Small business Advice | 18 places to indulge in face-to-face business networking

Networking can be a great way for business owners to meet with new prospects and re-connect with others they already know, offering the chance to build relationships of partnerships, referrals and resources. So, if you’re looking to network with likeminded entrepreneurs but you don’t know where to start, check out  Real Business’ 18-point guide to finding great business networking events.

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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 But traditionally, hire has been quite outdated in this respect – it’s an industry that’s been focused on products and the mechanics of the hire process more so than on the customer.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 | Surviving Public Sector Cuts

Real Business has recently published an article outlining how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who supply to the public sector are able to protect themselves against the ever increasing public sector cuts.

Across the public sector, the government spends around £140bn on goods and £80bn on services annually. Although active discussions on price cuts are only being held with its 20 largest suppliers, it seems likely that this is to spread to the majority of suppliers including enterprising businesses and SMEs. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has already been reported as saying that he expects public sector suppliers to cut their prices in order to help lower the public deficit.

However warnings are being made to smaller suppliers about ‘knee-jerk’ price cuts as there are concerns that it could be rather harmful to their overall profits. Suggestions have been made on how to come to a compromise over this situation. One such being to develop total cost of ownership tools to help evaluate the lifetime cost of the contract to the government, offering longer term contracts in exchange for lower annual costs.

To see all the survival tips and full article please visit the Real Business website.

Small Business News | Valued employees can make a real difference

The Independent recently covered the story of Simon Murdoch, co-founder of amazon.co.uk and Vineet Nayar, author of Employees First, Customers Second, raising some interesting points about the value of employees to a start-up business.

The article looks at the difference customer service makes to a start-up businesses. Using Simon Murdoch as a case study, the Independent describes his background and experiences of a ‘customer centric’ approach as one that has led his to such a belief. Looking at the wish for a ‘personal touch’ that many of today’s customers seek, the article moves on to examine how large number of internet based start-ups achieve this when the company is, by definition, never face-to-face with customers. Vineet Nayar’s publication of Employees First, Customers Second, suggests that the key to customer service is creating a situation where employees feel like owners, thus becoming personally attached and eager vessels of change. This signifies a move away from traditional customer service to one that provides internet based, small and medium start-ups with a more sustainable platform for success.

To see the article in full, please visit the Independent website.

Small Business News | Government to protect SME workers

The coalition government has launched a pilot scheme to try and crack down on the bosses of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) who treat their staff poorly.

Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, has recently outlined government plans to protect vulnerable workers and reveal employers who fail to meet the minimum health and safety standards. In London and Manchester, two pilot schemes have been set up which will bring together industry gurus from unions, businesses, enforcement and advice bodies. The panels shall be working with an eye to strengthening enforcement procedures, secure fairer working conditions, give employees the chance to develop skills and ensure that bosses can understand and comply with UK employment law.

To read the article in full, please visit Business High Street.

Small Business News | Empires built on free code aren’t cheap

The Register has recently claimed that whilst starting up a business is still fairly cheap, the price paid for success is far more expensive.

A reduction in hardware and software costs certainly do suggest that it’s a ‘great time to be an entrepreneur’ as declared by Joe Kraus five years ago. Nonetheless lower start-up costs seem to have had little or no effect on venture capitalists as recent data from the National Venture Capital Association reveals that average investments are similar to levels since 2007. Furthermore the cost of scaling a company may have actually gone up. Customising open-source software and creating data centres – an action recently taken by Facebook – is not cheap. Such facts suggest that things like capital intensity and scale only privilege the minority, leading to market concentration and in cloud computing. Of course the cheaper alternative is to outsource your data centre, but companies such as Facebook are hardly going to trust third parties with such a wealth of information. So whilst it may be cheap to start-up a business, beware, because it is still highly expensive to scale one.

To read the full article please visit The Register website.