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.

April 2016

29 April 2016

Does your business have digital vision?Almost half of UK firms are falling behind when it comes to digital capabilities according to new research.

A study by IBM and the CBI has found that while 55% of "pioneer" firms are adopting digital technologies and processes, the rest (45%) are falling behind. The report concludes that this "digital divide" is holding back the UK economy.

However, it's a mixed picture; the UK takes the top place globally for ecommerce and is in fifth place for the availability of technology. But it ranks fourteenth in the world for company-level adoption of digital technology and the report says many firms are struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change.

Key barriers include connectivity and security but the biggest of all are access to skilled labour (for 42% of firms) and an unclear return on investment (for 33%). And yet 94% of those surveyed agreed that digital technology has the ability to improve productivity. In addition, 73% see improved customer satisfaction and experience as its biggest benefit.

The findings from the group surveyed show that the pioneer firms tend to have a long-term vision on digital strategy; for instance, 28% of these businesses have already invested in advanced artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies in the past year.

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: "Businesses globally are in the throes of an extraordinary digital revolution that is transforming productivity and creating a new generation of winning companies. But in the UK, too many firms are being left behind. While pioneering firms are seizing digital opportunities, nearly half are struggling - a growing digital divide that is threatening UK competitiveness."

The CBI has recommended that businesses include a digital or technology expert on senior leadership teams in order to drive change. It says that UK firms need to "increase the age and skills diversity of boards and board advisers, drawing on the expertise of a new generation of digital natives".

Fairbairn said: "Giving digital a human face by appointing a chief technology officer will help businesses build the long-term digital strategies that will be critical to their futures."

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29 April 2016

Staff unaware that messages could be monitoredSeven in ten UK employees send personal messages via email, apps and social media while they are at work but many are unaware that their bosses can monitor their activity.

New research from Dice, the online career site for the technology sector, reveals that Brits are unwittingly sending private messages at work, including applying or enquiring about a new job, without realising their employers could monitor the content.

More than two thirds (69%) of UK workers admit to regularly sending private emails, texts, WhatsApp, Facebook and instant messages during work hours - with some doing so up to 100 times per day. Young people (16-24 year olds) are leading this trend, with the vast majority (96%) saying they send personal messages at work.

Two-fifths (40%) have pursued a new job at work, one in ten (9%) have discussed private matters about their relationship or flirted with a colleague and almost a third (31%) have used their time at work to shop online.

But according to the results of the survey, 42% of employees weren't aware that their employers may be entitled to monitor the content of private messages sent on work hardware after a precedent was set by a recent landmark case where an employee was fired for using Yahoo Messenger to speak to his financeé at work.

When asked how they felt knowing their employees could monitor their private messages; 27% described it as an invasion of privacy, 21% said it was "big brother" and 18% said it is a breach of their human rights.

Even so, 49% of respondents said they wouldn't change their behaviour and 39% don't plan to be more mindful of what they say in these messages.

Jamie Bowler, marketing director of Dice Europe, said: "It's clear that many people aren't aware of their workplace policies around private messaging and internet use, which could get them into trouble if they are monitored and get caught saying or doing something they shouldn't. Rules vary from workplace to workplace … Regardless of these, we'd always advise people to be careful about their communication in the workplace."

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29 April 2016

Freelancers contribute £109bn to UK economyA huge rise in the number of freelancers in the UK means that sole traders are now contributing £109 billion to the UK economy.

New research published by IPSE, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed, reveals that the economic contribution of freelancers is often disproportionately higher than that of other businesses as this group largely consists of highly-skilled, specialist individuals.

There were 1.91 million UK freelancers in 2015, a rise of 36% since 2008; and freelancers now account for 6% of the UK workforce. The vast majority of these (1.65 million) choose to freelance as their main job, with 255,000 doing so as a second job.

Chris Bryce, IPSE ceo, said: "Every day freelancers make an enormous contribution to businesses across the UK and the economy as a whole. Large firms, and increasingly, SMEs are tapping into this growing pool of independent workers who are available on demand, with the specialist skills to hit the ground running."

