FSB First Voice Feb-May 2021

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Driving Business Ambition


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It’s time to consider taking your offering online

Practical advice to help recover customer debts

Why it’s important to familiarise yourself with the options

Selecting the right coverage for your business

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Good Business Charter; May elections manifestos; Prompt Payment Code overhaul; insurance victory for SMEs

What you need to know when starting up a new venture – from choosing a business structure to handling accounts


10 NEED TO KNOW Cybercrime centre reports new scam; WTO allows UK business to compete; record number of businesses expect to close; borrowing goes up among small firms

13 OPINIONATED Martin McTague on government support, Julian Richer on the Good Business Charter and Daniel Whytock on adapting to survive

28 DEEP DIVE A closer look at the devastating economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

43 HOW TO…

16 CYBERSECURITY The growth in remote working has made it easier for cyber criminals to target small businesses

20 ECOMMERCE It’s never been more important to have an online presence – here’s how to make a success of it

24 COVID-19 The long-term business and working trends accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic

30 LATE PAYMENTS How to deal with customers who mysteriously disappear when it comes to paying up

34 BUSINESS INSOLVENCY In these trying times, it’s worth knowing your options if your business runs into trouble

...Make your ads work harder

44 LEGAL How mediation can resolve inter-employee conflict – and why that’s important firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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38 INSURANCE Have you got the right coverage? Navigating the confusing world of business insurance

50 HELPLINE Our expert advises on worker status, music and film licensing and late payments

NETWORKING 51 MEMBER NEWS Toasting survival after a difficult year; no time like the present for gift shop business; the hot tub bar providing bubbly in the bubbles

54 DIALOGUE Don’t miss the latest webinars and podcasts on our Knowledge Centre – plus the best of First Voice online

55 MY BUSINESS A difficult experience with a colleague led electronic components supplier Mark Taylor to strike out on his own, and thrive february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 3

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CONTENTS 56 MEMBER SERVICES Make 2021 the year you fully utilise your FSB member benefits, if you are not doing so already – here’s what you could be missing


EXTRA TIME 60 FIT FOR BUSINESS Tips for staying productive while working from home

62 OUT OF OFFICE How to set up a (virtual) work book club, tech to help you keep your resolutions, and investing in vintage postcards

64 THE GOODS This quarter’s best gadgets – from a state-of-the-art laptop to the ultimate face mask

66 LAST WORD Guy Browning looks back on one of the toughest years for small business in the collective memory

Publisher: Aaron Nicholls Editor: Nick Martindale Email: firstvoice@redactive.co.uk Lead designer: David Twardawa Picture researcher: Claire Echavarry Sub-editor: Kate Bennett Production: Aysha Miah-Edwards Email: aysha.miah@redactive.co.uk Advertising: Lynne Murray Email: lynne.murray@redactive.co.uk Tel: 020 7324 2726 First Voice is published on behalf of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) by Redactive Publishing Ltd (Tel: 020 7880 6200) firstvoice.co.uk | redactive.co.uk

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First word I


pandemic’s impact during the past 12 months – the lives lost, the lockdowns, the public health measures, and the devastating impact on so many small businesses and the economy as a whole. This issue of First Voice looks at some of the challenges, changes and unexpected opportunities it has presented us with as business owners. For many, it has involved the switch to home working. As our cover feature explores, one of the challenges here has been cybersecurity. However, online has also provided a lifeline to those who have been unable to trade face-to-face, finding new business through ecommerce. Our feature on the legacy of Covid-19 looks at ways both small businesses and consumers have adapted – and examines aspects that are unlikely to go back to how they were before the pandemic. One long-term blight has not gone away: late payments. If anything, the current financial pressures on small firms have brought the importance of better payment practices into even sharper focus, as our feature on page 30 explores. With the vaccine rollout under way, hopefully there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. But, as Martin McTague argues in his opinion column, getting through that last stretch could be the toughest part yet without significant final-push support for struggling small businesses. I remain optimistic that small businesses and the self-employed will be at the heart of the economic recovery when it comes. But for those still facing disruption, and those with mounting costs and decimated reserves, there is a need for further help to get them out the other side – so they are still there to provide the growth, innovation and jobs needed to get the economy back on its feet. This edition of First Voice went to press on 29 January. All information is correct as of that point.

FSB publications manager: James Connor Email: james.connor@fsb.org.uk Tel: 07595 284088

fsb.org.uk While every care has been taken in the compilation of this magazine, errors or omissions are not the responsibility of the publishers or of the editorial staff. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial staff. All rights reserved. Unless specifically stated, goods or services mentioned are not formally endorsed by FSB, which does not guarantee or endorse or accept any liability for any goods and/or services featured in this publication. ISSN 2399-5467 Copyright: FSB Publications Ltd

Recycle your magazine’s wrap – check your local LDPE facilities to find out how.

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First Voice is available on subscription at £42 per annum. For details, contact james.connor@fsb.org.uk First Voice has an audited net average circulation of 122,603 (Jul 2019 to Jun 2020).

AccessAbility help. If you require this document in an alternative format, please ring 01253 336036 or email: AccessAbility@fsb.org.uk Honours Best Digital Magazine – Memcom Membership Excellence Awards 2019 Best Association Magazine – Association Excellence Awards 2018


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Furlough scheme The Government’s job retention scheme is scheduled to end on 30 April, although it could be extended.


Family firms are focusing on fitness study by Hitachi Capital Business Finance has found that 90 per cent of owners of small, family-run firms have been making an effort to improve their mental health. Almost one in three (32 per cent) of family business owners have spent more time cooking meals from scratch rather than buying ready meals, while 30 per cent have spent more time in the garden. A quarter of people (25 per cent) say they have become more aware of stress and

Stress Awareness Month This April event is the ideal time to think about the wellbeing of yourself and your sta , including those working from home.


National Living Wage This will increase to £8.91 an hour for those aged 23 and over from 1 April. Apprentices must now receive a minimum of £4.30.

mental health, and 22 per cent are making more of an effort to follow a good diet. One in five (20 per cent) have put more of an emphasis on getting more sleep and going to bed earlier, while 25 per cent now go for a decent walk during the working day.

A light-hearted g look at the world of small business IR35 The legislation will come into force on 6 April, having been delayed by Covid-19. Contractors could find themselves under pressure from customers to prove they are genuinely self-employed.


Giovanna Fletcher

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National Walking Month May will see a number of initiatives designed to get us out and about – welcome news for businesses in areas of outstanding natural beauty.


The Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcaster and author won over the UK’s hearts and minds in December when she was crowned the winner of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in the confines of Wales’s Gwrych Castle. With her experience in helping people cope with being holed up in the castle, we think Mumma Gi – as she was nicknamed – could have a future as a counsellor, o ering support to celebrities who have fallen out of favour.

Elections The Scottish and Welsh Parliamentary elections, as well as UK local elections, will take place on 6 May. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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‘I divide tongues’ ynn Timms set up Breastfeeding Matters after a career as an NHS health visitor and nurse, seeing the feeding issues babies and parents face in the first few months. “Some babies were experiencing feeding issues that could be complicated by a tongue-tie and yet were having to wait a long time for this to be treated on the NHS,” she says. “I trained to divide tongue-ties and since 2007 have been offering this as an addition to my services.” Covid-19 has seen many NHS services reduce tongue-tie provisions, meaning Lynn has been busier than ever, serving customers across Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.


To tell us about your unusual business venture, email us at firstvoice@redactive.co.uk

“It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop” CONFUCIUS


Photography: iStock, PA

Apps to make your life easier 1


Camo Ca amo

Work From Home app

This app helps us users s llook k their best on vid video de e calls by using the cam cameras m in iPhones or iPads, sstreaming camera data from m the app to the computer. ItI comes with im image ag adju adjustment jus us options and is available for Mac, Windows and iOS; an Android version is planned for early 2021.

This app aims to help employers ensure home workers are safe, meet legal obligations and keep track of equipment. It asks sta to complete a risk assessment of their home, list the kit they have and need, and give feedback on how they’re coping.


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FSB member app



Our app lets you manage your membership via your mobile. Access benefits, browse events and make one-click calls to helplines. You can arrange a call-back from our legal helplines and add the details directly to your phone calendar. Search ‘FSB’ in the App or Google Play Stores.

Developed by Lee Nathan, FSB’s south-west regional chairman, this connects shoppers with local businesses. Covering the whole of the UK, it allows independent businesses to promote themselves to buyers, and aims to build an online community of shoppers and local firms.

Small business owners need to be ruthlessly efficient if they are to have any chance of staying on top of everything. RescueTime allows them to monitor how much time they are spending online and block any sites or activities that could distract them from the job at hand.

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FSB launches new tie-up with the Good Business Charter S


owners are being offered a new way to have their ethical credentials acknowledged thanks to a collaboration between FSB and Good Business Charter (GBC). Firms with up to 50 employees can apply for GBC accreditation through a streamlined application process. The GBC – the brainchild of Richer Sounds Managing Director Julian Richer, who handed control of the firm to his employees in 2019 – enables businesses to have their commitment to ethical practice recognised by clients, employees and the wider community alike. The new assessment has been designed in recognition of the time and financial pressures faced by small business owners, especially against a backdrop of trading restrictions and the end of the transition period.

FSB research shows that small firms often play a role in local communities that transcends the financial benefits. FSB National Vice Chair Martin McTague said: “These are exceptionally hard times for small businesses. That’s why it’s so important that those who are dedicated to ethical practices are provided with a streamlined route to GBC accreditation. “Commitment to the charter can not only help with employee wellbeing and productivity, but also with growth. Everyone wants to buy from firms that do right by their communities and society as a whole. By securing this accreditation, firms can show that they are doing just that.” See Julian Richer’s Opinion piece on page 14


FSB Volunteer Conference date set The FSB Volunteer Conference will be held on 16 March 2021, 9.30am-4pm. The event this year will be virtual. The conference will offer volunteers an insight into FSB’s operational and policy successes, and plans for the year

ahead. It will also provide you with additional tools to assist the role as a volunteer and inspire great volunteering activity to help make a difference. Being a volunteer is an integral role within FSB, allowing members to represent the views of

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small businesses with government and develop local activity that helps small businesses grow. As a volunteer, members contribute to the setting of local priorities alongside the delivery of objectives at both a national and local level.



Manifestos unveiled for May elections FSB has published its manifestos ahead of the elections for the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments in May. In Scotland, the main call is for the next Scottish Government to deliver a Small Business Recovery Act in the first year of the parliament. This would set binding local procurement targets for public bodies and look to reform the commercial property market to better protect small tenants. The legislation would also pave the way for a specialist small business unit to advise ministers and Bute House, taking inspiration from the US Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA was established in the 1950s to “maintain and strengthen the nation’s economy by enabling the establishment and viability of small businesses and by assisting in the economic recovery of communities after disasters”. In Wales, the headline proposal is for the introduction of an Economic Development Bill for Wales during the next Senedd term, to help support the businesses that are such a huge part of Wales’ communities and local economies across the country. Other key proposals in the Wales manifesto include the introduction of a Future of Welsh Towns Fund, the creation of an incentive for SMEs to take on apprentices, and a pledge to freeze business rates for the life of the next Senedd. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Tougher measures to combat late payment T


announced an overhaul of the Prompt Payment Code (PPC) to crack down on delayed invoices owed to small businesses. Companies that have signed up must pay small businesses within 30 days – half the time outlined in the current PPC. Despite almost 3,000 companies signing the PPC, poor payment practices are rife, with many payments delayed well beyond the current 60-day target required for 95 per cent of invoices. Currently, £23.4 billion worth of late invoices are owed to firms across the UK, impacting businesses’ cashflow and survival. To help tackle the problem, business owners, finance directors or CEOs will be required to take personal responsibility

by signing the PPC, acknowledging that suppliers can charge interest on late invoices under the PPC and that breaches will be investigated. Those signed up will redouble their efforts to ensure payments are made on time and breaches will continue to be publicised by the Government in order to encourage compliance. The move comes ahead of the expected strengthening of the Small Business Commissioner’s powers to ensure larger companies pay their smaller partners on time. New powers proposed in a recently closed consultation include legally binding payment orders, launching investigations and levying fines. See our feature on late payment on page 30


HMRC pledges support around IR35 HMRC has declared that it will help individuals working through their own limited company to prepare for the upcoming IR35 tax reforms that will come into effect on 6 April. The new rules affect the tax status of an individual working as a contractor or freelancer

and if they ought to be deemed an employee. The changes mean medium and large businesses in the UK will be responsible for determining whether IR35 rules apply to those working for them as contractors, whereas previously the individual


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contractor was responsible for making this decision. HMRC has said it will be running additional workshops for business owners. You can find the support at gov.uk/ guidance/help-and-supportfor-off-payroll-working

Relief for SME owners at Supreme Court ruling Some businesses should be covered by their insurance for losses caused by Covid-19 lockdowns, the UK Supreme Court has ruled, in a test case brought by the industry regulator against major insurance companies. Small businesses had warned they faced ruin after insurers rejected compensation claims for losses during the pandemic. Six of the world’s largest commercial insurers – Hiscox, RSA, QBE, Argenta, Arch and MS Amlin – said many business interruption policies did not cover widespread disruption after the UK’s first lockdown last March. However, senior judges said many payouts should be triggered after scrutinising non-damage insurance policy clauses, which cover disease, denial of access to business premises and hybrid clauses. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it would work with insurers to ensure they quickly settled the claims, and made interim payments if possible. The FCA took insurers to court in June 2020 in a case expected to have ramifications for 370,000 policyholders, 60 insurers and billions of pounds in claims. FSB National Chair Mike Cherry said: “This judgement is a big victory. It cements the High Court’s decision to grant businesses the insurance payouts they are rightfully owed. For many, it has been a long and difficult road to get to this stage, so this will bring clarity and hope to the thousands of firms which have been left in financial limbo for almost a year. “It’s disappointing that so many small businesses have had to wait to get the money they desperately need under policies they believed were there to protect them, policies they bought in good faith.” See our feature on insurance on page 38 february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 9

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Vital information, resources and support CYBER

Cyberscam warning Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, has issued a warning following reports of a new scam. Criminals are cold-calling victims purporting to be from well-known broadband providers, claiming the victim has a problem with their computer, router or internet. The criminal persuades the victim to download and connect via a remote access tool, allowing them to gain access to the victim’s computer or mobile phone. Some criminals have been using browser pop-up windows to initiate contact. Victims are persuaded to log into their online banking to receive a refund from the broadband provider. This allows the criminal access to the victim’s bank account.

platforms that dominate the market, such as Google and Facebook. The new regime will give consumers more choice and control over data, help small businesses thrive and ensure news outlets are not forced out by bigger rivals. The unit, within the Competition and Markets Authority, will work with regulators like Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to enforce the code. For platforms with considerable market power, the code will set clear expectations over what is acceptable behaviour when interacting with competitors and users. Platforms could be required to be more transparent about their services and how they use consumers’ data, give consumers a choice about receiving personalised advertising, and be prevented from placing restrictions on customers that make it hard for them to use rival platforms. Read more at bit.ly/37pjp6f

Read more at bit.ly/3rcF6zp

telecoms networks and remove the threat of high-risk vendors. The Government says the bill will strengthen the security framework for technology used in 5G and full-fibre networks. It will also give it powers to issue directions to public telecoms providers in order to manage the risk of high-risk vendors. While they are already banned from ‘core’ parts of the network, the bill will let the Government impose controls on telecoms providers’ use of goods, services or facilities supplied by high-risk vendors. Companies that fall short could face fines of up to 10 per cent of turnover. Ofcom will monitor and assess the security of telecoms providers. In July the Government announced controls on the use of Huawei 5G equipment. The bill creates the powers that will allow the Government to enshrine this in law and manage risks from other high-risk vendors in the future. Read more at bit.ly/3lmqbP6


Competition regime for tech giants A Digital Markets Unit will be set up to enforce a new code governing the behaviour of

New telecoms security law The Telecommunications (Security) Bill aims to give the Government powers to boost security standards of the UK’s

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UK firms can bid for foreign public sector contracts The Department for International Trade has

announced that UK businesses will be able to continue bidding for public sector contracts around the world, following engagement with World Trade Organization members. At a meeting in Geneva, the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) committee confirmed the UK could join as an independent nation from 1 January 2021. The UK previously participated via the EU. The agreement ensures UK businesses can compete fairly for overseas procurement contracts. This will benefit a range of British businesses that work with international governments, continuing to provide opportunities for businesses to secure contracts from governments around the world. In turn, this will allow British businesses to expand operations in the UK, supporting jobs and growth. The announcement provides British businesses with the certainty they need to continue bidding for public sector contracts overseas covered by the GPA, on the same terms as previously. Overseas firms can also continue to bid for UK public sector contracts covered by the GPA, delivering better value for UK taxpayers, and the agreement will protect public services such as the NHS. It does not, and will not, cover healthcare services but will enable continued access to resources such as medical equipment, cleaning and building management services at competitive prices. Read more at bit.ly/3mz8jSc firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Help shape our research. Join Big Voice, our free online research community, at fsb.org.uk/benefits/big-voice





SBI reveals extent of Covid-19 impact 50





20 10










0 -2.9




-30 -40

Source: FSB-Verve ‘Voice of Small Business’ panel survey



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Small business prospects over the coming three months


The growth in entrepreneurial activity that would come from a 10 per cent rise in the use of freelancers, research by Trinity Business School suggests





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The proportion of small firms that have seen a fall in revenue or sales as a result of Covid-19, according to Gazprom Energy

-49.3 -143.4

Q3 20 14 Q4 20 14 Q1 20 15 Q2 20 15 Q3 20 15 Q4 20 15 Q1 20 16 Q2 20 16 Q3 20 16 Q4 20 16 Q1 20 17 Q2 20 17 Q3 20 17 Q4 20 17 Q1 20 18 Q2 20 18 Q3 20 18 Q4 20 18 Q1 20 19 Q2 20 19 Q3 20 19 Q4 20 19 Q1 20 20 Q2 20 20 Q3 20 20 Q4 20 20


Just under 5 per cent of 1,400 firms surveyed by the FSB Small Business Index (SBI) say they expect to close this year. This does not refl ect the threat of closure faced by businesses hoping to survive despite having frozen operations, reduced headcounts or taken on debt. This is an all-time high for the SBI, and is more than double that recorded at the same point 12 months ago.

