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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 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

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Sarah Turner

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Off To See My Lawyer are cheered to hear about yet another woman who has turned an adverse situation into a business!

It was only two years ago that Sarah Turner was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and had to undergo chemotherapy which caused her hair to fall out.  Dissatisfied with the existing market for unflattering headwear and uncomfortable wigs, Ms Turner decided to come up with her own designs and pitch them to various British milliners.  She now runs her own on-line business, Elizabeth Rose (http://www.elizabethroselondon.com/) selling fashion-led headwear for women with hair loss.  Ms Turner writes on her website, “I am delighted to be able to give you an exciting seasonal collection twice a year.  My aim is to bring you style and a little bit of joy and confidence back.”

Off To See My Lawyer would be interested to hear from you if, like Ms Turner, you have a good idea for a product and the necessary motivation to market and sell it – but perhaps lack the skills and resources to actually manufacture the product in the first place.  We now have such an admirable client base of female entrepreneurs, we may be able to help you source an appropriate business associate to complement your own skills!  For any such assistance, please contact Jo Tall at jo@offtoseemylawyer.com.

Female Entrepreneur Focus: Rita Sharma

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Rita Sharma set up travel agency Worldwide Journeys in 1986 selling transatlantic business flights from a windowless London office “the size of a broom cupboard”, which merely consisted of “two desks and some phones”.  In addition to its humble beginnings, the business did not necessarily have an easy journey to success, either [excuse the pun!]  When the stock market crashed in the late 1980s, “people were no longer spending ridiculous amounts of money travelling First or Club class”.  Clearly a natural entrepreneur, however Ms Sharma responded to the situation by adapting her business to one that sold bespoke holiday packages instead.  In 1992 her husband Rahul abandoned his accountancy career in order to take charge of the finances of Worldwide Journeys.

British “by definition” but “Asian too, by DNA”, Ms Sharma partly attributes her tenacity and ultimate success to her principled upbringing: “a very strong foundation of right and wrong and a real sense of personal responsibility”.

Today the business is worth an estimated £44m, and Rita Sharma is known as the UK’s richest Asian female entrepreneur.  She proudly states, “We are not in the business of selling a bit of this, a bit of that, flights and hotels.  We sell the entire dream, a bespoke tailor-made holiday, from the flights to the hotel to the transfers and the tour – the whole thing.  And we sell very high-end, luxury travel.”

“Much Ado…” but with very little substance!

Monday, April 9th, 2012

As we customarily help small businesses and entrepreneurs draft their contracts and policies in the most concise and comprehensible way possible, Off To See My Lawyer are very surprised to discover that certain large organisations have recently been criticised by Which? for the lengthy and therefore burdensome Terms and Conditions which they expect their customers to read and accept.

Whereas Shakespeare’s longest play “Hamlet” contains 30,066 words, PayPal expect visitors to their website to read and consent to Terms and Conditions reaching 36,275 words.  The length of “Macbeth” (containing 18,110 words) is comparable to Apple’s iTunes’ legal agreements, which contain 19,972 (plus an additional 10,724 for those wanting to use Apple iCloud).  Amazon have also come under scrutiny for expecting customers ordering products via their website to read 5,212 words of Terms and Conditions, and 7,115 words when downloading Kindle books.

Of course, we know that that these companies would have been spared such disapproval from Which? had they sought the advice of  Off To See My Lawyer when drafting their legal agreements!


Ever heard of speed-mentoring?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

This year the Southbank Centre hosted a Women of the World festival in celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March).  One particular networking event took its inspiration from the concept of “speed-dating” – a so-called “speed-mentoring” event.

The combined number of mentors and protogées (referred to for the purposes of this event as “mentees”) reached around 300.  The mentors were women from all walks of life, sat in a semi-circle facing outwards.  Once the bell sounded, the mentees would take it in turns to go and speak to a mentor for exactly 15 minutes before moving on.  Each mentee was allowed to speak to four different mentors.

We like this idea at Off to see my Lawyer, and will keep you informed of any similar speed-mentoring events we hear about coming up in the future!

How can you reduce your business’s carbon footprint?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

These tips may seem obvious, but do you actually observe them?

  1. Ensure all office equipment and appliances are never left on unnecessarily.
  2. If your business only uses computers for word processing and internet browsing, you can use a multi-user system (allowing for up to seven users to be connected at any one time).
  3. Switch from bottled water-coolers to filtered water from a tap.
  4. Recycle!
  5. You can work out from your energy bills you how many units you have used.  You may then wish to aim to reduce your output over the next few months.

Some energy companies provide energy-saving options such as British Gas’s “green tariffs”, and GoodEnergy’s use of energy from renewable sources.



Female Entrepreneur Focus: Lara Morgan

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Lara Morgan initially founded a toiletries supplying business Pacific Direct in 1991, later selling it for £20 million in 2008.  She has since started Company Shortcuts, which focuses on helping other entrepreneurs with their business ventures.

In a recent magazine interview she narrowed her “top business tips” down to 5 fundamental mantras:

  1. “Sales are all you need”
  2. “Do admin outside business hours”
  3. “Hold on to equity”
  4. “Don’t stick to one mentor”
  5. “Don’t employ lightly”.

The first four tips speak for themselves.  With regards the fifth, Morgan emphasises the fact that becoming an employer means taking on a lot of additional responsibility.

Off To See My Lawyer are of course here to help you assess the pros and cons of taking on employees, considering UK and EU legal requirements, procedures and statutory duties of care; and taxation issues. (First appeared in Stylist Magazine http://www.stylist.co.uk/stylist-network/lara-morgans-top-business-tips)

Plagiarism in the Design Industry

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Plagiarism has always been a problem for designers, and has been the cause of many legal claims being made over the years.  This inevitably causes a lot of fuss and bother for the alleged victim.  For example, in order to successfully claim breach of copyright the claimant needs to prove that copying has occurred; that they were the original author/designer, and that the piece that was copied was sufficiently original to merit protection in the first place.  And for “passing off” there needs to be actual evidence of confusion and damage (such as loss of profits or harm to reputation).  IP rights such as registered design rights and trade marks can be more easily protected – but of course, there is always the additional issue of legal costs lurking in the background, too!

Tatty Devine may have avoided all of this trouble and expense, however – simply by publishing a blogpost entitled “Can You Spot the Difference?”  They displayed an image of one of their own necklaces featuring a dinosaur design (which retail at £132) alongside some suspiciously similar-looking dinosaur necklaces being sold by Claire’s Accessories (being sold for £4).  After tweeting the blogpost to its 13,000 followers, all Tatty Devine had to do was to sit back and await the response!

Claire’s Accessories Facebook page was then inundated by posts from the general public complaining about how they had been “blatently ripping off” Tatty Devine’s designs, and that Claire’s should “be ashamed of [themselves]”.

Rosie Wolfenden, one of Tatty Devine’s two owner/directors stated in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, “We feel this is the best way to deal with copycats, as it puts the issue in the public domain and lets customers decide.”

Of course, Tatty Devine are lucky enough to have already secured a large fan base.  For smaller, lesser well-known businesses, it is a much greater problem when competitors copy their designs.  If you have any concerns on this subject, please contact us at info@offtoseemylawyer.com.