line grey

PRESS ROOM

RSS

The Guardian

Seven things we wish we'd known before starting a business

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, and clearly nowhere more so than in business, as seven successful entrepreneurs recall the things they wished they’d known when starting their own businesses:
Lesson #1: Hire people who do certain jobs better than you
When Heather Jackson launched An Inspirational Journey she had a lot of responsibilities, but amid the excitement of building her brand, she was unaware of her limitations.
“I was the main point of contact for all the internal and external processes, and as a result business growth was stagnating because my focus was divided,” she says. “I hadn’t considered investing in the skills that I didn’t have, but later learned that these investments were essential to the prosperity of my business and brand.
“Hiring skilled employees for internal processes eased my workload, and enabled me to see where else I needed to reinvest my time and money externally. By investing in proficient and intelligent employees you can redirect your focus. You can’t do everything yourself.”
Lesson #2: Be yourself
As startups grow they sometimes lose sight of the principles on which they were founded, as Adam Banister, founder of web design agency Curly Kale recalls.
He says: “We were rattling along, doing well, working on some big projects. Things were good, so we took on more big projects. Then I looked at our website and the work we were doing and realised it just wasn’t us, or what we wanted to be. Everyone was putting on a brave face, but the work was stale. We had simply become Photoshop monkeys, shuffling pixels around and trying every font. We were losing sight of our creative ideas and our passion.
“We decided to rebuild our website and go back to our roots – a scary move – but it meant our brand message was once again about standing out and showcasing who you really are. Now we have some wonderful customers come through our door willing to trust us to look after them, and we’re loving it.”
Lesson #3: Stay focused on your business priorities
Entrepreneurs lead a busy life, and in their first year of trading they can be overwhelmed by opportunities and offers, all of which are very tempting.
Agnes Cserhati, founder of AC PowerCoaching, was just 17 when she started her first business, an age, she admits, when prioritising definitely did not cross her mind.
“Now, 25 years on, I believe it has played a pivotal role in my business success,” she says. “Working all hours and saying yes to everything that came my way might have worked for an extremely short period of time early on, but once I started growing I realised that prioritising was the key to success. It made a huge difference not just in terms of hours worked, but also in terms of revenue and profit.
“Establishing key KPI’s and the criteria to base my decisions on which projects to engage in made a huge difference in terms of scalability and growth and also in setting clear goals and strategies.”
Lesson #4: Put the angel into your investor
Aspiring entrepreneurs often seek investment for reasons beyond cash. This was the case for Gavin Hammar, founder of social media management software Sendible.
“I worked for a fintech company while starting Sendible on the side,” he says. “When it started demonstrating traction I showed my employers, who then offered me desk space, paid time off, and the promise of capital, contacts and collaboration.
However, none of this promised input ever materialised. Hammar says: “When you have confidence in your business model be sure that those who see your potential, and want to be part of it, live up to their promises. If you don’t feel this traction from your would-be investor, immediately move on. The right partner proves their worth through actions.”
Lesson #5: Less is more
One of the biggest business decisions that beautician Cherry Woods made was to offer a smaller range of treatments that she was passionate about, rather than trying to offer everything to everyone.
She says: “Once my business was established, with a regular client base, I decided to focus only on treatments that I really enjoyed. So I reduced my treatment menu to facials only, which I’m truly passionate about, and removed waxing, pedicures etc., which I wasn’t.
“At first I was concerned that specialising could lose me business, but in fact it did just the opposite. Within three months, I had waiting lists for the first time and now my Saturday waiting list is seven months long and I have been able to stop advertising.”
Lesson #6: Stretch your cash
Every business owner knows that cash is king, but Scott Phillips, co-founder of online art platform RiseArt, wishes he’d known earlier about the government grants and tax credits that were available.
He says: “These allow entrepreneurs to stretch their runway without giving away more equity or taking on debt. It can be tricky to navigate but, with a little effort, startup founders can find ways to take advantage of government funding programmes and grants, for example, by following organisations like Nesta and Innovate UK.
“We have become more careful with working capital, but we can bring forward revenues and defer payments to provide negative working capital, creating huge short-term cash flow benefits that can extend our horizon even further.”
Lesson #7: Get a mentor from day one
Entrepreneurs growing a business usually do so with a healthy dose of bravado, resilience and stamina. In putting on their game face, some avoid dealing with their business weaknesses.
Adam Landau, managing director of DeVono Property admits to doing just that in the early days of starting the business.
He says: “It led to an accumulation of stress, worry and a backlog of putting off what I felt were the areas of the business where I was weakest. Eventually I found a mentor, who held a mirror up to me, showed me my weaknesses, and how I thought they were holding me back, but also how easily these issues could be solved.
“You can try and do everything but it’s not possible. With a mentor you have an outsider’s view that can help you tackle your perceived weaknesses, leaving you to focus on building the business through your strengths.”

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, and clearly nowhere more so than in business, as seven successful entrepreneurs recall the things they wished they’d known when starting their own businesses:

Lesson #1: Hire people who do certain jobs better than you

Read more

When Heather Jackson launched An Inspirational Journey she had a lot of responsibilities, but amid the excitement of building her brand, she was unaware of her limitations.

“I was the main point of contact for all the internal and external processes, and as a result business growth was stagnating because my focus was divided,” she says. “I hadn’t considered investing in the skills that I didn’t have, but later learned that these investments were essential to the prosperity of my business and brand.

“Hiring skilled employees for internal processes eased my workload, and enabled me to see where else I needed to reinvest my time and money externally. By investing in proficient and intelligent employees you can redirect your focus. You can’t do everything yourself.”

Lesson #2: Be yourself

As startups grow they sometimes lose sight of the principles on which they were founded, as Adam Banister, founder of web design agency Curly Kale recalls.

He says: “We were rattling along, doing well, working on some big projects. Things were good, so we took on more big projects. Then I looked at our website and the work we were doing and realised it just wasn’t us, or what we wanted to be. Everyone was putting on a brave face, but the work was stale. We had simply become Photoshop monkeys, shuffling pixels around and trying every font. We were losing sight of our creative ideas and our passion.

“We decided to rebuild our website and go back to our roots – a scary move – but it meant our brand message was once again about standing out and showcasing who you really are. Now we have some wonderful customers come through our door willing to trust us to look after them, and we’re loving it.”

Lesson #3: Stay focused on your business priorities

Entrepreneurs lead a busy life, and in their first year of trading they can be overwhelmed by opportunities and offers, all of which are very tempting.

