Category Archives: In the News

From making tax digital to your new contactless terminal, it’s hard to ignore how technology and the digital world are rapidly transforming the way businesses operate. While it’s easy to cling onto old habits, SMEs that welcome technology in small doses will not only streamline existing processes, but ensure they remain ahead of the curve when it comes to meeting customer expectations. With a combined turnover of £1.8 trillion, nearly half of UK SMEs agree that technology would improve their productivity – providing a huge boost to the UK economy. We take a look at five simple ways your business could integrate new technology for enhanced efficiency, and an even brighter future.

 

Research has revealed that small cash-only businesses have 3.5 months to make the switch before customers in Birmingham lose patience.

 

Payment acceptance

Cash only? While it’s important to keep your till stocked, SMEs that refuse card payments now run the risk of losing business altogether. In fact, research has revealed that small cash-only businesses have less than five months to make the switch before customers lose patience; Birmingham’s shoppers proving the most impatient at just 3.5 months. With the total UK contactless spend reaching £69 billion in 2018, businesses that accept this form of payment can open the door to even more visitors keen to pay with their cards, smartphones or wearables (and not miss out on those lacking the change). Plus, with payments below £30, a simple tap does wonders for your productivity, reducing queue times and allowing your customers to pay swiftly during busy periods.

Savvy apps

With a sea of apps designed to propel SMEs forward, it’s worth investigating which innovations could work for your business. For restaurant owners looking to fill their tables, apps like OpenTable make it easy for hungry guests to discover your place and book a sitting (minus the phone call). Similarly, apps like Qkr! were designed to make eating out a breeze by allowing customers to pay via their smartphones – the kind of tech that has the potential to transform your front of house. With payment acceptance in mind, low-cost solutions like Square allow any sized business to accept all major cards via a small card reader – whether face-to-face, over the phone or online. The free POS app also allows you to track sales, issue digital receipts, and receive sales reports.

 

Can you communicate with customers from anywhere in the world? Skype for Business means you can instantly message, video call and screen share.

 

Better housekeeping

As your team begins to grow, organisation is key should you wish to maintain good communication and a steady workflow. Whether you’re an office-based business or tend to work remotely, software like Trello offers a flexible solution to streamlined project management. If you haven’t already, SMEs sharing large files on a regular basis should consider secure online hubs such as Dropbox or Google Cloud Storage. For avid notetakers, Evernote allows users to capture information quickly via computer or smartphone, minus the pen and paper. When it comes to communication, collaborative workspaces like Slack allow teams to set up project-specific channels and correspond via relevant workstreams. For conference calls from any device, anywhere in the world, Skype for Business puts you in the same room as colleagues with built-in instant messages and screen sharing capabilities.

Under lock and key

Though it may be the last thing on your mind, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to security. SMEs that choose to ramp up their surveillance will not only reduce the chance of theft, but be given peace of mind after a long and busy day. From CCTV to intelligent alarm systems, there are a number of options available to align with your key concerns, dependent on the size and type of your premises. Providing video surveillance and notifications direct to your smartphone, video or ‘smart’ doorbells such as ring allow you to monitor front-door activity 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world. With customisable security at your fingertips, just a few small changes could keep your business safe and sound – and at a relatively low cost.

 

Could you business utilise technology to offer more services or products, such a photographer using a drone.

 

Robots at the ready

Though the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) may sound far-fetched, SMEs are already enlisting the help of advanced technology to better serve the needs of their business. Whether it’s a photographer investing in their very first drone, a toymaker exploring 3D printing, or SMEs using smart speakers like Amazon Echo, the integration of AI is fast catching on and for good reason. If you’re a consumer-facing business, chatbots can serve as virtual assistants in your absence, offering swift, pre-set responses and effective customer support 24 hours a day. Whether via your company website or Facebook Page, automation can always be adopted to answer your customers’ most basic questions, without compromising that personalised approach should you ever wish to step in.

 

With an annual turnover of over £300 billion, the UK SME market continues to go from strength to strength – in spite of a hazy economic outlook. While preparing for Brexit as a business is of tantamount importance, it’s also key for Britain’s entrepreneurs to adapt to the changing times and plan accordingly for the future, whatever the coming months may bring. As the nation’s start-up community prepares for this year’s Local Business Week (13 to 19 May), we explore hints and tips on how to navigate a new landscape and thrive through this era of uncertainty. Furthermore, to celebrate working with neighbouring businesses, we’re offering any company within a fifteen mile radius of our Tamworth office a discounted fixed-fee for two years when they appoint us by 30 June 2019. So we can learn more about your about your business and your accounting needs, call us on 01827 54944 to arrange your initial, free one-hour meeting.

 

By personally recommending fellow businesses on your doorstep, you’ll soon find neighbours doing the same for you which further strengthens the community spirit.

