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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.


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

November 2015

27 November 2015

Businesses express relief as Osborne plays it safeGeorge Osborne's Autumn Statement has been broadly welcomed by businesses - as much for what he left out as for the measures he announced.

Changes that businesses feared - including the end of business rate relief, the possible scrapping of Entrepreneurs' Relief and rumours of new tax rules for contractors - failed to materialise in Osborne's 2015 Autumn Spending Review.

Darren Fell, ceo of Crunch Accounting, said: "We were pleased the Chancellor decided not to implement the rumoured one-month rule, which could have devastated the freelancer and contractor communities. However other measures to support entrepreneurs were notable by their absence - by my count the Chancellor spent roughly fifteen seconds addressing the second-largest business community in the UK."

Earlier this week, business groups had expressed fears about the status of small business rates reliefs that were due to expire in April 2016. Osborne's extension of the scheme is good news for small businesses. John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "Extending the small business rate relief scheme will support businesses across the country while the broader shape of a reformed business rates system is determined."

John Allan, national chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), also welcomed the news. He said "Over 600,000 small and micro-enterprises depend heavily on this relief. Its removal would have been an additional tax rise."

Of the budget as a whole, Allan said: "Given the tight constraints that the Chancellor was working to, small businesses will be pleased that he has listened to their concerns."

However, new details about the way the Apprenticeship Levy will work have not pleased everyone. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "The major business tax announcement of this Autumn Statement was the Apprenticeship Levy, which can only be described as a new payroll tax. At 0.5% of payroll it will be a big new cost for many companies, including medium-sized ones. Firms have been promised they will get back more than they put in, but it's not clear how this will happen if so much is being lost in bureaucracy."

Meanwhile, Osborne's promised investment in skills, innovation and infrastructure has been applauded. John Longworth said: "The 50% increase in capital expenditure for transport is good news, but we sorely need the Government to crack on and get building."

Looking ahead to Budget 2016, Osborne's strategy depends on the UK's continued economic success. The IoD's Simon Walker said: "The Chancellor will know that if the economy chills and tax receipts disappoint, his plans will suddenly become much harder to achieve. With over a dozen tax consultations launched since the election, there is a real worry for businesses that next year's Budget will see further tax increases."

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27 November 2015

Consumer loyalty is tested by cyber threatsMost consumers acknowledge that data breaches are now "a part of life", but shoppers are warning UK businesses that they will go elsewhere if cyber security is not part of the customer service promise.

This is the conclusion of a new report by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). Its poll of 1,000 consumers has found that 76% of UK shoppers believe that organisations will never truly be able to protect their data. Almost one in four say that nothing could restore their trust after a data breach.

With a constant stream of cyber-attacks hitting the headlines, consumers want businesses and Government to do more. The ICS poll found that 83% of consumers want organisations to highlight what they are doing to protect customer data; 81% want to see Government review data protection legislation; and 83% want to see the Government imposing fines on businesses if sufficient safeguards are not implemented.

How businesses react to a data breach could determine loyalty, the findings show. But for some consumers, it's a case of once bitten twice shy; 30% said they would change suppliers if the company they are using becomes a victim of a cyber attack; and 28% would avoid any company that had previously been attacked by cyber criminals.

"The fact is that a customer's experience is determined not just by performance when things go well, but the promise of performance when things go wrong," said Jo Causon, ceo of the Institute of Customer Service. "Transparency, speed of notification and consistent communication will be crucial if businesses are to regain the trust that will be lost from having customer data compromised."

The research also shows that, in the consumer's eye, cyber security is a key part of any company's overall customer service strategy and not just the responsibility of the IT department. The poll found that 81% of respondents believe that any employee in an organisation should be able to inform them about data security policy.

"It's too easy to suggest that cyber security and knowledge of how an organisation protects its customers' data is the domain of the IT team," said Causon. "Good customer service means that any employee should be able to answer any query."

