Accountancy for Small Business

Accountancy is referred to as the language of business, similarly when learning a new language you can feel overwhelmed or completely lost at the beginning. In this article we will go through the 4 cornerstones of accountancy, with examples, so you can start to get to grips with the basics.

What is accounting? 

Accounting is the recording, reporting, interpreting and analysis of everything that happens within your business linked to financial matters. These are the 4 cornerstones of accounting. It is important you have your books in order from day one as it can be a headache to go back and opportunities to save your business money may get missed.

Record all transactions 

There are 5 different types of transactions your business can make; it is important all of these are recorded to give you a clear picture of the finances of your business.
Revenue / sales – all money coming into the business from selling your products and/or services.
Expenses – any money you are spending to run your business.
Assets – this measures –
the future value of equipment or premise you own to produce your product or carry out your service,
monies owed to you from customers
cash held in your bank (assuming this is in the black)
Liabilities – any debts of the business, including loans, financing etc.
Equity – this represents the money the owners would be left with if all assets & liabilities were sold & settled.
Once you’ve set up your business account with your selected bank sync it with your bookkeeping system to keep the recording of all the above as efficient and easy as possible.

Reports about your business 

There are many different types of reports you can run depending on the information you need. Many of them have specific names, your accountant should be running these so you can ask to have a look or you can run them yourself using your bookkeeping software. Here are some common ones to know.
Income Statement/Profit and Loss Account (P&L) – this shows you whether your business is growing or slowing. Most businesses typically produce a P&L on a monthly basis to track performance in the prior month. This report gives business owners a sense check on the underlying trajectory of the business and whether there is a need to review costs or invest further to drive growth.
Balance Sheet – this is laid out in a ‘T’ shape and is called a balance sheet because it should balance on each side, like a pair of scales, to account for all the transactions in and out of the business. These can be produced either at the end of the financial year or at the end of every month to keep a closer eye on your finances.
Cash Flow Statement – this is a vital report you should have access to as bad cash flow is where most new businesses trip up. This gives you a much better idea of what is really going on in your business and how much cash you are owed and have available right now. This can help you make important decisions about expenditure for growth. Remember – “Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is King!”
In the event you are trying to raise money to grow your business, acquire or even sell, you will in all likelihood need at least 12 months’ worth of financial reports in support.

Interpreting & Analysing 

We have put these two together, they are not the same thing but do go hand-in-hand. Going back to our analogy of learning a new language, interpretation is vital, there will be nuisances and different ways of classifying the data so it can be interpreted differently. Be very clear about what you want to know and communicate this with your accountant or know the correct report to run to find out. Once this is done you can analyse the data factoring in your growth plans to see if they’re achievable. You can use accounting formula’s to determine results, here some examples.
Net Profit Margin = (Revenue – Cost) / Revenue. You can use this cleverly to see if you can afford a loss-leader to get customers through the door. For example, can margins be made up other places to keep prices low on eye-grabbing products that are coveted.
Return on advertising spend = current advertising cost / revenue. This isn’t always this simple however it gives you a figure to work with.
How liquid the company is = current assets / current liabilities. Again, this a simplistic equation however it’s a good base figure to start with.
Getting an accountant early on, even though it may feel like an unnecessary expense, is essential and well worth the money. There are different kinds of accountants out there, if you are a numerically literate person that feels confident doing accounts you may just want one to check over everything and file for you, cheaper packages can be found to just cover the basics. There are lots of cloud-based software packages that are compatible on your mobile as well as your desktop and allow you to check your accounts in real-time and record specific transactions when you are out and about to save time.

Do I need Insurance for my Small Business?

You are legally required to take out Employer’s Liability (EL) insurance if you employee anyone, even on a casual basis. This is the only insurance that is illegal required to operate your business with in the UK. Some contractors will request you have EL insurance, ensure this is clarified in the contract between you before starting to work with them. If you have employees and operate without EL insurance you could receive a fine of up to £2,500 per day.

What is Employer’s Liability insurance? 

This is to cover you and the business if an employee becomes injured or dies whilst carrying out their duties at work.

How much does Employer’s Liability insurance cost? 

Your premiums will depend on the type of business and how many employees you have. For example, an office worker could be as low as £60 per annum whereas an employee working in construction could be just over £200. The average to cost to a small or medium sized business in the UK is about £120 per year.

