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Are you likely to want to borrow money in the future?

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

It is advisable to maintain a good credit report (– ie. a record of your borrowings and repayments to date), because you may wish to make an application for a loan in the future.  Lenders will only agree to lend you money if they are satisfied you are in control of your finances, and are likely to make repayments on time.

Here are tips on how to maintain a good credit report:

  • Obviously you need to always pay your bills and make repayments on cards, loans and mortgages on time.
  • Make sure that every entry is correct.  Lenders have been known to reject an application for a loan due to clerical errors in credit reports.

If you have any concerns about repaying existing lenders, ask them whether you can negotiate a schedule for repayment, or arrange a temporary payment holiday.

Is British Entrepreneurship suffering?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

USA and Australia topped the recent Global Entrepreneurial and Development Index, whereas the UK only came only 14th.  The Financial Times’ Jonathan Moules commented with surprise that the UK had even come below Austria and Belgium!

On a positive note, the UK was among the best in the world for the number of start-ups it creates (– particularly technology companies); the quality of the founding teams; and the capacity to launch new products without any peers.

However the UK has arguably been more significantly affected by the financial crisis than other nations, and as a result British businesses lack early-stage investment.  In the ranking for the number of individuals who have invested informally in other people’s start-ups in the past three years, the UK falls into the bottom quarter of OECD nations.

In addition, research suggests that in cultural terms, the British do not perceive entrepreneurship as a good career choice.  Erkko Autio (Professor in Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship at Imperial College) said the UK could significantly improve its position if measures introduced to encourage early-stage investment resulted in more investors committing capital.  “The one thing we are pretty sure about is that it is not [a problem of] over-regulation,” he added.  “It is more about the [need to change] cultural and social norms.”

Event: Business Advice Clinic

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

For impartial business advice and an opportunity to discuss your business at a confidential, hour-long one-to-one meeting with an experienced advisor, the British Library Business and IP Centre will be running a Business Advice Clinic on Wednesday 2 May 2012, 10:30 to 17:00.  It costs £15 to attend.  For further information, and to book on-line, follow the link: http://www.bl.uk/bipc/workevents/lbssclinics.html

Mayoral Election Campaign Lowdown for Small Businesses…

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Who should London entrepreneurs vote for?

Is it possible that the Mayor of London could help the cause of small businesses and entrepreneurs?  Some of the mayoral candidates hoping to be elected on 3rd May seem to think so, based upon the pledges they make in their manifestos.  So, how do their various manifesto promises compare?

Boris Johnson (of the Conservative Party) lists “Growing the London Economy” as one of his pledges.  He insists that London has already succeeded in its relative resilience against the economic downturn.  He suggests that his priority is to boost the economic well-being of the city – by stating his intent to continue his current endeavours to direct funds and tax money according to Londoners’ wishes; to secure record funding from No. 10; and not to waste money on bureaucracy at City Hall.  Johnson appears to suggest that his aim is to boost the general economic well-being of the city rather than directly helping businesses within it.

Ken Livingstone (of the Labour Party) makes no direct promises in relation to the economy, nor to assisting small businesses.  Rather, his emphasis is on increasing funds for education, in order to increase young people’s prospects of employment.  He pledges a commitment to “restoring a London-wide Educational Maintenance Allowance of up to £30 per week in term by bringing together existing funds in colleges, universities, and local authorities.”

Brian Paddick (of the London Liberal Democrats) states, “We will establish a London Small Business Fund. We will work with socially responsible banks, so all viable small enterprises get the finance they need with mentoring support and advice too.”  This promise comes under the heading of his ambitiously entitled “Jobs and Opportunities for All” pledge, which is mainly focused on improving employment prospects for youths.  He promises a “London Youth Contract” to assist Londoners up to the age of 25 to attain work experience leading to a job; a new “Adult Skills” initiative; a fund to facilitate youth opportunities in needy areas gained via a voluntary £1 a night luxury hotel bedroom levy; the creation of “Youth Hubs” to provide advice, support and socialising opportunities for young people; and an enhanced careers advice service in schools.

