The right for employees to request flexible working is now in full force. With these new regulations, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills predicts that up to 20 million people across the country could be asking their employees to work flexibly. Employers can reject these requests, but whether they do or not, to have a happy, satisfied workforce, start-ups and small businesses must have the right technology and communication systems to accommodate modern working methods.
Recently we conducted some research looking at the working habits of small businesses and it seems that employees up and down the country are waking up to the benefits technological advances provide in driving growth.
The survey suggests that 78% of small businesses are now using cloud-computing solutions such as Google Docs, Livedrive and GoTo Meeting. The smartphone revolution is part and parcel of everyday life and increasingly in the working lives of UK small business employees, with 87% using smartphones for work and 64% using tablet computers.
To keep staff costs low, and with the majority of small businesses employing just a handful of people, only 20% employ an IT Manager, with 64% of small-business owners taking responsibility for their IT operations.
The use of technology to enable better ways of working will be important for small businesses in setting themselves apart from the competition and achieving sustainable growth. Places of work are no longer restricted to one location, and employees are increasingly logging on and working from various sites. This will only become more prevalent as the new rules around flexible working are exercised.
With that in mind, here are a few pieces of technology advice for start-ups. As your business grows and more employees come on board, they might request the right to work flexibly, so make sure you have the infrastructure in place from the start.
Little maintenance is needed with cloud solutions because software updates download automatically and it also enables access to documents from anywhere with an internet connection, which is crucial for remote workers.
With today’s technology you can easily run a business that doesn’t depend so heavily on paper, and this can save you a lot of money. Simple functions such as using ‘Track changes’ in Word mean you don’t have to print pages and pages and then waste ink by scrawling over them.
With smartphones increasingly being used for business, make full use of free business apps such as Evernote and Basecamp, both of which let you save notes and create and share to-do lists with colleagues, simply from the touch of a screen.
Blog provided by Aisling Brennan, marketing manager of faxing service provider eFax.
When I started my business, the biggest drain on my resources was time. Many people say the flexibility of being your own boss is a major reason why they start up, but budding business owners be warned – it could be a while before that flexibility comes into play.
Of course, initial start-up capital also proved to be quite a shock. No matter how many friends you have giving you advice, nothing quite prepares you for the shock of the amount of capital you need to start up. Thankfully, I was able to sell my car, which gave me a decent amount of capital to begin with.
Now, however, as my business has started to get established, the matter of time has reared its head once more. As such, my current priority is to hire someone who can help me out and give me that flexibility I desire.
One of the primary pieces of advice I’ve been given is to not hold back on employing someone because you fear losing money. This is easier said than done, but I’ve also noted a great way of saving time and money when it comes to future employees.
Not only will employing someone help me save time in the long run (along with sharing the workload), but by engaging with current technology, training and management will also be reasonably straightforward.
With the rise of BYOD (bring your own device), there’s no reason not to apply this to small businesses and start-ups as well. However, one of the best time-savers (and long-term money-savers) is to ensure that everyone in the business is “on the same IT page”.
Investing in the same smartphone as my own means I know what software is available, and I can easily train future employees on how to use the device, along with the many apps installed.
Because Microsoft now offers a mobile version of Office, it’s never been easier to manage a small business. Chances are, until my business fully takes off, employees will work part time, so training them completely on a device used across my company is one of the best time- and money-saving decisions.
I want to understand everything I ask my employees to do. In fact, regardless of the help my friends offer me, it’s been my aim from the start to tackle everything independently, because it’s the best way to tackle the steep learning curve.
Hiring a new employee seems daunting, especially as my business is still in its infancy. However, with the right training across a device and software I understand, I have confidence that it’ll run as smoothly as possible.
Blog supplied by Frederick Miller of Helpingu2save.co.uk.
Does your business have a blog, website or video channel? If so, you could start asking people who visit your site to start donating Bitcoins.
