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Start-up lessons from the World Cup Bid failure

December 03, 2010 by Chris Barling

So England has lost the bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. As soon as the result was announced, someone on my company (SellerDeck) forum posted that they were really pleased. As a result of the failed bid, a new stadium and 2,500 houses wouldn’t be built a couple of miles from their front door.

It did get me to thinking about some of the lessons start-ups can learn from this whole tale of woe. Often what is a disaster for one person is a blessing for another, and things aren’t always what they seem.

Firstly, going for a big win is a dangerous strategy. Think of the bid team. There were years of work and further years of excitement. Then suddenly it’s all over and they are out of a job. It’s the same way if you focus on landing one big contract when you’re starting up. Generally, it’s best to aim lower first, then you can gather some momentum before finally going after the bigger fish.

While there will be howls for several months to come – and no doubt the FIFA voters can look forward to many years of entrapment and hassle from the British media – there’s probably a big lesson about messing in the political field. It’s certainly the case that some decisions in business are not made for rational reasons. It’s important that when you’re starting a business you ensure you understand the area you are targeting. If connections are critical and you haven’t got any – leave the field to others.

Sometimes the loser is the winner. Certainly for years, winning the Olympics was almost the kiss of death for a nation’s economy. In the same way, there will be contracts that we lose that turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It’s important that when we lose, we can pick ourselves up, quickly get over the disappointment and move on to better things. In fact, if you don’t have this kind of resilience, maybe you’re not cut out for starting a business. On the other hand, if you know that this is a feature of your character, then congratulations, you already have one of the critical success factors in place.

Chris Barling is Chairman of ecommerce software supplier SellerDeck

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All you need to know about the VAT increase

December 01, 2010 by Justin Randall - Accountant London

There is now just over a month remaining before the standard rate of VAT climbs from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. VAT-registered businesses are being urged to prepare themselves for the change.

Any sales of standard-rated goods or services made on or after 4 January 2011 must carry a VAT charge of 20 per cent. All VAT invoices must charge the 20 per cent on bills raised on or after 4 January.

Retail businesses do not have to pass the increase on to customers, but they will have to pay HMRC the additional VAT.

If a customer pays on or after 4 January for an item that has been collected or delivered prior to the 4 January, the sale is normally deemed to have occurred before the changeover and the old 17.5 per cent rate applies.

Where the supply of services is continuous (ie a consultancy service), a business must charge VAT at 20 per cent on invoices issued and payments received on or after 4 January. It can, however, apply the 17.5 per cent rate for the services that have been supplied up to 3 January and the 20 per cent rate thereafter.

Moreover, from 4 January 2011 there will be a new list of flat rate percentages. The threshold for joining the scheme will remain at £150,000 in respect of income in the next 12 months and the exit threshold will increase from £225,000 to £230,000.

Non VAT-registered businesses should consider making any large purchases prior to 4 January and expect the cost of standard rated supplies to increase by 2.5 per cent. The VAT registration threshold of £70,000 remains the same.

VAT registered businesses that have questions about the time of supply and the tax point for any VAT transaction should contact their accountant to make sure the relationship between the two is correct. Zero-rated (0 per cent) and reduced-rated sales (5 per cent) will see no change.

You can visit the Jeffreys Henry LLP website at www.jeffreyshenry.com

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The world of print: looking back and forward

November 30, 2010 by Matt Bird

2010 was a strange year for the printing world. At time of writing we are 11 months into the year, and while the market has grown and there have been enhancements in printer technology that benefit small offices, there has been no real advance that’s blown the market open.

So what benefits emerged in 2010, and what can you look forward to in the next year?

A market of independence – printers without computers

USB... Ethernet... Pictbridge...Card readers... Wireless support... Internet-ready... The connectivity of printers has gone through the roof, with most of these features now expected as standard for the printer to even sit in our offices.

Full access to the printer’s settings is now available on LCD screens (some of which are now detachable like a tablet PC). With huge attention being paid to usability and functionality of these menus, soon you won’t need anything other than your printer for your entire image and document printing demands.   

A market of choice - Ink and laser boundaries are gone (…ish)!

Start-ups can rejoice. You are no longer trapped between choosing a low-volume laser printer or medium-volume inkjet machine, both with equally high costs-per-page.

A fantastic range of higher volume ink cartridges and inkjet printers hit the market throughout 2010, providing competitive choice for those who print around 500 pages a month. With some ink cartridges printing up to 1,000 pages a pop, for a much lower start-up cost than similar-sized laser printers, the market is well set for even bigger ink cartridges in 2011.

A market of ... stagnation?

Whether induced by the recession, or manufacturers hiring less inspirational folk, 2010 was a bit of a disappointment.

In the home printing market manufacturers continue to push model after model of identical specifications, with only a few printers being worthy of increasingly demanding consumers. Not particularly inspiring stuff. But the laser printer market was the real disappointment.

“New smallest machine”, “New even smaller laser printer”, “New tiniest-ever colour laser”. Manufacturers seem obsessed with ergonomics and aesthetics, when the market is crying out for a financially viable, low-to-medium volume laser printer. If the printer is good enough, the office will make it fit. Ignore the size and appearance and put some work into performance boys, 2010 was not good enough.

