A YouGov tracker from 7 April reveals that only 6 per cent of Brits feel it is “very easy” to find a job in the UK, and a meagre 5 per cent feel it is very easy to find a job in their local area. Twenty-three per cent feel it is “fairly easy” to find a job in the UK, and 22 per cent feel it is fairly easy to find one in their local area. A staggering 57 per cent feel it is “fairly difficult” or “very difficult” to get a job in the UK or in their local areas, with the remainder of participants responding that they don’t know. Interestingly, the age group which feels most pessimistic about work opportunities in the UK is the 18 – 24 age group, with a stunning 70 per cent answering that they feel it is “fairly difficult” or “very difficult” to get a job in the UK. The 25 – 29 age group doesn’t fare much better, with a whopping 59 per cent believing it’s difficult to get a job in the UK. The numbers were not much more positive before the coronavirus job crisis hit, when the tracker obtained responses back in February. The crisis seems to have mainly swayed respondents from the “Don’t know” group into the “Very difficult” group. It’s true. Getting a job will be far more difficult now that there is so much new and willing labour on the market as a result of mass layoffs. Companies will also be tight on cash as a result of weeks/months of closed doors, and likely unwilling to hire liberally. There is plenty of business out there A job is not the only way to make an income. There is business out there, plenty of business. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to give in to a sense of hopelessness, when reading the news. But it is important to note that the news reports on general facts, not specifics. They like big numbers which create the largest amount of shock and impact so their ratings can go up. But the best business is done on a one-on-one basis, not through big numbers and general facts. Business is done through personal meetings, handshakes (well, because of COVID-19 we might not do handshakes anymore, but you get what I mean). Business is usually begun with one phone call, one email. It is simply not true that “all the cash has dried up” in the world. Even during a recession, there are companies which thrive. During this pandemic, those companies which are able to provide services related to remote-working and online tools are more likely to come out of this crisis standing than others. Because they are delivering a service for which there is suddenly an unprecedented demand. Find a demand, deliver what people need It all comes down to finding a demand, finding what people need, and then figuring out how you can supply that need within your skill level and available resources. The world will not stop turning because business was forced to stop for several months. People need food, they need warmth, they need fun activities such as going to the cinema or visiting a clean park. There are some demands right there in that last paragraph: Clean spaces Food delivery Healthy food Safe travel to the cinema Etc. All it takes is a degree of ingenuity and a lot of guts to find and service demand. COVID-19 itself will also bring a whole array of required services and products into the market: Higher demand for hand sanitisers More demand for canned goods in case such an outbreak ever occurs again In Germany, there are plans afoot to build screens at grocery stores that separate the purchaser from the cashier and so reduce the risk of transmission of disease — that’s a lot of business for construction companies. How many business opportunities can you see in the above three points? Logistics, supply, e-commerce, delivery of goods, etc. If you stretch your imagination, you’ll see more. There’s the business to be made everywhere. There are demands and needs everywhere. Business, business, business. There is so much business waiting to be done in the world. The key is to: Find a demand Work out realistically how you can fill that demand Start delivering Deliver higher quality than all your competition Keep your eyes on your cash flow so you don’t overextend yourself Keep looking for more business and repeat the steps above Starting a business does not have to be expensive In fact, it is one of the cheapest things you can do these days — at least that’s the case with Start My Business. Not only that, but we’ll also throw in a logo, company branding, all the things you need to get working right now and start earning an income despite the weak job market. Tax filing, Companies House documents, day-to-day administration — all these things can add endless time to a new business’s daily routine. The administrative burden is probably one of the reasons many people choose not to start a business. That’s why companies such as ours are so vital. We simplify the process of starting a business so that all you need to do is: Find a demand Then deliver the goods It’s that easy. In this crashing job market, there really is very little choice in the matter. If you’re suddenly jobless and need a quick solution to get some income going, starting a new venture is the right move for you. And if you do get a job afterwards, at least you’ll have your own concern going in case things ever get tough again. It’s vital to have more than one income stream if you want to survive. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
If you want to get any sort of funding for your business, you’re going to need to put together a brilliant business plan. The quality of your business plan will be the main factor determining whether you get that loan you need from the bank, or the investment you need from VCs or Angels. A business plan for startups is not merely an academic exercise. It is the action of looking deep into your business’s upcoming operations and working out precisely how to make them profitable. Doing a thorough business plan can open your eyes to potential failures you hadn’t seen before. But what exactly goes into a business plan? Your business plan can either cover the essentials, or it can be done extremely thoroughly and cover far and beyond what is usually required. If you want to interest Venture Capitalists and other investors, your business plan needs to contain as much easily-digested information as possible. Also, the fewer credentials you have, the more thorough your business plan will need to be. If you have a track record of starting unicorn after unicorn, sure, your name alone might be enough to inspire confidence. For the rest of us, and especially for first-time business owners, we need to do our homework. Here’s what goes into a business plan. Executive Summary of the Business Plan Your executive summary will contain an overview of the rest of the document. It is intended to give readers a broad-level look at what the rest of the business plan will contain. Your executive summary needs to be concise, and it needs to grab attention. Don’t use high-flown language to try and impress. Be professional and give hard facts and figures that potential investors will want to know about. The only reason a VC would put money into your venture would be if they felt they would get a return on it. Tell them the expected return in the executive summary so that their attention is piqued. Company Mission and Vision Statement Why are you starting your business? What social impacts will it have? What is the overall goal of your business, both for itself and society? Businesses which will bring value to their community and to the world itself are generally the types of businesses that interest investors. Sure, businesses are there to make money. Even charities need to make money. But that’s not the business’s mission (even if you thought it was until right now!) and it certainly isn’t your vision. The Mission Statement is the broad, overall goal or objective that your business wants to achieve, such as: “Provide the finest dining at rates everyone can afford.” And your Vision Statement states what effect you want your business to have on the world, e.g. “To elevate people’s self-esteem by showing them they are worthy of — and can afford — the finest meals”. Product/Service Overview What product or service is your business going to provide? This section will contain an overview of that product or service. The section needs to contain sufficient detail to show potential investors that your product is unique while, at the same time, being concise enough that they are not bored by excessive copy. Provide high-quality images if possible. USPs (Unique Selling Points) If you’re starting a new FinTech or MedTech company, what makes you different from the hundreds of others that already exist in this field? Instant payments? Cash App and Verge already do that. No Forex fees? TransferWise and Revolut beat you to it. Without USPs, you will never command the type of funding that turns startups into unicorns. The reason you won’t get the funding you need is the same reason your business will likely struggle. Businesses without USPs have nothing new to offer consumers so there would be no need for users to flock to you for your product or service. The USP doesn’t need to be some new, disruptive service. It could be as simple as “Offering the best customer service this side of the Atlantic!” You’ll need to back the statement up with credible facts and figures, perhaps also highlighting examples of perpetual shoddy or low-quality service from your competitors. Your USP must be, by definition, unique. Revenue Model How is your business going to make money? Ah, yes, now we’re really getting into the types of things that investors and banks want to know about! Will you make money on a monthly basis, through subscriptions or regular service? Is your income going to be locked to a single purchase per person per lifetime? If so, part of your revenue model needs to include the marketing that would be done to continue to gain new clients. Some points to cover in the revenue model section are: Target market Marketing (basic overview) Income sources Some examples of revenue models are: Licensing-based Interest-based Fee-based Recurring fee Arbitrage Markup There are many different ways to earn revenue. Tell your potential investors in this section which ways you’ll be using. Market Analysis You need to conduct research on your market. Starting a business or deciding to sell a product in the absence of knowing your market is as predictable as spinning the roulette wheel. This section should contain a detailed overview of the market you intend to do business in. Key points to cover in this section are: Market size Market value (e.g. purchasing power per capita, average household income, etc.) Buyer patterns Demographic information Market survey results Regulatory factors Barriers to entry Lead time SWOT Analysis A SWOT analysis is a fundamental tool to be used constantly in business. SWOT stands for: Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats In SWOT analyses, Strengths and Weaknesses are generally considered to be internal. Opportunities and Threats are considered to be external. A SWOT analysis will allow you to take a straight look at your company’s position in relation to itself, its environment and its competitors. It is quite an eye-opener. A SWOT analysis is crucial to ensure that your business actually survives for the next ten years. Do it well, and do it often. Your Competitors You need to know who your competitors are if you want to have any hopes of succeeding. You need to have insight into their profits, business model and revenue model. This might require scouring public records or, for the bold amongst us, actually going to a competitor and outright asking them! You’d be amazed by how many would simply answer you! Much of the information regarding your competitors would’ve been flushed up in the SWOT analysis if it was done properly. Team Profile You need to give a high-impact description of your leadership team and other key figures. This section should be spiced up with professional profile photos of each team member. Don’t bore your readers by copying and pasting endless details from your leadership members’ respective CVs. Mention only the highlights and pay particular attention to aspects that might reassure potential investors that their money is being placed in competent hands. Don’t hesitate to namedrop. If you’re a tech startup and your C-suite has a combined experience of working at Google, Facebook, TransferWise, Square any other high-tech company, mention it — and do so in big, bold letters. Numbers talk. Add factual information about how each of your execs has increased revenue for the companies they previously worked at. If your team profile doesn’t have a high impact, you might want to consider bringing a few people on to nominally occupy key positions so as to reassure investors that their investment is secure. Also, talk about key employees — team leaders and managers. As for the general staff, give an overview of their skills. It also doesn’t harm to add some information about how employees think it’s so great to work at your startup. Marketing Strategy and Goals Next up on the business plan comes the Marketing Strategy. Part of this description must include costs, as well as who will be doing the marketing (i.e. in-house or external). Agencies are notoriously expensive when it comes to preparing a marketing strategy. As a rule of thumb, agencies tend to work better with large brands that have big budgets — TV campaigns and that sort of thing. (There are exceptions to every rule, and there are many agencies that provide stellar service at a great price, too.) Marketing for marketing’s sake is a fantastic way to waste money. Get some tabular data together showing how your marketing spend is going to result in ROI. Actually, break this down into a granular level — how many sales will Campaign A bring in? How many leads will Social Media Marketing Campaign B bring in? Delineate clearly what each goal of the marketing campaign will be. Ultimately, marketing should result in sales (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!), but there are subgoals to sales such as: Brand awareness Lead generation Social media shares And so on. Milestones and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) There’s a well-known concept that often does the rounds on the internet: It takes ten years to be an overnight success. A marathon is not won in a blink. There are milestones to be passed and indicators that determine if the runner is on track to achieve their goal. If a runner is in the top twenty at mile ten of a twenty-seven-mile marathon, and the number one runner is just a few hundred yards ahead, that would be considered a great “Key Performance Indicator”. We know our runner has high chances of winning or at least finishing in the top ten. KPIs come in many flavours, and you have to define them to know if you are on track to achieving your goals. Some examples of KPIs are: Sales target Number of newsletter subscribers in the first year Social media shares per company blog post Engagement statistics Number of products manufactured. P&L Statement/Income Statement Ultimately, if your business does not start earning a profit, it will not survive. For ambitious startups that require a lot of capital before they can really get going, it can take several years before their P&L (Profit and Loss) statement shows them being in the red. A P&L statement (or Income Statement) shows your company’s revenue (“top line”), expenses and net income (“bottom line”) for a given period of time. It also shows precisely where the money is being spent and where it is being earned. The P&L Statement is the brass tacks of business, divorced from high-flown ideas and dreams. If you cannot translate your dream into profit, you will not survive. Even charities must turn a profit to keep going. P&L Statements are prepared as part of a company’s monthly or annual accounts, usually by an accountant. In the case of your startup’s business plan, however, these figures might need to be forecast. (If you are not just starting out, then the P&L Statement provided should be your actual P&L.) Forecasting a P&L Statement is a fairly gruelling administrative exercise, but a very necessary one. You need to know where you’re going to spend your money. And you must know where more money is going to come in from. The P&L links in deeply with the marketing strategy and KPIs. This is one of the key sections that serious investors will spend the most time on. If you need to hire the assistance of an accountant to put it together, then do it Cash Flow Statement Similar to the P&L Statement, this Cash Flow Statement will show projected cash if you’re just starting out. (For established businesses looking for further capital, the Cash Flow Statement in the business plan must be the company’s actual Cash Flow statement.) The P&L’s net income value is the first line in a Cash Flow statement. The P&L tells you how much money the company made. The Cash Flow Statement tells you precisely how much of that money is actually in the bank account. It is a key metric for investors when deciding whether or not to invest in your company. Sources and Uses of Funds Banks and investors want to know where your funds are coming from and what you intend to use them for. This is another one of those financial report sections that give investors serious numbers for them to determine if your startup is a safe bet for them. Optional — Investor Proposition If you’re putting together a business plan primarily for investors as opposed to for a bank, including an Investor Proposition section is crucial to winning those investors over. This section will contain an overview of what is in it for the investor when they invest in your company. It needs to be worded with finesse, and give potential investors a high-level concept of what their investment is going towards. Optional — Investor ROI It’s one thing to look at a Cash Flow Statement, and it’s another to delineate specifically what an investor’s ROI is going to be at the end of the day. GM, for example, is renowned for paying investors with borrowed money. How much return will you bring your investors, and by when? Optional — Investor Exit Strategy Investors feel more comfortable when there is a defined exit strategy in place for their investment. The exit strategy allows investors to liquidate their position if certain criteria exist. Exit strategies exist for businesses that are not profitable as well as for those who have achieved their goals, allowing investors to sell their stock or to remain in the company if they choose. Writing your business plan Your business plan needs to be written professionally, using proper English and good grammar. Many investors understand that entrepreneurs are not necessarily master graduates in English, but some might not. Maybe some fusty bank manager might look at you with disdain if there are too many commas out of place or if you repeatedly used an N-dash instead of an M-dash in your copy. We personally don’t feel that’s right. Unfortunately, whether it’s “right” or not, does not make it less true. Your business plan might be kicked back if it is written improperly. If you are weak in the English language, then hire a copywriter to put the content together after you provide them with all the facts and figures. Adding visual content to your business plan The purpose of your business plan is to get a message across. If your plan is written thoroughly, there will be a tremendous amount of text to consume. Serious investors will take the time to go through it if they are particularly interested in your concept, but even they might have a hard time if the plan comes across as “dull” or “boring”. And, as for investors on the border, they might not get beyond a few pages if the content is too text-centric. Spice the plan up with visuals that add to understanding what you are talking about. In the marketing and sales section, put a chart that shows a correlation between the two. In the product section, put in CGIs of what the product will look like. If you’re developing an app, add screenshots of the prototype. Use your judgment, and utilise just the right amount of visuals to add to understanding without making the business plan seem like a pitch deck. If you think it’s a lot of work, it is If you think this is a lot of work, that’s because it is! Building a business is not for the faint of heart. Seven out of ten businesses collapse in their first ten years. That’s a lot of broken dreams and failed hopes. It is also a lot of wasted money. Putting the work in now to get a thorough Business Plan put together is not merely an administrative exercise. A well-prepared business plan will open your eyes to elements that could hinder your growth now or later. If you need any help putting your business plan together, check out our business plan service for companies seeking funding, from bank loans to government grants to millions of pounds in investment. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
With funding rounds ballooning, and investor expectations becoming higher, it becomes ever more vital for a startup to knock the socks off potential investors. The mainstay of funding is the business plan and the pitch deck (or the “Powerpoint presentation” for those old-school folks among us). A well-prepared and creative business plan is essential to capturing the attention of VCs who, unlike angel investors, want to know precisely “how much they’re going to get in return for their buck” if they invest in your startup. The plan itself must be well-thought-out and appropriately worded. But, often, it also needs to go that extra mile to make an impression and generate momentum and enthusiasm, in the startup’s early stages. In this blog, we’ll cover a few ideas on how to get creative with your business plans, as well as talk about a few other ideas on how to impress investors so that you can get your funding. We aim to completely answer the question, “What makes a business plan outstanding?” But first… What’s the difference between an angel investor and a venture capitalist? An angel investor is not the same as a VC. And the way you pitch one is quite different from how you pitch the other. An angel investor comes into play early in a startup’s existence, perhaps even when the startup is nothing more than an idea and two individuals in a garage. Angel investors are often friends or family who want to help you get off the ground, or simply people who believe strongly enough in an idea to give it the initial impetus it needs to generate momentum. Angel investments are comparatively “small”. An angel investment round might raise anywhere between $25,000 or $250,000, compared to the millions raised in later rounds. Angel investments tend to be much higher risk — the startup hasn’t built up a track record and likely doesn’t have any revenue streams of its own yet. Raising capital from an angel investor might be as simple as having a conversation in someone’s study over a drink. Venture Capitalist firms, however, work entirely differently. Venture Capitalism is a business model. Investing is what they do. Because the entire business model of a venture capitalist firm is built around obtaining return for their investments, they tend to demand seeing some numbers and financial forecasts which are rock solid. Fluffy graphics or cute multimedia presentations without any substance will get you nowhere with a VC. So, first and foremost, your business idea must be solid. It must be workable. The plan itself must have a real chance of succeeding. “Spicing up” a business plan can only come afterwards. Think of it as icing on a cake. The icing will get you to the cream in the middle. Make sure your unique business plan has cream in the middle. Multimedia Business Plans One amazing way to spice up your business plan and grab attention is to create a multimedia business plan. The plan could contain links inside it to video, sound and other immersive files on the web; or it could be done entirely in video format. Ideally, you would provide a text version of the plan as well, with time notations to show where the different sections begin. This way, if the VC wanted to jump forward to your Profit and Loss forecasts, they could simply open up the document, see the time notation on it, and forward the multimedia presentation to that point. Professional Video Using professional video in an outstanding business plan is a great way to capture attention. If a picture paints a thousand words, then a video records ten million. Think of a movie trailer — that’s the kind of quality you would need for each section of your business plan to really get your message across and show that you mean business. Not only is video a great way to capture attention, but a video is also easy to understand and grasp quickly. A professionally prepared video summarising each section of the business plan might be just the thing needed to turn mild interest into deep concentration. Interactive Business Plan Hire some web developers and create a fully immersive, interactive business plan. Put together calculators that allow VCs to see what their ROI or your P&L figures might be, depending on variables they input themselves, such as sales, marketing, production costs, etc. Cartoon Graphics Business Plan Maybe a ton of cartoon graphics might not work for the latest FinTech startup that wants to communicate how slick its new offering is. But it would certainly work for a startup that plans on revolutionising CGI movies or the way animated videos are done. Try and pepper your business plan with motifs of the specific product or service you are bringing to the world. The key is to transform that business plan from a flat, dull offering into something tangible and palpable. Animated Video Business Plan Animated videos are an excellent way to get a message across with minimal distractions and maximum impact. They are usually short, to the point and fun to watch. Using animated video to explain your service or products is a brilliant way to give VCs a summary of each section of your business plan without them having to lose a lot of time poring through it. This way, they would be able to quickly see your entire offering at a glance. Develop an app This is where the doors of creativity really start to open wide! Entrepreneurship is all about creativity. No one entrepreneur can come up with a single formula for success because success depends so much on the brilliance of that entrepreneur’s creative mind. Look at Elon Musk, for example. Or Steve Jobs, for that matter. These two people have changed the course of tech forever. The products they developed were nowhere on anyone’s radar until they actually came out, and now we can’t imagine living without them. The same is true for developing an app to encapsulate your business plan. But why stop only at the business plan? You could have the app send a notification to a VC every time you hit a financial milestone. You could use it to keep them intimately connected to your business, perhaps even offering them a secure chat option via the app where they could get a hold of you immediately for any questions they might have. The app could contain news, maps of where you have opened up branches, etc. Or the app could simply walk the VC through your business plan with interactive elements that allowed them to understand each section of the business plan better. These days, it is so simple to develop an app that there is no excuse to omit this option when trying to make your business plan stand out. VR Business Plan Why stop at multimedia! Virtual Reality Marketing has taken the world by storm, with more and more companies leveraging VR to add that extra oomph to their marketing campaigns. By hiring a VR company to generate a VR version of your product or service, you can immerse your potential VC in ways never dreamed of before. VCs will be able to see and experience your offering long before it is ready to go to market. Often, an entrepreneur and those closest to them are the only ones who truly see a company’s vision clearly. Indeed, a Vision Statement is a key part of any business plan. But why stop at a mere statement? Turn that vision into a reality by sending a Google Cardboard viewer along with your Business Plan so that the investor can view your VR presentation on their phone. That’s the finest way we know of to turn your vision into their vision. Business Plan Gamification Successful funding rounds are as much about the buzz as they are about the substance. One way to spice up your business plan and your funding round is to introduce gamification techniques to it. It’s important to keep this professional. VCs and Private Equity firms likely don’t want to play “the first one to invest gets a higher share” game. Still, they might indeed appreciate a certain degree of leaderboard status with commensurate recognition for their investments. This is a tricky one to navigate — one doesn’t want to alienate investors who have invested less than others. But, with some degree of creativity, a certain amount of gamification can certainly be introduced which turns the seed round — and the business plan driving it — into something hot and worth getting excited about. Infographics Utilise infographics to convey the essential elements of your business plan quickly. There are even automated tools that allows you to do this easily, although we personally recommend hiring some pros to create something unique to you and your brand. You could use an infographic at the start of each major section of the plan, or just one large infographic at the beginning, summarising all that will follow. Big-shot endorsements If a big name has endorsed your product, put a link to a video of them saying so at the start of your business plan. (Or, if you’ve opted for a digital plan, embed the video in it.) A “big name” is whatever your investor thinks it is, not necessarily a celebrity. (Although, a celeb endorsing your product might inspire confidence in investors that your product will initially sell well.) Remember that your investors want to be assured that: Your product has a future. They will make their return on their investment. To them, a “big name” might be another highly respected investor that took a gamble on you or your company and then won. Think of your business plan as a piece of art Art gets a bad rap, possibly because not enough artists are also business people. But art is everywhere in the business world, and the finest examples of marketing and salesmanship stem from programs and ideas that utilise artistic principles at their core. The Coca-Cola Christmas commercial of 2020 is a masterpiece of cinematographic art. It encompasses emotionally-driven storytelling and high-impact visuals to get a powerful message across to its viewers. Amazon likewise created a stunning 2020 commercial titled “The Show Must Go On”, drawing upon the same artistic skills in storytelling, empathy, human emotion and powerful impact. What does this have to do with business plans, you ask? The answer is twofold: Emotional Impact. Artistic Professionalism. Emotional Impact Business is as much about emotion as it is about numbers. Ultimately, businesses appeal to people, and one of th e things investors will look at is what emotional impact your product will have on the market. The surest way to impart that emotional impact is to generate that same emotional reaction in the investors themselves — you need to get them excited about your product. You need to get them feeling that same sense of drive and belief that this is something the world needs, and which customers will adopt. Imagine Amazon was an unknown and that it was about to go into a Series A round of funding. What impact would the “The Show Must Go On” ad have on potential investors? A huge one. And they would certainly put their money into a company that had put the time and thought into making something of that calibre. Why? Because the ad appeals to human emotion, and human emotion is a tremendous force when determining purchasing decisions. Human emotion drives the markets. Social media faux pas leading to emotional revulsion can have catastrophic consequences on brands and images. Just look at how much effort big corporations put into ensuring they are loved (human emotion) by the public. The key thing to understand here is that human emotion is a quality elicited by artistic presentation, which then results in tangible financial gains because of the public’s adoption of that product or service. Artistic Professionalism By now, you should’ve realised that raising “the big bucks” requires a large degree of professionalism. That doesn’t mean you need to necessarily walk around in a suit all day — but it also doesn’t mean that you don’t. DIY might work to get your mum and dad and maybe the elderly neighbour to angel-invest in your garage product, but those homebaked Canva images can only get you so far when it comes to raking in the big cash for investment. You will eventually need to hire pros. Indeed, preparing a business plan isn’t only up to the C-suite and the accountant. It’s also up to the marketing department. After you and the finance team have crunched the numbers and put together your forecasts, bring in the marketing team or even an external agency to finesse that plan into something that will elicit an array of powerful human emotions. Bring people in who will take those numbers and work out the best way to present them artistically and professionally. Think of your business plan as a first-date It helps to think of your business plan, pitch deck and live-event startup pitch as a first-date. Maybe the investors have heard of you; maybe they haven’t. But it’s a date — they want to fall in love, and they want to find “the one”. Love is all about the burgeoning excitement in the beginning which will carry you through the hard times which inevitably appear years down the line. Your business plan and startup pitch are the first date. You need to show your best side, try and impress, save the talk about your incurable snoring until later on. Your startup’s snoring won’t matter that much if there are plenty of other things to love about it. But if you put the snoring up front and centre, you’re unlikely to go on date number two. Yes, it’s a lot of work. Yes, it might feel like it’s all just PR and that your once-pristine dream of changing the world is being reduced to the shady give-and-take which drives our capitalistic world. Alas, that is business. And, if you want to change the world, you need to play by the rules of business. By all means, keep your dreams, and even try to convey those dreams to investors using artistic presentation. But understand that seeing those dreams come to life will require you to write a hard-selling business plan, deliver spectacular pitches, appeal to people’s emotions and talk in terms of money and return on investment. If you can talk the language of business, you can gain support for your business. If you do it with finesse, and you’ll win. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