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27 November 2015

Home working on rise despite security fearsThe number of "home workers" has doubled since 1998 thanks to the rise in the number of freelancers and new attitudes by employers to flexible and remote working.

According to the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there are now 4.2 million "home workers" in the UK, double the number in 1998.

New data from PeoplePerHour shows that freelance working within the creative industries has seen the largest growth in recent years and it says there has been a 433% increase in freelance working in the UK since 2012.

And a new survey released this week by Imation reveals that 96% of businesses now permit remote and mobile working. The poll of 500 IT decision-makers in the UK and Germany conducted by Vanson Bourne found that 62% of firms believe that remote working has increased employee motivation due to greater flexibility; 61% say it has increased productivity.

The research shows that the most common methods of remote working are: home working (62%); Bring Your Own Device (51%) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (46%). In addition, 32% of those polled have employees that work from client sites.

However, data security is a concern with 54% worried about data loss through misplaced devices and 61% concerned about the threat of employees sharing confidential data.

However, 41% of those firms polled by Imation do not currently have a remote working policy that covers IT security - despite the fact that 67% of those polled said they believe their employees are breaking the organisation's security rules in order to work remotely.

"Businesses are unaware of the amount, and type, of data leaving the office, yet they are well aware that employees are regularly breaking the rules in order to take work home," said Nick Banks, a vice president at Imation.

"It is important for companies to embrace mobile working, but managing the security of data on the move and ensuring there are policies in place to protect it, the employees, and the organisations who own it, should be a priority for anyone considering remote working."

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27 November 2015

Three simple ways to foster innovation at workA creative culture, collaboration and simple tools are the main drivers for innovation in the UK's fastest growing businesses according to new research.

A poll by software provider Exact of members of The Supper Club, founders and CEOs of high-growth UK businesses, has found that the key ingredients for driving innovation in the workplace include being open to ideas and using old-school tools like whiteboards.

The study reveals that business culture is fundamental to getting creative juices flowing at work, with 60% saying the best way to achieve this is by ensuring leadership teams stop meddling and encourage greater autonomy among staff.

Other key factors cited by business leaders include continuous training and development (53%), and having a flat hierarchical structure to encourage more open lines of communication (40%).

Technology also plays its part; half of those polled say having the right technology improves efficiency, promotes better collaboration and makes it easier and more cost effective to test ideas.

But the technology and tools needed are very simple, the research shows. The top three are reliable broadband (65%), whiteboards for brainstorming (46%) and widespread high-speed mobile internet access (40%).

Only 7% of those polled said things like beanbags, ping-pong tables and funky offices had any impact.

The biggest killer of innovation according to the entrepreneurs surveyed is a lack of encouragement from leadership teams; 59% say those at the top need to adopt more of a "no idea is a bad idea" attitude to avoid that. Lack of time is another negative factor, with 57% saying they are too busy working on other tasks to focus on innovation.

Erik van der Meijden, ceo of Exact said: "It isn't necessarily the Google-style offices and latest technology that makes people tick after all … we shouldn't neglect the importance of old fashioned brainstorming on whiteboards and supporting staff by getting off their backs."

Jane Gomez, managing director at The Supper Club, said: "What our members tell us is that the secret to doing so is really quite simple: don't underestimate the importance of trusting your staff and allowing them the space to create their own success."

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27 November 2015

One in ten have no plans to retire

One in ten people (9%), some three million people, say they do not plan to retire, according to new research by Baring Asset Management. This compares to 14% of people who said the same last year. More than third (37%) of respondents said they do not know when they will retire, up from 34% in 2014. In addition, 34% of people aged 65+ said they don't plan to retire, up from 32% in 2014.

Disillusioned micro-firms don't feel supported

Just 0.1% of UK micro-businesses think the Government understands their needs according to a recent poll by Crunch Accounting. The survey of more than 1,000 micro-business owners took place ahead of this week's Autumn Statement. It found that 88% of micro-businesses do not agree that the "current government is supportive of, and understands, one-person businesses". A further 12% were undecided. Just one business owner approved of the government's approach.

