Monday, 31 January 2011
The office of National Statistics reported a fall in growth to minus 0.5% in the fourth quarter of 2010. Whilst the bad weather can account for some of the slump, it is estimated that figures would still have given a flat or 0% growth if the weather had been better. Bucking the trend was manufacturing with good results for the second quarter in a row alongside electricity and gas on the back of higher demand due to the weather.
SMEs rule out export even though it would help growth
According to a survey by Parcelforce, although 43% of non-exporting firms believed that exporting would boost their revenue streams, a staggering 83% of them had no plans to move into the export market. Whilst perceived barriers to trade, lack of knowledge and expense are blamed as the main reasons the reality can be far different. Firms are encouraged to download a free guide called Barriers to Export from the UK Trade & Investment website
Employment agencies – check your procedures
HMRC last week visited 52 employment agencies in Exeter and found the majority were breaking employment law. 102 individual breaches of employment law were found including at least nine cases of failing to pay the National Minimum wage.
Whilst good news seen for job seekers
The Reed index for January saw a record rise in the numbers of employers looking for new employees. Salaries remain flat but with marketing, digital and media leading the way it looks as though employers are starting to take up the sales and marketing cudgels to drive business forward.
And good news for Small businesses
The British Bankers Association estimates that a record number of new businesses were started in 2010. 570,000 businesses started up, and increase of 21,000 on the average for the previous 3 years. Although this was partly driven by the high levels of redundancies, it is one more statistic to prove that in this recovery small businesses are leading theway.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
In Parliament we have the second reading of the Consumer Credit bill on Friday. The usual select committees continue to look at competition & choice in the banking sector as well as rebalancing the economy.
Accountants go for the burn on Monday 31st with the last day of submitting on line self assessments to avoid fines.
Before you spend a lot of money on high tech solutions, ask yourself if there is a simpler way. A pair of Sheffield University students has captured images from the edge of space using a recorder attached to a helium filled balloon. Total cost of the project was just £350 and the images can be seen on YouTube.
Monday, 24 January 2011
Inflation up as expected
Largely as predicted the Consumer prices measure of inflation (CPI) rose to 3.7% in December. The rise was mostly driven by increased fuel & energy costs as well as food price increases. The more traditional measure of inflation, RPI, also rose to 4.4%. Bizarrely, the office of National Statistics commentated that inflation would have risen further had furniture stores followed their usual practice of putting prices up in December ahead of January sales.
Financial pressure increases for businesses
Insolvency specialists Begbies Traynor have reported that the number of businesses facing financial pressure rose to 147,836 in the fourth quarter of 2010. This represents a rise of 4% on the previous year. Within this total, Begbies have identified 3,018 companies as “critical”. The Begbies executive chairman commentated “For smaller businesses, we are entering the darkest hour before the dawn”
Bank talks on lending to SMEs stall
One of the reasons for the increased financial pressure experienced by businesses could be the continuing reluctance of the banking sector to lend to business. Talks with the government seem to have stalled with banks holding out for concessions on bonuses and disclosures countered by government threats to split banks up into high street banking and investment houses.
Ordinance Survey reflects changing face of high streets
The latest reports from Ordinance Survey give an interesting insight into the changing face of our high streets through the recession. In the period since October 2008, the number of estate agencies has fallen by 9.2% and employment agencies by 13.4%. These figures are eclipsed by building societies which now have 28.2% less offices in our towns. The only business bucking the trend seems to be betting offices which have shown a 5% increase.
SMEs would welcome tax simplification
With the deadline for submitting self assessment returns fast approaching a survey of SMEs shows that they could be willing to pay more tax, provided that the playing field was equal for all and that tax calculations were simplified. The forum for Private Business survey showed 57% of small businesses would pay more tax in return for less red tape as long as larger firms were subject to the same regulations.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
In Parliament on Tuesday the Treasury select committee start their review on the fundamental principles of tax policy. This is an area that Wefinda will be following with interest. Elsewhere, Business Innovation & Skills continue their look into rebalancing the economy, a tricky subject given the current gloomy economic climate.
The latest growth figures due out on Tuesday will make interesting reading. Many analysts are predicting growth to have slowed dramatically, leading to fears of a “stagflation” period of low growth and high inflation, last seen in the 1970s.
With regulations on business recycling ever increasing Wefinda is always on the look out for innovative ways of getting rid of unwanted packaging. Hats off therefore to the sculptor H A Schult who has built a 5 bed hotel in Madrid’s main square out of 12 tons of recycled rubbish. The hotel was fully booked for the 4 days it opened to paying guests.
Monday, 17 January 2011
The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee voted this week to keep base rate at 0.5%. However, with inflation at 3.3% and expected to rise in the months ahead some economists are calling for base rates to be increased soon. Whilst this might help savers and act as a slight curb on inflation, an interest rate rise could also slow the economy and send us back towards recession.
Floods lead to concern for commodity prices
The Office of National Statistics reports that UK manufacturers saw commodity prices such as oil and wheat rise by and average of 12.9% in 2010. Whilst much of this rise has yet to be passed on to consumers it is debatable how long manufacturers can continue to carry such a rise particularly in the face of renewed price rises expected this year. The recent floods in Sri Lanka saw up to a fifth of its rice production under threat and will lead to pressure on world markets. In Australia, the floods have shut down many coal mines which will could lead to coal and coke prices soaring worldwide.
Default retirement age to be scrapped
The Government has announced the scrapping of the default retirement age, meaning that firms will no longer be able to force someone to retire when they reach 65. The changes are being phased in this year. Employees who reach the age of 65 between 6 April and the end of September and who receive compulsory retirement notification before the 6 April can still be compulsorily retired. After 5 April, no further notifications can be issued and employers won’t be able to retire anyone else due to age.
Winter flu advice
The Health Protection agency and Chief Medical officer are warning people to continue to be vigilant when it comes to seasonal flu. They are emphasising the importance of basic precautions such as covering your face with a hand when coughing and washing hands regularly. Employers are also reminded that they have a duty of care to staff and should take measures to try and prevent the spread of flu within the workplace. This includes having a policy of encouraging sick employees to stay at home.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
In Parliament on Wednesday there is a 10 minute rule motion on postal marketing and consumer protection. The Treasury select committee on competition and choice in banking grinds on with further hearings on Tuesday and Thursday whilst on Wednesday it looks at the effectiveness of HMRC. Business Innovation & Skills look at rebalancing the economy.
On 18 January we get to find out the latest RPI & CPI figures which will make interesting reading, particularly as they will include the pre-Christmas sales as retailers rushed to beat the VAT rise.
At Wefinda we like to help you to track down services that will make your business life easier so this latest invention really caught our eye. An inventor in America has made his own iPhone beer cannon. He’s linked an iPhone app to his beer cooler and now at the touch of a button he can choose the beer he wants and the cooler will fire it towards him using a compressed air cannon. If it catches on it may make office cooler gossip a thing of the past.
Monday, 10 January 2011
According to Markit, UK manufacturing finished 2010 on a high with orders and exports charging forward and leading the British economy. By contrast the service and construction industries slipped back slightly in December on the back of bad weather and pre-Christmas slow down in general activity.
SMEs lag behind in pension stakes
According to research by the Association of Consulting Actuaries, two thirds of small businesses don’t offer their employees a pension scheme with most being put off by the cost. With all employers having to offer their staff a pension scheme by 2016 SMEs face a huge catch up exercise to comply with the new legislation. The new schemes will mean employees contributing at least 4% of their pay to the pension scheme with the employer adding 3% and the government a further 1%.
Changing your company car?
The energy saving trust is reminding businesses that they may qualify for a grant of up to £5,000 if they change their company cars for ultra low carbon (electric) cars. Electric cars also come with added benefits such as no vehicle excise duty payable, 100% capital write down, no fuel duty on the electricity used to charge them, no employers class 1A NI contributions. Even better, drivers won’t be subject to benefit in kind until 2015. More details available on www.energysavingtrust.org.uk
Watch out - Scam invoices are about
With the return to work after the long Christmas and New Year break combined with the postal backlog before Christmas due to the snow, accounts departments may feel overwhelmed with invoices to pay. Scammers have already hit one group of clients of “Community Care” asking for payment for advertisements. The general rule is, don’t pay invoices unless they have been signed off by the recipient of the products/services and be wary of requests to pay alternate bank accounts or post cheques to different addresses.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
In Parliament this week we have questions on Work & Pensions as well as Business, Innovation & Skills. The Treasury Select Committee continues its look at competition and choice in banking whilst the Work and Pensions committee looks at providers and contracting arrangements.
