8 Places to find your Perfect Business Mentor

Running your own company can be a lonely business, even if you have higher management or a business partner it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Finding a mentor could be the perfect solution for you, provide you with a fresh perspective and help you grow your business.
Before you go on the search have a think about what you would like from your mentor. Identify some public figures you admire in the business world, then go closer to home. Is there a particular independent business in the place you live that you like? Is there a smaller influencer on social media that provides good content? Having these things in mind you can start the process of finding a mentor(s). Keep the process as organic as possible and we would not advise asking someone to be your mentor when you first meet, unless they explicitly say they are looking for a mentee. We have outlined below some places you could find a mentor and there is no harm in introducing yourself. Keep it professional, friendly and be prepared to have some of your messages go unanswered.

1. Official mentor sites 

Some sites will be free, some have paywalls or there may be products/services you will need to purchase to gain access to their network of mentors. Depending on what you want from the relationship this could be a quick and straight-forward way to get the ball rolling.

2. Traditional Networking 

This doesn’t have to be a lot of bored looking business folk in polyester suits standing around a beige buffet, unless you want it to be. Networking in the traditional way may not suit your industry or might not be your thing. But go to events or places business owners you admire go to, you never know who you could get chatting with.

3. LinkedIn 

Make sure your profile is up to date, your photo is appropriate and you have filled out the bio section so people can understand who you are and why you are relevant to them. Send personalised messages with connection requests and follow companies and public figures. Don’t forget to join applicable groups as well!

4. Peers 

Mentors don’t necessarily have to be older and more experienced than you, or even in the same industry. Getting an outside point of view that totally refreshes your perspective or triggers a fantastic business idea can come from the most unlikely places. Talk through your issues with someone you click with and that you trust their opinion.

5. Communities 

There are a lot of online communities you can join for a monthly subscription fee that will give you access to mentor or peer directories. Try one out for a couple of months and see how it goes. These communities may be better tailored to your needs, e.g. women in business, creative businesses etc.

6. Memberships 

You can join local groups to meet other business owners, for example your areas Chamber of Commerce or National Enterprise Network.

7. Business Consultant 

This is a bit of a short cut and you will more than likely have to pay for the service as it’s a customer/service provider transaction. This could work for you if you just need to solve some issues or have an outside point of view and aren’t comfortable with building a traditional mentor/mentee relationship.

8. YouTube & Other Social Media. 

This again may be a bit of a cheat as it’s a one-way street of you consuming the business ‘gurus’ content and you probably won’t get the opportunity to ask personalised questions. When researching or strategizing watching advice channels, they can spark ideas that you can translate to your business. And you never know if you do reach out, they may become your dream mentor!
Once you’ve found someone that is happy to be your mentor and you their mentee set boundaries, be fully prepared whenever you have a meeting and don’t over run your allotted time agreed with them. You also don’t have to stick to one mentor or continue being mentored by them if you feel it’s run its course.

Resources 

Find or become a mentor with Mentors Me.
Find a mentor with Meet a Mentor.
If you get a start up loan through the British Business Bank you will gain access to their mentoring program

Business Finance & Funding FAQ’s

What finance is available to me if I haven’t started trading? 

Start Up Loans are government backed loans where the borrower/s can each borrow up to £25,000 to a maximum of £100,000 for any one business at a Fixed Interest Rate of 6% Start Up Loans – click here to find out more.

What funding can I access if I have been trading for 6 months, 1 year, 2+ years? 

There are lots of options ranging from High Street banks to Alternative providers (i.e. Responsible Finance providers) to Asset-backed lenders (Invoice & Equipment finance specialists).

What key business documents do I need when applying for trading? 

Annual Statutory Accounts, Management Accounts, Profit and Loss Account, Balance Sheet, Cash Flow forecast and Personal Assets & Liabilities Statement.

Who should I go to first when looking for a business loan/access to finance? 

If you have been trading for more than 6 months, try your local Growth Hub – they are a great centralised place to receive connections to finance providers from. Alternatively, give us a call at Start.Biz.

If I get turned down by high street banks for a business loan is there any alternatives? 

There are lots of alternatives. A good place to start would be to look for local Responsible Finance providers who often offer the required level of finance whilst also appreciating the need for SME Business Owners to get decisions on funding quickly. Click here to find out who provides responsible finance in your area.

How much can I borrow? 