The SBI confidence measure stands at -49.3, down 27 points year-on-year. This is the second-lowest in SBI history, after that recorded in March 2020. Most of those surveyed (80 per cent) do not expect their performance to improve in the next three months. The survey also found that 49 per cent of exporters expect international sales to drop this quarter, up from 33 per cent this time last year.

Pandemic forces shift in focus

Small firms borrowing to survive

While most small businesses have struggled in the past year, Covid-19 has had a positive impact on 21 per cent of small business owners, according to research by the Enterprise Research Centre. Its annual State of Small Business Britain report found many firms had re-evaluated priorities in the wake of the pandemic, with 74 per cent saying reducing costs has become more important. Other priorities include introducing new processes (72 per cent) and making increased use of digital technologies (65 per cent). Around one in three firms (34 per cent) said greater digital adoption had resulted in more sales, while 38 per cent said it had boosted innovation. For one in five firms, the pandemic has prompted a ‘pivot’ to di erent business models, the study found. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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MORE THAN £10,000

Around one in three (35 per cent) of small businesses have increased their level of debt (20 per cent) or taken on debt for the first time (15 per cent) due to Covid-19. The study by FSB found 77 per cent have taken on more than £10,000 of debt, with 21 per cent borrowing more than £50,000. Much of this is through the Government’s


MORE THAN £20,000


The amount of the UK population that say Covid-19 has made them more likely to buy from local small firms, a study by Xero finds


MORE THAN £30,000

Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) (64 per cent) but other sources include bank overdrafts (20 per cent), personal credit cards (17 per cent) and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) (14 per cent). The proportion of small firms now carrying debt stands at 69 per cent, compared to 56 per cent


MORE THAN £50,000

pre-Covid-19. One in six (16 per cent) say more than 10 per cent of 2021 turnover will go on debt repayment. FSB urges the Government to extend the deadline to repay VAT that was deferred during the pandemic to March 2022, and to work with banks and finance providers to provide fl exibility around BBLS and CBILS repayments. february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 11

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Final stretch With the rollout of vaccines, there’s hope that the end of the pandemic may finally be in sight. But small firms still need support to help them reach that point

Illustration: Sam Kerr



for the turmoil of the past year and the disruption and hardship brought by the pandemic – to individuals, families, everyday life, small businesses and the economy. But if we think of it on the business side as a marathon – albeit one we’ve had to do without training and planning – we’re hopefully, with the rollout of the vaccines, entering the final couple of miles. While that is in many ways reason for optimism, I worry that, without significant new support, those last couple of miles could be the most gruelling of all. This isn’t looking like a clear run. While we are all cheering each other on, all sorts of obstacles are being thrown in our way, which makes it harder to reach the finish line. VAT bills, the start of paying back emergency loans, the end of existing Covid-19 business support schemes and countless other cliff-edge cost pressures are biting – just when many small business owners and the self-employed are flat out trying to make it through to the end of this immediate crisis and the beginning of the recovery. At government level, much has been done to get a lot of small firms through so far. Billions have been spent, and schemes that would normally have taken years to establish were set up in weeks. Not everyone has been helped, and forgotten groups such as the newly self-employed and directors of limited companies have been left high and dry. Addressing this must be a priority for the UK Government. After all the investment in existing support schemes, it seems illogical to deny a final burst of support for what we hope is the last stretch, having gone so far to keep so many in the running. The lessons of the financial crash of more than a decade ago are clear – the recovery was driven by firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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small businesses and the self-employed. With the right support, that can happen again. With unemployment rising, job creation will be key. Smaller employers can be part of that if a) their businesses survive, and b) there’s an easing of tax disincentives to employment. A reduction in employer National Insurance contributions would make it more affordable to retain and recruit staff. Many have had to take out emergency loans, and repayments are becoming due. Action to help small businesses deal with this debt will be needed, including the possibility of an incomecontingent repayment system – pay as you grow, not pay-back by having to cut back. Tourism and hospitality have been hit hard, and VAT reduction should be extended in these sectors. Their supply chains – and those of nonessential retail – should be covered by a final furlong of support through grants and rates relief. None of this is about begging – it’s about getting otherwise thriving businesses through enforced restrictions. In a marathon, it’s only humane to give an exhausted runner a bottle of water. It’s also much preferable to the runner dropping out of the race due to dehydration. Small businesses can reach the finish line of this crisis – help us to get there and we’ll continue to be economic and community champions on the other side.

‘While we are all cheering each other on, all sorts of obstacles are being thrown in our way’

MARTIN MCTAGUE is National Vice Chair, Policy & Advocacy, FSB. All information is accurate as of 29 January.

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Time for caring Acting responsibly is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense. Julian Richer outlines how even small businesses can now get in on the act

Illustration: Sam Kerr



a place where a word like ‘care’ is used – except perhaps in being careful with money and on the production line! Yet genuine care for others reaps rewards, as well as being morally right. I started my business more than 40 years ago with a small store at London Bridge, where we endeavoured to provide excellent customer service and a good working environment for employees. Now, with 52 stores around the country and more than 500 colleagues, the principles of acting in a socially responsible way are just as valid as they were then. They’re also the reason we have continued to thrive. Richer Sounds is proud to have won the Which? Retailer of the Year accolade for five years of the past 10 – but excellent customer service flows from the colleagues, who feel valued and are paid a decent wage. We implement a number of schemes to support them and ensure they feel cared for and have a voice, whether that is a hardship fund, access to holiday homes or the ability to make suggestions and see them implemented. Treating your employees well has a direct link to profit – better retention, productivity, customer service, reduced recruitment and training costs, and less stock going missing! Retail is a cut-throat sector and treating suppliers well also feeds into a sustainable business. Good supplier and customer relationships are vital to ensure you get the services and support you need, especially in difficult times such as the present. I am passionate about listening to customers, and the public in general. They want to buy from – and work for – responsible businesses that pay their taxes, care about the environment and take ethical sourcing seriously, as well as treating staff and customers well. The problem is that it has not been obvious which 14 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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businesses do care about these things, which is why I support a robust accreditation scheme that brings these different important aspects of responsible business together: The Good Business Charter. The Charter brings the public together across the political spectrum, to recognise care for employees, customers, suppliers and the environment, all while paying taxes according to the spirit of the law. It is supported by the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and all major trade associations. It launched in February 2020 and interest has remained high from companies and charities of all sizes, despite Covid-19. We are delighted to partner with FSB in promoting a streamlined version for companies with fewer than 51 employees; it applies the measures to smaller businesses in an accessible way. We want to encourage more organisations to join, to differentiate themselves and display their true ethical colours. We believe it will help consumers to identify the ‘good guys’ when spending their cash or applying for a job. FSB members signing up to the Good Business Charter will receive their first two years’ membership of the Charter free (and nominal thereafter). For more information, visit fsb.org.uk/campaign/gbc.html

‘Customers want to want to buy from businesses that pay their taxes, care about the environment and take ethical sourcing seriously’

JULIAN RICHER is founder and managing director of Richer Sounds. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FSB.


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Bouncing back Covid-19 hit an already-struggling high street retail sector hard. But while there may be worse to come, there is also a route towards a more sustainable model for independent retailers

Illustration: Sam Kerr



day we first went into lockdown and all but essential retailers closed. We have seen Arcadia, Debenhams and Bonmarché collapse, and many more retailers are not expected to survive. While the 235,000 retail job losses predicted by the Centre for Retail Research includes those from big retailers, a significant number will come from independents – and ongoing restrictions in all parts of the UK are only piling on more pressure. What can be done to encourage people back to their local high streets? Google’s recent ‘buy local’ campaign, featuring Bafta-winning actor Sheridan Smith and boxer Anthony Joshua, is welcome, as have been EU-funded support programmes delivered via councils’ ‘Shop Safe, Shop Local’ campaigns. However, retailers do need to adapt to online: a report by digital identity firm ForgeRock suggests that 49 per cent of consumers will continue to shop more online post-Covid-19. The good news is that small retailers can adapt more easily than big retailers, because they can react quickly and flexibly. It is vital that independent retailers embrace online – both to get through the pandemic and as part of their longterm business strategy. Not all sales should be switched online; bricks-andmortar stores are a significant part of the economy and are important for communities. Although at DownYourHighStreet we help independent businesses sell online, our one stipulation is that they also have their own physical high street shop. Some independent retailers that are new to online may be finding it difficult. Each marketplace has its own take on regulations. A retailer looking to sell on some platforms will have to submit all kinds of information, including invoices of where it purchased firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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goods and proof that they have more than 10 of each product. This is not ideal for retailers trying to clear stock that hasn’t sold from this difficult year. Some platforms are making the transition more seamless. Most ecommerce websites now provide a full solution to help retailers get online and market their products – for example, connecting to Instagram lets you tag products in social posts. One ray of light that has come from the pandemic is a ‘use it or lose it’ realisation among consumers, with increased numbers of people now buying from local, independent retailers and businesses. An American Express survey in December found 70 per cent of consumers say they appreciate local businesses more than ever before, and the same number intended to shop local last Christmas, spending an average of £169. The vaccine rollout is also giving hope. Shops will never go away, particularly where touch and feel are important. Humans are social – we need to interact. Customers like when retailers recognise them, and respond with loyalty. Retailers should love these customers and go out of their way to keep them. Independent retailers must use their determination and entrepreneurial skills to adapt, keeping bricksand-mortar stores welcoming while also embracing online, so they can keep providing quality service.

‘One ray of light is a ‘use it or lose it’ realisation among consumers’

DANIEL WHYTOCK is CEO of DownYourHighStreet.com Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of FSB.

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MALL BUS BUSINESSES SINESSES must be abl able ble to operate online if they theey are to prosper and d grow – but they must be e able to do so safely. In 2019, FSB’s business busin ness crime survey showed that one in five v small businesses in England and Wales had W been affected by cyber-crime e during the previous two years. Of those businesses, 51 perr cent were hit after employees click clicked ked on links in phishing emails, while whille 36 per cent were infected by malw malware ware and 25 per cent had seen systems system ms and/or data locked by ransomware. ransomw ware. Some 29 per cent had suffered online o payment fraud and 22 per cent had h been hit by online invoice fraud. On average, a cyber-crime had cost the affected ecteed businesses £7,093 in the previous previou us two years, and the aggregate costs to all a the small businesses affected was almost £3.75 billion per year. Cyber risks increased during 2020, in part because millions of people switched suddenly to working remotely rather than in their usual workplaces. Some were doing so for the first time, often using their own PCs, laptops, tablets or phones. Few employers had time to consider whether employees were accessing systems or data securely. “We saw huge numbers of people hitting our support desks for help setting up virtual private networks and remote connections,” recalls Mark Lomas, IT solutions architect at technology and services provider Probrand. “Configuration changes were being made to allow people to have remote access, and sometimes there was some loosening of security rules to allow that, because this was being done in a rush.” Research published by Malwarebytes in August 2020 suggested that factors linked to remote working had caused security breaches in 20 per cent of 200 organisations surveyed – but 45 per cent said no additional security checks



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or audits had been conducted following the shift to home working, while 44 per cent had not provided any y extra cybersecurity tra training for staff linked to home working risks. Any business could be affected by phishing or ransomware, but you might be forgiven for thinking a small business would be less likely to be targeted deliberately. In fact, any poorly defended IT infrastructure or data can attract opportunistic attackers, and small businesses may also be attacked because they can be used as stepping stones towards other targets, such as organisations to which they supply goods or services. Greater connectivity with customers can also create risk. Many large organisations’ supply chains now rely on digital processes, with companies sometimes enabling other firms in the supply chain to access their systems in order to track and control the movement of goods through the supply chain. “Criminals may see that as an interesting way to get into networks,” warns Guy Lloyd, director of security solutions provider and consultancy Cysure.

Weakest link Using cloud technologies and services usually helps to improve IT and data

security y – cloud providers use state-of-the-art state-of--the-art security – but badly confi gured configure ed cloud services and poor employeee security habits can create additionall security risks. “People that assume tha at if you put your data into Microsoft Google, Mic crosoft or Amazon cloud services it w will be secure, but of course the weak link nk is people,” says Mr Lomas. “The v vast majority of data reported breaches repo orted to the Information Commissioner’s Commissioner r’s Office (ICO) are down error.” to human error r.” source One major sou urce of security and data breaches, off cloud or on-premise systems, is weak passwords, or use of the same password passworrd for multiple purposes. In May 2020, research from marketplace software marketpl place Capterra suggested that during ng the firrst few weeks of llockdown 30 per cent of staff working for small and medium-sized businesses fell victim to phishing emails designed to harvest log-in credentials. “Password theft is one of the easiest routes for hackers,” says Mr Lomas. “They just set up a website that looks like a log-in portal, then send out lots of emails. They don’t need many people to fall for it.” Stolen log-in credentials can then be used to access business or customer data, or to construct fake emails that appear to have come from the smaller business and can be used to conduct payment or invoice fraud. Budgetary flexibility to improve security is limited at present, but there are many effective yet inexpensive steps small businesses can take to start to reduce cyber risks (see box). x One of the most important is use of multi-factor authentication to access business and cloud services, instead of relying on passwords, using authentication factors such as biometrics or mobile device management software to validate employees’ devices. Some small businesses may need (and be able to afford) specialist information security support, but there are also many useful sources of free guidance and information, including the National february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 17

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Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the regional Cyber Resilience Centres being established across the UK, which can act as a source of advice, guidance and a way to access networks of trusted cybersecurity providers (see box).

Government support Small businesses will also benefit from certification for the Government’s Cyber Essentials scheme. “Cyber Essentials is the first level of cyber security certification, but it’s extremely effective,” says Chris Pinder, Chief Operations Officer at security solutions provider the IASME Consortium, the NCSC’s official partner for delivery of the scheme. Certification is also now a requirement for small businesses seeking to work with a growing number of public sector organisations and businesses, and is cited in ICO guidance as a means of demonstrating compliance with data protection regulation and legislation. One business that has completed Cyber Essentials certification is Achieving the Difference, an aerospace consultancy. “Filling out the audit was a significant learning process that took a couple of months, but it was worth it,” says managing partner Clive Lewis. “Everything that we learned improved our cyber resilience. I would recommend it – you won’t realise how vulnerable you are until you try.” Security solutions and services designed for use by small businesses include CySure’s Virtual Online Security Officer, which can be used to secure business processes and help to deliver employee training, as well as Security Foundry’s cyber threat scanning service Infinisight, which conducts weekly vulnerability assessments identifying risks such as devices within a distributed IT environment that have not yet downloaded recent software and security updates. Above all, businesses must address the human element. “You may have the best 18 | firstvoice | february-may october 2020-january 2021 2021

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‘Sometimes there was some loosening of security rules to allow home working, because it was being done in a rush’

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technical security in place, but if an attacker has tricked someone into giving away their password, they’re in,” says Mr Lloyd. “User awareness and training is absolutely vital.” FSB’s 2019 research showed that only 26 per cent of small businesses had trained most staff to follow good security practices. Employees must be trained to access and use data securely – not just to avoid fsb.org.uk/first-voice

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the operational, financial and reputational damage associated with a data breach, but because in the event of a breach the ICO will require proof that the business has done everything possible to comply with data protection legislation and regulation. Effective security strategies and policies should also be complemented with regularly tested incident management and business continuity plans. FSB’s 2019 research revealed that 41 per cent of businesses surveyed did not regularly back up data and IT systems, and only 9 per cent had a written plan for managing a large-scale IT failure or cyber security incident. FSB has published a guide to creating a business continuity plan (see box).

can arrange this with insurers, offering FSB members discounted premiums. Tim Lazenby, Sales Director at FSB Insurance Service, cites the example of an optician with four outlets that upgraded its insurance cover after being forced to recover from a previous data breach. “It got compromised, because somebody didn’t read an email properly, and then they had to act quickly and that can be expensive,” he explains. The business now has cover worth £250,000 to protect it against a similar incident in future. FSB members also have access to a data and cyber advice telephone service provided by security specialist NCC Group, which can offer information, guidance and support. Laura Holmes, Client Engagement Director at NCC Group, says there was a “significant increase” in call-backs it made to FSB members in need of immediate assistance during 2020. While in 2019, 42 per cent were cyber service calls (as opposed to cyber ‘health checks’), in 2020 service calls accounted for 65 per cent of call-backs. “The most common incidents included phishing, malicious emails and data loss,” says Ms Holmes. Cyber risks are real and dangerous, but with the right technology, processes, training and support in place they can be managed effectively. One possible silver lining to the events of 2020, Mr Pinder suggests, is that awareness of the dangers may have increased. He hopes this will encourage more businesses to work towards best practice. “All businesses should be making a start on that journey,” he says. “For everything they put in place, they’re reducing their chances of becoming a victim.”