Online currency, you can use it to buy things such as domain names, electronics, food and professional services.
The value changes a lot. In January 2013 it was only worth about £10, but by late November it had reached a high of £750.
There are many ways. You could start donating your computer power to help run the network (a process called ‘mining’) or you could sign up to an exchange such as MtGox.com and buy some with pounds. Unfortunately, both of these options can take time and effort and you might end up losing money. A safer and simpler bet is to start taking Bitcoin donations.
The Bitcoin community is very generous. Bitcoin users know that the more people who own Bitcoin, the more plausible it becomes as an idea. Also, because it’s really easy to donate, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you could earn.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start…
You’ll need a wallet to receive, send and store Bitcoins. There are three types of wallet: software, mobile and web. The Bitcoin website features a useful guide and a list of downloads to help you get started. For maximum security, we recommend that you choose one that doesn’t use a third party. To avoid cyber theft, you should always encrypt your wallet with a strong password. We recommend one at least eight characters long, using a combination of numbers, symbols and upper/lowercase letters.
Once you’ve set up your wallet you’ll be given a wallet address. You’ll need this so people know where to send donations. It will be a string of between 27 and 34 numbers and lower/uppercase letters beginning with a 1 or 3.
Accepting donations is as easy as posting your Bitcoin address on your blog/website. You may want to provide or link to some info about Bitcoin too in case users without any Bitcoins also want to donate. When you have a donor, your wallet will message you a notification telling you how much has been sent. Your Bitcoins are then free to save or spend as you wish.
Blog contributed by Nick Chowdrey, finance and accounting writer for Crunch, online accountancy firm for freelancers and small businesses.
Many business owners dream of one day expanding their SME into a global organisation based in the buzzing business capital of the big cities. While the thriving metropolitan atmosphere may seem like the best place for any business, this isn’t always the case.
Thanks to developments in technology and communications, keeping your business rural has never been easier, and comes with some real benefits. From employee satisfaction to publicising the business, there are limitless positives that come with working in the countryside.
From an operational point of view, it’s certainly much more practical to keep an SME based in a rural location. A small, slightly cheaper office is often enough for an SME that can then hire employees based around the country.
This will allow employees to converse with customers countywide without the cost and effort required to travel in and out of the city on a regular basis. Allowing some employees to telecommute to work will also increase employee satisfaction, resulting in a happier workforce and a higher quality of work.
When once it would have been impossible for a modern business to work within a rural area, the advancement of technology means a fully functioning and practical business can be ran effectively from the middle of a field!
Telecommunication has never been easier, while satellite broadband is an effective and practical means of internet access for those who do not have access to fibre optic broadband.
Working in a major city may offer a somewhat more cosmopolitan atmosphere, but the benefits of the city rarely outweigh the negatives. Due to the sheer size of most cities, it’s next to impossible for smaller businesses to make their name known against the ferocious competition.
Employees often report lower work satisfaction when commuting on a regular basis, and potential customers will often enjoy the personal, SME approach to business that can be taken when working in a rural environment.
Blog supplied by independent satellite broadband internet service provider Europasat.
Go back a few years and the choice of computer systems for start-ups were pretty limited. Typically, a website would be created, some email addresses set up and routed by POP3, while a small server would be used for file and print. It could be a glorified workstation or if the budgets permitted, a small business server, which gave the added benefit of Microsoft Exchange, etc. Enterprise-level IT solutions were beyond the realms of most start-ups. IT systems were expensive and inflexible, so compromises had to be made.
In today’s cloud-dominated IT environment, it is cost-effective and straightforward for start-ups to establish a fully featured computer system. Gone are the days of buying expensive servers, worrying about back-ups and having to accept second-rate solutions. We now work in a largely online but totally connected world. Sage advice for start-ups on choosing a location from which to operate would be to ensure that their internet connectivity is fast and robust. Location is important, not least in terms of the broadband choices available.