So, you had a great business idea in the middle of the night, and now you’re ready to quit your day job and start a new business! But is the business idea that great? And is the idea backed up by a workable business model and business plan? Does the business idea furnish good opportunities? Goodness me — are you confused yet? Well, hopefully, you won’t be after reading this article. What is a business idea? In the usual business terminology, a business idea refers to the overall notion of what your business is going to be about. At the stage of an idea, a business has no real plan behind it. Think of the business idea as the seed from which the central model and opportunities will grow. The basic idea needs to be one that has potential for growth. Sometimes, the idea is sound, but the current landscape won’t allow for growth — this can be likened to a perfectly good seed that wouldn’t grow in the desert. For example, opening up a restaurant might be a great idea, but doing it during a nationwide lockdown won’t allow for initial growth. Every business idea needs to be tested. The best way to test your business idea is to pitch it to a specialist consultant who is experienced in all matters of business, including legal, accounting, entrepreneurial, etc. We offer this service at Start My Business. Business Idea vs Concept? Really, we’re not going to get into overly semantic discussions of theory here describing the difference between an idea and a concept. In the business world, you can use the two terms interchangeably. Business Idea vs Business Opportunities? Although you might have an excellent business idea, there might be no opportunities to execute that idea. Sometimes, the solution to that is to simply create those opportunities. Other times, it might appear that the opportunity isn’t there when it is actually just hidden. An opportunity is a chance to gain an advantage. If you’re selling umbrellas and you see someone standing in the rain with no umbrella — that’s an opportunity. The idea doesn’t need to come before the opportunity. Sometimes, people see an opportunity and then come up with a business idea. If you sell umbrellas, but there isn’t a cloud in the sky, you can create an opportunity by renaming the umbrellas to parasols. That way, you create an opportunity for people to buy a parasol and protect themselves from the sun. Or there might not be a cloud in the sky, but the forecast says rain is guaranteed within the next hour. That’s a hidden opportunity. Business Idea vs Business Model? Think of the business model as the overall structure of the business — how it will make money, who it will target, where it will be located. Some people refer to the business model as a business plan. That’s not correct. A business plan is a very specific thing (which we’ll discuss in a moment), full of numbers and figures and marketing strategies. The business model can be summarised in short phrases. Here are some examples of business models: Apple: Providing highest-in-class tech and hardware for personal use, and following it up with stellar service. Uber: Empowering the average person on the street to earn a wage by driving people around safely, and at a far lower price and in a more convenient way than traditional transport methods. Airbnb: Similar to Uber, but for accommodation. Business Idea vs Business Plan? A business plan is a tremendously intricate thing that a company absolutely must have in order to obtain any sort of financial assistance to get off the ground. A business plan would incorporate the business idea and model into it. A business plan really gets down into the nitty-gritty of everything. How is the company going to make sales? How is it going to market itself? What is its precise product and service? A business plan must include Profit and Loss predictions, Cash Flow predictions, a SWOT analysis, Milestones and KPIs, and so on. The more funding your company might need, the more detailed your business plan must be. We offer a service to create a professional business plan for your business. Bringing It All Together All businesses start off with a Business Idea or Concept. Sometimes that idea or concept is only half-formed, but it becomes clearer as one analyzes the available opportunities and starts working out one’s business model and business plan. Business Ideas sometimes appear as a result of spotting an opportunity. Often, a business idea is determined to be unsound because no opportunities exist. In this case, it is sometimes possible to create opportunities or to find hidden opportunities. Opportunities continue to reveal themselves during a business’s lifecycle. Working out your business plan often reveals many hidden opportunities. Once you have the business idea in place and some notion of the opportunities that are present or need to be created, you can start to work out the business model and the business plan. Preparing a business plan is an enormous task, and often it is best done using professional advisers. That’s why it is absolutely vital to test your business idea thoroughly by pitching it to an expert before doing anything further with it. Knowing if your business idea is fundamentally sound before embarking on the formidable task of preparing a full and complete business plan is crucial to prevent yourself from wasting endless time. But it is also crucial to save yourself a lot of heartaches. Nothing stings worse than believing firmly in an idea that simply cannot succeed but realising it too late. You must test your business ideas out! About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Knowing how to find the perfect name for your business is crucial to ensuring your business’s future success. Not only must the name be memorable and catchy, but it also needs to be checked against words in other languages to ensure that it doesn’t express something silly. For example, one of Vauxhall’s first vehicles was called the Nova. The car was manufactured in Spain but the word “Nova” in Spanish means “Go slow” or “Not working”. Finding a name for a business is not only about brainstorming a business name. You need to ensure that you have gone through all possible business name ideas, and had them vetted against trademark infringements, as well as put through a language filter. In this article, we will give several tried and tested tips to find a name for your business. Think long-term The goal of any business is to grow. Many times, a business will start off in one area and then expand over to multiple areas. Google is an excellent example of this. They started out as search but now offer email, mobile phone software, mapping, etc. Montblanc has a similar story. They used to sell pens and only pens. Now they sell various luxury gifts for male and female business executives. If Montblanc’s name had been “Mont Pens”, they would never have been able to expand into the broader product range as they did. Avoid hard-to-spell or long names A good company name should roll off the tongue. These days, a company name should also be something that people hear and can then type into their browsers, simply adding a “dot com” to the end of the name. Dot Com still dominates the world of web addresses by far. If your name is too long or difficult to spell, people won’t be able to intuitively visit your website to know more. Ensure the name has a ring to it The name must “sound” good when people say it. Consider these brand names: Twitter Google Nike Facebook Instagram Mitsubishi Every one of them has a unique feel and flavour to it. Every single one of them has a certain pleasing sound and ring to it. Sure, much of that has to do with the fact that many of these brands are household names, and we’ve grown accustomed to their sound and meaning. But part of their growth is the fact that their business names were well chosen. Check the meaning of your name in other languages Whether you’re IKEA or Reebok, not knowing what your brand or product name means in other languages can have catastrophic (and sometimes hilarious) consequences. IKEA released the “Fartfull” desk once upon a time. And Reebok thought that “Incubus” might be a good name for women’s running shoes. (Say what!? Yes, you heard that right. And that awful name meant they had to eventually take the shoe off the market.) This is bad enough for product names. It is completely devastating for brand and company names. To be entirely safe, you might want to get some help in naming your business. Check the availability of the name on the internet Ideally, you need to name your business in such a way that the domain of the business can be YourBusinessName.com. This might mean coming up with slight spelling variations, but it is critical to have a domain name which matches up with your business name. Some people get around this by looking for a .co.uk or other ending for their domains. While this is indeed an option (and should be done anyway), it is not a great one. A rule of thumb is that, if the .com domain does not exist, you might need to consider a different name. Yes, that reduces the options a lot. But our next tip might help you with that. Brainstorm multiple company names It’s better to choose a name from many options than from only one or two. Call some friends and family over and have a brainstorming session together. Bring out the snacks and get the creative juices flowing. Or, if they can’t come over because a lockdown or other reason, have a video conference. Ask an expert for assistance It can indeed get overwhelming, which is why sometimes it’s vital to ask an expert for assistance. Our business naming service is one option for finding a name for your business. Use a name generator tool If you don’t have time, try using a name generation tool such as Shopify’s tool or Naming.net. This website has other choices. Of course, you do need to triple-check names from automatic naming tools to ensure the name is not already being used by someone else. Convey a positive meaning It’s important to convey positivity with your name. Even if people don’t buy from you the first time they see an ad of yours, they will start to adopt an idea of your business from the advertising you do. It’s important to build a positive image in people’s minds regarding your brand to make them more amenable to purchasing from you in the future. Having a positive meaning in your business name goes a long way to ensuring this. Think visual Finally, try and imagine what your name will look like visually. How might it appear on a business logo or banner ad? Designing banner ads and business logos is something best left to the pros, but that doesn’t mean you should completely disassociate yourself from it. Try and, at least, visualise how that name might look on your branding materials when coming up with the business’s name. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
There are few phrases which define themselves and yet can still create so much confusion. One such phrase is “Digital Poster”. Why do people get confused when they hear about this? We look at digital posters all the time — at bus stops, on large-scale TV screens, inside retail stores, outside malls, and so on. Digital Posters are exactly what they sound like. They’re posters. And they’re digital! What the word doesn’t say, however, is that they’re also awesome. How does a digital poster work? Digital posters can be static, or they can utilise motion graphics. They can also get really fancy: There is such a thing as an interactive digital poster equipped with a touch-screen. Check out this video of an interactive digital poster at an airport. (And, for the record, we love Michael Kors.) In order to create an interactive digital poster, you do need to invest in the right kind of screen as well as the right software to display your poster. We’ll talk about this in a second. The unbelievably high-tech digital poster in the screenshot below, from THINK! Road Safety utilises something more than just a touchscreen and digital display. It also has a special compartment in order for users to interact fully with the device. Such advertising is priceless. Well, okay, it’s not priceless; it’s no-doubt very pricey. But we show you the above examples for you to get an idea of how much potential digital posters have. They are limited only by someone’s imagination. And, as a bonus, think of all those saved trees! Didn’t we say that digital posters are awesome? Like any other poster, a digital poster for a business must be targeted to a specific audience. You wouldn’t put a digital poster advertising Coca-Cola at a weight-loss gathering, eh? To get ready to start displaying your own digital posters, you’re going to need a few things. A screen Digital poster software An amazing digital poster design Digital poster screen This can be a simple TV or computer monitor, or a screen dedicated specifically to digital posters. Really, if you’re going to do digital posters properly (which we’re sure you are), then you should invest in one of the many digital poster display screens available out there today. An entire industry has grown up around this subject. Teksmart is one company that specialises in digital poster displays. (Oh, and we’re not getting paid to tell you about Teksmart, by the way.) The above screenshot shows one of their displays, specifically designed for displaying indoor digital posters. Generally speaking, indoor displays tend to be smaller than outdoor ones as they are often used to convey further information about a product. They also don’t need to be as robust as outdoor displays. Teksmart also offers a number of outdoor displays, as shown in the image above. The signs are robust and weather-proofed, allowing posters to be displayed in any weather. If you run a business where your sign will need to be outside in inclement weather, these devices might be a good choice for your digital poster needs. Screenly.io, which provides digital poster display software, recommends the NEC P-series and NEC V-series of displays for commercial-grade displays that need to be used outside, or that need to be on reliably, 24 hours a day. The NEC P and V Series offer a plethora of features for truly sophisticated display signage. One cool feature is its real-time clock. This allows digital signage software to change the poster being shown at specific times of the day. A lot goes into choosing the right screen for your digital poster. Weather is just one consideration. Some screens come with software for digital signage built right into them. Others require that you purchase additional software. Sometimes, additional software is required anyway. A wide choice exists. And the device you will display the poster on will likely carry the heftiest price tag in your overall digital poster investment. So study all the options available, not the least of which is the quality of the screen itself, and how good your digital poster looks on it. A simple online search will find you a number of items in addition to the ones above for you to look into. Example of Outdoor Digital Poster Digital poster software Digital poster software is software specific to displaying digital poster content on a screen. It takes care of such things as transitions, brightness, display length for each poster, scheduling, and a number of other key things. This “digital media software” can run directly inside the digital poster display that you’ve purchased, in which case all you would need to do is load the posters into the display via a USB stick or an SD card or some other method. Or the software can run independently, connected to the device wirelessly or via a cable. Another choice is a cloud option which integrates both of the above. Besides, it’s the 21st century. Everything runs on the cloud. Screenly.io sells a device that you must connect to your screens in order to transfer media to them and to control them remotely using Screenly’s online platform. Using this solution allows you to control innumerable signs around the globe, provided they are all connected to your Screenly account. This is a great solution if you run a central office that wants to push out nationwide promotional content on a schedule without the hassle of exchanging fifty-gazillion (yes, that’s an actual number) emails and WhatsApp messages to coordinate the timing of those digital posters. Man, some people are so 20th century, y’know? Another interesting offering in the signage software arena is QuickESign. QuickESign works with Roku devices to offer an easy way to push content to outdoor signs and then manage them using an online dashboard. You can use QuickESign if your TV has Roku integrated into it, or with your Amazon FireStick, or directly via Roku devices. Like everything else in this arena, a simple search will give you a myriad of choices to select from. A professional digital poster design You don’t want to skimp on this. One of the key benefits of digital posters is that they grab attention. Slight design-flaws in small-scale designs are bad enough, but in a large-scale digital poster, they can be catastrophic. Pick out a few quid from your pocket and send that money over to the best of the best pros (that’s us, of course) for an expertly designed digital poster. Benefits of digital posters Well, the environment, duh! Think of all those poor trees they had to cut down to make your poster! But there are other benefits, too. Digital posters are easy to change if you have a digital poster displaying on multiple screens across the country and then discover — uh-oh! — that there was a typo in it (it happens). In that case, all you would need to do is send over the new design and, hesto-presto, your updated poster is live. If you’re displaying digital posters in your local branch on, say, TV screens on the wall, then changing the poster is as easy as pie, especially if you’re using the right digital poster management software. Digital posters are easy to update They’re cost-effective Not only would you save if a change to the poster is needed, but you also save on printing costs. (And think of all those saved trees and forests and happy squirrels!) They’re also “time-effective”. (Is that even a word? Now it is.) Imagine the hassle of needing to rush over to the printers to get a new poster printed up because you just had another price change. Remember the days of having to print posters? Goodness, by the time those tree-killing posters arrived, your prices might’ve changed again. Save trees. And save time. Get a digital poster. (Hey, that could be our slogan.) Rotating messages But, goodness me, why stop there? If these digital posters are so easy to modify (which they are, in case you didn’t get that), then why only change them if there’s a typo or — heavens forbid — some politically incorrect message on there! You could generate multiple versions of the digital poster and show those different versions throughout the day. This prevents your poster from becoming “stale”. If the digital poster is being displayed at a bus stop, someone who catches the bus every day might “stop seeing” the poster altogether because their mind grows so accustomed to it. Even only slight changes to a digital poster can grab someone’s attention. Such changes can include: Changing the model but keeping the pose similar Changing the pose of the model Slight colour variations The trick is to keep the overall look constant so that the viewer associates that look with your brand. You don’t want to create a completely different message for each rotating poster. Digital posters are more easily seen. Digital posters have the benefit of being backlit by a screen. That means they’re more likely to be seen. If the poster uses motion graphics, then that’s more likely to catch attention as well. Oh, and we forgot to mention the coolest bananas of them all: Remember all that funky-dunky stuff in Minority Report where ads were tailored to the people walking past them? Well, duh, that tech is, like, right here already. Although this feature has more to do with the software management and screen that is being used to display the poster, it is nonetheless cool-beans to know about. Digital posters can be interactive. Hello, touchscreens! Where to use digital posters No, seriously, everywhere! Fine, fine, you probably wouldn’t go stick up a digital poster on that dingy wall behind the train station where every new EDM artist, underground club and extreme- left-or-right political organisation has put tree-killing posters. But… Below is a screenshot from a promotional video for AERO LED Digital Poster Displays, demonstrating anywhere and everywhere this company wants you to put their display! Dif Like, everywhere.ferent locations have different purposes. The key is to have the screens in place, and then to determine the type of poster or message to put on those screens. Much of this is up to your creativity and marketing skills. It is also up to how much you want to spend on displays, keeping in mind that outdoor displays are more expensive. Examples of the different types of displays But here are some tips: Outdoor screens should grab attention and get people to come inside your store. The posters on these screens should be large and bright, and likely utilise tremendous amounts of motion graphics. In-store advertising using digital posters should probably be less noticeable and more informative. Inside your store, you want people to be touching your products, looking at them, and then perhaps glancing up at a screen to get some more information about them. To this end, in-store digital display posters should be more muted, contain more text for information, and perhaps even utilise interactive features for people to learn more about a product. Of course, if you have a product you want to attract people’s attention to, then place a large digital poster next to that product to bring them to that part of the store. Where else are digital display posters displayed? You’ve probably walked past that digital poster in the tube a thousand times and never realised it was a digital poster until now, right? Ka-tching! We’re all about public service here. And, yes, that ginormous massive screen you’ve seen at events was probably also a digital poster. Displaying posters in such high-traffic locations requires entering into a contract with whoever owns those screens and that display space. But displaying them inside your retail store requires no such contract (unless you have elves who help you out at night — but that’s between you and the elves to sort out). Are digital posters more effective than traditionally printed posters? Say whaaaaaat!? Like, are you really asking that question? What about all those trees! Digital posters are far better than traditional posters. Oh, okay, you really want to know. Well, fear not, we’ll tell you: Yes, and yes again. Comparing digital signage to physical posters is like comparing Sir Jack Hobbs to, well, Homer Simpson. (And, for those of you too young to get that cultural reference, go ahead and read this article about England’s greatest cricketers.) The power of digital signage has been written about here and here and here and… We could go on. The most important thing to remember. The absolute-most-important thing to know here is that the digital poster design must be of the highest possible quality. Using Google Slides just isn’t going to cut it. Sorry, you Google Slides experts. Sure, some of the display devices we spoke about can get expensive, but you can always start out with an old computer screen and computer. If the digital poster has been designed well, it will still look good. But if the design is bad, no fancy screen or software will make it look better. In fact, the fancier the screen, the worse a bad design will look. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
If successful logo design was only about making something that looks “pretty” or “cute”, an entire industry would not have sprung up around it. Knowing how to design a successful logo requires an in-depth knowledge of multiple design elements and how to put them all together to create something that is not only appealing but also conveys your brand’s message and ethos. The don’ts of company logo design 1. Constantly changing your company’s logo The reason some people change their logos so often is that they didn’t do it right the first time. That’s why it’s vital to spend the time (and sometimes the money) in getting a logo done correctly the first time. Changing your logo too often means you cannot build up any awareness for your brand. It confuses people and is just generally lousy marketing. 2. Splashing a gazillion colours into it Too much colour in a logo can be confusing for people. If your logo doesn’t look good when you look at it as a small image, then something is wrong with it. Usually what’s wrong is that you’ve gone overboard on the colours. Stick to only a few colours, and ensure they follow the basic rules of the colour wheel. 3. Crazy amounts of detail! Take it easy on the detail when designing your logo. Remember the golden rule: If it doesn’t look good when shrunk, something is wrong with it. Use lines and shapes to convey simple concepts, not elaborate details that would do better on a billboard. Using drop shadows is also a bad idea because it makes the overall design more complicated than it should be. 4. Overdoing the fonts The subject of fonts is enormous. It takes years of practice and dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of study to learn the subject thoroughly. A common mistake a lot of beginners make is: Using too many fonts in one design Using the wrong font in a design You should aim for no more than two fonts in your logo design. The wrong font can also make something illegible. Too many fonts in a small makes it look terribly cluttered. 5. Wingdings If you’re not a professional designer, you might be tempted to use some funky font to get images from — like Microsoft’s wingdings. This is a fundamentally bad design error on many levels, but if you need some reasons, here are two: The design won’t be original, and that’s an awful idea when building a brand. Fonts are copyrighted. Using a font as a main design element might lead to a legal grey area. The dos of successful company logo design 1. Understand your target market When designing anything for your brand, you must, must, must understand your target market. To completely understand your target market might require conducting independent research. It is a crucial element to getting a logo design that will resonate with potential buyers. Not conducting proper market research might even lead to a logo that offends your target market. 2. Test the logo in multiple sizes Unlike banner images and other brand identity items, your logo will go everywhere. It needs to look good, both as a large design, and a tiny one. Test the logo at various sizes in order to ensure that the design works at all scales. 3. Ensure people can read it If your logo incorporates text into it, be sure that the text is legible. This isn’t only a matter of logo size, although that plays a role in it as well. This also has to do with the type of font chosen. Sometimes, fonts look different when printed as compared to when they are viewed on a screen. People tend to prefer sans serif fonts on a screen as opposed to serif fonts when reading something that has been printed. Does your chosen font look good both in printed and digital form? Colour contrast also plays a role here. Which brings us to point number 4. 4. Use good contrast Make sure that the font or design contrasts correctly with the background. It isn’t only visually impaired people who might have difficulty viewing your logo if its contrast is not correct. Try multiple variations in colour to ensure good contrast. 5. Survey the completed logo Great! You finished your logo! Now it’s time to test it. If you’ve been bent over a design for weeks or months, you can end up a little blind to its flaws. It’s time to survey your logo. The survey needs to be extensive. Ask people all the following questions: Do they like the logo? What is the first thing they think about when they see it? Would they consider buying from your company if they saw that logo? What didn’t they like about it, if anything? What was their overall first impression? Also, be sure to survey only people in your target market. A millennial might have different opinions on a logo than a typical baby boomer. Hiring a professional to design your company logo Too many people make the error of thinking that, because a logo is small, that it doesn’t require a professional company logo design service to create it. Actually, the opposite is true. The smaller the design, the more skill is required to create it. Because it can look pretty messy if it doesn’t scale properly. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
It seems that every brand, large or small, has a mobile app these days. But when one starts looking for sulutions to building your own mobile app, the results can be daunting. New businesses that are low on a budget can sometimes be put off mobile app development by the costs invulved in getting your own mobile app developed. Some try to go at it alone, only to become confused by the number of platforms out there as well as the complexities to getting an app put into Google Play or the App Store. Mobile app development terminulogy is another standard stumbling block to getting your mobile app developed. The world is rife with cryptic nomenclatures such as “native” and “UX” and other seemingly meaningless terms which only leave a newcomer feeling befuddled. What does that even MEAN? In this post, we’ll cover a wide range of topics to help you figure out: If mobile apps really are that important for your business. Who to hire to build a mobile app for your business. The basic mobile app development landscape, so you have some basic direction on where to go. How to build a mobile app with no coding skills (if you really want to go that route). And a bunch of other essential tips. This article won’t teach you how to build a custom mobile app for your business. But it will give you a basic understanding of the mobile app development arena so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not it is for you. And, if you do decide to build an app, you’ll be far better prepared to do it as a result of the knowledge gained in this post. Let’s get to it. Understanding basic mobile app development nomenclature This is by no means a complete list of terms, but it covers some of the most common and difficult ones. (We didn’t include any extremely advanced terms here on purpose.) Alpha Version and Beta Version: Alpha versions are highly unstable versions of apps that still need testing in-house. Beta versions are versions which have been thoroughly tested in-house and are ready for “closed beta” (limited number of users) or “open beta” (released to the public). Beta versions are expected to still have bugs that must be fixed. How long can software stay in beta version? Well, Gmail was famously in beta for five years! Bug: This is a flaw in some computer code. It is the bane of every programmer’s existence. If you do develop and release an app, you will become extremely familiar with the term “bug” as users start using your app and reporting any and every bug they find. Believe it or not, the origin of this word goes back to an actual bug (a moth, to be precise) found by Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper at the Harvard Faculty in the Computation Laboratory where she was working on the Navy’s “Mark II” computer. She kept the bug, and that first bug now resides at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. That was way back in 1946. Native code: We are going to keep this very simple! Basically, “native” code is code which runs directly within the phone’s operating system and which can interact more deeply with the phone’s hardware. (For those programmers amongst you, we know that the above definition is not entirely correct. But if you’re already a programmer, why are you reading this section!?) OS: Operating System. This is, basically, the software that runs the phone. The two biggest OSs on the market these days are Android (from Google) and iOS (from Apple). Apps need to be developed independently for each OS. When you use a development system like Start My Business’s Build Your Own Mobile App toul, you only develop using one interface. But the system then takes your code and separates it in the background and provides a version that is compatible with the Android OS and iOS. Nifty, eh? Push notification: These are notifications that the user receives when the app is not running. UI: The user interface. Essentially, what the user sees when they interact with the app: The buttons, the graphics, the screens, the text, the font, etc. This has a strong relation to the “UX”, which we define next. UX: “User Experience”. This is also often used in web design. It embraces the overall experience of the user when using the website or mobile app and can include factors such as: Latency period from the time of clicking a button to completing an action. Aesthetics of design (culour contrast, size of buttons, etc.). Understanding where mobile apps run Okay, we talked about OSs (operating systems) and “native code” above. (If you didn’t read the above and are unsure what those terms mean,, please have a quick look. We defined them very simply, just for you!) Apps written using native code can only run in the operating system for which they were written. For example, if you want to write an app that utilises Android-specific push notification features, you’re going to need to create the app using something like Android Studio (which is an extremely advanced toul made for programmers). If you want to build for Windows, you would need to use something like Windows Visual Studio. For iOS, you need a Mac and XCode. Sheesh. Overwhelmed yet? Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. All these proprietary companies have gone and developed their own stores and their own code and made life difficult for the rest of us. This is one of the reasons businesses avoid getting into app development altogether. To create an app for all those platforms used to require knowledge and skills pertaining to each one, as well as separate touls for each one. This is the reason so many companies hire out agencies to develop their apps for them. Fortunately, using a system like Start My Business’s Build Your Own Mobile App toul, all you need to do is build your app on one platform, and then our system takes care of the rest for you behind the scenes. What are Native vs HTML5 vs Hybrid Apps? One of the attempts at standardising this proprietary mess has been to create apps using HTML only. HTML5 (HyperText Markup Language, Version 5) runs in the browser — in any browser, in fact. Basically, an HTML5 app is really just a glorified web page. Essentially, people design a mobile-friendly web page that does specific things, and then they “package” it in a specific way that it can be installed as an app on the target OS. The details of this are difficult to explain in an article of this nature, where we want to keep things simple. But the most important things you need to know are: Native apps are, basically, “full-featured” apps and can make full use of the internal functions of the operating system itself (push notifications, email functionality, GPS, you name it). HTML5 apps are really web pages. Hybrid apps are a blend of HTML5 code and native code. Writing apps in native code used to mean having to learn (and invest in) various disparate touls to develop on. These days, this problem is best sulved by either hiring an agency to develop the app for you or using an app development system that takes care of the internal plumbing on its own, letting you design the app on one system only. NOW we’re learning the good stuff! Who to hire for mobile app development? Agencies Only a few years ago, hiring an agency was really your only option. Windows had just come on the market, and a bunch of companies got on the bandwagon and started developing Windows Store apps. That added even more pressure to companies wanting to bring an app to market because they needed to invest even more heavily in development touls and resources. But Windows never really took off. In fact, as of 2020, Windows market share is pretty much sunk in the gutter. Windows has a phone? So, that left iOS and Android. Still, those two platforms are wildly different from each other, and it’s rare to find a freelancer that can do a stellar job on both. The choice, therefore, came down to agencies. The rule of thumb with agencies, however, is that they’re pricier. They have a full team behind them. They have specialists in each of the different platforms. Goodness, some of them probably even still have Windows Phone developers! Many agencies offer additional services to add value to their usually hefty price tag. If you’re a massive company or have just secured £100 million in seed funding, an agency might be the way forward for you. Although their prices can be heavy, the best agencies do deliver stellar apps. But, yes, price, price, price. As your business grows and your app needs more and more features, or perhaps even fundamental modifications, working with an agency can start to take its tull. You said it costs HOW much!? Freelancers Professional freelancers are generally a pleasure to work with. As with agencies, however, they have their pros and cons. Our advice to you when searching for a freelancer to deliver any service is: Stick with the pros. These pros will never be the cheapest. Have a discovery interview with them and try and “feel out” what it might be like to do business with them. The problems with freelancers for mobile app development are: The best freelancers get busy very quickly. They might not be able to handle your issues as a top priority if ten bugs from four different clients came in at 9:00 AM that morning and the freelancer has six Zoom calls scheduled for the day. Excellent Android developers are rarely also excellent iOS developers. The best developers are generally cheaper than agencies, but they can still carry a hefty price tag in themselves. Yourself? Sure. Why not? Now that there are touls to develop your own app. Yes, absulutely, you could build your own app. Of course I can code. Of course, what you don’t pay with money you will pay with time — there is always a learning curve, even for the simplest of systems. But, on a long-term basis, developing your own mobile app for your business means you’ll be able to save valuable coins that you can invest elsewhere, such as in marketing the app. It’s important when starting your own business, to progress in easy steps and to make steady progress along the way. It’s far too easy to get carried away when looking at titans such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs. Entrepreneurs rightly want to get their ideas out there and show the world what they have to offer. But Bezos started off delivering packages himself in his garage, and Elon Musk developed cars to drive on roads before he developed spaceships. Instead of investing heavily and trying to make the best app ever known to mankind in the first launch, rather start small and build on from there. Developing the first version of an app yourself might be the best way to do it. How to promote your business’s mobile app Even the best apps need to be promoted. And they need to be promoted in such a way that the promotion picks up momentum and then eventually starts to promote itself. Here are some common mistakes people make when working out an app’s marketing plan: Apps don’t sell themselves. Yes, we’ve said it a few times. But it’s important to understand that, even if the app is spectacular, you do need several hundred — or possibly even several thousand — early adopters to start using the app and generate some buzz about it. Your competitors are also building apps. You need to keep your ear to the ground for what your competitors are doing. Ideally, your app falls into a disruptive field, offering something that has never been offered before. If you’re building, say, a new social media platform, you’re going to have a far steeper climb than if you were building something that hasn’t been done before. Some ideas on how to generate buzz for your app include: Open sourcing the app. Building a community is a great way to generate interest in an app. It’s also a great way to have the app developed at no cost. This option only makes sense, however, if you have some proprietary service that the app connects to in order to function. Spending a little bit of money. Leaving marketing up to the Fates is never a great idea if you’re serious about succeeding. An essential lesson in business is to be intelligent about what you’re spending on and to spend it effectively. Never spending a penny on promotion is fully. Amazing internet banners. Internet banners have been around since the dinosaurs. Okay, fine, but they’ve certainly been around for ages! An excellently designed internet banner is a fantastic way to generate interest for your new mobile app. Social media ads. It’s important to choose the right social media platform to advertise on. This depends on your market and your budget. A properly executed social media advertising campaign can mean the difference between an app taking off or flopping. Your imagination. If we had all the answers, you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Newcomers disrupt the system every day. So, come up with your own ideas and then let us know what you did! How to deal with bug reports Bugs will make or break your app’s success. It’s impossible to get only five-star reviews for your business’s mobile app. In fact, we can warn you right now that, if you want to offer an app to the world, you had better develop some thick skin. App users are notoriously difficult creatures to please. The slightest error in an app often means that some reviewers believe they have the right to lambaste the creators of that app publicly until, dunno, they get their feet massaged, or something? It really can get pretty ridiculous. Internet comments and reviews are often something mostly to be laughed at. But! You do need to read through that public lashing and dressing-down to ascertain if there is some common thread in the comments and reviews you’re getting for your app. Silly reviews written by idiots who can’t spell is one thing; an actual bug or disappointment in UX which is reported by multiple people is something you need to pounce on and deal with immediately! It’s a tough pill to swallow: Either your business’s mobile app is brilliant, or it isn’t. Forget the silly one-star reviews. Your most pleased users probably won’t even leave a review. The only real metric you should be fullowing for your app is how many downloads you’re getting each week. A sudden surge in advertising spend for a month can spike that number, but a steady increase in the number of users means your app is getting popular and that it is being recommended to others. There’s always an initial inertia to get this going, but if your app has been on the market a few months and you do not see regularly increasing adoption, you need to dig into those negative comments and reviews like a bloodhound! Then, if you discover a common theme of negative reviews, handle that bug immediately. Which development paradigm to use when developing mobile apps Software development has come a long way from the early punch-code systems of yesteryear. Even as recently as just ten years ago, programming projects were usually carried out in agonisingly slow steps, requiring approval at every step of the chain. First, a systems analyst designed the system which was set down in stone. This was then laid out in flowchart diagrams or other types of diagrams with very fancy names. The design would go back and forth and, eventually, sometimes years later, it would finally get down to the programmer level. Obviously, such a slow-moving paradigm simply cannot work within the mobile app ecosystem of today. The best software development model for mobile app development is a “Release Early, Release Often” paradigm which has been adopted by the majority of apps out there. As LinkedIn’s founder once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Is it even worth it? As you can see, releasing an app can be an enormous proposition but it can be simplified tremendously if you have the right touls and knowledge. Building your own app on a reliable system is the most economical and effective way we know of to do it. And, if you do want something custom-made because you need really advanced features, or because your time is more valuable than your money, we offer a neat mobile app development service with packages to suit both small and large budgets. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Content Marketing is the buzzword of the day. The essence of “Content Marketing” is to generate incoming interest for your business or brand as a result of superb content which is helpful and informative. This is in direct contradiction to the age-old tradition of getting in business by advertising aggressively and splattering one’s brand in everyone’s face so that they never forget it. Those days are gone. Consumers these days do most of their research online. This is particularly true of B2B buyers who are usually 70 per cent down the sales funnel by the time they even make contact with you. People have grown so accustomed to finding all the information they need on the internet, that failing to provide that information for them puts you and your brand at a disadvantage. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what content marketing really is and how it can help your business generate leads regularly and reliably. What is content marketing, exactly? Content Marketing has become so much a part of our daily lives that it has even merited an entry in the Oxford Dictionary. The Oxford Dictionary defines Content Marketing as: “A type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.” https://www.lexico.com/definition/content_marketing The essence of content marketing is to “sell without selling”. It is to tell people something that they find useful and helpful, which in turn gets them to: Read more content on your website or Share your content on social media (thereby giving it greater visibility and SEO-juice) or Contact you. Another term for this could be “inbound marketing”, although inbound marketing is more closely associated with HubSpot, specifically. Is inbound marketing the same as content marketing? The two terms are not entirely the same, although they share many similarities. HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan coined the term in 2005, nine years before HubSpot went public as a company. Inbound marketing is all about getting leads to come to you. It is customer-centric and puts the customer first. That’s the first and foremost rule of both inbound marketing and content marketing: Put the customer first. In a world where content and solutions are at everyone’s fingertips, one cannot afford to work with antiquated methods of marketing. In today’s world, if your content doesn’t answer people’s questions and give them the assistance they need immediately, they simply go somewhere else to find those answers. Content marketing and website design It goes without saying that, to engage in a successful content marketing campaign, you must have an excellent website design that will easily move your visitors down the sales funnel from lead to customer. How many times have you found an article on Google, read it, then clicked away and didn’t even remember the name of the website you were on? That’s either a failure in: Targeting (your content was aimed too broadly to attract leads) Your website’s design and layout. Your website must be designed and laid out in such a way that it keeps people reading. The key metric to analyse when looking at your Bounce rate is the number of people who have landed on your website but left without (a) looking at any additional pages or (b) taking any meaningful action on your site (such as clicking a link, filling out a form, scrolling down to a certain depth of the page which indicated their interest in the site, etc.). If you are getting a lot of visitors to your website but your bounce rate is high, then: Your content is targeting the wrong audience or Your website is not laid out to smoothly ease somebody into and down the sales funnel so that they become leads or customers. Some tips for designing websites to optimise content consumption Above all else, the design of the site should be clean and professional. A quick DIY theme is unlikely to get you the mileage you need in order to get people to see the content you want them to consume. Add meaningful content links into the body of the article or content the visitor is reading. If you have a super-super helpful article regarding making widgets, then be sure to link to that article from any other article about widgets. You can be more blunt than this: Place large and noticeable banners (with CTAs) inside the content itself, telling people where they can download or read more about a particular subject, related to the one they’re currently reading about. Remember, the essence of content marketing is to be helpful to people. If you tell someone, “Hey, look here, this might also help,” and then proceed to give them invaluable information which indeed does help, they will remember you. More importantly, they will likely also buy from you. Newsletters and mailing lists Newsletters and mailing lists are crucial to keeping people informed of your business and getting them to consume even more content. As with everything else in content marketing, the key to getting subscribers is to offer something of value. If someone receives a newsletter which is packed with useful tips, they are more likely to click on a discreet ad somewhere lower down in that newsletter. Always put the customer first. Always ask yourself, “Would I like to receive this content in my inbox? Would I interact with it? What should it contain for me to find it useful?” Customer loyalty Following the above approach, a fierce sense of customer loyalty for your brand can be developed. If your customers know that you sincerely have their interests at heart, they will stick with you through thick and thin. Content marketing and SEO Content Marketing and SEO go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing. The two subjects interlock, but each is broader than the other in certain respects. Content Marketing encompasses the content of all types, not only the content that should be found on Search Engines. Newsletters, white papers, courses behind a paywall — these and many other types of content would not be geared to be found by search engines. So, they would be outside the scope of SEO. But blog posts aimed at getting traffic would be. Video content and social media posts would also be encompassed by SEO. SEO itself is a subject that is far broader than merely a few well-worded blog posts. Properly executed SEO Services would include off-site optimisation, e.g. actually phoning and emailing people for backlinks to your content or website. SEO includes website analytics and tracking, keyword research and analysis. Again there is a bit of overlap here, but not enough to call these two subjects the same things. What type of content to use for content marketing Your leads and sales prospects will all be at different stages of the buyer cycle. It is important to have enough content on your website to match wherever they are at in the buyer cycle. Blog posts Your frontline of content-marketing is the blog post. These are the posts that will bring new leads to your website. Make sure your content has plenty of images in it so as to add meaning to the post. Regardless of whether the post is written for existing readers or to garner new ones, write it in such a way that it is optimised for search engines. Long articles — over 2,000 words (the sweet spot is currently around 2,400 words, although this can change) — tend to outperform shorter articles for evergreen, SEO-friendly content. But there is also a place in the world for shorter articles. No matter the length, ensure that the article has enough value for those consuming it. How-To Articles How-To articles are crucial to getting in leads and future business. They can also become SEO magnets if done properly. A how-to article must utilise a lot of graphics and charts to convey its message. It needs to be easy to follow and grasp quickly. The person looking for a how-to article can sometimes be flustered and in a hurry. Having an article that can be easily grasped, quickly, means they will likely stay on your site instead of rushing over to find some other website with easier-to-understand content. The essence of a how-to article is to fully and completely answer the reader’s questions! The more info you can give them, the less likely they are to go back to the search engines to hunt for more solutions. Indeed, some SEO professionals believe this is indeed one of the indicators Google uses in its ranking algorithm — how soon someone performs a similar search after clicking on a result. If the person returns to Google and performs exactly the same search after visiting your website, or clicks a link lower down on the results page after reading your article, it might be an indication for the search engine that your article was not useful for the reader. How-To articles have the added benefit of being something that people will likely bookmark and come back to later on, over and over again. It is up to you, then, to optimise the layout of your website so that you guide these users into whatever sales funnel is most appropriate for them. Make it easy for people to bookmark pages by adding some design elements to the website that help them through the process. White Papers White papers can either be done in HTML or PDF. The difference is that an HTML (webpage) white paper could include keywords to be found for SEO purposes. It is not an entirely recommended strategy. A better strategy, in our opinion, is to create a white paper as a PDF and then put that PDF behind a form that collects the person’s email address and signs them up to receive regular updates from you (with their consent, of course). By the time someone looks at a white paper, they are likely already at the buyer stage where they’re considering your services. SEO-style articles are usually “how-to” and “find out” articles. White papers are generally for people who are already on your site and want to know more. That means they are already a lead for having shown interest. It is imperative to get these people onto a mailing list so that you can follow up with them, using the same strategy that brought them to you in the first place — helpful, useful content. Case Studies The same is true for case studies — they can be a straight web page or a downloadable PDF. We recommended using the PDF version behind a form that signs them up for a newsletter. The landing page for that case study or white paper can be optimised for search engines while the case study/white paper itself can be written in such a way that is more appealing to potential buyers. Video Content When people think of video content, they automatically think of YouTube. Indeed, YouTube is the world’s second-largest search engine. It’s also a great place to host videos due to its reliability and streaming quality. But in terms of content marketing, you should think about what types of videos you want to have on your website. Yes, the video might be hosted on YouTube, but it’s crucial to show it on your site, using YouTube’s “embed” code. You can create videos for anything and everything — accompanying videos to blog posts, how-to videos, animated explainer videos (usually short and lighthearted). Social Media Content Social Media, like Blog Posts, is often the first foot in the door for your potential clients — the top of the sales funnel. Make sure your social media posts are entertaining, unique, and encourage engagement. Social media shares is a metric which is utilised by Google in Search Engine Rankings, although it does take into account the reputation of the person sharing the link. A well-thought-out social media strategy is imperative to any content marketing strategy. Landing Page Content A landing page is not just any website page. It is a website page that is optimised to generate leads. Usually, landing pages are sparse on contact, high on impact. What content the pages has must be delivered swiftly and succinctly. Think of a landing page as the gate leading in. Make the gate welcoming and easy to pass through. Don’t overwhelm the visitor by insisting they fill in a gazillion boxes of information just to download your PDF or to sign up for your newsletter. The page should be well-designed and aesthetically pleasing, and it should gently lead the prospect down that sales funnel by offering them useful and helpful information of high value to them. Newsletter Content Content really begins to shine once people sign up for your newsletter. Unlike “the masses” to which you appeal by using a wide range of blog topics and posts, newsletters are more focussed to a target market. Ideally, you would have subcategories of newsletters, asking people to pick and choose their interests. For example, let’s say you run a fashion store and offer a newsletter about the latest trends — something like “What’s hot and what’s not”. Every week, you promise to have fashion experts from around the world weigh in on the current issues surrounding fashion. So, that newsletter targets people interested in fashion, but you could go a step further: What age is the subscriber? (Tickbox.) What elements of fashion are they most interested in — shoes, makeup tips, office clothing, gossip? (Tickboxes.) You could then send each of these people a specific newsletter according to what interests they have — and you could also then advertise products which are closer to their interests. Online Courses An online course would be the Shangri-La of content marketing. Free courses of high-value content are almost guaranteed to go viral. What’s more, they would keep people on your website, consuming content, learning more. This all but guarantees that they will eventually also become your customers. Your online course material must really shine — highest quality learning materials and articles, videos, and exercises. You could also offer a free tier and a paid tier. The only possible content marketing strategy for startups The only possible content marketing strategy for startups is a full-blown strategy using every single one of the content types above. Content is either something you do full-blast or don’t do at all. It takes a massive concerted effort to start gaining traction. The good news, however, is that it is often far cheaper in the long run than online advertising. Content marketing is a sustainable method of marketing which often picks up momentum over time if done right. Online advertising, on the other hand, can become more costly as competition increases in your sector. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
It seems that everywhere you look these days, there’s an animated video. The big brands are doing it. The little brands are doing it. Even the birds and bees are doing it. But, the question is: Should you do it? And, if you do, can you afford it? Well, the answer to both those questions is: It depends. Either way, if you’re not seriously considering using animated videos as part of your strategy, know that your competitors are doing it. Because it’s hot at the moment. Shooting real-footage videos can be expensive, and hiring pros to create animated videos can also reach high figures. But, like everything else in digital marketing, there’s a smart way to do it so that it’s both affordable as well as professional. Are animated videos right for your business? Before even beginning to look at how to make animated videos on your computer, you have to answer the crucial question: Are animated videos right for your brand? Our gut-feel here at Start My Business has always been, “Of course they are!” but that’s because we’re experts at creating animated videos for businesses and so can think with all the potentials of the medium. Too often, when people think of animated videos, they think of “cute” videos or “playful videos”. Animated videos can also cover serious topics such as this classic video from Shelter, produced in 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBucKP87k2s The video, albeit somewhat lighthearted in the way it is presented, covers a serious topic — that of an impending rent crisis for the UK’s millions of renters as a result of “rogue landlords” (to quote the video) and the lack of an equitable system. Animated video was used, there, to convey an important message, and to convey that message in an easy-to-understand format. Too many fusty companies think of animated videos as “cartoon”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hey, if the bank of England can put together an informative, well-executed animated video, so can your company! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dI0MVV5UjKc What can animated videos do for your business? Increase Brand Awareness When people say “Brand Awareness” they immediately think of Nike or Coca-Cola or some other massive corporation. Brand Awareness can be international or regional. It can even be just a postal code! Imagine if you handed out some flyers in your business’s neighbourhood and included a scannable code to an animated video for your business, as well as a screenshot of that video on your flyer. If people watched that video, would it make your brand stick in their minds? That’s brand awareness! And it can work on a small scale or large scale. Video is an excellent way to make it happen. Increase sales The sales process is a series of give-and-take actions. It begins with a prospect standing outside your (virtual) store, looking in, scared to take a step too close lest some hungry salesman comes and pounces on them! Sales begin with making a prospect less nervous and more willing to approach. This is done by conveying a message of safety and friendliness. Nothing gets that message across like a light-hearted, easy-to-digest animated video. And, with prospects more amenable to being spoken to, you can get your sales message across more effectively. The way people buy, today, is completely different from the way they used to buy. Traditional salesmen are becoming an antique of the past. People research their products online now and, by the time they get to a store (whether virtual or brick-and-mortar) they likely already know what they want to buy. Animated videos can get people from “interested” to “ready-to-buy” much faster. Get more leads A well-executed animated video can turn bland copy into the exciting copy. If an animated video is done in such a way that it makes the person feel welcome and improves the perception of your brand, that person is far more likely to interact with your brand after watching the video. The best-animated videos will contain a call-to-action at the end. But not, if you please, a blunt and overly salesy call-to-action! The video itself should convince people to purchase simply because it is informative and entertaining. What are animated videos used for? The explainer video A common use of the animated video is to create explainer videos. These are videos which quickly explain a service or concept in a way that people can understand. An explainer video establishes the problem and then provides a solution using appropriate music in the background, excellent voiceover and, of course, top-of-the-line animations. A perfect example of this is the following video from Freighty, a shipping insurance app for eCommerce store owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bknuFCQn4Y Animated video commercials Animating a commercial makes it fun and turns it into something memorable. Animated commercials tend to engage the audience better than traditional video. It also gets your brand out there without shoving it down people’s throats. Animations are a great way to grab interest, and so this makes animated video commercials the perfect choice for advertising a brand. Also, keep in mind that many video platforms will autoplay a video without the sound. Having a lighthearted animation playing is more likely to have that user click the unmute button to listen to what’s being said. Mastercard nailed it with this animated video commercial which doesn’t come across as salesy at all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUO3rhPK6GE Animated product demos Product demos can be done using animated videos. Here’s a product demo for the Zmart remote. It was created in 2014 and could probably be done better using more current technology and tools. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7PnM0oLNqg Animated onboarding videos Introducing customers and new employees to new systems and technology can be a daunting task. Animated videos are an excellent way to get a succinct message across to new employees or customers, onboarding them smoothly to your product, service, or their new role. The animations used in these types of videos are virtually guaranteed to keep people’s attention and to give them as much information as possible in a short amount of time. Here’s an onboarding animation video about…an onboarding system! https://youtu.be/EiGejnB_puU Other animated videos There are literally as many possible choices for animated videos as there are for traditional videos. What makes a great animated video? The story First and foremost is the story. Every great brand has a story, or should have one. And every great product should also have one. It’s difficult to talk to anyone about Apple’s history without having them also talk about what a legend Steve Jobs was, or how Apple’s 1984 ad caused such a stir for decades to come, and put Apple on the map. Great stories don’t just happen by themselves. And part of creating an awesome animated video for your business is to have an absolutely phenomenal script. Work the script over until it’s perfect. If you’re unable to do that, then hire a professional script writer to do it for you. This Microsoft and SHI explainer video has an excellent story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0f8fiHPeQc Protagonist: IT Professional Antagonist: Hackers Problem: Being hacked Rising story: Threats growing Solution: The product being explained It’s a great plot. It’s a great story. Hence, it’s a great animated video script. The animations Duh. Of course, the animations have to be great! But they don’t just need to be great; they need to be stellar. As competition in the animated video sector increases, so does the quality of animations. There are even DIY animation companies popping up with millions of stock animations ready for you to use. These animations look fantastic. And this makes competing with them even more difficult. It’s the first rule of marketing: Be different. Stand out. If you want to compete effectively in this field which is becoming more and more glutted, you need to have exquisite animations that really express the full arc of your video’s story. The music We searched for an animated video without music and couldn’t find a single one. The music in an animated video has become so important that doing an animated video without excellent (and appropriate) music could be likened to stepping outside your door without trousers. Animated videos tend to use quirky, upbeat music, even when describing a serious subject. It might even be one of the reasons that people gravitate so much towards animated videos: Because they know they will get some reprieve in the video from the dreary and heavy drudgery they feel in day-to-day life. Check out this Christie’s animated video. Don’t be fooled. There’s music in there; it just starts a few seconds into the video. https://vimeo.com/181597583 And doesn’t it feel weird to watch those first few seconds without music? Music is an absolute must in animated videos. The length Animated videos are not long. It’s rare to find a video that is longer than 90 seconds. Most are around the 75 seconds range. The point of an animated video is to condense as much information as possible using multiple visual and audio cues. Animations can convey far more information per second than real footage can. They don’t need to belong. And, if they’re starting to get too long, you should trim the script. How to plan out an animated video 1. Script Your animated video should tell a story. All successful marketing tells a story. Remember that a story has a climax and a resolution. It must also contain conflict. The best marketing videos include all of this. Be sure to incorporate all of these things when writing the script for your animated video. 2. Adding voice-over It’s best to add the voice-over right at the beginning so you can build the animated video along with the voice-over content. 3. Storyboard and selecting animations Usually, one does a storyboard to figure out what shots one is going to take out in the real world, with a video camera. This is also the way it works when making an animated video, except all the shots one needs are right there in a collection of animations. (Unless, of course, you’re going to have everything hand-drawn — but that’s out of the scope of this article.) Because the “shots” for your animated video are all right there, you can use those very shots to create your storyboard. It’s a terribly time-consuming process, which is why we say that, for animated videos, you will either be playing with your money or your time. 4. Adding Music Great animated videos contain music in the background. The music can be the same throughout the video or it can change. It’s up to you, and up to what message that video is trying to express in that particular scene. Can you afford animated videos? Gone are the days of needing to pay an exorbitantly priced animations studio for your animated videos. With plenty of DIY Animated Video solutions popping up across the web, the opportunity to create an animated video is no longer only available to companies whose pockets drip with cash. There is one caveat, however: Nothing of excellent quality is free. The systems we talk about below are all priced relatively well considering what such a service used to cost a few years ago. Having said that, even though these services are cheaper than getting an animated video created by professionals, what you don’t pay with money, you will pay with time. Yes, you need to know that in order to avoid disappointment. The only service listed below where you will not pay with your time in order to get a professional product is our own Animated Videos Creation Service. All the other services have a learning curve, and it’s crucial to work your way through that learning curve before disappointing yourself and creating substandard videos that actually end up harming your brand rather than helping it. So, here are all the ways you can create an animated video for your business without having to pay with your arm and leg. 1. Start My Business’s Animated Video Creation Service This is the only service on this page that is not a DIY service, so there’s no hidden cost of your time. We offer a first-in-class animated video creation service at a staggeringly affordable price. Our service covers the full range of video creation from story development to animation, voiceover, professional music, you name it. 2. Wideo Wideo is a DIY animated video-making service with features such as storyboard creation, text-to-speech functionality, a nifty colour-palette tool and, of course, animations. They have a free tier which lets you create 45-second videos which contain the Wideo brand on it (not so great for business videos, so you’re probably going to need to get the paid version). Their basic package allows you to export ten HD (not Full HD) videos of 1.5 minutes each month. The basic package only gives you access to twenty templates. If you’re looking to create a serious amount of videos, you’ll probably need to get their pro package which is almost double the price of the basic package. You can also upload video footage to include in the animated video. 3. Vyond Vyond is an online tool that specialises in allowing people to make their own animated videos, particularly for marketing, training and eLearning. They offer a library of templates, sounds and other assets to help you create a video. They have no free plan but they do offer a trial version. Their cheapest plan includes their branding on their video, so you’re likely going to be looking at their Premium Plan (next tier up) which will set you back more than twice as much as Wideo’s basic plan. The Premium Plan lets you export in 1080p although you don’t get access to their “2D characters designed for a more modern look” unless you take the tier above that one… As you can see, Vyond is a pricier option overall. Check it out and see if it works for what you need. As mentioned previously, like all other services here (except the Start My Business service), there is also the “payment” of time you will need to make to learn how to use these tools like a pro. 4. Animaker Animaker makes it easy to create simple videos using their drag-and-drop interface. You can build your own characters using their “Character Maker” tool, and all of it runs in the browser. The characters can even lip-sync! The number of options in their various packages gets a little confusing, though, with only the most expensive ones including “commercial rights” — but it’s not entirely clear if that means you can use their videos for your business or not… Anyway! They do give you the option to create animated videos if you’re so inclined. Summary Yes, you need to get into animated videos. Yes, it will probably increase your sales. No, it doesn’t need to be expensive. Yes, you will pay with your time if you need to learn it yourself. But it can be done, and you should definitely be doing it. So, what are you waiting for? Lights, animations, action! About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Banner ads have been around since the Stone Age. Okay, fine, not quite the stone age, but it sure feels like it! This mainstay of the internet age has been with us long before social media was even a word. The reason these creative ad banners have been around so for long is that they work. If you want to know how to create an ad banner that gets people clicking, follow the eight tips below which our professional, in-house banner ad designers have come up with. 1. Optimise for location The location of your banner ad is a crucial aspect of deciding how to design it. You need to have several different formats of the banner ad which match where the ad will be placed. Animated ads work best when placed by themselves on a page. But these tend to get buried in the confusion when mixed with other animated ads around it. Location applies to: Where specifically on the page the ad will appear. On what website the ad will appear. On what device the ad will be viewed. Designing banner ads for mobile devices means you would use slightly different imagery (e.g. a finger-clicking a button as opposed to a mouse cursor). Also, smaller devices demand that the design is more straightforward and more comfortable on the eyes. 2. Brand your banner Every marketing action you take must m atch up with your branding guidelines. Only in this way can you build an awareness of your brand. Even if a user doesn’t click your banner ad, the fact that it matches your brand means they will remember it and so, possibly, interact with it next time. It’s essential to refer back to your branding guidelines and ensure that the colours of your brand are appropriately incorporated into your banner ad. And your logo should be on the banner, at the very least. The logo should be noticeable but not take too much attention away from what you want the user to do as a result of seeing your banner ad. 3. Have a clear call-to-action The whole point of a banner ad is to have the user take some sort of action. The CTA is the culmination of the banner’s story arc if you will. After hooking the visitor into your ad’s story with a well-optimised design and excellent copy which gains their interest, you need to smoothly direct them to some determined action that you want them to take. The position of the CTA button is crucial. It needs to be placed in such a place that does not detract from the design, and which follows the natural eye-movement path of the user. Several studies have been conducted on this that actually determine where a user looks by detecting pupil movement when looking at ad copy. The CTA needs to be “in its own space”, not cluttered around other design elements that might hide it. And it must use a colour that is noticeable without being garish. 4. Stand out More often than not, you’ll be competing with a lot of other brands’ ads when advertising on a web page with your banner ad. It’s essential to differentiate yourself from the others by using: Extremely creative designs Strong headlines that pop out The concise and compelling copy which is easy to digest and quick to assimilate. Remember, even if people don’t click right away, you need to make your brand stick out. Your brand has to make an impression on them. A positive impression means they’re more likely to react favourably to your brand next time they come across it. 5. Avoid too much copy Use the headline and the overall look and feel of the ad to grab attention, and use copy sparingly. Your message needs to be clear and concise. The best copy gets to the point right away and utilises a minimum amount of sentences. 6. Align the objective with the design If your objective is to raise awareness to some social ill, pushing someone to buy something with a “Buy Now!” button goes against that objective. Utilising a different call-to-action such as “Help out now” or “Learn More” would work better. Similarly, if your objective is to target millennials and you’re using 1960s pop culture references, you’re going to come short in your banner ad design. Sure, such references can be used when trying to create a contrast. But even then, your objective would be aligned with your design, and you would use those contrasts knowingly. 7. Test and learn It’s vital to test the banner utilising Web Analytics reporting tools. The fact that the banner has been designed professionally doesn’t mean that the game is over. The game is only now beginning. You have to analyse how many clicks you get compared to the number of impressions. And, out of those clicks, you need to see how many conversions you’ve gotten. Run one ad for a week or month, and then run another and compare the performance of each of them. You might think you’ve designed the perfect ad only to discover that people interact better with another one which is quite different. Nothing beats seeing how ads perform in the real world! Professional banner ad designs It might be worth it to look into hiring a company which specialises in banner ad design services. Competition in the advertising space is fierce. Gone are the days of “trying to do it all yourself”. A banner ad must be designed professionally in order to have any hope of competing. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
It’s true. You don’t need to know anything about coding to build your own mobile app. But that doesn’t mean the app is going to be any good. Whether you know to code or not, you need to follow certain best practices to build a mobile app that is both appealing and useful. Here are six easy tips on how to create an excellent mobile app online without writing a single line of code. 1. Use a building platform Building your very own mobile app is a piece of cake using Start My Business’s online WYSIWYG mobile app creator. And all that without knowing a single line of programming code! The online app creator has an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface which makes designing front-ends easy-peasy. You can either start off with a ready-made template to kickstart your app, or start from scratch and ensure the design is entirely your own. 2. Get some guidance or professional assistance Even though it’s possible to build your own app without knowing any coding, it always helps to get some professional guidance along the way. You can seek guidance from online forums, or if you are keen to get an app developed to the best possible standards, you can ask us to help you using our custom mobile app development service. There is a lot to know about developing. Plenty of knowledge has been accumulated by people who have already done it, and much of that information is available online. For example, user experience (UX) is an enormous subject to be understood when creating your own mobile app. It’s possible to create an app that does “amazing things” but which has a shoddy user experience. This is particularly true when including a lot of add-ons in the app. Yes, the add-ons might work great in themselves, but if they lead to an overall poor user experience, they are not worth including. Talking to a professional to assist you can prevent such errors and vastly reduce your workload in the long-term. 3. Check step by step tutorials There are plenty of online tutorials that you should absolutely be reading or viewing in order to build a professional mobile app. Simply because the DIY tool you’re using is simple to use doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dedicate some time to learning the basics. Start My Business has an entire section of this website dedicated to How-To tutorials to assist people in starting their business, including tutorials and How-Tos on how to build an app. 4. Benchmark It is crucial to benchmark your app, both before beginning development and after the app has gone to market. The Oxford dictionary defines the verb benchmark as: “Evaluate or check (something) by comparison with a standard.” That means you need to look at your competitors’ apps, as well as apps belonging to non-competitors but in a similar field, and see what they are doing that you also need to do if you want to compete effectively with them. Write these items down as features to be included in your app. Once your completed mobile app has been released on Android, iOS and any other platforms, you need to keep your ear to the ground for: Comments/reviews from users on your and your competitors’ apps. Changes/updates by competitors. Both positive and negative comments from users are important. The good reviews let you see what you should do more of. And the negative reviews inform you of what must be addressed immediately. Don’t try and handle every little change that comes up. Look for trends in comments and reviews. If a lot of users are complaining about the same thing, then that thing needs to be addressed as a priority. You should pay particular attention to reviews on your competitors’ apps. That’s an easy way to discover what users want and what frustrates them. You can then to integrate these features in your own app. Stay alert to updates by your competitors. Look at whatever features they’ve added and try and one-up them in any future releases of your own app by providing even better features. 5. Start small The “Release Early, Release Often” paradigm of software development has taken the mobile app development world by storm. Instead of trying to build the perfect app from the start, establish easy ways for users to send you feedback and then work on that feedback fast in order to continually deliver a better product to them. Start with the essential features, adding further ones as you go along. As the founder of LinkedIn once said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Using our DIY Build Your Own Mobile App Platform, it’s relatively easy to get an app to market in no time, focussing on just the most essential features. 6. Keep it simple Part of releasing early and releasing often is to stay absolutely focussed on the critical features and to build from there. Overcomplicating things not only delays the time before something can go to market, but it can sometimes get so bad that you might need to scrap the entire project altogether because it has grown too complicated. Keep it simple. Release often. Seek professional assistance whenever needed, and you’ll soon get a mobile app out there that notches up those five-star reviews like Sir Ian Botham smashing 149 runs off just 148 balls to lead your business to victory against its competitors! About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Promotional brochures will never stop being a mainstay of effective promotion. Even though digital flyers have now appeared on the scene, a physical advertising brochure will forever be one of the most efficient ways to find new business. Of course, it is vital to have a brochure design which was done entirely professionally in order to create the maximum possible impact on the reader. Here are some tried and tested ways to get your company brochure into the hands of potential buyers, and so turn leads into sales. Emails The great thing about a brochure which was designed for print is that it can also be sent digitally. This is not true the other way round, i.e. items explicitly designed for being viewed on a screen cannot be printed easily. You can either send the brochure directly as an attached PDF or image file, or you can send a link to the brochure so that it can be viewed online. Send brochures by post Nothing beats getting something in the physical mail. If you send someone something by post, they get to touch it, feel it, interact with it. If your brochure also has a QR code in it, then that increases the chances of people visiting your website as a result of viewing the brochure. Use brochures at trade shows Brochures are an excellent way to stay in the minds of potential buyers and clients at a trade show. Handing someone a physical brochure is even more important in a scenario like a trade show where you are competing with dozens or even hundreds of other companies to get someone’s attention. If every company relies only on a visit to their website to stay in the potential client’s mind, their message will be buried in a confusion of browser tabs and saved links. But, with a brochure, the potential client can pick it out of their pocket when they get to their car or the subway. Not wanting to litter, they might keep it on their person until they get home where they’ll look at it again. If it is a properly designed brochure which captures their attention, they might very well sit down and take another gander at it then, in the comfort of their own home, while relaxing on the couch and having an evening drink. All that from a brochure. You just don’t get that level of interaction on a screen with a gazillion distractions on it — notifications, social media alerts, emails, etc. Use company brochures in media kits When sending a media kit to the press with information about your company, include a brochure of tailored information so as to give that media organisation all the relevant information they need to write about your company. Media kits can be downloaded from a website, or sent in physical form to a media organisation. These media organisations then use these media kits in order to obtain facts when writing about your company. Make sure you get the correct facts sent over to them by including those facts in a brochure specifically designed for the press. It is vital, in these cases, to make the information as easily accessible and as understandable as possible. Journalists are very busy people and have little time to spend hours digging for information on a topic, especially if they only need it as background information to a story. By designing the brochure in such a way that you decide what information is most noticeable to that journalist, you increase your chances of having that information featured in a story. For example, if you run Acme Ltd. and the journalist just needs some quick facts about your company, put your best metrics in a large pie chart or other graphical representation in the brochure so they can see it easily. Give brochures to your sales team Following on from the theory that a physical object is more difficult to forget than a digital one, giving your sales team brochures is a key way to ensure your company stays in the minds of leads long after the sales team has left. If the sales team leaves one or two brochures behind after the meeting, the lead can then look at those brochures when they have time, or when sitting down at night to relax, undistracted by all those endless notifications on their phone. Leave brochures at your office reception This is an excellent way to promote your company. By putting a stack of brochures at your reception, people can pick the brochures up and take them home with them to read on the bus or whenever they have a free moment somewhere. By placing brochures at your reception, you then target anyone that comes into your offices, not only your regular clients or leads but also suppliers and anyone else. Asking restaurants and other high-traffic places to place a brochure at their front-desk is another great way to promote your business. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Nothing beats having a printed business-flyer in your hand that you can peruse at your leisure. Using flyers to promote your business or sell your product is a tried and tested method of getting new leads which convert into clients. The main difference between a flyer marketing strategy and a digital one is how and where to get those printable flyers distributed. Unlike digital flyers, printed flyers actually require you to move your rump and do some walking to get those flyers out! (Thinking of which, another benefit to flyer distribution might be better health in general?) Below, are seven cost-effective ideas on how to distribute marketing flyers for your business and get the leads you need. Of course, it goes without saying that those flyers must be designed exquisitely. To that end, make sure to check out our super-affordable flyer design service once you’re done reading this post! 1. Door-to-door distribution Door-to-door distribution is particularly useful if you distribute the flyers in your local neighbourhood. You can either put them directly into people’s mailboxes or knock on the door and hand the flyer to the person directly. Be sure to smile congenially when doing this. That smile goes a long way to getting people to read the pamphlet you’ve just handed them. You could run a special one-week promotion or sale and get the word out quickly with flyers in your local area, and then ask people who receive the flyer to additionally share the news on social media for extra coverage. Of course, there’s also the option of paying a reliable distributor to get the flyers out for you. This is particularly useful if the flyers need to be delivered far from your office. When choosing this option, you need to send flyers out in high volume to really see any benefit from it. 2. Place flyers on cars Many flyer distribution companies will place flyers on cars for you. Wherever you get your flyers distributed, it’s important to remember to focus on your target market as much as possible. If you sell pizzas or hamburgers, then placing flyers on cars at a sports event is better than, say, placing them on vehicles outside a residential building. People are more likely to be famished after a sporting event than when stepping into their vehicles after a large breakfast at home. 3. Include them with customer invoices and packages This is an excellent after-sales technique to get more sales. You could give them a special voucher code in the flyer which is valid for only a certain amount of time after they receive the invoice. 4. Leave a pile in strategic places Approach local restaurants and cafes and ask them if you can leave a small pile of your flyers on their front counter. Many restaurants are quite obliging on this. If you go the extra mile and offer that restaurant a discount on your services if they send anybody your way, they might feature your flyers in a more prominent position or even tell people directly to take a flyer! Whatever you do, just please consider the environment and don’t ever leave a pile of flyers where it can blow away and cause litter! 5. Distribute at events This is a fantastic and low-cost method of getting your brand out there. Whether it is cricketing events or music events, the massive amounts of people at these events will make getting a lot of flyers out relatively easy. Be advised, however, that hand-to-hand distribution might require you to apply for permission from your local authorities or else suffer the risk of fines. 6. Distribute flyers with product samples If you are at a trade show or other industry gathering, a flyer is a perfect accompaniment to any product samples you might be giving out. Think of the flyer as a “take-home salesman”. The person walks away with the sample, tests it, and then turns to the salesman — your flyer — to discover more about it. If the flyer is professionally designed, following all the best design principles, there’s an excellent chance that person will either go ahead and buy from you in the future or at least leave with a good impression of your brand in their minds. 7. Direct mail campaign Phones and computers are terribly distracting things. Sitting in front of your computer or walking around with your phone is a little like walking in front of a crowd that is shouting different things at you, trying to attract your attention. A person can easily get distracted by notifications when looking at a digital flyer on a phone. But a tangible flyer that has arrived in the mail is entirely different. That flyer has no distractions associated with it. For at least a fraction of a second, you can grab that person’s attention. If the flyer is exquisitely designed, you can then keep their attention and start selling them your product. Final thoughts on flyer distribution Keep a spreadsheet of where you’ve handed out flyers. Then, when you get a new client or see a sudden spike in website traffic from a certain area, go back to that spreadsheet and see if you distributed flyers there. After a while, you’ll start to see where your flyer distribution campaigns are working best and can then take follow-up actions in those areas, such as sending out a different flyer with more focussed information targeted at that specific location. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Creating an effective landing page for your website is not a task that must be taken lightly. To create a landing page that converts leads into clients, it is imperative to understand the structure of a landing page. A high-converting landing page has particular anatomy which all the top landing pages follow. An excellent UX (user experience) means engagement from the visitor. Often, it is necessary to invest in landing page design services to obtain that perfect design which brings about a superior user experience. Some studies have shown that Google prefers content that provides excellent UX. This article will walk you through landing page UX best practices. Information Above the Fold It is vital to put the most important information “above the fold”. “The fold” is, basically, the bottom of the computer screen. The user needs to scroll to see the material below that line. Basically, anything “above the fold” means content the user sees instantly on landing on your website. The fold is different for every computer. Mobile phones and tablets have a different fold to a 17” laptop screen. It is, therefore, vital to design the page so that it adapts to the screen on which it is being viewed. Use a hero image A “hero image” is that impressive, eye-catching, stunning image that appears at the top of a website. In eCommerce websites, this is usually a photo of the product. The image needs to be of excellent quality and capture the visitor’s attention. The internet is dominated by visual content. Placing a profound hero image above the fold goes a long way to capturing your visitor’s attention and getting them to continue browsing your website. Compelling Headlines Whether placed on the hero image or simply near it, the headline of your landing page should be: Powerful Compelling Attention-grabbing “Amazeballs” The heading should be as succinct as possible and express, simply and clearly, what benefit the user will obtain from staying on your website for just a little longer. Examples of great headlines are: Reduce your personal costs by 80% instantly. Want a three-star chef to cook your dinner every night? No more housecleaning. And so on. Small Intro text under the headline Following on from your headline and hero image should be a brief introduction to what you are offering the visitor. The content should explain, in as few words as possible, the value the visitor will obtain by continuing to learn more about your service or product. This is not only good for the user but it also helps search engines understand what your site is about. Call to Action There needs to be at least one clearcut action defined on the page that you wish the user to take. This “call to action” is best displayed in a large, noticeable button, and it informs the user what is expected of them. There is quite a bit to know about how to design and phrase these calls to action. The button needs to be in high contrast to the rest of the page. The phrase demanding action needs to be something the user considers valuable, e.g. “Buy now and get one more free”. Have enough content and variety, all optimised for search The page needs to have sufficient content for it to be useful both for users as well as for search engines. Having an “excellent landing page” that never gets found by search engines is entirely pointless. The content needs to be worded in such a way that it ranks for all the required keywords, as well as contain enough elements to garner interest from the visitor. These elements must include: Visually appealing and professional photographed/designed images Top-quality video content Another great piece of content is tables of information for comparing prices. USPs — Your Unique Selling Proposition What makes your service or product different from your competitors’? If you sell flowers, why would someone buy flowers from you and not a competitor? You need to explain what you offer that makes you different from other businesses: Better quality? Better product? Unique product? Exceptional service? 24/7 delivery? FAQs section The best landing pages have an FAQ section on them. The questions should be useful and informative, covering any aspects of the service or product that the rest of the landing page could not cover. Accordion-style FAQs are an excellent place to put plenty of additional text that could detract from the page’s design if placed elsewhere. That text is also excellent for search engines. Customer reviews section A customer reviews section helps push leads into a decision to buy. The best is to integrate reviews from trusted sources such as Google Reviews, TrustPilot or some other reputable reviews site. This has also been linked to better rankings. Mobile-friendly design and Speed Optimisations As mentioned in the first section, the page must be optimised for mobile. This also includes optimising its speed. If your page doesn’t load in one second, you’ll lose conversions. Pages load slower on mobile devices because they are usually running on a data connection. Making sure the page is lean can mean better conversions. Social Media integration An excellent landing page must integrate social media into it. This means that you should also have well-attended social media profiles that are regularly posted to and contain fresh content. A landing page should have links to these profiles so that people can connect with your brand. Hiring an expert As you can see, designing an excellent landing page requires care and attention to numerous things, and often it is a service that companies decide to hire out to professional designers instead. The investment often pays for itself if the landing page design leads to better conversions. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Social Media Marketing doesn’t need to be complicated. And utilising Social Media for business is crucial to getting the most out of your marketing efforts. The quantity of social media marketing agencies that have sprung up in the last few years is staggering. A relatively unknown subject ten years ago, using social media for marketing these days is a vital aspect of any sales and marketing plan. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of social media marketing platforms and what you need to know to market on social media as an entrepreneur. What is social media marketing? Social Media Marketing is the act of making your services known by means of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and even TikTok. It is an activity which requires: Constant attention Monitoring of buzzwords and trending topics A regular social media content schedule Coordinated campaigns between social media platforms And numerous other skills to keep the entire campaign running smoothly and bringing your business inbound leads. How social media can help your business Billions of people use social media. If you do not use social media in your business, your brand will suffer for it. One of the main benefits of having an effective social media strategy in place is to raise brand awareness. The second reason businesses utilise social media is to increase traffic to their websites. Other reasons for engaging in a social media marketing strategy are: Improving conversions Creating Engagement Monitoring your brand appreciation and sentiment (i.e. what customers say about your brand and products or services) How does social media marketing work Social media marketing is more straightforward than most people think. It’s easy to overthink the subject and get too complicated. Here are some simple steps to creating an excellent social media marketing campaign: Create a business page on each social media platform. Add a high-quality description that tells people what you do and which makes them want to engage with your brand. Add any other information about your company, including key links to products and services. Regularly share awesome content and news, which makes people want to engage with your brand. Make sure this content is not “salesy” but offers people helpful information and makes them want to click and know more. This matter of awesome content is really the crux of the matter. In Social Media Marketing, you need to master the art of creating content that “sells without selling” and which generates interest on its own. Think of people on Social Media as guests at a party. No one wants a sales pitch at a party. They want to have fun, and they’re more likely to buy something sincerely recommended to them by one of their friends than from a hawker in the corner. For this, it might be a good idea to hire a content writer to assist you. Excellent content isn’t only about tweets and LinkedIn posts. Excellent content encompasses: Vlogs and videos Useful and interesting blog articles Animated videos eBooks Etc Through content, you create a community and engage with them. Also, get creative. Run competitions, set up creative ad campaigns. Focus on building your audience. Data analytics can help here, so as to analyse audience behaviours and thereby improve your overall social media strategy. What are the best social media platforms to promote your business? Each social media platform is its own channel and has its own goals for businesses. For example, you wouldn’t be promoting B2B content on TikTok! Compartmentalise each part of your strategy, noting down who the target market is for each, and then match that market to a particular Social Media Platform. For example, LinkedIn would be the platform to use for business-only content. LinkedIn is a social media platform dedicated to finding new business, and the content created on there is quite different from the content shared on, say, Twitter or Instagram. Twitter, on the other hand, is a nifty platform to use to get the conversation going. It’s a great tool to create a buzz, run competitions, get instant feedback, run a poll, and so on. Facebook strikes a good balance between business and personal. You can create a business page on there and get people to like it, and so show up on their feeds later on when you post some new content. Instagram would be for visual ad campaigns. Each of the above channels has its market and its specific part in the overall strategy. It’s essential to break down your social media strategy to match each social media platform you will be using, and publish content specific to that channel. Is social media effective? Several studies have been carried out regarding this, and the results are astounding. In short, yes and absolutely, social media is not only effective but highly effective for marketing your brand — with one caveat: You have to do it right. For example, if you’re posting on Facebook, you should include an image to get more engagement. The best times to post on Instagram are apparently at 1 pm and 5 pm. These and numerous other factors need to be taken into account when embarking upon a social media marketing campaign. Because the topic is so broad and yet can result in such high ROI, many entrepreneurs choose to hire social media professionals to assist them in getting the most of any social media marketing campaign. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Running a website without web analytics these days is like driving at 120mph down the highway in total darkness without your headlights on. Maybe you’ll make it out okay; probably you won’t. However, with so many web analytics tools available out there, the entire subject of website analytics can get pretty overwhelming, quickly. In this article, we’ll discuss the basics of web analytics metrics, the importance of website analytics reports, and what the best website analytics tools are for use in your business. What is web analytics? The Oxford dictionary defines “analytics” as: “Information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics.” So, Web Analytics is information regarding your website, which you have obtained as a result of systematic analysis and statistics. Web analytics allows you to analyse traffic to your website to better understand: Who is visiting your website. What interests those people have. Where those visitors come from. How many times those visitors return to your site. How long they spend on your site. How many pages they view on your site. On what page most visitors leave your site. Aggregating this data from hundreds or even thousands of visitors allows you to make informed decisions based on the information provided to you by the specific analytics tool you’re using to collect this information. In short, web analytics allow you to collect information about your users and then to analyse that data. Why web analytics matters, and why web analytics is important for every business Remember the example we provided at the start of this article, about driving down the highway with no headlights? Well, that’s really why analytics is so important for your online business. But let’s talk about specifics: If you don’t know who your visitors are and what their interests are, you simply won’t be able to offer them what they’re looking for. Worse, your competitors will be able to do this. Because your competitors are almost certainly using some form of analytics on their website. There are several web analytics tools out there. The most popular one — Google Analytics — is used on an estimated 52 per cent of all websites out there. Those websites have their headlights on, and they know where they’re going. Without web analytics metrics, you’re simply operating blindly in a data-driven environment such as the web. Sure, you could conduct surveys of people who come into your store or call into your business to try and learn about your customers. But those people are already your clients. Web Analytics gives you insight into people who are merely browsing your services, shopping around, and looking at you versus your competition before they buy. Besides, the answers obtained by someone on a person-to-person survey might have nothing at all to do with that person’s actual behaviour when browsing the internet. Internet browsers tend to exhibit indicators of “low attention span” as they click on numerous websites, looking for information regarding the product they’re searching for. This might not have anything to do with how that person behaves offline. In short, nothing delivers the goods on understanding users’ behaviour on the web like good website analytics which has been implemented properly. Utilising the data obtained from web analytics is crucial to implementing an effective SEO strategy. What is the best Web Analytics tool for your website? The most popular tool, by far, is Google Analytics. This tool has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2005 when Google acquired Urchin Software Ltd. However, along with its increased number of features has come a much larger learning curve. Indeed, one of the reasons people hunt for assistance in implementing web analytics services is because learning web analytics from scratch has become a little complicated. That’s why sometimes it’s simply easier to hire an affordable company to assist in this matter. Google Analytics is not the only tool on the market, and there are other players who offer a unique and exciting take on analytics: Heat Maps. Yes, it is actually possible to see where people click on most by utilising a specialised form of web analytics which aggregates all this click data and then shows you a heat map of the results. Two companies that currently offer this are CrazyEgg and HotJar. Their offering is somewhat limited compared to the analytics tools that provide a full dashboard of analytics information, but they certainly have their use. It is not uncommon to use something like CrazyEgg or HotJar in combination with another web analytics software such as Google Analytics. Yahoo also offers a web analytics solution, as do other companies such as: com Optimizely ClickTale and numerous others Not all of these services are free. Some of them take a unique angle to analytics in order to attract users for their service. ClickTale (a paid service), for example, offers recordings of visits, which Google Analytics doesn’t. (HotJar also does this, incidentally.) Whatever web analytics service you choose, it needs to be something that doesn’t take a year to learn and which you can start using immediately to improve your website’s SEO and performance. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
SEO is utterly crucial for the success of your online business. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is required in order to be visible on the major search engines such as Google or Bing. The subject of SEO can get pretty complex. It is a technical subject, and ever-changing. Because Search Engines change their algorithms so regularly, it is vital to stay on top of the subject constantly in order to compete effectively with other websites. That’s why Start My business offers a specialist SEO Service in order to assist businesses of all sizes to compete on the web. In an article titled “How Often Does Google Update Its Algorithm”, Moz reported that Google updated its algorithm more than 3,000 times in 2018! To improve your search engine rankings and increase organic traffic to your website, it’s vital to implement these five easy SEO tips from our specialist SEO consultants in order to optimise your website. Tip #1. Find Relevant Keywords for Your Product and Services The very first thing you must do to improve your website’s optimisation is to list all the keywords and queries you would like to be found for. This is a list of all the keywords and queries which your client might type into a search engine to look for you. This list can then be used as a “seed keyword list” in specialised keyword tools to come up with other potential keywords and queries for which you could be found. What is a seed keyword list? This is simply the starting point from which you will gather all your remaining keywords. It is the “seed” from which the garden of your SEO will grow. For example, let’s say you’ve done some keyword research and realised that your clients would search for “Flowers for Sale” in order to find you. If you type this phrase into a keywords tool such as SEMRush, you will be given a wealth of data from which to optimise your website with. Looking at the screenshot of a SEMRush page above, you will notice that the tool gives you vital tips to improve your website’s SEO as a result of using this keyword phrase. It tells you: The difficulty in trying to compete for this keyword The volume of search this keyword has Detailed information about the “SERPs” (Search Engine Results Pages) for this keyword Related keywords And numerous other things. By taking the related keywords, as well as all the other SEO information provided for you here, you will be able to then create a comprehensive list of all the keywords you would like to optimise your website for. Other keyword tools SEMRush is quite a sophisticated tool, but it can also be fairly pricey for smaller businesses. Another excellent tool for SEO Keyword research is Moz Pro. But, again, this tool can also be quite pricey for smaller businesses. Google Ads (previously Google AdWords) has a built-in keyword tool which is quite popular with many people for keyword research. You need to have a Google Ads account to use it. And the information it provides can be quite limited. But it does have its uses. Free keyword research tools UberSuggest by Neil Patel is a keyword tool with both a free and a paid tier. It offers an abundance of information for keyword research. The free account does have some frustrating limits e.g. how many keywords you can check per day. Another option is Keyword Tool. This extensive tool allows you to generate keywords for Google, YouTube, Bing, Amazon and numerous other search engines. Like UberSuggest, the paid version offers more options. Tip #2: Optimise Your Title Tag and Meta Description, Titles and URL This is probably one of the most important SEO tips for better search engine rankings. It is also one of the easiest to implement for people with no web development or design experience. Let’s discuss the terms: Title Tag This is the text which shows on your browser’s tab when it is open. It is also the text which appears on Search Engine Results pages when people type in a search query. The title tag needs to be optimised for your keywords. If you are writing an article about “Cheap, Fresh Flowers” then the ideal title tag should include all three keywords. It’s also vital to ensure any of your competitors has not used the title. The easiest way to do this is to type the exact title into Google, enclosed by quotation marks, to see if that title appears in the search results. Be sure to add the quotation marks to the search query to get the most accurate results. If you are using a website created by Start My Business, you will be able to edit the title right in the article or page you are creating. Titles An article also has internal titles. Each section of your article should be titled correctly, using keywords in each of the subtitles. Meta Description The meta description is the text which appears under the title in the search engine results. It is essential real estate to use when trying to capture your readers’ attention. The description is a “meta” aspect to the website, which means that it doesn’t utilise text which you can see on the page itself when visiting it. It is text inputted directly into the code of the web page. Fortunately, when using a website created by Start My Business, you will have the option to edit the meta description directly. The meta description should not contain too much text — ideally, about 200 characters. URL URL stands for “Uniform Resource Locator”. In layman’s terms, it is the web address of a page. For example, the URL of this page is https://www.startmybusiness.com/resources/articles/5-simple-seo-tips-and-steps-to-optimise-your-website You can see it when you look at the address bar of your browser. In the system used by Start My Business to create websites, it is possible to directly edit this website address. This is a pivotal place to use your keywords. Sometimes, search engines show this address directly in the search results and highlight the keywords in the URL. Try not to make the URL too long, however, and engage in the “black hat” SEO practice of “keyword stuffing”. Instead of helping you, it might lead to a penalty. Tip #3: Optimise Your Content Search Engines prefer high-quality content which is useful to the reader. The key bit of advice here is to write for people, not for search engines. This is tricky because, in Search Engine Optimisation, one does indeed need to write for Search Engines. The skill lies in striking a balance between using the right keywords in your website’s copy while at the same time ensuring the content is readable, helpful, and valuable to the reader. But it goes beyond keywords. Useful content has a few elements which must be present for Search Engines to sit up and pay attention. Length Numerous studies have been conducted by major SEO players, trying to identify the ideal length for website content. Some people agree that content of over 2,500 words, or even 3,000 words, is the only way to improve search engine rankings. In a well-known article by SEO Guru Neil Patel, he says that a company’s content strategy should be to create the content of over 2,000 words. But, in 2016, SEO Expert Randy Fish disagreed. He describes that content should be useful and valuable to the reader, not necessarily long. Indeed, as recently as 2020, a study of over 11.8 million Google Search Results by Backlinko found that, whereas content which was longer tended to generate more backlinks, it didn’t necessarily result in a better search engine ranking on its own. Their study revealed that the average word count of the top 10 Google results was as low as 1,447 words. This is why SEO is such a complex subject. A person must always have their finger on the pulse, analysing data from multiple sources to obtain an overall view of what works and what doesn’t. Either way, no one can argue that, all taken together, better content tends to be on the “longish” side. How long is “longish”? Well, according to the recent study by backlinko above, it’s at least 1,447 words! A rule of thumb could be that short content cannot necessarily be as useful as long content which is packed with tips and recommendations. Freshness Content should be fresh. It should be applicable to things happening now. There are two ways to achieve this: Write content regularly, never missing a deadline to get another blog post up for your website. Write “evergreen” content. “Evergreen” content is content which does not necessarily age, or ages slowly. If you’re going to write an article about search engine trends in 2009, that article will likely be hopelessly outdated by 2020. Evergreen content would not include a date in it. The beauty of creating evergreen content is that it can gain in momentum, gathering links and picking up pace as time progresses. It takes a lot of work to come up with evergreen content which remains “fresh” even as the world changes, but it can reduce your workload in the long term. Originality Content must be original. If you are saying what everyone else has already said, Search Engines will have no reason to pick your content over the others’ in the search engine results pages. In an article by Marieke van de Rakt of Yoast SEO, she says, “Nobody wants to read old news.” She also says that original content is the first thing to focus on when trying to create SEO-friendly website content. In order to improve one’s search engines rankings, it is utterly vital to create original content which has not been written before. This can take quite some thinking, especially if you are in a highly competitive field such as, well, selling flowers. If you are in a niche market, the problem is ameliorated to a degree. But, even then, the content you create should not be something your competitors have already created. Some ideas on how to create original content are: Interview people related to your industry and tell their story on your blog. Write about anecdotes at your business. These are almost always guaranteed to be unique. Write about a unique implementation of some business process at your office. Regularity Like everything in SEO, this topic is contentious. Some experts believe that posting regularly is vital; others say the frequency is not that important if the quality is high. But what does ”regularly” mean? Is it daily, weekly, monthly? The simple truth of the matter is that you must balance what you can do with what you should do. If you are busy all day filling orders for your clients, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a blog post out every day. And, really, what would you write about? One solution is to hire a content writer to churn out copy for you. In this regard, it’s better to choose an experienced writer; otherwise, you risk having plagiarised content on your site, which could lead to penalties from the Search Engines. So, work out what you can do and take it from there. A good rule of thumb is to try and write something original and useful every week. Tip #4: Optimize your images Images need to be optimised in order for search engines to understand what they are about. Although technology has improved, a search engine still requires textual data to understand what a website is about. Image “alt” tags Images on a web page have a special element associated with them called an “alt” or “alternative” tag. Think of the “alt tag” as a label — a tag — sticking out from a box, telling you what’s inside it. Alt tags are useful for two reasons: They describe the image and therefore give the search engine a tip about what it is about. They assist people who are using screen readers understand what the image is about. This makes your site more accessible. Barry Schwartz, a well-known SEO expert, noted that Google doesn’t currently use accessibility as a ranking factor in this article on SEO Round Table and that there are no plans to do it in the future. But on this matter of images, Google has said repeatedly that it looks for alt tags in images to help it understand the page and the image better. Image context Another important factor is the image context. The text which surrounds an image is important because it gives the search engine more information about what that image is about. Remember: Search engines deal, fundamentally, with text first, and everything else second. Image sizes This is a vital point in SEO and recently became a major ranking factor, as the world started browsing the web more and more on mobile phones. Actually, the ranking factor is specifically page speed, not image size. But images are a crucial element when it comes to speeding up a page’s loading time. Indeed, in an article on Search Engine Land, Kristine Schachinger notes that optimising images is an area which many companies fail to capitalise on. Reducing an image’s size can speed up a page’s load-time tremendously. There are numerous tools available to reduce an image’s size. A simple search will take you to some of the best ones. If your website was created by the Start My Business team, then image-size-reduction happens automatically when you upload an image to your website. Tip #5: Don’t forget to link internally Search Engines try and understand your site’s structure. A key way to do this is to link internally between your content. When you create a link, make sure the link itself is descriptive of the page it is pointing to. For example, if you have a page titled “The Best Roses in South London”, make sure you use the phrase “best roses in London” or “best roses in South London” whenever linking to that page from other pages in your website. This gives the search engine a clue about the target page’s content. Summary of SEO Optimisation As you can see, SEO is a big subject. It takes years of experience to do it well, but the key thing is to get started. Using these five tips above, you can make massive headway in your SEO goals, and get your website optimised and ranking far better than it did before in the major search engines. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
There are two ways to start an entrepreneurial venture: Come up with a stellar idea that is utterly revolutionary but requires megabucks to get off the ground. Come up with a great idea which doesn’t require a lot of investment but requires plenty of your time. The first option is for ventures which are planning on becoming the latest unicorn. The second is for people who, perhaps, are just looking to get something off the ground and seeing where it might go. In both cases, building your own website might not be the best way to go when you could get a much more professional (and affordable) service from an agency that specialises in custom-built, unique websites. Why website design is important for businesses Even if your business is not entirely based on an online model, the world has changed, and people are now buying online more than ever. The “new normal” means that, if you don’t have an online, contactless method of selling your product or services, you’re going to struggle to compete. And then there’s the matter of marketing and brand awareness. In a world where over 4.57 billion people are online, trying to raise awareness for your brand without an online presence is like trying to catch a leaf in a tornado. A website also allows you to analyse your traffic and, therefore, your customers. By using simple analytics technology to see what people are doing on your website, you are able to gain a deeper understanding of your clients and visitors, and so improve your product and services to more closely match what they need. Why entrepreneurs should invest in custom and professional website design The main reason businesses should invest in web design rather than try and do it in-house is because the world of web design has skyrocketed into a new level of sophistication. It’s true of every tech-related industry: Technology has reached a point where we are almost living in that Science Fiction future we used to read about a few years ago. Whatever your startup industry is, you’re no doubt pro in that industry. And, when pe ople use your service, they’ll likely use it because you’re a pro. It takes years, perhaps even decades, to become a complete expert at something. The same is true of web design and web development — if you want a pro service, you need to call in an expert to put together a responsive design for your custom website which does your startup justice. Whether you go with a freelance web designer or a web design agency is not so much in question. The only question is this: Is the website design company you’re choosing a professional in the subject of website design for businesses? As competition grows more fierce, an entrepreneur’s web offering needs to stand out. A custom website which is unique in its design and has an excellent UX (“User Experience”) goes a long way to building your credibility and positive reputation. It also improves your chances greatly of people sharing your website and service on social media. Investing in a spectacular website doesn’t need to break the bank. The best web design agencies are also the ones who have adopted the most modern technology and methods, thereby allowing them to deliver phenomenal websites at a fraction of the cost. You have three broad choices when deciding who to choose, to get your website built: Freelance Web Design A freelance web designer might be an option if you’re on a tight budget. Freelancers sometimes offer a more personalised experience because they don’t deal with so many clients and so can talk directly to you about what you need. This can also backfire because the best freelancers can get busy very quickly and then might not be able to keep up with your project because they are too overwhelmed. This can be a real problem if you’re, say, trying to launch a new marketing campaign and need an eye-catching and effective landing page pronto. Web Design Agencies Web design agencies can offer a wide range of web design services spanning multiple platforms. They must also, perforce, keep up with the latest web technologies in order to compete effectively. This means you’re likely to get a state-of-the-art website with an agency in a fraction of the time compared to a freelance web designer. But, let’s face it, web design agencies can be a bit on the pricey side. Also, sometimes the “latest and greatest” web technology is not the right choice for your business website. Sometimes, tried and tested works better. Start My Business Professional Website Design Start My Business offers a blend of the two services above — web design at the quality of a web design agency with the personal touch and affordability of hiring a freelance web designer. We are able to do this because of our unique business model spanning not only web design but also numerous other marketing services. No matter the web design package you’re looking for, Start My Business can deliver. You can also smarten the package up with several add-on services. Summary of Investing in a Great Website Whomever you choose to build your website, remember that you are investing in a professional service that must be delivered by professional people. You are a pro at what you do. Rather hire someone else who is also a pro at what they do, and deliver a superior web experience to your customers, than try to do it yourself and delivering something substandard which harms your brand right from the getgo. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Shopify has completely revolutionized e-commerce. Unlike its competitors — WooCommerce, Wix, Squarespace — Shopify stands out from the rest in that it is entirely and completely built around e-commerce only. Instead of being a plugin or add-on, it is the shop and website your e-commerce business runs on. Other tools provide e-commerce as an additional functionality or added plugin. Shopify is e-commerce, and everything about the service is dedicated to getting your business up and selling within minutes. The pricing is highly competitive and scales as your business scales so that you only pay for what you need. Plans for Shopify start from as little as USD29.00 a month for sellers who are new to e-commerce. With just a few clicks, a person can get their e-commerce store going in no time, which makes Shopify an extremely popular choice for e-commerce businesses, powering upwards of 1,000,000 e-commerce websites! Why is it important to integrate Shopify with an accounting tool? Whether you’re using Shopify or some other e-commerce system, integrating that system with your backend accounting system is essential to your own sanity; particularly if you’re selling in large volumes. The reasons for this are as follows: Bookkeeping will be a nightmare Without integrating Shopify with your accounting system, you will need to keep up your bookkeeping manually. Shopify provides an “Export to CSV” option, and the resultant CSV file is massive. Manually inputting all that exported data into your bookkeeping system is a potential minefield of errors. If you’re using Excel for your accounting, you might be able to write some macros to get the data imported automatically, but that’s starting to get really complicated! Most businesses these days use online accounting and bookkeeping software. If you’re a small business, some of that software is even available for free, such as Wave Accounting. But, whereas accounting and bookkeeping software can save swathes of time once the data is in the system, it can potentially add time if you have to import a lot of data from a CSV file. Often, the CSV file needs to be formatted in a particular way. This requires more of your time and opens the door to even more potential errors. In short, connecting Shopify to an online accounting system is imperative for peace of mind, so you can simply work on your business and let the bookkeeping take care of itself. Shopify fees The problem is made more complex when one adds Shopify fees to each transaction. In some cases, Shopify will charge a small fee per transaction. In your accounting, you could add this as a tax-deductible expense. Manually sifting through fees or figuring them out in an exported CSV file further adds to the potential of human error when updating your bookkeeping software manually. What are the basic requirements to connect Shopify with my accounting software? Fortunately, Shopify connects with many accounting systems to keep the two systems in sync, and automatically update your bookkeeping. Essentially, the main criterion required to connect your accounting software to Shopify is that a “middleware” app has been specifically designed to do this. Most of these apps connect to online accounting services. But there is also a connection for QuickBooks Desktop which can be obtained in the Shopify app store. If a tool doesn’t exist in the Shopify store or made by the accountancy software provider itself, sometimes tools like Zapier can help connect that particular software to your accounting system, but that starts getting a little more complex. How to integrate FreeAgent with Shopify FreeAgent is an extremely popular accounting tool, especially amongst solopreneurs, freelancers, and sole proprietors. It is also very popular with other small businesses. The only drawback to this integration is that it only works with UK VAT rates. So, if you’re selling using another country’s VAT Rates, you won’t be able to use the plugin. The plugin works by importing the data daily to FreeAgent. FreeAgent then automatically generates invoices for any items sold. FreeAgent connects directly with Shopify. All that is required is to visit the FreeAgent App page on the Shopify Plugins store and then add the plugin to your Shopify store. Simply click the “Add app” button to begin the integration. If you are not logged in, Shopify will prompt you to log in. You’ll be asked to confirm the connection, and to review the various permissions that are required for this integration: You will then be taken to FreeAgent’s website and asked to log in. On FreeAgent’s page, you will be asked to confirm that Shopify can access your FreeAgent data: After accepting all the permissions, you’ll be taken back to Shopify’s page to configure all the settings so that FreeAgent knows how to handle any purchases made. These configurations include: Setting the to start the configuration from Setting up the VAT rates and sales categories Reviewing the contact name to use for any invoices created in FreeAgent Specifying the spending categories for Shopify fees and card fees Confirming that you don’t have foreign tax rates applied. And, voila! Your data will be automatically imported and synced! How to integrate QuickBooks Desktop with Shopify QuickBooks Desktop can sync with Spotify using the QuickBooks Desktop plugin available in the Shopify App Store. All order information from Shopify is synced once a day, and all information is pulled into QuickBooks Desktop, including customer details, line items, taxes, shipping, etc. The tool has the added benefit of handling multi-currency orders without a problem. And it can also sync data from multiple Shopify stores into one QuickBooks Desktop file for syncing. To connect QuickBooks Desktop to Shopify, visit the plugin page above, install it, and then follow the prompts. It should be noted that the syncing tool provided here is not made by QuickBooks, but by a third-party company called Parex Technologies. How to connect QuickBooks Online with Shopify QuickBooks also doesn’t provide an in-house solution to link Shopify with their accounting software. So, again, we’ll have to resort to third-party solutions. There are several on the market. One of the solutions can be found on the Intuit (the makers of Quickbooks) App page, made by a company called Bold Commerce. Unfortunately, this particular app has some pretty dismal reviews, so we’re not going to recommend it. On the Shopify app store, however, there’s an app by Parex, which also makes the QuickBooks Desktop Sync tool for Shopify. Parex’s QuickBooks Cloud sync tool has excellent reviews: The app costs USD10/month, with a 7-day free trial. Adding the app follows a similar procedure compared to the first one we covered (FreeAgent). You will be prompted to grant the appropriate permissions on both websites (QuickBooks and Shopify), and then you’ll need to configure how you want Shopify’s data to be pulled into QuickBooks. Other providers to connect QuickBooks Online to Shopify As with all tools created by third parties, you’ll have to make a call as to which one you want to use. Here are some other options for connecting QuickBooks Online to Shopify: io Quickbooks Sync by Bold (has a free tier) QuickBooks Online Sync (USD99.00/month—great reviews, but what a price!) How to connect Xero with Shopify Xero also does not provide its own in-house connection to Shopify, but it does recommend some apps on its webpage that can do the job. The three recommended apps to connect Xero to QuickBooks are: A2x Amaka Parex Bridge All of the apps have incredible reviews (4.8 to 4.97 stars). A2x for Shopify A2x for Shopify automatically posts Shopify data to Xero. It reconciles payouts, fees, refunds, and adjustments so that these don’t need to be entered manually. To get started, visit the A2x website, open an account and then install the app. They have a free trial period for you to test the app. Amaka Amaka summarizes all daily transactions from Shopify into one invoice and automatically categorizes and groups those transactions to make use of Xero’s powerful reporting capabilities. The tool also takes care of payment fees and taxes. To get started, you will first need to create an account at Amaka. Then click the New Integration button. There will be several authentication and permission screens that follow, both for Shopify as well as for Xero. You will need to grant permission for the Amaka app to access your Shopify account as well as your Xero account. After clicking Save + Continue, the integration is live and ready to start syncing! Parex Bridge for Xero Parex Bridge provides daily syncing between Shopify and Xero. It syncs Shopify orders, products, and customers. You can configure Parex Bridge to run entirely automatically, or choose a manual option so that it runs only when you trigger it through the click of a button. Refunds and order cancelations are all dealt with by the app. Partially paid orders are also handled appropriately. Customers can be imported individually, or you can choose for them to be synced to a single customer such as “Shopify.” The tool also deals with Tax and Shipping costs appropriately. To configure Parex Bridge for Xero, visit the Parex Bridge page on the Shopify App Store and click “Add App.” If you are not logged in to Shopify, you will be prompted to log in. Like all the other apps in this article, you will need to authenticate and accept permissions as necessary, both on Xero’s side and Shopify, so that the two systems can communicate with each other. Once you have authenticated, you will be prompted to fill in some settings, such as the Xero account you want to log Shopify purchases in, how to handle Gift Card purchases, and any Xero prefixes you want to use if you are connecting more than one Shopify store to Xero. There are also options to configure how to handle Shopify PayOuts and how to handle Xero products when syncing orders. You will then need to select the package that matches your needs: The available packages for Parex Bridge for Xero are: Silver – USD10.00/month, for up to 100 orders a month. Gold – USD20.00/month, for between 101 and 1,000 orders a month. Platinum – USD30.00/month, for stores with up to 10,000 orders a month. (You will be charged an additional USD10.00 for every additional 5,000 orders.) How to integrate FreshBooks with Shopify Like FreeAgent, FreshBooks has created its own app to connect directly with Shopify. Unfortunately, it does not have great (or many) reviews. The app can be installed directly from the Shopify App Store. Also, like the FreeAgent app, this one doesn’t cost anything (although you do need a FreshBooks subscription to use FreshBooks). To install, click Add App from the Shopify page, authenticate, and accept the permissions on both Shopify and Freshbooks for the app to access your accounts. The app gives you several options when syncing client data. These are: Syncing orders to a new client with the name “COMPANY+NAME” Syncing all orders to an existing client Creating a new client for each order processed You can see these options below. The screenshot above also shows the option to sync data on a schedule, or every time you click the Sync Manually button. For every order in Shopify, an invoice is generated in FreshBooks. Inventory data is pulled from Shopify, and the Shopify products will be considered the Master Source of data. Which will then update/modify FreshBooks’s data These products can be synced manually or automatically with FreshBooks. How to integrate Wave Accounting with Shopify Wave’s free accounting software is only available to US and Canada-based customers. Unfortunately, Wave’s in-house Shopify syncing feature came to an end on Dec. 31, 2020. But there is still an app on the Shopify App Store called “Sync to Wave.” This app is not reviewed by Wave itself, and it has very few reviews. (And the reviews are not great.) To connect this tool, click Add App, authenticate and accept the required permissions, then configure the settings. Sync to Wave offers the following functionality: Sync orders from Shopify to Wave as accounting transactions. All line items, shipping fees, and applicable taxes are synced. Any new sales taxes created in Shopify will be automatically added to Wave. Gift card payments can be synced. Shopify PayOuts can be synced. The app also supports multiple stores. Another option for Wave syncing with Shopify is Zapier. But this requires a lot more individual setup compared to a dedicated app. How to integrate Zoho Books with Shopify Zoho Books connects to Shopify by means of its in-house integration platform, Zoho Flow. The major drawback with it is that it requires configuring each aspect of Shopify to Zoho Books, rather than being a one-click, “black box” solution that takes care of everything for you. Although the potential of this integration method is vast, we feel that the setup is clunky. Also, the Standard tier of Zoho Flow—USD10/month—is limited in the number of actions it can carry out a month before you need to upgrade to a higher tier. That higher tier is a whopping USD24/month which we felt was a little hefty if all you want to do is integrate Shopify with Zoho Books and not use any of Zoho Flow’s other features. Zapier is another option when it comes to integrating Zoho Books. But that has similar issues to Zoho Flow, because both those services are an all-in-one integration service, and not “Black Box” services which take the complexity out of connecting Shopify to an accounting system. Overall, we were disappointed with Zoho Books’s offering. Which is the best accounting software to integrate with Shopify? Based on the above factors, we gave each of the accounting tools above a star rating out of five according to how we felt they dealt with integration. We compared all factors, including: Pricing Reviews from users Functionality FreeAgent lost points because: The reviews are bad They only support UK tax, which really sucks FreshBooks equally lost stars because of the negative reviews. Wave only has a third-party app and the reviews are not great. We felt Zoho was too complex to be user-friendly, and too expensive. We’re not fans of Desktop apps, but we couldn’t find anything that worked against QuickBooks Desktop, so it also gets a five-star. Xero is the clear winner, though, with some excellent third-party tools that are highly reviewed and extensively used. (We gave it a bonus star.) Here’s our subjective review of how well each of the above accountancy tools integrates with Shopify: FreeAgent QuickBooks Desktop QuickBooks Online Xero FreshBooks Wave Zoho App available? (several apps available) Built in house? Has all major features? Good reviews? (excellent and many reviews) N/A Overall Rating ★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ Bonus star: ★ ★★★ ★★ ★ About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