Will my Employer’s Liability insurance pay out? 

You should read the whole contract through first and if you are unsure about anything ask the service provider or have a lawyer look over it. The main sections to focus on are ‘Insuring Clauses’ and ‘Exclusions’, this can help you clarify what is covered and therefore more likely to result in a pay-out.

Other types of insurance include… 

How much does it cost to add business use to my car insurance? 

If you are going to be using your own vehicle to carry out business activities you may want to add business use to ensure you’re fully covered. Premiums usually only go up by about £30.

What is Professional Indemnity insurance? 

This covers you if a client incurs a financial loss from your actions. This could include if you made a mistake or accidentally omitted something during your dealings with the company. The burden of proof lies with them but if a client does decide to take action against you, a case could be costly and time consuming, not to mention stressful. This insurance applies to many different types of businesses from consultant firms to graphic designers so even if at first you think this might not apply to you, it would be worth getting quotes.

Should I get Professional Indemnity insurance? 

This insurance is not a legal requirement in the UK but we would recommend considering taking out a policy if you feel this situation may occur in your line of work.

What is Public Liability insurance? 

Public Liability insurance covers you against customers and members of the public making claims if they become injured whilst at your business or as a result of your or your employees’ actions whilst carrying out their duties.

Should I get Public Liability insurance? 

If you regularly come in to contact with the public, we would advise considering this type of insurance.

How much does Public Liability insurance cost? 

The average cost of Public Liability for a UK company is about £120 per year however small businesses and sole traders can pay as little as £40 per annum.
There are many different types of insurance out there and we have only covered the three main ones for general business. If you work in a niche industry or with a specialised product/machinery having tailored insurance would be advisable. Always get several quotes to compare, carefully read your policies to ensure you are covered correctly and if in doubt ask a lawyer to look the contract over.

The 5 Essentials of Branding your Small Business

Branding is not reserved for the international conglomerates of this world, it is just as important for smaller businesses to build a unique brand. It can be an essential tool in developing trust with an audience and it can lead to an deep affinity and loyalty from your customer base. Not to mention it can be really fun too! We’ve also included a free brand guideline template here to make creating your brand a breeze.

1. What is a brand and how does it apply to my business? 

A brand is about who you are and the direction you want your company to take. To identify what your core values are think about the below questions, not only will this inform your brand identity it will keep you focused on your goals.
Why did you start your business? This is your mission statement, the why behind your business can get lost in the day-to-day so it’s good to have this written somewhere you can see it often.
What is the USP (unique selling point) / POD (point of difference) of your company? What you’re doing has probably been done before however what makes you stand out? It could be your service, it could be your style caters to a particular audience, it could be you! Whatever it is – identify it and stay true to it.
Who is your ideal customer? This will help give direction to your product ranges, inspire you to find ways to improve your products/services and help you understand the nuts and bolts of your business e.g. price point, location, availability etc.
What branding do you like? Look at companies, competitors, personal inspiration sources and/or social media accounts you like. Marry this with your product/service and you will have the aesthetic of your brand. This point may also help you identify your POD.
What is the businesses tone of voice? This may sound a little out there but it’s designed to get you thinking about your business as a separate, objective entity. It makes writing promotional copy, social media posts and newsletters easier as well. Creating a company vernacular helps build recognition with your community and adds to your brands distinctive identity.

2. How do I create my brand? 

Branding is your logo however it is, or should I say it can be, so much more than that. Branding evokes an emotional reaction in your customer, it can turn people from total strangers into your biggest fans. In a saturated market it can be the difference between someone choosing you or a competitor. This is why it is important to spend some time developing your brand and really thinking about how you want people to feel when they see it. Using your answers from question 1 write down a few words, aesthetic choices, colours, icons, motifs and key elements that define your business to create a brief to design your branding from.

