Guiding you to a better future

For a successful business, you need a viable business idea, the skills to make it work and the funding. Discover whether your idea has what it takes.

Forming your business correctly is essential to ensure you are protected and you comply with the rules. Learn how to set up your business.

It is likely you will need funding to start your business unless you have your own money. Discover some of the main sources of start up funding.

Businesses and individuals must account for and pay various taxes. Understand your tax obligations and how to file, account and pay any taxes you owe.

Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of business laws. We introduce the main rules and regulations you must comply with.

Learn why business planning is an essential exercise if your business is to start and grow successfully, attract funding or target new markets.

Marketing matters. It drives sales and helps promote your brand and products. Discover how to market your business and reach your target customers.

Some businesses need a high street location whilst others can be run from home. Understand the key factors from cost to location, size to security.

Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

It is likely your business could not function without some form of IT. Learn how to specify, buy, maintain and secure your business IT.

Few businesses manage the leap from start up to high-growth business. Learn what it takes to scale up and take your business to the next level.

October 2015

30 October 2015

Graduates want more advice on entrepreneurshipPost-1992 universities, including ex-polytechnics, are better at encouraging entrepreneurship than Russell Group universities, according to new research.

A poll of graduates who left university within the past three years has found that many of them got no advice at all about freelancing or self-employment at university, despite the fact that 56% of those surveyed said they had undertaken some freelancing during their studies and 44% said they were considering freelancing or self-employment as a career option.

According to the findings of the survey by PolicyBee, 38% of post-1992 university graduates said that their university discussed freelancing or being self-employed, but only 11% said the same of Russell Group universities, which include institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Manchester and Bristol.

The study also found that:

  • 61% of post-1992 university graduates had undertaken some freelance or self-employed work during their studies compared to 53% of Russell Group graduates;
  • 46% of post-1992 university graduates are "definitely" or "probably" considering a career as a freelancer or in self-employment versus 39% at Russell Group institutions.

The research shows that graduates from the West Midlands are most open to the possibility of freelancing or self-employment: more graduates from this area, in comparison to other areas of the UK, worked in this way during their degree (59%) and are more likely to consider it as a future career option.

Kerri-Ann Hockley of PolicyBee said: "The study clearly shows that many graduates have an appetite for self-employment and need to make an informed decision about whether this is the right career choice for them. Universities could do more to encourage and support potential freelancers."

Hockley added: "In the past, self-employment or freelancing were only considered options by more experienced professionals. The latest generation doesn't see this as a barrier. Thanks to the changing job market and developments in technology, graduates can enjoy greater independence. They no longer need to follow conventional routes into employment if it doesn't suit them. However, they could still benefit from more support, and universities have an important role to play in supplying this."

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30 October 2015

Is your small business behind the times?Paper records, desk diaries, payment by cheque - despite the rise of the smartphone and online tools, many micro business owners are still using old-fashioned methods to manage their business.

Research by professional services marketplace Bidvine has found that, although 67% of the UK's micro businesses and sole traders use a smartphone for their business, 63% use pen and paper to manage their diary and almost a fifth rely on nothing more than their memory to ensure they know where to be from day to day.

Small firms and sole traders account for 99% of the UK's private sector businesses, but the survey found that 20% say they have lost money in the past month due to poor diary-keeping or communication; 86% of those polled still rely upon word of mouth as a new business channel.

Despite plans to phase out cheques by 2018, 44% of small firms are still accepting cheques; less than one quarter take web payments and just 6% accept mobile payments.

However, more than a third say their phone is extremely important or vital to their business and only 16% felt they could operate without it. The poll found that 52% communicate with customers by text and 65% by mobile call, compared to 50% who use a landline.

Sohrab Jahanbani, founder of Bidvine, said: "The research findings show that the majority of sole traders still value the importance of writing when it comes to diary-keeping and customer management. However there has been some progress towards the use of technology - despite still using the mighty pen, 78% do use email to communicate with their customers."

The research also highlights the transition that many small businesses are making from pen and paper to new technology.

