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HSBC, the UK’s largest bank, has unveiled a £15 billion fund to help small businesses in the UK to rebound from losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The £15 billion allocation comprises the newest and largest-ever iteration of its SME Fund, which was first launched in 2014 with the aim of helping small businesses in the UK to grow.

The bank stated on Tuesday that two-thirds of the 2021 fund will be directed to specific regions, ensuring that companies throughout the UK are able to benefit from its support. The fund will also include a £2 billion ring-fenced pot for firms trading overseas and a further £1.2 billion for those in the agricultural sector.

Also new in the 2021 SME Fund are £500 million allocations each for technology firms and franchise businesses.

HSBC delayed the launch of the newest SME Fund from late 2020 to better coincide with the reopening of the UK economy. Its announcement comes a week after the release of the 2021 budget and the announcement of a new Recovery Loan Scheme for businesses to replace the Bounce Back Loan Scheme.

“We’ve helped British business get through the last year with over £14 billion of Covid-19 lending support,” said Peter McIntyre, head of small business banking at HSBC UK. “Now it’s time to turn our minds to what comes next and how we help companies grow again, opening up a world of opportunity and contributing towards a sustainable future society.”

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SMEs will be able to borrow from the SME Fund on standard commercial terms, with loans beginning at £1,000.

Figures published on Wednesday showed that small business borrowing reached more than £100 billion last year, an increase of over 80%.

Business growth consultant Daniel Groves outlines the key checks to ensure a business is performing at its best in 2021.

People often associate audits with uncertainty; stripping back daily routines and cutting away at workplace stability. Given the year we’ve just had, it’s understandable that a company audit probably sounds like kicking your team while they’re down, but that shouldn’t be the case.

When carried out conscientiously, audits are going to relieve pressure on your bottom line, and therefore your employees. Working through the pandemic will have fundamentally changed the face of your business, and how daily operations are carried out. So, getting a clear, current perspective on how things are running - and how your employees are impacted - will equip you in making efficient, profitable decisions for the long-term.

Here are five key audits that SMEs should be carrying out in 2021 in preparation for workplaces to reopen.

1. Employee welfare check-ins

Everyone has been affected by 2020 in different ways. Chances are, your workforce are no longer just your employees - they’re now also part-time carers, or juggling their child’s education. They’re more likely to be struggling with bereavement, financial worries or health concerns, and may be either incredibly isolated or stressed about being unable to work uninterrupted.

Last year, the UK lost an estimated 17.9 million working days due to mental health concerns. Checking in with your staff will help you understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your teams in the coming months. Anonymous surveys can provide some information; team leaders might be able to give better insight. You can find useful resources, like this guide to workplace mental health, if you need assistance with this.

Checking in with your staff will help you understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your teams in the coming months.

In some instances, adjusting employee schedules or hours can be a benefit to the company and the individual. Ultimately, responding sensitively to the needs of your team will remind them that their contributions are valued, boosting your employee retention and helping to maintain productivity and operational stability moving forward.

2. Policy audits

In the last 12 months, we’ve seen endless examples of how company policies need to evolve and grow. A policy audit helps you emphasise your organisation’s priorities and your key expectations about employee behaviour. It’s also an opportunity to review policies that are outdated, unenforceable or no longer representative of company ethos.

A policy audit will mean taking stock of your existing workplace rules and deciding which are the most important - whether that relates to technology usage, data security, company objectives, staff welfare or something else. This policy audit outline is aimed at IT companies but translates well to other organisations.

Survey your staff to determine which policies seem challenging or irrelevant, and see where you can revise and clarify most effectively. Communicate with anyone involved in writing those policies, and make sure they’re still relevant and being effectively followed in the current climate. The Basecamp Employee Handbook offers an interesting and modern example of policy tone and structure.

A policy audit provides your employees and management with a refreshed understanding of what it means to be a part of the company. It demonstrates professional flexibility and conscientiousness, both of which are going to be vital in adapting to the climate of 2021.

3. Waste management

Waste management is a common headache for growing businesses. Although it’s probably dropped off the radar with offices being closed, you have an opportunity to limit your waste collection costs when you reopen. Plus, it always helps to give your company a greener image.

Waste management is a common headache for growing businesses.

Waste audits involve counting the number of bins around your site, assessing the type of rubbish inside and identifying where the bulk of waste is originating. It may be immediately apparent, for instance, your building discards a high volume of plastic cups, or bulky paperwork.

“Regardless of industry or company size, a waste audit is the first step needed to be taken to establish where improvements can be made and how to increase recycling within a business.” - Countrystyle Recycling

Reducing the number of bins, positioning them more centrally and providing ways to segregate recyclable materials can nudge staff behaviour in the right direction. Adjusting workplace systems - like providing communal drinkware, or going paperless - will reduce waste further. 

4. Paper processes

Paper-based processes stack up to big business costs - especially when you consider that the average employee apparently uses over 10,000 sheets of paper a year. Identify the source of your physical paperwork now, and reap the benefits of a paperless (or near-paperless) system when your workplace reopens.

Lots of organisations have digitised during lockdown. Meetings, desk drive-bys and wet signatures have been replaced with video calls, instant messaging and eSignatures. Using cloud-based services, digital contracts and electronic proof of delivery (E-PODs) allows documents, signatures, order forms and invoices to be shared instantly, tracked accurately and stored securely. 

