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Posts for March 2014

Why does the number of female entrepreneurs continue to rise in the UK?

March 31, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why does the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK continue to rise?/4 Businesswomen {{}}According to government figures, more women than ever before are starting their own business and this has led to a steady rise in the number of female entrepreneurs. When it comes to the number of male and female entrepreneurs in the UK, the gender gap is narrowing, but there is still plenty of ground to make up before parity is achieved.

Facts and figures

Previous perceptions about the typical profile of an entrepreneur would probably suggest that the person would typically be male and middle-aged, but business in the UK is changing and women are generally taking a more prominent role when it comes to business leadership.

It is interesting to note that at least 25% of registered self-employed workers in the UK are women and the number of female entrepreneurs is rising nearly three-times faster than the rate for men. There are understood to be more than 1.2m self-employed women in the UK who are involved in full or part-time work and according to the Office for National Statistics, the number of female entrepreneurs has risen by nearly 10% in the past two years, which compares very favourably to men (3.3% increase).

Mumpreneurs

The term ‘mumpreneur’ is used to describe a woman juggling family commitments with running a business, but it is very much a ‘Marmite’ phrase as far as many woman are concerned. Some think it’s rather patronising, while others consider the term to be empowering, but whatever your view the fact remains that there are an estimated 300,000 mothers running businesses who contribute an estimated £7.4bn to the UK economy each year.

There are already annual ‘mumpreneur’ awards and numerous blogs and online directories aimed at making networking easier and opening up new opportunities and ideas for discussion for those women who are looking to start their own business.

Work-life balance

The challenges for men and women are often different yet equally demanding in their own ways and sometimes it can be a struggle to achieve the right work-life balance.

Many female entrepreneurs become self-employed after starting a family and one of the winners at the last mumpreneur's awards is probably typical of what being a female entrepreneur involves.

One of the co-founders of Peach Pink, Vanessa Pinkney, was a former retail buyer for a large fashion retailer. She has used her contacts and industry knowledge to form a company that supplies luxury bags that are now sold in numerous well-known stores.

Her typical day will involve running her business around looking after her twin daughters, emailing suppliers in the morning, doing the school run and using Skype to communicate throughout the day, running her growing business empire from her kitchen table.

Recipe for success

It’s almost impossible to identify the absolute ingredients to achieve success in business or we’d all be following the same path and formula. Good advice is essential for anyone starting a business and here are some key points to consider.

A robust business plan is essential and you need to test your business model to make sure it is sustainable from the beginning. Having little or no start-up capital can actually be viewed positively, because it ensures that you apply greater financial discipline.

It is important to have confidence in what you are doing and a positive can-do approach is in the DNA of most successful entrepreneurs. And as long as you always remember that the biggest asset is you and work hard at building a supportive network, the venture has a greater chance of flourishing.

There are many business opportunities out there and when you look at the examples of success from previous start-ups, it is easy to see why the number of female entrepreneurs continues to rise.

Blog supplied by business strategist Tim Brown. Tim blogs about news and trends for successful small businesses in the modern world, including the ImRubbish site.

Further reading

The rise of the video job interview

March 26, 2014 by Guest Blogger

The rise of the video job interview/Man with headphones and computer{{}}One of the biggest recent changes to recruitment has been the rise of the video interview. Enabled by lower cost, easy-to-use video conferencing software-based systems, an increasingly global job market and cuts in HR budgets have been key drivers. And with businesses facing pressure to speed up the recruitment process, a first or second interview can be conducted via video conference, played back and reviewed quickly and easily.

So with the traditional face-to-face interview being replaced by video, how can candidates and prospective employers better prepare themselves and what should both be aware of during a video interview?

First, a video interview features the same elements as an in-person interview, so the same rules of engagement, attention and acknowledgement must be observed. This means dressing to impress, looking alert, engaged and professional throughout.

Remember, 93% of communication is thought to be non-verbal, so don't forget to pay attention to body language. Positive body language includes nodding your head, smiling genuinely and leaning forward to show interest or understanding. A furrowed brow, frowning and leaning back can all be perceived negatively.

Also ensure that you have the proper hardware and test it before you start. A good webcam is essential to maintain eye contact without losing sight of the other person, and make sure you adjust your seat/computer to frame your face.

Use headphones too, because they are much better than speakerphones, which can amplify background noise, disturb and distract you from the conversation. Make sure you have a neutral backdrop, because a distracting or messy background may cause the other person to lose their attention. Proper lighting is important to make you look your best, and you also need to be aware of any reflective surfaces that can be distracting. Finally, be prepared. Just because it is remote, a video interview should be treated just like a face-to-face one.

Blog provided by video conferencing solutions provider Vidyo.

Further reading

Posted in Employees | Tagged recruitment, HR | 0 comments

Has Britain become a nation of workaholics?

March 25, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Has Britain become a nation of workaholics?/Young businesswoman sleeping on a pile of files{{}}Every business owner wants their employees to be dedicated, hardworking and willing to go the extra mile by putting in extra hours when necessary. However, there is a balance to be struck between hard work and unhealthy, obsessive behaviour. So, has Britain become a nation of workaholics?

Whatever happened to 9-5?

The stereotype of an overworked executive was once associated with American high-fliers, yet in recent years this poor work-life balance has made its way across the Atlantic.

Figures from the Trades Union Congress suggest that one in eight UK employees works more than 48 hours per week, while research from the BBC suggests that more than half (54%) of Britain's workforce regularly works through their lunch break.

People who work long and unsociable hours could be doing themselves serious harm. Indeed, studies have shown that working 11 hours a day compared to eight increases your chances of developing heart disease by 67%.

Workaholic or just a hard worker?

In Japan 'workaholism' is referred to as Karoshi ('death by overwork') and is the likely cause of some 1,000 deaths each year.