And, said Bryce, "there are few signs of the growth in freelancing slowing down any time soon. Research shows the vast majority of freelancers love what they do, so it's no surprise that increasing numbers of people are turning to this way of working."

Small business minister Anna Soubry said: "Freelancers know their trades inside out and make a massive contribution to our economy, so it is absolutely right that the government does all it can to support them. We must continue to champion the work they do and recognise the challenges they face every day."

The research also shows that more women are turning to freelancing than ever before. Other newcomers driving this growth include mature workers, with those aged 60 plus rising by 63% since 2008, and also much younger freelancers aged between 16 and 29, who rose in number by 51% in the same period.

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29 April 2016

FSB to launch Women in Enterprise TaskforceThe Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) is to create a taskforce dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs and business owners.

The FSB has examined the specific challenges faced by women-led businesses in a recent survey of 1,900 women business owners in the UK. The findings have been published in a new report, Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential, which makes recommendations for improving support, developing mentoring networks and increasing the diversity of business ambassadors.

While the report finds that women-led businesses face many of the same challenges that all small firms encounter - including cash flow problems (42%) and difficulty accessing finance (25%) - some issues are more acute for women business owners. These include: balancing work and family life (40%), achieving credibility for the business (37%) and a lack of confidence (22%). All of these factors, says the FSB, are limiting women's ability to start, run and grow their businesses.

Helen Walbey, FSB diversity policy chair, said: "Getting more women into business is critical for a dynamic and vibrant small business sector. That's why we need to work out what the barriers are for women and break them down one by one."

Women-led smaller businesses contribute over £75 billion to the UK economy but only 18% of firms are majority run by women, said Walbey. "If women were to set up businesses and grow them at the same rate as men, we would see a huge boost to growth and prosperity in this country. In fact, the government estimates it could add £600 billion to the economy."

The report also found that 34% of women business owners say they have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace. This was felt particularly in sectors that are traditionally male dominated - for example in construction where over half (54%) had experienced discrimination.

Walbey said: "More needs to be done to really empower women. Vocational education is one way to grow the next generation of women entrepreneurs, but they also need long-term business support to help them succeed and grow. Better advice and mentoring should be provided and Maternity Allowance for the self-employed should be brought in line with Statutory Maternity Pay."

The new taskforce will develop a series of regional events and networking opportunities as well as working with government to promote women's entrepreneurship.

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29 April 2016

New initiative to support home businesses

With over half of all businesses in the UK operating from home, Vonage has launched Home Business 100, a new initiative to champion the home business sector and provide a hub where entrepreneurs can share advice, insight and best practice. Businesses are being invited to apply to join the new community; it offers marketing and networking opportunities as well as an online platform for entrepreneurs to have their say on issues such as raising finance, product marketing and dealing with red tape.

Date for the diary: The Business Show

The UK's biggest business event is just around the corner. The Business Show 2016 takes place on 11 and 12 May at London ExCel and offers a wide range of networking opportunities and masterclasses. Keynote speakers include former Dragon Hilary Devey and motivational speaker Brad Burton. The Business Show is also home to specialist events such as Business Start-Up, Sales Innovation Expo, Going Global and B2B Expo Marketing. Free tickets can be booked online.

New ruling on holiday pay reopens debate

A judge has ruled that regular voluntary overtime should be considered "normal" when calculating holiday pay. It means that employees who regularly work voluntary overtime beyond their contracted hours could be eligible for holiday pay on that overtime. It will "add another level of confusion" in the ongoing holiday pay debate, according to HR body the CIPD. This is one of the first cases in England where voluntary overtime has been included in holiday pay calculations. However questions remain about how much voluntary overtime could be deemed as sufficiently regular.

Retail results disappoint as BCC warns of slowdown

Retail sales volumes in March 2016 were down 1.3% on the month according to the latest analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In addition, average store prices fell by 3% in March 2016, compared with March 2015. David Kern, chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "The fact that store prices declined further in March confirms our assessment that overall inflationary pressures in the economy are still muted, and strengthens the argument for the MPC to persevere with the current low level of interest rates for the time being to support the fragile recovery."

22 April 2016

More UK businesses looking to exportA record number of UK businesses have shown an interest in exporting through the Exporting is GREAT website in the past six months according to new Government figures.

