The advent of digital media has brought challenges and opportunity in equal measure. As we continue to make technological advancements, the way we conduct business must develop accordingly.
However, it appears that HM Revenue & Customs have left a lot to be desired when it comes to digital business management with a system of taxation described by many business owners as ‘outdated’.
So with the amount of uncollected tax due to taxpayer error, as well as flawed protocol, now in excess of £8bn per year which costs Britain's public and its businesses respectively, it was time to take action.
In a bid to make the process of paying taxes more accessible and efficient the Government announced the 'Making Tax Digital’ initiative as part of their 2015 Autumn Statement.
The announcement also outlined their plans to ‘transform’ the tax system and scrap tax returns by 2020.
Although unprecedented in the UK, digital tax systems have been already been effectively implemented in countries such as Australia, Brazil and Estonia.
There are plenty of benefits to digital record-keeping, for instance taxpayers using an online tax account are able to get a clearer picture of their tax affairs in real time. Digital tax management also reduces hassle, making it possible for anybody with internet access to remotely monitor their taxes allowing business owners to budget more accurately and save time by placing all of their taxes in one place.
Furthermore, as the digital system requires more regular updates, more taxpayers will be able to use the cash basis of accounting meaning that expenses up to the sum of £166,000 will be deductible. In addition, business will be able to use spreadsheets and cloud accounting services such as Xero to support their digital reports which is guaranteed to expedite the process of paying tax.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke, later highlighted more benefits of a digital switchover, adding that introducing digital record keeping and quarterly updates for businesses will eradicate around 10% of taxpayer error.
Making Tax Digital: The Timetable
MTD is set to be introduced in phases, giving all business owners and landlords at least two years to make the adjustments required to manage their taxes using the new digital service.
The new scheme is due to roll out for Income Tax and Class 4 NI contributions from April 2018. Pensioners and people in full-time employment will be required to use the digital accounts if they earn a secondary income of £10,000 or more from property or self-employment
The proposed changes are due to take action for VAT purposes from 2019 onwards.
Is it for Everyone?
Businesses must make an annual turnover that exceeds the VAT threshold, currently set at £85,000 to qualify for digital VAT record keeping. This means that businesses and landlords with a turnover below the VAT threshold will be able to choose when to make the switch to the new digital system.
As VAT already requires a quarterly update, this won’t be a major adjustment and taxpayers will not need to report to HMRC more frequently than they already do.
'Smaller' businesses turning over £10,000 or less will be exempt from the change in legislation, but will be allowed to submit reports and quarterly updates on a voluntary basis.
Changes to the submission of Corporation Tax obligations will come into effect in April of the following year. Most British businesses will then be required to keep digital records and update HMRC on their income and expenditure every quarter.
If you need assistance with Making Tax Digital and how to integrate digital systems into your business then talk to an accountant.
This article was written by Cottons Chartered Accountants, small business accountants and audit specialists.
Your business is under threat.
Around 50% of businesses have been subject to burglary, vandalism or other types of property crime. A place of commerce and money making and full of valuable equipment and goods, it should come as no surprise that a business premises is a prime target for criminals. Small businesses in particular most protect themselves and their assets.
But businesses aren't left without options to protect themselves. With attack comes defence.
Securing your business against threats requires a few different security elements. You need to make it difficult for criminals, you need to stop them from wanting to target your company in the first place and you need to consider every angle they might use to steal from you or cause you harm.
Security cameras that are clearly visible and constantly monitoring your business property provide you with one crucial thing: evidence. This dramatically increases the risk factor for an intruder and minimises the chance that they will target your company premises.
Alarms are something most people will anticipate when robbing a business, but perimeter alarms are a new technology burglars are unlikely to be prepared for. Perimeter alarms work through the activation of motion sensors set up around your business premises. If an intruder gains access to somewhere they shouldn’t — even just within the grounds of your business — the alarms will sound. You can couple these sensors with security lights to create an intimidating defence plan.
Even criminals who make plans are looking for easy options. Perimeter alarms and lights make the challenge of burglary unappealing, up the chance of getting caught considerably and reduce the chance that you will be a target.
