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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."

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.

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 

Why I set up a community interest company

February 17, 2014 by Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

Five reasons you need to outsource

December 10, 2013 by Guest Blogger

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

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

1 Saving internal resource

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

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

2 Corporate tax rates

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

3 Enhanced service

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

4 Always available, always accessible

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

5 Less contractual risk than employing full-time staff

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

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

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

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

December 05, 2013 by Guest Blogger

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

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

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

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

Blog by Julio Vildosola, CEO of Liquid Finance

Top 20 business founders' fundamentals

October 28, 2013 by Guest Blogger

Top 20 business founder’s fundamentalsmetal number 20{{}}Ideas are in abundance. We all know people with passion, vision, ambition and a real desire to make a difference with their new ventures.

It’s been an honour for everyone involved in my organisation, Entrepreneurial Spark, to assist more than 300 start-ups, to help them realise their goals and turn some of these ideas into business. However, in this time we have also seen some stumble and their ideas dissolve away. Lack of effective execution is the number one reason for this, in our experience.

So what are the Top 20 business founders' fundamentals to enable successful transition from idea to business? 

  1. Execution begins when you have validation of your idea (eg some early sales) and have made a significant commitment to your business (eg received investment, quit your job, remortgaged your house, etc).
  2. You can’t do business sitting on your backside. You must get out there and meet real customers in their world. Witness them dealing with your teams, procuring and using your product and services. Only then can you really know what’s really going on.
  3. Sorry, your idea is worth nothing! The quality and effectiveness of your execution will dictate its value.
  4. An operational system will bring rhythm to your chaos and help you turn your strategy into business ACTIONS.
  5. Hire the best people you can afford. Clichés are all too often true! Often we struggle to actually do this! Hire slow.
  6. Watch who you get into business with.
    Watch who you get into business with.
    Watch who you get into… You get the message, right?
  7. Mind the gap. Recruit your weakness, the things you don’t like to do or are not good at (eg operations, selling or finance).
  8. It’s all about the money. Get a great finance director, if finance is not your bag. Even one day a month is better than nothing.
  9. Pre-mortem: agree your total affordable loss before you commit. “When will we pull the plug if this one doesn’t work?”
  10. Manage cashflow with surgical precision and never hide bad news from yourself or others.
  11. Create the “A” team. Drive out the “C” players. The bad behaviours and the insecure senior managers.
  12. Drive alignment across every member of your team with amazing communication. Your purpose: “big, hairy, audacious goals”, business actions and dashboards for everyone to track their progress.
  13. Discuss the “un-discussable”- what’s the scary thing no one wants to talk about. What really moves the dials?
  14. Create rewards/compensation that supports alignment. Watch out for “gaming”- rewarding behaviour at the expense of the bigger picture (eg sales without the service).
  15.  Listen. Practise this discipline. Watch the best, they listen and understand others intently.
  16. Don’t over-talk a point. Stamp out time-wasting meetings.
  17. Discuss your learnings with your team when things don’t work or if you get some feedback/data. Re-imagine, re-shape and #GoDo!
  18. Take action- especially the tough decisions. Do it NOW!
  19. Look after yourself. Manage your capacity and keep in touch (in person not online) with the other world.
  20. Ask yourself and others – “Should I be the leader”?  Be prepared for a “no”. It’s OK; there are plenty of other things you can do in the business. Leadership is not for everyone.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting David Grevemberg, CEO of Glasgow 2014 [next year’s Commonwealth Games]. He has a deadline that cannot slip. He can’t shift the whole schedule a couple of days because of unforeseen circumstances or because “it’s not perfect yet”. He must execute with precision and his team are totally aligned to this goal. If we want success and a legacy, we must behave the same way.

Blog supplied by Brian McGuire, co-founder of Espark.

Posted in Set up a business | Tagged strategy | 1 comment

Three ways start-ups can access free support and advice

October 02, 2013 by Vicky Brock

Three ways start-ups can access free support and advicehand with three finger pointing up{{}}When I set up a technology company to help retailers, I knew we had to spend time developing our products, so I made practical help from business advice bodies and boot camps part of the plan. As a result, we enjoyed three big benefits. I believe any of them could potentially help transform a start-up’s proposition and how it is developed.

1 Practical support is out there…

Firstly, build resources and practical assistance from government, local enterprise partnerships and business support programmes into your thinking. From the outset, I took our company into a local technology incubator. It helped us to focus on developing our software products in a supportive environment. 

Universities and other big institutions such as the British Library are increasingly providing advice and space for start-ups – often for free. Cities such as Sunderland and Dublin are setting up citywide free wireless zones or making their databases available to entrepreneurs to encourage innovations. Could they make the difference to your start-up when cash is tight or you want to expand with modest funding available?

2 Big firms can help you…

Secondly, take a look at accelerators that global firms such as IBM or Shell are setting up. Look beyond the publicity aspects, too. The biggest step up in for us was winning IBM SmartCamp, part of IBM’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, which supports innovative small technology start-ups over the longer term. 

In this type of event, entrants make their pitch Dragons’ Den-style. It forces you to really focus on your value proposition and rework it. You get advice from experienced entrepreneurs and commercial managers and they’ll soon let you know if you’re trying to reinvent wheels.

In these accelerators, successful entrants open up strategic guidance, sales advice and IT support opportunities, not only at the event itself, but also in the months that follow.  By winning our heat, we were given long-term office resources, such as software licences that enabled our developers to build products. Today’s big firms are opening their doors to start-up as never before.