3. How do I brand on a budget? 

Once you have your brand brief you will need to decide who will realise it for you. There are a few factors to consider including; your budget, your personal design abilities, your timeframe and what your physical brand needs are. Don’t forget you can use a combination of the below.
DIY! If you feel comfortable using design software such as Photoshop or Illustrator, have the time and the inclination to create your own branding, this can be the best way to go. You can get exactly what you want and save money.
Budding designers – finding a design student, a friend with creative flair or someone that does design in their spare time can be a great option to keep costs low and get quick results. Always pay students and be clear about requirements and budgets from the outset to ensure it’s a win-win situation.
Freelancers – sites such as Fiverr, UpWork, peopleperhour and LinkedIn are amazing resources to find design freelancers. Trusted recommendations, transparent budgets and clear briefs are essential to this process, don’t forget to ask to see portfolios or past examples of work to find a good fit.
Small design agencies – if you have a little more budget consider using a local design agency. You will be able to meet with the people designing your brand, have a guiding hand through the process and (usually) end up with a solid, professional looking brand that fulfils your requirements and allows you to hit the ground running.

4. What does my company need to brand? 

The below list is not exhaustive but it’s a good start when thinking about what you can brand. Include each point that applies to your business in your brief to inform the design process.
Logo – this can include your name but it’s good to have a visual element to it that can be used by itself. This can be turned into a sticker or stamp without your name and people will still associate it with you.
Typography – keep this modern, include clever design elements and show your personality but remember to keep it legible and clear.
Packaging – this doesn’t have to be a bespoke design, you can buy generic and add a stamp or sticker to personalise it (see logo above). Other considerations for packaging should include environmental impact, ensuring the product arrives in it’s best condition if posted and personal touches like printed tissue paper, confetti and even sweets can give you that ‘unboxing video’ wow factor.
Label – adding a branded label to your product can help your customer remember you and enable them to recommend you to others. This will also add a polished finish to your products.
Merchandise – your main business may be a food vendor for example but if your brand is aesthetically pleasing enough and your customers become fanatical about your product, you can translate your branding onto all manner of commodities. This could come in as a handy extra bit of cash as well. If this isn’t the main part of your business, creating small batches using pre-orders promoted through your website or social media ensure you don’t end up with dead stock.
Stationary – for example branded letter heads will reassure your customers about your level of professionalism.
Equipment / vehicles – large vinyl stickers are easily produced and can be added to your companies assets. This provides advertising and adds a level of professionalism to your service.

5. What are and what should be included in brand guidelines? 

Brand guidelines are a visual summary of your brand. It can be an A4 sheet or two depicting your branding foundations setting a clear tone for all communications both written and visual. These are good to have saved down to refer to and use as a resource. Any visuals can be saved in png files to use for advertising, printing, content creation and social media promotion. The list below outlines what you should include to get you started.
Your principle logo – including your business name and logo (if separate) in full colour.
Visual logo – you may decide not to have your name as part of your logo and instead use a purely visual representation for your brand. Example, the tick from Nike.
Mono logo – a black and white version of your logo.
Colour palette – the core colours with pantone references for your brand.
Vertical and horizontal layouts – your logo needs to be versatile. For example, it may have to go at the bottom of a page meaning a horizontal layout would work better. It’s good to have these layouts ready to go so you don’t have to edit in the moment.
Typography – state what fonts you will use. This could include the font of your logo along with one or two fonts that work well visually with your branding.
Tagline – these can be cheesy but if it works for you it’s good to have a short sentence that sums up your business.
Mission statement – the why of your business.
Key words – when thinking of these it’s best to think about how you want the customer to feel about your service and company as a whole. You may also use words from your tone of voice ideas.
Don’ts – if you have any major ‘don’ts’ include them alongside the example of the ‘do’. Any colours, words, or layouts that you would never want are to be included as an annotation.

Questions to Ask Yourself when Writing a Business Plan

A considered business plan will not only help you get organised and crystalise your vision, it is also essential if you are seeking outside funding.

1. What should be at the beginning of my business plan? 

The executive summary, this should be 6 short paragraphs on the following subjects to give an overview of your business. This is your big opening number so keep it concise, professionally presented and attention grabbing!
What the name and function of the business is.
What makes you unique within your industry.
How you are going to become known to your target audience.
How you will structure your business.
Top line finance facts outlining when you expect to break even, potential revenue and profit projections. Have detailed reports to back up these attention-grabbing figures. Note you will have chance to go into more depth in your analysis section (see point 2).
State how much money you are asking for and what the investor(s) will get in return.

