One of the most important things to consider when setting up your new business, whether it’s accountancy or building, is health and safety. But don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be complex, just be sure to seek professional advice if ever you are unsure about your responsibilities.
Legally you are obliged to decide exactly who will be responsible for health and safety in your business. Many bigger companies delegate this to an external consultant so that they can concentrate on other things, but new business owners usually accept this task themselves. You must ensure that you or your appointed person is competent to take charge of your health and safety.
As a start up you are unlikely to need a written health and safety policy (it’s only required if you have five or more employees), but it wouldn’t hurt to have a written record of the risks you have identified and how they will be handled. No matter what type of business you run, your health and safety policy should describe how you will:
Every type of business will present a different set of risks and hazards that could affect its employees, visitors, customers and even those just passing by! For example, a member of the public passing by a window cleaner could be at risk from falling objects if the window cleaner hasn’t properly considered the risk and taken steps to reduce the likelihood of it occurring.
Of course, no one expects you to completely eradicate all risks and hazards. Many of them will be part and parcel of your new business – hazardous tools and electrical equipment are used in every trade and industry, from gardening to hairdressing and construction. But you must be aware of the risks they present and take reasonably practical steps to protect anyone to whom they could present a risk.
As a new micro business, you’re unlikely to need to delegate the management of your health and safety to others, but if you don’t have the required knowledge or experience to handle it – seek training with a professional and reputable organisation. The additional cost may seem unnecessary – but it will ensure that you fulfil your legal obligations and help keep you, your employees and your customers safe.
This post was written on behalf of Health & Safety Training Ltd
So you’ve had an incredible new idea and you simply can’t wait to get to work on contacting potential customers, setting up meetings and making your dreams become a reality. But have you made sure you have the right insurance and have a first aid box on site?
It might sound ridiculous, but it’s very often the boring things businesses ignore that kill them in the all-important first year. So here’s a look at three things you might think are dull – but could end up being what breaks you if you choose to ignore them.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure you’re covered if anything goes wrong, right? But did you know that there are certain types of business insurance that are compulsory to anyone who chooses to get a business off the ground? Luckily there are handy online guides that will tell you more, so read up and make sure you’re covered.
No matter how big or small your premises might be, from a spare bedroom to a whole factory floor, a risk assessment could save your skin. It can help you to better protect visitors, clients and staff from accidents. If you don’t carry out a risk assessment, you could find yourself at the centre of a claim that digs so deep into your pocket that there is nothing left to keep your business afloat.
Sure, your risk assessment will help protect you, but it won’t stop accidents from happening. Trips, falls, bumps and much more can unexpectedly crop up anywhere so you’ll need to have either an industrial or office first aid kit available when they do. It may just be a few plasters, bandages and pain killers, but it could make all the difference if it stops someone trying to make a claim against you.
If you are a home-based start up looking to move into your first commercial property, renting a desk in a shared office can be a great workspace solution.
The amount of spare desks available for rental has been steadily growing over recent years and they are an increasingly popular office option. These are just some of the ways that life in a shared office could bring the best out of your enterprise.
More flexible contract
Shared office space is often available immediately and there is little of the potentially complicated legal process inherent when taking out a traditional office lease. This means you can get in straight away and start enjoying life in a buzzing office environment.
Furthermore, contracts are often rolling month-to-month affairs and this is where a shared office could really help you bring the most out of your business’ potential. If you feel the need to move or expand to meet the requirements of a fast-moving market, you are not tied to a location long-term. This could allow you to move wherever the market takes you.
Enjoy the buzz of office life
Another good reason to consider life in a shared office is you can make brilliant business contacts and fantastic friends. You may also find that being in an energising workplace can motivate you to work better. You might even have the skills your hosts require and working for them could provide a welcome additional revenue stream.
Increase your focus
If you find that the buzz of an office is a little too “buzzy”, the great advantage of flexible contracts is you can find yourself another, quieter workplace where you can better concentrate on driving your business forwards.
This is an important factor in your office search, because one of the great benefits of escaping the many potential distractions of the home-working environment by renting a desk is that it could do wonders for your focus. You can enjoy the many potential advantages of having a clear definition between work and home and even your commute could become a valuable time when you can get in the right mindset for work.
Additionally, in a shared office the services you access, such as broadband and security, are often included in one monthly fee. You can enjoy the many benefits of office life without having to spend valuable time managing the things that are often necessary when renting workspace in the traditional way.
