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Posts for August 2011

Seek and you shall find

August 30, 2011 by Mike Southon

While many aspiring entrepreneurs are looking to set up lifestyle businesses, I suspect many readers of this column have ambitions towards something much more substantial, especially those looking to make the leap from corporate life.

For them, writing a business plan is not the major challenge, rather the lengthy and often dispiriting process of raising money. Few people who do the rounds of venture capital and private equity speak fondly about the experience afterwards.

When I meet these more experienced corporate entrepreneurs they are usually fixated on their business idea, something that is not only going to change the world but also make everyone involved very wealthy in the process. I have to explain that good ideas grow on trees; what make the difference is the team involved, specifically their ability to execute, often under swiftly changing market conditions.

I have always thought that a better approach is to form the team first and then look for the right idea later. Many successful entrepreneurs attribute their success to starting with a minor passion or obsession, discovering later that they were the right people at the right time.

I was therefore very interested to learn about search funds, an idea originated by Professor H. Irving Grousbeck at Stanford University in 1984. In this model a small group of investors back particular operating managers to search for a target company to acquire. Then these managers take operating roles in the company, restructure where necessary, and finally grow the organisation to achieve a successful return on the original investment.

Target companies are typically within the £5M to £30M price range, requiring £2M to £10M of equity capital. They are often in fragmented markets but should demonstrate a respectable market share, a history of stable cash flow, and a good, but limited management team already in place.

Simon Webster is a European authority in search funds. He started his career in sales for IBM, before studying for an MBA at London Business School. He later built and sold RSL, a prosthetics business before being introduced to the search fund concept.

Webster now advises five different search fund organisations and has set up the European Search Fund Association (ESFA) to disseminate information on the model to entrepreneurs, business professionals, academics and investors.

He explains that the major benefit of the search fund model is that the risk for the investor is reduced while the learning curve for the entrepreneur is accelerated. The entrepreneur has first to persuade a number of investors to part with around £20K each, but no money is invested until all the units have been sold.

The search for an acquisition then begins.  Investors have the option to participate in the acquisition by which time they will have had several meetings with the entrepreneur and can judge their ability to grow a company at first hand. Finally, some of the investors will sit on the board of the acquired company to mentor and monitor progress.

So my advice for an experienced corporate executive looking for a new challenge is not to agonise over the potential business idea, but instead to build a small virtual team and start looking for opportunities in particular industries that excite them.

There are many companies that are fundamentally sound but where the challenges of taking it to the next level may be too much for the current management. If you can come up with an exciting plan that allows them an honourable and lucrative exit as well as a potential significant upside for a new set of investors, then everyone’s search for personal fulfilment will be over.

The European Search Fund Association can be found at

Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

Secret diary of a mumpreneur

August 25, 2011 by Vesta Rose

So, to start off with, a little bit about myself... I’m one half of a dynamic duo that has set up our own little “business-ette”. I can’t call it a “business” because that’s the first rule of being a mumpreneur – we don’t run a business, we have a little hobby on the side that we’re hoping, if all goes well, might one day make us a little bit of money.

But, we do have buyers and sellers, a website and a proper spreadsheet which accounts for money in and money out (if I’m honest it’s mostly money out at the moment). We run monthly good-as-new children’s clothes, toys and equipment sales in our local area and we’ve just had our very first sale (so far, “so mumpreneur”, I know).

Like many mumpreneurs, as well as having two small children, I’ve got a day job, as does my “business” partner, who’s also six months pregnant. What we don’t have is a business plan, marketing strategy, business bank account, much spare time or, in fact, any idea about how to run a proper “business”. Sound familiar?

Over the coming months I hope to be writing about all our wonderful business successes, but in all likelihood I’ll probably be sharing our trials and tribulations, mistakes and dead-ends, not to mention steep learning curve that I guess most fledgling start-ups go through.

Feel free to join me for the ride — in the words of that other dynamic duo, “to the Batmobile…”!

