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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

Event – Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Going for Gold

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

This event is intended for existing small business owners who have a new idea for their business but aren’t sure how to take it to the next stage.

Led by entrepreneurs Stephen Frear and Mandy Haberman, the evening will provide support and advice about business strategy and sustainability; branding; intellectual property; product development; and marketing.  You will also find out about about a new business support programme “Innovating for Growth”.

The event will take place at The British Library Conference Centre on Wednesday 23 May 2012, 18.15 – 21.00; and costs £5 to attend.

In order to book a place, you can either contact the Box Office by telephoning: 01937 546546, or via the website: http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events/event131216.html

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.

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!”

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.

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

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…

Feeling positive? Ready to take a risk?!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

We all know that Britain’s economy is in need of a boost, and the optimistic among us expect a renaissance at some point in the not-too-distant future!  Amid this tense anticipation, more and more alternative funding options, and attractive business savings account deals are emerging – so now could be a good time for businesses to “shop around” for advantageous deals.

Partly as a means of encouraging a resurgence in business activity in the UK; and partly in the hope of capitalising on the future success of UK businesses, Britain’s high street banks and building societies are vigorously promoting their business savings accounts.  Business savings accounts are in fact expected to grow by about 25% over the next five years.

In addition you may wish to consider the loan services of reputable organisations other than banks, such as Funding Circle.  Since its foundation in 2010, Funding Circle has loaned more than £28million to 670 British businesses.  Funding Circle has recently received a £10million boost, as it is now being backed by Index Ventures and Union Square Ventures.