Jenny Jones (of the Green Party) is the only candidate who explicitly pledges to help the plight of small businesses as “an absolute priority for City Hall”, as set out in her 10-point “Small Business Manifesto”.  She pledges to:

  1. Support a renaissance of micro, small and medium-sized businesses
  2. Use the Greater London Authority budget to support small businesses
  3. Protect and re-develop the traditional “high street”
  4. Prevent chain stores taking over independent shops
  5. Encourage Londoners to “buy local”
  6. Ensure public sector contracts go to small businesses
  7. Maintain the CompeteFor system
  8. Ensure small and local businesses aren’t disadvantaged by congestion and parking
  9. Only work with banks that lend to small business
  10. Increase small business representation in the community

Carlos Cortiglia (of the British National Party) does not appear to have a website stating his manifesto for London Mayor.  A Uraguayan national who has been living in the UK since 1989, he says he is “astonished” by the “hostility shown by many of the migrants towards the British and their way of life”, and emphasises, “I want to help preserve the freedoms, values and traditions that help make this a great country to live in.”  He appears to make no promises in relation to boosting London’s economy or helping small businesses.

Lawrence James Webb (of Fresh Choice of London) is affiliated with the UK Independence Party.  Of his various manifesto pledges, those of relevance to small businesses include:  cutting rates for “local businesses employing local people”; “saying ‘No’ to open-door immigration” in order to “create more jobs for Londoners”; and fighting any “EU red tape strangling London businesses”.

Siobhan Benita talks at length of her intentions to “create jobs and boost economic growth” in her Manifesto.  With regards London’s budget she promises to establish an “Independent Office for Budget Responsibility”.  For jobseekers she proposes free travel, and reduced fares for low earners.  For youths she pledges her commitment to working “with councils and businesses to ensure apprenticeships effectively deliver real employment and career prospects”, and working “with businesses, schools and colleges to improve pre-apprenticeship training”.  Of greater interest to Off To See My Lawyer clients, she states that she “will work with landlords to make better use of empty commercial property, including temporary use for community projects and for entrepreneurs to trial their ideas, negotiating Business Rate discounts and exemptions for innovative new businesses… My initial priorities will be the support of the creative industries and the life sciences sector.”

Perspectives from within the Eurozone

Monday, April 30th, 2012

We are all aware of the various endeavours being made by the British Government to improve the UK’s economy: managing the State budget; encouraging the activities of budding entrepreneurs; asking banks to lend more money to businesses; etc.  The emphasis is very much on how Britain can pick itself up in competition with other nations, and how the status of the British Pound can be raised.  As our media charts the progress of the French presidential elections, however, the British are starting to realise the extent to which the attitudes in France towards the current economic crisis differ to that in Britain.

Augustin Paluel-Marmont (Co-founder of Michel et Augustin) says that it is difficult for small firms in France to make the jump to becoming medium-sized, and that they are frequently bought up by foreign companies.  He is less concerned, however, about the strength of the French economy in isolation.  Rather, he supports the success of the European Union as a whole, believing that entrepreneurs in Europe should focus on the European market rather than simply that of their own native country.

Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet (Co-founder of Priceminister), also supports the European single currency, emphasising, “My company is very Europe-minded…  I think that is a good thing for the French economy.”  He adds, “I think the euro is something that is needed.  I’m really very disappointed with the English behaviour on that… You can’t build a new world by being selfish. You have to share values, currencies and you have to build things together.”

Henri de Castries (Chairman and Chief Executive of Axa) is optimistic that the Eurozone will ultimately thrive, once its member states have learnt how to pull together into “a more co-ordinated game”.  Expressing concern about the French national debt, and the fact “public spending is too high”, he proposes a structural reform in order to keep money “in the hands of those who know how to invest it, rather than having it taken by the state for additional unproductive spending.”  It seems he would prefer for the French Government to have a laissez-faire attitude towards its internal market – and for it to instead concentrate its efforts on co-operating with its neighbours in the Eurozone to make Europe succeed as a whole.

