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

A marketing strategy tells you what to say, how to say it and who to say it to in order to make more sales. Our guide to the basics.

Market your business online - from your website to social networking, advertising, search engine optimisation, email marketing and more.

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

The basics you need to know about raising your business profile through advertising, and how to make sure your campaigns are successful.

Focusing on taking care of your existing customers could be much better for your bottom line than chasing new business. The basics of customer care.

No business can survive without selling. Our overview of planning your sales strategy and recruiting, training and managing sales staff.

Get the basics right - our quick guide to the main types of market research and how to get the information you need no matter what your budget.

Direct marketing is ideal for small businesses as it's highly targeted, cost-effective and simple to DIY. Our guide to how to get started.

Start here - find out how attending and displaying at exhibitions and events can benefit your business, and learn how to build your network.

PR

The basic things you need to know about PR for your business, building relationships with the media and managing the impact of publicity.

May 2016

27 May 2016

Confusion over new business rate rulesChanges to business rates announced in the 2016 budget are set to come into force in April 2017 but many business owners still don't know about the new rules.

A recent survey conducted by surveyor CVS has found that 36% of business owners are "unfamiliar or unaware" about the changes to the business rates system. And three in ten say that changes to business rates won't improve the health of Britain's high streets.

In the last Budget, George Osborne announced that from April 2017, businesses whose properties have a rateable value of up to £12,000 will not have to pay business rates at all, up from the current threshold of £6,000. In addition, properties with a rateable value of between £12,000 and £15,000 will receive tapered relief.

Mark Rigby, CVS chief executive, said: "For many small firms, it will mean smaller overheads, less administration and an overall cost saving of as much as £5,900 in some cases. This is money that could be reinvested back into the business."

However, business rates will also be affected by the next business rates revaluation in April 2017.

"When the next revaluation comes into force, some businesses will move outside of the £12,000 threshold for rates relief, and some will fall within it. This largely depends on the specific nature of your property and where in the country it is located," Rigby said.

"Business rates are currently based on rent levels assessed in 2008. So where rental levels have fallen since this time - such as for retail property in Northern England - business rates will also fall. Where rental levels have increased - such as in London and the South East in particular - business rates are likely to go up."

The Valuation Office Agency will publish its draft new values for each property on 1 October 2016 for consultation with local billing authorities.

Rigby said: "The Valuation Office Agency … will often request information from a business owner via a 'form of return'. However, because there are so many properties to evaluate - some 1.8 million - it's easy for the Valuation Office to make mistakes in this process. Every ratepayer has the right to challenge their business rates bill at any time between revaluations. There is only one opportunity to do this however."

More on this topic:

27 May 2016

HMRC slammed for A National Audit Office investigation has concluded that HMRC's decision to cut staff in 2014 led to a "collapse" in the quality of its service to personal taxpayers and those enquiring about self-assessment.

The cuts to staff were made as HMRC introduced a new digital strategy; however the introduction of online tax returns did not result in a reduction of calls to HMRC helplines. As a result, average call waiting times tripled in 2014/2015.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office (NAO), said that HMRC had "got their timing badly wrong in 2014, letting significant numbers of call handling staff go before their new approach was working reliably. This led to a collapse in service quality and forced a rapid expansion of headcount. HMRC needs to move forward carefully and get their strategy back on track while maintaining, and hopefully improving, service standards."

The NAO estimates that the overall cost incurred by customers who called the HMRC helpline (including phone costs and time) increased from £63 million in 2012-13 to £97 million in 2015-16.

John Cullinane, tax policy director at the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), said: "There is a lesson here for HMRC's future digitalisation plans. Making Tax Digital promises significant potential benefits, but HMRC's resources should not be cut further in anticipation of this before the cost-savings … are actually being delivered. If the mandatory quarterly tax reporting by business and the self-employed that the Government says it will propose includes anything more than simple information readily available to all taxpayers then it is likely to add to the burden on HMRC's helplines. People may start to call HMRC four times a year for advice and guidance rather than just once."

The NAO says HMRC customer service has subsequently improved following the recruitment of additional staff. However, a recent poll of sole traders by accountants Crunch found that:

  • 56% of UK freelancers hang up before being put through to HMRC;
  • 38% don't phone HMRC due to the expected waiting time;
  • 15% spend between 60-120 minutes on hold to HMRC.

More on this topic:

27 May 2016

A National Audit Office investigation has concluded that HMRC's decision to cut staff in 2014 led to a "collapse" in the quality of its service to personal taxpayers and those enquiring about self-assessment.

