We’re here with practical marketing information for your business.

A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

July 2015

31 July 2015

Micro-firms rely on unpaid support to surviveThe majority of UK micro-business owners rely on regular help from friends and family, much of it unpaid, according to new research.

A report from Lloyds Bank Insurance reveals that 64% of Britain's micro-businesses (with fewer than ten employees) rely on support from friends and family. Friends and relatives put an average of six hours a week into helping these micro-businesses stay afloat.

Although 41% of these firms pay their family and friends with an average salary of £14 per hour, just over half (51%) said this support is unpaid. It means the UK's family support economy could be worth around £64.3 million per week, according to Lloyds.

The support ranges from helping to make business decisions (40%), completing practical tasks (34%), running errands (29%), managing social media accounts (10%) and helping with childcare (8%). Partners are most likely to step up and help, with 43% of business owners helped by their other half. One in five (19%) also rely on their children and 29% use friends.

The vast majority (84%) of business owners say the contribution of friends or family has had a positive impact on their business; 24% describe it as "crucial in keeping their business running" and 10% say their business "would not be able to go on without this support".

Key benefits cited by business owners include: increasing revenue (13%), increasing productivity (25%), making the business more manageable (35%) and providing emotional support (30%).

Damien McGarrigle, head of business insurance at Lloyds Bank Insurance, said: "Starting up and running a business can be all-consuming, with family and friends often rallying around small business owners to ensure they are successful.

"However, micro-business owners cannot solely rely on personal contacts to ensure everything runs smoothly. Our research found that a third of those polled experienced problems in the past year - from technology failures to employee sickness - which resulted in more than a quarter operating at reduced capacity."

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31 July 2015

Slow broadband dents SME digital ambitionsMore than half of the UK's small firms have been adversely affected by slow broadband and yet two-thirds say they plan to become "more digital" over the next five years.

A new online survey from Virgin Media Business has found that unreliable broadband is still an issue for many small businesses in the UK. More than half (53%) of those surveyed had experienced problems with slow broadband speeds.

It backs up recent findings from Ofcom which highlighted a lack of widespread superfast broadband availability and high levels of dissatisfaction with quality of service.

The survey has also found that many SMEs are in the dark when it comes to their internet requirements. More than a third of senior SME decision-makers with broadband (37%) are unaware of the maximum speed of their connection and 72% don't know how much data they use every month.

And yet, when asked about whether they expect to use more digital technologies (such as social media, online ordering or online customer service) over the next five years, two-thirds (65%) of respondents said they expect to become "more digital" by 2020.

Peter Kelly, md, Virgin Media Business, said: "Reliable, high-speed internet can make the difference between thriving and merely surviving for the UK's five million small and medium-sized businesses."

John Allan, national chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "These findings echo our own research which suggests 72% of small businesses expect to increase their use of digital services over the next five years - yet many still struggle with slow and unreliable broadband connections. Too often superfast broadband speeds are not available to the small businesses that need them."

Virgin Media has announced Project Lightning, a major expansion of ultrafast connectivity that promises to bring four million premises speeds of up to 152Mb over the next five years. The roll-out will be based on demand from businesses, consumers and communities that register their interest at virginmedia.com/cablemystreet.

The FSB's John Allan said: "We welcome Virgin Media's new investment into the UK's broadband infrastructure which will empower small businesses to realise their ambitions and increase their productivity."

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31 July 2015

Dramatic fall in business lendingNew figures from the Bank of England show that overall business lending fell sharply in June, although loans to SMEs increased slightly.

Lending to non-financial businesses of all sizes decreased by £5.5 billion in June, compared to the average monthly increase of £0.2 billion over the previous six months. However, loans to SMEs increased by £0.4 billion, compared to the average monthly decrease of £0.1 billion over the previous six months.

Dr Adam Marshall, executive director of policy and external affairs at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said: "While we welcome the moderate growth seen in small business lending this past month, we must ask whether we can achieve the levels of business investment that the UK economy needs without bank lending playing a stronger role.

"It is concerning to see lending to businesses contract so sharply, which is a marked acceleration of the overall trend we've seen over the past five years. There are important questions about both the availability of bank finance, and companies' appetite for that finance, that still need to be answered."

Also this week, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has warned that proposed changes to international banking rules could further squeeze lending to SMEs. New proposals from the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the group that sets global banking standards, would raise the amount of capital the banks are required to hold against certain loans, potentially making them more expensive.

John Allan, FSB national chairman, said: "Our research shows that small businesses are currently in a robust mood. But the Basel Committee proposals will make it harder for small firms to access funding and threaten to derail their ambitions for growth."

