HMRC changes to NICs

Kate Dixon who works for Robin Walker MP for Worcester recently sent me the below guidance on the changes to sme nic payments that are coming into force from April this year. Following the changes those firms who are eligible can reduce nic payments by up to £2000 each tax year.

This change will have a really positive impact for small businesses. For example for Cundey Systems ltd that has a small number of employees it will mean that the cost of nics will be greatly reduced. Although it’s only £2000 for small businesses it’s a good saving. Whatever you may think of the current government this change in my view can only be seen as a positive thing.

HMRC guidance

Key facts – who can claim

The Employment Allowance is available from 6 April 2014. If you are eligible you can reduce your employer Class 1 NICs by up to £2,000 each tax year.

You can claim the Employment Allowance if you are a business or charity (including Community Amateur Sports Clubs) that pays employer Class 1 NICs on your employees’ or directors’ earnings.

If your company belongs to a group of companies or your charity is part of a charities structure, only one company or charity can claim the allowance. It is up to you to decide which company or charity will claim the allowance.

You can only claim the £2,000 Employment Allowance against one PAYE scheme – even if your business runs multiple schemes.

Not all businesses can claim the Employment Allowance, see excluded employers for more information.

How to claim your Employment Allowance

You can use your own payroll software (see your software provider’s instructions), or HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC’s) Basic PAYE Tools to claim the Employment Allowance.

When you make your claim (using the software of your choice), you must reduce your employer Class 1 NICs payment by an amount of Employment Allowance equal to your employer Class 1 NICs due, but not more than £2,000 per year.

For example, if your employer Class 1 NICs are £1,200 each month, in April your Employment Allowance used will be £1,200 and in May £800, as the maximum is capped at £2,000.

Once made, HMRC will automatically carry your claim forward each tax year. So at the beginning of each year you should check your circumstances haven’t changed.

You will be able to see how much of the Employment Allowance you have used in ‘View PAYE Liabilities and Payments’ in HMRCs Online Service.

Exempt employers using HMRC paper returns and excluded employers

If you are exempt from filing, or unable to file online, you can claim the Employment Allowance, at the beginning of the tax year, using the paper Employer Payment Summary (EPS).

More information will be included in guidance provided to all exempt employers.

Keyword research tools

This post is as much about helping me remember these tools as it is in providing a recommendation of these tools. Keyword/key phrase research is vital when starting the process of writing content or optimising your website and these tools are the best place to start.

http://www.grepwords.com/

 

http://www.semrush.com

 

http://www.wordstream.com/

 

http://ubersuggest.org/

 

http://www.keywordspy.com/

http://tools.seobook.com/keyword-tools/

3 Apps to make apps

One thing Ive been wanting to try for a while is making an app. The problem is I dont have any programming knowledge or experience.

Thats where these apps can help. Apparently they require little to know knowledge of programming all you need is an idea and some time. Im going to be trying them out of over the next few weeks.

http://www.appmakr.com

http://www.rippll.co

http://mobile.conduit.com

Apps for business – Plaxo

This post focusses on Plaxo a contact sync ap available on android, ios, blackberry and online.

If you’re like me you might have more than one mobile device you work on and store contacts on, whether its a phone, laptop or tablet.

If you’re working off apple devices then iCloud should sync your contact but if not, say for example a blackberry and a iPad then you might have a problems.

Plaxo offers a solution by syncing contacts across multiple devices.

At a cost of around £30 a year it’s well worth the investment so check it out. www.plaxo.com

YouTube use for product launches

YouTube has a fantastic array of uses for business seeking to reach as many people as possible with a very small up front costs. One brilliant example of the dollarshaveclub.com product launch. Here’s the video below. At the time of posting this it had about 8 million views. Put it in perspective and consider how much it would have taken to reach those 8mill if they used tradition advertising.

5 reasons you need to get involved in Young Enterprise UPDATED with 3 more reasons

Young Enterprise Logo

Last year I wrote up 5 reasons to get involved in Young Enterprise, now after being involved for nearly 18 months Ive added a few more reasons.

