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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.


July 2016

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Are the self-employed realistic about retirement?Over half a million self-employed people are relying on their business to fund their retirement and just one third pay into a private pension, according to new research.

An estimated 630,000 self-employed people in the UK view their business as their pension and plan to continue to work or rely on the proceeds from the sale of their business to cover their finances in later life, according to Aegon's 2016 Retirement Readiness Report.

Only 36% of self-employed workers are saving for retirement through a private pension; nearly two-thirds think that only half or less of their retirement income will be made up of a private or a previous workplace pension. Unlike an estimated nine million employees, the self-employed don't benefit from automatic enrolment and employer contributions.

However, those sole traders who are making pension provision are actually more engaged than the broader population according to the report; and, on average, they have more money saved in their pots. The average amount these self-employed workers have saved in pensions is £40,400 - which is £5,200 more than the average across the rest of the population.

The self-employed also have more ambitious retirement expectations than the rest of the UK. They expect an annual retirement income of £45,700, compared to the UK average of £38,000, and they also expect to retire the earliest, at 63. However, a third (30%) expect to work into retirement, compared to 24% of payroll workers.

Recent changes to the state pension have benefitted the self-employed who reach retirement age on or after 6 April 2016 who are now entitled to up to £155.65 a week, compared to a previous maximum entitlement of £119.30 under the previous basic state pension.

Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon said: "Our research shows the self-employed have particular needs and aspirations when it comes to saving for retirement. There's … a significant gap between saving behaviours and very ambitious expectations for retirement, with the self-employed expecting to not only retire earlier, but also receive more income in retirement than payroll employees. There are real risks in assuming that your business can fund you through retirement."

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Fears about job security rise after EU referendumThe UK's decision to leave the EU has left many employees feeling vulnerable about their job security, a new CIPD survey has revealed.

The CIPD/People Management survey has found that since the referendum, 36% of employers said staff had expressed concerns about job security and a further 36% said that non-UK employees had expressed concern about their continuing right to work in the UK.

The survey also highlights evidence of increased workplace tension and division as a result of the vote to leave the EU, with almost one in ten (8%) of respondents saying incidents had been reported.

Ben Willmott, CIPD head of public policy, said: "There is no doubt the vote to leave the UK has had a significant impact on the workplace with many people worrying about their future employment prospects. This is especially true of non-UK nationals, with many clearly concerned about their ability to continue to live and work in the UK after the vote. The Government needs to clearly set out their plans at the earliest opportunity for non-UK citizens to give those workers the clarity and security that they are seeking."

The news comes as ONS statistics show that the UK economy performed more strongly than expected just before the referendum, growing by 0.6% in the three months to the end of June; it means growth was 2.2% on an annual basis. Joe Grice, ONS chief economist, said: "Any uncertainties in the run-up to the referendum seem to have had a limited effect."

In addition, the latest labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show that employment actually rose in the three months to May this year by 176,000 with unemployment falling by 54,000.

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "The fall in the unemployment rate shows that the UK's labour market continues to be a bright spot for the UK economy. The rise in employment echoes our own survey data and shows that, before the EU referendum, businesses were confident enough to hire and grow despite the softening economic environment. Now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, businesses face new uncertainty in the transition to new economic and political arrangements."

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SME confidence Only a quarter of small business owners expect the economy to improve over the next 12 months, a fall of over 30% from just three months ago.

The findings of the latest Smith & Williamson Enterprise Index show that SME perceptions about their own prospects in the next year fell by 27%, quarter on quarter, with one in two businesses pessimistic about their prospects.

"Confidence was badly affected by uncertainty in the lead up to the referendum vote but responses submitted after the event indicate that belief in the economy and business prospects fell off a cliff," said Guy Rigby, head of entrepreneurial services at Smith & Williamson.

"Only a third of respondents were optimistic about their own prospects after the referendum; a decline of nearly 20 points since the last quarter. Furthermore, only 15% of business owners and entrepreneurs expected the economy to improve in the post-referendum landscape, a further decrease of 13%."

The Smith & Williamson Enterprise Index, which measures the views and confidence of owner-managers and entrepreneurs in the UK, decreased dramatically over the past three months, falling from 111.4 to 97.7, putting it below its starting level of 100 in 2013.

The number of firms planning for growth or acquisition declined by 11% after the referendum. Many respondents also said they have put hiring on hold; less than one in two expect to increase headcount over the next quarter, a decline of close to 20% from three months ago.

However, belief in Government support for private enterprise remained steady at 56% and even rose by three points just after the referendum. "Despite the economic negatives, and the challenging state of affairs, it does appear that many business owners believe there is the potential to bounce back in a positive way," said Rigby.

"In due course, and with the benefit of hindsight, this response may be seen as an overreaction," he added. "As we are already seeing, there will be some casualties, but change brings opportunity, so there is no reason why the majority of businesses can't do well."

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Only a quarter of small business owners expect the economy to improve over the next 12 months, a fall of over 30% from just three months ago.

Small firms unsure about funding optionsAwareness of alternative funding options remains low among UK firms, according to surveys by two of the UK's business bodies.

