For most business owners and entrepreneurs, using a major law firm is like taking a space shuttle to the supermarket. Expensive and likely to burn lots of fuel right as you're trying to lift-off.
When you're bootstrapping you don't need a lawyer with wow factor. You need an expert in a specific field who can get the job done for a reasonable price. With this in mind, here's some advice about how to squeeze the most out of your legal bill.
In large firms, juniors will often "learn on your dime". Many lawyers will remember their early years being charged out at eye-watering rates, despite having next to no knowledge or experience.
Delegating work to juniors makes sense in some circumstances, for example, when it comes to basic research, due diligence or litigation "discovery" tasks. So ask your lawyer: exactly who will do your work? If juniors will be involved, get them to show you how the economics stack up in your favour.
If you're a start-up that's getting traction, you may find yourself being courted by a brand name firm. They might offer discounts or defer their fees, betting that one day they might (for example) get to work on your capital raise. The fees for that future work will more than compensate for backing a few "loss-leading" start-ups with cheap or free services in the beginning.
But it's worth remembering that the lawyer working for you still faces internal pressure to meet their own "billable targets". Be upfront and ask them: "I know you're losing money by doing our work. When the big clients call, will I go to the bottom of the pile?"
The trouble with lawyers charging by the hour is that it rewards time spent - the more the better. If a mediocre lawyer spends a day on a task, one that takes a great lawyer only two hours to complete, the mediocre lawyer gets rewarded and the client loses out.
The systems and culture of recording time by the hour and rewarding lawyers by the amount of time billed works in their favour - not yours.
Here's the thing: many lawyers hate billing by the hour. To escape, they leave big firms to go to smaller, boutique or solo practices. These firms are often structured to offer fixed fees, where you get the price up front for a defined scope of work.
Big firms excel in complex or large-scale transactions and litigation. Their lawyers eventually become a highly trained, specialised elite - whose expertise comes at a high price. But outside of those firms - and without their overheads - those same lawyers can deliver their services for a fraction of the cost, at fixed fees.
They might live in Bristol, rather than Mayfair. And their office might be their kitchen table. But you get the same "big firm" training, for less money. And no junior will ever learn on your dime. Now that's a no brainer.
Copyright © 2015 David Bushby of Lexoo, which can get your business multiple quotes from specialised lawyers, all handpicked and vetted by Lexoo.
So, the second televised Scottish independence debate has aired and many commentators awarded a clear points victory to Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond over ‘Better Together’ figurehead Alistair Darling. According to the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson: “From the start it was clear that Darling, who won the first debate, was edgy and nervy, while Salmond was better prepared and more confident.”
But, with the referendum soon due to take place on 18 September, where do Scotland’s business groups stand when it comes to independence: Och aye the noo or Och no?
In March the CBI criticised the Scottish Government's economic plan for independence, saying it “didn’t add up”. The organisation failed to see “how an independent Scotland would be better off economically from putting up barriers with its biggest export market – the UK.” The CBI believes the “best way to deliver jobs and prosperity to the people of Scotland is to remain part of the UK”.
John Cridland, CBI director general, commented: "The minute you draw a line between Gretna and Berwick, Scotland starts to drift apart from its biggest market and loses a significant amount of economic clout. Independence would force Scotland’s major industries to grapple with two lots of red tape and lead to Scots facing higher borrowing costs. Keeping the pound is the best option for Scotland, but that is only on offer through maintaining the union. An independent Scotland would also have to negotiate hard to get back into the EU, temporarily losing access to the world’s biggest trade area. Scotland’s economy has the independence and flexibility of devolution alongside the support of the union. Business is clear - we are stronger together.” Several Scottish organisations (including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen universities) quit CBI Scotland as a result of its registration as a “No” campaigner.
Business for Scotland is a “co-operatively owned business network for pro-independence business people and professionals”. It says: “An independent Scotland can support Scottish business in tax, regulation, the labour market, innovation and global exports. An independent Scotland will prioritise the interests of business in Scotland following decades of Westminster prioritising London and the South East. This includes the opportunity to create a simpler tax system that supports Scottish business; reforming the labour market to improve employer/employee relations; encouraging migration to Scotland to balance Scotland’s unique demographic needs; and supporting Scottish exports globally through a Scottish diplomatic and trade service.”
Furthermore, it argues: “There is overwhelming evidence that Scotland will be economically better off as an independent country. Even opponents of independence have conceded that Scotland can be a successful independent country. Their own negative economic forecast estimated that Scots would be just £1 worse off a year.”
In July the FSB in Scotland published Scotland's Independence Referendum: Your business, your vote to “help Scottish business owners make their minds up”. The guide was written in partnership with the University of Edinburgh Business School and covered “practical issues business people say are not being adequately addressed in the [referendum] debate”.