Getting to Know Your Community

While the competitive spirit is nothing to be sniffed at, the SME ‘community’ has become what it is today by business owners collaborating, co-operating and learning from each other (through the good times and the bad). By personally recommending fellow businesses on your doorstep, you’ll soon find neighbours doing the same for you which further strengthens the community spirit – encouraging customers to shop local. Partnering with other like-minded businesses is a great way to demonstrate solidarity and ultimately increase your customer base. Seasonal events offer the opportunity to do just this – from summer fetes to late night shopping over the festive period. If new to the area, why not start by offering discounts to visitors in exchange for completing a short survey? With 70% of SMEs having expressed a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of local customers, relationship building within the community will only help foster a positive reputation.

 

Localised Marketing

From launching a blog to devising a more integrated approach, a robust marketing plan has the potential to propel your business into the spotlight. More importantly, it can also help put you in front of those that matter the most: your local community. You’ll find the majority of social networks offer paid social (PPC) services to target your content, and the channels you choose will largely depend on where your target audience tends to congregate; would you likely find them using Snapchat, for example? While a Facebook Page can help make your services known – with Messenger for Business placing you directly in touch with customers – paid social using this network is a good place to start. Using Business Manager, SMEs can create and save customised ‘Audiences’ to steer their content via location, demographic, interests and behaviour. From digital to print, press coverage in your local newspaper is also worth exploring and can prove an extremely effective marketing tool – reaching loyal readers (and prospective customers) within your region.

 

By shopping in their neighbourhood, not only are customers supporting the local economy; with less distance to travel, they are also reducing their carbon footprint.

A Lesson in Eco-friendly

By shopping in their neighbourhood, not only are customers supporting the local economy; with less distance to travel, they are also reducing their carbon footprint. In return, there are many things you can do to support the environment as an ‘eco-conscious’ business. If you’re a bar, why not replace plastic straws with paper alternatives, or sell reusable metal drinking straws (and a free beverage with every purchase). Coffee shops can also do away with plastic altogether. Where cups are concerned, incentivise customers to come with their travel flasks handy. Compostable cutlery and bio-degradable food boxes are also easy to stock and offer a great talking point with customers taking away. If you’re an office-based SME, you can take part by adopting a ‘paperless’ policy in the workplace. Invoices, receipts and other important documents can also be shared digitally, saving both paper and time. Reviewing your energy consumption as a small business can also help you do your bit, and cut utility bills in the long-run. Simple changes like turning off the heating at weekends and timer switches for lights can have a huge impact on your outgoings.

 

Keeping your Finances in Order

Staying on top of your finances can be a challenge for the average SME – particularly for a fledgling business minus the experience. Nevertheless, with good organisational skills and the ability to plan ahead, there are a number of ways to iron out the kinks, save time, and allow you to focus on what you do best. From sorting invoices to monitoring your outgoings, software such as Xero offer affordable packages with the purpose of keeping SMEs on track. Annual account management (your yearly financial performance) and Corporation Tax should also be prioritised should you wish to remain in operation. For peace of mind however, outsourcing these tasks to an local business advisor/accountant allows you to meet face to face with your consultant and build that all-important rapport over time – as well as being kept in the loop on your terms. Providing improved transparency, local businesses that specialise in SME support will often offer packages bespoke to your requirements. Plus, you’ll also be supporting local!

 

Whether it’s start-up accountancy advice or a streamlined payroll service, the dedicated team at Adams Moore offer a personalised and tailored approach to all small business clients, whatever your budget. Get in touch to arrange your free consultation. If you are based within 15 miles of our Tamworth office, engaging us by 30 June 2019 means you will be eligible for a discounted fixed-price for two years… in celebration of Local Business Week.

With the 6 April marking the start of a fresh new tax year, change is most certainly afoot in 2019. As a crucial part of your annual housekeeping, it’s worth taking a moment to familiarise yourself with the changes to tax – both personally and professionally – that may impact your finances. Whether this be updates to the National Living Wage or benefit in kind (BiK) tax rates for your company car, we explore this year’s key revisions from HMRC to help directors and business owners stay tax-savvy.

We explore this year’s key revisions from HMRC to help directors and business owners stay tax-savvy.

Personal Tax

With the new earnings cap now at £12,500, the UK Personal Allowance – the amount you make before having to pay Income Tax – increased by £650 on the 6th of April this year. As a result, this equates to a £130 reduction for the majority of taxpayers. For those paying the Higher Rate of Income Tax at 40%, this increased by £3,650 to the new threshold of £50,000 (including the increased Personal Allowance). In other personal tax updates, the Capital Gains Tax yearly exempt figure has risen from £11,700 to £12,000. Those looking to qualify for Entrepreneurs’ Relief have also received an extension as of this April, now with 24 months to ensure all conditions are met.

