Back in October, amidst much fanfare, the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published its Clean Growth Strategy.
It was a much-anticipated document, not least because its publication had been the subject of several delays. But ministers were universal in their insistence that the strategy provided a step-change for the UK: an ambitious set of plans and initiatives to drive clean growth and lower carbon emissions. That latter is of course urgently needed. Business and industry are responsible for around a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. And let’s not forget that, at least in London, pollution is hitting levels that require public health warnings.
So, the strategy was much needed. But what does it actually mean for businesses, including SMEs?
The short version is that the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was a step in a government drive for ‘clean growth’ that was kicked off in January 2017 with the launch of the Industrial Strategy – with the CGS followed recently by an Industrial Strategy White Paper. Ministers are determined to push the UK down a path that involves decarbonising the economy. And the top-line for businesses is that includes expectations and initiatives to maximise energy efficiency and promote innovation of low carbon technologies.
Fundamentally for SMEs, the CGS included the commitment for a BEIS consultation on improving the energy efficiency of existing and new commercial buildings; raising minimum standards of energy efficiency for rented commercial buildings; and introducing a scheme (details of which are still to be published) that would support at least large companies (and perhaps in time SMEs, as measuring technology becomes more accessible and affordable) to measure and reduce energy use.
This probably won’t mean immediate changes for many SMEs. One of the comments about the CGS was that it was something of an aspirational document, albeit one now subject to public consultation with firmer policies and timescales likely in 2018. But in the longer term, the CGS is good news for small businesses – because it offers opportunities to maximise energy efficiency, cut energy usage, and to consequently reduce utilities costs.
This forms part of a broader government narrative to drive down consumer electricity costs. Indeed, the headline announcement of the CGS was plans for legislation to increase the powers of Ofgem, the energy regulator, and to get rid of ‘Standard Variable Tariffs’ that increase costs for domestic consumers. But, even then, SMEs will benefit from identifying the opportunities to benefit from the government push to reduce electricity bills.
Those opportunities take a number of forms, including greater use of renewable technologies to generate electricity for one’s own use. Some consumers, and indeed some businesses, have already capitalised on falling costs of the likes of solar panels – supported by small-scale battery storage for excess electricity (to be used at times of higher demand or breaks in renewable provision) to take themselves largely or entirely ‘off grid.’ Essentially making themselves their own energy supplier, which drives savings once the costs of installation have been met, while also reducing carbon footprints.
These types of small scale renewable and energy storage deployments are set to become more common. The Government committed more than £500 million, as part of the CGS, for investment in what it calls ‘demand response’ technologies that include battery technology. And this was a follow up to the creation of the ‘Faraday Challenge’ earlier in 2017 by ministers to make the UK a world leader in battery technology. The consequence of these initiatives is that there will be consistent innovation and development for battery technologies that are accessible to SMEs, and which can support their energy efficiency and usage, and can reduce their costs.
The CGS is out for public consultation until the end of 2017. SMEs will be well served by keeping track of what comes from that process. But, be under no illusion – ministers are pushing hard for clean growth. And, in 2018 that is going to involve encouraging more SMEs to think about their energy usage and energy efficiency.
Quentin Scott is a Director of Low Carbon, a privately-owned renewable energy investment company.
Many business owners will tell you that all marketing is becoming increasingly online focused. That's not necessarily true. For SMEs, the most effective way to market yourself might be a combination of both online and offline marketing, blending classic techniques with radical innovation to ensure you stand out from the crowd.
Smart tactics, usable content, and a strong online presence will help boost your profile, but more tangible marketing strategies are still not to be ignored.
Check out the infographic below from Colour Graphics, which shows some surprising trends, and use it to plan how to market your SME in the new year.
More businesses are starting up every day, and it's becoming harder and harder to make yourself known. The internet is a terrific tool for growing your brand awareness, but only if used correctly. Colour Graphics created an infographic on which marketing methods are most effective for start ups.
From creating local employment, personalised customer service, to offering a vast collection of unique merchandise, independent businesses are the heart of our community. Unfortunately, with increasingly crowded marketplaces, these small businesses are having to seek out new ways to compete against these corporate giants, especially with Christmas getting so close. The competition is only going to become more difficult.
Liberis who are providers of alternative business credit cards have created this infographic which demonstrates the many things we can do to support our local communities by shopping locally this Christmas.
In the wake of the recent budget announcement by Phillip Hammond, Small Business Advice Week is taking a look at what SMEs can expect in the coming years. While in the past many small business owners have expressed disappointment with how they’ve been overlooked, or undervalued compared to larger businesses by the Government, many may be glad to hear that things are finally seeming to change.
