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Need start-up funding? First get your business plan right

January 11, 2016 by Guest contributor

Need start-up funding? First get your business plan right{{}}Does your start-up need an injection of capital to get of the ground? If the answer is yes, you are ready to dive into the world of fundraising; but, understandably, this prospect may fill you with fear and evoke images of a blindfolded leap from a pretty high diving board.

The answer is to take the blindfold off and write a solid business plan, honestly covering all aspects of your business and serving to reassure investors or funders that taking a risk on your venture is a good decision.

Not everyone understands the delicate relationship between the business plan and fundraising. That's why we conducted a survey of our own clients - those who had successfully reached the business start-up stage - to learn about their real-world fundraising experience.

The survey asked a series of questions concerning the process of fundraising, the importance of the business plan, the length of time it took to find investors, the type of investors that eventually funded the business and the amount funded.

The truth about fundraising

The findings revealed that the average duration of the fundraising process was three to nine months and that the average amount of investment was £50,000 to £80,000. Investors included venture capitalists, angel investors, private investors, and financial institutions. All of the 500 start-up owners that we polled agreed that their business plan had been critical in attracting investors.

Our research showed that investors support businesses of all types and sizes. For instance, a small café business in London, employing five people, raised £60,000 from angel investors; while a manufacturing plant located in Manchester and employing 15 people raised well over £600,000 from venture capitalists and banks. The average start-up investment for online businesses was £50,000 but there were also a number of micro-businesses that were able to launch with investments as low as £20,000.

The importance of a business plan

What the survey respondents had in common was a sound and well put-together business plan. Investors need the business plan to evaluate the business mission, marketing and sales, operations, financial feasibility and other factors. The business plan gives investors the information they need to determine when they can expect to recover their investment and the likely return on their money. It should be in-depth, accurate, customised and focused to be successful.

Any entrepreneur who is uncertain about business plan development for fundraising should not hesitate to seek out the services of experienced business consultants. Your funding could depend on it.

Sponsored post: copyright © 2016 Alex Silensky, ceo of OGS Capital, which specialises in business plan development, feasibility studies and market research.

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How reverse mentorship can benefit your business

January 04, 2016 by Guest contributor

How reverse mentorship can benefit your business{{}}As a small business, the chances are your budget for training is small - perhaps even non-existent. But that doesn’t mean you can’t offer a wide range of development in-house.

By setting up a reverse mentoring programme both younger, less-experienced staff and older, more-experienced staff can benefit.

Reverse mentoring flips the traditional mentor-protégé model on its head, because younger professionals “mentor” their older colleagues. By injecting fresh ideas and a new perspective, reverse mentoring counteracts the inaccurate assumptions, inane biases and business blind spots that come from being in an industry, or a role, for too long.

First popularised by former GE CEO Jack Welch, reverse mentoring acknowledges that everyone within an organisation brings something to the table. By pairing a younger, less-experienced professional with an older executive, reverse mentoring helps young professionals gain confidence and strengthen their leadership skills, while helping older executives stay up-to-date on the latest business technologies, which can strengthen a business’s competitive edge.

Reverse mentoring is also beneficial for fostering positive attitudes and managing generational diversity. There are clear differences in how employees from each generation work and reverse mentoring reduces these generational tensions by allowing discussion and the sharing of insights in a non-confrontational setting. Of course, as an added bonus, executives can better identify, evaluate and cultivate new talent.

Key reverse mentorship benefits include:

  • Reducing intra-generational tensions.
  • Encouraging frank discussion on current issues.
  • Driving workplace innovation.
  • Getting up-to-date on new technologies.
  • Enhancing leadership, conflict management and coaching skills.

How to start a reverse mentoring programme

Successful reverse mentoring programmes are founded on a mutual willingness to set aside preconceptions and start afresh.

The goal for both mentor and protégé is to push one another outside their comfort zones to try new ways of working, thinking and being.

1 Play matchmaker

Consider which elements in the individual’s background could create a common bond. For example, are they both alumni of the same university? Do they share a passion for cycling? Do they volunteer with the same charity? While these commonalities may seem superficial, they can help foster a shared sense of identity and commitment to the mentorship. 