The Bank of England’s monetary policy committee meets on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss interest rates. With the comments coming out from various sources in December indicating that rates may well go up this year, this meeting is of interest to all.
We are all aware of the risks of eating at our desks, with crumbs in the keyboard and drinks spilt causing machines to crash. We should have sympathy then for the pilot of a United Airlines pilot whose coffee caused a more major problem. Landing on the radio, the spilt coffee caused a major distress alert to be automatically issued, meaning the plane from Chicago to Frankfurt had to divert to Toronto and adding a day to passengers' journeys.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
The latest Inflation figures for November showed rises for food, clothing and household goods all leading to an increase in CPI to 3.3% and RPI to 4.7%. At 3.3% CPI inflation stays well above the government target of 2%. A slight fall is expected in December as a result of retailers slashing prices in pre-Christmas sales before the VAT rise hits in January and pushes prices still further upwards.
Postage costs to rise
The Royal Mail has announced a rise in the cost of first class stamps to 46p and second class to 32p from next April. The cost of franked mail is also going up by 3p to 39p and 28p. Businesses who rely heavily on postage might want to take some time out before April to revise their postage policies and review alternatives.
CBI reports difficulties for SMEs who export
A CBI report has revealed the headaches faced by SMEs when it comes to exports. 48% of those asked have problems with currency fluctuations whilst 32% are challenged by red tape. If you are looking to export, start by talking to the Department of UK Trade and Investment which offers assistance to exporters. (http://www.ukti.gov.uk/export.html?guid=none ) Meanwhile the EU has proposed a single Europe market for payments within the Eurozone, making payments simpler and cheaper.
Localism Bill could change the face of planning
The proposed localism bill will put greater planning control in the hands of local authorities and communities. According to Regen this could feed through into energy management and affect the implementation of the Government’s renewables targets with some areas allowing massive expansion and others restricting infrastructure growth.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Parliament breaks up on Tuesday 22nd until 10 January so the political arena will quieten down for the festive season. On Tuesday we see questions on Treasury matters in the main chamber whilst the select committee on science and technology sits on Monday.
Otherwise with schools on holiday and large areas of the country paralysed by snow and ice, business news becomes largely restricted to talk of late deliveries and missing staff. If you have an employee who has gone beyond the call of duty to serve your clients in these snowy conditions let us know.
As the cold weather bites and we look for ways to stay warm without facing exorbitant fuel bills, an aquarium in Finland has come up with a possible solution. They have harnessed their Christmas lights to the electric eel tank and report that at feeding time the lights shine brightly.
Our next news roundup will be in the New Year so from all at Wefinda may we wish you a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
Monday, 13 December 2010
As expected the Bank of England Monetary Committee held base rates at 0.5% alongside the Asset Purchase programme remaining at £200 billion. The base rate is generally expected to remain unchanged until mid-2011 at least despite concerns over inflation levels.
Data Security takes top spot
A recent survey by Symantec found that 71% of UK businesses had suffered some form of data breach in the last year. Tie this up with the 87% of organisations who don’t encrypt data on portable devices such as USBs and it is a wonder that data theft is as low as it is. The Information Commissioner’s Office (www.ico.gov.uk) has a range of helpful advice for SMEs and it is well worth going through to avoid being fined for data breaches.
Businesses planning to expand
The latest CBI/KPMG London Business Survey says 68% of businesses are planning to expand over the next 12 months. With 45% planning to recruit as normal over the next 6 months, compared with 11% a year ago, the recovery looks to be starting to unlock recruitment freezes and reduce redundancy threats. However, there is still some caution around with 54% of firms being optimistic about their business futures.
Government plans to tighten regulation may cost SMEs
Two government plans have hit the headlines this week. The first considers making businesses provide security to cover PAYE and NI payments that they have deducted from employees salaries and not yet passed on to HMRC. The government says this will avoid firms going bust with the funds lost to the UK tax economy. Secondly, there are consultations on a General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR) to stop firms coming up with complex financial arrangements to save tax. Both proposals seem sensible ways of collecting potentially missed revenue but implementation could cost SMEs dear.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Whilst the usual select committee investigations continue, in the Main Chamber in Parliament there is not a lot to interest the SME. Most government departments are winding down before Christmas. HMRC are the exception with the change in VAT on 4th January prompting regular reminders to make sure your accounting software is ready for the change.
If you are taking on temporary employees this Christmas, make sure you give them a full safety briefing including explaining the difference between the shredder and other machines. That way you might save yourself the trouble faced by a Taiwanese man recently when he accidentally dropped a bag containing the equivalent of £4,200 into his shredding machine. Luckily for him patient forensic scientists managed to piece the notes back together in a week.
Monday, 6 December 2010
The week started with the Office for Budget Responsibility upgrading its growth forecast for 2010 from 1.2% to 1.8% although forecasts for 2011 and 2012 have been lowered slightly to 2.1% and 2.6% respectively. This was followed by the Chancellor’s autumn statement, which for SMEs included the commitment to the reform of corporation tax, previously announced in the emergency budget.
Cost of the big freeze
Last year it was the postal strikes, this year the big freeze. Companies relying on pre-Christmas and pre-VAT-rise sales to carry them through are struggling to cope. A combination of flu, employees unable to get in to work through the snow and delays on major transport links are all combining to put pressure on coping with orders and delivery times. Best advice for consumers is to order extra early for Christmas. Advice for companies with backlogs is to come clean in advance and keep clients informed to minimise negative publicity.
On-line filing of self assessment tax returns
There are reports of a bug in the HMRC system which is giving error messages for anyone logging in for a second time to amend their tax returns. The system should allow for multiple entries up to the deadline at 31 January. All those intending to file on-line and who haven’t applied yet are recommended to start the process now before the post-Christmas rush.
Vince Cable calls for greater collaboration between banks and SMEs
Vince Cable, attending the first “Doing Business Together” seminar called on banks to break down communication barriers which can lead to lack of funding for SMEs. The event, which was designed to find ways of improving the provision of finance to SMEs, included discussions on ways in which better financial reporting could give lenders greater comfort when being asked for loans.
Lobbying against the EU proposals on Maternity leave
The Minister for Employment Relations, Edward Davey, will attend a meeting of EU ministers on 6th to lobby against the proposal to extend full paid maternity leave to 20 weeks. It has been estimated that these proposals would cost the UK at least £2billion per year and is a move that is opposed by businesses of all sizes.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Parliament is fairly quiet for SMEs this week apart from the usual select committee meetings on competition in the banking sector, transport and assistance to industry. On Thursday we have the latest MPC decision on interest rates, expected by all economists to remain unchanged at 0.5%.
At Wefinda we’d be delighted to help you with your winter preparations, perhaps by helping you to find an IT expert to set your employees up to work from home, or to find an HR expert to advice on your liabilities to keep staff safe. With roads in gridlock and stranded motorists in danger emergency services have been stretched to the limit. Kent police were therefore not amused to receive one 999 call, reporting the theft of a snowman. Apparently the caller thought it to be an emergency as she’d used pound coins for eyes.
Monday, 29 November 2010
Speaking at an event in Belfast, Andrew Sentance, an external member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee highlighted reasons to be optimistic about the recovery. Apparently businesses started to climb out of the recession earlier than expected and this, combined with a lower rate of company failure than forecast, means businesses are in a strong position to take advantage of the opportunities now available through new growth and a competitive pound.
Irish Bail out
The Irish Bail out was agreed on Sunday 28th with €85billion in the total package. The UK is in for a fair share of this, partly because of the historic links between our countries and partly because Ireland is a net importer of British goods and services.
The government announced its immigration cap for next year with 21,700 skilled workers to be allowed to enter this country from outside the EU, down by 6,000 from the last limit. There are some exceptions such as those earning more than £40,000 who move into the UK to take up posts with international companies. There is no limit on the number of migrants from EU countries and these still make up around a third of all migrants.
