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For a successful business, you need a viable business idea, the skills to make it work and the funding. Discover whether your idea has what it takes.

Forming your business correctly is essential to ensure you are protected and you comply with the rules. Learn how to set up your business.

It is likely you will need funding to start your business unless you have your own money. Discover some of the main sources of start up funding.

Businesses and individuals must account for and pay various taxes. Understand your tax obligations and how to file, account and pay any taxes you owe.

Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of business laws. We introduce the main rules and regulations you must comply with.

Learn why business planning is an essential exercise if your business is to start and grow successfully, attract funding or target new markets.

Marketing matters. It drives sales and helps promote your brand and products. Discover how to market your business and reach your target customers.

Some businesses need a high street location whilst others can be run from home. Understand the key factors from cost to location, size to security.

Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

It is likely your business could not function without some form of IT. Learn how to specify, buy, maintain and secure your business IT.

Few businesses manage the leap from start up to high-growth business. Learn what it takes to scale up and take your business to the next level.

March 2016

24 March 2016

Online retail spending is set to exceed £60bn in the UK this year and mobile devices will be responsible for 36% of all UK retail sales according to new data.

24 March 2016

Small business confidence dips to 2013 levelsEconomic uncertainty and other challenges facing the UK's small businesses have caused a significant drop in business confidence.

A new survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that small business confidence is at the lowest level since 2013.

This quarter, the FSB's Small Business Index fell to 8.6, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2013 and a significant fall from a high of 41 in Q2 2014. Behind this headline indicator are some other worrying figures for SMEs:

  • The number of businesses expecting to see business performance decline has increased to 34.8%;
  • This quarter represents the first negative quarter for job creation since 2013;
  • A net balance of 18.5% of firms anticipate increasing capital investment over the next 12 months, the lowest net balance since Q2 2013;
  • A net balance of over half (56.8%) of small businesses have been operating below capacity over the past three months, the highest since Q1 2013;
  • Small business confidence has declined in every region of the UK compared with a year ago, especially in London and the East of England;
  • Confidence now stands in negative territory for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The FSB says the cooling in confidence is partly a result of uncertainty about the strength of the UK and global economy. However, it also found a strong indication that a raft of new challenges facing small businesses - including the National Living Wage (NLW), pensions auto-enrolment and plans to introduce mandatory quarterly digital tax reporting - were contributing to business concerns.

This research has found that the top five concerns for SMEs are: the strength of the domestic economy, weak consumer demand, a shortage of skilled staff, increases to the cost of labour and the burden and complexity of the tax system.

Sandra Dexter, FSB vice-chairman, said: "Small business confidence has clearly faltered, which is why the welcome small business focus in the Budget is so important. We need a renewed push for growth and productivity."

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24 March 2016

The three-second rule: is your website too slow?More than half of consumers will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, according to new research.

A report from online optimisation specialist Radware has found that 57% of users will give up on a website that takes more than three seconds to load. It means that many websites are failing the most basic test of usability: load time.

"Three seconds doesn't sound like much, but 57% of users will abandon a site that takes any longer," said Kent Alstad, vp of acceleration at Radware. "That means lost sales and lost advertising revenue. Yet many site owners fail to optimise images, scripts, and HTML - even as these elements increase in number - leading to sluggish load times, site abandonment, and brand damage. These are prime opportunities for improving performance and attracting and retaining customers."

Radware's survey focused on the top 50 websites across four sectors - news, ecommerce, travel and sport. It found that loading times vary widely:

  • 80% of top travel sites take more than three seconds to load on a desktop;
  • 78% of top news sites exceed the three-second window;
  • All but three of the top sports websites take more than three seconds to load;
  • However, nearly half of the top shopping sites load in three seconds or less.

Radware decribed ecommerce as "the one bright spot in the study" with mean load time of 3.1 seconds.

Despite the rising popularity of mobile devices, desktops are still widely used to view websites and they also have a higher average ecommerce conversion rate according to Radware. Its research shows that, with an average ecommerce conversion rate of 2.71%, desktop sites outperform both tablets (2.51%) and smartphones (0.96%).

And yet, the report concludes, many organisations and businesses risk compromising the performance of the desktop versions of their websites because of poor optimisation. The full report can be downloaded and also includes web performance best practice.

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24 March 2016

Why small business owners fail to report crimeBusiness crime statistics are being called into question as new research from the Federation of Small Businesses shows that many small firms don't report crimes against their business.

A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) reveals that nearly a quarter of smaller business owners (24%) do not report any crimes committed against their business.

When asked why, most said they felt reporting it would not achieve anything positive (46%). In addition, 38% said they didn't think the police would be able to find the criminals or achieve a successful prosecution and 26% said reporting a crime was too time-consuming.

Despite Government figures that suggest business crime is decreasing, the FSB research has found that a third of small businesses say business crime is increasing in their area. Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed have been a victim of cyber crime in the past two years, 48% have been a victim of non-cyber crime and 53% have been a victim of both.