Over the last few months I’ve been involved in young enterprise a national charity aimed at getting young people
You should get involved in young enterpriseinvolved in running and learning about businesses. The company program gives the students the chance to come up with their own product, manufacture it and then sell it. The students get hands on with sales, marketing, production and resourcing. They provide a business plan at the beginning and a company report at the end before finally standing up on stage to present to a panel of judges who decide if they are deserving of progressing to the next round of judging which eventually cam lead to the national, European and world finals.

For me the involvement in YE over the last few months has been a great experience, here are 5 reasons why you should get involved in young enterprise.

 

1. Fun

Being involved in YE will make you smile

Being involved in YE will make you smile

First and foremost if you get involved your guaranteed to have fun. Working with the students on developing their product and selling it brings a number of challenges and more often than not your guys are going to come up with a out of the box idea to solve those challenges.

 

2. Gratification

When all the reports are in and the marketing flyers and leaflets have been handed out and your sat at the finals watching your guys present what they have been doing its incredibly gratifying. Seeing the progress they have made over the last few months and how they dealt with the problems they encountered will have been really interesting. At the culmination of all their efforts, the finals night you’ll be immensely pleased with how they have developed and I wouldnt be surprised if you’re more nervous then they are!

 

3. Relearn business basics

Make sure you have one of these handy

Make sure you have one of these handy

All to often we rely on software and technology to run processes and aspects of our businesses so getting into a small start up business as these are is brilliant for refreshing your skills and knowledge on things such as running marketing campaigns and manufacturing products to a high standard of quality without of any of the tech you might use in your day to day job. It’s also really good for reminding you just how to do things like balancing balance sheets and calculating VAT liabilities without the help of your accounts software.

 

4. Develop your ability to work with others

This might sound abit of a weird reason but if you work in the same office with the same people everyday, you can get into habits and behavior so getting out of the office and working with the students is an excellent way of giving you the chance to work with people you wouldn’t normally work with. You can be pretty certain that they will come up with concepts and ideas for things that you or your work colleagues probably would have never thought of.

 

5. Potential investments

This is what you could get if your products any good.

This is what you could get if your products any good.

In the perfect world we would all be doing things out of the kindness of our heart, unfortunately thats not the case and the banks wouldnt take kindness in payment for your mortgage anyway so if your the sort who is always looking for a good investment opportunity then YE may well be the place you can find it. I have been really surprised by the excellent products that the students have come up with, with some having real commercial potential to sell in the real world. There have been products which had been sold into national retailers in the past so you never know, their idea could be the next best thing.

UPDATED with 3 more reasons to get involved in young enterprise

 

6.  Increase your business contacts

One thing that’s been really beneficial for me is being able to meet other business people in the area and really get to know them. Networking events are good but can be over all to quickly and if you don’t manage to talk to everyone then you may have missed an opportunity. Whereas being involved with YE you get to meet the same people on a regular basis and really get to know what they do.

7. Increase awareness of your business

Not only can you increase awareness of your business by networking with other adviser’s but there may also be sponsorship opportunities. For example in the Stafford and Stone area businesses can sponsor some of the awards that are handed out at the finals evening. This is a fantastic chance to get your brand associated with Young Enterprise and supporting the development of young people.

8. New product opportunities

In reason 5 to get involved in young enterprise I said that if you were lucky the product your group choose to make may go on to sell really well and get picked up by a national brand.  However its not just the product the team go with that could have potential to do well. During the early stages of your teams development there will be a rush to choose a product and start manufacturing it.  As part of this every team will probably spend the first few weeks going through a vast array of potential product ideas. These will inevitably include lunch boxes, t-shirts,  coasters  and mugs. Once these are out the way real product opportunities start to be discussed.  Ive found that there have been a fair few product ideas that havent been chosen by my teams that could sell well if they were made so if you’re looking for product opportunities for your business then these failed product ideas might be winners for you.

 

Have you been involved in young enterprise and did you enjoy it? Do you think it’s worth you getting involved? Let me know your thoughts.

 

3 brilliant premium free templates from hurricane media

I am a massive fan of joomla as a content management system, I have used to to put together alot of websites and each time I remember back to the days of Microsoft Frontpage and the free website editors you get with some hosting packages and thank god for the people who developed joomla and the idea of open source software.

Anyway here are some brilliant templates from hurricane media that will work on joomla 1.7 and 2.5

http://www.hurricanemedia.net/

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9 Ways Twitter Can Improve Your Business

If your trying to work out exactly what you can use twitter for and how it can help you and your business then these uses are worth considering.

