The Chancellor George Osborne delivered his Autumn Statement this morning against a backdrop of quietly increasing confidence. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) increased its growth forecast for the UK from 0.9% in July to 1.4% in October and the Bank of England announced in November that the UK’s economic recovery has “finally taken hold”.
Whilst the Chancellor undoubtedly has one eye on the next general election in 2015, there is still work to do to ensure the improving economic picture continues. With this balancing act in mind, the Chancellor announced:
When announcing the business rate reliefs, the Chancellor said: "There is one group of businesses that have found the recession especially hard – as it has coincided with a rising challenge from the internet that is only getting stronger. These are our local retailers – the shops, the pubs and the cafes that make up our high streets across Britain. With Small Business Saturday this weekend, I want the government to do all it can to help them.
"We’re already changing the planning rules to help town centres compete. To get the vacant shops that blight too many town centres to open again, I am introducing a new reoccupation relief that will halve the rates for new occupants."
He went on to say, "I can announce today that for the next two years every retail premise in England with a rateable value of up to £50,000 will get a discount on their business rates."
Responding to this announcement Vince McLoughlin, partner at business and tax advisory firm Russell New, said “Something had to be done with business rates and by extending the relief beyond April, this gives businesses of all shapes and sizes some breathing space in which to grow and boost local economies in 2014.”
For more on the Autumn statement, see:
To find out more about Small Business Saturday and how you can get involved, see our blog.
I’ve seen it time and time again, high-flying entrepreneurs at the helm of their empire, trying to do everything and getting little done.
Business owners are constantly trying to multi-task and although we all know that trying to do so makes us less focussed and less productive, it’s an inevitable outcome of the real world in which we do business. There will never be just one task. Here’s some simple advice on how to remain focused and in control.
This is the first thing I advise my mentees to use when deciding which tasks to embark on. Keep a task list of anything and everything that you need to do and keep updating it with new tasks.
Prioritise your tasks into “Must Do”, “Should Do”, “Could Do” and “Won’t Do” categories. Above all, keep in mind your strengths and delegate tasks that are not your strengths. Understand what you can realistically achieve in one day. A simple process like this, combined with some discipline, will make a big difference to your mindset and productivity.
There are tools that business owners can use to improve their overall focus. I use Asama to set my goals, targets and tasks and it enables me to share and delegate jobs to other members of my team. Mind mapping software is helpful in defining goals and targets that you can prioritise and focus on.
Of course, tools are only as effective as the person using them, so make sure you have adopted the right mindset and implemented the best processes before you resort to these.
Environment is a key factor in improving focus. The more comfortable your work environment is, the greater your ability to concentrate. I find that purposefully changing my location during a long day, for example, from my home office to the sunroom, helps introduce a new impetus to my work.
It sounds obvious, but removing and avoiding as many distractions as possible is one of the best ways to improve your focus. It’s astounding how personal issues can creep into your work zone. Adopt digital ‘Do Not Disturb’, by turning off your mobile phone, closing your emails and chat programs – deal with them later.
You know when you’re at your best, whether it is early morning or late at night when you have peace and quiet. Do your hardest tasks when you’re most alert and the less intensive tasks later on in the day when you have less drive.
Blog provided by Raj Dhonota, who first came to the public eye in 2005 during the first series of The Apprentice, since when he become a successful serial entrepreneur and investor in start-ups.
Mobile Chip & PIN payments are becoming more popular around the UK. This is mainly due to the fact that they are an inexpensive and modern way to increase profit.
For a while now, small-business owners have been unable to accept card payments due to problems with traditional card readers. This is due to the fact that they involve lengthy and expensive contracts, monthly fees and equipment that is bulky and hard to transport. Mobile Chip & PIN payments solve this problem by providing a non-contract service, with no monthly fees and a sleek modern design that fits with any business image.
There is no doubt that there are benefits to employing mobile rather than traditional Chip & PIN technologies, however, you may be asking yourself why it is necessary to even take cards?
One reason is that accepting cards gives your customers the option to pay by a variety of means. This might sound like a non-issue, however, one of the biggest reasons that merchants loose business is interrupting “customer flow”. Specifically in the situation where a customer wishes to buy a product, but has no cash on them, if the customer cannot pay by card they simply have no option but to leave. In this case, the merchant has not only lost out on a sale, buhas also lost a customer whose opinion is valuable to your business.
