Author Archives: Andrew Issott

What’s on offer for an entrepreneur?

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George Osbourne’s recent announcement to even further expand the £80bn Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS), puts an emphases on the role the government plays in addressing the most common complaint from entrepreneurs – securing finance. The chief executive of EEF backed the move, saying that ‘expanding lending to SMEs is the right call’.  And I tend to agree.

Starting your own business is an exciting time and although it takes a lot of hard work, watching your company succeed is definitely worth it. You’re able to drive your vision and practices into your business to see it grow and develop and be proud of the outcome once you’ve got it off the ground. However, any business leader knows that investment is needed at the outset and securing finance is no easy feat.

Here are a few of the government shemes that offer financial aid;

FLS, which launched last August, gives banks the opportunity to borrow from the government at better rates, giving them an incentive to lend to businesses. Natwest for example has used the funding to make some business loans fee-free (http://www.natwest.com/business/products/borrowing/government-lending-support/funding-for-lending-scheme.ashx)

The Enterprise Finance Guarantee started back in 2009 and underwrites 75% of loans to make them more attractive to banks. It’s provided £1.88 billion to over 18,000 small businesses so far (http://www.startups.co.uk/enterprise-finance-guarantee.html).

The Start-up loan scheme is slightly different as it gives money straight to the entrepreneur. If you’re 18-30, all you need to do is submit a business plan with the hope it is good enough to receive the funding. So far they’ve invested £110 million.

None of these schemes work perfectly. However, anything that helps to improve entrepreneur’s access to finance is a positive step.

It’s worth thinking about other ways to keep costs down so that finance can be invested directly into developing new business opportunities. For example, working virtually can lower the overhead cost of renting an office, giving you the opportunity and flexibility to improve your business and work-life balance.

Reducing your overheads like this won’t remove the need for finance, but it will take care of a lot of worries, freeing up entrepreneurs to struggle with the banks and – hopefully – benefit from government schemes.

 

Posted by the Secret Businessman

Flexible working – the definition and the law

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“Flexible working” is a subject we return to frequently on the Velocity Virtual blog, because it’s likely to be key to many entrepreneurs who use the service. But it’s worth taking a step back to consider what it is, and what all companies – not just those who make a point of working “flexibly” – need to be aware of.

 

For small businesses, the issue is a double-edged sword. On the plus side, one of the main reasons people start their own business is to work how they want, when they want. On the other hand, as a new business, clients and suppliers are likely to expect you to be open during business office hours. In other words, the smaller your workforce is, the more your flexibility is constrained – someone needs to be in to answer the phone.

 

So what is flexible working? It’s a broad church, covering not only flexitime and working from home but compressed hours, job sharing, phased redundancy and many others. The government, for example, defines the concept as “a way of working that suits an employee’s needs. This can, for example, mean they work certain hours or work from home.”

 

Microsoft defines flexible working in more results-based terms. According to Dave Coplin, the company’s impressively-titled “chief envisioning officer”: “flexible working…is about being mindful about the work you have to do at that moment in time (be it the next task or the things you need to get done today) and choosing the most appropriate location for that work.”

 

Both the above definitions are vague, which is probably why the Institute of Leadership and Management claim that 94% of companies already offer flexible working of some sort. For a small firm, there are likely to be two considerations – what hours will you and your colleagues work, and where will they work?

 

There is no right answer to this, but at a minimum, it’s important to know the law. All employees have a right to request flexible working. Some – including people who care for adults or children, can make a “statutory application” for flexible working. Employers do not have to grant these, but they do have to observe due process.

 

Furthermore, the government has announced that it intends to look at reforming the law around flexible parental leave, and it’s likely that employers’ responsibilities in this area will change at some point within the next three years. It’s unlikely that this will spell huge, business-critical changes for small firms – but they will need to be aware of it, so as not to fall foul of the law.

 

So, whether or not you make a point of working flexibly, if you have employees or colleagues, there is a chance that some of them might want to, and it pays to know the legal landscape.

 

Finally, one of the reasons we have set up Velocity Virtual is to give small companies a greater degree of flexibility than they would otherwise have. VV customers may not start work at 9am, but their outsourced receptionist does. They may not work from an office, but they have an outsourced meeting room that they can use whenever they want. While we are proud of being one of the first to provide this service, there’s a wider point – in years to come we are likely to see a cultural shift towards working in more locations, not just one office. If this happens, “flexible working” may begin to disappear as a phrase – it will become the norm, not just a buzzword.

 

Posted by the Secret Businessman

 

Work wherever is best

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David Saul, managing director of leading serviced office operator Business Environment, on the importance of the correct meeting room and the movement away from one-size-fits-all

But not all of these places truly meet entrepreneurs’ needs. While it’s often said that there’s no substitute for a proper meeting room, both in terms of practicality and the need to project a professional image, perhaps what’s truly valuable to entrepreneurs is the freedom to work on-the-move and to be able to select the most appropriate meeting facilities for a given situation.

While a meeting room needs to meet certain criteria – a quiet area with minimum distractions will nearly always be required – it shouldn’t be presumed that one type of meeting room will suit all requirements. Indeed, in some circumstances, it might be the case that a physical meeting room isn’t even the best option.

For a team of geographically dispersed freelancers working independently on a large project, video conferencing and remote working might be more suitable. Indeed, business leaders are increasingly recognising the value of video conferencing and its role in enabling remote working, allowing employees to work flexible hours and cutting unnecessary commuting time.

Research also indicates that businesses could make huge savings by introducing flexible working. A recent poll conducted by YouGov in tandem with Vodafone showed that companies that allowed employees to work from home could get rid of an average of 46 desks each – which could save British businesses £34bn.

Furthermore, research has also shown that video conference participants are far more likely than conference call participants to remain focused on the discussion in hand – with 35 minutes the average attention span on a video call, compared to only 23 minutes on a telephone call.   On the other hand, in the instance of a new business pitch, it might be that a video conference would be a poor substitute for a more personal face-to-face conversation in a well-equipped meeting room.

Additionally, a new business meeting held in a proper meeting room is far more likely to make a better impression than the same meeting held in a coffee shop. For the newly launched start-up business, conveying a professional business image to gain confidence from prospective clients is paramount – a coffee shop meeting is far less likely to project the image of an established and successful firm.

Whatever the meeting situation, there’s increasingly an affordable solution that can project the correct image and even cut costs and commutes. The flexibility offered by being able to work on the move and to stage a meeting in the correct environment room can play a significant role in ensuring the success of a business.

 

Posted by the Secret Businessman