Posts tagged ‘Small Business’

Social media is where it is at!

If your small business is not blogging and marketing on WordPress and Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Pinterest and Stumbledupon and Digg and Reddit and Delicious and … the ridiculous list goes on.

Even if your job consisted of nothing more than producing content for these modern-day monsters you would be hard pressed to keep them satisfied. But, if you are not connected online and everyone else is, won’t you lose out? Will your small business be forgotten?

Well there is a way to blog and tweet and stay LinkedIn without losing your life or your business to social media.

Here are seven ways you can be connected online without living online.

7. Blogging for more business

Writing a blog produces new content for Google to use to push your website up its rankings. To get blogging done well but fast:

  • Use your own life

Finding ideas for blogging can be tough, but using your own experience is an inexhaustible supply of new ideas. We are not very interested in what you had for lunch, but your experience of customer service good or bad in a particular restaurant could be just the dish best served warm.

  • Allocate some time

Set a time limit and use a timer (like a kitchen timer). 30 minutes should be enough to get your blog written

6. LinkedIn for more sales

If you have a profile on LinkedIn that’s a start but  do you also join groups where you clients hang out? If you do, you can find out what they are interested in and share your expertise with them through your posts into their groups. It’s a fast track to getting to know your prospective clients.

5. Twitter to find clients

Twitter can drain your entire day if you let it run you, but if you grab Twitter by the wings you can be in charge.

Fall in love with that kitchen timer from #7, and set yourself just 7 minutes in the morning and 7 in the afternoon/evening. You can keep up with what is going on in your sector, schedule at least 7 tweets and retweet 7 things during these 14 minutes.

4. Facebook brings your more than friends

If you are selling directly to consumers, Facebook is where it is at.  Same principle as Twitter applies – use that timer to stop you getting too involved in cousin Jan’s cool photos of kittens.

3. Google plus – adds value

Google gets over 2 million searches every single minute of every single day and Google is looking for new signals that your content is popular. By sharing your content on Google plus, (the clue is in the name) and if your contacts re-share it, then you are getting votes for your content. Add a Google+ button to your browser bar and you can +1 anything you read on the fly.

2. YouTube is enough to give you goggle eyes

Also owned by Google, YouTube gets 4 billion video views every day. A really fast way to share your content is to upload your own videos. It doesn’t have to be super-polished.

Gary Vaynerchuk http://tv.winelibrary.com/2010/06/  built a multi-million dollar wine business from his opinionated, some would say obnoxious, video blogs. Every time I upload a Bizfix video to YouTube it is shows high rankings in Google search almost instantaneously: it’s a very fast way to get your company noticed.

1. Keyword research is not just for the nerds

Keyword research is probably the most important and most under-used tool for speeding up your online marketing.  If you don’t do keyword searched before you name your company, name your product, write blog posts, or write content for your company website, you are missing the bullet train to getting found on Google.

There’s a seriously sharp free guide to how on the SEOMOZ site.

So now you have seven ways you can do online marketing for your small business in minutes per day, not days per week.

What’s your top tip for marketing your business online without wasting time?

Guest author Chris Markham of Bizfix, the Cambridge business advice and support company, is on a mission to get more science, evidence and fact into local business support.  You can find more of his small business writing on his blog.

Email Chris or call 01223 851 161

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.

If you found this post interesting/useful please share it with your social network and/or bookmark it.  Also, your comments are always valued and will help me to write new posts that are relevant to readers of this blog.

 

It is a discussion I have had with many of my clients when appraising their progress and looking at how the business is going to grow in the upcoming months.

Once outsourcing has been considered, utilised or perhaps discounted, finding someone to support you and help develop growth has to be the next step, but it is a daunting one. 

 So I have commissioned this post from my good friend, and professional contact Katherine Connolly  of Keeping HR Simple  to help alleviate concerns.


You know you’re too busy….

You know you have a great sales pipeline and you also know that another pair of hands would free up your time.  You want to work on your business as well as in it.  So what’s stopping you from making the leap from business owner to employer?

It doesn’t have to be complicated

Taking on your first employee doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you prepare for it in advance.  Regardless of the fact that you have a small business, as soon as someone agrees to work for you and you agree to pay them for the work they do, you take on certain responsibilities for them.  That may sound a bit scary but it doesn’t have to be. 