This will depend on a number of variables:
i) The level of profitability currently within the business and moving forwards is critical. The more profitable you are, the more likely you are to get higher levels of finance.
ii) Whether the Business Owner is offering a Personal Guarantee to secure the loan
iii) The quantum of investment that the Business Owner is putting in

Can I get a grant? 

Yes but this will be dependent upon the criteria of each individual grant. A good place to start would be to sign up The Innovation Factory’s (Drew Currie) monthly newsletter, click here to sign up for free.

Can I get a project funded? 

Possibly but a bit like Grants, it is entirely dependent on the funding resource in the market at that time. Innovate UK offers Loans and Grants with a focus on business’ growing via Innovation, find out more here.

What kind of business activity can I get finance for? 

You can apply for finance for a multitude of activities including:
– Business acquisition/merger
– Asset purchase
– Invoice Finance
– Refinance
– Working Capital/Cash Flow

Are there still any covid recovery schemes available? 

The Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS) is available until 30th June 2022

What is a good interest rate? 

The Interest Rate applied is often directly linked to the perceived level of risk with the loan itself. High Street lenders will lend at 3% + the Bank England’s base rate of lending. Currently, SMEs are finding it harder and harder to access funding at these rates via the High Street. Rates for SME’s can range from as little as 6% right up to 14%. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is secure finance at a higher level of interest to get the required funding before then refinancing at a later date at a better rate of interest.

If you have any questions about financing your business or would like to discuss your personal circumstances, please contact our expert team today. 

Access to Finance Consultation Line: 0800 069 9090 (freephone) or email finance@start.biz 

Start Following – Inspire-a-doll

Shovon Wiggan is CEO and Founder of Inspire-a-doll, a multi-cultural doll range representing girls from different cultures around the world. They are bringing much needed diversity awareness to the doll industry by celebrating individuality, geography, and culture. Inspire-a-doll aims to teach children about new cultures, introduce them to inspiring leading ladies in history, travel the world through play and celebrate diversity. Shovon is also a mother and third year student just about to graduate from Birmingham City University.
We sat down with Shovon last week to chat all things business, the importance of self-believe and discuss what on earth Kim was talking about with her ‘advice’ to women in business 🤔

How did you originally get the idea for Inspire-a-doll? 

‘I started university and I was studying business management. One day whilst I was babysitting my niece, Nyah, she said to me she didn’t want to be black which obviously shocked and saddened me. I’m a solution-based person so I tried to think how I could incorporate what she said into a solution and that’s how dolls came up.’

What’s the best piece of life or business advice you’ve been given? 

‘Believe in your own source. We live in a world where it’s so easy to not be yourself or not have confidence in yourself, especially if you’re different. However, when you become confident that changes, everyone wants to know how you became so confident.’
‘Believe in your own source.’ 

What advice would you give to someone with an idea but not a way to realise it? 

‘Create a team and a support system around you of people that have done it before and have more knowledge than you. Learn as much as you can about the industry, including your competitors. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions!’

What’s your opinion on the hustle and girl boss culture? 

‘The BossBabe Instagram account does inspire me. I prefer the hustler mentality. Hustler is about hunger and a purpose that will never fizzle out.
On Kim K’s recent advice‘I think it’s odd how she phrased it, she aimed it at women in business but women in business have worked to be there, so I didn’t really understand what she was saying!’ 

You’re a mum and a business owner, how do you balance these two super important and demanding jobs? 

‘Managing being a mother and running my own company has happened over time. When I first set up, it was during the pandemic so I still had time to spend with my son, less external demands, time to reflect. When lockdown eased it then became really stressful. My living room was where I worked and where I spent time with my son. So, I decided to move my office out of my house to STEAMhouse. Work never ends when you’re an entrepreneur however now having a separate space to work makes it easier to allocate time and switch off. Don’t get me wrong I still don’t enjoy the pressure to go into the office though!’
‘Sometimes I want to go and hide until I know all the answers, but life doesn’t work like that.’ 

What leaves you feeling recharged and who are your biggest inspirations? 

‘My YouTube addiction leaves me feeling recharged! I love documentaries – crime docs, nature docs. The women that inspire me are my mum and nan. I also love Rihanna and her attitude. But my biggest inspiration is me. When I was younger, I was a tomboy, I would watch how the boys interacted with each other and how they would interact with girls they liked. I wanted to be treated like the boys treated each other not how they would treat the girls. This taught me that I can look beautiful on the outside but to always invest in your personality.’