John Griffin, who runs Unflatpack, said: "Our flatpack assembly business was started ten years ago out of an office in London with the help of a duplicate pad and paper-based payment system to process single orders. We now employ 100 people across the country and this growth simply wouldn't have been possible without technology."

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30 October 2015

Ahead of the Chancellor's Spending Review and Autumn Statement in November, the British Chambers of Commerce have called on the Government to focus on boosting investment, exports, training and infrastructure.

John Longworth, BCC director general, said: "For decades, successive governments have created and disbanded a raft of business support programmes which have either tinkered around the edges or had no impact at all. The limited resources at the Chancellor's disposal should therefore target the structural issues that are holding us back - in training, infrastructure and finance."

While Longworth said that "businesses do support a leaner state overall", the BCC is now calling on the Government to focus on "reshaping the role of the state so that its overriding objective is as an enabler of growth and productivity".

Longworth added: "It is unacceptable that programmes that do little to boost UK output are being protected at the expense of capital investment, the maintenance of key infrastructure assets, investment in skills and business access to finance. Fixing our productivity problem requires significant investment in people and infrastructure. Anything less and we will struggle to put our economy on a strong footing."

The BCC has called for three structural issues to be at the heart of George Osborne's upcoming Spending Review:

  • fixing a "dysfunctional" business finance system;
  • delivering business infrastructure "fit for the modern age", including investments in road and rail schemes, long term energy security and upgrading the UK's digital infrastructure;
  • closing "worrisome" skills gaps, to help young people succeed in tomorrow's workforce and enable businesses to compete on the global stage.

The BCC is also warning that any regional devolution - which it welcomes - must be "done for sound business reasons, and not just for political gain".

Longworth said: "Businesses up and down the country broadly support the devolution of powers to local areas in England. If done properly, it can drive greater efficiency, accountability and better results. All devolution proposals should have a test, measuring their impact on businesses, before they are taken into legislation. There should be no business taxation without representation."

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30 October 2015

Ahead of the Chancellor's Spending Review and Autumn Statement in November, the British Chambers of Commerce have called on the Government to focus on boosting investment, exports, training and infrastructure.

30 October 2015

SMEs need affordable legal support, says reportNew research reveals that most UK SMEs only get legal advice as a last resort; and industry bodies are calling for legal service providers to offer more affordable advice to small firms.

A new report by the Legal Services Board (LSB) has found that few small business owners think that legal services providers offer value for money. The LSB's latest research comes two years after it last studied the sector, and when it comes to the ease with which SMEs can access the support and advice they need to thrive, it says that little has changed.

The research found that the number of legal problems reported by small businesses has reduced significantly over the past two years, reflecting better trading conditions. However, total annual losses to small businesses due to legal problems is estimated at £9.79 billion, and one in five business owners who reported legal problems said these led to health problems.

Only 13% of small businesses viewed lawyers as cost effective - little improved since the LSB's last survey in 2013. And almost 50% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they use legal service providers as a last resort to solve business problems, compared with 12% who disagreed strongly or disagreed.

Sir Michael Pitt, LSB chairman, said: "These findings suggest that small business access to and use of legal services has improved little since we first looked at the issue two years ago. Access to good quality and affordable legal services helps small businesses to start up and grow."

This represents an opportunity for the UK's law firms, he added. "Many of these issues can be avoided by accessing legal help at the right time. The legal sector needs to look at what it can do to fill this advice gap. In doing so it will create the customers of the future."

Mike Cherry, policy director for the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said: "We know from the FSB's own legal advice line for members that getting the right advice at the right time can save small firms money in the long run. Given so many small business could benefit from making more use of legal services, we hope today's report will encourage service providers to explore and develop their offering to small businesses - focusing on how they can deliver real value for money."

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30 October 2015

UK tax gap falls

The tax gap (the proportion of tax owed that has not been paid) for 2013-14 was 6.4% of tax due, down from 8.4% in 2005-06, according to figures from HMRC. The Corporation Tax gap has halved since 2005-06, from 14% to 7%. David Gauke, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: "There is understandable anger when individuals or companies are perceived not to be contributing their fair share, but we can reassure the public that the proportion going unpaid is low and this Government is dedicated to bringing it down further."