Red tape costs £100 billion
With businesses gearing up for recovery it might be worth taking a look at your internal processes. Many firms have tried to save costs by taking reporting jobs out of specialist departments such as HR and Accounts and devolving them to mainstream staff. A survey by Keboko shows that time sheets and reporting now costs the average worker 37 days a year, time that could be saved by system changes and cutting down on unnecessary reports.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
On Monday the Chancellor, George Osborne, makes his autumn statement to the House of Commons at 3.30pm. He is expected to respond to the revised economic forecasts being published by the Office for Budget Responsibility at 1pm the same day. Following the statement there will be a debate on the regulation of Independent Financial Advisers. Elsewhere there are select committee meetings including the Business Innovation and Skills committee looking at government assistance to Industry on Tuesday.
The latest tube strike is on Monday leading to delays in transporting people and goods around London. Allow extra time for travel to meetings and check contingency plans in case staff can work from home.
Whilst campaigns to remove Muzak from lifts and public places continue, the Japanese have turned to classical music to improve the taste of their food. Apparently Mozart adds extra sweetness when played to ripening bananas whilst noodles, saki, miso and soy sauce all benefit from having classical music played whilst they are being made.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
A recent long running survey by CIMA has revealed that the imposition of strict targets can actually hinder performance. When targets are strictly applied and can lead to performance bonuses employees will take action to ensure the targets are seemingly met. This includes cutting corners, signing off incomplete work and concentrating on short term goals at the expense of long term growth and stability.
Quangos come and Quangos go but entrepreneurs are on the up
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, celebrated the start of Global entrepreneurs’ week by setting up a quango. The Entrepreneur’s Forum will advise the government on business and enterprise policies. At the same time Vince Cable created a business mentoring network consisting of around 40,000 successful business people who are prepared to give some time mentoring business start-ups.
How do you conduct your business calls?
Research by T-mobile says that most business people switch off in the first 5 minutes of a call due to waffle. Whilst building a relationship is important, too much chat can actually kill a conversation and lose a potential sale. 86% of those poled thought they wasted time each day in conversations with people who wouldn’t get to the point.
A timely Christmas warning
With internet sales on the up this Christmas, security software company McAfee have published their 12 scams of Christmas. These include Low Price traps to tempt people into handing over card details, Fake gift card offers with the same aim and virus spreading via holiday jingles and greetings on e-mail.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
With Parliament working a 4 day week, there is little to report in terms of business news. On Tuesday and Thursday there is a general committee meeting to consider the Postal Services Bill whilst the Treasury Select committee continues to investigate competition and choice in the banking sector and the November inflation report.
Watch out and draw those curtains. A new pictorial survey of London has been released by 360cities.net producing the highest resolution pictures ever seen on a city-scape. The project was so detailed they even had to edit out an embarrassing picture of a woman standing by a window. The photos took three days to shoot from the top of Centre Point and are so detailed that individuals on the ground can be recognised.
Monday, 15 November 2010
The Office of National Statistics has admitted that it got the figures wrong when calculating the growth in the second quarter. Following an adjustment on construction figures they have downgraded their original report from an overall 1.2% to 1%. Within that figure construction growth has been slashed from 9.6% to 6.8%. The adjustment has sent alarm bells ringing although economists are generally still of the opinion that we have avoided the possibility of double dip recession. In its inflation report the Bank of England agrees but predicts a rocky road ahead with inflation staying above target as long as the end of 2012.
How taxing is your tax calculation?
The Office of Tax Simplification has come up with over 1,000 tax reliefs and allowances as a first step to simplifying our tax system. Now they want to know if we can spot ones that they have missed and also which reliefs we think could be cut. Log in to their site for more information and to see the list. You might even find some exemptions that you didn’t know you could claim. For example how about “Historic exemption from excise duty for a fermented beverage made from malt and molasses, often without hops.” http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/ots_taxreliefsreview.htm
Touch Local survey on the long term unemployed
Following the announcement by Ian Duncan Smith that he was planning to make the long term unemployed undertake work placements our sister company Touch Local ran a survey of SMEs to get their views. A massive 77% of those poled agreed that the work placements would be a good idea with respondents highlighting the benefits for the claimants in terms of self esteem and confidence.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Parliament is working a five day week for the second week in a row so there is plenty to look out for. Questions in the House include Treasury matters on Tuesday and Business Innovation & Skills on Thursday. The Business Innovation & Skills select committee is looking into Government assistance to industry whilst the Treasury select committee is looking at choice in the banking sector.
How do you tackle pollution? Cut down factory and car emissions, think about city layout or encourage air movement? Well the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has come up with a new spin on pollution. He is going to glue it to the Capital’s streets. Spraying roads with a Calcium Magnesium Acetate solution will apparently trap pollution particles and stop them from flying back into the air. Trials elsewhere have resulted in up to 20% reduction in pollution levels so Wefinda will be watching the results of the trial with interest.
Monday, 8 November 2010
The Bank of England’s decision to hold the base rate at 0.5% and the asset purchase programme at £200 billion sends further signals that it is prepared to ride out the current level of inflation without putting rates up.
Could European contract law be about to change
In July the EU published a green paper which is the starting point for a possible change in contract law throughout Europe. The aim is to standardise contract law for consumers and business. With the consultation date ending in January, the Law society is now asking for comments from solicitors with a survey to be completed by 19 November. Wefinda suggests it might be worth talking to your solicitor and getting them to reply to the survey.
End of the chain for Local Business Links
From April 2012, local business links will be closed and replaced by a combination of a UK web site & call centre and the new local enterprise partnerships. Branded as expensive and poorly targeted, the £154 million annual cost of running Business Link on a local basis was deemed too high. Do you agree, let us have your thoughts.
New help for payroll
Payroll is one of those potentially complex time consuming areas that SMEs can’t avoid. Whilst HMRC are in consultation about a possible change to the calculating and reporting of payroll including one option of letting HMRC themselves calculate deductions monthly, Sage have just launched Sage 50 payroll, aimed at the SME business. Before you check it out, have a look at our buyers guide on HR and Payroll outsourcing.
Where do you look for IT contractors?
Obviously on Wefinda, but apart from that a recent survey by CV Screen has shown an interesting development in IT location. With IT professionals in London earning 14% above the national average, an increasing number of IT companies are relocating away from London. The growth of the internet and broadband communications has meant that IT can be run successfully from other locations and IT professionals are making the most of their ability to mix job and lifestyle.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
The Inflation report due on the 10 November should make interesting reading and give us some clues on whether interest rates are likely to move in the near future. In Parliament, the finance bill and the Equitable life bill hit the House of Commons. And we must not forget Remembrance Day on 11 November.
Is the traditional British love of queuing breaking down? A recent survey by the Payments Council revealed that we are now only able to stand in line for 10 minutes 42 seconds before starting to lose our temper. Top of our list of loathed queuing places were Supermarkets, followed by the Post Office and then Airport security.
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Create a business planNo matter how good the idea and how keen you are to leap straight in, without a plan you will soon flounder. Your business plan will be needed to arrange finance and for some trade references and should include the following:
- Your details, background, qualifications and abilities
- Details of the business including whether you will be a sole trader, partnership or limited company; what the business is going to produce or sell; what is the unique selling point which is going to make the business successful
- What finance is needed to start the business including any loans to acquire equipment
- How the cost of your goods breaks down and what the profits are likely to be. This should include a full cash flow and profit & loss forecast
- Market research done. This should include market research on competitors and on clients
Considerations when setting up your businessThis isn’t just a case of coming up with a name and getting on with it. You will need to consider:
- Registering with the authorities. All self employed people have to register with HMRC as soon as they start up in business. Limited companies have to be registered with Companies house and all businesses expecting turnover in excess of the VAT threshold will need to register for VAT. You also need to consider whether you need to register with the Data Protection commissioner.
- Insurance. You need to consider business insurance including public liability. If you intend to employ staff by law you need employers’ liability insurance. More than a few staff and you have to have staff contracts and terms and conditions
- Health & Safety etc. You need to look at fire risks and health & safety policies. These vary dependant on the type of business and staff numbers
- Bank account. Talk to a range of banks to start with. They will all have different needs and will give you lots of advice and handy hints.
