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October 2016

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Most self-employed say they don't want rightsAs the Government focuses on how to protect the growing number of workers in the "gig economy", a new survey of self-employed workers has found that eight in ten don't want employment rights.

A poll of 250 freelancers by Contractor Calculator found that 80% of self-employed workers say they are not vulnerable and do not want legal rights because they don't want to be burdened by red tape. The findings show that:

  • 88% do not want maternity or paternity rights;
  • 82% do not want sickness pay (25% are insured and 80% say they use savings instead);
  • 85% do not want holiday pay;
  • 75% do not want to be forced into auto-enrolment into a pension;
  • 80% do not want extra rights to help with grievances or disciplinary matters;
  • 94% do not want any restrictions on hours worked and are happy to manage their own affairs.

With rising numbers of firms employing staff on a self-employed basis, the Government has asked HMRC to investigate whether some companies are forcing their staff to work on a self-employed basis in order to get out of paying the minimum wage and employment benefits. A new HMRC unit, the employment status and intermediaries team, will investigate companies that use significant numbers of self-employed workers.

Dave Chaplin, CEO and founder of Contractor Calculator, said: "Some firms are using the on-demand gig economy to effectively suppress workers' rights and pay them less than the minimum wage, and these firms should be challenged about how they treat their workers and should be forced to treat them fairly and appropriately. But this simply isn't the case for all self-employed workers. 78% of the freelance workforce have chosen to work this way, they want to be responsible for themselves and their businesses and they do not want rights. They should be allowed to get on with it."

More red tape is the last thing that most freelancers need, he added. "It is important that we protect low paid workers, but I would appeal to the Government not to ruin the freelance sector in the process. More red tape for freelancers will be sure to damage the economy, and as we prepare to leave the EU these workers will be vital to the process."

As the Government focuses on how to protect the growing number of workers in the "gig economy", a new survey of self-employed workers has found that eight in ten don't want employment rights.

Online filing to make paper tax returns obsoleteThere are just three days until this year's paper tax returns are due, but nine in ten businesses now file online and the days of the paper return are well and truly numbered.

The deadline for anyone submitting their tax return in paper form this year is Monday 31 October. But those using the traditional method are dwindling and more businesses are opting to file their tax returns online every year.

Even so, HMRC statistics show that 11% of businesses submitted paper tax returns in 2015 - accounting for 1.14 million out of the 10.39 million submissions filed with HMRC. Online returns represented 89% of all tax returns in the last tax year.

Paper tax returns are to be phased out by April 2018 under the Government's Making Tax Digital plans. In fact, these plans promise the end of the tax return altogether by 2020, with businesses expected to keep digital financial records and update HMRC on a quarterly basis.

According to research conducted by FreeAgent, nearly half (43%) of micro-business owners and freelancers don't know what Making Tax Digital is. And 86% of respondents who knew what Making Tax Digital was did not feel that they had been provided with enough information about the plans.

However, those in the know were broadly positive, with 45% saying the plans would make their life easier while just 20% said they felt digital tax would make things harder for them.

Ed Molyneux, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, said: "Making Tax Digital is undoubtedly one of the biggest changes made to the UK tax system for a generation and will start to impact businesses from as early as 2018.

"This research, however, highlights that many micro-businesses still need more information about how tax digitisation will actually work. Contrary to some beliefs, businesses will not need to file a tax return every three months in future. Instead, businesses will need to send summary data to HMRC about their business each quarter, or more often if the business prefers."

Why stress levels are rising in UK officesWorkloads have gone up significantly in UK offices in the past year, causing increased stress and threatening employee well-being.

A OnePoll survey of 3,000 office workers in the UK, Germany and France on behalf of Wrike has found that 62% of UK workers say their stress levels have increased in the past year.

This puts the UK second to Germany, where two-thirds felt their stress levels had increased, and slightly ahead of France (60%).

Nearly six in ten (58%) UK employees said that their workload had gone up to some extent, and a fifth said it had gone up "significantly" in the past year. The main problem, according to those polled, is that companies are either not hiring more staff to cover additional work, or they have had to cut their workforce.

Almost half of those polled in the UK (47%) said they now had to work longer hours to get the job done compared to a year ago. UK employees also reported that their line managers expect them to work longer hours (34%) and to take fewer breaks (27%) to get the job done. When asked by OnePoll, 40% of managers admitted they expect their employees to work longer hours.

As well as causing stress, employees say family time and holidays have taken a hit - 31% now spend less time with their family than a year ago, 28% have less time for holidays and 25% now work more at weekends than they used to.

