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Posts for February 2014

How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment

February 26, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to reach your 'light-bulb' moment/Idea concept with light bulbs{{}}As an SME owner, I know that experiencing that inspirational moment that cements the purpose of your business is essential, but almost painfully difficult to find. The more you panic about finding your ‘Eureka’ moment, the more elusive it can prove to be. However, there are a few sure-fire ways that can help you to relax and find that moment. Take some time to find inspiration in some of the most unlikely of places and chances are you’ll soon be struck by the light-bulb moment you’ve been searching for.

Get creative

Even if you’re the world’s most practical and business-minded person, sometimes you have to unleash your creative side to find true inspiration. From roughly sketching a meaningless object to spending hours working on a more challenging piece of art, you’ll find yourself lost and letting your mind wonder onto other subjects, which could lead to you being struck by an unexpected bolt of inspiration.

Do something meaningless

Over-thinking something often means that the ideas you come up with are forced and unrealistic. Watching an unchallenging film or TV show can allow your mind to switch down a gear and come up with something much less forced.

Get lost in a good book

Unwinding with a great read has numerous benefits, but is also a brilliant way to learn and let your mind wander. It doesn’t have to be related to business in any way. Pick something or someone in whom you’re interested and passionate about or even something that will spark debate or opinion in you. Annotate as you go along with points that you find interesting, inspiring, enlightening or even empowering. You could even write short reviews or points you have learnt.

Check out successful adverts

As more people move to TV that allows viewers to pause, rewind and fast-forward, it can be easy to think that adverts are a total waste of time and money. However, there are adverts that make people stop, look and listen. Take notes about what makes these ads successful. How are they able to convey a story in a short amount of time and how do they connect with their audience? Apply these observations to your own work and think about how you can make it your own.

How you become inspired is up to you. We all have our ways that are as unique to us as our business models, but if you’re lost for ways to expand your mind, these are some easy tricks that are sure to get the creative juices flowing.

Blog supplied by Paul Lees, founder and CEO of business conference call services provider Powwownow. You can see Paul talking about his experience of starting a business below.

Further reading 

Ten top tips for start-ups

February 24, 2014 by Guest contributor

Ten top tips for start-ups/Infographic - seo and internet icons{{}}With record numbers of people starting their own new business, hopefully 2014 will be another triumphant year for start-ups in the UK. If you want to make the leap, finding your feet may seem daunting, but don’t let fear prevent you from stepping out on your own. To help those who are thinking of starting their own business, Aisling Brennan of eFax and Rory Whelan of eReceptionist share their top ten start-up tips.

1 Have a business plan 

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You should have a succinct and clear business plan. Not only will it enable you to monitor your business’s success, but it will also prove useful when asking outsiders for funding. Conversely, don’t be beholden to the plan. The pace of change in business can be rapid, so make sure you’re able to adapt. The joy of entrepreneurship is often the ability to make decisions ‘on the fly’.

2 Set up from home

Why waste precious money on renting an office if you can run your business from home? A proportion of your electricity bills and mortgage payments can be offset against your business tax bill and it’s now simple and cost-effective to set up a second phone line for business calls. When you bundle your number with a virtual office phone system you can even have a real-time receptionist answering and directing your calls, so you never miss a business opportunity. 

3 Keep track of your finances 

Hopefully, the money will be flowing in from the start. However, don’t get too carried away, always keep good track of your financial status. Do you have savings that can be invested and will these be enough? If you don’t, approach potential investors and lenders early on. Don’t rule out considering government-backed funding, too. Investigate the many business incubator services that are on hand to advise you, and in some cases they offer financial backing. 

4 Don’t go it alone 

Taking on the responsibility of running a business all by yourself might be too much, especially if you have a family. Find a business partner who shares your goals, but perhaps someone with different skills and knowledge, so you complement each other.

5 Create a buzz 

If you don’t shout about your new business – who will? Make the most out of social media to spread the word. Similarly, something as simple as asking your customers to tell others about you can make a big difference to your sales. Also, network like mad. This doesn’t have to be at networking events, but just in your daily activities. Keep telling people about your business and in some cases you may find yourself talking to someone who wants to buy from you.