So, to begin with, let’s take an example start-up with three staff. Previously, a workstation would have been used for file sharing and POP3 email accounts would have likely been used.
The obvious downsides to this are myriad – it is not a particularly scalable solution and if business growth was planned, a server would be required. File sharing outside of the office would have been challenging (and certainly less secure), with it being likely that files would be saved outside of the workstation and on other machines, potentially risking files not being backed up properly (and possibly not giving an offsite back-up data set).
POP3 email is a cheap option, however, over time a lot of spam and viruses would be received, some of which could get through a standard PC antivirus solution. Moreover, POP3 traditionally is less reliable and with no email filtering, any email outages can lead to lost emails in the event of an ISP failure.
Nowadays, a cloud solution could be utilised from day one, resulting in enterprise-level solutions for a cost-effective monthly fee. This would comprise of a hosted server, with a full VPN to ensure that staff can work seamlessly on the move. Data would all centrally stored and trouble-free, being securely backed-up offsite. Email would be filtered and cleaned, before being delivered to the devices of your choice through Microsoft Exchange. As well as syncing emails between multiple devices (smartphones, laptops, etc), exchange also allows full collaboration, shared calendars, etc.
Whilst a cloud solution might not be right for every start-up, the benefits certainly make it ideally for the majority of new enterprises. Some of the key reasons why are listed below:
Blog supplied by Adrian Case of Akita.
Businesses should always be on the lookout for new, innovative technologies that save them time – and cloud servers can certainly do just that. However, the amount of companies currently using cloud technology is still relatively low, compared to those using traditional servers and software. If your business hasn't got on board the cloud yet, here are a few of the benefits that you could be missing out on...
Switching to cloud computing can be extremely cost-effective. Most cloud server companies operate on a pay-as-you-use basis, so you only have to pay for the storage, backup and applications you require, rather than paying outright for various computer packages and software upgrades.
Cloud servers are generally more responsive to developments in the ever-changing IT industry and it is quicker and easier to get hold of updates, because you don’t have to go out and buy hardware, it’s done online. It also means that if you have employees working remotely from other locations using multiple devices, you can ensure they are working on the most up-to-date documents.
If your business currently operates using hardware that is ageing and getting close to capacity, it's likely that a cloud server will be more reliable and quicker to operate. And if you do have any issues, with most cloud computing companies, help and advice is available round the clock.
Ensuring your work is backed up is one of the most important things a business can do. Financial details and customer information are some of your most valuable assets, and losing them could cost you a lot of time and money. With a cloud-based service, you can set it to automatically save your data frequently to a safe online location.
If your business is just starting and you don't have years’ worth of data to store, you should be able to just pay for the capacity you need. And, as your business expands, you can easily increase the capacity and functionality of your cloud server as you need.
Perhaps the most important thing a cloud server can provide you with is more time. You and your employees will no longer have the hassle of buying, installing and maintaining your software, your Ccoud provider handles all this. That means you and your employees can get on with on things that more directly contribute towards your profitability.
Written by Emma Williams of Creare Communications.
So you’ve got your idea. You’ve found the problem you want to solve. The niche you want to fill.
Now you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it happen. Where your HQ is going to be. Who you are going to get onboard. What your branding is going to look like. Everything.
But before you start making rash decisions regarding your expenditure at the outset on things like hardware and premises, take stock a moment.
Is it all going to be really necessary?
More and more, start-ups and small firms are making use of remote working possibilities afforded by WiFi, the Cloud and telecommuting.
Apart from being a way to cut your overheads pretty drastically, releasing some pressure on your cashflow, it also enables your employees to manage the demands on their lives more effectively - meaning that they are better placed to channel their full energies into your business, where they are needed.
By operating flexibly and remotely, you make your working processes more agile and can free up the cash that would be spent on things like heating, business rates and rent. On top of this, your employees save commuting costs and are more equipped to avoid any associated stress.
