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Posts for April 2013

Are you a social media-savvy business?

April 29, 2013 by Lee Calver

Are you a social media-savvy business?/hand touching touch pad{{}}Twitter celebrated its seventh birthday on 21 March and, with an estimated 1.2 billion Twitter accounts now registered, 200 million active users and 400 million tweets sent each day, it is more important than ever that businesses have stringent social media policies in place.

With the majority of businesses using social media regularly as a tool for self-promotion, interaction with clients and even recruitment, it is easy to forget that potentially millions could read the message you are composing.

The law of defamation concerns the publishing of statements that harm the reputation or character of someone resulting from the false statements or actions of another, and it is crucial to remember that the law treats the online world much as it does the real world.

In other words, every tweet is potentially a fresh publication for defamation purposes, and anyone who tweets a defamatory statement could be held liable for damages. Businesses must be aware because every tweet sent from a work-linked account could attract vicarious liability.

Unfortunately, it does not stop there and even comments on personal accounts might bring a business into disrepute if they can be linked back, which also demonstrates how vital it is for employers to have clear policies and training in place to deal with social media activity.

The misuse of social media has also led to numerous publicised dismissals. A report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that 11 civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been sacked for misusing Facebook or Twitter since January 2009, while a further 105 employees have faced disciplinary action.

A social media policy should ideally include detailed information on what staff should and shouldn’t say and do on social media, privacy settings that need to be enacted, how to react to requests for references and what to do if an adverse comment is published.

Because of the nature of social media, it is very difficult to abolish the use of it altogether and this may well be counterproductive anyhow because it offers an abundance of benefits.

However, it has to be used correctly and appropriately if these benefits are to be seen. Therefore, when employees are encouraged to use social media as part of their job, employers are advised to have a ‘best practice’ guide available. Appointing a ‘social media’ officer or champion as a point of contact for those in doubt is also highly advised.

Crucially, once a social media policy is drawn up it is important that it is not simply locked away in the store cupboard and out of employees’ sight. It must be easily accessible and well publicised to ensure that all staff members are fully aware of their responsibilities when it comes to using social media.

Even if your resources are limited and social media isn’t a primary tool for your business, the costs of not being in control of it within your company are too big to be ignored.

By Lee Calver of employment law specialists Workplace Law

Learning the value of staying small

April 25, 2013 by Gavin Lapidus

Learning the value of staying small/island of paradise{{}}I’ve always been business-minded, looking for solutions to problems, finding ways to improve things and thinking of ways people could do things better.

I have several family members with their own businesses and that probably influenced me growing up, because I’ve always wanted to run my own business, too. Working for other companies and helping them grow made me realise that this was something I could do for myself, so I set about trying to make that happen.

I was introduced to Nadine, who had 15 years of experience in the travel industry, and we launched eShores in 2007. Nadine and I worked from her spare room for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Within four months we had built the business up enough to move into a small serviced office and take on two staff. That’s when we knew eShores had really begun!

We saw a gap in the market for a travel company that provided the ease of booking online with the level of service and support offered by high street agencies. We knew that if we were to go down the luxury route and provide high quality service throughout the whole holiday experience, we could create a business that was unique in the market at that time.

Once we’d seen considerable success with eShores we decided to try branching out by launching another website that offered cheap holidays that could be booked online. Quickly we found that marketing the second website was very expensive and difficult, because it didn’t offer anything different from other cheap holiday sites.

Trying to expand the business was a costly endeavour, but it made us realise that it’s not always best to branch out into a different area. If you have something that works, it’s better to focus all your time and effort in to making it the best it can be.

We don’t regret trying out the second business. It had an effect on eShores and took our focus away from the main core of our business, but this simply taught us a valuable lesson in keeping 100% focused on the main product, because this is what works best for us.

My advice to anyone starting out in business would be: choose the market that you want to aim towards and build it around that; and make sure you offer something different – you must stand out if you are to succeed.

Business partners Gavin Lapidus and Nadine Brown run eShores, which is now in its sixth year of trading.

How much work satisfaction do you get?

April 25, 2013 by Guest Blogger

How much work satisfaction do you get?/tired business man sleeping{{}}Research published recently suggests the average working adult in the UK is “59% happy in their current job role”. Researchers commissioned by Surbiton High School asked 2,000 employees to rate their level of contentment at work in 11 key areas, “from pay and company perks to relationships with colleagues and management”.

According to the study, workers are generally satisfied with their holiday allowance and relationship with colleagues, giving ratings of seven out of ten for both. Perks received four out of ten, the lowest score, with employees believing they should be entitled to mobile phones, laptops and even private health care.

