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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.

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PR

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

August 2016

26 August 2016

More Brits turning passion into pay checksThe pursuit of happiness is driving many British workers to leave steady jobs and set up their own businesses based on their interests.

More than one in ten (12%) Brits have left their jobs to set up in a business that they are passionate about, according to a new study for Samsung Electronics UK conducted by the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and YouGov.

The research shows that these so-called "funpreneurs" expect to make an average of £22,594 in their first year of working and up to £33,845 within five years. In all, these start-ups are contributing £165bn to the UK economy, based on wages, taxes and profits.

The survey shows that two in five workers who left their jobs to pursue a career that aligns with their passions said they did so because they didn't like the working culture at their old company; almost a third (32%) said they wanted a change of lifestyle; and 14% said they wanted to be their own boss.

Of those that have left or plan to quit their jobs, technology (7%), retail (5%) and blogging (4%) top the list of industries that Brits have gone into. The biggest pay-offs for entrepreneurs that have followed their passion are higher job satisfaction (84%), increased creativity (63%) and improved focus at work (59%).

The study also revealed that more women than men have taken the leap of faith to turn their passions into pay checks (13% versus 11%). And across Britain, a larger proportion of people in London (15%) have left their jobs to pursue their passions than anywhere else in the country, with those in Yorkshire least likely to do so (8%).

Alasdair Cavalla, senior economist at CEBR, said: "We were fascinated to find that a clear majority of micro-businesses were set up by people passionate about their sector or product. Many small, dynamic businesses may never have been set up were it not for people taking this risk to pursue work that they care about. The economic benefits don't stop at the founding of the business - compared to whole-economy averages, we found clear evidence of fewer sick days, higher productivity and greater job satisfaction among people following their passion."

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26 August 2016

Micro-firms More than a year after the Government first announced plans for online tax filing, almost half of micro-business owners say they don't know what Making Tax Digital actually is.

A new survey by accounting software provider FreeAgent has found that 43% of micro-business owners and freelancers are not aware of the Making Tax Digital initiative.

And, as the Government launches new consultations on its digital tax plans, the research shows that 86% of respondents who did know about Making Tax Digital said they had not been provided with enough information about the proposals at this stage.

If Government plans come to fruition, small businesses will have to keep digital financial records and provide quarterly updates about their tax to HMRC.

However, the poll shows that a move towards more online reporting is not by any means unpopular - only 8% of all micro-businesses said they felt negatively about digital tax. Of those that are aware of the proposals, 20% said they thought it would make their life harder, while 45% said the plans would make their life easier.

Ed Molyneux, ceo and co-founder of FreeAgent, said: "Making Tax Digital will be one of the biggest changes made to the UK tax system for generations and will start to impact businesses from as early as 2018. But it's clear from our research that many micro-businesses still require more information about what tax digitisation actually is and how it will potentially impact them."

There has been some confusion in recent months about how the micro-business sector will affected by digital tax, Molyneaux said, including stories about how businesses will need to file a full tax return every three months.

The reality, he said, is that "when micro-businesses are well-informed about the changes, they are actually quite positive about them - with only a small minority of people we polled saying that they felt Making Tax Digital would make their life harder."

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26 August 2016

More than a year after the Government first announced plans for online tax filing, almost half of micro-business owners say they don't know what Making Tax Digital actually is.

26 August 2016

SMEs losing billions because of unfair contractsOnerous supply contracts that are hard to get out of are costing UK small firms more than one billion pounds every year, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

New research from the FSB suggests that half (52%) of small firms have been stung by unfair contract terms with suppliers, costing them nearly £4 billion in the past three years. Four in ten FSB members (42%) raised concerns about utility firms, but there were also concerns about many other services, including ICT goods and services (11%), merchant services (9%) and marketing (6%).

The FSB research shows that almost a quarter of suppliers (24%) are failing to make auto-rollover clauses clear up-front, 22% are tying businesses into lengthy notice periods, 20% are charging high early termination fees and 20% are concealing details in small print.

Two in five (40%) respondents said they felt powerless to do anything about unfair contract terms because the supplier was too important or powerful to challenge.