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The dark side of mentoring

August 23, 2011 by Mike Southon

This autumn I will be delivering some events focused on mentoring, aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs and those who would like to help them.

There will be some business consultants in the audience and I will explain to them that mentoring should never be regarded as a revenue opportunity. While it is certainly a great way to meet people, I feel strongly that mentoring should always be provided for free.

The mentoring relationship should be a two-way process, with the person giving the advice learning as much, if not more than the person seeking it. The basic principles are identical for any business, but a mentor will have to help resolve the specific delivery challenges they are presented, or at least be able to find someone in their network that does.

The greatest learning for mentors is always about themselves. While they will have had some successes in their life there will have also been failures, from which they hopefully learned about their own strengths and weaknesses. Maturity and self-awareness are essential pre-requisites to being able to give measured advice to others.

At the most basic level the mentoring process is very simple. The mentee should prepare a document explaining where they are and where they want to get to; the mentor should advise and then give specific objectives to be met before the next meeting. If the two feel motivated enough to meet again and some useful progress is being made, then the mentoring is working.

This methodology has been working since the seventies at The Prince’s Trust and more recently in the Trailblazer projects for the New Enterprise Allowance Scheme. It should therefore be relatively easy to motivate my audiences to either seek out or volunteer for mentoring. However, it would be wrong for me to paint an overly optimistic picture, so part of my presentation will explain the dark side of mentoring.

Most mentors will approach the task with little or no formal training and will therefore be unprepared when the mentees do not listen to their sage advice or otherwise let them down. It is important for mentors to adopt an air of professional detachment at all times and not try to intervene unnecessarily.

The lessons of life can be hard, and sometimes have to be learnt the hard way. There is a good argument that all mentors should study the techniques of counselling, in case they find themselves with a mentee who is disturbed and manipulative. Otherwise, the process can result in the problems of the mentee adversely affecting the personal life of the mentor.

You can also find yourself trying to mentor someone who, frankly, is not yet up to the difficult task of entrepreneurship. I once had a mentee arrive over 30 minutes late and their business story was a catalogue of disasters, which they dismissed as external problems outside of their control, rather than a by-product of their inexperience.

As they were struggling to be profitable and unable to attract a team, my advice was to work for someone else for a while and perhaps later look at striking out on their own once they had developed their experience and network.

They listened to this advice politely, but their e-mail the next day declared there was no way they were going to abandon their dream and their new goal was to prove me completely wrong.

Of course, no one will be happier than me if they achieve this worthy ambition, but in the meantime, I have shrugged my shoulders and got on with my own life, as all mentors have to do sometimes.

Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

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How to make an insurance claim

August 23, 2011 by Nick Green

It’s a situation every small-business owner dreads. You arrive at your premises one morning to find the lock hanging off the door and a couple of windows in pieces, on the pavement. A quick scan inside reveals gaps where your PCs and other items used to be; files and bits of paperwork are strewn across the floor.

Either it’s time to sack the cleaner or you’ve been burgled.

At least you had the good sense to make sure your office and its contents are insured. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.

Or is it? Many people think calling their insurer’s claims department is something of a necessary evil. But it needn’t be – insurers are there to help after all – they just need all the information necessary to make their decisions.

Most reputable insurers, contrary to popular belief, don’t mind paying claims. They know their reputation is fragile and being unnecessarily difficult won’t do them any favours. The good ones will make sure they do everything they can to help.

Securing your premises will be first on the list. It’s likely they’ll authorise you to call tradesmen in to fix the doors and windows. If you’re insured for very large sums, they might do it instead and/or send their own surveyor or loss adjuster out to see you. Either way, your policy should pay for the costs you incur to make good your premises.

Next up, they’ll want a comprehensive list of everything that’s missing or damaged (everything you’re claiming for, in other words). Check you’ve listed it all – even if you don’t think it’s covered. And don’t forget things such as blinds, stationery, plants, etc, which can get damaged.

Not unreasonably, insurers have to be sure they’re paying the right people for the right things in the right circumstances.