Respondents were unhappy about their promotion prospects, which were rated just five out of 10. They gave a more encouraging six out of ten each for level of pay, relationship with the boss, work load, working hours, working environment, social life, size of team and hierarchy.

14% claimed they would be happier if they were allowed regular tea breaks, while 34% appreciated being able to manage their own workload. One in three said they liked the feeling of being able to make a difference, while 22% wanted to be able to talk to people every day. An easy commute was also important to 35% of people, while 18% said they would appreciate yearly bonuses.

When it comes to profession, teachers were happiest at work (presumably the poll took place before Education Secretary Michael Gove called for pupils to work longer days and have fewer holidays), with the “satisfaction they gained from working with children far outweighing the negatives”. Secretaries were second happiest group at work, followed in order by engineers, accountants, drivers, shop assistants, caterers, trades people, lawyers and those working in customer care.

Career dissatisfaction continues to be a key reason why people continue to give up their jobs to start their own business, with numbers continuing to rise. According to Enterprise Nation, there was a 10% increase in new businesses in 2012 (484,224) when compared to 2011 (440,600).

Posted in Set up a business | Tagged HR | 0 comments

Why it makes perfect business sense to be green

April 22, 2013 by John Barwise

Why it makes perfect business sense to be green/recycle sign and planet{{}}Rising energy prices, huge disposal costs and fuel taxes add to the cost of running a business – and the regulations controlling pollution and waste are getting tighter.

Saving energy, reducing waste and improving resource efficiency are the key drivers that will improve your business performance, reduce your overheads and increase profits.

Regulators, investors, insurers, customers and local communities all have a stake in what businesses do and how they operate.

Reasons for going green 

  • Savings from the efficient use of energy and raw materials — getting more from the same or less materials and energy consumption and from minimising waste, which reduces carriage and disposal costs.
  • Improved market share — a better environmental profile can generate an increased market share. The growth in green consumerism since the 1980s has meant that consumers are more likely to purchase products and services that are considered less harmful to the environment.
  • Enhanced investment opportunities — investment institutions take environmental considerations into account when deciding which companies to invest in. For example, the FTSE4Good Index now tracks companies with a proven ethical, social and environmental record, which further encourages ‘responsible investment’.
  • Reduced insurance premiums — insurance companies look at risks from potential pollution and set business premiums accordingly. They are more likely to look favourably on businesses that demonstrate effective environmental risk management. There are now specialist environmental insurance policies available to address environmental risk.
  • Environmental taxes — designed to encourage businesses to improve their environmental performance and resource management and minimise impacts. Examples include Landfill tax, aggregate tax, climate change levy, carbon reduction commitment and emissions trading schemes. In some schemes the money raised in taxes is paid back to businesses in the form of reduced employer’s insurance contributions.
  • Financial incentives – designed to encourage businesses to invest in low-energy technologies. Examples include Feed in Tariff, Renewable Heat Incentive, enhanced capital allowances, etc.
  • Environmental regulations – European and UK legislation and environmental regulations have increased substantially in recent years. The Environment Agency and other regulators consider environmental management systems (EMS) as a good indicator of an organisation’s responsible approach to their environmental liabilities and risks.

Green up your products and services and you will also increase your market share, reduce your overhead, minimise unit costs of production and improve your business reputation. 

John Barwise is a chartered environmentalist and registered environmental auditor, as well as chair of Cumbria Green Business Forum.

Posted in Business law | Tagged Environment | 0 comments

The importance of finance when starting up

April 18, 2013 by Guest Blogger

The importance of finance when starting up/one pound coins{{}}All businesses are different, whether it is size, sector, location, or speciality – there is always an element that sets one apart from the other. 

But there is one thing that is common to every business in every country and sector around the world – finance. It determines the income coming in and the expenditure going out, inputs and outputs, the size of an organisation, and more importantly if it will be financially successful and sustainable.

Before making the decision to branch out and step into the unknown, it’s important to understand the role the finance functions play in the world of business. It forms the basis of effective business management and will ultimately affect the bottom line.

Five Top Tips

1 Be realistic

Many businesses that succeed don’t make a profit for the first couple of years. If you are hoping to get rich quick, you may need to think again.

2 Expand your knowledge

Consider a short course on the fundamentals of finance. Training will be one of the best investments you’ll make and you’ll find yourself using your new skills and knowledge on a daily basis.