3 Advisers can open doors…

Finally, think of the doors that large organisations’ events and advisers can open for you. The Scottish government helped our team get on entrepreneurship courses that instilled a "think big" mentality in our team. This helped us to draw up business plans, but more than that, gave us real confidence and ambition. 

And, in entering start-up accelerators, firms can catch the eye of seed funds and angel investors. We gained product development that we would have missed out on otherwise. Business support, commercial advice and networking opportunities are out there ... and a surprising amount of them are free.

Blog supplied by Vicky Brock, CEO of Clear Returns, which provides predictive intelligence technology for retailers, targeting the costly problem of returned products. 

Buying a business: key questions answered

September 23, 2013 by David Anderson

Buying a business: key questions answered/finance numerals and charts{{}}I want to buy a business and I’m thinking about what tactics to adopt…

The first thing to appreciate is that it is easier to fall out with sellers than to keep them onside. You will get a better buy if you can keep the seller onside at least for as long as possible. Once you fall out, mending fences is impossible.

So what do you suggest?

Sellers usually have a sale figure in mind. Agreeing a sale price at the outset slightly above this figure gives the seller a feel-good sensation and makes him/her think that he/she has a margin to play with. It also means he/she is unlikely to start talks with other buyers.

But I don’t want to pay an inflated price...

You won’t. Once the nitty gritty negotiations start, you will ask for guarantees as to the business’ turnover and profitability for say the next 12 months and ask for money to be retained. If the business turns out to be a star buy and performs above your expectations, the full stated price is probably acceptable. If it does not, you will have held money back, which the business sale agreement will enable you to deduct from the purchase price.

How much should I hold back?

As much money as possible – for as long as possible. The agreement can provide for money to be released in slices. Your seller is unlikely to agree to more than 50%.

Who should hold the money?

Ideally you, although the seller might want money held by a solicitor in an escrow account.

What happens if after agreeing a price when I put this to the seller he/she threatens to sell to someone else?

See if he/she does. If he/she comes back to you it means he/she has not been able to. You can then push him further. Remember, they will be thinking about your headline figure, which they probably cannot get elsewhere. You can also tell the seller that if the business does better than they anticipate, you will pay more based on performance. This way you can tell them that they have an upside, as well as a downside, and an interest in making the transfer work.

If I keep pushing the seller, how do I know when I am going too far and will lose the deal?

When the seller goes very quiet and stops coming back to you. It is better for you if they respond angrily at this stage, because it’s a sign that they still might eventually sell to you. If they do not respond, they have either written you off or they are talking to another buyer. Most deals reach an “angry phase”, after which the deal happens or does not. The skill is to manage how and when the seller gets to the angry moment and how this moment is managed, so you stay in control.

What else?

The seller and any business transfer agent will be keen to get “Heads of Agreement”, which outline the deal. This will be what the lawyers drawing up the sale agreement will work from. Tactically, if you want to keep matters as fluid as possible, you should either delay agreeing the Heads of Agreement or ensure that they are drafted in a form that is flexible. This way, it will be impossible for the seller to refer to these as “agreed” when the goalposts start to move.

What about due diligence on the seller?

Don’t be shy – it’s your money you are spending. Get as much information from the seller as you can. Don’t rely on solicitors or accountants to do this. They can help, but ultimately it’s your call. If there are things that are unsatisfactory, you will want money held back or deducted from the price.

What about business transfer agents?

They will be thinking about their commission and will therefore be keen for the deal to happen. If you knock some money off, it won’t have a big impact on what they get, so they will be on your side. If the business doesn’t sell, they will get nothing.

What about solicitors?

Most are useless at negotiations. You are best not involving them at this stage. By definition, if they were good at negotiating they would be successful businessmen making much more money than solicitors.

What about tax?

It’s a crucial consideration. Sadly, there is always a third party trying to get money – namely HMRC, which people often forget about. At the outset, Get to grips with tax both from your perspective and your seller’s. It could make a big difference to you. Your seller may have tax angles and you need to factor this in. If you can do something that helps them save tax, use this as a negotiating lever. Do not lose the deal because you are insensitive to the seller’s tax position. Finding a way to pay HMRC the least tax is good news for you both.

Blog provided by David Anderson (solicitor advocate and chartered tax adviser) and Alan Massenhove (commercial solicitor) at Sykes Anderson LLP. Please note that commercial and tax law are complex subjects and you should not rely on this article without professional advice on the facts of your case.

Further reading

Giving online retailers a shop window

May 08, 2013 by Guest Blogger

Giving online retailers a shop window/business owner infront of store{{}}Is the high street the future for online retailers?

As an online retailer, how do you know how your product is going to sell in the 'offline' market?

With 60% of new businesses now started at home, this is a question being asked more and more frequently. PopUp Britain reckons it has an answer.

The private sector funded scheme offers start-ups a chance to put their products to the test on the high street. The campaign’s first shop, a former estate agent premises in Richmond, Surrey, which had been standing empty for a year, played host to more than 60 start-ups in its first five months.

The not-for-profit campaign intends to make use of the growing number of empty shops on the high street in order to encourage small start-ups to grow by providing an affordable opportunity to test the waters with a 'real' shop.