With big businesses relocating in the wake of Brexit, small businesses are being given support to maintain quality and security, and may even push through economic uncertainty to make growth during a time that many people have written off as a dead decade.
Given that the country faces its worst period of economic growth in decades, major setbacks were of course to be expected, but at long last small businesses appear to be vital to the government’s long-term recovery plan. Small Business Advice Week is taking a look at that plan, what it means for you, and how you can prepare for what lies ahead.
As productivity is predicted to decline over the coming years, the backbone of British business will have to fight harder than ever to maintain high turnover and survive into the post-Brexit world, whatever that may be. However small businesses are as tenacious and resourceful as ever, embracing change, and facing challenges that will require bold new solutions.
One of the biggest demands of the SME sector was for the government to address the skill shortage that has been plaguing small businesses of late. A focus was especially asked for in terms of crucial digital skills that the country will need as technology progresses faster and faster. Unless SMEs are given a wide pool of available talent, they could be left behind as well-trained graduates and experts are poached by larger companies.
Another crucial concern raised by technology is automation, and ensuring that jobs aren’t lost in sectors which could avoid the rise of robotics. Implementing schemes to upskill employees to make sure they aren’t lost as skills shift in the ever-changing technological landscape. Luckily, the government seems to have heard business leaders’ concerns, preparing an industrial strategy to reinforce employees’ versatility and longevity in a sector that is crucial to the economy. AI is likewise predicted to have a big impact in how businesses are run and analysed, with systems becoming smarter, faster, and more aware of what’s going on. The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ will pose challenges the likes of which business owners have never faced before, and as such we will all need data-literate employees who understand what is happening, and what it means.
In more familiar aspects of business, Hammond also announced that he was reducing proposed hikes in business rates, much to the relief of business owners who were set to make a loss. He has also promised to scrap the ‘staircase’ tax, which was set to charge businesses more tax based on whether they are based in offices which use communal stairs or lifts. The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the move, which it estimates will affect 80,000 properties.
With a Government that is at last seeming to understand how important small business is to the UK economy, small businesses may soon be able to enjoy some level of symbiosis, with support from the Government increasing their capabilities and helping propel the UK onto greater things.
To keep up with latest small business news, follow @SmallBizAdvWeek on twitter
Content is the backbone of digital marketing, with more brands becoming publishers in their own right. Content marketing, when done well, involves compelling material that allows clients to connect with your brand in varying and powerful ways.
The case for investing resources into a good content marketing strategy has been built. Content marketing costs 62% less, yet produces three times as many leads as outbound marketing.
It is no longer a question of whether you should engage in content marketing activities or not. Rather, it is now a question of how.
As you use the five steps to plan business growth, here are some ideas to consider for growing your business through content marketing.
Embrace Your Visuals
The importance of visuals to any piece of content cannot be overstated. From simple blog posts to full-blown integrated marketing campaigns, visuals play a crucial role in drawing audiences in and enriching the written word.
According to the Social Media Examiner’s 2017 Social Media Marketing Report, 85% of all marketers use visuals in their material and 73% plan on using more next year.
Videos, in particular, have enjoyed a huge boost in terms of popularity, bolstered by new ways videos can now be shared and interacted with. This year, the use of live videos has doubled from 2016, with 75% of marketers planning on increasing their use further in 2018.
The most successful visuals and videos are centered on stories. People are drawn to stories more than they are to sales pitches, and it’s important to identify first what your audience wants in order to be able to create visuals that will appeal to them. Keep videos short, but valuable, especially within the first ten seconds of the reel. Make sure to hook your audience’s attention right away, and monitor analytics to see what works and what doesn’t.
Collaborate With Influencers
An article by content marketing specialists Ayima on where content marketing is going explains that quick win campaigns, as well as a heavy reliance on celebrity status and follower count, no longer makes the cut when it comes to influencer marketing. The key to successful content marketing with influencers is finding the right one(s) to collaborate with for content that feels fresh, authentic, and new. Partner with influencers who are not only aligned with your brand values, but are also already connecting with your target market. This way, they have higher chances of making them listen to your brand’s messages and take action from there.
The concept of influencer marketing is still evolving, which means that there is plenty of room to grow and exciting opportunities for leadership. Focus on creating content that is relevant to your brand, your influencer, and your audience, and watch as your data reveal the effects on your ROI.
