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Posts for December 2013

Deborah Meaden on how to fund a new business

December 19, 2013 by Guest contributor

What advice would I give to someone starting out in business who may be worried about funding? Today, I think people in need of funding and hoping to start a new business tend to approach the banks automatically, by default. Then, if they’re declined, the big question is – ‘What next?’

To those people, I would say that I think it’s never been a better, more exciting time to explore different avenues.

The difficulty with the banks and getting loans through conventional methods has meant other opportunities have had to appear through necessity. There are plenty of different models and lots of people actually looking to invest in new businesses – look at crowd funding, for example.

It can be worth considering friends and family, too, and approach them for investment, although you’ve got be careful that you’re very clear on the terms early on.

Which investment am I most proud of? I find it really difficult to pick a favourite investment. When I’m visiting a business or I have to be especially focused on one in particular it has 100% of my attention. It becomes all that I can think of, all that I can see and it becomes the one that I love the most. But when I walk out the door or shift my focus to another investment, that becomes the one I absolutely want to do.

I’ve got a portfolio of 19 businesses that I’m currently invested in. It’s been known to flux up to a maximum of 30 and down to ten.

There is one that I’m very pleased I got involved in and it was a cloth mill called Fox Brothers, which started in 1772. It was the last cloth mill left in the South West and it was dead – absolutely on its knees. I didn’t know that when I invested.

I’m pleased to say that now it’s doing well and I’m really proud to have been involved. I like to think that if I hadn’t found it, and it hadn’t found me, it would have died and a part of our heritage would’ve been lost.

This exclusive insight was taken from an interview conducted by when Deborah recently participated in the city index celebrity trader challenge. Find out more about Deborah and her views by visiting her website.

Further reading

Rewarding and recognising staff when money is tight

December 19, 2013 by Guest contributor

Rewarding and recognising staff when money is tight/thank you{{}}It is often said that employees are the lifeblood of a business and it is certainly true that they are an important factor in its success.  For this reason ensuring employees feel valued is vital in order that they remain motivated, loyal and productive. 

Research conducted by Modern Survey suggests that 85% of employees who feel meaningfully recognised will go above their formal responsibilities to get a job done. However, as economic conditions continue to be tough, allocating a significant budget to an all-singing, all-dancing staff reward and recognition scheme is often simply not an option. Business owners and managers should therefore be looking at low-cost, high-impact alternatives.

Praise and recognition are essential and everyone likes a ‘pat on the back’ to make them feel good. Often the only reward for hard work is the satisfaction of the individual responsible in seeing a job well done, but it is important that time is taken to shine a spotlight on them.

Recognising an individual, or a team or department, has a huge knock-on effect throughout a business with word spreading both through the grapevine and via more formal communication channels. This mustn’t just apply to those team members whose contributions are obvious, such as those in sales. Equal pride must be taken in those whose skill and dedication is an integral part of your business success. 

Can this be achieved on a budget? Yes, because a crucial element in any employee recognition programme is presentation and, for this reason, the reward itself does not need to be high-value. In most cases, acknowledgement in front of peers is known to mean more to the recipient than the reward itself and so the reward can be relatively low-cost, or in some cases no-cost. Rewards that cost little but have a big impact include an extra day’s holiday, employee of the month parking space or a free car clean during working hours. Thanking employees with an early finish on a Friday afternoon, a late start on a Monday morning or an extended lunch break are also popular as are experience days, giftcards and vouchers.

The key is to dedicate some time to present the reward in public and say a personal thank you, because it enhances the overall sentiment of the gift and makes it even more memorable. Overall, if employers recognise publicly, often, and associate the reward with desired behaviours, better results will be achieved than if the budget was blown on a fancy reward.

Length of service awards are another effective way to recognise employee contribution without incurring significant cost. They may seem like a thing from the past, but switched-on businesses are maximising their effectiveness by rewarding frequently to deliver recognition to the employee that will inspire a fresh burst of productivity and re-engage them in the business. 

Today, the gold watch for 25 years of service is no longer relevant and so businesses have significantly shortened the length of time before awards are given with awards after five, 10 and 15 years. In some high employee turnover industries, such as call centres, rewards are given after six months or a year. While the physical award can be low-cost, such as a meal out, it is important to make the process of rewarding a really big deal by ensuring the presentation is attended by peers and by shouting about it via the appropriate communication channels.

Another low-cost step that employers can take to boost employee morale, engagement and loyalty is recognising and celebrating a range of occasions with them, including birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, baby showers, length of service awards, Christmas and special anniversaries. Arranging for a card containing a small gift to be delivered to an employee’s desk, home or email inbox is a personal and special way to recognise employees who creates a feel-good factor in the workplace with minimal financial outlay and effort for the person tasked with organising it.

Businesses that take small steps such as these to recognise and reward employees and make them feel valued will reap the rewards.

Blog supplied by Kuljit Kaur of The Voucher Shop.

Posted in Employees | Tagged people management | 0 comments

Key lessons I learned about starting a business

December 18, 2013 by Guest contributor

Key lessons I learned about starting a business – Andrew Slack of MoreNiche/Business with Start Up word{{}}Starting a business involves making an often tough, but amazing journey. I was fortunate enough to have started ‘tinkering with the internet’ right when affiliate marketing was just starting to evolve. At that time eBay, for example, would pay for every website visitor they received, even if they clicked straight back off. I could see the enormous opportunities and decided to pursue them.

I completed a degree in computer science before going into business with my best friend, using the money I made designing and selling my first website. I developed a very basic affiliate programme and learned all the basics to being a single Internet marketer, website management, design html and online marketing. I did not know it at the time but this would eventually become MoreNiche, the affiliate marketing company of which I am managing director. We decided to specialize in the growing health and beauty industry.