Anthony Browne, chief executive of the BBA, the trade association of the banking sector, said: "Small business lending did not cause the financial crisis and yet SMEs stand to lose out if these troubling new rules are introduced. We want the chancellor to put pressure on the Basel Committee to rethink these measures before they destabilise the borrowing prospects of our small businesses and first-time buyers."

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31 July 2015

Small firms getting Most small businesses still don't fully understand their energy bills and many are paying too much because of roll-over contracts and auto-renewal, according to new research.

A poll by SwitchMyBusiness has found that 18% of businesses have been automatically rolled over onto a new contract without their permission and a further 16% don't even know whether they have been a victim of auto-renewal.

The study comes in the wake of the Competition and Markets Authority report which found that UK SMEs are unnecessarily losing £500 million a year on energy.

While Ofgem and some energy suppliers have made steps towards making the business energy market fairer, the practice of auto-renewal - where businesses are "locked in" to another fixed-term contract without their express permission - continues.

The research also showed that 30% of small businesses have been shunted onto what's called a "deemed contract" with the same supplier at the end of a fixed contract, leaving them paying up to 80% more.

Just over 50% of UK SMEs said they had problems understanding their energy contract; and 26% said they did not know how to terminate their contract.

"These findings prove that the UK's SMEs are still getting a raw deal," said Ivan McKeever, ceo of SwitchMyBusiness. "Smaller to medium-sized businesses are in a uniquely challenging position: the business energy market lacks the transparency that consumers now have and smaller businesses do not have the resources to liaise with lots of suppliers and negotiate a good deal."

SwitchMyBusiness is calling on the Government to take urgent action. It wants new legislation to outlaw the practice of auto-renewal. It's also advocating a cap on how much more businesses who are on deemed contracts are charged. According to Ofgem, around 10% of smaller businesses are on deemed contracts at any one time.

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31 July 2015

Most small businesses still don't fully understand their energy bills and many are paying too much because of roll-over contracts and auto-renewal, according to new research.

31 July 2015

Tax deadline day is here

Today, July 31, is tax deadline day for anyone that has to complete a self-assessment form, including company directors and the self-employed. It means you have to make a 'payment on account' by the end of July — one of the two advance payments towards your tax bill each year. Failing to comply could incur a surcharge, interest payments or even the seizure of assets. Figures highlighted by Funding Options show that HMRC used its power to seize business assets to settle late tax bills against 1,080 SMEs last year. Under powers known as distraint, HMRC can seize assets to cover the value of unpaid tax, penalties and interest payments without a court order.

Government commissioner to tackle payment disputes

The Government has outlined plans to give a new Small Business Commissioner the power to help small businesses handle disputes over late payment and other supply chain practices. Small business minister Anna Soubry said: "Small businesses are owed £26 billion in late payments. The Small Business Commissioner will tackle the imbalance of bargaining power between small suppliers and large customers, and encourage them to get round the table and sort out disputes at a fraction of the cost of going to court. It will also provide advice, investigate complaints and see where further action is needed to clamp down on unfair practices."

Networking lessons

Business networking generates the majority of leads for over a quarter of SMEs and start-ups according to new research by Premierline in collaboration with BNI. In addition, 92% said referral groups are successful for generating leads. However, the poll also found that a quarter of people admit they have forgotten the name of the person they are introducing and over half of networkers forget to bring business cards.

Dementia affects one in ten firms

Nearly one in ten (8%) of UK companies have already encountered employees with dementia, according to new research from PMI Health Group. It found that 90% of UK HR professionals believe dementia is a concern for business and 74% agree with the Alzheimer's Society's recent calls for every company in the UK to have a dementia policy. The research also revealed that 29% of HR professionals have had to give staff time off to look after relatives with dementia and 69% now offer flexible working to staff who are caring for elderly relatives.

24 July 2015

UK business leaders' top concerns revealedFinding talent is as big a concern for UK business leaders as increasing turnover, according to a new survey published by management consulting firm Clarus Consulting.

Mark Croft, Clarus consulting managing partner, said: "Our research shows that skills shortages are a reality for many businesses across the board, from FTSE giants down to small and medium-sized firms." He stressed that some businesses are finding it hard to get people with the skills that they need.

The research found that UK businesses remained focused on fundamentals – the four core traditional issues of increasing turnover, finding the right talent, improving performance and increasing profitability, as feedback from 79% of respondents showed.

However, digital channels and the threat posed by online competition were considered a top-three challenge by just 9% of respondents. Croft added: "Digital channels are not a top issue for most UK leaders right now. This seems surprising, but it is a reflection perhaps of the extent to which businesses want to focus on the fundamentals of performance while the going is good." He believes that business leaders are more concerned with the tangible "bricks and mortar" of a business, rather than its "virtual footprint".