Be There Every Step Of The Way
A good content marketing strategy knows its audience inside and out, using this knowledge to create compelling content for different stages of the purchase funnel. Whether an individual member of your target audience is only beginning to be aware of your brand or is already building fierce loyalty to it, there must always be content ready to give them a nudge towards the next step.
Forbes relays that's why most successful entrepreneurs make use of as many as 13 different content marketing tactics at the very least. Content marketing is at its most powerful when it is distributed through a wide array of channels and created in different formats designed to target specific segments of your audience. Doing so maximizes the potentials of content marketing and lets you avoid, as the proverbial phrase goes, putting all your eggs in one basket.
That being said, it is important to monitor results to be able to tweak strategies as needed.
Content marketing is a powerful tool to make your business grow through powerful storytelling and meticulous research. As traditional internet advertising continues to have one foot out the door, the future of digital marketing is most definitely in the content.
For small business owners claiming business on running costs can be a useful way of subsidising expenditure and injecting cash flow.
This process involves businesses paying tax on their profits, and removing the cost of expenses from the final amount paid.
Moreover, knowledge of possible deductions can help give SMEs a better chance of survival through different avenues. But what is it possible to claim for?
Loans and Overdrafts:
Smaller organisations aiming to save money on their tax bills ought to bear in mind that interest incurred on overdrawn business loans and bank accounts is typically deductible. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb it's advisable to utilise company funds rather than borrowing money personally.
It's also worth noting that it's possible to receive tax relief for pension contribution, up to the corresponding contribution limit in certain instances pension contributions are made by the business on behalf of their employees. However, contributions can also be made as an individual, a sole trader or partner.
Furthermore, this tax relief also extends to any family members working within the business.
Thirdly, partners and sole traders are able to claim a percentage of the cost of driving their cars, applicable running costs include fuel, insurance, road tax, repairs, and maintenance. The proportion of costs that entrepreneurs are able to reclaim is determined by business mileage on a pro-rata basis: commuting to work does not qualify as a business journey.
Similarly, most small businesses are able to claim capital allowances on new vehicles bought within the accounting period, and the amount of capital allowance an individual is eligible for is determined by the proportion of business use the vehicle gets.
Furthermore, new cars receive one year's allowance the year they're bought, for that reason there are tax benefits to regularly changing cars.
Travel and Subsistence:
In the event that business duties take entrepreneurs further afield, all costs incurred as a result of subsistence, work, or travelling are allowable, and what's more is that these expenses are undisclosed to HMRC. For instance, if a job requires journeying abroad, both the cost of getting first class flights and traveling by ferry would both be fully allowable, therefore it's possible to save money on an equivalent service rendered abroad when compared to those at home.
Working from Home:
It's quite common for small business owners to work from home, whether that's the business headquarters or just the occasional admin task. In any event, it’s possible to claim a proportion of their household bills such as council tax, utilities and other expenses from HMRC, the amount each individual is entitled to is decided by the size of the property and how much business use it gets.
Sole traders and business partners are able to reclaim costs incurred as a result of business calls made on private landlines or mobile phones. In addition: directors and shareholders can do the same for calls made from home phones. It's also possible for small business proprietors who have a phone used solely for business purposes to claim line rental as well. Furthermore, it's possible to forgo any benefit in kind (BIK) contributions, for being given a company phone by an employer.
Decoration & Refurbishment:
Another useful tax deduction that small businesses can make use of pertains to redecorating areas of your business space that are visible to the clients, customers and the public. This can apply to anything from paint and tools to furniture, paintings and antiques, but it's also worth noting that in order to claim this relief business owners must make a case justifying their expenditure and receipt of this relief is at HMRCs discretion.
Finally, the cost of staff parties and other forms of team entertainment are typically deductible, this normally applies to annual dinners and Christmas parties. Moreover, there will not be any BIK for personnel in regard to business events as long as the cost of the event does not exceed £150 per person.
For more information on how to save money in your small business, visit Cottons Accountants.
Growing your business is exciting. You and your team strived to reach this stage with hard work and determination. Even if you're happy with the current state of your business, you should keep looking for ways to develop. The secret is being prepared.
In this article, Amy Roberts, senior business development manager at Spotcap, provides us insight on what entrepreneurs should consider before embarking on the journey.
Understand your business environment
The first step to take is asking yourself a series of questions. Is there an increased demand for your product or service? How much additional funding will you need? Do you have a plan on how to spend it? Honest answers can help you make a realistic decision on whether it’s the right time to grow.
