Small Business Advice | Banks join forces to lend to businesses

The British Banking Association (BBA) has announced plans to form a new taskforce in a bid to stimulate lending to UK businesses. The group, lead by Stephen Green, head of the BBA, has sent a letter to George Osbourne outlining plans to form a group to discuss how the banks can improve businesses’ access to funds. The group will also investigate what changes can be made to create a stronger financial market for business. To read the full story, visit the Growing Business website.

Small Business Advice | Customer Service for hire

My background is very much of a retail nature, where customers and customer service are the very heart of the business. But traditionally, hire has been quite outdated in this respect – it’s an industry that’s been focused on products and the mechanics of the hire process more so than on the customer. And I think that’s been a mistake.

When I joined HSS, there had already been some progress in addressing this and over the past few years, we’ve been resolute in building on this. We have been leading the way in bringing a more customer-centric focus to hire, aligning our business model to the needs of our customers and making sure we are best placed to work with them, wherever and whenever they need us.

We’ve been busy opening new branches to consolidate our nationwide network and we’ve also invested heavily in expanding and updating our equipment fleet to ensure that it is easy for our customers to find us and to get what they need from us.

But it’s no longer good enough to just be a ‘supplier’; it’s got to be about becoming an indispensible part of your customer’s supply chain. Our customers are why we do what we do and we work hard to deliver what they need from us – I don’t think you can or should do anything else; even during the tough times of a recession. And yes, the current market conditions mean a big part of that will focus on costs, both your own and those of your customer. But for real success, it’s equally essential not to only take a cost reducing approach. Service and compliance must be maintained and, even more than that, innovation must be embraced. We’ve pioneered some great initiatives and hire related services that are all about putting the customer at the very heart of what we do and in making hire easy for them and all of this has helped us to outperform the market despite some very challenging times.

As part of this dedication to customer care, we developed and launched our award-winning online business management system, HSS LiveHire to give our customers better visibility and control of the equipment they have on hire. Saving time and money are always important factors for any business but, now more than ever, our customers need us to help identify efficiencies and drive out unnecessary costs and LiveHire helps deliver against those needs in a way that no other system can do.

I readily admit that our customer-centric approach has led to other hire companies looking over the fence at HSS and thinking that we’re somewhat mad. But to be honest, if we’re going to stand out from the crowd in our industry, I’m very proud that it’s because we put our customers first.

Small Business News | Boom in small businesses but with a legal sting in the tail

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) a record number of people will become self-employed this year. However there are concerns that the taxman may wish to turn your status from self-employed to employed, therefore putting you into the PAYE bucket.

 With the UK facing high unemployment, the FSB is expecting a boom in people going it alone this year with a record 300,000 people looking to become their own boss. According to the article this will not only help grow the economy but could in turn create more jobs as these small businesses flourish. However, the FSB is concerned that those that do become self-employed are penalised by the taxman if they take on other part-time or temporary work for another company. If so, there is a chance that the taxman will want to put you into the PAYE bucket and turn your legal status from self-employed to that of an employee. Therefore the FSB is calling on the HMRC to respect the declaration of self-employment, accepting the individual as just that unless a material change takes place.

 To read more on this issue, please visit the Federation of Small Businesses.

Small Business News | Cash-strapped entrepreneurs get creative

Small Business News | Cash-strapped entrepreneurs get creative

A recent BBC article discusses the problem of finance for cash-strapped entrepreneurs looking at a new generation of online funding platforms.

In order to get new ventures off the ground these online platforms, such as Kickstarter, cater for everyone from starving artists to tech start-ups. They also allow anyone with a business proposition to post an online pitch which goes straight into the offices and homes of potential investors and donors across the world. Although there is no limit on how much people can raise, creators of the projects must take a Dragons Den style approach and set a cash goal and a time limit. If they reach the goal within the time limit they get to keep the pledges. If they don’t, all pledges are returned. Alongside the ability to gain funding, young entrepreneurs receive feedback on their products and plans and well as having the added bonus of a readymade group of potential customers. So far 650 projects have been successful and pledges have come from 70,000 people globally.