What’s your favourite part of running your own business? 

‘Meeting and networking with so many cool, amazing people.
Knowing that I’m making an impact with my life, creating change and giving my son something to look up to. 
Showing people, and definitely females, we can do anything. Don’t be put into a box, you have so much potential.’

What’s your least favourite part of running your own business? 

‘Having to deal with the failures because there’s a lot of them [laughs]. Fully accepting responsibility when things go wrong and having to learn on the job. You can plan, plan, plan, and still things go wrong.
You have to reflect, learn and try again.’ 

What’s your biggest business barrier right now? 

‘Being a confident woman intimidates people, especially men. I purposely don’t tone myself down, I like to set the tone from the beginning, this is me.
I’m not going to water myself down just to make you like me. 
That can be a barrier as they don’t expect you to be like that.’

Do you think every private company should have a social impact element their business? 

‘Right now, this is the buzzword, big business has jumped on being socially impactful, but I do think if they could get away with not doing it, I think they would. With small businesses, because it’s from the heart and we put in our blood, sweat and tears to get it off the ground, do try and think about how it’s going to impact the environment and the community.’

What would you like to see change in the doll and toy industry? 

‘The toys our children play with need to reflect the society that we live in. They indoctrinate children from such a young age to want features they aren’t genetically born with.’

 

Whilst building your business have you made your products more environmentally friendly? 

‘Yes, we were going to do plastic dolls but after doing my research on how plastic is affecting the environment I said no and decided to go with fabric dolls instead. I also got the opportunity to produce a 3D printed doll, we ended up using a material made from banana leaf for the printed doll rather than plastic.
I would like to go into schools and do workshops too, so I want to be able to talk about the environmentally friendly materials as well.’ 

What are your plans for the future of Inspire a doll? 

‘Our products will be arriving in April, for the May launch. After the launch I would like to do pop-ups in stores around the UK. Then we’ll start working on the second doll if all goes well. Following this we’ll start pitching to buyers, I want to see Inspire-a-doll in The Entertainer, Argos, Tesco, Selfrdiges! I’m thinking big as I know the possibilities are endless. We want Inspire-a-doll to be an animation and a series of children’s books.
I’m a big believer of manifestation and timing is very important.’ 
Shovon is a total inspiration, we want to thank her for sitting down with us and we can’t wait to catching up with her again as her business grows.
Interviewed and written by Felicity Blades, Marketing Executive at Start.Biz.

Do I need Insurance for my Small Business?

You are legally required to take out Employer’s Liability (EL) insurance if you employee anyone, even on a casual basis. This is the only insurance that is illegal required to operate your business with in the UK. Some contractors will request you have EL insurance, ensure this is clarified in the contract between you before starting to work with them. If you have employees and operate without EL insurance you could receive a fine of up to £2,500 per day.

What is Employer’s Liability insurance? 

This is to cover you and the business if an employee becomes injured or dies whilst carrying out their duties at work.

How much does Employer’s Liability insurance cost? 

Your premiums will depend on the type of business and how many employees you have. For example, an office worker could be as low as £60 per annum whereas an employee working in construction could be just over £200. The average to cost to a small or medium sized business in the UK is about £120 per year.

Will my Employer’s Liability insurance pay out? 

You should read the whole contract through first and if you are unsure about anything ask the service provider or have a lawyer look over it. The main sections to focus on are ‘Insuring Clauses’ and ‘Exclusions’, this can help you clarify what is covered and therefore more likely to result in a pay-out.

Other types of insurance include… 

How much does it cost to add business use to my car insurance? 

If you are going to be using your own vehicle to carry out business activities you may want to add business use to ensure you’re fully covered. Premiums usually only go up by about £30.

What is Professional Indemnity insurance? 

This covers you if a client incurs a financial loss from your actions. This could include if you made a mistake or accidentally omitted something during your dealings with the company. The burden of proof lies with them but if a client does decide to take action against you, a case could be costly and time consuming, not to mention stressful. This insurance applies to many different types of businesses from consultant firms to graphic designers so even if at first you think this might not apply to you, it would be worth getting quotes.

Should I get Professional Indemnity insurance? 

This insurance is not a legal requirement in the UK but we would recommend considering taking out a policy if you feel this situation may occur in your line of work.