Agnes Cserhati, founder of AC PowerCoaching, was just 17 when she started her first business, an age, she admits, when prioritising definitely did not cross her mind.

“Now, 25 years on, I believe it has played a pivotal role in my business success,” she says. “Working all hours and saying yes to everything that came my way might have worked for an extremely short period of time early on, but once I started growing I realised that prioritising was the key to success. It made a huge difference not just in terms of hours worked, but also in terms of revenue and profit.

“Establishing key KPI’s and the criteria to base my decisions on which projects to engage in made a huge difference in terms of scalability and growth and also in setting clear goals and strategies.”

Lesson #4: Put the angel into your investor

Aspiring entrepreneurs often seek investment for reasons beyond cash. This was the case for Gavin Hammar, founder of social media management software Sendible.

“I worked for a fintech company while starting Sendible on the side,” he says. “When it started demonstrating traction I showed my employers, who then offered me desk space, paid time off, and the promise of capital, contacts and collaboration.

However, none of this promised input ever materialised. Hammar says: “When you have confidence in your business model be sure that those who see your potential, and want to be part of it, live up to their promises. If you don’t feel this traction from your would-be investor, immediately move on. The right partner proves their worth through actions.”

Lesson #5: Less is more

One of the biggest business decisions that beautician Cherry Woods made was to offer a smaller range of treatments that she was passionate about, rather than trying to offer everything to everyone.

She says: “Once my business was established, with a regular client base, I decided to focus only on treatments that I really enjoyed. So I reduced my treatment menu to facials only, which I’m truly passionate about, and removed waxing, pedicures etc., which I wasn’t.

“At first I was concerned that specialising could lose me business, but in fact it did just the opposite. Within three months, I had waiting lists for the first time and now my Saturday waiting list is seven months long and I have been able to stop advertising.”

Lesson #6: Stretch your cash

Every business owner knows that cash is king, but Scott Phillips, co-founder of online art platform RiseArt, wishes he’d known earlier about the government grants and tax credits that were available.

He says: “These allow entrepreneurs to stretch their runway without giving away more equity or taking on debt. It can be tricky to navigate but, with a little effort, startup founders can find ways to take advantage of government funding programmes and grants, for example, by following organisations like Nesta and Innovate UK.

“We have become more careful with working capital, but we can bring forward revenues and defer payments to provide negative working capital, creating huge short-term cash flow benefits that can extend our horizon even further.”

Lesson #7: Get a mentor from day one

Entrepreneurs growing a business usually do so with a healthy dose of bravado, resilience and stamina. In putting on their game face, some avoid dealing with their business weaknesses.

Adam Landau, managing director of DeVono Property admits to doing just that in the early days of starting the business.

He says: “It led to an accumulation of stress, worry and a backlog of putting off what I felt were the areas of the business where I was weakest. Eventually I found a mentor, who held a mirror up to me, showed me my weaknesses, and how I thought they were holding me back, but also how easily these issues could be solved.

“You can try and do everything but it’s not possible. With a mentor you have an outsider’s view that can help you tackle your perceived weaknesses, leaving you to focus on building the business through your strengths.”

Hide

The Guardian

Big trouble in little Chinatown as rent rises force restaurant owners out

Londoners and tourists have enjoyed the oriental food and ambience in this city centre enclave since the 1950s. Now the red lanterns may soon vanish for ever
Jon Man points at the busy KFC a few doors along from his own restaurant on Wardour Street, one of the small number of bustling streets that make up London’s Chinatown. “That’s the best business around here,” he says. “That’s the one I would choose.”
Man’s parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1950s to work in Britain’s growing restaurant trade, bolstered as it was by the willingness of those freshly returned from foreign frontlines to taste new foods. His mother washed up while his father made Shanghai noodles, because few others could, before turning his hand to supplying foodstuffs from Covent Garden to the burgeoning number of local restaurants.
Now 52, Man has been working in one capacity or another inChinatown since his late teens. He knows everyone, and they all know him, but his children, 18 and 21, won’t follow him to work there. More significantly, he can’t see how he or his peers can stay.
London’s little Chinatown is, he suggests, in big trouble. The business model for these few teeming streets, squashed between the inelegant cinemas and hotels of Leicester Square and fashionable Soho, has long been cheap-and-cheerful food sold to theatregoers, office workers, late-night revellers and, to a lesser degree, tourists, not always by the most polite of serving staff. Chinese supermarkets, massage parlours and, for a long time, just three betting shops discreetly tucked away, added to the mix.
A certain authenticity has given the area its niche. It was a genuine community built by the emigrants from Hong Kong who, having been bombed out of Limehouse in the East End in the 1940s, made this patch of London, with its cheap commercial rents, their own.
But London is changing. The rough-and-ready charms of Chinatown today don’t necessarily fit in a city where a square foot of land can demand a rent of £838 a year. Eighteen years ago, Man was paying £66,000 a year in rent. In 2012, after a year of wrangling with his landlord, Shaftesbury, which owns the premises of 71 restaurants in the area, that increased to £244,000.
He is due another rent review in two years, when it will go up again, probably significantly. “I won’t be able to stay,” he says. “There will be no point in me being here. So many of my friends have already gone.”
Shaftesbury admits that about 10% of the restaurants it owns have changed hands in the last two years, although Man says that such churn, so damaging to the community, has been a fact of life for longer than that, and more of the same should be expected.
The Cheun Cheng restaurant, also on Wardour Street, distinctive for the enormous model dragon above its door, was owned by the same family for 40 years. They closed down 18 months ago and, with one eye on custom from the huge new hotels in the area, it is to be replaced by a steak house.
The owners of Loon Tao on Gerrard Street, who have been there for 20 years, are looking to get out having seen their rent soar from £160,000 five years ago to £312,000. The Oriental Dragon, a few doors along, is also up for sale. A raft of new betting shops – there are nine so far and another is proposed – have also appeared, as they can make huge profits from small rooms.
Walking on under the red lanterns left over from February’s Chinese new year celebrations, and offering a cheery hello to all and sundry, Man points at other restaurants. “They’re trying to get out. That one’s going. He can’t survive… I can’t see how Chinatown will be here in five years’ time. Not as I know it.”
The landlords can be confident in demanding exorbitant rents because if the current businesses won’t pay, others most certainly will. DeVono, a commercial property agency, reports that demand for a foothold in London has tripled since March 2013. They say there is a year-long waiting list for hopeful entrants – “eating brands”. The right restaurant, often with the financial backing of a chain, can make a fortune. And the landlords setting the rents know it. Shaftesbury, whose real estate portfolio includes 575 properties in Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Soho and Charlotte Street, as well as Chinatown, saw profits grow by almost 50% in the six months to the end of March 2014.
So the profits are there to be had, but can the independent Chinese restaurants, often one-man bands who have been in Chinatown for decades, be the ones to extract them? “There is footfall,” Man admits, “but they don’t spend money. The tourists come over, have a photo taken and disappear. They go to the KFC.
“There is nothing apart from the theatre to attract people who will spend money here. Leicester Square is just big hotels. One side of one of the roads in Chinatown is the side wall of the M&M’s store. The road is dead and it used to be full of retail. And since the congestion charge, and what with the lack of parking, even those coming for the theatre don’t drive and stay for a meal. They run off for the last train home. As the rent has gone up our turnover has gone down. And I can’t increase my prices because the customers won’t come.”
Shaftesbury says rent rises are just a reaction to market forces. They won’t, they admit, rescue failing businesses because “that would be daft”. And there are plenty of restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, willing to come in and pay the rents.
Man argues that those new entrants might not be so willing if they knew the truth. He has set up the West End Chinatown Tenants’ Association, through which restaurateurs already in Chinatown and those who are looking to get in can share information about rents. “There is new money coming from China, but they come over and accept extremely high rents, don’t know the market here and, within months, want to get out because there is no money to be made.
“That then sets a benchmark for all our rent reviews, and it is artificial. If we can share information, maybe we can help each other keep the rent down.”
But there is also a broader political question, according to Gareth Thomas, the shadow deputy minister for London, who is being mooted as a Labour candidate in the next mayoral election. “The mayor needs to champion small businesses and independent entrepreneurs, putting them at the heart of regeneration and modernisation plans and standing up to the big property companies on their behalf,” said Thomas. The city, he suggests, needs to decide on what it treasures.

