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Budget 2011: a small business response

March 23, 2011 by Simon Wicks

We have a full reaction to the Budget announcements in our news section. But here are a few brief responses:

Meera Shah, founder, Red Apple Delivery: “Overall for small business it’s fairly positive. The only negative is in terms of employing people - it hasn’t really given me any impetus to hire people. It hasn’t encouraged it. I think he’s done the best he can in very tough situation.”

Neil Westwood, founder, Magic Whiteboard: “I’m glad he’s addressed the fuel. I would have liked more but at least he’s done something about it. On my deliveries it’s costing me a lot more than this time last year. If anything it needs to be reduced by 20p!

“On the tax simplification they’ve got rid of 100 pages, but when you have 10,000 pages, it’s not many. They need to do more but it’s a good start.”

George Derbyshire, chief executive, NFEA: "The impression I got was that there was a range of announcements that were relatively limited individually but together made up a worthwile package. The measures on regulation, tax simplification, public procurement are all worthwhile.

“I think there’s been a reasonable stab at a growth strategy across a wide range of industry sectors and measures. Apprenticeships are a difficult sell but once the penny drops I think lots of small businesses can use apprentices very effectively.”

Chris Gorman, spokesman, Forum of Private Business: “It’s a step in the right direction but we need more radical, hard-hitting, widespread reform to really make a difference to the lives of small business owners…  We wanted to some more drastic things in terms of radical tax and regulatory simplification.”

Brendan Flattery, chief executive, Sage UK: “Whether or not George Osborne’s Budget will amount to his promised ’Bonfire on Red Tape’ remains to be seen, but the three year moratorium on regulation for small businesses can only be good news for small business owners.

“The reduction in corporation tax is encouraging, and shows the Government is at least trying to match words with action. But despite this and other positive steps to encourage investment small businesses are likely to remain cautious in their optimism. A recent Omnibus survey we conducted found small business owners were left underwhelmed by the government’s efforts to get banks lending to business.”

Budget 2011 summary for small businesses

March 23, 2011 by Simon Wicks

Budget 2011 wordle

The Wordle above illustrates the frequency of words that appeared in George Osborne’s Budget speech. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appeared – and so, we assume, the more important it is.

The biggest relevant words here are tax and new. Tax is understandable – there were a lot of announcements around the tax system and its simplification. New? Well, I guess the Chancellor took a lot of pride in announcing one "new" initiative after another.

We then have Britain (naturally) and growth. This, the Tories have been saying, would be a “Budget for growth”.  Was it? Well, given that the Budget was accompanied by a downgrading of growth forecasts, we’ve got to wonder… Nevertheless, the words business and businesses are reasonably prominent, too.

Work, however, is not. Neither is manufacturing, despite the apparent emphasis on this sector. One surprisingly large word is also. Well, maybe it’s not so surprising – this was, after all, something of an ‘also’ Budget. How many times did the Chancellor say, like a conjuror, “I promised you this, but I’m also giving you this.”

Are we impressed? It remains to be seen. Below is a very brief list of the key points for small firms. You can read our full round-up, as well as the reaction of businesses and business groups.

  • 2011 growth forecast downgraded from 2.1% to 1.7%

Investment in growth

  • 21 enterprise zones, with ten to follow later
  • £2 billion pledged to the Green Investment Bank
  • Funding for 12 university technical colleges, with more to follow
  • An extra 40,000 apprenticeships for unemployed young people

Tax and business rates

  • Small business tax cut from 21% to 20%; corporation tax cut by an additional 1%, from 28% to 26%
  • VAT registration threshold increasing to £73,000, deregistration threshold increasing to £71,000
  • Personal tax allowance to rise a further £630 to £8,015 in April 2012
  • Doubling of entrepreneurs’ relief to £10 million
  • A 100 per cent business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over five years to businesses that move into an Enterprise Zone
  • Fuel duty cut by 1p per litre
  • 43 tax reliefs to be scrapped as part of simplification of tax code


  • The right to request ‘Time to train’ will not be extended to businesses with less than 250 employees
  • No new regulation on firms with fewer than 10 staff for three years
  • Relive the Budget blow-by-blow with our live Budget blog
  • Enterprise Budget will deliver for "real businesses", says Chancellor
  • Budget a "reasonable stab at growth" for small firms, say business groups
  • Forum: Did you get what you wanted? 
  • First four enterprise zone locations announced by Government
  • What is the Budget 2011 going to offer small businesses?