What is Public Liability insurance? 

Public Liability insurance covers you against customers and members of the public making claims if they become injured whilst at your business or as a result of your or your employees’ actions whilst carrying out their duties.

Should I get Public Liability insurance? 

If you regularly come in to contact with the public, we would advise considering this type of insurance.

How much does Public Liability insurance cost? 

The average cost of Public Liability for a UK company is about £120 per year however small businesses and sole traders can pay as little as £40 per annum.
There are many different types of insurance out there and we have only covered the three main ones for general business. If you work in a niche industry or with a specialised product/machinery having tailored insurance would be advisable. Always get several quotes to compare, carefully read your policies to ensure you are covered correctly and if in doubt ask a lawyer to look the contract over.

The 5 Essentials of Branding your Small Business

Branding is not reserved for the international conglomerates of this world, it is just as important for smaller businesses to build a unique brand. It can be an essential tool in developing trust with an audience and it can lead to an deep affinity and loyalty from your customer base. Not to mention it can be really fun too! We’ve also included a free brand guideline template here to make creating your brand a breeze.

1. What is a brand and how does it apply to my business? 

A brand is about who you are and the direction you want your company to take. To identify what your core values are think about the below questions, not only will this inform your brand identity it will keep you focused on your goals.
Why did you start your business? This is your mission statement, the why behind your business can get lost in the day-to-day so it’s good to have this written somewhere you can see it often.
What is the USP (unique selling point) / POD (point of difference) of your company? What you’re doing has probably been done before however what makes you stand out? It could be your service, it could be your style caters to a particular audience, it could be you! Whatever it is – identify it and stay true to it.
Who is your ideal customer? This will help give direction to your product ranges, inspire you to find ways to improve your products/services and help you understand the nuts and bolts of your business e.g. price point, location, availability etc.
What branding do you like? Look at companies, competitors, personal inspiration sources and/or social media accounts you like. Marry this with your product/service and you will have the aesthetic of your brand. This point may also help you identify your POD.
What is the businesses tone of voice? This may sound a little out there but it’s designed to get you thinking about your business as a separate, objective entity. It makes writing promotional copy, social media posts and newsletters easier as well. Creating a company vernacular helps build recognition with your community and adds to your brands distinctive identity.

2. How do I create my brand? 

Branding is your logo however it is, or should I say it can be, so much more than that. Branding evokes an emotional reaction in your customer, it can turn people from total strangers into your biggest fans. In a saturated market it can be the difference between someone choosing you or a competitor. This is why it is important to spend some time developing your brand and really thinking about how you want people to feel when they see it. Using your answers from question 1 write down a few words, aesthetic choices, colours, icons, motifs and key elements that define your business to create a brief to design your branding from.

3. How do I brand on a budget? 

Once you have your brand brief you will need to decide who will realise it for you. There are a few factors to consider including; your budget, your personal design abilities, your timeframe and what your physical brand needs are. Don’t forget you can use a combination of the below.
DIY! If you feel comfortable using design software such as Photoshop or Illustrator, have the time and the inclination to create your own branding, this can be the best way to go. You can get exactly what you want and save money.
Budding designers – finding a design student, a friend with creative flair or someone that does design in their spare time can be a great option to keep costs low and get quick results. Always pay students and be clear about requirements and budgets from the outset to ensure it’s a win-win situation.
Freelancers – sites such as Fiverr, UpWork, peopleperhour and LinkedIn are amazing resources to find design freelancers. Trusted recommendations, transparent budgets and clear briefs are essential to this process, don’t forget to ask to see portfolios or past examples of work to find a good fit.
Small design agencies – if you have a little more budget consider using a local design agency. You will be able to meet with the people designing your brand, have a guiding hand through the process and (usually) end up with a solid, professional looking brand that fulfils your requirements and allows you to hit the ground running.