‘Cyber Essentials is the first level of cyber security certification, but it’s extremely effective’

Recovery plan As a minimum, businesses should have effective back-up processes in place, says Karl Hargrave, director of Security Foundry. “If you’ve not built a good plan to recover, you’ll be unable to,” he warns. Helen Barge, Managing Director at the consultancy Risk Evolves, recommends businesses consider using the free Exercise in a Box online tool developed by the NCSC, which allows organisations to test their resilience to cyber risks and attacks. Insurance also helps protect businesses against the financial consequences of security incidents or data breaches. Every FSB member business is protected by a data and cyber liability insurance policy as a standard benefit, including cover of up to £5,000 to restore the business’s systems and up to £10,000 to meet costs of disruption suffered by its customers or suppliers. If a member firm requires additional insurance cover, FSB Insurance Service firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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DAVID ADAMS is a freelance business journalist

Further information National Cyber Security Centre advice for small and medium-sized businesses: ncsc.gov.uk/section/ information-for/small-mediumsized-organisations Regional Cyber Resilience Centres. Search online – at the time of writing CRCs have been established in north-east England, Greater Manchester, the East Midlands, the West Midlands, south-east England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Others are planned for eastern England, south-west England and Wales FSB guidance on cyber security: fsb.org.uk/resources-page/ cyber-security-tips-how-smallbusinesses-can-protectthemselves.html Cyber Essentials: ncsc.gov.uk/ cyberessentials/overview IASME Consortium: iasme.co.uk/ cyber-essentials/ Non-profit organisation the Global Cyber Alliance has a useful list of free cyber security tools: globalcyberalliance.org NCSC Exercise in a Box, for testing resilience to cyber-attacks: ncsc.gov. uk/information/exercise-in-a-box FSB Insurance Service: fsb-insurance-service.com FSB guide to creating a business continuity plan: fsb.org.uk/ resources-page/how-to-create-abusiness-continuity-plan.html Scottish Business Resilience Centre: sbrcentre.co.uk/ prevent-protect/cyber-services Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) guide to help assess compliance with data protection law: ico.org.uk/for-organisations/ business/assessment-for-smallbusiness-owners-and-sole-traders/ february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 19

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New dawn

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many small firms to finally get round to focusing on developing an effective ecommerce offering. Christian Doherty outlines how to make the most of it

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T’S NOT SURPRISING that Covid-19 restrictions have dramatically affected the UK’s business life. For many businesses relying on some form of human interaction, lockdowns and other restrictions have placed immense pressure on the bottom line. For some, the pandemic has catalysed a move towards ecommerce. Whether that means selling existing products and services online or developing new ways to generate revenue via online channels, ecommerce has boomed. Research by Liberty Marketing has revealed that during the most recent lockdown in Wales, the week of 24-30 October 2020 saw an 88 per cent revenue increase for online stores from ‘non-essential items’, while a ParcelHero study found that online sales soared by 60 per cent in October. According to Growth Intelligence, 85,000 businesses launched online stores or joined online marketplaces in the four months from April 2020, although this can bring its own issues (see box).


the website to make the most of Christmas,” she says. “We’ve got wine boxes, deli boards and fruit-and-veg boxes. And we’re developing subscriptions for beer, wine and cheese. “It’s accelerated the ideas that we’ve talked about for ages. But this has forced our hand and, while it’s challenging, it’s also led to us giving other things a go. And as a small business we can pivot quite easily.” Macknade was one of many businesses to have an online channel as a small part of overall revenues. Once the first national lockdown came in last year, it was clear that it required investment to keep existing customers engaged and attract new ones. “The two key areas were paid social advertising and finding a good freelancer or expert to help with the technical details,” Ms Collins says. Paid social advertising – Macknade uses Facebook and Instagram – allows her to target people based on interests and go after customers she knows will have an interest in the company’s products. “You don’t have to spend silly money,” she adds. “On Facebook and Instagram you can stay quite low-budget and tweak it as you go along. It’s been a really good way to target audiences.”


Fresh horizons

The percentage rise in online sales of nonessential items during the Wales lockdown in October

For many businesses, the pandemic has been an opportunity to develop an online offering, something many struggled with before. “We’ve doubled the volume of our products and expanded into new categories,” says Rosie Collins, marketing manager at Macknade, an upmarket farm and food business. With two existing sites in Kent that relied heavily on footfall, she says the absence of customers required a new approach. “The lockdowns gave us the chance to invest and beef up the functionality of firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Efficient ecommerce Peter Mowforth is an ecommerce consultant based in Glasgow; he has worked with both large and small businesses to help them grow their online operations. In his view, the key to developing a successful – and sustainable – ecommerce offering is to effectively retain ownership of the key elements. That extends to your

website, URL and, most importantly, your customer relationships. “You want to fulfil things yourself if you’re an SME: that means packing and dispatching it yourself,” he says. “And, yes, it costs more, but you pack the box so you can put the leaflet in there, advertising your other products. It means you can brand your packaging, and start to build your relationship with your customers. And as you go on you will gain more customers who

Driving local online sales It’s clear that trying to carve out an individual niche for your business online is really tough, even at the best of times. During a pandemic, however, getting your voice heard is even tougher, especially if your business is making its first foray into the ecommerce space. It was that challenge that led Jackie Mulligan to launch ShopAppy. “It’s the only place-centred digital platform that brings shops and services together and enables people to browse, book and buy local online,” says Ms Mulligan. “And we are the only local platform that truly aggregates, allowing people to buy bread from the local baker and veg from the veg shop, and only go through one checkout. Then you can choose whether you want to collect your items or have them delivered. Or you can just browse before visiting the shop itself.” Running across di erent places from Kirkcaldy to Taunton, Ms Mulligan says that when the app launched four years ago, she found a small number of businesses with some online presence, but many wanted to grow sales during lockdown. “We wanted to be an aggregator because we felt it shouldn’t be easier to shop from a distant warehouse in the middle of nowhere than it is on your local high street,” she says. “We know that people have an emotional connection to where they live and want to spend their money locally.” february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 21

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know you and like you and are happy to recommend you. While you want to make profit, you want to build your customer base at the same time.” Beyond that, make sure you have a clear offering. “One of the things Jeff Bezos – perhaps the world’s greatest ecommerce retailer – did with Amazon was to start out with one product,” says Mr Mowforth. “It was only once he’d sold $1 billion of books that he decided to expand the range. So keep a narrow focused strategy and put all the wood behind the arrow.”

Photography: Getty

Spread your wings Once your customer base has been established and engaged through regular contact – either via social media or by bringing your existing customers over from the bricks-and-mortar business – it may be time to diversify. It’s certainly worked that way for Florence Hellier, co-founder of Hampshire-based Hoxton Bakehouse. Having established four retail outlets around the Winchester area and developed a thriving wholesale business, the advent of the pandemic saw the business rapidly ramp up its online retail side. “We could quite easily switch from our wholesale business to retail customers, aside from taking on two extra delivery drivers,” she says. “We’ve added 25 per cent of new customers to our existing base, in part thanks to offering things like eggs and flour – items that were suddenly scarce at the beginning of lockdown. And then they’d try the bread and pastries and now they’re loyal customers.” Ms Hellier’s success in not just maintaining but also adding to the customer base owes a great deal to careful use of social media. “We’ve got about 30,000 followers on Instagram, as well as others on Facebook and Twitter,” she says. “Instagram really helped and it’s never really dropped off. Having that channel really helps to keep the sales coming in.” And even though the Bakehouse has invested heavily in bricks and mortar (the company’s fifth site opened just as 22 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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the lockdown hit), it was able to build a fit-for-purpose ecommerce site within a few weeks. “If you don’t have a website, just do one yourself,” Ms Hellier advises. “Using something like Squarespace might only cost you £30 a month and you can put add-ons into that. You can create a basic product page really easily, and then use social media to get your message out. If you use a platform like giraffe you can put a certain amount of money behind an advert per week and you may see orders go up.” It may be worth checking independent web designers, too – they may not be as expensive as you think, and could provide you with a bespoke offering that will really help your business stand out.

Social conscience Wendy Hamilton agrees that social media is a crucial tool in reaching out to customers both old and new. As the owner of Grasshopper Toys, she’s only too aware of the crowded nature of her market niche, but agrees with Mr Mowforth that retaining ownership and control is crucial when selling online – and that extends to generating content to engage customers. “Don’t try to outsource your voice to an agency; you’ve got to develop that yourself,” she says, explaining that she while she only posts sporadically on social media, she invests time in getting the tone right.

Online marketplace challenges FSB is warning that one issue small firms trading through online marketplaces might face is the digital services tax. The tax is a two per cent levy aimed at making global giants pay a greater share of tax but there are concerns that marketplaces will simply pass the cost on to small business customers which use the platforms to sell their own products. “Moves like this are not in the spirit of the digital services tax,” says Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman. According to FSB’s Destination Digital report, other problems small firms face

when trading via online platforms or marketplaces include malicious or fake reviews, cited by 21 per cent of small firms, sudden changes to terms and conditions (19 per cent) and infringement of intellectual property (13 per cent). Many small firms also operate in areas where poor-quality broadband can make it difficult to trade online at all; FSB’s Lost Connection report suggests 33 per cent say their broadband speed is insufficient for their current needs and a further 40 per cent believe it will be inadequate in the future. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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“I hate social media because it takes a lot of time – you can’t just rock up and do it without thought, so you have to be considered about what you do. But if you can get that tone and frequency right, then social media can be a very effective way of engaging existing customers and attracting new ones.” However, not all companies can ride out the storm by continuing to ship products. Many service businesses are being forced to invest in online channels to keep going. For Vicky Anstey, founder and MD of dance studio Barreworks, user experience is the number one priority. “If firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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a website or online platform is complex to navigate, takes time to load or creates frustration in the user experience, they won’t stay long on the site,” she says. FSB Payments (fsb.org.uk/benefits) can help here, allowing sites to offer a number of secure ways to accept payments. Accessibility is vital, too: not everyone is tech-savvy or intuitive when it comes to the world of online. “In as much as we endeavour to make our workouts and our studio inclusive, we have set out to make our online activities straightforward, accessible and stress-free,” Ms Anstey says. Her

mantra is simple: stay small, stay lean, stay agile. “Pivot. See the opportunity in the crisis. Build up resilience and never give up,” she says. However, standing out from the crowd is difficult when the volume of online chatter is at an all-time high. “Make everything you do uniquely you,” says Ms Anstey. “Make sure your personality shines through – no one can copy that or take it away from you.” CHRISTIAN DOHERTY is a freelance business journalist

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‘With consumers spending more time at home, they have rediscovered local high streets and local independent businesses’

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LEGACY It’s now a year since the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the UK, thrusting many small firms into a battle of survival. But the pandemic has also accelerated a number of longer-term trends – many of which are here to stay, as Penelope Rance reports

HE CORONAVIRUS outbreak had a major impact on almost every business in the UK. Small firms, with their tight margins and sector specificity, suffered some of the greatest impacts. The latest FSB Small Business Confidence Index found that 58 per cent of small firms expect to see revenues drop in the first three months of 2021, and 5 per cent do not expect to survive the year. In the year since Covid-19 hit, the pandemic has redrawn the landscape for SMEs. However, while vulnerable, they boasted traits needed to survive the fallout of Covid-19 – not least the ability to adapt to unprecedented events. “The pandemic caused huge strains on small businesses, their owners and those that work within them, but in many cases it’s brought the best out of them,” says Chris Thornhill, co-founder of Growth Animals. “While large businesses responded with the



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speed of an oil tanker doing a U-turn, small businesses adapted on the fly, showing how innovative, resourceful and hard-working this backbone of British society can be.” Yet while some sectors managed to survive and even thrive, others were poleaxed. In the depths of the first national lockdown, hospitality was paralysed. “Xero research found that small business hospitality revenues


The increase in new firm formations from April to June 2020 compared with Q3 in 2019

were down 34 per cent, and those in the arts and recreation were down 38 per cent year-on-year,” reveals Gary Turner, co-founder and Managing Director of Xero UK. “These are staggering figures.” Things were less bleak on the country’s building sites. “September’s SBI data found small businesses in the construction sector managed to keep losses down, with revenue down 7 per cent compared to 2019. They were able to continue operations without having to adjust as much,” says Mr Turner.

Varied response Throughout the pandemic, Be the Business tracked SMEs’ responses, segmenting them into four groups: including Hibernators, Survivors, Pivoters and Thrivers. “We’ve seen more than one in five firms become Pivoters by changing their business model,” says Anthony Impey, CEO of Be the Business and chair of FSB’s Big Ideas Group. “This allowed them to remain open and they’ve february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 25

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consolidated positions as innovators and dependable local firms.” Thrivers were found in essential sectors, where they were able to ramp up production of existing products or services. There is no hard and fast industry rule, however. Consultancy firm McKinsey found companies that benefited from the pandemic tended to be individual businesses, typically smaller, rather than part of systematic trends in specific sectors.


The proportion of people who say they now visit more independent stores than they did pre-Covid-19 Perhaps surprisingly, businesses were also established during the crisis. Starling Bank analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics found a 5.3 per cent increase in new firm formations from April to June 2020 compared with Q3 in 2019. Mr Thornhill, who founded Growth Animals mid-lockdown (see box), has also seen many others start out, or rewrite their business models, in response to the demands of the pandemic. “In our early days, we spoke to so many businesses that had started or pivoted in response to the crisis that we started a content series all about it, called Covid Creations,” he says.

Embracing technology A defining trait of the ‘new normal’ is the integration of technology into SMEs – and this is an evolution that 26 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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is unlikely to be reversed. “Small business owners have innovated in the face of challenging circumstances, embracing technology and developing new products and services,” says Mr Impey. “There was as much innovation in the first three months of lockdown as in the previous three years. This goes beyond the ‘Zoom boom’: there has been significant uptake in online collaboration software, cloud-based back office systems and ecommerce.” This has also prompted a change in how small firms sell to customers, says Mr Turner, and it’s likely that this is here

to stay. “It’s hard to imagine that businesses will abandon the investments they have made in their online presence,” he says. “We will continue to see small businesses offer alternative ways to shop.” It’s not just retail that has gone digital, either. “Consumers now expect to be able to do everything online, with products and services delivered instantly – sometimes via new methods, such as vending machines or in collaboration with partners,” says Suzi Woolfson, private business leader at PwC. Owners and founders who create new revenue streams, develop new business firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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models and adopt new technology will be well positioned for an economic recovery, says Mr Impey. “While there is no certainty about what the future will look like post-pandemic, we can be sure that businesses will be a lot more digital,” he predicts. Another major, and perhaps lasting, change has been the rise of remote working. For SMEs, there may not have been the sweeping change seen in the corporate world, but the impact has still been felt. “If you can be remote-based, you can benefit from a potentially global talent pool, and do so with a dramatically smaller cost base,” says Mr Thornhill. Not everyone can work from home, of course, and some small businesses need premises and a local workforce. “The workplace plays an important role in society, whether for sharing ideas or for the mental health benefits of seeing colleagues, so businesses have to find the right balance,” says Ms Woolfson. “Start-ups in particular need spontaneous conversation which can spark new ideas or leftfield thinking. I think there will be a growth in flexible office space, where many start-ups begin their business journey.”

