When it comes to attracting the best talent into your small business, there can sometimes be a David and Goliath dynamic. How do you compete with the salaries, glossy perks and benefits offered by blue-chip competitors? Running a fast-growth business, my experience has shown that competitive salary offers are much less of a motivator for the kind of agile, energetic team business owners should be seeking to put together. The bottom line is, money isn’t a deciding factor for real talent. Here’s how I’ve been able to bring some of the industry’s best talent into my business:

Target the right people

Identify what kind of person will thrive in your business best and recruit to this profile. For entrepreneurial business, it will be the challenge, not the salary, which pushes the right candidate’s buttons. A powerful tool to lure high-grade candidates is the promise of working in an exciting and innovative environment, unbounded by the bureaucracy and hierarchies of a major corporate business.

Could a returning mum be the best person for the job? Someone looking for a job-share or a hungry graduate? To reach the right people you’ve got to find out where they are: which websites they’re on, which media they use, what social media platforms they are most engaged with. You can also tap into your networks and those of current employees, friends and family.

Offer work-life balance and more flexibility

As business owners, we have the agility to allow our staff to build flexible work patterns, potentially working from home or non- 9-5 hours. Less commuting equals less stress and expense and with a smaller team, it’s relatively easy to monitor home-office work. Recognising the importance of work-life balance is often repaid in loyalty.

Technology can allow for great flexibility that helps your business grow. Our sales team is based all over the UK; people live and work where they want, while avoiding office politics. In work-life balance, small businesses really can come out way ahead of the corporate giants.

Build on agility

Through necessity, smaller businesses can offer employees a far greater breadth and depth of experience and responsibility than their blue-chip competitors. Employees know they can make an impact faster, and are empowered by this change-making ability. SMEs should highlight this in recruitment campaigns; day-to-day variation makes a role more interesting, challenging and rewarding. Employees also benefit from a steeper learning curve than in a larger organisation. No “cog-in-wheel” syndrome here.

Team Building

This is an area where many companies can fall down. This is less about budget, more about listening to staff, laughing with them, organising fun ideas like a pizza and beer evening or a charity event. Crowdsource ideas for team building from your employees; this in turn helps build workplace relationships and fosters that sense of belonging beyond what is strictly necessary to run the business.

Offer unique perks, avoid fads

Take a more personalised approach to perks and rewards. Perhaps skip the fully-stocked kitchen or games room in favour of a restaurant gift card? There is also the option to be more flexible around bonuses – consider quarterly cash bonuses for excellent work?

As a small business, the most important benefits you can offer your employees are flexibility, variety, a real stake in your business’ success together with the opportunity to lead more balanced lives. In a world that is rapidly recognising the value of investing in time, rather than money, this could be what sets your small business apart in attracting the right talent.

By Mark Jourdain, Director, Solution Consultants

Big data is not a new area of technology or business. Many organisations have been relying on data-driven insight to make decisions about their business for a number of years now, but small businesses that are deploying big data in any meaningful way are few and far between. This is strange when you consider the benefits that big data can offer organisations of any size – better understanding of customers, smarter and more informed financial decisions, and more joined-up HR are just a few.

As the volume of data has increased, so has the insight that can be extracted from it. Whereas marketing was once at best, personalised by name, the growth of social and digital data means that brands can target customers with content that is timely, relevant and likely to inspire a reaction because it plays directly to their likes and preferences.

So savvy small business owners should be aware that big data can be an integral business tool for them, but usage numbers would suggest that something is stopping them. What can be done to address this and how can small businesses really get the most from big data?

The fear factor

There is undoubtedly an element of fear to small businesses’ lack of big data deployment. They think that perhaps big data is more suited to bigger businesses, they feel they do not have sufficient data themselves and most of all, they feel that they lack the skills and tools to make sense of this data.

While a fair number of small businesses may be using some basic social listening tools to check what is being said about them on social media, and more maybe deploying simple web analytics, this is still not ubiquitous and offers only rudimentary insight.

There’s a significant difference between collecting and reporting web analytics, which are just numbers, and actually extracting insight to help a small business make the right decisions about an area of the their business. This requires a good data analyst, who can translate data into meaningful and actionable insight and share that with the rest of the business. But this is a specialised role that can be hard to fill (good data analysts do not grow on trees), and is an additional expense that many small businesses will not be able to afford.

