Flexible working

An Insight into the Way We Work in 2013

A recent survey conducted by online freelance marketplace People Per Hour has revealed that the north of England is now a major entrepreneurial hub. Results show that 9 out of the top 10 self-employed hotspots are in northern England and Scotland, with Manchester and Liverpool topping the leader board.

So what has caused this upsurge in pioneering spirit? Has the flagging job market hit the north of the country to such a degree that people are forced to create their own jobs, or are we seeing an overall revolution in the way we work?

Virtual working – a solution in good times and bad

Technological advances over the last decade have offered more choice in the way people work. This, and the economic downturn in 2008, has combined to allow enterprising individuals to compete for work using their existing skills and previous experience.

In the past, thisFreelancer lifestyle way of working has generally been more attainable for internet-related professions such as web design and graphic illustration, but increasingly has come to include any work that can be completed using a computer and an internet connection.

Although not all freelancer marketplaces focus on quality, and many have been accused of significantly lowering freelancer market value, if you find a reliable site where you can build your profile and be compensated well for the work you do, you have the opportunity to build a flexible, rewarding lifestyle.

Writers, administrative experts, bookkeepers, public relations professionals to name but a few, all now have access to regular projects thanks to forward-thinking and trustworthy businesses like People Per Hour.

Co-founder and CEO, Xenios Thrasyvoulou, said, “Traditional employment is unlikely to return to pre-recession levels, as increasingly businesses want a more flexible workforce. They prefer to be able to hire on an as-needed basis, rather than having the cost not just of employing full-time staff but also the additional cost of having employees on-site.”

Flexible working arrangements as an employee

Increasingly, businesses are realising the benefits offered by flexible working, both to the company and to the workforce. The Olympic summer of 2012 is a case in point, and illustrates just how successful this practice can be, with 13% of organisations in the capital allowing staff to work flexibly during the Olympic Games. A resounding 77% of workers welcomed this move, showing massive support for flexible working initiatives.Flexible working

Managing a remote workforce still appears impossible to many business owners, but a slow realisation is dawning that with reliable and trustworthy employees, this type of working could benefit their bottom line.

Google +

How a small red tomato can help your time management skills

Pomodoro TechniqueMaking the most of your time can be notoriously tricky if you work from home. Distractions are all around and before you know it the day is over, along with your chances of making a decent profit.

If procrastination is your thing, you may be interested in a time management technique that’s been around since the 1980s. The Pomodoro Technique is a process whereby you allocate blocks of time – 25 minutes – to each piece of work you need to complete, and then take a 5-minute break after each one.

You can spread larger jobs over several blocks of time, and after completing 4 chunks of 25 minutes, you take a longer break of 15-20 minutes.

It’s all about focus. Spending each block of 25 minutes focussing on just 1 task without doing or thinking about anything else. It might sound simple but it trains your mind to concentrate for short periods, and in doing so can improve productivity and help you gain a useful insight into your own working practices.

Why a tomato?

Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the technique, used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer for timing his own work, and named each successfully completed 25-minute work period a ‘pomodoro.’

In addition to the basic timing of your work, the technique also encourages you to chart your progress with extra details such as how many times you were distracted.

By making a note of this for each 25-minute work period, you can see how well you are doing in avoiding procrastination, which gives you motivation to crack on with more work rather than clean the fridge!

You can download a free PDF about the technique here, where you’ll also find some other free goodies and resources.

Freelancer lifestyle

Does the ‘free’ in freelancer mean true independence?

Starting a freelance business with an air of optimism and hope for the future is the best way to approach it, but how much independence do you truly have as a freelancer? Most people are looking for certain lifestyle changes when making the jump from employee to independent freelancer, including:

  • Control over how they spend their time
  • Being able to choose the type of work and projects they take on
  • Setting their own terms of work
  • Being paid professional rates that are worthy of the work produced and the value provided to clients

No more bosses?

But aren’t you just swapping one boss for a multitude of bosses who are just waiting to tell you how to operate and when to work?

As a professional freelancer you set the rules of how, when and where you work, which jobs you take on and how much you get paid. You don’t work as an employee any more, and that is the crux of being a freelancer in my opinion – the freedom to set the rules.

If you take on a client who expects you to be constantly available at a moment’s notice you might as well be an employee, even if you work from home. You need additional time and space to market your own business, deal with invoicing, networking, and the minutiae of running a successful freelancing business. This makes actually taking on and completing work only part of the big picture.

A way of life

Some freelancers prefer to adopt a strict working routine similar to that in the workplace, staying focused and motivated 9-5, which is great for some but doesn’t work for everybody. The beauty of freelancing is that if you want to, you can make it more of a way of life.

Burning the midnight oil might not be everyone’s cup of tea but if that’s the time of day when you are most productive, you are no longer restricted by someone else’s working practices.

The downside of a being a freelancer is that you never really switch off, and everyone you meet becomes a potential client. But that is a small price to pay for the extraordinary freedom and independence this lifestyle offers to those able to take the jump from employee to freelancer.

