Archives for August 2013

The Art of Small Business Collaboration

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Collaboration comes from the Latin “colaborare” meaning “to labour together.” In business, it is the action of working with a group or an individual, to produce something and achieve a common goal, which would never have been achieved without that  co-operation. It’s the process of pooling knowledge, resources and relationships for the sake of pursuing shared aims, where everyone shares the reward or loss of the venture.

Bringing people and businesses together and then igniting and nurturing a collaborative effort, is something we proactively support at Cambridge Business Lounge. The opportunity for a start-up to create something fantastically new with the support of others, can speed up the process of any start-up to find their feet. As well as perfectly compliment their existing services or products.

Here are a few examples of to demonstrate how it worked for others…

Victoria Arnold, Desk Union:

We were keen to collaborate with another start-up, Desk Unions booking software, rather than buy an off the shelf package or have something developed from scratch. We identified a fellow Scottish start-up called Appointedd who had just launched an online booking software for salons and spas. Together, we co-developed Desk Union’s booking software over 3 months. The end result means an awesome affordable software for us, an opportunity for Appointedd to try white-labelling, and two happy startups. It’s a win-win! We always try to collaborate rather than reinvent the wheel.

Ann Hawkins, Business Advisor, Consultant and Mentor:

Locally, Patients Know Best is about five years old. Patients are put in control of their medical records; collaboration happens between patients, clinicians, researchers, charities, the NHS and pharma companies.

Local Motors is about six years old. They bring together global communities of designers, engineers, fabricators and automotive enthusiasts to solve local problems, locally.

Lego was failing badly in 2008 when it started collaborating with Japanese company Cuusoo to create a completely new business model.

Ann Hawkins and I are also good example of this. We’re both business mentors and although we target a different audience, there is some cross-over. So, do we steer clear of each other? Split Cambridgeshire in half? No, we decided to jointly host networking events and write a book to be published in January 2015, entitled “New Business: Next Steps. The All-in-one Guide to Managing, Marketing and Growing your Small Business”

What about you?

What skill, knowledge or resource could you add to another business, or a business bring to you, to produce a whole new offering? For example, instead of author commissioning an artist to illustrate their book, how about an artist and a writer coming together to create a graphic novel?

Can you see any collaborative opportunities that you’d like to seek out? Don’t worry if the answer is no, as many ideas are born out of ‘water cooler moments’ and just simply meeting businesses in the same situation as you can sow the seeds of new opportunities.

Collaboration is a powerful way to accomplish what no single organisation can on its own. It can also be a complex beast. Once you have found the right idea and partner, formulate what both parties bring to the project, what the shares and spoils are, and put it in writing. You’ll be glad you did if something did go amiss.

Now you need to find those potential partners. Try seeking these businesses and people out at your local coworking space, networking group or even good old social media. And once you have embarked on the exciting new journey of collaborative working, email your story to info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com or @CamBizLounge

The Definitive List of Networking Events in Cambridge

cambridgeIn the city of Cambridge alone, there are over 10.000 self employed people and, to many of these, networking is a vital way of meeting future clients, suppliers or to simply make connections to join them on their journey to success. However,…

  • Where is the best place to meet them?
  • What networking events are best for technology or non-technology businesses?
  • What are the best informal networking events to go to?

Here you’ll find the answers to the questions and more with our free guide to all the networking events in the city of Cambridge, which is regularly updated. All you need to do is complete the form below for your free copy. You’ll notice that the form requires you to sign up to our newsletter, but don’t worry as you can unsubscribe at any time. You will then receive the networking guide by email within 24 hours.

The Definitive Guide to Networking in Cambridge

If your event or group needs adding or updating, please email info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com for details or tweet us @CamBizLounge. You can also find out about our own events on our events page.

Cambridge Business Lounge Event at Cambridge Union Society by Pendleton Events | Photo by http://www.ianolsson.com

Breaking The Back of Bookkeeping

b imageFollowing on from “Why You Need an Accountant When Starting a Business”, I want to focus on the financial paperwork that you can (and need) to manage yourself, and that you don’t need an accountant for.

Imagine this dark scenario…

You’ve done your research; got your product or service to market, found customers who are interested in what you do…and then you run out of cash. A dramatic, but not uncommon, situation and one not caused by banks not lending.