2 Keep the relationship casual

Traditional mentor-protégé relationships typically have a clear, structured objective with regular monthly meetings. While it is still important to meet consistently, this relationship can be more casual. I recommend committing to the time needed, but not fixing when that time is used.

3 Set an initial goal

The first few meetings can be a bit awkward if neither party are sure what to discuss - so set an initial goal. What starts as a basic tutorial can then blossom into a relationship of respect. Once an open dialogue is established, it will be easier for both mentor and mentee to seek one another out for natural conversations.

When each party commits to giving and receiving constructive insight, both will develop valuable leadership skills, gain behavioural insights and build strong intra-generational relationships that are key to workplace success.

Copyright © 2015 William Buist, business strategist, speaker and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club - an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.  

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Posted in Employees | Tagged people management, HR | 0 comments

How to manage your workflow

December 10, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to manage your workflow{{}}Efficiency and effective organisation are paramount for start-ups and entrepreneurs with limited resources. How can you grow your business and enhance your offer when all of your time is taken up by business as usual? The answer lies in successfully managing your workflow, and here are a few practical ways to do just that.

Capture your tasks and delegate where possible

The first step to efficient workflow management is to set up a system that records what tasks need to be done as they emerge, and assigns an 'owner' to each task. Collaborative software tools like Trello are good for this, but you could just as easily use a large whiteboard and a series of Post-it notes. Whenever a new task comes over the horizon, capture it with one of these systems so it doesn't' get lost in the chaos of day-to-day business.


Once you've captured a number of tasks, you need to determine in what order they should be done. Factors to consider include when they actually need to be done by, whether you currently have everything you need to get it done and how long the task is expected to take. You can use a simple system to designate the priority of a task, such as one-three with one being a top priority. Record this alongside the task and change it as needed later on.

Track and assign

There are many different organisational systems that you can use for tracking tasks, but a simple one that can be highly effective for small businesses is 'Kanban', which was first developed by Toyota in the 1940s. With Kanban, workflows are visualised through a series of columns, with individual tasks flowing through these columns.

The simplest form of this is to draw three columns on a whiteboard - 'To do', 'Doing' and 'Done' - but you can customise this to suit your specific business needs. All tasks start off in the 'To Do' column, and from there they can either be assigned to or chosen by specific team members, depending on your organisational structure. In this way you can quickly see what tasks are currently being done and by whom, what's complete and what's in the backlog.

Automate tasks wherever possible

The less time that you spend carrying out mundane, simplistic, but nonetheless necessary tasks, the more time you'll have to spend on doing the things that develop your business. There are many software solutions you can use to automate tasks, such as Nuance's Power PDF, which allows for instant conversion of Office documents into PDFs and the ability to access them from anywhere via the cloud.

It's worth taking a look at what specific processes are currently slowing your work down, and then searching for what software solutions can be used to automate or simplify them.

Sponsored post: copyright © 2015 Nuance Communications, Inc, a leading provider of voice and language solutions for businesses and consumers around the world. Its technologies, applications and services make the user experience more compelling by transforming the way people interact with devices and systems. Every day, millions of users and thousands of businesses experience Nuance's proven applications. For more information, please visit

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Christmas conversations you must have with your staff

December 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

Christmas conversations you must have with your staff{{}}As a manager there are some crucial communications that need to be made around expectations over the Christmas period. And this communication is a fine balancing act. Fail to communicate any expectations and productivity may tail off as Christmas fever takes over. But be too heavy handed and you run the risk of being considered a Scrooge, and tasks may well be completed but with bitter resentment.

To get this balance right, you need to ask yourself: "How can I give my staff the best Christmas ever?"

Pride and satisfaction

This is an opportunity to allow them to enter the holidays with a sense of pride about what they have achieved. What goals and targets can you set that would give you the chance, on Christmas Eve, to say: "Thank you for everything you have achieved, go home, celebrate, you have earned every bit of a brilliant holiday."