The website has received over 20,000 applications from UK businesses to export since November 2015.

At the same time, over 6,000 export opportunities have been showcased on the Exporting is GREAT website in this time. This equates to 40 new opportunities every day, or a new chance to export roughly every 37 minutes for UK businesses.

According to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), export opportunities in the past few months have come from 109 countries and 44 different sectors. The UKTI also organises Exporting is GREAT Week which is being held this week.

Trade and investment minister Lord Price said: "Companies are increasingly realising the benefits of strengthening their overseas business, with new exporters making up nearly a fifth of UKTI customers (19%). The development of digital technology has the potential to give even the smallest company a global reach and access to attractive new markets."

The Government is committed to supporting 100,000 more UK businesses to export by 2020, said Price.

Since November 2015, as part of a year-long roadshow around the UK, the Exporting is GREAT Export Hub has provided some 3,000 companies with advice and support to grow their business overseas and brought them face-to-face with live global export opportunities.

In addition, UK Export Finance (UKEF) provides financial advice and support for would-be exporters. Over the past five years, UKEF has provided over £17 billion worth of support to British businesses.

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22 April 2016

Small firms caught in the late payment trapNew research has found that SME manufacturers are forced to wait almost twice as long as larger rivals for invoices to be paid.

That gap has actually widened in the past year as the largest manufacturers are now getting paid quicker than they were a year ago, while small businesses still face an average wait of 13 weeks. The smallest manufacturers - those with a turnover of less than £1m - face average payment waiting times of 14 weeks.

These are the findings of the latest research by the Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA). Its survey shows that SME manufacturers waited an average of 67 days for invoices to be paid in 2015 whereas the largest manufacturing businesses, those with a turnover over £500m, waited an average of 38 days.

In fact, the largest manufacturers saw their average wait reduce by 9%, down from 42 days in the previous year. In addition, the ABFA found that it has become even more common for large businesses to seek to impose extended payment terms in contracts with their SME suppliers.

Poor payment practices, it says, have become "increasingly ingrained in business practice since the credit crunch".

"Unfortunately, for many SMEs in the manufacturing industry, waiting more than two months to be paid is now a normal state of affairs," said Jeff Longhurst, ABFA chief executive.

"During the recession some businesses looked to increase their payment terms in order to give themselves breathing space in the tough economic climate. Unfortunately, in many sectors there's been a cultural shift and delaying payment to suppliers is now common practice. Larger businesses need to treat their smaller suppliers more fairly."

Late payment and extended terms are "deep-rooted issues in the manufacturing industry" said Longhurst; and they "have a significant impact on the UK's competiveness and ability to attract further investment to the sector."

Meanwhile, more and more small firms are using invoice finance to mitigate against the impact of late payment and extended payment terms, according to the ABFA. Invoice finance allows businesses to receive payment up front for their unpaid invoices.

The ABFA says that the overall amount of funding provided to businesses through asset based finance - of which 80% is invoice finance - rose by £260 million in the past year to stand at £19.7 billion at end of December 2015.

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22 April 2016

HSBC launches £10bn fund to support UK SMEsHSBC has launched a new £10bn lending fund specifically aimed at small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK.

It is the largest package of support to be announced by HSBC for UK SMEs and has been structured regionally, so that small firms in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can access funds.

HSBC said the fund is designed to meet strong demand from UK SMEs and follows the success of the £8bn fund HSBC launched in 2015.

Ian Stuart, HSBC's head of UK commercial banking, said the fund "signals our aspiration to lend more to UK SMEs of all sizes, whether they are a start-up or established business, focused either on the domestic market or looking to trade internationally".

He said: "SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy and … we are committed to providing the finance and support they need to realise their business goals. Right across the UK there is a wide range of innovative new and established SMEs, proving that location is no barrier to a great business idea. This fund underpins our support by putting SMEs in a stronger position to be making investments that will stimulate local economies and create more jobs."

The fund is described as part of a "broader package of support" including new free banking offers for start-ups and switchers and other changes designed to make banking cheaper. HSBC is also launching the Business Lending Eligibility Checker (BLEC) - an online tool offering potential new customers a credit decision in principle for loans of up to £30,000 in under three minutes.

