Bitcoin, the world’s most famous cryptocurrency, experienced meteoric highs towards the back end of 2017. The worlds media worked themselves into a frenzy whilst stories, tips, and memes flooded the internet. Early investors in Bitcoin were feeling a bit smug as many were made into millionaires practically overnight.
But just what is Bitcoin? There’s a lot of terminology and jargon surrounding the topic that can be hard to follow. It’s not just a flash in the pan either, Bitcoin could change the face of finance as we know it. Fans of Bitcoin will tell you that it’s the next best thing since sliced bread and in many ways, it is.
Others will tell you it’s a stock market bubble just waiting to burst. These people normally stand to lose money if Bitcoin is a huge success, but they’re not wrong either. It does have all the characteristics of stock market bubbles before it and its value has plummeted in recent months. Still confused? Let this infographic from Cartwright King break it down for you.
What is a Bitcoin?
Bitcoin (BTC) is a digital currency, officially classified as a ‘cryptocurrency’. It doesn’t exist in a physical form, but rather virtually, on bits of computer code that have been encrypted and secured. You can buy and sell things for Bitcoin just like dollars, pounds or euros.
Bitcoin relies on something called ‘blockchain’ technology for its existence. A number of Bitcoin transactions are grouped together to form a ‘block’. These get added to a chain of blocks by the users of the Bitcoin network and stored in what is referred to as a ledger. This ledger exists in digital format only and is perpetuated by Bitcoin ‘mining’.
What is Bitcoin Mining?
Mining for Bitcoin is a far cry from mining for gold. There is however one similarity: anyone can do it. Where anyone can get a bowl, or a pickaxe and start digging for gold, anyone can purchase the hardware needed to mine Bitcoin. However, if you have a digger, you’ll find more gold and if you have more computing power, you’ll mine more Bitcoin. But how does this process of ‘mining’ work? Let us explain:
How Do You Buy Bitcoin?
If you don’t have the resources to mine Bitcoin, you can just buy it instead. Bitcoin exchanges allow people to spend their money on acquiring the cryptocurrency, which is stored in a digital ‘wallet’. Coinbase and Bitstamp are the two most popular exchanges. Your wallet is unique to you, but as always, exercise caution with the details of your Bitcoin wallet to avoid cyber-attacks. Bitcoin is incredibly hard to steal, but it has been known to happen.
How Do You Spend Bitcoin?
Just as easily as you spend your money now. You will need to check that the retailer you are buying from accepts Bitcoin, but other than that, you don’t spend it any differently than you would normal currency on your credit/debit card. Big names like Wordpress, Amazon and Etsy accept the currency. Expect more to follow.
The cyptocurrency did experience soaring highs towards the back end of 2017 but has since seen its value plummet. Its still very expensive and has been extremely successful, but its price is now too volatile for some and has been steadily decreasing. At the time of writing, 1 BTC is worth over £5,500. Compare that with highs of nearly £20,000 in late 2017.
Bitcoin has certainly managed to shake off its reputation as the dark web currency of choice. Its encrypted nature meant people could swap Bitcoins for nefarious goods and services on the dark web without fear of it being traced back to you. It’s taken a few years, but authorities are now getting better at tracking Bitcoin transactions, causing many criminals to abandon it.
It does also represent a big challenge to the status quo of finance. Major companies and even countries are experimenting with and developing cryptocurrencies of their own. However, much of the convenience of Bitcoin has now been replicated with online banking and systems like Apple Pay. And the Bitcoin stock price did plummet just like the naysayers forewarned. Whether Bitcoin will see off its competitors and continue to mount a challenge to central banks is yet to be seen but don’t think you’ve heard the last of it just yet.
As it becomes more mainstream and accessible, expect more SMEs to be dealing in Bitcoin.
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, the desire to govern your own workday and work hours, and to be your own boss, starting your own small business may be the right path to take. Launching a new business not only requires skill and passion for a particular service or product, but it also requires planning and establishing good habits from the beginning. The “sharing economy” is an ever-growing and popular plan for people who want to start a small business. The idea of the sharing economy is to use technology and the internet to rent to or share things with others, thereby cutting in-person transactional costs.
Establish a Business Blueprint
A good idea can only take you so far. On the days when your motivation is low, you will need a solid business plan to fall back on. In the beginning stages of launching a business, to avoid later burn out and losing sight of the big picture, you will want to establish a business plan that reviews your business from every angle and idea. A business plan should project three to five years ahead and detail how the company intends to reach its yearly goals, including revenue.
Who Are Your Customers?
Before investing all your time and money into a product or service, a small business owner should evaluate the market and confirm that there are people interested in paying for what you have to offer. Understanding the market you are seeking to attract will not only prevent future blunders, but it will also set your business up for success. You should ask yourself some important questions. Who is our market? How big is our market? What trends affect our market? How do we reach our market? By answering these questions, you can develop marketing strategies to communicate the identity of your business and the value of your goods or services in the most effective manner.