Your obligations

You need to be aware of your obligations, most of which are common sense, and have a plan to meet them. 

 They are as follows:

(i) To pay wages

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it, but what would happen if you had a particularly tough month or if a couple of customers don’t pay their bills on time?  You need to have a contingency plan and informing your employee that you can’t pay their wages that month is not enough!  Do you have enough money in the bank to cover at least 3 months salary for them?  It’s really important to communicate with your employee at all times, especially since they will be relying on their salary to make ends meet.

(ii) Not to make unauthorised deductions

You can’t deduct money from an employee’s wages unfairly or without getting their approval in advance (another reason why it’s essential to have an employment contract!)

You can only make deductions from wages in certain circumstances:

  • if there is legal authority to do so, e.g. by Act of Parliament – income tax, National Insurance Contributions etc;
  • by contract of employment which might provide for deductions to be made in certain specific circumstances, e.g. fines for disciplinary offences;
  • or by individual agreement where an employee might agree for the deduction for union subscriptions or to reimburse their employer for overpayment of wages. 

Remember that you will be paying employer’s national insurance on top of the employee’s salary so you will have to include it in your calculations. 

(iv) To take reasonable care of your employee

This is a wide-ranging duty and covers both physical care and psychiatric care (i.e. not to expose employees to psychiatric harm).  As your business grows, this will encompass policies like a zero tolerance approach to discrimination and bullying but that doesn’t mean you should ignore such things until you reach a certain threshold.  The same goes for health and safety – just because you need 5 employees before the law says you need a written health and safety policy doesn’t mean you should ignore your obligations to provide a safe working environment. 

As an example, have you considered where your new employee will work? You may be quite happy working in your spare room or in a garage conversion on the side of your house but you need to put yourself in their position.  If there isn’t room for them to work comfortably and safely, you need to consider other options.

(v) Not to breach mutual trust and confidence

This obligation refers to your working relationship with your employee.  There are three fundamentals that should govern your behaviour as an employer:

  1. Be fair
  2. Be consistent
  3. Be nice


If you practice these without fail, you will find that you’re in the best position to preempt difficult situations and deal with the majority of problems that may arise. 

Don’t be scared to take on your first employee.  Just be prepared! 


Guest author:   Katherine and her partner Jason are successful growing their professional HR consultancy business, by sticking to their core values and Keeping HR Simple

If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave a comment below or contact Katherine and Jason on 0800 458 6582.

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.

Apologies for the length of this post by fellow HBNer and client, Gareth Howell of Agdon Associates, but it is full of information for anyone considering migrating to the new, all singing, all dancing offering from Microsoft.  It also clearly demonstrates Gareth’s knowledge and passion for helping small business.


Moving to Windows 7 from XP is painful: reduce it with virtualization.

It’s old news that Windows 7 is now available and the response has been pretty positive. In fact, far from the response being “well, at least it’s not Vista!) respectable people have been singing its praises. However, there is a sting in the tail: it’s not possible to upgrade directly to Windows 7 from XP (at least not in the sense of being to upgrade and then carry on working).

The upgrade path from XP requires a clean installation and the preservation of your personal files only: no applications are migrated across.

This is a major problem for anybody who chose to avoid Vista, relies on a PC for their day to day business and doesn’t have a spare. Re-installing applications can (literally) take days if one includes the inevitable upgrades and service packs that have been released since you bought the installation media. Of course, this also assumes that you have the original installation media. Oh, and the license codes.

Take heart though, if you follow my (fairly) easy to follow sequence of steps, you can migrate to Windows 7 without losing productivity.

In summary, we’re going to use virtualization technology to preserve your XP environment in the new Windows 7 world and disconnect the process of re-installing applications from that of upgrading Windows. What we will do is:

  • Buy a new, larger, hard disk
  • Clone the old XP installation on to the new disk
  • Boot from the new disk and upgrade to Windows 7
  • Create a Virtual Machine to contain the original XP installation.

Once you have gone through this process you can choose when to re-install specific application on Windows 7 because you will still have access to them on XP from day one.