27 May 2016

Twitter to get tweaked - but is it enough?After months of speculation, Twitter has announced that it is to change its rules to enable users to write longer Tweets.

Rather than change its brand-defining 140-character message length, the company has announced new rules that allow @names and media attachments to be included outside of the character length restrictions. As a result, Twitter users will be able to write longer messages.

The key changes are:

  • When replying to a Tweet, @names will no longer count toward the 140-character count;
  • Attachments (such as photos, GIFs, videos, polls or Quote Tweets) will no longer count as characters within a Tweet;
  • Twitter will be enabling the Retweet button on users' own Tweets, so they can Retweet or Quote Tweet their own messages to get more exposure;
  • Replies that begin with a username will no longer need the @ symbol in front of the username.

According to Twitter, these updates will be available "over the coming months". The company is giving advance notice so that its developer partners can make the necessary updates to the hundreds of thousands of products built using Twitter's API.

Despite its high-profile status, ten-year-old Twitter has struggled to find new users in the past few years.

Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey told the BBC that his aim was to ensure that "when people tweet, it makes sense". He added: "One of the biggest priorities for us this year is to really refine our product, to make it simpler."

But he added: "We're not giving up on Twitter being in the moment. That concept of brevity, that concept of speed. Being able to just think of something and put it out to the world."

More on this topic:

27 May 2016

Indie retailers struggling to A third of small and independent retailers are struggling to survive according to new research as technology and changing consumer habits continue to shake up Britain's high streets.

A survey by card processing specialist Worldpay reveals that many small retail business owners are conflicted about the role of technology and are unsure whether it represents a commercial threat or a business opportunity. The report concludes that many small retailers are struggling to "stay relevant".

The poll found that 61% of respondents said technology poses a significant threat to their survival; and 50% said it gets in the way of providing a personalised experience to customers. However, 88% said understanding and embracing new technology represents their best chance of survival.

The survey also found regional differences in the take-up of technology. in London and the south of England, for instance, 95% of respondents said they are investing in technology to expand their reach online, improve in-store experience and become more efficient. However, businesses in the midlands and the north were far more likely to be cash-only set-ups than those in the south.

Dave Hobday, Worldpay's UK managing director, said: "As far as retail and technology are concerned, the time for 'wait and see' has gone. Digital technology could unlock £18.8bn of revenue for SMEs, while reducing their costs by up to a fifth."

"Whilst we're seeing pockets of innovation in many corners of the UK, we also know that many small businesses are struggling to adapt," he added. "We want to empower these businesses to turn uncertainty into opportunity and reassure them that technology is a friend, not a foe."

Worldpay is running a technology awareness campaign this summer. Its iStreet hub will tour the UK; and small business experts, including Apprentice winner Tim Campbell, will be on hand to give advice to small retailers.

Tim Campbell said: "Regardless of the rapid changes technology is bringing about to the way people interact with their high streets, people still love them. By embracing the opportunities technological advances can present and listening to customer's needs there is still a place for the cherished brands and stores that many local residents trust and love. Being defeatist is not an option. Responding to the changes is."

More on this topic:

27 May 2016

A third of small and independent retailers are struggling to survive according to new research as technology and changing consumer habits continue to shake up Britain's high streets.

27 May 2016

Encouraging picture on export growth

The number of UK firms reporting an increase in export orders and confidence rose in Q1 2016 according to the latest Quarterly International Trade Outlook from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and DHL. Among manufacturing exporters, the balance of firms reporting improvements in export sales over the first three months of the year rose from +1% in Q4 to +8%. This increase came after a six-year low in Q4 2015. However, export sales growth dipped in the services sector, where the balance of service firms reporting improved export sales fell two points to +13%.

Could employers be liable for staff tax evasion?

A new criminal offence of failing to prevent tax evasion is bad news for businesses according to the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). It has warned that the Criminal Finances Bill will make it an offence for companies to fail to stop their staff facilitating tax evasion. John Cullinane, CIOT tax policy director, said: "It is very problematic to hold a company responsible for an individual's actions … the Government must be careful not to place unreasonable or unrealistic and expensive compliance burdens on business."

"Serial returners" damaging online retailers

New research from Barclaycard reveals that consumer demand for free and easy returns is placing increased pressure on online retailers. Three out of ten online retailers say their profit margins have been affected by "serial returners" - shoppers that buy lots of items and return most of them. One in five businesses have put up their prices to cover the cost of managing and processing customer returns. The research reveals that 30% of shoppers deliberately over-purchase and subsequently return unwanted items.