High street resurgence The effects of increased home working have also been felt on the UK’s high streets, impacting the SMEs both trading there and in associated supply chains. While the impact of the lockdowns has hit hard, there was a boost to footfall when hospitality re-opened, including many small businesses. “It climbed throughout August as Eat Out to Help Out drew people to town and city centres,” reports Simon Quin, executive director of the High Streets Task Force. Autumn saw a resurgence of Covid-19 cases and the closure of many shops, but smaller locations continued to show better performance, reflecting a shift to local shopping and leisure. Peak shopping times also shifted, says Mr Quin. Saturday ceased to be the firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Growth Animals Chris Thornhill co-founded marketing company Growth h Animals during the first lockdown in 2020, using the unprecedented situation as a springboard after taking voluntary redundancy. “The pandemic presented us with an opportunity that might never have otherwise arisen,” he says. Mr Thornhill, co-founder Jen Bayford and partner Jerin Micheal now use their expertise to help other SMEs succeed. “Our founding principle is to help businesses sell more through ethical growth marketing, in a positive, conscious and human way.” Despite Government programmes set up to help businesses during the pandemic, they didn’t fit the needs of the new start-up, and Growth Animals had to seek support elsewhere. “All the Government initiatives were skewed towards big businesses, and small start-ups failed to meet requirements for support,” says Mr Thornhill. “But there was a groundswell of support within the business community. The pandemic

biggest day of the week, as home workers were able to visit local town centres during the week. Likewise, flexible hours meant lunchtimes were no longer the busiest time of the day. “With consumers spending more time at home, they have rediscovered local high streets and local independent businesses,” says Ms Woolfson. “Our consumer sentiment survey showed that 24 per cent were visiting more independent stores instead of chains, with 29 per cent saying they would do so in the future.” PwC’s store openings and closures survey also shows a record number of multiple/chain retailer closures. “This offers an opportunity for independent operators to take their place on the high street, often for lower rents than in the past,” says Ms Woolfson. Encouragingly,

brought a sense off civic responsibility that meant you were never far away from someone willing to share ideas, give feedback and point you in the right direction.” Networks including FSB and LunchClub proved invaluable. “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to concerns around launching a business during the biggest economic downturn for decades,” he concedes. “But in many ways it made our offering more relevant. An affordable, fl exible marketing resource in this climate can be extremely useful. We’ve also had positive feedback on our ethical approach to growth marketing, as clients become more purpose-based and aware of the need for businesses to have a social conscience.”

the Office for National Statistics survey found retail and business services industries made up a larger proportion of business creations in the third quarter of 2020 than in recent years, suggesting that while some retailers are closing, others are emerging to take their place. Many of these will be smaller start-ups. Long term, Mr Thornhill is optimistic about the shift from a city culture to more local dealings. “People enjoyed the sense of community and ‘shop local’ spirit,” he believes. “Firms that can demonstrate a willingness to put people first and give back to the community will be well placed to succeed.” PENELOPE RANCE is a freelance business journalist

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The amount of small firms that expect a reduction in profitability during the coming quarter – an all-time high

With the rollout of a vaccine now underway, there is hope that conditions for small firms will improve this year. But the pandemic has left a legacy of destruction that is still playing out

23% The proportion of small firms that have decreased the number of people they employ during the past quarter


T of he th sm pr be at al opo c f sa l fi rti ov ut n orc y th rms on th er um ed ey re th b to ’ll e e e m ne rs on x th t s


past year have challenged small firms in ways that could not have been imagined only 12 months ago. Covid-19 has so far seen all four nations of the UK come in and out of national lockdowns, with severe restrictions on movement and mixing. This has served as a hammer blow to small businesses, many of which were already reeling. FSB’s Small Business Index for the final quarter of 2020 found just under 5 per cent of small firms now expect to close during 2021. How badly firms have been impacted has varied widely. The entertainments space, including cinemas, soft play centres, bars and restaurants, has been hit hardest, with many forced to close for long periods of time, while nightclubs and much of the events industry have been shut for the entire period. Inevitably, this has filtered through into job losses, and businesses failing. Other small businesses have fared better. Those who can have transitioned to remote working, moving operations into houses and setting up staff to work from home. Some sectors have even flourished on the back of lockdowns, with sales of baking products, home fitness equipment and technology rising as a result of people spending far greater time at home. Others will have benefited from consumers having greater disposable income as a result of not commuting or socialising. The economic impact of Covid-19 would have been far

Crisis point

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The total number of self-employed people in the UK – down from 5m a year ago, according to the Office for National Statistics

Figures are from FSB’s Small Business Index unless otherwise stated




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14.6% The current rate of unemployment among 16-24-yearolds, according to the Office for National Statistics

The fall in the size of the UK economy by the end of 2021 as a result of Covid-19, predicts the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


The amount Brits spent on cycling in 2020, according to research firm Mintel

7.5% loyment h unemp ording ic h w t a 21, acc entage The perc d to peak in 20 sponsibility te c R e dget e is exp ce for Bu ffi O e th to

The number of people predicted to be unemployed in the second quarter of 2021, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility


The amount of exporters that expect international sales to drop this quarter


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s predicted growth in the UK economy during 2021

worse without the Government’s furlough scheme, which has protected millions of jobs, and the measures to help the selfemployed. But gaps in support remain. “At the outset of the first national lockdown, the UK Government was bold,” says Mike Cherry, FSB National Chairman. “There are meaningful lifelines for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, which are very welcome as far as they go. But this government needs to realise that the small business community is much bigger than these three sectors. “Company directors, the newly self-employed, those in supply chains and those without commercial premises are still being left out in the cold.” FSB has published a fivepoint plan to address gaps in the support landscape. There’s no doubt that the months ahead will be tough, and that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, rather than at the end. But there is now hope of a return to something approaching more normal conditions as we move into spring and summer months. The rollout of a vaccine in particular means small firms are more optimistic now about growth prospects for this year, although the legacy of the pandemic will remain with us for a long time. february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 29

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Money trouble Small firms have long found themselves struggling to get paid on time, and Covid-19 has only made matters worse. Alex Wright explores the latest measures to tackle the issue, and practical steps to help those struggling

ATE PAYMENTS HAVE been the scourge of small businesses almost since time immemorial. Around 50,000 SMEs go bust every year as a result, according to FSB research, with more than £23.4 billion in late payments currently owed. The problem has been exacerbated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and our exit from the European Union, with clients delaying payments as they rein in their finances. A staggering 62 per cent of small businesses surveyed by FSB said that they have experienced either an increase in late payments and/or had payments frozen completely as a direct result of the pandemic. The knock-on effect for small businesses has been crippling, with many being driven to the wall. “From the start of the first lockdown, businesses have been trying to retain their cash for as long as they feasibly could to


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help mitigate the uncertainty around these unprecedented times,” says Mark Rankin, head of commercial services at Markel Law, which provides FSB’s Debt Recovery service. “This has put a massive strain on the supply chain and has inevitably had the most significant effect on those small businesses at the end of the supply chain.” The matter has been brought to the fore by FSB, which has called on the Government to mandate that any large companies receiving significant financial aid should commit to a small business supplier charter, including the provision that all payments are made within 30 days (currently the limit is 30 days for public sector bodies and 60 days for the commercial sector). firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Vast problem Such is the scale of the issue that the Government has introduced the Prompt Payment Code, alongside the EU Late Payment Directive. The Government has even appointed a Small Business Commissioner specifically to deal with the issue. Despite all this, however, many SMEs don’t feel the deterrents go nearly far enough. According to Creditsafe, around 40 per cent of all invoices are paid late, putting increased strain on small businesses, which rely on regular cashflow to pay their staff, rent and suppliers. Aside from the financial cost, chasing up money can be a drain on a company’s time and resources; small business owners spend one-and-a-half hours per day chasing late payments, mobile-first banking service provider Tide has found. “The scale of the problem is vast,” says Billhop’s CFO and co-founder Ingemar Sjogren. “And it is causing a considerable amount of financial strain on SMEs.” Under the Late Payment Interest Act 1998, businesses which have been paid late can claim interest of eight per cent above the Bank of England prevailing rate on the overdue amount. That was extended in 2002 to add compensation for businesses that have made claims against their suppliers for late payments. “Delaying or withholding payment may provide some temporary respite for a large business,” says the Small Business Commissioner Philip King. “But it can be the difference between survival or death for a small business.” The Commissioner’s casework team has resolved and unlocked more than £680,000 in late payments

during the pandemic. The Commissioner operates a complaints scheme for investigating late or unfavourable payment practice disputes, with the power to make non-legally binding recommendations and publish reports naming and shaming offenders.

Talk about it Currently, small businesses have three main options for chasing late payments: negotiation with the debtor, civil court action, and statutory demand and steps to wind up the debtor. But all are only effective to a certain degree.The county courts are chronically underfunded and understaffed, while civil courts are an intimidating place with archaic rules; cases heard there are often both lengthy and costly, taking, on average, 12-15 months to reach final hearing. Under Covid-19, the situation has worsened, with claims piling up. Similarly, moratoriums have been imposed on winding up and bankruptcy processes in the wake of the pandemic. That often leaves negotiation as the most viable alternative. “Ultimately, the most effective means of securing payment often tends to be through direct discussions with the debtor,” says Mr Rankin. “These can come with the added bonus of preserving ongoing commercial relationships that might otherwise be adversely affected by the adversarial litigation process involving solicitors.” Even negotiation is fraught with challenges, with SMEs treading a fine line between being forceful enough to demand their payment and maintaining goodwill. To overcome this, small businesses should be upfront


The number of minutes small businesses spend chasing up late payments each day


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Top tips on dealing with late payment

1 2

Before you enter into an agreement with a company, carry out a credit check to see its financial position and track record of paying on time Clearly set out and agree your terms of payment in writing at the start of your new working relationship, including the amount, a set payment date and that late payment interest and compensation may be applied

3 4 5 6

If you don’t receive payment within a week of the agreed date, chase up the company

If you still haven’t received payment after 14 days, engage a debt recovery service to deal with it, or, as a last resort, take legal action

If problems persist, strongly consider withholding services or deliveries, or stopping doing business with that company altogether Contact the Small Business Commissioner for free advice and support. Visit smallbusinesscommissioner.gov.uk

about their credit terms, communicate regularly with their client and follow up swiftly if no payment is forthcoming. “We recommend that new customers complete a simple credit application form, which, at the base, above the signature, appears a standard phrase clearly stating the terms,” says The Credit Protection Association’s Managing Director David Baber. “Within those terms it should stipulate when payment is required and that late payment compensation and interest may be applied if they fail to pay on time.” february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 31

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Digital developments Tools have also emerged to help firms get paid on time. “The business banking market is taking this issue very seriously,” says Tide CEO Oliver Prill. “For a small cost, small businesses can set up a direct debit with their customer when they issue an invoice, and the payment is then taken from the customer when the invoice is due.” Another solution is the adoption of day-one invoice payment. By using algorithms to look at the data, predictive analytics can identify problematic invoices, enabling the rest to be paid instantly. “We need every small business in the UK to have the option of day-one payment if we are going to avoid a catastrophic number of bankruptcies and the inevitable rise of unemployment that follows,” says Paul Christensen, co-founder and CEO of online payment platform Previse. “The technology is available to make these payments a reality.” Companies receiving financial support from the Government should also be obliged to use it to pay small business contractors or suppliers immediately, argues Philipp Siedel, head of communications at Holvi. “There should

also be some form of back-up loan or relief fund that small businesses could turn to when cashflow is restricted because payment is delayed.” Small businesses can play their part by helping to identify companies with poor payment records and alerting others. Lower-risk companies can be rewarded with extension of credit. “We encourage businesses to share how customers are paying them, to encourage customers to pay invoices on time or negotiate extended terms when needed,” says Creditsafe’s UK & Ireland CEO Chris Robertson. “If you paid your mortgage or credit card late, this would appear as a red flag on your personal credit report – the same should be true for businesses consistently paying their suppliers late.”

‘Delaying or withholding payment can be the difference between survival or death for a small business’

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FSB Debt Recovery can help you navigate the debt recovery process and give you the tools to take control of your debt. For more information visit fsb.org.uk/benefits ALEX WRIGHT is a freelance business journalist

Lessons learnt Rebecca Todd, owner of social media marketing firm Social Vine, is no stranger to late payments. The entrepreneur, who helps independent hospitality and tourism firms with online strategies and campaigns, had one particular client that she had to chase repeatedly. After agreeing a monthly set fee for managing its social media accounts, the client paid for the first three months before a new manager took over. Having chased for a month with no success, she called the owner, who informed her that the terms of payment were now 30 days. “As I had just started up, the business in question knew my vulnerability and naivety when it came to running a business,” says Ms Todd. “I didn’t have a contract or service-level agreement in place, so I didn’t have a leg to stand on.” Ms Todd received the next two payments late again and had to chase the next payment, only to be told the invoice hadn’t been seen, despite her management app showing the contrary. To compound matters, the company told her that the sta member dealing with it was on holiday for a month. “They told me that the payment was going to be chased up and someone would call me,” says Ms Todd. “So I sent them a final email threatening further action and received an auto-response saying that the manager had left the company.” She did, however, eventually receive her payment. Now she always ensures there is a contract in place, and regularly follows up to make sure that payment is in hand. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Get Paid More. Zero Fee Payments. Forever. Osu is a payment app made for small businesses. Instant payments direct to your bank account. Zero fees. Zero delays. Zero hassle. Forever.

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22/01/2021 10:13


Breathing space In the current climate, many small ďŹ rms will be struggling to pay their debts on time. Buoyed by new legislation, insolvency may present some options to enable them to keep going. Rob Gray outlines how it works

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OVID-19 HAS TAKEN A terrible toll in terms of lives lost and damage inflicted on businesses. Lockdowns and recession have hampered companies’ ability to trade and destroyed revenue streams. Many small firms will be unable to survive in their current form. If your business is in bad shape, what should you do? It’s important to understand what insolvency is and what the first signs are. “Insolvency is defined as not having the money to pay debts when they fall due,” says Kevin Hellard, president of the Insolvency Practitioners Association (IPA). “It can also be defined as total liabilities outstripping total assets on the company’s balance sheet. If the company finds itself in such a situation, or it is foreseen, the company is likely to be insolvent.” It’s important to know if your business is insolvent, as there are risks involved in continuing to trade. “If it can be proved that a director knew or ought to have known that the company was insolvent and couldn’t avoid a liquidation, they could be liable for any losses accrued in this period of trading,” says Gavin Bates, owner of Smart Business Recovery and a licensed insolvency practitioner (IP). “However, there are other more common issues: if the director is used to paying themselves via dividend, it is likely these are no longer valid and should stop.”


Sources of help FSB’s legal advice line is a valuable information resource for business owners facing these issues – but the most important step is to speak to an IP. Generally, IPs give initial advice for free, and it may be the case that this will enable you to rectify your issue. All UK IPs are licensed and regulated by reputable licensing bodies including the IPA and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Both organisations have searchable directories of members on their websites. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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You may encounter offers of help if your business is struggling. Unless this person is a licensed IP, they may be acting unscrupulously – they could be loan sharks, or ‘insolvency advisors’ who are only web-based and offer poor and possibly illegal advice. The earlier an IP is contacted, the more options there are – including potentially the option to avoid a formal insolvency procedure. Similarly, the sooner an IP is contacted, the lower costs are likely to be. Various options are available that let a struggling business continue operating. If there is going to be an unavoidable delay in payments, businesses can employ the help of an IP in negotiating with creditors on timelines. In the case of HMRC liabilities, they may be able to agree extra time to pay what is due – HMRC’s ‘time to pay’ arrangement.

Extra time If the company needs more time to be rescued, there are different forms of insolvency process it can enter. Smaller businesses would traditionally enter one of two procedures: liquidation or a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), which is a plan for the repayment of all or part of the company’s debts, brokered by an IP with the involvement of all affected parties. “The new Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act, which came into force in late June in response to the coronavirus pandemic, has introduced a new moratorium process,” explains Mr Hellard. “This prevents legal action from being taken against the company while a rescue plan is sought.” This ‘debtor in possession’ moratorium procedure – as opposed to ‘creditor in possession’ – gives 20 business days’ protection from certain creditor action, with a monitor overseeing the moratorium but leaving existing management to run day-to-day business. “However, between its introduction in June 2020 and 31 December 2020, only four moratoria were obtained, and they february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 35

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are more suitable for large companies,” explains Andrew McTear, a licensed IP at McTear Williams & Wood, which works mainly with smaller businesses. “The new procedure can only be used if a company is insolvent, has sufficient cashflow to pay all its bills during the moratorium and can be rescued as a going concern. For smaller businesses we think those circumstances will be few and far between, and most likely only in conjunction with a CVA or to buy time to refinance.”

