As a small business owner it can be difficult to maintain your own morale and, just as importantly, that of your staff. In a climate in which budgets are stretched and purse strings are tight, many small businesses struggle to stay happy – and, as a result, they struggle to remain productive.
Workplace culture is a hugely important element of an overall business strategy.
We want to see happy employees, not only because that is good in and of itself, but also because people are at their best when they are at their happiest. We spend a great deal of time working out how we can make Simply Business the best possible place to work.
Happiness and efficiency are intrinsically linked in the business environment. So how can you ensure that both you and your employees keep both their spirits and their productivity high?
It is all too easy to become so absorbed in the day to day minutiae of running a business that you forget to celebrate your achievements. Perspective is important, both for you and your employees. Take time to ‘zoom out’ and recognise the ways in which you have succeeded, as well as the work you still have to do.
It is impossible to remain both productive and satisfied if you or your employees are working all day every day. Regular breaks are important in order to keep the mind focused and to prevent boredom. Rather than trying to do multiple things at once, try splitting up your time into 20 minute chunks, with short breaks in between. This may help to boost both your productivity and your work satisfaction.
Extended breaks are also vitally important for all of us, and yet many business owners fail to take enough time off. Make sure that you take holiday time off and that, as far as is possible, you use this time to do things other than work. Remember that this will likely require you to plan ahead in order to ensure that you tie up loose ends before you leave and that your business can continue to tick over in your absence.
The headline salary is not the only way in which you can attract and keep the top talent. You should also think about the working environment and, crucially, the benefits that you are offering. There is a range of cost-effective benefits that you might investigate. These include flexible working, the Cycle To Work scheme, and non-medical covers like life insurance.
Google famously encouraged employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own projects. Although the company is now moving away from this ratio, ensuring that your employees have time to pursue their own interests during the working week can still be hugely beneficial. Not only will it help demonstrate to employees that their creative input is valued, it could also help to produce new innovation.
Finally, it is important to remember that a fragmented workforce is far more likely to be unhappy. You should think carefully about ways in which you can develop a sense of community amongst you and your employees. This might include away days, meals out together, visits to non-work related cultural events, and so on. Remember that these need not be hugely expensive; rather, the intention is to create a space in which employees can get to know each other better.
Blog by Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business
It's around this time of year that UK retailers embrace the big build-up to Christmas. The annually anticipated ‘Mega Monday’, traditionally the first Monday in December after payday, is upon us. This is the day when consumers gear up to put their credit cards to good use and stock up on stocking-fillers ahead of Christmas.
This year, Mega Monday falls on the 2nd of December and with virtual retail becoming an exponentially more favourable means of shopping for many consumers, this year it is predicted to be the busiest online shopping day of the whole year.
To set the scene, UK high-street bank Barclays has produced a survey showing how two thirds of high street retailers anticipate their website traffic to rise by 11% on Mega Monday – a percentage worth taking into consideration by shops and stockists of every kind. Visa reported that last year saw sales of £320m made on its credit and debit card services, and this year’s festive season is set to continue its upward trajectory.
Equally relevant is how consumers are using mobile devices and tablets to shop. This means websites need to look immaculate, inviting and adaptable to mobile interfaces; the same way they would in the physical premises, or from their computer screens.
This is the golden goose for online retailers, but it needs a little consideration: businesses must improve the experience for web users to boost ecommerce success and capitalise on this time of the year. Given that every retail business is jostling for position during the festive period, it is crucial for businesses to have their websites looking as inviting and attractive to consumers as possible. This is also a great opportunity for companies to invest in repeat business and establish a wider customer base. Retailers should look toward optimising their websites so that users will click through and begin to establish a relationship with the site and its products.
In light of these points, we’ve provided a few top tips to help you optimise your website for the big day:
Simple enough; make sure you run A/B tests on your key pages in order to optimise your website. This is an easy enough solution that in-house staff can run to save you time and money you might have spent outsourcing, without sacrificing the best results. In terms of top priorities to consider when testing, read on:
Don’t overcrowd your pages so that site-visitors don't tire of the visual complexity. Keep language simple, rather than using “flat rate shipping”, why not try “free shipping” to clarify what the offer really means. Consider your colour-coding; blue font might imply hyperlinks, so avoid confusing font colours with click-through links. Make sure you don’t distract visitors with reviews taking prominence over product features – make it clear where reviews can be found, but keep product details clear and available as first port of call.