6 Image is everything

A good business name, business cards and a professional website all contribute to how your business is perceived, but don’t underestimate the power of your telephone number. By setting up a national 0800 number, you can look bigger, but having a local phone number need not limit your ambitions. For example, should you want to appeal to customers in Birmingham despite being Manchester based, it’s easy to have an 0121 number with calls routed to your existing Manchester landline.

7 Pick up the cost 

Customer like 0800 numbers, because they are free to call from landlines and will soon be free from mobiles. Our research shows that UK businesses experienced a volume increase of 167% when they switched to an 0800 freephone number.

8 Go digital

Keep your start-up costs to a minimum and look to invest in cloud-based services. Investing in the right fax software will make running your business smoother, less time-consuming and more cost-efficient. Digital faxing eliminates the need for fax hardware, while allowing you to sign orders or contracts through a digitised signature anywhere from your mobile.

9 Don’t focus on just one area

Customer care, business development and administration are the three key areas you should concentrate on. They are all equally important, so all require equal attention. If you neglect one, it will have an impact on the business as a whole. No one likes doing paper work – but it needs to be done.

10 Don’t give up 

Learn from your mistakes and adapt accordingly. Be prepared to continue refining your methods as you encounter new hurdles. No one successful ever launched with the finished product, so keep tweaking and adding. You’ll learn so much from your first few sales and customers to help you refine the way you do business and make things easier for the future. Keep motivated and don’t lose sight of why you started the business in the first place.

Further reading

How to start accepting Bitcoin donations

February 19, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to start accepting Bitcoin donations /Bit coin - virtual money{{}}Does your business have a blog, website or video channel? If so, you could start asking people who visit your site to start donating Bitcoins.

What is a Bitcoin?

Online currency, you can use it to buy things such as domain names, electronics, food and professional services.

What is it worth?

The value changes a lot. In January 2013 it was only worth about £10, but by late November it had reached a high of £750.

How can I get some?

There are many ways. You could start donating your computer power to help run the network (a process called ‘mining’) or you could sign up to an exchange such as MtGox.com and buy some with pounds. Unfortunately, both of these options can take time and effort and you might end up losing money. A safer and simpler bet is to start taking Bitcoin donations.

Why should I bother?

The Bitcoin community is very generous. Bitcoin users know that the more people who own Bitcoin, the more plausible it becomes as an idea. Also, because it’s really easy to donate, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you could earn.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start…

1 Get a Bitcoin wallet

You’ll need a wallet to receive, send and store Bitcoins. There are three types of wallet: software, mobile and web. The Bitcoin website features a useful guide and a list of downloads to help you get started. For maximum security, we recommend that you choose one that doesn’t use a third party. To avoid cyber theft, you should always encrypt your wallet with a strong password. We recommend one at least eight characters long, using a combination of numbers, symbols and upper/lowercase letters.

2 Note down your wallet address

Once you’ve set up your wallet you’ll be given a wallet address. You’ll need this so people know where to send donations. It will be a string of between 27 and 34 numbers and lower/uppercase letters beginning with a 1 or 3.

3 Spread the word

Accepting donations is as easy as posting your Bitcoin address on your blog/website. You may want to provide or link to some info about Bitcoin too in case users without any Bitcoins also want to donate. When you have a donor, your wallet will message you a notification telling you how much has been sent. Your Bitcoins are then free to save or spend as you wish.

Blog contributed by Nick Chowdrey, finance and accounting writer for Crunch, online accountancy firm for freelancers and small businesses.

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged IT, Finance | 0 comments

Five key insights gained by a six-month-old online start-up

February 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

Five key insights gained by a six-month-old online start-up/3D number 5{{}}In six months of trading our company has been through some pretty turbulent times. In the true spirit of supporting other start-ups small businesses, we’d like others to be able to learn from our experiences. In no particular order, here are five pieces of insight we gained in our first six months of trading. Each is fairly universal, so some or all should also apply to your business.

1 Don’t expect an instant return on investment

Building a business is a long and hard task and it requires a lot of patience. Anyone who expects to make an instant return is probably being overly optimistic or not taking into account all of their start-up costs. You need to account for everything you spend money on when starting your business, which could include a website, marketing/advertising, stock, premises, staff and quite possibly many other things. Even if you have a high margin product or service, it will take time to recoup all of your start-up costs.

