Setting up a business in the current financial climate can be a challenge, particularly for those with minimal funds. However, the recession has opened doors for many entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of gaps in the market to try and offer something different, while competitors flounder. Here are a few tips intended to help you set up your business if money is tight.
1 Keep borrowings to a minimum
It’s much better for your business’s long-term prospects if you don’t have to borrow to get off the ground. Your new venture is meant to provide you with a new source of income, not become a millstone of debt around your neck. However, there may be instances where you need to take on the right kind of debt, with a realistic plan of paying it back through the success of your business.
2 Only buy essential equipment
Put aside any thoughts of a fancy office space or the latest hi-tech gadgets. You should only buy what you need to carry out your day-to-day business. Much can be achieved with basic internet and telephone connection, a reliable computer and essential software.
3 Work from home
Why waste money on rent if you don’t need premises? Many start-ups can now be successfully operated from the comfort of the owner’s home. If necessary, you could even operate from a virtual office, perhaps with a more attractive business address.
4 Online marketing
You might be able to market your business online without paying a single penny if you’re clever. With powerful social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook you can reach out to potential customers and network with customers and possibly suppliers using online forums.
5 Keep it in the ‘cloud’
The last thing you want as a new business is to lose sensitive business information that is crucial to the day-to-day running of your start-up. A loss of data may also affect levels of customer service and cause embarrassment that could tarnish your reputation before you’ve even started. Cloud computing is a relatively new concept that enables users to rent storage space on an external server to guard against data loss in the event of natural disasters or crime.
With the general election imminent, it’s hard not to see the most recent budget as strongly political. A number of tax incentives were announced, mainly to benefit the largest groups of taxpayers, but paid for by rises affecting the wealthy.
There were no further announcements on income tax, National Insurance or VAT. Although, as previously announced, a 50 per cent top rate of income tax will be introduced from 6 April 2010 on incomes of more than £150,000. On the same date, a reduction in personal allowances will start on incomes of more than £100,000. Finally, a 1 per cent increase in National Insurance is due to take effect from 6 April 2011.
First-time buyers escape stamp duty
The stamp duty threshold will be raised for first-time buyers from £125,000 to £250,000. As the threshold was raised at midnight last night, almost all affected buyers who have not yet exchanged will benefit. The stamp duty rise will take effect for the next two years, and could result in tax savings of up to £2,500, compared with the previous threshold.
Wealthier homeowners will fund the rise. There will be a permanent increase in stamp duty from 4 per cent to 5 per cent on house purchases over £1m.
Tip: Where possible, consider negotiating the asking price to below the threshold by negotiating extras such as curtains or garden furniture in a separate deal.
Good news for SMEs
From October, there will be a business rates cut. This will result in an exemption for properties with a rateable value of less then £6,000 and an increase in small business rates relief for properties with a value between £6,001 and £11,999.
The annual investment allowance will be doubled to £100,000. The relief – which allows a 100 per cent tax deduction for new capital expenditure – will be welcome by small and medium-sized businesses in particular.
The lifetime limit for entrepreneur’s relief will be doubled, with the effect that the first £2m (previously the first £1m) of gains will be taxed at an effective rate of 10 per cent. Contrary to wide predictions, Capital Gains Tax did not rise with the Budget, but will remain at its historically low level of 18 per cent.
Tip: It continues to be a good time for businesses to invest in growth. The difference between the top rate on income tax at 50 per cent and Capital Gains Tax rate at 18 per cent provides a clear incentive for investment in business expansion.
The Chancellor announced a 15 per cent increase in the number of government contracts that will be awarded to SMEs.
The two state-subsidised banks, RBS and Lloyds, will lend a further £94bn, of which at least half will be to small and medium-sized firms.
The Chancellor will set up an investment bank with £2 billion of equity to invest in low carbon industries such as wind farms.
The planned hike in petrol duty by 3 pence will be staggered, so that there will be a 1 pence rise in April, a further 1 pence rise in October and the final 1 pence rise in January 2011.