BFA drive to get more women in franchising

The British Franchise Association (bfa) has launched a campaign urging more women to consider the benefits of franchising. The bfa/NatWest Franchise Survey 2013 revealed that women were the sole or main operators of 30% of franchise outlets in the UK. The campaign will kick off at the Women in Franchising conference at Stratford Manor in Warwickshire on 17 November. Places can be booked on the bfa website.

Mindfulness at work

Employee wellbeing is top of the agenda for Stress Awareness Day 2015 on 4 November. UK workers take more than 15 million days off a year due to stress, depression and anxiety, and UK employers lose £26 billion each year due to stress, an average of £1,035 for every staff member. The event is promoting the benefits of mindfulness to reduce stress. Dr Sherylin Thompson, director of The BeingWell, said: "Giving all employees the skills to keep their minds fit, toned and focused builds resilience and strengthens performance across the workforce."

The power of emojis

Internet retailing has moved beyond the written word according to ParcelHero. Its research shows that people of all ages are using emojis to give feedback to ecommerce retailers on issues such as products and deliveries. David Jinks, ParcelHero's head of PR, said: "Our research shows 92% of the online population now use emojis. For many they are replacing text. Switched-on retailers will do well to echo this style in their messages to customers."

The gift-giving habits of employers

Alcohol, digital gift cards and small bonuses are the most popular presents given by employers to their staff at Christmas, according to a new survey. According to the poll by GiftCloud, the majority (53%) of British employers buy Christmas treats for their employees. The most common reason for these staff gifts are "to reward them for their hard work" (42%) and that it's "a nice way to show gratitude" (36%).

23 October 2015

Are there too many sole traders?The Forum of Private Business is warning that despite the rise in the number of small businesses, not enough is being done by the Government to encourage business owners to take on new employees.

There are now 5.4 million businesses in the UK but the FPB has raised concerns about the high proportion of businesses that do not employ any staff.

UK SMEs are now responsible for 15.6 million jobs, up from 15.2 million last year. However, the latest figures also show that the number of unregistered businesses without any employees has risen to over three million and now represents around 56% of the business population.

According to the FPB, this is an issue for the UK economy as non-employers are less productive than employers - having a turnover per person of £53,000 compared to an SME employer figure of £135,900.

Ian Cass, md of the FPB, said: "An increased number of businesses, particularly those that have reached the VAT threshold, is great news as it shows the strength of the UK economy. However the lack of growth of businesses at each step of the economic cycle is poor, with Government bodies imposing cost and barriers on businesses rather than looking to solve them."

The Forum says many micro businesses find that it does not pay to employ more staff; the regulatory system, it says, inhibits growth as firms use freelancers rather than training and employing new staff. It highlights the example of hairdressers that find it cheaper and easier to take on a self-employed hairdresser rather than employ a trainee.

The UK needs a business infrastructure that rewards business owners who employ people, said Cass, "not one that demotivates them with new ways to shuffle paper. Getting more businesses to employ, export and grow quickly when the opportunities arise are crucial to creating a better living standard for all, not simply the business owners or their employees."

He said: "Successive governments have failed to answer the small employer's question of why can't it be simpler to employ and grow my business? We need a competitive and consistent marketplace to do business in."

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23 October 2015

SMEs spending too much on energyUK service sector SMEs are wasting over £414 million per annum on unnecessary energy expenditure according to a new report.

The research, conducted by the Energy Efficiency Financing (EEF) scheme, suggests that inefficient technology and old equipment is the biggest problem.

EEF scrutinised the use of lighting, heating and hot water, cooling and ventilation and other areas of energy consumption across key sectors. The study has revealed that potential energy savings of over £414 million could be achieved every year by the UK's service sector were small businesses to invest in more energy-efficient equipment.

The EEF scheme is a joint initiative between the Carbon Trust and Siemens Financial Services, providing finance for the acquisition of energy-efficient and renewable energy equipment, especially for SMEs.