Start Spreading the News
Once you know that you have a good product or service that can stand the test of time and meet your goal, then it’s time to amp up your marketing and advertising. No one can spend their money on something they don’t know exists. No longer are the days when you need to put out a television commercial or run a newspaper ad to advertise your business. The best marketing and advertising tool in the digital age is social networking sites, which are free to use. With such a vast audience at your fingertips, you can post your product, vehicle, home, bed, etc. for rent and watch as people respond. Companies have begun to link small business owners to consumers by launching applications and websites that allow you to post what you are renting while charging a nominal fee.
Avoid the Common Mistakes
The sharing economy is built around trust and reviews. Your small business needs to be built around a product you are proud of and that is pleasing to your consumer. No longer are the days when a company or brand is simply trusted by existing. Before you will see recurring customers or a rise in clientele, you will need to see some good reviews.
Just because someone is renting your room or lawn mower — and you’re not letting go of the asset — it doesn’t mean you’re not making income. Various governmental entities are catching on to the sharing economy and are starting to implement regulations. It’s important to keep yourself informed and continuously educate yourself on rules and regulations that may affect your business. As with any other income driving source, even though you are not receiving an income statement, it’s important to report your earnings and pay your taxes.
Create an At-Home Workspace
While the sharing economy mainly revolves around the asset and/or service you are attempting to rent, you should invest in creating an at-home workspace. Setting aside time to work on finances, marketing and advertising, business goals, and communication will be easier to do if you have a designated place within your home to retreat to, and where everything you need is in one area. Your workspace can consist of one desk in a small area of your home to an entire room. Depending on what you’re renting, you may need space for the objects you’re renting out (i.e. clothes or instruments). You will need space for a computer or computers to facilitate your transactions, communications, and marketing. As your small business grows, your workspace may also grow, and you may need room for one or more employees or independent contractors. Investing in your workspace will save you time and money in the long run and help establish structure and smooth transactions.
While there are many perks to being your own boss, there are several obstacles as well. You will not always be motivated to work and working from home can present many challenges even to the most focused. Setting designated office hours to work on different tasks throughout the day and week will help focus your business and drive your business plan forward. Working from home can also mean more distractions, whether it’s family or friends, pets, or your bed calling your name. Having a workspace that is separate from distractions, where you can isolate yourself and focus on the tasks at hand, will help keep you on track. The perk of working at home is that you have control over your space and environment. It’s important to establish good habits and boundaries early on.
In this day and age, with the right drive and attitude, anyone can be a small business owner and experience various levels of success. Whether your goal is to make some extra side income or to launch a career, the opportunities are endless. Technology has made it easier than ever to communicate to consumers at low to no cost and to make a profit. With a few tricks of the trade and planning, you can enter the small business world and succeed.
Nick Richards and his team at Geeks.co.uk have spent the last 10 years developing a formula that provides unique IT solutions to SMEs. In this article for Small Business Advice Week, they discuss the pros and cons of using an outsourced managed IT services company.
IT has certainly brought about many benefits in the business world. However, IT systems are not infallible and it can be a challenge to keep them working effectively and efficiently.
This challenge is often even harder for SMEs. This is because many of these businesses do not have an in-house IT specialist and have to call someone in to help if they experience any problems. This is not ideal as expertise can take time to find and to bring in.
One of the best solutions to this problem is the use of Managed IT Support which is also often referred to as managed services. This enables business to have 24/7 IT support on hand should they need it.
All of this means that small businesses can focus on their product or service without having to worry about IT issues. If you're not sure your small business could benefit from using IT Managed Services, read on to find out how it can.
1. Keep IT costs under control
Outsourcing your IT services means that you only have to pay for what you use and you do not have to invest in ongoing purchase and maintenance of hardware and software.
2. Reduction in staffing costs
It's often expensive to find and hire the right IT staff for your business. Outsourcing means that you do not need to worry about this and that your HR team can concentrate their efforts elsewhere.
3. Use of experienced and qualified people
Outsourcing means that you have access to a group of experienced and certified IT professionals whenever you need them.
4. Experience you can trust
IT professionals who work for an outsourced provider tend to have a wider breadth of knowledge and experience. This is because they get to deal with a wide range of situations involving a diverse selection of businesses.
5. Improved efficiency in a competitive environment
If you want your business to be competitive and remain efficient, you need to keep up to date with the latest developments in IT. This can be expensive to do in-house but if you outsource you know that you will benefit from all the latest IT enhancements.
6. Use of technology for new projects
You do not want to have to delay new projects because you do not have the right IT expertise in place. This can happen if you deal with everything in-house, whereas outsourcing means you have a team of experts on hand right away.
7. Stay focused on your core business
IT issues can be a distraction. If your business has limited resources, it makes more sense to outsource your IT and leave you free to concentrate on other issues related to the running of the business. According to Geeks.co.uk, outsourcing IT partnership allows your business to drive this strategic IT investment without losing focus or control on core business plans.