The scheme’s latest project is based on the iconic King’s Road. The shop is a former electronics showroom which has been empty for three months. It has the capacity to house twelve start-ups at a time, and each will pay £240 for a two week stint to cover costs.

The latest shop, which opens on 9th May, is designed give fledgling businesses from around the country a low cost opportunity to test their products in an area that has famously played a key role in supporting independent British brands for decades.

As retail start-ups begin to realise that in order to build a solid brand they need to be in bricks and mortar, interacting with their customers face-to-face, PopUp Britain could provide just the opportunity they need. It neatly helps them keep all the advantages of online retailers like Amazon, whilst having a low cost route to the high street.

If you think you fit the bill, it’s free to apply: www.popupbritain.com/apply

How much work satisfaction do you get?

April 25, 2013 by Guest Blogger

How much work satisfaction do you get?/tired business man sleeping{{}}Research published recently suggests the average working adult in the UK is “59% happy in their current job role”. Researchers commissioned by Surbiton High School asked 2,000 employees to rate their level of contentment at work in 11 key areas, “from pay and company perks to relationships with colleagues and management”.

According to the study, workers are generally satisfied with their holiday allowance and relationship with colleagues, giving ratings of seven out of ten for both. Perks received four out of ten, the lowest score, with employees believing they should be entitled to mobile phones, laptops and even private health care.

Respondents were unhappy about their promotion prospects, which were rated just five out of 10. They gave a more encouraging six out of ten each for level of pay, relationship with the boss, work load, working hours, working environment, social life, size of team and hierarchy.

14% claimed they would be happier if they were allowed regular tea breaks, while 34% appreciated being able to manage their own workload. One in three said they liked the feeling of being able to make a difference, while 22% wanted to be able to talk to people every day. An easy commute was also important to 35% of people, while 18% said they would appreciate yearly bonuses.

When it comes to profession, teachers were happiest at work (presumably the poll took place before Education Secretary Michael Gove called for pupils to work longer days and have fewer holidays), with the “satisfaction they gained from working with children far outweighing the negatives”. Secretaries were second happiest group at work, followed in order by engineers, accountants, drivers, shop assistants, caterers, trades people, lawyers and those working in customer care.

Career dissatisfaction continues to be a key reason why people continue to give up their jobs to start their own business, with numbers continuing to rise. According to Enterprise Nation, there was a 10% increase in new businesses in 2012 (484,224) when compared to 2011 (440,600).

Posted in Set up a business | Tagged HR | 0 comments

Interim managers - flexible experts for start-ups?

March 06, 2013 by Nigel Peters

Interim managers – flexible experts for start-ups?/business people planning{{}}So you’ve done it – you have decided to leave your permanent job, follow your dream and start your own business – great news! But now what?

Help, I’m stuck

Starting a business – and keeping one going – can be incredibly challenging in what are still very tough economic times. As an entrepreneur with a clear vision you know exactly where you want your business to go - but it can take a lot to admit that you don’t know how to get it there. This is where many small and medium businesses come unstuck. Where can you find the expertise you need at a price you can afford? To solve this problem, many small businesses are turning to interim managers.

Multifunctional masters

No longer just the preserve of large multinationals or global conglomerates, an interim manager is a flexible, affordable way of getting the knowledge and insight you need to guide your business in the right direction. Whether it is help with sales and marketing, assistance with finance and regulatory matters or day-to-day operational and HR advice, using an interim manager is a quick and easy way to obtain the skills you need.

Cost sensitive

The other key advantage is that interims operate as a controlled, daily cost – essential for smaller organisations. With no sickness, holiday, pension or other traditional benefits to pay for, it is very easy for SMEs to forecast how much an interim will cost over a specified period of time, with no hidden extras.

Over-experienced

If you do choose to hire this sort of resource, small-business owners must also be prepared for the fact that the interim will more than likely be over-qualified for the role they are doing. Don’t be intimidated by this; their breadth of experience means they can deliver for your business faster and leave you with a sustainable best practice approach to grow your business successfully.

This post was written by Nigel Peters on behalf of Alium Partners – global provider of interim management solutions.

Posted in Set up a business | Tagged management | 0 comments

10 mistakes all new businesses should avoid

August 28, 2012 by Liz Madden

Mistake{{}}Life as an entrepreneur is always a learning process, and you won’t grow without taking risks. Sometimes, you need to trust your judgement, but there are some mistakes you can avoid altogether. Here are 10 common mistakes you need to avoid.

1 Lack of planning

Don’t neglect to provide a detailed business plan showing your projected outgoings and earnings. You may have a great idea, but this is not a business plan. Investors may be intrigued by your ideas, but they will want cold, hard evidence of their viability.

2 Badly targeted marketing

Make sure you’re specific when advertising. Know what your unique selling proposition is and target a specific market rather than trying to be all things to everyone. There are hundreds of, say, interior decorators, but if you have a speciality in, perhaps, decorative paint effects, use it as a USP.

3 Wasted marketing spend

Don’t have hundreds of business cards and brochures printed. They go out of date very quickly and can be expensive to produce. If your contact details change, the cards and brochures need to be amended.

4 Poor recruitment

Be careful whom you hire. It may seem like a good idea to get friends or family involved in the early days, but if they don’t have the qualities you really need, it will impede your progress. Identify the mix of skills you need and look for people who can provide long-term value to the business.