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
The importance that new businesses place on the internet is strengthened with website design being listed as the 4th most important service closely followed by internet marketing in 6th. Sorting out an IT support package also makes it into the top ten reflecting the need to keep communications flowing smoothly.
Outside of the IT/ communications mix, your second priority on starting up in business was to find an accountant. With new businesses needing help in producing business plans, deciding whether to register for VAT, arranging finance and setting up their accounts; early help from an accountant can be invaluable.
Next on your list of priorities was getting the image of the business right with printing in 3rd place and logo/brand/graphic design in 5th. Having a professional image will enhance your business in the eyes of prospective clients. In fact, studies have shown that a strong brand and image can lead to the acceptance of higher prices by clients. Business Link sums this up when it says “the brand and image of a business are vital to its success.”
Once you have got your communications, accounts and image sorted out, priority then goes to finding the right premises. Office space and utilities come in close together at 9th and 7th. When choosing your office, the Wefinda guide cautions that “choosing the wrong office space has been known to result in business failure, whilst choosing well can result in increased turnover and profits”. In particular think about location and accessibility for clients and staff.
Wefinda is committed to helping the SME business community to strengthen and grow and would like to thank all those who took part in our survey. The information will be useful in preparing our buyers guides which, together with our tweets and blogs, we aim to pack full of hints to help SME businesses to succeed.
Monday, 1 November 2010
News this week that the British economy grew by 0.8% in the third quarter was welcomed by economists. Although the growth rate was slower than the 1.2% seen in the second quarter it was double the rate forecast for the third quarter. This result pushes the prospect of a double dip recession further away and means that the Bank of England may not need to pump more money into the economy.
Business confidence improves
Hot on the heels of the good news about the growth in the economy comes a report from utility price comparison service Make it cheaper. Their survey of 1,000 SMEs reported that 76% had an unchanged or brighter outlook compared with only 58% six months ago. With the latest employment statistics showing over four million of us working as self-employed and a rise in new small businesses, perhaps the economy is being pulled back into line by SMEs.
Are we a nation of “digital shopkeepers”?
We are, according to a survey commissioned by Google with the internet industry now the fifth largest contributor to gross domestic product. Co-incidentally this survey comes in the same week as one from E-bay in which more than 80% of internet sales businesses accuse the Royal Mail of stifling competition. The survey, reported in the Independent, shows SMEs want more flexible evening pick up services, better tracking and week end deliveries. Let’s hope that the recent findings on cargo aircraft don’t hinder Christmas deliveries too much.
Or is our manufacturing base on the rise again?
The CBI says that 31% of small manufacturers expect to boost production in the next three months, whilst only 12% are predicting a fall. With the government pushing the banks to increase lending to small business and larger order books, could this be the time for small manufacturers to start investing again in plant and machinery.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Appropriately enough following the news item above, on Tuesday in Westminster Hall there is a debate on the future of the Post Office network. The Treasury select committee is examining the spending review on Monday and Tuesday whilst on Thursday the Business Innovation and Skills committee examines Government Assistance to Industry.
We are used to snack machines, coffee machines and water coolers. Now, from Germany comes another idea, art vending machines. Selling a mix of unique sculptures and paintings in small boxes, for 2 or 3 euros the art vendors are catching on with 100 machines already up and running and more planned.
Monday, 25 October 2010
All the speculation, leaks and informal briefings were finally over as the spending review was announced on Wednesday. Could have been better/ could have been worse was the overall response depending on which side of the political fence the reviewer sat.
People per hour.com ran a survey of 1,000 small businesses, 60% of which were now pessimistic about winning work from the Public sector. Meanwhile a survey by YouGov revealed that 58% of the British Public saw the cuts as having been inevitable. The CBI was largely supportive and welcomed additional spending on capital projects as well as the 75,000 additional apprentices to be created.
Meanwhile the EU bucks cost saving trend
Whilst the EU countries are cutting budgets, MEPs have just voted the EU an increase in their budget of €7.3 billion to €129 billion. This increase which was passed by a sizeable majority of MEPs has been condemned by EU states including the UK.
Lending to business continues to fall
Quarterly figures released by the Bank of England show that the level of lending to businesses continues to fall. Gross lending for Quarter 3 at £24.4billion was down £1.3billion on the previous quarter. Part of this seems to be as a result in a drop in demand. On the positive side, the quarterly Deloitte survey had more repliers reporting that credit was available as opposed to being hard to get.
How to avoid being hacked
According to KPMG, hacking has affected over 250million people in the last 3 years. For those anxious to avoid being caught, here are their ten tips to avoid data loss.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
For a start there is the CBI annual conference. With speeches by various ministers, it will be interesting to gauge the overall business confidence levels following the spending review last week.
Parliament is sitting with most interest for SMEs in Select committees on Business, Innovation & Skills on Tuesday and the effects associated with changing Summer Time on Thursday.
If you catch your employees asleep at work, perhaps you could recoup some income by entering them for the Spanish Siesta competition. The competition won last week by a security guard, earned him the equivalent of £890. The competition took place in a shopping centre and points were awarded for volume of snoring, speed of falling asleep and innovative sleeping position.
Monday, 18 October 2010
To no great surprise the inflation figures for September came out at 3.1%, still higher than the target of 2%. Key among the figures was an increase in the cost of basics such as clothes (up 6.4%) and food. With growth having slowed in the third quarter alongside house price falls there are renewed calls for the Bank of England to do more to stimulate the economy, despite the danger that this might lead to further inflation rises.
How secure is your e-mail
Moving your IT to the cloud makes great sense as it brings in added security alongside cost savings. However, a new warning has been issued by InfoSecurity to make sure that you always ask basic questions on topics such as data security, storage and retrieval before committing your data to the cloud. This is particularly important for e-mail which InfoSecurity warns can carry up to 80% of your intellectual property.
Get ready for those floods
In response to the major flooding seen in many parts of the country over the past few years, a major flood exercise is to take place across the country next March. Volunteers from business, local parish councils and individuals are wanted. This could be a great way of flood planning for your business. For more information check out the website http://exercisewatermark.co.uk/en/homepage.aspx
So, what do we have to look forward to?
Top of everyone’s list for the week ahead is the Public Spending Review. Although this is due to be formally announced on Wednesday, there are so many hints, tips and leaks flying around that it is difficult to distinguish the truth from the anticipation. Whatever it contains, this review will have a major impact for SMEs with supporting contracts in the supply chain and we await the formal announcement with great interest.
This was the week that Lord Young published his report on health & safety saying that far too many people use health & safety as an excuse and recommending that regulations should be simplified to bring back common sense. It was therefore ironic that the latest major art work at the Tate modern had to be closed to the public amid fears of excessive dust. The work consisting of 100 million ceramic sunflower seeds was supposed to be tactile with visitors expected to walk through and play in the exhibit.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
To no great surprise, the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee voted to keep base rates unchanged at 0.5%. Most economists are expecting the rate to stay unchanged well into 2011 thus allowing some stability in the lending markets. Wefinda has one note of caution to those who have managed to squeeze some finance from the banks. Make sure that there is some leeway in your ability to service the borrowing as increased interest payments have caught out many a business in the past.
Chemical rights and wrongs
As if the chemical spill in Hungary causing pollution to parts of the Danube and worries on the effect on wildlife and the food chain wasn’t bad enough we now have news of a collision in the Channel between a tanker carrying chemicals and another ship. The tanker is carrying 6,600 tons of solvent which would wipe out marine life over a wide area if it leaked. A recent reminder from NetRegs on the regulations relating to the manufacture, import and use of chemicals is therefore very timely. With a few exceptions these regulations apply to those using chemicals so it is worth all businesses checking out their responsibilities and liabilities. http://bit.ly/bixJz1
Mixed prospects for unemployment
The Reed job index which measures job vacancies rose by 2% last month to the highest level seen in the last six months. Salaries remain fairly flat reflecting the pressure on keeping control of costs and the buyers market being enjoyed by employers. Many bosses admit to holding out for the results of the government spending review with growing acceptance that these will result in further job cuts being required not only in the public sector but in businesses which service public contracts.