It is crucial that owners recognise the damage that a long-hours culture can have on a business and its people.

One American firm takes the idea of combating workaholism so seriously that its employees are punished for working more than 40 hours a week.

Improve your time-management

A less drastic approach is to implement time-management tricks that can help boost productivity and performance. Time wasted by office workers during meetings has been estimated to cost the UK economy about £26bn a year. Rather than sitting around a table, you could request that staff members stand for the duration. This helps to rapidly reduce meeting length, while ensuring the same ground is covered.

Some firms use video conferencing to keep in touch with key individuals. This provides a powerful way to communicate in real time, meaning work can happen anywhere and at any time. Something as simple as implementing a flexible working policy can help to combat workaholism. When handled correctly, flexible working can boost employee morale and motivation, while reducing absenteeism.

If a staff member suffers from ‘workaholism’, your first step should be to review their responsibilities and duties, to determine whether they're burdened with an excessive workload and identify any reasonable adjustments that can made to address the issue.

Employees’ statutory rights

Under the Working Time Regulations employees aged 18 and over are limited to working 48 hours a week. Members of staff have the legal right to opt out, enabling an increase in their working hours, but this must be done in writing and on a voluntary basis.

Start-ups and small businesses have the upper hand when it comes to tackling overworking. Effectively monitoring and managing the issue helps to prevent a workaholic culture from developing.

Blog supplied by Helen Pedder, head of HR for ClearSky HR.

Further reading

Budget 2014: small business winners and losers

March 21, 2014 by Guest

George Osborne’s 2014 Budget was announced on Wednesday, bringing with it tax changes, legislative tweaks, gains for some and losses for others. With little spare cash to play with, what did the Government announce for the UK’s entrepreneurs?

Personal Tax changes

UK workers can currently earn £9,440 before they start paying income tax. A rise to £10,000 was already planned for April 2014 and on Wednesday Osborne said this would rise to £10,500 in April 2015. This means £800 a year more for the average taxpayer and also means that three million workers won’t have to pay any income tax at all.

The amount of money you earn before paying the higher 40% income tax rate is going up from £41,450 to £41,865 in April 2014, then up to £42,285 in April 2015. Employer National Insurance contributions for under-21s were also scrapped - this is relevant if you employ young workers.

Support for savers

If you have ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) you’ll know there are currently two types: Cash and Stock. These will be merged into one product, making things simpler, and you’ll be able to save £15,000 tax free from July.

The 10% tax rate on savings has also been scrapped, as well as many of the rules on accessing your pension savings.

Business investment boost

To encourage new investors to back social enterprises, the government has introduced 30% income tax relief for social investment. Eligible social enterprises will be able to receive maximum investment of £290,000 over a three year period.

Also, startups are being encouraged to invest in innovative ideas in risky markets, with Research & Development tax credits available for loss-making SMEs increased from 11% to 14.5%.

Finally, the 50% relief on capital gains tax for VC reinvestors has been made permanent, which will help to continue investment support for small businesses.

Simplification of Class 2 NIC

A small but welcome change for the self-employed. Class 2 National Insurance contributions, which are currently paid weekly by Direct Debit, will be collected via Self Assessment.

Good news for business owners

There was a reform of Air Passenger Duty, which will reduce the cost of international travel. Extra support was also announced for UKTI - the body which helps UK firms do business abroad - and the lending available to exporters doubled.

A £200 million pot was announced for local councils to help repair infrastructure damaged by recent floods. There will also be support for 200,000 new homes at designated sites across the country, potentially creating thousands of new jobs.

Win or lose?

The budget was fairly average for start ups and entrepreneurs - not bad, but not great.

The encouragement of business investment was the most positive news and this should help out a lot of firms, especially in the manufacturing sector. Personal tax cuts will also help to keep a bit more cash in your pockets. Finally, there was some excellent support for specific industries, but obviously this is only good news for a limited number.

Blog supplied by Nick Chowdrey of Crunch Accounting.

Budget support for UK exporters welcomed

March 21, 2014 by Guest

Budget support for exporters welcomed - container ship{{}}It was refreshing to hear that boosting UK exports was top of Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget address this week. For any business serious about scale and accelerating growth, expanding into new markets and territories is key to success.

Recently, CBI reported that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are 11% more likely to survive if they export, yet only 1 in 5 are actually trading outside the UK. The Budget announcement that available export finance will be doubled to £3bn, with interest rates being reduced by a third, is a clear step in the right direction.

As the Chancellor put it, the UK economy is growing faster than any other advanced country right now. But to my mind, a large proportion of this is a direct result of the entrepreneurial growth we’ve seen in the UK across the past few years. The UK government and private sector have both done a great job of putting initiatives in place to stimulate entrepreneurship, but it’s time for us to extend the olive branch even further.

The private sector and large corporations are in a unique position to help in a way the government cannot, for example, by providing access to global business networks that high-growth firms would otherwise have a difficult time accessing.

The global Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, is a great example of how this can be done. It brings together a global group of entrepreneurs with the aim of breaking down some of the barriers to accessing new markets through an annual conference and online network – both aimed at helping to forge cross-border business connections. We need to continue to help businesses at every stage of their growth and by investing in exporting today, we’ll be priming our economy for future growth.

Blog supplied by Sarah Shields, executive director and general manager of consumer, small and medium enterprise, Dell UK

Five things to consider before moving office

March 20, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Five things to consider before moving office/Businesswoman unpacking cartons in office{{}}Are you currently considering whether to move into a new office or are you constantly weighing up the pros and cons of your current location? Before making a move, here are five things to think about.

