Starting a Business

Starting a business…

Planning and setup

What type of company is best for you?

The first important choice you will face when starting a business is the legal status of your enterprise. With options ranging from sole trader to limited company, the structure you select at the start can have legal and financial implications for the future.

Listed below are the main types of business structure and some of their key features.

Sole Trader

Someone who is in independently in control of their business is known as a sole trader. If you choose to be a sole trader, you will be self-employed and personally liable for any business debts.

However, the profits you make are yours to keep and you do not have to concern yourself too much with bureaucracy. Some of the essential requirements of being a sole trader are listed below.

  • You must register as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) within the first three months of trading. This should be the first thing you do, as there are penalties, starting from £100, if you fail to register in time.
  • You will have to complete a self assessment tax return each year and pay income tax, detailing your income and expenditure, so you will need to keep records of these.
  • You must pay Class 2 National Insurance contributions (NICs). These are set at a fixed weekly amount and are paid with your annual income tax.
  • You will also need to pay Class 4 National Insurance contributions, based on your profits and paid with your income tax.
  • The HMRC website has more information at


A partnership exists where two or more people go into business together. Each partner is equally responsible for the debts and costs of the business, and can share the profits between them as they choose.

  • The essential requirements for a partnership are the same as for a sole trader, but apply to each partner in the partnership.
  • Both partners must complete a self assessment tax return (SA100) and the nominated partner must also complete a partnership tax return (SA800), which shows each partner’s share of the profits of losses.
  • Each partner is personally responsible for paying the tax and Class 4 National Insurance contributions due on their share of the partnership profits.

Limited Liability Partnership (LLP)

A limited liability partnership is similar to an ordinary partnership but has the benefits of limited liability for the business owners, giving them some protection if the business gets into difficulties. The essential requirements are listed below.

  • You may have any number of members in your partnership, with a minimum of two “designated” members, who carry extra responsibility for the business.
  • You must register with Companies House and file annual accounts.
  • An annual LL AR01 form confirming certain information about the LLP, e.g. registered office address and member details, must be completed and returned to Companies House, with a small fee.
  • A Partnership tax return must be filed with HMRC year each detailing the income and expenditure of the business and how the profits have been allocated between the partners.
  • Each partner must complete a self assessment tax return each year detailing their share of profits and any other sources of income they may have.

Limited companies

A limited company is a corporate entity registered with Companies House. This gives the most commercial protection out of all of the business structures as liability for debts is limited to the assets held by the company rather than the directors or shareholders being personally liable.

  • You must register with Companies House and file annual accounts.
  • An annual return (form AR01) must be prepared and returned to Companies House with a small fee.
  • At least one director must be appointed, with legal responsibility for running the company and ensuring it trades lawfully and responsibly. This director may be separate to the shareholders (business owners).
  • You have the option to appoint a company secretary. The company secretary is responsible for filing statutory documents, such as the AR01 form and accounts with Companies House each year. If there is no secretary, the director is responsible for filing the documents.
  • The business owners are shareholders in the company and able to extract dividends from the company out of the net profit after tax.
  • Directors can be paid a salary (under PAYE), which will be treated as an expense of the company when its accounts are prepared.
  • If the directors are also shareholders of the company, they may take dividends from the company but only from the net profits after tax has been provided for.
  • As a separate legal entity, the company is responsible for filing a corporation tax return for each accounting period and to pay corporation tax on the profits.
  • If benefits are provided to directors, these must be accounted for as a benefit in kind, on which the individuals pay tax. The company must pay employers’ Class 1A NICs each year.
  • Directors must submit a self assessment tax return each year, detailing their income. This may be a combination of salary, dividends (if they are a shareholder), benefits in kind and other sources of personal income.

Choosing a business name

Your business can say a lot about your enterprise and is an important way to convey information about what you do. Getting the name right from the start makes sense as changing a name at a later date will affect every aspect of your business and could prove costly.

  • Check your chosen name with the National Business Register, the Patent Office, Companies House and Trade Marks Register to make sure it’s unique within your chosen business sector. If you infringe on another business’s name, they could take legal action to protect themselves.
  • Check other meanings of the name you intend to use, particularly if you will be trading overseas. An embarrassing translation could cost you international business.

For more information or to check a business name, visit the National Business Register website at or

Bookkeeping and accounts

Your financial records are an essential part of running any business. While the exact type of accounting records you need will depend on your enterprise’s legal structure, keeping an up-to-date record of your financial data will not only help you stay compliant with HMRC but will provide useful insight into how your business is performing, help you to maintain a healthy cash flow and give you an early warning if certain issues need addressing.

You can look after your books yourself or you may want to employ a part-time or full-time bookkeeper. Another option is to outsource the work to an accountancy firm, which may be a cost-effective alternative to dealing with your accounts in-house.

If you do decide to deal with your financial records in-house, there are various bookkeeping/accounting systems you can use, from manual systems and spreadsheets to accounting software installed locally on your own computers.

Alternatively online and cloud accounting is becoming increasingly popular. As well as being secure and cost-effective there are no upfront costs, you just pay a low monthly subscription  the system means you can look at your financial records from anywhere with internet access and it will give you real time information on cash flow, as well as fast transfers of information from your bank and automatic invoicing.

Your accountant can also have instant access to your accounts, so that they can keep your records under review or view them at the same time if you have a query or problem.


Whatever the structure of your business, if your taxable turnover will be more than £85,000 in any 12 month period (correct as of 1 April 2017) you will have to be VAT-registered.

This means that you must charge VAT on all your goods or services, (providing they are not VAT-exempt) and will have to complete and submit a VAT return, usually each quarter.

Depending on the nature of your business, your customers or clients may prefer you to be VAT-registered, even if your turnover is below the minimum. It may also be beneficial for you personally.

VAT is a complex area and it is sensible to talk to an accountant about the best approach for you and your business.

Bank accounts

It is good practice to have a bank account for the business that is separate from the personal accounts of individuals involved.

This makes it easier to keep your business finances in good order and also means that you can avoid having to provide personal bank statements for your accountants or for HMRC if it ever looks into the business’s affairs.

If the business is a limited company, then the bank account MUST be in the name of the limited company.

Different banks offer different business accounts and the bank where you have your personal account may not always be the best choice, so it makes sense to shop around.

In making your decision, issues to consider include charges, if you are likely to want to pay in cash takings over the counter, whether the bank offers easy access to a dedicated business adviser and what other services it might be able to provide as your relationship develops over time, such as insurance, business loans or even a commercial mortgage.

Employing people

If you are planning to take on employees, there are a number of factors you need to be aware of to ensure you are compliant with your legal responsibilities.

Paying employees

The National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) are the minimum pay per hour rates almost all workers are entitled to by law.

The NMW is £7.05 per hour for anyone aged between 21 and 25 and the NLW is £7.50 for those aged 25 and over, both as of April 2017.

These rates revised in April each year.

Based on a typical full-time working week of 37.5 hours, the NMW would provide an annual salary of £13,747.50, which is £2,247.50 more than the annual tax-free allowance (£11,500 in 2017-18).

Again with a full-time working week of 37.5 hours, NLW would provide an annual salary of £14,625.00, which is £3,125.00 more than the annual tax-free allowance.

The NIC-free allowance is £8,164.00 annually, calculated on a weekly basis of £157.00 a week.

In setting directors’ remuneration, it may not be necessary for them to have a service contract, which may mean their pay does not have to comply with NMW and NLW regulations.

How to pay salaries

You will need to set up a Pay As You Earn system (PAYE) to ensure your employees are paying tax and National Insurance.

Most employers will be legally obliged to report PAYE via Real Time Information from April 2014, which means you must submit payroll information to HMRC, on or before the point at which employees are paid.

If you are unsure about PAYE issues, speak to your accountant or visit the HMRC website, where information is available at


Automatic enrolment (or auto-enrolment) is a government initiative to help more people to save for retirement. By 2018, all employers will be legally required to enrol eligible jobholders into a qualifying workplace pension scheme, although workers can opt out. Both employers and jobholders will be required to contribute.

Employers join the auto-enrolment initiative on what is known as their staging date, based on how many employees they had in April 2012, although they can start earlier if they wish. The scheme started with the largest employers in October 2012 and is being rolled out to businesses in decreasing order of size.

You can find out your staging date by visiting the Pension Regulator’s website at, remember you need to register your pension scheme four months before your staging date.

A qualifying scheme is one that enables auto-enrolment and meets legislative requirements. It can be an existing scheme that has been compliance-checked (and modified if necessary) or a new scheme set up specifically for auto-enrolment.

NEST (National Employment Savings Trust ( ) is a scheme that is open to any employer and to self-employed people. It has the advantage that a NEST pension “pot” follows the individual if they change jobs.

Ensure you’re insured

You will need adequate insurance and processes and procedures to protect health and safety in the workplace. There are three types of insurance you will need.

  • Employers’ liability insurance: this insurance covers you in the event of an employee making a claim in relation to injuries or illnesses suffered while working for you. Your certificate for this insurance must be accessible or displayed electronically. This type of insurance is not legally required if you are the only employee and own 50 per cent or more of the shares.
  • Public liability insurance: this insurance covers you for damages and legal costs resulting from injury, death or damage to property caused to members of the public, such as visitors, by any of your actions.
  • Professional indemnity insurance: If you have made a mistake or been negligent in a way that compromises the quality of service to your customers, this insurance protects your business against claims made against you.
  • Other insurance: while not mandatory, other types of insurance that could be useful include directors’ insurance, motor insurance, equipment insurance, contents insurance and cover for legal expenses. If you use your own car for the business, your insurer must be made aware of this.

Training your employees

It is your legal obligation to ensure your employees receive the appropriate and adequate training they need to carry out their duties.

For example, appropriate licences or certificates are essential if your employees handle heavy machinery or drive long distances in specialised vehicles.

If one or more of your employees will be handling money, you need to ensure they are adequately trained to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations. There are many training specialists who can provide training.

For more information, visit

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore, neither the authors nor the firm can accept responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material.

Sales, marketing and the Internet


Sales, marketing and the Internet

  • Websites and Internet Security
    • Do I need a website?
    • Your website is your greatest selling tool
    • Building your website
    • Choosing a domain name
    • Be search engine friendly
    • Building website traffic
    • Is email marketing spam?
    • The basics of Internet security
    • Top tips for IT security

Websites and Internet security

Do I need a website?

The short answer is yes. Even if it’s just a simple description and contact details, having a website is as essential as having a phone number. Without one, many potential customers may simply never find you.

A website can be a full online brochure with all the bells and whistles, or a basic page with an email address and phone number. It can be as cheap or expensive as you like, but it’s always worth remembering that a professionally-designed website is a better reflection of a serious business than a DIY effort.

There are three basic types of website:

  1. Simple homepage – like a shop window for your business
  2. Showcase – like an online brochure or sales pitch
  3. Webstore – allowing your customers to buy your products online.