This makes shared offices a great option at a time when you need to focus all your energy on your new business and really work towards bringing the most out of its potential.
Hang on a second
Shared offices are often great workplace solutions, but of course there are downsides. You will probably have very little control, both over your office environment and your workmates. So, if you like to use specific services, particularly for things like security, then a shared office may not be for you. However the beauty of such flexible contracts is that they still could be worth trying out.
Peter Ames writes on behalf of Office Genie, marketplace for office and desk space.
Start-ups have it tough these days – there are so many companies in every single industry that it takes an incredible effort to find an edge that would allow a start-up to thrive or even operate in these conditions. However, there are some unique solutions to some of the obstacles that start-ups usually meet when they start out.
The truth of the matter is that almost every single business needs an office space to run properly. The thing is, it is hard to find a good balance between the costs and the actual benefits of a prestigious location. You will either have a great place in the city centre and run out of money, or you will find an abandoned building far away and nobody is ever going to notice that you even exist. How can one deal with that dilemma? One though-provoking idea has recently found a footing on the market – the idea of virtual offices.
The idea is stupidly simple – you can rent an ‘operating’ space somewhere away from the centre for a low price. From that place, you will simply run your small business without any distractions that the city centre often brings. And, additionally, you will rent a virtual office in a prestigious spot. There won't be any physical space for you, but your business will get plenty of prestige from being located on a good address.
That alone would hardly be worth it, but think about the fact that you can use that address for all kinds of things – correspondence, order taking, advertisements, etc - the possibilities are unlimited.
Sometimes, your provider might actually own some physical space in the given location and will often be able to provide you access to that in case you would like to set-up a business meeting without having to force your customers out of the city. Intriguing ideas all around – and perhaps you will be able to think about some more as well!
Lewis Edward is a co-founder of The Office Providers, a company that deals with all kinds of office space.
All businesses, whether small or large, need to implement safety measures and provide a safe working environment for those who work for it. What level these security measures take will depend on the size of the business and of course the budget available. No matter what size your business, there are some important and basic and common sense security measures that can be easy and cost-effective to execute to safeguard staff, equipment and other valuables.
1 Risk assessment
As soon as you possibly can, assess which areas of your premises could be vulnerable to crime or disaster. If you operate from a property on a busy high street, shutters for the windows may be a good idea, while if you are in a remote location, CCTV may be the best way forward. Do your research and identify the places that could be vulnerable to crime and come up with a solution quickly. It may just be that a window or door requires an extra lock, but even that could make a big difference.
2 Safety training
Staff members should have adequate training on safety procedures in case of an emergency. Safety drills need to be practiced regularly and a fire extinguisher readily available and tested to ensure it is in working condition. Fire exit doors should be clearly visible and not obstructed and facilities for any employee who has a disability should be in place for evacuation. A two-way radio device can be of use in coordinating and communicating in such an event. It is important to have a list of emergency numbers for the police, ambulance services and the fire brigade to hand and a safety manual or a safety notice pinned up to advise staff of what to do in an emergency.
3 High-value goods
If you keep stock, money or high-value goods such as laptops or televisions onsite, it is vital you secure them – in a small business, having high-value items stolen can be disastrous. If money is kept onsite, invest in a good quality safe and make sure you bolt it to the floor. If high volumes of stock are left overnight, make sure they are stored out of sight and towards the back of your premises, ideally in a room with few or no windows. Heavy-duty locks or bolts will do the job on any entrance.
Lighting is an effective and cheap way to secure premises. Motion-sensitive lighting will ensure that any dark corners that could provide cover for criminals are illuminated. They will also help enhance surveillance.
According to the Office for National Statistics, thefts from homes and other businesses went up by five per cent between 2010 and 2011, making it more vital than ever to make sure you are properly protected. They can be somewhat pricey, but having a good alarm that will automatically inform the police of a criminal act while it’s happening could one day more than pay for itself. If you already have one, make sure it’s working properly.
6 Asset tags
Security tags enable you to monitor any valuables on your premises, so that if they’re stolen, they are much easier to locate and eventually get back. Label all your goods and log all the details. If something goes missing, you can report it as lost or stolen. Some labels come with built-in trackers, so you can actually see where your goods are and get them back.
Guest post by Charlie Curtis-Jones who writes for Brentwood Radios, leading supplier of two-way radio communication equipment for business safety needs.