IT and software providers are wise to this shift within the start-up landscape and have created product suites for agile start-ups to manage the transferral and storage of data and communications more effectively and securely.
As the business-scape shifts and new markets open up, being more flexibly set up will put you in a good position to trade more effectively across borders. It might well be that your key market is not in the territory you originally thought. Were you to work inflexibly at the outset, you may not even ever come to that realisation and that market would go untapped.
Similarly, if you are in full-time employment and, as recent research suggests, are in the good number of employees who are dissatisfied with their current role, you might wish to be more like the sudden bloom of entrepreneurs springing up around the UK and start up your own project while still gainfully employed.
Remote working and Cloud technologies offer up ample possibilities to allow you to do just that and there is a multiplicity of advantages involved, your personal exposure to risk is lowered and you can adopt a trial and error approach until you have a more rounded and attractive proposition to your target market.
So, if you think your current career is not progressing in the way that you wanted or that you think you are ready to make your first entrepreneurial step, there has arguably never been a richer time to take your future into your own hands.
Matthew Pink works in digital publishing and covers topics including entrepreneurship and start-ups.
The Start-Up Loans Company, part of the government’s solution to help kick-start enterprise in England and create more jobs for 18-30 year olds, is being championed by tech whizz kid and serial entrepreneur Josh Buckley (@joshbuckley), CEO of gaming giant MinoMonsters. Although born and raised in Kent, in 2010 Josh moved to Silicon Valley to start up MinoMonsters, aged just 18.
Now a web veteran at the tender age of just 21, Josh already has a decade’s wealth of experience behind him, and now he is looking to help other young people like him realise their potential by becoming their own boss.
Josh started freelance coding at the age of 11 after his family bought a computer. He sold his company first company, Menewsha, a virtual world, for a six-figure sum at the age of 15. Josh then went on to create the global kids phenomenon MinoMonsters in 2011. This gaming venture has been called “the next Disney” by many commentators. Buckley raised $2m for the company at the age of 19 from leading venture capital firms.
Leading entrepreneur, former Dragon and Start-Up Loans Company chairman James Caan is hugely impressed by Josh’s business journey and believes it will inspire other young would-be entrepreneurs across many sectors. And with more than £100m to give to young people across England, such aspirations can find the financial backing it needs.
Caan believes that Josh’s story shows that business success is achievable for people of all ages, providing you have a good idea and the passion to make it work. He is delighted to have Josh’s support to help inspire young entrepreneurs in England.
The Start-Up Loans Company has already backed numerous tech enterprises, including a wide range of app developers. Now is a fantastic time to turn your passion into a business. With the help of Josh Buckley and James Caan, The Start-Up Loans Company is in an even stronger position to help young aspiring entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. Apply today at www.startuploans.co.uk.
Small and medium-sized enterprise owners (SMEs) are proficient at using technology, but unable to switch off in their personal lives, according to research from business insurer Hiscox.
The research was conducted between 28 November and 6 December 2012 and surveyed 1,030 businesses. It suggests that 89% of SMEs have mastered the use of technology, but are slaves to smartphones. The research also suggests that 38% of SME owners have difficulty switching off and 37% find working off duty hours intrusive upon their personal lives.
The online survey by Opinium reviewed how businesses are using technology and how although they are using it better to manage their businesses; they are not able to control the impact that it has on their personal lives. 85% of respondents admitted to checking their work emails while on holiday.
"Our research confirms what we already know from working closely with them; SMEs are constantly connected to their workplace, incredibly tech savvy and committed to their business," explains Alan Thomas, small business insurance expert at Hiscox.
Interestingly, 59% of survey respondents plan to either purchase new equipment or upgrade existing equipment as an investment in technology in the near future (61% keep up-to-update with technology). From these technology investors, 35% plan to do so in the next 12 months compared with 25 percent who plan to do so in the next two-three years. 10% of SMEs were found to relish new technology and generally upgrade equipment as soon as it becomes available.