2. What analysis should I do? 

After your executive summary should come your analysis section full of facts to make your potential investor realise this is their one-way ticket to private island ownership!
There are many areas and types of analysis you can carry out either before starting your business or prior to writing your business plan. It is good to decide which you think are necessary/most helpful, consider if it is possible for you to gather useful/accurate data for the report and how long to spend on the process. Add attractive headline statistics from your findings to your business plan and have the in-depth reports to back your figures up if questions are asked.
SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. This is usually presented in a grid format on one page with bullet points. This kind of breakdown can be applied to many different areas of your business as well as your competitors and the industry as a whole.
Quantitative data and qualitative findings. It is best to have a mix of these within your business plan, ignoring either can leave serious blind spots in your presentation and business strategies.
Financial projections. You may need a professionals help with this one but if you are asking for any fiscal input, investors will need to see that their contribution will eventually yield a return. Be honest, adjust your plans inline with the numbers and be certain you can achieve what you say.

3. Have you thought about the day-to-day running of your business? 

You may have already started your business and are writing a business plan when looking for investment. If this is the case explaining the operational factors behind your business will be easier, but this is a good chance to review them and see how you could improve them. Do this and add it after the analysis section of your business plan.
Alternatively, if you are writing your business plan pre-start up or during the beginning of your journey to going full-time with your venture, this is where you get into the inner workings of your business to help investors visualise the dream. This part is relatively straight forward but demonstrates you have considered the practicalities of your operation.
Staffing, team members, contractors, freelancers, mentors, outside advisors. It is good to have these laid out in a hierarchical flow chart and to briefly outline what each person’s experience will bring to the business.
Premises. Even if you are an online business you will need to state where stock will be stored and shipping will be done from.
Record keeping. Explain how the administration of the business will be kept up to date. Include details of your accountant here.
And hey presto, you have your business plan! We would always advise putting this together pre-start up, even if you are not looking for outside investment just yet. It does not have to be super slick or go into minutia detail if you are not presenting to people outside your business, it can be a great opportunity to take a step back and see the bigger picture to ensure you are on the right track and have not missed anything.

IT Equipment for Small Businesses

Every business, no matter how big or small, will need some form of equipment or technology for their day-to-day running. As part of your planning, you should consider what technologies you need to get up and running and what equipment/software would be good to have in the future to help you grow or streamline operations. In this article we will run the basics for most businesses.

1. Hardware – Computers, Laptops, Phones. 

It is likely you will need at least one computer to run your business. Some companies have a BYO technology policy, this may work for you however consider cost to the employee and security issues that may arise. If you do need to buy a device for a member of staff shop around, consider their needs (remote working, going to meetings with clients) and the software that they will need to ensure you get the right one for the best price. If you or an employee needs a phone you can put this on a business plan which will be cheaper than personal plans. Also don’t forget to put purchases for technology through your books to enable you to claim tax back (if you are VAT registered).

2. Software 

This will vary greatly depending on your business and we will go into some essential ones further on in this article. The Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) will be the most common and can be purchased on a business plan. If you need creative software, like Photoshop, Illustrator etc., this may affect the choice of computer or laptop you decide to buy. Mac’s are great for design software however come at a premium and can cause compatibility issues if other employees are working on PC’s. The Abode Suite including these programs charges a monthly fee of around £40 per user so if you are planning on only using these programs to make marketing material & social media content consider using online template platforms such as Canva which are easy to use and a lot cheaper.

3. Network 

You will need to set up a network if you have several employees working together that need to share documents or use printers. What kind of network you’ll need will depend on how many devices you need connected. For 5 or less users you can set up a simple network, bigger businesses may need multiple routers and large organisations will need to build their network around a server.

4. Accounting System 

Setting up accounting software for your business is essential. It will mean you can easily and quickly keep all your transactions in order making your accountant love you and ensuring you don’t fall foul of the taxman! Accounting software is simple to set up and can be done online in minutes. Quickbooks, Xero and Sage are all designed with small business owners in mind and are great options to get you set up. Larger firms may want more developed software which you can integrate into your systems and customise to your needs.

5. Payroll Software 

There are free versions of this all, alternatively the above mentioned accounting software brands offer payroll software as well. If numbers aren’t your thing, you have many employees or are time-poor having this software can be of great benefit to you. It makes difficult calculations, carries out repetitive tasks and gives you peace of mind when it comes to getting your workforce paid correctly and on-time.

6. Inventory Control System 

As your business grows or if you have lots of stock to manage an inventory control system can help keep you organised. Again, most of the companies that offer accounting software have inventory management systems that can be easily integrated into your business.

7. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) 

This is a system where a business administrates interactions with customers and potential customers. MondayCRM, Pipedrive and Freshworks CRM are some examples of software that can help you build customer relationships, analyse data, and manage client information. As your business grows these systems will become increasingly useful and can be a vital tool when scaling. Some training for staff will be necessary but this will be offset by increased efficiency and streamlined customer interactions.

8. Cloud Working 

Traditionally software such as Office programs would be downloaded individually to each an employee’s computer however now you have the option of having all your company’s documents on the cloud. This is particularly useful for remote working (each person has a log in to access documents from any device), sharing files, reducing initial spend on software and saving space taken up by lots of documents being saved down onto computers.

9. Payment Options for Customers 

Online integrations 

Along with other benefits of having a website, setting your business up so customers can purchase online can add revenue streams, enable you to reach customers all over the globe and allow purchases out of your regular ‘opening hours’. PayPal, Worldpay and Opayo (previously Sage Pay) are some popular examples; some of these can be integrated into your current website and some will need you to build a website with that provider. If you offer a subscription service consider setting up a Direct Debt option for customers, this will stop you from having to bill people constantly and make it easier for customers as their payment goes to you automatically.

Card machines at point of sale 

If you run a shop, restaurant, mobile salon or stall you may want to purchase a card reader. There are many options to choose from; check out details on the most popular ones here.
Plans are different for each one, some have one off payments and some are rental arrangements. Most have a small fee they charge, sometimes it’s based on the transaction amount, number of transactions or overall monthly revenue that goes through the device.

In summary … 

You may not always have a large amount of spare cash to spend on IT equipment and technology when you start your business so build up as you go, shop around for deals and consider finance/leasing as alternatives. Using technology to make it as easy as possible for customers to purchase your product is the priority. Having computers fast enough with enough memory for your employees to carry out their duties effectively is also a must. There are a lot of free or low-cost software’s available to help you run your business more efficiently from accounting systems to social media design and scheduling tools. One last thing to remember when it comes to your businesses data is – have a back-up! Ensure important information & documents are secure and backed-up devices are regularly updated just in case you have a system failure.

How to Find a Premises for your Business

You’ve decided you do want to have a bricks and mortar location but you’re not sure where to start. We’ve outlined the foundation for your business property.

1. Make a specification for your ideal premises considering internal and external factors. 

You may not find a location/building that ticks all the boxes but aiming for as close as possible is the best place to start. This will also make it clear for you what is non-negotiable and what can be compromised on or worked towards in the future. Factors to include in your specification should be
Location. Evaluate this not only in terms of your customers but also employees and suppliers.
Transport & parking facilities. Again, this should be considered in terms of customer access and employee.
Requirements of the building to carry out business. Depending on the nature of your business you will need the building to work in different ways, think very practically about the space, power points, equipment, ventilation etc when making this list.
Legal issues. If the building already has permissions for your businesses ‘user class’ moving in and alterations you may want to make in the future will be less complicated.
Type of tenure. Your options are license, lease or buy. We will go into further detail on these below.
As you would when looking for a place to live, set you maximum price, including taxes and fees and stick to it.

2. Should I license, lease or buy my work premises? 

As with everything this very much depends on the nature of your business and your plans for the future.
Licenses are short-term contracts (usually 2 years), can be in serviced buildings, have subsides from local authorities to encourage small businesses to set up and have no legal fees. However, you may have to share your space or be asked to leave at short notice by the landlord. Also these spaces will probably not be suitable for a food or manufacturing business. If you just need office space and you’re just starting out this is a good place to start.
Leases are longer term commitments (3-25 years), more freedom to adapt the space, the landlord is liable for external building repairs and more types of properties on the market to choose from. You may want to build break clauses into the contract just in case and agree with the landlord on alterations you want to make before signing on the dotted line. You may also be required to return the property to its original state on vacating, e.g. removing equipment, putting walls back in if removed etc.
Buy freehold. Owning your own premises is more unusual but can be a great asset and mean you have a permanent location under your control. This is a more expensive option though with most commercial property mortgages requiring a 30% deposit.