The business really started to take off and in 2007-2008 we grew sales to such an extent that we broke the £5m per year turnover mark. All our growth came organically from our own affiliate work, but later from partnerships. 

Face problems head on. There is always a solution

We’ve certainly learned lots of lessons getting where we are today. Every business has its challenges. One time I had to work solidly for 36 hours because someone had managed to paralyse our systems, which meant that none of our websites were working. After much soul searching and a severe lack of sleep, I eventually managed to get us up and running again. 

We’ve had numerous other bad experiences, including a credit card processor going bankrupt, which severely dented our profits, as well as a supplier selling us tens of thousands of units of product that simply were not as described. The important thing is that you learn from such things, deal with them and make sure they don’t happen again. 

Success is a team effort

One of the most important lessons I have learned since starting MoreNiche is that success cannot be achieved alone. A business, no matter how big or small, is really just a collection of people working towards a common goal. It’s these people that will either make you a success or not. I have some superstars who have worked with me for many years and I would not be here without them. Rewarding key staff for their dedication is critical.

Never take your foot off the gas

Having the creative freedom and the technical foundation to try ideas out has allowed me to enjoy business and continue to thrive on tomorrow’s challenges. It would be very easy to take the foot off the gas and relax a little, but that’s just not in my DNA.  For whatever reason, I just want to go further.

Blog supplied by Andrew Slack, managing director of affiliate marketing business MoreNiche, which specialises in the health and beauty industry.

Further reading

The worrying consequences of spiralling business costs

December 17, 2013 by Guest contributor

The worrying consequences of spiralling business costs/man showing empty pockets{{}}According to research published recently by membership organisation the Forum of Private Business (FPB), business costs in 2013 in the UK have increased at a rate of “3.5% ahead of inflation”.

The FPB’s latest Cost of Doing Business survey, based on responses from its members, concluded that “firms are still facing an uphill battle to make ends meet, despite positive signs of an economic recovery,” says the organisation.

The FPB reckons 94% of businesses have seen an overall increase in their business costs in 2013, with 87% having to cope with an increase in energy costs, 83% with higher transport costs, 78% with a rise in marketing costs and 69% with higher raw materials/stock costs.

Margins continue to be squeezed, with two-fifths (41%) of respondents unable to “pass any rising costs onto customers, forcing them to cut their own costs to keep prices static” (just 2% were able to pass on costs in full, says the FPB).

"The major reasons for increases in prices are predominantly down to transport and energy prices rising, coupled with the continued weakness of sterling for importers,” explains Alexander Jackman, FPB head of policy. “The economic outlook may be better, but costs still remain an issue for our members and a key focus of our lobbying and support services.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't look as if there is going to be any respite from energy hikes any time soon, despite the ongoing political pressure to introduce more competition in the market, with many of the major players recently announcing significant increases and others expected to follow suit."

Although annual inflation has fallen from 3% to 2.7%, prices have continued to rise faster for businesses (6%), although, says the FPB, this is less than the 6.7% it reported last year.

Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents have experienced cashflow issues as a result of rising business costs, which has had a “detrimental effect on 51% of firms when looking to invest”, while “51% also reported that it has been detrimental to employment levels” and “63% feel that it has inhibited their plans for growth”.

Despite the recent good news on the UK economy, increasing business costs could hamper many business’s ability to take advantage of recovery, with 83% of respondents expecting prices to continue to increase and 16% expecting a “significant increase”, says the FPB.

"Businesses, like consumers, are facing a lot of upward cost pressures at the moment,” notes Phil Orford, FPB CEO. “When looking at how to dampen energy price rises and other cost pressures for households, the government shouldn't ignore the fact that businesses are facing similar challenges. Political efforts to positively impact on the cost of living should not be funded through increasing the costs of doing business."

Sites such as uSwitch, UKPower and enable businesses and individuals to compare energy prices and try to find a better deal.

Further reading

13 things you could have learned from our blog in 2013

December 12, 2013 by Mark Williams

13 things you could have learned from our blog in 2013{{}}1 “Ensuring that your target market can find your website is essential to making your new business work and SEO [search engine optimization] is core to that”

From 10 tips for starting an online business

2 “Part of the job of running your own business is figuring out how you can get ahead of the game. You need to have processes or systems that can focus on you finding cuter/smarter/cleverer ways of doing things”

From The business benefits of a weekly sort-out

3 “From the moment you meet your potential customer think about how you are going to close the deal. Always greet them with a smile and form a relationship. People will rarely sign a deal with someone they don't like or respect”

From 3 essential tips on how to close a deal

4 “The lack of a simple ‘thank-you’ means six-in-ten employees do not feel they are appreciated by their boss, with a third having stopped expecting any form of appreciation”

From When was the last time you thanked your employees?

5 “One way of thinking differently is to question the limiting beliefs you have about what is and isn’t possible. Change your thinking, question your beliefs and you are on the way to truly creating change”

From Getting the 'right T-shirt' in 2013

6 “Facebook and Twitter are ideal places to advertise jobs. If a vacancy becomes available, post it on Facebook with a link to how applicants can apply. Also Tweet about it and encourage staff to Retweet it on Twitter”

From How social media can help you recruit top quality employees

7 “Youth unemployment in the UK among 15 to 24 year olds increased by a staggering 35% between 2008 and 2011, compared to an average of 15 per cent in the G8 countries”

From Join the fight against youth unemployment

8 “You just need to speak to everyone, because you never know who you are talking to and you really need to shout about your business. You have to believe in yourself, your business and its products”

From How to set up a successful sideline business

9 “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? Wordy websites and offerings that are difficult to understand turn potential customers off”

From How to maximise your turnover

10 “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”

From Learning the value of staying small

11 “With a strong idea, bags of determination and ability, the right people to support you and some guts, you’ll do well. Just accept that there will be highs and lows – be ready for both”

From So you want to set up a business?