Increase productivity by profit sharing
A survey by Kelly came to the conclusion that employees work more productively if they are offered a share of the profits. With 30% of UK workers already in a profit sharing scheme, 36% of the rest believe they would put more effort in for a share of the rewards. Apart from salary improvements, employees would also welcome more training, flexible hours and health packages.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
For all entrepreneurs out there or for businesses looking for hints on how to grow, the E2live entrepreneur exhibition on 17 & 18 November at Excel London may be worth a visit.
The House of Commons is back in business with select committee reports on Tuesday covering matters such as public accounts, local enterprise partnerships and energy & climate change.
With hot desking becoming the norm in many companies, China has gone one better with hot benching. A park in Shandong province has introduced coin operated benches to give everyone a chance of a rest. When time is up, dozens of short steel spikes shoot up through the seat making it too uncomfortable to sit on.
Regulations change over on the first of October
The 6th April and the 1st October should be ringed in red on all business calendars as these are the two dates when government regulations change. Headline changes this October include the increase in the national minimum wage and the new equality act affecting a range of employment issues. Depending on your industry, other important changes include revised rules for recruitment agencies, new conditions imposed on those serving alcohol and new building regulations on energy conservation and ventilation. If you aren’t sure how the changes will affect you, check with your local business link.
What do you insure against?
Ask anyone to name the top ten reasons for insurance claims in the world in the last decade and most would put 9/11 at the top of the list. Zurich North America has put together its own list based on lives lost, business impact and geographic spread. Included in the list alongside 9/11 are natural disasters such as the Icelandic volcano, floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in China, the Boxing Day tsunami and the 2005 hurricane season. Pandemics make their mark with last year’s swine flu and the 2003 SARS epidemic whilst the worldwide financial crash also takes its place in the top ten. Finally, the 2003 power failure in North America and Canada enters the top ten with an estimated 55 million people affected by loss of power and water.
Keeping your staff loyal
A recent report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that a third of all employees plan to change firms as soon as the job market improves. One way to help keep your staff loyal may be to offer financial advice as part of the benefits package. A recent survey by Scottish Widows concludes that four in ten employees would like pension related advice whilst 25% would like advice on other finance matters.
So, what do we have to look forward to?
With a 24 hours strike starting on the London tube on Sunday, London businesses can expect the usual transport disruption on Monday and into early Tuesday with staff unable to attend work and deliveries affected.
The Commonwealth games finally gets underway and it won’t be long before the spotlight transfers to the London 2012 Olympic Games. There are still plenty of contracts up for grabs and small businesses are being urged to apply. Check out the official website here http://www.london2012.com/get-involved/business-network/index.php
Help is on hand for those rural businesses that fear they are being ignored by the police. The Lincolnshire force has added a tractor to their fleet of response vehicles. The tractor, complete with flashing blue light and full police paint job will patrol agricultural events to promote the Lincolnshire Farm and Country Business Watch scheme.
Friday, 24 September 2010
Public sector under increasing pressure to pay invoices promptlyThe European Union Late Payment Directive which is awaiting final sign off will force all public and private organisations to pay invoices within 30 days or face a surcharge of 8% plus fixed compensation. This is somewhat weaker than current UK regulations which oblige public sector organisations to pay invoices within 10 days. However, with statistics showing that only 44% of councils and 31% of NHS trusts pay their invoices within the 10 days perhaps the sanctions in the EU legislation will help to concentrate the minds within public bodies’ accounts departments.
Survey of social media use by SMEsA recent survey by Daryl Wilcox publishing shows that over half of all SMEs use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote their businesses. However only a quarter of those using social media update their sites every few days and the majority admit to only occasional use.
Technology World ExhibitionFor all those of you working in the Technology field, the Technology World exhibition in December is the ideal place to meet, catch up and exchange ideas. The show is giving UK companies the chance to make a 5 minute pitch to potential buyers and investors. More details on http://bit.ly/c26Teb. On the same website are details of how to enter the Business Innovation awards sponsored by the department of trade & industry.
So, what do we have to look forward to? Parliament is still in recess due to all those party conferences and the tax fiasco rumbles on. The Labour party conference is on next week so expect to see your papers full of criticisms of the coalition and the announcement of the new Labour party leader on 25 September.
And finally, it is well known that drinking water regularly can help the brain to operate at a higher level. UK firms can check out our Wefinda guide for more information on finding the best water cooler to boost their staff’s performance. Meanwhile workers in Paris can get their chilled sparkling water for free from a water fountain installed in the Jardin de Reuilly park. The fountain offers a choice of still or fizzy water both chilled and un-chilled and is the brainchild of the local water company. If the idea catches on it might make a small dent in the 128 litres that each French person drank last year, and the 4.5million barrels of oil that went into making the water bottles.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
We start this week with the dreaded word inflation. Consumer price inflation was higher than expected in August and shows no sign of dropping back for some time. However, most economists believe that the still weak economy will gradually bring inflation down without the need for higher interest rates. Meanwhile the European commission is forecasting growth in the Eurozone to be 1.7% this year, double the previous forecast giving hope for all UK businesses which export to Europe.
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, has given his strongest acknowledgement yet that the current state of the economy is down to the financial sector. Speaking to the Trades Union Congress, the Governor said “Before the crisis, steady growth with low inflation and high employment was in our grasp. We let it slip – we, that is, in the financial sector and as policy-makers – not your members nor the many businesses and organisations around the country which employ them. And although the causes of the crisis may have been rooted in the financial sector, the consequences are affecting everyone, and will continue to do so for years to come.”
The digital economy act which was passed in April 2010 brings potential fines of up to £50k to anyone who illegally downloads files. Those firms which allow their employees to have unrestricted access to the internet are particularly at risk as it will be the firm which is prosecuted not the employee.
On a further note of caution, the new Equality Act comes into force on 1 October 2010 and applies to all employers. The act will allow individuals to sue potential employers if they think they were not appointed due to an answer given to a health related question at interview. ACAS has advised employers to stop issuing health questionnaires and not to ask questions about health at interview unless the health issue is central to the job role.
So what do we have to look forward to in the week ahead? Parliament has only been back a couple of weeks but is now in recess until 11 October to allow time for all those party conferences to be held. First up is the Liberal Democrat’s party conference with Nick Clegg having the task of uniting the party firmly behind the coalition.
We should expect the PAYE tax fiasco to rumble on. With HMRC officials already having been summoned to explain themselves to Parliament and changes announced on how shortfalls can be repaid, we expect there to be more twists to this story before long. Wefinda’s advice is to check the calculations carefully or consult an accountant as stories are already emerging of the HMRC letters being wrong.
Finally, whilst slow and unreliable broadband is no joke for those SMEs living in rural areas, Wefinda loves the story this week of pigeon post beating broadband. Rory the pigeon took 80 minutes to fly just over 80 miles carrying a data stick. In the same time, just 30% of the five minute video uploaded to the internet and it took over five hours for the full video to upload.
Monday, 13 September 2010
In our news of the 6 August we highlighted the responsibility that all businesses have to recycle their waste. Now Defra reports that in the last year there have been 2,500 prosecutions for fly-tipping with 116,500 warning letters issued. Given the rise in the number firms offering to take away and recycle business waste, this 20% increase in prosecutions over the previous year is surprising.
With further postal strikes threatened in response to the Government’s plan to privatise the Royal Mail, now may be the time for businesses to review their postal options. Check out the Wefinda guide to Courier services for advice.
A report by the Payments council shows that we are turning away from cash and cheques and towards debit cards. In the three months to June, withdrawals from cash machines fell by 3.2% compared to the same period last year whilst cheque use fell by 10%. This compares to a 12.4% rise in the use of debit cards and a massive 67% rise in the use of faster payments (the same day transfer system between banks). With cheques on course to be phased out by 2018, any business looking to upgrade its accounting or banking systems would be advised to search for a cheque-less solution.
So what do we have to look forward to? In Parliament there is a debate on Tuesday on apprenticeships and skills whilst at the same time there is a select committee hearing on Local Enterprise Partnerships. On Thursday we look forward to questions in the house on energy and climate change. This should be a lively debate following Prince Charles’ recent comments that he found the views of climate change sceptics “extraordinary”.
The Tour of Britain starts on 11 September and finishes in London on the 18th. With international riders from 17 teams taking part and special events along the way the race is well worth a cheer.
And finally, with all the doom and gloom about and dire predictions on pensions, it is good to hear of one pensioner who is not short of cash. Police in Germany were called to investigate a possible scam operation only to find out it was a pensioner celebrating his retirement by giving away Euros to passers by.