Simple homepage

If you opt for this simple form of advertising, approach as an opportunity to get across a little more information than normal, with the objective of getting the potential customer to call or request more information. You should include:

  • Business name and logo
  • A summary of your products or services
  • Contact details including an email address – if they’re using your website they might want to communicate online
  • Opening hours if applicable
  • Relevant photographs of your products or services to bring the site alive.

You could also include a web form which allows customers to submit their details to you with a brief description of their query. They press submit and an email is sent to you with the information for you to follow up.

This is the most cost-effective type of website and ideally suited for companies with simple products and services.


An extension to the homepage style of website, a showcase site acts as an online brochure, giving potential and existing customers in-depth detail about your products or services. However, you should be wary about making it too wordy, as Internet attention spans are much shorter. Keep the navigation simple and allow the user to get back to their start point easily.

Don’t recycle the wording from your brochure. Web copy needs to be snappier than printed copy, so invest in a professional rewrite or look at other websites to see what works.


If you and your customers want to do business online then you will need to set up an online store. This will also enable you to become involved with electronic supply chains.

You will need to consider three key issues:

  • Can you fulfil a customer order within a few working days to anywhere in the country?
  • How will you deal with problems, late deliveries, refunds and exchanges?
  • Can you accept debit and credit card payments in a secure environment?

As credit and debit card details are confidential information, it is vital to consult professionals to set up a secure server environment for trading. You may be able to make cost savings by outsourcing your secure payment facility to a separate website supplied by a third party.

Your website is your greatest selling tool

One of most important sales and marketing tools a business can have is a good website. However, a bad website can have disastrous effects, losing you potential business and even ruining your reputation. Your website is the public face of your business, and should reflect the standards of professionalism and customer service you would give face to face.

First impressions count. If your website looks good, is easy to use and informative, your potential customer will gain a positive impression of your company. Of course, the reverse is also true, and if your website is slow, badly designed, hard to navigate or contains errors like broken links or spelling mistakes, you will put off prospective customers faster than the click of a mouse.

The basic questions that most website users want answered are:

“who are you?”

“what do you do?”

“how are you different from the next firm?”

“why should I care?”

and, if you impress them enough,

“what do you want me to do about it and how do I do it?”

Make sure your website answers these questions. As long as you include a company description, your key services or products in the form of features and benefits, and plenty of signposts to contact details, then you will have answered most of the basic queries a user will have.

Know your users

To improve the usefulness of your website as a selling tool, you should gather basic data about who is using it. Web statistics software, such as Google Analytics, will provide you with information that can help you improve your sales and increase your reach. Your web host or site designer should offer regular reports on visitor numbers, most popular pages, referring sites (where your visitor came from) and which search engine phrases they used to get to you. In addition, you can also find out where in the country they are, and how often they visit you, plus a lot more. You can usually access web statistics as part of your hosting packaging for little or no extra charge, or use one of the free tools available online.

Building your website

Unless your business is a web design company, you might want to consider employing a professional web designer or agency to create your site. It might seem a simple undertaking to put a few pages together yourself, but if they don’t look the height of professionalism, your customers will notice and it could reflect badly on your image.

If you do decide to go the DIY route, you will need to know some basic DOs and DON’Ts of web design.

Make a sitemap in advance

The worst websites to navigate are usually the ones which have evolved over time, starting as something simple but with pages and sections added as the business grows and generates more content. By creating a site map – a plan of your website and its navigation – you will be able to keep it clear, uncluttered and easy to use. When you want to add new sections, plot them on the site map first so you can see how they will fit into the overall site and where they need to link to and from. This could save you a lot of time and money rebuilding your site to make it user-friendly again.


The navigation is the menu system by which users will find their way around your site. It should consist of a menu bar across the top and an optional menu at the side (known as a sidebar) depending on how much content you have. The navigation should be the same on every page so users can get back to where they want easily and predictably.

Colour scheme

Your website colour scheme should reflect your brand identity and gel with your logo. Don’t use garish colours that will cause eye strain, and don’t assume that a loud colour scheme has more impact. The type of business you have will dictate what colours are appropriate. A bright yellow website with chunky red graphics might be great for a children’s entertainer but would not give the right image for a firm of solicitors. Avoid strong contrasts like white on black. Ideally your text should be black on white space with colours restricted to design elements like buttons, menus and logos.


You have little control over what font your user sees, as that will be dictated by what they have installed on their machine. The best font to use is a universal sans serif font like Arial. Unlike printed material, serif fonts like Times New Roman do not work on the Internet. This is because they are harder to read on screen. A clear, uncluttered font will show up better and be easier to read. Avoid ‘funny’ fonts like Comic Sans, as these are generally considered unprofessional and corny. If you use an unusual font, the chances are it won’t show up on most users’ screens and will just default back to Arial, so it’s best to stick to the simple stuff. Avoid using italics as these are hard to read onscreen, and never use underlined text for anything except links. Web users expect underlined text to be a link, and will get annoyed if they hover over it and discover it’s not.

Use photographs and descriptions of staff

Faces sell, and without face to face interaction, it’s much harder to persuade someone your company is for them. Putting pictures of your staff will create a friendly, personable environment on your site and will let users see who they are dealing with. Try and use a professional photographer if possible, or save some money by using a good quality digital camera to take your own snaps. And remind your staff – a smile costs nothing!

Write for your audience

Don’t fill your side with wordy, jargon-filled descriptions if all that’s needed is a short overview of your core products and services. You only have a few moments in which to sell your company to a prospective customer, so get straight to the point and keep it simple. A website does not demand the attention of a printed brochure, so avoid using the same wording for both. Create snappy copy for your site or employ a professional copywriter, and remember to have it proofread to avoid spelling, grammar and punctuation errors!

Choosing a domain name

Your domain name is your unique Internet address and should be a reflection of your company name, products or services.

Choose your domain carefully, as it will be costly to change at a later date if you have already printed stationery or bought advertising.

What makes a good domain name?

Domain names may only include lower-case characters, numbers, and hyphens. You can choose a domain type based on the sort of business image you want to portray:

.com – a global corporate suffix, this is the ideal domain for international or larger businesses. It’s also likely to be the first domain your customers input if trying to guess your web address.

.org – usually a non-profit organisation

.net – often indicates an Internet or computer-related organisation although it is sometimes used when the .com is not available – the principal designation for UK-based commercial sites

.biz/.tv – these newer suffixes are often used by entertainment companies and fun sites.

It can be worthwhile registering a few domains types and having them redirect to the one you want to use. This stops other companies or individual using them and causing confusion in the marketplace.

Keep your domain name short and sweet as it will be easier for customers to remember. It’s OK to abbreviate your business name, the Internet is all about being quick and adaptable. Check to see if your chosen name is available using a WHOIS search. You can do this easily online through your domain registration company.

As with choosing your company name, you should do a bit of homework before paying to register a name. Check out similar domain names to ensure they don’t lead to unsavoury sites that might impact on your good reputation!

Registering a domain can be as cheap as a few pounds, or you can pay a bit extra and have server space included (which will allow you to host your website on the Internet). Dot coms are typically more expensive than other domain types but usually the first choice for commercial enterprises.

The time and money you spend on a domain should be proportionate to how important your website will be to your business. Keep your business plan in mind, and if your goals include developing your business using marketing techniques, be aware of how vital the Internet has become.

Be search engine friendly

There’s no point in having a wonderful website if no-one can find you. To be seen on the net, you must become search engine friendly. There are several strategies you can employ to get your site further up the rankings.

  1. Identify the keywords and phrases you want to be associated with your business. These should include your business name, your key products and services and your geographic area.
  2. Ensure your website text uses these words and phrases as often as possible. This is called your keyword density and is a major factor in search engine optimisation
  3. Get linked. The more places on the web you are linked from, the higher up the ranking you will appear on search engines like Google.
  4. Avoid all-Flash content. Search engines can’t read the content of Flash pages or graphic items unless they are tagged, so keep trendy content to a minimum.
  5. Use a professional. Although you don’t need to pay for regular search engine optimisation, having your website written and designed by a professional will ensure it has the best chance of being ranked at the top by search engines. You can also pay for one-off search engine registration.

Building website traffic

Once your website is built and online, start promoting it everywhere. Have your stationery and business card reprinted to include the web address, and add it to your email signature so people can access you with one click.

Search engines

Being search engine friendly is an important part of having a visible website. Many people go straight to their favourite search engine to find a company rather than rely on old-fashioned methods like the telephone directory.

Search engines use software called a spider to read your site looking for keywords known as metatags or meta descriptions which are then used to build your search engine ranking.

For more information see factsheet “Be search engine friendly”.


You can advertise on other, relevant websites by using a banner ad. This is a graphic with an animation or information about what you do, which takes the user to your site when clicked. Banner ads are best used on sites with an appropriate target market.

Email marketing

Used with caution, email marketing can be an effective way of publicising your website. See factsheet “Is email marketing spam?” for more information.

Creating reciprocal links

Ask for a link to your website to be put on a relevant website, and offer a link in return. This is a very effective method of driving traffic to your site and increases your search engine visibility.

Tell the world

Don’t just talk about your website, shout about it! Make sure the address appears everywhere that your business name does, including your newspaper advertisements, flyers, signage and directory listings.

Is email marketing spam?

The horrors of spam – we all get annoyed by unsolicited emails selling products or services of no interest to us, but email marketing is also a legitimate and useful business tool. The key is to only email groups who may have a requirement for your business. One way of finding them is to purchase email lists, although these go out of date very quickly so caution should be used.

If you want to send marketing emails, do a bit of research about the person or company you are mailing. This is essential for business-to-business emailing, and you can be cheeky enough to say you have identified them as a potential customer and would like to supply a quote.

If someone has come to your company via your website, they have already demonstrated that they like to communicate via the Internet, so by including a simple form whereby users can input their email address for further information, you can build a mailing list and keep in contact. Email provides a fantastic opportunity to reach customers on a regular basis for minimum cost. For example, a quarterly or even monthly newsletter, emailed to customers first and uploaded to your website a few days later, is a great way of ensuring consistent communication and delivering news about new products, services or company achievements. A newsletter adds value and keeps your name in the radar. Even a basic “hello, remember us” every six months could turn into a sale.

Data protection law states that any marketing email you send must include an opt-out facility, so make sure you include a link or instruction on how the recipient can stop your emails if they choose. It is vital to act immediately on any opt-out request you receive. Remove the customer’s email address from your mailing list database or address book. You can add it to a ‘do not mail’ list if you want to keep the details for reference, but make sure you do not contact the customer with marketing emails again once they have opted out.

In conclusion, the answer is no, email marketing is not spam if done in a considerate, relevant manner. Respect your customers’ privacy, don’t bombard them with emails, and ensure it is easy for them to suppress any mailings from you, and you can take full advantage of the useful and cost-effective tool that is email marketing.

The basics of Internet security


Almost all businesses utilise the Internet in some way, whether it’s for research, e-commerce or email. Yet many of them leave themselves vulnerable to security breaches, a hazard when computers often contain sensitive information like customer details. If your computer system was hacked, how would you cope?