12 “Bad decisions cost the typical small business £2,340 a year”

From Revealed: SMEs' biggest mistakes

13 “If you do something you love, you’re more likely to be successful. It will be fun rather than just work and your natural passion and enthusiasm will rub off on others”

From Tristram Mayhew of Go Ape's eight top tips for business success

Thank you to our sponsors for their support this year. Many thanks also to the experts who shared their knowledge and provided content that ensures this blog remains a popular source of information, advice and inspiration. A big ‘Thank You’ also to our ever-growing list of partners – we look forward to working with you next year and beyond.

Finally, a massive ‘Thank You’ to all our readers in 2013. Whether you were thinking of starting your own business and were looking for inspiration or were starting your own business and needed advice, we hope you found what you were looking for.

Happy Christmas and here’s to a wonderful 2014…

Four cashflow tips for seasonal businesses

December 12, 2013 by Guest contributor

Four cashflow tips for seasonal businesses{{}}As the high streets prepare for a shopper-invasion and the countdown to festivities begins, businesses that traditionally feel the financial impact of the peaks and troughs of seasonal trading are once again preparing their strategies to manage cashflow.

Research published earlier this year by Santander Corporate & Commercial suggests that 61% of UK small and medium-sized businesses are impacted by seasonality – with 37% suffering as a result.

But the truth of seasonality is that it doesn’t always fall at Christmas, nor is it industry specific. For businesses across the country, delayed receipt of revenue and seasonal fluctuations in demand can lead to serious cashflow problems that existing finance arrangements cannot accommodate. Even for the most hardy business management team, a significant slowdown in business or revenue can make for a tough time.

Management strategies that have been agreed in advance can help to soften the blow when a seasonal dip is on the horizon. Here are four ways to stay on top of cashflow when things get tight:

1 Invoice smarter

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today is that of late payment. According to the Forum of Private Business, more than one million UK SMEs currently face difficulties with late payment – about 20% of the UK’s business population. The total amount of late payments across the UK now stands at just below £37bn.

Of course, you want to keep the customer on side and encourage future business, so a slick invoicing and payment processing operation can keep relationships harmonious and reduce the chances of late payment. Make sure invoices are sent out promptly, chase due and overdue payments regularly. Consider introducing an incentive scheme where discounts are given for early payment. Interest charges and financial penalties can be applied for late payments.

2 Project and plan

Cashflow forecasting, as part of the wider financial planning process, is essential for all businesses – not least seasonal ones. Healthy and detailed insight into anticipated fixed and variable business costs, set against data gleaned from your sales forecast, can help predict the future cash needs of your business and allow you to put financial back-up plans in place.

Not only will this process keep you aware of your business’s cash position at all times, it will allow you to creatively map and move around payments and budget allocation during leaner months.

3 Make your suppliers work harder

While you need to manage and improve cash inflow, there are creative ways of managing cash outflow, too.  

When entering into a new supplier agreement or looking back on existing ones that can be improved, make your suppliers go the extra mile. Negotiate favourable payment terms, work to drive down the price, arrange purchases on a sale or return basis, or settle on a bulk discount agreement. If you can, work to spread out recurring expense payments throughout the year so that they fall outside of your slowdown period.

Many vendors and suppliers are flexible, since it is in their interests to retain your business and put an affordable and sustainable agreement in place that will also prevent them receiving late payment from you.

4 Short-term finance for long-term effect

Seasonal trends are beyond our control. One-in-20 UK businesses closes their business during seasonal periods to reduce costs; 6% of UK businesses admit to relying on credit cards to manage seasonal fluctuations in supply and demand; 4% use business loans; while 17% either increase or decrease staff numbers.

For stability during seasonal slowdowns or growth management during speed-ups, short-term cashflow facilities can be an invaluable lifeline. These funds offer a precious injection to pay off creditors, pay staff and maintain an overall healthy operation.

In the £250-500k annual revenue category of businesses surveyed by Santander Corporate & Commercial earlier this year, 30% of those that suffered from seasonal fluctuation said invoice or supply chain finance was used to ride out seasonal downtime.

Invoice finance has now evolved through crowd-funding into invoice trading, a facility that creates a market between businesses and investors to give flexibility to businesses in need of short-term working capital finance, without the need for long-term contracts or a whole of ledger commitment.

Blog supplied by Beth Nicholas, writing on behalf of Platform Black, provider of complementary and alternative finance solutions.

Further reading

Cashflow management

The golden rules of starting and running a seasonal business

How I run my seasonal business



Why the best time to start a business is now

December 11, 2013 by Guest contributor

Why the best time to start a business is now{{}}The thought of starting a business now might seem to many a bad idea. These are the days of austerity, surely we need to keep our heads down, take stock of what we have and bide our time until this is over.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The best time to start a business is during a downturn. In other words, if you’re thinking of starting a business, there couldn’t be a better time than now. So, let me explain...

Technology makes it easy

Years ago starting a business was a more difficult process, because you often needed to take significant risks to get started. Nowadays it’s much easier and more and more people are starting their business from home with little or no financial risk. The internet has been a key driver in this, because there are so many opportunities online. Technology has also made it much easier to research ideas for businesses and what’s involved in running a business, so knowledge has improved and most people feel much more confident about taking those first steps.

People are looking for a good deal

A startup has very few expenses and overheads, so if you check out your competition, the chances are that you can undercut them. Their clients or customers will be looking for deals and cheaper alternatives that are just as good. So, it’s the perfect time to win them over. If you do a good job, as promised, there’s no doubt that you’ll retain those clients when the economy recovers.

