Published on February 21, 2014
The Grand Small Business Guide Advice covering a wide scope of small business operations
Whatever type of small business you’re into, we recognise that it takes a lot of thinking and planning to make it successful. We’d like to help you as much as we can, so read on for some handy advice you might need to complement your entrepreneurial skills and vision.
HIRING YOUR FIRST EMPLOYEE
At some point in the life of a small business it comes to pass that the amount of work you have coming in exceeds the amount of hours in the day you have to do them. You can be brave for a while and maybe pull some late nights and a bit of weekend working, but eventually it gets too much and you have to face the facts – you need to employ someone. It’s a tough choice though because there’s a lot of administrative and legal red tape to go through before you do take on your first employee and doing it right the first time can be the difference between a successful hire and a disaster that puts you off people for life.
You see, employees have rights and it’s good to get to grips with what those rights are before you start hiring people. You also need to pay tax based on their salary and this in itself can be a mire of paperwork. In this article we’re just going to look at the basics and we can luckily go to the Government for help and they’ve published a page that gives some excellent advice for the first time employer here: https://www.gov.uk/employing-staff Let’s go through those points one by one.
Decide how much to pay someone It sounds obvious, but you really need to state how much you’ll be paying the person when they start and you need to ensure this is at least the minimum wage. That’s not all though, the minimum wage is obviously the absolute lowest you can go, but some people are now campaigning to get employers to pay a good “living wage”. Your employees will hopefully help your business thrive and so only paying the least you can get away with may not inspire them so consider what you think is a good and fair salary for the price and make that your hourly rate. Also see what other companies offer their employees, too. It’s all too easy for someone to take a job simply for the experience and put up with the low wages just to get the job on their CV. If they then see an opportunity elsewhere that offers more – they’ll be gone unless you have other incentives to keep them.
Check the person has the legal right to work in the UK This might sound obvious, but if you don’t check that the person is legally entitled to work in the UK then you could be held liable and end up paying a fine. Currently the fine is £10,000 per employee! It’s really not worth taking the risk so ensure you get all the right paperwork and go through the Government’s own checklist here: https://www.gov.uk/legal-right-to-work-in-the-uk. Remember that just because someone is from a European Union state, it doesn’t automatically mean they can work here.
Apply for a DBS (CRB) check You’ve probably heard of the CRB check, well that’s now the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check and it should be used when employing people who will come into contact with vulnerable people or children. Visit the government website on who can ask for a DBS check and how to get it.
Get the relevant insurance It really can’t be stressed enough just how important this is. It may seem like insurance is a ‘nice to have’ and optional but really, it isn’t. You should get employers’ liability insurance as soon as you employ someone. Why? Well if they become ill or are injured doing work for you then they will require compensation and you need to provide it via your insurance. Not having this insurance can incur a fine of up to £2500 per day! It’s really not worth skimping on this payment, just do it, it’s actually not that expensive.
Send details to the employee You need to send the job details to your new employee and make sure you include the place of work, hours, length of employment and other important information. This one sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many employees turn up and find there’s nowhere to sit and nothing to do!
Tell HMRC You MUST tell HMRC when you take on a new employer. Taxation is complex and the government must know when a person is employed so they can make the relevant adjustments. Make sure you tell HMRC in good time.
Summary This guide is just an indication as to what your duties are as an employer but you should always check the Government’s own website to make sure all information is up to date. https://www.gov.uk/
GETTING THE RIGHT RECEPTIONIST
For many businesses the role of receptionist is seen as a demeaning one. She (or he) sits at the front of office taking calls and deflecting salespeople all day while also being called upon to make the tea and fetch biscuits when there's a meeting on. However, your receptionist could be your greatest asset and finding the right one can mean the difference between a fully functional and efficient office and one that is in disarray. You see, a good receptionist will do a lot more than simply meet and greet people when they turn up, their role can include a multitude of exceptionally important jobs and so there are some key skills you should be looking for when hiring.
Punctuality If you've run your own business for a long time and you've been used to being the only person in the office then 'work hours' are probably a little alien to you. You turn up after you've taken the kids to school and you make sure the office is locked and you're in the car in enough time to get back home to watch the latest episode of your favourite soap. This means that for a long time you'll probably have an unattended office and if someone turns up or calls then they're going to think you're closed. In effect, you are. A good receptionist will put up with your tardy ways and probably even improve your own punctuality simply by being punctual themselves. You need someone who will be there at important times and is available to take calls, handle enquiries and pass on messages when you aren't about. More than just a call service, a good receptionist can also chase people up. Need to get a customer to pay a bill? Your new hire may be able to do this for you and that leads on to the next skill...