Previous FSB research suggested that most business owners in Scotland “have sought information on the referendum, but [most] were disappointed by the material produced by both sides”. Andy Willox, FSB Scottish policy convenor, says: "Two in five Scottish small businesses say that better referendum information could sway their vote, but the information provided by the campaigns doesn't answer questions that matter to them.” The FSB describes the guide as a “non-partisan document”, reflecting its claim that “The FSB and the University of Edinburgh are strictly neutral bodies and profess no position for or against Scottish independence.”
The SCC has also remained impartial. Writing in Business Scotland Magazine, Garry Clark, head of policy and public affairs at SCC, commented: “Scottish Chambers of Commerce have adopted an impartial approach, seeking to inform members of the issues and communicate members’ views to politicians.”
A recent SCC member survey found that more than half of respondents believed independence would bring opportunities, but “three quarters identified risks”. If Scotland ultimately remains within the union, 68% of responding firms wanted more power devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Clark added: “There would appear to be a clear mood among businesses for more decision making in Scotland, whatever the outcome”. According to Clark, most respondents also gave a “clear message” that Scotland having to leave the EU, either as an independent country or as part of a want-away UK, would have a negative impact on their fortunes.
In July, BBC economics editor Robert Peston wrote a piece trailing a BBC2 programme he’d just made called Scotland: for Richer or Poorer. He concluded: “If I had a vote, I would not be casting it purely on the basis of the economics - because it does not seem to me that the income and wealth at stake are life-changingly huge.
“Scotland, certainly in the longer term, is likely to be a relatively rich and successful economy. What matters far more, arguably, is how Scots [currently] see themselves in a much broader sense, either as a confident nation that is proud of being part of a bigger country, the United Kingdom, or as a people stifled and limited by the historic union.”
Being British, we do love to complain about the weather. However, over the last few months we’ve seen an unusually high number of storms, bringing with them strong winds, torrential rain, and tidal surges.
Compared to our usual seasonal inclemency, this flurry of storms really has given us something to complain about. Thousands of homes and businesses across the UK have suffered flood damage or power loss at some point.
Sadly, if your business has been affected, there’s not much you can do apart from dry yourself off and move on.
But that’s not to say you can’t be prepared for the next time.
So, to help keep your business up and running (whatever the weather), here are our top tips for avoiding trouble. Business continuity might sound a bit stuffy, but it’s really simple and could save you a shedload.
No one likes bad weather, but at least your business doesn’t have to suffer. Just keep an eye on the weather report and to make sure you’re well prepared to deal with potential disruption. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Hannah Tonge, PolicyBee professional insurance brokers
Further reading: how to make an insurance claim
So you’ve decided to set up your own business. Once the initial jubilation and feeling of liberation passes, trepidation creeps in, as you begin to question whether you’ve made the right decision and where on earth do you even start?
Being fairly new to the market ourselves, we were in that exact position just over a year ago and know how baffling even building a to-do list can be. If you’ve never done it before, how can you possibly know everything that needs to go on the list?
Surprisingly, one of the big ‘must-haves’ for any person starting out on their own is actually missing from most to-do lists – insurance. Simon Durkin, a senior associate at law firm DWF Fishburns, spoke to us about some of the cases he’d worked on when new entrepreneurs have ended up in difficulties, because they hadn’t quite realised the risks involved in being their own boss.
A number of the claims he’d handled recently were against “mumpreneurs” who had (accidentally) sent USB sticks infected with viruses to clients. This resulted in damage to one client’s computers and put sensitive data about their customers at risk.
if you don’t have the necessary insurance, this kind of incident – which can easily result in legal action - could be enough to stop your new business dead in its tracks.
Whatever your start-up is, you need to make sure you thoroughly research what insurance is needed. With an increase in the number of new businesses started in the UK in 2012 – reaching more than 500,000 – and with about 230,000 businesses across the UK having no insurance cover in place (according to research published by insurance broker LV=), too many start-ups are vulnerable to liability claims, hefty fines and even prosecution – all of which seriously scupper growth.
The best place to start is to take a deep breath and familiarise yourself with the different types of insurance available to business – and the insurance industry’s jargon. Read about professional indemnity insurance (which protects you in the event of professional negligence claims), public liability insurance (which helps if a member of the public is hurt as a result of your business activities), and employers liability insurance (which you must have if you employ people, including contract workers, apprentices and even volunteers).
Once you’ve got your head around those, move onto the business insurance policies that protect you from unlikely but catastrophic events - business interruption Insurance, and key man insurance.
It’s a notoriously complex area, so if you’re still unsure, talking to an insurance broker who specialises in arranging insurance cover for businesses will help. It’s easy to find brokers on the internet and even get a quote tailored to your business needs online – but if you can get a recommendation from someone in your network, so much the better.
