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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.


November 2016

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Online retailers gear up for ChristmasEcommerce retailers in the UK are getting ready for Christmas sales with almost half anticipating an increase in online orders compared to last year.

New research by ChannelAdvisor has found that 47% of ecommerce retailers are expecting an increase in online sales compared to 2015; 21% of these expect an increase of more than 10%.

Christmas preparations are starting earlier than ever for UK retailers with 50% saying they started their Christmas campaigns in August or earlier. In 2015, 42% of internet retailers started gearing up for Christmas in the summer.

Black Friday is the most profitable day for 26% of UK retailers, followed by Amazon Prime Day for 22% and Cyber Monday for 15%. The most popular promotional tactics are digital marketing and advertising. In addition, 62% said that Facebook was the top social platform for sales conversions.

Mobile is also becoming increasingly important, with 66% of online retailers now offering a mobile app so customers can buy on the move.

To attract customers in the run-up to Christmas, 52% of retailers say they are offering same-day delivery and 66% are offering next-day delivery. When it comes to payment, PayPal is the most popular payment method after credit and debit cards according to the retailers polled, followed by Amazon Payments (19%) and Apple Pay (6%).

However, the biggest challenge this year is order fulfilment with 51% saying this poses a challenge because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. As a result, 38% of retailers are offering a 20th December cut-off date this year for guaranteed on-time deliveries.

"Consumer expectations continue to increase," said Mike Shapaker, managing director, EMEA at ChannelAdvisor. "They expect high quality products at a competitive price, delivered quickly and for free. As we approach the busiest time of year for online retail, these expectations are amplified. In this highly competitive environment, retailers that can deliver on consumers' high expectations will dominate."

Inflation threatens UK business prospectsRising inflation is becoming an "increasing impediment to the UK's growth prospects" according to the British Chambers of Commerce.

The latest Inflation Report from the Bank of England forecasts that inflation is likely to rise from its current level of 1% to around 2¾% by 2018.

Commenting on the report, Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "The new forecasts suggest that rising prices are likely to become an increasing impediment to the UK's growth prospects, as imported inflation erodes consumer spending power and squeezes profit margins."

He added: "The Bank of England is likely to face a tricky, near-term balancing act between supporting a slowing economy and managing a sustained period of rising inflation."

Accountancy firm BDO has predicted that consumers face "a difficult 2017 of higher prices and lower wage growth" which will impact negatively on UK businesses. Its latest Business Trends Report says that inflation is now at its highest level for over three years and is set to rise.

Peter Hemington, partner at BDO, said: "Rapidly rising inflation is quickly going to hit the pockets of UK consumers, affect the profit margins of UK businesses and ultimately slow the growth of the UK economy."

Inflation has been caused by the increasing cost of goods following sterling's post-EU referendum slump. BDO says increasing inflation is expected to continue in the coming months as the price of goods from overseas markets adjusts to the lower value of sterling. It predicts that the sharp rise in inflation is set to outpace wage growth and will result in consumers having less to spend in the coming year.

Hemington said: "The Government needs to inject greater confidence back into the UK economy. We need a positive Autumn Statement that highlights immediate investment in infrastructure to help soften the blow to both consumers and businesses, and to encourage growth."

Last month, the HR professional body CIPD warned that workers in the UK could be heading for "another period of very low or negative real wage increases" because of inflation.

Cash is Businesses that handle cash are losing out because of theft, human error and inconvenience, according to a new report from accounting software experts Sage.

The 2017 Payments Landscape report from Sage reveals that UK small firms are losing £9.4bn each year through cash payments.

Almost a quarter (24%) of the business owners surveyed say they have been the target of cash theft by a member of staff, 34% admit they have lost cash because of human error, and more than half (56%) say they spend up to an hour or more counting and transporting cash to the bank each week.

Researchers polled 1,900 businesses and 100 consumers and interviewed UK business leaders in order to analyse the changing landscape for payments in the UK. Innovation in payments, it concludes, is being driven by consumer demand.

It found that the vast majority (90%) of consumers say it's important for businesses to offer customers a diverse range of payment methods; 58% said they would be more likely to shop somewhere that offered them multiple ways to pay. Contactless payments are set to be the most popular payment method by 2020.

Interestingly, older age groups demonstrated a greater willingness to move away from cash, with 59% of over-50s saying that they have little dealings in cash.

Seamus Smith, ceo of Sage Pay, said: "Our research proves that cash is bad for business. It's costly and inconvenient, and appetite is growing for more innovative and flexible payment methods.

"The stats we've seen come out of this study are part of a wider trend. We know that cash use is in decline. The number of cashpoints in the UK has hit a peak, yet people are withdrawing cash less and less."

Payments should be "seamless, frictionless - and more often than not, cashless", said Smith. "Innovation in the sector has never been greater but small and medium businesses must keep pace with change."