Presentability I'm not even sure that's a word, but nonetheless you know what I mean. You need someone who is presentable, not just in person but also on the phone. If someone calls and the first thing they hear is "WHADDYA WANT?" then you may lose a few fans. A good, efficient telephone manner is essential and you should check that any new hire is especially good at this, even under pressure. If your job sometimes means you have to deal with people who are less than polite themselves, then a good receptionist with a great telephone manner can handle them, calm them and provide help. Hopefully, by the time the call gets to you they'll be much calmer and ready to talk.
Ability to adapt As a small business owner you will be used to doing everything yourself. From filing to answering calls to tidying up and cleaning the windows of the office. You'll make tea, you'll fetch lunch and you'll print reports, in fact, everything the business needs to be done, you'll be used to doing most of it. When you hire your receptionist then it's worth checking that they're OK chipping in with this too. That's not to say they should become a general dogsbody, they'll be protected by employment law so you need to be careful, but a good allround member of staff that is willing to help out with the little stuff is absolutely essential. I believe on old job descriptions this used to be called "ad-hoc duties". You need someone who has intuition and is able to see when something needs doing and then just do it. It's an important and very underrated skill and to be honest, it's difficult to spot, but it's worth taking the time to get someone who is eager to be a part of your business and help out when necessary.
Not afraid of technology Now, this is an area where many old-school receptionist do in fact lose points. There needs to be an eagerness to embrace new technology and hiring someone who looks at the computer in front of them with disdain and immediately replaces it with their old Olympus typwriter isn't going to get you very far. Ideally you need someone who is at least happy with operating the latest Microsoft Office packages so that when you send over a spreadsheet they aren't going to be staring at it wondering what to do. Luckily, most people are used to computers now having grown up with them from school age, so you should be good to go, but do check that they have at least the basic skills.
Summary In general, you need an experienced person who's a general all-rounder and is happy to muck in when things get busy. Don't be put off by the general idea that youth are lazy and the old are dinosaurs, there's no excuse not to pick anyone based on their age given that older people will have experience and younger will hopefully be eager to learn. However, make sure you're hiring for the right reasons and ensure you make it very clear what the duties will be right from the start.
LISTS: THE MIND AND TIME SAVING TOOL THAT YOU SHOULDN’T BE WITHOUT
In my time in business I’ve grown fond of having a list somewhere on my desk of all the things I need to get done during the day. Some people ask me why I don’t use an online tool and I didn’t really have an answer until I was reading a book about successful people and many of them suggested that paper lists are potentially much better than software solutions for one big reason – the psychological effect of drawing a line through an item actually helps lift people and make them feel good. And that’s probably why they hold so much power today. Our lives have become busier than ever and it doesn’t look like things will be slowing down anytime soon, so a list gives us something to hold on to during the day and gives us a marker to where we’re going as well as telling us where we’ve been.
Here are the bests way to keep lists and gain massive efficiency: 1. Use a big notepad or sheets of A4 paper You don’t want a desk-cluttering huge list, but there again a tiny little notepad won’t really help either. I prefer an A4 sized notepad or simply A4 paper. 2. Write your list either at night as you finish work or in the morning before you start work I find it’s best to do when you’ve got everything out the way or before you clutter your mind. Preferably at night because you’re relaxed and unlikely to be interrupted. 3. Use a thick, dark pen or Sharpie This just makes them easier to read. It’s tempting to use colours, especially when priorotising tasks but I just find that gets in the way. If you’ve already crossed off a task that was written in red ink, it will still be standing out of the page reminding you and the idea of the list is to do the work and get it out the way.
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4. Have a MAXIMUM of ten items. Ivy Lee would have you limit it to six, but things are different today! 5. Cross items off as you do them with a dark line There’s a great satisfaction in doing this, make sure the task at hand is finished then draw a big line all the way through it. 6. When the list is done, file it away. This is the beauty of using an A4 pad – you can date your list and pop it in a folder. It’s out of site but available should you wish to check on what you’ve been up to or do those ever important time sheets. Obviously you may want to adapt the style of paper you use, the number of items on the list and the way you manage them, but as long as you have a list of some kind, you’ll find your productivity rises as your stress levels drop.