National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage

Technically not a ‘tax year’ change, but nevertheless; National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates rose on the 1st of April across the board. While apprentices should now be paid £3.90 per hour, those under 18 should be paid £4.35, those between 18-20 now £6.15, those between 21-24 now £7.70, and employees aged 25+ now £8.21 (the highest increase of 38p from £7.83). If you’re considering hiring an apprentice, this band of employee is entitled to the minimum wage of £3.30 so long as they are 19 or over and have successfully completed the first year of their apprenticeship.

If your business pays for any fuel (or vehicle) your employees use personally, the benefit in kind (BiK) tax rate has now increased based on the Vehicle Certification Agency’s CO2 emissions report.

Company Vehicles

If your business pays for any fuel (or vehicle) your employees use personally, the benefit in kind (BiK) tax rate has now increased based on the Vehicle Certification Agency’s CO2 emissions report; HMRC’s ready reckoner can be used to calculate what you owe. For company vans, the set amount has risen to £3,430 (an £80 increase), while fuel for a personal van has risen to £655 (a £22 increase). When it comes to cars, it gets slightly trickier. Business owners/employees with company cars who also receive free fuel are taxed on the benefit’s cash equivalent value. This is fixed every year, and increased to £24,100 from the 6th of April. The BiK is calculated using the relevant percentage (company car benefit rate) which is then multiplied by the fixed amount of £24,100 for 2019/20.

Student Loans

For post-grad business owners looking to shift their debt from yesteryear, the Department for Education announced an increased threshold on earnings before repaying a student loan. Plan 1 loans have now risen to £18,935 (from £18,330), while Plan 2 loans have increased to £25,725 (from £25,000) as of the 6th of April. Directors paid a salary and dividends from their company should also note that this is calculated based on their income as a whole. This change will also affect those businesses enrolling new staff this year, as HR departments will need to double-check their employees’ specific loan plans to ensure the correct deductions are made.

as HR departments will need to double-check their employees’ specific loan plans to ensure the correct deductions are made.

Corporation Tax and Workplace Pensions

While this year’s Corporation Tax has remained at 19%, it’s worth mentioning the government’s plans to reduce this rate to 17% from the 6th of April, 2020. Where workplace pensions are concerned, some rather big adjustments have been made. The total minimum contribution for the auto enrolment workplace pension has now increased to 8% (up from 5%). For businesses, this means a new minimum contribution of 3% (a 1% increase), with employees now required to contribute up to 5% of the remainder (a 2% increase) of their monthly salary to make up the 8%. Finally, the Annual Investment Allowance (AIA) for expenditure incurred between the 1st of January 2019 and the 31st of December 2020 on fixed assets (e.g. plant machinery) was increased from the start of the year from £200,000 to £1,000,000, in a bid to help grow the nation’s businesses.

Whatever your needs for the new tax year ahead, Adams Moore offers a whole host of services to help you achieve your business goals – from start-up advice to sole trader accountancy. For a friendly chat, contact our team of professionals today.

The long month of March has drawn to a close and it’s P60s at the ready, which can only mean one thing: the Payroll Year End has come back around. With 5 April (the last day of the 2018/2019 tax year) fast approaching, finance departments across the country will be preparing to share their final payroll reports with HMRC. If you’ve yet to address this within your own payroll department (whether in-house or outsourced), there’s still time to ensure your business’s Year End payroll is processed without a fuss. The deadline for final submissions is 19 April, 2019. With that in mind, explore our top 5 tips on how to sail into the new financial year with nothing but a spring in your step.

> Read about Adams Moore’s Payroll Services

Finance departments across the country will be preparing to share their final payroll reports with HMRC

When does your payroll finish?

 As obvious as this may sound, make a note of the week your payroll ends before you go any further. For example, rather than week 52, it may be that your company Year End spills into a new week – week 53; here’s how to work it out. If your employees are paid monthly, then your Year End will fall in week 52. Or, if your workforce is paid every week, fortnight, or every four weeks, your business Year End will also fall in this week. If, however, the latter system of payments mean that your normal pay date lands on 5 April, 52 turns into 53: your new payroll Year End.

 P60 preparation

 Your workforce may have grown over the past year, so be sure to check whether you have enough P60 forms for each and every team member this spring. A P60 form details both a summary of an employee’s pay and any tax contributions made across the previous financial year, so it’s vital these are prioritised come Year End. P60 forms should be handed to your staff by no later than 31 May. If you’re running low, be sure to stock up on HMRC-approved forms to meet the deadline (or if you’re super organised, for this time next year).

P60 forms should be handed to your staff by no later than 31 May

Moving onto pastures new

While your team may have expanded, it’s also important to take all (if any) job leavers into account when processing your Year End documents. When sharing your Full Payment Submission (FPS) and Employer Payment Summary (EPS) documentation, any ex-workers will need to be marked as such. While an FPS contains your employees’ payment information and any new starters/leavers, an EPS is completed as part of an RTI (real time information) Pay ID for claiming other payments, or reclaiming deductions such as employee allowance.