"You wouldn't overload a piece of machinery and expect it to last long without failure," said Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of Wrike. "The same principles apply to humans, especially if you expect them to produce high quality work on a consistent basis. Business leaders need a clear view of workloads - and realistic expectations as to the amount of work staff can handle at once, without burning out."

Freelancers lose £5,000 a year working for freeFreelancers in the creative industries have spent an average of 31 chargeable days in the past two years working for nothing, according to new research.

A survey conducted by The Freelancer Club and IPSE - the membership body for independent professionals - reveals that freelancers in creative sectors are losing an average of £5,394 per person per year, because they are working for free.

This includes scenarios where free work has been pre-agreed, as well as times when an expected fee was not paid. It means freelancers have been unable to cover their work-related costs or even, in some cases, pay for basic living expenses.

IPSE and The Freelancer Club have launched the survey as part of the #NoFreeWork campaign, which aims to put an end to exploitative free work where clients profit financially.

Many of the survey respondents are young freelancers trying to build their own businesses - with 44% in the 16-29 age bracket. However, the research has found that this is not just a problem for those that are starting out. The average age of everyone polled was 33 and they had an average of seven years' experience in their field. The findings also showed that more women (67%) than men are affected.

Chris Bryce, IPSE chief executive, said: "It appears that many businesses think they can get away with not paying freelancers for their work. This practice is devaluing our creative industries. We're not talking about people donating their time to charities. If a business is profiting financially from someone's work, then they deserve to be paid."

Asked why they worked for free, freelancers told researchers that they wanted to gain exposure for their work (54%), or they want to be associated with a reputable brand (45%). One in five said working for free was "standard practice" in their industry.

Matt Dowling, director at The Freelancer Club, said: "I know from personal experience how common it is for big companies to expect freelancers to offer their time and skills for free. But this is a message for freelancers as much as it is for businesses who are taking them on. When you agree to work for free, and the client makes a monetary profit from this free work, you risk creating a race to the bottom that undermines daily rates of pay for the whole industry."

IPSE and The Freelancer Club are calling for Government to swiftly install the Small Business Commissioner, whose remit includes considering payment complaints from small businesses about larger businesses that they supply.

Low cost start-ups and profitable beginnings

The average cost of starting a business is £7,173, and 79% of small business owners say they made a profit in their first year, according to new research by Yell Business. Its survey of 1,500 small business owners found that the average entrepreneur takes nine months to set up their company and make a profit. Almost one in five (17%) said it didn't cost them anything to start up their business, while 40% of those polled said it cost them between £1 and £1,000.

Small firms are hiring despite confidence knock

Almost a quarter (23%) of UK employers plan to recruit permanent staff in the next three months, and only 3% say they will cut down the size of their workforce. These are the findings of the latest JobsOutlook survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). "Small businesses in particular are performing well and are seeking to grow," said REC chief executive Kevin Green. However, confidence is down with just 25% of firms polled agreeing that economic conditions are improving - compared to 48% who said the same before the EU referendum.

UK tax gap falls as HMRC targets avoiders

The UK tax gap fell to its lowest ever level of 6.5% in 2014-15, down from 8.3% in 2005-06, according to HMRC. The tax gap is the difference between the amount of tax due and the amount collected. Jon Thompson, HMRC's chief executive, said: "The vast majority of people and businesses pay what they owe, when they owe it. But if we are to ensure a fairer and more effective tax system, and more money for public services, we must keep up the pressure on the tax gap by relentlessly pursuing the small minority who seek to cheat their taxes through evasion, aggressive avoidance and organised crime."

Rising inflation could lead to pay squeeze, says CIPD

HR body the CIPD is warning that wages could stagnate again if inflation keeps rising. Commenting on the latest labour market statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), acting chief economist Ian Brinkley said: "As inflation is widely expected to exceed 2% next year, as the impact of the pound's devaluation feeds through into prices, we could be heading for another period of very low or negative real wage increases for many workers."

Make workplaces more inclusive says CBIThe CBI is calling on companies to take action on diversity and make workplaces more inclusive.

With the UK ranking ninth for levels of employee engagement out of the 12 largest economies, the CBI has launched a new report, Time for Action: the business case for inclusive workplaces.

The UK business group is promoting inclusivity best practice - including setting diversity targets, using name-blind recruitment methods and offering flexible working to new recruits.

The report also recommends that staff appraisals give weight to people development as well as short-term commercial performance.

In a speech to the Engage for Success Conference this week, CBI president Paul Drechsler said "Inclusive workplaces give firms the chance to get ahead of their competitors by making better decisions, through diverse teams which draw on a wider range of ideas and experiences.

"Inclusion isn't a minority issue, it's a majority issue that can benefit all people and all firms," he continued. "Ultimately, every employee can benefit from more flexible working and better decision-making. This is the real business case for inclusion and making progress means asking fundamental questions about how we work."