If you’re sceptical, calculate how much your company spends on printing materials and machinery, plus postage costs. Then add the approximate rent of each square foot of your paper filing systems, the rates of your employees as they task-switch between screens and physical documents and, of course, the cost of shredding, recycling or discarding waste paper.

5. Office capacity audit

SMEs are typically hyper-conscious of their headcount and available office space. However, with the future of onsite working changing, 2021 is the time to re-evaluate your figures.

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Experts are predicting that ‘hybrid’ working will be the new normal, and UK employers estimating that around 37% of employees will regularly be working from home post-pandemic. This potentially means that workplaces can be significantly smaller for the same number of employees, as long as realistic hotdesking practices are put in place. As a result, businesses may find it possible to save thousands on rent.

Talk to your staff about their workplace preferences with regards to working onsite full-time, part-time, or only on occasion. Compare this to what you and your team leaders see as necessary for productivity, and plan accordingly.

In Summary

Everybody wants 2021 to be happier, healthier and more successful than last year. These five audits work in harmony with each other to reduce burdens on both individual employees and company finances, allowing businesses to flourish under the demands of the ‘new normal’.

Take the opportunity to acknowledge everything your team achieved against adversity in 2020, and work together to create positive and sustainable change this year.

Whether you are a new startup or you are an established business in your niche, taking the right approach to your small business accounting is crucial for the success of your enterprise moving forward. With the right financial data at your disposal, you can make better-informed decisions about the future of your business, assess your performance and adapt to changing trends with ease. 

Failing to maintain proper financial records can cause your business all sorts of problems down the line. From delaying the receipt of payments to cash flow problems and issues with filing your taxes, poor financial management can quickly spell disaster for small businesses. To ensure that you stay in control of your business finances, it’s important that you adopt the right accounting habits this year to set your small business up for success in 2021. 

Let’s take a closer look at five accounting habits you should adopt in 2021 to help you to stay in control of your business finances. 

Maintain Proper Records

One of the most important accounting habits that any business owner can adopt is keeping good records. Keeping meticulous records will ensure that you keep track of all of your income expenses, that you get paid on time and that you have the financial information you need when reporting time rolls around. Having access to up-to-date and accurate financial data will also allow you to make better-informed business decisions going forward.

Seek Professional Advice

Business owners wear many hats, contributing to many aspects of the business. When it comes to managing your finances, you need to ensure that you have the right advice to help you keep your business on track. Seeking out professional financial advice will help you to gain a better understanding of your accounts and implement systems that will help you to manage your finances more efficiently. 

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Invest In The Right Tools

Modern cloud-based accounting programs can help you to manage your business accounts and meet your reporting obligations with ease. These powerful accounting solutions are capable of automating many of your financial recording and reporting tasks, giving you more time to focus on the daily tasks associated with running your business. Choosing the right accounting software to meet the needs of your business will allow you to manage your business accounting with more precision and confidence.

Remain Tax Compliant

As a business owner, you need to ensure that you meet your tax reporting obligations to the ATO. At the beginning of the financial year, be sure to enter all of your report due dates into a calendar or other organiser so you know what reports are required and when they are due. Taking an organised approach towards your business tax reporting obligations will ensure that you avoid incurring any penalties or fines which could hinder your business at tax time. 

Monitor Your Expenses

Having a clear understanding of your business expenses is essential in planning for the future needs of your business. Being able to identify where you are overspending or where you are investing with little return will help you to make changes as required. Whether you will need to reduce your spending, seek financing or generate more income, monitoring your expenses closely is key in maintaining your profitability and having adequate cash flow to allow you to operate optimally.

Take The Right Approach To Your Business Accounting In 2021 And Beyond

Managing your business finances is a constant struggle for many business owners. With a new year beginning, now is the time to reassess your accounting habits and make positive changes going forward. Take the right approach to your business accounting in 2021 and adopt new accounting habits that will allow you to stay in control of your business finances and on track toward your financial targets.

What pops into your mind when you think about payroll services? Probably making some complicated calculations in the massive number of worksheets. However nowadays, as the technology evolves day by day, like every other business domain, personnel management, workforce planning as well as alignment with the accounting process are being enhanced and re-designed with new generation software as a service (SaaS) platforms.

Payroll is more than a calculation of paycheck. Rather, it is a secure form of the income statement that is both critical for the employer and the employee. It is a simple yet highly technical field of expertise and may have resulted in legal penalties and burdens on the employer if the payroll process is not managed correctly. Because payroll calculation includes income tax, other tax calculations, and withholdings, as well as considering benefits like premiums, expense reimbursement, health insurance, and so on.

If you are a small business owner or an HR or Administration responsible working in a small business, to avoid wasting too much time each month for a specific task, and to find a solution with an affordable budget, the best payroll services may be the software solutions for your case.

Software as Service (SaaS) payroll solutions will benefit you in terms of time and save your money that might otherwise be wasted in outsource payroll companies or hiring personnel dedicated to this, which indeed cost more than a subscription to payroll software.

Automatic Payroll Calculation and Tax Features

For a small business with a limited number of full-time employees, payroll service software may be seen as the best payroll service option to choose from.

