High-Earners Lead Self-Employment

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The UK has seen significant growth in self-employment over the past several years, and a recent report has shed new light upon the nature of this trend. According to a study by an economic think tank, it is high-earning individuals who have been the driving force behind the increase in self-employment.

Self-employment undeniably plays a major role in the UK economy at present. It has been a rapidly-growing area for several years now, accounting for half of the employment growth in the UK during that time. There are currently just under five million individuals in the UK who are self-employed (including those who have a second job or “sideline” in self-employment alongside an employed role). This is well ahead of many other types of somewhat non-typical employment. For example, the UK’s agency workers currently number only around 850,000.

The Resolution Foundation examined trends in self-employment, and found that higher-earners were disproportionately represented in the growth of self-employment over the past several years. Since 2009, 57% of self-employment growth has been made up by what the foundation called “privileged” self-employed individuals – those who are well-qualified and work in higher-paid fields. These include professionals in the accountancy, legal, and health sectors among others. These “privileged” self-employed people commonly achieved income in the £45,000-65,000 range annually, much more than that of the average UK worker.

There is such a divide between these workers and other self-employed individuals, the Resolution Foundation says, that the self-employed are now not so much one group as two quite separate and distinct ones. Those who do not fit into the privileged group not only earn less, but are more likely to be underemployed and to receive tax credits.

The Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett says: “Rising self-employment has been the biggest jobs story of the last decade… but behind the headlines the real recent growth area for the self-employed has been in lucrative sectors such as advertising and banking.”

Many news stories and much popular discussion about self-employment growth has focussed on typically lower-earning individuals finding new and more lucrative opportunities by striking out on their own. However, this is in many ways at odds with the picture of self-employment painted by the Resolution Foundation’s report, in which individuals who are already well-qualified high-earners are heavily represented. Many of those who have been the subject of public discussion, such as self-employed drivers for delivery services or drivers for Uber, have found themselves in a work situation which the foundation describes as “precarious.”

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Phoning HMRC Cost Taxpayers £97 Million in a Year

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Last year, waiting on the phone to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) cost taxpayers millions, according to spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). Thanks to long wait times, people calling the taxman spent a collective £10 million in call costs while on hold and waiting to speak to an adviser, the NAO said.

Over the span of 18 months, starting in 2014, the NAO said that HMRC’s standards of service when dealing with telephone queries “collapsed.” Over that space of time, the Office claims, the time that customers spend waiting to speak to an adviser tripled and many calls went unanswered. While HMRC has claimed that the majority of incoming calls now get an answer within six minutes, the NAO says that the time spent waiting on hold with HMRC last year could be up to an hour.

In the course of its recent investigation into the standards of HMRC’s service, the NAO calculated the amount that these lengthy calls had costs taxpayers. The cost of phone calls, the organisation reports, was £10 million in total, and the NAO believes that much of this is a result of long waiting times.

The NAO also included the value of people’s time in the calculations, averaging this at a rate of £17 per hour. On this basis, the organisation estimates that taxpayers spent a total of £66 million worth of their time just waiting on hold to speak to an adviser, and a further £21 million while talking to HMRC after their call is finally answered. This brings the NAO’s estimate for the total amount lost to taxpayers on calls to HMRC, including both call charges and time spent on the phone, at £97 million.

One of the key causes for the drop in standards for HMRC when it comes to dealing with phone queries, the NAO claims, is staff cuts. Specifically, the organisation points to the fact that the tax authority drop 11,000 of its staff as part if its drive to increase the number of tax returns completed online, on the assumption that this would result in fewer phone calls to be answered. These cuts took place in stages between 2010 and 2014.

Seemingly recognising this as a misstep, HMRC has since increased the number of staff available to answer helpline calls by 2,400. These extra staff were brought in last autumn, after typical waiting times for calls to HMRC peaked at 47 minutes.

In response to the NAO’s report, HMRC director general for customer services Ruth Owen said: “We recognise that early in 2015 we didn’t proide the standard of service that people are entitled to expect… We have since fully recovered and are now offering our best service levels in years.”

