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On the roller-coaster ride of running one’s own business, I used to think that having a fantastic product would be enough. As you know, this is far from the truth. This probably accounts for the 1% inspiration bit.
As I have discussed before, everyone expects you to be an expert in your business and in a small business, if you are on a shoe string and a one-man band, this means being an expert in everything. Is this the perspiration bit? The 24/7, never switching off, always being on task? Reading the paper on a Sunday looking for relevant articles, checking emails late at night when it’s quiet, cooking, etc..? I think the perspiration bit is also connected with the resilience of taking the failures as lessons to be learned, to stand up after falling, to get on with it and persevere when things may not be as rosy as one would wish for.
But we are in the 21st century and I would add another element. Yes, you had your 1% inspiration in your great idea and you are working really hard, which is your 99% perspiration. What about the communication bit? I think this changes the 1%+99% equation. Nowadays, entrepreneurs are required to twitter, to tell their story, to shout out their values and they are also allowed, and indeed expected, to drive their enterprises ethically. Green issues, fair trade, sustainability...
I think this is a great time to be an entrepreneur because it’s become the norm to have ideas and to communicate them effectively. I’m starting to learn how to communicate with people out there about what I’m trying to do – introduce new adventurous flavours of food that come from local growers and those who are far away, who share my passion for great food and respect for the environment and people. 21st century communication media - what a great opportunity to relate with possible customers and, hopefully, make a difference.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Tax is never a popular subject – made even less so by recent revelations that HMRC has got many of our tax codes wrong, meaning excessive charges for some. Mistakes by HRMC aside, ‘tax doesn’t have to be taxing’, as the saying goes. If small firms take the time to keep their books in order throughout the year, a mad dash at key dates in the taxation calendar can be avoided.
2010 has only just begun, so now is the perfect time to turnover a new (bookkeeping) leaf. Start by buying yourself some filing equipment, with different folders for sales invoices, paid and unpaid bills, bank statements and VAT returns, plus wages, if you have staff.
Now you have some inviting looking new folders, go through your in-tray – at least once a week – and put all your bits of paper in the appropriate place. If you set aside a small amount of time to sort out your books, weekly – or even daily – it shouldn’t become too much of a chore. Bookkeeping needs to be part of your routine, like reading emails, otherwise it can be all too easy to find something else to do instead.
Keeping accounts isn’t just sensible, it’s a legal obligation. Companies must keep all records relating to their VAT returns for a minimum of six years after the tax year to which they relate. As a minimum, you must record any income earned or expenses incurred by the company and retain all related documents, including receipts, cheque stubs, invoices, bank statements, PAYE records, etc.
To get a clear picture of where your money is going, your transactions must be recorded in a meaningful way. You should give your ‘expenses’ record a sheet of its own, with columns representing categories such as ‘rent’, ‘utilities’, ‘travel’ and ‘stationery’. This will give you an ongoing sense of where you might be over-spending, which can help you to cut unnecessary costs
Why rely on books or bits of paper when there is a wide variety of accounting software available? For a more simple and cheaper solution, an Excel spreadsheet is a perfectly useful tool for keeping records on your computer.
Keeping your records on a spreadsheet or using bookkeeping software enables you to see your total transactions in an instant. You can also search for a figure among your costs should a mystery debit appear on your bank statement and even produce projections based on the average transactions made in previous months.
You should be using your bank statements as a reference point, checking every figure in your bookkeeping records against transactions on your bank statement. This is a great way to identify missing receipts, while giving you a consistent monthly deadline to follow for getting your records in order.
Make sure you note all key deadlines for filing with HMRC. Set reminders on your computer, so you don’t have to rely on remembering to check your diary. The next one to note is the PAYE deadline on 19 May, when employers must register with HMRC to file online. HMRC is supplying free software so small businesses can file their employee data securely. For more information visit the HMRC website.
If you really can’t commit to the above, it may be time to call in an experienced bookkeeper. Of course, there will be an expense associated with this, but since it could free up your time and give you better information with which to make business decisions, it could be worth the investment.
Businesses and individuals across the globe are becoming more aware of their carbon footprint than ever before. We have all learnt to switch off lights in empty rooms and turn off the tap while brushing our teeth but the expectancy on us to do more to stop global climate change is increasing.
It can be hard to see what more you can do if you are already very conscious about your carbon footprint but perhaps your work or business life has not had as much scrutiny as your home life.
With all the great advancements in technology surely there are alternatives that many businesses may have overlooked. Here are a few of our suggestions:
Cut your travel with VoIP
How often do you travel across town for a ten to thirty minute meeting? Cut the cost of travel and the price to the environment by exploring the benefits of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). Call conferencing features enable you to hold meetings over several sites on one phone system – saving time, money and emissions.
If you would like to enhance your meeting then you can use services like GoToMeeting where you can share your screen, and therefore PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, video etc with all the meeting participants. It will add extra interaction to your meeting and help add the visual element conference calls lack.
By holding meetings online you can easily work from home meaning you don’t have to drive to work or drive around all day to get to meetings. Cutting transport emissions is key to the Government’s ‘Low Carbon Transition Plan’. It’s not just great for your company’s green image, but also your budget.
Why run two offices?
Think about all the things that are needed to run an office. Electricity for your computers, phone system, servers, lighting, air-conditioning etc. And then there’s the gas for your heating systems and your staff facilities. Why not seriously cut costs and do your bit for the environment by encouraging your staff to work from home.
