could be argued reliability is more important than punctuality and if done right it can buy you time.

2. Have customer service processes in place
Having a process (between yourself and however many employees) in place allows you to know what to do when an issue is raised. An example could be a customer calls and has a problem, the query is logged and then the customer is told how long it will be before they receive an answer based on number of problems in front. If the issue is an emergency/urgent (this can be difficult to distinguish as some customers may claim it is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things their query can wait) being able to fast track it will be important. It can be hard when customers get angry at you, however as long as you communicate why their query is taking a while to resolve then at least they will not feel left out in the cold.

3. Get your hands dirty
Despite point number one, it is important that you get involved in sorting out customer queries, even if you happen to have raised enough money to employ someone to handle customer support. Following this rule will also allow you to have a feel for your customers' needs plus it will allow you to identify your earliest customers. That sort of recognition towards a customer from a CEO or MD is greatly appreciated. How can you make sure that you keep your original customers close? Consider having a separate email address for them (even if it is not you responding to their queries). A phone line could be going a step too far as you don't want to be held back from the day to day running of the business.

4. Have a time to shut off
Have a time to shut off from customer problems so you can focus on another area of the business each day. It all comes back to the principle of focus, if you can break your day up into focused segments you will get each segment done better than if you try to multi task by doing a little bit of everything. Read this post on how to become a better mono tasker.

5. Listen, don't ignore
Always listen and never ignore the customer. Even if you do not feel that the customer is right or cannot act on what they have said this instant, by listening to them you will be aware of the issues that your customers are raising. If you simply shut out your customers in pursuit of growth you could end up with a backlash that brings about your downfall. Little and often should prevent customer enquires becoming overwhelming in the start up stages, it's a better approach than letting them mothball and ultimately build into an uglier beast. If you have been abiding by point three you will be able to prioritise your customers and keep the major ones happy.

Nick Braithwaite, Clear Books Small Business Accounting Software

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Managing my business finances

May 17, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

Entrepreneurship is all about making things happen and turning ideas into a profitable business. However, it’s impossible to have all the skills and attributes in one single individual- no matter how motivated or how working one can be, to turn an idea into a long-term profitable proposition requires a team of people who complement each other.

I realised a while ago that I could do with bringing into the team someone who has the skill sets to help me really get the numbers behind the forecasts right, and to help me negotiate with banks, funders and other possible stake holders. Someone who can help me turn the forecasts into a reality; in other words, an experienced, trustworthy financial director.

It was time for me to call in the experts. I came across an organisation which offers the services of a “virtual” or part-time FD who will work with a company for a minimum of 1-2 days per month and helps with all the financial strategic stuff. I met with the regional director of that organisation and my FD-to-be if we will take things further. It was a pleasant, purposeful meeting, and I felt I could trust the guy. They call it the “barbecue test”, in other words, would you invite the person to a barbecue. We will go to the next step and meet for a full day to discuss the business past, present, future and financial strategy.

I think this model will be the affordable way to bring an experienced helping hand to complement my winning team and turn my proposition into a reality.

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

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How to help your business get FITTER through networking

May 14, 2010 by Heather Townsend

There are many classic mistakes that people make when networking, for example directly or indirectly selling to people they meet.

Not that I would ever excuse you of selling when you are out networking. However, so many people treat networking as one big jolly conversation. Networking, without purpose or focus, is a massive waste of time AND money. If I know professional advisors, most of them can ill-afford to waste time.

Before you book your next networking event, keep this mnemonic in mind – it will help you achieve more at the event:

Follow up after the event

Introduce yourself with impact

Target specific people

Turn a social chat into a business conversation

Enter and breakout of groups

Research

Find out who is attending the event, in advance – not at the event –and find out more about the other attendees. If you do your research right, you will know who you want to target for a conversation – plus have opinions and thoughts on relevant news and trends for your target audience . Most hosts, if asked, will send out an attendee list before the event.

Once at the event, make sure you introduce yourself with impact – that means a confident handshake – and talk about how you add value to your clients, rather than talking about what you do. For example, “I help my clients legally minimise the tax they pay”, has far more impact than, “I’m an accountant”.

Interestingly, this type of introduction already turns your conversation onto business matters. Are you wondering how? Well, after you have introduced yourself by the value you bring to your clients, the next question is normally, “so, how do you do that” and the conversation flows from there.