4. What does my company need to brand? 

The below list is not exhaustive but it’s a good start when thinking about what you can brand. Include each point that applies to your business in your brief to inform the design process.
Logo – this can include your name but it’s good to have a visual element to it that can be used by itself. This can be turned into a sticker or stamp without your name and people will still associate it with you.
Typography – keep this modern, include clever design elements and show your personality but remember to keep it legible and clear.
Packaging – this doesn’t have to be a bespoke design, you can buy generic and add a stamp or sticker to personalise it (see logo above). Other considerations for packaging should include environmental impact, ensuring the product arrives in it’s best condition if posted and personal touches like printed tissue paper, confetti and even sweets can give you that ‘unboxing video’ wow factor.
Label – adding a branded label to your product can help your customer remember you and enable them to recommend you to others. This will also add a polished finish to your products.
Merchandise – your main business may be a food vendor for example but if your brand is aesthetically pleasing enough and your customers become fanatical about your product, you can translate your branding onto all manner of commodities. This could come in as a handy extra bit of cash as well. If this isn’t the main part of your business, creating small batches using pre-orders promoted through your website or social media ensure you don’t end up with dead stock.
Stationary – for example branded letter heads will reassure your customers about your level of professionalism.
Equipment / vehicles – large vinyl stickers are easily produced and can be added to your companies assets. This provides advertising and adds a level of professionalism to your service.

5. What are and what should be included in brand guidelines? 

Brand guidelines are a visual summary of your brand. It can be an A4 sheet or two depicting your branding foundations setting a clear tone for all communications both written and visual. These are good to have saved down to refer to and use as a resource. Any visuals can be saved in png files to use for advertising, printing, content creation and social media promotion. The list below outlines what you should include to get you started.
Your principle logo – including your business name and logo (if separate) in full colour.
Visual logo – you may decide not to have your name as part of your logo and instead use a purely visual representation for your brand. Example, the tick from Nike.
Mono logo – a black and white version of your logo.
Colour palette – the core colours with pantone references for your brand.
Vertical and horizontal layouts – your logo needs to be versatile. For example, it may have to go at the bottom of a page meaning a horizontal layout would work better. It’s good to have these layouts ready to go so you don’t have to edit in the moment.
Typography – state what fonts you will use. This could include the font of your logo along with one or two fonts that work well visually with your branding.
Tagline – these can be cheesy but if it works for you it’s good to have a short sentence that sums up your business.
Mission statement – the why of your business.
Key words – when thinking of these it’s best to think about how you want the customer to feel about your service and company as a whole. You may also use words from your tone of voice ideas.
Don’ts – if you have any major ‘don’ts’ include them alongside the example of the ‘do’. Any colours, words, or layouts that you would never want are to be included as an annotation.

Questions to Ask Yourself when Writing a Business Plan

A considered business plan will not only help you get organised and crystalise your vision, it is also essential if you are seeking outside funding.

1. What should be at the beginning of my business plan? 

The executive summary, this should be 6 short paragraphs on the following subjects to give an overview of your business. This is your big opening number so keep it concise, professionally presented and attention grabbing!
What the name and function of the business is.
What makes you unique within your industry.
How you are going to become known to your target audience.
How you will structure your business.
Top line finance facts outlining when you expect to break even, potential revenue and profit projections. Have detailed reports to back up these attention-grabbing figures. Note you will have chance to go into more depth in your analysis section (see point 2).
State how much money you are asking for and what the investor(s) will get in return.

2. What analysis should I do? 

After your executive summary should come your analysis section full of facts to make your potential investor realise this is their one-way ticket to private island ownership!
There are many areas and types of analysis you can carry out either before starting your business or prior to writing your business plan. It is good to decide which you think are necessary/most helpful, consider if it is possible for you to gather useful/accurate data for the report and how long to spend on the process. Add attractive headline statistics from your findings to your business plan and have the in-depth reports to back your figures up if questions are asked.
SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. This is usually presented in a grid format on one page with bullet points. This kind of breakdown can be applied to many different areas of your business as well as your competitors and the industry as a whole.
Quantitative data and qualitative findings. It is best to have a mix of these within your business plan, ignoring either can leave serious blind spots in your presentation and business strategies.
Financial projections. You may need a professionals help with this one but if you are asking for any fiscal input, investors will need to see that their contribution will eventually yield a return. Be honest, adjust your plans inline with the numbers and be certain you can achieve what you say.