If you’ve started a small business recently, you’ll know how hard you have to work to succeed, especially in these times. Luckily, there are ways to save money on running your business, money that can either be reinvested or spent in your local community to help grow the economy. Saving money on your business energy bills is a great way to start.
So, perhaps you’ve just moved into new premises and inherited out-of-contract rates or ‘deemed rates’ from the previous contracted tenants. Getting your quotes in quick and signing for a proper tariff could see you save as more than 65% on your bills instantly. Setting up a direct debit to pay your supplier straight away can also bring a saving of about 3% on average, but you need to make sure you have the money in the account on the DD day.
Once you’ve got your new contract in place, check the expiry date and make a note of it in your diary… Now flick back a few pages so you’re at about eight weeks before the expiration date... Now flick back a few more pages and write in big letters “NOTIFY ENERGY SUPPLIER IN WRITING OF TERMINATION OF CONTRACT”.
On this day, you need to write a letter informing your supplier that you are terminating the contract. Why? Because contracts have an automatic renewal clause, and once this kicks in, you’ll find that you’re the victim of price increase – sometimes up to 40%!
Yes – FORTY PERCENT!
A letter of termination is straightforward to write. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a simple letter stating from the expiry date you will not be renewing your current contract. Pop this in the post and use the ‘signed-for’ service, so you have a record of when it’s received. Once you know your contract is no longer going to be renewed, you can gather quotes, but remember that business energy quotes are only legitimate for the day upon which it’s been quoted, after that, they cease to be valid.
You should find that your supplier and other suppliers will be just itching to give you the lowest rates they can for the next contract period. Coincide this with seasons of low energy usage (eg the summer months) and you can secure a nice low rate for the next 12 months.
Forget mainstream price comparison sites and consider chatting to a UIA energy broker. They’re specialists in business energy suppliers and how to get the best deals. Many offer free advice and consultation, so you’ve got nothing to lose by giving them a call. Energy brokers will actively negotiate with suppliers to lower your energy rates, so you’re not being quoted from an automated system.
Whether you're thinking of making the move from a home office to leased office space or you are establishing your business in a commercial environment, renting office space is a big decision – and one that requires careful thought and forward planning.
The good news is finding your first office space is usually a sign that your start-up is beginning to expand and flourish, and means that you're ready to take the plunge and find a more productive environment from which to run your business. But there are both monetary and strategic issues to take into account, and these 10 golden rules will raise important issues for you to consider before leasing your first office space:
Leasing office space means committing to a commercial office lease - and this is a legally binding agreement that will tie you in to a contract for a given period. You must ask yourself whether the move to leased office space will enhance your business and the services you offer, and that it will enable you to be a more profitable and productive business. An office lease is a big responsibility to take on and as a small business you need to make sure you are clear about the commitment and at the right stage to move on to a “real” office.
It goes without saying that a new office will tie you to regular monthly costs that you may not have had to consider until now. These will include rent, service charges, business rates, maintenance costs, insurance and the day-to-day running costs. Make sure you are fully aware of all the costs from the outset and that you don't overstretch yourself financially.
Finding the right office and then negotiating the right terms for your business is a time-consuming and complex process, so you should never attempt to take this on yourself. Use a commercial property agent in your area who knows the market inside out and can “hold your hand” throughout the process to ensure a profitable outcome for your business.
Every office lease is different, yet they are usually drafted in favour of the landlord. Decide what office lease terms are best for you as a tenant; consider issues such as lease length, rental increases, options to renew, break clauses, etc. Clarifying these issues at an early stage will save lots of upheaval at the negotiation stage.
Do your homework on your shortlist of properties; tour the building several times; investigate who the landlord is and other properties they own, traffic patterns, who the previous tenant was (and why they left) and who the neighbouring tenants are.
Evaluate whether the geographical location, space and type of building is a good fit for your business. Your choice of office space says a lot about you as a business and you want to make sure it gives the right first impression. Use our office space checklist as a guide to evaluate each office building.
Make sure that any space you’re considering is big enough for both your current needs and your foreseeable growth. Be realistic and don’t under- or over-estimate your true needs.
Hire a property solicitor who not only specialises in lease negotiations, but who also has dealt with start-ups before. A lease negotiation can cover hundreds of terms, often with confusing jargon, and you want someone who will represent your best interests and clarifies anything you don't understand.