Once you’ve decided to take this next step for your business, getting to know the ins and outs of your company and competitors becomes essential. Take the time to research and get a good grasp of the industry or environment you operate in. A good practical step to start with is a SWOT analysis, where you look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Let’s break it down into smaller steps:
Thinking about these factors will make it easier to put together a clear step-by-step strategy. And don’t forget that circumstances and your business environment can change at any time, which is where a contingency plan will help you prepare for unexpected events.
Find the funding that’s right for you
Securing finance is the next crucial step – one which might seem daunting if you don’t know what’s right for you. Beside traditional loans and grants, there is a myriad of financial products that are designed to meet different types of business needs: online business lending, asset-based lending, crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending.
Some growth opportunities will need more funding than others. For example, if a customer commissions a larger than expected order, you might require a loan quickly to bridge additional expenses in the short-term. In this case, it would be best to turn to alternative funding products, such as business lines of credit, invoice financing or merchant cash advances. If, however, you plan to make a large-scale investment like purchasing new property, then a traditional, long-term business loan would more appropriately fit your needs.
Having a good understanding of your business plays well into this step. Once you’ve determined what your goals and needs are, you’ll be able to decide on the most fitting product. There are many resources available online, but don’t forget – you can always ask for advice, be it from your accountant or a financial adviser.
Prepare your staff
Growth applies considerable pressure on every part of your business, most noticeably on your team. When you plan to scale up, you also need to consider the impact this will have on your employees. Rapid growth might look like a sign of success, but it also has the potential to create a high pressure environment, resulting in burnout.
To counteract the added demand, you should begin recruiting before you begin to scale. Alternatively, consider temporarily outsourcing tasks by hiring a freelancer. You don’t want to set out to grow, only to end up losing your employees in the process due to too much stress.
Victor, a marketer from London, confirms that this can easily become the case: "I worked for a company that was growing rapidly. Our number of users doubled but our team stayed the same size. After six months of working 12 hour days, a third of us resigned."
Use Technology to help you
Admin can be time-consuming, burdensome and not at all inspiring. But it’s necessary – without a robust back office, a growing business risks dealing with unnecessary setbacks further down the line.
The good news is that technology can help automate a large portion of administrative responsibilities, like book keeping, invoicing and HR. You can also make it easier to manage your business while travelling - why not integrate a digital solution for document signing and management, or an online platform that organises all your payments and invoices? The right software can allow you and your staff to invest more time where it really matters.
Go with your own timeline
Growing your business doesn’t need to be a short and fast process. Rushing through changes can damage your performance and negatively impact your bottom line. You should choose a pace that fits your specific situation, allowing you to respond to changes and deal with additional workload. This way you can manage expectations more effectively and prepare for increase in pressure from customers, suppliers and employees.
In the end, much like entrepreneurship, scaling is about calculating risk and preparing. Make sure you and your staff are ready to take on this new challenge, and you’ll be able to keep your business moving forward!
Amy Roberts is a senior business development manager with Spotcap. Her focus is on adopting growth opportunities that allow Spotcap to provide UK SMEs with tailored finance.
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In the last 20 years the use of mobile devices has grown rapidly across the world, so it’s no surprise that people choose to connect with a business through this medium. Nowadays, we use our phones to research services, search for business, and choose which things we wish to buy. Even though phones can now do more than ever, the mobile phone is a device built with calls in mind with 75% of consumers considering phone calls to be the fastest way to receive a response from a business.
According to BIA/Kelsey (a leading marketing data and research company): mobile search will generate 73 billion calls to businesses in 2018, up from 30 billion in 2013. It’s clear that companies who open up their telephone lines as a touchpoint have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. This tremendous rise in phone call communication gives many businesses a greater opportunity to increase inbound call conversion rates. Ignoring the significance of phone calls could be depriving businesses of valuable insight and data into their customers’ sales journey. So encourage website visitors to make that all important call to your business and discover how to convert those calls into business.
The Untapped Potential
You can generate more interest by engaging with your customer over the telephone than through any other medium. People who initiate inbound calls are on average more likely to convert 30% faster and spend 28% more. However despite this potential, some businesses do not clearly display a phone number on their website and many are unaware of which marketing campaigns are driving consumers to call. Ensure these 5 steps are implemented in your marketing strategy to drive the growth of your inbound calls:
1)Call to Actions (CTAs) - Ensure you make your main CTA a phone number as this can significantly influence your conversion rate when it is the main focal point of your website.
2)Provide a Local Number – A local phone number can make your business seem more trustworthy than a generic 0345 or 0800 number and encourage more calls.