So they’re going to need proof your business owned or bought the items you’re claiming for. They’re usually quite flexible on what they’ll accept as proof: an original invoice or receipt is obviously best, but anything that links your business to the item will often suffice (eg warranty cards, service records, etc).

Bear in mind that they’re perfectly within their rights to refuse to pay for anything you can’t prove is yours.

If it’s cheaper for your insurer, they might ask that damaged items are repaired rather than replaced. If it turns out that the items are beyond economical repair, they’ll need to see confirmation of this from an expert.

If your insurer is happy with what you’ve provided, they’ll check your policy to make sure it covers what you’re claiming for and that any policy conditions or endorsements added at the start of the policy have been met (eg that your premises have a functioning alarm).

Again, if they find that things don’t quite add up, they’re well within their rights to withhold some or all of your settlement.

All this might sound like a pain, but there’s no reason to assume that making a claim is difficult. To avoid problems, it’s a good idea to periodically check your insurance to make sure you have enough cover and that you’re aware of your obligations under the policy. Always keep an updated inventory of your equipment, too. At least then you’ll know you’ve done your bit, if the worst does happen.

Nick Green, PolicyBee, professional insurance brokers

My appearance on Dragons’ Den

August 22, 2011 by Marcela Flores Newburn

Start up Donut regulars might already have read about my business, Rico Mexican Kitchen. A while ago, on this very website, it featured in blogs that charted some of the early challenges I faced as I worked hard to get my new business off the ground.

Some of you might also have seen me on Dragons’ Den last week, about 30 minutes in, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit more about my experiences on the show.

Since I launched Rico Mexican Kitchen from my kitchen in Belper, Derbyshire, inspired by a strong desire to offer the genuine flavours of my childhood in Mexico (I was born and brought up in Monterrey), I’ve been on a hugely exhilarating rollercoaster ride. My appearance on Dragons’ Den was part of this ride.

I really wanted to set my pitch apart, so I decided to sing for the Dragons. I asked the Mariachi Mexteca Mexican band to accompany me onto the show. As well as cooking, singing has been an important part of my life (I have a music degree, sang in choirs professionally and conducted many more).

For Dragons’ Den, I wrote some lyrics about my passion for Mexican food to the melody of a favourite childhood song called La Bikina. The band and I practised and had loads of fun. We came to an agreement over copyrights with the author, so we were all set to appear on the show.

Two days before filming, the BBC said it wouldn’t accept the agreement, which meant we couldn’t use the song we knew and loved. The fantastic Mariachi Mexteca made up a new tune to the words I’d written and we practiced our new song for the first time in the changing rooms shortly before going into the Den. Talking about winging it! If you listen carefully you might notice I missed a bit – and I sounded nervous.

I was in the Den for two hours and enjoyed the experience immensely. Ultimately, I didn’t attract any investment from the Dragons, which at the time was slightly disappointing, but at least they loved my products.

Despite failing to attract investment (I offered a 20 per cent share of my business for £75,000), last week, a couple of days before the show aired, I was able to secure the investment I need to take my business onto the next level.

A group of Northamptonshire-based investors will provide funding that will help Rico Mexican Kitchen with marketing and PR, product development, brand development and the drive to get my products onto supermarket shelves throughout the UK.

The investors really believe in my products and my commitment not only to making delicious, authentic Mexican food available to UK consumers, but also to supporting growers in Mexico and Britain. It’s certainly been a week to remember!

Marcela Flores-Newburn, Rico Mexican Kitchen

Clear invoices

August 19, 2011 by Mike Southon

The fundamentals of business are very simple. The main reason businesses go broke is that they run out of money, and one of the biggest contributing factor is the value of their unpaid invoices.

The sales process always starts with the very best of intentions, often a technical conversation between two people about a particular problem and how the supplier might solve it. In the euphoria of the early stage of the relationship, the boring details, such as invoicing and payment are glossed over, something to be discussed later.

When they are finally called in, bookkeepers and accountants always despair of the unstructured mess that they are asked to sort out under impossible time pressure. In the background there is a bank manager rapidly running out of patience, while at the customer end there is a vague indifference to the problem, especially if the original person who made the original, verbal promises on payment has moved on.

