Posts Tagged ‘Winning’

Money for nothing in the Big Society

April 9, 2011

“That ain’t working, that’s the way you do it. Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free” . So said Dire Straits on their 1985 album, Brothers in Arms.

I attended an event this week, and these iconic lyrics sprang to mind when the conversation turned to the increasingly rare practice of having to actually pay for things.

The concept of getting things for free is now well established. It has moved from gifts and hospitality through sales promotion to the production and distribution of free products. If you work in London, you can easily be weighed down by free yoghurt, special offers and free newspapers before you even get to work. When you get there you can carry out some free internet search or update your mates on your free Facebook. All paid for by, er, someone else.

There are signs that this concept of ‘money for nothing’ is becoming ingrained. We have become so used to being given things (and not least by government) that we have developed ‘Entitlement Syndrome’, a world in which we expect to be given just about everything we need.

At the event I attended (for entrepreneurs, by the way) there was a clear indication that this thinking is spreading to the world of ‘paid for’ services- a worrying feature since the service sector dominates UK GDP and employs the vast majority of us.

At the end of the day, there are a number of home truths. Perhaps the two most important are that governments (aka taxpayers) and businesses can’t survive by giving it all away for free and the second is that, in life, you generally end up getting what you pay (and strive) for. If we can bring these two concepts together to stimulate a stronger work ethic, we might beat ‘Entitlement Syndrome’ and be well on the road to a happier and more prosperous ‘Big Society.’

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VAT is the problem?

January 13, 2011

With thanks to my esteemed colleague, VAT expert John Voyez, for his insight. Any errors or omissions are entirely mine!

Well, what a lot of rubbish has been written in the press in the last week or two about the increased VAT rate – never let accuracy get in the way of a good headline !

Just for the record, there is no VAT on most children’s clothing, no VAT on most basic food items, no VAT on train, bus and airplane fares, no VAT on books, newspapers and magazines, no VAT on residential housing construction, no VAT on most drugs and medicines, no VAT on betting and gaming, no VAT on education, no VAT on insurance or financial services, no VAT on ordinary postal services, no VAT on most sport activities, no VAT on entry to museums, no increase in VAT on a range of items including children’s car seats, domestic fuel, contraceptives, energy saving equipment, products that help you stop smoking, and, finally, no VAT on cremation or burial (unlike other taxes, death is still VAT free) !

So post 4th January, it will not cost you a penny more at the weekend to slap on an anti- smoking patch, jump on the bus to go to Sainsbury’s where you can buy some clothes for the kids, and at the same time buy most of the weekly shop, including a copy of Sporting Life, before picking up some aspirin to ward of the headache for when you drop in at the bookies on the way home and lose your savings (accrued VAT free) on the 2:30 at Epsom, followed on Sunday by a game of football at the local sports centre in the morning, and a trip to the museum (because you feel you should at least do one thing educational at the weekend), before finally falling asleep in your newly built Wimpey home in front of your brand new 90″ plasma 3D HD TV screen you have just bought, which unfortunately did cost you 2.5% more in VAT.

And, just for the record, if you are still feeling hard done by, most of our EU counterparts have for many years been paying VAT at 20%, and in some cases at a rate well in excess of 20%!

So VAT, exactly, is the problem?

The best place to start a business

December 11, 2010

What’s the best place in the world to start a business? According to surveys reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, it’s Denmark. This and a host of other interesting ‘facts’ about entrepreneurship around the world were published in their November 15th edition.

Based on the information provided, it seems that the UK has some way to go to become the most entrepreneur friendly country. In the overall rankings, we come 14th, behind the USA (3rd), Ireland (6th), Iceland (9th) and Australia (11th). (Source- US Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy)

In terms of Red Tape, we appear to do rather better, coming 5th out of 183 in a ranking of how easy it is to start a business based on the procedures, time, costs and capital requirements that governments impose. Singapore, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the US are ahead of us with a number of African countries populating the bottom of the table. (Source- “Doing Business 2010,” the World Bank)

In gender terms, 7.4% of men and 3.6% of women in the UK are involved in an early-stage business, compared with 12% and 7.3% in the US and an incredible 19.3% and 13.4% in China. (Source- “2007 Women and Entrepreneurship Report,” Global Entrepreneurship Monitor)

So what’s the message? In terms of a school report, it looks like 7/10- could do better!

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.

M&A is back, so be prepared!

January 24, 2010

I’m no pundit, but all my senses are telling me that 2010 could be an awesome year for ambitious, well run, businesses. As someone told me earlier this week, luck happens when opportunity and preparedness collide. So, as the well known motto goes; “Be prepared”!

 Here are five reasons for my enthusiasm:

  • The world economy is recovering. The UK may be behind the curve but that won’t mean a lack of opportunities. At least some of these will come at the expense of less well run, failing businesses, where market share or other assets will be up for grabs.
  • Entrepreneurs are resilient and individual capitalism is the future. M&A activity will return as the realisation dawns that there may never be a better time to acquire good businesses at realistic prices.
  • On the other side of the coin, owners who have been unwilling or unable to sell their businesses will reappear. Death, divorce and retirement are a constant and don’t disappear in recessions – expect an increase in the number of sellers as the economy plays catch up.
  • There will be more help for entrepreneurial businesses and access to funding will improve. Expect a mixture of helpful government policy, increased bank lending, more business angel activity and a resurgence in earlier stage and mid-market private equity.
  • And finally, we are bored with recession! It’s not a very scientific observation, but the UK has always shown its mettle in times of stress, with ingenuity and collaboration coming to the fore. It will be no different this time, with the entrepreneurs and SMEs that employ the vast majority of our population leading us out.

Whether you’re a buyer or seller, this link may help you identify your options.

http://www.smith.williamson.co.uk/corporatefinancesurgery-register

Vision 2020- Five key themes for the next decade

January 16, 2010

Doesn’t time fly? Now we are in 2010 it’s time to consider some of the themes for the next ten years. If they are anything like the last ten, the world will look very different in 2020.

So what are the five key themes that I am thinking about as we begin a new decade?

  • Globalisation….is not something that is going to happen in the future. More and more businesses must now take advantage of cross border opportunities to increase their revenues and manage their efficiency and costs
  • Technology….is a great leveller. The pace of change is set to continue and business models will continue to evolve. Businesses that embrace technology in all its aspects will be the successes of the decade.  Those that don’t, large or small, will be overtaken (or if they are lucky, taken over!)
  • Opportunity….is exponential. We have just been through the worst recession in living memory. For entrepreneurs with vision and drive, the opportunity to disrupt markets, hire great people, keep costs low and challenge the status quo has never been greater
  • Differentiation…. is the name of the game. Successful businesses will always find a reason why customers should choose their product or service over that of their competitors.
  • Reputation….is hard to earn and easy to destroy. Who and what you are is now entirely visible to the global community, so it’s time to engage with that community and be helpful to it. 

Good luck!

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.

www.letsgowifi.co.uk

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.  

www.flairplc.co.uk