A little outside assistance can make big data go a long way

So for a small business to feel wary about big data, is entirely understandable. It is true that smaller businesses (and their websites) do not generate or collect as much data as bigger firms, which does mean that there is less insight to be gained. Similarly, trying to understand complex sets of data about every customer interaction or every piece of financial information is the last thing a busy small business needs or as time for. So for small businesses, the best way of maximising big data comes from using third-party predictive analytics tools or SaaS providers that can do the number crunching on their behalf.

This saves the need to actually own the data or indeed have the skills and resources to employ a data analyst to conduct any analysis in-house. Of course, any small business will need to choose their partner wisely, selecting a vendor that is not only the right partner now, but one that is capable of scaling with the business as it grows.

This approach truly opens up the potential of big to small businesses. Whether it is using data from companies house to assess whether a customer is likely to pay on time or not, or deploying an analytics tool to mine social media data to enable better content and communication with customers, big data is rich in potential for small businesses in a variety of ways.

Getting to grips with big data without the resources, skills or know-how can indeed be daunting, but working with external providers can go a long way to providing small businesses with the insight to help take their business forward. Most big businesses deploy big data in one form or another, so it stands to reason that smaller firms should try and make the most of it to – it really can transform help make smarter and more informed decisions.

It’s widely known that there are no immediate shortcuts to success. The best way to expand your business is through devotion and hard work. Although Marketing has proven itself as the most immediate route to growth, you could never claim that hard work isn’t the most productive way to drive profit, but for increased and more prolonged growth there are certainly ways to accelerate and create shortcuts to success.

But what is the best way to achieve this coveted acceleration? A business growth report from Avondale, a specialist mergers and acquisitions service provider, recently highlighted that whilst increased marketing and new product development were still prominent methods for driving growth for businesses with over £1m turnover, acquisitions and strategic alliances have become more commonplace, 25% of companies with a turnover between £1-5m said they currently make acquisitions and a further 50% with a turnover of £5-10M+ said acquisitions were a preferred route to growth.

Growth through acquisition can be seen as a ‘shortcut’ to growth, yet it is often considered to be an exclusive method reserved for larger companies, is it appropriate for small and midsize companies looking to achieve rapid expansion? or should they stick to more traditional expanded marketing methods?

The benefits of an acquisition

There are many benefits of an acquisition with the large majority of business leaders claiming growth procured through an acquisition is faster and more prolonged. An acquisition can also carry less risks than an expanded marketing and sales plan, it can be less expensive to buy an existing business than to expand internally if you’re struggling with regional and national growth.

If you are concerned that an acquisition will cause a spike in profits that will quickly plateau and sink, a business merger can actually lead to organic growth further down the road. Businesses in the same sector or location can combine resources to reduce costs, eliminate duplicated facilities or departments and increase revenue in the long term.

Of course one of the problems with investment in an acquisition is the immediate cost. It’s easier for a larger corporation, as they have more resources and staff to facilitate it. At a recent roundtable hosted by Avondale, Dominic field, Director of Temple Field property, pointed out diversity between large and small businesses and their rate of growth “There are particular hurdles that all businesses of all sizes face. The more money a company has means more staff you can hire which means more productivity and in turn this all means faster growth.”

Organic growth and marketing

The report also revealed that 67% of those in growth mode have launched a new product or service in the past year.

Marketing is always a useful area to invest in, as it not only drives growth it also promotes your company at the same time. Organic growth gives you a much more realistic perspective of how your company is performing.

Like all business investments expanded marketing plans can carry great risks, and there are downsides. Reaping the results of organic growth are often much slower than external growth and there can be issues, especially if you’re pushing your products into a new market, as you start to push up against larger companies they are more likely to push back. consider outsourcing, bringing in temporary executive experts in expansion, training your staff in new technology/methodology or starting a new company with new equity, rather than existing cash flow.

Can an acquisition benefit a small business?

The Avondale growth survey revealed that only 11% of companies with less than £1m turnover said they used acquisitions to grow.

Large publicly traded companies regularly buy other companies. Most SME’s associate mergers and acquisitions with these larger enterprises and small business owners tend to generally assume that an acquisition is above their means.

Some of the workings do differ, for instance there can be no hostile takeovers of privately held companies, and your acquisition probably won’t be reported by top tier press, but the benefits are just as real for a small privately held company as for a large publicly held firm.