At the end of this process you will have a clean Windows 7 environment plus seemless access to your XP environment; using the excellent “Unity” feature in the latest VMware Player

So, in more detail

Step 1 – Buy a new, larger, hard disk

Buying a new disk makes this all so much easier, though there is a gotcha if your machine is a laptop. I’ll get to that later.

The chances are that you will need a larger disk anyway. In my case my T60 had a 120GB drive, of which about 80GB was used. That means we need at least 80GB of free space on the Windows 7 environment in which to store the Virtual Disk that contains the original XP environment.

In my case I bought a 320GB Seagate drive. This was bigger, faster (7200RPM rather than 5400RPM), quieter and more power efficient. All for £48.00 !

The gotcha!

This only applies to laptops that have space for only a single hard disk. The point is that in a while we will need to have two bare hard drives attached to the computer, and most laptops allow for only one. There are two ways around this. One involves using a third external hard drive (either USB connected or network connected), the other requires a USB connection kit with which you can connect a bare drive to your computer.

As I already had one of these adapters, I went for the latter, but I will cover both options.

Step 2 – Clone the existing XP installation on to the new disk

There are a number or ways to do this and your choice will depend on whether you have the appropriate software and how the new drive is attached to the computer.

Option 1 involves using your backup system (you do have a backup system don’t you !). Option 2 uses a technology such as Norton Ghost to image one drive to the other.

Option 1: Using your backup System

I use Windows Home Server to backup all the computers in the Howell household, so I knew I could use this to move to a larger disk.

  • First, I made sure I had a full backup on the Server (it happens automatically every night, but there’s no harm in forcing a manual backup just to be sure).
  • Second, I swapped the new drive for the old and booted the T60 from the Home Server Restore CD.
  • Third, I followed the wizard to restore the last image from the Server and rebooted. In the wizard, I chose to create a 200GB partition for XP as I intend installing Windows Server 2008 in the other.

At the end of this I had the original XP environment running from a larger disk with plenty of free space.

Option 2: Using Norton Ghost

Caveat: Although I have used Ghost to clone disks before, I did not use this approach this time because I was upgrading a laptop and needed USB drive support. This is not available by default in DOS. I know there are solutions to this, but I decided to take the line of least resistance.

With this approach, you attach both disks to the machine, then boot the machine into MS-DOS and use Norton Ghost to clone the disks.

If you are working with a Desktop where both hard disks are internally attached via ATA or SATA, and you can get the necessary software, then this approach is much faster as it avoids the need to restore from a backup. There are several resource on the Net that can guide you: try entering “Clone disk with DOS GHOST” into Google.

Step 3 – Upgrade to Windows 7

Despite your not being able to do a true upgrade from XP to Windows 7, you can still buy the Upgrade version of Windows 7. It just means that the installer checks for a valid XP installation before installing Windows 7. Upgrading is just a matter of running the setup program from the Windows 7 DVD and opting for an Advanced Installation. You will be warned that all your files will be wiped: hence the need for a full backup.

Don’t forget to choose the correct partition if, like me, you opted to create two partitions on the new disk.

Incidentally, I didn’t elect to install all the updates as part of the installation process. I probably should have but I was in a bit of a hurry. Instead, I ran Windows Update straight after the installation was complete.

One point to note was that I gave the T60 a new machine name so that the backup process preserved the old XP installation as well. Also, you will want to have both “computers” on the network at the same time. At the end of this, you will have a clean installation of Windows 7 with no applications installed.

The next immediate step in my process was to install the Windows Home Server connector and perform a backup. Note: you will need to ensure that Windows Home Server Power Pack 3 has been installed for this to work properly.

Step 4 – Create a Virtual Machine for Windows XP.

At this point we have a functional Windows 7 environment and we have a known good backup of the old XP environment. We also have another hard disk with the original XP environment installed on it. What we now need to do is virtualize the XP environment.

Virtualization is the process by which a single computer (called the Host) is able to run a number of Virtual Machines (called Guests). By the wonders of virtuallization, each Guest believes it has complete control of a physical computer. In fact it can only see virtual devices that are then mapped on to the physical resources of the Host computer.

Once again, you have a choice of how to do this as well as choices over whose virtualisation software to use. Both Microsoft and VMware Corporation have excellent desktop virtualization products. Personally, I have been using VMware Desktop since version 1 and I know it’s very good. In this case, luckily, we don’t need the (paid for) power of VMware Desktop, we just need the less capable, but free, VMware Player.

