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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.

January 2016

29 January 2016

Government to support UK cyber security start-upsThe Government has launched a new programme to encourage and support cyber security start-ups in a bid to keep the UK safe from cyber attacks.

Start-ups that want to offer cyber security solutions will be able to get help, advice and support to develop their products and services and bring them to market via the Early Stage Accelerator Programme.

The £250,000 programme is the first of its kind for the UK cyber security sector. It will be run in partnership with Cyber London and the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's University Belfast.

Launching the scheme, John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: "As technologies continue to evolve there will be an increased demand for secure products and services, and this new programme will ensure the best ideas from our brightest minds can help keep the UK safe in cyberspace."

The new programme aims to:

  • Increase the rate of new cyber security start-up development in the UK;
  • Help entrepreneurs develop, test and validate the commercial viability of their ideas and turn them into businesses;
  • Help identify new business ideas from the UK's leading cyber security knowledge base;
  • Provide a space for collaboration with early stage start-ups as they develop.

Funded by the Government's National Cyber Security Programme, this initiative will support ideas that may currently struggle to gain investment funding because they are at an early stage and are not yet fully developed.

It is part of the Government's wider strategy to promote the UK cyber security industry, which has grown rapidly in recent years and is now worth £17.6bn - up 70% since 2013 - and employs over 100,000 people. The programme will be open to applicants in March.

Kirsten Connell, of Cyber London, said: "We believe the UK is one of the world's best places to build cyber security businesses, and this programme will help to make it easier for innovation to develop into commercial success."

The Government recently announced a new £1.9bn investment in cyber security to make the UK one of the best-protected countries in cyberspace.

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29 January 2016

New Ofcom code for SMEs using broadbandUK businesses will receive more accurate information on the broadband speeds they should receive, under new protections announced by Ofcom this week.

As part of a new Ofcom Code, providers will agree to give businesses more accurate and transparent information on broadband speeds - before they sign up to a contract. Under the Code, businesses taking a new broadband service will, for the first time, enjoy a similar level of protection as residential broadband users.

Signatories to the voluntary code also commit to manage any problems that businesses have with broadband speeds effectively, and allow customers to exit the contract at any point if speeds fall below a minimum guaranteed level.

Seven of the UK's broadband providers for businesses - BT Business, Daisy Communications, KCOM, TalkTalk Business, Virgin Media, XLN and Zen - have signed up to the Code so far. They provide a service to around two thirds of SMEs who have standard broadband.

Ofcom has also expressed concerns about what it calls "speeds gaps" - the mismatch between what broadband customers believe they are buying and the actual service delivered.

Ofcom research found that many SMEs are confused about how the "actual" speed of their broadband service compared to the "headline" maximum speed advertised by providers. A fifth (20%) of SMEs are not satisfied they are getting the speeds they have paid for.

Sharon White, Ofcom chief executive, said: "Ensuring consumers get the best possible communications services is Ofcom's top priority. Where broadband companies fail to provide the speeds they promise, we've made it easier for businesses to walk away from their contracts without penalty. Providers have also agreed to give clear and reliable speeds information upfront so business customers can make more informed decisions."

Mike Cherry, policy director for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "A dependable broadband connection is now essential for almost every aspect of modern business life. Yet small business dissatisfaction with broadband providers appears to be widespread and deeply felt. The new Code of Practice announced by Ofcom is a timely and well-targeted intervention in the business broadband market."

Ofcom's Voluntary Business Broadband Speeds Code of Practice comes into effect from 30 September 2016.

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29 January 2016

Number of self-employed hits record highThe number of self-employed people in the UK has risen, according to the latest employment statistics.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the number of self-employed rose by 98,000 in the three months to November 2015, compared to the same period in 2014.

IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, reports that this is a "record high" for self-employment.

Lorence Nye, IPSE economic policy adviser, said: "Today's labour market figures again show more and more people are realising the benefits of self-employment and opting to become their own boss."

Freelancing, he said, is no longer limited to certain professions or specific age groups. It is "an established part of the labour market, with workers in every sector and from every demographic."

However, Nye reports that there has been particularly rapid growth in the number of older workers who become self-employed to continue their careers past retirement age, and also among those under thirty.

Nye said: "The self-employed are now a key part of the UK economy. Their flexibility provides us with a unique characteristic that has powered the UK through the financial crisis and may be the one thing that shelters the country from the potential global economic storm appearing on the horizon. We hope the Government will continue to implement tailored policies to help this essential sector flourish, to allow for the UK to retain its competitive edge."