A market of the future

But what of 2011 for the small and medium office environment?

Be prepared for value-per-page to increase as competition and market saturation pushes costs down. Expect a complete redesign of the appearance of small business printers, making them visually appealing and less of an eye sore in the home office. Look out for the rise and evolution of internet-ready printers, opening up your office to a whole host of printing features and possibilities that are simply too numerous to talk about here. With huge implications – not just for internal documents but also how you communicate and present yourself to customers – I would definitely advise you to do your research and watch this space.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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A challenging first six months in business

November 29, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

My jewellery-making business, Mama Jewels, is nearing the end of its first sixth month of trading, so I thought I’d share an update on our progress so far.

This week my youngest son had his first birthday and I had my first day off Twitter, Facebook and my laptop for as long as I can remember. It felt good to leave my iPhone in the drawer and go out for the day. He was three-months-old when I decided to start Mama Jewels and both my sons are very much part of the journey. I’m hoping to have them trained in jewellery-making very soon!

Very good things are happening all the time, but I am finding myself in a constant juggling act, having to work some very late nights and early mornings to keep up. Sales are increasing, but they’re still not at the levels I wanted at this stage. I keep hoping this will eventually improve.

Visits and online sales are rising steadily after the launch of our new website, which took three (very long) months to develop and even then it didn’t launch on the date planned or the revised date. If you’re planning to launch a new website, build in plenty of spare time, especially for setting up payment accounts, which took longer than I’d expected.

Mama Jewels is currently stocking in 11 online boutiques, which is steadily increasing as we follow up new leads each day. We also have three independent baby shops stocking our products offline. This number is still low, because my ability to make visits is very limited because of my childcare commitments. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve temporarily arranged some extra childcare so I can make more sales visits.

We’ve plenty of events planned coming up to Christmas, including home parties, markets and fairs in targeted areas. We’re starting to get approached by mum and toddler groups to exhibit directly, so word is getting out there, which is great.

I am currently working on improving my Ebay shop, too, which has proved very successful so far and I have approached a friend who is an expert on selling via Amazon.

Progress is good, with daily glimpses of new opportunities. Generally, consumers are feeling the pinch and they’re more cautious than ever. Hopefully, the upcoming season will give us that extra little boost and encourage shop owners to trial my products in a few more retail outlets before Christmas. We’ll see.

Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels

You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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The Apprentice: Das ist wunderbar!

November 25, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the eighth episode? Catch up here.

The task

Much excitement this week as the contestants find out they are going abroad. Destination: Hamburg. The mission: to sell new flavours of crisps to the Germans. Germany’s snack market is worth millions of Euros and is dominated by strong flavours like paprika. The two teams have to work with crisp makers in the UK to come up with new flavours that will tempt the German palette. Synergy is lead by Chris Bates, who has something to prove, having been in the losing team too many times to count. He has Liz, Jamie and Chris Farrell to help him. Meanwhile Apollo is lead by steady Stella and she’s working with Stuart, Laura and Joanna.

The best bits

Stuart reveals a creditable knowledge of German that he’s keen to show off. Absolutely everything is “wunderbar” according to Stuart. It’s pretty hilarious but actually his spirited attempts to speak German pay off big time. It breaks the ice with prospective customers and earns him respect. His approach is in stark contrast to Synergy’s Chris Farrell who says “I hate the Germans” at the start of the task.

The product development part of the challenge sees both teams looking for interesting new flavours. Nick Hewer’s eyes look skywards as Joanna suggests “:curry pie”. In the end, Apollo goes for beef & chilli and stilton & paprika, while Synergy chooses curry wurst and goulash. Yum yum!

The worst bits

Synergy makes two classic mistakes. Firstly, when setting up a sales appointment, Jamie and Chris Farrell are offered the choice of a 9am slot or a 1pm slot. Chris goes for the early appointment but Jamie, looking at the diary, suggests they change it to the later time. It soon transpires that there’s nothing actually in the diary at 9am. Perhaps Jamie wants a lie-in. It gets worse. Apollo gets the early appointment and wins a big order. Synergy gets diddly-squat.

At another prospective business, the manager is out and Jamie and Chris waste time talking to someone who does not have any buying authority. Apollo turns up later, the manager is in and he places an order. Kerching.

The winners and losers

The task is won by Apollo even though Synergy do get a cracking £14,289 order from one customer. But Apollo gets more appointments and more orders at the end of the day. And so this week’s loser is — Chris Farrell. Lord Sugar doesn’t think he has the entrepreneurial spark he is looking for, based, it seems, on his performance throughout the series. Team leader Chris Bates breathes a massive sigh of relief.

The ones to watch

Joanna is suddenly looking very impressive. So much so that hard-to-please Nick Hewer singles her out in the boardroom and praises her for her perseverance. “You were really firing on all 12 cylinders”. It looks like she could give Stella a run for her money.

Quote of the week

“You did try hard. You tried really hard. So hard, in fact, that you annoyed the guy. He found you quite unprofessional. I think he could smell your desperation.” Karren Brady.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

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