There comes a time in the evolution of every office when the list of items you have to complete exceeds the bounds of a task list. You think you’re on top of things, but suddenly you’re dealing with other people who have to finish things before other things can happen and without warning – you have a project! Project management can be a terrifying prospect for some people because they’ve been told to keep clear unless they’ve been on a ‘Prince 2’ workshop or something. It seems that in order to even consider managing a project you need to be hyper-qualified in some dark arts. And then you’ll need Microsoft Project. Well, some people just think a project course is actually just “how to use Microsoft Project” and so they buy that and start using it and then get quite lost. Here’s how to save your sanity and get your projects done.
Planning The first thing to realise is that good planning will save that day, always. Just making notes is a great start but when people get in touch via email to discuss the project, it makes sense to save that conversation somewhere. Some email clients are exceptionally good at this and you can either ‘tag’ or ‘label’ an email to come to later. Also, there is likely to be an awful lot of paperwork flying about so take the time to file it – file it the minute it comes in, too. Grab yourself some multi-coloured tabs to put at the front of a folder and put everything in there the minute it gets to your desk. Pukka do an excellent range of project pads, too which can really help to keep things clear in your mind. They’re wire-bound with dividers so they make it easy to get to the information you need, quickly.
Keeping track of time Time is the one thing that most project managers will admit they run out of on a regular basis but again, if managed correctly your time can be used efficiently so you’re never running exactly to deadlines. Here’s where software can help and we’ve been looking at a few very useful tools that are inexpensive and provide superb project and time management facilities. The first thing to say is that all of these tools are web-based. Why? Well it means everyone who is part of the project can access them without having to download any clients or install software. These tools are lightweight and work on mobile phones and tablets too, although you’ll obviously need a network connection.
I started off by talking about when your task list explodes, but Asana is the exception here. It’s almost a project management tool in its own right and it has a lot of powerful features that make it head and shoulders above many other systems. It’s also free! You can invite people to use it and then share workspaces between people on the same project. You can also assign tasks and sub-tasks really easily. Check it out here: https://asana.com/
Project Bubble ups the ante a little bit by providing a lot of functionality for very little buck. $5 a month gets you their full system which enables you to assign tasks between stakeholders as well as set deadlines, arrange meetings, timesheets and invoicing. For the price, this is a steal, although if you’re not going to be getting deep into projects, it’s probably a little complex for beginners. Website: http://projectbubble.com/
If you know a bit about project management and you’ve used online tools, then you’ll probably have heard of Basecamp. It’s a tool with a huge pedigree but it is a little costly at $20 a month for the starter package. However, on the plus side it has an incredible number of third party tools that connect directly to it. Website: https://basecamp.com
More resources In this article we’ve covered a few of the basics and if you are about to get landed with your first project then there’s enough here to help you stay out of trouble. However, a well-managed simple project could lead to a lot of more complex projects and so it’s probably best to get ready for the day by reading up on some good techniques. Here’s a great blog post that has ten tips to help you along the way: http://www.villanovau.com/project-management-tips/
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR SMALL OFFICE
When you start a new business, the last thing you want to be doing is spending a fortune on your office and everything in it. The priority for most people is to get cracking on the product or service you provide with the aim of selling as much of it as possible. However, we all need somewhere to sit to handle the day-to-day routine of admin work and so the temptation is to go crazy and buy the best desk, chair and filing cabinets money can buy. First of all, stop and take a step back. It’s unlikely that spending £800 on a desk will give you double the benefits of spending £400. You may like to think you need all the latest whiz-bang styling and gadgets, but they won’t make much difference to your actual work rate. The same goes for the electronic equipment you’ll no doubt need such as laptop, scanner, printer, photocopier and shredder. Do you really need them yet? And if you really do (it’s likely you’ll need them all eventually) do they need to be in the same office as you?
That laptop It used to be that the advice was always to get a desktop computer unless you absolutely had to be using it on the move. Laptops were always a nice to have yet under-powered for the money. A desktop machine was very often a better bet for both cost and power reasons but these days it’s not so clearcut. While it’s true that in order to get like-for-like power out of a laptop machine you’ll have to pay a lot more, the question is really “do you need that amount of power?” Hardware advances and speed has outstripped software requirements now and even entry level computers will handle Windows and the entire Office suite of software with ease. Hard drive space is cheap and it’s easy to store millions of images on even the cheapest computers and so now, it’s probably better to go for a laptop. Another benefit of the laptop is that generally they use less power than desktop computers and they require less cooling. Some of them even come with different modes so you can turn off the more powerful features if you don’t need them and save even more power.