Are late payers the final straw for struggling small businesses?

late paymentsHow can small business owners take control of their cash flow when the average time taken to pay their invoices is reported to be 38 days?

‘The cheque’s in the post’ used to be the standard delaying tactic for not paying an invoice, but according to BACS, the most frequently heard excuses now are that the payment is ‘awaiting authorisation’ or that it’s being ‘processed by accounts.’

It is believed that large companies are the worst offenders for delaying payment, with the retail and distribution sector suffering the most at the hands of late payers.

So what options are open to beleaguered and stressed small business owners to overcome the problem of slow payers?

  • Automated payments

Automated payments save time and money in administration and invoicing costs, and can allow for overdue amounts to be broken down over a period of time so that full payment is at least more likely, if not definite

  • The Prompt Payment Code

Make your late payers aware of the Prompt Payment Code, an initiative championed by major business organisations including the Confederation of British Industry, and sponsored by some of the major UK banks.

Stressing the importance of prompt supplier payment within agreed timescales, the Code promotes best practice, not just in terms of payment, but also in procedures for dealing with any problems or issues surrounding specific invoices.

In January, the Enterprise Minister Michael Fallon, published a list of all FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies who had failed to sign up to the Prompt Payment Code in an attempt to ‘name and shame’ them into taking action.

The Prompt Payment Code website states,

“Independent analysis by Experian suggests that current signatories to the Code represent over 60% of total UK supply chain value, so the Code is making a difference.”

So it looks like small business owners are finally getting the support they need to keep their cash flow more reliable, and their heads above water. Let’s hope it does make a difference before it’s too late.

Blogging

How articles and blog posts can drive traffic to your website

SEO Blog WritingRegularly updating a business website or blog with fresh, relevant information can result in more targeted traffic, higher search engine rankings, and a much-needed boost to your online profile.

Content can be a simple blog post or short article on a dedicated area of your website, and if it’s added on a routine basis it won’t take long to make a difference to your website traffic.

One way to come up with ideas for regular new information is to think about the questions your target market might ask. Providing the answers to customers’ questions or addressing their problems will show that you are in tune with their needs, and you can build trust by sharing knowledge and information without trying to sell to them.

 

Being organised and planning in advance what you are going to write will help to keep you on track with topic ideas, reducing the overall amount of time needed to keep your blog or website updated. Give it a try and see the difference it makes to unique visitor numbers.

Business insolvency

5 signs that business insolvency might be just around the corner

Insolvency isn’t something that happens out of the blue – there are clear signs that indicate cash flow problems within a company, and what most people regard as a ‘successful’ business can go under very quickly, even if sales are up and profits are good.

So what are some indications that business might not be quite what it seems?

1.    Late payment of supplier invoices

If using delaying tactics to extend periods of credit has become standard practice, then it might be time to seek the guidance and advice of an insolvency practitioner. Disputing supplier invoices or writing post-dated cheques suggest that cash flow is a real problem. Suppliers will become reluctant to extend credit if they’re having to send final demands on a regular basis, and may even place a stop on the account.

2.    Using too many suppliers to obtain credit

Using many different suppliers in order to be granted larger amounts of credit overall might disguise the problem for a little while by spreading the load, but will make no difference in the end.

3.    Not knowing how much is owed to the business

Often due to poor internal procedures and systems, this is one of the easiest problems to rectify. Efficient credit control procedures can be implemented quickly, making a huge difference to the flow of cash through a business. The number of days a debtor takes to pay is a key figure that needs to be monitored closely, with strict follow-up procedures in place to make sure no-one falls through the net.

4.    Not limiting the amount of credit given to new and existing customers

The company has to balance the risk of their customers looking elsewhere if their demands for credit aren’t met, with the cost of potential bad debts. It’s a fine line between the two, but carrying out formal credit checks can help to get a picture of how solvent they are.

5.    Relying on just one or two large customer accounts

If the company is reliant on just a couple of large customer accounts the business will be exposed to their financial difficulties. Spreading the risk by having different income streams or several smaller customers reduces the impact of one customer failing.

Insolvency doesn’t just happen overnight and can be avoided if warning signs are noticed. Professional insolvency practitioners offer valuable preventative advice and support to a business that’s struggling to stay afloat, and can make the difference between success and failure.

Increase productivity

How can invoice factoring encourage growth and help an ailing company?

Factoring companies generally take over the credit control function of a business, and are responsible for collecting outstanding payments. Usually within 24 hours of an invoice being issued the factoring company pays a percentage of the invoice, often around 85 per cent, to their client.

For companies on the verge of insolvency this immediate injection of cash, in addition to a reduction in administrative costs, can make a huge difference to financial stability. The cost of chasing debts can be high in terms of time and staff wages, and having this burden removed can breathe new life into a flagging business.

The factor pays the balance of an invoice (minus fees and interest charged on the loan) to their client on collection, and controlling the debt-collection process like this enables factoring companies to lend a higher percentage of the value of invoices than banks.