The FSB says the findings call into question the accuracy of the current crime statistics.

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: "Crime affects all businesses, but it impacts smaller firms the hardest as they cannot absorb the unexpected costs. The fact that businesses are not reporting crimes shows a real breakdown in trust and confidence in the police."

Meanwhile, businesses are making a concerted effort to improve their security, says the FSB. Two-fifths (41%) of businesses have installed or upgraded a security system to protect their business and 80% of small firms protect their IT systems with computer security software.

With the election of local Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in May, the FSB has published a manifesto aimed at putting business crime at the heart of local policing plans.

Mike Cherry said: "With the average cost of crime to a business now at £5,898, and instances of cyber crime on the rise, there is a real necessity to get a handle on this. FSB members call on candidates for PCCs standing in elections across England in May to make combating business crime a central theme in their long-term plans."

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24 March 2016

Graduate recruitment slows while firms hire more apprentices

Businesses have scaled up their apprenticeship opportunities this year by 24%, but graduate vacancies increased by just 2%, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters. This marks a slowdown for graduate programmes compared to last year, when employers increased their graduate intake by 13%. However, graduates still make up the highest volume of early talent hires - the employers surveyed are looking to fill more than 14,000 graduate positions this year, nearly 5,000 internships and over 3,000 apprenticeships.

98% of homes and offices to get 4G by end of 2017

Ofcom chief executive Sharon White has committed to enforcing rules that should ensure up to 98% of all home and offices get an indoor 4G mobile signal by the end of next year. Speaking at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) conference in Glasgow last week, White acknowledged that "small businesses are much less well served than big businesses, particularly when it comes to superfast broadband" and she said: "We know mobile data is increasingly vital to businesses. So we've set rules to ensure that virtually all homes and offices … must receive an indoor 4G mobile signal by the end of next year."

New guidance for employers taking on apprentices

Acas has launched a new free guide to help employers manage and support apprentices and young workers. Stewart Gee, Acas head of information and guidance, said: "Research has also shown that the average apprenticeship can increase business productivity by £214 a week, so it's beneficial for all businesses to read our new guide to understand how best to recruit, engage and retain young workers and apprentices." The online guide offers advice on finding the right apprentice, choosing a training provider and drawing up an apprentice agreement.

Google update favours mobile-friendly websites

Google has announced an update on its mobile search results that will "help our users find even more pages that are relevant and mobile-friendly". The update will come into effect from May; it comes a year after Google started to use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile searches. Google has published a guide to help businesses optimise their websites for mobile; they also offer a Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

New rules on declaring bankruptcy

Bankruptcy applications are moving out of the courts from 6 April 2016. It means that bankruptcy applications will have to be filled in online; they will then be assessed by an adjudicator working for the Insolvency Service. The fee for filing for bankruptcy will decrease from £705 to £655. Anyone filing for bankruptcy will be able to pay this in installments but their application won't be submitted until the full amount is paid. There are more details on the Government website.

18 March 2016

UK businesses are becoming More UK businesses are coming up with new ideas and launching new products, according to a Government study.

The headline results of the 2015 UK Innovation report have been released this month ahead of the publication of the full report in July 2016.

The findings show that the UK has seen its biggest boost in business-led innovation since 2010. Over half (53%) of UK businesses are actively engaging in developing and introducing new products and ways of making them, as well as new services and ways of doing business.

The survey found that 53% of SMEs and 61% of large businesses (with more than 250 employees) are "innovative". It also found that:

  • The proportion of businesses that innovate has increased significantly in manufacturing, distribution and services;
  • 28% of innovators are engaged in exports (compared with 10% of non-innovators);
  • 25% use technological innovation, up from 22% in the 2012 survey;
  • The biggest barriers to innovation reported by businesses are the availability of finance (17%), costs (15%) and economic risks (14%);
  • 40% of innovative businesses say they have co-operation arrangements with partners, including other businesses, clients and suppliers.

The Yorkshire and the Humber region leads the UK for innovative businesses, with almost two-thirds of businesses engaged in innovation in the region. The East Midlands is also well above the UK average at 57%, and the West Midlands has seen one of the largest increases in business-led innovation, up 12 percentage points over two years.

Business secretary Sajid Javid said: "The number of companies innovating and coming up with new, dynamic ideas is on the rise - up eight percentage points between 2012 and 2014, with over half of businesses now developing new products and services, some with the potential to revolutionise their industries."

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18 March 2016

More UK businesses are coming up with new ideas and launching new products, according to a Government study.

18 March 2016

CBI to make pro-EU case - backed by membersAfter a consultation with members, the CBI says it has a "mandate" to make the case for staying in the EU after 80% of members polled said being in the EU was good for their business.

The CBI membership survey, conducted by ComRes, attracted responses from 773 members among small, medium and large firms across the UK. The results were weighted to ensure the sample was representative of the overall CBI membership, 71% of which are SMEs.