Submitting your final FPS/EPS 

Now that you have your payroll Year End date to hand (whether this falls in week 52 or 53), and any recent leavers processed, you can finally submit your FPS and EPS documents using your payroll software. You’ll need to send this documentation on or before your employees’ pay day, (though there are late-submission exceptions) after which you can then view the report via your HMRC account from 12 April. Your FPS and/or EPS documents will need to be finalised before you can fully action your business’s Year End payroll.

 Your FPS and/or EPS documents will need to be finalised before you can fully action your business’s Year End payroll.

Processing your payroll Year End 

Using your payroll software, be sure to check your company details, the processing date (which should be set for 5 April), and the tax year (2018/2019). Internet submissions should be actioned by no later than 19 April. Once this is complete, you can focus on handing out those all-important P60 forms by the end of May, and ready your business for what will undoubtedly be a new year full of changes – from new tax rates to an increase in in minimum pension contributions

 

With changes afoot for 2019, there’s never been a better time to spring clean your business payroll activity. Adams Moore offers a comprehensive payroll service for SMEs of all sizes – whether you’re a team of one or 500 employees. For flexible management plans and always-on support over the telephone, get in touch with our dedicated team to find out more.

After the fizz of activity in January, when many sole traders and businesses hurry to get their books in order and submit tax returns, there is a deep sigh of relief. Unfortunately for those who are less organised, March soon comes around, and all of sudden it’s the 5 April and Year End. Savvy businesses will know what their 2018/19 accounts say and should have planned expenditure accordingly, but what can those people – who haven’t had the time or proclivity for detailed planning – do in the next few days to prepare for the end of the fiscal year?

What invoices might you want to delay going out until 6 April or after?

Understand the Position of your Business

Whether you have months of receipts rattling around in a box or your bookkeeper has everything in order, you need the information processed and assessed. You should be looking at your finances –balance sheet, cash flow, and profit and loss documents – to determine where your business is now. Without these basics you’ll be making decisions in the dark.

> Profit and Loss – this itemises your income and outgoings and shows if your business is profitable at any given time

> Cash Flow – at a glance you will be able to see where your money goes, that is the in and outflow from operating activities (such as revenues and expenses), investing activities (such as assets bought and sold) and financial activities (such as loan repayments)

> Balance Sheet – this should summarise your business assets, liabilities and equity

 

What About the Remaining Days Until 5 April?

Understanding where your business is today is not the end of the story for your fiscal year end. What purchases have you still to make, is there ongoing work you want to or can get a partial invoice for, what invoices might you want to delay going out until 6 April or after? If your accounts are ‘cash basis’ – where they are based on money actually received and payments made – then you should try to ascertain if any further income will be received. The key message here is be organised and influence the income and outgoings if beneficial.

Of course, larger, capital expenses provide a greater opportunity for tax savings through your capital allowance, but the same advice can be applied to any expenses

Should I Quickly Spend Some Money to Reduce my Tax Bill?

While having more expenses to reduce what you will owe to HMRC in January 2020 might sound like a fail-safe plan, you first need to ask yourself if you NEED to make those purchases. If you don’t really need a new laptop, you are likely to be better keeping the £1000 in the bank than trying to save a few quid going to the tax man. However, if you had planned to buy one in the next couple of months, then it makes sense to bring it forward and reap the benefits in the current tax year.

Of course, larger, capital expenses provide a greater opportunity for tax savings through your capital allowance, but the same advice can be applied to any expenses. Some common items that are often purchased in advance at this time include:

> Stationary – stock up on paper and ink

> Business cards and other marketing collateral – are you running low?

> Cleaning equipment – from toilet paper to handwash

> Travel tickets – if you know you’re taking a trip, book it

> Conference registration – reserve your space now if you want to attend

> Accountancy software – with Making Tax Digital for VAT coming in, pay an annual fee for a service

a ‘trivial benefit’, social function or party for an employee is tax and National Insurance exempt

 

Are There Other Ways to Reduce My Tax Bill Before Year End?

It is important to review your pension contributions and ensure they are paid in before the end of the tax year. Pension contributions are offset against limited companies’ corporation tax bills as an allowable business expenses. If you are self-employed and on the basic rate, any pension contributions are not included within your Self Assessment but personal pension contributions will get a 20 per cent relief at source – for a £1000 contribution, you will pay £800 – where the government provides the top up. Should you be on one of the higher rates of tax, you will be entitled to this and the amount of the contribution also pushes the ceiling of the lower tax rate up. For example, if your contribution was £3,000, the higher, 40 per cent rate of tax begins from £49,351 of earnings instead of £46,351.

You can also give your staff a gift or arrange an event for them; a ‘trivial benefit’, social function or party for an employee is tax and National Insurance exempt and HMRC doesn’t need to be notified. However, there are rules to follow. You don’t have to pay tax on an employee benefit if it cost £50 or less, it isn’t cash or a voucher that can be exchanged for cash, it isn’t a reward for work and it isn’t in the person’s contract. The cost of a social function or functions must be £150 per employee or less – if it’s even £1 over the whole amount will be taxable, as this isn’t an allowance, but rather a limit. The other rules to be followed are the event/s must be annual and open to all staff.