It starts with recruitment, he said. "Inclusive recruitment gives every firm the chance to recruit more people with the skills they need … It's important that, especially for people starting out, the application process provides a level playing-field. Unconscious bias is another big challenge. One of the ways of tackling this is name-blind applications, removing criteria that could unintentionally bias managers and give under-represented groups confidence that their application will be fairly considered."

Employer attitudes to flexible working also need to change, he added. "It's time we stopped seeing flexible working as a 'bonus for staff' and started seeing it as something which has clear benefits for employers and employees alike. It helps everyone balance their working lives not just with their responsibilities as parents or carers but also with their wellbeing and interests outside of work."

Starting a business getting even more popularThe overall number of UK businesses has risen by one million since 2010 and has now reached 5.5 million according to official figures for 2016.

The Government's Business Population Estimates show that, at the start of 2016, the UK had a million more small businesses, 4,000 more medium-sized businesses and 900 more large businesses, compared to 2010 - representing a total increase of 23%.

This growth is the net annual change, taking into account all business start-ups, closures, takeovers and mergers. It means more businesses have started than closed. The number of employing businesses has also risen for the third year in a row.

The statistics have been obtained by adding the number of businesses registered for VAT and PAYE to an estimate of the number of unregistered businesses, based on sources including the ONS Labour Force Survey and HMRC.

The findings also highlight the rise in self-employment; the UK business population now has 3.7 million businesses that are run as sole proprietorships or partnerships and 1.8 million companies. In fact, the vast majority (99.3%) of all of these businesses are classed as small businesses.

Business and energy secretary Greg Clark said: "Our job creators don't always get the praise and respect they deserve but we should be proud of our entrepreneurs, business leaders and innovators. The Government is committed to ensuring Britain builds on its success and is the best place to start and grow a business."

Small business minister Margot James has announced the launch of a consultation on the Small Business Commissioner to look at how the new SME representative will operate and how they will handle complaints. Businesses of all sizes are welcome to respond to the consultation.

James said: "There are a million more small businesses now than in 2010 and it's important to recognise the great contribution they make to local communities and the national economy."

The changing face of the modern family businessFamily businesses in the UK are more diverse than ever but they are facing greater challenges around succession and control according to new research.

The fourth annual study of UK and global family and owner-managed enterprises by Families in Business (FiB) shows a rise in the number of family firms with "blended families", with nearly a third (31%) now having step children or step parents involved - up from 25% in 2015.

The findings also reveal that more women are running family businesses - 26% of firms now have women as their managing director or CEO, up 6% on 2015 figures.

However, the research finds that the vast majority of family firms are struggling with work-life balance issues and business planning; 95% say that succession is missing from their future planning strategies and 97% of family business owners admit to a lack of direction and purpose for their business.

The key findings are:

  • 97% feel a lack of balance in their life;
  • 95% have no clear and defined succession plans;
  • 79% of family business owners admit they are worried they are not good enough to run the business;
  • 48% are cautious about the next 12 months, compared to 10% in 2015;
  • Sales and marketing (68%), direction and strategy (60%) and skills and talent (58%) are the biggest challenges for family businesses;
  • 39% of family firms admit that working with family puts a strain on their relationship.

Dani Saveker, FiB CEO, said: "When you work with family, you have the added emotions associated with responsibility, duty, being good enough and making the right decisions, as well as managing expectations and family dynamics.

"Increasingly, family members have struggled to balance work, life and family, so have had children later, which has led to a generation gap. And other firms are finding they have to deal with their families spreading out to live and work across the country, or even internationally."

But the biggest problem is planning for the future, she said. "Change management continues to be one of the top issues they face," said Savekar. "Just 5% have a succession plan in place and 17% a shareholders agreement, despite 9% of the current managing generation admitting they are worried there is no one to pass the business on to."

The FiB publishes an annual guide providing practical help and tools for family firms.

The self-employment reality - earnings are downA dramatic rise in the number of self-employed people in the UK over the past 20 years has been accompanied by a discernible drop in earnings according to new research.

The latest Earnings Outlook from the Resolution Foundation shows that the UK's self-employed workforce has grown by 45% since 2001-02, but its earnings have fallen by around £60 a week over the same period.

The report shows that typical weekly earnings for self-employed workers grew steadily in the late-1990s and early-2000s, stagnated in the run-up to the financial crash in 2008 and then fell by a quarter in the wake of the crisis.

The recovery in earnings over the past year means that they are almost back to levels last seen in the late-1990s at around £240 a week, though the report reveals that this is still 15% down on 1994-95 returns - which means that many self-employed workers hit their earnings high about 20 years ago.