End of the line If the company cannot be rescued and must be closed, a liquidation procedure can be entered – also known as winding-up. This involves either a compulsory liquidation or a creditors’ voluntary liquidation (CVL). The former involves applying to court to liquidate the company; the latter involves creditors. If the company can pay its debts but you want to close it, you can enter a members’ voluntary liquidation. If your company needs to be liquidated without a long delay, it is better to liquidate voluntarily via a CVL. “Often, company directors will be able to secure finance to start a new company, learning from their experiences,” says John Bell, licensed IP and founder of Clarke Bell. “Many great entrepreneurs have experienced corporate failure before going on to create a highly successful business, so liquidation doesn’t mean the end of the road.” One controversial insolvency process known as a pre-pack administration can also be effective in preserving a business that is fundamentally sound but has hit misfortune – usually an unforeseen bad debt that has ruined cashflow. Typical situations for using this option are: the company has cashflow problems and can’t

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pay its creditors; there is a potential buyer for the business, which could be directors or employees of the company or a third party; there is a realistic likelihood that the buyer will make a success of the business; the value of the business would be eroded if it was first placed into insolvency and then marketed for sale; or liquidation is not an option.

How to put a firm into insolvency Don’t avoid or ignore creditors – see if you can obtain repayment holidays Hold regular board meetings to discuss your financial position and ensure you have the most up-to-date financial position available If your company is facing financial challenges, speak to your accountant. They will be able to o er advice about the likelihood of your company becoming insolvent If insolvency looks likely, speak to a licensed IP as soon as possible. Directors have a legal duty to protect the interests of the company. If the company is having financial problems, this duty extends to acting in the best interests of those the company owes money to Your chosen IP will discuss your options with you and help you steer a path through the process


In a pre-pack administration situation, a marketing campaign must be undertaken to ensure that the best possible price for the company is achieved and that, where there is a sale to a third party, there is no conflict. Where no third-party buyer is found or the existing owners make the best offer, the IP will often sell to existing directors or shareholders. “This is where the controversy lies,” says Mr Bell. “Many creditors see this as a cosy stitch-up between directors and a ‘friendly’ IP. Insolvency legislation, supported by best practice guidance, is designed to prevent this and will result in unscrupulous IPs being struck off. “There is a recommendation that such pre-pack administrations ought to be subject to the independent scrutiny of a panel of industry experts,” he adds. “Some feel the old system, where a court order from the High Court was obtained, might alleviate these concerns in the eyes of the public.” Given the ravages of 2020, many businesses are living on borrowed time. “A wave of insolvencies is inevitable,” says Simon Underwood, business recovery partner at accountancy firm Menzies LLP. “Corporate insolvency figures, as released by the Insolvency Service, show that the number of insolvencies has been suppressed by current support measures. These can’t last for ever, and at some stage businesses will have to show viability and self-sufficiency. Businesses that have prepared well by reviewing cashflow forecasts, reducing costs and protecting revenue streams will be best placed to avoid insolvency.” ROB GRAY is a freelance business journalist


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Worried about insolvency? Don’t put off taking advice When is the right time to take insolvency advice for my business? Covid-19 is taking its toll on people and businesses alike, and many small businesses will be touched by insolvency issues for the first time. In normal times, most business owners think insolvency is something that only happens to other businesses – but that might all be about to change. Did you know that your business is defined as insolvent by law if the value of its assets is less than the amount of its liabilities, or if it cannot pay its debts as they fall due? If either apply, you should take insolvency advice. Pressure from creditors usually builds up gradually over several months, possibly even years, and it can be genuinely di cult to see when you have crossed the line from honestly prioritising your financial affairs to recklessly incurring additional credit with no realistic prospect of ever being able to pay. They say the spectator sees more of the game, and that is true in insolvency, too. When you are in the thick of it, punch drunk from fending off creditors, what an outsider would see as a big problem may have become quite normal to you. There is no definitive answer, but if you are in doubt you should seek independent professional advice.

Are there any warning signs? Think of insolvency warning signs like a tra c light. Green for ‘carry on trading, but keep under review’. Amber for ‘proceed with caution, but if you are unsure consider taking initial advice’. Red for ‘stop trading or take immediate professional advice’.

GREEN Unable to pay creditors on normal terms but they are happy to extend further credit. Cannot pay the taxman on time but HMRC has agreed a payment schedule for the arrears. Exceeded your credit limits with your key suppliers and are on stop, but are able to get credit elsewhere and overall keep your creditors level. AMBER You can only get credit from new sources and are using this to fend off existing creditors. Creditors are threatening legal action and tax arrears are mounting. You cannot accept new orders because you can’t buy essential materials or pay the overtime to satisfy it. RED You are on stop with most of your suppliers and cannot get more credit from anywhere. You are receiving final demands for payment and county court writs. The worry is giving you sleepless nights. If you are in doubt, try completing our free automated business health check. It only takes a few minutes and you get a clear recommendation at the end.

If my business is Insolvent, should it stop trading immediately? Some advisors might say yes, but not us – as long as you act in the best interests of creditors and take professional advice


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without delay. Ceasing to trade is a big decision and should not be taken lightly. You are entitled to consider all your options, not least because jobs and livelihoods depend on your decision. On one hand, it could be the end of the road for your limited company, but with a bit of forward planning it may well be possible to make a fresh start and continue.

Where should I go for advice? Many business owners will turn to their accountant or lawyer, but that could be di cult if you already owe them money. Alternatively, you could go direct to a Licensed Insolvency Practitioner who specialises in advising businesses under pressure. They are all highly regulated, but not all specialise in smaller businesses as we do, and it is always better to follow a recommendation or endorsement. At McTear Williams & Wood we are a smaller business ourselves, as are our partner firms across the UK, so we understand the pressures. Working closely with FSB, we are pleased to be able to offer members a free initial insolvency assessment by telephone. It only takes one of our experienced advisors 30 minutes to understand and assess your situation and point you in the right direction. After that, if you would like a more detailed review or to meet (via Zoom or face-to-face) again for no charge, we can do that too. If you are a small business looking for insolvency advice, visit mw-w.com/ firstvoice or call 0800 331 7410. Don’t delay – we are here to help. february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 37

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The events of the past year have highlighted just how volatile the world can be, underlining the need for small ďŹ rms to have eective insurance policies in place. But navigating the myriad options can be daunting, as Peter Crush explains

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O ONE EVER SAID running a small business was easy. Many fail in their first year, and it’s thought that around half won’t make it past their fifth birthday. This means it’s even more important that small business owners take the simple steps that could prevent this – including taking out appropriate insurance for their business. Correct insurance is literally an SME-saver. With almost 10,000 cyber-attacks on small firms every day, according to FSB, cyber-insurance is now an essential part of the insurance mix. Redemption costs are usually fully covered, as are any costs arising from litigation customers may bring against SMEs for data breaches. Some providers will even throw in the services of a PR agency to deal with any reputational management issues such an attack creates. FSB members have access to cyber-insurance as part of their membership; see fsb.org.uk/ benefits for more information. The protection doesn’t stop there. Even prior to Covid-19, SMEs were suffering the scourge of late payments – but research by invoice insurance provider Nimbla estimates the pandemic is magnifying this problem. It polled 2,000 SMEs in October and found that 38 per cent were still waiting to be paid an average of £59,013 for work they completed before the first lockdown. Without credit/invoice insurance, a fifth fear they won’t be paid any time soon, with three in five (60 per cent) worrying they won’t be paid at all due to insolvencies. These are just two elements of the burgeoning SME insurance market; more well-known insurance types include public liability insurance (providing cover against claims made


by a member of the public who has been injured or had their property damaged); employers’ liability insurance (providing cover against claims made by employees suffering an injury or illness during the course of their employment); professional indemnity insurance; buildings insurance; and product liability insurance (covering property damage or illness caused by selling a product to a customer). So far, only employers’ liability insurance is a legal requirement,although growing numbers of procurement departments and professional bodies and associations now require that firms take out professional indemnity insurance to protect their organisation from any financial or reputational damage that could occur from an SME’s activity with them. Beyond this, though, insurance can be a minefield when it comes to knowing what is appropriate or necessary. “Jargon in the sector makes things incredibly difficult for most SME bosses to fully understand,” says Ben Rose, chief underwriting officer at challenger business insurance provider Superscript. “Insurances tend to be overly complex, hard to navigate or difficult to add in a way SME owners feel suits them. The upshot is that many can take a calculated risk not to even bother. Given many entrepreneurs are risk-takers by nature, cover that doesn’t seem contextual to them is often ignored.”

‘Jargon in the sector makes things incredibly difficult for most SME bosses to fully understand’

Confusing territory Low engagement with insurance is borne out by data revealing SMEs are unconvinced that what is out there suits their needs. Insurer RSA finds that apart from cost of cover (the top buying factor for 61 per cent of SMEs it polled), lack of broker understanding about their february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 39

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business, plus scope of cover (by 58 per cent and 38 per cent of those polled respectively) were the two biggest blockers preventing them buying. It’s an issue Matt Pilling, founder of Suffolk-based Owl Book Binding, knows only too well. Thanks to an eclectic customer base, he’ll handle exceptionally rare books for rebinding – everything from 17th century Bibles to one of his more recent projects: a rare first edition, first impression of Ian Fleming’s debut James Bond novel Casino Royale. “Most insurance providers can’t even categorise my business properly, which isn’t a good start,” he says. “Currently I’m classed as being in the printing industry, but I don’t print a thing! Then there’s often nothing specific to what I do, so you’re forced to decide whether to take a calculated risk or not.” In the end, he opted for a ‘business from home’ policy, which covers him for damage and loss from theft, fire and explosion of up to £25,000 (he hasn’t yet had a book that exceeds the value on-site). The other issue is that there are now so many insurances out there that they overlap, while some SMEs might need something that is more industryspecific. For instance, separate vehicle and goods-in-transit insurance would suit those predominantly on the road, while plant and machinery insurance clearly supports those in manufacturing or factory settings.

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Specific insurance might also be needed for the particular stage a business is in – for instance, directors’ and officers’ insurance. This protects the individual officers of a firm against a wide range of personal liabilities, including health and safety breaches, breach of duty, negligence and defamation, says David Perry, co-founder of FSB Insurance Service. This might be


The proportion of small firms that say cost is the biggest factor when taking out insurance

needed if a firm is raising funds for angel investment, or management buyouts. Then there’s personal cover, such as for being unable to work due to illness – particularly useful for sole traders.

Unwelcome interruption One type of insurance that’s come into focus during the Covid-19 pandemic is business interruption insurance. Many policyholders who were forced to close their businesses completely believed

they could claim on their insurance, using infectious or notifiable diseases and denial-of-access clauses. Insurers disagreed, so the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) referred 17 policy wordings from eight different insurers to the High Court. One of the lawyers working on behalf of SMEs was Catrin Povey, solicitor at Capital Law. She says: “In September, the High Court finally gave its mixed-bag response – on the one hand agreeing that the wording of policies was vague, but not entirely on the side of SMEs either.” In January, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of policyholders in a landmark FCA business interruption insurance test case – a move welcomed by FSB. “All valid claims will be settled as soon as possible and in many cases the process of settling claims has begun,” says Huw Evans, Director General of the Association of British Insurers. “We recognise this has been a particularly difficult time for many small businesses and naturally regret the Covid-19 restrictions have led to disputes with some customers.” While this is good news for small firms, this sort of spat does nothing for the insurance sector’s reputation. “It’s bad publicity for insurers, at precisely the time they should be engaging more with SMEs to raise confidence in their products,” says Ms Povey. “When SMEs are already struggling financially, the ever-expanding range of insurances out there will be a harder sell.”


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FSB Insurance Service FSB Insurance Service (FSBIS) was established in 2018, partly to help address insurance complexity. Part-owned by FSB, it was set up by members, for members, and provides insurance advice (whether you use FSB-provided insurance or not) as well as additional services such as business continuity planning, business valuation services and policy reviews. Longstanding FSB member and FSBIS co-founder David Perry says: “Insurance was becoming too commoditised for SMEs, at a time when they were increasingly needing better advice. SMEs naturally adapt to survive, but insurance is slower to respond. “Take a firm that starts o selling garden supplies but moves into making ornaments (manufacturing) and o ering landscaping (professional services). It’s hard getting insurance for a shop which is also a manufacturer, which also o ers o -premise services. This is when more tailored conversations are needed.” According to Mr Perry, it’s best for SMEs to take a layer-by-layer approach. “There’s the stu you legally need – employers’ liability, motor insurances and specific-sector ones like engineers inspection insurance. After that should come the things that suppliers insist on. Then it’s things that are sensible – building insurance, business interruption insurance – and then there are ‘extras’ – things like whether you feel your suppliers are themselves under threat of going under, where invoice insurance might be needed. The key is dealing with the ‘what matters’, and then looking wider afield.” So far, 40,000 members have registered with FSBIS, gaining access to more than 60 di erent insurance providers. As well as traditional providers, there are newer, more innovative players represented – such as Nimbla and Purbeck (which supply specialist invoice and business loan insurances respectively), as well as Floodfl ash, which provides a parametric product in fl ood risk areas. FSBIS has already won the 2020 UK Broker Start Up Award and is a finalist in several Insurance Times category awards. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Lowering the risk However, she believes that anyone who chooses not to cover themself is taking a very big risk. Ewan McConnell, director of precision tooling manufacturing firm Magor Designs, confesses he was very glad he had taken out personal guarantee insurance when his business – which had been trading for six decades – went into administration in December 2019. Personal guarantee insurance protects SME owners and directors from losing their house and home if they have signed a personal guarantee-backed loan for their business and it subsequently fails. The insurance Mr McConnell had taken out meant 80 per cent of outstanding loans, totalling £72,000, were settled through his provider Purbeck Insurance Services. “Running a small business is stressful enough without shouldering all the financial risk at a personal level too,” he says. “Nothing can make up for the loss of the business and the impact this had on the people we employed. The dawning realisation that we would have to close was softened by the fact that we knew we were in part protected by the personal guarantee insurance. We can now move on personally and professionally.” Although suspicion around insurers paying out will arguably never go away, more reassuring is research by GlobalData, which finds a third of medium-sized businesses are more likely to purchase cyber insurance since Covid-19. Meanwhile, data by

Allianz – despite being a couple of years old – finds that 80 per cent of the SME senior decision-makers would be prepared to pay more for their insurance if they were advised that their existing cover was inadequate. Ultimately, how much insurance an individual business takes out is down to the owner and their risk appetite. Nic Redfern, finance director of Know Your Money, believes that now is a good time for owners to review just what they have in place. “Because of their experiences this year, more business owners may weigh up whether it is worth paying the premiums for additional insurance, or whether they should focus on other types of insurance that may be more relevant and useful for their specific sector needs,” he says. Experts all agree on one thing: not being covered could be costly. Peter Taylor, managing partner at law firm Paris Smith, concludes: “Now, more than ever, businesses should engage with their insurers, with the help of their professional advisers, to have a comprehensive and honest conversation about the extent and terms of the cover required.” At least that way, small firms can make informed decisions and make sure they aren’t leaving themselves overly exposed. PETER CRUSH is a freelance business journalist

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Make your ads work harder Placing ads on Facebook and Google can allow you to adopt a targeted approach to customers and monitor the impact



Facebook ads, you’d be forgiven for wondering where to focus your efforts in order to maximise new leads, sales and customers. Unlike the huge corporate giants out there, we don’t all have a limitless pool of money to plough into advertising campaigns, so we have to make sure every penny counts. The following six steps will help you improve your prospects with Google and Facebook ads: 1

Account structure Think of your account structure as the foundation on which to build your campaigns. If it is weak, you can’t build something great. One of the simplest ways to organise your campaign structure is to separate campaigns by the di erent products and services you o er, or the geographical locations in which you wish to advertise. From here, you can allocate daily budgets accordingly. The main things are accessibility and control. Building out campaigns in the right way will be rewarding in the long term.



Conversion tracking

Optimise your account

Before you spend on Google or Facebook ads, you must have conversion tracking in place. It is critical to maximising return on investment. You need to have conversion tracking in place to track key actions that take place as a result of someone clicking your ad, such as an incoming phone call enquiry, a contact form completion, a quote request or an online sale. With full conversion tracking in place, you will soon know which keywords or ads are profitable and which are wasting money.

Using conversion tracking data, you can optimise your account. If you see keywords or ads with an unacceptable cost per lead or cost per sale, turn them o and spend that budget on the keywords and ads that are profit-generating. The result? More customers from the same level of click spend! You can go further and optimise your spend around best performing times of the day, devices, age ranges, audiences and more. This is where the money is made!

STEVE PERRY is owner of Pixal Marketing


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Remarketing You’ve no doubt seen examples of remarketing when browsing the web. One morning you start browsing online for a pair of shoes; that afternoon, you see ads for that same pair of shoes, trying to lure you back to the website. That’s remarketing. Remarketing isn’t just for ecommerce; it’s perfect for servicebased businesses, too. Having potential customers see your product or service everywhere they go (for a set period of time) oozes credibility and authority in the marketplace, and it’s super-cheap to run!



Know your numbers

Go, go, go!