5 Net losses

Avoid expensive websites and domain names. You could even try building your own business website using one of the popular DIY solutions, you might even know someone with more knowledge who could help you put together your own website. Don’t clutter up your website with information customers don’t really need to know about. Instead, tell them how you can solve their problems or provide them with things they need or want.

6 Inadequate research

Don’t neglect planning and research. These are vital in ensuring the viability of your business idea, and a frequent cause of failure is not spending enough time finding out whether there is genuine demand for what you sell. Your pricing must be competitive and capable of providing a viable return.

7 Unrealistic assumptions

Try not to set your sights too high, because inaccurate forecasting of market size is a common mistake for start-ups. You will need reliable cashflow and income projections to avoid expensive mistakes such as over-staffing, purchase of unnecessary equipment and lavish business premises.

8 Overtrading and overpromising

Beware of the dangers of over-trading, which happens when you take on more orders than you can comfortably fulfil, or that can be supported by working capital and net current assets.

9 Poor stock control

Make sure you have good practices to avoid tying up your capital as a result of poor stock control. Efficiency here means you have the right amount of stock in the right place at the right time – instead of the chaotic opposite.

10 Ignoring the competition

Never take your eyes off the competition. You’ll need to respond to your competitors continually, so you need to remain aware of what they’re up to. To wrongfoot them, you could introduce new products or services. Always try to outperform your competitors. Find ways to be more special that they are.

Have you got any tips to add or any stories to share? We’d love to know what you think…

Liz Madden works for Champion Accountants

Call yourself an entrepreneur?

July 02, 2012 by Rachel Miller

Fascinating research reveals that only 4% of small business owners call themselves entrepreneurs. Yes, just 4%.

A survey of 1,200 business owners, conducted by business software and services provider Sage, found that the vast majority of people on the small business front line feel no connection with the term “entrepreneur”.

The terms “business owner” (53%), “self-employed” (26%) and “businessman/woman” (15%) were the most popular terms people used to describe themselves.

Government enterprise campaigns galore have featured self-proclaimed and charismatic entrepreneurs as role models for those that are thinking of working for themselves. The fact that the word entrepreneur has been shunned by so many might call into question the idea that extraordinary success stories are the best inspiration for ordinary business people.

And TV programmes like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den are, perhaps, part of the mythologising of the 21st century entrepreneur. Do you really need to aspire to be a multi-millionaire with a massive media presence to call yourself a entrepreneur? Or are small business owners being too modest in rejecting the term?

What do you think? Do you call yourself an entrepreneur?

Have a look at Sage’s infographic (click to enlarge) on the subject and tell us what you think below.

Sage Entrepreneur Infographic{{}}

What is the key to surviving your first year in business?

May 24, 2012 by Agnes Cserhati

business survival: life-ring around piles of coins{{}}This question is particularly close to my heart. When I started my very first business venture at the age of 17 in Communist Hungary – where at that time 'entrepreneurship' was virtually unrecognized – some of the points you will read below were key to my survival. Now, 22 years later, having set up numerous enterprises and working with various entrepreneurs - I often ask the same question to my clients – what is the key to surviving your first year in business?

The points below are the result of my own experiences and those of others. I hope it will be of some value to you. So what is the key to survival?

1 Cashflow – nobody mentioned this when I started out, even nowadays when there is much more awareness of cashflow, people still focus too much on profit. Potentially, this could be a big mistake, especially in your first year of trading.

2 Determination – well, this is something I’ve always had, even as a child. In the first year some people around you will often say: “It will never work”. If your business idea is viable – go for it – and keep going until you succeed!

3 Resilience – I often say to my clients you have to be like a 'bouncy ball' when you are an entrepreneur… There will be ups and downs, but the resilience you have to bounce back will determine your success

4 Support by a coach/mentor – back in early ‘90s I didn’t have a mentor or coach – I do now. This is something I hear very often from my clients: lack of experience and clear goals are where a coach/mentor can help and save you lots of money by encouraging you to make the right decisions and helping you to grow with your business while reaching your own potential.

5 Ability to identify and focus on priorities – an entrepreneur’s life is a very busy one. In your first year of trading you’ll be particularly overwhelmed by opportunities and offers, which are very tempting. At times, you’ll find there aren’t enough hours in the day. That is the time when you need to consider what are the priorities and focus your energy on the most important ones.

6 Sense of humour – probably among the most important things you’ll need to survive your first year in business. There will be lots of happy, funny moments, but also slightly scary and stressful ones. This is when putting things into perspective and having a sense of humour is vital. It’s certainly helped to keep me going for the past 22 years!

Agnes Cserhati, entrepreneur, mentor, CEO and founder of AC PowerCoaching

What to do when considering buying a franchise

April 16, 2012 by Katie Diacon

Making the leap into business is a big one and all would-be franchisees should have a good tick-list of what they need to consider before making the leap. Here's what to do when considering buying a franchise:

1.  Research the franchise

2.  Research the franchisor

3.  Research the demographic

4.  Crunch the numbers

5.  Talk to other members of the franchise

6.  Ask to see their figures

7.  Get a good business plan

8.  Be conservative in your estimations for the first year

9.  Read the small print

10. Research the competition

11. Grill the franchisor

The last point is important. This should not just be an interview to see whether you are a suitable franchisee, it should be an interview by you to see if you are able and willing to work with the franchisor.