Now is the time to negotiate

If your startup depends on products from suppliers, this is the best time to negotiate a really good deal, because vendors struggle to sell products. When the economy is strong, vendors in the main set the rules for their price model and it’s very hard to broker a deal.

Competitors are vulnerable

Whether they’re large corporates looking to scale back throughout the downturn or smaller companies that perhaps aren’t resilient enough to see it through, your competitors are in a vulnerable state. Startups are nimble, agile and flexible, and when you spot an opportunity you can pounce on it.

Access to finance

Previously, to get started in a business you either needed to self-fund or go to a bank for a traditional business loan. However, there are now so many different schemes and incentives, as well as crowdsourcing and independent investors that if you have a great idea – its possible to get funding quite easily and on reasonable terms. When the economy falters, angel investors in particular, look to move their money out of the stock market and may be willing to fund you if your prospects are promising.

Good people are looking for jobs

If you’re able to secure funding and looking to grow your business quickly, you’ll probably be looking to increase your staff. In a downturn, when redundancies are rife, highly qualified, talented and effective people are much easier to come by.

You’ll create a good startup in tough times

A startup created during tough times is designed to be lean and ultra efficient. You’ll develop business habits that will help you get ahead of the game when the market recovers, with the scope to increase profit margins once consumers and clients are spending at full throttle again. If you can make it work in the bad times, it should fly once the economic good times return. Also for many people whose job is perhaps uncertain or if they have been made redundant, it becomes a chance to put control in to their own hands.

We have definitely seen a rise in the number of people starting up businesses from home, and although we still get people of all ages there seems to be a growing number of young people (18-25) starting up a company alone.  So, if you’ve been considering starting your own business, this is the time to take the plunge.

Blog by Paul Bryant of Setup A Company

Further reading

How your business can avoid Christmas party pitfalls

December 11, 2013 by Guest contributor

How your business can avoid Christmas party pitfalls /drunk elegant santa claus{{}}The Forum of Private Business (FPB) is warning business owners to be aware of seasonal dangers that could potentially leave them with “a nasty financial hangover long after the decorations have been taken down”.

“With their mix of drink, high spirits and merriment, Christmas parties are still the number one source of potential problems,” argues FPB business adviser, Joanne Eccles.

To make sure you and your staff remember Christmas 2013 for all the right reasons, the FPB advises business owners to:

  1.  “Avoid pressurising staff to attend Christmas parties. Some staff may not want to attend due to factors such as faith or abstinence from drink.”
  2.  “Let staff attending parties know in advance what acceptable standards of behaviour are expected of them. Make it clear that your usual disciplinary policies apply, even if the party is being held away from the workplace.”
  3.  “Watch out for drug use! Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, it is an offence for an employer to permit or even ignore drug use on their premises. Drug use in the workplace may also constitute a breach of health and safety regulations.”
  4.  “Make it clear to staff if they are expected to turn up for work as normal the following day, hangover or not. Also don't forget to by example – research suggests that senior managers are more likely to call in sick the day after a Christmas party.”
  5.  “Keep it clean and don't let the tipple flow too freely. Saucy gifts and games could easily lead down the dangerous path to a tribunal, while too much alcohol could spark arguments and fights, leaving employers dealing with tricky disciplinary issues.”
  6.  “Business owners should also remember to act professionally when socialising with staff and not let anything slip which they wouldn’t do in the office, such as personal opinions of other employees.”

However, putting on a Christmas party does have “an upside for employers”, notes the FPB. It says up to £150 per head of the cost of holding the party is an allowable tax deduction and VAT can also be recovered on staff entertaining expenditure.

“No-one wants to put a dampener on the festive spirit and Christmas parties are great for boosting workplace morale and allowing staff to let their hair down,” adds Eccles. “But business owners need to take some important precautions if they want to guard against potential litigation.

"Most of the regulations which govern the normal working day also extend to the Christmas party, wherever it might be held, so employers need to ensure they're not leaving themselves open to claims, complaints and time-consuming employee disputes.”

Further reading

Posted in Employees | Tagged employees, Christmas | 0 comments

How does the 2013 Autumn Statement affect small business owners?

December 10, 2013 by Guest contributor

How does the 2013 Autumn Statement affect small business owners?/accounting{{}}It’s not the CEOs of massive companies that are struggling, but the owners of the millions of small businesses and shops across the country. In his recent Autumn Statement, George Osborne acknowledged some of the issues that affect these small businesses, and laid down ways in which he hopes to help them.

George Osborne said in last week’s Autumn Statement, “There is one group of businesses that have found the recession especially hard – as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers – the shops, the pubs and the cafes that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the Government to do all it can to help them. We’re already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants.”

His words are reassuring for many small business owners, but the question that may still be lingering in their minds is, “How does this all affect me?”

Here’s what you can expect as a small business owner following the Autumn Statement:

  • Future increases in business rates will be capped at 2% - Instead of the business rates being linked to inflation (which is a higher percentage), the Chancellor is going to cap business rates at 2%. Businesses will also be allowed to pay their rates in monthly instalments; this 2% cap could save businesses up to £3,375.
  • Small Business rate relief has been extended for a further year - The current extension was due to end on 31st March 2014, but it has been extended for a further year from 1 April 2014. You’ll get 100% relief if your property has a rateable value of £6,000 or less. If this is the case, it means you won’t pay business rates on your property.
  • There’s been no increase or decrease in the Corporation Tax rate and the Small Company Tax rate
  • The Start Up Loans scheme has been expanded, and 50,000 start-up loans will be given to a new generation of start-ups - Start Up Loans have lent £50 million to entrepreneurs looking for support in starting up a business. The scheme is well on its way to meeting the target of supporting 30,000 new businesses with £151 million by 2015.
  • Employers’ National Insurance Contributions (NIC) will be removed, from April 2015, in instances where employees are under the age of 21 - Employing staff under the age of 21 years of age will become cheaper in an effort to tackle youth unemployment.
  • The rise in fuel duty has been cancelled (the Autumn Statement has capped fuel duty and rail fares) -  by cancelling the rise in fuel duty, you will save money each time you fill up.