Not only will you cut emissions from reducing travel to an office but you’ll also be using almost the same amount of energy that is used to heat and light your home anyway.
If you are concerned about accessing your files and you still have an ‘office machine’ then you can remotely log into your work computer by installing free programme LogMeIn or ask your IT consultant about remotely accessing your server.
Accessing files wherever you need them also reduces the amount of hard copies you have to make, saving paper, ink and energy on printing those long documents – which are usually only read over once or twice before being discarded.
There are also other hidden benefits to working from home such as reduced stress, increased productivity and no train delays or traffic jams.
Gradwell is keen to assist their customers to reduce their carbon footprint. One such client ‘Sustain IT’ has already adopted this as part of their corporate culture and reducing their carbon footprint is seen as a vital part of their company policy, with VoIP being the centre and catalyst for this.
“Initially we had not thought of our carbon footprint. However we now consider it to be a vital part of our Company Policy. Internet Telephony helps us to reduce our employee travel and therefore reduce the impact on the environment that commuting is having. So anything we can do as an employer to encourage our staff to use home working or increase the use of the public transport network and cycling has to be good for the future of our children and the planet.”
Everyone making a small change will make a big difference to the planet – and it can benefit your business too.
Peter Gradwell, Gradwell
Unfortunately the web design world is not regulated in any way. Awards can be won for design but the technical code that drives the website is often given little importance. When commissioning a website it’s so easy to get swept away with fantastic design or worse still to to opt for a low budget/DIY option. Either way, many business owners judge a website only based upon how it looks. They often completely overlook the code *under the hood*.
Skimp on the code and your website will cost you more in the long run. Here's five reasons why.
Ensuring that the website is all neat and tidy backend shouldn't cost much more initially but it is guaranteed to last longer and give you better results. Even if you out-grow the design the code behind can be built upon like building bricks.
If you are buying a website then please do ask your website designer/developer how it will be coded. Ideally you are looking for a website written in XHMTL/CSS and one that is absolutely not table driven. Beware of purchasing sites with content management systems (CMS) that do not generate very good code. If in doubt - get a second opinion.
Zoe Brown, B Websites Ltd
A version of this post originally appeared on the B Websites blog.
At one of my PR seminars a while ago, I asked how many people had used or were using a PR agency. Half the audience put their hand up.
When I asked them to keep their hand up if they were satisfied with the results, I wasn’t surprised when most people lowered them again.
Some PR agencies are their own worst enemies. They fail to set clear expectations for their clients, they don’t keep them fully up-to-date with developments or provide regular written reports on actions and outcomes.
There is a perception that buying PR is a risk, but it doesn’t have to be that way, if you pick the right agency. Here are five signs that you might be better advised to find a new PR agency.
1 It’s staffed by PR ‘luvvies’ rather than former journalists. I may be a PR person now, but I was a journalist for 13 years. I get really annoyed when I meet PRs who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a business or what stories appeal to journalists. Effective PRs are results driven, they’re focused people. They understand what your business needs to achieve and what role they need play to aid your success. That’s why I prefer PRs who are former journalists. They understand what journalists really want and cut through the waffle that PR luvvies frequently add in.
2 It charges lots of expensive add-ons. If you ask for something unusual that costs your agency money, then fair enough, but doing day-to-day PR for your business shouldn’t create exceptional costs, certainly not without prior agreement. Basics such as media monitoring should be included in a pre-agreed fixed fee, not charged for as expensive extras.
3 It doesn’t understand there must a direct link between your PR and revenue – or how to put it in place: The most effective PR is direct response PR. That’s where you have a system to turn media attention into leads and those leads into sales. Without a system like this, you’re wasting your time. Most PR agencies claim there’s no direct link between PR and revenue. They’re so wrong it hurts.
4 It claims it’s all about contacts and press releases. Total nonsense. You don’t necessarily need a book full of media contacts or expertly crafted press releases to get coverage. Often you just need a good story and some basic knowledge about how best to bring it to the attention of the right editor.
5 It’s stuck in the past. I interviewed a potential employee recently who said the PR agency at which he worked focused only on getting clients into the newspapers. Still a powerful way for many businesses to get good publicity, agreed, but if you’re going to do direct response PR, you must also secure online coverage. In the modern world, for many businesses, it’s crucial. Many PR agencies talk about online PR, but don’t really understand what it is or how to do it effectively.
Paul Green, Publicity Heaven
There are two ways of starting up a company. The first is to take an existing business idea, and do it better. Preferably you will concentrate on an area where the competition is limited or you have some existing connections.
The second is where you come up with an idea that’s completely new. People think that it’s the only way to make a real fortune, but that’s not true. It may come as a shock, but Bill Gates became the world’s richest man largely by improving on the work of others. He wasn’t the leader in new technologies, but he was close behind. And he did things very effectively.
Microsoft didn’t invent the Windows and mouse interface. It was invented by Xerox at its research labs. Microsoft didn’t even produce the first commercial Windows-based computer. That was Apple with the Lisa. But it did get its timing right, do a plausibly good job and market the product very well. The rest is history.
The problem with developing a totally new concept is that it’s totally new. You are not only selling the product, you have to sell the idea too and educate the market. Even if it would sell, it’s more than twice as much work. If you have all the capabilities you need, with limited resources it is hard to succeed. And it’s even harder to recover from a failure.
The world economy is driven in the long run by breakthrough products. But for your own success, it’s worth remembering that the odds are greatly improved by exploiting an area where a market already exists.
Chris Barling, SellerDeck