    March 22, 2011 by Simon Wicks

    Red Budget briefcaseTomorrow (Wednesday, 23 March) will see George Osborne’s second Budget as Chancellor. Whatever measures Osborne reveals tomorrow, they will be announced against a backdrop of slow growth, rising inflation and impending cuts.

    Frankly, it’s not the best time to be Chancellor. As the latest results from Sage UK’s monthly omnibus survey reveal, some 44 per cent of small-business owners are feeling nervous about the impact the Budget will have on their business. Only 5 per cent of the 1,200 survey respondents were optimistic.

    So, what are we all worried about? Sage’s survey identified increased National Insurance contributions, enterprise zones and bank lending as the key issues bugging small firms. The small business groups are calling for the business tax system to be simplified and red tape to be reduced - and tax and regulation are likely to be the hottest issues tomorrow.

    The coalition government itself has promised the most “pro-enterprise” and “business-friendly” Budget in a generation. They’ve suggested that they’re going to ease employment law, cut red tape and reform the planning system, among other things.

    But it remains to be seen whether the government can keep small businesses happy. Follow the Budget 2011  live on the Donuts and find out what happens.


    Budget 2011 coverage on the Donuts

    • We’ll be tweeting about the Budget throughout the day and inviting your comments and thoughts. Follow us on Twitter.
    • From 12.15, we’ll be blogging live as the Chancellor makes his announcements. You’ll be able to join in with your comments and responses. Follow the live Budget blog.
    • At about 6pm, we’ll be posting our Budget round-up for small businesses and the reaction of small firms in our news section. By all means join in with the tweeting and blogging to let us know your thoughts about the Chancellor’s announcements.
    • You can also have your say in our forum: The Budget 2011 – What are you hoping for?


    Read our Budget 2011 previews

    Five common start-up mistakes

    March 22, 2011 by Stuart Hartley

    In all my years as an advisor, I’ve seen businesses start up and fail more times than I would have liked. Here are a few common reasons why:

    1. Lack of research. Whether it their products or services, customers, competitors or the wider industry/sector. Businesses often chase the uniqueness of a product or service rather than the value to the customer. Remember the Sinclair C5? Look at things from your customers’ perspective and if in doubt ask them. Remember to be aware of any potential pitfalls regarding intellectual property – which means protecting your own and making sure you don’t infringe someone else’s, of course.
    2. Underestimating time required. A high percentage of start-up failures I have had experienced have failed because of time. Not time in the sense of time-management, but time it takes to develop, launch and gain enough momentum behind a product or service. Do not underestimate how long this will take.
    3. Lack of passion or motivation. Only start a business if you genuinely have a passion for the idea. I’ve seen too many businesses struggle only for the owner to give up because they don’t have the necessary passion or motivation.
    4. Ostrich mentality. When things get difficult, burying your head in the sand and trying to ignore problems will not make them go away. Generally, they get worse. There’s lots of help available for small-business owners and none of the help that exists out there will judge you or think any worse of you for admitting you need a hand. Don’t be too proud to seek advice. Even the most experienced and famous business owners have business advisors and mentors.
    5. Lack of cash. The classic reason. Cash is the lifeblood of business. As you know, if you don’t have enough blood in your body, soon you’ll become very sick and you could even die. Similarly, if you don’t have access to enough cash when you need it, your business won’t last. Plan effectively and regularly and keep a constant communication with your bank manager and accountant.

    Stuart Hartley is senior consultant and manager of the Corby Enterprise Centre in Northants.


    How can email marketing benefit a start-up?

    March 21, 2011 by Georgia Christian

    You’re a small start-up company with high ambitions but a tight budget, so how can you go about reaching that large, attentive audience you so desire? It’s simple— use email marketing.

