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Four reasons why keeping electronic records is a must for small businesses

September 22, 2015 by Guest contributor

Four reasons why keeping electronic records is a must for small businesses{{}}Nobody likes dealing with paperwork. That's especially true when you've just started a business and there are a hundred and one other things to do.

Document management is likely to be the least of your concerns, but if it isn't done properly it could cause numerous problems for your business further down the line.

Now is the time to get the planning right and put in place best practice processes that will support your company's growth. So, why is electronic records management so important for your start-up business?

1 It's highly efficient

Having a good electronic records management (ERM) system will improve both internal efficiency and your overall business competiveness. There's nothing more distracting or frustrating than having piles of paper documents and files lying around.

And not being able to find what you need could ultimately prove harmful. Having an ERM system will ensure records aren't lost, and help you get any information or data you need quickly and reliably.

2 It's cost effective

Saving money wherever possible is key for any start-up, and storing documents electronically is a cost-effective way to manage all your records.

Manual document management is a time-consuming back office process and you'd be much better placed freeing up internal resources and costly staff time. Reallocate them instead to more important and productive tasks that will help strengthen and build your business.

There are also costs associated with physical storage - particularly as a fast-growing business you will probably generate many files. Switching to digital storage will allow you to manage your expansion cost effectively.

3 It supports good compliance practices

The type of industry or jurisdiction in which your business is operating will dictate regulations with which you need to comply when it comes to document and data storage. Legacy files may need to be kept for a certain numbers of years, and you might need to show that certain procedures were followed and sensitive information stored correctly. Electronic records management takes the worry out of compliance. It can even be set up to ensure records are destroyed in a secure and timely manner when you no longer need them.

4 It protects your business

Finally, an ERM system is the safest way to store documents and files. There have been numerous high-profile data breaches in recent years, and your business needs to protect sensitive financial information and trusted customer details with a secure system. It also has the added value of providing an offsite backup, in case of a disaster that could destroy both physical and electronic files at your premises.

Electronic records management is a vital asset for the administrative function of any business, large or small. If you haven't got a process yet, it makes good business sense to set one up as soon as possible.

Copyright © 2015 Sheelagh Carroll, head of commercial for UK-based digital documentation management provider Kefron.

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Top tips to a successful online business

September 14, 2015 by Guest contributor

If you're considering taking your business online, or are in the midst of starting up a new business, check out DLR Accountants' infographic below. It includes advice on your website's loading time, the importance of online reviews and using social media to promote your business. 

Top tips to a successful online business{{}}

Infographic supplied by DLR Accountants, © 2015

First things to consider when launching an online business

September 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

First things to consider when launching an online business{{}}The world of ecommerce is extremely lucrative and its growth is showing no sign of slowing. In fact, online shopping is set to double in value over the next three years alone. And it's not just the large retailers that can cash in on its popularity, there's huge potential for small businesses, too.

However, there are still many small firms that are yet to venture online, finding the prospect of entering a new space too daunting, or lacking the resources to launch their own ecommerce enterprise. But with competition rife in the retail market, sitting back is no longer an option and small businesses must start taking their first steps or risk losing further revenue as more consumers go digital.

Proper planning

There are many aspects to launching an ecommerce business – it's not just a case of setting up a website, adding some products and going live. If SMEs want to better secure the success of their online efforts, a clear business plan must be in place right from the start.

Creating this solid structure will enable you to refine your strategy for launching to a digital audience – many of whom will be very different to typical in-store shoppers. For example, online customers are not limited to the local area, they can come from anywhere in the country (or even overseas). Once this is finalised, you can then get started on the exciting bit – producing the website.

Launching a website

The great thing about launching a website is the almost unlimited number of features and functions that can be added. However, be warned. Experimenting with too much too soon could mean you can't maintain a high level of customer service.

Start simple, to get it right. Outline what your website needs to do right now and implement that to begin with, you can always add more features later.

Don't forget to think how the site will look on a mobile device. This is extremely important to today's consumer, so consider a mobile optimised or responsive design.

Agency or DIY?

