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Slightly delayed diary of a small business owner

June 22, 2010 by Ross Campbell

I’ve just had the website redone. It is amazing. Potential customers, it appears, can access it more efficiently than the old one.

This is exactly what I asked for, and furthermore exactly what the designers said they would do.

Has anybody come across this concept before? I think it’s revolutionary. Consider, for example, you call up to order some paper for your photocopier. The livewire at the other end of the phone asks you what you want. You explain. They send it to you and when it arrives it is, in fact, the paper you wanted. Better still; the accompanying invoice is actually for the amount you expected. I see a vision for the future.

Anyway, in case you can’t tell, for the past six weeks I’ve been feeling (and being) let down by a series of small errors and inadequacies. Occasionally a problem presents itself to you in the form of a spade across your forehead. You can duck or you can fight back. It’s the little niggly things that wind me up.

The solution, of course, involves never letting anything get to this stage. Ensure people do what they said, and ensure they were aware that what they said entails a little responsibility for completion of a task. I think because I tend to give people some leeway in their behaviour, I find myself in this situation too often.

Regular readers will know that Ross Campbell is the general manager of Bristol-based gym The Exercise Club

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How can I raise more finance?

June 21, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

In her latest video blog, Marcela of Rico Mexican Kitchen asks questions about business finance.

Marcela in Fishbowl Two has never started her own business before. Nor has she seen anyone else start a business. And, being one of the first businesses to feature on inafishbowl.com, she has never had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of others.

In this video, Marcela asks how the finances of early stage businesses usually work during the first two years, and how she should be going about raising more finance.

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

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The importance of family and friends when starting a business

June 18, 2010 by Chris Barling

I would like to look at an aspect of starting a business that isn’t often considered. Mostly discussions are about finance, marketing, recruiting a great team, VAT, legals and all of the other stuff of start ups. But most people need the support of family, friends, and partners. Start ups are hard, and you must be sure that everyone is with you, everyone is supporting you, and everyone understands what you are doing.

My decision to start a new business was made jointly with my wife. Although she’s had limited involvement in the management, she was a full participant in the original decision. And as a result, she has supported me in every up and down since then, which has been a real help. Similarly, my sister and a friend both lent me money when we had an early cash flow crisis. They wouldn’t have done this if they hadn’t been taken on the journey beforehand.

And that’s the rub. If people close to you aren’t with you, they may be a source of discouragement. In the extreme, broken relationships can greatly increase the chance of business failure. I’ve actually seen this with a friend, where they ultimately ended up with nothing. On the other hand, constant encouragement and reassurance can be a real help – as can financial support.

If you start a business, it won’t only affect you, it will impact those close to you as well. They deserve to be told what that will involve and to be consulted for their opinions. Do this, and you will increase your chances of success significantly.

Chris Barling is Chairman of ecommerce software supplier SellerDeck

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Capital gains tax planning for the emergency budget

Although capital gains tax (CGT) is set to rise, we do not know when. The start date may be deferred to 6 April 2011, but the changes could also take effect from 22 June this year.

Property owners and investors can expect to bear the brunt of the increases. Trading businesses and shares in trading companies may continue to benefit from Entrepreneur’s relief, although that relief is fairly restricted compared to the old “taper” relief it replaced.

While it may be possible to sell assets by the end of the tax year, it might not be feasible to sell to a third party by 22 June. For this reason, it could be worth locking in the gain at the current 18 per cent using a family trust.

CGT on trust transfer

A transfer into most types of trust is treated as made at market value for CGT purposes. It should therefore crystallize CGT at the current rate on the accrued gain to date. Similarly, the trustees will be deemed to have acquired the asset at current market value, which is then their base cost used for a future sale taxed at the new higher rates.

There is, of course, a risk that if values fall, the trustees actually make a loss that cannot be offset against their gain going into the trust. However, this may be outweighed by the tax rate saving achieved.

The tax on the trust transfer will fall due on 31/1/2012, by which time the asset may have been sold to a third party. Alternatively, there may be scope to pay the tax in installments.

Stamp taxes

A gift of property into trust should not attract Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), although SDLT would arise on any transfer of mortgage to the trustees (this representing consideration). Similarly, there should be no stamp duty on a gift of shares into trust. Stamp taxes will be incurred where there is actual consideration.