Richard Baker, sales manager of the EEF scheme, said: "Today's tightened credit environment makes it increasingly difficult for SMEs to obtain affordable funding. Consequently, many firms feel discouraged from investing in green technologies because of insufficient access to capital. However, with funding available from innovative schemes like EEF, where expected savings pay for the investment, organisations can now act on their green endeavour without having to worry about upfront capital."

Myles McCarthy, managing director of Carbon Trust Implementation Services, said: "By investing in energy-efficient equipment as well as renewable energy technology, businesses can reap significant energy savings and cut down on their energy bills.

"Any sort of green investment is a step towards saving money, improving business competitiveness, and being a responsible citizen," she said. "Organisations that recognise the long-term benefits brought by energy efficiency will no doubt be better positioned than their competitors to grow their businesses more sustainably and profitably."

The EEF scheme provides finance for a wide range of green technologies, such as low energy lighting, solar PV, energy-efficient motors, low carbon air conditioning and biomass heating. Prior to finance being approved, the Carbon Trust conducts an independent energy savings assessment, providing businesses with projected energy savings and potential income generation data.

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23 October 2015

SMEs have most to gain from digital opportunitiesThe UK economy could get a £92 billion boost if businesses fully develop their digital potential, equivalent to 2.5% of GDP. And SMEs could grow at three times the rate of larger firms as a result.

These are the findings of a new report by Oxford Economics and Virgin Media Business entitled The UK's £92 billion Digital Opportunity.

According to the report, UK firms expect to create over one million new jobs over the next two years as a direct result of enhancing their digital capabilities. In the last year, digital capabilities generated £123 billion in business revenues, equivalent to 3.4% of total GDP.

Small firms - those with fewer than 250 employees - have the most to gain from investing in digital technologies, say the authors of the report. SMEs expect an additional £56 billion boost if they get access to the best digital capabilities available according to the research. And small firms have plans to increase employment by 6% over the next two years to make the most of digital opportunities; three times the rate of larger companies.

The digital opportunity is greatest for professional and tech services firms, that could add £27 billion a year in industry revenues. Significant gains are also possible for other sectors such as wholesale and retail (£17 billion a year), manufacturing (£9 billion a year), financial services (£9 billion a year) and transportation and storage (£8 billion a year).

Peter Kelly, managing director, Virgin Media Business, said: "The incredible pace of change means there is no place to hide, or room to stand still. Any business with ambitions to grow through digital needs to invest in the right technology and skills, while the Government and industry have to deliver the infrastructure and support to help them."

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, said: "The UK is the tech capital of Europe but digital advances never stop, so if we want it to stay ahead we need more young people studying computing to a higher level. Looking into the future, the proposed EU digital single market, if delivered well, would be great news for both business and consumers, reducing barriers to e-commerce across the continent."

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23 October 2015

Meet the small firms punching above their weightA tiny group of UK small firms are making a significant contribution to UK economic growth and even reviving regions, according to a new report.

The Octopus High Growth Small Business Report 2015, commissioned by Octopus Investments and produced by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), has highlighted the value of these fast-growing SMEs to the UK economy.

It has found that one in every three new jobs in the UK and almost 20% of economic growth was created by high growth small businesses (HGSBs) last year.

Representing less than 1% of UK businesses and less than 3% of the total UK economy, these 22,470 companies created on average 4,500 news jobs each week in 2014 - three times more than the entire FTSE 100.

These firms are located across the UK, with nearly three in every five of them based outside London and the South East. The research shows that more than 70% of HGSB turnover comes from outside London.

The report makes the case for increasing the number of HGSBs by 25% in every region in the next five years; it says HGSBs can play a significant role in reviving flagging regional economies. In particular, Northern Ireland, Wales and the North East are most reliant on HGSBs for their economic growth.

Simon Rogerson, ceo of Octopus, said: "High growth small businesses are a national opportunity - they can be found in every region of the UK and across every sector but are all too easily lost within the broader SME universe."

He added: "These are the companies that are making a real difference to people's lives through their innovation and tremendous contribution to our economy. We need to do everything we can to enable them to thrive. There is a real need for more of these extraordinary businesses to exist across the country to bring prosperity and growth to every region."

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