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Food Prices Expected to Rise

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Significant increases in food prices are expected to take place in the near future, particularly the price of produce grown in Britain. The cost of food is expected to increase as a result of unusual weather conditions, which have caused problems for UK farmers growing common crops such as carrots, potatoes and cauliflowers.

Unusual weather patterns have been particularly significant over the past couple of month, and there were two aspects of December’s weather, in particular, that have caused problems for farmers. The final month of 2015 saw temperatures that were unseasonably warm, causing other crops to mature much earlier than intended. This could leave these groups of crops in short supply later, as the planting of successive waves of crops are usually timed to ensure a consistent supply. When the crops affected by December’s warm temperatures should have been ready for harvesting and distribution, many will have instead already matured ahead of time and and proceeded to spoil.

At the same time, December was exceptionally wet, and this led to further problems as crops were damaged or destroyed by heavy rainfall. Particularly hard-hit were crops such as carrots and parsnips. These crops remain fresh while kept in the ground, so are often grown in large quantities and then harvested for distribution in stages over time. Fields containing crops that were waiting to be harvested in this way have been damaged across much of the UK as a result of high rainfall. Wet conditions also made it difficult for people, tractors, and equipment to traverse the worst-hit fields, severely hampering efforts to salvage crops from damaged land before they became unusable.

All of this points towards a shortage of key food items in coming months, and a resulting rise in prices. Many items of produce that have survived or been salvaged are of reduced quality, and some may be deemed unacceptable for sale by retailers, worsening both shortages and the increase that this leads to in the cost of food.

Similar problems have hit farms in many countries across Europe, and have also led in some cases to additional problems. For example, unusually warm winter temperatures in Spain have not just led to similar concerns about early ripening but also resulted in an outbreak of pests and fungi, affecting key crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. This could lead to further price rises in the UK, as at this time of year such crops are often imported due to difficulty involved in producing them domestically during the UK’s cold winter months.

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Millions of Tax Returns “Unnecessary,” say Critics

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Critics are claiming that millions of people across the UK are filling out tax returns that are just not necessary. It is claimed that a large portion of those filling out tax returns are required to do so despite not owing HMRC any money at all.

At present, an annual tax return is required of roughly a third of taxpayers across the UK. Nearly a quarter of them (24%) owe very little – less than £50 for the entire year – and two thirds of these (16% of the total number who must fill out a tax return) owe nothing to HMRC at all.

Some of those who must complete a tax return are sole traders or owners of businesses which have not turned a taxable profit – in which case a tax return is necessary to show HMRC that profits have not reached taxable levels. However, many others are required to complete a tax return for entirely different reasons. For example, company directors and employees earning over £100,000 per annum must complete a yearly tax return even if they have no additional, undeclared income whatsoever. Furthermore, recent changes to the administration of child benefit mean that one parent or guardian often finds themselves with the need to submit a self-assessment tax return even if they do not owe HMRC money.

Others, however, may register for self-assessment voluntarily even if no money is owed to HMRC. For those in some unusual and specific financial circumstances, tax returns can serve as useful records to assist with things like applications for loans.

HMRC has defended itself from these criticisms, however. A spokesperson said that the organisation “[doesn't] want anyone to fill in a tax return unless it’s absolutely necessary.” For this reason, he claimed, HMRC automatically takes 400,000 people out of the self-assessment process each year.

The spokesperson also insisted that HMRC goes to great lengths to ensure that the self-assessment process is as easy as possible for those who do have to complete an annual tax return. In particular, he pointed to the organisations’ “bringing in short tax returns and online self-assessment, and we are taking this much further by introducing the new digital tax accounts.”

Indeed it is hoped that new online tax accounts, which will be regularly updated with information about people’s income, could almost completely eliminate the problem of people filing unnecessary tax returns. Fully rolling out this new process, however, is likely to take some years.