One of the best ways to avoid unwanted, undetected intruders is to install a firewall. A firewall is an invisible shield which filters the information going out of and coming in to your computer via the Internet. It’s not infallible, so you will still need to employ common sense and avoid suspicious websites, but an Internet connection without a firewall is like a wallet left on a dashboard. Why take the risk?

Hackers use sophisticated systems to scan for unprotected machines and steal valuable data, hijack hard drives and cause damage that you may well be liable for – for example a breach of confidential customer information or the loss of a credit card number.

Windows has a firewall option which you can switch on from Internet Explorer>Tools>Internet Options, but you should also consider purchasing additional firewall software to protect yourself. You should configure your firewall so that it won’t send any information out without your express permission on each occasion. You set up automatic permissions for trusted sources so you aren’t constantly bothered by messages.


A virus is a self-replicating computer programme that is designed to damage your computer and the data it holds. It can also tie up your system by sending emails to everyone in your address book (thereby spreading the virus) and in some cases, deleting Windows or the contents of your hard drive. Imagine the cost to your business if that happened!

Viruses are spread by emails, from the Internet, or via documents. You should install a virus scanner to automatically scan anything you receive. Run a regular virus scan of your hard drive and ensure you update the software daily. New viruses are made every day so you should keep your database updated.


Another type of malicious download is spyware or adware. This is a self-installing programme that hides on your PC and monitors your activity, reporting back to an individual or exposing you to unwanted advertising. You should install a separate spyware scanner and run it alongside your virus software.

A common sense approach is best when dealing with Internet security. Only install legitimate copies of software for which you own the licence, don’t open chain emails or anything that looks suspicious, and virus scan any incoming documents before opening. You should also implement a policy to ensure your staff adhere to safe and sensible web surfing and make regular backups of all data.

Top tips for IT security

No business is safe from hackers, but you can take some simple steps to reduce your risk.

1. Keep passwords unguessable

Don’t use the same password for everything, and avoid obvious things like names or birthdays. Instead, pick a combination of letters and numbers, for example a favourite holday destination and the year you were there.

2. Update your software

If you are using any standard software such as Microsoft Windows you should look for software updates online. Most new versions of Windows, such as XP, will automatically prompt you when an update is available. These are called patches and fix any known bugs or holes in the software which might allow hackers access.

3. Build a fortress

Invest in anti-virus and anti-spyware software and update it regularly to ensure it can detect even the newest nasties. It is not expensive but could save you a fortune in lost data, customers and hardware.

4. Make regular backups

In the unfortunate event of a security breach, the theft of a laptop or even a fire, your business will not be able to operate without the contents of your hard drives. Make backups to CD ROM daily or weekly and keep them offsite, or use a backup service for a small fee.

5. Emails are not always friendly

If you receive an unsolicited email and you are unsure, delete it immediately. Emails are the most popular way of spreading viruses, but you can install anti-virus software to scan incoming mail for viruses and spam. However, you should regularly check your spam folder for legitimate emails which may have slipped through.

6. Install a firewall

A firewall builds a barrier between you and potential hackers while you are online. Use the Windows standard one or install a purchased package.

7. Don’t input private data on public machines

Internet cafes or other public machines are a handy way of surfing the web while out and about, but are also vulnerable to hackers who can log and steal your passwords or credit card details. Avoid using data like that on a public machine and stick to simple surfing.

8. Use the latest versions of operating systems

Older versions of Windows are very vulnerable to attack, so you should consider upgrading to Windows Vista to ensure you have the most up-to-date protection.

9. Encrypt your files

You can encrypt files through Windows or through specially-purchased software, which makes sensitive data safe from prying eyes.

10. Call the professionals

If in doubt, get a professional out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and there are many highly-skilled IT consultants who can help you set up and maintain a secure online working environment.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

Sales and Service


Sales and service

  • Give your customer the best service
  • Addressing customer complaints
  • What your customers think of you
  • Selling online
  • What should I consider before selling online?
  • Loyalty schemes can increase your sales
  • Using proposals to win new business
  • Creative Work on a Budget
  • Segment your market
  • Direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing
  • Get your marketing mix right
  • What is Your Unique Selling Point?
  • A sales force to be reckoned with

Give your customer the best service

Happy customers are key to the success of your company. The repeat business they provide, and the positive word of mouth to family and friends, are invaluable. Nevertheless, good customer service is often neglected. Here are a few key steps to make sure your customers stay loyal to your service and product.

Be Polite and Friendly

Manners are an extremely effective tool in maintaining good customer relations. Your customers need to feel valued. Should they contact you with a grievance, allow them to provide feedback in full, and let them know their complaint or issue will be considered. Never lose your temper. Summarise what they have said and break down into points what needs to happen now. Clarify any actions they should take, and what your next steps will be.

Tell the Truth

Only offer what you can provide. Should a customer make a complaint about your product or service, they will not be pleased with additional over-promises: for instance, only offer to issue a replacement if you know for certain one is available.

Deal with Customer Complaints at the First Opportunity

Do not pass the customer from colleague to colleague. Wherever possible, the problem should be dealt with by one person. If the problem is not immediately solvable, say so, apologise, and provide a reasonable timeframe for contacting them again.

Stay Up to Date

Keep your knowledge of the business, products, prices, terms and conditions up to date. If the employee answering a customer’s queries is ill informed, the customer is both inconvenienced and unimpressed. Conversely, beware of using jargon even if your product knowledge allows it; you will frustrate the customer.

Improve Your Products and Services

Customer feedback provides the best indicator of how to develop your service or product. If, for instance, there are frequent customer calls regarding your website functionality, this is a clear sign that this area needs improvement.

Be accessible

Research how your customers prefer to contact you, and make contact as easy as possible. In the case of email, make sure that there are clear links on your website and that messages are responded to efficiently. If phone is the most appropriate means of contact, include the telephone number in all direct correspondence with the customer.

Addressing customer complaints

When a customer expresses a grievance, you can still strengthen your relationship with them – provided you handle the problem to their satisfaction.

To err is human, and it is likely that customers will sometimes raise grievances regarding your products or services. While you should take every measure to minimise problems before they occur, your response to complaints that do arise is vitally important to customer perceptions of your company.

The benefits of good customer service

Repeat business

Customers will stay loyal, and spread the word among friends and colleagues.


If you have an accessible, approachable customer service facility, customers will readily tell you what your current strengths are and where you can make improvements.

When is customer service important?

When the product is expensive. Often, customers will expect a higher level of customer service for a luxury product than a cheap one.

When there is little differentiation between competitors. Customer service can be a key influence on purchasing decisions if your products are similar to the competition in price and positioning.

When customer expectations are high. Where possible, aim to exceed their expectations. These are however context dependent. For instance, a delivery service might delight and please their customer by delivering a product on time when their competitors are usually late.

Addressing customer complaints

When a customer expresses a grievance, you still have an excellent chance of strengthening your relationship with them – provided you handle the problem to their satisfaction.

  1. Acknowledge and record their feedback. Make sure the customer is aware this has been done.
  2. If the problem cannot be resolved straight away, explain that you need to investigate further and you will be in touch on a specified date. Give the customer a named contact.
  3. Investigate how the error occurred and correct as appropriate. Respond to the circumstances fairly without rashly allocating blame. Be reasonable with your staff, as well as the customer.
  4. Alert the customer that the problem has been resolved.
  5. If possible, offer a refund or vouchers as compensation.
  6. After a fixed period, contact the customer again to confirm they were satisfied with the complaints procedure.

Efficiency, responsiveness and co-operation are essential to good customer care. By incorporating these qualities within your customer complaints procedure, you can repair and even enhance customer relations.

What your customers think of you

Do you know what your customers think of you? Have you lost customers without knowing why? Often, you may not even be aware that a customer is unhappy. Although direct feedback can be very useful, it is also sporadic and hard to draw conclusions from. For these reasons, a customer satisfaction survey can be highly valuable.


Ideally, a survey should be independently conducted. This allows customers to answer candidly; moreover, it protects your company from accusations of bias. But despite the benefits of independent surveys, they are often too expensive for many small businesses.

Fortunately, in-house research can still provide many useful insights. If you decide to design your own survey, have clear objectives. What do you need to know about your customers? Are you assessing their response to an advertising campaign, a new product or improvements in your service? Or do you want to identify customer preferences with a view to developing new products and services in the future? Make sure every question is relevant and helps you to meet your objective.

If you plan a telephone survey, make sure your script is tightly constructed – you do not want respondents to digress.

Keep within the law

A survey is a good opportunity to confirm customer records and also to build customer profiles with demographic information such as age, gender and social class.

However, in the case of handling personal information, you must comply with data protection legislation. Make sure you are familiar with the law when carrying out your survey, and include an appropriate data collection notice.

If you conduct your survey by telephone, you must first verify that the numbers you dial are not registered with the Telephone Preference Service.

How many responses will I need?

This depends to some degree on the size of your customer base, and whether you want to extrapolate your results to make generalisations about the larger group. If you have only a few clients, it would be quite feasible to include all of them. However, if you have several thousand, a sample of 100 – 200 would be appropriate.

Maximise your response

If you conduct your survey by post, expect a 10% response rate. To obtain a sample of 100 –200, mail out 1,000 – 2,000 questionnaires.

A simple survey design and an incentive for responding are key ways to increase your response levels. Make submission of responses as easy as possible – for instance, by using a freepost address.

Your incentive should be appropriate to your target market. Make sure any prizes and promotional items are issued to respondents as soon after the closing date as possible.

Interpret your findings

Analysis of your data need not be complicated. Before inputting any responses, scan answers to get an idea of general trends. If you have a fairly small sample, and your data is quantitative, a simple spreadsheet or database may be sufficient to collate replies. There is also a range of software packages catering to researchers; this is better suited to your needs if you have a large number of responses to analyse, and if you need to include data such as responses to multiple choice or open-ended questions

Once your results are processed, you should be able to identify key trends. Are there any responses or issues that come up repeatedly? What might the implications be for your business? Draw your conclusions, and shape your future strategy accordingly.

After your first survey, conduct a follow-up study in six months to a year. This will allow you to measure the impact of any changes and update your customer knowledge.

When you’re equipped with hard data, you have the best possible base for business growth – instead of leaving it to chance.

Selling online

If you’re considering selling online, remember that a user-friendly site helps you get repeat visits.

You may be interested in some basic dos and don’ts for online sales…

Do your background reading

Research your target, ensure there is a niche in the market for your business and formulate a business plan before you take the final step of selling online. Check that shipping and handling costs are feasible within your budget.

Do make special offers

Encourage visitors to return with promotional offers. Display them clearly on your site. Keep track of competitor offers for the purpose of comparison, and to get ideas.

Do make your site attractive

The quality of your photography, description of your products and the relevance of your content should all be priorities. But…strike the right balance between appearance and functionality. Few users have the patience to wait while large images download.

Don’t keep your visitors waiting

Hi-resolution pictures and Flash usage can leave your customer waiting for the page they want. They will get bored of this, and are unlikely to come back.

Do keep clear communication channels

Customers should be able to email you with enquiries and problems, and expect a quick, professional response. A “Contact Us” function is particularly useful for meeting this need.