These unfair practices mean that small firms can be just as vulnerable as consumers when buying goods and services, according to the FSB, and yet SMEs do not get the same levels of protection as consumers.

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, said: "Small firms on the bad end of a deal are losing out to the tune of £1.3 billion each year. We have identified persistent problems with suppliers, across sectors, treating small firms unfairly.

"Small businesses don't have the time, expertise or purchasing power to scour the market to find and negotiate the best deals," he added. "Small business owners behave in a similar ways to consumers, but they don't have the same guarantees of quality or legal redress in an unfair situation."

The FSB report, Treating Smaller Businesses Like Consumers - Unfair Contract Terms, suggests that 2.8 million small firms have suffered because of unfair contract terms. Most (75%) of those affected had been stung twice or more in the past three years. One in ten (11%) small businesses affected by unfair terms were set back by more than £5,000 dealing with a single problem. Two in five (37%) lost more than £1,000 through an unfair agreement with a supplier.

The FSB is calling on the Government and regulators of energy, financial services and telecoms to focus more explicitly on small business vulnerabilities, and it says Trading Standards should be given the power to take action against suppliers imposing unfair terms.

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26 August 2016

Most employers would pay apprentices extraThe vast majority of employers are willing to pay apprentices more than the statutory rate, according to new research.

A survey by apprentice provider Positive Outcomes has found that 92% of employers are willing to pay more than the typical apprenticeship wage - as long as they're matched with the right candidate.

However, 88% of young adults polled earlier this year told Positive Outcomes that they were "put off" apprenticeships because wages were too low. The findings suggest that many would-be apprentices are unaware of the potential rewards for doing an apprenticeship.

This latest study also surveyed employers about the wages they would be prepared to pay a qualified apprentice. The results showed that 60% of post-apprenticeship employers would pay between £12,000 and £18,000 as a starting salary for an apprenticeship-qualified employee.

Most apprenticeships lead to jobs, according to the findings, with 76% of employers saying they have offered their successful apprentices a full-time position. The study also shows that 93% of employers would opt to take on somebody who has completed a three-year apprenticeship over somebody who has spent three years studying.

Kelly Ball, managing director of Positive Outcomes, said: "The survey shows that apprenticeships can be a great way of securing a full-time position, with more than three-quarters of employers hiring former apprentices to a permanent job. Also, candidates that have completed apprenticeships with a company are in a position to earn a starting salary significantly higher than the minimum wage."

This month, the Government confirmed that it is to go ahead with the Apprenticeship Levy from April 2017. "With the levy covering much of the cost of training young apprentices, we're hoping to see an increasingly diverse portfolio of apprenticeships on offer," said Ball.

Firms with an annual wage bill of under £3 million will not have to contribute to the levy. The Government is expected to cover 90% of the costs of an apprenticeship, Ball said.

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26 August 2016

UK SMEs writing off billions in unpaid debt

New research from Direct Line for Business estimates that Britain's SMEs wrote off a combined £5.8 billion in the last financial year. One in five (19%) small firms said that they had written off debts at an estimated average loss of £31,330; 9% of these had written off debts in excess of £100,000. Insolvent suppliers accounted for 29% of unpaid debts; 7,000 companies are estimated to have entered liquidation in the first half of 2016. The research also shows that 82% of SMEs currently have balances outstanding from their debtors, with the average business owed £62,957.

Maternity discrimination on the rise

The number of women looking for advice about maternity leave problems has increased by 58% in a year, according to Citizens Advice. It says the prevalence of zero-hours contracts and the introduction of employment tribunals fees are making it easier for firms to discriminate against pregnant women and new mothers. The most common scenarios include being made redundant and facing a reduction in hours. A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) estimated that 54,000 new mothers lose their jobs every year in Britain: double the numbers recorded ten years ago.

Seeking innovative SMEs

EDF Energy is calling for start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs to enter this year's Pulse Awards, a competition to crowd-source innovative ideas to address key challenges facing the energy industry. Entrants are being offered the chance to get expert support and investment to help turn their ideas into reality. Shortlisted entries will be brought together at a pitch day in November 2016.