"As SMEs seek to keep their business running at all times, the option to clock off at 5pm is fast diminishing and being 'switched on' is becoming a normal way of life. Thanks to the reliance on and access to technology, SMEs have become masters of technology but slaves to their work, and it's no surprise they are leading a lifestyle where they are 'always on'," added Thomas.
Given that SMEs are closer and influence the day-to-day management of their businesses on a more intimate level, it’s no surprise these factors have such an impact for them. This can be compounded when SMEs are home workers when it is thought that temptation to be distracted often turns out to be the opposite.
According to research carried out by names.co.uk, more than a quarter (28%) of new small-business owners wait months after they’ve registered their company name before they register their domain name, thereby risking losing out on their preferred website address.
In fact, our research suggests that about a fifth actually lose their preferred name and have to settle for a name that isn’t related to their company.
We surveyed 2,079 business owners and found that many were startlingly relaxed about owning their online brand – but come to regret this later on when they miss out on their preferred domain name.
Even many dot-com savvy firms established in the past three years have missed the boat. Most companies make the mistake of focusing exclusively on their company name, believing it to be central to the success of their business, without even thinking to check for their domain name first.
Your domain name is often more important these days than your mobile or telephone number, so it is a big oversight not to check whether it’s available before registering your company name. Customers will search for your .com or .co.uk address every day, so not owning the most logical domain can be a real issue.
However, not all businesses are as forgetful about registering their company name. More than a third (35%) admit to registering their domain name before they launched their business, with 25% building their website before launching their business. About half (49%) also admit to registering multiple domain names to protect their company name or expand their business.
Other key findings from our research include:
Names are important, of course, and every one with plans to start a new business really needs to think carefully about their domain name. We encourage small businesses to consider registering their domain name before they launch their company, so they can get the name that best serves their business’s interests.
Sally Tomkotowicz is marketing manager at Namesco, which provides online services for businesses and individuals.
Investment is a common term for most start-ups, usually in the context of technology, buildings or staff training, but what about philanthropic investment? And in particular, should a start-up look to give to the local community when finances are usually so tight?
We’re in the midst of a recession and that doesn’t just affect commerce, but also local activities and groups. Any assistance you can give to your local community will surely be appreciated and remembered, for example, sponsoring local events or sporting teams. It need not be financial; products, time and manpower are just as valuable a commodity for some projects.
To my mind, if you can afford even a small input, there is no reason not to invest – a humanitarian deed for the day is a great way to live. But as with any investment, there must be a return – mustn’t there?
A truly philanthropic investment would yield no direct financial return for your business, but with my most cynical of capitalist hats on, why be in business if not to make money? Yes, do things for the community, but away from work, with your own time and your own money. After all, without profitable businesses, there is no economy, no livelihoods and no thriving communities in the first place.
But there are less tangible returns that you might gain, for instance, on the public relations front. Everyone loves a ‘feel good’ story and if you have the opportunity to make a difference in your local community and can publish it correctly, this charitable activity can do wonders for your reputation.
Take Christmas, for example. If you normally send cards to customers and suppliers, think again. Instead, perhaps you could email everyone and explain that you are donating £xxx to a local cause. Everybody wins, including the environment.
Breaking News: “Lovely generous business gives money to [insert charitable cause]” . Who doesn’t read it and replace the “Lovely generous business” thought with “looking for some public good will” judgement. We all do. And does this feeling really disappear when it is a start-up or small business? Has today’s hurly-burly environment removed our ability to see a selfless act and not be suspicious?
Personally, I think all businesses should make an effort to give something back to the community, whether you are resident there or if your business is simply based there. My employer invests an awful lot in the local Alveley community in Shropshire, with barely any of the investments receiving mention outside the parish. But it’s worthwhile because we see the appreciative faces, receive the handshakes and know our small contribution enabled an event to get off the ground and realise someone’s dream.