Don’t expose your customers’ data

Your customers will be paying by credit card. To secure your site, you will need to get a secure sockets layer (to scramble and encrypt sensitive credit card information). You will also need a privacy policy to reassure your customers that their data is safe. Alternatively, pick a hosting company that will handle your technical security.

Don’t get complacent

Keep track of your competitors, their services and their site development. You can learn from their mistakes and successes, and perhaps pick up some tips.

Do advertise

You will need a marketing strategy to drive traffic to your website.

Do maintain your site

Regular updates – of products, offers and information – keeps regular traffic to the site flowing.

Don’t forget your number

You may miss out on customers who dislike online payments. Display a number on each page so orders can be placed by telephone.

What should I consider before selling online?

Plan carefully before taking your company online – there are a number of practical concerns to consider. To assess whether your business is really ready to go online, think about the following issues:

Will the Internet enhance your Unique Selling Points?

Emphasise your unique selling points with attractive pictures, copy and testimonials on your site. If you have the facility to offer different delivery options, out of hours delivery and 24 hour availability, the Internet is the place to promote it.

A word of warning: if your offer compares poorly on price, Internet trading might not be for you. The ease of comparing products across websites means online shoppers are particularly price-savvy.

Have you the time to manage an online platform?

Making your site attractive and easy to use gives you a real edge over competitors. At the very least, customers will only return if you regularly update your site, provide simple navigation, clear costing information, and up to the minute info on your product or service – all of which takes time.

Often, companies are slow to respond to customer emails. This can be particularly difficult for small businesses if they have limited manpower and financial resources. Nevertheless it is essential for the success of your business, if you are to maximise sales opportunities. Remember, too, that customers can get online at any hour in full expectation of a fast service. An automated email response may help, alerting customers that their query is being processed. A list of frequently asked questions is also a sensible measure.

Can you calm customers’ fears?

Online trade depends on the use of credit cards. You need to convey strongly the security of your site and payment policies, as data theft is a concern for many consumers.

You will also need to draw up a refunds policy for display on your website. Online shoppers are reluctant to buy without reassurance they can return damaged or faulty items.

What will taking your business online cost?

In addition to website design and maintenance, you need to consider connectivity charges, transaction fees, and advertising costs.

Can your business cope worldwide?

Consider whether you can deliver on a national scale, and beyond that an international scale. If you face a surge in demand, can you keep up? You may need to outsource some of your business and will certainly need to keep on top of inventory and stock levels.

Loyalty schemes can increase your sales

A loyalty scheme is one of the most straightforward and productive ways of marketing your brand.

What is a loyalty scheme?

Your existing customers are rewarded for purchasing and using your products or services, in preference to those of a competitor. From smart cards to vouchers, this is an excellent means of encouraging customer loyalty.

To get started, you need to consider:

  • What are your objectives – what do you want to achieve?
  • What incentive will your customers respond to? You will need to conduct some research.
  • Your budget – can you deliver an incentive that your customers will find worthwhile?
  • What type of purchasing behaviour do you want to encourage? What segment of customers do you want to reward?
  • Can your business respond effectively to an increase in demand?

How will a loyalty scheme help my business?

  • Loyalty schemes encourage repeat business and strengthen brand associations for your customers.
  • Loyalty schemes lead to effective viral marketing. Loyal customers are keen to pass on their recommendations.

Are there any drawbacks?

  • You may attract bargain hunters, not genuinely loyal customers.
  • The right incentive is essential. A poor offer devalues customers rather than making them feel special.

What costs are involved?

You need to calculate the cost per customer compared to profits. The discount offered to customers must be less than the profit generated from their purchases. This will vary according to the circumstances of your company – the costs of loyalty schemes is very varied.

Can you measure its success?

A high take up rate indicates that the scheme is valuable to customers. You may want to try different approaches and track replies to see which is the most popular. Ultimately, you should use your original objectives to judge the success of the scheme’s results.

Using proposals to win new business

A written proposal can be very influential in landing a contract. How can you ensure yours makes the right impression?

What is a good proposal?

It should be clear that you’ve written it to the client’s specific needs, with due attention to cost-effectiveness. It should be to the point, focused and needs to really engage your client. They’ll see you understand their requirements, and it will consolidate any groundwork you’ve done beforehand.

Structure it simply

A title page, table of contents, main body, conclusion and a separate appendix are all that’s required. Limit your use of jargon and keep all words, sentences and paragraphs short.

Keep it short!

Busy readers will want to take it in at a glance. The client is keen to know you can do the job, but does not need every technical detail. Create a separate appendix for additional information – so you needn’t sacrifice precision or brevity.

Use your powers of persuasion

Show empathy for the client’s viewpoint. Keep the focus on what the client will receive, avoiding the use of “I” and emphasising the benefits for “you.” Continually highlight how the client’s needs will be met.

You should try to view the situation through the client’s eyes throughout.

Be compelling

Your proposal should be a concise but powerful description of what it will be like to use your product or service. You want your client to have a vivid image of how this contract could work for them.

The client should feel that you have made an effort to address them in their language. If the proposal is based on standard copy, it should be extensively revised to reflect the circumstances and tendencies of the client.

Be professional

Present the proposal attractively. It should be bound with a high quality cover. Create a clear, uncluttered template, ideally enlisting a designer to make sure it’s distinctive.

Treat your proposal as a chance to impress! If your proposal meets these criteria, it will give you the edge over your competitors.

Creative Work on a Budget

To improve sales, you need to build customer awareness with the right marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, for a small business this can cost a lot of money, and with finances a precious resource, creative work is often neglected.

Learn from advertising

What advertising do you see that succeeds in capturing the attention of your target market? Can you think of any campaigns that don’t work? Are there parallels you could learn from in your own campaigns and literature?

Quality matters

Professional graphic design and photography send a message of quality to potential customers and clients. The impact on your target market is much more forceful when the right people are employed for the job.

Although you may be tempted to do the work yourself, this will be time-consuming and the creativity will almost certainly be of inferior quality.

How do you get good creative work on a budget?

There are agencies that specialise in small campaigns when it’s imperative you stick to a budget. Freelancers are also available on an individual basis. The Yellow Pages, trade directories and the Internet all list suitable agencies and individual designers.

Photographers who are just starting up in business can also offer an economically viable option. They may offer their services for less than the going rate in exchange for adding you to their portfolio, a credit in your literature or networking opportunities.

Alternatively, you could search photo libraries for inspiration, but here costs vary and can be high. It may be more helpful to contact a company in the relevant line of business. Their photos are sometimes available for free, assuming the picture is appropriately credited. To do this, however, you must confirm that the copyright for the picture is actually theirs.

Investigate other small firms in your area – provided you are not competitors, there may be benefits in sharing the cost of creative. Should you pursue this option, maintain the uniqueness of your brand identities. The actual designs should be distinct.

Manufacturers are sometimes open to co-funding publicity and providing promotional items for personalisation, in exchange for crediting them in your publicity. The product managers of your suppliers, and local manufacturers, are a good place to look for this sort of arrangement.

Cutting costs can be high-risk, but there are plenty of opportunities out there for cost-effective, impressive creative work.

Segment your market

The most effective marketing is highly targeted. Make sure your marketing activity is reaching the right niche for your product or service.

The right “niche” is a segment of the wider customer base. Marketing segmentation allows you to prioritise groups for your message. In an efficient, profitable approach to your promotional work, you can centre your attention on the people most likely to show interest in what you have to offer.

There are three aspects to segmentation.

  • Break down the customer base into smaller, defined groups.
  • Identify the advertising and communication needed to reach your niche
  • Position your product or service in a way that appeals to your niche.

To see results for your hard work, you must differentiate your target group from the rest of the customer base. A customer database, and accurate analysis of the information you store there, are particularly helpful in this regard. When cross-referenced with transactional data – i.e. people’s purchasing habits – your customer records become a very powerful targeting tool.

Different customers require different marketing messages. Segmentation allows you to discover whether your customer prefers high street brands, whether they like to shop online, or whether they respond to high status advertising. With this insider knowledge, your returns are likely to be impressive.

What is your segment?

Mass marketing is no longer seen as effective for many companies – particularly small firms. Customers are no longer regarded as a uniform group, and indeed want to be regarded as individuals with specific consumer tastes.

Investment in a customer database, and the accumulation of customer information, will eventually give you a sophisticated resource. With the stored data, you can distinguish between your current and potential customers. You can also distinguish customers with low potentiality from those with high potentiality. Prioritise groups and target your message accordingly.

When you contact customers, you may want to personalise the correspondence with reference to their previous purchases. This is highly tailored communication, and it can elicit a very strong response from your customers. However, if your data has any limitations, treat it with caution.

For instance, be wary of making rash assumptions based on one facet of a person’s lifestyle. Income, for instance, need not be a good indicator of purchasing power – disposable income is much more significant. The influences on consumer preferences are very diverse. Over time you may find interesting connections between customers you would not ordinarily link.

Direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing

How can direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing reach the customers you want?

All three methods require careful planning and a knowledge of their respective audiences; all three can be used for the development of your business. Optimum effects may be achieved by combining the different methods – for instance, direct mail followed by an outbound call.

Direct mail

To use direct mail (a marketing communication directly to a named person at a private or business address) effectively, you must first define your objectives and who you want to target.

The next step is to obtain a mailing list. Renting a list can save a great deal of time and energy on your part – but you must make sure it’s compliant with data protection to protect yourself from legal action. You will also want to know some basic information about the list before taking it – for instance, when it was last updated, and whether you can prioritise people on the list by demographic group.

Design your mail shot to appeal to the people you’re targeting. Include an incentive if appropriate, and make the response method as straightforward as possible.

People are more likely to respond to mailings that arrive midweek (Tuesdays and Wednesdays.) However, be aware that a response rate of more than 1% is unusual.

Costs vary with how much you manage inhouse. However purchases including mailing lists, stationery, print and postage will be required at the least. Keep an eye on postage costs, and check whether the post office has any bulk discounts. After your campaign, assess the final expenditure in terms of cost per pack, cost per response and cost per sale. You can then use this information for future reference.

Pros and cons

Direct mail can target very specific groups, at relative inexpense. By conducting one mail shot at a time, you can measure response rates easily.

Less positively, direct mail is increasingly seen as junk mail. Moreover, to really get the best from this approach, professional copywriters and designers should be on board (which boosts costs.)


Sales, customer services and research are all subsumed within telemarketing, as are inbound customer calls.

When receiving customer calls, maintain a record of all inbound contact. Be courteous and implement good customer service.

Outbound calls are best used as one part of a broader marketing campaign. A detailed script, ideally one that will not sound forced, should be prepared. The focus should be on qualities such as availability and price, as these are key points of interest for customers. When closing, agree the next steps (consistent with the customer’s reaction to the offer.)

Costs are reasonable. Outsourcing the calls incurs a fee, and there will also be phone charges to pay. You can rent a list of contacts – make sure it is a manageable quantity, and confirm that the numbers are not registered with the Telephone Protection Service.