CBI members employ nearly seven million people, about one third of private sector employees.

The survey found that:

  • 80% of CBI members said that the UK remaining a member of the EU would be best for their business;
  • 5% said it is in their firm's best interests for the UK to leave the EU;
  • 15% were unsure.

The survey formed part of a consultation process with the CBI's governance network and culminated in an endorsement from the Chairmen's Committee to allow the CBI to make the economic case for the UK to remain in the EU.

"Having secured a strong mandate from our members, the CBI will continue to play a role in shining a light on the business and economic issues at stake," said CBI president Paul Drechsler.

"The vast majority of our members tell us their businesses have gained from being in the EU," he said. "We have consulted every one of the CBI's councils in the last three weeks, involving firms of all sizes and sectors across the UK. All councils agreed, many unanimously, that the CBI should make the economic case for remaining."

Carolyn Fairbairn (pictured), CBI director-general, said: 
"The message from our members is resounding - most want the UK to stay in the EU because it is better for their business, jobs and prosperity. Walking away makes little economic sense and risks throwing away the many benefits we gain from being part of the EU."

However, Fairbairn conceded that a minority of members wanted to leave the EU and she said that the CBI would not align itself with any campaign. "It is not our place to tell people how to vote but the CBI will play its role in making the economic case for remaining in the EU."

On 8 March, John Longworth resigned as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) after revealing that he was in favour of Brexit, at odds with the BCC's neutral position.

Image: CBI on Flickr

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18 March 2016

Start-up fears stop Brits becoming their own boss

Six in ten British workers want to start their own business but are too scared because of fears about money and failure, according to research by the Start Up Loans company. Its poll of 2,000 employees found that the attractions of setting up a venture include flexible working hours (for 24%) and the idea of being your own boss (22%). However, a third of respondents said they needed support with their finances to start a business.

The secret to getting paid quicker

Analysis by cloud accounting provider FreeAgent has revealed that setting payment terms at seven days or "pay immediately" zero-day terms could help businesses get paid three times more quickly. It seems short payment terms encourage more customers to pay on time, compared to the usual 30-day arrangement. Ed Molyneux, ceo and co-founder of FreeAgent said: "Our research shows that some clever tweaks to terms could make businesses three times more likely to be paid within a week, which has to be good news."

Have you got a good business idea?

VOOM, the Virgin Media competition for entrepreneurs, is back and applicants can register their interest now before entries open on 22 March 2016. Last year, over 2,000 businesses took part and nine finalists won more than £1 million in prizes. According to Virgin, this year's competition will be bigger than ever but the rules are the same - entrepreneurs pitch their business idea and if they are successful they win a share of £1 millon.

Managers must lead by example on health say workers

More than a third of British workers (38%) have said they would be encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle if their managers led by example. And 52% said they would be more inclined to take part in company health and wellbeing schemes if their managers participated too. These are the findings of new research by Willis PMI Group. The survey also found that one in ten workers say their managers take more time off sick than "rank-and-file" employees.

16 March 2016

Business groups representing the UK's small business community have welcomed many of George Osborne's Budget announcements, but some would like to see him go further on tax simplification.

Business groups have reacted positively to the 2016 Budget Statement. Mike Cherry, policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "FSB members have campaigned hard to make small business rate relief permanent, and expand it - and the Chancellor has heeded our calls, taking many small firms out of the system altogether. The combined measures announced on business rates - the single biggest tax cut in today's Budget - will be viewed by our members as a welcome and important step on the road to fundamental reform."

Dr Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), agreed: "Business wanted a steady, workmanlike Budget, and that's what we got. The Chancellor listened to our calls to avoid higher business taxes and costs - and indeed moved to lower them in a number of areas. He has finally taken real action to lessen the crushing burden of business rates, and sharpened incentives for entrepreneurship and investment."

However, some commentators said that Osborne had missed an opportunity to radically reform the business tax regime. Jason Kitcat, micro-business ambassador at Crunch Accounting, said: "Ultimately the big prizes of a simpler, fairer system of tax and benefits remains to be grasped. A major review of the entire system, building on the excellent work of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS), is well overdue."

Meanwhile, the Institute of Directors (IoD) questioned whether Osborne had got his numbers right. Simon Walker, IoD director general, said: "Much heavy lifting will still be required to get rid of the deficit by the end of the Parliament. For a Chancellor who correctly prizes maths education, although he's come up with a good answer, he hasn't yet shown us enough of his working on how he plans to get there."

Overall, small business groups welcomed the attention for SMEs in Osborne's eighth Budget Statement. Darren Fell (pictured), CEO of Crunch Accounting, said: "It's nice to see George Osborne slowly getting his head around how modern entrepreneurialism works, and beginning to support businesses at all stages of growth."

He added: "There's still a huge gulf between the amount of support afforded to larger corporates and that offered to the self-employed and micro-businesses, but the very fact that they weren't entirely ignored - as in previous Budgets - is gratifying."

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