    Email marketing is a cost-effective, fast way to engage your customers and potential customers. Added to this, it delivers the highest return on investment over any e-marketing tactic available.

    Being a small, new business, you might not have started on the path to creating and developing any lasting relationships with customers, which isn’t the end of the world, but it is something that email marketing can help you with. With each permission-based email campaign that you send and that your recipient opens, you are effectively establishing a trusting relationship with them.

    Your email messages will, over time, make your customers feel as though they are an important part of your company. Email marketing campaigns give you the opportunity to inform your growing customer list about updates, product and service promotions, special offers and even changes and developments happening in your company.

    Email marketing might not be far off from what your small business is doing already in terms of traditional marketing. Think about it, most businesses already conduct direct mail marketing in the form of specials, promotions and reminders, which means that they are already used to creating this type of material in print form.

    Adapting to email campaigns from print is not a huge step, but it will save you a lot of money. It’s also worth pointing out that print marketing is not very targeted or easy to track, whereas email campaigns are highly segmented and targeted and can be tracked right down to who opens, or even forwards your message.

    It goes without saying that start-ups often don’t have much time to market themselves. Most email marketing solutions offer pre-built templates and step-by-step guides to help you create an effective campaign in little time, which means the pressure is off you to create one from scratch. You should also be able to view your stats live, which makes follow-up campaigns much easier to manage.

    Smaller companies often have more of a loyal customer following than larger businesses, simply because their contact with them is more personal. To be able to begin your email marketing campaign with a list of people who are already interested in you and what you have to offer is a major advantage that you can use to leverage your company to greater heights.

    Georgia Christian is the editor of the online email marketing service Mail Blaze


    Seek to grow your business on profit – not loans

    March 17, 2011 by Adam Ewart

    The last two years have been tough. My business, is based in Bangor in Northern Ireland. It sells musical instruments, online and through my shop. Up until a few years ago, sales peaked around customers pay days. Now, people are much more cautious with their money.

    Many of my customers now prefer to rent instruments rather than buy them. Our rental business has tripled, because parents are not racing out to buy ‘wee Johnny’ a saxophone until they know it’s more than a fad. Increased caution is to be expected, but it does not necessarily need to result in businesses closing.

    In fact, despite the recession, many small businesses we supply have grown. And we’ve had more applications for trade accounts over the past two years than we did before the crunch.

    The reason why many independent smaller shops have weathered the storm, I believe, is they are inherently run completely differently than large business. In a well-run small business, the owner has a good knowledge of all areas of the business. The larger a business becomes, the more cracks can appear in the foundations, cracks that can go unattended until it’s too late.

    Certainly, in my sector, many businesses that failed were asking for it. Too many people believe the way to grow a business is to add as many locations as quickly as possible. Personally, my aim has always been to secure the biggest net profit on the lowest possible turnover. In other words – maximise my margins, not my turnover.

    But in my sector (and in others, I’m sure) the focus hasn’t been on margin, more the drive to grow at all costs, with the misconception that with scale will naturally come profitability. This is why as soon as the recession hit, the smallest dip in turnover was enough to bring down some of the biggest chains.

    I saw it firsthand several weeks ago. A company that held stock belonging to went into administration, entirely out of the blue. They had just moved into bigger and better premises and hired new staff to grow the business. All well and good, but they were balanced on such a knife-edge that the loss of the smallest amount of business resulted in them going bust.

    In August I was being regaled with their success story. In October I found myself at their warehouse at 5am on a Saturday morning overseeing a considerable amount of our stock being moved by lorry before the administrators turned up.

    If your business is worth a £100,000 loan, you or your business should probably be investing the same amount yourself. In the years leading up to the crunch, businesses were opening new premises and expanding too quickly without having a sound bottom line. Consequently, when the banks would no longer play the game, many businesses failed.

    The general lesson from what I’ve seen over the last year is that small businesses should aim high, but don’t overstretch yourself or try to run before you can walk. You should seek to grow your business on profit – not on loans.

    Adam Ewart, Karacha


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