In retrospect, everyone should have spent more time writing everything down and clear payment terms should have been agreed in advance. Every first-time entrepreneur needs to apply the same discipline to their invoicing, as they will have to do in their project management and quality assurance; this is not something they can afford to delegate to someone else later.

There are many accounting packages that include invoicing tools, but most products are designed for accountants, so are too complex and unwieldy for a sole trader or small business. Fortunately, there is a simple, cloud-based solution for invoicing, designed specifically for small businesses: Clear Invoices.

The company is run by Peter Whent, a former army officer and computer industry veteran with many years’ expertise in electronic document distribution, starting with fax broadcasting. He was involved in several start-ups, acquisitions and management buy-outs, finally approaching private equity companies to find an opportunity of his own.

He eventually found a company that provided an end-to-end e-commerce platform which was trying to be all things to all people, with a CEO looking to make an exit. It is always difficult to find oneself parachuted into a hostile environment, but Whent’s army background had prepared him for the difficult task of getting people to do what is required for survival by persuasion rather than coercion.

Whent decided to focus on invoicing, which like all processes has a simple set of rules. He discovered that, contrary to most entrepreneurs’ assertions about intractable and unreasonable purchasing departments, most big companies would pay on time if their purchasing systems had all the information they need. He describes this as producing ‘process-friendly’ invoices.

Clear enables the user to generate professional-looking invoices and then automates the payment process. It provides automatic notification of outstanding invoices and even chases customers who do not pay on time. By invoicing in this way, Whent’s customers are typically paid fourteen days earlier than those who are using manual systems.

Clear is cloud-based, so everything is automatically backed-up and VAT inputs can be generated at the touch of a button. Best of all, it is completely free to small businesses. Clear make their money from the larger companies who also use it to streamline their own processes and save them money.

Not all the rules are designed to favour the larger companies. Whent explains that it is a little known and often-ignored fact that every company is entitled to charge interest of 8 per cent over base rate for overdue invoices.  All you need to do is invoice correctly as soon as the order is placed, and then to put in an automated system to chase your payments for you.

Clear Invoices can be found at

Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.

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Three start-up books you should read

August 17, 2011 by Matt Bird

Books written by other entrepreneurs about their own experiences are some of the many sources of advice and inspiration for people considering starting their own business. Go into most bookstores and the business section is enormous. So how do you pick out books that are worth looking at? 

Understandably, you’re attracted to familiar authors or company names, possibly those already operating in your sector. But that is a mistake. Better to look for books that will take you out of your workaday life – titles that will inspire you to achieve greater things.

I work for a printer ink online shop, so instinctively my preferred reading centres on the internet and customer service (there aren’t really that many books about printer ink!).  

My first couple of recommendations came from my boss and date back to 2002 when he started his business. That was just after the dot-com bubble burst and there was much moaning, groaning and blood on the carpet. 

Boo Hoo: A Dot Com Story by Ernst Malmsten, Erik Portanger and Charles Drazin. 

I cried as I read it: what I would have given to have had the opportunity to ‘cash burn’ and spend some $135m in less than a year. Why did sensible people rush to throw cash at them? Malmsten writes: “After the pampered luxury of a Lear jet 35, Concorde was a bit cramped.” Madness and this story, plus many others, screwed up the perception of the internet for those of us who followed them. 

The lesson I learned from this book was the importance of customer service and of having actual stock that I could deliver to my customers promptly.

2 Another book of about the same era was Amazon.Com: Get Big Fast - Inside the Revolutionary Business Model That Changed the World by Robert Spector.  

This was the first unofficial history of Amazon and is probably quite dated by now because of the massive growth of the business. But what I found fascinating was the core philosophy of Jeff Bezos and the team he created around him. At the time (2002-2003) Amazon had been trading for about five years and hadn’t made a profit. This wasn’t a path that my boss, John Sollars, wanted to go down, but Bezos was firmly committed to growth at all costs (and maybe the world domination he now enjoys). John was committed to making a profit month-on-month, even if it amounted to only a few pounds. He did not want to lose money because he had no external backing and the salutary lesson from was at the back of his mind – maybe Bezos got it right and John got it wrong.

