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For a successful business, you need a viable business idea, the skills to make it work and the funding. Discover whether your idea has what it takes.

Forming your business correctly is essential to ensure you are protected and you comply with the rules. Learn how to set up your business.

It is likely you will need funding to start your business unless you have your own money. Discover some of the main sources of start up funding.

Businesses and individuals must account for and pay various taxes. Understand your tax obligations and how to file, account and pay any taxes you owe.

Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of business laws. We introduce the main rules and regulations you must comply with.

Learn why business planning is an essential exercise if your business is to start and grow successfully, attract funding or target new markets.

Marketing matters. It drives sales and helps promote your brand and products. Discover how to market your business and reach your target customers.

Some businesses need a high street location whilst others can be run from home. Understand the key factors from cost to location, size to security.

Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

It is likely your business could not function without some form of IT. Learn how to specify, buy, maintain and secure your business IT.

Few businesses manage the leap from start up to high-growth business. Learn what it takes to scale up and take your business to the next level.


January 2017

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Freelancers being asked to work for nothingCreative freelancers, including graphic designers, copywriters and photographers, are frequently asked to work for free - and many agree in order to get exposure and build relationships.

A poll of over 1,000 UK creative freelancers, conducted by, has found that 70% were asked to work for free in 2016; 9% of those agreed on at least one occasion.

The research shows that it has become increasingly common for companies to ask for freebies - promising freelancers more experience or greater exposure for their work. Those under 25 years of age are much more likely to agree.

The study shows that:

  • 70% of freelancers polled said they were asked to work for free at least once in 2016;
  • Women are more likely to be asked to work for free than men and are also more likely to say yes;
  • 80% of UK freelancers who did work for free did it for the experience;
  • Photographers, graphic designers and copywriters are the most likely to be approached about working for free and are most likely to say yes;
  • Under-25s were almost twice as likely to work for free as over-25s.

The research also reveals that social media appears to be driving this trend - many study participants saying they were approached on Twitter and Facebook by businesses asking to use their photographs, artwork and content in return for credit. Others said they were asked to provide free work to demonstrate their capabilities to a potential client before they could be considered for paid work.

However, the data shows that cities with a large concentration of technology, media and creative industries - such as London and Manchester - have a lower percentage of freelancers willing to work for free.

Charlotte Whelan, project manager at, said: "There's a difference between helping out a mate or offering your time for free to a good cause or charity and being exploited by a businesses that could - and should - be offering to pay for your talent."

One in ten Brits plan business start-up in 2017A new survey has found that more than half of British workers would like to work for themselves one day - and one in ten are making plans to start a business this year.

Research conducted by OnePoll for FreeAgent, has found that 54% of people say they want to become their own boss at some point during their career; and 25% of those polled said they want to start a business within "the next few years".

As many as 10% say 2017 is the year they plan to start their own business. With 31.76 million people currently working in the UK, according to ONS statistics released in December, that means 3.2 million more Brits are could potentially become their own boss by 2018.

The most common reason for wanting to start a business is to have a better work/life balance, with 52% citing this as a factor. Other reasons include: wanting to choose what work they do (51%), earning more money (37%), following their passion (36%) and having a greater sense of achievement (35%).

More women than men plan to set up their own business in 2017 (11% of women compared to 8% of men). The motivations of men and women are different too. Work/life balance is more likely to be a key factor for women while increased earnings is more important to men.

Young people are especially keen to work for themselves in the future, according to the report - 67% of working 18-24 year olds say they plan to become their own boss at some point - the largest percentage of the age ranges surveyed.

Ed Molyneux, ceo and co-founder of FreeAgent, said: "Starting your own business can be an extremely rewarding, if daunting, move for people to make with their career - and it's clear from our research that a significant number of British workers are considering taking this leap into self-employment in 2017. However, while it's very pleasing to see so many would-be entrepreneurs thinking about going solo, it's important for any new business owner to make sure they are fully prepared before they start up."

Figures released by Companies House show that 2016 was record year for company formations with 657,790 new UK businesses created in the past year.