It’s clear that small businesses play a big role in the economy, and if the Autumn Statement is anything to go by, the future looks bright for SMEs. Time will tell whether the Chancellor’s promises come true, but for now, small business owners can rest assured that relief will be more available than ever. In the words of Osborne himself, “Britain’s moving; let’s keep going.”

This article was provided by 1st Contact Accounting, which gives forward-thinking individuals the tools to steer their financial affairs forward.

Five reasons you need to outsource

December 10, 2013 by Guest contributor

Five reasons you need to outsource /outsource{{}}For many reasons small and large businesses choose to outsource particular tasks or services to third parties and agencies. As outsourcing continues to evolve, so do the reasons for SMEs and bigger organisations to consider adopting those methods for the good of their business.

The primary reason for outsourcing and outsourcing immediately is to cut costs, because this is the main driver for many businesses that choose to outsource work. But let’s look beyond the pound signs and see some of the other popular reasons for outsourcing services in 2012 and beyond.

1 Saving internal resource

In demanding industries there are many instances where highly pressurised employees simply don’t have enough time to focus on core business functions that can drive long term growth.

Businesses need as many people as possible to be able to focus on the profit-driving areas of their organisation. By outsourcing certain tasks or services to third parties, companies can save valuable internal resource to devote towards moving the business forward.

2 Corporate tax rates

Some businesses choose to outsource particular services or divisions of their business overseas to take advantage of greatly reduced corporate tax rates. Countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and closer to home, Ireland, all boast very low corporate tax fees that can significantly improve a company’s bottom line.

3 Enhanced service

There may be an area of your business that would require significant in-house and external training to get employees up to speed. Subsequently, it may be more cost-efficient to simply outsource the entire service to a third party or agency. It is quite possible they will add greater value than you even anticipate due to the skills and expertise they possess. Why spend time and money learning new services and skills if you can employ a professional to do it for half the cost?

4 Always available, always accessible

In some cases, businesses choose to outsource services or divisions of their organisation to make sure they appear constantly accessible and available. To create the impression of operating 24-hours without closing down it is possible to outsource to an overseas partner that can do important work overnight, while catching up on much-needed sleep!

5 Less contractual risk than employing full-time staff

Although reaching agreement with outsourcing contractors can be unsettling and protracted, outsourcing work carries significantly less contractual risk than employing a full-time member of staff. Contractual agreements can be created to offer protection for both parties, while removing any difficult human interaction that can occur when in-house employees are dismissed. Outsourcing firms can be held just as accountable for poor performance and poor quality of work as a full-time employee.

While outsourcing requirements will naturally differ from business to business, there is no getting away from the fact that outsourcing is becoming a key component to the day-to-day strategies of successful businesses.

Blog written by David Campbell of Pall Mall Estates, “one of the UK’s leading providers of affordable commercial space to rent”.

How to live longer, be happier and more successful…

December 09, 2013 by Ron Immink

How to live longer, be happier and more successful… /fresh brocoli{{}}I’ve always believed that a healthy mind is a key success factor in running and growing a business and that there is huge overlap between sports and business. Entrepreneurs are the top athletes of the business world. With the same passion, the same ability to postpone gratification, with the same ability to focus and suffer when needed.

When you listen to sports coaches, they talk exactly the same language as managers, but in a different context and with more focus on results and more of the fluff removed in sports. I once heard Ray Colgan of Ulster Bank speak about the Dublin Gaelic football team. Key metrics? Tackle count and training hours. Simple as that.

Recently I was at an event where sports initiatives and concept were pitching. Two companies talked about measurement of sleeping patterns, food intake and training effort for athletes. Imagine doing the same for entrepreneurs. Ensuring a healthy mind in a healthy body and a key contributor to business success.

Our clients are also always looking for ways to engage with their staff and ensure that they are happy. Maybe it should become more holistic and include all aspects of life, including sleeping and that goes beyond “Employee first, customer second” or  “The great workplace” and would suggest a more holistic approach.

Which brings me to the book, Move, Eat, Sleep by Tom Rath. Tom has a genetic disorder, which means he is very susceptible to cancer, so he needs to watch what he is doing and eating all the time. In this book he shares his experiences, the research and his observations. It’s absolutely fascinating.

The title says it all. You need to sleep well and it is the most important lesson. Not sleeping well kills. You need to eat properly. Sugar kills. Carbohydrates kill. Movement is key. Not just exercise. You need very regular movement during the day. Sitting kills. Watching TV kills.

Here are some of the stats included in the book:

  • 90% of people are killed by diseases that are avoidable (heart and lung disease, cancer, diabetes).
  • If you spend most of your time sitting down you increase your risk of death by these diseases by 50%.
  • Sitting kills more people than smoking.
  • Sugar kills more people than heroin, cocaine or other controlled substance (he predicts that in 10-15 years we will be suing the sugar companies the way we sued the cigarette companies).
  • Intake of fruit and vegetable is a predictor of happiness.
  • Carbs are more addictive than cocaine.
  • Fewer carbs curbs cancer rates by 50%.
  • Lack of sleep costs the economy 63 billion a year.
  • Four hours of sleep loss produces as much impairment as a six-pack of beer.
  • Eating processed food regularly increases your risk of pancreatic cancer by 21%.
  • Daily red meat increases your risk of death by 20%.
  • Chronic sleep impairment ages you by four to seven years.
  • Regular activity increases the size of your brain.
  • More than four hours TV per day increases your cause of death by 48%.
  • One hour of TV costs 22 minutes of your live.
  • Fruit drinks are worse then soda.
  • If you commute more then 45 minutes you are 40% more likely to divorce.