1 Space

Sitting on your colleagues’ laps may be fun for the first 30 minutes, however, after a while the lack of personal space becomes tedious and it can cramp creativity. Lack of space is often the primary motive for many companies that decide to move. However, choosing the right space is crucial for your future success. Only increase a little and you risk having to go through the whole rigmarole of moving again very shortly, but increase too much and you could land yourself with a monthly bill you’re unable to pay.

2 Resources

Is your internet slower than an asthmatic snail with a bad back? If so, moving to another office with a high-speed connection may provide just the boost you need. For the vast majority of companies, strong, reliable internet is essential, and for many, a poor connection is more than just annoying, it can also cost you money. However, a good internet connection is not the only resource businesses require and many move because of better meeting room facilities, access to parking or even a nicer kitchen.

3 Location, location, location

As TV’s Kirstie and Phil constantly remind us, the key to any successful move is location, location, location. Currently, you may be in what you believe to be the perfect office, however, if it’s in the middle of nowhere and makes your staff’s daily commute impossibly long, it may be time for a change. A business can be made or broken purely on the choice of its location, so choosing the right spot is essential.

4 Great minds think alike

It’s a well-known fact that businesses in a similar sector often converge in similar locations. Moving to an area where you can meet, interact and network with like-minded businesses could prove a fantastic opportunity for you and could potentially open up many new avenues for your business.

5 Is there an alternative?

Technology is changing the way we do business, as is the way we think about office space. Flexible office space has become increasingly popular over the past decade, bringing quality space and high-end tech together in a simple monthly package. Ranging from hot desks to business centres, these hubs now attract start-ups and more established businesses. With many businesses still feeling the pinch, this cost-effective alternative could also prove a useful stepping stone to bigger things. So ask yourself if you really need to take a traditional approach or could your team take advantage of the flexible business hubs that continue to spring up in cities across the UK?

Blog supplied by LondonOffices.com.

Further reading

Posted in Business premises | Tagged Premises | 0 comments

Budget 2014: Twitter has its say

March 19, 2014 by Mark Williams

The Start Up Donut and Tax Donut were busy this afternoon Tweeting the main announcements from today's budget. But elsewhere in Twitterland, this is how Twitter reacted to announcements made in the Chancellor’s #Budget2014 speech...

THE ECONOMY

What the Chancellor announced: Deficit forecast to be 6.6% of GDP this year, 5.5% in 2014-15, falling to 0.8% by 2017-18 with a surplus of 0.2% in 2018-19. UK GDP forecast to grow by 2.7% this year. Borrowing forecast to be £108bn this year and £95bn next year, leading to a surplus of almost £5bn in 2018-19.

What you said:

@mehdirhasan - Osborne mentions that the deficit is down by a third. But still almost double what he said it'd be back in 2010. #austerity #budget2014

@SkyNewsBreak ‏- Chancellor George Osborne says "we are putting Britain right" and the economy is recovering faster than forecast #Budget2014

@RBSBusiness ‏- #Budget2014 is about building a resilient economy and security for the British public

@FraserNelson‏ - “We're getting on top of our debts” says Osborne. As if. Debt getting on top of us. #Budget2014 pic.twitter.com/xveVxJ5R9l

@jrfKathleen - 2.7% growth forecast from OBR for 2014  #budget2014 > wonder what BoE will do with interest rates, following Carney's strong hints?

‏@labourpress - Growth in 2014 still lower than OBR was forecasting in November 2010 (2.7% versus 2.8%) #Budget2014

THE RECOVERY

What the Chancellor announced: Official forecasts for UK economic growth have been raised for the next two years but cut for later years. UK GDP forecast to grow by 2.7% this year, 2.3% next year, 2.6% in 2016 and 2017 and by 2.5% in 2018. Today it was announced that the unemployed figure fell by 63,000 to 2.33m in the three months to January 2014.

What you said:

 @RichardJMurphy - Don't crow about jobs Osborne: most will be self-employed earning £11,000 or less #budget2014

‏@stuart_rock - Faster growth alone will not balance the books #Budget2014

@RigelAcctsTax - We'll be in surplus by 2018/19 - really??!!  I'll be very impressed if that comes true #budget2014

@sophiehobson - Osborne's most shouted-at statement so far: "Rich are making the biggest contribution the reduction of the deficit" #Budget2014

@MichaelWhite - #Budget2014  "income inequality the lowest for 28 years " says GO. That cannot possibly be true in any meaningful sense

@lucianaberger - No action from Osborne to actually fix our broken energy market. He needs to #freezethatbill #budget2014

TAX CHANGES

What the Chancellor announced: Corporation main and small business rates will be aligned at 20% from April 2015. New 30% tax relief for social enterprises. Doubling of the 100% Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) from £250,000 to £500,000 from the end of next month. Scheme also extended until 2015. R&D tax credits for small, loss-making businesses increased from 11% to 14.5%. No fuel duty rise in September. Personal allowance increased to £10,500 from April 2015; 1% increase in higher rate threshold in 2015 to £42,285. Class 2 NICs to be merged with self-assessment.

What you said:

 @RichardJMurphy - It sounds as if there are some welcome moves on avoidance – but the devil will be in the detail #budget2014

@nickknocker1 - Class 2 NICs to move to Self Assessment. About time. #Budget2014

@JONATHAN_RILE - #Budget2014 #gtbudget Tax simplification well overdue. Recommendation from OTS accepted

@accountancyEdge - AIA goes up to £500k. Not many small businesses spend £250k a year, never mind double... #Budget2014

@langbennetts - Annual Investment Allowance of £250k no longer set to expire but increases to £500,000 – a massive help to small businesses #budget2014

@CBItweets - “Doubling & extension of Annual Investment Allowance will be shot in the arm for many mid-sized firms"

‏@JournoSpursEmma - Income tax threshold up to £10,500. Oooh. Fair play Osborne that's a good one #Budget2014

@GlobalAccWeb - PTA will rise to £10,500 = £800 less tax paid each year  #Budget2014

‏@lexauto_SME - Good to hear the freeze on fuel duty will remain in place, which will help businesses manage their costs #Budget2014 #SMEbudget

@ICAEW - Personal allowances for taxpayers to be aligned at £10,500 from 2015. Tax simplification will make this good news better. ^Anita #Budget2014

@LibDemBen - £10,500 tax-free threshold from next year! #Budget2014 It wouldn't have happened without the @LibDems in Government” Hear Hear!