The two previous books played a big part in formulating how was run and reinforced the underlying principle of giving immaculate customer service. The final choice is a more recent book, but still about customer satisfaction.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos).  

Zappos was the number one online shoe retailer in the USA. In fact, it was so good that Amazon bought the chain. Allegedly Jeff Bezos (of Amazon) told Tony Hsieh to carry on running the business as he always had done, because he was doing it just right. The company culture is all about customer satisfaction, and indeed part of that culture is to ensure that everyone in the company, from the boss down, spends time on the customer service desk every 18 months to keep them in touch with what their customers want. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every organisation in the UK had that attitude? Call our the Stinkyink helpline and our boss is as likely to pick the phone up as anyone else.

So that’s my essential reading list. What are your recommended business ‘must-reads’?

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

Why SMEs are key to the UK's economic recovery

August 12, 2011 by Jason Stockwood

Business insurance provider SimplyBusiness has created an infographic based on recently published Office for National Statistics data that shows just how important SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) are to the UK economy.

Some key facts include:

  • SMEs make up 99.9% of the total number of businesses in the UK.
  • SMEs provide 59.1% of all private sector jobs.
  • SMEs generate 48.7% of total public sector turnover in the UK.
  • London provides the most private sector jobs (15.8%) and makes the biggest contribution to turnover (30.5%).
  • The South East has the largest number of enterprises (16.3% as compared to London’s 15.8%).
  • Construction accounts for 20% of all UK enterprises, while the wholesale and retail trade sector employ the largest percentage of people (21%) and make the biggest contribution to turnover across all industries (37% - estimated at £1,186bn).

SimplyBusiness Infographic

(See it full size in a new window.)

Are you selling your customers something they want?

August 11, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

Some of you will find this an easy question to answer.

You’re on the front line, you know what needs your clients have, you gain instant feedback on new and not so new ideas. And you are able to innovate with your products and services. You’re able to be sure you’re always one step ahead of your competition.

Some of you will find it much harder to know whether you’re selling something your customers want.

Perhaps you’re one or two steps removed from the sales process and you don’t know what motivates people to buy what you sell. Or perhaps you’re so passionate about your stuff that you just don’t want to listen.

The fact is, you can’t sell people something they don’t want to buy.

They might need it, but if you can’t get them to want it, then you’re on a hiding to nothing.

So many businesses get themselves into hot water because they lose touch with what their customers want. They become so absorbed in making their widget better that they fail to notice no one is interested any more.

Ask yourself:

  • Are my customers still passionate about what I’m selling?
  • Does the market in general recognise that there is a need for what I’m doing or do I need to find new powers of persuasion?
  • Are we still getting good feedback about our product or service when we sell?
  • Do people want what we’re selling?
  • Why should they want it? Will that reasoning wash with your customers?

Let your mind wander back to these questions whenever you have a moment. I think on long walks, long car journeys or just for a snatched minute or two here and there throughout my week.

You may throw out more questions than you answer initially. That’s OK. Knowledge is power and just knowing what you don’t know is a big step forwards.

10 important lessons our Q&As can teach you

August 09, 2011 by Mark Williams

Buying a business

“Buying an existing business can be less risky than creating one from scratch. If the business has customers, it has income. Risk is also easier to assess because you can calculate costs, turnover and profit – and thereby predict cashflow”

Emilie Corbille of

2 Setting up a limited company

“If you want to form a new company, you must send Companies House your registration fee plus a memorandum of association, articles of association and a completed IN01 form, which details the company’s registered office and the names and addresses of its directors (and company secretary, if applicable)” 

Andrew Millet of Wisteria Formations

3 Tax for the self-employed

“By putting away some money from your earnings each month – say, 25 per cent of your gross earnings – you should have more than enough money in the bank to take care of your tax bills”