If your franchisor is not behind you 100 per cent and providing continued support it should ring alarm bells. The best franchisors are the ones who know that you have to succeed for the franchise to succeed and will do their very best to make sure that happens. Happy hunting.

More on franchising

Business success: your 2012 calendar launched

January 27, 2012 by Georgina Harris

Surrounded by the brightest and best of the UK’s entrepreneurs, business minister Mark Prisk MP launched rather a useful tool for the UK’s small businesses at BIS HQ  – a definitive calendar of events to help small business throughout Britain for every month in 2012.

Targeted at pre start ups as well as established and new businesses, the calendar marks the first time all Britain’s best business events feature on the same site in a searchable format.  There are 600-plus events listed already – and Mark Prisk is aiming to get 1,000 online in the near future. He said:

“We want 2012 to be the year of enterprise, where entrepreneurs can unlock their business potential. Enterprise events don’t just take place on one day, or during one week, but they appear throughout the year and across the country.

“We need to make sure people know that there is support and advice available, that it is easy to get, and it is often on their doorstep.”

The most up-to-date version of the calendar is online to search or download – and even upload your own event.  Many events are free, so the calendar could well become an invaluable tool for you – and at the very least should benefit you with a couple of days of advice, inspiration and a range of handy new contacts.  And if you're looking for local events, including workshops and networking, membership is free for small businesses.  Get the benefits here.

Take a look at StartUp 2012: The Enterprise Calendar

A proliferation of government initiatives during GEW Week

November 18, 2011 by Rachel Miller

Global Entrepreneurship Week{{}}It's Global Entrepreneurship Week and the economic news has been relentlessly dire all week. Youth unemployment has topped one million and the Bank of England has slashed the growth forecast to one per cent.

Would-be entrepreneurs — especially the young people that GEW is aimed at — could well be further encouraged to take steps towards self-employment, not least because other employment options are so limited.

Today’s Guardian newspaper highlights the young people, including graduates, who have been working for free stacking shelves at some of the big supermarkets under threat of losing their Job Seeker’s Allowance. This “free labour” is dressed up as “work experience” and with little prospect of a paid job at the end of it.

Surely this state of affairs must make self-employment a whole heap more attractive to young people seeking work. So how is the Government encouraging and supporting would-be entrepreneurs?

The good news is that inspiration and advice is not in short supply, judging by the number of new initiatives being launched this week. Business Minister Mark Prisk and Business Secretary Vince Cable have been doing the rounds during Global Entrepreneurship Week unveiling new schemes to help entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs.

Here’s a round-up of the latest initiatives:

  1. To support enterprise in schools, the Government is enhancing online resources for teachers at the Enterprise Village and promoting recruitment of 2,500 local enterprise champions through the Inspiring the Future website. This scheme recruits people from all sectors and professions to volunteer in schools and colleges, providing mentoring and work experience.
  2. The number of Premier League Enterprise Academies will be increased from18 to 26 it was announced this week. The Premier League Enterprise Academy provides 11 to 19-year-olds with advice and enterprise activities, introducing them to business and self-employment.
  3. Business Link is launching My New Business which provides start up support and guidance for new businesses.
  4. It is also launching The Growth and Improvement Service offering information, support and services for businesses.
  5. Last week, the Government announced a series of new measures to help Britain’s small and medium enterprises, including investment through the Regional Growth Fund, support for exporters and the new Finance Fitness campaign.
  6. This week has seen the launch of the Make it in Great Britain campaign, which aims to transform outdated views of UK manufacturing and dispel the myth that Britain “doesn’t make anything anymore”. Backed by industry champions, the campaign has inspired an exhibition to be held at the Science Museum from 24 July to 9 September 2012. Mark Prisk also announced a plan to recruit 30 young rising stars of manufacturing— “30 under 30” — to inspire young people.

There are some common threads here. Enterprise champions, rising business stars and mentors — presumably volunteering their time — are at the heart of many of these initiatives.

When it comes to inspiring and guiding new entrepreneurs, there is much to be said for learning from people who have been there and done that. But let’s hope that this “free labour” provides the necessary support for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Championing real-life entrepreneurs

November 16, 2011 by Mike Southon

It was depressing to see Business Secretary Vince Cable quoted as saying that the economy was in worse shape than under the previous administration and that a double-dip recession was a distinct possibility.

While the opposition immediately seized upon his comments, it could be argued that this was rather hypocritical as the current debt crisis and poor bank regulation were a direct result of their own policies.

The feeling of most entrepreneurs is that government is essentially powerless to influence the economy at the grass-roots level. Rather than decreasing regulation as they always promise, any intervention on their part, however well meaning, always seems to create even more obstacles to enterprise.

The solution to our economic challenges is clear. Rather than sit on our hands and complain, now is the time for entrepreneurs to get out there and sell our way out of the recession, bringing the rest of the UK's economy along in our wake.

But this will need to be the UK's real-life entrepreneurs, not the get-rich-quick chancers we see in the media, an image actively fostered by offensive and unrepresentative programmes such as Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice.

And while it is always a joy to inspire young people into a path of entrepreneurship, this is a long-term policy rather than the immediate help that the UK's economy needs.

Real-life entrepreneurs first felt the effects of the recession in 2008. Those that have survived followed the best practice that all businesses should follow. This includes the banks, which are always quick to criticise small businesses for their lack of planning.