Both the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Forum for Private Business (FPB) have recently polled their members about their experiences of finding business funding.

The British Chambers of Commerce surveyed more than 1,000 businesses in conjunction with Bibby Financial Services and found that there is a significantly lower awareness of alternative and equity finance products - such as peer-to-peer funding and trade finance - compared with traditional loans and overdrafts.

The key findings from the BCC survey are:

  • The four types of lending that firms were most familiar with were: bank overdrafts (93%), bank loans (88%), commercial credit cards (86%) and leasing/hire purchase facilities (86%);
  • The four types of lending firms were least familiar with were: mezzanine finance (19%), angel finance (39%), peer-to-peer funding (42%) and trade finance (46%);
  • Of the firms that were successful in securing finance but rejected the terms offered, 54% did so because the interest rate offered was too high, and 39% said the collateral required was too high.

Almost half of businesses (48%) applied for finance in the past 12 months; business growth (42%) was the main reason for seeking finance, followed by improving cash flow (26%) and funding for start-ups (14%).

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC acting director general, said: "The clear message needs to be that growth funding is available. At a time of transition for the economy, Government help can play an important role. So there is work to be done to raise awareness among businesses of schemes such as the British Business Bank."

Meanwhile, research by the Forum of Private Business has found that over a quarter of small businesses have been unable to grow as they didn't have access to the right sort of finance. In addition, a sixth of those polled said they require finance in 2016, but are not confident of being able to access it.

The FPB has partnered with Alternative Business Funding (ABF) to provide 12,000 Forum members with direct access to the UK's leading alternative funding marketplace through a new online tool called Funder Finder. The portal directs SMEs to all kinds of funding options, including traditional loans as well as alternative sources of investment.

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Flexibility is key to staff happiness

Faced with two job similar offers, 92% of workers in SMEs said they would choose the one that offered flexible working, according to new research by Regus. And a third of respondents (33%) also said they would have stayed longer in previous jobs if flexibility had been offered. "The days of the fixed hours, fixed location job are becoming as outdated as the office fax machine," said Richard Morris, UK ceo of Regus. "Flexibility is no longer seen as a perk, it is now a key differentiator for talented individuals."

Would an email reminder help you file accounts on time?

Firms that have switched to email reminders from paper are more likely to file their accounts and annual return on time, and are less likely to face penalties as a result, according to Companies House. Companies can choose up to four people (including an agent) to receive the reminder and documents can be filed immediately via a link in the email. Sign-up for email reminders is available on the Companies House website.

Dragons' Den is back

Now in its 14th series, Dragons' Den is back on the box with Peter Jones, Sarah Willingham, Touker Suleyman, Deborah Meaden and Nick Jenkins on the panel. After 14 years, Jones is now the only original Dragon. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will be blogging about the series and discussing issues related to intellectual property in each episode.

Mental health issues affecting more employees

The number of people saying that they have experienced mental health issues while in employment has gone up over the past five years according to new research from the CIPD. Almost a third (31%) of employees surveyed in 2016 said they have experienced a mental health problem at some point during their working life, compared with 26% in 2011. Of those affected, 42% have experienced a problem in the past 12 months. The CIPD is calling on businesses to take a more preventative approach to employees' mental wellbeing, encouraging a culture of openness and providing more support.

Self-employment is the The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows, once again, that the number of self-employed people in the UK has gone up.

Statistics reveal that 4.7 million people are now working for themselves in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This equates to 14.9% of all employment.

The growth in freelance numbers, which stood at 3.8 million in 2008, has been driven mainly by the 88% boom in those taking up part-time self-employment between 2001 and 2015; however, full-time self-employment has also risen by 25% in that time.

According to the new ONS report, Trends in Self-Employment in the UK 2001-2015, those that are self-employed are generally happy with their employment status and those moving from employment to self-employment "tend to have somewhat higher pre-transition hourly earnings than workers moving to new employee positions: trends which are consistent with making a positive choice, rather than being forced to be self-employed."

The ONS report concludes that the rise in self-employment has not been caused by the 2008 downturn but has its roots in employment trends that go back to the beginning of the 21st century.

The report says: "While this strong performance is among the defining characteristics of the UK's economic recovery, the recent rise in self-employment is the extension of a trend started in the early 2000s … self-employed workers are broadly content with their labour market status. Relatively few report negative reasons for becoming self-employed, few indicate that they are looking for alternative employment and among the part-timers, many respondents report that they would prefer not to work full-time."

The report also reveals that, increasingly, older people are choosing to enter part-time self-employment rather than retire; and those that are already self-employed are part of an aging group in the UK's labour force. It says: "As groups, both the part-time and full-time self-employed have aged considerably over the last ten years and in excess of that indicated by simple demographics."

Emma Jones, founder of small business support group Enterprise Nation, describes this trend as "unsurprising". Older people, she said, "are capitalising on a wealth of knowledge and experience they have acquired over their lifetime and still have a lot more to give. These people are not making this choice out of necessity through a lack of jobs, they are responding to new opportunities that technology brings and this will only increase."

Last week, the Cabinet Office announced the appointment of Emma Jones as small business crown representative. Working one day a week, her main focus will be procurement and she will be working with smaller businesses across the UK to help them bid for, and win, government contracts.