3. Have you thought about the day-to-day running of your business? 

You may have already started your business and are writing a business plan when looking for investment. If this is the case explaining the operational factors behind your business will be easier, but this is a good chance to review them and see how you could improve them. Do this and add it after the analysis section of your business plan.
Alternatively, if you are writing your business plan pre-start up or during the beginning of your journey to going full-time with your venture, this is where you get into the inner workings of your business to help investors visualise the dream. This part is relatively straight forward but demonstrates you have considered the practicalities of your operation.
Staffing, team members, contractors, freelancers, mentors, outside advisors. It is good to have these laid out in a hierarchical flow chart and to briefly outline what each person’s experience will bring to the business.
Premises. Even if you are an online business you will need to state where stock will be stored and shipping will be done from.
Record keeping. Explain how the administration of the business will be kept up to date. Include details of your accountant here.
And hey presto, you have your business plan! We would always advise putting this together pre-start up, even if you are not looking for outside investment just yet. It does not have to be super slick or go into minutia detail if you are not presenting to people outside your business, it can be a great opportunity to take a step back and see the bigger picture to ensure you are on the right track and have not missed anything.

IT Equipment for Small Businesses

Every business, no matter how big or small, will need some form of equipment or technology for their day-to-day running. As part of your planning, you should consider what technologies you need to get up and running and what equipment/software would be good to have in the future to help you grow or streamline operations. In this article we will run the basics for most businesses.

1. Hardware – Computers, Laptops, Phones. 

It is likely you will need at least one computer to run your business. Some companies have a BYO technology policy, this may work for you however consider cost to the employee and security issues that may arise. If you do need to buy a device for a member of staff shop around, consider their needs (remote working, going to meetings with clients) and the software that they will need to ensure you get the right one for the best price. If you or an employee needs a phone you can put this on a business plan which will be cheaper than personal plans. Also don’t forget to put purchases for technology through your books to enable you to claim tax back (if you are VAT registered).

2. Software 

This will vary greatly depending on your business and we will go into some essential ones further on in this article. The Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) will be the most common and can be purchased on a business plan. If you need creative software, like Photoshop, Illustrator etc., this may affect the choice of computer or laptop you decide to buy. Mac’s are great for design software however come at a premium and can cause compatibility issues if other employees are working on PC’s. The Abode Suite including these programs charges a monthly fee of around £40 per user so if you are planning on only using these programs to make marketing material & social media content consider using online template platforms such as Canva which are easy to use and a lot cheaper.

3. Network 

You will need to set up a network if you have several employees working together that need to share documents or use printers. What kind of network you’ll need will depend on how many devices you need connected. For 5 or less users you can set up a simple network, bigger businesses may need multiple routers and large organisations will need to build their network around a server.

4. Accounting System 

Setting up accounting software for your business is essential. It will mean you can easily and quickly keep all your transactions in order making your accountant love you and ensuring you don’t fall foul of the taxman! Accounting software is simple to set up and can be done online in minutes. Quickbooks, Xero and Sage are all designed with small business owners in mind and are great options to get you set up. Larger firms may want more developed software which you can integrate into your systems and customise to your needs.

5. Payroll Software 

There are free versions of this all, alternatively the above mentioned accounting software brands offer payroll software as well. If numbers aren’t your thing, you have many employees or are time-poor having this software can be of great benefit to you. It makes difficult calculations, carries out repetitive tasks and gives you peace of mind when it comes to getting your workforce paid correctly and on-time.

6. Inventory Control System 

As your business grows or if you have lots of stock to manage an inventory control system can help keep you organised. Again, most of the companies that offer accounting software have inventory management systems that can be easily integrated into your business.

7. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) 

This is a system where a business administrates interactions with customers and potential customers. MondayCRM, Pipedrive and Freshworks CRM are some examples of software that can help you build customer relationships, analyse data, and manage client information. As your business grows these systems will become increasingly useful and can be a vital tool when scaling. Some training for staff will be necessary but this will be offset by increased efficiency and streamlined customer interactions.

8. Cloud Working 

Traditionally software such as Office programs would be downloaded individually to each an employee’s computer however now you have the option of having all your company’s documents on the cloud. This is particularly useful for remote working (each person has a log in to access documents from any device), sharing files, reducing initial spend on software and saving space taken up by lots of documents being saved down onto computers.

9. Payment Options for Customers 

Online integrations 

Along with other benefits of having a website, setting your business up so customers can purchase online can add revenue streams, enable you to reach customers all over the globe and allow purchases out of your regular ‘opening hours’. PayPal, Worldpay and Opayo (previously Sage Pay) are some popular examples; some of these can be integrated into your current website and some will need you to build a website with that provider. If you offer a subscription service consider setting up a Direct Debt option for customers, this will stop you from having to bill people constantly and make it easier for customers as their payment goes to you automatically.