Moving into leased office space provides you with a great opportunity to find the right office suppliers and install the right business communications systems that will enable you to operate efficiently and provide the best service to clients.
Don't be rushed into making a decision if you're not fully comfortable. And if the lease negotiations don't quite come out as you planned – be prepared to walk away. There are always other properties that may better suit your needs.
Enterprise zones in the UK are typically based in depressed urban areas hit by the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, places that most people aspire to finally escape from, one day. However, there is a different model that can potentially deliver even better long-term results.
The city of Kelowna is less than an hour’s flight east of Vancouver in the Central Okanagan region of Canada, an area of outstanding natural beauty next to a 72-mile lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its fruit-growing industries were declining, so local entrepreneurs shrewdly switched their crops and the area now boasts several award-winning wineries.
The region might have remained a tourist and retirement destination but for local entrepreneurs Lance Priebe and Lane Merrifield who had the idea for Club Penguin, an on-line social network for children. Riding the first wave of Internet adoption, they soon had 3.9M users before being purchased by the Disney Corporation, who still maintain a 350-strong operation in Kelowna.
Once the city’s credentials as a new media hub had been established, the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission resolved to attract more hi-tech businesses. Since 1998, Robert Fine has been Executive Director, which involves constant local networking, the promotion of the area internationally and the essential ability to encourage funding and tax breaks from local and national politicians.
The result is a region that punches considerably above its weight. Entrepreneurs have low-cost access to Accelerate Okanagan, a purpose-built incubator that provides membership, networking and serviced office space, as well as practical training, consultancy and market research services.
Unlike the incubators that emerged in London during the dot-com boom, Accelerate Okanagan is not run by venture capitalists focused on generating deal-flow geared for a quick and lucrative exit. This incubator works more like a social enterprise, providing long-term mentor-focused nurturing on a not-for-profit basis.
Government funding meets the basic running costs of Accelerate Okanagan, but the incubator also has commercial targets, with profits recycled to improve and enhance the various programmes.
Ambitious entrepreneurs always crave worldwide fame and fortune, so Fine and successful technology entrepreneur Steve Wandler launched the Metabridge Conference, now in its third year. This attracted venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in successful hi-tech start-ups such as Google, Facebook and Electronic Arts.
These were the conference VIPs who delivered keynotes, appeared on panel sessions and acted as judges for the pitching competition. The conference numbers were deliberately kept small, with 14 companies pitching to twenty VIPs. This enabled all the aspiring entrepreneurs to have quality networking time with world-class business mentors in the relaxed atmosphere of a golf course or boat trip.
This year, two companies won a two-day facilitated tour of influential companies in Silicon Valley. These were Connection Point, whose product FundRazr is a next-generation fund-raising application, and Xomo, who develop mobile applications for live events, including the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Isle of Wight Festival.
As the winners were chosen by some of the most astute technical and funding experts in North America, their future looks bright as well as for the place where they got their big break.
As the Metabridge entrepreneurs and investors grow their companies, I am sure they will look to Central Okanagan not only for good staff, but also as somewhere they can enjoy the more enhanced and relaxed quality of life they will have earned after their own successful exits.
Perhaps this is a better definition of the perfect enterprise zone; not an industrial urban sprawl that most people aspire to escape from, but instead an attractive location to relocate to, once you have achieved success.
The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission can be found at http://www.investkelowna.com
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
It’s a situation every small-business owner dreads. You arrive at your premises one morning to find the lock hanging off the door and a couple of windows in pieces, on the pavement. A quick scan inside reveals gaps where your PCs and other items used to be; files and bits of paperwork are strewn across the floor.
Either it’s time to sack the cleaner or you’ve been burgled.
At least you had the good sense to make sure your office and its contents are insured. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.
Or is it? Many people think calling their insurer’s claims department is something of a necessary evil. But it needn’t be – insurers are there to help after all – they just need all the information necessary to make their decisions.
Most reputable insurers, contrary to popular belief, don’t mind paying claims. They know their reputation is fragile and being unnecessarily difficult won’t do them any favours. The good ones will make sure they do everything they can to help.
Securing your premises will be first on the list. It’s likely they’ll authorise you to call tradesmen in to fix the doors and windows. If you’re insured for very large sums, they might do it instead and/or send their own surveyor or loss adjuster out to see you. Either way, your policy should pay for the costs you incur to make good your premises.