We also need another VMware utility called VMware vCenter Converter. Converter converts a physical machine into a Virtual Machine [VM]. Physically, the VM comprises a collection of files located on the filesystem of the Host computer. When VMware Player is run, it loads the files for a particular Guest computer and causes the Guest computer to run, interact with the screen, network, printers etc and access a virtual filesystem on a virtual disk.

You need to decide where you are going to store the converted VM. Eventually it needs to reside in the Windows 7 partition on the new hard disk. Whether or not you can go straight there or have to go via a third disk depends on your computer. If you can have both the old and new hard disks installed at the same time (true for most desktops), then you are OK. If not, true for most laptops, you can either:

  • Use the drive adapter to connect the new bare disk to the laptop, or
  • Use another external USB drive of suitable capacity as a temporary home.

Either way, you are going to create a new VM containing the XP environment.

  1. Replace the original hard disk.
  2. Either connect the new hard disk via the USB adapter, or connect the third external USB drive.
  3. Boot into Windows XP, then download VMware vCenter Converter from the VMware website (it’s a free download but you will need to register).
  4. Use the Converter software to create a VM on the external drive (or on the second internal drive in the case of a workstation).
  5. Shut down and install the New Hard Disk for the last time.
  6. Boot into Windows 7
  7. Go back to the VMware site and download VMware Player, then install it.
  8. If necessary, copy the newly created VM from the external USB drive to a suitable folder on the Windows 7 environment. I have mine stored in C:\Virtual Machines

Another Gotcha!

I hit a gotcha at step 4. Running Converter is a simple case of follow the wizard’s prompts, but I did get a confusing error message about not having the appropriate SysPrep files on the computer. After some digging I found that I needed to download the Windows XP Service Pack 2 Deployment Tools from http://snurl.com/tscop, Open the CAB file with WinRAR and copy the files to the folder designated in the error message.

Now, you you should be able to run VMware Player and use it to run the XP Virtual Machine.

NB To avoid getting errors, you need to run Player in Administrator mode. You do this by Right-clicking on the desktop shortcut and selecting “Run as Administrator”. To avoid having to do this everytime, you can set this option in the applications preferences; which are accessible from the Right-click menu.

Also, because the SSID of the vrtual machine has changed, you will need to re-enter your XP license code and re-activate.

Et voila, you have a working Windows 7 environment complete with a virtual XP environment containing your original machine.

Make sre you install anti-virus software on Windows 7 straight away. Once the XP VM is running, enable “Unity” mode on the VM menu in the Player window so that a new XP menu bar appears on the Windows 7 desktop.

Now, at your leisure, you can install applications on the Windows 7 machine to replace those on the XP machine. Over time you will gradually use the XP machine less and less until you either stop using it altogether, or it is reduced to running a rump of applications which cannot be migrated to Windows 7 or are not worth being so.

One Last Thing, keeping the data in sync across the two machines.

Bearing in mind that you now have two computers, how do you keep the filesystems synchronised?

I use Windows Live Sync for this, but I adopted a divide and conquer strategy: partly because of the 10,000 file limit imposed by Live Sync for any single synchronisation point.
Before doing anything, I considered the contents on my XP machine. Some files I would definitely need in Windows 7, some I would not. Some were in the “My Documents” hierarchy, others were not.

Windows Live Sync works by defining synchronisation points on multiple computers. Live Sync then keeps the folders and files beneath each set of synchronisation points in sync with each other.

In my case, under “My Documents” I have a folder hierarchy called “Shared” containing folders and files I definitely want synchronising. I have another called “Development” and then several others; including a couple outside of “My Documents”. Each of these is defined as being a Synchronisation Point in Live Sync. It is then a simple case of following the Live Sync wizards to create equivalent sync points on other machines.

Provided you are connected to the Internet, the files will be kept in sync. Changes are queued if you are not connected to the Internet.

Summary

I hope that you have seen how you too can move from your existing XP based computer to a clean Windows 7 environment whilst maintaining access to you old XP applications, and how (relatively) easy the process is. By following this process you will reduce the time you are without a functioning PC to in the order of 2-3 hours, rather than the 2-3 days that might otherwise occur.