TV So many people put a TV in their home-office and really, there’s no need. You may THINK it’s useful to have Sky Sports streaming all the time, but I’m willing to bet that it will simply drain your time and you’ll end up procrastinating.
Get some important office supplies If you’ve got a drawer spare then it’s worth stocking up with essentials, the sort of things you’re not likely to use a lot, but when you need them you really need them now. Simple things such as a stapler and staples, hole punch, paperclips, rubber bands, binders etc. will all come in useful at some point and they’re cheap to buy. They also don’t take up a whole lot of space so they’re efficient in more ways than one. It’s also worth considering a few pictures on the wall, unless of course you have the luxury of a window opening out onto a scenic vista that inspires you every morning. If like the majority of us your desk faces a brick wall, a picture of the outside world might serve to remind you what it looks like.
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And finally… An obvious but often missed point is the way in to and out of your office. Again, if this is a home-office then you really need to ensure there’s a clear path to your desk. If there’s clutter and mess on the way then you’ll be tripping over things and this leads to procrastination during the work day. Ever had the thought “I’ll work better if I just clear this room up?” Chances are if you think like that then in reality you’ll just find something else to occupy your mind.
Running a small business can be an exciting time as you build up your customer base, sell your products and services and hopefully start seeing the cash roll in. However, it can be easy to let things slip and find yourself not looking after the important things in the business – such as the bookkeeping. You don’t need to be a qualified accountant in order to look after the company books, but you do need to have a modicum of skill with numbers and at least to understand when something’s an expense and when you’re bringing money in, but more than that, you need to know when to give the tax man his bit.
The basics At the very least, bookkeeping is simply keeping track of money coming in and out of your business, when it came in and out and the paperwork that proves when it came in or out. If you’re VAT registered then you should also keep track of when you’ve spent some money that includes VAT and when you’ve included it in the price of something you’ve sold. It’s important to do this for a number of reasons but the most crucial is because it’s the law. Of course, you’ll need to pay tax at the end of the year and if you have good records then it’s easy enough to know how much to pay or to claim, but if you don’t then you’ll find yourself with a hefty bill from an accountant who’s trying to work it out for you.
So what should I do? The first thing to do is to make sure you’ve got somewhere to keep all the records and this includes somewhere to note when you’ve spent or earned something and somewhere to keep the physical receipts etc. For example, you should get a ledger book and simply make a note when money comes in with a reference to the invoice. Of course, there’s software to do this too, but sometimes the easiest way is to just write it down. And then there are the receipts themselves and very often these simply get shoved in a drawer and handed to your accountant at the end of the year. Resist this! Instead, get a box and store all your receipts but again, don’t just use it like a bin, use a solid plastic box and mark each receipt when it comes in to match it to your ledger or other paperwork. Finally, consider a bookkeeper. Obviously you might resist this due to budgets, but they can really earn their keep by saving you money with accountants. Simply handing over a bag of invoices and receipts to an accountant can be expensive as they’ll charge for all the time they take to sort through everything and work out what you owe. However, a bookkeeper can make sure everything is ready for them leaving them with just the totting up and final checks to do.
Organisation is key As with everything, organisation is absolutely key here and you should try to handle everything the minute it comes in. Don’t be tempted to leave everything until the end of the week when you’ll likely forget why or who you spent money with – write it down straight away. Just following these few tips will ensure you’re in good stead when it comes to paying those oh so important tax bills!
This article is based on the bitter experience of moving office and simply forgetting pretty much everything that was important and remembering a lot of things that really didn’t matter. The result was an office that essentially couldn’t work effectively for a whole week! Rather than just moan about it on Facebook, I decided to make a list of the things that went wrong and keep it for next time we move. It was then that I got prompted to publish it here – we’re in office supplies after all and as we’re supplying offices, it’s likely they’ll need to move some time. Public service publishing, that’s what this is!