Make It Difficult
These are electronic locks. They vary in design — opened by key cards, codes, fingerprints, etc. — but essentially do the same thing: they make it harder for somebody to access your business property. You cannot pick an electric lock, nor can you login and hack software that isn’t online, which means getting through smart locks is very difficult.
In many cases, there are only two methods of access:
If you do find an intruder gets past your access control without force, the primary culprit will be somebody with insider information. Narrow down the potential criminals using other security tools, such as CCTV, to create evidence and catch the perpetrator.
Safes are ancient technology. They’ve been in existence for thousands of years in some form, built to protect objects of value, and there is a reason we still use them to this day. It’s because they work. If somebody gets into your building and your most important items are behind the thick steel of a safe, they aren't getting their hands on them.
Don’t be fooled by TV shows or crime novels — safes are not as easy to crack as you might think. A secure business safe is near impossible to access unless you know the combination or have the key. Many modern safes also come with multiple security elements to ensure they remain fully secure. So confident are people in safes that you can often reduce your insurance premiums just by owning one. It says a lot about safes as security tools when insurance companies are willing to accept them as a method of reducing fees.
Consider All Angles
Last year, businesses lost around £20 billion to data theft. Protection against data theft is critical, especially now that GDPR rules have come into force. Even the smallest of businesses will likely store some kind of data, from simple pieces of client information to whole archives of purchase histories, invoices, personal details and account information.
Data encryption is essential for keeping this data secure, not only working as a deterrence, but also making things harder for criminals. This is especially important in the 21st century, where all data tends to be accessible via cloud systems. The use of data encryption software ensures you keep your business secure from all angles.
Keep up to date with @SmallBizAdvWeek for more tips and advice
It is estimated that UK small businesses spend around 120 days a year on administrative tasks, including raising invoices and recruitment. This lost time means that employees are spending less time winning clients and working to improve their products. As a result research from Sage calculates that UK small businesses lose nearly £40bn a year due to loss of productivity.
We have taken a look at the best pieces of software available which can increase your productivity and prevent such damaging losses:
1. Accounting Software
Finance is at the heart of every business so it’s crucial you understand every detail. Xero is just one of many accounting software systems designed to make viewing the company’s financial information easier.
As a cloud-based software, it allows small businesses to view its cash flow, account details and the transactions from wherever the user is, as long as they have internet connection.
By using the software, small businesses can schedule recurring invoices automatically as well as reminders, saving employees time chasing up unpaid invoices. It also features an inventory-management tool which allows small businesses to track the stock levels of items in real time.
There is also the Xero mobile app, which is available for both iOS and Android and allows the user to submit their expenses, create and send invoices, as well as creating reports.
The ‘Starter Plan’ starts at £10 per month while the ‘Standard’ and ‘Premium’ plans are £22 and £27.50 per month respectively.
2. Collaborations and Sharing
Employees can easily get lost in the masses of emails in their inbox while searching for an important document. To make life easier for everyone, it can be a good idea to invest in a central location for saving company documents. This is likely to be a Cloud based platform, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, that allow users to view documents anywhere, provided they have an internet connection.
Enter Google Drive. It’s an online storage facility that allows users to save and share files online as well as allowing multiple users to work on a document at the same time.
Google Drive has 15GB of storage for free, while the premium plans start at £1.59 per month for 100GB of storage and up to the 10TB per month plan at £79.99 per month.
3. Marketing Assistance and Scheduling
In the ever-evolving world of marketing, businesses will always want to remain ahead of the competition. In order to achieve this, a business must understand the foundations of SEO, PPC and social media and there are a range of tools that can help you here, such as Hootsuite and Google Analytics.
An alternative would be to hire a marketing agency, who could not only look after all of your social media and marketing channels but, in some instances, could also look after your website and fix web issues. Marketing can be costly and if you want to use outside help, you may like to consider a small business loan from Liberis as an alternative to a traditional bank loan.
4. Methods of Communication
Inter-company communication can be a headache for many businesses, even those with a small number of employees. So getting the right software to prevent the email inbox being clogged up is important.
Slack is a great tool for small businesses to use. It enables members of staff to communicate amongst each other via an instant-messenger style of interface.
Not only can it be used for inter-company communication, but also for communication with businesses with whom it regularly works. Clients can be invited to different conversation feeds and the software includes both voice and video calls to make discussions easier.