Our articles can’t replace a detailed discussion with an accountant, but if you have any questions and would like to arrange a new client consultation, please call on 01827 54944 or use our contact form.

Despite the end of March creeping closer (together with the lingering backdrop of economic uncertainty) the appeal of going it alone in the business world is still ever-present in the UK. According to the Office for National Statistics, the nation is now home to 5 million self-employed workers; this paired with the 2.5 million Brits keen to start their own business this year, and it would seem the country’s entrepreneurial spirit is yet to dwindle. So, what is it exactly that makes the transition to self-employment so appealing? We take a look at the advantages, along with some key considerations should you wish to pursue an exciting new venture this year.

 

We take a look at the advantages, along with some key considerations should you wish to pursue an exciting new venture this year.

The Benefits of Being your Own Boss

Work/life Balance

For many, striking the right balance between a busy work schedule and equally demanding home life can be a challenge at the best of times. While going self-employed certainly won’t be a walk in the park, it’ll give you the freedom to build your working day around your everyday commitments. Whether that’s making time for the gym in the morning or the late afternoon school pick-up, a better work/life balance can do wonders for your health both physically and mentally, and thus boost your productivity in the long-run.

Flexible Hours and Remote Working

With a more balanced routine in place, the flexibility to work the hours you choose comes naturally. For many small business owners and start-ups, remote working also forms a large part of the appeal. While some days you may choose to work at your home office or local coffee shop, you may at other times choose to hot-desk at a workspace designed for freelancers and collectives – or even your own separate premises should your business take off! So if it’s out with the 9-5 (and the dull commute) and in with a schedule to fit around you, this particular ‘perk’ has the power to transform your working day.

Boost your Earnings

Depending what industry you’re in (and your level of experience), you may have the potential to earn a far greater sum as a self-employed consultant. A typical day rate for a freelancer or consultant tends to be higher than a salaried role, plus you may often find yourself in a position to negotiate to your advantage. In addition, self-employment allows you to cut other financial outlays associated with a permanent job elsewhere, such as daily commuting costs, or even simple expenses such as lunch on the go (on the days you were less prepared) which have a habit of mounting up over time.

 

Self-employment allows you to cut other financial outlays associated with a permanent job elsewhere.

 

Follow your Passion

Not many people can say that they do what they love for a living. Though self-employment comes with its obvious obstacles, you’ll reap the rewards first-hand should you triumph in your business venture. The road will most likely be bumpy (with many lessons learnt along the way), but being your own boss allows you to truly explore your inner entrepreneur while channelling those valuable creative skills that may have gone overlooked in a previous job role. By its very nature, self-employment will only ever play to your strengths and allow you to realise your true potential – whatever that may look like.

 

Sounds Great, but is Self-employment Really Right for Me?

 As difficult as it may seem, you won’t know if self-employment is truly for you until you fully take the plunge – a risk not all budding entrepreneurs are willing to take. Armed with the facts however, you stand a better chance of succeeding should you dive in head-first. Before you make any such decision, it’s useful to ask yourself the following questions:

> Finances – do you have enough money saved (or access to funds) to help get your business off to a flying start? Additionally, self-employed workers should prepare for quieter times across the year with little to no income, and learn how to manage this up and down salary.

> Employee benefits – from a company pension to life insurance, how highly do you rate any current employee benefits? Consider the value of your existing package – plus holiday and sick pay – and how this may affect you in the long-term should you pursue self-employment.

 

Do you have enough money saved (or access to funds) to help get your business off to a flying start?

 

> Workspace – do you have access to a suitable workspace to get the job done? Whether this be a workshop or home office cut off from the rest of the household, it’s important to consider the practicalities of your work station, and any new equipment you may need.

> Admin duties – do you feel confident enough to manage your business across all areas? This might include tax returns, managing cash flow or paying an employee’s wages. Even if you enlist the professional services of an accountant like Adams Moore, plan how your company’s admin will be handled beforehand.

> Personal circumstances – could any current/upcoming events overshadow the growth of your business? If you’re prepping for a house move, for example, the chances are your mind will be focused elsewhere. Consider the impact this could have on the trajectory of your business; like with many things in life, timing is everything.

 

If you’re dreaming about becoming a sole trader or starting a limited company, our fixed-fee, business start-up package might be just what you need to help you succeed. We aim to arm you with the information needed to make informed decisions, guide you towards the most beneficial financials and take care of the paperwork so you can concentrate on running your new venture. Please contact us for a free new client consultation.