Monday, 6 September 2010
In truth, social media is simply using the internet to have a conversation with your clients, suppliers and fellow businesses. Tapping the power of the internet business world, you can ask and answer questions, talk about new products and build your business’s reputation whilst at the same time benefit from the instant communication that the internet brings.
Social media can largely be broken down into three areas, your own web site, business specific forums and open communication sites.
Looking at these in reverse order, open communication will include web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Originally thought of as ways to share personal thoughts and ideas, these sites are now recognised as providing a great way for businesses to share information with their clients, both existing and prospective as well as getting the world to talk about their products.
Business specific forums allow you to build up your businesses reputation as well as acting as a source of information. General forums such as UK Business Labs or LinkedIn allow you to share ideas on a wide range of business areas. Other forums are industry specific, such as IFA Life which promotes articles, news, chat forums and resources to the financial advice community.
Your own web site can also be a place for communication, not just an advert for your products. Post news and blogs and encourage readers to comment or ask questions.
How might social media work for me?
Taking just one example, let’s say you’ve invented a simple device which will cut down the use of water in your toilet, lets call it a brick. When you announce your invention to the world you will probably think about all the usual marketing devices including advertising, posters, adding the device to your web site etc.
Including social media would allow you to open up your invention to a wider audience and get the world chatting about your invention. So, on your web site you might add a series of blogs about how great a brick is for cutting down water use, the green credentials of a brick and so on. You’d then send teasers and links to the blogs to your contacts by e-mail and encourage the recipients to post comments.
Bringing in the business specific forums, you might join chat rooms and forums that cover areas such as green issues, bathroom design and cost saving. Starting discussion threads and answering questions will enhance your businesses reputation so that by the time you announce your new product you have gained access to a wide audience all of whom think highly of your business and are in tune with your ideas. These forums are also good places to carry out consumer tests so you can run discussions on colour of brick, range of sizes to suit different toilets etcetera.
Now you add in the open communication sites. Announce your new invention on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t just Tweet links to your blogs, try and come up with a really catchy tweet and your contacts will pass this on to their contacts, and so on and before you know it your brick might have gone viral and be the most talked about item on Twitter or Facebook. Make a fun film about your brick and how to install it and post it on YouTube. Post links to the video on your web and on Twitter and Facebook and your chat forums encourage your contacts to look at the video and comment.
Now the whole world is talking about and looking at your new invention and the best bit is that it only costs a few minutes of your time to create all this great publicity for minimal cost.
A Social Media success story
In April 2009 a tweet on one side of the Atlantic got picked up by someone on the other side. A few tweets later and Like Minds, a way of sharing social media ideas and inspiring others was born. The first event held that October had over 200 attendees with a further 560 taking part on line, a success considering the first tweet about the event was only sent out six weeks beforehand with all publicity and arrangements for the event solely on social media platforms. Since its start, Like Minds has gone from strength to strength with international events being added and the last UK event attracting over 1,500 virtual participants and raising over £150,000 for the local economy.
With successes like this coming from a single chance tweet, it is easy to see how a planned social media campaign could transform any business and why so many companies are integrating social media into their day to day life.
The EU has just agreed powers which will let it monitor banks and investments in the EU and take action if it considers that risks are being taken which might upset financial stability. These powers will allow the EU to overrule national regulatory bodies.
The Environment agency has started a search for Environmental Pioneers. Categories include technology, waste reduction and energy savings. Online entries can be made at http://www.neilstewartassociates.com/sw118/awards.php with a deadline of 8 October.
The EDF energy announcement of price rises for 1.2million customers came as a shock to many in a time of falling energy wholesale prices. With four of the big six energy companies currently under investigation by Ofcom for potentially mis-selling contracts and two under investigation for varying prices depending on geographical area, this may be the time for all of us to review the energy tariff that we are on.
A report by the Centre for Economic and business research predicts that by 2015 unemployment will have risen to over 10% in over half of the UK’s regions. London, the South East, the South West and Northern Ireland will be spared once again bringing the north/south divide to the fore with the North West being worst off. Elsewhere, despite slowing house prices economists are generally confident that the chances of a double dip recession are fading fast.
So what do we have to look forward to? Parliament is back on 6 September so expect a flurry of stories relating to the economy and reforms. Of particular interest to SMEs is a debate in Westminster Hall on the 7th on the financing of small businesses and a select committee debate on the same day covering Local Enterprise Partnerships.
And finally, with the first of a series of strikes due to disrupt the London underground system on Monday and Tuesday, the French are looking at their tube system in a new light. Heat generated by trains and passengers is to be used to warm buildings in a public housing project in the city centre. Apparently each passenger generates around 100 watts which will be drawn off via heat exchangers and used to supply heating pipes. Let’s hope that there is a back up system or the inhabitants will freeze if the French underground workers follow ours out on strike.
Monday, 23 August 2010
Businesses who have an annual turnover of more than £100,000 or who registered for VAT after 1 April 2010 already have to file their VAT returns on line with optional on line filing being available for other businesses. Now the Government has announced that on line filing of VAT returns will be compulsory for all businesses from April 2012. To avoid the final rush it might be worth scheduling a switch to on line filing within the next year.
Bank of England reports last week brought two pieces of news which are potentially worrying to SMEs. The first was a confirmation that Bank lending to business continues to fall. The second was that according to the Bank’s regional agents, business confidence has fallen in recent months and that consumer spending growth has also fallen slightly. Exports and manufacturing have picked up and services are edging higher so it is not all doom and gloom. Remember if you have a business success story then share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org as Wefinda loves to spread good news around the business community.
According to research by Gartner, worldwide sales of mobile devices grew by 13.8% in the second quarter of 2010 although competition is driving prices down. Combine that with a recent Ofcom report showing that we spend 45% of our waking time watching TV and using our mobiles and other communication devices. The survey appears to concentrate on social media outside work, looking at texting, TV, social sites such as facebook and surfing. At least multi-tasking isn’t dead with people simultaneously using more than one form of communication. The 16-24 age group are best at this, cramming 9.5 hours of consumption into 6.5 hours of the day. Watch out for the Wefinda report on social media coming soon with hints to help your business make the most of the social media boom.
And finally, we are all aware of the statistic that most job interviewers will have made up their minds about interviewees within a few seconds of meeting them. A study in the USA takes this one further with a warning that any interviewee associating themselves with alcohol will worsen their chances of getting a job. The survey showed a mock interview to over 600 managers. In the interview the candidate choose either coke or wine to drink. Those who chose wine were rated as inferior to those choosing coke.
We’re not sure what the impression would be if the candidate had arrived in a car powered by whiskey by-products but according to scientists in Edinburgh last week whiskey could be the answer to our fuel problems. The by-products of the whiskey process can be turned into biobutanol which can be run in most cars without the need for conversion.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
It is quite easy to buy a domain name these days. Just visit a domain registrar such as 123reg.co.uk and start looking for the name of your choice.
What is it and what do you do with it?
Once you’ve chosen you can simply buy the domain and it’s yours. But what do you do with it then? And what have you bought anyway?
The Domain Name System (DNS)
Domain name are define by the protocol called The Domain Name System (DNS). This makes it possible to assign domain names to groups of internet users in a meaningful way.
DNS will turn easy names you can remember into IP addresses which are simply numbers, that can be understood, by any internet connected server (computer).
Easy to understand
So www.reallysimpleseo.com that you can understand, will become 184.108.40.206 that an internet computer can understand and so display the web page you’d expect.
Hosted on an Internet server
But wait a minute, how does it display the web pages? For a website or web pages to appear when you enter a domain name in a browser they need to be hosted on an Internet server.
Domain name pointed to an Internet server
An Internet server is simply a computer that is connected up to the internet, and the domain name is pointed (using DNS), to that computer. So that is why it appears when you type it into a web browser to click on a link.
When you buy your domain name you don’t automatically buy the hosting. But you can usually buy them from the same company if you wish.