So which route is best for my business?

There’s no reason, if you have the budget, why you can’t incorporate both techniques into your business model. Marketing will always be relevant, as well as one of the fastest routes to growth. If you have found your business floundering of late an acquisition can give it a much needed boost, as well as offering the potential to promote increased organic growth in the long term, or alternatively if your business is flourishing it can further excel your growth in the short and long term. Using both techniques together could potentially see your company quickly expand status.

Sole traders are the backbone of the UK economy – with a 91% growth in these non-employing businesses since 2000. Reputation and trust are critical issues for these companies – with many joining local trade bodies and working hard to gain word of mouth recommendations to build a strong local business.

And yet far too many sole traders remain oblivious to one area of business practice that is fundamentally undermining customer confidence: the phone number. When offered a choice, just 6% of UK consumers would call a mobile number, as opposed to 50% opting to call a landline and 41% an 0800 number. From a perception of less reliability and longevity to a lack of professionalism, those sole traders operating with a mobile only number are clearly giving the wrong impression.

Business success is far from a given – and no company can afford to undermine its reputation, for any reason. I will explain the value of a virtual number that combines the flexibility of mobile with the business credibility of a landline.

Business Reputation

Over the past few years the number of sole traders in the UK has grown dramatically, fuelled by a combination of recession driven redundancy and new Internet enabled business models that have reduced start-up costs. Many of these new businesses are incredibly innovative, exploiting social media to build brands and creating virtual partnerships with colleagues across the world. They are also using web enabled business models to improve the work/life balance and take control of the time and location of hours worked. Yet for the vast majority there is one area of innovation that sole traders overlook; the critical aspect of customer and supplier contact – the phone number.

It is simply too easy for sole traders to assume that a mobile phone number is good enough. It certainly provides flexibility, which is essential for most small businesses. However, the negative perception regarding a mobile only business not only remains but is actually more significant that most companies would realise. In recent research, 67% of respondents would think a business was a sole trader or small business when offered a mobile number – as opposed to just 3% of those dialling an 0330 number, 8% an 0800 and 19% a standard geographical landline. Critically when there is a choice, 50% would call the landline, 41% the 0800 number and just 6% the mobile number.

Crushing Reputation

Over half (51%) of individuals think that a business whose main contact number is a mobile is a sole trader; while 35% would think it was a less established business, 31% would worry about stability and permanence and 31% about the company’s reliability. These are crushing figures for any mobile only business that is looking to build a strong local reputation.

Nor can any business assume that the phone has less relevance as a contact point in today’s web enabled society. While email has just nudged ahead as the preferred way to employ a business’ service or purchase a product (33%), 30% would still prefer to make a call. Yet when calling a sole trader 42% do not get an answer to one in ten calls made – despite holding on for an average 11.65 rings before hanging up. Patience is also in short supply, with one fifth (20%) only calling a sole trader that didn’t answer once before looking for another business to call.

Cost is also a concern for customers, with mobile perceived as more expensive than 0330, 0800 or 0845 numbers. It is clear that from lack of response and less reliability to concerns about longevity and cost, those businesses relying solely on a mobile phone number are fundamentally undermining customer perception.

Flexible Landline/ Mobile Option

Many sole traders are actively looking to build a strong local reputation and proximity is revealed to be a key issue according to this research – but, once again, a mobile number undermines credibility by providing no guidance as to just where the sole trader is located.

So what is the option? Sole traders do not want the cost of adding a local landline number to the mobile number; and this approach doesn’t solve any of the problems associated with accessibility and call answering. However, it is a simple process today to combine a local number with the flexibility of a mobile by opting for a dedicated virtual business phone number that provides a consistent contact point from any location.

The cloud based service leverages Internet access – via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G network – to offer businesses the option of one local number to reflect business location, several local numbers to cover a wider area, or an 03 national number – whatever suits the business model. Critically from the reputation building perspective, a customer call to the landline number can be automatically transferred to the mobile; the trader knows it is a business call and can answer appropriately.

Ensuring a call is answered first time clearly increases the likelihood of securing a new customer. While this is obviously an issue for any sole trader already out on a job or in a customer meeting, there is the option to use a virtual PA service as part of the solution. Furthermore, using an App, when the trader makes or returns a call to the customer it is the landline number that comes up, not the mobile, reinforcing the reliability and professionalism value of the landline number.