As a ‘nation of shopkeepers’, the UK knows a thing or two about the value of local businesses – and this goes beyond a Friday cappuccino at your friendly neighbourhood coffee shop. When it comes to streamlining the inner workings of your own business, the benefits of outsourcing to a smaller local firm over a larger national (or even global) corporation not only come down to competitive pricing, but also the quality and bespoke nature of a service – not always guaranteed within a bigger chain; let’s face it, nobody really wants to pay for those extra sprinkles.

Offering cloud-based bookkeeping to small and micro-businesses, KPMG’s recent decision to cease its Small Business Accounting service is just one example of how an uncertain economic landscape can suddenly leave unsuspecting, locally-based clients in the lurch, and without a consultant to turn to. Whether this might be you, or you’re re-addressing your current outsourcing to improve efficiency, you’ll want to think carefully about how future partnerships measure up to your standards. Whatever expertise your business requires – from website building and social media strategy to accountancy and making tax digital – check any prospective contenders against a pre-agreed criteria to ensure you’ve made the right match.

Whatever expertise your business requires, check any prospective contenders against a pre-agreed criteria to ensure you’ve made the right match.

Communication is King

In your endeavour to grow as a business (and focus your talents where they are truly needed), outsourcing to a third-party is a pivotal step for any SME. Naturally, you’ll want to know exactly how things are getting on, so a firm with exceptional communication skills is key. First impressions are a powerful gift, and you’ll soon be able to gauge how committed a consultant is to maintaining this level of transparency – from their manner as an individual and how clearly they deliver a pitch, to that all-important courtesy of a follow-up email. Ask how often you can expect to receive progress updates, and how they plan to keep in touch; the suggestion of occasional face-to-face meetings can also offer peace of mind. Having a good rapport with your consultant, and knowing your business is in safe, capable hands, is worth its weight in gold.

A Proven Track Record

It goes without saying that any consultant entrusted with the important task of servicing your business should meet your expectations. Do your research and enquire into their client roster, past and present, and – if not already displayed on their website – ask them to provide any recent case studies or success stories that further bolster their portfolio. Do they offer an award-winning service of any kind and, most importantly, how well do their client testimonials sing their praises? When it comes to the calibre of your chosen consultant, take the time to better understand their company ethos and values. How are they committed to supporting the local community and you as a business, and what is it that qualifies them to join your shortlist of candidates?

Take the time to better understand their company ethos and values.

Budget-friendly

Every business comes with a budget and all services come at a price. Your consultant, however, should always be willing to negotiate a bespoke package to best suit the needs of your business. Ultimately, this degree of flexibility is also what makes your chosen firm the most competitive, as opposed to an outdated, rigid pricing structure offered elsewhere. When presented with a contract, ask them to walk you through it and question any detail, no matter how small, that may seem unclear. If something appears to be missing, flag it at this early stage to avoid any unnecessary hidden costs further down the line (while over-analysing any small print). Payment-wise, enquire as to whether this is also flexible to avoid paying the full fee up-front. This can sometimes prove a costly sum that not all businesses can afford from the outset, but shouldn’t hinder the proceedings if a manageable approach is agreed.

The Futureproof Factor

No matter how long a business has been around, innovation is crucial should they wish to weather the storm of an uncertain economic climate. A firm that remains futureproof takes pride in promoting thought leadership within their industry and sharing their insight as experts – whether this be via networking events, a company blog, or their LinkedIn page. Companies with a strong digital presence will always remain one step ahead of those competitors who last posted content five years ago, and demonstrates an eagerness to always stay relevant. In this regard, a reactive strategy and ability to adapt to the ever-shifting demands of clients are what truly give these consultants staying power. Crucially, seek out that extra spark that helps your chosen firm retain its current clientele – from offering a free consultation to discounted packages further down the line, or a cup of tea and a friendly face when you really need it the most.

Valentine’s Day: you either love it or you loathe it. So instead, why not use mid-February as a time to take stock of the long (and often challenging) month of January, and approach the changing seasons with a spring in your step. While a large number of marketing campaigns may be bursting at the seams with hearts and flowers, SME owners should re-direct the aim of Cupid’s bow this Valentine’s Day by showing a little self-love. A healthy serving of TLC can go a long way, so here’s a few things you can do to reignite your passion for business this February.

 

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You wouldn’t be where you are today without your customers – especially those who voluntarily recommend your goods and services to friends and family. But how do you help make their voice truly heard (and feel loved in return)? When asked for an opinion, consumers are generally happy to give it, so consider asking visitors for their honest feedback; a little incentive such as a freebie or entry into a monthly prize draw is also more likely to encourage audience participation. A survey of this nature, whether on paper or a simple Facebook Page follow request, will make them feel part of something bigger – and improve your performance in return. With an average of 170 million users per month, customer review websites like Yelp can also help further propel your business into the digital spotlight; TripAdvisor and Yell.com are equally useful tools in turning those sweet nothings into genuine glowing reviews.