Get ready for Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday is going from strength to strength, supporting small businesses in their communities and encouraging consumers to "shop local". This year the event takes place on 5 December. Small firms can make the most of the event in several ways - by advertising on Small Business Finder for free; by downloading the Small Business Saturday online toolkit; and by sending off for a free marketing pack, which includes posters and a window sticker.

Claims for Entrepreneurs' Relief go up

The number of business owners who used Entrepreneurs' Relief to reduce the tax they paid when they sold their businesses last year rose to 43,000, up from 37,000 the year before and a new record high. Timothy Fussell, partner at accountants Moore Stephens, said: "Through encouraging SMEs to grow, Entrepreneurs' Relief helps create jobs in the UK." Currently, Entrepreneurs' Relief reduces the amount of capital gains tax due on the sale of a business to 10%, down from 18% or 28% without the relief, up to a lifetime limit of £10m. And, despite widespread concerns, cuts to this relief did not materialise in George Osborne's Autumn Statement this week.

20 November 2015

Businesses tell Osborne: stop changing tax rulesBusiness groups are calling on George Osborne not to introduce any more new tax changes in his Autumn Statement next Wednesday.

The ICAEW accountancy body has said that the Autumn Statement should include "no more bombshells" so that businesses can plan ahead. In addition, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has written to ministers asking them to "put a brake on the number of changes to tax administration and compliance rules".

Both bodies are concerned about the administrative burden on businesses caused by new legislation.

The BCC has called for tax administration to be a key part of the Government's drive to cut regulation by £10bn in this Parliament. It wants business tax administration changes to be subject to Regulatory Policy Committee scrutiny, so they are properly assessed before being imposed on businesses.

It also wants to encourage ministers "to think twice about making changes" by subjecting any new tax administration measures to the Government's "one in, two out" rule on red tape.

Dr Adam Marshall, BCC executive director of policy, said: "Ministers need to put a brake on the number of changes to tax administration and compliance rules. By taking steps to reduce the number and frequency of changes to tax rules, the government would at a stroke make a big improvement to the prospects for business."

Stephen Ibbotson, ICAEW director of business, said: "The chancellor should be wary of introducing additional measures which will impact on business. By not announcing any more bombshells in the Autumn Statement, the Government has a chance to give businesses the opportunity to plan with confidence for the longer term. This will allow them to focus their energies on growing both themselves and the economy."

The ICAEW is warning that businesses are struggling with the measures announced in the Summer Budget. Ibbotson said: "UK plc is already concerned about the introduction of the Living Wage, Apprenticeship Levy and increase in Insurance Premium Tax, not all of which have yet come into effect."

He added: "Businesses I meet do not anticipate any real benefit from these measures. Many of the businesses impacted agree that the reduction in corporation tax can't offset the negative implications of measures announced in July."

Image: Thanks to Altogether the Fool on Flickr.

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20 November 2015

Living Wage to impact on over half of UK employersMore than half (54%) of all UK employers say the new National Living Wage will affect their wage bill; and the retail and hospitality sectors are set to be hit hardest according to new research.

A survey by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, and the Resolution Foundation has revealed the potential impact of the National Living Wage (NLW) on firms in low-paying sectors.

The poll of over 1,000 employers shows that the higher wage floor will have its greatest impact in retail (79%) and hospitality (77%), where over three-quarters of employers say their wage bill will be affected. In addition, more than two-thirds of employers in the healthcare sector (68%) will be affected.

The survey asked respondents to name the three most important things they plan to do in response to the NLW. It found that:

  • 30% of employers intend to manage these higher costs by improving efficiency and productivity;
  • 22% plan to take lower profits or absorb the costs;
  • 16% said they would reduce overtime and bonuses;
  • 15% expect to raise prices;
  • 15% will reduce the number of employees via redundancies or slower recruitment.

However, 26% of employers said it was still too soon to say how they would manage the cost implications.

Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: "The new National Living Wage will have a huge impact on the labour market when it comes into effect next April, with millions of workers set to get a pay rise and half of all employers saying they'll be affected. It's encouraging that so many firms say that they'll respond to the new higher wage floor by improving efficiency. But actually delivering this will prove challenging in many sectors, and it's important that firms are given the necessary support to boost productivity."

The survey also found that, of those firms who say they'll be affected by the NLW, 26% say that it will reduce pay differentials between those affected and their managers; while 20% said they would maintain pay differentials.

This suggests that the NLW could have a positive ripple effect for higher-paid workers. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation has found that 2.8 million workers would directly get a pay rise as a result of the new National Living Wage by 2020, with a further 3.2 million workers receiving an indirect benefit as employers seek to maintain pay differentials between staff.

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20 November 2015

Massive shake-up to make HMRC The UK's tax authority, HMRC, is to be radically reorganised as part of its on-going modernisation programme.

Over the next five years, 13 new HMRC regional centres will open, replacing most of the 170 separate tax offices currently operating in the UK. The first will open in 2016-17, with others following between 2017 and 2021.

HMRC expects the majority of its 58,000 staff to be able to move from their current offices to a regional centre, and is phasing the moves over ten years to minimise redundancies. However, it has said that it will aim to have fewer staff in the future.

The 13 new regional centres will be in: Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Stratford and Croydon.

According to HMRC, the changes will enable HMRC "to give customers the modern services they expect at a lower cost to the taxpayer". The plan is expected to generate estate savings of £100 million a year by 2025.

Lin Homer, HMRC's chief executive, said: "HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices. This makes it difficult for us to collaborate, modernise our ways of working, and make the changes we need to transform our service to customers and clamp down further on the minority who try to cheat the system."

The new regional centres will "bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in areas with lower rents," said Homer. "They will also make a big contribution to the cities where they are based, providing high-quality, skilled jobs and supporting the Government's commitment for a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK."

Stephen Herring, head of taxation at the IoD said: "The announcement of another HMRC restructure will be met with predictable concern that fewer people answering calls could result in lower revenue. But that simply need not be the case. The number of employees should not be seen as a proxy for HMRC's effectiveness as a tax collector. The United States' Internal Revenue Service serves a population five times the size of the UK, but has only 60% more staff."

He added: "Of course, the easiest way to make the process of collecting tax as easy and painless as possible is to make sure taxes are as simple as they can be. HMRC's job could be made a lot easier if the Government radically simplified our hefty tax code."

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20 November 2015

The UK's tax authority, HMRC, is to be radically reorganised as part of its on-going modernisation programme.

20 November 2015

Secrets of successful small firms revealedSuccessful entrepreneurs are more likely to learn from past failures, invest in technology, value time with their families and build strong relationships with mentors according to new research.

A survey by Xero polled over 2,000 entrepreneurs in the UK and the US to discover what separates successful business owners from the rest.

Learning from failure is a key trait. Entrepreneurs who had experienced prior failure reported they were better at planning and financial management the next time around; and 71% described the closure of an earlier business as a positive thing.

The findings also show that the most successful business people are more likely to enlist the support of others including family, mentors and financial advisors. A third of successful entrepreneurs say they have turned to mentors, compared to just 14% of respondents who ran businesses that had to close.

The findings reveal that successful entrepreneurs work hard to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Nearly six in ten respondents (58%) cited spending time with family in the evenings as crucial to their effectiveness as a business owner.

Those that succeed also invest more in technology say the researchers. Nearly six in ten successful businesses (58%) use software to manage their finances compared with 14% of failures. In addition, 86% of successful small firms said they used technology to boost productivity.

Also this week, new research by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) shows that one in three small and micro businesses have failed to grow in the past five years. The study found that 33% have failed to grow revenue, whilst 31% haven't seen an increase in profits since 2010.

According to the business owners polled, the key factors holding them back are the lack of capital, too much red tape and not enough support from banks.

However, over the next five years 76% of small firms expect to see an increase in revenue and 78% predict that their profits will rise.

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