When you are out networking you are out to meet as many potential referrers as possible. If you linger with one or two, you potentially lose out on the opportunity of meeting three or four more potential referrers. Therefore, you must be prepared to break into and out of groups. The golden rules here are to always ask permission to enter or exit a group. If you want to encourage more people to enter a group, then always leave a gap facing into the room.

And finally, follow up. This means doing what you said you would do at the event. If someone has given you their business card, this means they have given you permission to contact them after the event – but not to send them your newsletter. I personally always drop anyone I met a brief e-mail saying how much I enjoyed meeting them.

Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach

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Enterprise Manifesto debate

May 06, 2010 by Rory MccGwire

I wish that every meeting could be as interesting as the one that I just had.

It was a group of founders, but not just any old founders. These were the founders of UK business advice websites primarily aimed at small businesses. Between us, we have a regular user base of over half a million businesses each month. By any standard, that is an extremely large audience.

Doug Richard (of School4StartUps), as always, had a lot to say. Fair enough, as it was his Enterprise Manifesto that we had all gathered to discuss.

We started with his number one question: Should Business Link be scrapped? I must declare an interest at this point. Various bits of Business Link, and the website businesslink.gov in particular, are clients of my company. But I not only depend on Business Link for part of my annual revenues, I also see first hand some of the good, effective support that is given by Business Link and its partners to small businesses.

Doug would scrap the regional (“offline”) part of Business Link tomorrow. As someone who has been involved in turnarounds before, he reckons that the set-up in the regions is too institutionalised to be capable of being turned around into a new approach. “Best to start from scratch. Scrap it, then wait a couple of years and see how things look.” Obviously, this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but Doug is not a man for half measures.

Shaa Wasmund (smarta.com) was more soothing and pragmatic than I had been expecting from reading her ultra-dynamic biography. While she commented that Business Link is too dominated by cadres of civil servants and the government way of doing things, she also mentioned how impressed she was with some of the initiatives being delivered by a Business Link that she works with.

Emma Jones also had some positive feedback, saying that the homeworkers who chat to each other on her Enterprise Nation website recommend the Business Link seminars to each other. Then she asked the question that was on everyone’s lips. If one did scrap Business Link, what would you replace it with?

At this point someone mentioned the figure of 35% as the projected shrinkage in the public sector over the next several years. Many of these people, notably the over 45s, will not find employment thereafter. “What will we do?” I asked the room, “Abandon them? Or help these business novices into some kind of self-employment, if that is the only option for them other than welfare?”

Nick James (freshbusinessthinking.com) is a big believer in online. So much so that, like Doug, he reckons that Business Link should only offer online help. “If people do not want to take advantage of it, that’s up to them. Nowadays every business should be online if they are serious about what they do.”

The trouble is, the website businesslink.gov reaches less than 45% of businesses (it says in its latest annual report … which, being a bit of a swot, I had read that morning). And the excluded 55% are exactly the people who need the most help to start up and grow a small business.

Dan Martin (Business Zone editor) backed me up on this point, saying that we must not assume that everyone else is like us. We regard online information as the obvious solution, but lots of other people don’t.

We all agreed that Business Link has become very good at delivering the metrics demanded of it by government. But, as Nick neatly put it, “to score a metric point for having a phone conversation or for having sent out a brochure is to miss the point of what business support is there to do.”

We all felt that the Business Link access brand itself is valuable. Even slash-and-burn-Doug agreed that it would be wasteful to throw this away only to then have to reinvent another access brand to replace it. Over the last fifteen years Wales has regularly reinvented both its business support network and its access brand, at great cost and for no obvious benefit.

So, although Doug had started the discussion session as provocatively as ever, likening his Enterprise Manifesto to the successful manifesto approach taken by Karl Marx 150 years earlier, at the end of the day we all found that our positions on business support had a lot in common.

Firstly, we all have a desire to help people to start and run businesses and feel that someone, somewhere, needs to be paid to do this support service. Secondly, we loathe what you might call the public sector obsession with spurious metrics, metrics which start life as a measurement to help achieve a goal and which then quickly themselves become THE goal.