Finally, if you’re a member of a professional association, it’s also worth looking into what support they provide. Often they have considered the needs of their members and put a package in place.
Blog supplied by Steven Mendel, CEO and co-founder of Bought By Many, the company that “helps people club together to get a better deal on their insurance”.
Rising energy prices, huge disposal costs and fuel taxes add to the cost of running a business – and the regulations controlling pollution and waste are getting tighter.
Saving energy, reducing waste and improving resource efficiency are the key drivers that will improve your business performance, reduce your overheads and increase profits.
Regulators, investors, insurers, customers and local communities all have a stake in what businesses do and how they operate.
Green up your products and services and you will also increase your market share, reduce your overhead, minimise unit costs of production and improve your business reputation.
John Barwise is a chartered environmentalist and registered environmental auditor, as well as chair of Cumbria Green Business Forum.
In the 1980s there was a notorious sales technique for selling health insurance that was popular in the US. A salesman would make a cold call and open up the dialogue with a potential client by shouting down the phone: "You're going to die! What are you going to do about it?"
I can't imagine how fast a ton of bricks would be dropped on the company that tried that technique today, nor who exactly would drop it first, the regulator or consumer, but when it comes to business insurance it's tempting to take a similar stance to those who don't really see the point of public liability insurance.
This is your small fledgling business. To start up, you have forgone the security of a monthly wage, the certainty of holiday pay and other benefits. It's a brave, quasi-insane move that is incredibly admirable and should be awarded the highest of accolades. Why then do so many people not see the value of taking this financial and logistical tightrope walk without a safety net?
A very small number of businesses don't need it, but these are unusual and don't really operate with other people (a rarity in any venture from which you hope to make money). Any small business that has survived longer than a few months will understandably be very cautious of spending money and many businesses will see public liability insurance as an unnecessary expense.
At the risk of sounding like I'm hawking wares and crossing over into pushy ‘80s salesman territory, let me explain... You might never need it. Most people never will. That's the point of insurance. If you do need it, however, it will likely be because of a completely random act over which you have no control over. It doesn't matter how careful or responsible you are, you are completely at the mercy of third parties. Legal action from someone feeling wronged could, at best, set you back significantly. At worst – it could shut you down completely.
If you run a small business, you probably started one up to be your own boss and take control of your life, but you must face the fact that you have less control than you think, and you're going to benefit from having something there just to catch you if things go horribly wrong.
Insurance is rarely the first thing anyone thinks of when starting up a business. It's not always even the second or third thing, but it probably should at least be in the top five. A lot of business insurance packages are not complicated and you've undoubtedly got enough to keep you awake at night without worrying about the possibility of random chaos undoing all of your hard work in an instant.
This piece was provided by YOUR Insurance, an insurance broker specialising in public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance for small businesses.
The best way to show you why having professional indemnity insurance is worthwhile is to tell you about how it’s helped real people in real-life situations. In each example, our client didn’t make an obvious mistake. They were simply doing what they usually do best, trying to help and act professionally.
Our client, Jim, runs a successful design agency. He had to produce his biggest client’s annual report – as he had done for 16 years. The project progressed well. Just one minor thing – the CEO had spotted the finance director’s name twice in the “With thanks to…” list.
Jim corrected the final proof and sent the document off to print. As previously, the CEO would visit the printer and check the first sheets coming off the press to ensure the colours were right, and the images looked good.
Some days later, as he waited to drop some sample copies off to his client, Jim realised with dread that the final text changes had not saved. Jim called his client. Quite reasonably, the CEO wanted his reports reprinted, but who was going to pay? It was partly the CEO’s responsibility to sign-off the proofs at the printers.
Faced with a crippling reprint cost, Jim called us to see if his professional indemnity insurance could help. It could. And soon we received the information we needed to get the claim started. The only issue was who would settle the £14,000 reprint bill.
The insurer suggested that the client bore some responsibility, and between them and us, we negotiated a satisfactory outcome. Within days, a cheque for £9,000, representing Jim’s agreed liability, was sent. The client got their corrected report in time for the AGM and Jim kept his client.
Architectural technician Jane was asked to design an extension for her mum’s friend who was losing her mobility and needed a ground floor bedroom adding to her home. Delighted with the plans, the customer asked if Jane knew of a good builder. She recommended Honest John, a local tradesman with a good reputation, and her client accepted his quote.
Despite chasing her outstanding design fees, six months later Jane still hadn’t heard from her client, until a letter from the lady’s solicitors arrived, detailing a claim for negligent advice and a breach of duty of care. Honest John had taken payment, started the work, but then scarpered. The claim was for the £25,000 outlay, plus £20,000 for remedial works and inconvenience.