Londoners and tourists have enjoyed the oriental food and ambience in this city centre enclave since the 1950s. Now the red lanterns may soon vanish for ever

Jon Man points at the busy KFC a few doors along from his own restaurant on Wardour Street, one of the small number of bustling streets that make up London’s Chinatown. “That’s the best business around here,” he says. “That’s the one I would choose.”

Read more

Man’s parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1950s to work in Britain’s growing restaurant trade, bolstered as it was by the willingness of those freshly returned from foreign frontlines to taste new foods. His mother washed up while his father made Shanghai noodles, because few others could, before turning his hand to supplying foodstuffs from Covent Garden to the burgeoning number of local restaurants.

Now 52, Man has been working in one capacity or another inChinatown since his late teens. He knows everyone, and they all know him, but his children, 18 and 21, won’t follow him to work there. More significantly, he can’t see how he or his peers can stay.

London’s little Chinatown is, he suggests, in big trouble. The business model for these few teeming streets, squashed between the inelegant cinemas and hotels of Leicester Square and fashionable Soho, has long been cheap-and-cheerful food sold to theatregoers, office workers, late-night revellers and, to a lesser degree, tourists, not always by the most polite of serving staff. Chinese supermarkets, massage parlours and, for a long time, just three betting shops discreetly tucked away, added to the mix.

A certain authenticity has given the area its niche. It was a genuine community built by the emigrants from Hong Kong who, having been bombed out of Limehouse in the East End in the 1940s, made this patch of London, with its cheap commercial rents, their own.

But London is changing. The rough-and-ready charms of Chinatown today don’t necessarily fit in a city where a square foot of land can demand a rent of £838 a year. Eighteen years ago, Man was paying £66,000 a year in rent. In 2012, after a year of wrangling with his landlord, Shaftesbury, which owns the premises of 71 restaurants in the area, that increased to £244,000.

He is due another rent review in two years, when it will go up again, probably significantly. “I won’t be able to stay,” he says. “There will be no point in me being here. So many of my friends have already gone.”

Shaftesbury admits that about 10% of the restaurants it owns have changed hands in the last two years, although Man says that such churn, so damaging to the community, has been a fact of life for longer than that, and more of the same should be expected.

The Cheun Cheng restaurant, also on Wardour Street, distinctive for the enormous model dragon above its door, was owned by the same family for 40 years. They closed down 18 months ago and, with one eye on custom from the huge new hotels in the area, it is to be replaced by a steak house.

The owners of Loon Tao on Gerrard Street, who have been there for 20 years, are looking to get out having seen their rent soar from £160,000 five years ago to £312,000. The Oriental Dragon, a few doors along, is also up for sale. A raft of new betting shops – there are nine so far and another is proposed – have also appeared, as they can make huge profits from small rooms.

Walking on under the red lanterns left over from February’s Chinese new year celebrations, and offering a cheery hello to all and sundry, Man points at other restaurants. “They’re trying to get out. That one’s going. He can’t survive… I can’t see how Chinatown will be here in five years’ time. Not as I know it.”

The landlords can be confident in demanding exorbitant rents because if the current businesses won’t pay, others most certainly will. DeVono, a commercial property agency, reports that demand for a foothold in London has tripled since March 2013. They say there is a year-long waiting list for hopeful entrants – “eating brands”. The right restaurant, often with the financial backing of a chain, can make a fortune. And the landlords setting the rents know it. Shaftesbury, whose real estate portfolio includes 575 properties in Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Soho and Charlotte Street, as well as Chinatown, saw profits grow by almost 50% in the six months to the end of March 2014.

So the profits are there to be had, but can the independent Chinese restaurants, often one-man bands who have been in Chinatown for decades, be the ones to extract them? “There is footfall,” Man admits, “but they don’t spend money. The tourists come over, have a photo taken and disappear. They go to the KFC.

“There is nothing apart from the theatre to attract people who will spend money here. Leicester Square is just big hotels. One side of one of the roads in Chinatown is the side wall of the M&M’s store. The road is dead and it used to be full of retail. And since the congestion charge, and what with the lack of parking, even those coming for the theatre don’t drive and stay for a meal. They run off for the last train home. As the rent has gone up our turnover has gone down. And I can’t increase my prices because the customers won’t come.”

Shaftesbury says rent rises are just a reaction to market forces. They won’t, they admit, rescue failing businesses because “that would be daft”. And there are plenty of restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, willing to come in and pay the rents.