Love thy neighbour

As the saying goes: ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. While ‘competitor’ is perhaps a more suitable way to term your fellow SME, it’s important that you take the time to observe and learn from their activity via consistent analysis – both through the highs and the lows. Observe how well other players within your industry are marketing themselves and how active they are on social media. How competitively priced are they? How would you rate their customer service? Embark on a secret shopper mission, whether physically walking into a store or making an enquiry online to gauge their professionalism and responsiveness. Always remain one step ahead and constantly ask yourself: what spark does this business have that mine is lacking – and what can I do to find it?

 

There are a number of ways you can encourage your staff to look after their mental and physical health that don’t cost the earth

Wellness in the workplace

When it comes to taking good care of your hardworking employees (and yourself), ‘wellness’ is worth its weight in gold. There are a number of ways you can encourage your staff to look after their mental and physical health that don’t cost the earth – yet can make a whole world of difference. The cycle to work scheme is a sustainable, cost-efficient way to boost your employees’ fitness, or why not set the challenge of a team parkrun in your local area. An office book swap, charity bake sale, free breakfast sandwiches every first Friday of the month; each little act of kindness you can comfortably afford and continue to provide in the long-term will only improve staff wellbeing over time. Start by sprucing up your staff breakout area, and you’ll be dreaming up ideas in no time.

Rewarding loyalty

Just as you may reward your staff with career progression and improved employee benefits as the years go by, take a moment to think how you might acknowledge and encourage the support of your valued customers. If you haven’t already, a loyalty card scheme invites customers to join your brand’s VIP community. By offering regular perks and discounts after a given number of purchases, you’ll soon find your once-impulsive visitors coming back for more. If paper cards aren’t your thing however, consider trialling a digital loyalty system such as Loyalzoo. Apps like this will even do the work for you, segmenting your customers into ‘new’, ‘VIP’, and ‘slipping away’ – and thus target these groups with the most appealing promotions on your behalf. Simply sign your customers up at the till with an email address or phone number, and you’re already one stamp away.

Each and every business, no matter how great or small, is a labour of love – both for you as the owner and all those involved. From the team that grafted from day one to the loyal customers who will always choose to ‘shop local’, do away with the gimmicks this Valentine’s Day and celebrate what truly makes your offering one in a million.

Whether you’re a growing SME or just getting started, your employees play a big part in the successful business you once only dreamed of. Yet with the ever-shifting economic landscape a constant distraction, it would be easy to fall behind when attempting to meet the changing demands of the workplace today. From the expectations of new and existing employees to the smart technology designed to streamline your processes, we look at how business owners can continue to attract and retain the best talent – while also improving productivity.

Adams Moore can advise business owners on issues such as attracting and retaining the best talent while also improving productivity.

The ‘Boomerang Effect’

The boomerang movement – whereby past employees are choosing to return to their previous jobs some years later – has truly taken off. Having left for pastures new, time out for a young family, or travel overseas, many professionals are now migrating back to their original place of work, keen to get stuck in. With candidates of this ilk returning more experienced, well-rounded and able to hit the ground running, businesses are already maintaining open channels of communication with ex-employees so as to potentially welcome them back in the future. Though very much decided on a case-by-case basis, business owners who contemplate re-hiring past employees can benefit from a team member with valuable transferable skills, and someone who knows the company inside out. While it might seem unusual, bear in mind the benefits a familiar face could have for your business should they unexpectedly come knocking.

Enter the Freelancer

With 2 million freelancers in the UK as of August 2018 (and counting), it’s no surprise that industry professionals from all backgrounds would consider this flexible way of working at some stage during their careers. Where a ‘consultant’ can offer small businesses expert advice on a particular field as and when required (often in-house), those who consider themselves to be a ‘freelancer’ can help SMEs (often remotely) at short notice – minus the long-term commitment. Whether you’re looking for a graphic designer to re-imagine your brand identity or a copywriter to proof and edit a piece of marketing collateral, freelancers up and down the UK continue to offer the perfect solution by plugging the gap as and when needed. Whether it’s by recommendation or matching your job with a suitable profile via Upwork or PeoplePerHour, consider how a freelancer could save you both time and unnecessary hiring costs this year.

Freelancers in Birmingham continue to offer the perfect solution by plugging the gap as and when needed.

Learning to Love AI

Whether we realise it or not, artificial intelligence (AI) already makes a vast and valuable contribution to the way businesses are run across the globe – both great and small. For instance, the evolution of ‘voice assistance’ technology continues to spark curiosity among tech experts – from Amazon Echo’s Alexa to Apple’s Siri, and their inevitable successors. While business owners and their teams are harnessing this technology for improved productivity across the working week, customers are using it to search and even purchase a product or service from the comfort of their living rooms. Other examples of businesses enlisting the help of AI include the use of chatbots on a company website or Facebook Messenger bots, scheduling meetings and appointments with AI software like x.ai, and even conference call translation via Skype Translation. Arguably, you could say that it’s AI freeing up the precious commodity of time for businesses to focus on the ‘face-to-face’ matters that really count.