Our advice was clear. As a professional making a recommendation, Jane had a duty of care to make sure her recommendation was sound. Because her recommendation had run off with her client’s money, there was a case to answer.
This innocent error was covered by the policy. The insurer negotiated a settlement of £35,000 with the lady’s solicitors. Jane renewed her policy – which, despite the claim, went up by less than £10 per month.
Our final tale of woe comes from this client – an accountant, who explains what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a professional indemnity claim.
“At first, I was too ashamed to contact my broker. How could I confess to small errors that resulted in a compensation claim for £6,000? Thankfully, the broker was sympathetic. They asked for the story from start to finish, accompanied by copies of letters and emails communicating with my client. They said they would come back to me once they had spoken to my insurer.
“When I heard I was covered, I was so relieved. I received guidance on how to write to my client, requesting details of the charges they had incurred, so the claim could be assessed properly. The clients had called in another accountant to correct the issue, and they had charged extra fees for their time. The insurer proposed a substantially lower figure than that demanded, and I was shocked when my client agreed to the offer.
“The process took less than three weeks from my first call to sort out. I still find it hard to believe I made such a fuss about getting on the phone to my broker! I had always considered indemnity insurance to be a bit of a luxury, and I never really appreciated what it could protect me against – but now I reckon it’s a business essential.”
Nick Green of insurance broker PolicyBee
We carried out some research recently and one of the most shocking findings was small businesses and freelance consultants delay purchasing professional indemnity (PI) insurance for an average of six months after setting up in business.
39 per cent of respondents didn’t purchase professional indemnity insurance until at least three months after they had been in business, with 20 per cent waiting two or more years.
The industries or professions most ‘at risk’ (because those we surveyed delayed purchase of PI insurance for the longest time) are design, engineering and marketing and communications. On average, 43 per cent of businesses in these three sectors waited two or more years before purchasing PI insurance.
By contrast, 90 per cent of accountants purchased PI insurance straightaway, with the remaining 10 per cent purchasing cover within six months.
It’s encouraging that more than half of respondents clearly recognise the importance of PI insurance, evident by their arranging it immediately. However, the fact that many waited until they’d been in business for some time was a shock.
Businesses that delay purchasing PI insurance are placing themselves at risk. A client could make a claim against them for negligence. PI insurance covers damages and legal defence costs – which can have a devastating impact if you lose your case and don’t have any cover.
It’s clear that there’s a stark difference between sectors, with those in more regulated fields such as accountancy and consultancy likely to purchase PI insurance from the outset. In contrast, the more creative sectors such as marketing and design, delay, which places them at higher risk in the event of a serious dispute.
Nick Green, PolicyBee, professional insurance brokers
“Buying an existing business can be less risky than creating one from scratch. If the business has customers, it has income. Risk is also easier to assess because you can calculate costs, turnover and profit – and thereby predict cashflow”
Emilie Corbille of www.daltonsbusiness.com
“If you want to form a new company, you must send Companies House your registration fee plus a memorandum of association, articles of association and a completed IN01 form, which details the company’s registered office and the names and addresses of its directors (and company secretary, if applicable)”
Andrew Millet of Wisteria Formations
“By putting away some money from your earnings each month – say, 25 per cent of your gross earnings – you should have more than enough money in the bank to take care of your tax bills”
James R McBrearty of www.taxhelp.uk.com
“Even if you believe you have an excellent idea for a business, you mustn’t allow yourself to get fooled into a false sense of optimism. Test it thoroughly by doing some basic market research. Only then can you move forward on any sound basis”
Start-up author Kevin Duncan
“You should minimise your start-up costs because then you’ll stand a better chance of surviving that crucial first year. Also, it’s a good discipline to get into from day one. In business, you must keep your costs as low as possible – and avoid buying things you don’t need”
Martin Dunne of Sayers Butterworth chartered accountants
“The old saying ‘turnover is vanity, profit sanity and cash reality’ remains true. Businesses go bust in the long term through lack of profit, but in the short term, they fail because they don’t have enough cash to pay their bills on demand. Cashflow is the lifeblood of any business”
Chartered Accountant Howard S Hackney
“Having a written contract clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of both parties, which is helpful when it comes to monitoring the relationship’s success. It can also act as proof if a supplier’s performance falls short”
Marie Kell of Andrew Jackson solicitors
You are responsible for the health and safety of everyone affected by your business - including employees, other people working in or visiting your premises, people affected outside your premises (for example, by emissions) and anyone affected by products or services which you design, produce or supply. You are also responsible for the welfare of your employees.