8. Reduce risk
Risk is something that every business faces; the environment changes so quickly. Outsourcing IT companies put their vast industry experience to use monitoring the latest developments in areas such as security, enabling them to effectively manage risks for you.
9. Level the playing field
If you own a small business, you are unlikely to be able to match big companies in the IT stakes if you keep everything in-house. However, if you outsource, you get access to all the same hardware and software that the big companies use without having to make a huge upfront investment.
10. Compliance and Security
It can be difficult to keep on top of compliance regulations when it comes to the handling of sensitive client information such as card details. You need to make sure that regular data audits are carried out and that your firewall is kept up to date.
You also need to think about the software that you use and ensure that it complies with all guidelines. Outsourcing companies can do all of this for you, including the monitoring of software licenses. They know what is required to comply with guidelines and can keep track of when licenses are due to expire.
It's vital that you keep security protocols up to date, in order to keep data safe from cyber attacks and other threats. Outsourcing providers know which is the best form of security to use for your business, they also monitor your systems so that any threats can be detected and dealt with quickly and effectively, making sure your business stays running smoothly.
Fraud-related crimes are still a concern, as the information society has provided a plethora of opportunities for new businesses. Cyber criminals and employees within a business constantly look into exploiting weaknesses within a business as the customer journey and internal operations improve. With the additional insight gained, criminal activity becomes increasingly more sophisticated, leaving it up to businesses to fully educate their current employees, as well as themselves, on the potential fraud cases that could arise.
The concept of fraud prevention is essential to the smooth operating of any business, and should not be seen as a process that is set in stone to completely eradicate fraud risks. Fraud prevention is an on-going, cyclic process involving an unset processes including but not limited to situation monitoring, detection, action planning, case management and decision-making.
Small businesses in particular should aim to build upon and continuously learn from past incidents (or any that could potentially arise) during their lifetime of operation, and devise strategies to strengthen their fraud prevention process.
To give you the best chance in effectively protecting your small business against fraud, it is imperative to identify the different types of fraud that could arise, the areas of business that are most vulnerable and the necessary steps to take in event of a situation arising.
Types of fraud to be aware of:
There are several different types of fraud a small business can be exposed to. This is no different to a large corporation, however smaller businesses are at greater risk, especially newly established ones due to their focus being diverted on to succeeding as opposed to protecting.
We can separate the different types of fraud into 5 main categories:
Also known as asset misappropriation fraud – this kind of fraud occurs when employees are entrusted to manage assets within an organisation but instead exploit it for their own personal gain.
The types of activity that fall under asset misappropriation fraud include:
Payroll and accounting
Fraudulent activity in regards to financial assets through payroll and accounting is essentially theft of cash from a business via a payroll processing system. There are several ways in which an employee can commit payroll fraud, including:
Accessing sensitive data that can be used for another’s personal gain is also a form of fraud. Such fraudulent activity includes:
Intending to influence another party for one’s own gain, or acting upon a bribe, is considered fraudulent activity. This includes:
In a similar fashion to payroll and accounting fraud, by manipulating accounts payable for one’s personal benefit is one of the most common ways a criminal might commit fraud. Such ways include:
Top tips for preventing small business fraud:
Segregate sensitive dutiesA lot of small businesses depend on one person to be in charge of processing payments, invoices, handling petty cash and bank reconciliation. This can create an opportunity for fraud of assets, so it’s advisable to segregate accounting duties so that they’re not limited to one individual.
Review all statements regularlyHave the original or duplicate bank statements sent to your home/preferred address from the bank. By making it a regular habit to review your statements for anomalies such as unfamiliar suppliers or out of order checks you can keep on top of all ingoing’s and outgoings. By informing your employees that you review all statement independently also acts as a fraud deterrent in itself.
Educate employeesGenuine employees will play an integral role in fraud detection. Employees must be educated in knowing that fraud is not tolerated in the business and how it can negatively impact everyone involved.
Implement clear policiesHaving no clear policies on fraud can leave employees unaware of the detrimental effects it will have to themselves and the business collectively if they are discovered.
By introducing a no tolerance policy and procedures manual that is concise and defines fraud and theft, and the consequences of violating these policies then this will also act as a deterrent. Your policies must cover tangible and intangible assets for your employee’s clarity.
Know your employeesEnsure your latest hires are screened and correctly referenced. Your hiring processes should include a thorough check and includes references from past employees. Fraudulent activity is also likely to happen by established employees who are under financial stress.
Ensure you keep a close eye and regular contact with your employees by conducting regular meetings (teams and on-on-one) and regular reviews.
This article was contributed by Alan Blaney. He has over 30 years experience in the law enforcement field and currently runs Focus Training – a company that helps businesses analyse complex data sets and provides private investigators with training and qualifications.