The book does make a few reference to the marketers and how we are being manipulated and fooled by the words they use, the ingredients they put into food to make us all addicts.

The book also contains some tips:

  • Pick fruits and vegetables with dark and vibrant colours.
  • White is bad (rice, bread, potato).
  • Aim for 10,000 steps per day.
  • Omega 3 is good for your brain. Low levels of Omega3 shrink the brain.
  • Activity slows aging.
  • Eat apples, artichokes, blueberries, bok choy, broccoli, green tea, kale, lemons, mushrooms, raspberries, red grapes, red wine, salmon, strawberries, and tomatoes.
  • Also consider eating ingredients commonly used for flavour that have cancer-fighting potential, such as cinnamon, garlic, nutmeg, parsley, and turmeric.
  • Foods likely to increase the health and thickness of hair include blueberries, salmon, spinach, and walnuts
  • Research has shown that a variety of berries, blueberries and strawberries in particular, serve as a “natural housekeeper” for your health.
  • Broccoli is the new black. Emerging science suggests that consuming broccoli can alter the way your genes are expressed, thus playing a powerful role in preventing everything from cancer to heart disease.
  • Just one serving of fatty fish per week was associated with a 44 percent reduction in risk of kidney cancer.

So if you move well, sleep well, don’t watch TV and eat broccoli and berries, you live to be at least 90. And you’ll be more successful and happy.

Blog supplied by Ron Immink, father of two, business book geek, “entreprenerd”, author, CEO of Bookbuzz and co-founder of

Small business Saturday - what we can learn from the USA.

December 05, 2013 by Guest contributor

This weekend is the UK’s first Small Business Saturday, an initiative originally founded in the US to raise awareness of small businesses. Its success in the US has been impressive with American shoppers spending £3.4bn in independent stores in 2012.

Small Business Saturday therefore represents a significant step for the UK in promoting, supporting and developing independent businesses. The UK can learn a lot from the US where there is a culture of entrepreneurialism and where advice, information and funding is readily available.  

The UK economy looks set to improve, the Chancellor has pledged to help UK businesses in today’s Autumn Statement, and we have certainly seen an increase in demand for funding to assist with investment in small and independent businesses, which indicates that there is pick-up across this huge sector.  This is good news for both individuals making a living out of these small and micro-businesses, and for the suppliers to them and their employees.

The small business sector is critical to the success of the UK economy so any initiative that helps drive the start up & growth of small businesses in the UK can only be a good thing. 

Blog by Julio Vildosola, CEO of Liquid Finance

Autumn Statement 2013 - round up of the main announcements

December 05, 2013 by Fiona Prior

Chancellor George Osborne{{}}The Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement this morning against a backdrop of quietly increasing confidence. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) increased its growth forecast for the UK from 0.9% in July to 1.4% in October and the Bank of England announced in November that the UK’s economic recovery has “finally taken hold”.

Whilst the Chancellor undoubtedly has one eye on the next general election in 2015, there is still work to do to ensure the improving economic picture continues. With this balancing act in mind, the Chancellor announced:

  • Business rates: Doubling the small business rate relief from April 2014.
  • Business rates: Cap on the business rate Retail Price Index increase to 2% in 2014/15. Businesses will also be allowed to pay their rates in 12 monthly instalments.
  • Business rates: New reoccupation relief will halve the business rates for new occupiers of vacant premises.  All retail premises with a value up to £50,000 will receive an £1,000 discount off their business rates for the next two years.
  • New Enterprise Allowance:  Extension to the scheme and an additional 50,000 start-up loans for entrepreneurs.
  • Tax relief: There will be tax relief for those investing in social enterprises and new social impact bonds from April 2014.
  • National Insurance: Employer NICs will be abolished for workers under the age of 21 from April 2015 (subject to parliamentary approval) on earnings up to the upper earnings limit.
  • Tax breaks: Married and civil partnership couples to benefit from new transferable tax allowance of £1,000 for couples with one basic rate tax payer and one non-tax payer from April 2015.
  • Capital Gains Tax: CGT to be paid on future gains made by non-residents who sell UK property from April 2015.
  • Corporation tax: Tax relief for investment in onshore oil and gas related activity – including shale gas - for expenditure on or after 5 December 2013.
  • Stamp duty: Stamp duty on purchases of exchange-traded funds abolished.
  • Export: Doubling (to £50 billion) the Export Finance capacity to support British businesses seeking trade overseas.
  • Pensions: State pension age to increase to 68 in the mid-2030s and the 69 in the late-2040s.
  • State pension: Protected from the cap on welfare spending.  State pension to rise by £2.95 per week from next April. Current pensioners to be given the opportunity to make voluntary National Insurance contributions to boost their retirement income from October 2015.
  • Welfare reforms: Those aged 18-21 who are out of work and without basic skills in maths and English will be required to take training from day one or they will lose their benefits. If they are still out of work after six months they will be required to undertake work experience, and traineeship or a community work place or they will lose their benefits.
  • Apprenticeships: There will be an additional 20,000 places over the next two years.
  • Student places: There will be an additional 30,000 student places next year and the cap on student places will be abolished the year after. There will also be extra funding provided to science, technology and engineering courses.
  • Energy bills: Average family bill to be reduced by £50.
  • Funding for Lending Scheme: Scheme to be refocused to support small business lending.
  • Free school meals: All children in reception and years one and two to get free school meals.
  • Bank levy: increasing to 0.156%.
  • Fuel duty: Planned increase in fuel duty for 2014 cancelled.
  • Travel: Cap on regulated rail fares in line with the Retail Price Index.