3. Where do I look for commercial premises? 

You can go the traditional route and get an estate agent that specialises in commercial property however it may be wise to consider some alternatives. Use your personal contacts in an area and business advisors/mentors to find out about potential venues. Also check with your local authority, they will rent business space as well as domestic housing. With this same idea approach local organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce in your area who may be able to advise and help you find the perfect location. Finally, you can engage a chartered surveyor to carry out the search for you. Unlike estate agents who operate on the landlords’ behalf, a chartered surveyor will have your best interests as the priority. They will know the market well, present a short-list to save time and be experienced negotiators.

Resources for finding the perfect property 

Search for a surveyor at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) here.
Get thinking about the future, find out more at the Planning Portal about planning permission here.
Contact your local authority about the type of property you need and see what financial help is available to you.

What are the Finance Options to Help Grow my Business?

You’ve been running a little while now, learnt a lot of lessons and had some very late nights and you feel it’s time to take your business to the next level. You won’t always have the cash in the bank or the revenue from your customers to get you there so you may need to source finance. We will go through the basics of the different types of finance and varying sources you can get money from in this article.

1. What are the different sources of finance to help my business grow? 

Bank Finance. The clue is in the name with this one, you can apply to your current or other banks for finance. You will be required to show detailed financial records, present what you plan to do with the money and may be refused.
Alternative Debt Finance. Born out of the last financial crisis, the requirement to have alternative sources of debt finance boomed as SME’s, in particular, need easier methods of sourcing funding. This form of debt often involves less paperwork and the time to complete is usually quicker than bank finance. In return, business Directors’ are often required to provide Personal Guarantees and interest rates are usually higher.
Equity Finance. This is when you give away a proportion of your business in return for money. This can be done publicly or privately, through individuals or firms.
Government and Public Initiative Grants. You won’t have to repay this money but there will be specific criteria you will have to meet. Grants will usually not cover the entire cost of a project and/or growth plan.
Crowdfunding. You will be asked to put a proposal together which will be shown on the crowdfunding platform. You will be required to give something to the investors in return for their investment and this usually increases depending on the amount of money an individual contributes. For example, someone that contributes £50 will get early access to products and some that invests £500 may get a hamper of all your best products. You will also have to give all the money back if you do not hit your initial stated target.

2. What is the difference between equity and capital? 

This may seem obvious but it is important to ensure that you have your terms straight when deciding and discussing with potential investors. Equity describes the control over a stake/number of shares in the business. When investors or firms ask for equity in your business this could be a percentage with you remaining in control, a controlling percentage of the business as a whole or they may want to buy you out completely. Capital refers to the introduction of investment either from existing Shareholders/employees or via external parties. This can take the form of debt or equity.

3. What are some terms to know when looking to finance the growth of my business? 

Equity capital – you are selling a share in the business to the investor and sometimes they will be become an adviser to the business. They will use their expertise in industry to help with top line strategy because the more money the business makes, the more money they make.
Debt growth capital – this is where you take out loans to fund your growth plans and don’t relinquish any control over your business.
Working capital – this is the money you have/need to fund the day-to-day running of your business. It is not used for growth plans.
Growth capital – money you have/need to grow the business in any form, for example, loans, debts etc.
Venture capital firms – these firms will be interested in investing in new start-ups with massive growth potential.
Growth capital firms – will be interested in investing in more mature companies that can see the potential of their growth plans.
Private equity firms – a leveraged buyout, they will be interested in getting the controlling stake of the business.
Public equity – by floating your business on the stock market you will receive money for shares in your business from the public.

4. How do I write a pitch to attract external finance? 

This is where your trusty business plan will come in. You may need to write a couple of different versions to use in your pitch depending on who you are talking to. Government grants will have different interests to private investors or banks. Identify what would make your business most attractive to the audience you’re presenting to and adapt accordingly. Have all your facts and figures to hand and know them inside outside. Practice your presentation and have an elevator pitch ready for those chance meetings with valuable connections or potential investors. Go to your local business growth hub for advice, they will be help you to organise and write your proposal, make you aware of any grants available to you and potentially point you to private investors.

Invoicing for Small Businesses

We’ll look into the basics of invoices and then how you can use invoice financing as a tool to get a quick injection of cash.

1. What is an invoice and why do I need them? 

An invoice is a formal request for payment from a customer that has received goods or services from you. It is an itemised document that clearly states what they brought and how much they will need to pay. Invoices are part of bookkeeping and need to be clear, accurate and organised.