This brings us to the second benefit of accepting card payments – customer satisfaction. Most businesses strive towards providing excellent customer service, after all, for small businesses referrals are often the best advertisements of all. Disappointing the customer by not offering a convenient way to pay may come back to haunt you by damaging your reputation.
However, the direct benefits do not stop at the customer. Taking card payments means that your business does not have to run the risk of having large amounts of cash stored, it also saves on daily trips to the bank to deposit the money. Perhaps the biggest advantage to a small business owner, though, is that is allows for more efficient accounting. By accepting more cards and less cash, it means that your transactions are easier to keep track of, which is vital for financial planning.
Mobile Chip & PIN payments are secure, with all reputable companies required to pass rigorous security checks and verifications. They are also convenient for both customer and merchant, and are a great tool to increase profit. So why not find out more?
Blog supplied by mobile card payment solution provider payleven.
As a small business owner it can be difficult to maintain your own morale and, just as importantly, that of your staff. In a climate in which budgets are stretched and purse strings are tight, many small businesses struggle to stay happy – and, as a result, they struggle to remain productive.
Workplace culture is a hugely important element of an overall business strategy.
We want to see happy employees, not only because that is good in and of itself, but also because people are at their best when they are at their happiest. We spend a great deal of time working out how we can make Simply Business the best possible place to work.
Happiness and efficiency are intrinsically linked in the business environment. So how can you ensure that both you and your employees keep both their spirits and their productivity high?
It is all too easy to become so absorbed in the day to day minutiae of running a business that you forget to celebrate your achievements. Perspective is important, both for you and your employees. Take time to ‘zoom out’ and recognise the ways in which you have succeeded, as well as the work you still have to do.
It is impossible to remain both productive and satisfied if you or your employees are working all day every day. Regular breaks are important in order to keep the mind focused and to prevent boredom. Rather than trying to do multiple things at once, try splitting up your time into 20 minute chunks, with short breaks in between. This may help to boost both your productivity and your work satisfaction.
Extended breaks are also vitally important for all of us, and yet many business owners fail to take enough time off. Make sure that you take holiday time off and that, as far as is possible, you use this time to do things other than work. Remember that this will likely require you to plan ahead in order to ensure that you tie up loose ends before you leave and that your business can continue to tick over in your absence.
The headline salary is not the only way in which you can attract and keep the top talent. You should also think about the working environment and, crucially, the benefits that you are offering. There is a range of cost-effective benefits that you might investigate. These include flexible working, the Cycle To Work scheme, and non-medical covers like life insurance.
Google famously encouraged employees to spend 20 per cent of their time working on their own projects. Although the company is now moving away from this ratio, ensuring that your employees have time to pursue their own interests during the working week can still be hugely beneficial. Not only will it help demonstrate to employees that their creative input is valued, it could also help to produce new innovation.
Finally, it is important to remember that a fragmented workforce is far more likely to be unhappy. You should think carefully about ways in which you can develop a sense of community amongst you and your employees. This might include away days, meals out together, visits to non-work related cultural events, and so on. Remember that these need not be hugely expensive; rather, the intention is to create a space in which employees can get to know each other better.
Blog by Jason Stockwood, CEO of Simply Business
It's around this time of year that UK retailers embrace the big build-up to Christmas. The annually anticipated ‘Mega Monday’, traditionally the first Monday in December after payday, is upon us. This is the day when consumers gear up to put their credit cards to good use and stock up on stocking-fillers ahead of Christmas.
This year, Mega Monday falls on the 2nd of December and with virtual retail becoming an exponentially more favourable means of shopping for many consumers, this year it is predicted to be the busiest online shopping day of the whole year.
To set the scene, UK high-street bank Barclays has produced a survey showing how two thirds of high street retailers anticipate their website traffic to rise by 11% on Mega Monday – a percentage worth taking into consideration by shops and stockists of every kind. Visa reported that last year saw sales of £320m made on its credit and debit card services, and this year’s festive season is set to continue its upward trajectory.
Equally relevant is how consumers are using mobile devices and tablets to shop. This means websites need to look immaculate, inviting and adaptable to mobile interfaces; the same way they would in the physical premises, or from their computer screens.
This is the golden goose for online retailers, but it needs a little consideration: businesses must improve the experience for web users to boost ecommerce success and capitalise on this time of the year. Given that every retail business is jostling for position during the festive period, it is crucial for businesses to have their websites looking as inviting and attractive to consumers as possible. This is also a great opportunity for companies to invest in repeat business and establish a wider customer base. Retailers should look toward optimising their websites so that users will click through and begin to establish a relationship with the site and its products.