Good news for savers
As announced in the pre-budget report, the ISA limit will be raised from £7,200 to £10,200 from 6 April. The Chancellor also announced in this Budget that the limit will rise in future years in line with inflation.
Tip: If you have not yet used your ISA allowance there are just a few days before the end of the tax year to use the allowance before it is lost.
The wealthiest targeted
The one-off 50 per cent tax on bank bonuses has raised more than £2bn – double the amount forecast. Further attempts to increase tax revenue from higher income groups were also announced.
The inheritance tax thresholds will be frozen for four years at £325,000. If there is inflation, this will amount to a real term reduction in the threshold.
There will a crackdown on tax avoidance through agreements made with Dominica, Grenada and Belize.
Tax credits rise
Families with one and two-year-olds will receive an additional £4 per week in child tax credit from 2012. The number of hours needed to qualify for working tax credit will be cut for the over 60s.
Tip: Consider making a protective claim for tax credits. Your tax credits claim is based on the prior year unless there is an increase in your income of more than £25,000. Alternatively, you can claim for your assessment to be made on your current income level. Careful planning can ensure you derive the maximum benefit from the system.
The tax system is constantly changing and it is important to review your investment plans, cashflow forecasts and wealth management in the light of new rules and regulations.
Raphael Coman, founder of south London-based Coman & Co, is a chartered certified accountant with many years' experience gained at leading, national accounting firms. He specialises in taxation and small business accounting and offers personal tax advice to business owners, managers and contractors.
I’d often dreamed of becoming my own boss but I lacked the start up capital to take such a huge financial risk so it stayed a dream. It wasn’t until I was on maternity leave that I realised I didn’t want to leave my son with someone else while I went out to work but I resigned myself to the fact that this was how it was going to be.
Then a week before I was due back to work I was made redundant. I was devastated. I was relying on the income after months of unpaid leave and I needed to start earning money again. The recession was in full swing, there was a lack of local jobs and I still wanted to stay at home with my son.
After a while I started thinking this was my opportunity to finally start a business. By this point I’d had some success sewing toys and shoes for my baby and had managed to get a few custom orders. At first I thought this was great but I soon realised the baby shoes were too time consuming to make which meant I wouldn’t make a profit. For years I had been fully immersed in the online handmade community and while I was researching other business possibilities I realised there was a gap in the market to help others in this area. I was seeing so many creative people trying to sell their handmade goods but not having much luck purely due to the fact that they didn’t know the best way to market themselves. With my past experience working in advertising, marketing and promotions and my first class degree in Design and Management I knew I could help.
But I had no money. I knew my target market was international and because my niche was crafters I knew where to find them. I joined Etsy, a handmade marketplace for small businesses. On Etsy you list items for sale under a shop front which you can design yourself. Etsy allows you to sell non-handmade items as long as you are providing a finished item which in my case is marketing and PR plans.
Start up costs
I set up my shop on Etsy for free. I designed a banner, logo and illustrations to list my products under. Listing was 20 cents an item and I listed 4 items to start with. I actually didn’t have to pay anything upfront as the bill for these listings would be due a month later.
Marketing on a budget
Despite not having much money I was able to utilise the internet to market myself for free. I use Twitter and Facebook to interact with other entrepreneurs and forums to chat with potential customers.
I set up a free blog with marketing tips and I decided early on to feature inspirational businesses in a series called Creativity Speaks! This helped to gain readers whilst becoming a resource for creative businesses.
Within a few weeks I had my first clients. One in Canada and the other in Singapore. Due to my low overheads, almost overnight I had a profitable international business.
I now spend my days playing with Lego, finger painting, exploring in parks and collecting things for our nature table. When my son naps I catch up on emails, when he goes to bed for the night I complete marketing plans. Being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me. Just don’t tell my old employers that!
My top tips when starting up on a budget:
Isa Maria Seminega, Noisette Marketing