The survey's findings also suggest that the prospect of a referendum on the UK leaving the European Union isn't a main concern for business leaders at this time, although that could change as a referendum approaches. Just 8% of respondents believed that the UK leaving the EU would have a severely negative impact on their business.

While 46% believed the effects would be somewhat negative, they believe they could adjust and compensate by generating business elsewhere; while 32% think that it would have no impact on their business. Other macro-economic issues, such as an increase in interest rates or the price of oil, were not given as top concerns.

Perhaps showing a marked lack of confidence or just the scale of the problems some UK businesses are facing, just 19% of respondents felt "very confident" about successfully overcoming their top challenges.

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24 July 2015

Finding talent is as big a concern for UK business leaders as increasing turnover, according to a new survey published by management consulting firm Clarus Consulting.

24 July 2015

Red tape costs SMEs and micro firms £41bnAccording to Forum of Private Business (FPB) research, the UK's 1.2m micro and small and medium-sized businesses are having to pay £20bn in compliance costs – an increase of 8.4% on 2013, which averages out to £14,900 per business.

Despite "continued government promises to reduce the time and money businesses spend on compliance, the average SME spends more time on compliance than in 2013," said the FPB. Money paid to external consultants has fallen, it reports, but salary increases have meant the cost of compliance has continued to rise at 8.5% consistently since 2011.

More importantly, said the FPB, the opportunity costs of compliance have increased, as senior management has to deal with administrative tasks rather than taking advantage of growth opportunities. As a result, red tape is estimated to actually costs UK SMEs and micro firms closer to £41bn.

According to the FBB, employment law has become the greatest compliance-related outlay for businesses, despite a decrease in time dealing with dismissals and redundancy. Overall, the cost of employment law is £5.9bn, with tax compliance costing £5.7bn and health and safety £4.2bn.

FPB managing director Ian Cass commented: "Our research shows that the deregulation agenda has not been effective, [because] legislation removed from the statute books has been cancelled out by a small number of legal changes and a reluctance of businesses to change processes, while non-compliance penalties escalate."

The FPB also looked at services (£8.4bn), distribution (£6.4bn), manufacturing (£3.2bn), construction (£2bn) and care homes (£1bn-plus) to compare sector-specific compliance costs. According to the FPB, the cost of compliance for small firms is ten times that of large companies.

Cass continued: "Our members tell us that excessive red tape is a drag on productivity and there is a clear need for accelerating the deregulation agenda and incorporating tax compliance into any new initiatives. Members ... need to have more flexibility to compete globally."

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24 July 2015

SME export growth helps reduce UK trade deficitPublished as part of the second annual FedEx Great British Export Report 2015, research suggests British SME export activity is helping to reduce the UK's overall trade deficit, which still stands at about £2.8bn.

According to FedEx, 53% of British SMEs now export, but 72% believe their export revenues will increase in the next five years.

The report, which is based on feedback from 1,000 UK SMEs, found that: "The average SME exports £553,000 a year to Europe and imports £535,000, an average net surplus of £18,000 for those SMEs exporting to European countries. The average SME exports £714,000 a year outside of Europe, but imports just £410,000, an average net benefit of £304,000 for those SMEs exporting globally."

FedEx's research suggests that overwhelmingly (96%) of British SMEs who export, export into Europe. France (57%) is the number one export market for British SMEs, followed by Germany (49%) and Spain (37%).

Nearly three quarters (73%) of British SME exporters sell to customers outside of Europe, with the US (35%), Australia (24%) and Canada (20%) being key markets. 16% of exporting British SMEs sell to China, with emerging market Brazil also scoring highly (10%).

The research suggests that more than half (58%) of all British SMEs would appreciate more support (whether from trade bodies, the Government or logistics providers) so they can sell more overseas. Only 22% said they require no further support. Top barriers to international trade included costs, losing out on currency exchange and payment concerns. However, the ability to enter new export markets is seen as critical by fewer than one in five respondents.

Trevor Hoyle, FedEx Vice President Northern Europe Operations, said: "The findings clearly show that UK SMEs are exporting more than ever, both in terms of volume and value. There is, however, more to be done.

"While the top destinations for exports are in Europe and the English-speaking world, British SMEs are starting to notice the potential in the high-growth markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America. As the world becomes more connected, global trade lanes will strengthen, and exporting to these markets will be even easier and faster. A year is a long time in business, but don't be surprised to see UK SMEs' exporting confidence continue to grow in the next 12 months."

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