Inheritance tax

It is important to note that for inheritance tax purposes, gifts to trust are generally taxable at a 20 per cent lifetime rate once the nil rate band (£325,000) has been exceeded. The tax does not need to be incurred on larger transfers, but the process needs to be carefully managed.

Avoiding unnecessary CGT

Obviously there is a concern that if the asset is not eventually sold to a third party, a CGT liability has been triggered unnecessarily. There are strategies to mitigate the CGT charge on a transfer, if the asset is to be retained.

Those with property or shares likely to be sold in the not too distant future should think carefully about a transfer before 22 June. The position is uncertain, but if the CGT rate goes up to 40 per cent or even 50 per cent, individuals are going to lose a substantial part of their capital appreciation. This, in my view, is akin to retrospective tax.

The points raised above are only intended to provide general information. Professional advice should always be sought in specific situations before taking any action.

Justin is a partner at London-based chartered accountants and tax advisers Jeffreys Henry LLP.

How to manage your cashflow

June 16, 2010 by Brendan Flattery

Brendan Flattery, managing director of Sage’s Small Business Division, answers some key questions about the importance of maintaining healthy cashflow.

What is Cashflow and why is it important to SMEs?

“Any successful small-business owner will tell you that healthy cashflow is critical to the smooth running and growth of their business. It’s been a challenging time for all businesses recently, regardless of size, and one that will have a lasting impact on the way businesses structure and manage their operations. One of the key lessons that many small businesses have taken from the recession is the importance of healthy cashflow.

“Put simply, cashflow is the movement of money within a business, but this seemingly straight forward concept can have detrimental effects if badly managed.”

What are the likely consequences of poor cashflow management?

“Healthy cashflow is vital for all businesses, but the consequences of not managing it effectively can quickly have a massive impact. A small business can only survive for a limited period with a negative cash flow. Ultimately, the business will end up insolvent, which means it will fail because it won’t be able to pay its creditors.”

How can SMEs monitor their cashflow?

“Cashflow forecasting software is an important business tool that can not only show payment patterns and forecast the year ahead, but also highlight re-occurring late payments.

“It’s been widely reported that most failed businesses have closed because of problems caused by inefficient cashflow management rather than anything else. If small businesses put into practice the correct processes they will be able to manage their financial planning effectively, forecast the year ahead and identify any potential cashflow issues early enough. Then they can take action to avoid any anticipated downturns. More effective cashflow management will help stabilise the business, as well as ensure the business emerges from the recession in a stronger position and cash positive.”

How will monitoring and planning cashflow help?

“Julia Boggio Photography is a Sage small business customer. The business has experienced first hand why accurate cashflow forecasting is a must. They used Sage 50 Accounts forecasting tools. MD Julia Boggio says:

‘When I was reviewing our cashflow forecasts in November of last year, I could see there was a dip due in February. We reorganised our finances, cutting down on advertising and came up with an alternative contingency plan, which we put in place. This ensured we were well positioned to account for the dip and even enabled us to have a better February than the previous year.”

What impact do late payments have to a small business?

“More than half of the 2,000 small businesses polled by Sage in our monthly Omnibus survey said they had been impacted by late payments over the past year. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reported that more than 4,000 businesses failed in 2008 solely because of late payments.

“It is critical that start-ups and all other businesses to remain aware of exactly how much money they are owed and when payments are due. This helps to prevent late payments in the first instance. However, if they do occur, good management can ensure that they do not have a damaging effect on the business’s overall cashflow. These are all aspects that business accounting software can help you get to grips with.”

What are your top tips for maintaining healthy cashflow?

“Make sure all your employees – if you have any – are kept informed about the state of the business’s cashflow. This will hopefully prevent them from making purchases your business cannot afford. At times you might be waiting for a large invoice to be paid, so you may have to put spending plans on hold.

“Create accurate cashflow forecasts for the year ahead. It will enable you to plan for the future. Forecasts allow you to identify potential cashflow crises, for example, be identifying periods when your costs exceed your revenue. At such times, your business might need to seek financial help. To be fore warned is to be fore armed.”

Brendan Flattery is the Managing Director of the Small Business Division at Sage UK and Ireland

  • Visit the Sage website to download its guide to effective cashflow management.

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