@ConnectedRoots‏ - And there it is folks, what we hinted at a month ago, a 30% tax break for those who invest in Soc Ents. #Budget2014

APPRENTICESHIP GRANTS

What the Chancellor announced: Extension of grants available to businesses, to increase the number of apprenticeships by 100,000. Development of graduate-level apprenticeships.

What you said:

 @enforbusiness - Extend grants for smaller businesses to support 100,000 more apprentices #Budget2014

@CNKatieBarker - Doubled the number of apprenticeships – new degree level apprenticeships too. Maybe Osborne read my article on apprentices?! #Budget2014

‏@john_hocking - Increase in apprenticeships need to make sure these lead to skilled jobs #yorkreacts #budget2014

@The_FPB - #Budget2014 extension to AGE grants for apprenticeships, a key FPB ask for this year's Budget. Thanks!

AND FINALLY

‏@Alex_Kitching - FTSE only marginally down post #Budget2014

@CBItweets - Cridland: “The Budget will put wind in the sails of business investment, especially for manufacturers." #Budget2014

‏@IoD_press - Announcements on export finance and cut in Air Passenger Duty very welcome for UK exporters #budget2014

@FT - UK #Budget2014: Osborne is tinkering at the margins

@emmaljones - Not much good for majority of small business who are micro enterprises .. the doers & makers

2014 Budget round up

March 19, 2014 by Fiona Prior

The Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered his Budget Statement today. The recent decidedly spring-like weather reflects the brightening economic picture — the Office for National Statistics recently announced that UK GDP grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of 2013 and 1.8% in 2013. But should we worry that forecasts predict another cold snap?

Certainly, the optimistic outlook isn’t shared by all. The Bank of England remains cautious about the recovery, voting unanimously to hold the base rate at 0.5%. Minutes from their meeting state, "There were initial signs that the anticipated broadening from household to business spending might have already begun. Even so, there remained some way to go to ensure that the recovery was both balanced and sustainable."

With this mixed picture, The Chancellor undoubtedly had a challenge on his hands to convince businesses and the public alike that the corner has been turned. So what were his main headline announcements?

Company taxation:

  • Corporation tax: Confirmation that corporation main and small business rates will be aligned at 20% from April 2015
  • Tax transfers: There will be a block on transfers of profits between companies to prevent tax avoidance
  • Stamp Duty Land Tax: The existing 15% SDLT on residential properties purchased by corporate entities will be extended at midnight tonight to properties over £500,000 (previously £2 million)
  • Company car tax: 2% increase in company car tax in 2017/18 and 2018/19 and a reduction in tax on low-emission cars
  • Social enterprises: New 30% tax relief for social enterprises
  • Annual Investment Allowance: Doubling of the 100% AIA from £250,000 to £500,000 from the end of next month. Scheme also extended until 2015
  • North Sea Oil: Introduction of a new allowance for Ultra High Pressure, High Temperature clusters
  • Enterprise zones: Current business rate discounts and enhanced capital allowances in enterprise zones extended for a further three years. New enterprise zone announced for Northern Ireland
  • R&D tax credits: Tax credits for small, loss-making businesses increased from 11% to 14.5%
  • Energy: Extension of the scheme to support energy-intensive industries until 2019-20
  • Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme: This scheme has been made permanent
  • VAT: Relief for ambulances and life boats on the costs of VAT on fuel

Help for businesses:

  • Export: Doubling of the export finance available to businesses to £3 billion. The costs of borrowing to be cut by a third
  • Apprenticeships: Extension of the grants available to businesses to increase the number of apprenticeships by another 100,000. Development of graduate level apprenticeships

Infrastructure:

  • Investment: There will be £270 million for the Mersey Gateway Bridge; an additional £140 million to repair damaged flood defences; £200 million for road repairs
  • Construction: Extension of the Help to Buy equity loan scheme to support the building of an additional 120,000 new homes by 2020

Duties:

  • Fuel duty: The planned September rise in duty has been scrapped
  • Air Passenger Duty: All long-haul flights will be subject to the same rate of APD from April 2015
  • Tobacco duty: 2% rise above inflation
  • Alcohol duty: Escalator scrapped. Freeze on duty on whiskey, cider and spirits. Duty on beer cut by 1p

Personal taxation:

  • Income tax: Personal allowance to be increased to £10,500 in April 2015. 1% increase in higher rate threshold in 2015 to £42,285
  • National Insurance: Class 2 NICs to be merged with self assessment from April 2016
  • Personal pensions reforms from 27 March 2014: The amount of guaranteed income a pensioner will need in order to access their savings flexibly will be reduced; the total amount that can be taken as a lump sum and the maximum size of small pension pot that can be taken as a lump sum will be increased and the capped drawdown withdrawal limit will increase to 150% of an equivalent annuity
  • Personal pensions reforms in 2015: All tax restrictions on how pensioners access their pensions and the requirement to buy an annuity will be removed. There will be no limits on how much can be drawn down. 25% of pension pots can be taken tax free. Remaining balances will be subject to normal, marginal rates instead of the current 55%. Free, impartial advice for all pensioners on getting the most out of their personal pension
  • Personal savings: Introduction of a new, combined ISA from July this year. Increased tax-free ISA savings limit to £15,000. Increased savings limit for Junior ISAs to £4,000. Increased premium bond allowances from £30,000 to £40,000 this June and a further increase to £50,000 in 2015
  • Tax relief for savers: 10p rate of tax for savers abolished
  • Inheritance tax: IHT will be waived for any emergency service worker who dies in the course of duty

Families:

  • Tax-free child care: Working parents with children under 12 will benefit from 20% support on childcare costs (up to £2,000 per child per year) from Autumn 2015. The scheme will also support the self-employed and any worker earning over £50 per week

So where did small businesses figure in Mr Osborne’s thinking?