Try not to over emphasise security features as this can create anxiety. Security should be something users can check if they’re concerned, but don’t add in potentially alarming icons of the security measures your site has in place. We have seen example tests where such imagery has actually made browsers more cautious and less likely to click through. Let them feel that your site has everything under control: overly-reassuring visitors of your security measures could, paradoxically, have the reverse effect.
Rather than asking whether test A will outperform test B, ask instead “How does the imagery in test B compare to that in test A?” Think first about the results you’re aiming for. If you want people to click through on ‘view complete range’, ask yourself how you can optimise the layout of the site to achieve this. In general, rather than asking “What are the variations we are testing?” consider asking “What question are we trying to answer?” as a means to get more effective and relevant results. Are you trying to see if a visitor will respond better to bolder colours/fonts or to clearer language? Consider first what you want the answers to be, then design tests around those enquiries.
Be sure to define the broad question trying to be answered on your website, and determine the simplest and easiest way to validate that concept. Don’t be too abstract. Thematic approaches to pages aren't as effective as specific pages. Be clear rather than conceptual. Product images will outperform lifestyle images. For instance, if your aim is to sell clothes, then display the items clearly and vividly, rather than setting a ‘lifestyle’ scene – which has often been proven to be less effective than the former.
Blog by Matt Althauser, European GM, Optimizely
One of the earliest challenges faced by all start-ups concerns finance. No matter how great an idea you’ve had and no matter how well thought-out your business plan is, you’ll need to have enough funding to get your fledgling venture off of the ground.
Maybe you’ve pursued crowdfunding, borrowed money from friends and relatives, perhaps even turned to a high street bank for a business loan, or approached alternative finance providers for help. Whatever route you’ve chosen, before long you and your business will have to face the same daunting question – what to do when this money has run out?
Start-up funding is intended to give businesses a chance to get off the ground, of course. In the very earliest stages of a business’s life it’s almost guaranteed to be operating at a loss, and those expenses will need to be covered somehow.
You might need to invest in premises, staff, equipment and more besides, so start-up finance is a necessary step in order to see your business through those hard, frightening and exciting early months.
If all goes to plan, start-up funding should act as a stepping stone to help your business to become self-sufficient before the cash runs out completely. Very few start-ups operate at a profit for the first few years, but if you’ve played your cards right, you’ll be breaking even before your start-up funds are all spent.
It’s possible to pursue growth during the period when many fledgling firms find it difficult to compete, even when a challenging economy makes business opportunities difficult to come by.
Building momentum can be difficult at this stage, but if you’ve got the right people around you and have built a team of committed, hardworking individuals, it’s eminently possible to get moving in the right direction once more. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to pursue another form of business finance if you are to move from stagnation to expansion once more.
The business world is built on finance, and until a business has reached the stage where it is sufficiently profitable to sustain itself and grow, it must rely on the assistance of small-business finance facilities instead.
Invoice finance providers offer facilities that can fund growth, based on your business’s internal sales ledger. Alternative lending options such as invoice finance and discounting are more flexible and thus more suitable for growing companies than traditional bank loans, so if you’re looking to move your business forwards without incurring additional debts, you’re likely to benefit significantly.
You could also look at peer-to-peer lending (ie the lending of money to unrelated individuals without going through a traditional financial intermediary), crowdfunding (ie the collective cooperation, attention and funding by people who pool their money and resources together to support other businesses or organisations) or possibly an overdraft.
The period immediately following your business’ first few months can be intimidating and confusing, and it may seem as though the last thing you want to do after your small business funding has all been spent is pursue yet more finance. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to take the bull by the horns and actively pursue growth in order to spare your business from years spent merely treading water and making ends meet.
Blog provided by David Richards of Gener8 Finance Ltd.
My sister, Rachel Clacher, and I founded Moneypenny in January 2000. All we had was a business idea and £15,000. I’d run my own business previously and had needed someone to look after my telephone calls while I was out, but finding the right service was tough and when I did, it was full of flaws.