  1. Twitter is great for finding suppliers

Twitter can be a great tool for finding a new supplier for a service or product. You may not think so but you would be surprised at how many different types of firms are using it to identify potential new contacts and customers and if they see that you are looking for something they provide they will be in touch.

One really good example I have is when I needed to find some print suppliers for an exhibition I was getting ready for while at Malthouse Engineering. I tweeted “Can anyone recommend a good supplier for roll up banners” within 10 minutes my tweet had been retweeted 3 times and I had I had 5 firms come back to me who were interested. Consider the time it would have taken me to find 5 printers who could do what I wanted compared to the time it took and you can start to see that twitter can save you time and money.

2. Twitter is fantastic for maintaining relationships with current customers

Business is all about relationships, the one with your customers is probably the most important. Maintaining contact is one of the keys of relationship building and twitter allows this to happen easily, freely and concisely.

It doesn’t have to be direct communication with those customers it could be through general tweets which they just happen to read but what your doing is making sure that your always in their mind and they are aware of you and your product.

3. Twitter is terrific for promoting your brand or product or event

Obviously there is a strong promotional and marketing benefit from using twitter, you can send out promotional messages to the twittersphere potentially reaching millions for free.

4. Twitter is brilliant for providing customer service

Over the last few years more and more firms are using twitter for customer service, although the limit on the number of characters means that It’s unlikely that a full respo se to a coming or criticism can be offered through twitter what you can do is use it as a firs line of contact between you and your customers. A way of directing them to the depart event they need to talk to or finding out more about their concern before offering a solution.

It’s also a great way to show customers that our listening and trying to help. This is particulary good for large firms where there maybe the perception that they never listen and it can be fantastic of r smaller firms where relationships which customers are really significant to the business.

Personally whenever I have a customer service issue I go to twitter first to make my complaint as I know it will be dealt with quicker than calling up a call centre and getting passed round the different operative. Firms I have had good dealing with are Orange, Phones 4u and Virgin Media.

Try it out next time you have a problem.

5. Twitter is superb for finding out what people think of you

As twitter is an open network you can search and view what other people are tweeting. This is fantastic for finding out what people are saying about your product or brand. This can also be a great way of identifying customers you have let down and trying to win them back.

Not only is it a good way of helping those customers who have experienced poor service it can also benefit your reputation as any support you offer to the customer is in the public domain so other people will see that your providing good service.

A great case study of when twitter has been used to find out what your customers think can be seen in this video where a Dominos pizza store delivered a pizza to a twitter user called interactive amy really late. She tweeted about how she wasnt happy and the store picked up on it and sent her this video apology – www.viddler.com/v/acbbf27d

6. Twitter is amazing for PR

As well as sending out your press releases to the local paper make sure you tweet it to share with your followers and the whole of the twittersphere. Again this is a great way to share info about your company. If your followed by any journalists then you may be able to attract their attention.

Like I pointed out in point 1 twitter can be used to find potential customers. What the printers were doing is using the keyword search function in twitter to find people talking about print and printing and then contacting anyone talking about these subject. You can do the same to identify people talking about similar products or services that you offer.

You can use tools like followerwonk to find people who are really influential in specific industries or subjects, you can then ask them to tweet about what you do which can help promote your company.

7. Twitter is good for sharing content you have created

If your a keen blogger, photographer or even videographer twitter is the place to share your content. In a few minutes it could be retweeted to tens or thousands of people and before you know it you could be going viral. Blendtec created excellent videos that not only demonstrate the strength and durability of their product but were also humourous and got people sharing the videos, which in turn raised awareness of the product. They are worth watching if you have some time, watch their YouTube channel

8. Twitter is useful for talking to others in your industry

While you might compete for customers there will be times when you need to work with other people in your industry whether its to stand up for something that is impacting your industry or to benchmark performances and costs.

Within the steel profiling sector regular meetings are arranged by the trade association where senior people within steel profiling organisations meet to discuss similar issues impacting the firms such as health and safety or the latest government regulations.

Twitter enables communication with others in your industry and means you can build better relationships with them. Its also good for monitoring their promotional activity of social media.