The report - which covers payment trends, innovation, retail and security - is available on the Sage website.

Businesses that handle cash are losing out because of theft, human error and inconvenience, according to a new report from accounting software experts Sage.

Most business owners take DIY approach to accountancy

As HMRC closes the latest consultation round of its Making Tax Digital reforms, new research from Geniac highlights the extent to which small business owners handle all their own tax affairs without professional help. Its new survey has found that 69% of SME leaders take a "do it yourself" approach to accountancy, company formation and tax issues. And the average business owner spends 37% of their time on such tasks in their first year.

A quarter of SMEs are in "survival mode"

New research into SME Resilience from Hitachi Capital Invoice Finance has found that 27% of SMEs have put their investment plans on hold and are in "survival mode". A third of owners have invested personal funds in their business in the past year and 57% have not sought additional external finance in that time. In addition, SME owners are concerned that the UK's decision to leave the EU could impede their access to finance, with 59% predicting that it would be more difficult to obtain finance in future.

One third of firms not supporting staff with dementia

One in three British workers says their employer doesn't offer any additional help or support for dementia sufferers, according to a study by PMI Health Group. It says 7% of employees polled said they either have, or have worked alongside someone who suffers from, dementia; yet 54% said they had received no training on the condition from their employer. There are currently more than 40,000 people in the UK under 65 suffering from dementia.

The decline of the business suit

Less than a fifth of British office workers say they still wear a suit for work, according to new research from Printerland. The survey of 2,000 office workers also reveals that Brits only spend an average of 23 minutes a day on their appearance, with one in five spending less than ten minutes getting ready for work. Despite the shift towards casual attire, many of those surveyed disapprove of their colleagues' attire with 82% saying that Ugg boots are inappropriate and almost half saying high heels are a no-no.

Matchmaker service to help SMEs get fundingThe Government has launched a matchmaking scheme to help small business owners to access funding when they have been turned down by a bank.

Small businesses struggling to access finance from big banks will be matched with alternative finance options under the new scheme.

Nine of the UK's biggest banks will pass on the details of small businesses they have rejected for finance to three finance platforms - Funding Xchange, Business Finance Compared and Funding Options.

These will then share these details with alternative finance providers (with the permission of the small firm) and go on to facilitate a conversation between the business and any provider who expresses an interest in supplying finance to them.

HSBC, RBS, Lloyds, Barclays, Santander, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, Bank of Ireland, Danske Bank and First Trust Bank have signed up to the scheme.

According to the Government, research shows that 71% of businesses seeking finance only ask one lender and, if rejected for finance, many give up rather than seek alternative options.

Last year 324,000 small and medium-sized businesses applied for a loan or overdraft; 26% of these were initially declined by their bank and only 3% of those declined were referred to other sources of help.

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond said: "A refusal from a big bank should not be the end of the line for a small business and, thanks to the finance platforms being launched today, now it won't be."

Keith Morgan, ceo of the British Business Bank said: "This new Government initiative, supported by the British Business Bank, has the potential to make a real difference to smaller business finance markets in the UK."

The matchmaking scheme has been welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: "FSB pushed hard for these reforms, and today's announcement is good news as the Government delivers on them. This change will boost alternative lenders, bringing more competition and choice in the market beyond the big banks."

New broadband regs are step in right directionBroadband suppliers now have to provide more transparent pricing information under new regulations that have come into effect this week.

The changes, brought in by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), require suppliers to show all costs upfront, rather than separating out line rental costs.

Guy Parker, ASA chief executive, said: "The effect should be a real positive difference in how consumers understand and engage with ads for broadband services."

However, while the move has been welcomed, many commentators would like to see further reform of the broadband market.

Dave Millett, of independent telecoms brokerage Equinox, said: "Whilst this is progress to a degree, it creates a problem for those people who want to buy broadband and phone lines from different suppliers. It also does nothing towards the misleading adverts on the speed of broadband where suppliers can quote the speed that only 10% of their customers get. This is very misleading and the ASA still needs to address this."

Michael Phillips, ceo of price comparison site Broadband Choices, said: "From our research it was clear that customers were confused by pricing. This change means that many more customers will now truly know what they are currently paying, what they should be paying, and importantly being able to compare the two costs quickly and clearly, allowing them to save or switch with confidence.

"That said, even more can be done to help consumers get a better service and save money - 80% of consumers would like to see average and minimum guaranteed speeds at their address (rather than just an 'up to' for their postcode), and 77% of consumers would like to receive a notification when their current deal comes to an end."

A new survey conducted by OnePoll for telecoms specialist Toople has found that 62% of business owners don't know if they currently receive the right broadband speed and coverage for their business. And, among both business owners and consumers, 86% are unsure what their typical monthly broadband usage is.