Payroll is more than a calculation of paycheck. Rather, it is a secure form of the income statement that is both critical for the employer and the employee.

They offer automated payroll calculation along with the necessary legal tax calculations such as income tax as well as manage financial reflection of benefits like health insurance and overtime payments.

You can calculate the payroll of your employees quickly and do not have to deal with complicated menu bars.

Adjusted to company size

Most of the payroll services online offer you several plans which can be adjusted and customised based on your employee number and needs. When choosing the one among the best payroll services that fit your company, please bear in mind to control their policies, whether they ask fee per person or a certain limit or they demand an extra fee for part-time employee payments which occur irregularly. If they have payroll limits per month and you have too many variables changing at each monthly period, then you should search for the best payroll service that provides more flexible options.

Workforce Management

If your company operates based on shifts, managing schedules and employee working hours is a big deal, especially considering that the best payroll services come with built-in HR tools such as workforce planning, automated shift planning, and platforms for personal agendas which would be a beneficial asset.

Through this feature, if you need it, you can see your daily schedule, which will reduce the rate of errors. Special reports as per company unit, date range, and type of employee, and monthly shift reports for employees may also be produced.

Integration to Company Software

Whether you have a digital service company or a business that has brick and mortar stores, you will have several other pieces of software to execute your business ranging from CRM tools and financial dashboards to procurement and shipping platforms. Particularly, the integration of payroll tools to accounting software or existing workforce management or HR tools such as SAP will be a crucial factor when deciding for the best payroll service for your company.

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Why is SaaS the best payroll service solution?

  They are affordable and a smart decision for a small business compared to a full-time expert or outsourcing.

  On a single screen, you can do all your calculations.

  In real-time, you can monitor the payrolls and share them with the accounting department or legal party.

  You will not get lost in complicated menus.

  They complete payroll calculations quicker because of these properties.

  Simplify with one click the entire shift schedule.

  Online recording of all payroll payments, expenditures, promotions, incentives, and bonuses.

  An online framework to control leaves and shifts

  Each worker can have his or her account, demand leave, and oversee their shifts or overtime hours.

  Manage  I-9s, part-time W-2 workers, 1099 contractors, and freelancers.

To Sum Up

Payrolls must consist entirely of accurate statistics. The payrolls must be properly maintained and preserved in the case of court proceedings concerning the employee and the employer since they are valuable evidence. For this purpose, efficient and smart payroll software, instead of the effort, money, time, and manual labor spent on complex files, is a very practical solution among the best payroll services on the market, particularly for small companies.

Payrolls, for a majority of the workforce, acts as a motivational factor. It is only when they get accurate and timely income that they feel inspired to keep putting their best foot forward. After all, it is all about money at the end of the day.

This is what makes it important to effectively process payrolls. Accurate payrolls makes sure that employees are neither getting underpaid nor are they getting anything more than they were expected to receive. 

Moreover, effective management is also about handling confidential documentation, ensuring accurate benefits, sorting out reimbursements correctly, and everything else that revolves around the employees income. 

So, how exactly do you manage payrolls effectively so that both employees and employers keep happy? Read about the solution below. 

Get most out of advanced technology

Thanks to advancements in technology, there are now ample tools and software on the market that have been developed to make business operations a lot easier, even payroll management. Payroll system software was designed specifically to ensure that organisations manage their payrolls effectively. 

These tools automate almost every payroll-related task. Not only is this tool reliable to get accurate timings and amounts, but there are variations that come with additional helpful features. These features could include tracking attendance, managing budgets, filing taxes, calculating overtime of employees, tracking employee work hours, and many more. 

You can easily find a tool that basically takes care of everything related to the human capital of your organisation. All you need to do is select the tool effectively and with patience and research.

Payroll system software was designed specifically to ensure that organisations manage their payrolls effectively. 

Streamline tasks

Organisation is the key to success. The more organised you are, the easier your life will be. When there is chaos, the chance of errors increases. 

Thus, make sure you are always working to get more organised at work and in life. Start by reviewing how your current processes are. Learn about all the areas that need improvement. 

Once you have these areas, start working on them. Determine the type of pay schedule that will work best for your organisation as well as your employees. If you have distributed hours, identify the best course of action to take care of that. 

When you are trying to improve, start by analysing and identifying.

Go paperless

In this world of digitalisation, it is perhaps high time to adapt to more advanced technology. After all, the digital world is the future. There are plenty of benefits that going paperless can bring.

The main benefits include offering an easy and less cluttered way to employees to manage and monitor their finances.  When you opt for digital solutions, employees won’t have to stand in line and pick up their checks. This will save time and offer them more hours to focus on more important tasks like achieving their targets.

You can offer a self-service portal where employees can themselves look into their documents and payslips when the need arises.

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Consider outsourcing payroll management 

Many find it difficult to delegate tasks. They feel the more they keep the work to themselves, the better and more accurate it will be. That’s completely wrong.

When you have too much on your plate, it is going to be truly difficult for you to focus on even one thing. Neither would you be able to carry out payrolls effectively nor the other tasks in hand. And payrolls need accuracy. Thus, consider outsourcing your payroll management. This will help you retain your employees and keep them productive as they will be getting accurate and timely pays. No delays. This is because the chances of the brands that you will outsource payroll management from will probably already have updated software. 