The latest jobs figures show that the labour market as whole has performed strongly in 2015. Michael Martins, economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "These jobs figures, which show the British labour market ended 2015 strongly, could be just what the doctor ordered as we see nothing but storm clouds gathering across the global economy. At home, British firms remain upbeat, creating jobs, and pushing both the absolute number of people and the employment rate to its highest level since records began."

However, the skills shortage is affecting many firms, especially small businesses, he said. "For small firms that employ fewer than ten employees, the struggle to find workers is particularly acute, with vacancies rising by 13% in the last quarter."

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29 January 2016

Campaign launches in protest at new dividend taxThousands of small businesses have signed a petition against the proposed new dividend tax in a bid to force the Government to debate the issue.

The campaign has been launched by Serena Humphrey, a chartered management accountant and founder of finance training company The F Word based in Nottingham.

Humphrey is calling on chancellor George Osborne to reconsider his plans for a new Dividend Allowance that will replace the Dividend Tax Credit from April this year.

The chancellor unveiled the changes during last year's Summer Budget. Under the new rules, everyone will receive a £5,000 tax-free allowance - anything above this and basic rate taxpayers will pay 7.5% on their dividend income. Higher-rate taxpayers will pay 32.5% and top-rate taxpayers will pay 38.1%.

Under the current system, basic-rate taxpayers do not have to pay any tax on their dividends. Higher-rate taxpayers pay 25% and for those paying the top rate, it is 30.56%.

Serena Humphrey and fellow campaigners have collected more than 40,000 signatures but the petition must reach 100,000 by February 24 before the issue can be debated in Parliament.

Humphrey said: "We want the Government to reconsider the dividend tax. I think they underestimate the impact it will have on people - it's a kick in the teeth."

The petition is part of Humphrey's recently launched Survive and Succeed campaign, which aims to raise awareness of and improve business survival rates. Humphrey added: "Most people have no idea that so few businesses survive beyond five years. Nationally, 60% of companies fail before their fifth birthday."

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29 January 2016

New role for UKTI in push to boost exports

A new approach to boosting British exports is to be delivered through a transformed UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), the Government has announced. To meet its target of increasing the value of exports to £1 trillion and achieving 100,000 new exporters by 2020, the UKTI is to focus on priority markets and sectors. Business secretary Sajid Javid said: "By putting a refocused UKTI at the centre of a co-ordinated cross-government approach, relevant departments will share expertise to get UK businesses exporting."

Pay has fallen in UK cities despite jobs growth, says report

Almost a million new jobs were created in UK cities between 2010 and 2014; however, pay for city dwellers dropped by 5% in the same period according to new research by think tank Centre for Cities. It has found that 29 of the 63 UK cities studied qualify as "low-wage, high-welfare" economies. Just 14 British cities are achieving "high-wage, low-welfare" economies, with the top three being London, Reading and Aldershot. Eight of these 14 cities are in the South East.

Convenience driving mobile commerce

Consumers are increasingly comfortable using mobile devices to shop, with nearly three quarters (69%) now browsing or buying on their devices - an increase of 10% since 2013 according to BuzzCity. One in five (19%) expect more than 50% of their overall spend to be via a mobile device. Dr KF Lai, ceo of BuzzCity, said: "Key to continuing the appetite for mobile commerce is the user experience. Brands need to perfect fast and secure payment platforms and personalised customer relationship management in order to benefit from the increasing number of shoppers who use the mobile channel."

Have we reached peak iPhone?

With Ikea's Steve Howard suggesting that we have reached "peak stuff", now Apple has warned that sales of its iPhone are likely to fall this year. Apple has reported the slowest growth in iPhone sales since the product's 2007 launch and warned sales will fall for the first time later this year.

22 January 2016

UK must improve digital connectivity says BCCThe leaders of all 52 of the British Chambers of Commerce have signed a letter to the Government demanding better digital and mobile connectivity for UK businesses.

On the closing day of the Government's consultation on the UK's future digital strategy (19 January), the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has called on the Government to match the scope and ambition of other countries to create a solid foundation for future business growth.

In a letter to the culture secretary, John Whittingdale, signed by all 52 accredited chambers across the UK, the BCC has highlighted areas where a lack of action is impeding business growth - including mobile coverage, supplier competition and insufficient broadband coverage and speeds.