Event: Getting To Grips With Finance Workshop

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Where: O2 Workshop, 229 Tottenham Court Road , London W1T 7QG

When: 12 June 2012 from 10:00 to 14:00

How much: £65.00

Johnny Martin has extensive experience turning around businesses such as Baring Venture Partners, JO Hambro and Monument Trust.

Mr Martin will be leading the Getting To Grips Workshop, offering financial advice for setting up a business, working with accountants, raising capital, and cash flow management. Attendees are asked to bring their laptops!

To book your place, visit: www.women-unlimited.co.uk/getting-to-grips-with-finance-worksho/ (Note that for £65, you will not only get to attend the workshop, but you will receive a few added extras and bonuses!)

Sarah Cressall: The Creation Station

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

On 29 March of this year, Sarah Cressall was announced as “Woman Franchisor of the Year” at the 2011 Encouraging Women Into Franchising Awards.

Sarah Cresswell is a true inspiration for female entrepreneurs for so many different reasons.  In 2002 she came up with the idea of setting up The Creation Station, aimed at nurturing children’s creativity through fun arts and crafts activities with their parents/carers, and in such a way that minimises any stress or burden for the parents/carers.  Since 2002 Ms Cresswell has successfully overcome various obstacles (such as suppliers going bust) in order to develop her business into what it is today.  In an interview last year she stated, “You can either look at things as challenges or opportunities”.

While we commend Ms Cresswell for successfully setting up and running her own business, Off To See My Lawyer is especially impressed by the nature of her work.  She explains, “We run different types of workshops…   We also run art and craft birthday parties, events for organisations like the brownies, events and fetes for charities.”

While offering valuable services for parents bringing up their children, The Creation Station is now a franchise which offers parents the opportunity to become franchisees of the business and generate their own income.  Ms Cresswell says, “It’s designed specifically for mothers.  It’s flexible. There are some mothers with six-month-olds who do two mornings and others whose children have started school and may want to work four or five mornings.  The business allows time for family life. As they grow and get more confident, franchisees can employ people to run the business.”  Franchisees are given assistance and training to help them run their business, and are supplied with arts and crafts materials, session plans (based on government educational guidelines), a uniform, an admin pack, a web page and materials such as bags and stationery.

If you have an existing business which you wish to develop and expand into a franchise, please consult Jo Tall at jo@offtoseemylawyer.comOff To See My Lawyer does not only deal with start-ups!  Similarly if you are thinking of becoming a franchisee and need legal advice, Jo will be only too happy to assist.

Crowdfunding – a viable alternative for raising capital?

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Aiming to bring businesses and backers together, US crowdfunding site Kickstarter specialises in film, art and design.  It allows for people to pitch ideas for which they need financial backing, and for potential backers to come forward with offers.  A deadline is set by which a certain funding target must be met.  If it is not met, backers’ pledges are returned and no money transactions take place.  And if the funding target is met, the party who has pitched its project retains complete creative control, but Kickstarter retains 5% of the total funds raised.  The backers are given a role in the development of the product; the right to give feedback on its progress; and a copy of the finished product.

Justin Kazmark (Communications Director at Kickstarter) explains, “There’s always a value exchange between creators and the backers that pledge financial support to a project.  In exchange for pledging, backers receive creative rewards, one of a kind experiences and behind-the-scenes access to the creative process as the project comes to life.

Kickstarter was founded on the idea that there is value in the world beyond things that can make money. Ideas should be able to exist because people feel an affinity toward them, not because of the promise of profit.”

San Francisco-based developer Double Fine Productions has successfully raised a phenomenal amount of money by pitching the idea for their game “Double Fine Adventure” on Kickstarter.  It took a mere eight hours for the required £250,000 to be raised by thousands of on-line backers; but people continued to contribute funds for several weeks.  The final amount raised reached £2 million ($3.3 million), and the number of backers exceeded 87,000.  The game will now be developed for the next six to eight months and will be available on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS and android.