“Editorial is regarded as more believable than an advert. I’ve read that it’s 50 per cent easier to sell to someone who has read positive things about your business, products or services. And such publicity is usually no cost or low cost. Even if you have to pay someone to do your PR, gaining one piece of coverage per month can be much cheaper than advertising”
Jane Lee of IT PR specialist Dexterity
“It’s low cost and therefore less risky, because there aren’t any expensive premises overheads. You can also claim for a percentage of your domestic bills, for lighting, heating, telephone calls, etc. A home office means no commute, so you save money and time, too”
Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation
Inventors, entrepreneurs and start-ups often like taking risks and pushing the boundaries. That is what innovation is all about and surely our world would not have progressed as much if it were not for risk-takers. However, when it comes to the intellectual property (IP), making mistakes can have disastrous consequences. Here are four common mistakes you need to avoid.
Maybe not having a budget to properly protect your IP or trying to do it all yourself. It’s a dilemma: save a few hundred pounds now, while money is scarce, but leave yourself open to risks of potential litigation and significant costs later. Prevention is better than cure and certainly the cost of prevention is much less than the cost of correction/litigation/lost value and investment. Having a budget does not mean it must be huge, but it means access to an IP lawyer (and not only a patent attorney) will help you protect and make the most of your invention.
IP includes a variety of rights patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and other confidential or proprietary information. Sometimes inventors think that if they do not have a patent there is nothing worth protecting or if they apply for a patent that’s all the protection and advice they need. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. You should understand that even if an invention is not patentable, it’s still worth discussing the various options with an IP specialist, since it may be protected via copyright or as trade secret. Think the magic formula of Coca Cola. IP rights when managed correctly can (a) be licensed; (b) be sold/assigned; (c) be enforced against a suspected infringer and protect their owner against competition and increase the value of the invention.
Using a trademark, domain name, design or product without searching whether someone else has registered it or is already using a similar name, design, etc, can be a very expensive mistake – not only in terms of having to adopt another name, domain name and paying extra costs, but also in terms of bad publicity and PR, lost customers and exposure to potentially very expensive damages.
Without the use of appropriate agreements, an inventor may lose their valuable IP assets. An inventor often needs people to perform various tasks, either as employees or third party suppliers/contractors. In each case, the inventor must adopt the correct agreement to ensure ownership of IP and other rights and obligations such as confidentiality, non-competition and non-solicitation. Simple payment for the work performed does not guarantee IP ownership.
Dr Maria Anassutzi, Anassutzi & Co Limited
Tomorrow (Wednesday, 23 March) will see George Osborne’s second Budget as Chancellor. Whatever measures Osborne reveals tomorrow, they will be announced against a backdrop of slow growth, rising inflation and impending cuts.
Frankly, it’s not the best time to be Chancellor. As the latest results from Sage UK’s monthly omnibus survey reveal, some 44 per cent of small-business owners are feeling nervous about the impact the Budget will have on their business. Only 5 per cent of the 1,200 survey respondents were optimistic.
So, what are we all worried about? Sage’s survey identified increased National Insurance contributions, enterprise zones and bank lending as the key issues bugging small firms. The small business groups are calling for the business tax system to be simplified and red tape to be reduced - and tax and regulation are likely to be the hottest issues tomorrow.
The coalition government itself has promised the most “pro-enterprise” and “business-friendly” Budget in a generation. They’ve suggested that they’re going to ease employment law, cut red tape and reform the planning system, among other things.
But it remains to be seen whether the government can keep small businesses happy. Follow the Budget 2011 live on the Donuts and find out what happens.
Intellectual property – also known as ‘intangible assets’ – comprises patents, copyrights, trademarks, design rights and registered designs.
Some intellectual property rights (eg patents, trademarks and registered designs) need a formal process of registration and payment of fees by the owner to the Intellectual Property Office, to provide protection and monopoly rights to their owner.
Copyright and design rights arise automatically upon creation, but do not protect the owner from a third party’s independent creation – only from actual copying.
Intellectual property rights differ in terms of duration and procedures, but their effect is to ensure the owner has the exclusive right to use its rights and decide how those rights are used and exploited, which includes preventing any other party from using the same rights. This is extremely important for start-ups seeking to protect their assets, to achieve growth and potential investments.
Intellectual property rights only protect the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves, so appropriate confidentiality agreements must be put in place to ensure initial actions do not jeopardize future intellectual property.
A start-up must have a process for identifying and capturing its intellectual property. To this effect an intellectual property audit carried out periodically is always useful. Once a start-up has identified its intellectual property, it needs to:
This article is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You can read more information about protecting your intellectual property here.
Dr Maria Anassutzi, Anassutzi & Co Limited
So the coalition government set out its stall this week by outlining measures it believes will aid the UK’s five million or so small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).