Top office life bugbears revealedPointless meetings and irritating colleagues are just some of the reasons that many office workers are thinking of working from home or even packing in the office job altogether.

A new survey by Crunch Accounting has identified the 50 most annoying things about working in an office.

Top of the list are crashing computers and slow internet. The temperature in the office and the state of the toilets are also in the top 20 list of complaints, along with pointless meetings and performance reviews.

But the most common gripes concern colleagues - from those that eat too loudly or interrupt when people are talking to those that suck up to the boss or deliberately make others look bad. There are also those that call in sick when they are well or come into work when they are contagious.

These everyday frustrations are driving as many as 54% of Brits to crave a new, alternative way of working. More than a quarter of people (26%) said it made them want to work remotely, while one in four (24%) said they wished they could become their own boss and 14% said they want to find a new job.

Darren Fell, ceo of Crunch Accounting, said: "It comes as little surprise to hear how frustrated Britain's employees are with the niggling bugbears of the modern corporate office. The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. When I got fed up with my 9-5 role, I handed in my resignation and started my first business. If you're considering starting your own business and being your own boss, then 2017 is the year to make it happen."

Here are the top ten gripes:

  • Crashing computers (27%)
  • Slow internet (25%)
  • Office gossip (24%)
  • Workplace too cold (24%)
  • Colleagues moaning (22%)
  • Eating loudly at desk (21%)
  • Pointless meetings (21%)
  • Colleagues making you look bad (19%)
  • Workplace too hot (19%)
  • Colleagues interrupting you (17%).

UK small businesses that trade with the EU are not confident about their prospects after Brexit according to the initial findings of a significant new research study by the Federation of Small Businesses.

Levelling the playing field for working mothers

The latest annual report by the Women and Work All Parliamentary Group has called on the Government to give self-employed women the same maternity rights as all working women. At present, the self-employed are only entitled to Maternity Allowance, not Statutory Maternity Pay. There are 1.5 million self-employed women in the UK according to the ONS. Simon McVicker, director of policy at freelance body IPSE, said: "It is vital the Government brings these in line if they want to make Britain a country that works for everyone."

One in four say they've missed tax deadline

Nearly one in four small business owners (24%) admit they have previously failed to submit their online tax returns to HMRC on time, according to research by Informi. And 7% have missed the deadline on more than on occasion. Most late-filing small business owners (69%) did manage to complete their tax return within 31 days of the original deadline. Missing the deadline triggers an automatic £100 fine.

HMRC exposes the most ridiculous expenses claims

Knickers and nights out are just some of the ludicrous business expense claims that HMRC says it has seen on tax returns in the past year. One claim, amounting to thousands of pounds, was for Friday night "bonding sessions" and another taxpayer tried to claim for luxury watches bought as staff gifts - even though the business had no staff. Ruth Owen, HMRC director general of customer services, told the Daily Telegraph: "Why should the honest taxpayer pick up the bill for others? HMRC will only accept those claims which are genuine, such as legitimate travel expenses or the cost of tools for the job."

Do business leaders lack people skills?

Nearly half of HR professionals (44%) believe that senior business leaders don't have the skills needed to get the best from their people, according to the latest HR Outlook survey by the CIPD. Leaders were instead rated as being most effective on technical ability, budgeting and financial management, and operational management. Dr Jill Miller, research adviser at the CIPD, said: "In order to lead people effectively, leaders need to have a variety of skills - but while technical skills are critical in organisations, they do not always go hand-in-hand with people skills."

One in seven SMEs miss auto-enrolment deadlineA growing number of companies are risking a fine by failing to set up their workplace pension on time according to new figures from Aviva.

Around 500,000 UK businesses are due to set up a pension scheme during 2017 under auto-enrolment legislation. The Pensions Regulator (TPR) provides every business with a staging date by which they should have a workplace pension scheme in place.

However, according to Aviva's own client data, the number of firms missing this deadline has increased from 1% in Q1 2016 to 14% in Q4.

It means that one in seven of the businesses applying to Aviva for a workplace pension made their application after their staging date had passed; and 38% left their application to the last minute (less than two months before their staging date).

