Breaking into the big city service

You might have thought car rental companies were just that: companies which offered you the chance to rent a car. They do that, of course, but in the 21st century they offer much more. With ever more demanding customers, the major rental companies could not sustain their infrastructures from simple car rental, so came up with the concept of "total mobility": cars, vans, trucks and even motorcyles if you need them, extended rental periods, full leasing, and contract hire to take care of long as well as short-term needs. They aim to offer a seamless system so integrated with the client that it is difficult to move to another rental company.
For larger companies this has enabled the replacement of the fleet department. Taking care of all transport, from a car to collect a visitor from the airport right up to providing executive saloons for the directors, as well as pre-contract vehicles, short-term leases for new recruits and even short-term high-performance cars as incentives for sales staff: all is well within the capability of the top car rental firms.

Cash flow crunch

There are so many reasons for businesses to run out of cash.  Sometimes the causes are clear, sometimes it’s a complex web of reasons.  Sometimes it’s been building for a while and other times it’s more sudden.
Either way the effect is usually the same, you find you can’t pay your bills.  It’s a frightening prospect; there is a list of bills on your desk and not enough cash in the bank to pay them.
I remember a friend of mine who works in the oil exploration industry in remote parts of the world, Chris used to get into really scary situations and developed an interesting crises response methodology: “If there is a crisis and you need to respond absolutely immediately (such as using the fire extinguisher) do it.  If not, have a cup of tea and plan your actions”
It is not so different in business.  Is the lack of cash simply because of an admin error, a cheque that has genuinely gone astray (it has happened), or sadly, as is increasingly likely, is there something more serious?  Is this is a short or a long term problem? Remember cash is king, if you don’t sort it, you won’t succeed.

Buying’s easy, it’s getting value that’s difficult

The problem of purchasing within small and medium-sized businesses is that it has often developed as the business has grown with little or no discernable plan. Whilst there may have been some rational strategy regarding direct materials, with indirect costs (which although they account for a smaller proportion of the spending are necessary for the organisation to function), the result is often that of unplanned trial and error.

What’s the problem?

This is a consequence largely of the business owner focussing on the main function of the business with little or no time to spend on other matters. As employees are added, indirect purchasing is often delegated to secretarial, clerical, administration or perhaps IT personnel. This results in the loss of an overall view of the spending and responsibility in the hands of amateurs (albeit well-meaning amateurs!)

How to fight Climate change and boost your bottom line

In February last year, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report warned that climate change is the single biggest threat to businesses and societies globally.  As efforts to increase awareness of climate change and carbon footprints continue, more businesses of all sizes are starting to think about how they can deal with the impact of their activities and the business benefits of doing so. 
There are a number of reasons why it is increasingly important for businesses to be taking action on the environment.  Regulation of carbon emissions and fiscal measures affecting business are scaling up – with new sectors  being brought into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2008, and the EU setting more stringent targets for carbon emissions from new cars, to the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation and the Carbon Reduction Commitment in the UK Climate Change Bill from 2010. 
One of the most important challenges for business is to get to grips with the size of the problem with a comprehensive audit and ongoing measurement, and to take a strategic approach to managing and reducing carbon footprints. 

Baby blues

Having babies is not a modern fad. Yet the way that employers frequently mishandle issues affecting expectant women you’d think it was something unusual and new to them. Only four in 10 women believe their bosses know how to handle pregnant staff. And we’re not talking about making sure someone gives up their seat in the staff canteen – there appears to be a serious knowledge gap when it comes to maternity rights. It means companies are putting themselves in danger of being liable to claims of pregnancy discrimination.
This kind of discrimination costs employers up to £126 million every year in recruitment to replace the 30,000 or so women who lose their jobs simply because they’re expecting.
An investigation by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) uncovered many factors relating to maternity of which businesses seemed completely ignorant. Some were even unaware that they could claim reimbursement for statutory maternity pay.