Best of all, the Basic package is free! It does have limitations, such as only allowing for one-to-one video calls, while the Standard (£5.25 per active user per month) and Plus packages (£9.75 per active user per month) allow for group calls, but the free version should be enough for most small businesses.
5. HR Management
The HR department is integral to the day-to-day running of a company; so when HR isn’t equipped with the right resources, even the most basic processes take longer than they should, causing paperwork to pile up.
BreatheHR is an HR tool which helps to efficiently manage the information involved in running a business. The software helps to track sickness and absences, manage holiday requests, track and approve expenses as well as managing appraisals and setting one-to-one meetings.
The pricing plans are based on the number of employees at the company and the number of HR users with access to the software. The Micro plan, which works for up to 10 employees and has one HR user, is £9 per month is the basic plan.
If you wish to include applicant tracking then the plan is an extra £5 per month for two open vacancies or £20 per month for unlimited vacancies.
6. Task Management
If you’re undertaking large projects as a business, you’ll know that these need to be delivered efficiently and on schedule as failure to do so may well result in your business suffering financial (or other) penalties. That’s why task management software, such as Trello or Asana, can be so useful to small businesses.
Asana is one of the most popular products on the market and assists businesses in managing marketing campaigns, product launches and setting/achieving company goals.
The software allows users to check the status and deadlines of projects and attach the relevant files, so information can be stored in one area.
The software also has a mobile app which enables employees to keep track of the projects while they’re out and about.
The Basic plan, which allows for up to 15 team members and includes unlimited tasks, projects and conversations, is free. The Premium version, which includes a broader range of features, is £7.99 per member per month.
That rounds up our suggestions for your small business solutions. Check them out and let us know which ones you plan on using or if there are any alternatives you prefer @SmallBizAdvWeek
Budding entrepreneurs and small business owners might not have employment law at the forefront of their minds when starting a business, but understanding some of the most basic employment laws is critical, especially if your business begins to rapidly grow and expand.
Laws differ between the UK and the Crown Dependencies (such as Jersey), meaning that, if you expand your small business internationally, you must be aware of how the different laws work in each country. When referring to various laws, be sure to check the website of the country you are operating from and adhere to the appropriate legalities.
If you know the law from the outset, you can prevent any legal action taken later down the line. The last thing you want is to end up in a tribunal for unfair dismissal or another aspect of employment law. These cases cost time and money, and can be damaging to the reputation of a company you’ve worked hard to build.
Save yourself the stress and familiarise yourself with some of the most important employment laws. However, it’s important to remember that the law is always changing. GDPR had a huge impact on companies this year and, when the final decision about Brexit is made, this will have an impact on the law as well.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most important employment laws that you need to familiarise yourself with. This is not an exhaustive list, but it can provide a starting point for the legal information you need to understand.
Recruitment and Employee Contracts
You must recruit employees fairly, which means understanding what classifies as discrimination. Any kind of discrimination during recruitment or dismissal can be brought against you in a tribunal.
When you first hire employees, contracts are critical. The contract is a document that outlines the terms and conditions of the employment. It gives both the employee and employer certain rights and obligations.
Some of the most important information regarding a role is contained within a contract, such as salary, pension, probationary period and working hours. While most contracts will follow the same format, they will be unique to each company and individual.
Understand what statutory requirements you must give employees in terms of pay, sick leave, maternity and annual leave. Minimum wage requirements should always be adhered to — details about pay can be written into the employment contract.
Take the time to read the other rights that employees have, such as health and safety, the ability to join a Trade Union and data protection.
For many small businesses, the thought of dismissing an employee is not pleasant to think about. However, knowing the law before you dismiss an employee will put you at an advantage. Understanding the law means you are less likely to face any legal action over unfair dismissal. Make sure you learn what constitutes as fair, constructive and unfair dismissal in the country you trade in.
Consider Creating an Employee Handbook
Although it’s not a legal requirement, we recommend creating an employee handbook. A handbook has multiple benefits both for the employee and employer.
The handbook should outline the mission and values of your company. This can foster a sense of belonging in employees and help them understand the business culture they are joining.
Other information you could include in a handbook are policies, procedures, health and safety requirements, management best practices and more.