3 Be aware

Tax legislation changes at a never-ending pace and it’s important for new businesses to keep up. For example, the new reporting system for PAYE (RTI) introduced in April this year will affect the way employers submit tax information. These are the types of issues you’ll need to be aware of.

4 Have a plan

Implement an accounting system and make sure it works. The law requires all businesses to have proper accounting records. By doing this you’ll manage your business better and help stimulate business growth. Startups that don’t do this put themselves at a serious disadvantage.

5 Talk to an expert

Train up and read as much as you can but at the end of the day – don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional accountant.

Tom Kelman has been director of finance and corporate resources at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) since July 2005. He has worked in finance for more than 28 years, covering both accountancy practice and industry and commerce.

 

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged Finance | 0 comments

Ten things big businesses envy in smaller businesses

April 17, 2013 by Robert Craven

10 things big businesses envy in smaller businesses/large and small goldfish{{}}Big businesses often bemoan their own lack of essential vitality and wonder what they could take away from smaller, more entrepreneurial business and incorporate into their own culture.

At first thought, the shopping list is negligible. After all, who would want all the hassle and grief of being an inconsequential price-taker without all the trappings of the corporate world? However, on second thoughts, there are a number of attributes that the bigger business is positively jealous of. 

  1. Passion and belief in the product.
  2. Excitement.
  3. Flexibility and ability to change direction, at the drop of a hat!
  4. Responsiveness.
  5. Speed of decision-making.
  6. Communication, no silos; simple lines of accountability and control.
  7. Commitment.
  8. Closeness to customers and suppliers.
  9. A feeling of being able to make a difference; in control of your own destiny.
  10. Clear focus.

The reason that small businesses exist is to satisfy a dream or fill a gap or an opportunity that others cannot see.

Most of these attributes should also exist in the larger organisation. They just seem to get beaten out of people as control, stability, safety and security become more important in what can only be described as the corporate mindset.

Robert Craven runs The Directors’ Centre, which helps owners to grow their businesses. He is the author of business bestseller Kick-Start Your Business and his latest book is Grow Your Service Firm

Must-read PR advice for start-ups

April 15, 2013 by Lucas Coe

Must-read PR advice for start-ups/daily newspaper{{}}Here’s something to think about if you hire somebody to look after your start-up’s PR: is it just plain boring?

In many cases, PR agencies will write any old story to tick boxes for their clients and generate arbitrary press coverage. And while general publicity doesn’t do any harm, it often doesn’t have a measurable impact on a start-up’s business performance.

PR activity that’s exciting, opinionated and valuable to other people will always yield future success and new business leads.

PR start-ups should avoid

Before we discuss the type of PR activity start-ups should undertake, it’s worth going over a few classic PR activities start-ups should avoid:

  • Digital PR Asking for new followers and ‘likes’ on social media. It’s not a successful tactic to gain popularity on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, it’s often counter-intuitive and not very exciting to read on a news feed.  
  • Traditional PR Press releases about irrelevant events. Newly installed coffee machines and the hiring of a new part-time receptionist is not effective PR. These sorts of stories do nothing to encourage people to find out more about your business.   
  • Trade PR Paying for “colour separations”. Here’s a secret. Trade PR is dominated by something colour separations, which means that as long as the publication gets paid by the PR agency or client, they’ll publish any press release they’re given. This results in industry magazines full of promotional copy that nobody reads. Not very good value for money.

PR start-ups should embrace

Start-ups need their PR to have personality and value to put their name on the map and win new business. Here are three examples of PR activity that deliver fantastic results:

  • Digital PR Maintaining an exciting blog about your business. This is one of the most effective ways to increase website traffic and website conversions, but it does take a lot of work over a period of time. Quality copywriting, good sharing practices and persistence deliver the goods.    
  • Traditional PR Press releases about new business wins. Journalists love a good business success story. If your start-up has just landed its first major contract – shout about it. Stories like this provide genuine evidence that the business is doing well. Some good photography can really spice up a press cutting, too. Much better than an advertorial.   
  • Trade PR Holding trade press events. PR agencies really earn their fee when they build relationships with influential journalists. A great way of doing this is to host a product launch or industry lunch and invite some industry hacks along. It’s a fantastic way of getting to know the people who could do wonders for your start-up in the future.   

Lucas Coe is founder of PR99, a PR service for start-ups and small businesses.

Posted in Sales and marketing | Tagged PR | 1 comment

How to maximise your turnover

April 10, 2013 by Clive Kahn

How to maximise your turnover/50 pound note{{}}Most business people have one aim when they launch a company – generate enough turnover to produce a profitable business. No matter which path they choose to achieve this, they will need to grasp the basics of their business in order to maximise their sales effort.

