Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Ode to an Emergency Budget

June 23, 2010

George Osborne spoke, he set the scene….

The nation is in debt.

We’re broke and he will fix it,

Clearly no need to fret!

A billion here, a billion there,

We’ll find the money now.

The poorest will be better off,

But nobody’s sure quite how.

For entrepreneurs, it’s not too bad,

That capital gains tax charge.

£5m they say, at 10%

What’s left may still be large!

For public sector workers,

The cuts will run quite deep.

Let’s hope there’s no strike action,

No promises to keep.

With VAT @ 20 per cent,

Luxury spending may wither.

So if you’re thinking of splashing out,

Whatever you do, don’t dither!

They say you’re still young at 66,

The new retirement age.

But it seems too late to me, you know,

To leave the employment stage.

So some have won and some have lost,

A very taxing day.

There’s only one question that now remains,

Will Capello stay?


There’s no need to be a hero

May 16, 2010

This is no time for heroics. With a freshly squeezed coalition government, a fiscal deficit as deep as Loch Ness, a monster sized public sector and an unfolding Greek tragedy, it is difficult to envision an entirely calm and rosy future. Indeed, the chickens that were hiding just around the corner have now come home to roost and we can only hope that some green shoots of recovery will tempt them out again. We have all had quite enough of recessions and sovereign defaults and would now like normal service to resume. Thank you!

With that off my chest, there are plenty of opportunities out there. Well run businesses will be using these still difficult times to improve their systems and processes, increase their efficiencies and work out how they will out-market and outsell their competitors, as and when circumstances permit. They will be looking at acquisitions and other strategies to increase their market share and may also be considering how our weak pound can increase their international opportunities. Above all they will be carefully managing their working capital and making sure they don’t run out of cash.

Are you one of these businesses that will be ready to take advantage of the real recovery, when it finally arrives? It’s worth thinking about…

On the financing and business development front, there have been some interesting announcements in recent weeks.

In case you have missed them, here are some of the headlines:

– A new company, UK Finance for Growth Ltd (UKFG), has been established to manage and coordinate the delivery of finance to SMEs. The range of funding will be from £25,000 to £10 million and funding will be in the form of debt, equity or mezzanine funding. Over time, it will bring together all of the existing SME finance schemes including the Enterprise Finance Guarantee and the newly announced Growth Capital Fund- a total of around £3.5 billion.

– The new Growth Capital Fund (part of UKFG) has been created to address the funding gap identified by the Rowlands Review of Growth Capital which was published in November 2009. Starting with a total of £200 million and an ambition to grow this to £500 million, it will provide funding for SMEs seeking between £2 million and £10 million, with the first investments being planned for the autumn.

– Over the next year, RBS and Lloyds have agreed to provide a total of £94 billion of new business loans. Of this, apparently nearly half is earmarked for SMEs.

– From December 2010, there will be a new portal providing access to Government contracts, with relevant contracts flagged as SME friendly. The aim is to increase Government procurement from SMEs by 15% to a total of around £23 billion. This is still only around 10% of the Government’s annual spend, so hopefully there will be much more to come.

– Although taxes are increasing to pay for our nation’s profligate spending, the budget introduced some welcome tax breaks for entrepreneurs and SMEs. There have also been some interesting developments at Royal Mail, where a decision by the European Court of Justice means that many businesses may be able to reclaim VAT on the cost of a number of Royal Mail services, including Parcelforce. Make sure you don’t lose out.

With a new coalition budget just around the corner, there will be more to report in the coming weeks. Watch out for the well trailed increases in VAT and Capital Gains Tax. Is now the time for business and property owners to consider realising some of their assets?

Ten key hooks for investors in early stage businesses

March 19, 2010

Family and friends are a great source of funding for start ups and early stage businesses, but raising money from external investors or business angels is challenging.

Here are ten of the key issues that investors will be considering when they meet you or read your business plan.