James R McBrearty of

4 Market research for start-ups

“Even if you believe you have an excellent idea for a business, you mustn’t allow yourself to get fooled into a false sense of optimism. Test it thoroughly by doing some basic market research. Only then can you move forward on any sound basis”

Start-up author Kevin Duncan

5 Calculating start-up costs

“You should minimise your start-up costs because then you’ll stand a better chance of surviving that crucial first year. Also, it’s a good discipline to get into from day one. In business, you must keep your costs as low as possible ­– and avoid buying things you don’t need”

Martin Dunne of Sayers Butterworth chartered accountants

6 Effective cashflow management

“The old saying ‘turnover is vanity, profit sanity and cash reality’ remains true. Businesses go bust in the long term through lack of profit, but in the short term, they fail because they don’t have enough cash to pay their bills on demand. Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business”

Chartered Accountant Howard S Hackney

7 Supplier contracts

“Having a written contract clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of both parties, which is helpful when it comes to monitoring the relationship’s success. It can also act as proof if a supplier’s performance falls short”

Marie Kell of Andrew Jackson solicitors

8 Complying with health and safety legislation

You are responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business - including employees, other people working in or visiting your premises, people affected outside your premises (for example, by emissions) and anyone affected by products or services which you design, produce or supply. You are also responsible for the welfare of your employees.

9 PR for start-ups

“Editorial is regarded as more believable than an advert. I’ve read that it’s 50 per cent easier to sell to someone who has read positive things about your business, products or services. And such publicity is usually no cost or low cost. Even if you have to pay someone to do your PR, gaining one piece of coverage per month can be much cheaper than advertising”

Jane Lee of IT PR specialist Dexterity

10 Setting up a home-based business

“It’s low cost and therefore less risky, because there aren’t any expensive premises overheads. You can also claim for a percentage of your domestic bills, for lighting, heating, telephone calls, etc. A home office means no commute, so you save money and time, too”

Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation

On the go

August 04, 2011 by Jason Sullock

During the last three decades the way we work and live has changed beyond recognition. Our grandfathers (and rather fewer of our grandmothers) worked in a job for life, climbed their way up through a company’s ranks and often kept regular 9-5.30 hours. By contrast, today’s workers are expected to negotiate changing circumstances and new challenges throughout their careers.

How we work reflects and informs how we live. Your employees’ work lives form just one part of their life experience. Childcare, the responsibility of elderly relatives, pregnancy, illness, leisure, education... all these factors and infinite others combine with employment to create an overall life experience, for better or worse.  And, of course, within the work environment itself things have also changed dramatically. The days of addressing your workmates as Mr. and Mrs. and wearing a tie to the office are all but gone. Longer hours and a less formal working culture have provided more opportunity for colleagues to socialise. Self-development in the form of training has increased as individuals are required to perform more multi-faceted roles. Diversity has become a valued asset... It’s a different world.

Changes like these are inevitable, constant and should be embraced. That’s why it’s always worth stepping back to consider how they may impact on your business and how you might manage them to your advantage. By taking a closer look at how to create a better working life for your people, you can improve their health, decrease stress levels, and provide your employees with a greater sense of being valued and of having their talent nurtured. It might be a relatively small project like a bike-to-work scheme, or a more committed move towards better pensions or more flexible hours: however you engage your people and improve the way work fits into their life experience can only benefit your business in the long-term.

Progressive employers have long recognised that the best, most productive members of staff aren’t necessarily tied to the office. By allowing individuals time to work remotely, to set up meetings in different cities, to take business to the clients, companies are energising the workforce. This new sense of freedom and personal responsibility has been made possible by technology. Over the last 20 years, the number of employees in the UK ‘telecommuting’ – using technology to work remotely – has doubled, according to Census figures.