Card machines at point of sale 

If you run a shop, restaurant, mobile salon or stall you may want to purchase a card reader. There are many options to choose from; check out details on the most popular ones here.
Plans are different for each one, some have one off payments and some are rental arrangements. Most have a small fee they charge, sometimes it’s based on the transaction amount, number of transactions or overall monthly revenue that goes through the device.

In summary … 

You may not always have a large amount of spare cash to spend on IT equipment and technology when you start your business so build up as you go, shop around for deals and consider finance/leasing as alternatives. Using technology to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase your product is the priority. Having computers fast enough with enough memory for your employees to carry out their duties effectively is also a must. There are a lot of free or low-cost software’s available to help you run your business more efficiently from accounting systems to social media design and scheduling tools. One last thing to remember when it comes to your businesses data is – have a back-up! Ensure important information & documents are secure and backed-up devices are regularly updated just in case you have a system failure.

How to Find a Premises for your Business

You’ve decided you do want to have a bricks and mortar location but you’re not sure where to start. We’ve outlined the foundation for your business property.

1. Make a specification for your ideal premises considering internal and external factors. 

You may not find a location/building that ticks all the boxes but aiming for as close as possible is the best place to start. This will also make it clear for you what is non-negotiable and what can be compromised on or worked towards in the future. Factors to include in your specification should be
Location. Evaluate this not only in terms of your customers but also employees and suppliers.
Transport & parking facilities. Again, this should be considered in terms of customer access and employee.
Requirements of the building to carry out business. Depending on the nature of your business you will need the building to work in different ways, think very practically about the space, power points, equipment, ventilation etc when making this list.
Legal issues. If the building already has permissions for your businesses ‘user class’ moving in and alterations you may want to make in the future will be less complicated.
Type of tenure. Your options are license, lease or buy. We will go into further detail on these below.
As you would when looking for a place to live, set you maximum price, including taxes and fees and stick to it.

2. Should I license, lease or buy my work premises? 

As with everything this very much depends on the nature of your business and your plans for the future.
Licenses are short-term contracts (usually 2 years), can be in serviced buildings, have subsides from local authorities to encourage small businesses to set up and have no legal fees. However, you may have to share your space or be asked to leave at short notice by the landlord. Also these spaces will probably not be suitable for a food or manufacturing business. If you just need office space and you’re just starting out this is a good place to start.
Leases are longer term commitments (3-25 years), more freedom to adapt the space, the landlord is liable for external building repairs and more types of properties on the market to choose from. You may want to build break clauses into the contract just in case and agree with the landlord on alterations you want to make before signing on the dotted line. You may also be required to return the property to its original state on vacating, e.g. removing equipment, putting walls back in if removed etc.
Buy freehold. Owning your own premises is more unusual but can be a great asset and mean you have a permanent location under your control. This is a more expensive option though with most commercial property mortgages requiring a 30% deposit.

3. Where do I look for commercial premises? 

You can go the traditional route and get an estate agent that specialises in commercial property however it may be wise to consider some alternatives. Use your personal contacts in an area and business advisors/mentors to find out about potential venues. Also check with your local authority, they will rent business space as well as domestic housing. With this same idea approach local organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce in your area who may be able to advise and help you find the perfect location. Finally, you can engage a chartered surveyor to carry out the search for you. Unlike estate agents who operate on the landlords’ behalf, a chartered surveyor will have your best interests as the priority. They will know the market well, present a short-list to save time and be experienced negotiators.

Resources for finding the perfect property 

Search for a surveyor at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) here.
Get thinking about the future, find out more at the Planning Portal about planning permission here.
Contact your local authority about the type of property you need and see what financial help is available to you.

How to Lease Equipment for your Business

Buying equipment outright for your business may be an expense out going early on so you should consider leasing where appropriate.

1. What are the benefits of leasing equipment? 

When setting up your business, depending on the nature of your industry, you may have a lot of out goings to begin with. There are different kinds of leases / finance you can get which we will detail below. You can get 0% interest on some finance agreements, spread out payments to help with cash flow, tax relief on energy efficient equipment and can even have maintaining and servicing included.

2. What types of finance contracts are there? 

Hire Purchase. You will pay instalments and own the equipment at the end of the agreement.
Finance Lease. You will pay instalments but won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease. The rental company will sell the equipment at the end of the lease and you will receive a pre-agreed amount of the proceeds.
Operating Lease. You will pay lower instalments but won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease or get any proceeds from a third-party sale.