The Flexible Factor

From doing away with the traditional 9-5 to offering remote working options, flexibility is key when it comes to remaining an agile and futureproof employer. By choosing to respect and support the unique circumstances of your team members, it’s likely you’ll reap the rewards of a long-term relationship with employees who feel valued, and thus work harder. Take the time to speak with your workforce face to face and, rather than shy away from new ways of working, view it as an opportunity to grow. View flexible working as a two-way exchange, allowing employees to truly assert themselves within the parameters available – whether this means hours to suit the daily school run, remote working when dependants are unwell, or time off for a dentist appointment. While small businesses will struggle to compete with the comprehensive benefits packages of larger competitors, this flexible approach to working offers something more valuable to many people than a subsidised gym membership (that never gets used). Embrace change as part of your company culture and strive to evolve your business as a fully inclusive, full potential-seeking workplace that’s in it for the long haul.

With fizz and fireworks but a distant memory, it’s business as usual for SMEs up and down the nation as the UK settles into 2019. Yet with another clock already ticking (and March’s current Brexit date looming ever closer), business owners are buckling up for what promises to be an historic transition for the country’s economy. Regardless of what sceptics may argue however – elephant in the room aside – small business owners should look to set their own challenges this year, adapting to the changing landscape in order to both evolve their offering and thrive from within. We take a look at five resolutions for business owners to make and keep in 2019, despite the imminent sea change.

Businesses that remain responsive and ahead of the curve will stand the best chance of survival through Brexit.

Get no-deal savvy

The top of the list, and with good reason. Whether the term Brexit gives you the ‘heebeegeebees’ or not, the very real chance of a no-deal departure now has business owners upping their game plans in the face of a worst-case scenario. Nobody knows what the future may hold, yet understanding the broader consequences of a no-deal Brexit can help SMEs plan their next move – whether this happens in March or not. But what can small businesses really do in the face of such uncertainty? From importing and exporting goods to VAT and employment rules, business owners should ready themselves ahead of any new legislation by reviewing their current processes – and how these could be affected by Brexit. Most importantly, a business that remains responsive and ahead of the curve will stand the best chance of survival.

Know your employees better

From dealings with the Continent to keeping it closer to home, business owners should re-assess the relationship they have with their employees as a priority. This goes beyond the annual out-of-office pilgrimage and team building exercise. Instead, take the time to sit down with your staff on a face-to-face basis, hear their opinions and recognise their ambitions. Offering time offsite for voluntary work, extra-curricular activities and wellbeing opportunities will also give you a more well-rounded view of a team working not below you, but alongside you. When it comes to workforce retention, specialist training and career development will only encourage employees to commit in the long term. A valued team is a happy team, and one that stays focused through the good times and the bad.

From Making Tax Digital (MTD) to measuring performance and increasing productivity, the only way is up with easy-to-use digital tools available to SMEs.

Embrace digital

From Making Tax Digital (MTD) to measuring performance and increasing productivity, the only way is up with easy-to-use digital tools available to SMEs. It’s never too late to get tech-savvy, with digital solutions improving efficiency and transparency within the workplace; for smaller businesses, cutting out the admin (and that extra paperwork you just don’t have time for) can help you focus on the bigger picture. When it comes to choosing the right tools for your business, the possibilities are endless: help teams get organised with a streamlined communication system such as Slack; measure chargeable hours digitally with TimeCamp; track receipts, invoice and more with Xero business accounting software. With many apps available for free or offering a free trial period, there’s no time like the present where productivity is concerned.

Refine your social presence

While your social channel icons may display in a proud banner across your website, if you’re not actively posting via these networks, you may want to re-consider your strategy. For customers wishing to ask a question or simply learn more about your business within the social space, there’s nothing more frustrating than an inactive account. Instead, ask yourself which networks are best suited to your current offering (which might well have changed since you first joined Facebook). A florist for example may choose to post their seasonal creations and how-to tips on Instagram, while a tech company owner will strive to position themselves as thought leader by sharing insight with industry professionals via LinkedIn. Whether you choose to remain active across a number of channels or just one – consistency is key to nurturing your social presence.

By upskilling an existing workforce and looking for ways to build your own expertise, doors will continue to open this new year.

Stay unconventional

Despite the ever-shifting landscape of the country’s economy, adaptability is fundamental for SMEs wishing to succeed in 2019 and beyond. As part of the UK’s micro business community, responding to change in a positive way and remaining agile will ensure your offering remains competitive; equally, it may be that some SMEs are able to avoid any immediate impact of new legislation felt by larger corporations in the coming future.

Together with improved efficiency and a happier, healthier work environment, small business owners should continue to think outside the box and push themselves beyond their comfort zone in order to evolve. By upskilling an existing workforce and looking for ways to build your own expertise, doors will continue to open this new year (perhaps where you least expect them).