March 19, 2014 by Liz Dawe

So where did small businesses figure in Mr Osborne’s thinking? {{}}

Personal, yes. Political, certainly. Business focused? Not that I noticed.

Like much of the country, we’ve been glued to the Budget today wondering if there’ll be any surprises from George Osborne. As publishers of the Donut websites, we’re always particularly interested in what the Budget means for small businesses.

Mostly, the Budget came across as being a feel-good one, with an eye to individuals. The saver, the pensioner, the tax payer all have cause to feel uplifted by the Budget. Those pension pots that have hitherto been locked behind measly annuity schemes, unless you want to pay punitive tax levels to draw them down, suddenly seem within shiny reach at only a basic level of tax.

Those people, and no, I’m not one of them, with a spare £15,000 per year to squirrel away will now be able to put it all into tax efficient ISAs. The personal tax allowance increase actually puts more real cash into a lot of pockets. Families could breathe a little more easily with transferable tax benefits and childcare allowances. Companies with up to £500,000 to invest in developing their business could also do well.

The continuing help for first-time buyers and the promised increase in housing stock is good news for associated companies including removals firms (who also benefit from reduced fuel duty), the construction industry and conveyancers.

So much for individuals and big businesses. But most micro-businesses and start-ups, who were singled out for attention in last year’s Autumn Statement, would still be straining to hear themselves mentioned.

Arguably, any Budget that makes people feel more optimistic and actually changes the amount of cash they have to spend, from tax cuts or accessible pension pots, will boost the recovering economy. And that, in turn, is good news for small businesses. It also, of course, won’t do any political harm to the Coalition.

Personally, I thought the tweet from Norman Smith, chief political correspondent at the BBC News Channelsummed it up nicely: "Booze, Bingo, Business and Savers. That's your #Budget2014 Folks."

Eight reasons to use a phone rather than send an email or message

March 17, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Eight reasons to use a phone rather than send an email or message/Hand holding telephone{{}}In the past 20 years, methods of communication have increased significantly. Technology is continually developing new ways of contacting friends, family, those we work with, suppliers, customers and others.

With the advent of email, Skype, Hangouts, IMing and Facetime, businesses are spoilt for choice when it comes to contacting customers and others, and often overlook the power of the humble phone call. So what advantages does using a telephone offer?

1 Telephones are more personal

While email and instant messages are often sent while the sender is multi-tasking, telephoning someone requires taking time out of your day to stop and make the call. This shows more care, demonstrates more attention and better customer service.

2 Phone calls are often faster

Messages can be conveyed more quickly over the phone than exchanging numerous messages by other means over the course of a day. When an immediate answer is required, a phone call is the best way.

3 Meaning can get lost in translation

The meaning or urgency of a subject can get lost when conveyed by written words, because some things are just more effectively communicated by phone.

4 Everybody knows how to use a phone

It’s often difficult to keep up to date with all new communication methods and ‘who is familiar with what’. Instead of having the difficult conversation about ‘who’s using what’, you can make life simpler by picking up the phone.

5 Telephones are simple

Using technology can often involve technical difficulties. Effective internet communication, using programmes such as Skype and Facetime, require a reliable internet connection, non-faulty equipment and technological know-how. Things can and do go wrong.

6 Phone calls are often more authoritative

Similar to how letters carry more authority, because of the traditional nature of a phone call, it generally holds more weight than an email or an instant message. If you want to communicate an official message, deliver it with your voice.

7 Video calls can be awkward

Sometimes being able to see the person to whom you’re speaking is useful, but more often it’s a hindrance and one extra thing to worry about. Facial expressions can give things away and it can make working from home a little more difficult.

8 International calls are now cheaper

Not long ago, making landline calls to overseas numbers was extremely expensive. However, that no longer needs to be the case, you can make cheap calls to hundreds of other countries for a reasonable price.

Blog supplied by Ruth Barton on behalf of Call Happy, provider of cheap calls to Uganda and worldwide. 

Further reading 

The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups

March 13, 2014 by Bryony Thomas

The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups{{}}When you’re starting a business from scratch, there’s so much to learn. As the owner, you’re the person who ultimately needs to make a call on your investments, whether that’s product, people, technology, finance, sales, marketing or many other things. So, when it comes to marketing, what are the fundamentals you need to know to make sound decisions to support your growth?

Six key strategic pointers

Marketing helps you sell your products or services. Really effective marketing does this in a sustainable way. Businesses that nail this early on almost without exception outperform those who take a more tactical approach. If you lack basic knowledge of marketing, the following six pointers should keep you on track strategically.

1 Understand how real people really buy things

Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. As the business owner, taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.

Looking at the buying decision from their perspective, ask what they want and need to know, how much time they devote to finding out and whom they ask along the way. If you’re able to picture this, you’re much better equipped to assess whether your marketing tools and techniques will help these people decide to buy from you.

2 Delete the mental image of a ‘sales funnel’

The ‘sales funnel’ image is meant to show the decreasing number of people at each stage in the buying decision, which makes it funnel-shaped. It does not actually behave like a funnel; pouring more into the top is rarely the best sustainable approach for your business.