The chances of long-term success

New research by Ormsby Street reveals that while 91% of start-ups survive their first year, only 40% reach their fifth birthday. Businesses in the health sector stand the best chance of surviving in the long-term, with 52% still going after five years. However, firms in finance and insurance are most likely to fail early on, with 83% only making it for a year. In addition, accommodation and food businesses are also precarious, with only 33% still trading after five years.

19 August 2016

HMRC consultation on Making tax digitalAccording to HMRC, paying tax is set become "less burdensome for British businesses" thanks to plans to create a digitised twenty-first century tax system.

In the 2015 Budget, the government announced plans to transform the tax system and in December 2015 HMRC published the Making Tax Digital Roadmap, explaining how this will be achieved.

Six consultation documents have just been published, inviting views on the Making Tax Digital plans, with HMRC estimating that 1.3m small businesses will benefit from not having to update HMRC each quarter or keep digital records.

Jane Ellison MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: "We're committed to a transparent and accessible tax system fit for the digital age, and Making Tax Digital is at the heart of these plans.This new system will make the UK's tax administration more efficient and straightforward, and will offer businesses greater clarity when it comes to paying their tax bills.

"By replacing the annual tax return with simple, digital updates, businesses will be able to concentrate on putting people and profit, not paperwork, first."

According to the government, Making Tax Digital will mean many more businesses will be able to benefit from cash-basis accounting (ie paying tax on cash received rather than invoices issued). New prompts will also help businesses to "get tax right" and claim tax reliefs they might be missing out on.

The decision to exempt the smallest businesses from digital record-keeping and quarterly updates follows "months of constructive engagement with business and agent groups," said the Government, which is considering extending the exemption.

Edward Troup, HMRC executive chair, said: "Making Tax Digital will bring the tax system into the 21st century and help make HMRC one of the world's most digitally-advanced tax administrations. Going digital will abolish the annual tax return as we know it by 2020, replacing it with a personalised digital service through which taxpayers will be able to send and receive information to HMRC at the click of a button.

"There is still a lot to design and develop, and it's important that we do this hand-in-hand with our customers and their representatives. These consultations are the next step in this process."

Mike Cherry, FSB national chairman, described the announcement on quarterly tax reporting proposals as "incredibly important". As a result of the changes announced, he said, half of the UK's 5.4m small businesses will not be affected by quarterly tax reporting rules. "The expansion of cash accounting, a longer lead-in time for implementation and the offer of direct financial assistance will also help," he said.

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19 August 2016

CIPD finds employers cautious about recruitment post Brexit voteEmployers in the UK are more cautious about taking on staff following the recent referendum result that will bring about exit from the EU.

That's the conclusion of the latest Labour Market Outlook from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which is produced in partnership with Adecco Group.

It suggests that the number of UK employers expecting to take on staff has dropped by 4% (from 40% before the referendum to 36% after the result was announced). And 21% of employers say they are planning to reduce their investment in training and skills.

According to the CIPD, the data is based on "UK employer sentiment in the two weeks before and two weeks following the EU referendum", which shows that UK employers where more optimistic about recruitment before the result was announced. The survey also found that 33% of respondents expect Brexit to increase their costs, while only 4% think it will reduce them.

Ian Brinkley, acting chief economist at the CIPD, said: "There's clear evidence that some employers have become more cautious about hiring following the vote to leave the EU. While many businesses are treating the immediate post-Brexit period as 'business as usual', and hiring intentions overall still remain positive, there are signs that some organisations, particularly in the private sector, are preparing to batten down the hatches."

Brinkley believes that the "softening of the British pound" and "expectation of further weakness in the currency" as the UK waits to find out the terms of its EU exit has led to a third of employers expecting their costs to increase in the coming months, which is why they're considering cutting investment in "crucial areas like skills development and equipment".

But Brinkley described this reaction as premature. "The economy had positive momentum going into the referendum and there's a risk that employers will create a self-fulfilling prophecy if they overreact because they're expecting a downturn," he added. Instead of cuts, he believes that "now is the time to be talking about investment in people and in processes and equipment that will boost productivity and improve the resilience of businesses and our economy."