Figures from The Pensions Regulator show that the number of employers failing to fulfil their auto-enrolment duties is rising. In Q3 2016, 3,728 fixed penalty notices for £400 each were issued, up from 861 in Q2, 2016.

Andy Beswick, managing director of business solutions at Aviva, said: "We're seeing more and more firms applying to Aviva for a workplace pension after their staging date has passed. It's something we need to keep a close watch on, but it is understandable. Auto-enrolment is now becoming a reality for very small companies which have many priorities and not necessarily the resources to deal with them all.

"The message to businesses for 2017 is clear. If you haven't been through auto-enrolment yet, this is likely to be your year. Don't stick your head in the sand. Embrace it, find a way to use it as an advantage to your business and get your employees enthused about saving for their future."

The Government is to review auto-enrolment this year. A recent report from the Pensions Policy Institute (PPI) revealed that 3.3 million of the people excluded from auto-enrolment had been excluded because they earn less than £10,000 a year.

Business groups react to PM's Brexit plansPrime minister Theresa May's much-anticipated speech on Brexit this week has provided new details on how she plans to negotiate the UK's exit from the EU.

The prime minister has promised a pro-business Brexit based on leaving the Single Market and negotiating a bespoke trading agreement. Business groups have welcomed the details but there is still widespread concern about how both the transition and the final deal will impact on businesses.

Allie Renison, head of Europe and trade policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "We now know that we will be leaving the Single Market, and while there will be firms who regret this, they will at least be able to plan on that basis. We welcome the level of detail provided in the PM's speech and her commitment to providing certainty wherever possible."

However, Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "In business, what you achieve in a negotiation - not what you bid for - is what really matters. The Brexit process is no different. While businesses now have a clearer sense of the prime minister's top-line priorities, they will come away from her speech knowing little more about the likely outcome of the Brexit negotiations than they did yesterday."

Businesses are as concerned about the transition arrangements as they are about the final deal. "A smooth and orderly departure is in the whole country's interests," said Allie Renison. "While we do not expect a running commentary, firms hope to get periodic updates to maintain confidence as we make our way towards the exit."

But because the prime minister has rejected an "off-the-shelf" deal, the transition could be more difficult, the IoD has warned. Renison said: "The more bespoke an arrangement being sought, the longer companies will have to wait to see details before they can plan. Negotiations will involve lots of back and forth between the UK and EU and both sides will need to show some flexibility."

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said he wanted to see "concerted action" on transitional arrangements. "93% of our exporting members export directly to the single market … we will push the Government to guarantee whatever transition process is put in place ensures there is no cliff edge or gap in trade."

In the meantime, the BCC's Adam Marshall said: "The simple fact is that businesses all across the UK are carrying on. Away from Westminster, many businesses are ignoring the Brexit 'noise' completely, and say there needs to be a far bigger focus on getting the basics right here at home. Their message is that Brexit must not become all-consuming, and that having the right skills, infrastructure and business environment across the UK will play a far bigger part in our future success than any eventual Brexit deal."

Prime minister Theresa May's much-anticipated speech on Brexit this week has provided new details on how she plans to negotiate the UK's exit from the EU.

Making Tax Digital should be delayed say MPsThe cross-party Treasury Select Committee tasked with reviewing Making Tax Digital - HMRC's plan to digitise tax records and reporting - has raised serious concerns about the plans.

The main issues are the speed at which Making Tax Digital (MTD) is being introduced and the cost of compliance for small businesses.

"Without sufficient care, MTD could be a disaster," said Andrew Tyrie MP, chair of the committee. "Implemented carefully, with long transitional arrangements where necessary, and, having drawn on information from fully inclusive pilots, Making Tax Digital could be designed for the benefit both of the economy and of the tax yield. But with a rushed introduction, it will benefit neither."

A key concern is "the costs and administrative burdens for very small businesses - with the consequent risk that many may go out of business or move into the hidden economy. This may undermine the extra revenue that the Government is expecting to raise from MTD."

In addition, there is the speed with which Making Tax Digital is being implemented. "At present, many of those on whom demands from MTD will be made - millions of small businesses up and down the country: the backbone of the economy - are ill-equipped to handle the reporting requirements."