Pros and cons

Again, this is a fairly low-cost option. It is very easy to monitor. It is particularly suited to following up business to business leads, establishing initial meetings and closing deals.

Unfortunately, cold calling is perceived poorly by consumers. Morale among cold callers can be low.

Email marketing

When planning your campaign, consider the format of your email. What style of text and images would appeal to your intended audience? Keep your message brief and informal. Use an eye-catching subject heading to draw recipients in.

Offer the recipient the opportunity to unsubscribe, and to protect personal data, use mail merge facilities which personalise each email without including other recipients’ names in the “To” box.

Process responses quickly, and make sure unsubscribed addresses are not targeted again.

Of all the options, this is the least expensive, particularly if you carry out the whole campaign. If you lack confidence in your copy-writing or HTML skills, consider employing a professional. There are agencies with the expertise to design and implement the project. As with direct mail and telemarketing, a rented mailing list may also be worthwhile.

Pros and cons

Email is very cheap. As an innovative and relatively new medium, it is particularly attractive to a young audience. Viral marketing can be very effective.

On the down side, “spam” is poorly regarded. It can be very difficult to initiate a dialogue.

Get your marketing mix right

Product, Price, Place and Promotion are the main elements of the marketing mix.

What is the relevance of these elements to your business? Why is getting your marketing mix important for the success of your business?

Which element matters most to you?


A strong product meets customer needs, is distinct from or better than existing competition, and satisfies expectations.


What will you charge for your product?

Your customer is primarily concerned with what they think it is worth. Remember that low pricing is not always the best strategy – many people believe that a low price indicates low quality, and might prefer to pay more for a specific brand.


Is your product distributed to the right places? Is it visible where and when people need it?

Convenience is a decisive factor in the success of many products. Increasingly, customers no longer want to be restricted by opening hours or distance

Retailers, wholesalers, direct mail and websites are all possible outlets for your product. The important thing is to place your product in a way that reflects your customers’ lifestyle and purchasing choices.


How do you get your message across? How do you select the best media to reach your target market? What range of channels do you utilise – direct mail, PR or advertising?

Bear in mind that promotion and communication might be helpful to your success – but the Product, Price and Place have to be right first.

Remember that the four elements are not isolated from each other. A strong product doesn’t always sell itself, and nor does a cheap one. Conversely, a poor quality product in a premium place may not attract much attention. Getting the right marketing mix can be a subtle balancing act.

What is Your Unique Selling Point?

On what does a customer base their choice of products? There are six factors in their purchasing decision, and these factors can help you identify your unique selling point.


Customers may make a rational decision based on price, after comparing several similar products before they buy. But sometimes brand associations are enough to encourage a purchase. Consumers frequently assume that a particular brand offers lower prices (or greater value for money) but do not necessarily check. An example could be the supermarket chain Kwik Save.

Product/service quality

Consumers regularly associate expense with the high quality of a product. Trusted brands are perceived as offering better quality, and consumers are content to pay a higher price accordingly. An example could be the department store John Lewis.


Consumers may purchase a product for its novelty or originality. Electrical goods e.g. games consoles, MP3 players can fall into this category.


Familiarity with a brand, irrespective of cost, quality or novelty, can influence purchasing decisions.


A customer may pay more for a product if it is available at especial convenience. An example could be supermarkets such as Sainsburys and Tesco, whose customers pay more for produce in “local” outlets than in larger, out of town branches.


A customer may select a product because it comes with additional extras or services, for instance, when choosing what mobile phone to buy.

Where are your strengths?

Which of the above categories are relevant to your product? What will give your product an advantage over competitors? Do you lead in price, in quality, in innovation, in market awareness, in convenience or in “added extras”? This is the key to your unique selling point.

You might want to consider:

  • How is your USP significantly different from that of your competitors?
  • Is your USP valuable to customers?
  • Will your USP motivate customers to make a purchase?

Address these questions to convey and exploit your USP to potential customers. Your USP can be an excellent way of differentiating your business from competitors’.

A sales force to be reckoned with

Your sales force is an incredibly valuable asset. After all, they bring in the business and pay for themselves, hopefully many times over. If you don’t set clear objectives and targets, and motivate your sales staff, your business will suffer as a result.

Create your team and state your objectives

Even the smallest sales team will benefit from good leadership and motivation, so begin with the basics and develop a sales strategy that everyone is aware of. Set out your objectives, for example retaining existing customers, acquiring new business or renewing lapsed accounts.

Your customers will prefer to have one contact, so divide your products or area into territories and allocate an account manager to each customer. Your sales force will benefit from having a stable portfolio which they can build on.

Gather feedback

Have regular sales meetings and reviews, and chart individual progress against targets so everyone can see how the team is performing. This will also enable you to identify any problems or potential missed targets in advance and minimise the knock-on effect to your business.

Your sales team will have the everyday contact with your customers, so ensure you listen to their feedback regularly; it’s a great source of market intelligence from the people who are out there selling your products or services. They are in the best position to know, so take their input seriously.

Equip your team

Create good product information for your sales team to use on client visits or to send in the post. You might want to consider outsourcing this to marketing professionals to ensure your brochure or sales presentations are professional and optimised to maximise sales. Give them the equipment they need, from samples to folders or even laptops. You will also need to arrange for company cars and mobile phones for field-based staff.


Brief your team well, and test their product knowledge. Identify any knowledge gaps and train, retrain and train again if necessary. If you launch a new product or service, make sure sales are well equipped to answer any customer questions about it before they start to sell.


Set achievable, realistic targets and re-forecast as the year progresses. Take market conditions into account and be up to speed on seasonal trends in your sector – this could have a serious impact on sales potential.


Finally, incentivise your sales force through a generous bonus scheme and additional prizes for high achievers. Sales people usually enjoy competition and accept that what they get out is what they put in, so don’t be tempted to make things too easy.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

Market research

Market research


What price is right?

Lots of things will have an influence on your pricing models, so it’s important to understand the factors that can influence the prices you set.

You should put as much research into pricing as possible, as guesswork can be a very expensive mistake! Setting a too-low or too-high price will put severe limits on your business and disrupt your cash flow. Below are some of the established techniques for pricing.

Pricing by competition

In markets where customers are sensitive to price or where there are multiple suppliers offering the same product, you will have narrower margins and price your goods or services by matching them to those offered by your competitors.

Mark-up and margin

You determine your profit either as a percentage of the cost price of the product or service (called mark-up), or of the sale price (margin).

Break even

This is where you calculate the point at which your income from sales and your costs are equal (your break even point) and add your profit margin to your unit cost to set prices.


Perception pricing is dictated by the market, and you will need to undertake (or commission) research to gauge the value perception of your product or service. More simply, you ask potential customers what they think your proposition is worth, and price accordingly.

Rule of thumb

Rule of thumb is a basic formula most suited to businesses whose services require bespoke prices each time, such as builders or plumbers. For example, a plumber might charge twice the cost of the fixings plus labour or twice the cost of the labour plus the fixings, whichever is greater.


You can negotiate with customers on a contract-by-contract basis, but be wary of pricing yourself too low as you may struggle to fulfil your commitments.

There are many factors to consider when creating your pricing strategy, and you should be flexible and adaptable as the market changes and demand fluctuates. Research your competitors and be realistic, but make repricing decisions carefully as they are difficult to recover from if you make a mistake. You can also employ well-known tactics such as loss-leaders, whereby you make a loss in order to attract a customer to another, profitable product.

Using the Internet for market research

As a source of free information, the Internet is a powerful and effective tool. No matter what your interest is in, you can access relevant documents almost instantly. However, not all the information available is reliable, and you may need to consider the following before you sort the wheat from the electronic chaff:

Internet Search Engines

You can access a search engine by typing its name in the address bar of your browser. It will provide a search box in which you can enter keywords related to your research. The search engine will generate a list of websites containing your keyword. The first websites listed are most likely to relate to your research.

When you provide your keywords, type the most significant first, as some search engines will prioritise the words in the order they are given.

A variety of techniques can help you find keywords that are used together. For instance + can be used to find combinations of words that appear on a single webpage. As such, +spending +saving will generate website content that includes both words.

If you want to search for a full phrase rather than single words, type the phrase within quotation marks (for instance: “interest rates” rather than “interest” and “rates”).

What Else do Search Engines do?

Search engines provide instant access to a wealth of information. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of material generated means that many of the websites will be only slightly related to your topic, and still more will not be connected at all. It is down to you to sift the most informative websites from the list you’re given.

Strengths vary between search engines. One way to take advantage of this is to use a “cross engine site”. These will conduct a search using several search engines at the same time, eliminate duplications and provide a combined list of results.

On an “umbrella site”, key sources relating to a topic are appraised and collated. This can provide a more focused list of links.

Other Resources

Fora and user groups allow you to contact people with knowledge in your area of interest. You can bulletin or “post” a question, which other users will answer.

Online newspapers and password-protected journals have archived material that may be relevant to your subject. However, to access journals you may need to make a one-off payment for an article, or take out a subscription.

Double Check your Findings!

One last piece of advice: the Internet is not regulated and there are few guarantees of reliability online. Remember to double check sources of factual content before using them.

Get ahead of the competition

Get to know your competitors inside out, and you have a great advantage in enhancing your market position.

Competition is healthy, and can be a key driver in developing your company’s strengths. But to get ahead, you need to stay informed of what your competitors are up to. Few businesses do this systematically, yet it can give you an excellent commercial advantage.

Identify Your Competitors

Who is offering a product / service similar to yours, through similar channels? These are your direct competitors.

Who is selling the same product or service, but by different means? These are your indirect competitors. An example might be an online dating site, as opposed to a singles events organiser.

Keep a Record

Research your competitors and file your findings. Suppliers and employees are a good place to start in your search for information. You may want to pose as a customer to receive mailing lists or sales literature. Keep track of information in the public domain, such as features in trade publications or Internet reports. Obtaining their credit reports online can provide further insights – such as employee numbers, and when they outsource.

Key Questions for Your Research
  • Where do their products and services overlap with yours? Do your prices compare favourably? What do they offer within their price – can your value for money be improved?
  • Do they position themselves as a luxury product or service? Or are they cheap and cheerful? How do you position your product in relation to theirs?
  • How do they market themselves? Do they use similar advertising media to you – or have they found a channel you have yet to exploit?
  • Do they offer any unique selling points? What selling points do you share? Which benefits are their particular strengths – and can you learn from them?
  • Do they show the same passion and commitment to the product as you? Or are they more concerned with profit margins?
  • Is their sales literature attractive? How does yours compare? How might a potential client respond to their literature, and how might they respond to yours?
  • Are they in the same vicinity as you? Can you take advantage of this – are they attracting more custom to the area?
  • Is their business expanding, declining or steadily maintained? Are they succeeding anywhere that you are not? Are they making mistakes that you can protect yourself from in the future?

Whether you want to lead in your market or serve a niche more effectively, you need to optimise your attractiveness to the customer. Get to know your competitors inside out, and you have a great advantage in enhancing your market position.

Conduct your own market research section

What is market research?