9. Twitter is renowned for identifying new business opportunities

Twitter can be a great way of finding new opportunities, if you follow the right people you can pick up information that you wouldn’t have otherwise found. Recently I have been looking for funding to employ a graduate on an internship. I talked to all the local agencies who couldn’t help and I gave up hope. Then that very night I gave up hope Stafford University tweeted about a new scheme they were running which we have taken advantage of.

Hopefully these 9 ideas give you an insight into some of the benefits of using twitter for your business. If you can honk of any other uses let me know.

Is your website legal?

Website Regulations

Website RegulationsYou may not be surprised to know that like everything else related to running your business their are laws specifying the information that must be displayed on your website.

The information that must be displayed is stipulated in the Companies Act 2006 and Business Names Act 1985. Further information can be found on the companies house website.

 

These acts state that a business registered and operating in the UK must display

  • It’s full registered name
  • It’s registration number
  • It’s registered address
  • It’s place of registration

If your not a registered company, so a sole trader or partnership, you must Display

  • The name of the sole trader (if applicable)
  • The name of those in the partnership (if applicable)
  • An address in the UK where documentation relating to the can be sent and will be effective.

Privacy Policy
The privacy policy gives visitors to your site an idea of how the information you gather on them will be used. Business Link provide a great template for a privacy policy.
Trade Descriptions
Like with any product or service descriptions you must not be misleading and should ensure your descriptions are accurate.
Accessibility
The disability discrimination act 2004 will impact the way things should be displayed on your site to make it accessible to those with disabilities. For more check out the act here.
Cookie Law
This changes in cookie laws will have a major impact on all business with websites so reading these posts is a must.
Its important to note that like any legal requirements of your business if your ever in doubt talk to your solicitor.

 

What are you customers saying about you?

How many customers are happy with your product or service?? If you dont know that’s a problem. If you think they will tell you when they aren’t happy think again. A study by the strategic planning institute cited by Erick Qualman in his book Socialnomics found that 96% of dissatisfied customers don’t bother to complain and 63% of these won’t shop with you again.

As so many customers won’t bother to complain its difficult to really understand how well you are meeting their needs. What the growth in mobile internet and social networking has meant is that it is now a lot easier for customers to voice their dissatisfaction and it’s also alot easier for you to find out about it.

What this means is that the small business owner now has the ability to identify where they have failed their customer and try to resolve the issue and keep the business. 3 easy to use tools for this are

1. Google Alerts

By googling google alerts you can start using this tool. It’s incredibly easy to set up. All you do is enter a keyword which could be your product or brand and every time google finds it on the net you get an email with a link.

This is a great way to monitor mentions of your product or brand on line and is so easy to set up it would be stupid not to.

2. Social Mention

Its basically the google of social media. By entering your search term you are provided with a list of results detailing every mention of your search term on a wide range of social networks.

It goes further than google by attempting to classify the results by the level of sentiment expressed in the mentions ie is its positive or negative.  The passion that people are using to talk about you and the reach or influence of those authors who are writing about you.

Paper.li works by searching twitter, google + and facebook for a specified keyword or search term and then displayin it in a easy to read format. Its really useful for keeping up to date with events in your industry but can also work really well for searching for mentions of your product or service.
These three tools are free and all easy to use to monitor what is going on on the net and on social networking sites and are well worth a look if your interested in what your customers could be saying about you.

Thanks to Erick Qualman and his book Socialnomics for the fascinating insights and stats included in this blog.

EU Privacy Law – A law every small business should be aware of

If you have a website you need to be aware of how this law will impact the way you operate your site. If you have not previously heard of the law, its worth watching the video in this post – The EU Cookie Law.

The latest update from the information comisioner released on the 13 December further clarifies what is expected and provides some more information on what type of websites will be exempt from needing to obtain opt in.

What is still clear is that for the average small business attempting to meet the new guidance is not going to be straight forward. There is no clear method of obtaining opt in other than through pop ups, I dont imagine the average small business has the capability to build their own pop ups so it looks like there may be the need to bring in some software specialist which could cost alot.

Personally I’m hoping some of the clever people at Google will develop a plugin. There will be more to come when I find more info but for now I strongly suggest reading the article that the link below takes you to.

Dave Chaffey has provided a summary of the new cookie guidance which is a must read for everyone.