The targets do not need to be big or dramatic, but something significant, so your staff leave with a strong sense of personal satisfaction. Showing appreciation is something staff value greatly, above and beyond big Christmas parties or bonuses.

If you additionally feel the need to mark the close of the working year, write each person in your team a personal Christmas card thanking them for something they personally have contributed during the year.

If you have staff working between Christmas and New Year, this is another communication that needs to be made. What could make this a rewarding period for both them and your business?

Normal work may not be possible, so what does this unique period of time provide the opportunity to achieve? Tidy files and records? Reflect, plan and prep for next year? Research and learn? Discuss with you staff members what they want to achieve during this period and plan to acknowledge their application over the holidays and completion in the New Year.

Happy new year?

And finally, the most important Christmas communication of them all: what are you planning to say to staff when they return to work after the holidays?

They are likely to come back rested and a little bored. If you have sent them off on the holidays with a sense of satisfaction around their work, they will be returning energised and with positive anticipation for the new year.

This provides a clear opportunity to gather your people together to define some great goals for the next three months. As a manager or business owner you are definitely required to say something. If not, the new year will quickly be forgotten and their productivity will slip, within a couple of days, to last year's everyday norm. If you want something more and different for 2016, you need to create it now.

A new year message like this will need to reference the "why" of your company. What is the fundamental reason for your existence? What difference would outstanding service make to your customers? How is the world a better place for the business's contribution? Then work to discuss and define some enticing goals to achieve in the next three months. Longer goals can also be set, but clearly defined targets for the next three months will mean people are required to take action today to celebrate again at the end of March.

Achieving goals

Finally, lead a discussion on the "how". Do not be tempted to state how the goals should be achieved. At this point it will be very valuable to have staff members determine the "how" for two reasons. One, they may come up with better ideas than you. And two, if they think about it, introduce it and argue for it, they have more ownership of the idea and therefore more commitment.

Christmas is a fabulous time. It offers all of us the opportunity for a complete pause and rest. Be sure to harness the energy that it gives in the new year and create a fabulous 2016 for you and your business.

Copyright © 2015 Sue Ingram, author of Fire Well: how to fire staff so they thank you and founder of Converse Well, a training company that provides workshops for managers on how and what to say when managing and firing staff. Sue has spent more than 27 years working in HR and related fields, she is an Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University, where her workshop forms part of their International MBA program. Connect with Sue and Converse Well on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Are you sure you need a big law firm?

December 07, 2015 by Guest contributor

Are you sure you need a big law firm?{{}}For most business owners and entrepreneurs, using a major law firm is like taking a space shuttle to the supermarket. Expensive and likely to burn lots of fuel right as you're trying to lift-off.

When you're bootstrapping you don't need a lawyer with wow factor. You need an expert in a specific field who can get the job done for a reasonable price. With this in mind, here's some advice about how to squeeze the most out of your legal bill.

Learning on your dime

In large firms, juniors will often "learn on your dime". Many lawyers will remember their early years being charged out at eye-watering rates, despite having next to no knowledge or experience.

Delegating work to juniors makes sense in some circumstances, for example, when it comes to basic research, due diligence or litigation "discovery" tasks. So ask your lawyer: exactly who will do your work? If juniors will be involved, get them to show you how the economics stack up in your favour.

Bottom of the pile

If you're a start-up that's getting traction, you may find yourself being courted by a brand name firm. They might offer discounts or defer their fees, betting that one day they might (for example) get to work on your capital raise. The fees for that future work will more than compensate for backing a few "loss-leading" start-ups with cheap or free services in the beginning.

But it's worth remembering that the lawyer working for you still faces internal pressure to meet their own "billable targets". Be upfront and ask them: "I know you're losing money by doing our work. When the big clients call, will I go to the bottom of the pile?"

Hourly rate v fixed fees

The trouble with lawyers charging by the hour is that it rewards time spent - the more the better. If a mediocre lawyer spends a day on a task, one that takes a great lawyer only two hours to complete, the mediocre lawyer gets rewarded and the client loses out.

