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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?

June 2016

24 June 2016

Britain to exit EU - business groups reactIt has been revealed that after 43 years of membership, Britain will exit the European Union following Thursday's referendum. The decision was backed by 52% of voters, with 48% voting to remain.

The referendum saw more than 30 million people voting, a turnout of 71.8% - the highest at a UK election since 1992.

News of the exit has led to a sharp drop in the value of the pound this morning, showing a fall of 7% against the euro as markets opened. Prime minister David Cameron, who led the Remain campaign, also announced his resignation in light of the result, stating:

"I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming years and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination."

Predictions proved wrong

Even up until the polls closed yesterday, the result was judged to be too close to call by many. Pre-referendum surveys by small business groups had suggested a narrow victory for the Remain campaign. A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in May indicated that 54% of its members would vote for the UK to remain in the European Union.

However, that survey showed an increase in support for Leave (37%) since its February poll, which had Remain on 60%, Leave on 30%, and 10% saying they didn't know.

'Period of volatility'

The effects of today's result for businesses are unclear at present, and look likely to remain so in the coming days and weeks. Professor Stephen Roper, Director of the Enterprise Research Centre, gave his thoughts: "Small businesses need to prepare for a period of volatility as markets react. Over the next few weeks a weakening of sterling will help exporters, but will make euro imports more expensive. Interest rates too may need to rise, raising business borrowing costs.

"The gains for small firms from Brexit are probably two to five years away. There is potential for reduced regulation and new trade deals, but the timing and effects of both remain uncertain."

Brian Palmer, AAT Tax Policy Adviser, agreed: "We will see changes happen very slowly, nothing will change overnight. Existing laws, even those fulfilling EU obligations, will continue while the UK remains a member of the EU with at least a two year window to negotiate the exit."

Calls for reassurance

Following the result and prime minister David Cameron's subsequent resignation, business groups are calling for the Government to provide urgent reassurance and stability for the UK's firms.

Mike Cherry, National Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), called for: "…clarity on what these decisions now mean for business, including how businesses will have access to the single market and the free movement of people and trade."

BCC acting director general Dr Adam Marshall warned: "All companies will expect swift, decisive, and coordinated action from the Government and the Bank of England to stabilise markets if trading conditions or the availability of capital change dramatically. Firms across the UK want an immediate and unambiguous statement on next steps."

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "It is now imperative that our political leaders manage the transition as smoothly as possible. The weeks and months ahead are going to be a nervy time for business leaders."

Adapt and survive

With uncertain times ahead, it remains to be seen how Brexit will affect British businesses both in the short and the long term. But many are sounding a positive note. Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: "The British people's vote to leave the EU is a momentous turning point in our history. The country has spoken and it's for us all to listen.

"Many businesses will be concerned and need time to assess the implications. But they are used to dealing with challenge and change, and we should be confident they will adapt."

Simon Walker agreed: "British businesses are resilient and, with their characteristic ingenuity, they will weather this storm."

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24 June 2016

Entrepreneurs underestimate start-up admin costsThe average small business spends more than £22,000 on administration in its first year, according to new research; but many new entrepreneurs underestimate these costs.

A new study from online business service Geniac reveals the average start-up invests £22,756 in its first year to cover essential business administration costs, including accountancy, company formation, HR and legal services. Yet those thinking of starting a business underestimate these expenses by £2,525 on average.

The largest business administration outlay is associated with company formation, including company set-up, drafting articles of association, board minutes and shareholdings. This costs an average of £6,378 or 28% of the total amount.

However, the cost that would-be entrepreneurs are most likely to underestimate is accountancy fees; the research found that on average, respondents had budgeted £1,723 too little for accountancy costs in their first year.

Geniac's study shows that 64% of small business owners say they have been hit with unexpected costs, the negative consequences of which include profit losses (23%); being forced to readjust growth targets (21%); and having to let staff go in order to free up funds (7%).

Mike Galvin, co-founder of Geniac, said: "It's concerning that start-ups and small businesses are not only losing profits and staff but are readjusting growth plans because they've underestimated the cost of starting up. It's even more worrying that they are over-paying in nearly every area of business administration - in nearly every part of the country."

Start-up administration costs vary significantly across the country, according to the research. The average London business spends £30,211 on essential business administration in the first year while businesses in Wales are able to run at less than a third of the cost at £8,096.

After London, the most expensive places to set up a company are the North East, the North West, Scotland and the South West.

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24 June 2016

Worries about ROI dampen SME marketing plansThe majority of small business owners believe marketing is essential but concerns about costs and measuring return on investment are holding some firms back.

New research from Royal Mail MarketReach shows that 81% of UK SMEs believe marketing is critical or essential to their business growth; and 37% say it is the primary driver of their business.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of SMEs invest up to 20% of their turnover on marketing and use an average of 3.5 media channels to promote their business.

The most popular channels for SME marketing are email (82%), social media (62%), online advertising (50%) and direct mail (46%). Only 16% of small firms currently use search marketing and 7% use telemarketing.

However, the research has found that some small business owners are wary of using new channels because of worries over costs and, most of all, getting a return on their investment. Capacity to handle customer responses as a result of marketing activity is the third most widespread concern, followed by worries over lack of expertise.