It can be enormously helpful to replace this picture with one of a bucket (your products and services and how they are delivered), your funnels (those things that support turning interest into sales), and taps (things that grab people’s attention and get them interested in what you do). When you have this picture in mind, you have a much better handle on what a marketing operation really looks like… Yes, it’s a bit messy – and it leaks!

3 Start at the bottom and work up

With this new mental image, you can quickly see why it makes more sense to start at the bottom and work up, because each element builds on the last. So many businesses, particularly start-ups, find themselves running expensive marketing taps into a leaky bucket. You don’t have money to waste – so don’t.

4 Broadly map tools and techniques to each stage of the buying decision

If you can think about each marketing tool or technique in broad terms as related to the bucket, funnels or taps, you’ll be able to quickly assess whether you need it and what function it serves. So, when an ad sales guy, SEO guru or whoever else calls you with an ‘unbeatable deal on awareness-driving activity’, you can ask yourself if you need another tap, and if there are funnels and a bucket for each tap you switch on.

5 Visualise cause and effect of marketing to sales, and the timeframe to results

With all this in mind, the next piece of mental gymnastics is to flip the image horizontally… over time. Over what time frame does the buyer move from hearing about you to becoming a loyal customer? This becomes the shortest possible timeframe in which to see profitable payback on marketing investment, and if you’re measuring things sooner, you might end up stopping an activity that would have paid off handsomely in the long term.

6 Knowing when you don’t know, and when expert skills are needed.

Once you have these fundamentals firmly in mind and you can map your market and your business against it in broad terms, you’ll be much better placed to get the experts you need to put in place an end-to-end marketing operation for your business. But you’ll have enough knowledge to be able to follow and be an integral part of what they are doing.

  • Blog supplied by Bryony Thomas, creator of the Watertight Marketing methodology, explained in her book of the same name.

How mobile point of sale can benefit your business

March 13, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How mobile point of sale can benefit your business/Young woman using touchscreen smartphone{{}}Many SMEs are currently looking to upgrade their point of sale (PoS) systems. They were probably obsolete three or more years ago, but in the downturn, many had no choice but to keep them working, regardless of the high cost of maintenance and support. Now, it is clear that old PoS systems can no longer operate in a multi-channel world.

They can't identify the customer (other than through an old-style loyalty card), take delayed orders, process click-and-collect orders, book online orders, give access to online catalogues or process returns for goods bought online.

The replacement options are often very expensive if the business is looking to replace like with like – big hardware and proprietary software with more of the same. A cheaper and just as effective option, particularly for smaller business, is to use a mobile device such as an iPad and power it using relatively inexpensive applications that only charge for what is actually used.

Already in the US, major retailers say they will never build another fixed-till point, choosing to go mobile on a network in every store.

The joy of a mobile solution is that because all the apps and data are in the cloud, the business owner can access them through their smart phone and effectively run all sorts of regular tasks without ever having to be on site.

These mobile solutions also enable the retailer to connect directly to their customers through their own smart devices, to share data, orders, messages, voucher redemption, video – a host of content that both parties need to share.

Blog supplied by Oscar Heron, digital manager at apphardware.com, a one-stop webstore for business apps and hardware specifically aimed at SMEs.

Further reading

Budget 2014 small business coverage on the Donuts

March 12, 2014 by Fiona Prior

(Updated on Budget Day, 19 March)

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced the 2014 Budget on 19 March 2014.

Throughout the day, Start Up Donut covered the key points from Budget 2014 affecting small businesses:

  • Tweeting about the Budget announcements from the @StartUpDonut and @TaxDonut Twitter accounts.
  • Posting blogs written by small business experts.
  • Posting our Budget 2014 summary for small businesses, and in our news section, gauging reaction from small firms and their representatives.

Let us know your thoughts about the UK Budget 2014.

Budget 2014 announcements and response

What you told us you wanted from the budget

Five ways to ensure employee happiness

March 11, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Five ways to ensure employee happiness/Happy Businessman{{}}Happy employees are usually productive employees. If they believe they’re valued and an integral part of your business, employees will be more inclined to work harder because they will feel they have a personal investment in their role. Inspired by The Happiness Project by author Gretchen Rubin, here are five ways to try to ensure your people remain happy and well motivated…

1 Give employees more control

Rubin says happiness is affected by a sense of control, so where practical try to give your employees a choice over what they do and when. Some businesses have flexible project management roles that are adopted by different employees or teams on a project-by-project basis. On a simpler level, giving your employees control over what they wear and how they decorate their workspace can also inspire happiness. Employees who feel their individuality is crushed by their job may soon leave. 

2 Don’t waste time

Tight deadlines cause stress, yet they’re necessary for successful businesses. What is unnecessary, however, are long meetings where nothing gets decided. Cut meeting times in half by having specific topics decided beforehand, a time limit that is rigidly stuck to, and clear and concise actions so that everyone leaves knowing exactly what they have to do and for when. Keep all employees in the loop about important matters so that every team member knows exactly what stage of the project they are on. Set realistic targets and stick to them. 

3 Give rewards and celebrate successes

Take some chocolates into an arduous meeting; remember employee’s birthdays; organise office trips or team building activities. Even little rewards can achieve big results. Such small gestures contribute to an overall sense of value. Hosting a surprise office party in the middle of the day can be a great way to break up the working routine and re-energise your employees. Don’t see such activities as a waste of time, they’re important for employee happiness and productivity.

4 Encourage a feeling of community

Make your business more than just a place to work. By inspiring a feeling of community, your employees are more likely to work together, help each other and look forward to coming to work. This can also spread to your local community – get involved in charity fundraisers, sponsor events and take part in team races and other activities. This will not only get you noticed, but also make your employees feel proud of where they work. 