3. Do I have to add leased equipment to the balance sheet? 

If you buy or use hire purchase for equipment for your business, it will have to be added to the business’ balance sheet however if you use finance lease or an operating lease it may not. If your total payments, excluding maintenance and servicing, amount to less than 90% of the total market value of the piece of equipment it won’t need to be added to the balance sheet. Ask the leasing agent or your accountant for a valuation if you’re unsure.

4. What should I look for when leasing equipment for my business? 

Do you need to purchase consumables along with the equipment and how is this covered by your payments?
Check the age and authenticity of the equipment, ask for evidence in writing.
Even if you have no intention of buying find out what the market value of the piece is.
What maintenance and servicing are included in the deal? Does it include spare parts? Make sure you’re clear on the costs of these and they are stated separately on the contract.
Check the process if you get faulty equipment or it breaks down completely.
What are the possibilities for the structure of the payments, example a balloon payment at the end of the contract?
Be very specific with the requirements of the equipment you need and what kind of contract would work best for you. Get at least 4 quotes from different companies, 2 larger more well-known places and 2 lesser or local leasers. Know the market value of the equipment, new and second-hand and use this to evaluate the quotes given.

Employment Types & Contracts

There are different types of employment agreements, all of which are have legal requirements. Not only this but contracts are very beneficial for both the employee and the employer. There are four main types of contracts that you can use to hire employees, these being permanent, freelance, self-employed and zero-hour contracts. Each of these contract types come with different benefits for your business, so it’s important to understand each of them properly.

What is an employment contract? 

A contract of employment is a legally binding document between an employer and an employee that outlines conditions and legal requirements of your employment, this usually includes but isn’t limited to responsibilities, benefits you could be entitled to and your salary amongst others. If any information changes throughout employment, an updated contract must be issued siting these changes.

Permanent 

This is probably the most common employment contract in the UK. The definition of a permanent contract is one that does not expire and will remain valid until either the employer or often the employee chooses to end the contract. If you’re looking for an employee who is working full time and on regular hours for your business, then this is the contract for you to use.
Full time permanent employees usually work between 35 and 40 hours per week while part time permanent employees will usually work under 35 hours per week. Permanent contracts also cover those people who are salaried or who work for an hourly rate and also entitles the employee to the full range of benefits and employment rights as well as their working hours, terms of payment and their responsibilities.
Advantages 
Disadvantages 
Dedicated team
More administrative work
Easier to plan out future
Increased liability
Potentially higher costs if you offer benefits

Freelance 

If you’re looking to hire freelancers or people who you only need for a set period of time, then you’ll be looking to hire someone on a fixed term contract. Freelancers are ideal if you need temporary and want to avoid potential issues such as training, hiring and employee benefits. Freelance workers frequently work for more than one company at a time although individual contracts may specify sole employment for a time period agreed upon.
Advantages 
Disadvantages 
Cost
Lack of understanding your business
Usually quick and easy to find
Can not invest in freelancers eg. training
Knowledgeable with experience
Uncertain quality of work

Self-employed 

Although freelancers are considered to be self-employed, they offer their services under contract for other people. In the UK, being self-employed is a person working for themselves and often running their own business as a sole trader or as part of a partnership or limited company. Employing self-employed people to work for your business is like hiring freelancers and comes with the same advantages and disadvantages.

Zero hour contract 

Zero hour contracts is a non-legal term which is used to describe different types of casual agreements between an employer and an individual. These are also known as casual contracts and are usually for ‘on call’ work or ‘piece work’ meaning that they are usually on call when you need them, however you are not contracted to give them work nor do they have to accept the work when offered and asked of them. Zero-hour contract workers are entitled to statutory employment rights, including paid annual leave, rest breaks, protection from discrimination and must also be paid at least the national minimum wage regardless of how many hours they work. Zero hour workers are also able to work elsewhere and they are by law able to ignore clauses in their contracts if it bans them from either looking for work or accepting work from another employers.
Appropriate use of zero hour contracts can include:
Seasonal work
New businesses
Special events
Advantages 
Disadvantages 
Easy access to workers when needed
Zero Hour Workers aren’t always available
No need to train new people
Likely high turnover
Lower costs than having permanent staff