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The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows, once again, that the number of self-employed people in the UK has gone up.

Skills shortages are likely to worsen says CBIAcute skills shortages are holding back businesses across many sectors, including manufacturing, construction and professional services, according to new research by the CBI.

This year's CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey polled 500 companies that together employ over three million people just before the EU referendum. SMEs accounted for nearly a third of respondents (31%). The findings show that, even before the leave vote, firms were anticipating a growing skills gap.

The vote to leave the European Union only heightens the urgent need for action says the CBI. There is specific concern about future shortages - 69% of businesses are not confident about filling their high-skilled jobs in future (up from 55% in 2015).

Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: "Skills are a top business priority but over two-thirds of firms don't think they will be able to get the people they need. The recent announcement of new high-quality vocational routes to sit alongside A-levels was a positive step … Now the priority is getting the Apprenticeship Levy fit-for-purpose."

The key findings of the survey show that:

  • There is a growing demand for higher skills: over three-quarters of businesses (77%) expect to have more jobs for people with higher-level skills over the coming years and needing more people with leadership and management skills;
  • Firms are committed to developing talent in-house; with only 42% of training done externally, the majority use an in-house dedicated training and development budget (76%), mentoring and coaching opportunities (68%) or support employees to study part-time (73%).

Rod Bristow, president of Pearson's UK business, said: "This is an important reminder, at a time when some say too many people go to university, employers are 'voting' for greater access to higher education with their job offers. We need a more informed debate about the skills higher education offers ... Another important finding from this year's survey, is that employers see academic and vocational qualifications as having equal stature. No coincidence then, that BTEC combined with A level is now the fastest growing route to university."

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Workplace obesity: are employers making it worse?More than a third of workers say their employers have directly contributed to higher levels of obesity, according to new research.

A survey of 1,197 workers by Willis PMI Group found that 34% said that their employers had a part to play in their expanding waistlines.

Six in ten (59%) of respondents said that longer working hours prevented them from taking exercise. Almost half (48%) blamed a lack of exercise facilities and initiatives; vending machines and unhealthy snacks were cited by 44%; while unhealthy canteen food was a factor for 38% of those polled.

"The Government estimates obesity contributes to the loss of 16 million certified incapacity days each year and this research suggests employers may be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution," said Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group.

"The findings call for businesses to review their existing workplace cultures and practices and, where appropriate, proactively adopt health and wellbeing initiatives."

The problem is not likely to go away, with younger workers more critical of their employers than older colleagues - 42% of 18 to 34-year-olds blamed their bosses for contributing to higher levels of obesity, compared with 29% of 35 to 64-year-olds.

The study revealed that only 15% of employers currently offer cut-price gym memberships, 13% offer on-site gym facilities, 10% offer fitness classes and just 6% offer dedicated weight-loss schemes.

Blake said: "Support and education for employees to combat obesity can be relatively inexpensive to implement, but by encouraging staff to lead healthier lifestyles businesses can help cut obesity-related illnesses and the associated business risks."

NICE, the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, recommends that employers of all sizes develop a plan that encourages and supports employees to be more physically active. It suggests that business owners encourage employees to walk or cycle to and from work and that they also take every opportunity to be active during the working day.

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Don't leave exit planning too late experts warnAs one third of small business owners in the UK approach retirement age, experts are warning them to start planning their exit strategy now.

Based on analysis of 403,000 directors on the boards of 83,000 UK SMEs, accountancy firm Moore Stephens has revealed that the average age of directors of UK small businesses today is 54.5 years old; two-thirds (65%) of them are over the age of 50 and 33% are over 60.

Moore Stephens is warning that many SME owners could be losing out when it comes to exiting their businesses because they are failing to make succession plans far enough in advance - either because they are too busy running the business or because they underestimate the time needed to get everything in place.

SME owners should start planning their exit strategy well ahead of their prospective retirement date says the accountancy firm. Many business owners think it will only takes months to prepare a business for sale, it says, but the reality is that this process can take years - not least because it can involve restructuring to ensure the business is attractive to potential buyers.

Business owners must also ensure the exit is structured in the most tax-efficient way, both for themselves or any family members taking over the business or its assets, says Moore Stephens.

Steve Wheeler, a partner at Moore Stephens, said: "For those who have spent a lifetime nurturing their companies and watching them grow, it can be very hard to let go. Their businesses are like their children. Company owners frequently either don't feel ready to address this issue until it is almost upon them or they are too busy with day-to-day operations to worry about it."

SME owners need to plan ahead, advises Wheeler. "If they take a forward-thinking approach, they can control the process to make sure that when they step down, they do so on the most advantageous terms for them. If they leave it too long, they may run out of time to get their business in a position to negotiate the best deal or, even worse, find their hand forced by ill health."

Tax planning is also crucial, he adds. Options may include tax reliefs, such as Entrepreneurs' Relief and Business Property Relief. In addition, setting up trusts could help reduce inheritance tax bills for relatives.

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As one third of small business owners in the UK approach retirement age, experts are warning them to start planning their exit strategy now.

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