The original article is here http://www.reallysimpleseo.com/domain-names/domain-hosting-questions
Thank you to David Howlett of reallysimpleseo.com for allowing us to reproduce this article.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
SEO, or search engine optimisation, is the way you get your web site noticed by the web crawlers who rank web sites in order. Of course, if every site had great SEO then it would be impossible to have everyone sharing top spot but a regular attention to your SEO, either by you or by an SEO specialist, can do wonders to your ranking and the likelihood of attracting new business. Whilst some SEO techniques are best left to the specialists, there are some fairly simple techniques that you can follow to improve your site’s ranking. So what could you look at to improve your SEO?
In this context, content consists of the actual words and pictures that you put on your site. These can be broken down into:
> Key words - identification. Keywords are the ways in which the web crawlers pick up and understand what your site is about. So, for example, if you make and sell gates then your key words might include “gates, garden gates, electronic gates, wrought iron gates” etcetera. Start by trying to think of all the words that your clients might use to search for your products. Then use a search engine, such as Google AdWords, to check how many times the words are actually used in searches and what other words or phrases you could use.
> Keywords – use. The keywords are used in two places. Firstly your web designer will use them in the web code as tags for the crawlers to pick up on. Secondly, you can use the key words in your script. However, be careful how many times you use the keywords and make sure they are relevant. If you have too high a keyword density, not only will the crawlers rank you lower, the content is likely to be stilted and your clients will be switched off.
> Pages. The crawlers look at each page separately. They don’t like copying so information repeated on different pages will count against you. However, using different key words on each page will help your ranking as will links between the pages.
> Words, pictures, videos. Whilst words are king, crawlers do look for other content and pictures and video will help the ranking. Conversely, complex diagrams tend to be ignored. Don’t copy content from other sites; duplication won’t get you any points.
> Changing content. Wipe out and replace all your content and you will shoot down the rankings. However, the crawlers like content which changes over time. Consider adding a weekly blog or news piece to your site. Make sure it is relevant to your business and if you are too busy or not a natural writer then contract a specialist writer to produce the blog for you.
The crawlers love sites which are linked to others. However, the links have to be relevant. Randomly linking your site to thousands of others is known as black hat SEO, effectively an attempt to cheat. The crawlers will soon pick up on this and discount your site heavily. What you can do is:
> Link to another of your sites. So if you have a twitter, facebook or similar account then linking your posts to your main site is a bonus. For example you could blog about a new product on your main site, link this to a facebook advert and publicise via twitter. You could even post a video on you tube and link that with your site.
> Link to local and trade directories. Linking with trade directories or business clubs not only gets you more advertising, clients clicking through from those sites will help to improve your ranking.
> Set up a separate blog. Setting up a blog outside your site and linking to it can also help the ranking. However, you need to balance this with the need to keep your site content slowly changing so you may want to mix news on your site with longer blogs on another site.
> Post articles on specialist article sites such as Ezine or Buzzle. These give you back links to your site and if your article is taken up by others they should acknowledge your authorship and provide links back to your site. For example, if a building company posts an article about loft conversion it can be picked up by DIY, plumber, electrics companies all over the world which gives great back links.
Click here to get three quotes for all your online marketing needs from wefinda.
Monday, 16 August 2010
One piece of potentially good news was the release of Germany’s growth figures for the second quarter. At 2.2%, the growth was well above expectation and helped the Eurozone as a whole to post overall growth of 1%. With the UK already having reported second quarter growth figures of 1.1%, we have one indicator that Europe may be on the way to recovery.
Mixed news on the housing front with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors reporting an overall fall in house prices in July. With only London and the North West bucking the trend, the fall seems to be as a result of more properties being put on the market combined with a fall in demand. As many people are still reluctant to move, this could be good news for SMEs in the home improvement trade with house renovations and improvements being preferred to moving.
For those of you with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, Apple released a patch this week which fixed a flaw in the PDF application which would have left the devices open to hackers. More information about the release can be found on the Apple website, search for release iOS 4.0.2 for iPhone and iPod touch or iOS 3.2.2 for iPad.
Action fraud is warning us to watch out for scam phone calls and e-mails which appear to come from HMRC asking for bank details to enable them to pay tax rebates. Over 180 websites sending out fake HMRC emails have been closed in the last 3 months alone. HMRC will never phone or e-mail asking for bank details so keep alert.
In view of the response to last week’s piece on the company which increased its turnover by 400% due to improved SEO, wefinda is putting together a SEO hints article. Watch out for it on our blog soon and in the meantime, if you have a good news story, share it with us on email@example.com.
And finally, if you are looking to take on staff but still failing to find the right people, perhaps your job titles need tweaking. The South Australian government is trying to entice more young British backpackers to visit on a one year working visa. Jobs such as “shark personality profiler” and “roo-poo harvester” are on offer alongside “koala catcher” and even “beer taster”. Let us know if you have come across any unusual job titles and we’ll share them with the wefinda community.
Friday, 13 August 2010
The wefinda service makes search simple. As a business owner or manager, time is our most precious commodity and we need to make the most of it. Managing a business is what we do and we need to work with professionals who feel the same. We want our enquiries answered, services explained and we want the best value that our cash flow allows us. wefinda saves you time, every time.
If you are worried about growing your business, need help with your website, accounting or payroll or if you need professionals to help you answer telephone enquiries, contact wefinda. We will find you a great solution at the most effective price.
Our suppliers are the best in the UK. They are the best because they are experts at what they do and they care about your business. A wefinda supplier deals with businesses like yours every day. When you leave a request with wefinda you can expect up to three quotes that same day, at a time that suits you.
At wefinda we find you three quotes from top UK suppliers so you can get back to your business.
wefinda - home to the UK's best business.
Wednesday, 11 August 2010
Used properly, your web site can be more like a garden, interesting, forever changing and providing you with flowers and produce, or in business terms, clients and sales. This is where online marketing comes in, turning your web site into the driver for your business, attracting clients and generating revenue. So what questions do you need to ask when considering marketing online?
What can Online Marketing do for my business?
Just as every business has unique needs, there is no one size fits all solution for online or digital marketing. However, online marketing itself falls into a few main areas and it is worth considering what these are and how they could help your business so that you can have a rewarding discussion with the marketing specialist. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
• What is my core product and does my website mention it? This may seem like a strange question but there are web sites which spend pages talking about industry expertise, being market leaders and optimising the client experience but forget to say what the company actually does. This leads on to the second question:
• If I wanted to find a company which sold my product, what would I search for on the internet? Search engine optimisation (SEO) at its most basic will come up with the key words that searchers use and make sure that those words are both used within the text on your web site and also in the source code that runs behind your site. Incorporating those key words in your site means that when a potential client searches for your product, your site is more likely to come higher up the results list. Most clients give up after page 3 so you need to try and get as high in the search results as possible to attract more clients. However, the search engines don’t just work on key words, they look at other factors as well to decide how to rank results. These lead on to further SEO services questions:
• Am I a member of any organisations or industry bodies? If you are and the organisation keeps registers of members on line, the register will often include a web address. This links their site to yours. Search engines like links, particularly where they are relevant. On a note of caution, sometimes having 500 links is better than having 50,000 links. Too many and the search engines will back away.
• Do I belong to any chat forums? Again these will allow links back to your site and enhance your ranking.
• Do I have something to say? Websites which have some content that changes tend to be ranked higher than static ones. Incorporating a news article or blog on the site will help, as will posting articles on other sites with links back to your site.
• Does my product naturally fit with another product that I don’t sell? For example, continuing the gardening theme, you may sell gardening equipment but not cover garden ponds. You could set up a link on your site to another site which does sell pond equipment. If someone clicks the link from your site and then buys from the other site you will get a percentage of the sale. This is known as an affiliate scheme. Payment is generally based only on sales although there are some schemes where you will get a small fee from your affiliates whether a product is bought or not. When the client clicks from your site to the other one a cookie is created which records the client as coming from you. Cookies are only kept for a set period of time so while you may get a payment for a click within the last month, don’t expect it if the client takes a year to buy. Affiliate marketing schemes where clients click from your site to others bring money to you for no effort; those where clients click to your site from your marketing affiliate bring increased sales for the payment of a small percentage.