What is an acceptable cost per lead or cost per sale in your business? What is the average transaction size for each of your products/services? What is the average lifetime value of a customer? Knowing these numbers will steer the optimisations you make and you’ll soon be able to forecast your returns on varying levels of ad spend. This is how Google and Facebook ads have the ability to become a consistent and predictable ‘customer-generating system’ within your business.

When all of these elements are in place and your ad accounts are purring along like a well-oiled machine, you may want to scale up by spending more money to acquire more customers. The level at which you scale up will depend on your business and your capacity to handle the extra customers – but that’s the exciting thing, because when you have a consistent and predictable customer-generating system in your business, you can plan confidently for growth.

Illustration: Jamie Jones

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Talk it through Where working relationships break down, employee mediation can be the key to repairing these and minimising the litigation risk for the employer



relationship that, as in all relationships, frustrations and disputes can arise, or existing disputes may be amplified. This is particularly likely during the current pandemic, given the additional pressures and challenges many are facing – whether that be through increased workloads, reduced workloads, navigating remote working for the first time, or indeed the impact of the pandemic on personal and family life. Under health and safety legislation, the employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment as far as possible, and this includes an environment where employees are not at risk of psychological harm – not just physical danger – to minimise the risk of personal injury claims. A failure to do so, or to address grievances, may also put the employer at risk of potential constructive dismissal claims, or other claims such as discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic, where applicable. For these litigation as well as reputational reasons, and in order that the workplace is a productive and pleasant place to work for all, the employer should ensure, as far as possible, that staff may enjoy a dignified and non-hostile working environment. Mediation can be the key where workplace conflict arises between staff, if both parties are willing to engage, and provided that the behaviour does not constitute a disciplinary matter. If so, the employer should instead follow their disciplinary procedure. 44 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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What is mediation? When there’s a disagreement or dispute between two or more people in the workplace, mediation can help sides come to an agreement. It’s normally used to settle disputes about working relationships. It may also be agreed as part of a formal grievance outcome. Mediation is held by a neutral person (a ‘mediator’). The mediator is impartial. Their role is to help find a solution that all parties are prepared to agree to. In contrast to litigation, mediation is a quicker and cheaper way to resolve a dispute. It is: Less formal than other procedures Flexible Voluntary Confidential Usually not legally binding on the employer or parties to the mediation. Larger employers may have their own mediation schemes, but employers may use informal mediation by appointing, for example, a manager with appropriate attributes to act as a mediator. If using an external mediator, the cost for mediation is usually paid for by the employer. Mediation conducted by an external mediator usually involves a separate meeting with each party, followed by a joint meeting, sometimes at the workplace or in a neutral venue. Where agreement is reached, a written record of what’s been agreed will be kept. The agreement will be confidential and will only be shared with the parties involved in mediation and anyone they give consent to share it with. A number

of organisations offer mediation services, including the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

How can FSB help? The FSB legal advice line often advises on how to proceed where workplace disputes arise when implementing grievance procedures. However, the benefits of exploring mediation can be overlooked where employers are focused on following their own procedures, rather than exploring the benefits of additional, alternative approaches. FSB Legal Hub has a consultancy team that offers competitive quotes for providing legal assistance to FSB members in resolving workplace disputes or tricky grievances. In one example, two employees were in conflict, largely due to a ‘personality clash’. The mediation proved successful and two agreements were drawn up. The first agreement was confidential to the two parties. This involved a commitment and an apology to the other party. The second agreement was for circulation to their manager and set out agreed changes in how they would work together in future, with agreed monthly review meetings with their managers to ensure the changes were being successfully implemented. HANNAH THOMAS is an employment solicitor at FSB Legal Hub. FSB members should ring the FSB Legal Helpline on 03450 727 727 to discuss legal issues


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Card payments with no monthly costs

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Taking the

plunge With redundancies and unemployment rising, many people will finally get round to starting the business they have always dreamed about. Getting the right structure in place is vital, says Nick Huber EDUNDANCIES ARE ON the rise as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hit the jobs market. In the three months to October 2020, the UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.9 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), while redundancies increased to a record high of 314,000. The decision by the Government to extend the furlough scheme to the end of March will


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have saved some firms from making similar decisions, but with an economic downturn under way it’s likely many more people will lose their jobs in the months ahead. For some people, however, redundancy may have an upside. Economic downturns often see a rise in the number of people starting new businesses – sometimes using their redundancy payouts − and using their free time to turn ideas into reality.


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Official figures from the ONS for between July and September last year (2020) show that the number of businesses created in the UK was slightly higher than during the same period a year earlier, after a slight fall between April and June. Isabel Sachs is one of the so-called ‘Covid-19 start-ups’. After losing her job in spring 2020, she set up a new business called I LIKE NETWORKING, a mentoring and networking organisation for women and non-binary people in the creative industries. It pairs mentors − experienced professionals at companies and organisations including Fifa, Nike and Google, as well as the former design manager for Barrack Obama’s 2008 US presidential campaign – with young people from around the world who want to work in the creative industries. She says setting up the business has been a “whirlwind”. “In all honesty I thought this would be a volunteer side gig, but then it became a lot larger pretty fast.” Starting a new business is exciting, but can seem daunting. Here’s a guide to some of the key steps.

Pick your business structure The legal structure of your business depends on what sort of work you do. It can affect the way you pay tax and get funding. The gov.uk website has extensive and clear advice on this and other business matters. Business structure options include self-employed ‘sole trader’ (the simplest structure), limited company, business partnership and social enterprise.

Limited company and sole trader Running a limited company means there is a limit on any debts you may be liable


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for if your business goes bust. That’s one attraction of setting up a limited company rather than being a sole trader, which is the simplest business structure and means less paperwork. “The downside of being a sole trader is the unlimited liability,” says Elaine Clark, managing director of online accounting firm CheapAccounting.co.uk. “If the business goes to the wall, you would be liable for any debt as a sole trader.” However, a limited company means more paperwork, including filing annual accounts, and typically involves withdrawing funds from the business in a certain way (a combination of salary and dividend payments).

There are more than 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, including the Big Issue and Divine Chocolate. Social enterprises can use various business structures, including limited company, charity, co-operative, sole trader and ‘community interest company’ (a special type of limited company that exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders.) If you create a community interest company you must draw up a ‘constitution’, give a legal promise that your company’s assets will only be used for social objectives, and set limits on the amount of money that can be paid to shareholders.

‘If the business goes to the wall, you would be liable for any debt as a sole trader’

Partnership You and your business partner (or partners) personally share responsibility for your business. This includes any business losses and purchases for your business, such as stock and equipment. Partners share business profits. Each partner pays tax on their share. When you set up a business partnership, you’ll need to choose a name, a ‘nominated partner’ and register with HMRC. The nominated partner is responsible for managing tax returns and business records.

Social enterprise If the main purpose of your business is to change the world for the better, you can set up a social enterprise. You can still make a profit, but most of it should reinvested in good causes or donated.

Employee ownership Business that are owned by their employees are becoming more popular in the UK. Well-known examples include retailer John Lewis and Arup, an engineering and consultancy group. Employee ownership is usually done through shares – either by employees becoming individual owners of shares in their company, or by shares held collectively on behalf of employees. For those just starting up, this is more likely to be an option further down the line.

Don’t forget about insurance If your business employs people, it must have an employer’s liability policy. Your staff are your

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STARTING UP responsibility. Any loss, damage or injury could result in them making a claim against you. Employer’s liability covers your legal responsibility for your employees. It covers legal expenses if an employee makes a claim against your business. It may also be worth having public liability insurance, which protects your business from suffering financially if a claim is made against it over loss or damage to a third party due to the negligence of your business. It is not a legal requirement, but is strongly advised in any organisations that interact with the general public, or if you have visitors to your premises. FSB members can register with the FSB Insurance Service for free, which can help you source the right insurance products for your business – see fsb.org. uk/benefits for more information.

Tax If you’re a sole trader, you run your own business as an individual and are self-employed. You’ll need to need to tell HMRC that you pay tax through self-assessment, and will have to file a tax return every year. If your business is a limited company, a co-operative or an ‘unincorporated association’, such as a community

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Social focus Amy Foster runs Nomad HR and Recruitment, a Warwickshire-based company that provides recruitment, headhunting and HR services to businesses. She recently turned her business into a social enterprise. Although she still provides the same commercial service for recruitment and HR, approximately 20 per cent of her time is spent on pro bono work, helping young people into employment. A large portion of the business’s profits go back into community projects that help homeless people and provide training and job opportunities for young people. Ms Foster, who was a youth worker and worked for social services before starting her business, provides free mentoring online and by phone for young people

group, you’ll pay corporation tax. You’ll need to register for it with HMRC, keep accounting records and prepare a company tax return to work out how much corporation tax to pay. You’ll usually pay corporation tax nine months after the end of your ‘accounting period’, and will also need to complete a personal tax return. If your business’ taxable turnover is more than £85,000 in a year, it must register for VAT (taxable turnover is everything a business sells that is not VAT-exempt). VAT-registered businesses must charge VAT on their goods or services. They may reclaim VAT they’ve paid on business-related goods or services. You can register online for VAT. VAT-registered businesses must usually submit VAT returns to HMRC every three months. It’s also possible for those earning below £85,000 to register for VAT, such as firms that buy a large volume of materials to enable them to complete jobs.

from disadvantaged backgrounds. She helps them with CVs, interview techniques and finding jobs. “Mentoring people gets me out of bed in the morning, it gives me a variety of work and it feels really good to be contributing,” she says. “Five of the young people who I helped have got jobs in the last month. One young person was homeless, sofa surfing and had no CV or ID, which made it difficult to start looking for work.” Foster says that she will amend her ‘Articles of Association’ with Companies House, the register of UK companies, to refl ect her company’s new social purpose. “Fortunately, I’m in a very di erent position to other businesses,” she says. “I’ve been ridiculously busy recently, so I can reinvest profits from my business into my social enterprise.”

£85,000 The threshold above which a business must register for VAT Company accounts If you’re a sole trader, your accounts should be straightforward, so you probably won’t need an accountant. Accounting software such as Xero and QuickBooks or banking apps can help you handle your accounts and tax returns. However, if you’re a limited company it’s unlikely that you will be able to file your accounts and tax returns without the assistance of an accountant, says Ms Clark, unless you’ve got some prior training. “There are people who’ve done it, but more often than not, they’ve not done it correctly,” she says. NICK HUBER is a freelance business journalist


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Small business stories: surviving 2020 Y ou don’t need us to remind you how challenging 2020 has been. While last year will long be remembered as a time of di culty, we’ve also seen an outpouring of kindness, resilience and innovation throughout the global SumUp community. During 2020 we saw the resilience and ingenuity of business owners across Europe. SumUp merchants big and small responded to ever-changing local laws and circumstances with speed and innovation. From selling parrots via Payment Links in Italy to hosting virtual quizzes with food delivery in Germany, our merchants devised all manner of inspiring ways to stay in business and delight their customers. Here are some of their stories…

Solidarité, Switzerland As Europe rushed into lockdown this spring, simple tasks such as buying groceries suddenly became daunting. A wave of panic-buying led to supermarket stock shortages, while online delivery services were overwhelmed. For senior citizens urged to stay at home at all costs, the challenges were even greater. However, communities rallied to support one another. One incredible example was Solidarité, a grassroots movement in Switzerland that saw thousands of volunteers go shopping on behalf of elderly people. We were honoured to provide these heroes with card readers, to make their duties that little bit easier. As one Solidarité hotline operator told us, “Thanks to SumUp, our service users from firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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‘Your strength during the past year has inspired us, and we’ve been proud to support you along the way’

high-risk groups are no longer dependent on cash. This means we can offer help to a broader range of people.” Our card readers also helped minimise physical contact between seniors and volunteers.

of Saint-Malo, so she urgently needed to rethink her strategy. Ultimately, Ms Daou decided to take her truck on the road, visiting rural and remote locations that had limited access to delicious takeaway food. For her plan to succeed, it was vital that she found a simple and secure way to accept payments wherever she went. Happily, SumUp turned out to be just the solution she needed. “I had so much to do – thinking up a new menu every week, finding new locations to visit, raising awareness via my Facebook and Instagram. In a year like this, every minute counts. SumUp saved me a lot of precious time to focus on adapting my business plan.”

Hotels Properties, UK and Ireland The family-owned Hotels Properties group used its portfolio of properties to help local heroes. The business decided to stay open throughout the national lockdowns, offering rooms in its upscale Dublin and London hotels to essential workers at substantially discounted rates. SumUp’s Payment Links allowed the company to take bookings remotely, making life ever so slightly easier for those on the frontline.

Chez Daou, France Chez Daou quit her engineering job last year to pursue her dream of becoming a chef and working with sustainable, local products. Then, of course, France entered lockdown – but Ms Daou was determined not to give up on her passion. Her initial target audience had been o ce workers in her hometown

Cantina Sorres, Italy Italian sisters Delia and Laura have grown their family’s traditional wineproducing business by taking a modern approach to payments. Cantina Sorres, in north-west Sardinia, uses SumUp’s Payment Links to pre-sell tickets to its vineyard tours and take payments for its aperitifs from a safe distance. The sisters are also firmly committed to sustainability and community-building, selling and promoting goods from other local producers. Your strength during the past year has inspired us, and we’ve been proud to support you along the way. If you’re a small business looking for more tips, tricks, or even an affordable, easy-to-use payment solution, visit sumup.co.uk/firstvoice february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 49

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Ask the experts Our experts are on hand to answer all your queries about setting up on your own. Rianda Markram, a solicitor at FSB Legal Hub, tackles the latest reader questions


What do I need to know about worker status?



Many businesses engage agents or sales representatives to sell products, and often these terms are used interchangeably – but there are differences between employees, commercial agents and the self-employed, and misunderstanding this status can be disastrous. Someone who is not an employee can be an ‘agent’ of a business as well as being self-employed. If they have continuing authority to negotiate sale or purchase of goods for the business, or negotiate and conclude such sales on its behalf, they are generally a ‘commercial agent’. Here, employment law is irrelevant and the Commercial Agents (Council Directive) Regulations 1993 (as amended) apply. These give commercial agents rights and protections. The agency contract need not be in writing for the regulations to apply. Artificial structures aimed at avoiding the regulations and/or an employer/employee relationship will not be accepted by courts, which will look past what parties have called themselves. Under the regulations, either party has the right, on request, to a signed document from the other setting out the terms of the agency agreement, including any later variations. FSB members should contact the FSB legal advice line with any questions on this topic. 50 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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What are the rules around playing music and films in business premises?


If you play or perform music in a public place, you usually need a licence from PPL PRS as a result of copyright which exists in the composition and the sound recording. If you play content such as TV shows and films, you usually need a licence from the Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC). Whether an admission is charged makes no difference. The fees depend on business size, how content is being played and why you’re playing it. There are exemptions, and it may be worth checking those with PPL PRS or MPLC. Licensing of entertainment under the Licensing Act 2003 is separate from copyright authorisation to show films in public. These licences are issued by local councils and are generally required by live music venues, cinemas, larger theatres, larger street and openair festivals, and larger indoor sporting arenas.


How can I protect myself against non-payment in the current climate?


Knowing how to deal with customers and what to do if things go wrong is crucial in managing your cashfl ow and reputation. Here are some steps you should consider: Do your homework – carry out credit checks, and get bank or trade references Know who your contract is with. Is it a limited company or an individual? You need to know who your claim is against in the event of a dispute, and have an address for them Set a maximum credit limit, and require personal guarantees where relevant

Provide written terms and conditions and ensure these are agreed before goods/ services are provided. Do not just put terms and conditions on the back of your invoice Send out an invoice to request payment, setting out what you have done, the amount owed and due date If the customer is late paying, find out why straight away Do not ignore complaints and hope they will go away. Investigate, address them quickly and take advice in a timely manner to avoid disputes. FSB members have access to a 24/7 legal advice line Any court claim is only ever as good as your customer’s financial resources. If they have little or no capital or income, you might not get anything. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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James Nicholson founded wine sourcing and importing business JN Wine in 1977


Not quite a vintage year W


the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Covid-19 pandemic, last year was not without its challenges for Crossgar-based JN Wine. The firm sources and imports wine from around the world and sells it to retailers, restaurants or individuals, either through one of its two websites, mail order or its shops in Crossgar and Highbury Vintners in London. Founder James Nicholson set the firm up back in 1977, having worked in the firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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restaurant business for four years, and today it employs around 50 staff. But lockdown hit the restaurant sector particularly hard, and also saw its own retail operations suffer, while the uncertainty around future trading arrangements between the UK and the EU made it difficult to plan ahead. “It’s been difficult with most of the on-trade being closed since March, but we have worked closely with clients on repayment plans and have been as supportive as possible,” he says. “We

used the time to completely overhaul the London shop and also refurbish the Crossgar base. We invested around £300,000 in IT a few years ago and that has paid dividends, with good increases throughout retail and mail order.” Despite the difficulties of 2020, the firm is hoping to grow this year. “We are planning another acquisition in the UK which will increase our scope, likely to be in London,” he says. “We will also supplement our team to enable some wholesale distribution in England.” february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 51

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Against all odds W


impact Covid-19 would have on high street retailers, William and Helen Crawford, owners of Invernessbased Old School Beauty, feared the worst. However, a combination of switching to online sales during lockdown and then strong sales once shops opened up again meant the business was able to record its best trading year to date in 2020. “We expected it to be absolutely dead, and gave staff nominal amounts of work just to keep them in the loop,” recalls William. “But we had to put them all back full-time.” It even had to reinstate a second till, which had been originally removed to help with social distancing. The shop, which sells a range of quality gifts for men and women and employs six people, predominantly targets the local community, and William puts its success down to a range of factors, including people not able to go on holiday, other stores being closed and its position on the North Coast 500 road route.