3)Display your Availability – Whether that’s providing opening business times to call or an icon to show ‘Phone Us Now’ to prompt a call and overcome possible hesitation.
4)Offer a Call-back Request Option – Greatly improve the customer experience by providing customers the option for a call back request – a win-win situation for both parties
5)Define your Return on Investment (ROI) – Call tracking is a key element if you want to profitably grow your business. With call tracking you can calculate a more definite ROI with instant access to the overall performance of your individual marketing channels. By integrating call tracking from Mediahawk, your business can identify which of these channels, campaigns or ads are generating phone call conversions. Without clearly measuring your ROI, you are uncertain which marketing campaign is responsible for generating phone calls and what is working successfully.
With a strong marketing strategy in place to drive your inbound calls, you are generating high quality leads to your business. A study by Google states 61% of mobile users call a business when they are in the purchase phase of the buying cycle. Discovering what exactly takes place when a call converts is the key to increasing your conversation rates, growing your business and reputation.
Take a look at the 8 things happen on calls that successfully convert:
Identify how to fulfill the customer's needs more clearly by asking open-ended questions to gain meaningful insight and engagement from the caller.
The caller shows appreciation for the support of the agent, uses words or phrases to compliment the service or product. This happens both ways as the agent is able to compliment the business, products and services during the call providing reassurance to the caller.
The agent proves a positive representation of the business through speaking with clearly, slowly, and with a high level of professionalism, which leaves callers with a favourable impression.
4.Consideration of the Other
The caller uses words, phrases and speaks politely to the agent – there is a mutual respect and consideration of one another during the call and conversation. This builds rapport.
5.Agent to Expert
The caller engages in further questions and enquires about a product or service during the call – the agent then proves their expertise of the business.
The agent stays with the caller throughout the duration of the call rather than passing to multiple agents. The agent shows good communication skills through a combination of using ownership language and an equal dedication to effective listening. The agent uses phrases that take responsibility for the caller’s demands such as ‘I can assist you with that’ and ‘what I shall do for you now is…’
7.Personal Detail is Given
The caller states their name to the agent, gives their phone number, or provides their personal address during the phone call.
8.Ask for the Sale
Asking the caller ‘are you ready to purchase?’ The caller has taken time to call due to their interest in the product or service however the call has not converted until the agent confidently asks for the sale, and moves it through to the next level.
A business is only as good as the tools it uses. And thanks to technology, there are more tools out there than ever before to help businesses with productivity, accounting, organisation, anything that is crucial to a business’ survival. Small Businesses especially cannot afford to use anything second-rate, so Small Business Advice Week looked at what we, our partners, and other businesses use to stay on top. We’ve put together a list of five apps, platforms, and websites that can help you get faster, better results.
Trello is a team management and task planning system that makes it easy for any business to keep track of who’s doing what, and when. Its simple interface and layout mean anyone can use it: a truly modern to-do list for the 21st century. Make plans, amends, and see how things are progressing at any stage or section of your business.
A plug-in that scans websites to determine their domain authority (DA), Moz provides an invaluable service in telling you how your website is being viewed by Google and other search engines. If you don’t know what that means, or don’t think it matters, you need Moz. If your DA isn’t strong, and if it isn’t growing, you will suffer as a business. You cannot be an offline business anymore. A strong online presence is one of the best indicators that your business is stable, viable, and connected.
Accounting is complicated, important, and expensive. A mistake can be costly, potentially damaging, costing you time and money. Trying to do it on your own will mean working longer hours, less sleep, and more stress. Keep track of expenses, send invoices, and manage your cashflow in a sustainable way. With helpful graphs and visual aids to illustrate how your money is coming and going, QuickBooks' software makes accounting simple, meaning you have more time to focus on your business.
A smart platform for team messaging that is entirely focused on a positive user experience by a large group of disparate people, Slack allows for seamless communication without the hassle of other messaging systems. You can also share files through Slack, meaning you can work on something together and talk about it at the same time.
Hootsuite allows to co-ordinate, plan, and stagger your social media posts for optimum traffic times, giving you a higher degree of control over what you can post and when. Its easy-to-use dashboard lets you see how your account is doing, and the premium version gives you analytics to implement a serious plan to grow your base, get more followers, and become a social media juggernaut, which can help generate business, and build your profile in the eyes of the public.
Small Business Advice Week wants to help SMEs become the best businesses they can be. If your company provides services that streamline the business process, help people get organised, or can make SME’s lives easier, you could be a partner for Small Business Advice Week 2018.