2 Have a full yearly forecast and check performance against it regularly

This point closely links up with the first; you need to know your break-even point and when you need or want to reach it. Year-end targets are good, but you must work out how to meet them, because demand for a growing business is not linear. For example, if you want to sell 120 product units in your first year of trading, you might not sell the necessary 10 units every month from launch. That means you’ll later need to sell more than 10 units each month if you are to achieve your yearly target.

3 Remember – the competition never stays still

When you create your initial business plan you’ll probably look at what your competitors have done to get to where they are. It’s also likely that you’ll set goals to build a business around a similar (but hopefully better) structure. But don’t forget that while you’re doing so, your competitors will be trying to progress from where they were when you started. So keep an eye on your competitor’s activity and remember – they’re moving targets.

4 Don’t expect everything for nothing

When building a new business you’ll need some capital behind you. Unless you’re in a space that’s really open to creativity and you can get a lot of free media coverage and word of mouth, you’ll struggle to gain momentum if you don’t have a reasonable start-up budget.

5 Beware of salespeople

New businesses are a prime target for predatory salespeople (especially telesales). If you’re in the online space you can expect companies that host business directories, sell email data, run pay-per-click ad campaigns, etc, to contact you. Most of them will press really hard and rattle off impressive-sounding numbers, but the fact is these direct sales services rarely convert to sales. If you are thinking of investing in any of the above channels, do your homework so you are able to find the best service provider.

Blog provided by Pete McAllister of Intelligent Car Leasing.

Further reading

Why I set up a community interest company

February 17, 2014 by Guest contributor

Why I set up a Community Interest Company/Bristol colorful writing{{}}As a newly fledged social entrepreneur who needed a constituted organisation, but who was also a headstrong and independent sole trader, having to think about boards of directors, reports, red tape, being told what to do and how to do, well, it was never going to be easy. 

Previously, as a consultant, I’d seen far too many boards of directors and trustees who, rather than operate for the good of the organisation and its aims, were more about personal aggrandisement, power, status and a belief that turning up to meetings was enough (oh, and if they didn’t like the founder, they’d simply get rid of them).  

So to even consider going into something that would possibly end up being the very means of my being sacked from my own project did not look that brilliant. Nevertheless, the pressure was mounting to become a robust trading vehicle for a social enterprise, something “proper” with which we could raise funds.

The whole point of any enterprise is to be a successful and viable business, and with the “social” aspect, the income then becomes a vital energy resource for helping to achieve the social purpose, not an end in itself.

Faced with the tangle of options, I began to find out more about community interest companies (CICs), charities, not-for-profits, limited companies, mutuals, co-ops and how they differed. In the end, making the decision was easy. 

A CIC allowed me to be a sole director and be a paid member of the working team.  This gave me a voice on the board, which is difficult for paid employees of a charity. This would help me to remain in control of things, while the locked assets offered security for the future. By law, when running a CIC all profit must go back into serving the community and the social purpose defined in the CIC’s Memorandum and Articles. It was the perfect structure and said on the packet what we were.

But to be able to apply for funding I needed another director and so began the quest to find people who would advise more than direct. The complexity was that the wonderful people alongside me were by law responsible for the financial and legal integrity of the organisation and therefore had a right to their opinion about how the company should be run. I found that really difficult and learned a great deal about myself and about how the label of “director” changes the dynamic of meetings. 

I have put that learning to good effect in constituting Music For All Zimbabwe as a CIC. We have only two directors, Fidelis Mherembi, whose vision it is, and me. Whilst allowing Fidelis free reign in his visionary decisions, this structure also secures the purpose of the company, which will continue to serve its community even if Fidelis and I both 'snuff it'. Any locked assets by law remain in service to the social purpose and cannot be sold to line the pockets of the next directors. That security of the future and the freedom in the present makes it a solid foundation from which to build. 

CICs are becoming increasingly popular for many reasons and it will not be long before there are 10,000 of them in the UK. The influence of this dedicated social enterprise vehicle being adopted will be interesting to watch over the next few years.