• Am I prepared to pay to encourage potential clients to look at my site? This is where another online advertising tool comes in. Pay per click (PPC) is a way of advertising your site in the search engines. You start by choosing the key words that you think potential clients may search on. When those words are searched your advert appears on the top or right hand side of the results page. If your advert is clicked the client is taken to your web site and you have to pay for that click. The amount you pay is set at the start and depends on a complex mix of the popularity of the key word and the search engine’s opinion of your site. However, PPC internet advertising is flexible as you can set a maximum budget per day and you know that the only people clicking on to your site are those who are already searching for your product.
What questions should I ask the online marketing agency when we speak?
Start by running through the areas that you have identified and check that the company can help you with these. In addition ask them:
• What areas do they specialise in? Some companies will concentrate on search engine marketing or PPC; others will offer a full online web marketing service. It is also worth checking what other services they offer. For example, some may offer full web design services and will be able to help with streamlining your web site to work faster or updating it to take full advantage of online marketing. Others may also offer other marketing or advertising services so that you finish up with a co-ordinated marketing campaign.
• How long will it take for a difference to be seen? In general beware of companies that promise a search engine ranking such as page one in Google after a day. Whilst your PPC advert can get there, the SEO improvements that you make can take some weeks to result in improved Google SEO and other search engine rankings. In fact, if you need to completely re-write your web site content, it effectively becomes a new search engine submission and it can actually go down in the ranking for a short period before the search engine crawlers pick it up and rank it higher.
• Can they give you examples of successful campaigns? The marketing company should be able to give you examples of increased ranking through SEO, or increased sales through PPC or SEO. Take the time to talk to the clients involved and check their experience with the company.
• What are their charges – see below
• Can they write content, articles and blogs? In the same way that being able to add two and two doesn’t make you an accountant, being able to put words on paper doesn’t make you a writer. Writing interesting and engaging articles and blogs for the web is an art form and unless you are lucky enough to have a natural SEO writer in your team it is better to outsource than to put potential clients off with stilted prose. Some online marketing companies can provide content whilst others will have links to specialist writers.
What will an online marketing company need from me?
The first thing that a SEO company will need is a full understanding of your business, products and client base. Whether the SEO consultant is looking at choosing search phrases for PPC and SEO, revamping your website content or setting up links with other sites it is important that these are targeted and relevant.
Online marketing works best when it is part of your overall marketing strategy. The online marketing specialist will therefore need regular meetings with your marketing and advertising team to ensure a co-ordinated strategy.
Finally, the online marketing company will need commitment and an understanding that SEO marketing is ongoing and ever changing. Yes, peppering your site with SEO keywords, adding a few links and writing a couple of articles will help in the short term. Unless you keep up with keyword trends, add fresh articles and forge new links your site will slip back into oblivion. Online marketing should therefore have a continuing presence in your ongoing marketing budget. Which leads us on to:-
Finally, what will online marketing cost?
Some website marketing companies will offer an initial free review of your web site. This can give you an idea of their initial recommendations and therefore of the costs. They will then either offer you a fixed price for the marketing work or charge on an hourly rate.
Whilst hourly rates may be as low as £25 per hour, in general expect them to be at least £50 per hour. We recommend that an hourly contract includes minimum work levels. For example, if you were paying someone to write a blog for you, an hourly rate gives the writer freedom to get carried away in researching the blog and you could end up paying for 3 hours research for a 300 word blog. A minimum work level agreement would allow you to cap the amount of time spent on the blog.
Fixed prices will generally vary depending on the amount of work needed. If you are appointing a company to undertake SEO, PPC and affiliate identification then try and get a breakdown between the various elements. Fixed “off the shelf” packages can cost as little as £250. In general the more you pay, the more work will be done to improve your ranking and sales.
Some companies also offer packages where you pay a set amount with a bonus if the web site reaches a pre-determined ranking level.
Pay per click rates vary from a few pence per click to hundreds of pounds. However, as you have complete control over your PPC budget, you only spend as much or as little as you can afford. Again PPC management is an ongoing process and your campaign should be reviewed regularly.
Monday, 9 August 2010
Let’s start with looking at the different types of websites which are available. The most common are
· Brochure sites,
· Content management sites and
· E-commerce sites.
In practice, you will probably finish up with a website that is a combination of different types but it helps if you are aware of the options.
The simplest form of web site is a brochure site. This originally evolved as an online copy of existing company brochures and is designed to be fairly static. Typically brochure sites will have three to five pages containing information about the company and its products. Because of their simplicity, brochure sites are the cheapest, costing from around £300 - £500+ for a couple of pages. Brochure sites should contain some Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) but this will be fairly basic. Because brochure sites tend to be static, the web crawlers don’t rate them very highly and you are unlikely to reach top spot with a simple brochure site. However, they are invaluable for providing information to customers and establishing a presence and should not be dismissed by those businesses with a low budget.
Content Management site
Content Management web sites are for those who want a living, changing website to match their business. In the simplest form this means that you can add blogs or articles, provide information about special offers or show today’s menu. More complex content management sites will allow you to add chat rooms or link in with e-commerce modules. With the content on these sites changing regularly you can really work on SEO and the web crawlers are more likely to move your site towards top spot. The cost of content management sites varies according to content but you should expect prices to start around the £600 - £800+ mark. Bespoke features will add to the cost.
E-commerce sites are content management sites which allow you to sell your products via your site. An e-commerce site will enable you to take orders and collect payments via credit card and PayPal. You will be able to upload product pictures, descriptions and prices. Some systems will also link directly to your stock control programme and show volumes on the site. You can even link directly through to a despatch department. E-commerce sites can effectively take over your entire sales process. Because they link into your sales and accounts processes they are more complex than other sites. You should expect to pay at least £1,200+ for the most basic e-commerce site.
Search engine optimisation
Whatever site you decide your business needs, it is important that you pay attention to the SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) or your site will languish well down the lists and won’t generate the sales that you deserve. We will be giving you further guidance on SEO but there are a few basic techniques which will help. Firstly, make sure that you include lots of key words in your text. Think about what people might search for when looking for your product and include those words or phrases. Secondly, changing sites rank higher than static ones so a weekly blog will help. Thirdly, creating back links your will also help to improve rankings so for example a hotel might advertise on a tourist board website with links back to the hotel’s own site. These back links need to be relevant as web crawlers will dismiss those that aren’t.
wefinda can help you get up to three quotes for all your business website needs. Just ask one of our trained customer service team when you contact us.
Most worrying topic of the week is the predicted world grain shortage. With the late winter and hot spring we have just had, some UK farmers had already begun to cut the wheat crop green to provide silage to feed their animals this winter. Now with the drought and fires raging in Russia leading to a ban on wheat exports from Russia, the prospect of a world shortage looms higher. With wheat and grain prices predicted to rise sharply, foods making use of grain, from bread to beer, are likely to rise in price. Meat and animal products will also rise due to higher costs for animal feed so expect the cost of milk and eggs also to rise. With inflation already on the up, the added prospect of food inflation is a particular worry for all businesses involved in the food trade.
NetRegs are currently highlighting the duty of care that all businesses have towards their waste including paper and printer cartridges. This duty even extends to home based businesses so it is worth checking out the regulations. Further information is available on the NetRegs website on www.netregs.gov.uk/netregs/63197.aspx.
For SMEs using Sage 50 accounts, the latest version has now launched. Sage say that this version will help to simplify the management of customers, suppliers and finances. Let us know what you think if you upgrade.
So what do we have to look forward to in the coming week?
The main item of note next week is the latest inflation figures which are out on 11th August at 10.30. With Parliament and the EU remaining in summer slumber mode, Wefinda suggests that all you London based businesses should make the most of the summer. Ping London in association with sport England has set up 100 table tennis tables around London. Find one and play for free.
Finally, at Wefinda we love to celebrate business success stories. We were therefore really pleased to hear that the Duckworth Group (www.duckworthgroup.co.uk) has managed to increase its turnover by a massive 400% in the last six months. The secret of the Duckworth success was simply to concentrate on improving its websites’ SEO via key words, articles and back links. The group’s three main divisional websites have achieved page 1 on Google and the increase in business includes the contract for end of term cleaning at the Bristol University Halls of Residence and a contract to transform office premises in Holborn into luxury flats. The Duckworth Group which offers a range of cleaning, building and other services for the home and business in London and Bristol is close to completing plans to expand its offering in three other areas of the country and is living proof that getting your website right can dramatically increase turnover.
If you have a business success story, share it with us on firstname.lastname@example.org.