The Labour Market Outlook also considered the impact of the Brexit decision on the UK's migrant workforce and how employers are likely to respond. Almost two thirds of respondents (62%) currently employed people from elsewhere in the EU. A fifth of these thought that some of their employees from elsewhere in the EU were already considering leaving the UK in the next 12 months. Two-fifths of employers believe Brexit will make it harder for them to recruit workers from elsewhere in the EU in the next 12 months.

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19 August 2016

Employers shamed for not meeting legal pay obligationsThe government has named and shamed almost 200 businesses this is says have failed to pay the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage to their staff. It is the largest list of its type yet published in the UK since introduction in 2013.

Together, the businesses from a wide range of sectors owed their staff some £466,000 in unpaid wages. The list included restaurants, professional football clubs, recruitment firms, care homes and hairdressers.

As reported by BBC News: "Top of the list was a London restaurant which owed almost £100,000 to 30 employees. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said all the money owed had been paid back to workers."

To date, reported the BBC, 688 employers have been publicly named for not complying with their minimum wage obligations, resulting in arrears of more than £3.5m.

"It's not acceptable that some employers fail to pay at least the minimum wage their workers are entitled to," said new business minister, Margot James. "So we'll continue to crack down on those who ignore the law - including naming and shaming them."

TUC general secretary, Frances O'Grady, called for prosecution of the worst offenders. She said: "Bosses who try to duck the minimum wage must have nowhere to hide. We know that thousands more rogue employers are cheating their staff and getting away with it. The government must redouble their enforcement efforts. The minimum wage is set to rise in the coming months. Employers must ensure that they're paying all staff what they are legally entitled to."

The National Living Wage was introduced in April and means that employers must pay at least £7.20 an hour to employees aged 25 or more. Those aged between 21 and 25 are entitled to £6.70 under National Minimum Wage rules. The hourly rate is £5.30 for those aged 18 to 20 and £3.87 for those aged 16 and 17 (except for apprentices).

According to the Acas website: "With the introduction of the National Living Wage, the penalty for non-payment will be 200% of the amount owed, unless the arrears are paid within 14 days. The maximum fine for non-payment will be £20,000 per worker. However, employers who fail to pay will be banned from being a company director for up to 15 years."

Conor D'Arcy of the Resolution Foundation (a "non-partisan think-tank that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes"), said: "There's no excuse for any employer to dodge paying the minimum wage. It's particularly concerning to see so many firms among the usual suspects of hairdressing, nursery and elderly care who are illegally under-paying their staff."

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19 August 2016

Cheapest place in the UK to start a business revealedResearch carried out by enterprise finance provider LDF has found that the best place to start a business in the UK if you want to minimise your start-up costs is Newcastle. In the North East city it costs an average of £17,008 to start your own business.

The claim was based on a survey of 850 SMEs throughout the country, which found that the average amount needed to start a business in the UK is now £27,520.

Close behind Newcastle was Southampton (£17,965), followed by Liverpool (£18,880), Cardiff (£19,569), Leeds (£20,755), Sheffield (£21,490) and Edinburgh (£22,990).

The place with the highest average start-up costs, according to LDF, is Manchester (£44,733), followed by Glasgow (£41,936), Norwich (£39,910), Brighton (£30,901), Bristol (£30,895), Birmingham (£30,817) and Plymouth (£29,784).

Perhaps surprisingly, London came in eighth position. In the capital, according to LDF, the average start-up cost is £28,742, but this is still more than £10,000 more than entrepreneurs up in Newcastle pay to launch their businesses.

The research also highlighted sectors in which more start-up funds were needed, and found that money required to start a business in leisure (£79,137) and motoring (£64,948) was far higher than other sectors, including marketing, communications and design, where start-up costs on average were less than £7,000.

According to LDF, regardless of location, almost a third of UK SMEs who responded agreed that funding was the biggest challenge they faced. To get their business off the ground, 42% of respondents had used their own savings, while 24% had sought financial help from friends and family.

Once they had set up their business, the average amount borrowed in a 12-month period by respondents was £75,408, according to LDF. The main reasons cited were to buy equipment (40%) and to fund expansion (38%).

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