One in ten workers looking for new career

Over a quarter of British workers (28%) are considering a career change in the next ten years and 11% are hoping to make a move in the next year, according to a poll by YouGov for Oxford Open Learning Trust. The survey found that money is the biggest motivator, followed by working hours, location and personal interest. Over a third of British workers polled (34%) that had moved to a new job role said they had an increase in salary after a year.

IT professionals falling short on security

A survey by Onepoll for Egnyte has found that 43% of IT professionals have not been trained in data protection. The survey also found that: 8% of IT professionals admit to sharing company tools with people outside their company; 10% have shared confidential customer information; 12% have worked on confidential documents whilst using public wifi; and 7% have accidentally shared confidential information with the wrong person.

20 May 2016

Overly complex tax system is A crackdown on payroll errors has netted HMRC an additional £737 million and small businesses are being hit the hardest according to a leading accountancy firm.

Research by UHY Hacker Young has found that HMRC has collected an additional £737.3m from investigations into companies over tax avoidance and errors relating to employer compliance.

It says that SMEs have been hit particularly hard by the crackdown on payroll tax mistakes, accounting for over half (£373.4m) of the additional sums collected - despite being responsible for only 11% (£96bn) of total UK payroll.

Larger businesses make up 89% of UK payroll (£726bn), but they have paid what UHY Hacker Young describes as the " comparatively low figure" of £363.9m in additional payroll taxes and penalties.

The accountancy firm says that SMEs are more likely to make mistakes with payroll - partly because they are less likely to seek advice on tax issues and also because they are more likely to take on casual labour or run flexible workforces - making it difficult to determine which payroll tax bracket is right for their employees.

Roy Maugham, tax partner, said: "SMEs are being chased for a totally disproportionate amount of underpaid payroll tax, compared to their larger counterparts. But much of the underpaid tax is due to genuine errors. This strongly suggests the Government needs to simplify its systems to help SME avoid mistakes. While SMEs will be reluctant or unable to pay for expert advice, they are clearly struggling to navigate the tax system as it stands."

Umbrella companies - which employ outsourced personnel on a fixed-term basis, offering a cheaper alternative for SMEs to employing full-time staff - have been a particular problem for SMEs when it comes to payroll tax.

"Those employing flexible workforces or operating as umbrella companies, for example, might find it difficult to determine which 'box' their labour force falls into when it comes to paying tax," said Maugham. "With HMRC honing its ability to spot inconsistencies in tax returns across the board, small clues - such as when a supposedly outsourced employee is offered annual leave by a company - will trigger an investigation."

More on this topic:

20 May 2016

A crackdown on payroll errors has netted HMRC an additional £737 million and small businesses are being hit the hardest according to a leading accountancy firm.

20 May 2016

Is digital tax reporting being rushed in?The Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) is calling on HMRC to postpone the introduction of quarterly digital reporting by at least a year.

The appeal by the ATT comes after HMRC announced that the launch of the consultation on Making tax digital is to be postponed until after the EU referendum. The ATT has already raised concerns that the existing timetable is too ambitious.

The first of five consultations was initially expected in early April. According to the ATT, this delay is likely to mean that all five consultations will be issued in one go so that HMRC can stick to its plan of launching a public testing phase by April 2017.

It says this will restrict the time that interested parties will have to respond given that the project is set to have such a fundamental impact on the tax system. The five consultation areas are: quarterly reporting, administration, software, penalties and payments.

"The Making Tax Digital Project represents the biggest change to the way taxpayers will engage with HMRC since the introduction of PAYE in 1945 and, according to a recently conducted survey, will require around 82% of self-employed individuals to change the way they currently keep business records," said Yvette Nunn, co-chair of ATT's technical steering group.

According to Nunn, £1.3 billion of taxpayers' money has been approved for spending on this project. "The risk of embarrassment to both HMRC and the Government if this goes wrong is huge," she said.

Nunn added: "Whilst we can understand the decision by ministers to delay the issue of the consultations until after the EU referendum, we strongly believe that HMRC needs to recognise the impact of this delay by revising the timetable for implementation by at least one year. This would then allow the consultations to be released in phases, with staggered submission deadlines, to allow more consideration of all of the issues.

"Rushing ahead with this project without allowing adequate time for the consultation and testing phases could put at risk the many potential benefits for taxpayers and HMRC which greater digital working can bring," said Nunn. "That would be a tremendous mistake and in a worst case scenario could result in a system that was not fit for purpose."

More on this topic: