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.
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.
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.
Although not technically a project management solution, AirTable can also be used successfully as one.
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 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.
Each has its pros and cons, and the choice between the two often comes down to personal preference.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.