It can be very tempting to take a do-it-yourself approach to building a website. It can be cheaper and offers total control. However, it's important to consider how time-consuming it will be, along with the extra strain it can put on resources.

Partnering with a professional design agency will likely provide a slicker look and finish, while allowing small firms to draw on external expertise and have ongoing support when required.

So, just as consumer behaviour changes, so must small retailers, as they seek to provide shoppers with the means to browse and buy however they choose.

Copyright © 2015 Gareth Poppleton, managing director of Retail Merchant Services (which you can follow on Twitter @RMSCardPayments).

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The importance of selecting the right courier for your small business

September 07, 2015 by Guest contributor

The importance of selecting the right courier for your small business{{}}What's the secret to selecting the right logistics partner? Price and reliability are important points to consider when organising your distribution and delivery operations. However, there are other elements to logistics besides price and reputation. Here are four important questions every business owner should ask before selecting a courier partner.

1 Is it better to have your own-brand van?

In most cases, it's best to have your own-brand van, because it leaves a lasting impression on customers and advertises your name around town. Realistically, few retailers, let alone e-commerce sites, can afford to have their own in-house logistics and van fleet. Some of the biggest e-commerce sites, such as Argos and Amazon, use courier companies for many of their deliveries.

Select companies such as net-a-porter.com operate their own logistics. This is a core focus in the company's brand strategy and shopping experience. While you may not be able to afford your own-brand vans, opting for an established courier will deliver the same professional experience without the investment and risk of running your own logistics in-house. Alternatively, if you have a high street presence or a bricks and mortar store, consider offering 'click and collect' services.

2 Should you choose a lifestyle courier?

Many low-cost couriers rely on self-employed couriers to deliver packages. Drivers are paid per delivery and are often referred to as 'lifestyle couriers'. Unlike traditional post workers or full-time employees of courier companies, self-employed drivers can sometimes resort to 'off-piste' measures to delivering packages. Horror stories have emerged about underpaid employees leaving packages in bins and throwing fragile items over fences.

If you are starting up your own business, do you really want to risk your first sales with a poor or unreliable courier? Booking a delivery with a discount courier may save you money in the short-run, but you are risking your brand's strategy in the long run. Consider booking with a professional courier service. You get the saving without compromising your brand in the eyes of your customer.

3 What tracking facilities are offered?

Tracking facilities vary from one courier to the next. Some courier companies offer different tracking services to help customers plan or reschedule deliveries. Not only does this service allow the company to be more efficient, it also helps customers plan shipments, so it's a win-win. Real-time tracking facilities can reduce the number of customer queries and significantly improve operations.

Select services cut the delivery window down to a 15-minute slot and give customers the option to have their parcel delivered to a safe place, be collected from the nearest depot or upgrade their delivery.

When selecting a courier partner or service, you should always see what technology and apps are available. Look for companies that offer real-time scan info updates and mobile tracking apps. This will ensure you are offering a complete and state-of-the-art shipping service to your customers.

4 Can you offer multiple delivery and/or return options with the courier?

Giving customers the option to send their parcel economy or express is essential, so customers can pay for faster delivery for last minute or urgent orders. Allowing free returns may encourage first-time buyers to purchase from your website. While some retailers do not offer returns, they may be losing out on first-time buyers or return shoppers.

Courier services and delivery windows vary extensively. Consider using more than one courier to provide your customers with greater delivery and/or return options. Again, it is about balancing short-term goals with long-term growth. Using a parcel broker may allow you to pick and choose the best service for a particular customer or delivery region.

Copyright © 2015 Mark Bunce of Fastlane International Couriers. Follow them on Twitter.

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Why good personal credit is essential for would-be business owners

September 03, 2015 by Guest contributor

Personal credit {{}}The state of your personal finances says a lot about you. Do you ensure that your debts are well documented, filed logically and always paid on time? If so, you are probably a dependable person who is easy to do business with.

On the other hand, maybe you are messy, disorganised and constantly pay bills late? If so, you most likely will have a hard time keeping other aspects of your personal life in order. Friends and family might characterise you as unreliable – and even untrustworthy.