With minimal monthly cost to rent the each landline number, the return on investment through increased customer acquisition is clear. Furthermore, as and when the sole trader looks to expand, it is a simple process to extend this model to support a fully fledged phone system with employees using multiple mobile phones – and no need to change the established landline number.


When even the smallest companies have invested in excellent web sites and branding to create the right image, why compromise that investment with the somewhat down market, small and less credible impression presented by a mobile contact number?

The fact is that despite the ubiquity of the mobile phone, sole traders cannot afford to apply consumer thinking to a business environment. For any company looking to build a strong local reputation and present a professional image, offering only a mobile number is a fast track to losing credibility. In an era of Internet enabled flexible and low cost telecommunications, it is time to think again.

Every marketer knows that the delivery of a brand’s products and services must live up to the brand promise. However, communicating a promise that’s based solely on rational performance is not enough to grow sales, gain market share or justify a price premium. To drive growth, both promise and marketing must elevate a brand beyond the functional benefits to engage consumers through a total brand experience.

Fast-growing brands create, market and live a brand promise that influences purchase decisions by meeting needs in a rational and emotional way across all touchpoints, and builds perceptions that lead to sustained loyalty.

We’ve examined the marketing strategies of the BrandZ™ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands to identify how they consistently achieve this. These brands are extremely fast-growing: a 10-year analysis of a selection of the strongest brands from the Top 100 as a ‘stock portfolio’ shows their share price has risen more than three times as fast as the MSCI World Index.

They find – and amplify – a point of difference.

Differentiation makes it easier for consumers to choose between alternatives, justify paying more, and feel satisfied with their purchase.

Brands can stand out from competitors with innovations in design, positioning or brand experience, as well as products. For the gain to be sustainable, however, the differentiation must benefit consumers in a relevant way. Apple – the world’s most valuable brand – has sought to increase its relevance over the last year by diversifying into new services such as ApplePay and pay TV, for example.

They earn their place in people’s lives.

Brands which are seen to offer additional services and experiences that are meaningful, as well as differentiated, command a higher market share, according to Millward Brown’s research. Emphasising how they ‘make a difference’ to customers makes them highly relevant and desirable, and also boosts salience: the brand leaps readily to mind.

Nike (no.28 in the Top 100) extends well beyond its functional raison d’etre to embed itself into customers’ lives, with services such as Nike+ for runners and NikeLab for the development of innovative workout gear.

Google (no.2) grew its brand value 9% last year. It makes an enormous contribution to our lives with its easily accessible, free digital tools. Its Android operating system is also being embedded in goods such as cars, and the brand has now entered telecoms to become more valuable to businesses. Facebook (no.12), meanwhile, extends its reach through acquiring other social apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp, keeping itself relevant to younger audiences and bringing more users into the ‘Facebook family’.

They nail their colours to the mast.

Many strong brands achieve a meaningful difference by establishing and communicating a clear purpose. Brands which are in business for reasons beyond profit are better able to forge strong emotional connections.

A 10-year analysis of the BrandZ Top 100 shows that the brands with the strongest, most distinct propositions have the highest brand equity (which predisposes customers to buy) and value growth.

Pampers (no.37) demonstrates the social value it can bring by promoting mother and baby health issues, while Dove – the world’s eighth most valuable personal care brand – has found huge success with its ‘real women’ philosophy. Starbucks (no.29) has infused meaning into its brand through championing issues like higher wages and sustainable sourcing.

They align marketing with their brand personality and values.

Strong brands speak with one voice across all activities and media to create a seamless, integrated 360° experience. They blend clear messaging and brand elements to maintain a feeling of difference, reminding people what the brand stands for and why they buy it.

Coca-Cola’s brand continues to grow in value, increasing 4% over the last year. It feels differentiated and successful to consumers because of the way it consistently applies its masterbrand across marketing – for instance the recent campaign celebrating the centenary of its famous contoured bottle, and the setting up of retro-themed pop-up shops in major cities.

They consistently deliver on the promise.

To build trust, a brand must behave in authentic and transparent ways – living up to its values and delivering a high-quality experience across physical and online environments. This needs to happen from the inside out, through development of a strong internal culture where employees are engaged with the brand purpose and reflect it in their behaviours.

Research and evaluation should then be used to track how consistently and strongly the brand’s promises are being communicated and delivered on to consumers.

Brands that are meaningful, different and salient capture five times more volume, command a 14% price premium and are four times more likely to grow value share over the next year, according to Millward Brown research. The scores of the BrandZ Top 100 in these three areas rise every year.

The highest scores belong to the newcomers entering the ranking in the years since it launched. These include long-established names such as KFC, Visa, Pampers and Shell, proving it’s never too late to create a highly attractive brand that carves out a place in people’s consciousness and predisposes them to buy.

For small businesses, and particularly microbusinesses, securing funding is a credible and positive way to grow your business. But, if like many business owners, you don’t have a background in finance, knowing where to go, who to approach, not to mention understanding the complex language & terminology, the process can be time consuming, confusing and pretty painstaking.

So, what are the funding options for small businesses? What are the current ‘buzz’ words and what do they actually mean?

To start with, it’s useful to understand the basics – i.e. the difference between secured and unsecured lending:

Unsecured versus secured loans

An unsecured loan is issued and supported by the business’s creditworthiness, rather than collateral – your house for example.

In contrast, a secured loan requires the borrower to pledge an asset – usually a property or equipment as collateral for the loan, which offers security for the lender.

When it comes to routes for funding, the options are plentiful:

Traditional bank loan

Most of us are familiar with this traditional funding route. Whilst dependable, it can be a challenging process for small & particularly micro businesses, as you need to demonstrate a tangible value to your business and typically need to borrow against an asset. It’s also worth considering that the money can take up to 90 days to reach your account – a time period many businesses cannot afford to wait.


A popular option at the moment, crowd funding is ‘the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.’ There are various crowd funding platforms where SMEs / consumers can safely request money and funding typically comes from the general public who see value in your business proposition. Whilst businesses can raise funds quickly and most crowd funding offerings don’t involve an ‘ownership’ stake, there does need to be a return for those that have invested.

Peer-to-peer lending

Peer to peer lending relates to cash-rich investors bypassing banks and lending directly to borrowers, commonly via online peer-to-peer lending platforms. The lender achieves higher interest rates and the borrower can benefit from rates that are more attractive than a bank. However, the loans are generally unsecured, which needs to carefully considered. Peer-to-peer lending (or P2P lending) is also known as social lending and lend-to-save.

Business accelerators/business angels

Accelerators offer investment to support the early stages of business development. The funding usually comes from cash rich individuals or a band of venture capitalists, seeking a return. For start-ups, this usually means giving up equity in the company. However, it’s not just funding. An accelerator usually offers access to technology, office space, mentoring etc.

Merchant cash advance

Perhaps the newest and most credible of the unsecured options, funding is secured against the business’s cash flow from debit and credit cards. Small companies can receive up to an average one month’s worth of card takings as an advance. A charge or fee is levied against this. The fee plus the advance is paid back as a daily percentage of card takings until all is repaid. This option is most applicable to micro businesses that take credit & debit card payments, and have a viable need to grow the business.

Government schemes

The government has proposed a number of initiatives and schemes that help UK small businesses grow & prosper.

The Start-Up Loans operation provides financial opportunities to fledgling companies but also advice on business plans and mentoring for ambitious entrepreneurs aged between 18 and 30.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme continues to open up access to funding for SMEs in their third year of operations as they aim for growth. These targeted loans are available at a level of up to £25,000 and they’re designed to give viable small businesses a chance to raise the kind of finance they need to fully pursue opportunities in their respective sectors.

There is also advice and expert help available. The government has created what it calls the Growth Voucher Scheme that offers small companies ways to secure advice on key issues from finance and cash flow to recruitment and staff development, and from marketing to making the most of digital technologies.

With similar aims in mind, the government-backed Growth Accelerator scheme looks to provide support and guidance to SMEs that are struggling to maximise the growth potential of their businesses.

By Ian Morrison, director of underwriting and risk at Liquid Finance

David Cameron recently revealed that there is a £1 billion gap between the total funding UK businesses receive and the amount they need to realise their ambitions for growth. Here I will investigate the reasons for this, and the benefits to UK companies and the wider economy of bridging the funding gap.

Firms with a turnover of £10 to £100 million represent just 1% of UK companies, yet make up 22% of revenue and account for 16% of employment. More than just a statistic, this demonstrates the huge untapped potential of 99% of small to medium sized businesses in the UK, and the positive impact they could have on the economy if they were not hampered by the lack of available funding.

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, has called on the government to mind the ‘financial gap’ experienced by many mid-cap UK businesses. Without due support, Cridland states that these “job creating dynamos of the economy will suffer”. Of course, it is not only these firms that will feel the pinch, but the wider British economy also. Bank of England officials have attributed Britain’s slow recovery from the financial crisis and ongoing weak productivity, at least in part, to this funding challenge, as entrepreneurs find it hard to start new businesses and re-equip existing ones.

While the government has made steps to alleviate the problem with initiatives such as the Funding for Lending scheme, a significant question mark hangs over the effectiveness of this. In 2014, net small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) lending by banks using the scheme fell by an average of £500 million a quarter, as repayments persistently exceeded new loans. While the first quarter of 2015 has seen the banks react to criticism, extending an extra £600 million in credit to small businesses, the British Chamber of commerce has said that more still needs to be done. Indeed this is a point echoed by our own survey of UK SMEs, which revealed that 38% believe that their growth is being hampered by insufficient access to funds.

Expansion is the biggest driver for SMEs seeking finance, followed by working capital – which is a more significant issue for companies with smaller revenues. Our research found that 24% of small business owners raise funds for working capital, compared to just 17% of business with revenue exceeding £1.1 million. Companies with smaller revenues are also more likely to use external funding to purchase assets, suggesting that for these businesses, securing finance is vital for continuing, as well as expanding, operations.

How is alternative finance shifting the funding landscape?

Of the SMEs we surveyed, 50% said that alternative finance is changing the face of funding, opening up a much needed artery to finance, bringing new opportunities and democratising access. Among companies with annual revenue of over £1.1 million, that figure rises to 74%. This indicates that alternative finance platforms are stepping into the gap left by traditional lenders to offer simpler and more flexible ways for companies to raise the capital that they need.

With this being the case, it is unsurprising that the alternative finance sector is going from strength to strength. Research conducted by Cambridge University and EY has revealed that the alternative finance market in the UK is now the largest in Europe. In 2014, the amount raised by peer to peer business lending increased by 200% on 2013’s figures, taking the UK market to £1.78 billion.

What are the barriers to wider take-up?

With the majority of peer to peer platforms targeted at the smaller end of the SME spectrum, typically offering up to £1 million of debt finance, it’s fair to say that micro and small businesses have strong potential to secure the finance they need. But for the companies at the upper end of the SME spectrum, the options are less plentiful. Indeed, this was a point emphasised by the Bank of England’s Trends in Lending report. Published in April, this revealed that while demand for credit from small businesses is declining, demand from medium sized businesses continues to increase.

What is more frustrating is that larger businesses are conscious of, and open to alternative finance. In comparison to smaller SMEs, our research indicates that 85% of businesses with revenue over £1.1 million are aware of alternative finance and 94% would consider using it. This indicates that there’s clearly an appetite for alternative finance among larger SMEs – which it’s now down to the industry to meet.

How can these barriers be overcome?

What is clear is that the financial services sector is undergoing radical change. Survey respondents said that they are most likely to approach an accountant or professional advisor first to discuss raising finance, making it imperative that these consultants are aware of, and understand the value of alternative finance options. Encouragingly, 15% of respondents said that they first heard about alternative finance through consultant sources, suggesting that there is already awareness among these professionals that could be built on. Government legislation compelling banks to refer SMEs who are rejected for loans to alternative finance providers, is also likely to increase awareness and drive take-up.

Financial decision makers of businesses with a revenue of £1 million and under are ten times more likely to have first come across alternative finance through friends or family (10%) than those with a bigger revenue (1%). This suggests that there is opening here for alternative finance providers to develop awareness within SME communities, such as Chambers of Commerce, which could boost pick-up by word-of-mouth among SME business owners. This will help us take another step towards conquering the SME funding challenge and delivering sustainable economic growth in the UK.

Are you focusing on the right activities to drive your business forward? How to tell what is working and where to put your effort.

When you are running a business, most business owners are focused on three things:

1) Getting more customers

2) Increasing sales

3) Earning more profit

But when these things aren’t happening many start “reacting” and a lot of random approaches start creeping in to their marketing activity.

This is because we forget that these three areas are only important at the time of setting goals – but not when it comes to the day-to-day operations and marketing of your business.

The really important considerations are the items that lead to these outcomes.

The main thing you need to get into the habit of is measuring and managing the Five Levers that lead to the outcomes you want (customers, sales, profit):

• Number of Enquiries

• Conversion Rate

• Number of Transactions

• Average Sale Value

• Margin

You can download a one-page PDF of these five levers of growth here, with an explanation of each one. You should print this out and stick it up on your wall to remind you constantly of where your focus should be.

But the real key to managing these figures is to ensure you have a Weekly Business Dashboard where you are gathering and monitoring these important stats.

I believe a business dashboard is important because:

1) It allows you to have a weekly overview of the measurements that matter in your business, and lets you catch any problems before they become catastrophic.

2) If and when you get a business coach, business mentor or investors to take a look at your business, having this habit in place will ensure they can get a quick and meaningful look at the business’s performance. This will allow them to help you identify what is and is not working, where you should be focused, and the areas where you can improve in order to get better and faster results.

If you do not have a weekly business dashboard, then the truth is that you are not staying on top of what is happening in your business – and may not spot a problem until it is too late.

Here are a few must-have elements on your weekly business dashboard:

• Revenue

• Gross Margin Percentage (or “Ratio”) (Gross profit divided by Net Sales)

• Orders Taken

• Average Value Sale (Revenue divided by Orders)

• Leads Generated

• Cash in Bank

• Debtor Amount (the amount of money owed to you)

• Creditor Amount (the amount of money that you owe)

You will notice that this list of elements does not include things like conversion rates – which lend a deeper, richer analysis. That is because the weekly dashboard is not intended for that – you should be using those in your monthly dashboard. On a weekly basis, you want to review these eight pieces to get a quick overview of what is happening, and ensure you are on track.

Ideally, you should be measuring these against the targets you set within your strategic plan.

Keeping your dashboard maintained is time well spent as it really is the perfect way to keep on top of your business.

With the coming of age of a few businesses dashboard specialist companies, which allow data in businesses to be measured and reported event on a real-time basis, there is really no excuse not to have a dashboard in your business.

In the midst of your flourishing business ideas, exciting client meetings and ambitious future plans, making sure you have the right insurance is probably something that inadvertently slides down to the bottom of your ever-growing priority list. However, it is in fact one of the most important aspects of setting up and sustaining your business.

It’s easy to think that bad things happen to other people and that you will never be affected by unfortunate events but in reality, issues and incidents happen to the best of us. Usually when you least expect them.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to start thinking about your worst case scenarios and making sure you are fully prepared for every eventuality.

So what insurance do you need?

Our advice is to start by establishing the minimum insurance cover you require and this will depend on the size of your business. To do this, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Do I have staff?

Do I sell products?

Do I operate machinery?

Do I have business premises?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, then read on…

Let’s start with Employers’ Liability Insurance. There are just under 400 deaths and nearly 30,000 major injuries at work each year in the UK, so you need to be cautious. If you employ anyone, even if it’s your mother, the law clearly states you need Employers’ Liability Insurance.

As an employer you are responsible for the health and safety of your employees while they are at work. They could be injured or may become ill as a result of their work while in your employment. The end result is that they could try to claim compensation from you if they believe you are responsible. The Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 ensures that you have a minimum level (currently £5 million) of insurance cover against any such claims. It is however worth taking a good look at the type of risks and liabilities that you could face as it may be advisable to increase your insurance cover should the worse happen.

Liability insurance basically covers business owners, independent professionals and self-employed people against the cost of compensation claims made by employees. You do also need to consider the cost of potential claims made against you by members of the public.

If your business involves you manufacturing, designing or selling products, you need to have Product Liability Insurance. Your latest range of soft toys may seem harmless to you, but you never know when that teddy bear could turn to the dark side! This type of insurance policy covers the cost of compensating anyone who is injured by a faulty product as your business could be held legally responsible for any injuries to people or damage to property caused by a faulty product. It’s worth noting that your business could be held liable for faulty products even if you didn’t manufacture them. If your business’s name is on the product or you repaired, refurbished or imported the product from outside the European Union you could still find yourself liable.

In most cases a business will start at home before you experience growth and your empire takes off. Once this happens and you relocate from the spare room to operate in your own business space, you will need to invest in a couple of policies to protect your business. Firstly Property Insurance, like buildings insurance at home, will cover you in the unfortunate event of a fire, flood or theft.