Market research is the cornerstone of customer insight. Without it, you have only guesses and hunches to guide your business decisions.

Market research is a process of identifying customer needs, and evaluating how your company can meet them. Through the analysis of existing data, and your own efforts to collate information, you can find out who your customers are, what they want, who is competing for their attention and whether they like your product.

There are two types of market research: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative Research produces numerical data – such as demographic information (your customers’ age, gender and location.) Qualitative Research highlights the beliefs or attitudes of its respondents, and is particularly appropriate for developing new ideas and strategies.

How Do I Get Started?

Day-to-day conversation with your customers is a useful place to start, but it is hard to collect methodically and you will not be able to draw wider conclusions from their comments. A survey provides a much more consistent means of measuring and comparing customer opinion.

Design Your Own Survey

If you decide to design your own survey, have clear objectives. What do you need to know about your customers? Are you assessing their response to an advertising campaign, a new product or improvements in your service? Or do you want to identify customer preferences with a view to developing new products and services in the future? Make sure every question is relevant and helps you to meet your objective.

A survey is a good opportunity to confirm customer records and also to build customer profiles with demographic information such as age, gender and social class. However, in the case of handling personal information, you must comply with data protection legislation. Make sure you are familiar with the law when carrying out your survey, and include an appropriate data collection notice.

Response Rates

A simple survey design and an incentive for responding are key ways to increase your response levels. Make submission of responses as easy as possible – for instance, by using a freepost address.

How many responses you need varies with the size of your customer base, and whether you want to extrapolate your results to make generalisations about a larger group. If you have only a few clients, it would be quite feasible to include all of them. However, if you have several thousand, a sample of 100 – 200 would be appropriate.

If you conduct your survey by post, expect a 10% response rate. To obtain a sample of 100 –200, mail out 1,000 – 2,000 questionnaires.

Interpret your Findings

Analysis of your data need not be complicated. Before inputting any responses, scan answers to get an idea of general trends. If you have a fairly small sample, and your data is quantitative, a simple spreadsheet or database may be sufficient to collate replies. There is also a range of software packages catering to researchers; this is better suited to your needs if you have a large number of responses to analyse, and if you need to include data such as responses to multiple choice or open-ended questions

Once your results are processed, you should be able to identify key trends. Are there any responses or issues that come up repeatedly? What might the implications be for your business? Draw your conclusions, and shape your future strategy accordingly.

After your first survey, conduct a follow-up study in six months to a year. This will allow you to measure the impact of any changes and update your customer knowledge.

Equipped with hard data, you have the best possible base for business growth.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

Managing People


Managing people

Recruiting staff

Do your interviews allow the best candidates to shine?

A clear set of selection criteria and consistent assessment techniques are the best way to get the person you want. Make sure you’re on the right track with these simple steps…


Ideally your shortlist should be no longer than five candidates. Eliminate CVs according to your essential selection criteria. Your final five should meet all your critical requirements. If you can’t narrow it to five, a preliminary telephone interview may help to rule out applicants.

The interview: put your candidate at ease

Begin informally – make your candidate comfortable with some small talk. Give a brief introduction to the role, perhaps asking them what they know about the organisation as a starting point.

Look for their strengths

Remember that the best person for the job may not be the most vocal. It is in your interests to discover the strengths of a reserved or nervous interviewee – use their CV to pick out points of interest. An example might be: “I understand your last role was with Clarke and Morrow. What kind of projects did you oversee?”

Get a clear picture

If the candidate is being vague, try to draw out specifics to see how they relate to the role. Use the five Ws to get precise answers – who, why, when, where or what. ‘What steps did you take to improve the situation?’ ‘When might you apply that experience?’

Stay neutral

You may need to ask some sensitive questions – for instance, when enquiring about a gap in a candidate’s CV. Avoid judgemental statements and make sure your tone is neutral.

Take all sensible measures to avoid legal action. Please note that questions pertaining to relationship status, religious/political affiliations and whether the candidate plans to have children are not suitable and may result in you going to court.

Take notes

Make sure you record points of interest as you may not remember them later.

Provide incentives!

Make sure you emphasise the benefits of the job. If the interviewee is a strong candidate, they will receive other offers. Don’t assume they’ll take the job if you don’t sell its plus points.


Ask the candidate if they have any further questions. This is an excellent chance to see if they’ve researched your company. Lastly, explain when and how candidates will hear if they’ve been successful.

Seek guidance

To make sure you’re up to date with relevant legislation, check with an employment compliance service that you’re doing all you should. See our product and service pages for further details.

Finding the right employee

The right staff are vital to your business. Make sure that when you’re recruiting, you use the best means possible to pick them…

Start with a clear job description

Specify skills, experience and personal qualities. This allows candidates to present themselves effectively, and gives you a checklist to assess them thoroughly.

You may want to distinguish between desirable and essential criteria.

Although salary and benefits will be important to applicants, remember that they may also be motivated by training opportunities, the chance to progress and to take on new responsibilities.


Use word of mouth. Make sure your contacts know you are looking for a new member of staff.

Adverts with national/local press, trade publications and radio can all offer a high response rate. Recruitment agencies, despite high fees, offer a valuable service by saving you the time taken to filter applications.


You should have no more than five candidates in your final shortlist. Only include applications that meet your full list of criteria.

Interviewing techniques

Consider who can best contribute to the selection process and select your interview panel accordingly. Remember that the larger the panel, the greater the pressure on your interviewee.

Your questions should be pertinent to your selection criteria – e.g. “Can you give an example of when you managed a project from start to finish?” Listen to their response attentively and do not interrupt.

Assume nothing, and follow up their responses if you want further information. Ask about inconsistencies in their CV and interview. Assess hard skills with tests if necessary e.g. audio typing, use of computer software.

Use your Selection Criteria

Your business will benefit from a new employee who complements your department and brings the skills you’re looking for. Do not base your decision purely on personal liking.


Verify references before offering the job. Make sure that the information on the CV is confirmed by the reference. Remember, if you suffer loss from employing a person on the basis of a misleading reference, you can take legal action.

Protect Yourself Legally

Some people are automatically entitled to work in the UK. Others may have restrictions on how long they can stay, whether they can work or the type of work they can do.

You should check the entitlement to work in the UK of every worker you plan to employ – regardless of their race, ethnic or national origin, colour or nationality.

If you fail to do this and employ someone who is found to be an illegal worker, you may face a civil penalty, an unlimited fine and/or a criminal conviction if you are found to be knowingly employing an illegal migrant worker.

You can find out more from Business Link at

Seek Guidance

To make sure you’re up to date with relevant legislation, check with an employment compliance service that you’re doing all you should.  See our product and service pages for further details.

Finding the Right Skills

Employees with the right training and expertise can enhance the growth and success of your business

What practical steps can you take to ensure that you can find suitably skilled staff?

Identify your needs

Ask yourself if your needs absolutely require extra staff. There may be more economically viable options for you.

Appreciate the skills you have

Regular staff appraisals will help you identify the skills and ambitions of your current workforce.

Training and encouraging staff development will motivate workers as well as cut down the costs of new recruitment. It will also increase your attractiveness to new recruits who will recognise your commitment to their personal growth.

Existing staff also understand your business and can enable new ideas and processes to be easily integrated into your current procedures.

Cutting training costs

Training can cost money and time. There are a number of options that can help:

Learning and Skills Council/Learndirect – provide financial support, help and advice.

e-learning – available for a wide variety of subjects, online courses can be more easily fitted around work

For more information on e-learning visit our product and service pages.

Maximising investment

Encourage trainees to share their findings with other relevant workers.

Encourage trainees to make positive changes to the way they or the business works based on what they have learnt.

The Benefits of e-Learning

“Whatever business or technical area you want to strengthen, you can access resources as long as you have an Internet connection.”

Keeping your small business going is demanding and varied work!

It’s important to have a wide skills base when you don’t have the resources to hire consultants and third party specialists. And whether you’re pitching to a new client, updating your website or staying on top of invoices, you need confidence in your knowledge and experience. If you don’t have the right training, you can place your business at risk – but fitting in courses can be a drain on working hours and finances.

There is an answer – a cost effective, flexible route to learning. Computer based training (or “e-learning”) is the ideal solution to your training needs.

Training for wherever you are

A range of distance learning services such The Open University, Learndirect and Mindleaders offer all the courses you could wish for. Academic subjects all the way up to postgraduate level, professional training and courses for pleasure are all catered for in a computer based format. Depending on the course you select, you may be accredited with a recognised qualification, or provided with a certificate verifying your course completion.

Whatever business or technical area you want to strengthen, you can access resources and in some cases tuition as long as you have an Internet connection. Many providers issue resources on video and CD-ROMs – while the most sophisticated are available online to download on a subscription basis, keeping files small and allowing you to access them as soon as possible.

Once you’ve enrolled and paid for your course, you are free to access the resources as often as you want.

For small business needs

e-learning is an exciting means of improving your business – whether that be through honing your management skills, learning HTML or getting to grips with accounts. With options available for different levels of experience you can be sure of progressing at a rate suited to your requirements.

Most importantly, its flexibility allows you to train and still meet the demands of your business. You can choose your study hours to suit you – at manageable times, around your work.

Time-saving for businesspeople

Working hard but not getting results? It might take just a few simple changes for your efforts – and those of your staff – to really pay off…

Early to bed and early to rise?

Are you at your best in the morning or evening? If you know when you’re most focused, you can prioritise your work accordingly.

Set proper boundaries

When you need to focus on an important project, delegate call taking and administrative tasks. Make it clear you can not be disturbed.

Overcome the urge to be accommodating – say “no” when requests are unreasonable.

Take time out

The human attention span is approximately 40 minutes. You might want to keep your nose to the grindstone until you’ve finished, but take regular breaks and your mind will be at its most active.

Make the most of modern technology

If you have an urgent task to complete, use voicemail to take your calls, and ask colleagues to forward concerns to you by email which you can respond to at a less pressing time.

Set aside fixed times for checking voicemail and email. Try to keep it to half an hour, and no more than twice a day.


Worry about bothering your staff? Hate losing control of a project? Stuck in old habits? Don’t do work that you could delegate. Your team is there to help your business function – use them.

Enhance your environment

Stale air and too much VDU work could be bad for your health. Make sure your office has efficient ventilation. Prevent headaches and eye strain by using anti-reflection screens. Alternate activities so you can take regular breaks from your PC.

Keep your desk and work equipment organised. Looking for notes on a messy desktop is stressful and wastes time. Your telephone, regularly used files and diary should be within easy reach.

Schedule treats

When you’ve finished a task, do something you enjoy. Whether it’s a bar of chocolate or a night out you can motivate yourself with a reward.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

Juggling Working Life


Juggling work and life

  • The strains of running a business
  • Your Health and Work
  • Eat well to work well
  • Is your workforce feeling stressed?
  • Keeping Yourself Motivated

The strains of running a business

If you don’t give due attention to stress in your workplace, you could leave yourself vulnerable to legal action from an employee.