Personal credit history and your business

It's not just friends, spouses and family who may judge you based on the way you conduct your financial dealings. Banks and other credit providers are likely to question whether to lend you money based on your past history with other lenders.

For some, this assessment is nothing to fear. But if you have a shoddy record of unpaid bills and a trail of angry debtors, it is certainly cause for alarm. Your inability to get credit can wreak havoc on your personal life and prevent you from buying a home, taking a vacation or planning your wedding.

While the hindrances to your life that poor credit can cause are annoying, many people do not realise that the mistakes they make with money in their personal accounts can also have massive repercussions on their business. Small time entrepreneurs who have a brilliant business idea may be left frustrated and regretful when they realise poor money and finance choices from the past now prevent them from starting their own business.

Why is credit important for a small business?

Credit is crucial to any small-business owner struggling to get started. There is no doubt that banks will look at your past personal credit when determining if they should give you business credit, and without these loans it may be impossible to buy stock, rent premises or hire staff. Your dreams of starting your own business may be dashed before you even get your idea off of the ground.

What can you do?

If you're planning to start your own business, it's never too early to start focusing on the health of your personal finances. Here are some of the first steps you can make to assess your viability as a potential borrower:

  • Request your free credit report – Before you start your journey to improve your credit rating, you must assess your current state. Checking your credit report can help you to discover old unpaid bills that have gone to collection, so that you can clear them up as soon as possible.
  • Pay your bills on time – This one should go without saying, but even one missed payment on a credit card can have long-lasting repercussions.
  • Consult with a financial planner – These services are ideal for people with mediocre or poor credit ratings. Financial planners are experts at helping you determine what small measures you can take to increase your lendability.

Once you have started on your journey from credit zero to hero, you will increase your chances of receiving credit from banks and lenders when the time comes to start your own business.

Sponsored post brought to you by Experian, © 2015

Three ways your start-up can save money

September 01, 2015 by Guest contributor

Three ways your start-up can save money{{}}

You probably have big plans for your start-up, with an ambitious vision for the next five years. But ideas require investment in order to become actionable. So, how do you save enough cash to turn your dreams into a reality? Here are three ways to save money for your start-up.

1 Budgeting

Do you know how much you're able to spend or do you normally play it by ear? Having a realistic budget in place is essential for saving money for your start-up.

Without a budget, you could be spending far more than your turnover allows. For example, if in one month you spend £1,000 on office chairs, but only sell goods to the value of £500, you'll be making a loss (unless you've had significantly higher sales in previous months). You need to ensure your expenses make good business sense, staying well within the realms of your revenue so that you're making a profit each month.

Your budget needs to align with your business strategy and objectives, in which you'll specify how much profit you can expect to make and how you intend to invest back into your business.

2 Effective bookkeeping

To be able to save money, you need an effective bookkeeping system. This will allow you to keep track of the money coming in and out of your business, and anticipate future incomings and outgoings.

Good bookkeeping prevents you from overspending, and then facing outgoings you weren't prepared for. So, before you go and order new supplies, you'll be able to see how much you already owe suppliers and the taxman that month, what payments you're expecting, and limit your spending accordingly.

Not only does effective bookkeeping help you to spend realistically, but it also helps you keep on top of payments you're due to receive. Forgetting about invoices you've sent out could mean you miss out on prompt payments, which could leave you unnecessarily high and dry.

3 Negotiating skills

After a while, you're bound to find yourself dealing with the same suppliers on a regular basis. But rather than continuing at the same rates, you need to think about negotiating discounts with regular suppliers to get better value for money. You'll often find that suppliers would rather maintain regular business with you at a lower rate, than lose you altogether.

When you build long-term working relationships with suppliers, you should also think about asking for longer payment periods in particularly difficult months, which could be hugely beneficial to your cash flow.

  • These points and others will be covered in more depth during an upcoming free webinar that will take place on 10 September at 2pm. Get more information here.

Copyright © Babington Group, a "training provider offering a range of courses, from accounting qualifications to leadership programmes". Follow @Babington_Ltd on Twitter.

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