If you are preparing to set up a business, first do the following:

Define your proposition

Before approaching anyone else with your business idea you need to fully understand your business proposition. This sounds obvious; it’s your idea, after all. However, if you can’t verbally and succinctly convey your offering (in what is often called the elevator pitch), how can you communicate it to potential customers? It happens again and again. Entrepreneurs have great ideas, but wordy websites and offerings that are overly complicated and difficult to understand turn potential customers off.

Recognise the value

You know what you’re selling - now you need to consider why you’re selling it. What value does your product or service add that no other business does? Start by listing your differentiators and then think about how you can best explain your “value-add” to your prospects.

Identify your market

Your business may be amazing to you, but you’re not the customers. You must identify your position in the market and consider the size of your prospective customer base. This will help you to assess the potential and viability of your offering. You need to be realistic. If your plan shows you signing up more than 10% of your target demographic in the first year, you are likely being overly optimistic. If your plan depends on this to be viable, it’s not too late for you to go back to defining the proposition and start again in order to identify your market.

Route to market

Now you have the basics in place, begin thinking about your route to market. How will you communicate the values of your offering to the prospective customers you have identified? You can do this in a number of ways, depending on the type of product or service you’re selling. If you’re retailing products, you can open a shop in a location with a good concentration of prospective customers passing your shop front. If you intend to sell products online, you will need to develop a marketing plan to drive prospects to your site. Whatever you decide, make sure to do your research before committing any money.

Make sales

It’s time to make some sales and build your turnover. None of this messaging and communication will be worth anything if it doesn’t lead to converted sales, so be determined in your pursuit of leads and execute your sales well.

A word of warning – maximising turnover is not always best for your business. You need to ensure that your sales are profitable and convert to cash quickly. However, if you get the above basics right, you will be in the best position to succeed.

Clive Kahn is CEO of CardSave, supplier of card payment services to small businesses in the UK.

How to set up a Limited Company

April 10, 2013 by Guest Blogger

A limited company is a business structure that offers its members, shareholders and directors several benefits. Compared to sole traders or partnerships, it’s more tax efficient, personal liability is limited for all members, and it portrays a professional image. There are many reasons to choose to set up a limited company, but it all depends on your particular circumstances. 1st Contact Accounting have provided this checklist for setting up a limited company.

Click on the infographic for an enlarged version.

How to set up a Limited Company{{}}

Would your business survive an external disaster? A guide to business continuity

April 10, 2013 by Jordan Jose

All businesses are vulnerable to external threats that can threaten their continuity - but how would your business survive should an outside force hit your business? This infographic will help to alert you to the potential threats to your business, while also helping you to build a contingency plan to mitigate the disruption to your business should disaster strike.

Click on the infographic to enlarge

Would your business survive?{{}}

Post provided by InTechnology

Ten biggest entrepreneurs under the age of 30

April 08, 2013 by Guest Blogger

They’re young, they’re good looking, they’re rich and they’re successful. So who are the world’s most successful entrepreneurs under the age of 30?

Click anywhere on the infographic below to enlarge.

10 Biggest Entrepreneurs Under the Age of 30{{}}

Start up business ideas

Small business confidence takes a knock

April 05, 2013 by Rachel Miller

Doom and gloom - Small business confidence takes a knock{{}}Business confidence is a funny thing. The news can be full of doom and gloom and yet many small business owners manage to remain resolutely positive. Certainly, when we polled small firms last Spring, there was a good deal of optimism, with 48% saying they expected 2012 to be better than 2011.

What a difference a year makes. Now, it seems, business owners are considerably gloomier. Our February 2013 small business survey, sponsored by Sage, found that just 34% of business people are optimistic about the year ahead.

And it seems this dramatic drop in confidence is having some knock-on effects. 6% of respondents say they plan to make redundancies — double the 3% who said the same in 2012.

In addition, 22% are unsure about the prospect of redundancies, significantly more than the 10% who said they were unsure about laying off staff this time last year.

The new normal

It looks as though many are putting growth plans on hold as they adjust to what some are calling “the new normal” — economic stagnation. For instance, just 32% told us they planned to spend more on marketing — a big drop from the 51% that were planning to invest more in marketing in 2012.

Most small firms say that Government support is not sufficient — a total of 72% of respondents told us that the Government will either not do enough or not do anything to support businesses in 2013. Mind you, last year that figure was 73%, so there’s little change there.