Old School Beauty’s William and Helen Crawford managed to record their best trading year to date in 2020

During the first lockdown, William worked night and day to put as many products on the website as possible, allowing the business to reach a much wider audience. “We were sending items all over the world, to the US, Australia and Japan,” he recalls. “We also introduced click-and-collect, which was very popular.

The first month of lockdown was pretty scary, but we’ve had an amazing year.” This isn’t the only challenge William and Helen have faced. The business was originally set up in 1995 as Highlander Music to sell traditional Scottish music on CDs, before moving into the gift space in 2013.


Changing direction The trials of 2020 proved to be a transformational experience for Lorraine Stamp. “When lockdown hit in March my first reaction was ‘Well, that’s it, my business will close’,” she recalls. Lorraine’s business was a face-to-face coaching and training consultancy. After a three-hour walk, she returned refreshed and ready to go again. “I knew what the problem was, I just needed a solution,” she says.

She started off by embarking on a 40-day course around creating transformations online, which helped give her the confidence to host sessions over the internet. She also realised the potential to switch focus away from business training and towards helping people with their personal development. She took a number of qualifications in this area, including becoming a mindfulness coach and taking a neuroscience professional diploma.

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“I now work mostly with people wanting to work on emotional and mental wellbeing, including confidence and impostor syndrome, and I’ve also had a lot of interest in mindfulness,” she adds. “The other enquiries have been from people wanting to change their career totally. Many have been made redundant or realised they have more potential

and have set up their own business.” She has words of advice for others who may be struggling. “I know that I cannot be in business and do everything myself,” she says. “I have dropped the perfectionist in me too, as it held me back in the past. Life and business will always be full of ups and downs,” she adds. “It is down to you whether you see a crisis or an opportunity.” firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

29/01/2021 15:13

During Covid-19, caravan bar company CarabarLife pivoted to the hot tub market

5 mins with...


New venture raises the bar A


over a gin and tonic is likely to involve alcohol, and so it proved when Phil Robinson and Ian Tudor hit upon their idea for CarabarLife. The duo were sharing a drink at Phil’s caravan on the shores of Lake Windermere and started talking about the concept of a bar for caravans. “Ian was also staying on the lake, but on his boat, and after another gin he thought the bar would be equally good for the marine and boating market,” recalls Phil. The business started up in October 2019, but when Covid-19 struck it became clear it was not the right time to focus on the leisure and hospitality sector. However, the duo identified a new market in hot tubs, on the back of rising sales as people spent more time at home.

Dr Karl Braine

Concierge Medical Services Tell us about your business “We saw the early boom and adapted our bars for this sector,” says Phil. “The materials were tested and contacts made, and soon one reseller became 10 and then 20.” As well as hot tubs, the original vision of selling into the caravan, motorhome and marine sectors remains, and the duo are also targeting apartments and other buildings with glass balustrades, including cruise ships. “We are also looking at incorporating wireless charging and LED lighting for future bars,” says Phil. Exporting is also on the cards, with resellers in Australia and the US already lined up to sell the bars from spring. “Our feet are very firmly on the ground – Covid-19 has taught us all that business plans can be very quickly become meaningless, but it’s also shown that small firms can be so reactive to market demands and changes,” adds Phil.


Stormy waters help Shetland firm Being based at the top end of the Shetland Islands brings challenges, but it helped Jack Barclay create a unique business. Jack started Unst Inshore Services to build and maintain North Sea salmon farms. Before long, however, he realised the treacherous conditions o the coast meant there was a need for a new type of boat, which is now the company’s main focus. “We’re the world’s only boat-builders able to apply curved collars to aluminium boats, and the resulting Fluggaboats are ideally suited to harsh sea conditions,” he says. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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The boats are manufactured in Shetland, and customers include commercial fisherman and Grampian Police. The company is a family a air – Jack’s wife Winifred takes on a lot of the administration, while his son Brydon joined the business as an apprentice and is now a partner. Jack says his biggest mistake has been believing those who told him running a business would be easy. “It’s not! We work 12-hour days, and a weekend o is a big deal,” he says.

We’re a private medical practice covering the Cotswolds and South Warwickshire.

How did you come to start up? I had to move away from an NHS role that involved shift work, nights and weekends.

How has the business grown? We’ve seen growth of 50 per cent yearon-year in the past three years.

What’s been the highlight for your business so far? We won the LaingBuisson award for best primary care practice in 2016.

What’s the strangest request you’ve had from a customer? How to exorcise a poltergeist!

What one thing couldn’t your business function without? Our network of health professionals.

What’s the best thing about working for yourself? Being challenged and having freedom to find solutions.

And the hardest part? When things aren’t going so well, running a business can be lonely.

What do you wish you’d known when you first started out? Be brave and take risks early on.

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be? When things aren’t working, act swiftly.

How does FSB membership help? We’ve found the payroll and legal services a huge help.

Where will the business be in five years’ time? Sustained local growth, and replicating our model in locations throughout the UK.

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29/01/2021 15:13




Dialogue First Voice continues to host regular webinars and podcasts to help you stay up to speed with the latest issues, including Covid-19 and the end of the EU transition period. Here’s a round-up of what’s been going on


centre WEBINAR

Modernising your payments: how small businesses can benefit, sponsored by SumUp Now available on demand at bit.ly/firstvoicewebinars As small businesses increasingly take their offerings online – not least during the coronavirus lockdown – and consumer demand for card payment grows, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to modernise your business’s payment processes. This exclusive webinar explores the current payments landscape – in particular the merging of physical and online payments, and how demand is continuously changing. Our experts discuss how optimising your payments processes is not about ‘cash or card’, but giving your customers the best multichannel experience, so they can purchase from you online, in person and across channels seamlessly.


Business rescue and insolvency webinar: Protecting your entrepreneurial future, sponsored by McTear Williams and Wood 26 February 2021 Register free at bit.ly/ firstvoicewebinars Covid-19 is taking its toll on people and businesses alike, and many small businesses will be touched by insolvency issues for the first time. If you are concerned about your business, hear from business rescue and insolvency experts how best to protect its future.

Covid-19 and cashless payments – how small businesses can adapt, sponsored by SumUp Listen at bit.ly/ firstvoicepodcasts The pandemic has accelerated the use of cashless transactions as company policies and consumer habits shift across the globe. This exclusive podcast explores Covid-19 and cashless payments, and how small businesses can adapt. Jon Watkins is joined by special guest Alex von


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1 Prevent employee cyber-breaches bit.ly/3caBx87

2 Schirmeister, who is in charge of SumUp’s international expansion and business development; he tells us how cashless payments have helped retailers and traders cope. The discussion will focus on the current situation with payment amounts, and how this has changed during the pandemic – providing advice on successful implementations that help businesses gain a competitive advantage.


Best of First Voice online

What the new EU-UK trade deal means for small businesses Listen at bit.ly/ firstvoicepodcasts Now that the Brexit transition has ended and an EU trade deal has been struck, there is much for small business to digest to understand the impact on them and their operations. Jon Watkins is joined by FSB Head of International Affairs James Sibley, who will set out, among other things, what the new deal means for you, for your supply chains, for doing business with other countries and for exporting to Europe.

Hidden cost of international ecommerce bit.ly/3bYiP3h

3 Your guide to business interruption insurance bit.ly/39RNzAo

4 GDPR: what the regulator expects from you bit.ly/3iwivd8

5 IR35 tools fails one in five bit.ly/2LU6gey More at firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

First Voice video The First Voice website now has a dedicated video hub, bringing you exclusive videos that offer practical advice and tips on the topics that matter to you. Visit our growing collection at firstvoice.fsb.org.uk/ knowledge-centre/ first-voice-video.html


29/01/2021 15:14


MY BUSINESS How did you come to start up?

What’s the best thing about working for yourself?

In 2002 I was working for an electronics firm. A new sales manager arrived and during the following months I was made to feel I was not capable of doing my job, which left me feeling depressed. I resigned, and the next day began incorporating my own company, Aspire Electronics.

How has the business grown since then? It has evolved more than grown. Turnover can increase but at the expense of profit, so it is key to ensure growth and profit come as one. The mix of parts has changed but I retain the same customers.

Can you run me through a typical day? It starts with a dog walk at 7am, followed by the school drop-off at 8am. Then it is off to the office to tackle emails and social media. I’m also the local FSB membership adviser for Chichester, so I check FSB communications and actions. During the day I make one or two Zoom meetings relating to FSB and nd by early afternoon it’s time to think about shipping orders. s.


Mark Taylor An unpleasant ordeal in a former role led Mark to set up Chichester firm Aspire Electronics, which supplies electronic components to manufacturers

And the hardest part?

I hope to be doing the same thing. I love what I do and meeting new suppliers and clients. I love talking about FSB – we are the voice of small businesses and the selfemployed, and I am proud to be part of that.

What do you wish you’d known when you first started out? Never react or make quick decisions. I always take time to consider important issues, think and plan my response.

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

Good relationships with suppliers and customers. I get frustrated when people and companies do not respond or give good service back.

I would have joined FSB at the point of starting, as it can provide all the essentials for new and existing businesses.

Last year I won an order for 90,000 cable assemblies that are fitted directly into ventilators and managed to achieve all deadlines on time with zero defects. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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me a saving of £372. This year I have helped to host many FSB networking sessions, which is very enjoyable. We always hope our participants appreciate this free platform.

Where will the business be in five years’ time?

It is lonely when things go wrong. I would recommend attending networking events, as it helps to chat to other business owners. If all else fails I go for a run to think.

What one thing couldn’t your business function without?

What’s been the highlight ht for your business so far??

Photography: iStock

Being able to change my day at short notice. I have always loved school drop-offs and pick-ups, especially in the younger years. I think now I am more of an embarrassing parent who pulls up listening to Radio 2.

How does your FSB membership help? The 24-hour helpline has been valuable for advice and support. The tax investigation is good to have just in case. I use the legal hub for terms and conditions, and have used the debt recovery service several times. I switched my business insurance to FSB just over two years ago, which gave

What do you do outside work? I love to run at Goodwood with my group of members, the Goodwood Gaspers. There is a real bond among us, and we have found the friendships even more important in the past year. I also play tennis with my son. We are season ticketholders at Brighton and Hove Albion FC and cannot wait for normal service to resume. I have always loved motorbikes and have a Suzuki DRZ 400, which is my pride and joy. Could you feature in My Business? Email firstvoice@ redactive.co.uk with My Business in the subject line, explaining why your firm is a little bit different. Read more My Business stories at bit.ly/2kCeJWs

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29/01/2021 15:15



Fresh start Give your business a boost with six ways to freshen up through your membership benefits



well under way, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at how your FSB membership can help your business in 2021. The following six tips will help you turbocharge your firm.


Organise your paperwork

Invoices, receipts, bills, contracts… the paperwork can pile up quickly, so check through all your documents to ensure you’re up to date and don’t miss any important dates or deadlines. Having a filing system in place means you’ll always be able to find what you need if you have to make a claim or review contract terms.

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Dust o your policies

You should check your policies regularly to ensure you stay compliant and protect your business – especially if you’ve made changes to how you operate. The FSB Legal Hub has template documents on a range of

topics, from data protection to cyber security, all ready to customise. Don’t forget to check your risk assessments, too – not only is this a legal requirement to keep everyone safe, it can also help to minimise or mitigate any claims brought against you.


Deep clean your inbox

Emails can get overwhelming, but it can be easy to miss an important email if there’s too much clutter. Set up a rule that organises emails into a folder for you to sort through when you have time, and organise your folders by labelling them.That way, you won’t miss emails from FSB about upcoming events, opportunities and new resources.


Polish your online presence

‘You should check your policies regularly to ensure you stay compliant and protect your business’

We’ve seen how much of an impact digital has had on business during the past year, whether it’s sharing on social media, upgrading your ecommerce offering or dipping your toes into new advertising channels. Think about how you can build your social media following with engaging content, or make it easy for customers


29/01/2021 15:16


MEMBER SERVICES to shop online with you via secure payment options from FSB Payments.


Tidy up your plans

Whether it’s your marketing strategy for the next quarter, how many sales you want to make in the next year or where you want your business to be in five years, there’s no time like the present to get your plans in order. Keep track of your performance and update your calendar regularly so you know where you’re at. Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected, too – access a free business continuity planning kit from FSB Insurance Service.

‘The FSB Legal Hub has template documents on a range of topics’


Declutter your processes

Are you spending too much time on admin and less time doing what you love? Streamlining your processes can help you save time and be more efficient. For example, if you’re spending time chasing client invoices, you can follow FSB Debt Recovery’s step-by-step process for recovering late payments, with expert guidance available every step of the way.


FSB Business Essentials benefits As experts in business, we offer our members a wide range of vital services including advice, financial expertise, support and a powerful voice in Government. Some of the main products are listed below:

FSB Business Banking:

Exclusive business banking package

FSB Business Continuity:

Free business continuity planning service

FSB Care:

Support for members diagnosed with a serious health condition

FSB Cyber Protection:

Provides access to insurance and a helpline

FSB Debt Recovery:

Help to take action against late-payers

FSB Employment Protection:

Legal representation and basic compensatory awards

FSB Funding Platform:

Exclusive business finance service

FSB Health and Safety Service:

Advice from experts plus factsheets and documents

FSB Insurance Service:

Hassle-free insurance and a helpline for advice

FSB Legal Hub:

More than 350 factsheets and 650 legal documents

FSB Legal Protection Scheme: Access to legal and tax support

FSB Payments:

Discounted card payment services

FSB PR/Crisis Management Helpline: Guidance from a PR expert

FSB Tax Investigation Protection:

Representation on tax and employer compliance

FSB Workplace Pensions:

Exclusive to members and their sta Make sure you are making the most of your membership. For more information, visit fsb.org.uk/benefits or call customer services on 0808 20 20 888


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29/01/2021 15:17


Funding Platform

How to get your business into shape for 2021 and beyond


here are countless reasons why people start a business. And even if it’s been a while since you started your own, we’re sure you’ll remember what gave you that initial spark. While Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc, it has been a catalyst for many business owners to revisit their plans – either to find ways to trade safely during lockdown, or to build on the original spark and reinvent the business in the face of changing market conditions. At FSB Funding Platform, we have been fortunate to help members achieve their goals since 2018, but never more so than during the past few months!

A helping hand for business finance, from members for members FSB Funding Platform was set up to make it easier for small businesses to get access to finance. While it is not a ‘magic money tree’, the service has helped fellow members find the finance they require on their own terms. One example is Phil McDaniel, the owner of Entertainment Sound Specialists, who we’ve helped to get approved for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). Phil found the FSB Funding Platform “easy to deal with” and rated our personal touch “in terms of understanding and support” as “brilliant”. “The technology helped me a lot; the paperwork and process were very straightforward and quick,” he says. Another testimonial comes from David Thomson, owner of Cadherent, which specialises in delivering engineering design and visualisation services across many sectors. “FSB Funding Platform was fast and easy to use,” he says. “It was an excellent experience, and I highly 58 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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recommend it as we got funded very quickly, saving me both time and effort.”

Tips to get your business finances into shape These are turbulent times – but we begin the year with cautious optimism, having provided free advice and guidance to thousands of FSB members in 2020. Whether you need extra cash to retain jobs during Covid-19 or have opportunities to grow your business, we can assist with funding to support your plans, inside or outside of the Government schemes. Irrespective of your circumstances, we have found that businesses which have the following documentation to hand fare better when they are seeking finance: 1. What? Latest set of financial results, with an overview of Covid-19’s impact on your business’ trading patterns and revenue. 2. Why? Information about your planned expenditure, how much is funded by yourself and what percentage you are looking to raise. 3. How? Reasonable level of detail to show how you are planning to overcome challenges from Covid-19, or what measures you have already put in place to ensure you can operate safely.