The internet represents the single largest factor in changing how, and where, we work but other technologies have also had significant impact when it comes to getting us on the move. Tele-conferencing, video-conferencing, mobile phones, email and instant messaging all give us the freedom to take our work anywhere. It’s no longer necessary for us to be together to work together – a concept that has radically altered the notion of a set ‘place of work.’ Until recently, business software was one of the few areas of work life that was strictly office-based. There is a wide range of new and innovative ways for employees to work remotely, covering more than the obvious email, CRM and web access.  Sage, for example, has introduced a new app that enables access to Sage 50 Accounts 2012, wherever you are. Sage 50 Accounts Mobile harnesses the power of the web to enable you and your employees to view cash flow, customer and supplier details, reports and much more in real time. The app is simple to set up, free and whether you’re a financial director looking for quarterly figures or a manager generating a weekly sales report it’s invaluable when you’re on the go.

The benefits of mobile business

  • Staff retention – freedom and trust are attractive incentives
  • Increased productivity as employees work more dynamically
  • Reach new markets with face-to-face interaction
  • Decrease overheads on office space, heating and lighting
  • Lead the way – remote and mobile working are set to rise

Dynamic, forward-thinking businesses address cultural and technological progress as a matter of course. A business adaptable enough to work change to its advantage, harnessing new ideas to invest in happier, more productive employees, is a business primed for success.

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All you need to know about employers' liability insurance

August 04, 2011 by Nick Green

The opportunity to be your own boss and make a living out of something you love doing is a dream come true, right?

Well, yes, of course it is. But it also involves masses of hard work, absolute commitment and a fair bit of paperwork. Being organised enough to make sure you’ve covered everything is a full-time job in itself.

The answer may be to take on more staff, but that means a change in dynamic. You’re very suddenly the one in charge. The buck stops with you and you’re the one tasked with covering all the bases – and that takes some getting used to.

However, like any person charged with running a business, you take your responsibilities seriously. You want to make work fun (if you can) and you also want to make sure your staff are safe and well and don't become sick or get injured as a result of working for you.

Your duty of care as an employer means that – quite rightly – your employees’ welfare is down to you. You’re obliged to do everything necessary to ensure their working environment is safe and any equipment you’ve supplied them with is fit for purpose.

Despite your best efforts, however, things can sometimes go wrong. What happens if an employee is injured or becomes ill and blames you? And worse, then sues you for damages?

As always, there’s an insurance policy that covers it. It’s called employers’ liability insurance and it’s a legal requirement for most businesses in the UK.

Who needs employers’ liability insurance?

Any company with one or more employees. The only exemptions are:

  • Limited companies, where the owner is the sole employee.
  • Unincorporated family business, where all employees are closely related.

What does employers’ liability insurance pay for?

If a claim is made against you and you need to defend yourself (which you will), the insurer appoints and pays for legal expertise to fight your corner. The insurer also pays any compensation due to your employee as a result of a claim.

Who says I need employers’ liability insurance?

The Health and Safety Executive enforces the law on employers' liability. They could fine you up to £2,500 for any day you're without the necessary cover and £1,000 for not displaying the appropriate certificate.

How much cover do I need?

The minimum level of cover is £5m, but you’ll find most insurers only offer £10m. That sounds a lot, but it doesn’t mean it’s expensive. Annual premiums start from around £30-£40.

It’s usually quick and easy to sort out too, so don’t take any chances. I advise talking to a specialist broker to help point you in the right direction.

Nick Green, PolicyBee professional insurance brokers

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How cloud computing can help a start-up

August 02, 2011 by Matt Bird

This blog has been written in the Cloud, edited in the Cloud, shared in the Cloud and critiqued in the Cloud. Indeed, a huge amount of my and colleagues’ work is done online, and so I’d like to pass on some thoughts on how this new phenomenon can help your organisation.

So for starters what is it? Cloud computing is in essence the ability to run programs and view files that are installed on a remote machine. There have been cloud-style systems in place for a long time - take browser-based email like hotmail and gmail for instance. Nowadays more and more ambitious systems are being created and it seems like everyone is getting involved.

To my mind there are three main areas where cloud computing has significant advantages over more traditional desktop systems.



