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Posts Tagged ‘Blog’

What are your rights as a debtor to a loan organisation?

Friday, July 6th, 2012

In these current difficult economic times, many small business owners are not only seeking loans from their banks, but turning to independent loan organisations.  On such organisation, Wonga has recently been criticised by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for sending customers letters which falsely accused them of committing fraud.  The customers in question had either fallen behind on repayments and entered a debt management plan; or had contacted their bank requesting a previous payment to Wonga to be retracted.

Wonga was also alleged to have customarily told customers working in the public or financial sectors that by being in debt they were breaching their terms of employment.

The OFT has told Wonga it may face a fine of up to £50,000 every time it adopts aggressive or misleading practices with its customers.

Wonga argues that the alleged incidents were few and isolated, and that procedures are now in place to ensure similar problems to do not occur in future.

If you have any queries relating to your legal rights as a customer of a loan organisation, please contact Jo Tall at jo@offtoseemylawyer.com.

Developing Your International Potential – Exporting Success Programme

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Are you looking to expand your business overseas?  If your business is based in Greater London; has been trading for over one year; and employs less than 250 people, you will be eligible to apply for a programme which has been developed by North London Business to help businesses develop their international sales opportunities.

The programme comprises up to 12 hours of one to one advice with an Export Advisor, guidance and practical support to:

–          Explore new export markets;

–          Maximise your sales techniques to promote your products abroad;

–          Develop your website or portals for online sales, with minimum cost;

–          Prepare an effective export marketing strategy;

–          Understand export documentation and incoterms; &

–          Find distributors or agents abroad.

The programme is partly financed by the European Union, and is free for you to enrol.  However you will be expected to invest your time and resources on the project, and the 12 hours of support must be delivered within 3 months of your initial referral date.

If you are interested, please contact North London Business for an Exporting Success Enquiry/Referral Form on 020 8885 9203 and speak to Roya Jahanbin; or E-mail roya.jahanbin@northlondonbusiness.com

Will Singapore become the “entrepreneurship capital” of South East Asia?

Monday, May 28th, 2012

There are various reasons why entrepreneurship has not traditionally thrived in Asia.  Relatively speaking, US culture regards failure in business as a positive part of the learning process, and therefore Americans are more inclined to take risks.  Asian culture, however, is less forgiving of failure.  In addition, Hugh Mason (Chief Executive of Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI)) explains that the traditional method in Asian schools is “all about getting the right answer”, and that “being smart sometimes weighs against entrepreneurship”.

Traditionally Singapore has been considered by many in the business world as a gateway to South East Asia, as it represents a relatively small market of five million people.  Investors often choose to temporarily place their money in Singapore before investing in larger markets in the region such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.  However Angel investors and venture capital funds are increasingly seeking investment opportunities in Singapore itself.

A growing number of educational institutions are running entrepreneurship programmes and providing mentoring opportunities; and the Singaporean government are actively removing regulatory barriers in a bid to encourage entrepreneurship.  Ron Mahabir (found of Asia Cleantech Capital) states that “While the government has done a great job of loans and grant programmes, culturally it’s very difficult to push entrepreneurship very quickly.”  Change, however, is undoubtedly underway in Singapore.  In fact, according to the WorldBank, Singapore ranks at Number One in the world “for ease of doing business, and Number Four “for starting a business”.

Singapore-based JFDI is working in partnership with SingTel [a subsidiary of a major telecommunications company] to run an accelerator programme for start-ups from around Asia.  This program allocates start-up teams from around the South East Asia with mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and specialists for 100 days, after which the start-ups can pitch to investors.  Wong Meng Weng (who helped start JFDI) says, “I see Singapore as the technology and start-up capital of South East Asia, not unlike the US where you recruit from around the world and get them to come into Silicon Valley”.

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Wendy Tan White

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

In the late nineties, Wendy Tan White helped develop the UK’s first online-only bank, Egg.  She says, “We looked at the idea of people personalising for themselves online.  The whole idea behind Egg was [that] people wanted to customise and control their finances.  We saw this was a moving trend.”

Building upon this trend, Ms Tan White decided to start a business funded by advertising revenues, which helps people create their own website, and then assumes the responsibility of hosting and managing the site.

The business (named Moonfruit) was funded by investment from Richard Duvall (her mentor at Egg), LVMH, as well as from friends and family; and venture capital was provided by Macromedia.

Following a popular advertising campaign, Moonfruit achieved success very quickly, and the company was able to move into plus Soho offices.  Within six months of its launch in January 2000, the business had built up 40,000 users – and was even ranked among the top 12 visited sites in the UK.  When the dot com crash occurred, however, Moonfruit’s main investor pulled their funding, and the revenue gathered from selling advertising space was not enough to pay the overheads.