Stress is an extremely helpful human response – it helps you meet that report deadline; the adrenaline gets you through an important presentation. But what happens when the stress becomes too much?

If you have your own business, the buck stops with you. You work the longest hours and you work the hardest. You need to keep on top form. Stress might be a necessary part of your working life – but it is equally vital to your health and your business that you respond to it appropriately.

Too much stress is bad for you and your business

Too much stress can lead to anxiety and depression. It will affect your performance, your physical health, and it will depress the morale of your staff.

High staff turnover and absenteeism are strongly associated with stressful workplaces. Make sure the costs of stress don’t take their toll on your company – whether that’s financially, or in the emotional impact on you and your staff.

Don’t be vulnerable to legal action

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. If you don’t give due attention to stress in your workplace, you could leave yourself vulnerable to legal action from an employee.

Having too much to do, the pressure of deadlines, lack of control over the pace of work, repetitive tasks and no freedom to make decisions can all create unhealthy stress for an employee.

What you can do to alleviate stress

Keep track of what you find stressful at work and prepare for it in advance. Long days may be acceptable in the short term, when work has a specific purpose and a definite end in sight. However, you will get diminishing returns if you continually work twelve-hour stretches. Maintain a healthy diet, regular sleep and contact with loved ones. Develop a support network that allows you to relax outside of working hours.

When it comes to your staff, flexible working hours can help maintain work-life balance.

Offering your employees supervisory support, and collective involvement in decision-making, is key to a healthy company culture.

Your Health and Work

It’s important that you keep in peak condition when the smooth running of a business rests on your shoulders. Follow these steps to stay healthy:

A healthy worker in a healthy office

Make sure the height of your chair, desk and computer allow good posture. You may need a footrest beneath your feet. To avoid repetitive strain Iinjury, keep your wrists straight when typing and consider using a support.

Alternate your activities so you are not straining your eyes with continual screen work. You should not work at your computer for more than twenty minutes continuously.

Check your office ventilation and drink fluids regularly – ideally, about eight glasses a day. Dehydration can shorten your attention span and cause headaches.

Water and herbal teas are more refreshing than coffee or caffeinated soft drinks. Stay away from the vending machine! Snack on fruit or nuts to feel less sluggish.

Take your allotted breaks, and never skip lunch. Ideally, you should take some fresh air, go for a walk or a swim to boost your energy.

Stay calm. In a stressful situation, take a few minutes to work on something else, and return when you are more collected.

Be assertive and communicate your reasons for turning down work. Do not take on more than you can manage, or non-essential tasks, for fear of saying “no.” It will only create problems if deadlines are not met.

Prioritise your work, according to urgency and long-term importance. Delegate the tasks that can be done by others. If possible, schedule a mixture of mundane and interesting activities for yourself, so that you are motivated to finish the less engaging tasks.

Eat well to work well

With all the stresses and strains of running a business, it’s easy to get run down. Simple lifestyle and diet changes can help you stay physically capable of all your job can throw at you.

Here are some suggestions to keep your health in check:

Start a new activity

Riding a bike, a spot of gardening, or a salsa class might seem like luxuries when you’re short on time, but they are an ideal way to stay healthy and to relieve the stress of work.

Eat properly

Empty calories and a lack of vital nutrients will leave you ill-equipped for the pressures of work.

Make sure you eat some protein in every meal as this helps keep blood glucose levels in check. This might be lean meat, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, or shellfish.

Instead of refined carbohydrates, include plenty of whole grains in your diet, including brown rice, bread and pasta – beneficial for their fibre, B vitamins and slow energy release.

Pack mixed nuts, dried fruit or sunflower seeds, to snack on at work. Eat them when you feel the urge for crisps or chocolate from the vending machine.

Drink water instead of coffee to stay hydrated. You need approximately 1.5 litres of fluid to stay alert in your working day – and more during hot weather. Although coffee can be included in your fluid intake, caffeine can cause palpitations and hyperactivity that may affect your attention span.

Eat in relaxed surroundings and keep meals light to aid digestion.

Reduce your alcohol consumption

Although it relaxes you initially, alcoholic drinks can act as a depressant, particularly with regular consumption. It will also affect the quality of your sleep. If a drink is part of your relaxation ritual, perhaps use a mixer to halve the strength.

Just try it

To begin with, make these adjustments for a limited period – perhaps one or two months. You are likely to see improvements in your health, your stress levels, and, of course, your work.

(Please note: should you be experiencing severe symptoms of stress that do not respond to lifestyle changes, it is important you contact your doctor to find the underlying cause.)

Is your workforce feeling stressed?

What is your approach to stress in your workforce?

With stress one of the most common reasons for sick leave in the UK, you need to consider the potential costs to your business:

Staff disillusionment

Low morale, increased pressure and feeling unsupported can all develop into a reluctance to engage at work, a sense of stress and high levels of absenteeism.

Poor working relationships

Mood swings, withdrawal from colleagues and irritability with other team members can all be associated with stress.

Tensions within departments – including harassment and bullying – may exacerbate stress further.


Previously reliable and conscientious workers may, under prolonged stress, vastly diminish the quality and quantity of their work.


Conversely, an employee may spend longer and longer at work – due to excess pressure, an unmanageable workload, and the resultant stress.

What’s the cause?

A rigid management style can engender negativity and unhappiness at work. Workers who feel powerless and unsupported are more likely to suffer stress.

If your staff have been showing signs of excessive stress, what steps can you take to improve the situation?

Take stress seriously

Listen to the issues raised by your employees and involve them in the decision-making process.

If you are approached by an employee who expresses feelings of stress, encourage them to visit their doctor if appropriate. Determine whether their issue is work-related. If it is, it may be necessary to develop a strategy for the organisation as a whole. For instance, a representative should be in place to act on behalf of staff members who feel they have been bullied or harassed.

The insecurities of the modern workplace can take their toll. Be alert to the signs of stress, to keep your staff motivated and productive.

 Keeping Yourself Motivated

How do you recharge your entrepreneurial batteries when they get low?

Feeling overwhelmed by a major task or project? Here are some techniques to rejuvenate your motivation…

Go back to basics

Write down the benefits of working the way you do on a large sheet of paper and pin it to the wall to remind you why you make the effort.

Keep your goals in sight

Create two more charts:

  • one briefly listing your, short, medium and long-term goals (What am I doing it for?)
  • the other with your tasks or objectives for this month (What are the next few steps to get there? What have I achieved recently?).

Trust in your abilities:

  • Lack of confidence is a huge energy drainer
  • Talk positively: ‘I can, I’ll learn’
  • Remind yourself that there are no failures, only results. Learn from your bad results
  • Success often goes to the person with the greatest conviction
  • Remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Don’t wait until tomorrow

If you feel overwhelmed by a major task or project, divide it up into manageable chunks, then just get started on the first one, you’ll soon be half way through the project without even realising it.

Look to the future

  • Having a vision of the future helps to ‘fix’ your goals. Visualise the result you want.
  • Savour the emotions you will feel when (not if) you land that order.
  • Collect pictures that summarise these emotions – your dream house, boat, car or holiday – and pin these over your desk to remind yourself why you are doing it all.
  • Write down why you want to do something, even if the reasons hardly seem valid.
  • Something as simple as ‘I want a clear desk so I don’t have to start the day in a mess’ is valid. Clean it up tonight and start tomorrow afresh.

Have a plan

Assess -> Plan -> Act

  • Write a plan for yourself, both in business and personal terms. Set tough but realistic objectives with time scales.
  • Compile a record of past successes.
  • Buy a notebook and fill it with tasks that you wish to do. For each, promise yourself a reward. As you complete a task, take your reward and tear out the page.

Home alone?

A mentor can help here. Identify an understanding person with whom you can talk through business issues and who will encourage you.

Be kind to yourself and your health. Worry and stress can start a vicious cycle of demotivation and even illness. Make sure you allow yourself sufficient time for breaks.

Finally, recognise your achievements. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it for having the strength of character to go out and make things happen.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

HMRC and Company House Forms


HMRC and Companies House Forms

Companies House forms for limited companies

Companies House forms for limited liability partnerships

Companies House forms for limited partnerships

Forms for other company legislation and registration acts

Companies House forms for insolvency

Blingual forms (English/Welsh) for limited companies and limited liability partnerships

HM Revenue & Customs

Authorising your agent

Becoming self employed and registering for National Insurance contributions and/or tax

Child benefit claim form

Expenses & Benefits (employers form)

Return of class 1a national insurance contributions due

 P46: Car
Car provided for the private use of an employee or director

 New Start Checklist
Record information about a new employee for PAYE.

Corporation tax – details of clubs, societies, voluntary associations and other similar bodies

Application for registration

Partnership details

Application to cancel your VAT registration

Request for transfer of a registration number

 More HM Revenue & Customs forms
Click here to access more HM Revenue & Customs forms.


Finance and banking


Finance and banking


Financing your business through grants

There are many ways of funding a new business, including using your own capital or drawing on existing assets like property. However, there are also business grants and awards, which could give you the capital you need without risking your own money.

There are many types of grant, for example for a specific project or research. There are also government funds available for training and development in assisted areas.

Grants and awards are particularly appropriate for:

  • Business start-ups
  • Younger people in business
  • Businesses in urban areas with below-average employment levels
  • Businesses in rural areas
  • A business which has a specific project it could not otherwise undertake.

You can get information from local authorities, the National Enterprise Network (, the Skills Funding Agency ( and Business Link (

You should also undertake your own research to find more obscure sources of grants. The internet is a good resource for this.

Other resources for government grant initiatives include:

BIS – the Department for Business Innovation & Skills at

BIS drives growth through work including investing in skills, reducing regulation, promoting trade and helping people start and grow a business.

The Prince’s Trust at

Are you aged 18-30, unemployed, have an idea for a business but can’t raise all the cash you need from anywhere else? The Prince’s Trust could help you get up and running.

European funding

Funding for research and development is available through a number of schemes including the European Regional Research and Development Fund.

Finding the money to start a business

There are many ways to fund a business, and each has its own risks, advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of the ways you can secure funds for your company.

Using your own assets

If you have capital such as savings, or equity in your home or pension, you can use these to finance your business. If you want to raise funds from a lender, they may want to see you invest your own capital first.

Be very careful when using your home or other essential asset to finance a business. Consider what the loss of your property would mean to you and your family, and build mortgage repayments into your business and financial plans. Losing your business is bad enough, but losing your home is heartbreaking. Protect yourself with insurance and seek professional financial advice before releasing equity. You can also use a mortgage against a new property such as business premises to fund your business, by overborrowing.

Borrow the money from friends

Many people fund their business with goodwill loans or investment from friends or family. It’s a great way to secure capital and could mean a nice return for them in interest or dividends when your business blooms.

However, you cannot risk personal friendships and relationships over something like money, so protect your interests and theirs with proper documentation, outlining how much you are borrowing, under what terms, and how much interest is payable. If necessary, seek professional advice to help you draw up this document so all parties are aware of the terms of the deal.

Ask your bank

There are two ways to borrow from a bank: overdraft, or loan.