Our discussion ranged over a number of topics in a short space of time. We covered public sector procurement (Yes, have a quota for small businesses, which the big contractors have to fulfil through transparent subcontracting), social enterprises, and the need for a high speed broadband infrastructure.

It was a pity that not everyone could make it. David Lester (Crimson Publishing, which owns startups.co.uk), Stuart Rock (Caspian Publishing, which owns realbusiness.co.uk), Alex Bellinger (smallbizpod.co.uk) and Jasmine Birtles (moneymagpie.co.uk) couldn’t make the meeting but would have enjoyed it I’m sure.

Michael Hayman of the PR firm Seven Hills did a great job of keeping the conversation going and keeping us all laughing at the same time. We were never going to have time to each propose and then debate our own vision of how business support should be run in the UK but we got some good points out on the table.

An interesting meeting, as I said. I don’t think you could find a more committed, can-do group of individuals when it comes to helping other people to start and grow a business. Something tells me that we will be meeting together many more times over the course of 2010 and 2011 to exchange our views on how business support, regulations, taxation and the whole enterprise landscape might be improved in the UK.

  • 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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    Are the Politicians dumb or is the electorate deaf?

    May 05, 2010 by Chris Barling

    The election messages continue to dance around reality. I did arithmetic at primary school, but did the politicians?

    Here’s my maths. The government spends £400 for every £300 it receives, spending half our national income. If the country earned £800 per annum, the government spends £400, of which £100 is borrowed. Total government debt would be £500, rising by £100 per annum. This is less than six years away from going down the pan like Greece.

    If we protect health, the government would have to cut a third of all spending to balance the books. That is an unimaginable level of cuts implying public sector pay falling by a third, which in turn would depress GDP severely making things even more difficult.

    If GDP grows, it will be better. But we live in an uncertain world, with huge financial risks still lurking all around. Still all of the talk is about additional spending and what will be protected.

    We have a financial crisis worse than anything seen in our lifetimes. Why are the politicians playing dumb and not getting totally real with the electorate. Maybe we still don’t want to hear?

    Chris Barling, SellerDeck

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    How the Government should handle a VAT increase to help businesses

    May 05, 2010 by Adam Ewart

    The Liberal Democrats have come under some fire for a negative campaign tactic of claiming that the Conservatives will not commit to saying they will not raise VAT. The reason for the criticism is that the Liberals will themselves not commit to saying they won’t raise VAT either.

    I believe the decision taken to lower VAT to 15 per cent was a good one, but was marketed wrongly. It as presented to the general public as a saving across the board. But, as a member of the public who buys different things in his shopping every week, a saving of a couple of per cent was not noticeable on my Tesco receipt.

    However, as a director of a company with VAT returns running into thousands of pounds, the VAT decrease was genuinely helpful. To my customers, saving £1 on a violin was irrelevant. Our products are priced to sell, so I decided not to pass on the VAT saving but instead to raise all of our prices.

    To the customer, the prices remained exactly the same. But the few thousand pounds I saved by doing this probably saved a job.

    If VAT is raised, I would like to see the Government promote it as a rise on the price of all products, just as last year they promoted it as a reduction on all products. But this is not likely. And, without a strong message that this is a universal price rise, many small companies scared of lifting their prices will try to absorb the extra tax themselves. This will be severely to their detriment.

    Moving across the VAT threshold is one of the most difficult barriers for the emerging small business and a higher rate of VAT will only add to the burden. I would hope that on the day that VAT is raised, so, too, is the turnover threshold at which a business must register for VAT – and by a considerable amount.

    I could write further on many more issues from mortgages for the self-employed to my belief that the Conservative’s recent deluge of signatures from business leaders is a boring stunt with no real message for the struggling small business.

    Clearly, business leaders will sign up against any tax that would befall them, so it’s a shame the Tories didn’t use this platform to announce other more relevant, more helpful, business- centric manifesto pledges… but I said I wasn’t going to write about that, so I must stop.

    Whoever you vote for at this election, I encourage you to actually use them. More than once, my company has written to elected representatives and you know what? Some of them are actually out to help us – it’s not all house swapping and duck houses!

    Adam Ewart, Karacha

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    Tips on buying a printer

    May 04, 2010 by Matt Bird

    Once upon a time, all any organisation had to answer when buying a printer were three simple questions:

    • Inkjet or laser?
    • Mono or colour?
    • Multifunction or standalone?