Blog provided by June Burrough, founder and former director of the Pierian Centre, which opened in Bristol in 2002 as a centre for training and self-development and became a CIC in 2008, before closing in December 2011, and co-director of Music For All Zimbabwe.

Further reading

Crowdfunding models explained

February 13, 2014 by Guest contributor

Crowdfunding models explained/Funnel accumulates small drops into big one{{}}With all the hype surrounding crowdfunding, knowing what the different options are and which specific benefits they offer can seem difficult. To help you remember you can use the acronym DREIM, which stands for:

  • Donation (philanthropy)
  • Reward (“pre-tailing”)
  • Equity (shares)
  • Interest (debt) and
  • Mixed.

Donation

Of the five models, donation is perhaps the simplest to understand. Basically, it’s a form of philanthropy, whereby people give money to a good cause. Donors are left with the warm feeling that comes from knowing they’ve done something positive by funding a project with social value.

Within the arts, this has traditionally been represented by the concept of a sponsor or patron of an artist or field of creative work. There are many of these in crowdfunding, perhaps the most well known being JustGiving, but others include Spacehive, which is dedicated to social or community causes, and Unbound, a special model where authors ask the crowd for funding to help turn an idea into a published book.

Reward

This is the model that most comes to mind when people think about crowdfunding. The crowd pledges money to a project and gets something in return, such as a poster or item of merchandise. The reward model is represented well on both sides of the Atlantic by the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but there are plenty of UK sites, such as Bloom Venture Catalyst and Crowdfunder, and these support projects ranging from artists to zoos.

Equity

This is where the project’s management (could be a business owner) offers a share of the profits to the crowd. Once money is made or the project is sold, the investors get a share (well, that’s the idea). This is risky, because start-ups often fail, so the likes of Seedrs, which specialises in this model, requires would-be investors to pass a test before they can invest. But the good news for investors (and entrepreneurs using this model) is the government has introduced the SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) and EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme), which offer tax breaks for investors. There are restrictions and the best place to learn more is by visiting the HMRC website.

Equity usually means giving away some control over a project or business, of course. This could be difficult for some people, which is why this model of crowdfunding needs careful consideration before you proceed. When you give away equity you will also need to seek legal advice, which costs money and takes time. Investors generally look for growth businesses they can scale up and sell in the future.

Interest

This model is similar to getting a bank loan except you get the loan from the crowd and it is on your terms rather than a banks. As with equity, you may find a lack of enthusiasm in your business unless you can prove its potential for major growth. Another problem could be higher rates of interest. The headline numbers might look the same as a high street bank, but you need to consider fees charged by the crowdfunding platform and the payment processor. This all adds up.

Mixed

Mixed is just as it sounds – a mix of models. For example, the Crowdbnk platform offers reward or equity, which is why careful consideration is advised before crowdfunding your project. Plus, you need to check the provider is FSA regulated (Crowdbnk is), which will ensure you are covered should they go bankrupt or if you find out a campaign is fraudulent.

Blog supplied by Chris Buckingham, lecturer and founder of crowdfunding research agency minivation.

Further reading

What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes?

February 10, 2014 by Guest contributor

What's the best way to handle your employees' mistakes?/Pop art Oops!{{}}We all make mistakes – it’s inevitable. In fact, it’s desirable. Unless people are pushing themselves, innovating and taking risks, a business could stagnate. What’s more, an inevitable part of risk-taking is that mistakes will happen.   

And while you may not want to create an environment where mistakes are feared, you need to address them. Fortunately, it need not be an excruciatingly painful process for you or the person who’s messed up.

Why you must address mistakes

If you are tempted to ignore mistakes or brush them under the carpet, you may find that your business suffers and people never improve or progress.

Instead, if you deal with the situation, your business will benefit from fewer mistakes. Fewer refunds will need to be issued, there will be fewer quality control issues, fewer customer and colleague complaints, and less time spent rectifying the same errors. Also, the employee will understand clearly how to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Different types of mistakes

It’s important to identify what type of mistake has been made. Is it major or minor? While a spelling mistake in an important document may not be a sackable offence, wilfully neglecting an important client is pretty inexcusable.