Greg Rice (Producer of “Double Fine Adventure”) enthuses, “Kickstarter allowed us direct communication with our fans and ultimately means we’ll be able to make the game we want and also directly benefit from it financially.”  He states that crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter are “getting more and more important…  It’s truly amazing that people with a great idea now have a way to fund making those ideas come true and are able to do that by speaking directly to their customers.”

New legislation in the USA,  the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act” will allow backers to own equity in the companies they invest in and let those businesses raise up to $1million (£600,000) through crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter.

In Britain, one crowdfunding website is already offering equity to investors without the need for any change in the law.  Exeter-based Crowdcube launched last year and has already funded 15 projects, raising £2.8million.

Crowdcube vets in-coming business plans, and presents the approved ones on its website in a video clip, awaiting offers from potential backers.  Crowdcube functions in a similar way to Kickstarter, in that it takes a 5% fee on pitches that reach their target.

Luke Lang (Co-founder of Crowdcube) boasts, “We’ve completely democratised the whole investment industry…  We’re trying to make investing in business easy and inclusive rather than it being the exclusive preserve of the elite who have got lots of money or lots of experience…  We’ve broken down those barriers and enabled ordinary people with modest amounts of money to get behind small businesses.”

Crowdcube’s greatest success story is the £1 million which was raised for the Rushmore Group to build a new private members’ club in London.

There are other crowdfunding sites such as London-based PleaseFund.Us, which has raised around £100,000 for projects since it launched last September.

Could Britain be spawning a new generation of entrepreneurs?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

British educational institutions are increasingly encouraging students to launch their own businesses by providing bursary schemes and training courses in entrepreneurship.  For example the University College of London runs a technology entrepreneurship masters programme – and it offers a one-year scholarship, where students with existing business concepts can test their ideas to see whether they will work.

If British Universities are successful in their endeavours to produce a new generation of entrepreneurs, the UK economy will of course benefit.  One thing to bear in mind, however, is the fact not all University students in the UK are British.  Therefore the UK Border Agency has just launched a graduate entrepreneurs’ visa, in order to enable non-EU students to remain in the country for an additional 12 months after graduating, if they have an idea for a business venture.

There is a long-held belief that American culture fosters entrepreneurship more readily than European.  Due to the relatively weak welfare state and liberal free-market economy of the USA, Americans are perhaps more inclined than Europeans towards starting enterprises of their own, and taking risks.  The Fulbright Commission are promoting an educational exchange programme with the UCL, for American students interested in enrolling on the UCL’s technology entrepreneurship masters programme.  It may seem a little perverse that American students are being encouraged to come to the UK to learn about entrepreneurship.  However, by enticing foreign talent into the UK and facilitating their chances of staying, Britain may start to lead a new wave in entrepreneurship!  Only time will tell…

A New Beneficial Law for Digital Copyright…

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Britain’s copyright licensing system has been the subject of a fair amount of criticism of late.

The V&A, for example, complained they’d spent 125 working days and £14,000 in order to track down the copyright owners of 270 still images for one of its exhibitions.

Similarly an educational institution, Scotland’s Colleges stated its members had faced various problems when endeavouring to get permission to use teaching materials from nine different copyright-collecting agencies.

Complaining about the labour intensiveness and expense [ie. around £10m a year] of conducting copyright clearances, the BBC issued a statement that they “would like a copyright licensing regime in place which reflects the needs of a digital converged world – a world increasingly dominated by high-volume, low-value transactions as opposed to the low-volume, high-value transactions that were a feature of the analogue era”.

The Government responded in November 2011 by appointing Richard Hooper (a former deputy chairman of Ofcom) to investigate whether the current copyright licensing system was “fit for purpose”.  Mr Hooper’s final report will be submitted to Vincent Cable in July 2012, when he is expected to recommend the creation of a “Digital Copyright Exchange”, or some other industry-funded solution.

Based upon his research so far, Mr Hooper states that the system needs to be “streamlined”.  So far he suggests that copyright information relating to a range of different industries should be collated and stored in a database, which will then be made accessible to small and medium-sized businesses.  The intended outcome is to “drive economic growth across the UK’s creative and technology industries”.