Man argues that those new entrants might not be so willing if they knew the truth. He has set up the West End Chinatown Tenants’ Association, through which restaurateurs already in Chinatown and those who are looking to get in can share information about rents. “There is new money coming from China, but they come over and accept extremely high rents, don’t know the market here and, within months, want to get out because there is no money to be made.

“That then sets a benchmark for all our rent reviews, and it is artificial. If we can share information, maybe we can help each other keep the rent down.”But there is also a broader political question, according to Gareth Thomas, the shadow deputy minister for London, who is being mooted as a Labour candidate in the next mayoral election. “The mayor needs to champion small businesses and independent entrepreneurs, putting them at the heart of regeneration and modernisation plans and standing up to the big property companies on their behalf,” said Thomas. The city, he suggests, needs to decide on what it treasures.

Hide

The Guardian

The hidden costs small businesses need to know about

Running a business can throw lots of extra costs your way. Jon Card discusses some of the bills that can get overlooked
All business owners need to get a grip on their costs if they are to protect cashflow and profitability. Sadly, many get into trouble when they receive an unexpected invoice or bill which they are bound to pay. Here we look at some of the ones which can get overlooked:
Winning business
Businesses need to understand how much profit they are making each time they make a sale. But it is easy to under-estimate this, especially when bringing in a new customer. Manos Schizas, a senior economic analyst at ACCA, says new clients often require a lot of hand-holding, especially at the outset, and this has the potential to undermine their profitability. “What many businesses don’t factor into their calculations is how much time goes into serving a customer before and after a sale,” he says. “A lot of hand-holding is required, and the client would never pay for this directly so it must be priced into the sale.”
Credit
Many businesses rely on credit, particularly while they are waiting to get paid themselves, and the interest can amount to a surprising amount of money. Furthermore, some products come with fees and these can be substantial. Schizas warns businesses to read the small print, especially when using invoice finance and factoring services. “Accountants often voice concerns about the fees involved in some invoice discounting and factoring facilities, and major banks have recently announced significant increases in fees for standard business banking services,” he says.
Staff
Staff should be making the business money, but some can be a major drain on resources – salary is not the only cost of having staff. Gemma Tumelty, a director at human resources firm The HR Dept, says business owners often overlook the many ways an employee can run up bills. “People know they have to do PAYE and minimum wage, but forget to factor in the additional costs of holiday pay, sickness, maternity/paternity and pension auto-enrolment,” she says. “They also forget that employees spend money by using the phone, stationery and claiming expenses.”
Offices
Rent is just one cost associated with running an office but there are many others, especially during an office move. Adam Landau, founder of property advisory firm DeVono Property, says businesses can be hit hard by unexpected costs just at a time when they are growing and really need the cash. He warns business owners to be aware of extras such as service charge rises, cost of repairs, solicitors, fees, insurance and more. “Moving office can be a business’ most expensive and unplanned-for cost,” he says. “Many are unaware of this before it’s too late.”
Tax
All businesses have to pay tax, but it’s surprising just how many entrepreneurs miscalculate their tax bill and wind up in trouble. Also, when a company is new there’s a tendency to scrimp on administration costs. Guy Mucklow, CEO of address management services company Postcode Anywhere, says the early days of running a business are the most dangerous as business owners are unused to dealing with tax. “The biggest stumbling block for most SMEs is for them to treat the VAT they collect as a potential source of finance and then discover, to their horror, that it actually belongs to the tax man,” he says. “Small bills, in the early days, such as the £500 a local firm of accountants charged me for limited advice, can be very unsettling, especially where you’re paying out of your own pocket.”
Cloud services
We have all become used to using free cloud-based software, so the idea of paying for a license can seem strange. But while many services are free to individuals, they are often paid for by businesses of a certain size. Jonathan Kettle, founder of online taxi firm Taxicode, uses Google maps but says the impact on continuing to use this service was considerable as his company grew. “We use Google maps for all our taxi websites and Google maps is free to use until you hit a certain number and then they charge you in the region of £9,000 per year,” he says. “For a small business a fee level like that can be crippling if you are not expecting it.”
Energy deals
Energy is often a big cost for small businesses, especially those which use machinery or need to heat large premises. Carrying out an energy audit and looking into the Government’s Green Deal scheme is a potential way to start saving money, as well as improving efficiency and reducing emissions. Entrepreneurs should also consider shopping around for the best tariff for their company’s energy needs. Most suppliers offer one, two or three-year fixed price plans – so you can choose the length of time you need budget certainty for, to suit your business plans.
However, Iain Walker, head of SME sales and marketing at E.ON, warns that not all “fixed” contracts are as they originally appear. “Many business customers just want the peace of mind that the costs they are charged are what they expected and what they budgeted for. When it comes to renewing a deal or signing a contract it’s vital customers know exactly what they are looking at so they can make an accurate price comparison across different suppliers. Some suppliers fix just the energy proportion of a bill – the power and gas you consume – and will look to pass through changes in the non-energy costs like distribution charges as and when they can.”
IP battles
Choosing a company name might seem like the most innocent of decisions but it can be costly, especially if another business disputes your right to use it. However, trademark disputes are just one part of the regular battles of intellectual property (IP) which are surprisingly common. David Bloom, a lawyer and founder of Safeguard iP, says as many as one in four IP owners have been embroiled in disputes. “It’s of great concern that the majority of businesses which have invested in IP do not insure what is potentially their most valuable asset,” he says. “It’s a ticking time-bomb and while it continues, businesses are putting themselves at huge risk. Many believe IP insurance is too expensive, but today there are affordable products available which provide the means to protect these assets from harm.”
Currency fluctuations
The recent turbulence in the financial sector has shown all businesses that currencies can quickly become unstable. Also as trade become increasingly global, businesses that export should consider protecting themselves from fluctuations either through financial products such as hedging or by only accepting payments in their home currency. Financial services company Ebury recently reported that British SMEs have lost over £10bn in the last 12 months due to currency fluctuations.

Running a business can throw lots of extra costs your way. Jon Card discusses some of the bills that can get overlooked

All business owners need to get a grip on their costs if they are to protect cashflow and profitability. Sadly, many get into trouble when they receive an unexpected invoice or bill which they are bound to pay. Here we look at some of the ones which can get overlooked:

Read more

Winning business

Businesses need to understand how much profit they are making each time they make a sale. But it is easy to under-estimate this, especially when bringing in a new customer. Manos Schizas, a senior economic analyst at ACCA, says new clients often require a lot of hand-holding, especially at the outset, and this has the potential to undermine their profitability. “What many businesses don’t factor into their calculations is how much time goes into serving a customer before and after a sale,” he says. “A lot of hand-holding is required, and the client would never pay for this directly so it must be priced into the sale.”