Similarly, is this the first of its kind, or an oft-repeated action? No one is perfect and mistakes do happen, particularly when people are undertaking a task for the first time. This, though, is vastly different from someone who persists in making the same mistake over and over, despite being told about it and perhaps receiving training intended to help them get it right. Identifying the type of mistake you’re addressing will inform what you need to do about it.

Check your facts

If you have identified that the mistake needs addressing, before offering an opinion, suggestion or sanction, fully investigate with all necessary parties three things – what caused the mistake, who was responsible and what the impact was. There will be countless times you will be grateful that you did so.  It’s amazing how often things aren’t quite as black and white as they first appear. By investigating the matter objectively and fairly you’ll be better placed to take the next step.

Be clear

Once you’ve established the facts, it’s your turn to be clear with the employee. Describe what you understand to be the mistake, its cause and where the responsibility lies. The employee needs to confirm that his/her understanding matches yours (if not, go back to the previous ‘fact checking’ stage). Then you need to explore why they made the mistake and what can be done to prevent it happening again. You need a firm commitment from your employee that they will strive not to repeat the mistake.

Be kind

You must be clear and not gloss over the impact of the mistake on your business, but this doesn’t mean you need to be unkind. Acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and express your confidence and encouragement that the employee’s future performance will be better.

On-going relationship

It’s easier to deal with this type of problem if you have an open and trusting relationship with your employee. Investing in good relationships with your team is something you should do all year round. Not only will that make these types of conversations easier, but it will also help identify likely mistakes before they happen.

Don’t be afraid of mistakes. They’re a common fact of life and one that, with a bit of thought, can be easily managed. What’s more, accept that making mistakes need not be a bad thing. After all, in the words of legendary US basketball player and coach John Wooden: “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything”.

Blog supplied by Heather Foley of HR consultancy ETSplc.

Further reading

How to achieve sustainable business growth

February 03, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to achieve sustainable business growth/Business lady inflates a red ball{{}}With the giant cogs of the British economy finally whirring back into life, many businesses may experience significant growth in 2014. However, for companies to achieve successful and sustainable growth, they must expand with maturity. Here are my top five tips on how to go about it.

1 Embrace change

When a company grows organically, you create certain processes and people can get stuck in their ways. You may also find that when people take responsibility for things naturally, or by necessity, this can lead to them becoming possessive over one particular part of the company.

It’s an age-old cliché but there is ‘no I in team’, and employees putting themselves in charge of certain things and then being unwilling to relinquish them could be very unhealthy for the company. Therefore, as you grow and start to hand over responsibilities correctly, it’s important that you…

2 Specialise

As processes grow, they often become more complex or require more detailed monitoring and management. For instance, in the case of officebroker.com these areas include the likes of pay-per-click advertising and database administration.

When we were smaller, these responsibilities were handled in an ‘all-hands-to-the-pumps’ type approach. However, to maintain their integrity and maximise their potential to influence service levels and revenue generation, boxing off these responsibilities into defined roles can be hugely beneficial. However, to specialise you need…

3 Trust

Specialising means handing over ownership and sometimes relinquishing the day-to-day knowledge that you gain from this interaction. This means you have to put trust in the person taking ownership. Sometimes this can be difficult, as you are very familiar and efficient in how you complete a task – but given the right support your successor will flourish and in many cases a fresh perspective can help to improve it. Nevertheless, for trust to be built you need to develop effective…

4 Communication

Growing companies are often built around a nucleus – be they the owners, investors or trusted employees. Stay mindful that those who were there on day one will often have a sense of ownership toward the company, built around their involvement and the part they have played in helping it grow.

As the company grows and new team members arrive, it’s important to understand that their connection and attitude may be different. To keep them engaged, communicate clearly and find the “currency” that works for them (eg financial rewards, success, acknowledgment). And finally…

5 Think forward

Change brings challenges, but similarly, challenges bring change and it’s all too easy to resist them, have knee-jerk responses or fall back into old habits when they present themselves. You need to keep thinking forward and give the changes and people delivering them every chance of success. That said, never lose sight of the past nor ignore what it has taught you.

Blog supplied by for Liz Yorke, Director of Global Operations at officebroker.com.

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