What’s next for business finance Our technology-driven process sits at the heart of our service. It allows us to provide a 24/7 service while making finding finance fast and e cient. We understand that in uncertain times, it is important not to rush into taking out a loan. But with sound advice from our

impartial finance experts, we hope you feel empowered to get the right finance solution to set your business on a path of recovery and sustainable growth. Below are some of the most popular business finance options that have worked well for other members: Property finance, such as a commercial mortgage, can help you to buy your premises. Asset finance helps your business to access the equipment you need, like machinery, computers, etc. with an agreed monthly repayment for one to three years. Growth finance is ideal if your business is looking to expand or enter new markets. Invoice finance is a way of borrowing money against unpaid invoices for a fee. You can receive up to 85% of the value of an invoice immediately, which can help to ease cashfl ow worries.

Ready to explore your business finance options? Whether you’re looking to grow your business, make investments or support your cashfl ow, we are here to help. As an FSB member, you can use the service for free and save time with one simple online application, and let our experts handle the rest. Apply now on fsbfundingplatform.co.uk/guide

News: CBILS has been extended to 31 March 2021 and is a key pillar of the Government’s support for businesses. Read more at fsbfundingplatform. co.uk/covid-19-business-loans/#CBILS firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

29/01/2021 15:18






Read all about it Staying connected through virtual book clubs PAGE 62


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Fit for business



Photography: Getty

Home help Working from home has helped many small business owners adapt to the challenges posed by Covid-19 – but that can lead to physical and mental challenges. Kathryn Jackson outlines how to make it work effectively 60 | firstvoice | february-may 2021

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However, working ORE SMALL remotely isn’t all bad business owners – in fact, many of us are working prefer it, which makes from home in response to us happier and find lockdown, and as a way we are being more to operate within social KATHRYN productive during distancing measures, and JACKSON is a personal the challenges that many are planning to do development the global pandemic so beyond the pandemic. coach and have brought. With this transition owner of Kathryn The stigma associated taking place for many of Jackson Coaching with working from us, it is important to be home prior to Covid-19 in good shape, both has disappeared. And working physically and mentally, in order remotely is now extremely to maintain optimal wellbeing. common, even if this is often Feeling disconnected from under very difficult conditions. colleagues and employees can The following tips will help leave some of us struggling and you make working from have an adverse effect on our home work for you: usual level of productivity.



29/01/2021 15:19


Fit for business

3 1

Many of us find ourselves in back-to-back meetings all day, which doesn’t allow us time to debrief, reflect or prepare for the next meeting – and can have an effect on our wellbeing and productivity. Whether you’re a meeting facilitator or attendee, consider how many of your meetings are essential or whether they could be shortened by 10 minutes so you can have an all-important break, get some fresh air and walk around.

Get the right workspace set-up

While you may want to sit on the sofa with one eye on the TV, your remote workspace still requires a set-up that looks after you. Consider your desk surface – does it give support to your laptops and other equipment you are using? Once you have a supportive desk, a comfortable chair that is set at the appropriate height will minimise neck and back pain, which over time can cause back complaints and affect your wellbeing. Take a moment to look around you – adding a pop of colour to what may be dull walls, bringing a plant into your room to connect with nature or opening a window occasionally can make a big difference to how you feel.


Develop a flexible routine

You know it’s important to stay flexible when it comes to your fitness, but do you create flexibility for yourself when working at home? While it is important to have a work routine, building breathing room into it and breaking up your day by going for a short walk, popping in a load of washing or getting the vacuum out can be important in maintaining your wellbeing. The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time and in our normal office environment you are more likely to move around, so explore ways you can move around your home and build in the odd break. This can improve your focus and productivity. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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Manage meetings


Stay in touch

Are you regularly connecting with colleagues or others? When working remotely, it’s easy to become isolated and miss vital social interaction. But technology now allows us to engage people anywhere through messaging, calls or videoconferencing. Making time for yourself and others to engage promotes participation and conversation that helps combat any isolation you or your colleagues may be feeling. Explore what works for you – being on videoconferences all day may get overwhelming, while a telephone call allows you to walk around and get away from your desk.


Prioritise tasks


Look after yourself

If you’re anything like me, at times it’s been easy to ‘throw in the towel’ when it comes to those healthy habits you’d adopted. Good habits of eating healthily and taking regular exercise contribute to your mental health, too. Regular exercise for just 20-30 minutes a day boosts our brains with the chemicals (serotonin and endorphins) we need to make us happy, which in turn will reduce our anxiety levels. Also consider the food you are eating and when you are eating it, monitoring any dips in your energy levels. Adjusting this can aid your self-care and boost your wellbeing.

Many of us are tempted to put off the hardest job until later. Procrastination can create stress and often means that when you finally do the task, it may not be your best work. Commit yourself to taking on the hardest job at the start of the day and reap the rewards of your achievements throughout the day. Other jobs will be easy in comparison! february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 61

29/01/2021 15:20


Out of office TEAM BUILDING

Get on the same page American aphorist Mason Cooley once said reading gives us a place to go when we have to stay where we are, and virtual reading groups are very much in vogue


What can you do?

Lana Eardley, operations and talent manager at the marketing agency KC Communications (kccomms.co.uk), decided to set up an office book club back in 2019. She says: “We have quite a junior team, and speaking in front of a group can be a challenge. I wanted to find a way of building up confidence to discuss topics in workplace settings, such as at brainstorms for new clients.” Some corporate reading groups stick rigidly to texts about business, but groups that avoid the usual executive bookshelf are likely to get better engagement. What’s more, studies have suggested that reading fiction can help build up empathy. Ms Eardley says: “Having this soft skill helps people understand others’ situations, something that can help with collaboration in the workplace.”

Photography: Alamy


What books should you choose?

Choosing the right books can make the difference between an enriching debate and something that feels more like homework. Eleanor Levenson, director of children’s publisher Fisherton Press (fishertonpress.co.uk), has helped run a book group for a group of friends and fellow authors for 20 years. “We found that reading the classics wasn’t so good,” she says. “There’s no point in choosing something too long – you probably won’t

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have much luck getting through a lesser-known Anthony Trollope. What seems to work best is contemporary fiction that’s intelligent but not inaccessible.” KC Communications’ readers take turns to nominate a book. But after some negative reaction to a novel that dealt with issues of domestic violence, they established some ground rules. “We decided that, in future, we’ll edge away from sensitive topics,” says Ms Eardley. “In the workplace, you can never know people’s personal circumstances.”


What else do you need?


What are the benefits?

Groups need to decide how frequently to meet, who will lead the discussions, and whether there should be a communication channel for further conversation between sessions. While Ms Levenson’s group maintains a WhatsApp group for literary chat, KC Communications has settled on a more formal solution. “The person who chooses each book takes charge,” she says. “Each week, they’ll send an email round about the chapter they’ve just read – a weekly digest with some key themes and topics. It helps keep people on track.”

Feedback suggests the group is already delivering benefits, says Ms Eardley. “Being exposed to different ways of writing helps with tone of voice, creative ideas, and even basic spelling and grammar,” she says. “It’s something we’re keen to continue.”


29/01/2021 15:23



Out of office




Development kit If you didn’t fulfil your lockdown ambitions, perhaps your gadgets just ust weren’t shiny enough. This tech could uld help you keep your 2021 resolutions ns

1 Strike a chord

If you’re picking up a guitar for the first time since your teens, two problems may arise: training your fingers to get around chords (try fender.com/play) and finding a way to practise without disturbing anyone. If you want an acoustic sound and are willing to stump up, a Yamaha Silent Guitar will let you strum to yourself via headphones. The sound is concert-hall rich, and the instrument itself is beautiful. Yamaha SLG200S Silent Guitar (£599, pmtonline.co.uk)

2Lingo phoneses

Finding the rightt approach to learning a language can be tricky: some people swear by Duolingo, others want to throttle its owl mascot. Whatever the case, good headphones will give the clarity to pick up every pronunciation nuance. With 30 hours’ battery life, a noise-cancelling algorithm and excellent integral microphone, the latest in Sony’s wireless WH1000 range is peerless. Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones (£349, johnlewis.com)


3 Life of Pi

Developed as a low-cost way to teach coding in schools, the Raspberry Pi has built up a following among adults, too. The Pi 400 kit fits the electronics into a keyboard unit and supplies everything you need, except a monitor. raspberrypi.org has free courses ranging from introductory Python coding to ‘physical computing’: getting your machine to control real-world gadgets. Raspberry Pi 400 desktop kit (£94, thepihut.com)

4 What you knead

Cookery gadg gadgets come and go, but a good mixer is a friend for ever – particularly if you’ve been using lockdown to get into baking. With 1950s looks, solid iron construction and a powerful motor, the KitchenAid tilt-head mixer is a classic. It comes with three attachments, including a dough hook, and you can choose the colour and bowl volume to fit your décor and space. KitchenAid Tilt-Head Mixer (from £349, kitchenaid.co.uk)


Photography: Warwick & Warwick

TRADING CARDS Think of postcards and Donald McGill’s specimens may be the first thing to pop into mind. The ones valued by collectors, though, are more likely to feature e rural pageants than ribald puns. According to auctioneer Warwick and Warwick (warwickandwarwick.com), postcard enthusiasts are either interested in ‘topographical’ cards featuring local scenes and history, or ‘topical’ cards on subjects like animals, children, railways or glamour. For the former, photographic cards produced direct from the film negative are more attractive than those printed on a press. Helen Scott, postcard specialist cialist at the firm, says: “The most desirable cards are from photographers who have gone out, set a tripod up and just recorded the scene.” For topical cards, condition is crucial, as is the artist’s eminence – figures such as Alphonse Mucha are popular. “Topicals ls are not ass popular as they used to be,” cautions Ms Scott. Cards on marketplaces such as eBay are often overpriced and wrongly described – and degradations can affect value. Reputable auctions and fairs are a better bet. Seek out dealers that belong to the Postcard Traders Association (postcard.co.uk), which holds members to a code of practice. These lots went under the hammer at Warwick & Warwick’s November 2020 postcards, cigarette cards and toys auction. firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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LOT 106

Miscellaneous photographic and printed cards A varied collection of around 220 postcards, taking in motor racing, advertising and famous ships – including a memorial card to the Titanic. Hammer price: £675

LOT 172

The 1910-11 coal strike in Wales Four real photographic cards from the response to the industrial dispute, portraying o cers from Monmouthshire and Newport police forces. Hammer price: £210

LOT 185

‘Santoy’ postcards by Raphael Kirchner Six scenes of Japanese life, from the Austrian illustrator best known for his glamorous pin-up girls. Hammer price: £150

LOT 200

Collection of women’s suffrage scenes Three real photographic postcards featuring marches and meetings of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Hammer price: £600 february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 63

29/01/2021 15:23


The goods

Not-so-secret admirer Whether you want dazzling tech to smooth the home working experience or cleaning products that provide pandemic peace of mind, this quarter’s gadget launches have you covered

1. Avita Admiror

The Admiror is a 14-inch Windows notebook that, apparently, takes inspiration from Gothic architecture. An AMD Ryzen R7 3700U processor provides the brain, a Radeon RX Vega graphics card handles the visuals, and 8GB of RAM plus 512GB SSD internal memory provide the memory. Windows 10 Home is preinstalled. A 10-hour battery life and 1.32kg weight guarantee portability, while connectivity includes two built-in USB-C ports plus an external adaptor. Available in copper or brown for about £750. www.avita.com

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2. Papalook PA552

For many, meetings and chats are likely to be virtual for the foreseeable future. The Papalook PA552 lets home workers add professional-grade video and audio to their setup. With three levels of brightness, dual noisecancelling microphones and studio-grade lighting, it clips onto fl at-screen computer monitors, televisions and laptop screens, or can be placed on desks and other fl at surfaces. Plug-and-play capability makes installation a breeze. Costs a fraction under £90 and comes with a free tripod. www.papalook.com

3. Livescribe Symphony

Just as the pen seemed on its last scrawl, along came the Livescribe Symphony. This ‘smart’ pen transforms writing into searchable data that can be saved and uploaded to digital devices. It can also handle drawings or notes, up to 1,200 pages of which can be stored on the pen itself or shared on sites including Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote. Linking up with the free Livescribe+ app, the pen can also replay what you’ve written and even link pieces of audio to text. Yours for about £120. www.livescribe.com firstvoice.fsb.org.uk

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4. Proscenic M7 Pro

Homes get dirty quicker when you’re always in them. Proscenic’s M7 Pro vacuuming and mopping robot uses laser navigation to decide how best to tackle your detritus without bumping into anything, while three levels of suction let it adjust its approach. Also features a large bin and water tank, so you can instruct it to sweep and mop, and its 5200mAh Lithium-ion battery enables it to toil for 150 minutes. You can even hook it up to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Available now for just under £400. www.proscenic.com

5. Sonovia SonoMask

If you could put a face to the last year, it would be wearing a mask. Sonovia’s face covering, which claims to be 90 per cent e ective against Covid-19 and capable of killing 99.9999 per cent of viruses, is aimed at businesses and selfemployed workers. The polyester/ cotton fabric is infused with zinc oxide nanoparticles, is washable in soapy water and should last up to a year, making it a sustainable alternative to single-use masks. Sold in the UK through GlobalNPD, pricing starts at around £30 per mask. www.globalnpd.com


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6. Freespace Cleanreader

For those who have resumed office work, workplace hygiene has never been so critical. Cleanreader from Freespace has been developed to help companies prioritise cleaning resources. It uses live data from sensors to notify cleaning sta as soon as rooms are vacated. When the room or desk has been cleaned, Cleanreader scans a tag to signal that the area is safe to use again. Freespace issues a report to track activity and enable concentration on high-risk areas. Pricing starts at £400. www.afreespace.com

7. Logitech MX Master 3

Logitiech’s MX Master 3 mouse guarantees precision scrolling and clicking, however sub-optimal your spare room-office might be. Available in Mac and PC versions, it tracks on virtually any surface, including glass, and can handle up to 1,000 lines per second. With a wireless operating range of up to 10m, it can run for up to 70 days on a full charge, and can switch between three di erent devices via Bluetooth. The Customize MX Anywhere 3 can be customised to suit your workfl ow, and is on sale now for about £80. www.logitech.com february-may 2021 | firstvoice | 65

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that shows me how well my business has done every year since I set it up. There were some good years. Take 2006 – an absolute belter. I’m not sure what I did right, but it’s never been that good since. On the other hand, 2015 was a bit of a downer – not very nice. Then there was 2020. I almost gave up on my chart, because everything changed. All around me I see SMEs that have gone through more change in a year than I’ve been through in 20. It seems appropriate to look at some of the lessons we learned, and the achievements we made.

from a small business Annus horribilis

Change Management gurus say you must change or die. We knew that on paper, but last year was the practical exam. We changed like our livelihoods depended on it – which they did. We tried things we’d thought of before and things we’d never have thought of in a million years. We succeeded and failed, but we failed faster because we were desperate. Some of us failed fast enough to succeed.

Illustration: Sam Kerr

Customers The pandemic tried to separate us from customers – our lifeblood, our business and, often, our friends. We found ways to stay in touch. Where we could satisfy them in a new way, we did. We found ways to talk, listen and deliver. We’ll be glad to see the back of some of those ways, but some will be how we do things in future.

Last year challenged small businesses as never before. But while we may have suffered financially, it has helped us all appreciate just what’s important Technology Many businesses found two new things in 2020: virtual communication and real doorsteps. We closed the distance Zoom put between

‘When we come through to brighter days, we’ll still have our passions and our dreams’

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us with doorstep deliveries. When customers couldn’t get to us, we went to them. We also learned that technology can’t do everything. It won’t give you a cosy evening in the pub, or a pampering at the hairdresser, or a romantic break in a B&B. These businesses will be back, because we need them.

fat we had in the business, what we could fall back on, where our guaranteed income was. We also found out how much slack we had. What did we need, did it need to cost that much, and how can we get it better, cheaper, faster? We’re leaner, meaner and keener in 2021.

Relationships Rainy days also showed you who your fair-weather friends were: the landlords who didn’t care if you sank or swam, the suppliers whose credit suddenly dried up, the customers who disappeared. But for every disappointment, there was someone who gave you some slack, ordered a bit more, didn’t demand instant payment, gave you a hand and willed you to survive. Enjoy those relationships – they’re the ones worth keeping.

Passion When we set up our own businesses, we were following our passion, living the dream. Last year our passions cooled and the dream, for many, became a nightmare. When we come through to brighter days, we’ll still have our passions and our dreams but they will have been battered and bruised. As they heal, which they will, they will grow back stronger and healthier. We’ll be able to look back and quietly say, I survived 2020. Put that in your chart.

Costs Remember that rainy day we were supposed to prepare for? There were 366 of them last year. We found out how much

GUY BROWNING runs the design agency Smokehouse. smokehouse.co.uk


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REGISTER NOW WWW.FSB-INSURANCE-SERVICE.COM/REGISTER 020 3962 8009 FSB Insurance Service Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA Registration No: 788654) Registered Office: 20 Fenchurch Street, London, United Kingdom, EC3M 3AZ. Company Number: 10831430.

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