In light of these points, we’ve provided a few top tips to help you optimise your website for the big day:
Simple enough; make sure you run A/B tests on your key pages in order to optimise your website. This is an easy enough solution that in-house staff can run to save you time and money you might have spent outsourcing, without sacrificing the best results. In terms of top priorities to consider when testing, read on:
Don’t overcrowd your pages so that site-visitors don't tire of the visual complexity. Keep language simple, rather than using “flat rate shipping”, why not try “free shipping” to clarify what the offer really means. Consider your colour-coding; blue font might imply hyperlinks, so avoid confusing font colours with click-through links. Make sure you don’t distract visitors with reviews taking prominence over product features – make it clear where reviews can be found, but keep product details clear and available as first port of call.
Try not to over emphasise security features as this can create anxiety. Security should be something users can check if they’re concerned, but don’t add in potentially alarming icons of the security measures your site has in place. We have seen example tests where such imagery has actually made browsers more cautious and less likely to click through. Let them feel that your site has everything under control: overly-reassuring visitors of your security measures could, paradoxically, have the reverse effect.
Rather than asking whether test A will outperform test B, ask instead “How does the imagery in test B compare to that in test A?” Think first about the results you’re aiming for. If you want people to click through on ‘view complete range’, ask yourself how you can optimise the layout of the site to achieve this. In general, rather than asking “What are the variations we are testing?” consider asking “What question are we trying to answer?” as a means to get more effective and relevant results. Are you trying to see if a visitor will respond better to bolder colours/fonts or to clearer language? Consider first what you want the answers to be, then design tests around those enquiries.
Be sure to define the broad question trying to be answered on your website, and determine the simplest and easiest way to validate that concept. Don’t be too abstract. Thematic approaches to pages aren't as effective as specific pages. Be clear rather than conceptual. Product images will outperform lifestyle images. For instance, if your aim is to sell clothes, then display the items clearly and vividly, rather than setting a ‘lifestyle’ scene – which has often been proven to be less effective than the former.
Blog by Matt Althauser, European GM, Optimizely
One of the earliest challenges faced by all start-ups concerns finance. No matter how great an idea you’ve had and no matter how well thought-out your business plan is, you’ll need to have enough funding to get your fledgling venture off of the ground.
Maybe you’ve pursued crowdfunding, borrowed money from friends and relatives, perhaps even turned to a high street bank for a business loan, or approached alternative finance providers for help. Whatever route you’ve chosen, before long you and your business will have to face the same daunting question – what to do when this money has run out?
Start-up funding is intended to give businesses a chance to get off the ground, of course. In the very earliest stages of a business’s life it’s almost guaranteed to be operating at a loss, and those expenses will need to be covered somehow.
You might need to invest in premises, staff, equipment and more besides, so start-up finance is a necessary step in order to see your business through those hard, frightening and exciting early months.
If all goes to plan, start-up funding should act as a stepping stone to help your business to become self-sufficient before the cash runs out completely. Very few start-ups operate at a profit for the first few years, but if you’ve played your cards right, you’ll be breaking even before your start-up funds are all spent.
It’s possible to pursue growth during the period when many fledgling firms find it difficult to compete, even when a challenging economy makes business opportunities difficult to come by.
Building momentum can be difficult at this stage, but if you’ve got the right people around you and have built a team of committed, hardworking individuals, it’s eminently possible to get moving in the right direction once more. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to pursue another form of business finance if you are to move from stagnation to expansion once more.
The business world is built on finance, and until a business has reached the stage where it is sufficiently profitable to sustain itself and grow, it must rely on the assistance of small-business finance facilities instead.
Invoice finance providers offer facilities that can fund growth, based on your business’s internal sales ledger. Alternative lending options such as invoice finance and discounting are more flexible and thus more suitable for growing companies than traditional bank loans, so if you’re looking to move your business forwards without incurring additional debts, you’re likely to benefit significantly.
You could also look at peer-to-peer lending (ie the lending of money to unrelated individuals without going through a traditional financial intermediary), crowdfunding (ie the collective cooperation, attention and funding by people who pool their money and resources together to support other businesses or organisations) or possibly an overdraft.
The period immediately following your business’ first few months can be intimidating and confusing, and it may seem as though the last thing you want to do after your small business funding has all been spent is pursue yet more finance. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to take the bull by the horns and actively pursue growth in order to spare your business from years spent merely treading water and making ends meet.
Blog provided by David Richards of Gener8 Finance Ltd.