2. What should I include in an invoice? 

Google sheets have invoice templates, so do cloud based accounting systems such as Quickbooks or Xero. You want all your invoices to have the same format and look professional. Ensure you include the following:
Business logo.
Your businesses contact and billing address.
You clients billing address.
Invoice number. These need to be sequential and are essential to keep things organised as they refer to that invoice alone.
Amount due.
Date you issued the invoice. This should be as soon after the goods or services are provided as possible.
Due date of the payment.
In a table you should have a further breakdown of what the services/goods purchased with individual prices. This can be the flat or hourly rate charged. Also have a column for quantity purchased.
Tax should be stated separately. Please see VAT section below for more details.
Payment terms. This is the amount of time you have previously agreed with the client they have to pay the invoice. It’s usually stated as ‘Net – number’. For example, if you’re client has 30 days to pay the invoice the payment terms will be ‘Net 30’.
Personal note. Add a thank you and any other information that you think would be useful for the client.

3. How should I keep track of my invoices? 

The invoice number will help you do this. Set them up sequentially and have your own spreadsheet which is updated every time you send out an invoice. Carry out a weekly review of who is due you pay you and send a friendly reminder if they aren’t a regular client. You can also save a copy of the invoice in folders, think how you would like to organise these in line with your type of business. Is it more useful to organise them by invoice number, month sent or possibly, by client? Most businesses send their invoices by email, save as a PDF that can’t be edited and attach to the message as timely as possible.

4. What’s the difference between an invoice and a receipt? 

Although very similar a receipt is issued after payment, an invoice is a request for payment. Be aware that an invoice isn’t legally binding within itself. To make a transaction legally binding you need to have a contract signed between the two parties or, at least, have an agreement in writing of some sort, for example an email exchange. To cover yourself it is good to outline what your payment terms are, what services/goods you will provide and what the costs will be to ensure you and your client are on the same page.

5. What is a VAT invoice and when do I use it? 

If you and your client are NOT VAT registered you shouldn’t issue a VAT invoice. You should simply charge for the goods/services provided including the information from point 1. If you and your customer are VAT registered you are required by HRMC to provide a VAT invoice for goods/services subject to sales tax. This also applies if the invoice between the two VAT registered parties includes non-sales tax items. VAT invoices look very similar to regular invoices but include a little more information:
Your VAT number
The VAT rate(s) charged
The total amount before VAT
The total amount of tax due
The total amount due including VAT.
Now we’ve gone through the basics of invoices, we’ll explain the basics of what invoice financing is and how it can benefit you.

6. What is invoice finance? 

You can use your outstanding invoices to raise cash for your business quickly. You can sell the invoice to a company or borrow against the invoice, both minus a fee. Some companies will require your company to be a certain size and want all your outstanding invoices sold/borrowed against together, others will be happy to work with smaller businesses and allow you to select which invoices you raise cash with.

7. What are the types of invoice financing? 

Factoring – this is when you transfer your invoice debt to a company. They take a percentage or charge a fee and give you the cash. You have transferred the invoice to them so they are now reasonable for collecting that debt. This is traditional invoice financing and usually involved you handing over a chunk of or all your outstanding invoices.
Selective – this is where you choose which invoices you want to ‘sell’. You may only need a smaller cash injection so this may make more sense as the company will only take the fee from that selected invoice(s) rather than all your outstanding invoices.
Discounting – this is a loan based on your outstanding invoice(s). You borrow money against the value of your invoices and then pay the invoice financing company back after your client has paid.

8. When should I use invoice financing for my small business? 

Invoice financing can be a quick way to get a good amount of urgently needed cash into your business. When deciding on if you think it may work for you consider
Contracts – make sure you’re not tied into long contracts, large contract termination fees, handing over more invoices than you want to.
Shop around for the best percentage – traditionally the majority of invoice financing firms wanted to work with large, well established companies however the industry has change drastically in the past few years with much more flexible plans and options available to you.
Use this as a short-term solution – when you’re a small new business your suppliers may negotiate longer payment terms with you, build relationships with them to get them to pay invoices quicker and use invoice financing in the meantime.

How to Lease Equipment for your Business

Buying equipment outright for your business may be an expense out going early on so you should consider leasing where appropriate.