Thus, consider letting go of the burden of manual payrolls and begin storing important documents securely.  

Conclusion

The bottom line is that automation and easy life goes hand in hand. If you can find any way to automate your tasks, be it using a digital tool or by outsourcing the management, you should certainly consider doing that. It will give you more time to focus on things that actually matter. 

Today, you can use video conferencing software and project management tools to facilitate coordination and communication in a team that’s spread across multiple locations. Consequently, a global workforce is gradually becoming the norm for companies, irrespective of their size and niche.

This isn’t surprising considering the awesome benefits that global recruitment and remote work offer. To begin with, it introduces cultural diversity and multiple perspectives in your team. This can go a long way to encourage innovative thinking and creative problem-solving among your employees.

It’s crucial when you want to break into new markets and expand your business internationally. Also, when your employees work remotely from the comfort of their homes, it can increase their productivity and efficiency. Recruiting employees in certain countries can even be more economical than hiring from your home country.

Having said that, building a global workforce comes with its own set of obstacles. From managing multiple time zones to ensuring complete transparency - you need to overcome various hurdles.

However, the biggest challenge of recruiting employees across the globe is managing payroll. From compliance issues to payment delays - you’re likely going to face various problems while paying international employees.

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common challenges you’ll have to overcome to pay employees overseas. But let’s first take a closer look at the different employment models you can use to build a global workforce.

How to Build a Global Workforce

Typically, if you’re looking to recruit international employees, you’ll likely use one of the following employment models:

Independent Contractors

This is a common choice for small and mid-sized businesses. Instead of recruiting full-time employees, you hire freelancers on a contractual basis. It saves you the trouble of providing any benefits, bonuses, and other incentives. When hiring contractors though it’s important that they are contractors to avoid the risk of misclassification.

From compliance issues to payment delays - you’re likely going to face various problems while paying international employees.

Direct Hires

In this model, you recruit part-time or full-time employees from a foreign country and make them a part of your global payroll. This requires you to keep a tab on the taxes and labor laws in their host country. You will also have to establish a legal entity in the host country before you can directly recruit international employees. This is known as the global payroll model, to distinguish it from the contractor and global PEO models even though all 3 global workforce models require paying and a ‘payroll’ to your overseas hires.

Global PEO

The global PEO or professional employer organisation model allows a company to use a professional services company to hire and become the employer of record for the employee in the overseas country. The global PEO is responsible for handling all employee-related responsibilities, including payroll processing, tax management, benefits management, etc. Recruiting through a global PEO simplifies the overseas talent acquisition and onboarding process enabling you to hire overseas without having to first open a local entity.

Challenges of Paying International Employees

Unless you have partnered with a global PEO who will undertake the payroll and ensure that your employees’ salaries are in accordance with local payroll taxes, you’ll have to manage payroll for your international employees. Even if you have recruited freelancers, you will still need to ensure that they’re paid the right amount at the right time.

Here are a few common challenges you’ll encounter when paying employees overseas:

1. Compliance Across Multiple Jurisdictions

Every company has its own set of labour laws and tax legislation. Even if you’re establishing a legal entity in a foreign country, you’ll need an expert to guide you through the local laws.

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If you fail to adhere to these regulations, your company might be liable for financial penalties. That’s why compliance is the most common problem you’ll experience when paying international employees. This can become particularly challenging when you need to keep a track of multiple laws across various jurisdictions.

Hiring independent contractors doesn’t exempt you from the purview of compliance. This is because if you exclusively work with a freelancer for a long period, it could potentially make them look like full-time employees in the eyes of the local jurisdiction.

2. Manual Processing Across Multiple Payroll Calendars

If you’re working with many contractual employees across the globe, they’re likely going to follow diverse payroll calendars. Monitoring these calendars and making manual payments in a timely manner can be excruciatingly difficult.

Also, when you’re paying employees in different countries, you need to account for various processing delays. While in some countries, the bank processing time is only a few hours, others can take days or weeks to complete a transaction.

You need to factor in these delays in your payroll calendar to ensure that your employees get paid on time, irrespective of where they’re located.

3. Moving Money Across Borders

Wiring money to different countries isn’t the same as making a bank transfer in your home country. You need to consider various factors, including the currency exchange rate and processing fees.

Manually tracking these details on a regular basis is going to be challenging. Also, depending on the number of overseas employees, you might end up spending a lot of money on processing fees.

Wiring money to different countries isn’t the same as making a bank transfer in your home country.

Global Payroll is the Solution

If you’ve had any experience in hiring and paying overseas employees, you’re likely be already familiar with the concepts explained here. For those taking their first steps in hiring abroad, this post should give you an idea about some of the complexities involved.

What steps is your company taking to simplify the process of paying overseas employees? Share your tips in the comments section below.

Finance Monthly hears from Lynne Darcey-Quigley, founder and CEO of Know-It, on the problem of fraud plaguing UK firms and how they can protect themselves from it.

Throughout the 1960s, Frank Abagnale famously faked eight different identities, including a pilot, lawyer and a physician, to gain free flights and defraud banks. There was subsequently a film titled ‘Catch me if you can’, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, made about his life and how he conned people. Arguably his most ingenious (or in fact worrying) tactic was his ability to write personal cheques on his own overdrawn account. This, however, would work for only a limited time before the bank demanded payment, so he moved on to opening other accounts at different banks, eventually creating new identities to sustain this charade and continue to defraud financial institutions.