1. First impressions

First impressions are critical. Most investors will decide not to proceed within the first 30 seconds of any discussion, or within a minute or two of picking up your business plan. Think about your approach, test in on your friends and practise it to perfection. Don’t fall at the first fence.

2. Demonstrable need

Where is the pain and what exactly is the need for your particular product or service? Most businesses offer ‘me too’ opportunities which are not obviously exciting to an investor. Make sure it’s clear how and why yours is different. Is it better, faster, cheaper or is there some other reason why you will succeed when many others fail?

3. Existing Revenues

Raising money for a business with pre-existing revenues is far easier as demand for your product or service has already been partially proven. The fact that you have already established the beginnings of a customer base will carry huge weight in any discussions.

4. Strategy

You may have a great idea, and you may have existing revenues, but what is the future for your business? Do you have a vision? If so, is it realistic or just “pie in the sky”? We have all seen those hockey stick shaped graphs showing an embarrassment of riches only a year or two down the track. Don’t be tempted to over-promise and under-deliver. It’s normally transparent from the start.

 5. Business plan

The credibility of your proposal will be reflected in the quality of your business plan. A poorly presented, badly researched plan will kill your proposal before it has a chance. An idea may be good enough to gain the backing of family and friends, but it won’t cut the mustard with any serious investors.  

 6. Business model

Your business model will determine how and where you make your profits and how you will build long term value in your business. A model that requires huge revenues to deliver small profits is inherently unattractive, whereas a business in a niche market with high barriers to entry will be of interest to potential investors.

7. You

Are you credible in the eyes of the investor? What is your track record and what experience do you have of your business? Most successful entrepreneurs “stick to the knitting”, creating businesses based on their passion (ie something they know and understand), personal knowledge or experience. If this is limited, get the support of a mentor or partner. This will demonstrate maturity in the eyes of your investor.

8. Financials

Businesses go bust because they run out of cash, so be sure to demonstrate a good understanding of your financials. Margins and overheads will be part of the discussion, as well as working capital and cash flow. Remember that small businesses are normally cash constrained and prone to overtrading, so the investor will need to understand how you will manage this.

9. Pricing

Don’t be tempted to overvalue your business. We are a long way from the heady dotcom days when investors were persuaded to part with large amounts of cash based on little more than an idea. Nothing will put an investor off more quickly than an excessive or unsupportable valuation. The more you need, the more you will have to give away, so be realistic, cut your cloth and take in as little external funding as possible.

10. Exit

It’s very easy for an investor to put money into your business, but how will he get it back? A vague idea that you would like to buy his shares back at some future date is unlikely to be attractive. Taking in external funds means that you need to “begin at the end” in terms of thinking about exit, having a clear strategy and plan. This may change as the business grows, but you need that stake in the ground.

These are just some of the issues an investor will be thinking about, often subconsciously, in the short time that he focuses on your business. If you’ve thought it all out beforehand and you can tick all the boxes, you will have a strong chance of success.

Good luck!

A nation of entrepreneurs

February 21, 2010

Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers, unfit for war against France, but are we in fact emerging as a nation of entrepreneurs, ready to take on the world?

At a recent breakfast held by the Non-Executive Directors Association David “Two Brains” Willetts, the Conservative MP for Havant and Shadow Secretary of State for Universities and Skills, said that fewer younger people were getting jobs, whilst older people were being retained by their employers for longer. At the younger end, he highlighted a lack of joined up thinking in the education system, an obsession with league tables and a lack of apprenticeship opportunities. At the older end, employment law and the cost of providing pensions were contributory factors.

But Julie Meyer, founder of Entrepreneur Country, said that she hardly knew anyone under 30 who wanted to work for somebody else. This is supported by a recent survey, where 38% of the 2,000 respondents (both old and young) said that they do or plan to run their own business at some stage in their career.

The fact is that the younger generation, the so called “Generation Y”, is different. They are tech-savvy, multi-tasking, confident and ambitious. They are also achievement oriented with a strong and healthy commitment to family and lifestyle.