In any “best of” survey, it’s important to remember the factor of weight variables. Every person’s circumstances are different. Therefore, certain factors might have more weight to you than to someone else. We’ve gone through what is generally perceived as the four best states to form an LLC in, and assigned values to different factors without weight variables. This gave us a uniform ranking, determining which is the best theoretical state to open and run an LLC in. This article is meant to be a guide, allowing you to get a quick glance at the four best states in the USA to open an LLC in. But you should definitely research more deeply into each aspect below. We have provided applicable links wherever possible. How we chose the states The tumultuous year of 2020 changed everything. Previously, it had always been a given that the “best” states to start a business were Delaware, Nevada or maybe even Wyoming. But we simply couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room, which was how “lockdown-friendly” that State has been in the last year. This is no comment on whether lockdowns are right, wrong, merited, ethical, or any of that. It is simply a statement of fact: Government enforced lockdowns affect a business’s ability to operate, so we simply could not ignore this fact when choosing the “best” state for business this year. We also couldn’t only consider lockdowns when choosing the states. That would add a weight variable that would not apply to many people, such as those whose businesses can operate entirely remotely. So, we took the middle ground and chose: Delaware—because Delaware will always have a place in any “best of” article for setting up a business in the USA. Nevada—because…same. Nevada has been flexing its muscles to compete with Delaware for some time, and is gaining traction. South Dakota—because it was the only state in 2020 whose unemployment rate improved in all of the USA. Its governor has been anti-lockdown from the beginning. Florida—because it has been pro-business for most of the pandemic, allowing small businesses to continue to operate, and is continuing to do so while many other states remain in lockdown or with other restrictions in place. Again, we must reiterate that this is not a political comment on the use of lockdowns. We have no opinion on the matter in this article other than what environment each state government is providing for its local businesses. Let’s do this thing! Privacy For various reasons, members and managers of companies might not want their name on the public record. This can provide an additional buffer against frivolous lawsuits aimed at individuals, as well as allow entrepreneurs freedom to run multiple businesses in stealth mode—a common requirement for tech startups. In Delaware, if you use a registered agent, then no information on the members (owners) and managers needs to be listed on the company’s Certificate of Formation. Also, the Delaware Division of Corporations does not store any information regarding LLC members and managers. Once the business has been formed in Delaware, your registered agent will then provide you with a Certificate of Incumbency, which authorizes you to do business on behalf of that business. But this certificate does not need to be filed with any public authority. It must be noted that this level of privacy in Delaware exists only when you register through an agent. Delaware, like many other states, requires the organizers of an LLC to be filed publicly. To ensure privacy, this organizer can be your registered agent. Nevada has a convoluted method of keeping names out of the public record. Nevada is one of those many states where members’ names do need to be filed in the Articles of Organization. But the workaround to this is to assign a “Nominee Director” or “Nominee Manager” to act as the public face of the company. This “in-name-only” person will have no control over the business, but will be publicly associated with it. When we get to the Sunshine State, things get a little more complicated, and less private. Florida requires a business’s address to be a matter of public record as per the Florida Public Records Act of 1909. If you’re a one-person show, or just starting out, that’s usually your personal address. No privacy. To get around this, you would need a registered agent, as in Delaware. But this option doesn’t keep your personal name out of the public record, which would be exposed whenever you file your annual reports. Because Florida law requires the name of a manager or member to be filed along with the company’s annual reports. The only way around this is a tangled solution where you actually need to form two LLCs, using the name of one as the manager or member of the other. Confused? Yeah, it’s complicated. That’s why Florida gets a three-star rating for member privacy. South Dakota does not require member and manager names on the public record. It does require the “organizer(s)” of the LLC to be named in the Articles of Organization. South Dakota’s annual reports also require the names of directors and governors. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Member Privacy ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★ ★★ Piercing the corporate veil The “corporate veil” is a term used to describe the legal distinction between members of a company, and the company itself. It is an essential concept when it comes to the separation of liability, a major reason for forming LLCs. If a corporate veil is successfully pierced through litigation, a member becomes personally liable for the LLC’s debts, which can be catastrophic for personal wealth. The Nevada Corporate Veil has traditionally been the stuff of legends. And when it does get pierced (an extremely rare occurrence in Nevada), it is big news. Delaware is equally robust in keeping the corporate veil in place. To determine fraud in Delaware, the “person behind the curtain” must have committed particularly egregious acts. Florida actually has quite a strong reputation for not piercing the corporate veil. Judges require that malicious acts be deliberate and not merely as a result of negligence before piercing the veil. We found little information regarding South Dakota’s treatment of the corporate veil. Specifically, we found nothing negative in this respect. Indeed, as you will see later on in this article, South Dakota’s legal climate is one of the best in the country. So we’re going to give them the benefit of the doubt in the matter of piercing the corporate veil. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Strength of Corporate Veil ★★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★ Taxes Delaware is often cited as a tax haven because it doesn’t charge corporation tax on companies which don’t physically do business there. That’s great if you don’t live in Delaware, not so great if you do. But there’s another crucial issue to know about this: There is a difference between “registering” and “filing” a business. In the USA, “filing” a business means to incorporate it. “Registering” a business means the procedure you go through when you want to do business in other states. Let’s say you sell flowers and you live in California. You have a flower shop in California. Well, even if you file in Delaware, you will still need to register the business in any state that you wish to do business in. That means double paperwork. And it also means fees for registering in the foreign state. So, yeah, “no taxes” is not entirely true. Nevada is actually on the opposite side of the pendulum: To make full use of tax benefits from Nevada, the business must actually reside in Nevada or conduct its primary business in Nevada. That means zero corporation tax, zero, franchise tax, zero capital stock tax, etc. But, yeah, you have to be domiciled in the state to benefit from these tax savings. Want to move to Nevada? (Also, keep in mind that zero state tax does not mean you are free from federal corporate tax which is levied at 15% for the first $50,000 of net, and increases in amount for anything higher.) Florida also has numerous tax advantages—both at the individual and business level. It is particularly friendly to small businesses and medium-sized businesses because there is zero state-level corporate tax for LLCs. Only C Corporations (usually “big companies”) pay corporate tax, so it’s ideal for small businesses. But even so, Corporate Tax for C Corps is as low as 5%, or 0% if the company’s profit is less than $50,000. Florida also has no personal income tax. So, for small LLCs, you won’t be taxed at state level for the company profits, and you won’t be taxed personally at state level for dividends pulled from the company. And then there’s South Dakota, arguably the most tax-friendly state for businesses in the USA. It has zero corporate tax and zero personal income tax. Motor vehicles are also free of sales tax. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Tax Friendliness Ranking ★★★ ★★★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ Government Interference in Business’s Rights Okay, this is the dreaded “lockdown” section. I think we’ve mentioned that this isn’t a political comment, but we’ll mention it again: This isn’t a comment on the ethics or morals of lockdowns! We are looking at this purely from a business perspective, and how your business might fare in the future if the state you are in is eager to close up small businesses or not. Florida initially went into lockdown but the governor quickly retracted and opened up businesses and reduced restrictions much earlier than the rest of the country. South Dakota has been called “America’s Sweden” with its governor refusing to lock down since the beginning of the pandemic, even keeping the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which many businesses were grateful for. Delaware’s response was a lot more stringent than Florida and South Dakota. “Non-essential” businesses were ordered to close in March of 2020, for approximately two months. And schools were to remain closed through 15 May. For any business owner, having kids at home instead of at school can be a little bit harrowing. It was actually only in June that some businesses could reopen. But then all the bars were closed indefinitely on 30 June 2020. Schools were finally allowed to reopen in August 2020. Then the governor ordered another lockdown from 14 December through 11 January. And so it went. Only now is the state starting to reopen slowly. Overall, not the greatest scene for business, especially small businesses and those in the hospitality sector. Nevada responded similarly, with initial lockdowns being extended, closing all non-essential businesses. On 8 April, 2020, golf courses were ordered to close, as well as tennis and basketball courts, same for real estate open houses. In one particularly business-hostile move, the governor threatened to close down businesses where a recent COVID outbreak was suspected to originate. Although no further state-mandated lockdowns ensued, this was floated later in the year. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Government Interference in Business’s Rights ★★ ★★ ★★★★★ ★★★★★ Legal Climate Delaware’s most appealing trait for business filings has always been its Chancery Court. This is a special court that deals specifically with business matters, and its judges are experts at business. Delaware has built a strong reputation over the decades as a state where business disputes get handled rapidly and fairly in the Chancery Court. No other state has such a court. Although Nevada has effectively been waging an all-out war with Delaware in its fight to get to the top of the “Most Appealing State to Start a Business In” ladder, its arsenal has consisted mostly of tax benefits and incentives. (For example, there is no corporate income tax, personal income tax, or franchise taxes in Nevada.) But Nevada does not come close to Delaware’s legal climate. The U.S. Chambers Institute for Legal Reform (ILR)—an organization tasked with reducing the cost of legal action in America, particularly as a result of “frivolous” lawsuits—ranked Nevada’s legal climate at a scathing #29. But Florida ranks even worse, at a dismal #46. South Dakota—which is really starting to grow on us, the more we learn about it—comes in at #10, although it held the top spot in 2017. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Legal Fairness ★★★★ ★★ ★★★★ ★★ So, which is the most business-friendly state? There are exceptions to all rules. And “best of” articles can only provide guidelines. Also, some people weight certain factors higher than others. The state you live in (or if you live outside of the USA entirely) can also play a major role in determining the best place to register your company. That being said, here is how the four states covered above faced off against each other in 2021, weight variables aside. Delaware Nevada South Dakota Florida Overall Rating 3.8 ★★★★ 3.4 ★★★ 4.2 ★★★★ 3.6 ★★★ Errata We’ve done our best to provide a thorough and accurate breakdown of the above states. If you see any errors, please let us know and we will be happy to correct them. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Before anything else: This is not legal advice! Company formation in Europe is an intricate subject. If you are looking to optimise your tax structure by forming a company in one of the European member states, we suggest getting expert advice while doing it. Tax optimisation and company formation Depending on what type of business you’re planning on running, you might want to consider registering your company in a Europen country other than your home country. The main reason for doing this is to save on corporate taxes. There are jurisdictions where corporate tax is extremely low. Places like Malta, Ireland, Gibraltar, Hungary, Lithuania and other jurisdictions offer some of the lowest corporate taxes in Europe. But there is more to know about this. If it was just as simple as registering a company in Hungary to save on tax when you’re located in England, then everyone would do it. You’re (probably) always going to pay some tax Forget everything you’ve read about “not paying any tax”. It’s likely not going to happen. Pressure from bodies such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) make reducing one’s taxable footprint to zero almost an impossibility. A lot of developing European countries offer excellent tax advantages for companies, but remember that a company is a separate legal entity to an individual. Once you take that money out of the company you are then taxed on that income personally by whatever regime you are currently registered under — more often than not, where you’re physically located. Setting up a company in, say, Hungary so you can pay lower corporate tax doesn’t mean you will have access to that money personally. The money belongs to the company which is a separate legal entity. Once you take the money out in the form of a salary or dividends, you will be taxed on it by your local authorities. What works for big corporations might not work for small ones “Base erosion” and “profit shifting” — which are basically methods of “eroding” one’s taxable base and “shifting” one’s profits into more advantageous tax regimes — are common practices amongst large megacorps. Just witness the number of tech companies who have made Ireland their home, or the huge number of banks that are based in Luxembourg. But, for smaller businesses, such intricate manoeuvres are cumbersome and often bring little return when comparing the costs required to set it up. Either way, if you’re planning on moving anyway, then Ireland has extremely favourable corporate tax rates (12.5 per cent, which is staggeringly low for Europe), as do Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and a few other countries. Where is the work actually being done? This is the fundamental question to be answered when you’re looking to optimise your tax by forming a company in another European state. There are exceptions to every rule, especially in legal matters. But, generally speaking, you or your company will be taxed wherever the work is actually being done. That’s most often the case for service companies. If you’re selling a product, it’s a little different. Companies that sell a product must often follow numerous tax laws based on where the product is sold, and to where it is being delivered. In many cases, it does make sense to start a company in one of the lower-tax countries if you are selling a product across Europe. Dividends Dividends are taxed according to extremely complicated laws. Each European Member state has its own “withholding rate” for dividend payments for foreign individuals. The country you are personally registered in for tax then has its own taxation tables for dividends on the individual level. Let’s follow that closely. There are three steps here: Corporate tax (domicile of the corporate entity) Withholding tax (domicile of the corporate entity) Personal income tax applied to dividends (domicile of the individual) Almost all European Member states have withholding taxes for dividend payments (nominally, Estonia and Latvia do not, but they levy a 20 per cent corporate tax when dividends are distributed). These withholding rates vary from member state to member state and can be mitigated by existing Double Taxation Treaties so that you are not taxed in two jurisdictions for the same income. It is advisable to talk to a tax adviser about the best possible option for optimising your dividend payments. What type of business do you run? If you’re a one-person show, you’re unlikely to achieve many benefits from forming a company in a different European country because your money will need to stay locked in that company for you to benefit from the corporate tax savings. If, however, you are planning on moving soon, or if you spend a tremendous amount of time in that country then, yes, registering a company in that jurisdiction might reduce your taxable footprint. Again, it depends greatly on the type of business you’re running. Romania might have stunning tax savings on both a corporate and an individual level, but it is a developing economy and the purchasing power of local consumers is not that strong. If you are planning on moving to Romania, Hungary, Lithuania or some other low-tax jurisdiction and do your business primarily in another country (e.g. via the internet) then a world of options opens up to you to optimise your taxable footprint through registering a company there. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
With the Bank of England warning that the UK has hit its deepest recession in 300 hundred years, some people might think that starting a business at this time is the silliest thing to do. These people are misinformed. Some of the largest names in business began during a recession. The success of a business has little to do with the current state of the economy. The only important things to know when running any business are: What is in demand How to pivot if that demand suddenly sinks. The hospitality and travel industries were hit hardest, and yet Airbnb reported spectacular profitability in the middle of this crisis. Airbnb is definitely doing something right to convince people to book rooms despite all supposed reasons not to. Starting a business — understanding demand Let’s look at the restaurant industry. What is the demand that restaurants fill? Perhaps it’s a demand for tables and a specific type of cuisine. Perhaps it’s a demand for not having to cook at home, or for being well served. During the COVID lockdowns, not all those demands could be met. But some of them could, perhaps with slight alterations. Restaurants could offer a premium takeaway service and thereby fulfil some of the demands above. If they’re a posh restaurant, and part of their offering is the sense of fine dining, they could get a brochure put together which shows people how to replicate that experience in their own homes. (Candles, anyone? Champagne?) The trick is knowing how to pivot. The other trick is to be creative. Creativity is what makes entrepreneurs successful No one can predict the future. No matter how good your business plan is, you can’t plan for the unforeseen and the unprecedented. If anything, COVID has resulted in such a different world to what was in place before that it is unlikely that the world will change so drastically again in the near future. COVID took everyone’s footing away from under them, and everyone had to learn how to stand. Well, we’re standing now. And people know how to weather the storms a lot better than before. Even so, creativity and the ability to pivot are essential traits of any entrepreneur. Even if you hadn’t known what the essential tools were for your business before COVID-19, you would go and discover them when the time arose. Entrepreneurs must be able to work under pressure and solve problems to survive. Today, it’s COVID-19 and a bumbling, fumbling, blind government with no sense of how to tackle a crisis. Tomorrow, it could something else. The top entrepreneurs don’t blame others. They look at a problem and tackle it head-on — creatively. Less competition The other reason to start a business after COVID-19 is because you will likely have less competition. Part of the character of an entrepreneur is a sense of boldness and an ability to spot an opportunity looming, no matter how faint. As the famous saying goes: Luck is merely a seized opportunity. (Did we just make that up? I think we did.) Be bold. Be an entrepreneur. Now is the time to start your business. Why is now the time? Simply because it is now. The entire ethos of successful entrepreneurs is to mould the environment to their needs, not vice versa. It’s that attitude which leads to disruptions in the market. Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait for greener pastures. They sow seeds and turn those pastures green themselves. If the ground is rocky, they plough harder or seek better ground. What you must do when starting a business, post COVID-19 As a result of this new footing we have found, business persons are much more aware of certain essentials which must be in place for any business to succeed. These essentials were previously considered “nice-to-haves” — such as video conferencing tools, remote-working tools, cloud-based solutions — but are now considered to be utterly crucial to a business’s survival. So, starting a business after COVID-19 means you’ll be going into the world of business with your eyes open. Can you imagine having started one just before the crisis, only to realise belatedly that you should’ve spent a bit more dough on work-from-home solutions? The key things to have in place when starting your business in a post-COVID-19 world are: Funding Excellent marketing A great product Top-notch service A smoking-hot social media presence Digital marketing galore The right software for your business Buying power If “consumer buying power” is a concern, it shouldn’t be. The main thing is to deliver value with your product or service. If you bring value to people and save them a bit of time or a bit of hassle, they will be happy to pay for what you have to offer, even during tough times. When to start a business is not as important a question as How to start a business. If you do it right, you can start a successful business any time you choose to. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Few things strike more fear into the hearts of business owners and sole proprietors like a message from HMRC that they are about to be investigated. The time to purchase tax investigation insurance for your business is before receiving such a letter because the tax investigation cover would probably not be valid for any notices of investigation that came prior to its purchase. But, do you actually need tax investigation protection? Is it worth investing in tax investigation insurance for my business? In 2010, HMRC introduced a state-of-the-art data mining and analysis system called Connect, in order to facilitate the discovery of fraudulent or undisclosed financial activity. The database cross-references business data with personal data and compares that data to numerous other sources in order to discover discrepancies. In 2016, HMRC upgraded the system so that it now obtains financial information from British Overseas Territories as well as sixty or so other countries that comply with international regulations for the sharing of financial data. The data which Connect correlates is fairly extensive, including: Adverts on the internet for sites like Zoopla and Rightmove eBay and other online marketplaces Insurance companies Capital gains data In short: The HMRC is cracking down severely on any possibility of tax evasion. With such a wide net, there is always the possibility of the wrong fish getting caught. What types of tax investigations does the HMRC carry out? The term “investigation” is fairly broad and encompasses a plethora of potential inspections and enquiries that HMRC might want to carry out in your business, or even regarding your personal taxes. Here is a summary of some of the most common ones: IR35 Investigation by HMRC It is the bane of all sole proprietors, but also of limited companies composed of only one or two people: Being caught inside IR35. If HMRC determines that you have a “high risk” of being considered inside IR35, the chances are very high that it will conduct such an investigation into your business. You are likely to have to pay much higher taxes on income earned for contracts in which you were deemed to be in IR35. HMRC Employer Compliance Review The HMRC might conduct an Employer Compliance Review if it believes you, as an employer, are not fulfilling all the required tax payments and contributions required of you. The number of things an employer can be liable for is fairly extensive. PAYE & VAT Compliance If there is any discrepancy with your PAYE payments or information given to HMRC when running payroll, the HMRC might run an enquiry into this in your business. The same goes for discrepancies regarding VAT payments. And so on… There can also be enquiries and investigations into: Income tax self-assessment returns. Corporation tax assessment returns. Partnerships and Directors. What does tax investigation insurance cover offer? It can be quite costly to have to pay an accountant to pore over your accounts in order to provide HMRC with the data it needs to exonerate you from any liability connected to their enquiry. These are costs which you must pay, even if you are found to be fully in compliance. Additionally, if HMRC deems that litigation must be pursued, there are costs involved in this as well. A worthwhile tax investigation insurance will cover all these costs. Please check with your insurance provider or accountant, what their insurance covers specifically. How can tax investigation cover help me during an investigation and what does it protect against? The best tax insurances will offer not only financial benefits but also expert lawyers and accountants who will defend your case in front of HMRC. Ideally, whatever tax insurance protection you purchase would come with a specialist dedicated precisely to your case. Although the HMRC is a government department, and we are all brought up to believe that our government is our friend, it is also true that it operates much like a business — an uncompromising business with all the powerful machinery of law behind it. A recent study showed that the HMRC now collects an additional £10 billion in revenue every year, compared to only half a decade ago. That additional income is not because the economy is suddenly doing better. That income is because laws are getting tighter, and compliance is being enforced with a digital hand. An HMRC investigation can last as long as 16 months, even if you were not at fault. That kind of constant inspection can put a lot of burden on a business person’s shoulders. For how long will tax investigation insurance keep my business protected? Again, this depends on the specific insurance provider. At Start My Business, your tax investigation insurance would cover you for as long as you keep paying your premiums. How much does tax investigation insurance cost? It can cost as little as a few pounds a month for extensive coverage. If you are paying more than that for your tax insurance, you could probably get a better price elsewhere. The insurance we offer at Start My Business would cover legal costs of up to £100,000 if we ever had to go to court for you. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Successful business people who were once young, brash, and then hit up hard against the walls of their own making are the first to step back and say, “Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know here.” Indeed, with success often comes humility. As a successful entrepreneur, Daymond John, Founder of FUBU, says, “As an entrepreneur, you never stop learning.” A key way to learn about business is to find and spend time with a business mentor. Business mentorship does not need to involve lengthy discussions. Famously, Mark Zuckerberg once mentioned that comment from Steve Jobs opened the door for Zuckerberg to formalise his vision of what he wanted Facebook to become. Even though you might spend just a few minutes with a mentor, behind those minutes lies a lifetime of experience. Here are five ways those few minutes with a business mentor can set you on the path to success: 1. Experience is the most expensive university Harvard? Yale? Oxford? Those second-class institutions can’t hold a candle to the University of Experience! And, guess what, with a mentor by your side, you get all that experience for free! Probably, the first lesson any wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneur has to learn well to start on the path to success is to realise they don’t know everything there is to know about business. Entrepreneurs never stop learning. And the lessons which the vast and extensive experience of a successful mentor can bring are priceless. Sometimes, those mentors don’t even realise that their advice is so invaluable. They give it as easily as if they were ordering a hamburger at a diner. That’s how it goes with professionals: They do something so many times until it becomes second-nature, while others stand around and watch in awe. 2. Telling you like it is That vast well of experience also serves as the finest spectacles known to humankind. These spectacles provide for a keen business insight that has no truck with ambiguity. A mentor who has achieved true success will look at a problem and know its intricacies immediately. They will see things in the problem that others have missed. If you show them a new concept or design and they’ve seen one like that before, which failed, they’ll tell you directly. Success comes at a price. Mentors have no time to cuddle and coddle. They know the pain of failing at business and want to save others that pain by simply telling them something like it is. Better the quick slap to the face that wakes the sleeping driver and avoids a car crash. This doesn’t mean mentors must be haughty or arrogant. Indeed, the best ones are not. They are driven by a genuine desire to assist their proteges. It does mean, however, that a mentor’s advice, however sparsely offered, should be given the weight it deserves, and often heeded. 3. Teaching you to stand on your own two feet A mentor’s job is to get you to stand on your own two feet, not to turn you into an employee. A mentor understands that you are not an employee. You are an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are made of a special kind of substance — they are difficult to tame, impossible to hold down, filled with high-flown ideas. An entrepreneur can’t spread their wings if they are constantly held inside the cage or chained to a post. A mentor’s final goal is to have their protege “outgrow” the mentor’s advice and maybe even become mentors themselves. 4. Getting you back on the horse Maybe the business idea you had turned out to be a terrible one. Maybe the idea was brilliant, but the market wasn’t ready for it. Maybe both the idea and the business plan are solid, but you’ve had several setbacks and are struggling to find the motivation to continue (much like Mark Zuckerberg was when he received that nugget of advice from Steve Jobs). An astute mentor will tell you bluntly when an idea should be dumped and a better one discovered. It doesn’t matter how many businesses you start. What matters is the one that you take to the top. Getting “back on the horse” doesn’t mean continuing endlessly down a path that leads nowhere. It means knowing when to abandon a faulty course and pick up a new one. In this sense, a mentor won’t only get you back on the horse. They might get you to choose an entirely different horse as well! 5. Friendship Probably the most rewarding (and mutually beneficial) aspect of mentorship is the long-lasting friendship based on mutual respect which can form. This is the greatest payback that a mentor can receive from their protege. And, knowing you have a veritable friend to talk to, who is deeply interested in your business’s success, is often the only thing needed to guarantee that business’s success. It tends to be lonely at the top. A mentor can ease that loneliness. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
It has been said that there are only two things needed when starting a business: A great idea, and an accountant! An accountant’s duties are often misunderstood by laypeople. Accountants work in the realm of compliance, mainly, making sure that you fulfil your fiscal obligations to the government. But great accountants also offer others services. Here are five ways that an accountant can help your business. 1. Second opinion for your business idea A “side benefit” of being an accountant is that they gain vast experience of all sorts of different businesses. A car mechanic only learns about cars. A painter only learns about paints and brushes and types of canvases. But all these businesses have one thing in common: They must file their taxes. And they need an accountant. As a result, accountants are often the “secret sauce” of excellent business consulting because they work with so many different businesses in different fields. Indeed, the most valuable business consulting one could have is that of how to manage one’s accounts. Accountants have extensive experience in seeing what has worked for clients in different industries (and at different times) and so can bring a wealth of advice to the table when you bring them a business idea. 2. Review your business plan (forecast and financial model) As experienced “number crunchers”, accountants can think with figures and can see meaning in those figures that many of us can’t see. The challenge for many accountants has been to communicate these intricate significances to other people who are not so mathematically inclined. Financial Models are an invaluable tool in getting everyday Janes and Joes (such as you and me) to understand their financial position. Financial forecasts are also crucial in determining a business’s viability, and there is no one better suited to putting together a meaningful forecast than the “Number Crunchers” themselves. Proper financial planning and understanding are essential if you plan on putting together an effective business plan in order to take out a business loan or get funding from investors. 3. Advising on legal structure Accountants are, in a sense, “mini lawyers” and must understand fiscal law like the back of their hands. As such, accountants are great assets when it comes to structuring a business entity so that its taxable footprint is as small as legally possible. There are limits to this, of course. And lawmakers have gotten wise to all the “tricks” that many businesses have adopted to minimise their tax payouts. But there are perfectly legal ways for a business or individual to optimise their tax structure. Doing so efficiently requires an in-depth understanding of tax law for that specific country. An accountant is an invaluable aid in these cases. 4. Manage your bookkeeping and accounting An accountant is not a bookkeeper. It’s important to understand that difference. A bookkeeper is responsible for filing and administrative tasks, keeping your books in order. Hence the term “book-keeper”. An accountant is responsible for ensuring your company stays compliant with fiscal regulations and that you fulfil your filing obligations each year. As the world of accounting has grown more competitive, accountants have additionally expanded into offering services such as financial advice and tax consulting. These are not, technically, accounting duties, although they do fall within the same umbrella of financial services. In either case — whether from a compliance view or an advisory view — a knowledgeable and experienced accountant’s skills are utterly invaluable when it comes to ensuring that your business uses its pennies wisely as well as pays up all its dues to the relevant fiscal authorities. Although bookkeeping services have mostly been overtaken by software tools these days, some accounting practices still offer this service to their clients even though it is not particularly profitable for them. They do this because it ends up saving time in the long run, both for the client and the accountant. 5. Financial advisory functions Many accountants have had to pivot in recent years in order to remain profitable. Online tools such as Xero, Quickbooks, FreeAgent and others have taken away many of the duties of traditional bookkeepers and accountants. Some of these tools also offer automatic filing services for individuals and businesses. As a result, many accountants have expanded the service they offer to include financial advisory functions. This is different from tax advice. Financial Advisory functions refer more to what to do with one’s money and, often, even where to invest it. It’s important to not confuse the two trades: An accountant is not automatically a financial advisor, and vice versa. But many accountants have trained up and learned some of this trade in order to offer more value to their clients. It’s convenient (and also advantageous) for an accountant to be able to offer financial advice in terms of investment and, to some degree, portfolio management. No matter where revenue comes from, there are (almost always) taxes to be paid. An accountant who is also an experienced advisor can assist in structuring your business’s wealth in such a way that its tax liabilities are minimised. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Doing business in today’s world without utilizing any software is like trying to drive without wheels. Automation can (and does) save businesses tons of money every year. But with so many software solutions available for businesses, it is often difficult to decide what to use, and which business tools are simply superfluous. Making matters worse, new software tools are springing up like mushrooms. Today, Software Tool A might be all over the news. Tomorrow, Competitor Tool B might be making the rounds. Indeed, part of the problem with all the available business software is that it can be “Too much of a good thing.” There’s an old joke that goes something like, “I spent 6 hours automating something that would take me 6 minutes to do manually.” The problem also lies in the area of familiarity. Because software is new doesn’t mean you have to use it. But it also doesn’t mean you must ignore it entirely. When deciding on which business software to use, it’s imperative to have a complete understanding of all the tools available. We have extensive experience advising companies on which business software they should be using as part of our Business Software Service. The following list provides a comprehensive view of all the types of software a company might need. It’s a good starting point for companies to get an idea of where their software tools might be lacking, or where they might have overdone their reliance on software. Which business software is best? Business software applications that work for one business might not work for another. It all depends on your business’s specific needs, and also on your budget. Below, we list out all the most common software required to start and run a typical business. Not every item on the list below might be for you. But every item is common enough that most businesses need them. We also name some major players in each of the software types so that you can go and have a look at their services and decide if they are for you. Some common things to consider when choosing software Each of the business software tools we discuss below has its product-specific details to consider when it comes time to choose it. But there are some elements that apply to all of the items below, and which you must decide on when choosing the right tool for you. These are: Cloud-based versus desktop Most of the choices we discuss below are cloud-based, which means they run on the internet and can be accessed via your web browser. We feel this is the ideal choice for businesses, but some businesses are not eager to take this jump. When choosing between any of the software tools below, consider if you prefer a cloud-based (remote) or desktop (local) solution. Free versus paid Not all the software below is free. A lot of the choices we offer have a free tier that allows you to get started and then move up to a paid tier when your business has scaled up. The price of software can be a big factor when choosing software tools, especially when you’re still small. Do you need all the features? Source: https://www.onboardmeetings.com/blog/software-with-vision/ A typical example here is Salesforce. It does so much! But do you really need everything it does? Tiny businesses are unlikely to require all the bells and whistles. Then again, tiny businesses might indeed want everything because it will save them from having to use multiple providers. In either case, look to see if you really do need everything that software tool is offering. If you need only, say, 30 per cent of what’s on offer, perhaps that tool might not be the right one for you. Okay, let’s get into the different software needed! Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software Although we are listing this one first, it’s not necessarily going to be the first business software you decide on. CRM is short for Customer Relationship Management. It is used primarily for managing the sales cycle from lead to customer, and then the repeat sales cycle so the customer keeps buying. HubSpot is a popular, free CRM. Part of the problem in choosing a CRM is that they integrate with so much other software in your business. If you choose the wrong CRM, it might lock you into using other software you don’t want to use. That’s one reason not to marry your chosen CRM immediately. Try various options out for a bit before settling. CRMs are most important for companies who have multiple sales reps because CRMs consolidate all communications (calls, emails, meeting notes) into one central location so that anyone can pick up the sales cycle at any point and drive it through to a sale. CRMs are usually highly customizable. These days, many of them have email marketing baked right in, saving you the need to use an external email marketing tool. Some CRMs are free or have a free tier (such as HubSpot) and others must be paid for regardless of how little you use it (like Salesforce). Some popular CRM choices are: HubSpot CRM Salesforce Zoho CRM Bookkeeping and Accounting Software Bookkeeping and Accounting Software is crucial for businesses of any size, even freelancers. Often, the accounting software ends up paying for itself because it makes invoice and expense-tracking so much easier. (And, if your business is in the USA or Canada, you could even use Wave Accounting which is free.) All major accounting apps these days come with built-in invoicing software. And they all connect directly to many popular banks, meaning you don’t have to waste time reconciling accounts (or lose out on claiming for expenses because you forgot about something you purchased on the business credit card). Our preferred accounting tools all run on the cloud. Although you can still get QuickBooks Desktop which works offline. Not all accounting software comes with payroll built-in. If it doesn’t, some accounting software providers offer an additional add-on to include payroll. And there are also dedicated payroll software providers. Some of the most popular accounting software providers are: Xero QuickBooks Online FreeAgent FreshBooks Wave Accounting (only for US and Canadian users) Content Management System (CMS) A CMS is essential for businesses to manage their own websites. If you use a popular content management system such as WordPress or Joomla, then your website’s pages and content are entirely under your control. This is vital if you want to stay on top of your SEO because SEO is driven by excellent content. There’s a DIY WordPress version that is free, although it takes a bit of know-how to set it up. (There are tutorials around, and many web hosting companies also offer a “one-click” solution to easily install WordPress.) If your business is e-commerce, you can go with Shopify which costs a monthly fee but is a breeze to set up. Other popular (and reliable) CMSs are: Wix Squarespace HubSpot CMS (quite expensive, but you’re not paying for only the CMS) Email An email has become so much a part of our lives that perhaps you might think that putting it on this list is a bit overdone. But it’s important to remember that a business email is not the same as a personal email. And if you have employees and team members, having a centralized location to manage everyone’s email accounts is crucial. There are two factors involved here: The email provider The software you use to access those emails. If you use a cloud solution such as Outlook Online or Google Workspace, then you don’t need to install any special software on your computer to view your emails. Popular (and recommended) choices for business email providers are: Google Workspace Outlook Online Office Suite (Word Processor, Spreadsheet Software) An office suite is a collection of software required to carry out routine tasks in the office. Google and Microsoft are the two biggest players in the Office Suite arena. This definition is a little outdated, seeing as what is considered a “routine task” these days was not routine thirty years ago. But, when we speak about Office Suites, we’re generally referring to a Word Processor, Spreadsheet program, presentation software, database program, etc. In the days before everything went on the cloud, the only choices for writing a document were Microsoft Office and…Microsoft Office. (Okay, we’re being unkind, there was also LibreOffice and OpenOffice, but they really were terrible in comparison.) Since Google released Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and Google Slides, Microsoft was forced to bring its desktop-only suite to the cloud. Both companies offer a formidable cloud option now. These two giants remain the biggest players in the Business Office Suite area. If you need a desktop word and spreadsheet editor, you will need to go with Microsoft Office. But if you’ll be doing your work predominantly online, then Google Workspace might be for you. Email Marketing Software MailerLite is a popular Email Marketing Tool We feel that every business, no matter the size, should sign up for an email marketing tool. Even if you’re a one-person show, slowly building up an email list can work wonders for your future prosperity. Fortunately, there are a lot of good (and free!) choices around for those who have small lists. Also, many CRMs offer some in-built Email Marketing features, so you might not even have to sign up for anything additional. Email Marketing software usually comes with pre-designed marketing templates to make your email marketing look sleek. They also provide list management features, unsubscribe features, and the necessary compliance tools to stay within the various countries’ privacy regulations. Popular choices for email marketing software include: MailerLite (free for small accounts) MailChimp (one of the giants) HubSpot (part of its CRM) Salesforce (part of its CRM) Meeting Scheduling Software This is another tool that is suitable for businesses of all sizes. It is especially important for people who work with a lot of clients in different time zones. Meeting scheduling software allows you to send people a link to a scheduling page that lets them schedule themselves in for a meeting, directly into your calendar. You can set available times, and have it sync with our business calendar so that no meetings conflict. Many of the popular tools send meeting reminders, and they are all highly customizable, also offering an option for you to approve any meetings scheduled, and setting a minimum buffer time between meetings. We recommend: YouCanBookMe Calendly Video Conferencing Software “Zoom” became a household name in 2020, rapidly exploding in growth from 10 million daily participants to over 300 million in April 2020. Life without Zoom seems unheard of now. But Zoom is not the only video conferencing tool around, even though it seems to be the one on everyone’s lips. There’s no longer any need to get into why video-conferencing tools are so essential these days—they save time, they’re crucial for remote work, etc. But we do have some suggestions of other tools you might want to use if you’re not a fan of Zoom: RingCentral GoToMeeting Google Meet Skype VOIP Software If you do a lot of international phone calls, VOIP software can save you a lot of money. A lot of the video conferencing tools mentioned above include a VOIP package and/or dedicated phone number. File Hosting (Cloud Syncing) Software Even if you’re a solopreneur, being able to access all your files from any device is imperative in today’s fast-moving world. Should your clients need something urgently, a file hosting solution will allow you to access your files without having to lug around all your work gear. This is even more important when working in a team. The ability to collaborate on files remotely can only be achieved easily through some type of cloud file syncing software. The alternative is a gazillion emails back and forth, and a lot of confusion! Dropbox was one of the trailblazers in this field but is no longer the only solution available. Almost every large tech company offers some degree of file hosting services these days. But few match the smoothness with which Dropbox (or its close competitors) operate. Some popular choices for file hosting services are: Dropbox Box Google Drive And if you’re worried about the security of your files should your file hosting ever be hacked, you could encrypt sensitive files using BoxCryptor. Backup Software Too often, people don’t think about backups until it’s too late! The other great thing about file hosting software is that it automatically doubles up as a full backup system provided you put all your files in there. Honourable Mentions And then there is software that is not as widely required by all businesses, but which is still essential in many businesses. Here is a brief list of them: Project Management Software Essential for companies with many people working on multiple projects. Popular choices are: LiquidPlanner Zoho Projects Teamwork com Time Tracking/Timesheet Software For companies that work on an hourly basis, time-tracking software can save a lot of wasted time keeping track of hours worked. Some of the tools we mentioned above already include time-tracking software, such as FreeAgent, but here are some dedicated time-trackers that might be worth looking at: Toggl Track Clockify Social Media Management Software A powerful social media presence is essential in certain industries, and even for great SEO. But social media can also be a bit of a time-suck. Utilizing a popular social media management tool where you can schedule posts and track your brand name might be an option if you work extensively across many social media channels. Some good choices are: HootSuite Buffer Sendible SocialOomph Social Clout DIY Marketing Material Creator Smaller businesses and freelancers might be interested in a DIY marketing material creator. Eye-catching images and powerful videos can greatly improve your social media presence. And not having to pay a marketing company for any and every new piece of marketing material you need can save you tons of cash. In this arena, there really is only one choice, and that’s Canva. Niche Software Of course, if you’re in a niche market, you’ll require niche software for your area. This is as varied as there are industries to work in. Takeaway Ultimately, you have to decide what software is essential for your businesses based on: Cost Usefulness ROI Enormous learning curves that don’t pay off might also be a deal-breaker. Just because software exists doesn’t mean it has to be used. But failing to use software that increases your efficiency could be the difference between beating your competitors or not. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Numerous factors go into determining which are the best locations for an office in London. Different people have varying tastes, and what works for one won’t work for another. To some, the location is not as important as how difficult it is to get there. To others, the way the office looks is more important than where it is. We’ve divided the top 10 office locations in London according to the different tastes that people might have. This is all our opinion, of course. But we’ve worked in London for a gazillion years so we think that maybe we should know a little about this gorgeous city. 1. Best commute If you need to go to and from the airport regularly, anywhere on the Piccadilly line will be the most cost-efficient solution. Our personal fave is King’s Cross. It is on the Piccadilly line and has a huge station that connects to multiple locations outside of London. There are also several tube lines (Hammersmith and City, Metropolitan, Victoria and the Nothern line) as well as Eurostar which goes directly to France (Lille & Paris) and Brussels. 2. Best green space London has a tremendous amount of green spaces, from small squares where people can have lunch to big parks in central London. The two biggest parks in central London are Regent’s Park (near Camden Town, Baker Street and Marylebone) and Green Park (next to Westminster). Although the outskirts of London also offer a lot of green space, they are too far from the business district. The two mentioned above are central, with plenty of offices in the vicinity. 3. Best architecture Oh, goodness, this was difficult to choose! London is full of awe-inspiring architecture! Westminster and King’s Cross are great choices if you’re looking for classical architecture: Westminster Abbey and St. Pancras Hotel, respectively. And, of course, Ludgate Hill for St. Paul’s Cathedral. For modern architecture, nothing beats “The Gherkin” (30 St. Mary Axe) in the financial district. The Lloyd’s Building is another spectacular piece of modern architecture in the same district. 4. Best for eating We chose Covent Garden as the place to have an office if you’re up for great food. Of course, you might have to wrestle a truckload of tourists to get to your chosen restaurant, but it’s well worth it considering the cuisine on offer at this acclaimed London location. 5. Best for pubs Perhaps you fancy a drink after work or on a Friday. Shoreditch was a popular choice when we asked our staff about the best location for pubs. Shoreditch is home to such classics as Happiness Forgets (a jiving speakeasy) and Rochelle Canteen where you get to bring your own beverages. The other popular choice was Soho, with such classic establishments as Pink Chihuahua, The Blind Pig and Cafe Boheme. 6. Best for good vibes The opinion here at the office was unanimously Notting Hill, but that’s mostly because everyone here is a fan of the movie. Still, we couldn’t agree more that Notting Hill ranks right up there in terms of “Good Vibes”, especially during the Portobello Market. Maybe you could count one of the market stalls as your office? 7. Quiet, not a busy location Although located in London, Greenwich Village feels a little like stepping out of London proper. It’s a quiet, cosy area which isn’t nearly as hectic as the city. Greenwich isn’t too far from central London and has easy, accessible connections to take you to the busy sections! 8. Best for gym/fitness lovers London is full of gyms, so it was difficult to nail this one down. And gyms have a different appeal to different people — the big buff types who want the weights, spinning classes for the more aerobic types, yoga, etc. A great list of London’s top gyms can be found here. As for taking a run in London, the best is to look for non-congested areas, or areas next to a park such as Victoria Park or Richmond Park. 9. Best for digital design companies Soho is a great location for digital design companies due to the area’s strong connection to the arts. It has a strong concentration of businesses in the media industry. No matter whether you’re a small startup or a large established business, if you’re in digital design, then Soho might be the place for you. 10. Best for big business London Bridge, Southwark is an ideal location for startups and established businesses who want to send the right message. The recent revitalisation has put this location on the map as a top spot for getting an entrepreneurial show on the road. Best spot for you? No matter where you choose to set up your office space, it has to be right for you. There is no one-size-fits-all office location, and the best approach is to look at which areas match what your business is all about and then modify that choice based on your budget. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
In the early days of the internet, using a VoIP phone for business was a bit of an adventure. Lags, choppy lines and inability to hear the other person all added to the frustrations of daily calling. Also, there was the problem of insufficient WiFi connectivity across the country and utterly atrocious speeds and bandwidth limits on mobile data plans to make calling via the internet viable. The emergence of high-speed WiFi, broad connectivity as well as 4G (and now, 5G) changed all that. It’s hard to travel anywhere in the UK where there isn’t a WiFi hotspot for you to connect to, except in the most remote areas. Data plans allow for enormous amounts of data transfer, and mobile phone data speeds can sometimes be better than WiFi! Such an ecosystem makes using an internet-enabled business phone a tremendously viable option, as well as a much more cost-effective one. What is VoIP? VoIP is an acronym for “Voice over Internet Protocol”. Internet Protocol is the series of communication agreements between machines which make communication via the internet possible. By “communication” is meant the transfer of signals, not chit-chat. When two devices communicate over the internet, they do so by exchanging certain underlying signals to ensure that a package of data (“communication”) is sent or received. Using this protocol, it is possible to then send data in the form of images (video) or sound, or a combination of the two. Traditional phone lines work off an entirely different protocol. Mobile phones use radio waves to transmit sound, and landline phones transmit “digitised sound” down an actual physical wire. What is a VoIP-enabled phone? For many years, VoIP was carried out via one’s computer or one’s mobile phone’s internet connection. To make a VoIP call, it was necessary to install additional VoIP-specific software on the device, such as Skype. More recently, as the popularity of VoIP has grown and technology has advanced, it became possible to build phone units which themselves provide VoIP functionality out-of-the-box. Such phones look and feel like traditional phones. Without knowing that the phone is a VoIP phone, you would never guess that it is sending your communication over the internet instead of over radio. What is the drawback of using VoIP in a business? Historically, the main drawback of using a VoIP-line to make your calls has always been the speed and quality of your internet connection. This problem was doubled when wanting to call while travelling. If you live in an area with a sketchy internet connection — whether via mobile data or WiFi — then VoIP is probably not for you yet. Some professionals opt for a hybrid solution, utilising VoIP when they are on the go, in airports, or in big cities where internet connectivity is usually very good. Another drawback is that emergency calls cannot be traced. In a traditional phone line, the phone can be traced because it is physically connected to a line, or is within reach of a particular radio tower. It is advisable to have a separate, available phone for emergency calls which is connected to a traditional phone line. What are some of the advantages of using VoIP in a business? The advantages of using VoIP in your business far outweigh the cons (again, provided you have a decent internet connection). Cost-saving is the top benefit. VoIP calls are far cheaper than traditional phones — especially international calls. This is particularly true when roaming. Despite efforts to reduce roaming costs in Europe, these costs can still be crippling if you need to make a lot of calls. Let’s not even mention calling outside of Europe to countries with a weaker infrastructure. The phone costs of one business trip can easily outweigh the entire cost of the trip itself! Because VoIP works off the internet, a ton of nifty apps exist which can enhance the functionality and features of your VoIP phone. These apps and tools can do things such as offer insight into which numbers you call most often or which ones you spend the most time on. Various analytics features can be integrated into your CRM through VoIP-integrated tools. Data can be transferred from your VoIP system into your CRM to offer insights into your sales processes. A VoIP system also means you can have a telephone number almost anywhere in the world, regardless of where you are physically located. This allows you to give clients a local number, so they are more likely to call you. What are some of the best VoIP phones out there? Yealink and Polycom are popular VoIP-enabled phone brands in the UK. As for VoIP providers (independent of the phone unit itself), some popular choices in the UK are 4com, Lily Comms, Vonage and RingCentral. Start My Business also offers a full-featured Business Phone Solution based on VoIP, both for UK and international clients. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Starting a new business is an exciting undertaking. Nothing beats the thrill of bringing a new business idea to life. There are several crucial steps which must always be taken when starting any new business. A company can forget to market, can even forget to do any selling (sometimes, products sell themselves) but the following six things must absolutely always be done when forming up a new company in order to avoid penalties and costly mistakes. 1. Choose a company name Choosing a company name is not as easy as it sounds. Considering that there are over 4,500,000 companies registered in Companies House, the chances of adopting a name which is already in use are extremely high. Your company name needs to be both unique and memorable. You also need to ensure that the name doesn’t mean something embarrassing or inappropriate in another language (or even in the English language). There are countless examples of this kind of error in business names as well as in product names, such as the awful mistake made by Reebok when it named one of its women’s running shoe products Incubus. To avoid these kinds of mistakes when naming your company it is a good idea to use a professional company naming service that checks for these kinds of “booboos”. 2. Choose your company structure You need to decide if you’re going to establish a private limited company, a company limited by guarantee, a limited liability partnership, or some other type of company structure. If you expect that your business could open you up to liability of any kind, a limited company might be the option for you. This needs to be established before you go ahead and form your company in the UK. 3. Create a business bank account Even if you are a sole proprietor, you should have your business and personal accounts separated. As for other types of company structure, it is a legal requirement to separate business and personal. As a result of the recent boom in the FinTech sector, opening a business account these days can be as simple as signing up online and then verifying your identity, all from the comfort of your own couch. Whether online or brick and mortar, the business bank account you choose needs to provide all the things you will need in order to run your business successfully. 4. Register web domains and trademarks It is an unwritten rule that a company’s domain name should follow the pattern: YouCompanyName.com. The “.com” part is called a “Top-Level Domain” or TLD. There are numerous top-level domains in the world. Some are “generic” top-level domains such as .com, .net, .org (and, more recently, .london, .international and hundreds of others!). Other domains are called “country-specific domains”. Country-specific TLDs include “.co.uk”, “.pt”, “.ie”, etc. Even though many businesses also register a domain using a country-level TLD, it doesn’t change the raw popularity of .com domains. People expect business names to end in .com, for better or worse. When you are choosing a company name, also check whether the .com domain for that business name is available. Registering a trademark is a different beast altogether and is a lot more formal. It is essential to ask for professional assistance when registering a trade mark to ensure the highest chances of its registration is accepted, and to protect your intellectual property. 5. Get business insurance It might hurt to pay a premium every month for business insurance but it will certainly hurt more if you are found liable for damages which you have no insurance in place to cover. There are numerous types of insurance to get for a business and it’s important to evaluate which insurances are legally obligatory, and which are merely “a good idea” to have. We offer a free business insurance selection service which makes selecting an insurance policy from the myriad choices easy. 6. Register for Taxes Depending on which country you register your company in, you might need to register your business officially before the tax authorities, in addition to simply registering the business itself. In the UK, it can be necessary to register for VAT. If your business has earned over approximately £80,000 in one year, then registering is obligatory. Otherwise, registering for VAT in the UK is optional. Registering for VAT incurs more paperwork for you, as well as the possibility of penalties if you fail to file a return on time. But if you have a lot of expenses with VAT on them, it might be well worth it to register so that you can claim that VAT back. Sole traders need to file a Self-Assessment Tax Return every year. Limited companies need to file a Company Tax Return. If you have employees, you will need to run payroll each month, make the necessary deductions from salaries and pay these deductions to HMRC. Much of this can be automated using online tools. But having a business accountant to help you makes it much easier. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Small business insurance, like taxes, is one of those “unavoidable” in business that simply needs to be faced up to. Unlike taxes, however, only certain insurances are required by law while others are optional. Too many small businesses only take out the basic insurance policies as required by law (such as Employers’ Liability if you have employees and Professional Indemnity Insurance for certain professions) and ignore taking out other insurances, much to their peril. This is understandable. Insurance providers are in the business of mitigating risk. You, as a business owner, are also in the business of mitigating risk, and spending a few extra hundred pounds a month or year for insurance might be considered riskier for you than the risk itself. For example, cyber insurance might be considered a pointless expenditure because your business has a low technology footprint. The real problem, however, is a lack of transparent answers as to what insurance policies companies really need. Insurance providers seem all-too-keen to sell their wares and so might give you the impression that you need any and every insurance policy out there. This guide will attempt to demystify some of the elements of getting insurance for your business so that you can make an informed decision regarding whether or not you really need that particular cover. Which insurance policies are mandated by law? Employers’ Liability Insurance In the UK, if you employ anyone in your business who is not a direct family member, then you are required to have Employers’ Liability Insurance. Employers’ Liability Insurance is designed to cover an employer’s costs should any claim be made by an employee (or an ex-employee, in some cases) that some aspect of their employment has caused them some harm. This harm could be in the form of bad health or injury. If an (ex-)employee wished to recover damages from the (ex-)employer, they would make what is called a “compensation claim” against the employer in order to be compensated for the alleged injury, bad health and so recover the costs incurred. The validity of such a claim would be determined by the court, and it would be the court that orders it paid. Such claims can run into many hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending on the type of illness or injury and what degree of specialist medical care was required to treat it. Your chosen Employers’ Liability Insurance policy will cover the costs up to the policy’s limit. Higher limits equate to higher monthly premiums. But this might be necessary for high-risk industries such as construction companies or companies treating hazardous waste. Motor Insurance If your company uses motor vehicles to perform its services, then you must ensure those vehicles by law. The minimum coverage required is “third party only” which would cover damages to other vehicles. If you use a personal vehicle for work, you need to be aware that your personal vehicle insurance won’t cover you for business use! So, you would need to take out second, business-specific insurance for the vehicle. (Note: Commuting to and from work is not considered “business use.”) If your employees utilise their own vehicles for business, you do not need to insure them on their behalf. Professional Indemnity Insurance Depending on the type of business you run, you might be required by law to get Professional Indemnity Insurance. Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI) is there to protect people in professions that offer advice or provide a professional service. Some examples of professions that are usually required to have PI include: Consultants of any kind (IT, Business, Management, Financial, etc.) Engineers and Surveyors Interior Designers Business Coaching Professionals Trainers Education Professionals Accountants PI is designed to protect you from claims stemming from: Erroneous advice is given by you in the course of your duties Mistakes in designs or calculations, leading to financial loss (damages) Sometimes, a client will insist that you have PI before they agree to work with you. Which additional insurance policies should small businesses take out? Cyber insurance A small business is hacked every 19 seconds in the UK, and there are 65,000 hacking attempts carried out against small UK businesses every single day. In the face of these threats, more and more companies are taking out Cyber Insurance. Cyber Insurance is intended to cover damages not typically covered by other insurance policies. Specifically, they aim to offer protection against claims arising from data loss, data theft, data destruction, cyber-extortion, certain types of internet hacks, etc. Some cyber insurance policies even go so far as to offer coverage which indemnifies companies for losses caused by the company’s own errors or omissions as well as any failure to safeguard information on the part of that company. This insurance is not mandated by law (yet), but we predict that some incarnation of it very well might be in the near future. In the meantime, it is a highly recommended insurance policy to get, if you can find one which does indeed cover the costs it purports to and which also doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Property Insurance This is another crucial insurance policy to consider if you own any property related to your business. Property Protection insurance typically offers coverage for unexpected damage caused to property resulting from fire, flooding, burst pipes and subsidence (when the ground beneath a property starts to slowly cave in). Property Protection Insurance can also be used to protect physical stock you have stored somewhere. This insurance is not a legal requirement but is highly recommended in many cases. Business Interruption Insurance This type of insurance is often overlooked by businesses. Many businesses also simply don’t know it exists. Whereas property insurance against flooding and fire might cover the damages from the ensuing damage eventually, that type of policy does not cover any of the financial losses which occur as a result of the business not being able to operate. Many businesses depend entirely on their physical presence to be able to actually perform their functions and duties. Business Interruption Insurance exists to ensure that any financial losses are covered while that premises is unable to be occupied or used. Seeing as a flooded building can often require as much as two months to completely dry out, Business Interruption Insurance might be the difference between your business going under or not. Business Contents Insurance Business Contents Insurance is for protecting any business contents — such as possessions or equipment — kept at the workplace. Please note that contents insurance for your private household will not cover business contents even if you run your business from home. You will need a separate policy to cover the business contents, specifically. Claims can be made against a Business Contents Insurance if any of the business’s contents suffer damage or loss through: Fire Flooding Theft And similar. Business Contents Insurance is particularly important if you hold vast amounts of stock on-site such as in the case of a warehouse. The policy can sometimes also be used to cover repairs on the contents. Public Liability Insurance If there is any chance at all that your profession or business might endanger members of the public, it is imperative that you take out Public Liability Insurance. This insurance applies both if members of the public come to your workplace and are harmed there or if you go to their workplace or a public area, and harm ensues. This type of insurance is particularly important for people involved in construction or “handyman”-a type of work where leaving tools lying around or falling objects could harm someone. If someone is indeed injured at your site and they make a successful claim against you, then Public Liability Insurance will cover your costs up to the limits set out in the policy. Some trade bodies automatically cover their members for public liability insurance. So, check the details of any trade body or union you belong to, to see if you might already be insured. Van Insurance If you’re a tradesman whose lifeblood depends on your van being operational, you might want to consider van insurance. Van insurance is not the same as run-of-the-mill car and motor insurance. It is a separate type of insurance specifically designed for protection against the risks typical to running and using a van on a daily basis. The type of van insurance you need depends greatly on how you use your van, the type of van you’re operating and whether or not you also use the van privately. Keyperson Insurance Also called “Keyman (or key-man)” Insurance, this type of insurance is relatively unknown and yet quite important. There is no legal definition of Keyperson Insurance. Essentially, it is life insurance taken out for an individual in the company who is considered pivotal to the company’s financial success. Examples of such people might be a scientist with a unique set of skills or a key public figure around whom the company’s entire branding is built. The company takes out life insurance or a trauma insurance policy on the person and is then compensated for any financial losses should anything occur that incapacitates that key person’s ability to perform. Such a policy would only be valid for the term that the person is actively involved in the business as a primary generator of income. Product Liability Insurance If you are in the business of manufacturing or supplying goods, then you probably need to take out product liability insurance. Even if you don’t manufacture the goods yourself, but those goods contain your brand name on them (as in the case of white-labelling), you could be held accountable for damages and injuries which occur as a result of the product. No matter the precautions are taken, there is always a risk of malfunction or some other error in the manufacturing industry. Famously (or, rather, infamously), there was the case of hoverboards which suddenly caught fire when they were used. In December 2020, Toyota recalled 20,000 HiLux vehicles due to risks with a faulty braking system. This was in addition to numerous other recalls in the previous year. Car recalls are surprisingly common. If you run an eCommerce site and sell products there, then product liability is essential. Even if your branding is not on the product, but you modify it in some way, then you can be held liable for any damages that ensue. Directors’ and officers’ liability insurance (D&O) This type of insurance is also known as management insurance. If you are a business founder or director, you might want to consider getting this type of insurance. The D&O does not protect the entire business, but it offers cover specifically for the management team and the directors for any claims made against them personally. Because the consequences of such claims can be severe for an individual (sometimes even leading to a prison sentence), it is important to ensure that you are covered for both legal costs and compensation costs should any such claims arise. This type of insurance is sometimes demanded by investors before they decide to fund your company. How to choose the right insurance provider This is where things can get a little tricky. Insurance policies are difficult beasts to tame. They contain plenty of “legalese” and, unfortunately, too often what isn’t covered is only discovered after a claim is made. In this world of number-crunching and AI-powered decisions, the chance to speak to an experienced, live human being during the purchasing process has been greatly reduced. Ideally, you would work with a consultant whom you can trust in order to select the right business insurances for you. Remember that many consultants get paid commissions (and, sometimes, recurring commissions) for the insurance policies they sell. Unscrupulous reps might suggest one policy provider over another simply because they’ll get a better cut. That being said, not everyone is so dishonest in business. You should conduct wide-reaching research on your own. Look into online reviews or, better, ask people whom you know, who have had to claim from their own business insurances and have done so successfully. That’s the way most successful business gets done — direct networking and recommendations. You can’t ensure everything No matter how hard you try, you can’t insure yourself against all possible damages. And, even if you do, there might sometimes be clauses in the policy preventing a payout if it is found that you were in gross violation of applicable laws or even willfully neglectful. Ensuring your business against potential harm to others doesn’t obviate your responsibilities as a professional and as an employer to ensure the safety and well-being of others. Insurance is there to catch all the balls which slipped through — not all the balls you purposefully threw up into the air to see where they would land! Take out only the insurance that makes sense for your particular industry and risk factors. So much choice — where to start!? Indeed, the choices can be pretty overwhelming. And, as we mentioned, there simply isn’t enough transparent assistance around to help small businesses choose the right insurance policies for them. That’s why we offer a free Small Business Insurance Selection Service which helps you figure out which insurance policies your company might need and then directs you to the companies we feel offer the best value for money for those policies. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Improving cost-efficiency in your business is all a matter of getting better at doing day-to-day tasks. As the famous saying goes: Work smarter, not harder. There are numerous ways to save money and reduce costs in a small business such as turning the lights off at a certain hour or sourcing cheaper suppliers. But the trick is to save coins while improving your efficiency, not lowering it. Here are six unique hacks on how to be more cost-effective in your business while still operating at high-volume. 1. Answering service Time is money, and one of the quickest and easiest ways to save both in your small business is to outsource your switchboard. Instead of hiring a full-time switchboard operator and committing yourself to yet another salary when you’re not even sure if your startup is going to make it, consider using professional call-answerers to handle all your incoming calls. A business call-answering service is typically used for: Answering your business calls in a professional manner, utilising your business’s name. Forwarding calls to you if they are important. Informing you of calls via text message or email. Scheduling appointments for you on your calendar. Squashing telesales and automated calls which waste your time. Such a service then frees up your time (and hence, money) so you can do what you do best: Take care of business. 2. Online calendar The amount of time wasted when working out appropriate meeting times between you and others is enormous. Not only that, it can lead to confusions and unexpected conflicts in scheduling, thereby causing more wasted time. In these days rapid change, the only logical solution is to use an online scheduling service such as Calendly or YouCanBookMe which allows people to schedule themselves in for appointments without the endless back and forth of emails. If time is money, online calendar booking solutions will save you a ton of both! 3. VOIP phone lines Calling using traditional means has gone the way of the dinosaur, especially if you do a lot of international calling. These days, VOIP Business Phone Solutions come with so many different options that it simply makes no sense to pay your local telecom to provide you with a phone connection at exorbitant rates. Not only are VOIP providers generally cheaper on a per-call basis, but their service also tends to be better as a rule of thumb due to their need to compete with preexisting megacorps that have a firm grip on the market. 4. WFH policy For those who can do it, working from home has tremendous benefits. For the employer, it can save costs. A WFH policy cannot work in all industries. Video conferencing simply can’t replace the magic inherent in real human contact. But if your company is indeed able to allow a large contingent of its employees to work from home, that will save you costs. If a large portion of your employees works from home, you can hire a smaller space for your office and spend less on daily overheads. 5. Automate, automate, automate We are currently living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the internet of things. You can control your lights with your phone, get your coffee machine to make a pot for you every morning, and you can even get your floor vacuumed on a schedule. On a less dramatic basis, numerous tools exist online, which can automate the day-to-day grind for individuals and businesses. Some of these tools include: Accounting software that automatically logs your bills and invoices. Project management tools which execute certain actions based on a set of predetermined criteria. Workflow solutions that streamline everyday work. A short search on the web will give you dozens of solutions to test, which can reduce your workload as a result of automating repetitive tasks. 6. Work with freelancers If you have projects that need to be done over a few months but don’t have the power to do it in-house, use freelancers instead of taking someone on board permanently. Whereas the freelancer’s pricing might be higher than a salaried employee initially, this cost will balance itself out in the long run as a result of not being obliged legally to continue the relationship with the freelancer once the project is completed. The world of freelancing has grown highly competitive, and many freelancers will give you agency-quality work if you both agree to the right price (which will likely still be miles lower than the agency’s). Always work with professionals. Try and avoid cheapskate freelance sites with tons of freelancers competing mainly on price but not on quality. You’ll likely end up spending more by hiring from these websites because the work will often need to be redone. Ask for help Make it your daily mantra: “Could this be done smarter?” Depending on your technical know-how, you might or might not come up with ways that it could be done smarter. If you are struggling to figure out ways to streamline production, call someone who can do it for you. Ask for help. That’s a bonus cost-saving tip, by the way: Ask for help when you need it. A lot of professionals are keen and willing to help if you just ask. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Everywhere you look, there seems to be a piece of software to do something you thought could only be done manually. There is such a thing as “too much software”. Just as there is such a thing as “too little”. In running a business, it’s vital to establish what software is absolutely necessary and which is just nice to have. When starting a business, you want to be as lean as possible, investing in just the right software for your business to help you turn a profit while keeping your budget as low as possible. Here is our selection of absolutely essential software tools for startups and small businesses. Accounting software tools All of your bookkeeping can be done online these days. And all the major accounting software providers also come with phone apps so that you can manage your accounting on the go. Bookkeeping can take so much valuable time away from your day that it’s essential to invest in a tool that provides even the most basic functionality to keep your books in order. Tools such as FreeAgent, Quickbooks, Xero and others allow you to create and send invoices, reconcile your bank accounts, prepare end-of-year accounts as well as scan in your receipts, so you never miss a deductible expense. All of them also run payroll and take care of the dozens of different actions which must be taken to stay in compliance with HMRC’s monthly PAYE and other requirements. Good and affordable accounting software is absolutely indispensable for any business and will save you plenty of money in the long run. Project management tools You need something to be able to keep track of ongoing projects. The tool needs to be accessible via your phone, your browser and should give you a quick overview of where your different projects stand and how to get them unstuck if they are stuck. There are several excellent project management tools out there, such as Monday.com, Trello, ClickUp and Wrike. Although not technically a project management solution, AirTable can also be used successfully as one. CRM — Customer Relationship Management When you’re small, it’s possible to keep track of all your clients and leads in spreadsheets and maybe even on scraps of paper. This isn’t the case when you start to grow even a little bit. Keeping track of leads and the sales pipeline is crucial and can suck up a lot of time; not to mention that failing to keep tabs on this aspect of your business can lead to missed sales and opportunities! HubSpot offers a free CRM which covers most basic needs to manage your customer and leads database until you are large enough to afford one of their higher-tiered packages. Salesforce is another popular cloud-based CRM. Team suites Team suites will typically contain some or other project management tool as part of their offering. But, still, some companies prefer to go with a separate choice for project management because the standalone products are often so much better. As for the team suite itself — secure team chat, video telephony, email, document collaboration — the two main players are undoubtedly Slack and Microsoft Teams. Each has its pros and cons, and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference. Telephone software (VOIP) It just makes sense to use VOIP for your business, and there are several solutions on the market for this. Using VOIP is particularly important for companies that handle a lot of international business. VOIP can also integrate deeply with analytics tools and computer software to provide additional features not customarily available on a normal phone. Video-conferencing tools Video-conferencing is here to stay. And, whereas we’ll all probably return to the office again eventually, there are numerous benefits to video conferencing compared to in-person meetings. Video conferencing saves time and makes it easier to arrange meetings on short notice. The ability to record video calls also obviates the need for extensive note-taking or additional software for recording. Basic marketing tools This covers a wide range of tools, spanning from actual design tools such as Canva and Adobe Creative Cloud to social media marketing tools such as Hootsuite which allows for scheduling of social media posts. In this category would be included basic video editing tools as well. There’s only so far a DIY marketing approach will get you. Not only is it a skill that takes years to hone, but design-work also takes up a tremendous amount of time which is not good if you’re trying to get your startup off the ground. Eventually, you would probably want to hire professionals to take care of your business marketing. Online storage Storing your files online is the easiest way to keep them backed up when you’re busy. There are too many horror stories of professionals who lost a ton of data because they didn’t have a backup for it. Also, online storage makes it easier to work on the go, from any device. Popular online storage providers are Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Too many startups underestimate the importance of having professional legal support in their business. Legal support is one of the two services that every startup absolutely must-have when it is starting out. Unfortunately, lawyers tend to be pricey creatures, sometimes charging several hundred pounds an hour for the simplest of services. This article lays out some cost-effective options for obtaining legal advice for your startup or new business. But first, some basics: Why legal support is essential for business success Running a business is probably 40 per cent accounting, 40 per cent legal, and 20 per cent everything else. Sure, you need to market and conduct sales to get in business. But what if the sales you got in are not adequately described in an iron-clad business contract? What if that incredible marketing campaign you just planned happens to infringe on someone’s trademark? Or what if the marketing action requires certain permissions, as in the case of flyer distribution, and you didn’t know about these restrictions? Having a lawyer to hand to ask for advice on each of these matters is crucial. It is also imperative to be well stocked up on multiple legal business documents so that you don’t have to go to a lawyer for every single new client you get on board. The plethora of things that can go wrong for failing to stay up-to-scratch on your business’s legal needs can include: Tax non-compliance Failing to meet contractual obligations (this could occur in any department of the business) Failure to comply with employee-related laws, especially laws on discrimination Failure to comply with any newly enacted laws Cost-effective legal solutions for a business Fortunately, there are alternatives out there. Just as the medical profession is now changing to a telemedicine and telehealth model where you can visit multiple practitioners simply by using the video camera on your phone, so is the world of legal services adapting to meet the needs of a more tech-savvy generation. Free online legal advice The first option available is, of course, the internet in general. The internet is loaded with articles and how-tos and videos offering legal advice. Many of these articles come with bold disclaimers on them, explaining that their advice should be double-checked by a professional. Our recommendation is to use such freely available information with due caution. Cross-reference everything you read and verify that the information really is correct. Even so, such a method of seeking legal “advice” should only be reserved for the most mundane and general of subjects, never for active litigation where the advice of a legal professional is crucial. Hunting out the internet for business legal advice has other flaws: It can be terribly time-consuming. Often, much of the information found applies to a different country, especially the USA. Legal terminology makes understanding such information difficult. Many of these articles are written in “legal-speak” (unlike our own legal help articles here at Start My business, where we try to give legal advice in plain English). Government Website The UK government’s website is a fantastic place for legal advice relating to businesses based in the UK. The main pro about this website is that it is guaranteed to be accurate. The website is, however, a little complex to navigate and read. The website doesn’t seem to make too much of an effort to offer advice in “plain English”, either. Legal advice from banks Some banks offer legal advice or some kind of package that covers your legal fees. Barclays, for instance, offers legal insurance for a variety of legal costs. (Although there is no pricing on their webpage as of this writing for such insurance, which is always a red flag when it comes to looking for something affordable.) Some banks have a page of information dedicated to legal tips. Again, such info is usually reliable, but the legalese can be difficult to wade through. Legal clinics Legal clinics are a way for law students to gain experience in working with real-life cases. These clinics often require you to make an appointment and then to drive to their offices to have a face-to-face meeting. Different clinics specialise in different aspects of the law (business, family, child, etc.) so you might need to do some hunting to find a clinic near you that offers you the business advice you need. Of course, in this world of fast-paced services, waiting for an available appointment can be frustrating if your legal issue is urgent. Legal clinics tend to specialise in pro bono work. Legal advice helpline The world has gone digital. Also, with new restrictions in place as a result of needing to curtail the spread of disease, meeting in person is now more cumbersome. A legal advice helpline is the ideal solution for businesses who are seeking legal advice, provided the helpline matches the following criteria: It is affordable. You can speak to an accredited solicitor. It is available 24/7. The main problem with many of the aforementioned services is that they do not put you in touch with an accredited, professional and experienced lawyer. The second problem is that they can be slow if you need to wait for an available appointment. This can often also be true of making an appointment with law firms. The Start My Business legal advice hotline is available 24/7 and will put you in touch instantly with a legal professional who is qualified to give you legal advice instantly. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
One of the first questions we hear from people starting a business in the UK is whether or not they should trademark their business name. Well, you can’t. But you can trademark a product or service. Trademarks are complicated beasts, and successfully registering a trademark only protects in you the country in which that trademark is registered. If you plan on running an international business, then you might need to register your trademark in multiple other jurisdictions. This is especially true in China, where trademark theft is rife, and the legal system offers little protection. What is a trademark? A trademark is any mark that uniquely distinguishes one business’s products or goods from another’s. The mark can be a word, symbol, colour or combination of colours, sound, etc. Each jurisdiction has its own rules for what precisely can be trademarked and what cannot. For example, in the USA and Australia, it is possible to trademark a unique scent. (The scent must be able to be described using words, though.) Some jurisdictions even allow you to trademark plants. In Australia, a particular style of jumping is trademarked by Toyota — it is called a motion trade mark. Yes, it’s a bit of a crazy world. But that doesn’t change the law and your rights within that law. What can you trademark in the UK? The UK is fairly limited in what one can trademark compared to other, more liberal jurisdictions such as Australia and the USA. In the UK, one can trademark: Words Sounds (e.g. this sound from Intel) Logos Colours (Castrol has registered its special shades of green and red. Cadbury tried to register its special shade of purple, but this was contested quite forcefully by Nestlé who eventually won the case at the highest levels.) A combination of any of the above Can you trademark a domain name in the UK? A company name and domain name cannot be registered as a trademark. Owning a trade mark doesn’t automatically entitle you to that particular domain name. This matter has been the source of many lawsuits over the decades (especially on the part of Microsoft). And, of course, if you register a domain name with an accredited domain name registrar, that doesn’t automatically give you the right to trade using that name. The only way to obtain the rights for your trademark is to properly register that trademark in the UK as well as in any other jurisdiction in which you plan to sell your goods. What can you not trademark in the UK? In addition to domain names and company names, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) specifies the following items as taboo for trademark purposes: Protected emblems and symbols such as: Flags Hallmarks Other State emblems# Official signs Armorial bearings (coats of arms) What is the procedure for registering a trademark in the UK? Most countries have a fairly similar procedure for registering trademarks. The UK’s specific procedure is: Search existing databases to see if the mark is already trademarked. Determine the class for the mark. (The UK, like most jurisdictions, uses the Nice classification system). File the application. The IPO can then raise objections on the basis of deficiencies in the filing. These are replied to by the filer or their representative. The time frame for the above: About one month. IPO raises official objections if any. Filer furnishes arguments against the objection. If the arguments succeed, the filing continues. Time frame: About 3 – 5 months. The registration is published. This is followed by a two-month period (extendible to three months) in which any opponents may file an opposition to the trademark (as happened between Nestlé and Cadbury when the latter tried to register its special shade of purple). If there is no opposition (or the opposition fails), then the mark is formally registered. Once a mark is formally registered by the IPO, the owner has full legal rights to defend against its use and abuse by others. First-to-file vs first-to-use The UK uses a first-to-file policy with regards to trademarks which means that rights are conferred only on successful registration and not on previous use. This is in contrast to the USA, which uses the first-to-use policy. That means that the first person to use the mark has a right to object to it being registered even if they have not filed for registration previously. There are pros and cons to both systems. First-to-file systems can lead to abuse and the loss of rights simply for failing to register a mark that one has been using for years. Whereas as first-to-use policies can lead to frustration (and lawsuits) as a result of marks being unknown until much later because there is no central database to search for marks. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
Unfortunately, the world of “legalese” tends to close out understanding from people who do not work in the legal profession. Here at Start My Business, we operate on the philosophy that everyone should be able to understand and take care of their business’s legal issues without the need to call in an expert lawyer. In this article, we will explain the often misunderstood concepts of: Patent Inventorship Patent Ownership Authorship What is a patent? Firstly, what is a patent? The Oxford Dictionary defines a patent as: “A government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention.” There’s an important word in that definition above which is key to understanding these concepts. That word is invention. A patent is, basically, a license or authoritative document from a government which gives an entity the sole right to make, use or sell an invention. When a legal entity files for a patent and gets it approved, that gives that entity (a person or corporation) the right to take legal action against any other person or corporation that is trying to make, use or sell that specific invention. What is Patent Inventorship? Who invented the item or process being patented? This is a matter to be determined before — and sometimes during — the patent application. One thing is certain: The inventor of a product or process is always a natural person. The inventor is never a corporation or a company. Thomas Edison was an inventor. Nikola Tesla was an inventor. Benjamin Franklin was an inventor. All these inventors were people, not organisations. A good example of an inventor who did not immediately gain the right to commercialise and protect his invention is Shane Chen, the inventor of the hoverboard. What is authorship? Authorship applies specifically to artistic works, more specifically to written works — journals, essays, books, etc. Authorship is a subject dealt with under copyright law. Inventorship is a subject dealt with under patent law. Here are some important concepts to understand: Authorship relates to authored works. Inventorship relates to inventions. Establishing who the inventors of a process or product are can often be a fairly subjective and complicated process. Establishing who the author of a publication is, is not. Either someone wrote something that was published, or they didn’t. The biggest problem with not naming the correct inventor in a patent is that it can make the patent unenforceable if litigation ever ensues. It is quite common that parties attempt to invalidate a patent by challenging the validity of its stated inventorship. If a party does manage to prove that the inventor (or inventors) named in a patent are not the true inventors, the patent can be rendered null and, therefore, unenforceable. Work for Hire It’s important to understand the concept of “Work for Hire”. Often, an author or inventor transfers their rights to their invention or authored works because they have specifically signed a contract doing so. An author who creates work “for hire” automatically transfers the copyright for that work to the entity which has hired them. In the case of an inventor, nothing can ever change the inventorship of something, not even a contractual clause, but contracts almost always transfer ownership to the hiring entity for anything invented. Again, it’s important to appreciate the difference between copyright law and patent law. “Ownership” is tightly coupled with copyright. In patent law, the creator and owner are separated. The copyright owner is also the “owner” of the work. An investor can transfer ownership but will always remain the inventor. What is patent ownership? We’ve touched on this already above, but let’s summarise. An inventor has no right to monetise an invention which they do not own. Ownership of an invention can be transferred by contractual clauses, or in a patent. The owner of a patent can litigate in an attempt to prevent anyone else from using or manufacturing an invented product, including the inventor themself. Ownership is, essentially, a proprietary right. So, can anyone claim ownership for a patent? No, definitely not. And that’s why it’s so important to specify the inventor in any patent application. Only the inventor or the person claiming proprietary ownership ov er the invention can file for a patent. This is why Work for Hire is such an important concept. If the inventor has signed away their right to ownership of an invention, then the rightful owner can file for a patent on that invention. Being an inventor is something that can never be taken away from a person, and it looks great in someone’s CV! But it doesn’t automatically confer ownership. Simplifying the patent application process We hope the above clarifies the patent application process, as well as the differences between ownership, authorship and inventorship. Applying for a patent is crucial if you wish to protect your or your employees’ inventions. It’s important to understand the patent application process as well as the basic terminology of patent law to ensure a smooth and successful application in the end. About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.
How to test a business idea 1. Conduct market research 2. What value will your business idea bring to adopters? 3. Start small and build from there So, you woke up in the middle of the night and — kablam-kablooey — you had the best of best ideas ever for the hottest business this side of the Atlantic! The idea was so magnificently magnifique that you’re ready to take all your kids’ tuition fees and splurge them all into this amazeballs startup! Okay, hold up, take a breath. Relax. Firstly, there’s no reason to feel bad: We all get these flashes of lightning every now and then. What separates the giants from the dwarves is that some of us have enough sense to, like, tell somebody about our idea before we go and empty our children’s bank accounts. And then? After you told your BFF that you “Just had an idea that I’m going to invent a game where you throw birds at pigs, dude. I mean — birds at…pigs!” Your friend pauses and says, “Look, that’s been done before.” “Huh? What? Birds being thrown at pigs? That’s so original!” “Nope. There’s even a movie about it. Oh, yeah, and trademarks. You’d go under before you even got started. And you’d have a bunch of legal fees to pay for infringement — or whatever it’s called.” And that, fellow business starters, is why business ideas must be tested. How to test a business idea Okay, so the above is just one way to test a business idea. Although it’s best to do more than just ask your mate if it’ll work. Because let’s face it, he might not even have heard about Angry Birds and then you’d really be out of pocket! Yes, the first thing is to tell someone about your idea. But here are three other things you can do to test your business idea properly so that you don’t end up investing the kids’ education on some hair-brained thing like “Convince Everyone to Eat Less Healthily so as to Save Money”. Yikes! 1. Conduct market research Now, if you’re a Lone Ranger and haven’t convinced anybody else yet to join your new venture, then the phrase “Conduct Market Research” probably should be rephrased as “Do some serious googling!” Or you could conduct a survey. If your business idea relates to a service you want to offer in your neighbourhood, pull out that trusty twentieth-century clipboard of yours and do an actual, honest-to-goodness pen and paper (wow!) survey. However you do it, you need to research your market and ensure you know if there’s room for that idea about pigs and birds that you just had. Sure, sometimes it’s difficult to know if there’s room for a new idea. I mean…birds being thrown against pigs!? No one saw that one coming. (And, FYI, Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd attempt at making a successful game. So — there were lots of failed ideas for them before they hit the “pig” jackpot!) 2. What value will your business idea bring to adopters? You need to write this baby down (and we don’t even mind if you write it down with a pen on paper or with a finger on a phone). In the case of Angry Birds, the value was possibly something like “Lighthearted distraction during crazy-mad workdays”. Like market surveys, this value proposition can sometimes be difficult to envisage if your product or business idea is so unique. But, other times, the value proposition is clearly of no use to anybody and so it becomes immediately obvious that the business idea is a bad one. 3. Start small and build from there Okay, so you got this far and realised that the idea isn’t so bad, after all. You’re just about to call your trust account manager to gain access to the kids’ tuition funds when… …the calm hand of Start My Business comes through and says, “Wait, wait, take a breath…” The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Even the best ideas can fall short when actually implemented. Markets are made of people, and people’s minds are always changing. If all it took was a great business idea to get a business going, all those incredible startups around the world would never fail. But startups do fail (70 per cent of them within ten years, to be precise). Once a business gets going, the reasons for failure can be many. Failure to have an accurate and thoroughly worked-out business plan is one of them. Another reason is not having enough legal support for your business. But above all of that is the business idea. You can have an incredible business plan, but if the basic idea is flawed then the business is more likely to fail. You can have all the legal support you need, but if the basic business idea is bad then none of that legal support will bring you anything in the end — because the business is still likely to fail. The business idea is the base of the pyramid from which all other business solutions arise. If the base is essentially unsound, the whole structure comes down. The final test for an idea is when you actually start running the business. So, start small and don’t take any major risks — yet. Feel the waters, see if people are interested, watch the market. If the idea is bad, you won’t lose a lot despite trying it out. But if it’s a good one, that small start can quickly snowball into something even bigger than Angry Birds! About author Julia Richards Our head of content, Julia has spent the past 20 years assisting entrepreneurs with all aspects of business launch and growth strategies in various industries around the globe.