1. What are the benefits of leasing equipment? 

When setting up your business, depending on the nature of your industry, you may have a lot of out goings to begin with. There are different kinds of leases / finance you can get which we will detail below. You can get 0% interest on some finance agreements, spread out payments to help with cash flow, tax relief on energy efficient equipment and can even have maintaining and servicing included.

2. What types of finance contracts are there? 

Hire Purchase. You will pay instalments and own the equipment at the end of the agreement.
Finance Lease. You will pay instalments but won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease. The rental company will sell the equipment at the end of the lease and you will receive a pre-agreed amount of the proceeds.
Operating Lease. You will pay lower instalments but won’t own the equipment at the end of the lease or get any proceeds from a third-party sale.

3. Do I have to add leased equipment to the balance sheet? 

If you buy or use hire purchase for equipment for your business, it will have to be added to the business’ balance sheet however if you use finance lease or an operating lease it may not. If your total payments, excluding maintenance and servicing, amount to less than 90% of the total market value of the piece of equipment it won’t need to be added to the balance sheet. Ask the leasing agent or your accountant for a valuation if you’re unsure.

4. What should I look for when leasing equipment for my business? 

Do you need to purchase consumables along with the equipment and how is this covered by your payments?
Check the age and authenticity of the equipment, ask for evidence in writing.
Even if you have no intention of buying find out what the market value of the piece is.
What maintenance and servicing are included in the deal? Does it include spare parts? Make sure you’re clear on the costs of these and they are stated separately on the contract.
Check the process if you get faulty equipment or it breaks down completely.
What are the possibilities for the structure of the payments, example a balloon payment at the end of the contract?
Be very specific with the requirements of the equipment you need and what kind of contract would work best for you. Get at least 4 quotes from different companies, 2 larger more well-known places and 2 lesser or local leasers. Know the market value of the equipment, new and second-hand and use this to evaluate the quotes given.

How to Create a Business Strategy

At the beginning and throughout the life of your business you will have to create strategies to give your self the best chance of success. These can be as formal or informal, whichever works for you but should never be underestimated or ignored. Your business strategy will feed into your business plan, will be a ‘working’ document and can be focused on the whole or certain areas of your business.

1. What is a business strategy? 

Your business strategy is the plan outlining how you will achieve your business goals. To begin with these can be informal and in a format that works for you – a long form written documents, excel checklist, flow diagram etc. Set objectives and work backwards to detail how you can achieve these goals. If you are writing a business plan you will use your business strategy as part of this.

2. How do I write a business strategy? 

Carrying out a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is a great place to start. This can be focused on your industry as a whole, your individual business or your competitors. There’s a thousand different ways to cut the cake with this one so stay top line to start with and discover where you need to focus in on.

3. What areas of my business should I have a strategy for? 

The short answer is all of them! These are the main ones to focus on when starting out.
Overall business high-level strategy. This will include elements of each of the following and set out what your USP’s (unique selling points) are and how you’ll use them to get ahead. Set goals for your first 12 – 18 months to refer to when things get busy and you are bogged down in the day-to-day running of your business.
Marketing strategy. Figure out how to communicate your message to the outside world. See our Marketing basics advice here.
Pricing strategy. Trying to under cut the competition may get you a quick win however it is a dangerous game to start playing as you will create an environment that the only way is down. Competitors may find a way to provide good/services even cheaper and there is no way as a small/independent business you will be able to get prices lower than large multi-national conglomerates within your field. Using a low price point teamed with differentiation or niche targeting may be a wiser way to go.
Social media strategy. This will fall under your marketing strategy but given the power of social media it is wise to have a separate section so you can really plan out how you will utilise social media to maximise its potential for your small business.

4. Are strategies really worth the time taken away from my business? 

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
This quote may perfectly sum up how you feel when trying to come up with strategies during the early days. Remember strategies are made to be constantly evolving and reviewed continually. Set a strategy day in the diary every month to begin with – and make yourself show up for it! It’ll give you the reset you need and you’ll be able to identify problems and correct plans accordingly. We would leave some space on this day dedicated to research. For example, if your social media isn’t getting much traction put aside time to breakdown and research what competitors are doing, what business gurus advise and what the all mighty google thinks you should do. Also, within this day add thinking time by going for a walk without headphones in to think about the issue. It is very easy to not give yourself space to breath and consider your actions because you are too busy doing them!