Although time has passed and technologies and systems have been put in place to weed out the Frank Abegnales, the issue of fraud and financial crime continues to linger. This has been made plainly obvious throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, where the Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan (BBLS) scheme has been plagued by fraudulent applications.

As a result, the National Audit Office (NAO) has estimated that taxpayers could lose as much as £26 billion from fraud, organised crime or default, as up to 60% of the loans may never be repaid.

An all too familiar story

For businesses across the UK, this may not be a surprise. Even before the pandemic, a study from PwC found that half of all UK companies had been the victim of fraud or economic crime between 2016 and 2018. The research found that for more than half of the organisations affected, criminal activity resulted in losses of around £72,000.

Fraud and financial crime, therefore, has clearly not been born as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, nor will it diminish once the virus has passed. The case of COVID-19 loan fraud should, therefore, provide businesses, government and other stakeholders with a wake-up call and a chance to reflect on how they can reduce the risks of falling victim to financial fraud. But what lessons can these stakeholders learn and what needs to change?

Even before the pandemic, a study from PwC found that half of all UK companies had been the victim of fraud or economic crime between 2016 and 2018.

Always do your homework

We understand that the issuing of COVID-19 loan schemes was a unique situation. Lenders have been under huge amounts of pressure to approve loans quickly and help support struggling businesses. Unfortunately, this simply doesn’t give them the time they need to conduct the checks that are needed to protect themselves from fraud and financial crime. Yet this echoes similar findings from PwC’s research from a few years ago: UK organisations are generally not doing enough to prevent fraud, with only half carrying out a fraud risk assessment in the last two years.

Regardless of whether your organisation is an SME, a large enterprise or a national government, basic and thorough credit checks must be in place as part of the process of protecting your business. Through establishing the validity of a customer your business is looking to establish a working relationship with, you are immediately reducing the risk of exposing yourself to fraud or financial crime. But why stop there? Compiling credit reports and verifying a business’ status on Companies House before committing to a commercial arrangement are also effective measures that can help protect your business.

These checks go a long way for business owners, particularly SMEs, as late payments and of course, fraud, can cause disruptions to business cash flow. Cash flow issues can prove fatal for smaller business owners, which is why credit checking, building credit reports and validating other businesses and its financial status is key to survival.

Ensuring a smooth recovery

When it comes to government support loans, businesses do not have to begin paying back the money from May 2021 onwards. However, this time large time period isn’t a luxury when it comes to collecting payment from customers. Consequently, implementing a responsive and robust debt recovery process is essential to minimising the risk of non and late payment issues, helping business protect their cash flow and minimise risk.

Agreeing and making a record of credit terms in advance ensures that no business transactions can be disputed, which could later lead to businesses losing out on payment from customers Under the BBLS, the government provided lenders with a 100% guarantee for the loan. For SMEs in particular, this approach simply cannot be taken, especially if debt recovery steps, such as ensuring credit terms between businesses, are not agreed and recorded beforehand.

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Chasing owed payments is far easier after the checks to validate a business have been made. Businesses can take measures which include; credit holding, which involves pausing services to a client until they have paid. Issuing final notices is also essential to the debt recovery process, the final correspondence before taking up legal proceedings usually resolves any delayed payment issues. The problem facing the government is that fraudsters applying for support loans will do so illegitimately, therefore remaining anonymous and slipping through the debt recovery net. This reiterates the importance of verifying and checking recipients during the early stages of a business agreement, as this eases the rest of the debt recovery process.

A final word on SMEs

However, it is not just the initial checks before the first commercial transaction that must be invested in. To truly protect themselves, infrastructure must be put in place to continually monitor and chase customers. In larger businesses it is common to have a designated department or employee who will handle this process – usually this person will be known as a ‘credit controller’. Yet, we understand that many – particularly smaller businesses – do not have the resources readily available to continuously check the credit status of their customers and conduct due diligence.

Fortunately, this is where advancement in technology play a critical role. For example, by using technology to automate the credit control process, this can help businesses streamline this process so they can credit check and monitor and conduct due diligence, all from one place. Automating this process, firms can collate the information and identify areas of concern, without expending huge amounts of time and precious resources, ultimately helping them to limit risk and reduce fraud.

Business growth consultant Daniel Groves offers Finance Monthly an analysis of the current role of offices and his predictions on how it will shift in 2021 and beyond.

COVID-19 has had a big impact on offices around the world, with lockdown guidelines and social distancing measures leading many to work from home. There have been many proponents of home working, from a better work-life balance to cutting down on the expenses of commuting. But what does this mean for offices going forward? 

While there is still going to be a need for offices beyond the pandemic, the role they play in modern businesses will need to evolve to adapt to the ‘new normal’. These are some of the ways that offices are likely to change in the future to meet the demands of running a business while also maintaining the wellbeing of staff. 

The office is still important

In spite of the rise in remote working, offices are still important to how businesses operate. Many people like the idea of dividing their work life between in-person and remote, in order to gain a better split between their personal life and their career. 