Small business minister Anna Soubry has welcomed the announcement. She said: "We have a record number of small businesses driving our growing economy and while the picture is improving, access to finance remains an issue for many of them. It's absolutely right that banks such as HSBC continue to develop their support for smaller businesses. I also want to see more of these businesses taking advantage of what's on offer, both from banks and alternative lenders, to help them grow, invest and create jobs for people."

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22 April 2016

Teach skills not just facts says IoD reportThe Institute of Directors (IoD) has called for an end to "exam factory" schools and is urging the Government to focus on skills rather than facts in order to grow a workforce fit for the future.

According to the IoD, up to 15 million jobs are vulnerable to automation in the next 20 years and many people already in work will have to re-train.

The IoD report said that "a huge shift in the way we think about education is needed" in order for the UK to adapt to technological change.

Seamus Nevin, IoD head of employment and skills and author of the report, said: "History has shown that each major technological revolution, from steam power to the invention of the digital circuit, has created more jobs than it destroyed. There is every reason to believe this trend will continue, but with technological change moving at a pace never seen before, and reaching into more areas of the workplace, we must act now to prepare ourselves."

The IoD plan for action includes the following recommendations:

  • Remove political interference from the school curriculum. Instead, curricula should be advised upon, and continuously re-examined, by a body composed of education experts and businesses;
  • Stop schools becoming "exam factories" that primarily test recall of information, something that computers are far better at than humans;
  • Shift careers guidance away from CV writing, towards genuine, tailored advice on how to succeed in industry and the workplace;
  • Increase the use of technology in education, including "Massive Open Online Courses", to reduce costs and widen access;
  • Introduce tax incentives to encourage people to return to education, and make it easier for employers to invest in their staff.

Nevin said: "Pupils are still tested on their ability to recall facts and apply standardised methods, two things computers do much better than humans. Robots have shown they can complete repetitive, physical labour with great speed and precision, but computers are also increasingly able replicate many of our complex cognitive skills."

The role of education, he said, "cannot be just to enable children to pass tests … it must instead teach pupils how to apply this knowledge. Work increasingly requires collaboration, but our education system encourages students to compete with each other. With 'soft skills' coming at the top of employers' wish-lists, education must also find time to focus on teamwork and communication."

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22 April 2016

Ruling confirms that parking fines are not tax deductible

Businesses cannot set their parking fines against their tax bill, the tax tribunal has ruled. In a recent case, G4S Cash Solutions had claimed that its parking fines were a business expense and could be used to reduce its profits for tax purposes. The ruling upheld HMRC's view that fines for breaking the law cannot be used to reduce a tax bill. Jim Harra, HMRC's director general of business tax, said: "We've always said fines incurred for breaking the law are not tax deductible. The tribunal has now established a clear precedent for rejecting any future such claims."

SMEs slow to adopt online payment methods

A survey of 750 UK SME owners by Visa Europe has found that while 36% of small businesses use debit cards to make payments for their business, only 22% accept payments this way. The contrast is even more stark among sole traders; 56% of them use online banking to make payments and 32% make payments via debit card online but only 9% of this group accept online card payments to their own business from customers.

What are most the popular employee benefits?

Health insurance is second only to contributory pension schemes when it comes to the popularity of employee perks, according to new research. The 2016 Willis PMI Group Employee Benefits Index found that 40% of employees ranked health insurance in their top three favourite benefits - up from 37% in 2015. Health screenings also saw a notable rise in this year's index, moving up from sixth place to joint fourth alongside critical illness cover. Life insurance was the third most popular benefit.

Searching for tech start-up stars

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is to be head judge of this year's Talent Unleashed awards, alongside Sir Richard Branson and Facebook EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn. In its fifth year, Talent Unleashed recognises start-ups and entrepreneurs dedicated to transforming business and the wider community through technological innovation. This year's awards have five categories including: best start-up - social impact; best start-up - tech innovation and best digital SME - tech innovation. Entries close on 27 May 2016 and the UK awards ceremony takes place on 21 July in London.

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