Moonfruit went through a dark period during which the staff roster was cut from 60 people to two, and the business had to relocate from Soho to the attic where it first started.  Ms Tan White could very easily have given up when the business became insolvent – but she tenaciously kept going, substituting the former free service to a subscription-based service – and by 2001, Moonfruit was profitable once more.

The new tiered subscription package has proved highly successful; and combined with clever marketing campaigns, by 2009 the turnover had increased to $1.9m dollars.  In 2011 its turnover rose to $3.9m; and by the end of 2012 it is likely to have risen substantially due to its proposed expansion into America.

Over 3.5 million websites have been built using Moonfruit’s point-and-click interface and drag-and-drop templates, and the company is currently the Number One ranked hosted web builder in the UK.

There is a lesson to be learnt from this story: The true entrepreneur does not give up in the face of adversity, but will find a way to succeed through well-judged adaptation and by taking risks with innovative strategies.

The Recession can be Good for You!

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Founded by husband and wife Juliette and Russel Joffe in 1998, the restaurant chain Giraffe has not only thrived throughout recent economic crises; rather, Mr Joffe insists the recession “has been positive for us”.  He states, “It has enabled us to review our strategy.  This is an opportune time to review your business – and aspects that you might forget in good times.”

The Joffes’ advice for not only surviving but possibly benefiting from times of austerity, are as follows:

Get best supply prices:

“We have gone back to some of our original mission statements; reviewing our staffing, talking to suppliers to get the best prices”

Run a tight ship, but don’t let this compromise the quality of your products or services:

“We don’t cut corners or cut costs.  Everyone has to run a tighter business today.  The ones that cut corners and costs are the ones that will suffer long-term because standards of service will decline.  You need to keep the investment and innovation going. It is important that people see you moving forward rather than stagnating.”

Give customers a good deal:

We have also been offering vouchers and deals. It’s the norm today. When people go out to eat, they think: ‘Where is there a voucher?’ We have been focusing on our service and offering customers the best value for money that we can”

We are producing a better bottom-line profit by running a better business. We haven’t let go of any staff as such, just increased sales and not overheads.”

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Gennese Williams

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

The test for a true entrepreneur is to see whether the person in question has turned an adverse situation into a successful enterprise.

When Gennese Williams lost the sight of both her eyes in 2007, she decided she could no longer work for anyone again.  Far from burning her bridges, however, she built upon her existing experience in beauty, music and management to start her own business, MGW London.  She merrily believes in the mantras, “What you think you are worthy of, is what you will attract”; and “You change your reality when you change your mentality”.  In addition, when times are especially difficult, she recommends taking a break and “switching off from everyone” in order to recharge one’s motivation and creativity.

MGW London is an ambitious management and business consultancy agency.  In addition it has its own in-house production, make up, hair stylists and fashion stylists’ team, and a graphic design team (run by her brother); and together they provide a range of services to manage events, projects and brands.

Ms Williams says that the most effective way of attracting clients is by word of mouth and personal recommendations.  In addition she favours social media as it gives prospective clients “the freedom to check me out before they approach us”.

Her advice to other business owners is to remain dedicated to clients; to “be professional at all times, master your craft and listen to your clients’ needs”; and to “always be steps ahead to achieve the best and don’t sleep until you know the job is complete for that day”.

Can you afford to start up your own business?

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

If you have any misgivings about whether you can afford to start up and run a business, Jo Tall will happily meet you for a preliminary consultation.  Off To See My Lawyer are proud to have successfully helped launch many small businesses – but equally we take pride in our honest and realistic advice.  If we consider that you will be taking too many risks (– financial or otherwise) we will let you know.

Here is a non-exhaustive checklist to help you assess whether you can afford to start a new business:

  1. Off To See My Lawyer provide an extremely cost effective service, but please consider whether you are able to afford legal advice.
  2. You may wish to pay for other professional advice, such as from an accountant, or a web designer, and/or advice from PR experts.
  3. You may require professional assistance in order to draft your initial business plan, and/or business plan software.
  4. Most banks incur a small fee in order to open a business account.
  5. As you would expect, there are fees incurred for incorporating a business into a company; for registering a trade mark; for registering yourself as a data controller; etc.  And you may need to purchase certain licenses and permits in order to run your particular business.
  6. You may wish to insure your business or assets.  Premium rates are variable.
  7. If you wish to rent or buy the premises from which you will run your business, you will need to consider these costs – as well as utilities bills.
  8. The costs involved in promoting your business will add up.  For example – stationery and printing; professional branding/advertising advice; etc.
  9. Machinery and equipment, and IT systems are pricey but necessary assets.
  10. It very much depends on the type of business you are running – but you may need to pay for materials from which to manufacture your products, or stock for wholesale.
  11. Of course, once your business is up and running, you cannot pocket every incoming penny, as there are various taxes to be paid!