The target office – the essentials What time of year are you moving? It might sound like a crazy question that really doesn’t matter but when we moved it was the middle of winter and there was no heating on. Freezing. Make sure the absolute essentials are going to be ready for you when you get there, such as: Electricity – can you plug things in? Will the lights come on? Heating – can you flick the heating on when you get there? If it’s a large office, send someone over early on so the place is warm when everyone turns up. Water – do the taps work and toilets flush? Finding a toilet doesn’t work after a long journey on a cold day is not fun. Not in the least. Telephone – check them all and make sure they’re working on your new numbers, not on the old ones which may be switched off at any time. Broadband – again, is this on your current contract or are you using an old company’s broadband account? Get your new one in before you move if possible to avoid any downtime.
Before you go – the main business operations This bit can be tricky because of course, everybody in the business is important but let’s face it, some are more important than others. For example, we once moved a software company that had a development and support team. We have people who need support all the time but development can actually wait a few hours. They can take time off and nobody will be any the wiser but if we stopped support working then it could all end up in a bit of a mess with customers being left with no answers to questions. So prioritise your staff and make sure they’re going to be able to work as soon as they get to the new offices. If possible, take a small number of your essential staff so they’re ready to put everything in place when the desks turn up. Make a list of the main business operations, the key staff that will be moved first and then move on to the next section – their equipment.
Equipment lists Lists are important and somewhat satisfying. They can be great at clearing your mind of clutter and ensuring that you get stuff done, but they’re also good at giving you a good glow at the end of the day when you’ve drawn big thick lines through every item. So, get your essential staff to make a list of everything they use through the day that is essential to their work. Take all those lists, put them together and then sit with the essential staff and brainstorm all the items. This is an important step because each person will have forgotten something and some may have put down things that really aren’t important at all – so this is where you consolidate everything. This list then becomes a series of post-it notes which get attached to all items that will be moved. A quick tip here – use a sharpie or a thick felt tip pen when writing on the notes, a normal pen is too thin and you won’t be able to see what you’ve written at a distance. Get people to make lists of their essential items Brainstorm with everybody to consolidate the lists Start marking up those items ready to go
Packing things up Some things are large, some things are small and some are tiny and tend to get lost down the side of the big and small things. Boxes are your saviour, but not just cardboard boxes. We had cardboard boxes for a load of our items and they got moved from the truck onto Archive Storage Box the floor, while we were sorting the places out W317xD384xH287mm For 5 for them, it started raining. You can fill in the A4 Lever Arch Files White rest yourself… and Red 5 Star Office [Pack 10] “Really Useful” storage boxes are absolutely ideal for moving office, they’re sturdy, spacious and best of all they won’t crumble into a mess of papyrus when the heavens open. You can also stack them on top of each other easily without them buckling. Yes they’re more expensive than those cardboard ones you stole from the accounts office, but believe me, if the weather is even slightly inclement you’ll be grateful you Really Useful Storage Box Plastic spent the extra. Lightweight Robust Stackable 64 Litre W440xD710xH310mm Clear
Also, you may be able to get coloured boxes and you can assign each colour to a department. This makes it super easy to find everything when you reach your destination. So, when you’ve got your boxes, put all the small items together and seal them. Put tape over the lids if you don’t have clasps or locks and then put them out the way. Bring all the boxes and items for one particular department into one area. Here’s where a big room or car park would have come in useful for us. If you have the space, put all the items for each essential department in groups so one group is all the essential equipment for accounts, another is all the equipment for support etc. Then, assign one member of staff to manage everything and check it all on and off the lorry. Use plastic storage boxes if possible Group all items for each department together Assign a member of the department as manager Pack a kettle, tea bags/coffee, milk and mugs!
The move itself If you’ve hired a removal company then this bit should be a breeze, but even then remember that they might not be following your rules so be flexible and tell them where everything is you want to move. This is where forward planning, Post-It notes and colour coding really comes into its own. If you removal company decides they’re going to get this job over with quickly and just dump everything outside your new office, you’re going to have to go through and check all the notes, colours codes etc. and bring everything back into order. Get all your assigned managers to do this and have them move all their items into their relevant places, or manage the removal team to move all the large items. As each item arrives, tick it off the list or take the Post-It off each one and put in one place. This is your audit to check everything’s arrived. Check each item as it arrives, remove Post-It note Tick off list Put everything near its eventual resting place
And relax! Hopefully this is enough for you to have an eventless and boring office move. Believe me, I wish I’d done half the stuff above when we moved, we’d have been up and running in no time instead of making trips back and forth all day.
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