Credit

Many businesses rely on credit, particularly while they are waiting to get paid themselves, and the interest can amount to a surprising amount of money. Furthermore, some products come with fees and these can be substantial. Schizas warns businesses to read the small print, especially when using invoice finance and factoring services. “Accountants often voice concerns about the fees involved in some invoice discounting and factoring facilities, and major banks have recently announced significant increases in fees for standard business banking services,” he says.

Staff

Staff should be making the business money, but some can be a major drain on resources – salary is not the only cost of having staff. Gemma Tumelty, a director at human resources firm The HR Dept, says business owners often overlook the many ways an employee can run up bills. “People know they have to do PAYE and minimum wage, but forget to factor in the additional costs of holiday pay, sickness, maternity/paternity and pension auto-enrolment,” she says. “They also forget that employees spend money by using the phone, stationery and claiming expenses.”

Offices

Rent is just one cost associated with running an office but there are many others, especially during an office move. Adam Landau, founder of property advisory firm DeVono Property, says businesses can be hit hard by unexpected costs just at a time when they are growing and really need the cash. He warns business owners to be aware of extras such as service charge rises, cost of repairs, solicitors, fees, insurance and more. “Moving office can be a business’ most expensive and unplanned-for cost,” he says. “Many are unaware of this before it’s too late.”

Tax

All businesses have to pay tax, but it’s surprising just how many entrepreneurs miscalculate their tax bill and wind up in trouble. Also, when a company is new there’s a tendency to scrimp on administration costs. Guy Mucklow, CEO of address management services company Postcode Anywhere, says the early days of running a business are the most dangerous as business owners are unused to dealing with tax. “The biggest stumbling block for most SMEs is for them to treat the VAT they collect as a potential source of finance and then discover, to their horror, that it actually belongs to the tax man,” he says. “Small bills, in the early days, such as the £500 a local firm of accountants charged me for limited advice, can be very unsettling, especially where you’re paying out of your own pocket.”

Cloud services

We have all become used to using free cloud-based software, so the idea of paying for a license can seem strange. But while many services are free to individuals, they are often paid for by businesses of a certain size. Jonathan Kettle, founder of online taxi firm Taxicode, uses Google maps but says the impact on continuing to use this service was considerable as his company grew. “We use Google maps for all our taxi websites and Google maps is free to use until you hit a certain number and then they charge you in the region of £9,000 per year,” he says. “For a small business a fee level like that can be crippling if you are not expecting it.”

Energy deals

Energy is often a big cost for small businesses, especially those which use machinery or need to heat large premises. Carrying out an energy audit and looking into the Government’s Green Deal scheme is a potential way to start saving money, as well as improving efficiency and reducing emissions. Entrepreneurs should also consider shopping around for the best tariff for their company’s energy needs. Most suppliers offer one, two or three-year fixed price plans – so you can choose the length of time you need budget certainty for, to suit your business plans.However, Iain Walker, head of SME sales and marketing at E.ON, warns that not all “fixed” contracts are as they originally appear. “Many business customers just want the peace of mind that the costs they are charged are what they expected and what they budgeted for. When it comes to renewing a deal or signing a contract it’s vital customers know exactly what they are looking at so they can make an accurate price comparison across different suppliers. Some suppliers fix just the energy proportion of a bill – the power and gas you consume – and will look to pass through changes in the non-energy costs like distribution charges as and when they can.”

IP battles

Choosing a company name might seem like the most innocent of decisions but it can be costly, especially if another business disputes your right to use it. However, trademark disputes are just one part of the regular battles of intellectual property (IP) which are surprisingly common. David Bloom, a lawyer and founder of Safeguard iP, says as many as one in four IP owners have been embroiled in disputes. “It’s of great concern that the majority of businesses which have invested in IP do not insure what is potentially their most valuable asset,” he says. “It’s a ticking time-bomb and while it continues, businesses are putting themselves at huge risk. Many believe IP insurance is too expensive, but today there are affordable products available which provide the means to protect these assets from harm.”

Currency fluctuations

The recent turbulence in the financial sector has shown all businesses that currencies can quickly become unstable. Also as trade become increasingly global, businesses that export should consider protecting themselves from fluctuations either through financial products such as hedging or by only accepting payments in their home currency. Financial services company Ebury recently reported that British SMEs have lost over £10bn in the last 12 months due to currency fluctuations.