Next up, they’ll want a comprehensive list of everything that’s missing or damaged (everything you’re claiming for, in other words). Check you’ve listed it all – even if you don’t think it’s covered. And don’t forget things such as blinds, stationery, plants, etc, which can get damaged.
Not unreasonably, insurers have to be sure they’re paying the right people for the right things in the right circumstances.
So they’re going to need proof your business owned or bought the items you’re claiming for. They’re usually quite flexible on what they’ll accept as proof: an original invoice or receipt is obviously best, but anything that links your business to the item will often suffice (eg warranty cards, service records, etc).
Bear in mind that they’re perfectly within their rights to refuse to pay for anything you can’t prove is yours.
If it’s cheaper for your insurer, they might ask that damaged items are repaired rather than replaced. If it turns out that the items are beyond economical repair, they’ll need to see confirmation of this from an expert.
If your insurer is happy with what you’ve provided, they’ll check your policy to make sure it covers what you’re claiming for and that any policy conditions or endorsements added at the start of the policy have been met (eg that your premises have a functioning alarm).
Again, if they find that things don’t quite add up, they’re well within their rights to withhold some or all of your settlement.
All this might sound like a pain, but there’s no reason to assume that making a claim is difficult. To avoid problems, it’s a good idea to periodically check your insurance to make sure you have enough cover and that you’re aware of your obligations under the policy. Always keep an updated inventory of your equipment, too. At least then you’ll know you’ve done your bit, if the worst does happen.
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
“The onus is on the business to ensure staff comply with legislation. An act of omission by an employee is likely to have consequences for the business. In some circumstances, directors may even be personally liable. The consequences can be drastic”
Kevin Turnbull of Muckle LLP Solicitors
“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
Businesses and individuals across the globe are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint than ever before. We have all learnt to switch off lights in empty rooms and turn off the tap while brushing our teeth but the expectancy on us to do more to stop global climate change is increasing.
It can be hard to see what more you can do if you are already very conscious about your carbon footprint but perhaps your work or business life has not had as much scrutiny as your home life.
With all the great advancements in technology surely there are alternatives that many businesses may have overlooked. Here are a few of our suggestions:
Cut your travel with VoIP
How often do you travel across town for a ten to thirty minute meeting? Cut the cost of travel and the price to the environment by exploring the benefits of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Call conferencing features enable you to hold meetings over several sites on one phone system – saving time, money and emissions.
If you would like to enhance your meeting then you can use services like GoToMeeting where you can share your screen, and therefore PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, video etc with all the meeting participants. It will add extra interaction to your meeting and help add the visual element conference calls lack.
By holding meetings online you can easily work from home meaning you don’t have to drive to work or drive around all day to get to meetings. Cutting transport emissions is key to the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Transition Plan’. It’s not just great for your company’s green image, but also your budget.
Why run two offices?
Think about all the things that are needed to run an office. Electricity for your computers, phone system, servers, lighting, air-conditioning etc. And then there’s the gas for your heating systems and your staff facilities. Why not seriously cut costs and do your bit for the environment by encouraging your staff to work from home.
Not only will you cut emissions from reducing travel to an office but you’ll also be using almost the same amount of energy that is used to heat and light your home anyway.
If you are concerned about accessing your files and you still have an ‘office machine’ then you can remotely log into your work computer by installing free programme LogMeIn or ask your IT consultant about remotely accessing your server.
Accessing files wherever you need them also reduces the amount of hard copies you have to make, saving paper, ink and energy on printing those long documents – which are usually only read over once or twice before being discarded.
There are also other hidden benefits to working from home such as reduced stress, increased productivity and no train delays or traffic jams.
Gradwell is keen to assist their customers to reduce their carbon footprint. One such client ‘Sustain IT’ has already adopted this as part of their corporate culture and reducing their carbon footprint is seen as a vital part of their company policy, with VoIP being the centre and catalyst for this.
“Initially we had not thought of our carbon footprint. However we now consider it to be a vital part of our Company Policy. Internet Telephony helps us to reduce our employee travel and therefore reduce the impact on the environment that commuting is having. So anything we can do as an employer to encourage our staff to use home working or increase the use of the public transport network and cycling has to be good for the future of our children and the planet.”
Everyone making a small change will make a big difference to the planet – and it can benefit your business too.
Peter Gradwell, Gradwell