In fact, research conducted by YouGov for 1Tap Receipts in November 2016 found that 94% of UK business owners had not even heard of Making Tax Digital.

The Treasury report concludes: "These reforms will affect millions of taxpayers. Their co-operation and trust are both hard won and easily dissipated. Without them, more of the yield could be at risk than any putative extra revenue from MTD. So the Government should change its current approach."

The report says the Government should abandon plans for an initial threshold of £10,000 and has asked to see evidence justifying a threshold below the VAT threshold of £83,000. It also says the timetable for implementation in April 2018 looks "unachievable" and proposes a delay until 2019/20 at the earliest. In the meantime, it says, HMRC need to run proper pilots.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), described the report as "a damning indictment" of the Government's mandatory tax plans as they currently stand. "The voices of the UK small business community and MPs from all parties now speak as one - the proposals as they stand put our economy at risk."

Businesses under pressure from rising pricesNew research shows that rising prices is the biggest concern going into 2017 for over one in five UK SMEs.

It comes as the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that inflation went up to 1.6% in December, from 1.2% in November.

The findings of the Q4 SME Confidence Tracker from Bibby Financial Services reveal that 22% of SMEs say rising costs is their biggest concern for the year ahead. The number of businesses that see rising costs as a significant challenge has doubled over the past 12 months.

These fears are of particular concern for manufacturers with almost a third (29%) citing this as their biggest challenge. Increasing competition (18%) and late payments (11%) are the other key challenges highlighted by SMEs.

It means many small businesses are currently focusing on finding cost efficiencies instead of investing for growth, according to the research. Over a quarter (28%) of SMEs said that they were holding off on investing in their businesses due to concerns about the UK economy.

David Postings, global chief executive of Bibby Financial Services, said: "Rising costs fuelled by inflation and the drop in the value of the pound is a double-edged sword for many businesses. The manufacturing industry has recently grown at the fastest rate for 25 years, fuelled by an uplift in exports due to the pound's depreciation, but manufacturers that are reliant on importing goods and selling solely in the UK will see margins being significantly eroded.

"These businesses are facing the challenge of maintaining profitability while remaining price competitive," he said. "This equation is causing a headache for many businesses and we are seeing many SMEs start to tighten their belts and pull back investment. In little over six months we have seen investment intentions from SMEs halve."

Commenting on the latest inflation figures, Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "We expect inflation to surpass the Bank of England's 2% target in the coming months, reaching around 2.5% by the end of the year."

James Sproule, chief economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), agreed that it was "only a matter of months before we break through the Bank of England's 2% target".

Have your employees got the January blues?

We've survived Blue Monday, allegedly the most depressing day of the year; now new research from Kronos suggests the post-Christmas malaise can impact on staff motivation for far longer than a day. A poll of over 2,000 UK employees found that 37% of Brits predict they or a colleague will take unauthorised absences or fake a sickie in the first three months of the year - and 31% of those surveyed put this down to post-Christmas blues.

Self-employed now account for 15% of workforce

Positive jobs figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this week also show that the number of self-employed people has increased by 133,000 in the past year. The self-employed now account for 15% of those in work. Freelance body IPSE welcomed the news but warned that Government policy must keep up with the changing nature of the UK workforce.

High street to be hit by insolvencies

Over 1,000 small businesses are scheduled to be wound up in January according to research carried out on behalf of insolvency practitioners Hudson Weir. It says 14.5% of these companies were operating in the retail and food and drink sectors. Another vulnerable sector is construction, the report says. According to Hudson Weir, only 41% of the UK businesses that started in 2010 survived to their fifth birthday.

Self-assessment time: the clock is ticking

Freelancers and micro-business owners are being urged not to delay when registering for self-assessment. Emily Coltman, chief accountant at FreeAgent, said: "Before you can submit your self-assessment tax return you must first register with HMRC and get your unique activation code sent to you by post. It's a relatively straightforward process but … if you leave it too late, you won't get your code in time to be able to meet the January 31st deadline."

Our round-up of other small business stories making the headlines this week...

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