This situation is often created by not knowing who owes you money, who you owe money to and HMRC penalties for late or incorrect payment and filing of returns. There are more benefits for having your house in order as Emily Coltman FCA, Chief Accountant to FreeAgent Central, explains “Not keeping your books up to date is very risky. Plus, you won’t be able to make informed decisions such as which new markets or new products to try if you don’t have accurate and up-to-date financial information”

“I don’t have the time”

It’s vitally important to make the time, and how much time often depends on the complexity of the business. If you’re a retailer selling a high volume mix of VATable and non-VATable products, your bookkeeping is likely to be more involved than a business which raises 5 invoices per month. A good system will be easy to use, easy to understand and as Emily suggests “we believe that spending just one hour a week on your books will make all the difference.”

It certainly will be if you put these tools in place when you set up your business, rather than play catch-up when you’ve been trading for weeks or months.

“Which system should I use?”

There are a plethora of bookkeeping systems out there, far too many for me to list. So, if you haven’t used one before, seek advice from your peers, accountant or bank manager. An accountant may even suggest using the same system as them, which could be a benefit to you and may even help to reduce your accountancy bill. But is it the right system for your business? Emily warns “Don’t accept an antiquated bookkeeping system because it’s what your accountant has always used. Look for a system that puts YOU in control – after all, this is your business and you are responsible for it to HMRC!”

Using a system that’s different to the one your accountant uses shouldn’t hinder your professional relation with them, as Emily explains “With the right system for you, you will be able to work more closely with your accountant, who will be able to give you proactive business advice such as whether your prices aren’t high enough or you’re paying too much in bank charges.”

Download Software Vs Cloud Based Systems

Market leading tools have historically been QuickBooks and Sage and there is a growing increase in the number of online tools available, with the most popular versions being FreeAgent, Xero and KashFlow. Others are available, but I’d recommend one of these as the starting point for your research.

Online accounting software is, in my opinion, the best way to go. Your information is then accessible from anywhere in the world and, more importantly, it is safe and secure. Also, many online systems offer free trials so you can see how intuitive they are before you commit. When you do try one, also test their customer service/tech support as these will be invaluable to you in the early days of use, and you don’t want to be spending more time on hold or with an unsupportive advisor than you need.

To summarise:

  • Start as you mean to go on, and put systems in place now.
  • Use the tool that’s right for you and YOUR business, not your accountant or bank manager
  • The time spent on this will actually save you time in the future.

Email your comments or questions to info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com

Testimonial 7

I’ve found the Cambridge Business Lounge to be an excellent environment for coworking and providing training

Jon Torrens, Communication Coach

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If you haven’t been to a CBL coworking session, talk, meeting or speed networking event, I suggest you give it a try. It will probably be the best business decision you ever make!

Kathy Salaman (The Good Grammar Company)

Why You Need An Accountant When Starting a Business

 

a imageTo kick start our new A-Z series for anybody who has recently started a business, or is thinking of doing so, we look at A for Accountants…

The focus for many, when starting a business, is to bring their passion, skill or product to market and then find the customers to buy into it. The thought of talking to an accountant often doesn’t even come up at the start up stage, let alone worry about finding the right one. However, the right support can so often make a difference between a successful and unsuccessful business, and an accountant is one the most valuable ports of call that you have. But why? And how can they help?

Why Does My Start-Up Business Need An Accountant?

Will you start trading as a limited company or sole trader? Should you be VAT registered? What taxes will you be liable for? What documentation should you keep track of and how? And, what do you need to know to set up your business that you don’t know now? It is these questions that you will need answers to and, as Elaine Clark, MD of the award-winning Cheap Accounting states “not seeking advice from the offset can often prove to be a false economy

What Else Will An Accountant Do For Me?

Accountants are known for being tax experts and supporting both businesses and individuals on Self-Assessment, VAT, PAYE, Year End and more. In my opinion, an accountant should be a professional friend and confidante for a business. Elaine goes on to state that, like a friend, an accountant will stand with you throughout “It’s not just about today and what needs to be done at start up. A good accountant will be around for all key events during the life time of the business.” she adds “An accountant should listen to the objectives for the business including the aspirations for the future and advise the owner on the best way to structure the business & set up the system of accounting both now and for the future, explaining this in language that the business owner can understand of course.

How Do I Find A Good Accountant?

A qualified account is a great starting point with ACCA, ICAEW, CIMA and AAT helping you here, but as Elaine says “having letters after a name is not always a sign of quality” she goes on to advise “Ask the accountant what professional body they belong to, do they have professional indemnity insurance and what is their complaints procedure. Failure to provide any of these details should start an alarm bell ringing – listen to it.” Remember that if something does go wrong, you can refer back to a professional body. A option not available if you work with an unqualified accountant.