However, the authors of the report note that the characteristics of the self-employed population have significantly changed in 20 years and they conclude that this has some bearing on the findings. For instance, the proportion of business owners who have staff fell from 23% to 11% between 2001-02 and 2014-15, as did the share of those working over 40 hours a week (from 51% to 35% over the same period).

Adam Corlett, economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "Almost five million workers across Britain are now self-employed. But while the self-employed workforce is getting bigger, typical earnings are actually lower than they were 20 years ago.

"Prior to the financial crisis, this stagnation was as much about the changing nature of self-employed work, rather than individual rewards. But since the crisis, the returns to self-employment have fallen sharply even when measured on a like-for-like basis."

The Resolution Foundation said it welcomes the Government's plan to review modern working practices, including a focus on conditions for the self-employed.

Corlett said: "It is right that the Government investigates how public policy should catch up to meet the needs of these workers. For many people, self-employment brings a freedom that no employer can provide. But the growth of low pay and short hours, along with a summer of protest about conditions, means that it's no surprise some workers in the 'gig economy' feel that self-employment is just a positive spin on precarious work."

"Life's better" say women entrepreneurs

Most women entrepreneurs (72%) say that running their own business has had a positive impact on family life, according to a new study of women-owned micro-businesses by Vistaprint. The poll also found that 62% of female entrepreneurs in the UK expect their businesses to do better in 2016. The biggest challenge, however, is work-life balance - despite the positive findings, 62% said they still struggle to achieve a good work-life balance.

British workers welcome wearables

Almost half of Brits would welcome the use of wearable gadgets in the workplace as part of a health initiative, such as fitness bands and smart-watches, according to a survey by PMI Health Group. It found that 9% of British workers are already offered wearables by their employers and the figure is as high as 26% in London. Mike Blake, director at PMI Health Group, said: "Wearables have become commonplace in recent years and their popularity provides employers with a golden opportunity to collect valuable data that can be used to improve health and wellbeing." However, the poll found that 40% would draw the line at sharing their personal data with their employers.

Virgin Trains launches onboard business clinic

Three leading entrepreneurs will be conducting a business clinic while travelling on a Virgin train from London to Edinburgh on 27 October. Levi Roots, Maria Hatzistefanis and Jamal Edwards will provide advice and coaching on topics including starting a business, building and growing your brand, and managing success. The event comes as new research by Virgin finds that the main barriers stopping would-be entrepreneurs from starting up are fear of failure (23%), lack of funds (48%), support and advice (10%). More details on how to secure one of the five exclusive places are on the Virgin Trains website.

Is the digital age making us less sociable?

A survey by Populus for Broadband Choices has found that while 98% of us own a mobile phone only 13% use it to make phone calls as the preferred method of communication. In fact, when 2,000 people were asked how they like to communicate with people in their personal life, less than half said they would prefer to meet face-to-face. In fact, 70% of 18-34 year olds say they prefer to communicate digitally than in person, mostly using text, instant messaging and social media.

Government failing to hit red tape targetA public spending watchdog has raised concerns that the Government's attempts to significantly reduce the burden of red tape on UK businesses are not working.

The publication of a new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reveals that the Government has made limited progress in reducing the cost of regulation on business.

Its target is to reduce the total cost of regulation by £10 billion between 2015 and 2020. But the report finds that the Government has so far achieved less than £1 billion in savings, and that is "almost entirely down to it counting the mandatory 5p plastic bag charge as a 'saving' for retailers because of the additional revenue it brings them".

However, many new regulations, including the National Living Wage, have been excluded from the Government target. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has raised concerns about the exclusion of tax administration and other regulatory costs from the scope of the target.

"We support the Government's drive to de-regulate, but we are not seeing the current full regulatory picture or evidence of changes on the ground," said Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman.

"The Government's Business Impact Target currently fails to capture many of the day-to-day struggles and worries of small businesses, such as taxes like the new National Living Wage. In addition, it is concerning that many Government departments don't know the cost of existing regulations."

The FSB says it supports the Government's attempts to try and reduce the regulatory burden, but says this is "impossible" without clear information.

Cherry said: "FSB members tell us regulation is the number one issue they want this Government to focus on. As we face the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, it is vital that we bolster business productivity, and remove burdensome red tape. The Regulatory Policy Committee has an important role to play, and we want ministers to reflect this growing role by affording it greater powers and scope."

The FSB is urging the Government to act on the PAC report and says it will work with the Better Regulation Executive (BRE) to develop a better understanding of the cost of regulation imposed on business.

"This agenda needs to be tackled if small business owners are to trust Government wants to make their life easier," said Cherry. "We urge the Government to act on this report so small businesses don't feel so overwhelmed by regulation."

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