While the intended outcome of employing staff is to increase your profits, employees add to your list of burdens and liabilities.  You will need to draft contracts of employment, deal with relevant taxation issues, invest in time (and perhaps money) in training your staff, etc.

Are you being paid on time?

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The lawyers at Off To See My Lawyer draft contracts for the sale of goods and provision of services, which protect the liability of our clients and their businesses; and in-so-doing we make sure we abide by any laws that safeguard consumers’ rights.  A well-drafted contract, however, is not necessarily the end of the story.

The Forum for Private Business lobby group recently surveyed 500 small businesses, and found that 16% have nearly had to close, due to late payments by customers.  51% stated that late payment was a problem for them.  Many small businesses rely upon their customers to pay on time, in order for them to be able to pay their own suppliers.  In cases where payment to the suppliers has been delayed in this way, 45% of the businesses surveyed said their profits had eroded as a result; and 23% said it had limited their ability to invest.

Gordon Skaljak (Spokesman for credit insurer Graydon), suggested that legislation needs to be changed in order to protect small businesses: “The business community and the government must join forces to protect companies by stamping out the UK’s late payment culture.”

One small business owner, Gordon Bennie (of Blue Orchid) contacted his local MP, (Michael Comarty) after experiencing cashflow problems when his customers had failed to pay on time.  The pair have been working with the Forum for Private Business, and together they successfully initiated a meeting at the House of Commons (on 25 April 2012) between officials from the Department for Business, and representatives of the Labour party, Lloyds Banking Group and various other professional bodies.  Of course, legislation takes time to draft and implement, so we cannot expect a positive change any time soon.

If your business has been suffering due to late payment by a customer (or indeed by another business), please contact Off To See My Lawyer and we can advise you on ways to enforce the contract by demanding payment, without the need for litigation.

Event: Business Expo

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

17 & 18 May 2012 – ExCel London

This event has been designed to provide advice and support on all aspects of starting, developing and running one’s business – such as branding; “cloud ICT”; financial matters; marketing; business planning; E-commerce; Google; and mentoring.  Features include one-to-one advice; “speed networking”; talks; seminars; and workshops.

For more information, please visit: http://www.businessexpo.biz/

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Michelle Mone

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Michelle Mone is one of the UK’s most successful female entrepreneurs.

Born and brought up in Glasgow, Ms Mone left school at 15 with no qualifications, and successfully found full-time employment at Labatt Brewers.  By the age of 20 she was running their sales and marketing team, but became inspired to start her own business.  Based upon her desire to invent a bra “more comfortable, more innovative, more attractive and more cleavage enhancing than any other bra on the market”, she set up MJM International in 1996.

Ms Mone says that her biggest challenge early on was securing finance, but that she took risks which eventually paid off.  One bold move was to send one of her products (– a bra in her “Ultima” range) to the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts’ stylist.  Her initiative paid off when Julia Roberts wore an Ultimo bra to enhance her cleavage in the film Erin Brockovich in 2000 – and this exposure [excuse the pun!] is what made Michelle Mone’s lingerie famous.  While she has since gone from strength to strength, she has experienced the odd set-back along the way – such as the time when a distributor purloined £1.6m of her money.  She regards such incidents as part of the learning process, however; and in this instance she has put procedures in place to prevent any misappropriations from occurring again.  Ever optimistic she states, “The best piece of advice is always to think of plan B in case plan A fails, and kick in with plan B as soon as you think it’s failing.  Don’t be scared of changing your mind – go with your instinct.”

Over the years MJM International has created a number of brands in addition to Ultimo; and has supplied retailers including Selfridges, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda, Next, Figleaves, MaxCleavage and ASOS, along with a number of independent lingerie stores across Europe.  It has also developed a range of worldwide patented inventions including the Ultimo Miracle backless body.  In 2009 Ultimo became the first UK lingerie brand to debut on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week and several in-shop boutiques within Debenhams in key cities across the UK.

In addition, MJM has developed partner lines with Tesco, Asda and Debenhams.  Ms Mone says, “You’ve got to decide why each retail partner would want your product. We don’t give every partner the same things. It has to be individual and give them a unique selling point. You have to treat each retailer individually, and listen to their needs.”

Michelle Mone has received a large number of awards and accolades over the years, including an Honorary Doctorate degree by Paisley University in 2002.  In 2005 she attended a speaking engagement with former US president Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev, and went on to support the Sultan of Oman in setting up a women’s enterprise project in the Middle East.  She has even received an OBE by the Queen for her contribution to business in 2010.

Michelle Mone declares, “I’m not the typical businesswoman in a pin-stripe suit; I dress the way I want to dress. If you want to be glamorous, then why not!  Walking into a meeting well groomed, with your lipstick on and high heels, makes you feel good. I use my femininity to its full effect!”