Attract new business with invoice factoring

Using the services of a factoring company means that businesses are able to attract new clients who are looking for credit terms, without having the problem of waiting thirty days or more for payment. Knowing that most of the money will be available straight away facilitates growth and helps to drive the business forward.

One disadvantage of adopting this system is that customers may be unhappy with the involvement of a third party in chasing debts. Also, it might be difficult to end a factoring arrangement as the business would need to buy back the value of the sales ledger, which could cause new cash flow problems.

On balance though, anything that improves the flow of cash through a business that’s struggling shouldn’t be overlooked as an option, and might just be the lifeline needed to survive.

Business websites

Business websites: Are micro business owners missing out on a huge opportunity to engage their target market?

Many micro businesses are missing out on a fantastic opportunity to showcase their company.

A website is the must-have marketing tool that’s vital to all businesses, large or small, but many sole traders and micro business owners fail to recognise that even if they only trade locally, an online presence is still needed to grow and prosper.

So what exactly does a business website offer?

  • A chance to explain services in detail or advertise products even if the website isn’t used as a selling platform
  • A connection to current and potential customers, solving the problems and addressing the concerns of a large group of people all at the same time
  • The opportunity to network with other businesses and customers on a nationwide basis

If it’s well optimised for the search engines and regularly updated with great content, the site won’t just be a dot in cyberspace, it will attract a regular stream of targeted visitors.

Put simply, a well-designed website can be the difference between success and failure for any business, but particularly so for a micro business.

Networking on a national scale

By developing an online presence, whether that’s a fully-optimised website or blog, or simply a business Facebook page, business owners have an opportunity to network on a national scale. Even tiny independent high street shops can build a loyal customer base by taking the time to network online and answer customer queries or concerns.

The beauty of it is that a website can run seamlessly alongside a bricks and mortar business, complementing it and providing an easy way for company and customers to interact. Latest products or weekly offers unveiled in the form of attractive full-colour images and engaging descriptions can only encourage sales.

As the saying goes “A picture paints a thousand words” and if the picture happens to be a great new product, then customers may not need many words to encourage them to buy.

Used as a market research and analysis tool to identify customer buying patterns or behaviours, a business website can also provide an insight into what particular products or services attract people to the site and keep their interest.

Some business owners are put off the idea of developing a website on cost grounds, but it doesn’t need to cost the earth. Website builders such as Squarespace and Strikingly, offer all the tools needed to transform a business image and develop an online presence at a low price, so there really is no excuse!

Breaking the Isolation for Freelancers Everywhere – Coffee and Jelly for Co-Working Heaven

If you are suffering from the effects of work isolation, think about going along to a local ‘Jelly’ meetup, and take the opportunity to meet and work alongside other freelancers and homeworkers in your area. Collaboration, co-working and excellent coffee could be closer than you think, as jellies become more popular with independent freelancers.

You can stay for as long as you like, and come and go as you please, the idea being to collaborate, chat, and work with others in a welcoming and relaxing environment. The meetups are provided free of charge, including wifi and parking, with only a small charge being made for food and drink.

The UK Jelly website provides details of jellies in your area, and offers advice to anyone thinking of organising their own meetup.

The solitude of working from a home office can be useful for concentrating, and getting the work done, but scheduling in a couple of days a month to meet up with like-minded freelancers, also offers the opportunity to socialise and network in an informal way.

The downsides of formal networking events are that they can be expensive and time-consuming, but a Jelly provides a chance to buy a coffee and a cake, and chat about anything you like. Informal networking events like these are popping up all over the country, as the demand grows for relaxed co-working meetups, so check out the Jelly website today and give you and your business some well-earned TLC.

How Credit Rating Agencies Can Help You Stay Afloat In A Sea Of Economic Uncertainty

One way for small business owners to reduce the possibility of bad debts and the cost of chasing late payments, is by checking out the financial health of their potential customers online. Credit rating agencies produce reports that will help assess the risk factor of allowing credit to new customers, and also provide new information about existing ones.

The information contained in a credit status report is gathered by the agency from various sources:

  • Companies House provide copies of a company’s recent accounts which are then analysed by the credit rating agency
  • the Register of County Court Judgements shows any court orders against the customer for non-payment of debt
  • general information may be supplied by other clients of the agency.

Information about the owners or directors, the size of the business and the year the business was started, also helps to provide an overall view of the potential customer.

Terms of Trade are not only for new customers

When existing customers run into financial problems, they may tell you that it’s just a short-term problem, but knowing whecalculator-1818_150ther you are likely to receive payment and how long it will take, will help you budget and keep control of your own cash flow. Online credit checking software allows for ongoing checks on existing customers so that if their credit score changes, you’ll know about it and be able to take the necessary steps.

It may be worthwhile investing in this type of software if you run a business that offers a lot of credit to customers, as you’ll be able to keep up with significant changes in their financial situation.

Online credit checks are fairly inexpensive, usually around £20, and are a quick and easy way to discover detailed information about a new or existing customer. Forming part of your business Terms of Trade, they can save the time and effort of chasing late payments or writing off bad debt, and let you focus on building up sales and increasing your bottom line.