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Boost Your Business with Better Bookkeeping

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Too often, small businesses and sole traders see bookkeeping as a boring obligation. It’s something to get done (eventually) and use for the necessary evil that is the tax return then file away in a dark cabinet. In other words, it’s important as record keeping but has no use outside of working out your obligations to the taxman.

In fact, your business’ books can be a powerful and valuable tool to help your business operate at full efficiency. Maintaining your books carefully and regularly looking over them, preferably with the help of your accountant’s expert opinion, can help you better run your business in a number of ways.

Predicting the Future

Your books are the closest thing you have to a crystal ball when it comes to making forecasts about your several important aspects of your business. In some areas, the best way to work out what will happen is to look at the past. True, past performance is certainly no guarantee of future performance, but in some areas it can be a very useful tool to predict what is likely to happen.

In particular, if your business is at least a few years old, your books from previous years can help you get a good idea of seasonal trends. This means you can be prepared for “famine” periods and better prepare for them in “feast” periods. It also means you can be prepared to take steps to mitigate periods of slow trading and capitalise on seasons or events which boost your business.

Tax Compliance and Efficiency

Another benefit of paying close attention to your accounts is that you are simply more likely to keep them in thoroughly good shape. Small expenses, especially the kind that represent crumpled and half-forgotten receipts, can easily slip through the net if you make the mistake of just going through your books in a single blitz once every few weeks. Similarly, discrepancies and compliance issues are more likely to appear, and even if you spot these in time it will be harder to investigate them if you don’t see them until weeks or even months after the fact.

For this reason, your business will be a lot healthier and run far more smoothly if you keep a closer eye on your books and deal with them more regularly. You should set up regular sessions for dealing with your books and getting your latest records in shape, with short intervals in between. Weekly sessions are ideal.

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The Costs of Moving Your Home Business to an Office

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A lot of businesses start out based in the founder’s home. Most likely, your spare bedroom, garage or even shed was turned into a home office to accommodate your new business.

But if your business has been very successful, it may be starting to outgrow its home office and you might consider moving it into a real, purpose-built office outside of your home. This can be an exciting time, but also an expensive one. It is important not to take this step without properly considering all the costs involved.

The Cost of the Office

The first, most obvious cost associated with moving your business into a real office is that office’s own price tag. Purchasing an office is very expensive, so unless your business is really thriving or you are prepared to risk a large chunk of savings you are more likely to rent. Make a careful and realistic assessment of how much potential you think your business has to expand as a result of moving to its new home, and compare this to the rent to ensure the cost is worthwhile. Remember that this expansion is not going to be achieved overnight, so make sure that the cost of the rent will not have too big an impact on your business in the meantime.

Bills

Rent isn’t the only ongoing cost associated with an office. You will also have energy bills, which are likely to be greater than the addition that working from home makes to your household energy bills. On top of this, there may be bills for services associated with or required by the office such as cleaning. If you are renting an office which includes a cleaning service, this is probably included in the rent but not necessarily so it is worth double checking. Make sure you also know whether any repair or maintenance bills fall to you or whether this is entirely your landlord’s responsibility.

Furniture and Equipment

You may be renting a fully-furnished office, ready for you to move in and pick a seat at one of the handy desks. On the other hand, you may well be renting part-furnished or unfurnished office space, in which case you will need to supply the necessary furniture. This is essentially  a one-off cost, but it can be a hefty one so look into the cost of everything you will need beforehand so you can factor it into your decision. If you are expanding into a dedicated office in order to take on employees, include the costs of supplying them with equipment. While it’s not part of the cost of the office, don’t forget that when you reach the stage of hiring those employees there will be costs associated with this outside of just paying their wage.

 

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How to Increase the Sales of your Products/Services

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All business owners want to increase the sales of their products or services, but actually achieving this goal is often easier said than done. After all, there are many firms out there all vying for custom, and it can be hard to build market share. Fortunately, help is at hand. This brief guide will talk you through the basics of boosting sales.