When announcing the business rate reliefs, the Chancellor said: "There is one group of businesses that have found the recession especially hard – as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers – the shops, the pubs and the cafes that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the government to do all it can to help them.

"We’re already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants."

He went on to say, "I can announce today that for the next two years every retail premise in England with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will get a discount on their business rates."

Responding to this announcement Vince McLoughlin, partner at business and tax advisory firm Russell New, said “Something had to be done with business rates and by extending the relief beyond April, this gives businesses of all shapes and sizes some breathing space in which to grow and boost local economies in 2014.”

For more on the Autumn statement, see:

To find out more about Small Business Saturday and how you can get involved, see our blog.

How to remain focussed and stay in control

December 05, 2013 by Guest contributor

How to remain focussed and stay in control/Focus acronym{{}}I’ve seen it time and time again, high-flying entrepreneurs at the helm of their empire, trying to do everything and getting little done.

Business owners are constantly trying to multi-task and although we all know that trying to do so makes us less focussed and less productive, it’s an inevitable outcome of the real world in which we do business. There will never be just one task. Here’s some simple advice on how to remain focused and in control.

Plan ahead

This is the first thing I advise my mentees to use when deciding which tasks to embark on. Keep a task list of anything and everything that you need to do and keep updating it with new tasks.

Prioritise your tasks into “Must Do”, “Should Do”, “Could Do” and “Won’t Do” categories. Above all, keep in mind your strengths and delegate tasks that are not your strengths. Understand what you can realistically achieve in one day. A simple process like this, combined with some discipline, will make a big difference to your mindset and productivity.

Use technology to make your life easier

There are tools that business owners can use to improve their overall focus. I use Asama to set my goals, targets and tasks and it enables me to share and delegate jobs to other members of my team. Mind mapping software is helpful in defining goals and targets that you can prioritise and focus on.

Of course, tools are only as effective as the person using them, so make sure you have adopted the right mindset and implemented the best processes before you resort to these.

Change your surroundings

Environment is a key factor in improving focus. The more comfortable your work environment is, the greater your ability to concentrate. I find that purposefully changing my location during a long day, for example, from my home office to the sunroom, helps introduce a new impetus to my work.

Remove distractions

It sounds obvious, but removing and avoiding as many distractions as possible is one of the best ways to improve your focus. It’s astounding how personal issues can creep into your work zone. Adopt digital ‘Do Not Disturb’, by turning off your mobile phone, closing your emails and chat programs – deal with them later.

Plan around your energy levels

You know when you’re at your best, whether it is early morning or late at night when you have peace and quiet. Do your hardest tasks when you’re most alert and the less intensive tasks later on in the day when you have less drive.

Blog provided by Raj Dhonota, who first came to the public eye in 2005 during the first series of The Apprentice, since when he become a successful serial entrepreneur and investor in start-ups.

Further reading

Mobile Chip & PIN payments: the secret to boosting your sales?

December 04, 2013 by Guest contributor

Mobile Chip & PIN payments: the secret to boosting your sales?/male showing credit card{{}}Mobile Chip & PIN payments are becoming more popular around the UK. This is mainly due to the fact that they are an inexpensive and modern way to increase profit.

For a while now, small-business owners have been unable to accept card payments due to problems with traditional card readers. This is due to the fact that they involve lengthy and expensive contracts, monthly fees and equipment that is bulky and hard to transport. Mobile Chip & PIN payments solve this problem by providing a non-contract service, with no monthly fees and a sleek modern design that fits with any business image.

There is no doubt that there are benefits to employing mobile rather than traditional Chip & PIN technologies, however, you may be asking yourself why it is necessary to even take cards?

One reason is that accepting cards gives your customers the option to pay by a variety of means. This might sound like a non-issue, however, one of the biggest reasons that merchants loose business is interrupting “customer flow”. Specifically in the situation where a customer wishes to buy a product, but has no cash on them, if the customer cannot pay by card they simply have no option but to leave. In this case, the merchant has not only lost out on a sale, buhas also lost a customer whose opinion is valuable to your business.

This brings us to the second benefit of accepting card payments – customer satisfaction. Most businesses strive towards providing excellent customer service, after all, for small businesses referrals are often the best advertisements of all. Disappointing the customer by not offering a convenient way to pay may come back to haunt you by damaging your reputation.

However, the direct benefits do not stop at the customer. Taking card payments means that your business does not have to run the risk of having large amounts of cash stored, it also saves on daily trips to the bank to deposit the money. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a small business owner, though, is that is allows for more efficient accounting. By accepting more cards and less cash, it means that your transactions are easier to keep track of, which is vital for financial planning.

Mobile Chip & PIN payments are secure, with all reputable companies required to pass rigorous security checks and verifications. They are also convenient for both customer and merchant, and are a great tool to increase profit. So why not find out more?

Blog supplied by mobile card payment solution provider payleven.

An enthusiastic workplace culture may be simpler than you think

December 03, 2013 by Guest contributor

An enthusiastic workplace culture may be simpler than you think/I love my job{{}}As a small business owner it can be difficult to maintain your own morale and, just as importantly, that of your staff. In a climate in which budgets are stretched and purse strings are tight, many small businesses struggle to stay happy – and, as a result, they struggle to remain productive.

Workplace culture is a hugely important element of an overall business strategy.

We want to see happy employees, not only because that is good in and of itself, but also because people are at their best when they are at their happiest. We spend a great deal of time working out how we can make Simply Business the best possible place to work.

Happiness and efficiency are intrinsically linked in the business environment. So how can you ensure that both you and your employees keep both their spirits and their productivity high?