So is this the new paradigm? Are we entering a new age of individual capitalism, where people take responsibility for their own futures, rather than trusting in employment or, ultimately, the State?

It is to be hoped that whoever wins the next election will understand the fundamental changes that are happening in our society. It is these that must drive our education and skills agenda, encouraging entrepreneurship and providing both vision and purpose to future generations.

How to win the lottery- Part 2

November 20, 2009

Amanda Shaw of WiFi Solutions UK Ltd and Peter Brown of Flair Leisure Products Plc liked my recent post on “How to win the lottery” and sent their own inspiring stories, reproduced with their permission below:

Amanda Shaw- WiFi Solutions UK Ltd

I started my company, WiFi solutions UK Ltd when my husband’s firm, Kodak, closed down on 31st December 2006!   It was such a nerve wracking time.

My husband has been in the IT industry for many years – so he went and studied for his Masters while I went about setting the company up and searching for business. We used our only savings to get going – a major risk.   And a huge shock to me as I’d been at home bring our children up for 12 years – I’d lost all my confidence and had to learn everything from scratch. Our youngest had just started school and I’d actually planned on joining the gym and going to creative writing/cookery classes.   Somehow, I knew it wouldn’t happen that way – a kind of premonition if you like – and anyway, life never works as you plan in any event!

Three years on and we are still here, in our infancy and working like mad.   But I am now working on ‘ramping the business up’ and going all out to get our name out there.

I tend not to think about what has to be done on a day to day basis – I keep the end goal fixed firmly in my head and that is what I am working towards.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way so there’s no way I am giving up. You absolutely have to go out and find the business – it doesn’t come knocking at the door – it might be hard work and daunting but it has to be done.

Peter Brown- Flair Leisure Products Plc

I don’t think we have found a NEW way of building our business but certainly what we did find worked very well for us.

Flair is a company in the toy industry and our business this year has grown at a rapid rate from £21m domestic sales to around £41m whilst the market as a whole has contracted by 10% as a result of the demise of Woolworth .

A year ago we did briefly think about putting everyone on a four day week but as we felt confident about our new product offering we considered different strategies.

In studying our bigger and more corporate competitors we began to realise that they were all going into “defensive mode” and it was that understanding that made it clear to us that our competitors were  no longer competing! As a result we decided  that our best ever opportunity for growth was opening up before us so we increased our investment in new product development ,  A&P, and recruited the best people being made redundant by our competitors!

We then highlighted to all our major retailers that if they wanted to grow their business then they had to invest in companies that themselves were growing ( we pointed out that  7 of the top 10 toy companies were losing market share). At that time we modestly forecast a 27% growth in sales which in January this year seemed wildly optimistic!

As they say , you never know what a bad thing is good for and in the case of our company it was our competitors predictable reaction to the recession that gave us our golden opportunity.


How to win the lottery

November 19, 2009

Have you ever won the lottery? I was reminded this week of the old joke that, to win it, it’s helpful to buy a ticket. I was also inspired by an article that defined the illiterate of the 21st century as “people who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. These thoughts combined to stir my entrepreneurial spirit.

Taking the lottery point, I am constantly amazed by the many struggling businesses that appear to sit on their hands, hoping against hope that their prospects and circumstances will somehow magically improve. As a friend of mine once said; “if you’ve got nothing to do, go and polish the church pews; something will happen”.

There’s a strong message here- don’t get frozen in the headlights and do nothing! For some businesses this may promote a new beginning….

But what about “learning, unlearning and relearning”? Technological change was clearly the original author’s focus but, for me, the words perfectly describe the “illiteracy” of people that go about life turning the same old handle, whilst expecting a different result. Common sense tells us that this doesn’t happen. Dare one suggest, therefore, that even if the existing model isn’t broken, break it?! Innovation and change only come through new ideas and experimentation. Many of them may not work, but the learning will often provide a roadmap to success.