Successful entrepreneurship involves reducing risk wherever possible by concentrating on the core business of the organisation and, wherever possible, finding the most profitable niche or vertical market. While cost-savings are important, the main focus should be on generating revenue and reducing the length of the sales cycle.

Rather than chasing brand new customers who promise big orders from exotic locations, the place to find immediate revenue is always your existing customers. They may be equally affected by the recession but willing to discuss mutually beneficial outcomes with people they trust.

It is also a myth that there is no money out there. This is the strong message I have received across the spectrum of industry, from private equity and venture capital companies, angel investors and those companies who have managed to grow successfully in the last few years.

You only need to scan the regularly published lists of fast-growth companies to see which industries have thrived in a recession; all of these companies and others like them have money to spend with the right suppliers.

I am also determined to do my bit to help the UK's entrepreneurs. Starting on November 1st in Essex, I will be presenting at twelve branches of the Federation For Small Businesses (FSB), events that are open to everyone.

The FSB recently launched a new initiative “Championing The UK's Real Life Entrepreneurs”, which focuses on the key issues facing its members. These include increasing the routes to finance, improving cash flow, adopting a new approach to regulation, reducing and simplifying business tax, incentivising job creation and opening up export markets.

The FSB's Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Andrew Cave explained to me that the campaign is designed to galvanise the small businesses in the UK to take a forward-looking and positive attitude towards the economy by increasing their revenue and taking on staff, especially the increasing number of unemployed young people.

He argues strongly that the opportunities and skilled, hard-working people are out there; all it needs is a positive attitude.

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.

Why you should spare a thought for Surinamese entrepreneurs

November 14, 2011 by Mark Williams

Globe{{}}Some would have you believe that registering a company (“incorporation” – as opposed to simply starting a sole trader business) is an unnecessarily drawn-out ordeal in the UK. But, in fact, you can form a company in a day if you use the Companies House fast-track service. Otherwise, it should take 10-12 days.

As it’s Global Entrepreneurship Week I thought it’d be interesting to find out how the UK compares to other countries when it comes to incorporation. A quick Google search brought me to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2012 report, which compares regulatory conditions for “domestic firms in 183 economies”. It makes for fascinating reading, if you have the time. If not, the organisation’s website provides a convenient data summary of “the bureaucratic and legal hurdles an entrepreneur must overcome to incorporate and register [sic] a new [sic] firm.”

So what does it reveal? Well, things move much slower in South America and the Caribbean. In (socialist president) Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela it takes 141 days to register a company. In Brazil you’ll wait 119 days and in Haiti 105 days.

In Africa things can be similarly sluggish and Equatorial Guinea (137), Zimbabwe (90) and Togo (84) are stand-out examples. Intriguingly, in Republic of Congo it takes 160 days, yet only 65 days in the Democratic Republic of Congo (yes, democracy truly is a wonderful thing, folks). Incorporation takes a mere three days in Rwanda, the same time as in Singapore, but not as much as in the USA and Canada (both six).

In Afghanistan you can register a company in just seven days (apparently, there is a growing textiles sector). In Iraq it takes 77 days – ten times longer than in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And what of communist regimes past and present? Despite massive entrepreneurial strides in recent years, in China it still takes 38 days to register a company. That’s eight more than in the Russian Federation, yet in Georgia it can be done and dusted in just two days. In Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea there are only about 200 private companies, each of which is heavily state-regulated. No data is available for how long it takes to form a company in North Korea or how much it costs…

In (the Socialist Republic of) Vietnam you can register a company in 44 days, while in the People's Democratic Republic of Lao it takes about twice as long. In Cuba there is estimated to be only 100,000 or so “cuentapropistas” (private business owners) out of a population of about 11.2m.

How does the UK compare to other European countries? Pretty good as regards Austria (28 days), Switzerland (18), Sweden (15) and Germany (15); not so good as regards Hungary (four), Belgium (four) Portugal (five), Norway (seven), France (seven) and the Netherlands (eight).

For the type of incorporation entrepreneurs might dream of you’re best heading off “Down Under”. In Australia it takes just two days and in New Zealand – less than one (it can all be done very quickly online).

During Global Entrepreneurship Week I urge you to spare a thought for would-be entrepreneurs in the Republic of Suriname, on South America’s north east coast. Here, according to the World Bank – astonishingly – it takes a mind-boggling 694 days to register a company. During that time there are 13 bureaucratic steps to negotiate (unlucky for some, indeed). Suddenly the prospect of having to register a company in the UK doesn’t seem so bad at all now, does it?

Global Entrepreneurship Week heralded with celebration of future business stars from around the world

November 11, 2011 by Georgina Harris

In a ceremony that gathered the best of young entrepreneurs of the future from across the world, Youth Business International (YBI) held its Entrepreneur of the Year awards last night in London. It's not often that a business event can have the audience rocking with laughter one minute and sobbing the next, but these awards are truly memorable for their inspiration – the ceremony held a few surprises, a lot of fun and not a few tears.

In a fitting prelude to Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), the awards celebrated some of this year’s brightest and best young business talent. Finalists included young people who have started and grown their own businesses from as far afield as Canada, Israel and India, often against hefty odds. The judges are principally YBI, the worldwide network that runs non-profit business-support initiatives for young people across the world, including support programmes in developing countries. With the Prince of Wales as president, the network helped 6,346 young people to start their own business in 2010.