The second type of cover you need to look into – if you own the building – is Property Owners’ Liability Insurance. This enables you to meet any costs and damages awarded to a member of the public if they suffer an injury following an accident on, or linked to, your premises.

Finally, a business continuity plan is vital. Most businesses don’t usually survive after a major disaster, but if you plan well, you can dust yourself down and get back on your feet. Business continuity planning is all about identifying parts of your business that you simply can’t function without such as IT, stock, premises, staff and planning how to carry on if an incident occurs. Any incident, be it natural, accidental or deliberate, can cause huge disruption to your business. But with foresight and clever planning – rather than waiting for it to happen – you will ensure your business can continue to function in the quickest time possible.

Tim Lazenby, Managing Director of FSB Insurance Service, comments: “Some of the main things you need to plan for are potential accidents and risks to your staff and the public being injured, awareness of potential property damage and eventualities that could impact the day-to-day running of your business. Once you have an idea of the consequences of each eventuality you will be ready to speak to an insurance expert to obtain the necessary cover.

“Having the right cover demonstrates that you are a reputable business which takes health and safety and business continuity seriously, and more so that you fully understand your own responsibilities and requirements.

“The moral of the story is most definitely plan for the worst and ensure you have the right cover in place.”

When “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) took the world by storm a few years ago, it was a revelation to employees – and a complication for IT departments, who had to ensure consistency, security and functionality across a range of devices.

Fast forward 5 years and we’re seeing a much different landscape today. The majority of businesses have embraced a BYOD strategy of some kind, whether it’s as little as giving employees an allowance for use of personal mobiles to offering employees a full suite of corporate-connected laptops and tablets. Gartner has even predicted that by 2017, half of all employees will be required to supply their own work device – placing the responsibility of work technology firmly in the employee’s hands.

From cost-savings to heightened employee satisfaction, the benefits BYOD has brought to business is unquestionable. However, it has ushered in a fundamental shift in the way data is stored – from traditional local storage on desktops, notebooks, or servers to cloud storage available whenever, wherever, and however it’s needed.

As a result, BYOD has had an indisputable impact on the phrase that can strike fear (or at least confusion) into a business owner’s heart: Big Data. As businesses welcome new, employee-owned devices into the fold, data stored on company servers or cloud storage has grown significantly as personal data is being downloaded and stored by default. From the world’s largest conglomerate to the coffee shop down the road, any business that implements a BYOD policy is contributing to the growth of Big Data.

So how can SMB owners manage Big Data while keeping up with the crowd in offering the popular BYOD policy? At Seagate, we have put together a few tips that small businesses can follow to ensure they are using the most efficient, cost-effective, and forward-looking policies.

Ensure that you have effective security in place across all of the company’s IT assets.

This may seem obvious, but the proliferation of user-owned devices at work means that IT managers have to secure different devices. Be sure your business has a consistent approach to securing employees’ devices to protect the data they are creating and storing.

Be smart about the mobile management software you choose.

The major benefit of Big Data for all businesses is the huge opportunity it presents to analyse data in ways that improve efficiency, uncover trends, and ultimately grow the business. A BYOD policy can improve a company’s access to mobile, real-time data from its employees on the ground and in the field – as long as the right software and data management system is in place. It’s critical that small business owners ensure that they have one consistent and effective mobile management software system.

Consider a ‘Choose Your Own Device’ approach

Rather than allowing employees to bring in any device, provide a list of approved products for employees to choose from. It can help put your business back in the driver’s seat – ensuring that the data is stored securely and with the right system to analyse and manage the data centrally.

Leverage the BYOD policy to help increase your business’s storage capacity

The total amount of digital data generated in 2013 was about 3.5 zettabytes (that’s 35 with 20 zeros following). By 2020, experts predict the world will generate 40 zettabytes of data annually: that’s roughly the equivalent of 1 million photographs or 1500 HD movies, for every single person on the planet. The bottom line is we’re running out of space – and fast. A BYOD policy can help ensure that data storage is quick to access, efficient to manage, and low-cost to maintain.

Whatever your company’s policy on mobile devices, one thing is clear: Big Data isn’t going anywhere. Small business owners need to consider the implications of Big Data for their business and address it by thinking strategically and long term, not only as it relates to their storage needs today, but also the devices that are accessing business critical data tomorrow.

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