However, like a decorator, motor garage or website designer, one of the best places to find an accountant is by asking a trusted friend or advisor. Find out what the accountant has done for them and what impact they think it would have had on their business without one. Many accountants will also offer a free initial consultation period, usually around an hour. Use this to find out what the personalities of the people you may be working with are like and understand how genuinely interested in your business they are.

Finally, finding the right accountant could save your business a lot of hassle, time and money. Look for one as early as possible as “Starting a business is like learning to ride a bike” says Lance Uttridge, owner of Cambridgeshire based Uttridge AccountingSome will take to it very quickly others will take longer, but to succeed everyone needs advice, encouragement and support. That is what a start-up needs and what an accountant will give

5 Great Books For Start-Ups

One of the first things many people do when starting a business for the first time is to buy a book to learn more about it. But which one should you choose?

Amazon produced 419 results when searching for “Books for start-ups” and Google came back with a staggering 128,000,000. So, I’ve whittled it down to 5 great books based on thoughts from businesses who have referred to these during their navigation through the start up stage:

1. Start It Up. Why Running Your Own Business Is Easier Thank You Think – Luke Johnson

start-it-upLuke Johnson, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, with an estimated personal fortune of £120 million. is a former chairman of Pizza Express and Channel 4 Television, and columnist for the Financial Times and Management Today. Arguably then, Start It Up is certainly a how-to book by someone who has been there and done it. He covers almost everything from the emotion of starting a business to investment, and communication to planning. He certainly doesn’t shy away from forcing the reader to be sure of what they’re doing and to be prepared for the unexpected.

 

2. Like A Virgin – Richard Branson

bransonbookAn easy to read book, which reads more like a series of short blogs, Like A Virgin contains over 75 chapters of tips and experiences from one of Britain’s leading entrepreneurs. Some of the tips may appear glaringly obvious at first glance, and can be a little repetitive, but when backed up by the reasons why Sir Richard has included them, they often take on a more beneficial meaning. Its breezy style means it’s less of a cover-to-cover and more of an open-at-random.

 

 

 

3. Business Gurus  – Various contributors

business-gurusIt’s easy buy volume after volume on the philosophy of customer service, marketing and more. Business Gurus is a bite size volume of global leaders’ major business theories and a perfect introduction to complex leadership ideas. It enables the everyday reader to easily understand these hugely influential management ideas and how they changed the face of modern-day business. Featured experts include Stephen Covey, Napoleon Hill, Charles Handy and many more.

 

 

4. Dear Entrepreneur – Danny Bailey & Andrew Blackman

dear entrepImagine contacting successful entrepreneurs such as the founder of innocent drinks, Pimlico Plumbers, AudioBoo, Urban Coffee Company amongst others, to ask them for their advice in starting a business. Actually, I’m not stopping you if you wish to do that, but Bailey and Blackman have asked these leaders to write to you and offer their advice. As Daniel Callaghan, founder MBA & Company, writes “The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step” and with the simple act of purchasing this book the first inch of your expedition has already been conquered”

 

 

5. The Start Up Kit – Emma Jones

start up kitWhatever your industry or budget, The Start Up Kit offers tips, case studies and templates to help either turn your business idea into a reality or take it to the next level. Another benefit of this book is that it’s released annually, so the case studies and advice are as up-to-date as possible.

 

Would you recommend any others? Would you like to write your own business book review for our website?  If so, or once you’ve read one of these, please email your thoughts to info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com. 

Do Something Amazing For Your Customers

extra_mileWhen was the last time you went a step further to delight your customers? Here are a couple of examples…

1. Recently, one of our customers was celebrating their birthday and I decided to buy a cake from the local Burleigh Bake Shop. Sadly the shop didn’t have the cake that I wanted and instead suggested I visited the mini-supermarket around the corner. Nothing revolutionary so far, but it’s what the owner of the shop did next that blew me away. He offered to drive to the bigger supermarket up the road and buy one for me there, if the one around the corner couldn’t help.

2. I was having a discussion with a connection on Twitter about where to meet up one evening to discuss a joint event. Don Pasquale’s offered their venue and when we asked if they had a specific item on their menu they said no, but they would buy it in and cook it for us. Not for a large group but for 2 people holding an irregular meeting.

In Flipping The Funnel, Seth Godin talks about turning strangers into friends, friends into customers and (most importantly) customers into salespeople. Both these instances show how, with minimal effort, going the extra mile and doing something extraordinary for your customers can get your ‘sales people’ singing about your business, whatever it is that you sell.

So, this week, do something amazing for your customers and tell us all about it at @CamBizLounge or info@cambridgebusinesslounge.com.