The companies act 2006 explained

The Companies Act 2006 comprises of 1,300 sections, approximately one third of which are genuinely new, including the following areas:
Company formation and constitution;
Company members and directors’ duties and powers;
Derivative actions and secretaries;
Company meetings and political donations;
Company accounts and auditors;
Private and public companies, share capital and allotments;
Company takeovers and investigations;
 Companies not formed under the Act and unregistered companies.

What should businesses have done already?

By now all companies should have made sure that order forms and other documents, whether hard copy or electronic, have been amended to include the company’s registered name (as opposed to just the trading name), number, place of registration and registered office.  It is easy to overlook the updating of a company’s website in a similar way but such an oversight will make the company liable for a fine.  Any officer of the company could also find themselves liable for a fine if they have authorised the issue of a non-compliant document.

Absenteeism: Use & Abuse

No-one can be under any illusion that absence from the workplace is a persistent and costly problem for British business.  The issue is more acute in the summer months as employers face increasing levels of sick leave and absenteeism, the timing of which is not always co-incidental.
According to the CBI, absenteeism levels in the UK are the main reason why UK productivity lags behind the US and our European competitors.  Output per UK worker is half that of US employees and is significantly lower than that of both France and Germany.  At any one time around 2.7 million workers are on long term sick leave costing employers some £11 billion.

What insurance do i need?

Insurance is an essential aspect of your business, but even the best entrepreneurs can find it confusing. Specialist insurers Bussinesssure are here to make things clearer, and explain the different types of business insurances you should consider:

Small means flexible

Rumours that flexible working is the future of business have been feared and dismissed in equal measure by owners of many small and medium-sized companies.
If you’re running a multinational with hundreds or thousands of people then it’s pretty straightforward to jiggle a few working hours here and there, ask some people to change shifts or cover absences and keep everyone happy. But when you’re in a smaller firm, it’s not so easy. The personnel are simply not available to cover shifts, the budget doesn’t extend to recruiting new staff and the work still needs to get done.

Working towards a better future

Offering staff flexible working arrangements has previously been an overlooked consideration and the potential benefits particularly undervalued. However, having a productive workforce in place has become increasingly important as companies strive to be more competitive.
The traditional working week of nine to five from Monday to Friday is gradually becoming a thing of the past and having strict working hours in place is proving inadequate to meet the demands of modern day practices. Yet despite this, many companies are still failing to recognise how incorporating flexible working patterns, such as flexi-time and home working, into their strategies can have a profound impact on their business efficiency and overall success.

Small firms miss training

Formal training schemes and lengthy inductions are the norm in larger companies. When it comes to smaller businesses there simply isn’t the time, money or resources available for such programmes.
Almost half of all small companies in the UK carry out no staff training, according to recent research carried out by the independent Small Business Research Trust (SBRT).
Not surprisingly, the survey also found that the smaller the company, the less likely it is to offer any training at all, whether that be internal or external. Only 40 per cent of micro companies have formal training, while 69 per cent of small companies do. Topping the poll are medium-sized businesses, with a significant 87 per cent offering a structured programme that staff have to undergo.

Postcode predicament

Everyone has to admit that moving offices is a bit of a pain. If you’re shifting the whole company it can be a nightmare. Even the initial excitement over the promise of a room with a view starts to wane when you’re dropping your files, desk photos and potted plants into cavernous grey crates. Your only hope now is that you’ll be reunited with them once they reach their new home.
But if you’re running a growing small business, it’s highly likely that you’re going to have to move out of your current workspace at some time in the near future. The prospects of this are often met with mixed reactions – of joy and of absolute horror.

Back to Winning Ways

Gerald Ratner will top the bill at the Ideal Business Show next month, a business to business event which replaces B2B Thames Valley after the original organiser – like Mr Ratner – went out of business.
When i talked to Ratner, he explained his darker moments and how he clawed his way back.  Cycling, he said helped him stave off depression but eventually he decided that if he couldn’t beat ’em he would join ’em and now tells his story to business audiences.
It was in 1991 Mr Ratner told an IoD meeting his shops’ products were ‘total crap’. He was also on record as saying some Ratner earrings were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long".