Hosting the launch event – loftily entitled the Summit for Small Business – Business Minister Mark Prisk said: “I entered government with the goal of making this the most entrepreneurial decade in our history and I'm confident today's announcements will make that a reality.” Big ambition. Bold claim.
All the major parties agree on the pivotal role SMEs are likely to play in reviving the UK economy. SMEs provide 60 per cent of the nation’s jobs and half of its GDP. And with so many public sector workers likely to lose their jobs, many will hope to find gainful employment in the private sector.
The government’s three main aims, as revealed at the Summit, are to: improve access to finance; make it easier for SMEs to win public sector contracts; and allow social tenants (ie someone who rents a property from a local council or housing association) to start their own home-based businesses (currently this isn’t allowed).
Despite the taxpayer bailouts and criticism from business groups, still too many small firms are met with refusal when seeking a bank loan or overdraft extension. Business Secretary Vince Cable has certainly been a vociferous critic of the banks in this regard.
The government says it is committed to ensuring a wide range of finance options for small businesses. The Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) scheme will remain live for another four years. According to the government it will make “£2bn available to viable small companies [that lack] credit history or collateral. This will provide support to 6,000 SMEs a year.”
A further £200m will be committed to Enterprise Capital Funds, which will “support equity investments in the highest-growth potential businesses over four years.” The first of the new funds is expected to begin investing in early 2011.
The government will also work with banks in their response to the Business Finance Taskforce green paper, including the £1.5bn Business Growth Fund, mentoring and drawing up of a new lending code. Vince Cable said: “The government is doing its bit. The banks [must] play their part [by increasing] normal commercial lending to get the economy growing.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne noted: “The private sector is also taking steps to provide a diverse range of finance options for businesses – a development which is welcomed by government.”
The government also wants to make sure SMEs are awarded at least one-quarter of public sector contracts, which will be welcome news for those eager to get a slice of a multi-billion pound pie. To speed up the process a standardised ‘Pre-Qualification Questionnaire’ (developed in co-operation with the Federation of Small Businesses) will be introduced in December. Designed to ease cashflow pressures, the government has committed to pay 80% of its prime contractors within five working days and these must pay their suppliers within 30 days (more good news for many small suppliers).
Cable, Osbourne, Prisk et al are not the first politicians to make speeches underlining the huge contribution SMEs make, as they quietly go about generating wealth and providing employment. Praise is one thing. Time will tell whether these latest measures are enough to have any a quantifiable positive effect on SMEs’ fortunes in the difficult few years yet to come.
Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor
Employer relations minister Ed Davey has announced an extension to the right to request flexible working, which will allow 288,000 more parents to have their requests to work flexible hours formally considered by their employer.
Davey has also revealed that the government is preparing a consultation on a universal right for all employees to request flexible working, saying: “We want to make sure the law better supports real families jugging work and family life, and the businesses that employ them.”
But what do small businesses think? We asked Matthew Jones (MJ), founder of Open Study College what he feels about staff having flexible working hours.
MJ: “We employ 20 people and currently allow many of them to work flexibly if they wish to. It boosts staff moral and leads to a more relaxed working environment. Some of our staff commute a reasonable distance to work so we also allow people to work from home during bad weather; it’s safer for everyone and ultimately means they aren’t spending unnecessary hours travelling.”
MJ: “We run a small office so absent staff always have an effect on us. We do have to be aware of presence for time-sensitive roles, but providing our customers don’t suffer and the work gets done on time we look auspiciously at requests for flexible working from staff with or without children. Increasing the age limit will have a minimal effect on our business.”
MJ: “Flexible working can be a very positive concept providing it is fair, managed and controlled. It leads to a better working environment and more motivated staff. It also makes us appear forward-thinking to our customers and suppliers. It can sometimes be a pain when trying to book meetings and ensuring staff are available, but this is a small trade-off when you consider the benefits. It can help greatly with day-to-day activities such as booking doctors’ appointments and takes the stress out of having to wait for an after-work slot.”
MJ: “The government has been clear that flexible working is not compulsory, but whether this will filter down accurately I can’t say. But we are clear with our staff regarding what is available to them and it seems to work well.”
MJ: “I believe that there’s an inherent problem with childcare and how society deals with it in the UK. While laws and guidelines have been put in place to support parents, it would seem that “childcare” by its very nature has not changed much for a long time, in terms of the hours in which children can be looked after. I would also like the government to help on the other side of the coin, too, with the children themselves, as I don’t believe an employer should be completely responsible for the entire burden of childcare.
“Unfortunately, with today’s strain on purse-strings many families find it hard not having a two-parent income when bringing up children, so we try and do what we can for our staff. It certainly won’t affect our staff here because they already receive these benefits.”