Hone your offerings with effective market research

Effective market research is a must. Getting feedback from potential customers provides you with the perfect opportunity to hone your offering so that they have maximum appeal. This research should be undertaken before you launch your products or services and at regular intervals thereafter. This will help ensure you keep your finger on the pulse of changing consumer habits, needs and preferences. Don’t worry if you lack the resources or know-how to conduct market research yourself. To make this task easier, you can turn to experts like Wirral Sensory Services, who are able to conduct a range of studies on your behalf.

From focus groups to online surveys, this fact finding can prove highly valuable as a means of increasing sales. After all, selling your goods or services will be much easier if people actually want to buy them.

Make sure your advertising’s up-to-scratch

No matter how good your offerings are, your sales figures will disappoint if you don’t make the most of marketing opportunities on offer. There are now many different forms of promotion available. As well as taking advantage of traditional communication methods, like radio and print ads, you can raise awareness of your products or services online using organic and paid search techniques, and by engaging with consumers through social media.

There’s a science to making yourself seen and heard online, and you might benefit from bringing in expert third parties to help you achieve your goals.

Run reward schemes and promotions

You could also increase sales by offering your customers added incentives to make purchases. Temporary special offers can cause a stir and create a spike in demand, and reward schemes are an effective way of encouraging higher levels of repeat custom.

Expand your target market

Another top tip is to consider expanding your target market. By offering your goods or services to more people, you stand to significantly increase your sales figures. Depending on the type of business you run, you might benefit from targeting consumers overseas. Thanks to the web and improved transport links, it’s now easier than ever to trade internationally, and doing so could give your business a major boost. Just make sure you do your research first so that you are aware of all the legal and logistical issues involved in selling to individuals or organisations abroad.

By following suggestions like these, you should be able to increase your sales levels and bolster your business’ long-term prospects.

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Get the Most From a New Credit Card

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Taking out a new credit card requires careful decision-making. It is important to choose the right card, and find the best deal for which you are eligible and the most appropriate for your circumstances. However, by looking beyond the card itself, it is possible to get a little bit more out of applying for a card.

Rewards

Many credit cards come with rewards, gifts, and incentives. With rewards cards, you may be offered a cashback deal on money spent with the card, a free welcome gift such as a gift card for a major retailer, or reward points towards a retailer loyalty scheme. Even if you have found a card that seems perfect quite quickly and easily, it is worth seeing if another provider can offer similar terms along with a reward. That way, you still get a card that suits your needs, but you get something extra as well.

Cashback Sites

Even if the card that suits you best is not a reward card, it may be possible to get something extra from taking it out. You just have to go through a third party instead of directly to the provider. Cashback websites offer you cashback on online shopping and on certain other things like signing up for accounts with some websites. A number of credit card providers are also accessible through cashback sites. Basically, the cashback site gets a commission from the lender for bringing them your custom, and they then pass on cash to you. In the case of credit cards, you make your application for the card in exactly the same way as usual, except you first go through the cashback site. If your application is approved, you get paid money.

Striking a Balance

The only drawback to these rewards is that it is surprisingly easy to get drawn into a card that is less appropriate for your needs, and this can wipe out the benefits of the extras on offer and leave you worse off. It is easy to think that a monthly fee or a higher interest rate will still leave you in profit because of a cashback deal, only to find out the hard way that the two sums don’t match up in quite the way you thought. By either choosing a reward card or signing up for the same card through a cashback site it is likely you will be better off, but make sure to think carefully before switching to a card that is different from what you originally planned.

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Launching Your Startup: Tips for Minimising Risk

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Starting a new business always comes with some level of risk. It’s impossible to eliminate all potential contingencies, and there’s no such thing as a completely foolproof plan. However, there are several ways that you can minimise risk and increase your odds of success. Here are three suggestions:

 

Write a business plan

It may seem old-school, but devising a formal business plan is still an incredibly important step in starting a business, and will guard against some of the financial and marketing risks you may come across in the future. Although most end up being quite lengthy and in-depth, getting started on your business plan is often far easier than it seems. Templates are available from government resources online and can help guide you through the process.