The BCC is warning that unless UK businesses see swift improvements in reliability, speed, coverage and competition, the performance of individual companies - and UK productivity - may be severely affected.

Specific areas of concern highlighted by the BCC are:

  • Broadband: The BCC is calling for the rollout of ultrafast broadband across the UK;
  • Mobile coverage: Poor mobile coverage must be eliminated including areas of low connectivity such as business parks and transport hubs;
  • Improved competition: The BCC says improved competition and investment in the broadband market will boost access and choice for businesses;
  • 5G technology: The BCC is calling for new funding to make 5G a reality in the next decade.

John Longworth, BCC director general, said: "The digital world is changing daily and UK firms have a track record as global innovators and leaders. However, the infrastructure they rely upon is failing to keep pace. Britain may lead the world in ecommerce, but many offices, business parks and road and rail routes lack both mobile and broadband connectivity. Unless we set the bar high - and ensure UK companies have access to world-class digital infrastructure - we will be out-competed by others around the globe."

The UK Government, he said, "must set a far more ambitious digital strategy, starting with an immediate action plan to boost mobile and fibre connections for business. Companies of every size and sector, in every nation and region, are reporting connectivity problems. We need action from ministers, regulators, service providers and businesses themselves if we want to stay competitive in future."

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22 January 2016

FSB finds North-South divide in SME confidenceThe latest Small Business Index from the Federation of Small Businesses has revealed a North-South divide in business confidence.

The FSB Small Business Index for Q4 2015 shows a growing gap in confidence between businesses in Scotland, North East England and Wales and those in the Midlands and the South of England.

While there is good news for the UK as a whole in terms of job creation, increasing revenues and improving productivity, firms in the North East of England, Scotland and Wales risk being left behind according to the FSB.

In Wales, confidence has dropped into negative territory for the first time in two years. In Scotland, confidence levels are at their lowest levels since the start of 2013. Elsewhere the FSB reports that confidence levels have remained stable, supported by the technology and business/professional sectors.

John Allan, FSB national chairman, said: "A clear divide in confidence is now emerging across different parts of the UK, with businesses in the South and in sectors like technology and professional services feeling more positive about 2016. The recent flooding is likely to further weigh on business confidence in the North."

However, overall confidence across the UK remains in positive territory standing at 21.7 points, 4.1 points higher than Q4 2014. Nearly two-thirds (59%) of businesses anticipate growth relatively unchanged from the last quarter, with 24% reporting a growth in revenue in the past three months, the highest since 2010.

The Small Business Index has also highlighted the main concerns that small firms face in 2016. These include the rollout of auto-enrolment, the new National Living Wage and changes to taxes on dividends.

Allan said: "Members are also deeply worried about proposed mandatory quarterly tax reporting, which in its current form will add to the administrative burden of small firms and the self-employed."

He concluded: "Although confidence is patchy across the UK, small businesses continue to show they are resilient, leading the way on employment growth and productivity."

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22 January 2016

Small firms adapt as technology changes everythingFast-moving technology is allowing small firms to punch above their weight as research shows how small businesses are finding new ways to compete and expand.

The research, conducted by YouGov on behalf of Citrix, concludes that technology will allow small firms to scale without necessarily adding staff. Its findings show that: "Investing in the right technology enables business owners to test new markets, automate processes and explore outsourcing production or service delivery to another market, managing vital relationships through technology."

In particular, technology is allowing SMEs to expand their horizons. Six out of ten SMEs in the survey say they anticipate doing business internationally in the year ahead; this represents a 20% increase in the number of UK small businesses currently selling or sourcing products or services abroad.

Technology is also impacting on access to expertise, especially digital skills. The survey found that employing new staff with a digital competence was the third most important factor for growing a business after access to fast internet connections and expenditure on technology.

Additionally, the research finds that businesses are moving away from a structured workforce to a more project-based world, where experts and individuals are pulled in where necessary.

The report says: "With the lack of specific digital talent internally and locally, [SMEs] are searching for remote workers and freelancers elsewhere. For businesses, freelancers are generally more mobile and flexible, well-suited for a dynamic, fast-paced and project-based environment."

And with location no longer a problem, small firms are able to tap into a "larger talent pool to find the right skillsets", according to the report.