Researchers also questioned respondents on what they want to achieve with their marketing activity. Two-thirds (66%) of small firms are looking to acquire new customers, 46% want to build stronger relationships with their existing customer base, 31% said they are looking to sell through more channels and 24% want to expand internationally.

Jonathan Harman, managing director of Royal Mail MarketReach, said: "Our research shows how important marketing is for UK SMEs. It helps them grow by acquiring new customers and building better relationships with their existing ones. But it is clear that lack of knowledge, fears about cost and concerns about measuring their returns could be holding them back."

The findings of the research have been published in a new guide, Smart Marketing for Small Businesses. Royal Mail has recently launched a new online marketing tool, MailshotMaker.

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24 June 2016

Asset-based borrowing hits record highThe amount of finance secured by UK businesses against hard assets such as inventory, machinery and property has increased by 7% in the past year.

Asset-based borrowing has gone up from £3.38bn to £3.63bn, according to the Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA), based on comparing the figures in Q1 2015 and Q1 2016.

Most asset-based finance (80%) is invoice finance, in which businesses secure funding against their unpaid invoices; 20% represents the fast-growing area of asset-based lending, where businesses raise funding secured against a range of other assets they own, including inventory, property and machinery.

The ABFA reports that UK businesses secured £358m specifically against plant and machinery in Q1 2016, an increase of more than a third (37%) in a year, up from £261m.

There has also been an increase in the amount of business finance secured against property, with businesses borrowing £146m in Q1 2016, 14% more than the £128m borrowed against property in Q1 2015.

Jeff Longhurst, chief executive of the ABFA, said: "UK businesses now have a greater understanding of how their assets can be used to unlock capital. They are successfully investing this into the growth of their business, whether that be increasing headcount or expanding their order book.

"More businesses are benefiting from using asset-based lending and securing finance to fund growth plans. Borrowing against assets has now become a more mainstream option for businesses of all sizes looking to unlock funding and fuel growth."

The ABFA, in association with the British Business Bank and ICAEW Corporate Finance Faculty, has launched the new Business Finance Guide and interactive website to make it easier for businesses to identify the most appropriate funding solutions.

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24 June 2016

A new report from the Federation of Small Businesses has found that small firms are unfairly carrying the cost of cyber crime in an increasingly vulnerable digital economy.

24 June 2016

Instagram passes the 500 million users mark

Instagram, the image sharing social media app, now has more than 500 million users worldwide. More than 300 million of its customers use the app every day and an average of 95 million photos and videos are posted every day. More than 80% of its customers come from outside the United States. Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012. Since then, according to the BBC, Instagram has "rocketed past Twitter". Snapchat, the other fast-growing image sharing app, has 100 million users.

One in ten female workers plan career change within a year

Over a quarter (27%) of female workers are considering a career change in the next ten years according to a new study by Oxford Open Learning Trust; and 11% plan to make a move within the next year. The research shows that 24% of female workers would consider training or retraining for up to a year for a new role. The top five priorities for female workers in their current job role are working hours (57%), location (49%), salary (47%), personal interest/enjoyment (42%) and job security (34%). But for planning a move, salary is the most important factor for 66% of respondents.

Small firms ahead of the curve on technology

SMEs are outpacing big companies when it comes to adopting new technology, according to a new study from Unify entitled The Way We Work. The survey of over 5,000 knowledge workers in the UK, US and Germany found that 60% of SMEs now use on-demand tools, internet or cloud-based technology in their day-to-day operations. Thomas Veit, general manager, channels, EMPAC at Unify said: "The Way We Work Study has confirmed what we have known for some time: growing businesses are more open to trying new technology. It has also established that knowledge workers are defining how, when and where they do their jobs and [SMEs] are taking notice."

Late payments is biggest problem for micro-businesses

Late payment is the single biggest issue affecting micro-businesses, according to research from accountants Crunch, outranking cash-flow management, IR35, office space and recruitment. Darren Fell, ceo of Crunch, said: "The culture of late payments is now well and truly out of control - and the people bearing the brunt of the issue are the country's smallest firms. We regularly hear from micro-businesses who are in dire financial straits, simply because they are waiting on an invoice with 90 day or more payment terms from a huge company."

17 June 2016

SMEs searching for staff with skills not degreesSmall business recruiters are looking for specialists in social media, online marketing and coding; and many say degrees are not important.

New research for eBay, conducted by YouGov, has found that seven out of ten small business recruiters say that a degree is "unimportant" when it comes to job candidates and most are looking for practical skills instead.

The Employee Skills Index from eBay shows that 61% of small business bosses favour candidates who have a strong grasp of marketing and advertising; 51% place importance on a candidate's ability to use social media and 56% are looking for recruits with digital skills. In addition, 41% of SMEs are looking for specialist capabilities such as coding.

The research also reveals that age is no barrier for new hires as small business employers say they are mostly focused on experience. The poll found that 56% of small business employers are agnostic about age when they are recruiting.

Small businesses provide jobs for more than 15.6 million British workers; the latest data from eBay suggests that one in three SMEs plan to hire in the months ahead.