Service sector exports have slowed says BCCThe weak pound has been good for manufacturing exports but a new trade report reveals that service sector exporting has slowed since June's referendum vote.

The latest Quarterly International Trade Outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and DHL says uncertainty following the vote to leave the EU is slowing down export orders in the services sector.

The latest research shows that the balance of service sector firms expecting an improvement in sales and orders has fallen to its lowest level in five years.

In contrast, a greater proportion of manufacturers enjoyed an improved export performance in Q3 2016 compared with the second quarter, with "some benefiting from sterling's recent fall" according to BCC.

Overall, the results show that confidence in turnover and profitability has fallen and exports are expected to grow at a slower pace in the coming months.

"The decline in export orders in the services sector is concerning considering the sector is by far the largest part of the economy," said Adam Marshall, BCC's recently appointed director general. "Our data suggests that slower growth is likely to come in the months ahead. However, it is important to note that while the UK's economic growth may slow further, we are unlikely to enter a recession."

Phil Couchman, ceo of DHL Express, said: "As the EU referendum approached there was an underlying sense of uncertainty on the part of British businesses and … this latest report shows that that feeling still exists - even amongst the manufacturing exporters currently enjoying the UK's increased global competitiveness as a result of the fall in the value of the pound."

The BCC is urging chancellor Phillip Hammond to use the Autumn Statement to improve direct financial support for firms looking to access new markets "without bureaucracy or delay".

Marshall said: "Enabling businesses to attend trade missions, trade fairs, commission market research or make themselves export ready would be a shot in the arm for our trade performance at a time of uncertainty."

New taskforce to be the voice of UK small firmsA new taskforce promising to be the "voice of small businesses" in the UK is bringing together some of the key SME membership organisations in one lobby group.

The Small Business Taskforce, which has been established by Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation, has attracted a number of key SME bodies as members including the Forum of Private Business (FPB), the National Enterprise Network (NEN), IPSE (the association for freelancers), the accountancy body ICAEW and the Centre for Entrepreneurs (CFE).

Altogether these membership organisations reach nearly two million small businesses in the UK - almost half of the total SME population.

Emma Jones has also said that the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), while not official members, will work with the taskforce on an issue-by-issue basis.

The taskforce will champion the needs of small firms, lobby Government and reach out to ministers so that they can consult small businesses before introducing new regulations. New initiatives such as quarterly tax reporting, for instance, have caused significant concern in the SME community.

"We're taking matters into our own hands," Emma Jones told the Daily Telegraph this week. "Entrepreneurs are the doers. We shouldn't be waiting for Government to make the first move. This is a critical time for small businesses and they need a voice."

The Small Business Taskforce has written an open letter to all ministers, including prime minister Theresa May, making five key recommendations for Government:

  • Continuing to support a flexible workforce including ensuring EU workers in the UK have long-term resident rights;
  • A workable tax regime created in consultation with SMEs;
  • Accessible business support;
  • International trade for all;
  • Consultation with small businesses.

The taskforce "is prepared to help the Government work on fresh plans for what business support and procurement could look like in a post-Brexit world," said Jones. "We welcome the opportunity to work closely with Government to ensure the small business base of Britain can continue to prosper, delivering economic and social returns to our country."

Do your junior staff need cheering up?

Some 62% of junior staff think they deserve a higher wage and 46% feel overworked, according to a survey by Office Genie. After monetary rewards such as pay rises (75%) and bonuses (32%), key workplace motivators for young employees include flexible hours (32%) and a shorter working week (25%). Getting "more praise" is also important to 23% of junior staff - more than any other level of seniority.

Google plans new mobile search index

Google is planning to create a new mobile index that will become its primary index; a separate desktop index will be updated less frequently. News of the development came during a keynote address being given by Google's Gary Illyes at Pubcon but he gave very few details about how it will work, except to say that it could happen within months. Google has increasingly focused on mobile-friendly websites over the past few years and has signalled its interest in improving mobile search with its involvement in the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project.

Get ready for the new £1 coin

The Government has launched a new campaign to ensure retailers and businesses are ready for the new 12-sided £1 coin. Billed as the most secure coin of its kind in the world, the new coin comes into circulation in March 2017. The New Pound Coin website has advice and materials to help businesses prepare. All cash-handling businesses should check whether they operate equipment that handles the £1 coin, such as vending machines, and find out if they need to make any adaptations or upgrades.

The entrepreneurial dreams of Generation Z

Four in ten (39%) of the UK's so-called Generation Z - 16-25 year-olds - have ambitions to run their own business according to new research by Opinium Research. And 51% of those are hoping to get their enterprise up and running by the time they are in their late twenties. Money is not the main motivating factor, however. While, 46% say they want to make lots of money, 61% say they want to be their own boss so that they can make something of their own and 54% are looking for more flexible working hours.

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