It concludes: "Not everyone can come up with a market disrupting digital business model. However, technology can help small business owners scale, compete and open new revenue streams."

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22 January 2016

Research reveals how to make customers happyCustomers in the UK are happier than they were a year ago but their focus has changed and issues such as competence and staff behaviour have become more important.

The latest research from The Institute of Customer Service (ICS) shows that staff attitude is much more important to customers now than it was five years ago.

Based on the views of 10,000 UK consumers, the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) reveals the first significant boost in customer satisfaction since 2012 - rising by 0.8 points to 77 (out of 100) but still some way off the 2013 peak of 78.2.

The survey also reveals that John Lewis has slipped out of the top three organisations and is now in the number six spot for customer satisfaction. The top three businesses are Amazon, Utility Warehouse and First Direct - all businesses where consumers don't have face-to-face contact with staff.

And yet "competence of staff" is considered the most important element for customers in 2015 after being ranked only 11th in 2010. Staff "doing what they say they will do" and competence on the phone are the next most important priorities for customers. Helpfulness of staff (in person) rose from 21st to fourth in the rankings while friendliness of staff and ease of doing business are also rising on the index of customer priorities.

Jo Causon, ceo of The Institute of Customer Service, said: "Core ingredients of excellent customer service - employee competence, attitudes and behaviour - have become even more significant differentiators. Mass marketing or a one-size-fits-all customer experience is delivering diminishing returns and diluting valuable customer relationships."

Interestingly, the research also shows that customers using more than two channels to communicate with organisations are more likely to be unhappy with the service they receive.

Causon said: "While the multi-channel environment demanded by customers has the potential to offer a faster more flexible service, it can also exacerbate problems if not done correctly. Challenger brands, often unencumbered by legacy systems and processes are gaining on their larger competitors by offering straightforward, personal, seamless and quick service experience.

"This is reshaping the competitive environment around customer service and removing barriers to entry to create a real opportunity for smaller organisations to succeed against larger rivals."

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22 January 2016

Parliament to debate digital tax accounts

The introduction of digital tax accounts for SMEs and the self-employed will now be debated in Parliament after a petition calling on Government to scrap the plans received more than 100,000 signatures. Quarterly tax returns are being proposed as part of HMRC's new digital strategy. The debate will take place on 25 January.

One third of business owners use alcohol to deal with stress

Over a third of small business owners (35%) use alcohol to relieve stress, according to new research from Crunch Accounting. The survey also found that more men (39%) than women (29%) turn to drink to help them relax. Other stress relievers for busy freelancers and business owners include exercising (42%), cooking (24%), sex (15%) and meditation (12%). Common causes of stress are: the unpredictable ebb and flow of work (23%), late payments from clients (13%) and tax and red tape (9%).

SMEs beat bigger rivals in Christmas sales uplift

While the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has declared Christmas 2015 a "disappointment" for UK retailers, a new survey of 500 SME retailers has found that they actually made 24% more sales in 2015/2016 than the previous year. However, the research by Vend also found that post-Christmas sales have been disappointing for SMEs with sales from Boxing Day and into the first two weeks of January 41% lower than pre-Christmas sales (in 2014, this was 34%).

MI5 named most inclusive employer by Stonewall

Campaign group Stonewall has named MI5 as Britain's most inclusive employer when it comes to the nurturing and development of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. The equality index also recognises firms such as Clifford Chance and PwC as well as organisations such as the Welsh Government. Andrew Parker, director general of MI5, said: "Diversity is vital for MI5, not just because it's right that we represent the communities that we serve, but also because we rely on the skills of the most talented people, whoever they are and wherever they may be."

"I had a cold" and other lame excuses for missing the tax deadline

HMRC has revealed the ten worst excuses for missing the 31 January self-assessment deadline for 2013-14. They include everything from dogs and even a rat that ate tax returns to a husband that argued with his wife and "went to Italy for five years". All the excuses were used in appeals against HMRC penalties. Not surprisingly, none were successful.

Human error is "biggest digital threat" for businesses

Accidental data leaks via outgoing emails pose a higher security risk to businesses than inbound malicious attacks, according to new research by EACS and Mimecast. A survey of SMEs has found that 28% of respondents cited human error, such as sending confidential data, as being the biggest threat to corporate email security. One in five businesses surveyed were also worried about the increased use of portable devices given the increase in bring-your-own-device (BYOD) usage.

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