Tanya Lawler, vice president at eBay UK, said: "The nature of business, especially online retail, is changing rapidly. Our business-savvy SMB community is on the look-out for versatile talent - regardless of age, background or gender - with the personable skills and life experience to help them develop and grow."

Commenting on the report, Karl Baxter, founder of Dorset-based firm Wholesale Clearance UK, said: "Being social media savvy is now intrinsic to all of this because the entire nature of word-of-mouth has been changed by new media. Even a packer in the warehouse has to understand that the presentation in the box they are packing could have an on-going social media impact with pictures being taken and shared with the world."

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17 June 2016

Have you been asked to work for free?Over half of all micro-business owners are asked to work for free at least once a year according to new research.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of UK micro-business owners have been forced to work for free at some stage in their career just to get a foot in the door, according to new research conducted by OnePoll for the micro-business organisation Chorus.

A further fifth of entrepreneurs are approached to work for free every month and over half (53%) are asked to work for nothing at least once a year.

A quarter of those surveyed (27%) said that working for free was a "necessary step" when starting a business. However, 25% said they would never work for free, while one in five (20%) said they had worked on free projects but thought it was unfair.

Micro-business owners said that large corporations and charities were most likely to ask them to work for free.

Jason Kitcat, micro-business ambassador for Chorus, said: "Micro-businesses are a key driver of the UK economy, keeping the wheels of innovation and entrepreneurism turning - yet this research shows their skills are being undervalued and exploited.

"Micro-businesses employ 8.4 million people and account for 96% of all British businesses, yet too often they are being taken advantage of, on the promise of future publicity and business. Working for free shouldn't be necessary, the time and effort of micro-businesses should be valued like any other."

The number of people starting their own business continues to rise, according to new data from freelance body IPSE (the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed). According to IPSE, the number of independent professionals in the EU rose by 24% (from 7.7 million to 9.6 million) between 2008 and 2015.

Chris Bryce, IPSE ceo, said: "Right across the EU, huge numbers of people are seeing the benefits of being their own boss and they're finding the confidence to launch new businesses. The trend towards working this way looks set to continue well into the future."

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17 June 2016

UK employment hits 45-year highThe UK employment rate has reached 74.2%, the joint highest level since comparable records began in 1971.

The latest jobs figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that between the three months to January 2016 and February to April 2016, the number of people in work increased, the number of unemployed people fell, and the number of people not working and not seeking or available to work also fell slightly. The unemployment rate was 5%, the lowest since 2005.

In addition, average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain in nominal terms (not adjusted for price inflation) increased by 2% including bonuses and by 2.3% excluding bonuses, compared with a year earlier.

Commenting on the data, David Kern, chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "Another strong set of labour market figures, with rising employment and falling unemployment, suggests that the economy may not have softened as much as feared in the early months of 2016. Our flexible and dynamic labour market remains a source of strength for the UK economy."

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Business (FSB), said: "The unemployment rate is at historically low levels, but this does not seem to be translating into broader business confidence. Clearly there are other factors at play which, although not hitting jobs now, are causing business owners to take a cautious approach."

Michael Martins, economist at the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "Companies are hoarding labour in the same way that they did in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Rather than lay off valuable staff unnecessarily, they seem to be trying to keep calm until we get the result of the referendum on the 24th."

Martins added: "It is not all good news … vacancies, a leading indicator, decreased by 0.9% in the services sector, which makes up four-fifths of the UK's economy."

Meanwhile, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the latest ONS data "makes the case for improved productivity an even more pressing concern". Gerwyn Davies, CIPD labour market adviser, said: "This boost to earnings may be short-lived unless employers are able to increase their productivity to meet the additional cost of the National Living Wage."

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17 June 2016

CIM calls for honest marketing on social mediaBusinesses are increasingly using misleading marketing methods on social media, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

The CIM has released the findings of new research into what it calls "questionable marketing" on social media sites. According to the study, Keep Social Honest, a growing number of people cannot distinguish between marketing and non-commercial content.

The survey found that:

  • Only 19% now say they can tell the difference between marketing and non-commercial content (compared to 38% in 2014);
  • 25% have seen a brand fake an online review (17% in 2014);
  • 21% have seen a brand incentivise customers to share positive comments on social media without making this clear to other users (up from 14% in 2014);
  • 16% have seen brands pay someone to promote a product or service without disclosing the payment (up from 14% in 2014).

According to the CIM, these findings suggest "potentially widespread breaches of the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code), enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which states that any advertising must be 'obviously identifiable as such'."

Violation of the CAP Code can lead to ASA sanctions, including businesses being told to withdraw advertising from their own sites, having paid-for search advertisements removed and being denied access to advertising space.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said that businesses are likely to be breaking the law if they fake online reviews and pay for online endorsements without making this clear to consumers.

Chris Daly, CIM chief executive, said: "Misleading marketing communications on social media is a real problem and it's evident that advertisers aren't doing enough to ensure transparency. This isn't always intentional - from previous research, we know that 52% of marketers have little or no understanding of the regulations affecting their communications on social media - but the consequences are still the same."

The CIM has issued new guidance for businesses on its website.

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