Making tracks

Mrs Deki Wangmo, Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, has overcome centuries-old Himalayan tradition and rather more modern prejudices to create her thriving motor business in Bhutan. At the age of 15, faced with her family’s inability to pay for her education, Bhutanese schoolgirl Deki looked around for a local job, eventually training as a car mechanic.

Despite Himalayan tradition dictating that women stay at home, and startling those who felt car maintenance was not a job for a lady, Deki finished her training with honours in 2007 and left to set up her own tyre retreading business in Thimpu, Bhutan’s capital city. With the help of YBI partners, four years on Deki has established a profitable firm which now employs eight staff, including her husband. “Becoming an entrepreneur was my ultimate choice,” Deki says simply.

Now with three small children to look after, these days Deki also manages to act as an ambassador for local entrepreneurship – which itself is growing as enquiries are increasing from the interested ladies of Bhutan. She's famous now but "It's nice to be appreciated," is all she will admit, modestly.

Now Deki had made it to London, was she going to relax? a spa? manicure maybe? Sadly not – she was flying back to work after a lone day in the bright lights to rescue Mr Wangmo, who was holding the fort – the kids, the business and and their new baby daughter, Little Power – singlehanded. A strong man, I pointed out. "Oh yes,"  she said, beaming with pride: “Such a strong man. But he works for me.”

True value businesses

Winners had to show they had improved economic development in their community sustainably and measurably. And some of the YBI’s future stars have helped save the planet too – Environmental Entrepreneur of the Year Award went to Vaidhyanathan Rajamani, whose water projects firm V Cube saves 50,000 litres of water every day in India. Vaidhyanathan was so keen to be an entrepreneur that when his parents insisted he stay in education he ran away from home.

Selling T-shirts to make ends meet, he battled for years to get anyone to take his inventions seriously. Then YBI, in the form of a local Indian trust, did. Now he employs 37 full-time staff and 342 dealers. No mean feat, as Andrew Devenport, CEO of Youth Business International, points out: “Recent UN figures have highlighted the dire economic situation around the world, with record levels of youth unemployment blighting many countries."

In a moving speech that had assorted tycoons, self-made men and women and even flinty-eyed venture capitalists moist-eyed, Devenport highlighted the growing problem of youth joblessness and the risk of a 'lost generation' that looms ever nearer worldwide. He added: “It’s vital that more young people are encouraged into entrepreneurship to create jobs and drive economic growth.”

The main winner, claiming a prize of including $5,000 US, was Amir Asor, founder of Young Engineers in Israel. He's invented science lego – plastic models that show kids abstract maths and physics concepts in cheery plastic they can build themselves. He now hires 20 people and is training schoolchildren to be engineers through the lego games.

What inspired the Entrepreneur of the Year? Being diagnosed with learning difficulties as a child. As he sprang onto the podium to claim his $5,000 US dollars, the room of grandees exploded with applause and several people finally gave up and burst into tears. But Amir was, typically of his peers, concentrating on his job – quietly thanking his friends and mentors, and, of course, the kids he watches at play.  

Next week GEW sees over 40,000 events take place in over 100 countries worldwide. Ten million of us will take part – among whom will no doubt be the secret stars of future business – and probably some people weeping at how great starting a business really is. Read our daily updates from Day 1 GEW Mon 14 November.

Is using companies house the best way to set up a company?

November 07, 2011 by WisteriaFormations

So you’ve decided to start a business. Maybe you’ve concluded that setting up a company is the best route for you to follow. There are a number of different methods of company registration, and a number of people favour the direct path that is registering through Companies House. After all, any incorporation application must go through Companies House at some point, and this is a relatively inexpensive method. However, in the long-run this might not necessarily be giving your business the best start possible.

The Companies House website has a number of pages that provide basic guidance about the incorporation process. However, you are limited in the level of advice you will receive. Beyond the initial formation, Companies House is unable to give you advice on important considerations for you and your newly set-up company. Conversely, many online formations agents offer free consultations with accountants and tax advisors as part of their service, to answer any questions you have as you start-up, for example, whether you need to become VAT registered.

An important part of incorporating a company is deciding on the Articles of Association – effectively, the rules that govern the running of the company. Formation through other channels, such as an agent or your accountant, may allow you to alter the company’s Articles of Association to suit your needs. Unfortunately, this cannot be done as part of the Companies House registration procedure, because model articles are forced on all new formations.

Additionally, the service that is offered is a basic incorporation. Although this will provide you with the minimum requirements when starting a company, you cannot purchase any of the extras offered through other channels. A Registered Office address, for example, is particularly important if you are forming a UK company from abroad or if you wish to protect your privacy when trading from your home. Although this is unattainable from incorporation through Companies House, many agents will provide this.

The major benefit that most start-ups see with registering at Companies House is the comfort that they are filing the application directly. Companies House is a UK government department, and therefore, a trustworthy source to hold all of your important data. On the other hand, it is not required to make stringent anti-money-laundering checks, as an agent would. Although some may see this as necessary to speed up the process for the individual, it does increase the possibility of your details being used to fraudulently set up a company.

Whichever method you use to register a company, it’s important that it is the right type of business for you. Although the process has been made easier with online applications, it is vital that start-ups know the obligations that come with a limited company.

Will Browning of Wisteria Chartered Accountants. Find out more about setting up a limited company.

How to check out potential customers before granting credit

November 02, 2011 by Anita Brook

If your business offers credit, you must make sure customers have a good credit history, as this will increase the chances they will pay you on time, every time. You could save yourself a lot of time and worry in the future by researching them at the start of your working relationship.

Ways you can check a new customer’s credit history include:

  • Information – Collect the right contact information from the start, including a named person in accounts, where possible.
  • Research - Investigate the potential customer; visit their premises; meet their people and get a feel for how they do business. The internet enables you to quickly and easily research what others say about them.
  • Contact your potential customer’s other suppliers – Ask them about their experiences – crucially, whether there have been any serious issues regarding payment.
  • Bank credit checks – Some banks will carry out business credit checks for you for a small charge.
  • Checking software – There are various specialist software tools on the market that enable you to run credit checks on new business clients before entering into a contract with them.
  • Use specialist websites – You can check a business’s credit history online by using websites such as UKData.com

If you really want to do business with a new customer but your research makes you less inclined to grant credit, you can request advance payment.

Anita Brook is a chartered accountant and owner of accountancy firm Accounts Assist. She also helps businesses regain control of their cash flow with Debts Assist and helps entrepreneurs launch their own bookkeeping businesses with Brilliant at Bookkeeping.

Young Apprentice: feel the love

October 27, 2011 by Rachel Miller

We’re back in the boardroom with Sir Alan Sugar and his hench people — Nick Hewer and Karren Brady. But it’s not quite business as usual. For a start the candidates are a bunch of teenagers. And then, in his opening pep talk, Lord Sugar says, “I actually love you lot.” Woah there, Alan, steady on. He continues. “I love seeing if you’ve got that spark of genius.”

Aah bless. Perhaps the makers of Young Apprentice have realised that a bunch of 16-year olds might need a bit of nurturing before they are hung out to dry on national television — as they will be, one by one, over the coming weeks.

To be honest, after that brief flicker of humanity, it’s business as usual. Meet the candidates. They are aiming high, they are taking no prisoners, they are talking in clichés.

Let’s hear about the task. It’s ice cream. They have to make it, brand it and sell it at a profit.

Now see how some of the boys can’t operate the ice cream machine very well. And notice how the girls are rubbish at maths and can’t get their margins sorted. Watch the teams try to flog their ice creams at Southend and Chessington. Marvel at how the producers make it look as though the girls have lost even though they have, in fact, won.

The boys make a profit of £559.29 while the girls make £708.34.

This is all familiar ground. And the lesson is simple — get your prices right. The boys asked too little for their ice creams. The girls, meanwhile, demonstrated their upselling skills, adding expensive toppings and charging their unsuspecting customers more. They even charged 20p for a cone!

But what does this actually prove? The trouble with giving these young people — and indeed anyone — two days to set up a profitable business is that it does not allow any time for learning from your mistakes. Experience is a wonderful teacher.

And while they clearly need to brush up on their business skills, what the programme reveals more than anything is their appalling lack of people skills as they talk over each other and shriek into their smartphones from the back of cabs.

So the boys go down to the losers’ café for a cuppa in a polystyrene cup. I swear they used to have actual crockery. Is this a sign of the times? Or are the programme makers trying to make the losing team feel even more depressed?

Team leader Harry picks two scapegoats to come back into the boardroom with him. James is a big mouth from Northern Ireland (reminiscent of Jim in the last series) and Mahamed has struggled to be heard throughout the task. Poor Mahamed is so desperate to cover himself in glory that he claims it was him that came up with the pirate theme for their ice cream stall. James, whose idea it was, is having none of it.

Lord Sugar is almost squirming as he fires Mahamed — I think he actually feels bad. But then he turns to James and says with menace, “Watch it, OK? Watch it. Because I am watching you.”

It’s a tough world out there kids and you might as well get used to it.

Advice about naming a business

October 13, 2011 by Kevin Duncan

Choosing a name for your business can be tough, but it can be approached methodically. There are five main types of company name:

  • Descriptive (Premier Sandwiches)
  • Owner-named (Dave’s Sandwiches)
  • Multiple owner-named (Johnson Hobson Wilson Potato Peeler)
  • Pointless initials (DS Ltd.)
  • Irrelevant but memorable (Orange, as in the mobile phone company)

If you wish to portray a solid but unremarkable image, the descriptive approach may be justified. However, it is worth noting that inventive branding has permeated almost every product category these days, so you should be as brave as you can be.

The second option (ie owner-named) may be relevant if you have a reputation from a past life and it will be helpful for past clients to know that it’s your business. In the case of Dave’s Sandwiches, this is unlikely, but if you are a prominent expert in a specific field, it may be relevant.

Multiple owner-named business names are unwieldy and hard to remember. As a start-up this is unlikely to be an issue, but if you are going into business with several partners consider the pitfalls of choosing a long-winded name just to satisfy the founding partners’ egos. It may not benefit the business, so resist this route if possible because it usually just leads to hoots of derision.

Option four, pointless initials, is also highly undesirable. A quick glance at the phone book reveals thousands of these acronyms. Initials say nothing about you and are unremarkable, so resist using them.

The last option, irrelevant but memorable, can be fun if done well. For example, if you work in a fairly dry sector, the use of a fun, lively name might make your business more memorable. All of this is of course a matter or personal taste, but usually it really is worth dreaming up a distinctive, memorable name for your business.

This extract is taken from Kevin’s recently published book – What You Need to Know About Starting a Business

Kevin Duncan – business adviser, marketing expert and author

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