5 Promote health and happiness

Invest in decent chairs and educate your employees about exercises and stretches to relieve tension and retain energy. Make use of the other businesses nearby; perhaps speak to a local gym or exercise class to get discounted deals for your employees. Educate them on the importance of healthy living (but practise what you preach).

If your employees are miserable, they’re likely to convey this to others and it will also be reflected in their attitude, which will affect their performance. If you employ people, place their satisfaction at the top of your priorities. Make them feel valued and that they have a stake in the future of your business. Then you can work together to make your business a success. 

Blog supplied by Sophie Turton of Crunch Accounting.

Further reading

Why has enterprise education been so successful in Wales?

March 10, 2014 by Lauren Pennycook

Why has enterprise education been so successful in Wales?{{}}As a teacher, enterprise policymaker or head of a government department, how do you get young people to consider starting a business as a possible career path? How do you explain the highs and lows, challenges and opportunities and realities of running a business?

The approach taken in Wales is to bring local entrepreneurs and young people together, from primary school right through to university, to raise awareness of entrepreneurship, encourage students to take part in enterprise challenges and competitions and provide them with the tools to start a business. It may not sound groundbreaking, but the Welsh Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy is seen as a success across Europe, and evidence suggests that the impact of the strategy is three-fold.

1 Aspirations and confidence

Young people who have taken part in enterprise challenges and events report that their aspirations have risen as a result. Research suggests that more than half of young people in Wales aged 16 to 24 now aspire to work for themselves – a significant increase from ten years ago. Interviews carried out by the Carnegie UK Trust with those involved in delivering enterprise education in Wales suggest that this stems from an increase in students’ confidence, and in some cases, their leadership skills.

2 Entrepreneurial skills

Learning about enterprise from a young age and having the opportunity to take part in challenges that mimic starting a business equips young people with entrepreneurial skills. The Trust’s survey of student attitudes to enterprise found that 52% of Welsh respondents had sold goods online, while 64% had experience of selling face to face. Many students are using these skills to set up their own businesses. After the Welsh Assembly Entrepreneurship Action Plan was introduced in 2002, early-stage entrepreneurial activity among young people increased from 3.5% to 10% in 2011.

3 Start-up success

The final and ultimate support for budding businesspeople in Wales is the help made available through the Youth Entrepreneurship Hubs to develop mature cashflow and business plans before asking for financial support. This bridging stage between education and work helps young people to discuss their plans with business advisers on a practical, day-to-day basis. And in return for supporting enterprise from an early age, the Welsh Government is being rewarded with more graduate start-ups compared to other parts of the UK and Ireland.

Those involved in delivering the enterprise agenda in Wales are well placed to share their success with governments in other parts of the UK and Ireland. Sharing what has proven to work well across national boundaries might just be the starting point for UK start-ups of the future.

  • Blog provided by Lauren Pennycook, Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust. The Trust’s new briefing, The Welsh Dragon: the success of enterprise education in Wales, can be downloaded here.

Could taking on an apprentice give your business a £2k boost?

March 06, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Could taking on an apprentice give your business a £2K boost?{{}}According to the AAT (“the UK’s leading qualification and membership body for accounting and finance staff”), your business could be missing out if it doesn’t currently employ an apprentice.

The organisation reckons that every time a business takes on an apprentice, “its bottom line gets a boost of more than £2,000”, while lack of awareness of available government support is a key reason why more small and medium-sized businesses aren’t employing apprentices, who, it estimates, “delivered £1.8bn of net economic benefits to UK organisations in 2012/13”.

The claims are based on a research report called The Value of Apprentices, compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr). It found that apprentices offer UK firms “a significant return on their investment”, with economic output usually far exceeding associated wage and training costs. Even after wages and training is accounted for, every time a business takes on an apprentice, on average, they gain by £2,000, according to the AAT.

But the research also found that awareness among businesses (particularly small firms) of government support for those who take on apprentices was poor. About 60% of small businesses surveyed by The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in August 2013 lacked basic knowledge of the “government’s programme of support for businesses that take on apprentices”. For example, businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees that haven’t hired an apprentice in the past 12 months and take on one apprentice (aged 16 to 24) could receive a grant of £1,500 per apprentice from the National Apprenticeship Service.

Jane Scott Paul, AAT Chief Executive, comments: “Take-up of apprenticeship schemes has grown sharply over the past five years, as more and more organisations enjoy the benefits that apprentices can bring to the workplace. This is benefitting their businesses and bolstering economic recovery and growth.

“We now need to do more to engage with smaller businesses – to break down the misconceptions and make it easier for smaller enterprises to unlock the full potential of training apprentices and to gain specific skills relevant to their business.

“Our research clearly reveals that apprentices, far from being a cost to business, are often a tangible benefit and, what’s more, they’re flourishing in non-traditional sectors such as business, administration and law. By quantifying the value of apprenticeships in this way we hope to encourage all sectors of business to open up their recruitment policies and address the skill shortage.”

With it being National Apprenticeship Week this week, maybe it’s time you found out more about the business benefits of taking on an apprentice?

Further reading

Lessons we learned by appearing on Dragons’ Den

March 06, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Lessons we learned by appearing on Dragons’ Den{{}}When running a business there are two key things you must always try to do. Firstly, you always need to be improving. Secondly, you should always be trying to test yourself.

We knew our business, TreatmentSaver, was going well, because our customer base was growing in line with our revenue. It took us a number of attempts to find the best business model, but we knew right away that online appointment booking was a winner for both clinics and our site visitors. Clinics benefited from acquiring new customers and our visitors got to save money on treatments such as laser eye surgery and Botox. From this point onwards, it has always just been a case of trying to scale up the business.

We figured we needed both investment and exposure, so going on Dragons’ Den was potentially an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. As well as this, we saw it as a great way to test ourselves and take us out of our comfort zone.