Hide

The Guardian

Successful remote collaboration: tips from those in the know

The advent of communications technology such as Skype and Google Hangouts means the virtual workforce has more members than ever before
The latest developments in communications technology have enabled more and more firms to operate from a variety of locations, including from overseas.
When it's time to brainstorm or plan business strategy, that same technology enables key individuals in those various locations to collaborate effectively without incurring huge costs of long distance travel to meetings and subsequent lost productivity.
Voice and video communications have become increasingly important, thanks to remote working. Voice-over-IP (VOIP) is now frequently used via audio and video conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts, both of which work on almost any mobile device.
"With Google Hangouts, it is possible to conduct a 15-way video conference with team members across the globe, even those that are on the move," says IT expert Peter Chadha, CEO of Dr Pete and chairman of Steegle.com.
And the increased use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has also been shaping the world of business collaboration, says Adam Landau, director of DeVono Property, which represents SMEs looking for office space in London.
He said: "We are seeing much less of a requirement on video conferencing facilities. This is due to the advent of tablets, improved cloud networks and more widely available Wi-Fi, so the need for physical meetings in remote locations has lessened."
Staff or consultants with tablets, even within the same building, can have these meetings with greater efficiency, while the arrival of 4G has facilitated collaborative connectivity for those on the move.
O2's Pop Up Office provides an effective solution for business people using a range of mobile devices away from the office, and out of range of a Wi-Fi connection, by enabling them to hook up to a 4G network connection and create a mobile hotspot to work from.
Advertisement
"While virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face, we do know this technology will only increase efficiency and allow for more desk time minimising unnecessary travel," added Landau.
Improvements to online file storage and sharing, and the technology that allows access to them, have also lent themselves to more effective collaborative and remote working.
Evernote Business is an app that is almost perfectly designed for collaboration on the move, as Jimmy Cregan, founder of Dorset-based Jimmy's Iced Coffee, has discovered.
He uses Evernote on O2 to manage virtually every aspect of his business, including sharing notebooks with employees and new company information posted by different teams and managers.
He says: "It is ideal for small and fast-growth businesses as it allows everyone in the company, wherever they are, to access important company information, and store their own knowledge about the business."
When Chris Niall set up his own business, specialist communications and policy consultancy Hyderus, in 2005, collaboration between remote virtual team members was his only option.
Based in south Wales, the company carries out international fieldwork in multiple markets, including areas of political unrest such as Egypt and Somaliland.
Travel to these areas from Wales is both costly and dangerous, yet on-the-ground research is essential to the success of the business. To get around the problem, he turned to online work platform Elance, through which he connects and collaborates with outsourced workers in locations around the world, creating a virtual global research team.
"The alternative would have been to employ full-time staff in multiple overseas markets, which would have significantly increased our overheads," says Niall.
"A virtual workforce has saved the business money, allowed us to grow faster and keep the UK team supplied with accurate research data that the company would otherwise be unable to function without."
It isn't just business strategy and operations that SMEs are handling collaboratively. Key functions such as HR, accounting and CRM can also be managed remotely and collaboratively, when, for example, senior members of staff are away from the main HQ.
"Systems for all of these functions are available and accessible via the cloud through applications such as Vana, Xero and Salesforce," added Peter Chadha. "Having traditionally required in-house servers to support these systems, cloud removes the hardware and software responsibilities for SMEs, leaving only the data itself to be managed."
If businesses are to remain competitive and achieve growth in regional, national and international markets, keeping their cost base at a manageable level is key. Investing in new technology and equipment and creating environments where services and knowledge are shared allows businesses to maximise growth opportunities, while keeping their cost base to a minimum.
Tips for successful online business collaboration
1. Ensure you have complete control of your business' web domain name and can transfer it whenever and wherever you want.
2. Audit the devices that will be used and ensure they will integrate with the cloud systems.
3. Audit the data that will need to be transferred and conduct a 'spring clean' before beginning migration.
4. Be clear on the level of risk your business is comfortable with. This will determine how much data and general activity you will want to place in the cloud.

The advent of communications technology such as Skype and Google Hangouts means the virtual workforce has more members than ever before

The latest developments in communications technology have enabled more and more firms to operate from a variety of locations, including from overseas.

Read more

When it's time to brainstorm or plan business strategy, that same technology enables key individuals in those various locations to collaborate effectively without incurring huge costs of long distance travel to meetings and subsequent lost productivity.

Voice and video communications have become increasingly important, thanks to remote working. Voice-over-IP (VOIP) is now frequently used via audio and video conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts, both of which work on almost any mobile device.

"With Google Hangouts, it is possible to conduct a 15-way video conference with team members across the globe, even those that are on the move," says IT expert Peter Chadha, CEO of Dr Pete and chairman of Steegle.com.

And the increased use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has also been shaping the world of business collaboration, says Adam Landau, director of DeVono Property, which represents SMEs looking for office space in London.

He said: "We are seeing much less of a requirement on video conferencing facilities. This is due to the advent of tablets, improved cloud networks and more widely available Wi-Fi, so the need for physical meetings in remote locations has lessened."

Staff or consultants with tablets, even within the same building, can have these meetings with greater efficiency, while the arrival of 4G has facilitated collaborative connectivity for those on the move.

O2's Pop Up Office provides an effective solution for business people using a range of mobile devices away from the office, and out of range of a Wi-Fi connection, by enabling them to hook up to a 4G network connection and create a mobile hotspot to work from.

"While virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face, we do know this technology will only increase efficiency and allow for more desk time minimising unnecessary travel," added Landau.
Improvements to online file storage and sharing, and the technology that allows access to them, have also lent themselves to more effective collaborative and remote working.

Evernote Business is an app that is almost perfectly designed for collaboration on the move, as Jimmy Cregan, founder of Dorset-based Jimmy's Iced Coffee, has discovered.

He uses Evernote on O2 to manage virtually every aspect of his business, including sharing notebooks with employees and new company information posted by different teams and managers.

He says: "It is ideal for small and fast-growth businesses as it allows everyone in the company, wherever they are, to access important company information, and store their own knowledge about the business."

When Chris Niall set up his own business, specialist communications and policy consultancy Hyderus, in 2005, collaboration between remote virtual team members was his only option.

Based in south Wales, the company carries out international fieldwork in multiple markets, including areas of political unrest such as Egypt and Somaliland.

Travel to these areas from Wales is both costly and dangerous, yet on-the-ground research is essential to the success of the business. To get around the problem, he turned to online work platform Elance, through which he connects and collaborates with outsourced workers in locations around the world, creating a virtual global research team.

"The alternative would have been to employ full-time staff in multiple overseas markets, which would have significantly increased our overheads," says Niall.

"A virtual workforce has saved the business money, allowed us to grow faster and keep the UK team supplied with accurate research data that the company would otherwise be unable to function without."

It isn't just business strategy and operations that SMEs are handling collaboratively. Key functions such as HR, accounting and CRM can also be managed remotely and collaboratively, when, for example, senior members of staff are away from the main HQ.

"Systems for all of these functions are available and accessible via the cloud through applications such as Vana, Xero and Salesforce," added Peter Chadha. "Having traditionally required in-house servers to support these systems, cloud removes the hardware and software responsibilities for SMEs, leaving only the data itself to be managed."

If businesses are to remain competitive and achieve growth in regional, national and international markets, keeping their cost base at a manageable level is key. Investing in new technology and equipment and creating environments where services and knowledge are shared allows businesses to maximise growth opportunities, while keeping their cost base to a minimum.

Tips for successful online business collaboration

1. Ensure you have complete control of your business' web domain name and can transfer it whenever and wherever you want.
2. Audit the devices that will be used and ensure they will integrate with the cloud systems.
3. Audit the data that will need to be transferred and conduct a 'spring clean' before beginning migration.
4. Be clear on the level of risk your business is comfortable with. This will determine how much data and general activity you will want to place in the cloud.

Hide

The Guardian

Successful remote collaboration: tips from those in the know

By Alison Coleman

The advent of communications technology such as Skype and Google Hangouts means the virtual workforce has more members than ever before.

The latest developments in communications technology have enabled more and more firms to operate from a variety of locations, including from overseas.