What’s more, some businesses have no choice but to have a central location for staff to work from in order to comply with data security. But in order to stay relevant, businesses require their office spaces to adapt and change with the times. The offices of the future will be shaped from the lessons learned through the pandemic and this means that they need to become a space where the benefits reaped from working there are worth the extra effort required to get there.

From how they look to how they make employees feel and how staff are treated within them, offices need to be worth the journey and over the coming months as we navigate the pandemic and its aftermath, offices will be under closer inspection.

In spite of the rise in remote working, offices are still important to how businesses operate.

A new focus

The focus of the office has now changed – it’s no longer the hub of the company but rather a space for collaboration and creativity. In response to the pandemic, offices are now better suited to providing a place to come together with colleagues and brainstorm ideas. Co-working spaces need to be inspiring and encourage ideation and participation. 

So, modern businesses need to accommodate this and provide break out areas and flexible open plan spaces. Business owners need to recognise that staff need collaborative areas that can be adapted to suit different needs, both for social interactions as well as quieter spaces to concentrate. 

More working remotely

COVID-19 has resulted in more people working remotely than ever before, which has placed a greater importance on having access to good digital services. Employees need to be able to utilise software to collaborate effectively, from making better use of calendars and time management tools to arrange meetings, to using cloud software to share and access files and documents. 

It’s also vital that all staff have great connectivity in order to make the best use of these tools. Businesses need to support teamwork through the right organisational aids so that staff can coordinate and share resources efficiently.

Design focused around people

More than ever before, companies need to pay attention to how their offices are designed in order to keep staff and visitors safe. While mistakes in the office layout prior to the pandemic may have been inconvenient, it could now be unsafe or even illegal. 

“The pandemic has accelerated the move towards genuinely people-focused design,” says Roderick Altman, CEO at SAS International. “This means designing workspaces that accommodate the needs of each and every person rather than considering office workers as a herd. Some of the major issues are reduced density of people, fixed desk working, increased focus on cleanliness and closed ceilings”

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It’s not just desks and cubicles that need to be considered, but also other areas of the building such as meeting rooms, canteens, lifts and corridors. 

Hot desking is no more (for the moment)

Hot desking was popular before COVID-19 hit, but it’s no longer a safe option. For companies with smaller offices, a better and safer option may be to consider that only certain people come into the office while others work remotely. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and the answer will vary depending on which talent is required for the business and how much collaboration is necessary. 

Even within each business, the needs could vary across different teams and geographies, and varying demands throughout the year. Offices can still be used as a central meeting hub for everyone, but if there isn’t the space for every member of staff to work safely, then businesses need to offer an alternative. 

Final thoughts

The uniqueness of our current situation means that there’s no template for how to move forward or work post-lockdown. The key to success is flexibility and encouraging collaboration between staff, while having continuity measures in place should a second wave hit. From changing office layouts to create a safer work environment to providing staff with the digital tools they need to maintain contact and collaboration with colleagues, businesses need to be willing to adapt and utilise office premises in different ways to adhere to the guidelines as they evolve.

Annie Button outlines the most common financial failures of SMEs and how they can be averted.

Running a business is tough, regardless of what sector you work in. But if you’re not careful where your finances are concerned, you could be making the situation harder than it needs to be. These are some of the common financial pitfalls that many businesses slip into and how to avoid them. 

Failing to have a budget in place

A business budget is vital for managing future expenses and controlling your finances. But so many businesses operate month to month without any plan for the business’s earnings. 

To ensure that you’re not spending where you can’t afford to, or paying too much in one category, you should have a budget in place that is conservative – in other words, keep your income estimates on the low end of the scale and your expenses on the higher side, so that you’re not caught out at the end of the month. 

Too many people on the payroll

As a business, you want to grow and scale up – it’s a sign that you’re doing well and, for most businesses, it’s the ultimate goal. But having too many people on the payroll too soon could mean you’re overspending where you can’t afford it. Many entrepreneurs find themselves in need of help and they hire too many people too fast, which causes problems where the budget is concerned. 

A compromise to ensure you’re not doing everything yourself is to look into hiring people on a part-time basis or contractors. Freelancers are also an alternative that can help you save money without compromising on your business, as you will only be paying for the work they carry out rather than a full-time salary.

A compromise to ensure you’re not doing everything yourself is to look into hiring people on a part-time basis or contractors.

Suffering from a cyber attack

A cyber attack can impact your business in multiple ways, from its finances and operations to the reputation of your brand. Cybercrime can be incredibly costly to resolve, not just because of the remediation work required to clean up the system but also because of the reputational damage it can cause. 

There’s also the issue of compliance and adhering to GDPR regulations that could mean your company is fined for failing to protect customer information. 

It’s vital that you secure your network and make sure that staff have cyber awareness training, and by investing in proactive rather than reactive cybersecurity technologies. You should also enforce secure password policies across the business and use firewalls to protect data. It’s also a wise decision to back up your data regularly and have protocols in place should an attack occur. 

Failing to separate personal and private finances

A common mistake that can be detrimental to businesses is merging personal and private finances. It’s important to consider your business a completely separate entity from yourself from the start, as it can cause complications in the future if you don’t. 

You should set up a separate bank account where all money earned from the business is paid into and any business expenses are paid out of. Likewise, if you require a credit card, ensure that your business has a separate one so that it’s easier to track payments. 