Initially we applied to appear on Dragons’ Den more than a year ago and having gone through a number of online and phone interviews we had to do an audition. This basically involved going to the BBC studios in Manchester and doing a mock pitch and interview in front of a BBC producer.

Everything went well and we were consequently chosen to appear on the actual show. After a few months of due diligence by the BBC (basically to check we were who we said we were), we were invited to film for real.

The whole day was surreal – it was certainly the first time I’d ever worn makeup. Once we were ready, having met the producer, etc, we spent about five hours in the green room, basically biting our fingernails until we were summoned in front of the Dragons.

When our time came to meet them, the adrenaline was definitely pumping. By far the worst bit is when the lift doors open for the first time and you see all five of them in front of you. It was a relief to get the pitch done, because for me this was the most nerve-wracking part. From then on it just became a Q&A with the Dragons, with a few curve balls thrown in for good measure.

After a fairly heated battle, unfortunately we did not manage to secure investment, but we gave it our best shot. After the initial disappointment had died down, we started to reflect on what a great experience it had been and how we could bounce back.

Ironically, being turned down was a shot in the arm for our business. It gave us the motivation and determination to prove the Dragons were wrong not to invest in us. Since the show was recorded we’ve doubled the traffic on our site and increased the number of clinics and offers on the site, while saving our customers more than a million pounds when booking online through our website.

But for me it’s some of the less tangible benefits that the whole experience has brought us that are more valuable. It has helped to reinvigorate our business, given us the extra drive to succeed and the confidence to seek out investment elsewhere. We will prove the Dragons wrong!

  • Blog supplied by Dr Ganesh Rao of TreatmentSaver. You can read about his first business steps here.

Further reading

Should you trade as a partnership or limited company?

March 03, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Should you trade as a partnership or limited company? /Team work concept with puzzle{{}}If you’re planning to start a business, you will need to decide how you want to trade, whether it’s as a limited company, partnership or sole trader. This will largely depend on how many people are involved, the type of business and how you want it to be run.

If you’re going into business alone, becoming a sole trader may be the best option. However, if you want to work with and employ a number of people, you can trade as a partnership or a limited company. But which one is best?

A partnership has a very different structure from a limited company in terms of accounts and liability. There are, though, advantages and disadvantages to both, so you need to know all the risks involved before you dive in.

Key features of a partnership

A partnership is similar to a sole trader business but, of course, a partnership must involve two or more people to own the business and share the responsibility. This can have its upsides and downsides, but the main points are:

Advantages 

  • Tax efficiency. With a partnership, you draw earnings, as opposed to receiving a salary through PAYE. You also don’t need to make National Insurance contributions.
  • There’s no need to register at Companies House or file annual returns, however, it’s usually recommended that a partnership agreement is made, which explains the business structure, legalities and each partner’s responsibilities.

Disadvantages 

  • Joint and several liability. This is quite a big disadvantage, but this can be overlooked at the beginning (no one wants to think about what would happen if their business fails). Each partner is liable to the entire debt of the business. 
  • Regardless of each partner’s financial status, if one cannot afford to pay any debt back and goes bankrupt, the entire debt will be left to the remaining partner(s). Worst-case scenario, a partner may have to sell the family home to pay the partnership’s debt.
  • If a partner leaves a partnership business (eg retires, changes job/career), they may still be liable if the business becomes insolvent later on. Some partners who leave a partnership choose to continue investing, because they often get a good return over the years. However, they could be brought back into legal dispute and liability clauses if the business becomes insolvent. 
  • Shared responsibility. This can lead to disputes and falling-outs. There’s the old saying: “A friendship founded on business is a good deal better than a business founded on friendship”.

As licensed insolvency practitioners, we’ve come across numerous partners who have realised too late just how liable they really are. If a partnership is the preferred type of business, all partners must be aware of what’s at stake and know exactly what they are getting into from the beginning.

What is a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)?

This is a corporate structure that gives partners limited liability and has similar traits to that of a limited company, while keeping the tradition of a partnership. It gives partners the benefits of a partnership, but allows them to be only partly liable if things were to go wrong.

Key features of a limited company

A limited company is owned by its shareholders (usually the directors) and all profits generated belong to the company. The company debt remains separate from individuals.

Advantages

  • Directors of a limited company are not personally responsible for the company’s debt. If the company goes downhill, the directors and shareholders will undoubtedly be upset and worried for the business, however, the worry stops there. Their own personal circumstances will not be affected (eg their mortgages, savings and other personal investments are safe). However, if there has been any wrongful trading, this won’t apply. If the authorities can prove the directors have been fraudulent, they will be held personally liable.
  • Work and life at home can be separated financially because setting up a limited company means there will be clear legal boundaries between the two. This in turn can help ensure good balance and wellbeing.

Disadvantages 

  • A limited company must register and file annual returns at Companies House.
  • Companies must pay corporation tax.
  • There are more director duties and legal responsibilities.
  • Higher accountancy fees.
  • Some creditors might worry that if they are dealing with a limited liability company, they will have less protection against debts.

It’s impossible to tell how well a company may do in the future. If the business is a success, a partnership can be highly beneficial. However, if the business were to fail, would you be prepared to pay off the entire debt and put your own personal finances at stake? Regardless of the kind of business you want to set up or how many people you want to involve, you must consider all the risks (as well as benefits).

Always seek professional advice

This article provides only a basic introduction – it does not constitute legal advice. The law on partnerships in particular is complex, with little case law, therefore you should always consult a lawyer if you are worried about your personal situation in any partnership and indeed company. 

Blog supplied by Keith Steven of KSA Group is the author of Company Rescue. He has been rescuing partnerships and companies since 1994 using the company voluntary arrangement method.

Further reading 

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