I hope this process proves useful to you. If you have any questions or clarifications based on your specific experience, please share them as comments to this post so that all can see them.


Gareth Howell
Agdon Associates – IT that works for you, all the time
t: 01480 476 297 | m: 07748 905 545 | twitter: garethhowell | aim: garethhowelluk

The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.

Forms and more forms, rules and regulations, sign here, don’t forget this, do that…

Entrepreneurs are often discouraged by the bewildering amount of bureaucracy and problems which they come up against.  But with a simple checklist of tasks and a little support, your small business could be up and running in no time.

Do I need an accountant?

It is not essential, but advisable.  An accountant will have the specialist knowledge and experience to assist your business, help you make decisions about the future and relieve you of most of the administrative burden associated with being self-employed; enabling you to devote more time to developing your business and earn that all important cash.

If you are going to engage an accountant it is essential that you involve them from the outset.  Decisions taken at the early stages can affect your business for many years to come.  For example, they can advise you on the best structure for your business and how to deal with other people that have a stake in your business.  (I will deal with some of these points in a future ‘accountancy’ post)

How do I find an accountant?

There are many ways to source professional services, but the key is to find someone you can trust and can work with.  You may be discussing sensitive issues so you need to be comfortable communicating with them.  Ask other business people for recommendations and introductions or attend networking events where you have the opportunity to speak to a potential adviser and find out whether they suit you and your business. Check that they are qualified, as this will ensure the quality of their services is regularly monitored.     Look no further! www.georgehay.co.uk

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Assuming you plan to operate a sole trader, here are a few pointers for you to consider.


  • Inform H M Revenue and Customs

You must inform the Tax Office that you are operating a business as a self-employed person so that  a ‘self-assessment record’ can be created. This will ensure you are issued with a Tax Return

You will also pay Class 2 National Insurance.  This ensures you are paying enough NIC to keep a continuous record should you need to claim benefits or a state pension in the future.  

If your household income is low, also ask them for tax credits application pack.


  • Open a business bank account

It is important to open a business bank account, not only will your bank be disgruntled if you continue to use your personal banking facilities for business, it will be difficult to segregate business transactions from personal, which may lead to complications later.  Shop around for the best deals, most high street banks offer free business banking for the first year for start-ups and don’t forget to build a relationship with your business bank manager, they have a lot of business experience to share with you.


  • Keep adequate records

You do not have to be a trained bookkeeper to maintain adequate business records; however failure to do so could make life very difficult if H M Revenue and Customs randomly pick your business for an enquiry as you will be unable to substantiate the amounts you have declared. In fact, you may find that you are not claiming relief for all that you are entitled if you do not have a clear record of your transactions.

Maintaining records is also a key part of managing an effective business as they will allow you to review your performance, check your customers are settling their accounts and assist you in managing cash flow.
  • VAT Registration

If your turnover exceeds the registration limit in any rolling twelve month period, registration is compulsory.  Until then, the decision whether to voluntarily register is dependant on your customers.  Generally, if they are registered, you may as well be.


  • Taxation

The tax year runs to 5th April.  Soon after this date you will receive a Tax Return.  You may need professional assistance with completing this, but if the business is very small and you have kept adequate records, it is fairly straight forward so should not cost you an arm and a leg!  This form must be completed and submitted to H M Revenue and Customs by the following 31st January.  If you are not completing the form online, it must be submitted 31st October. The Tax Office will calculate your liabilities for you, before they fall due on 31st January.


  • Business Support

There are many sources of business support for small businesses.  Search on the internet for local networking organisations, where you will find like minded individuals who are experiencing similar anxieties as you.  You may also find these networks are a valuable source of contacts for developing your business.

Find out if you have an Enterprise Agency or Business Link in your area.  These supply consultancy and workshops at heavily subsidised rates.

Ask your professional advisers, such as your accountant or bank manager, if they don’t know the answer, they should know some one who does.


  •  Business insurance

Can be an expensive overhead for a new business, but needs to be considered carefully.


  • Think positively

You are only as good as you believe you are….


The information provided in this blog illustrates my opinions and experiences, it does not constitute advice and I do not accept responsibility for any actions taken or refrained from as a result of reading this post.