Read more

When it's time to brainstorm or plan business strategy, that same technology enables key individuals in those various locations to collaborate effectively without incurring huge costs of long distance travel to meetings and subsequent lost productivity.

Voice and video communications have become increasingly important, thanks to remote working. Voice-over-IP (VOIP) is now frequently used via audio and video conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts, both of which work on almost any mobile device.

"With Google Hangouts, it is possible to conduct a 15-way video conference with team members across the globe, even those that are on the move," says IT expert Peter Chadha, CEO of Dr Pete and chairman of Steegle.com.

And the increased use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has also been shaping the world of business collaboration, says Adam Landau, director of DeVono Property, which represents SMEs looking for office space in London.

He said: "We are seeing much less of a requirement on video conferencing facilities. This is due to the advent of tablets, improved cloud networks and more widely available Wi-Fi, so the need for physical meetings in remote locations has lessened."

Staff or consultants with tablets, even within the same building, can have these meetings with greater efficiency, while the arrival of 4G has facilitated collaborative connectivity for those on the move.

O2's Pop Up Office provides an effective solution for business people using a range of mobile devices away from the office, and out of range of a Wi-Fi connection, by enabling them to hook up to a 4G network connection and create a mobile hotspot to work from.

"While virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face, we do know this technology will only increase efficiency and allow for more desk time minimising unnecessary travel," added Landau.

Improvements to online file storage and sharing, and the technology that allows access to them, have also lent themselves to more effective collaborative and remote working.

Evernote Business is an app that is almost perfectly designed for collaboration on the move, as Jimmy Cregan, founder of Dorset-based Jimmy's Iced Coffee, has discovered.

He uses Evernote on O2 to manage virtually every aspect of his business, including sharing notebooks with employees and new company information posted by different teams and managers.

He says: "It is ideal for small and fast-growth businesses as it allows everyone in the company, wherever they are, to access important company information, and store their own knowledge about the business."

When Chris Niall set up his own business, specialist communications and policy consultancy Hyderus, in 2005, collaboration between remote virtual team members was his only option.

Based in south Wales, the company carries out international fieldwork in multiple markets, including areas of political unrest such as Egypt and Somaliland.

Travel to these areas from Wales is both costly and dangerous, yet on-the-ground research is essential to the success of the business. To get around the problem, he turned to online work platform Elance, through which he connects and collaborates with outsourced workers in locations around the world, creating a virtual global research team.

"The alternative would have been to employ full-time staff in multiple overseas markets, which would have significantly increased our overheads," says Niall.

"A virtual workforce has saved the business money, allowed us to grow faster and keep the UK team supplied with accurate research data that the company would otherwise be unable to function without."

It isn't just business strategy and operations that SMEs are handling collaboratively. Key functions such as HR, accounting and CRM can also be managed remotely and collaboratively, when, for example, senior members of staff are away from the main HQ.

"Systems for all of these functions are available and accessible via the cloud through applications such as Vana, Xero and Salesforce," added Peter Chadha. "Having traditionally required in-house servers to support these systems, cloud removes the hardware and software responsibilities for SMEs, leaving only the data itself to be managed."

If businesses are to remain competitive and achieve growth in regional, national and international markets, keeping their cost base at a manageable level is key. Investing in new technology and equipment and creating environments where services and knowledge are shared allows businesses to maximise growth opportunities, while keeping their cost base to a minimum.

Tips for successful online business collaboration

1. Ensure you have complete control of your business' web domain name and can transfer it whenever and wherever you want.

2. Audit the devices that will be used and ensure they will integrate with the cloud systems.

3. Audit the data that will need to be transferred and conduct a 'spring clean' before beginning migration.

4. Be clear on the level of risk your business is comfortable with. This will determine how much data and general activity you will want to place in the cloud.

The advent of communications technology such as Skype and Google Hangouts means the virtual workforce has more members than ever before
By Alison Coleman
The latest developments in communications technology have enabled more and more firms to operate from a variety of locations, including from overseas.
When it's time to brainstorm or plan business strategy, that same technology enables key individuals in those various locations to collaborate effectively without incurring huge costs of long distance travel to meetings and subsequent lost productivity.
Voice and video communications have become increasingly important, thanks to remote working. Voice-over-IP (VOIP) is now frequently used via audio and video conferencing tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts, both of which work on almost any mobile device.
"With Google Hangouts, it is possible to conduct a 15-way video conference with team members across the globe, even those that are on the move," says IT expert Peter Chadha, CEO of Dr Pete and chairman of Steegle.com.
And the increased use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has also been shaping the world of business collaboration, says Adam Landau, director of DeVono Property, which represents SMEs looking for office space in London.
He said: "We are seeing much less of a requirement on video conferencing facilities. This is due to the advent of tablets, improved cloud networks and more widely available Wi-Fi, so the need for physical meetings in remote locations has lessened."
Staff or consultants with tablets, even within the same building, can have these meetings with greater efficiency, while the arrival of 4G has facilitated collaborative connectivity for those on the move.
O2's Pop Up Office provides an effective solution for business people using a range of mobile devices away from the office, and out of range of a Wi-Fi connection, by enabling them to hook up to a 4G network connection and create a mobile hotspot to work from.
"While virtual meetings will never replace face-to-face, we do know this technology will only increase efficiency and allow for more desk time minimising unnecessary travel," added Landau.
Improvements to online file storage and sharing, and the technology that allows access to them, have also lent themselves to more effective collaborative and remote working.
Evernote Business is an app that is almost perfectly designed for collaboration on the move, as Jimmy Cregan, founder of Dorset-based Jimmy's Iced Coffee, has discovered.
He uses Evernote on O2 to manage virtually every aspect of his business, including sharing notebooks with employees and new company information posted by different teams and managers.
He says: "It is ideal for small and fast-growth businesses as it allows everyone in the company, wherever they are, to access important company information, and store their own knowledge about the business."
When Chris Niall set up his own business, specialist communications and policy consultancy Hyderus, in 2005, collaboration between remote virtual team members was his only option.
Based in south Wales, the company carries out international fieldwork in multiple markets, including areas of political unrest such as Egypt and Somaliland.
Travel to these areas from Wales is both costly and dangerous, yet on-the-ground research is essential to the success of the business. To get around the problem, he turned to online work platform Elance, through which he connects and collaborates with outsourced workers in locations around the world, creating a virtual global research team.
"The alternative would have been to employ full-time staff in multiple overseas markets, which would have significantly increased our overheads," says Niall.
"A virtual workforce has saved the business money, allowed us to grow faster and keep the UK team supplied with accurate research data that the company would otherwise be unable to function without."
It isn't just business strategy and operations that SMEs are handling collaboratively. Key functions such as HR, accounting and CRM can also be managed remotely and collaboratively, when, for example, senior members of staff are away from the main HQ.
"Systems for all of these functions are available and accessible via the cloud through applications such as Vana, Xero and Salesforce," added Peter Chadha. "Having traditionally required in-house servers to support these systems, cloud removes the hardware and software responsibilities for SMEs, leaving only the data itself to be managed."
If businesses are to remain competitive and achieve growth in regional, national and international markets, keeping their cost base at a manageable level is key. Investing in new technology and equipment and creating environments where services and knowledge are shared allows businesses to maximise growth opportunities, while keeping their cost base to a minimum.
Tips for successful online business collaboration
1. Ensure you have complete control of your business' web domain name and can transfer it whenever and wherever you want.
2. Audit the devices that will be used and ensure they will integrate with the cloud systems.
3. Audit the data that will need to be transferred and conduct a 'spring clean' before beginning migration.
4. Be clear on the level of risk your business is comfortable with. This will determine how much data and general activity you will want to place in the cloud.