To read more about this scheme please visit the BBC website.

Small Business Advice | Protecting the force

I run a specialist clothing company, Rig Equipment Ltd , for people working in dangerous environments, such as air ambulance crews, paramedics and specialist units in the police. It actually started out as a hobby business back in 1994 when I was still working for the police, but when I retired I’d put in so much work to the business, I decided to start running it full time.

Paramedics in Action

In my experience, turning a hobby business into a full time occupation has been proved to be a great decision. However, making the move from a career in a specialist unit within the police to MD of a small clothing manufacturing company has also brought with it its fair share of interesting challenges.  So, although I would always encourage other budding entrepreneurs to do the same, I wanted to share with you some of my own thoughts on things to consider before you make the move; so that your hobby business translates into a full time success:

Be clear on your business idea and the reasons why you are setting up a business. If, like me, you started the business as a hobby then you already know you enjoy all that it involves and making the jump to full time will be a natural progression.  I’d suggest starting with the basics. Research your business idea and see who is already offering your proposed product or service; research their strengths and weaknesses, is there a gap in the market? Consider how you plan to finance your start-up and which people do you need on board to help you get set up? I’m sure you won’t forget that you need a name for your business, but you’ll also need to register it too.

Be honest about your skills. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. If you are a fantastic sales person but lousy on finance then seek advice and get help. There were obvious gaps in my own CV. I lacked a background in sales and my previous experience of running a business was limited. On the other hand, having worked within the specialist circles, I really understood the product and the end-user which was a huge advantage. Other suppliers to the police, although good at manufacturing, didn’t really understand what the product was supposed to do, whereas my insight enabled me to provide the best product on the market.

Take advice. On everything. There’s so many blogs, websites, forums and organisations available that can offer practical advice on starting a business, there’s no need to go it alone.  Some of the things you might want to consider seeking advice on are how to structure your business – should it be a sole trader, partnership or limited company – to finance and auditing, HR policy and even finding a suitable premises. I personally found some of these resources to be invaluable.

If you require funding, make sure your business plan and financial projections are well thought out. There are a number of options you can look at to get funding, from banks or private investors to government agencies, so do your research. Personally, I found a lot of my help came from government agencies. For example, when we came to designing our product and getting it CE tested and the European Standard ISO, we had a strict budget in order to remain competitive. The Manufacturing Advisory Service were able to offer us half of the total cost in funding as well as offering what would probably have cost approximately two thousand euros of advice, for free. Likewise, Advantage West Midlands assigned me with my own mentor to help me through the early stages of the business which made a world of difference, especially when it came to helping me build up confidence around my weaker skills such as sales. Input like this was invaluable.

I hope some of my own experience can help you make the move too!

Good luck!

Ray

Small Business Advice | Starting a Business – Checklist

Starting a business can be a very complex and time consuming process. Fellow small business website, Smarta, offers advice on how to set up a business step-by-step. The article goes on to answer some of the pressing questions soon-to-be business owners need to ask. For the full story, please visit Smarta.com

• How do I research my business idea?
• Writing a business plan
• How can I finance my business?
• Prepare: business training, skills and support
• Getting the right people on board
• Naming your business
• Registering your business
• Set up a website
• Getting suppliers and distributors on board
• Get the nitty-gritty right

Small Business News | Making business more energy efficient

According to recent survey commissioned by Fresh Business Thinking; 97% of small business are concerned about reducing their energy consumption and identify energy efficiency as a real opportunity to cut costs. However, currently only 36% of businesses are actively looking at ways to do this. They feel unclear about the steps they can take to make these reductions, claims the research.

The article offers advice for SMEs to find the best ways of cutting costs while becoming more energy-efficient. For the full story, please read more at Fresh Business Thinking website