    Advances in the technology and falling prices have led to new questions and the evolution of the trio above.

    Inkjet or laser?
    Either. The boundaries between printer types are diminishing all the time. Misconceptions such as “Laser printers are cheaper per page over time” have long been discarded. Manufacturers are investing huge sums to ensure tomorrow’s laser is yesterday’s inkjet, and vice versa.

    Mono or colour?
    Go for colour. Yes most prints will be black, but ink and toner now contain chemicals to counteract drying out, so even extended periods of not printing in colour are fine. Make sure you get separate colour cartridge slots, not tri-colour cartridges. This way you’ll only replace what you use, minimising waste and saving on cost.

    Multifunction or standalone?
    Multifunction printers (MFPs) now match the performance of standalone printers, saving on space, wiring and plug sockets. Simply decide what functions you need before researching your options. Remember that most MFPs can’t use more than one function simultaneously; a single machine may be overwhelmed if you have large copying, faxing and printing demands.

    Costs
    Find a balance between available funds and long-term running costs. Cheaper printers will save on start-up costs, but will require more expensive cartridges, meaning higher costs per page in future. Check availability of compatible cartridges (ie ones not made by the printer manufacturer). The existence of these consumables indicates a popular printer and long-term demand – and will also help save on printing costs.

    Suppliers
    If you buy a printer from a high street store, be aware that when the next upgrade arrives from the manufacturer, not only will your model disappear from the shelves, but the cartridges will too. Check that you can buy consumables online for your machine as well.

    Networking
    Ethernet ports are a given and WiFi capability can up the price of a printer significantly, but there are benefits. It saves on cabling and enables you to position the printer where it’s convenient, enabling flexibility in office and hardware layouts when your business begins to grow.

    Ease of installation
    Check for user reviews online. Is it a simple plug-and-print model? Avoid printers with unnecessary installation software on CD. This is especially relevant when selecting an MFP, because some not only require you to set up a user profile for each person/PC before you can print, but some demand a separate installation for each profile per printer function.

    Usability
    Make sure your printer has a clear display for error and performance reporting. This is crucial when purchasing an MPF, because more than one function can go wrong.

    Look for a front USB port, because this enables you to plug in memory sticks to print documents without the need of a computer.

    Estimate your usage needs – is a 200-sheet tray big enough? To avoid the hassle of replenishing paper, check higher capacity trays or the availability of add-on storage trays.

    Different media
    If you want to produce a range of printed media (eg cards, labels, various paper weights), check the printer has trays for separate media feeds and doesn’t rely on a single-sheet manual feed, which can be very time-consuming.

    Matt Bird, StinkyInk

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    Small business finance - so where’s the money, then?

    May 04, 2010 by Adam Ewart

    Perhaps controversially, I believe that too much emphasis and, indeed, money is spent on encouraging people to start their own business. In my opinion, resources should be restructured to offer more help to people once they have actually taken the plunge. 

    I believe people should be shown that business is a genuine career option, and I am a strong advocate of Young Enterprise. But I’ve seen too much money wasted on national campaigns encouraging Joe Bloggs to start a business while someone who has a great small business cannot get to the next stage because of unnecessary barriers.

    A prime example of a product which should help but which doesn’t is the Government’s Small Firms Loan Guarantee (SFLG). The idea behind this is that the Government covers some of the risk of the loan in order to allow banks to lend more easily to small businesses.

    This was re-launched last year as the Enterprise Finance Guarantee Scheme and the Labour Party’s manifesto tells us it has helped 9,000 businesses. Writing as someone who has first-hand experience of the SFLG, I can tell you that if I was to start the process over again, I certainly wouldn’t bother. In the end we gave over so many of our own guarantees that the entire point was lost; despite whatever their PR says, the banks are simply not ready and willing to lend on this scheme.

    In a nation of more than 60 million, 9,000 people on this scheme is not a claim to fame but an admission of failure. The figure should be tenfold. The Government needs to seriously and quickly address this issue and they should not be putting forward a scheme which the banks may or may not promote. They should be telling the banks that if a business comes in and meets a set of criteria, then they must allow them finance under a scheme where the risk of the loan is partially covered by the Government itself.

    Adam Ewart, Karacha

  • 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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