What has clearly changed is business optimism.

SME owners are the backbone of the British economy, making up 99.9% of all UK private sector businesses and contributing 48.8% of private sector turnover (according to the FSB).

Small business owners have done everything within their power to ride out this storm — from painful belt-tightening to finding new gaps in their markets and opportunities to grow. But it has been a long haul and there’s a sense that they are growing weary.

It’s important not to give up now. We recently published James Hay’s blog, Keep swimming, on Marketing Donut, extolling the business benefits of simply keeping going. It clearly struck a chord.

The relentless bad news can be hard to ignore but small firms need to stay positive if they are to survive and thrive. Let’s hope that in confidence terms — as well as economically — we have already hit bottom.

Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.

You can download the press release on the survey from the BHP website 


And the winner is…

Those who completed the survey were automatically entered into a draw, with a spanking new iPad mini available as a prize. The winner was Jackie Beard, owner of Gloucestershire-based florist and flower arranging business Jessabel Flowers. Many thanks to sponsors Sage, as well as Jackie and everyone else who took the time to complete the survey.

 

Three types of digital media that can benefit your start up

April 05, 2013 by Guest Blogger

Three types of digital media that can benefit your start up/screen with LIKE and hand{{}}If you've been looking for ways to take your daily website traffic levels to the next level, consider utilising the following three types of digital media:

1 Video production and distribution

Video marketing is a strategy that is often overlooked by small-business owners, probably because they feel it is beyond their budget. However, having a video advertisement produced that contains all of the key selling points of your business can be a very cost-effective way to promote your business. Once you've paid for the production/distribution, it could remain usable for many years, bringing ongoing benefits that far outweigh initial investment.

2 Social media and networking

Social networking is a great way to share any type of content, whether it be a video advertisement or an informative article. With the assistance of specialists who use powerful software and expertise to promote web pages and advertising materials on social networks you'll be able to attract massive traffic levels before you've even begun ranking highly in the search engines. In fact, generating a viral effect through social networks is perhaps the best way to generate a significant traffic spike with minimal effort.

3 Press releases and link building

Having a professional press release developed and distributed can be a great way to improve your SEO (search engine optimisation) and attract more website visitors. A link to your website can be added and if it is posted on a news media site with a high PR, that link should have a positive effect on your website's SEO standings. A well-written press release can be syndicated by other journalists, spreading around the web on other online PR sites.

Provided by digital media agency Custard Media

Is your business prepared for auto-enrolment?

April 02, 2013 by Matthew Selby

Is your business prepared for auto-enrolment?/pension{{}}Auto-enrolment is coming – and you’d better be ready. The first wave is already underway, with the nation’s largest employers now legally required to enrol all eligible employees into a workplace pension scheme, but pretty soon it’s going to be the turn of small businesses. By 2017, all UK employers – from families with nannies to the largest corporations – will be required to operate an occupational pension scheme.

Many smaller employers have never had to think about pension provision before, and the legislation can be complex and confusing if the right financial and legal advice is not sought. It is estimated that about 75% of small employers have no workplace pension scheme at present, and they will have the biggest hurdles in front of them.

The amount of preparatory work for auto-enrolment has been severely underestimated by a number of employers already, so it is best to start planning well in advance. To find out when you will be required to implement auto-enrolment (your ‘staging date’), it’s best to check the Pension Regulator’s website and begin finding out about the changes your business will need to instigate to be prepared for auto-enrolment.

In taking key decisions away from employees regarding their pension savings, there is an increased administrative burden on employers. Payroll systems must be capable of identifying eligible employees and deducting contributions from their salary as required. Employees’ circumstances (and therefore their eligibility) can change frequently and administrative systems must keep up to date to achieve full compliance with legislation.

Not only that, but employers will need to begin budgeting for the extra costs to their business. At your staging date you will only be required to pay 1% of your employees’ salaries into a pension pot, but by October 2018, this will rise to a 3% statutory contribution.

However, it is possible to see this pension expenditure as an investment in recruitment and a driver of organisational performance. Selecting a suitable pension scheme is a crucial decision, especially if you are unable to adapt an existing arrangement. Engaging with employees and aligning pension arrangements with business aims, culture and branding can attract new talent to your business and encourage greater performance from existing employees.

Although many employers do not agree with auto-enrolment legislation, wilful failure to comply is a criminal offence, and may attract fines, imprisonment or both. So, is your business prepared for auto-enrolment?

By Matthew Selby, who writes about pensions and employee benefits for Now Pensions and others.

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