At the start, when revenue is low and your company is growing, minimising costs can give you an advantage.

Cloud computing is very, very cheap. A standard desktop licence of Microsoft Office is roughly £239.99. So ignoring upgrade fees and installation hassle, that’s £240 per user for basic work capabilities.

Now take that user and give them full access to Microsoft’s online offering (Microsoft 365). That’s £4 a month and Google Apps is even cheaper at £3.30!


Cloud systems are still in their infancy and constantly being added. Some functionality that you are accustomed to may not yet be available, so do your research on what you need.



You’ll undoubtedly be aware of the recent spate of large corporations being hacked (e.g. Sony, Fox News and Sega), often through simple flaws in their (expensive) IT networks. By passing the handling of data on to a third party you gain two key advantages:

Firstly, whoever stores your data has security at the forefront of their minds and (should be) constantly keeping up-to-date with the ever changing battleground of patches, hacks and updates. Your cloud supplier will have a budget for heavy duty protection that is simply out of reach for small businesses.

Secondly you also pass a degree of liability onto whoever holds your data. If they get hacked, they’ve failed to provide the service you’ve paid them for and you can claim.


You must be careful over who is holding your data. The EU has very strict rules about data protection and any company outside the EU must be listed on the “Safe Harbour” list to be allowed to hold onto information.



Any data or programs that are stored in the Cloud are available anywhere where there is an internet connection, which is very beneficial for people on the move.

Start-ups are often spread thin, with numerous responsibilities for any staff members, tight schedules and out-of-office engagements. The Cloud means that leaving files on the wrong machine before a key meeting is impossible, and any employees needing to work at home or make crucial changes to documents whilst on the go will have that ability.


As with any website, password safety is really important in the Cloud where your user name and password are the weakest link between a potential attacker and your data.

Ultimately, the Cloud offers some great opportunities for new businesses.

The low start-up costs of services and the limited hardware needed means it’s all very accessible. It’s easy to use, cheap to try, and is at least worth testing with a free trial.

Do you know of any Cloud success stories, or still have concerns for your company? I’m happy to share my experiences and ideas.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

Posted in Business IT | 2 comments

Are you attracting the wrong sort of attention? Getting your design right.

August 02, 2011 by Fiona Humberstone

It’s a long time since my mum ever uttered those time honoured words “You’re going to attract the wrong sort of attention in that“. Well times move on and it’s going to be less than a decade (much less than a decade, scarily) when I’ll be saying those things to my own daughter. But have you ever thought that you might well be attracting the wrong sort of attention for your business through your design?

Poor design won’t stop you getting enquiries to your advert or leaflet drop. It won’t even mean that your website fails. But it will mean that you miss opportunities. It will attract the wrong sorts of potential clients (you know, the ones who don’t value what you do and don’t want to spend what you want to charge) and unless your brand position is based around you being “the cheapest”, then you’re going to be selling yourself short.

When you’re shopping for a new website please, think carefully about the message you’re sending out. Sure, budget is important. But what really matters is the return you get on your investment. And the quality of design is essential in this. Creativity, attention to detail, vision – all these things take time and years of expertise, and that means that they won’t come cheap. But like everything in life, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

We’re currently working with a very talented, utterly lovely and very inspirational photographer on her website and marketing strategy. Her photographs are just beautiful, but her marketing literature is sending out mixed messages at best.

The challenge is that she has a well-designed website, but she’s mixing that with self-designed leaflets and advertising. And sadly the company that designed her initial branding didn’t give her any brand guidelines, which means that she’s now mixing Lucida Handwriting with Times New Roman for her advertising. Not a good look…

The advert will attract attention, but as my mum would say, it’s going to be the wrong sort of attention. It’s going to attract brides looking for a cheap wedding photographer, which means that my client will waste her time on a lot of enquiries that simply don’t have the budget for a high-end photographer. She’s making life very difficult for herself. Happily, we’re going to redesign the advert, and I promise I shall share the before and after story with you very soon on my blog (

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing

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