Yes, businesses exist to make money, but there is no need for that money to sit in a bank when it could be put to good use.
1. Remanufactured cartridges void your warranty
Often seen as the greatest barrier to effective third-party cartridge distribution, most people wrongly believe this to be true. Pressure from EU and American trade laws mean it is illegal for a manufacturer to void your printer warranty purely due to the use of third-party cartridges. Look in chapter 50, section 2302 of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act for further details.
2. Remanufacturers only replace the toner
Prevalent in the “drill and fill” region of the market, this leads to poor performing cartridges due to the strain experienced from repeated use. Professional third-party providers replace all worn and damaged components in the remanufacturing process. They are then cleaned and tested to standards approaching the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) stringent guidelines to ensure the quality performance you would expect.
3. Remanufacturers reuse toner in their cartridges
Ignoring the fact OEM cartridges all have different chemical formulations and are thus unable to be mixed, as soon as toner leaves the cartridge and is applied to the page it cannot be reused. Laser printers undertake a complicated series of positive and negative electrical charges to transfer the toner from a cartridge, to a printer drum, to the paper. The moment the toner is ‘polluted’ by particles from the environment such as paper dust, it cannot be reused.
4. Remanufacturers contain lower quality toner
Nearly all OEMs now use chemical toner technology, which provides finer particles in a consistent shape for more accurate printing. Remanufacturers also use this technology, meaning your third-party toner particles are of a similar quality. However, it is true OEM toner can contain more chemicals than remanufactured counterparts, as they are scientifically ‘constructed’ from the ground up for performance in specific printer models. Just remember you will only see their benefits when printing high-resolution images and text onto the original manufacturers paper; often up to double the price of remanufactured options.
5. Remanufactured cartridges can damage your printer
The process laser printers go through to print means the cartridge rarely makes contact with any part of the printer, the only issue is leaking toner. All cartridges lose some toner inside the printer, hence the existence of waste toner collectors within most laser printers. There is still the risk of excess waste through poorly manufactured cartridges, so ensure your supplier is quality tested with a performance guarantee.
6. Returned cartridges to OEMs are all reused
A mere 20% of toner cartridges are reused in the entire market, with OEMs falling behind on this statistic. This is compounded by an InfoTrends study into cartridge remanufacturing, which highlights third-party suppliers collecting 70% more empty OEM toners than the OEM themselves. Furthermore, research highlighted OEMs’ preference to recycle the returned cartridge and use only part of the materials for new cartridges, whilst third-party producers will almost always re-use cartridges once (after inspection and cleaning), saving energy and overall waste levels.
So the bottom line is that you can seriously consider buying third party cartridges in future and save yourself a bob or three.
Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk
I’m pleased to report that the wraps are off: The IT Donut, a new website for small businesses, will be launching the week of 23 August.
Expect heaps of advice about choosing, using and generally not getting totally frustrated with IT in your business.
I’ve taken on the role of editor (the next few months are looking to be very busy), but thankfully there’s a whole team of great people from BHP Information Solutions working hard on the site too. And because you can’t substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience, we’re on the hunt for experts who know all about IT at the sharp end of business.
You see, when businesses use IT, there’s an ideal world, and there’s what actually happens. The two often differ quite considerably.
The IT Donut isn’t going to live in the plain sailing, smooth running and largely theoretical ideal world. It will acknowledge the situations and challenges businesses face every day with their IT.
Although the team behind the website is packed with experience (I’ve been writing about small businesses and IT for years now), we need people who’ve been there and done it to help us cover every area. These IT experts are the people who’ll really bring the site to life.
So if you know a bit about IT in business, I want to hear from you. You might be an expert in web hosting, networking or accounting software. Or you might be a business that’s experimented with cloud computing, open source software – or gained some other knowledge that you’d like to share.
Whatever your expertise, give me a shout. It’s your chance to be involved in one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on – and to get some great PR while you’re at it.