A solid business plan usually includes sections on your business objectives, sales strategy, marketing strategy and financial strategy. It should also include your targets and forecasts for sales, marketing and finances and you may want to list resources where you can research rival businesses, such as the Companies House website. This document will be your guidebook throughout the early stages of your business and is often essential when applying for grants, loans and investment funding.

Secure funding

Of course, financial risk is one of the biggest potential vulnerabilities of any new business.The best way to combat it is to secure an adequate level of funding prior to launching your startup. Rather than drawing from your own savings, keep outside investment and funding in mind; there are many people, companies and organisations looking to invest in startups. There’s money out there, it’s just a matter of convincing people that you’re the right candidate for it.

Look into grants provided by government organisations. Network with potential ‘angel’ investors – individuals willing to fund your business personally. Compare business loans to ensure you’re getting the best deals. Aim to have a diversified funding pool so that your financial risk can be spread across a number of different sources.

 

Get a mentor

Actually launching a new business is fairly straightforward in the online age. However, the next stages – the selling, marketing, negotiating and budgeting – are far more difficult to manage. This is where a mentor can be of great help.

Whilst the concept of having a ‘mentor’ may seem like something reserved for talented children or troubled youths, it’s also applicable to entrepreneurs. For many entrepreneurs, it’s in their nature to be independent and even defiant at times. This quality is what drives them to succeed, but it’s also important not to be afraid to ask for advice from time to time. Industry experience is one of the best safeguards against risk. Seeking out a business mentor – someone who has years of experience in a similar field – can prove very useful as you navigate the unknown waters of a new business endeavour.

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Why it is important to make a good first impression in business

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First impressions always count. It all starts on face value. In the business world, competition is always on the high and this is why CEOs are always mindful of first impressions. They think about approachability, accessibility, credibility and the appearance of their business on a whole. Here is why it is so important.

The seven second window

This is how long it takes to leave a first impression on someone you meet. In this case you are meeting clients, so in a way treat it like a job interview. Exercise good eye contact because this will help you come across as attentive and interested. Smile to convey friendliness and have a good handshake. Introduce yourself in a clear voice. Listen well to your client’s needs first before proposing your sales pitch. Also be presentable in your appearance because you are an extension of your brand.

The waiting

Usually you have to wait to meet your new client and this can leave you hanging out in the foyer. Keep in mind that the receptionist is always watching, so try and keep busy. Look around and learn about your client. They might be a fan of a sporting team because they have a signed poster on the wall. Keep that in mind when you make small talk. If the nerves make an appearance and your hands are sweating, you can wipe your hands on your pants when you stand up before shaking your new client’s hand.

Have a clean website

Customers these days are very tech savvy and will Google your business. So make sure your key messages are written clearly and concisely. Include bold lettering to maintain your reader’s attention and include lots of white space because you don’t want your text to be unreadable. Website readers read in a left to right motion so be sure to include your best key message on the top left hand corner of your webpage. They might also contact your staff so be sure that your receptionist is just as courteous as you appear. Having a virtual administrator is more cost effective. Some agencies provide administration as a part of a package, for example Servcorp Virtual Office.

Good photos

Invest in a professional photo shoot because you need to convey professionalism in every aspect of your marketing collateral. People are not going to see professionalism if you have a blurry photo on your Facebook page and busy graphic design. Keep it simple and only post photos that convey your brand the best because photos can tell a thousand words.

Exercise an A-List attitude

The act in meeting new clients is just as important as your presentation. So be nice to everyone but not too overly sweet that it looks overdone. Be genuine when you greet your new clients and start straight away when you walk through the door. Greet the receptionist and employees you walk past. Greet everyone.

Body language

Have a good posture and don’t slouch in your chair. If nervous, try not to hold anything that you could fiddle with, such as pens. Also psychologically people like people who are like them. Mimic your client’s movements but subtly. When they cross their legs, wait a few moments then do the same while maintaining eye contact to keep the move looking natural.

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