Not saving for a rainy day

Issues with cash flow can be a real problem, even for successful businesses, if payments aren’t managed properly. And while it’s nice to believe that everything will run smoothly from day one, chances are there will be unexpected events or emergencies in the future that require funds to keep the business afloat. 2020 has possibly reinforced this point even more for so many businesses.

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To ensure you’re never in a difficult situation, it’s important to have money tucked away for such situations that you can lean on when times are tough, without having to resort to credit cards and loans. A good rule to follow is to assess what your basic responsibilities are and average out the cost, then put three months’ worth aside in a contingency fund. 

Final thoughts

There are so many potential risks when running a business and it’s all too easy to assume that your business won’t suffer if you cut a few corners. But ultimately, in order for your business to thrive and stay in good financial shape, it’s critical that you consider all eventualities and prepare for them accordingly, whether that’s having savings in place, protecting data from threats or being savvy about how you hire staff. 

Not only your business structure but also registering for paying tax, permits and license are crucial to operate it legally. The necessary documents are required to form your business. Following proper procedure will help you to launch successfully. Once you are ready, you can run your business according to the law.

The US Small Business Administration (SBA) provides support and guidelines to start up a new small business.

How to Start a Business

Steps to Register a Small Business

The following 5 steps will help you to understand how to register your business.

1. Choose a Business Structure

You can register your business at three levels: federal, state, and local agency level. Depending on it, you can proceed to register your business structure. The main business structures are:

You can register your business at three levels: federal, state, and local agency level.

In a Limited Partnership, one can have unlimited liability while others have limited. Limited liability partners have limited control over business and also pay self-employment taxes. In a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), liability is the same for every owner. Here everyone has an active role in business.

2. Choose Your Business Name

Your business name represents your brand identity. There are four ways to register business names:

3. Get Federal Tax ID/EIN

Not all business comes under IRS (Internal Revenue Service) regulations. If you have a corporation or partnership business, you may need to register under Federal tax. You will receive a unique EIN or Employee Identification Number. It is a social security number for your business.

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4. Get State Tax ID

The next step is to get a state tax ID. You have to register your business in the state revenue office to pay state taxes. State tax registration is important to set up any small business to obey the state income tax.

The top three states with highest income tax are: New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. There are also seven states which don’t have state income tax: Alaska, South Dakota, Nevada, Florida, Washington, Texas and Wyoming.

So, before you start your business you can research the location. You may find that you do not need to pay state/local income tax.

5. Apply For License and Permit

You need a Government permit or license to operate your business even if it is a small business. The license cost depends on the business type and the agency giving you the license or permit. For an example, annual license fees for animal dealers range between $30 and $750, issued by the US Department of Agriculture. Registering for and receiving the license may take 1-6 weeks.

To know the license laws and regulation, you can use the Permit Me search tool from the US Government. This will provide you with details of registration along with permits and licenses depending on your desired business structure and location.

Overview

Follow each and every step discussed above to register your business set-up. Though it is a lengthy process, once you get registered you can run it legally. The unique trademark or entity name allows you to conduct business separately from competitors as no one else can use that name. The US Small Business Administration website will guide you thoroughly.

Article prepared in cooperation with LOCAL MARKET.

As a famous 2000s TV show said, ‘it’s not easy being green’, and in some ways they were absolutely right. But as a small business owner, there are lots of things you can do to ensure your small business is on the right side of the green argument.

Why Should You ‘Go Green’? 

Climate change and global warming are two very complicated issues that have no clear answer. There are arguments for and against almost every type of renewable energy source. Of course, there are no political infringements on the entire green issue as well, but one thing we can all probably agree on is this: we should all be attempting to be better stewards of our planet.

Being better planetary stewards doesn’t have to mean everyone needs to go vegan, that you need to turn your heating off, ditch your car for a bicycle, and only washing in your local river. Instead, it means making changes to the way you work and the way you live that are better for the planet. If we all made little changes, we would soon make a big difference.

How Can Businesses Be Greener?

The complex issue of businesses going green can give anyone a headache. Which bits should you change? What can you legally do? They are all very difficult questions, and the answers do need to be weighed up using a proper costing analysis too to ensure that any changes won’t eat into potential profits.

There are marketing issues too. When the general public gets wind of a company trying to ‘do better’, there are usually two responses. One, your audience and customers are proud of your efforts, and you win ‘brownie points’ with them, or two, there will be another segment of your audience who are furious with you because you’re not doing ‘enough’. It’s worth considering the rough and the smooth and having clear answers for each side.

Don’t let the latter response put you off. Everyone has got to start somewhere, and so here are three ways your business can ‘go green’ that are easy to start right now.

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Be A Water Hero

Make it a priority in your business to conserve water wherever possible. Not only will this mean you’re helping the planet by looking after a finite resource, but if you can demonstrate that, unlike other businesses your size and in your location, you are making an effort to save water, customers will more likely head your way. You can even cut your water bills by conserving water. However, if you want to ensure that you make even more savings that can be put towards making your company even greener, then get in touch with a company that can cut back your business water rates by comparing the best deals. All the money you save from this can help you to continue on your green journey.

Encourage Greener Transport Options

There are lots of transport options you can encourage your staff to look at, and it’s always best to lead by example here. Whether you choose to take part in the bike to work scheme, invest in public transport loans, or you start a carpool, there are lots of options and many helpful government-backed schemes that you can take advantage of.