Recognising a gap in the market, we decided to create a personal, relationship-based service staffed by people who understood the business need and who would deliver an efficient and professional service every time. That’s when Moneypenny – and most recently, Penelope – was born.
We knew that with limited resources we had to shape our product if we were to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. Having your calls answered by one person you know and trust is what has defined us as a provider.
Diversifying our product offering is an essential part of our success. Earlier this year we launched a new digital receptionist, Penelope, which offers a wealth of features designed to help micro-businesses handle their calls, including pioneering voice recognition capabilities.
Our technology allows our receptionists to look after calls exactly to the client’s brief. This ensures a seamless service and our clients know that every call and opportunity coming into their business is captured, while leaving them free to manage their day as they need to.
We’re focused on providing unique solutions for small businesses, as well as growing our service offering for large corporates. Digital receptionists across all areas of business are a huge focus for us going forward, too.
What’s my advice to start-ups and micro-businesses that want to grow quickly? Create, create, create – and don’t take no for an answer. Never sit back and admire what you’ve achieved – look forward to what’s next. Have the courage of your convictions and think about what you need to do to reach new markets. Pre-empt and don’t be afraid to be different.
By December 31, half a million new businesses will have been started in the UK this year, with the number of VAT-registered companies already back to pre-2008 levels.
According to government statistics SMEs generate £1,600bn – slightly less than half of all private sector turnover. Research carried out by Enterprise Nation suggests almost 70% of these new businesses are started at home – often by people who are holding down a day job.
Meanwhile a new report from think tank Resolution Foundation points to our economy rapidly moving towards a two-tier labour market – those with top jobs and big salaries - and those with low-paid jobs. It reported a drop in the number of middle-income jobs and predicted further polarisation in the UK’s maturing economy.
It’s a fundamental change and one that the Foundation thinks the Bank of England should take into consideration when deciding when to increase interest rates – because it argues lower unemployment - the magic seven million mark – will not hold the same significance as it once might have done.
It led us at Enterprise Nation to ask this question - could the start-up momentum we are witnessing be, in part, fuelled by the increasing wage gap? We know “5 to 9ers” – people carefully test the water by starting a business in their spare time, working away in the evening and weekends – have been around for a while.
I wrote Working 5 to 9 in 2010, reflecting the then new trend, and at the time we calculated that five million people were making some form of income at home. It’s now time for us to revisit these statistics – because we’re pretty sure that figure will have been blown out of the water.
Is the 5 to 9 trend likely to experience an even bigger boost now people have realised they are unlikely to see the kind of income they might once have expected?
Sadly, no statistics that can clarify this at the moment, however, the idea is set to be tested this week when Enterprise Nation opens its doors to its pop-up enterprise hub, set in the heart of the City and offering a free lunchtime start-up service to people who already have jobs.
The pop-up will offer power hours, setting up a website in your lunchtime, expert help with blogging, social media, finance, planning and so on. We think we’re going to be busy - and the very fact that we think there’s a demand demonstrates there is at least an anecdotal appetite as well as a certain ‘normality’ about holding down a job and working on a business in your spare time, which is interesting. Let’s see if we’re right.
Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. Figures from the Federation of Small Businesses indicate that they account for 99% of private businesses in the UK and that they employ 14.4 million people.
Consumers in the UK are being urged to support small businessses with the UK's first ever Small Business Saturday
The event is being held on Saturday 7th December - traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year - in town centres across the UK. Small Business Saturday is an established event in the US. Last year, Small Business Saturday US led to $5.5 (£3.5) billion in sales to small businesses, and led to a increase in long-term trade.
Organisers are hoping that all kinds of small businesses in the UK - whether they be family run, small shop, online or small manufacturer - will get involved. The aim is to get consumers to support small businesses, shop locally and to boost trade.
Research from Groupon and retail analysts Kantar shows that 71% of shoppers would visit their High Streets more often if it contained more independant retailers. With the High Street in decline, the report hints at a possible solution that could reverse this decline. More small, independent traders on the High Street = a more vibrant and thriving High Street.
With this wave of momentum, small businesses should take this opportunity to stand up and shout about what they can offer.