Hide

The Guardian

How to improve the efficiency of your small business

From outsourcing to transport to social media, here are some top tips for making your small business more efficient
By Alison Coleman

Business efficiency means making the most out of what you have; a fundamental discipline of running any company. As a small business owner, your key assets will include things like cash, employees, vehicles, premises, and access to products and services, but how often do you check to make sure they are delivering maximum efficiency for your business?

Outsource for efficiency
Outsourcing business functions such as HR and bookkeeping can create real cost-saving opportunities by freeing up a business owner's time that could be better spent on finding ways to improve the company's prospects.

Read more

Richard Contreas and Mark Findlay, founders of luxury floor company Harvey Maria, outsource almost all their business processes to operate with a team of just three fulltime staff. Using an online portal to outsource their accounting, CRM, e-commerce, warehouse, and stock level processes has enabled them to focus on growing the business and boost turnover by 50% year on year.

Time to switch suppliers?
While it makes good business sense to have reliable incumbent suppliers, over time they will be looking to increase their prices for the products you buy from them, so they should be reviewed on a regular basis. You may find cheaper prices from fresh suppliers you haven't used before, while improved overseas trade could make an international supplier more viable and cost efficient today than previously.

Similar principles should be applied to business utilities, such as telecommunications and energy. Christian Nellemann, CEO of business services firm XLN Telecom, says: "Since the government did away with monopoly providers in favour of central regulation, a number of smaller suppliers have emerged to offer exactly the same products but at a lower cost."

Make your office space work
One of the biggest costs facing a business is finding new premises. Getting it wrong can cost dearly and setting up a rent agreement which doesn't favour the growth strategy of a business will only result in another costly move in the near future.

"Calculate exactly how much space you need well in advance of looking. The industry standard of 100 sq ft per person is around 10 to 15 per cent too much, according to our own research," says Adam Landau, director of DeVono Property.

"And look for flexibility in the lease. Ensure that it includes the right to sublet or assign the office you are taking on in the event that your business grows and needs a larger office."

Keep your business transport running smoothly
Rising fuel costs have left many firms with little scope for improving their business vehicle and travel efficiency, however, with the right vehicle choice and careful logistics and journey planning, it can be done.

Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, which operates a fleet of 150 Volkswagen company vans, says: "Our fuel costs rose by £150,000 last year. Other than our choice of vans, which are extremely cost efficient in terms of fuel and maintenance, we have improved fuel efficiency by taking the shortest routes and monitoring speed. GPS tracking systems fitted in each of our vans also gives us instant visibility of our engineers out on the road, allowing us to assign new jobs to the closest engineer, spot and avoid traffic jams, and take the most efficient route."

Tune up your technology
Technology makes the business world go round, and this is one area where small firms can achieve significant improvements in efficiency and productivity, starting with a move to the cloud. Transferring core business functions such as bookkeeping and word processing to a cloud or web-based systems and service providers can dramatically reduce the amount of time and money spent buying, upgrading and maintaining inhouse software and hardware.

"You and other members of staff can access your business information and services from anywhere in the world, and best of all, many of the tools on which small businesses rely are free in the cloud," says Graham Long, vice president corporate sales and IT solutions at Samsung UK & Ireland.

Don't be too social with social media
Social media offers a powerful and cost effective tool for promoting your business brand, but are you doing it efficiently? Identifying and targeting the platforms and networks where your customers and potential customers are to be found is the key, otherwise time spent posting your business news and details of special offers in all the wrong places will be wasted.

CRM service providers, such as CubeSocial.com, allow you to manage multiple social media accounts from a central point, enabling much greater efficiency.

You also need to use analytics to tell you if your social media campaign is efficient.
There are plenty of free online tools available that will highlight activity that has been successful as well as areas for improvement.

Think before you print
One of the most wasteful, and potentially costly business activities is printing.
Professional services firms in the UK could collectively save more than £45m a year by changing their printing practices, according to research from Epson. The worst examples include printing documents and not reading them, failing to collect print-outs from the printer, and unnecessary printing. Epson's UK business sales director Neil Colquhoun says: "Set policies and introduce training to ensure staff are aware of how to print duplex and consider introducing swipe cards to enable printing; swiping the card against the printer means your team is more likely to pick up the print when it's finished."

Clean up your contact databases
From the moment customer data enters a database, it starts to decay and become out of date. Within a couple of years, a database could be holding a significant amount of data that is likely to be out of date. Consider the costs of mailing catalogues and marketing campaigns to out of date addresses, or redirecting packages to the correct address, and the impact on the marketing budget, and the brand can be significant.

Natalie Green, from business efficiency firm Postcode Anywhere, says: "Cleansing software is available that can cross-reference your contact records against recognised datasets and keep them up to date, resulting in a more efficient marketing strategy that delivers better direct marketing response rates."

Are your employees wasting your time?
Are your members of staff diligently serving your customers, or busy improving their score on Angry Birds? Every business owner knows that an employee's time is his money, but many have yet to cotton on to the time wasting opportunities that have accompanied the emergence of smartphones. If this issue is affecting staff efficiency, you need set out some ground rules to guide your employees as to what is and isn't acceptable, or avoid problems altogether by establishing a no-phones-out policy.

Hide