Should any issues arise, the employee handbook can be used as a point of reference. An employee handbook outlining procedures can also be beneficial, should you end up facing legal action or have to attend a tribunal.
As your business grows and laws continue to change, it’s important to review your handbook and update it when necessary. If you’re an entrepreneur, hiring an HR employee or outsourcing your HR will help you deal with employment-related issues while you manage the business. If you need guidance on creating your handbook or you’re dealing with any employment issues, consult an employment law expert.
Chris Austin is the head of employment law at Parslows Jersey. Chris regularly represents clients before the Courts and Tribunals of the Island of Jersey.
Nowadays, Professional Development is an essential element of any profession, in any industry. Companies are operating in fast-changing market environments and often experience high competition levels from established and market disruptor organisations. Due to this, they expect their employees to be highly-adaptive, quick-learners and able to be ‘ahead of the game’ to enable companies to survive and succeed in the future.
Unfortunately, many companies often fail to grow and develop their employees to the required standards for them to be sufficiently competent and capable. Some companies claim to have a culture of professional development, however, many of them have high staff turnover levels and the remaining staff are not always as competent or qualified as is required.
If you are a current or aspiring professional, it is crucial to take more control over your own professional development and not be disadvantaged by circumstances that you may be currently in. If you want to grow, develop and fast-track your own career, you need to take responsibility for your own Professional Development. There are a number of professional qualifications that would enable you to develop your knowledge and skill set, ultimately to become certified and fast-track your career.
Below you can find the summary of 6 signs indicating when you should consider investing in your Professional Development most. If you identify with any of the 6 signs, then now is the right time for you to kick-start some Professional Development.
You have not done any learning recently
In the Learning & Development context, professionals often use the term Continuous Professional Development (CPD). The critical word being ‘Continuous’ as all professionals are expected by their current and future employers to keep their Professional Development constant, current and competitive. This is in line with industry and/or profession related knowledge, trends and recent developments. If you have not undertaken any Learning & Development activities for at least a year, it is definitely the time to gain new knowledge, upskill or refresh your knowledge and skills on the relevant topic.
You feel overwhelmed
Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed with the amount of work, upcoming deadlines and poor work-life balance, which would all have an impact on stress levels. Constant stress in return may have implications on your physical well-being as leads to headaches, tiredness, dizziness and other symptoms. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that you do not remain in this state of mind for long periods of time.
If you feel overwhelmed, you should consider taking a break from work. It would be a good idea to start a professional development course as it would provide a great opportunity to remove yourself from the day-to-day routine and be able to focus on a new challenge. This could provide a great opportunity to learn some new tools and techniques that will enable you to improve your performance at work, and crucially, improve your work-life balance as well.
You struggle to find new challenges at work
Many jobs involve routine day-to-day activities which many people master over time and feel comfortable doing independently and after a while, automatically. This is often the case for entry-level jobs or roles with a high level of repetition, which do not provide scope for further on-the-job self-development. John Maxwell, author and a speaker on leadership once said:
“If we are growing we are always going to be outside our comfort zone.”
Professional Development involves learning and developing new knowledge, skills and experiences. Therefore, if you struggle to find challenges at work, it is time to undertake some Professional Development to become certified and enhance your future job prospects.
You do not feel confident
If you do not feel confident with your knowledge and/or skills at work, this is another sign that you should undertake some Professional Development, especially, if the decisions that you are making at work are not always informed and justified. Undertaking a Professional Development course would be invaluable to you as it would enable you to improve your understanding, decision-making and performance at work. The secret is simple - the more knowledge and skills you gain, the more confident you will be.
You do not meet education requirements for the roles of interest
If you are thinking of a new job or a career change, but find that most job advertisements require specific qualifications you do not hold, this is your chance to focus, commit and achieve the relevant certification. Most of the time, employers require 1 to 2 professional qualifications to be held by the successful candidate as these provide evidence and confidence in their competence. For example, PRINCE2® certifications are in high demand by employers seeking to fill project management vacancies. Take the opportunity to gain these qualifications, as adding them to your CV will enable you to improve your job prospects, earning potential and fast-track your career.