1.Celebrate your wins

It is all too easy to become so absorbed in the day to day minutiae of running a business that you forget to celebrate your achievements. Perspective is important, both for you and your employees. Take time to ‘zoom out’ and recognise the ways in which you have succeeded, as well as the work you still have to do.

2.Take regular breaks…

It is impossible to remain both productive and satisfied if you or your employees are working all day every day. Regular breaks are important in order to keep the mind focused and to prevent boredom. Rather than trying to do multiple things at once, try splitting up your time into 20 minute chunks, with short breaks in between. This may help to boost both your productivity and your work satisfaction.

3.…and make sure you take time off

Extended breaks are also vitally important for all of us, and yet many business owners fail to take enough time off. Make sure that you take holiday time off and that, as far as is possible, you use this time to do things other than work. Remember that this will likely require you to plan ahead in order to ensure that you tie up loose ends before you leave and that your business can continue to tick over in your absence.

4.Think about employee benefits

The headline salary is not the only way in which you can attract and keep the top talent. You should also think about the working environment and, crucially, the benefits that you are offering. There is a range of cost-effective benefits that you might investigate. These include flexible working, the Cycle To Work scheme, and non-medical covers like life insurance.

5.Learn from the ‘Google ratio’

Google famously encouraged employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own projects. Although the company is now moving away from this ratio, ensuring that your employees have time to pursue their own interests during the working week can still be hugely beneficial. Not only will it help demonstrate to employees that their creative input is valued, it could also help to produce new innovation.

6.Foster a sense of community

Finally, it is important to remember that a fragmented workforce is far more likely to be unhappy. You should think carefully about ways in which you can develop a sense of community amongst you and your employees. This might include away days, meals out together, visits to non-work related cultural events, and so on. Remember that these need not be hugely expensive; rather, the intention is to create a space in which employees can get to know each other better.

Blog by Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business

Posted in Employees | Tagged happy workforce | 0 comments

Christmas is coming. How to make sure your online goose gets fat.

December 02, 2013 by Guest contributor

Christmas is coming. How to make sure your online goose gets fat.{{}}It's around this time of year that UK retailers embrace the big build-up to Christmas. The annually anticipated ‘Mega Monday’, traditionally the first Monday in December after payday, is upon us. This is the day when consumers gear up to put their credit cards to good use and stock up on stocking-fillers ahead of Christmas.

This year, Mega Monday falls on the 2nd of December and with virtual retail becoming an exponentially more favourable means of shopping for many consumers, this year it is predicted to be the busiest online shopping day of the whole year.

To set the scene, UK high-street bank Barclays has produced a survey showing how two thirds of high street retailers anticipate their website traffic to rise by 11% on Mega Monday – a percentage worth taking into consideration by shops and stockists of every kind. Visa reported that last year saw sales of £320m made on its credit and debit card services, and this year’s festive season is set to continue its upward trajectory.

Equally relevant is how consumers are using mobile devices and tablets to shop. This means websites need to look immaculate, inviting and adaptable to mobile interfaces; the same way they would in the physical premises, or from their computer screens.

This is the golden goose for online retailers, but it needs a little consideration: businesses must improve the experience for web users to boost ecommerce success and capitalise on this time of the year. Given that every retail business is jostling for position during the festive period, it is crucial for businesses to have their websites looking as inviting and attractive to consumers as possible. This is also a great opportunity for companies to invest in repeat business and establish a wider customer base. Retailers should look toward optimising their websites so that users will click through and begin to establish a relationship with the site and its products.

In light of these points, we’ve provided a few top tips to help you optimise your website for the big day:

1. Run an A/B test – or better – two.

Simple enough; make sure you run A/B tests on your key pages in order to optimise your website. This is an easy enough solution that in-house staff can run to save you time and money you might have spent outsourcing, without sacrificing the best results. In terms of top priorities to consider when testing, read on:

2. Keep layout features simple.

Don’t overcrowd your pages so that site-visitors don't tire of the visual complexity. Keep language simple, rather than using “flat rate shipping”, why not try “free shipping” to clarify what the offer really means. Consider your colour-coding; blue font might imply hyperlinks, so avoid confusing font colours with click-through links. Make sure you don’t distract visitors with reviews taking prominence over product features – make it clear where reviews can be found, but keep product details clear and available as first port of call.

3. Put your visitors at ease.

Try not to over emphasise security features as this can create anxiety. Security should be something users can check if they’re concerned, but don’t add in potentially alarming icons of the security measures your site has in place. We have seen example tests where such imagery has actually made browsers more cautious and less likely to click through. Let them feel that your site has everything under control: overly-reassuring visitors of your security measures could, paradoxically, have the reverse effect.

4. Be inquisitive.

Rather than asking whether test A will outperform test B, ask instead “How does the imagery in test B compare to that in test A?” Think first about the results you’re aiming for. If you want people to click through on ‘view complete range’, ask yourself how you can optimise the layout of the site to achieve this. In general, rather than asking “What are the variations we are testing?” consider asking “What question are we trying to answer?” as a means to get more effective and relevant results. Are you trying to see if a visitor will respond better to bolder colours/fonts or to clearer language? Consider first what you want the answers to be, then design tests around those enquiries.

5. Avoid conceptual strategies.

Be sure to define the broad question trying to be answered on your website, and determine the simplest and easiest way to validate that concept. Don’t be too abstract. Thematic approaches to pages aren't as effective as specific pages. Be clear rather than conceptual. Product images will outperform lifestyle images. For instance, if your aim is to sell clothes, then display the items clearly and vividly, rather than setting a ‘lifestyle’ scene – which has often been proven to be less effective than the former.

Blog by Matt Althauser, European GM, Optimizely

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