Not all business owners and managers are in favour of giving the right to request flexible working, however. Charlotte Williams of recruitment and HR company Novalign told us:
“The new law could have a negative impact on some small businesses who may feel pressured to accommodate requests for flexible working. This could result in additional and possibly unaffordable costs, inability to compensate for employees with flexible working hours and a detrimental impact on the business’ performance including failure to respond to customer demand.”
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.
As a start–up business, one of the most crucial elements will be employing a strong and reliable team. But how do you judge if someone is likely to be a reliable employee? One of the issues that can affect your team in the long term is maternity leave.
I was shocked to read Alexandra Shulman's recent article for the Daily Mail, ('Year-long maternity leave, flexi hours, four day weeks... why would ANY boss hire a woman?'), in which she argued that current maternity law is making women 'unemployable'.
I found Shulman's article particularly galling given that she is a woman with children who is in a rare position of power as editor of Vogue UK. By her own admission, she was able to go back to work after only 18 weeks off because she had, and continues to have a 'live–in nanny'. This option is off the cards for the vast majority of women, yet her article implies that those who do not, or cannot hand their children over to others are likely to deliver a less than adequate performance in the workplace.
Shulman's is an extreme view, but there is no denying that for a small business, a vital employee taking maternity leave can make things difficult, particularly in the current economic climate. Although businesses that pay £45,000 or less in gross national insurance contributions in a tax year can reclaim 100% of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), there are other aspects to consider such as the potential costs of arranging for temporary cover. It can also have a negative effect on your team – promoting a junior employee to fill the position and then effectively demoting them once the employee on maternity leave has returned to full–time work can create resentment.
The Start Up Donut has plenty of information on the legal issues affecting maternity leave and SMP. However, I think there is more at stake here than just the law. The World Economic Forum (WEF) reported this year that the UK has slipped down the league tables for gender equality. The stats are alarming – the UK now stands at 15th out of 134 countries, a drop from ninth place in 2006. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) women in the UK face an average pay gap of 17%, with the media blaming the gap on women taking leave or working fewer hours when they have children. Compare this to the Scandinavian countries occupying the top positions in the WEF survey, where maternal leave can be up to 12 months, but which have smaller pay gaps. Is there a cultural difference here? If the UK is to really act on the gender equality it promotes, I would argue that all businesses, whatever the size, have a responsibility to ensure that they take maternity leave seriously.
What do you think? Are you a woman who has worried about the results of taking maternity leave or experienced difficulty returning to work after taking it? Have you deliberately chosen a less competitive or pressured career so as not to face these worries in the future? Are you an employer who has hesitated to hire a woman, because, in the words of Lord Sugar, you considered it 'a bit risky'?
Like every area of business these days, there’s lots of red tape and ecommerce has its own rules and regulations. Just remember, though, it’s up to you to comply with the law. Here are my tips to help you ensure your online store meets UK regulations.
If your annual revenue exceeds £68,000 you must be VAT registered. If you're below this threshold, you don't have to worry about charging VAT and it would actually be against the law to do so. There are some finer points to be aware of, too. For instance, if your products are a mixture of those requiring VAT to be charged, and those exempt from VAT, VAT charged on shipping should be in proportion. Make sure your ecommerce solution can handle all of the tax rules.
2 US import rules
The UK is part of the EU, obviously, so we’re bound by its rules. It’s not the same when handling US orders. The individual US states might want to charge tax on sales into their area, but it’s their responsibility to levy this tax. You don’t have to charge this “use tax”, which is between the buyer and the state where they live. As a UK business, you can sell into the US tax free – but you should make your customers aware that they may be charged tax on the goods when they’re imported.
3 EU Distance Selling Directive
Under this Directive, you must provide full contact details – including an address, phone number, email and company and VAT registration numbers – where applicable. Do it anyway – it helps to build trust.
The same Directive dictates that you must accept return of any items purchased within seven working days and failing to inform buyers of their rights has penalties. But why not make this a selling point?
4 Data Protection
You must register with the Information Commissioner’s Office if you hold data on people (eg customers). Registering takes some time and effort, but is inexpensive and fairly straight forward.
5 Email opt-in
If you want to email newsletters or offers to prospective customers, you must gain their consent in the form of a statement that the customers agree to receive communications. You must also give them an option to decline.
Emails involved in fulfilling orders or answering specific sales enquiries do not need this provision. When you send marketing messages there must be a free method of opting out each time you send an email. This itself can be by email. The regulations apply to communications with individuals, not businesses.
6 Disability legislation
Since 2004, by law, businesses have had to take “reasonable” steps to provide access to people with disabilities – and this includes your website. Ensure all images have alternate text tags, so visually impaired people can still navigate your site.
7 Libel on social media
Libel laws also apply to blogs, Twitter, Faceback, etc. Remember also that your words remain on record forever – so think before you type that competitor put-down.