An overdraft is a quick fix if you are in a tight spot financially. The bank will let your business borrow a fixed amount without notice and you pay interest daily. The advantage is that you only pay interest on what you borrow, so you can use it as a flexible cushion for difficult periods. However, it is an expensive way to borrow and should not be used as a long-term financing option.

A bank loan is an excellent way to raise capital but with banks have tough criteria in place for lending to both new and established businesses. You can find out more about alternative sources of funding from the start-up service section of the Business Link website ( or from the business support section of the Growth and Improvement Service at

However, if you can prove a steady cash flow, your bank may offer you a small unsecured loan, but you will need to make the monthly repayments regardless of how your business is performing.

Use your credit card

Credit and charge cards are a flexible and convenient short-term method of paying bills or buying supplies, but can be an expensive way to borrow if the full balance is not paid off monthly. You are likely to write fewer cheques, which will reduce your banking charges, but the APR of most credit cards means expensive interest repayments if you can’t meet the whole amount.

Find a venture capitalist

Venture capitalists (VCs) are professionally-run fund management companies who invest in your company in return for shares and a say in the running of the business (usually in the form of a seat on the board).

Investors demand hefty minimum returns of between 30% and 40% per annum over five years and will be looking for new opportunities in proven markets, so you need to ensure your idea is a viable and dynamic one.

Business angels

A business angel is a private individual who is willing to provide funding in a small business in return for shares in your company (and therefore a share of the profits). Many business angels are a great source of wisdom and business knowledge and are more like an informal partner than an investor. To consider your business attractive, they will want to see a comprehensive business plan and evidence that your business is viable.

Talk to your local Business Link for more information on how to attract a business angel.


There are many different types of grant, but many are difficult to get so you will need to do your homework and prepare a good business case. Your local Business Link can help with information on the grants you might qualify for.

See the factsheet “Financing your business through grants“ for more information.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.

Managing your finances and stock


Managing your finances and stock


Types of banking for businesses

The day-to-day running of your business will occupy enough of your time without you having to worry about lengthy bank queues or reams of paperwork. Modern banking is flexible, which means you can have instant access to your account via telephone or online to make transactions anytime.

Online banking

Private individuals and business-owners alike are quick to praise the flexibility and availability of Internet banking. Not only do you not need to leave your desk, you can bank at any time of the day or night to suit your needs. This will help you avoid banking fees as you can check your finances anytime and keep potential shortfalls to a minimum.

In addition, you may also be able to download information from your online account directly into your bookkeeping software, saving you even more time. Your bank may offer free compatible software as part of its business start-up accounts.

Telephone banking

Like online banking, telephone banking is a useful alternative for managing your business account if you don’t have time to go into your bank and has been popular with business for many years. You can bank on the move, and most services are available 24 hours a day, all year round. You can also make appointments or arrange overdrafts and loans.


Although you will probably need the services of a good accountant, you will inevitably have to undertake some bookkeeping yourself. The days of manual double-entry ledgers are long gone, thankfully, and you can save a lot of money in accountancy fees by taking on the basic tasks yourself. Fortunately, this can be mostly automated through simple accounting software packages, which require only a small amount of self-training to use.

Most accountancy software allows you to:

  • Control your business finances and cash flow
  • Manage VAT, tax and national insurance, including completion of your VAT return.
  • Produce your annual accounts
  • Manage your profit margins
  • Manage and record your stock levels
  • Keep accurate records of your customers and suppliers
  • Identify late payers and reduce the risk of debt
  • Run your payroll
  • Track your credit card payments and record cash sales
  • Automatically reconcile your books with your online bank accounts.

Accountancy programmes do all the calculations for you using the basic information you enter. Start with a package that is easy to use and work your way up to more advanced bookkeeping items until you have as much control over your finances as you aspire to.

This will help you make financial projections, accurate budgets and forecasts and produce in-depth reports on your business performance, ultimately saving you time and money.

One of the advantages of computerised accounting is the ability to instantly compile records for any period of time. You can present profit and loss accounts to accountants or auditors in an instantly recognisable way.

You may also find it becomes easier to secure funding, as you can produce accurate up-to-date financial reports for lenders at the click of a button. Lenders will also be able to see who owes you money and when it is due, giving them a clear picture of your financial health and potential.

As with any accounting system, there is the possibility of user error, but that also applies to manual bookkeeping, so as long as you are thorough and keep information up-to-date, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Before you invest in accountancy software, speak to your bank, accountant or financial advisor to see if they offer a free package with their services.

Stock and credit management

Managing stock control

Running out of stock can be disaster for your business. Good stock (or inventory) control is the process of managing your stock so you always know what you have available, and how you keep track of it.

Keeping an efficient stock control system will keep your capital free and avoids supply chain hold-ups.

Methods of stock control

You can keep manual records, or use software to control your inventory. Many businesses opt for a combination of both to suit their needs and stock types.

Minimum stock levels

Identify a minimum stock level and have a process in place for re-ordering. The more automated you make this, the less chance you have of running out of stock.

Regular stock reviews

Also known as stock-taking, a review will help you ascertain what your current levels of stock are, so you can order to return stocks to the required levels.

Record stock sales or usage

Every time you sell a piece of stock you should record it, either manually or automatically via a till system. This is also useful practice for internal stocks such as stationery.

Minimum re-order times

A good working relationship with your supplier is essential if you need emergency stock. However, you should always adhere to suppliers’ re-order times if possible, allowing time between placing the order and receiving it.

Rotate stock

First in, first out. Make sure you rotate stock regularly to ensure it does not become dated or deteriorate. Keep date records of each item or batch and move stock on in order.

Managing cash flow

Cash flow is the money that comes into and goes out of your business.

Money coming in is called receipts and can include; cash from sales of goods or services, loans, cash from private means, sale of fixed assets (eg. computers) and cash invested to buy company shares.

Money going out is called payments and can include; cash to suppliers for stock and services, loan repayments, purchase of assets (e.g. vehicles), tax and salaries.

Your goal is to receive more cash than you spend, but if in the short term you find yourself with a cash shortfall, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It simply means you will have to secure funding to pay your bills until you yourself are paid by customers. The best way to insure against cash shortfalls is to build up a cash balance to plug any gap. You can also ask your customers to pay sooner or ask for extended credit with your suppliers.

Profit versus cash flow

Profit is not the same as cash – a business can make a profit but not have any short-term cash available.

Profit is when a customer buys your product or service for more than it costs you to provide it. That makes you profitable. However, until they actually pay for it, you don’t have a cash inflow. This means that even a profitable business can run into trouble if the cash dries up.

How do you manage cash flow?

To keep a ready supply of cash to pay your bills and suppliers, you must employ good practices. Devise a good cash flow management strategy to include the following five key elements:

1. Manage the credit you give

Set out reasonable payment terms and do not be afraid to ask for partial or full payment up front. Payment terms can be up front, on delivery, or a number of days from invoice (usually with a maximum of a month).

You may not feel comfortable doing it, but keep on top of late payments and chase! Send reminder invoices promptly and follow up with a phone call if needed.

You have a right to charge interest on late payments and in serious cases can threaten or carry out legal action to recover monies owed. You might want to consult your accountant, solicitor or business advisor on the best way to go about this.

Set up as many methods of accepting payment as possible, for example credit or debit card, Internet payments etc. The more ways a customer has of paying, the easier it is for them.

2. Update your books

If you have regular inflow and outflow of cash, you can’t manage it in your head. Keep accurate up-to-date records of every invoice and transaction. Accountancy software will make this easier, so consider investing in a package if you haven’t done so already.

3. Make a contingency plan

An overdraft or credit card facility can help to bolster any shortfall, but if your plan is to rely on these in the event of a cash flow problem, ensure your bank is willing to provide them, particularly at short notice.

4. Pay your bills

The good relationship you will build up with your supplier through paying bills promptly can be very useful if you need a short extension. The better your history with them, the more likely they are to be lenient when you need it most.

5. Set up adequate funding

Ensure you have a supply of cash for short-term expenditure. A good rule is to use long-term borrowing such as a mortgage or bank loan to fund fixed assets like premises or vehicles, and short-term borrowing like an overdraft to manage supplier debts whilst awaiting payment from customers.

And remember – you aren’t in this alone. Talking to your accountant or business advisor about the best way to manage cash flow can help you to build a better business.

Credit checking your customers

Credit checks can reduce the risk of bad debt, but many businesses extend credit to customers without thinking about it. If you want to avoid the risk of not being paid, it’s worthwhile vetting the customer first to ensure they are creditworthy.

There are many ways to credit check potential customers, but the simplest is to ask them to complete a short form

The form should ask for the following information:

  • Full name of the business and the customer
  • Company information such as type of business and number of employees
  • Amount of credit required
  • At least two trade references
  • Bank details
  • Length of time the business has traded.

If the potential customer is a limited company, they should also supply:

  • Company registration number
  • Name(s) of directors and date of formation.

The more credit required, the greater the risk, so it’s worth setting yourself a limit over which you always check references. You can follow up trade references (ideally with a standard questionnaire to ensure you don’t miss anything) or you can ask the customer for permission to approach their bank for a status enquiry. However, you will probably have to pay a fee to the bank for this service, and it acts only as the bank’s opinion rather than a guarantee so should not be your only source of reference.

Another source is to use a credit reference agency. This only applies to limited companies, as they have to file their accounts with Companies House. The credit reference agency will assess the risk on your behalf (for a fee, of course) and make a recommendation about whether or not you should offer credit.

What to do when customers owe you money

Bad debt and late payments can destroy your business. If your cash flow dries up, you will be unable to pay your own suppliers and that could spell disaster. Getting paid on time is essential, but if all else fails and your customer ceases to communicate with you, you will have to enter the debt recovery cycle.

Your solicitor or debt recovery company will firstly send a ‘letter before action’, which outlines the nature of the debt and the requirement for payment. The letter will state that if payment is not made within a certain number of days, court proceedings will begin. This is often enough to jolt a late payer into action, at minimum cost to yourself.

If the debtor still does not pay, you will need to submit a claim form. You will incur costs, and going to court should always be a last resort, but if you have stated your intention clearly in the letter before action, the debtor will be liable for your costs.

When the debtor receives the claim form from the court, the court proceedings are officially started. The debtor will also be sent a response pack to acknowledge or deny the debt.

If the debtor fails to respond to the claim, then you can obtain a judgment which requires them to make a payment. This also applies if the debtor disputes the claim but you have firm evidence to defend it (for example proof of a returned direct debit). Your solicitor will handle the application for judgment. A hearing will take place and an official will judge whether or not the debtor must pay, in which case the debtor is usually ordered to pay the debt, interest and costs.

If the debtor still does not pay, they will receive a County Court Judgement which remains on record. You may then take action to secure payment, including use of a bailiff to seize goods or a garnishment of salary. You must do this under the guidance of your legal advisor as both actions require a court order.

For information of users: This material is published for the information of clients. It provides only an overview of the regulations in force at the date of publication, and no action should be taken without consulting the detailed legislation or seeking professional advice. Therefore no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.