Plants In The Office

There is solid scientific evidence that having more greenery in the office can make staff feel happier and healthier. Make sure you go for real plants and flowers, and if you’re in the retail, food, or service industry, your customers will appreciate the little effort too!

Alexander Pelopidas, Partner at Rosling King LLP, analyses the changes to come into effect and the impact they are likely to have on insolvency cases.

In any insolvency, there is a statutory hierarchy that determines how creditors are repaid, including HMRC. Since 2003, HMRC has been an ‘unsecured creditor’ after the 2002 Enterprise Act. This however is about to change with far reaching consequences for businesses. Under the Finance Act 2020, HMRC will become a Secondary Preferential Creditor on insolvency from 1 December 2020.

To properly assess the impact of the new policy, it is important to look at the existing (pre-December) hierarchy of creditors. They are as follows:

  1. Fixed charge creditors. These are creditors whose lending to a company is secured against a definable object. This could, for example, be a mortgage on a building, or a company warehouse.
  2. Costs of the insolvency process. This could include staff wages, or even the rent due during the process. Alternatively, it could be the fees of the administrators/liquidators (as applicable).
  3. Preferential creditors. This currently covers some payments due to employees, and money owned as part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
  4. ‘Floating charge’ creditors. These are creditors whose lending is secured against a class of asset. For instance, this could be the ‘stock’ in a warehouse, but not specific items of stock. Asset-based lending is a common type of floating charge lending.
  5. Unsecured creditors. This refers to all other creditors, including pension schemes, customers and trade creditors. HMRC is currently an unsecured creditor.
  6. Shareholders.

While significant, the shift in policy is in fact, in some ways, a return to the pre-2003 policy, when HMRC was classed as a preferential creditor in corporate insolvencies. The 2002 Enterprise Act which made HMRC an unsecured creditor sought to establish a culture of business rescue within which certain ring-fencing was implemented for UK businesses.

The government’s decision to assign HMRC as a preferential creditor once more has sparked considerable anxiety amongst borrowers, who rely on asset-based lending or invoice discounting.

While significant, the shift in policy is in fact, in some ways, a return to the pre-2003 policy, when HMRC was classed as a preferential creditor in corporate insolvencies.

At the core of the problem is that while HMRC remains one of the largest creditors in many insolvencies, at present it sits behind floating charge holders as an unsecured creditor. This means its claim does not dilute the funds available to pay secured lenders. After 1 December 2020 however, this will change and HMRC’s claims for unpaid employer NIC, PAYE and VAT will rank ahead of floating charge holders and unsecured creditors and consequently reduce the pot of money available for distribution in corporate insolvencies.

The impact of this will be substantial due to HMRC’s claims often being significant. In addition, there will be an increase in the cap on the amount of the Crown preference from £600,000 to £800,000 with effect from 6 April 2021. This will mean less cash for businesses as many lenders will likely increase their calculations of the borrower’s solvency to address the impact on returns.

The largest impact will be on asset-based lending or invoice discounting, a very common form of business finance. Typically, a floating charge is all that is taken by way of security. When the changes come in, lenders will have to assess a borrower’s assets and make adjustments based on potential HMRC VAT and PAYE liabilities. These liabilities are hard to quantify but will be significant enough to prompt a Lender to require more security such as guarantees and fixed charges. All of this impacts liquidity for borrowers, and in the event of insolvency, likely means more liquidations than administrations as administrators cannot deal with fixed charge assets in the same way as they do with floating charges i.e. without lender consent.

Under these types of financing, new borrowers will see themselves submitting to greater costs for monitoring and audits by lenders and existing borrowers will be caught by the changes which do not have any transitioning period. This could result in good borrowers being deemed bad borrowers involuntarily, as the new Crown preference will require the lender to make adjustments.

Company Voluntary Agreements (CVAs) may no longer be a viable option for a company where HMRC has preference, as CVAs cannot be used to compromise a preferential creditor. This is a significant insolvency tool, which is particularly being relied upon at the moment by the retail sector, that will now be hampered. Similarly, there exists the possibility that HMRC will become less prepared to negotiate time to pay deals with companies as it has priority ranking, so why would it compromise its new status in the hierarchy of creditors?

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Overall, there are now very real fears that in the medium term there will be a domino effect for SMEs who are already struggling, and on whom these changes will result in even greater distress. The upcoming change may ultimately force the hand of some companies who may reach the uncomfortable yet unavoidable conclusion; namely, that it would be wiser to enter into administration or liquidation before the new rule takes effect.

In the longer term, the effects could impair the UK’s attractiveness as a place to do business. R3, the insolvency and restructuring trade body, has already warned that the changes have potential to cause long-term damage to the UK economy as well as to the UK’s business rescue culture. Moreover, R3 says that it will end up costing the public purse more in lost income and higher expenses than it will ‘save’ in extra taxes returned following corporate insolvencies. As a consequence, the body thus vows to continue to lobby for the legislation to be reconsidered.

Only time will tell if the Government will eventually listen to the unified concerns of business representatives and insolvency professionals and will repeal the impending changes to the Crown preference. However, for now businesses and lenders should prepare themselves for the challenges that the changes will create.

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