You are at risk of being made redundant
If the company that you are working for is underperforming, experiencing financial / reputational difficulties or the organisation is undergoing a transformation programme which may involve headcount reduction, you are likely to be at risk of being made redundant in the near future. Even if you hold already some good your profession-related qualifications, it is worth investing the time in refreshing and/or improving your knowledge and skills in the area. Prospective employers value candidates who keep up-to-date with industry and/or profession knowledge, trends and recent developments. Recently gained certifications on your CV would demonstrate to potential employers that you recognise the importance of continuously developing yourself and your career.
Professional Development is the key to your professional growth, job satisfaction and building a successful, long-lasting career. Therefore, why not invest some time in your Professional Development by starting a new course? Remember: ‘It is not about being the best, it is about being better than you were yesterday.’
Small Business Advice Week has always been about improvement, learn more about marketing, Twitter, and how to manage your time.
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.
John Armstrong is Director and co-owner of the printwear and branding specialist Custom Planet. Here, he explains what small business owners need to know about the differences between B2C and B2B marketing.
Whether your company sells B2C, B2B, or to both kinds of customers, it can be difficult to know exactly how to get the most from your marketing efforts. This can be particularly challenging for companies that sell a wide range of products that appeal to a whole host of different audiences.
What works for one set of customers is almost certain to fall flat on the other so, to help you succeed, here’s Small Business Advice Week's breakdown of the need-to-know differences between B2C and B2B marketing.
Where you find your customers
You may have an excellent product that solves one of your target audience’s biggest problems but, if they never find out about it, your business is unlikely to succeed. Finding where your ideal customers spend their time (both online and off) is therefore the first step in any successful marketing campaign.
This is the first big difference between B2C and B2B marketing — the two sets of customers spend their time in completely different places. For the highest possible return on your marketing efforts, you must define exactly where and how your ideal customer spends their time.
As an example, while Instagram is the perfect social media platform for a lot of B2C retailers, a B2B business is going to have a lot more success connecting with their customers through one of Rival IQ’s picks of the best social media channels for B2B marketing. While there may not be the quantity of users on these channels, a B2B business is much more likely to establish a relationship with a potential customer here than on a platform mainly populated by teenagers.
For the best results, it pays to not only know where your customers spend their time, but also how. Going back to social media, you should know when your target audience is most likely to engage with your posts so they have the maximum impact.
For example, if you’re selling B2C and your target audience is professionals in their 30s, your posts are likely to have the biggest impact on an evening, when your customers have finished work and are checking their personal social media accounts. Experiment with different times and then schedule your social media posts in advance with an app like Buffer or Hootsuite to see the biggest possible return on investment.
What your customers respond to
Your job isn’t done once you’ve found your target audience — the next step is to know how to engage them. There’s a big difference between B2C and B2B marketing and, if you don’t understand the subtleties, your sales are likely to falter.
As Hubspot explain in an excellent blog post, the main difference between the two audiences is that B2B purchases tend to be driven more by rationality. Impulse buys are extremely rare in B2B markets, as the sales process is often lengthy and complicated. Furthermore, the person making the purchase needs to fully justify the investment to those who hold the purse strings.
With this in mind, seeking to educate your audience through detailed content marketing pieces and a clued-up sales team can be exactly what it takes to send B2B customers through your sales funnel.
B2C customers, on the other hand, are often looking for deals and entertainment. Their purchases are also commonly triggered by their current emotional state (as anyone who’s done their weekly food shop on an empty stomach will know).
It’s also crucial that you think carefully about what your marketing materials say about you. If you are looking to work with businesses, you need to present a clear and concise message as to why they should use you. Above all else, these customers are interested in professionalism and quality, which you should instil across all of your B2B marketing for the best results.
To target B2C customers, focus on the product you’re offering rather than who you are as a company. For example, our customers looking for T-shirts for a stag or hen do aren’t interested in our reliability or our proven track record — their only concern is the price and the turn-around time. If we marketed to them the same way we market to our B2B customers, we wouldn’t still be in business today.
Keep these two major differences between B2C and B2B marketing in mind to ensure you have the biggest return on your marketing efforts. At Custom Planet, we have both B2B and B2C customers and I've found that, by tailoring your marketing to your specific audience and sending it out through all of the right channels, it will have the biggest chance of making an impact and increasing sales throughout your business.