The systems and culture of recording time by the hour and rewarding lawyers by the amount of time billed works in their favour - not yours.

Here's the thing: many lawyers hate billing by the hour. To escape, they leave big firms to go to smaller, boutique or solo practices. These firms are often structured to offer fixed fees, where you get the price up front for a defined scope of work.

The Holy Grail

Big firms excel in complex or large-scale transactions and litigation. Their lawyers eventually become a highly trained, specialised elite - whose expertise comes at a high price. But outside of those firms - and without their overheads - those same lawyers can deliver their services for a fraction of the cost, at fixed fees.

They might live in Bristol, rather than Mayfair. And their office might be their kitchen table. But you get the same "big firm" training, for less money. And no junior will ever learn on your dime. Now that's a no brainer.

Copyright © 2015 David Bushby of Lexoo, which can get your business multiple quotes from specialised lawyers, all handpicked and vetted by Lexoo.

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Posted in Business law | Tagged solicitor, Law | 0 comments

How to protect your business reputation online

December 03, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to protect your business reputation online{{}}The UK has more than 5.4m active businesses, ranging from multi-billion pound heavyweights to sole traders. Some 60% of businesses with five employees or less still don't have a website of their own. When your business has little or no online presence, it becomes much harder to manage its reputation online. Reviews of your business may appear much more prominently, and negative reviews can be extremely harmful.

Smaller businesses that don't have a large advertising budget or search engine optimisation campaign find themselves competing against review and directory sites on the first page of Google. This sometimes means that reviews of your business outrank your own website, and it will certainly mean that those reviews share the front page with your own web content. If a bad review is posted, it might show up when your business name is searched. This could be very harmful to your reputation unless you manage the situation carefully and take steps to repair the damage.

Dealing with negative reviews

If a bad review appears online, it can be devastating for a business. Customers look to the experiences of others when making a decision about where to spend their money, and reviews are hugely popular online. Search engines such as Google will return review sites and directories when you search a business name, presenting you with information about the business at the touch of a button. You need to know that the information about you is accurate, fair and positive.

Is there anything you can do to address a bad review? The first step should be to look into the reasons given by the person posting. Is the criticism fair? If it is possible that they have a valid complaint, you may want to contact that customer and see if you can do anything to resolve their issue. An apology or nice gesture could go a long way, and might even encourage them to revoke their original review and post about their positive experience.

If the customer is not open to removing the review themselves and if the issue has not been resolved after action was taken, you may need to accept that the bad review will stand - and concentrate on encouraging good reviews from future customers instead.

What if a review is unfair or unreasonable?

You can't please every customer and some will find fault with everything. Sometimes, people just like to complain - and others have too much time on their hands.

Whatever the reason behind them, bad reviews which are false or exaggerated are a big problem for businesses. There is nothing you can do to resolve the issue from the customer's point of view, but in some cases you can take some legal steps to remove the review.

First, you can contact the review site itself and ask for the review to be removed. This can take time, because they are likely get thousands of similar requests, and your request might not be granted. After all, to an extent, people have the right to say what they think. However, if a review is overly negative or clearly false, some websites remove them. If this fails, many websites give you the opportunity to post a response to give your side of the story. Another option is legal action against the person posting the review, but this can be costly and there is no guarantee of success.

Reputation management

The best way to handle negative reviews is to develop a positive online presence that outshines the bad content. Reputation management companies can help you with this.

Encouraging positive reviews from happy customers and going the extra mile with your service should see the good reviews outweigh the bad ones. Most of the online shopping customers are influenced by customer reviews/feedback.

You should also consider growing your web presence. You don't need a huge budget to get web-savvy. Social media is a great way to network for free, so sign your business up to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Google should return your business pages when people look for your company. Get your website in order as well, and consider a paid advertising campaign. Push the negative content back and let yourself shine online.

Copyright © 2015 Swapnil Kulkarni of, which offers an easy way to save online by using voucher discounts and coupons. Follow @VoucherBin on Twitter.

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