8 PCI DSS
Protecting payment card data is crucial and the banks require compliance under the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). Compliance is compulsory for anyone who accepts and stores debit/credit card details either on computer or on paper.
More information on PCI DSS can be found at https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org.
You can meet PCI DSS in one of two ways:
9 3D Secure
3D Secure – known as “Verified by Visa” and “Mastercard SecureCode” – is a sort of online chip and PIN system. Online buyers are prompted to enter a password whenever they use their card. The password is sent directly to Visa or Mastercard and they approve the transaction (or decline). This is gradually becoming compulsory and you should consult your bank and PSP on how to comply.
10 Let the world know
Finally, assuming you are legal and decent, let the world know. Anything that adds to your credibility will help you online, so list all of the things that you have done under the heading “We comply with the following legal and tax regulations”.
If you are a start-up, these rules may seem to big a mountain to climb. But there are two things to remember. Firstly, do your best to comply. Secondly, if you’re correctly challenged, then immediately take corrective measures. With the exception of VAT transgressions, in most cases this will be enough to avoid business damage or prosecution.
My first blog post on setting up a business at home proved popular - I thought I would follow it up with some tips on the regulatory side to working from home.
I'm always looking for new topics to blog about so if you have any suggestions - do get in touch or leave a comment below.
Nasty Nick Griffin’s much-publicised appearance on Question Time raised a lot of questions, namely about democracy and freedom of speech, and about how much freedom is too much when your views just happen to be fascist.
Pay attention employers, because these uncomfortable questions may be closer to home than you think.
The media has started its own debate over the BBC’s invitation to Griffin to join other, mainstream politicians on its flagship current affairs programme; The Guardian claims the BNP is losing the support of even its own loyalists over Griffin’s performance, while The Telegraph insists the programme has given the party a platform from which to ensnare new supporters.
Either way, the BNP has upset and enraged a lot of people in the last few days alone, with its anti-almost-everybody viewpoints. Democracy is democracy, and you can’t ignore that more than a handful of people are putting their crosses in the BNP box, but it is a challenge for every one of us to decide how to deal with this.
Look a little deeper and there are parallels here with the workplace. How far should you allow your employees to discuss their religious, social or political views in the workplace, if there is a risk that they could seriously upset other people with them?
Luckily, as a business owner, there is a more clearly defined line for you to draw, partly because your employees have not been elected or recruited on their personal policies, although healthy debate can benefit your business in many ways.
While your staff obviously have a human right to manifest their beliefs and express their opinions, you must keep a beady eye out to ensure that what they express does not discriminate against or undermine other employees. It may be unlikely that you have a BNP activist in your midst, but any viewpoint that undermines someone based on their gender, age, race or religion, or simply makes them feel uncomfortable, can have serious consequences.
Aside from a dent in your team’s morale, constant controversial comments or an over-zealous employee trying to convert people to their religion or cause can lead to staff absence or legal claims of discrimination or harassment, both of which can be expensive and damaging.
Speaking to Acas equality specialist, Steve Williams, recently, I found out that employers can protect their business from these perils by including some pointers in their HR policy, and by having a quiet word with anyone that breaches them.
“Emphasise that discussion is welcome but that it must not be used to oppress or discriminate against other staff,” he adds. “Spell it out — for example, it is acceptable for an employee to mention that they go to church or campaign for the Green Party, but if they start pressurising other people, that isn’t.”
On the bright side, Williams told me that most employees have an “innate sense” of where the line should be drawn with regard to other people’s feelings, and would soon apologise if they realised they had overstepped it. If we are to take his word for it, there’s a good chance you will never be faced with this complex problem. Nevertheless, in the face of an increasingly re-politicised population, you should be well-prepared.
When starting a courier business you need to be aware of giving the best customer service and giving the correct information about what you can and cannot deliver.
Quite simply it's a balance. If you don't advise your customers in the right manner - you will lose them. If you lean too far the other way and do something illegal, you could lose your growing business.
Some of the things a courier should not be delivering:
There are some things a courier cannot transport because of insurance and the related costs to that. They may be items that are mostly likely to break in transit, so therefore the customer should be warned that a delivery cannot take place due to insurance reasons. The customer may then make a decision as to whether they want the delivery to proceed or not.
When taking your delivery request from your customer, the courier should establish what needs to be delivered and if the item is in boxes. The courier would need to ask exactly what is in the boxes in order to give the best customer service to the client.
When starting a courier business, it's essential to get the right advice and the correct information about what you can and cannot deliver. Failure to do so can cost you your livelihood.
Sarah Arrow is co-author of the Complete Courier Guide which is filled with up to the minute information regarding starting a courier business. She is also the author of twitter for couriers explaining in depth how couriers and transport companies can gain business from twitter.