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How to make flexible working work for your small business

August 11, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How to make flexible working work for your small business{{}}Almost all employees in every business now have a right to request flexible hours. You of course have the right to decline, for one of eight allowable reasons. But there are often many business benefits to be had from flexible working.

Initially we introduced flexible working to attract programmers. They are really hard to recruit and we identified it as something that would help us attract the best candidates. We thought it would appeal to their tendency to work late mornings and into the night, and after weighing up the costs, we discovered that with a simple IT system, staff could self-monitor their time.

It proved so successful we decided to extend it to all our technical staff. Our primary motive was to keep our staff happy. Flexible hours allows them to fit work around their lives, which is important, motivationally, when we know that our staff work to live.

Our staff also recognise that it’s a perk they won’t get in many companies. Meaning it’s not only great as a retention tool but it’s a benefit they respect. There is no abuse of the system.

Over three-quarters of eligible staff have taken us up on flexible working. Luckily we have a nice split of staff who prefer to start early and those who prefer to stay late. Interestingly, all opt in to cope with traffic on their commute.

Operationally, it is managed via a clocking-in system, with each employee tracking his or her own time. We also stipulate the scope of the policy in our company handbook, which forms part of their employment contract, so we don’t constantly have to answer questions.

The one condition we make (which we’d recommend) is to ensure staff are present each day for what we term ‘set cover hours’. This means we always have a fully staffed office at key times. Plus it means that our staff don’t work long shifts so they can take a day off each week. That’s unmanageable. Instead, the maximum full day off they can claim is one a month.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer flexible hours to everyone. It’s just not possible given their roles. Our call centre is a prime example. We need the customer service provision staffed when customers want to speak to us. However, as long as you’re able to explain why, all staff understand, accepting it as part of their job.

The only issues that have ever arisen is if staff can’t manage their own time. The worst cases take more than they give, meaning by the end of the week they are in minus hours. The only solution is to suggest they pull in some long shifts or take the time as holiday.

Overall, though, we’ve found flexible working to be a real plus. Staff see it as the perk it should be and it therefore retains as well as helps us recruit, without incurring massive overhead costs. It’s win-win. Just make sure you set clear parameters that can be rolled out, as far as possible, across the board.

Copyright © 2014 Ian Cowley. Ian is managing director of, which has benefited since introducing flexible working more than five years ago.

Further reading

Age discrimination isn’t the key reason why record numbers of over 50s are starting their own business

August 04, 2014 by Mark Williams

Age discrimination isn’t the key reason why record numbers of over 50s are starting their own business{{}}Providing £35,000 can be raised via creative project crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, “Britain's first national debate and exhibition to discover the value in society in which people are living and working longer” – THE AGE OF NO RETIREMENT? – will take place at The OXO Tower in London from 1-6 October 2014.

According to the organisers: “We’re used to hearing about the ‘demographic time bomb’, the ‘baby boomers’ who stole our prosperity and the unsustainable cost of the ever-growing older generation. But, people are now living longer, healthier and more productively. So we need to start thinking in terms of positives, and what this means for the UK: a fit, educated work force that possesses that most valuable of assets – experience. And we can’t let all this talent go to waste.

“We’re going to bring together for the first time in a creative forum: the young and old; employers and the employed; policymakers; artists; innovators; the rational; the inspired; and the public. Together we’re going to overturn the deep-rooted belief - held by employers, and by our culture at large - that somehow age brings with it irrelevance.”

Through talks by experts, stakeholder debates and workshops, the organisers hope to change thinking massively. “We must imagine new futures. We need to unleash the passion, and adjust the arc of expectations.” As they also point out, the average person in Britain now lives 10 years longer than was expected just 40 years ago. Key themes to be discussed during the event include ageism and prejudice, as well as work and employment.

As the Law Donut website reminds employers: “Legislation came into force in 2011 making it unlawful to treat people differently on grounds of age, unless such treatment could be justified or falls within one of the exemptions to the law. The default retirement age of 65 has been phased out. Employers are only able to compulsorily retire workers if it can be objectively justified.”

Surge in 50-plus business owners

For some years now, a legion has been steadily growing, made up of those aged 50 or more who have started their own business. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor UK 2013 Report has found that more people than ever are starting a business when they’re 50 or older – “a reversal of historically low entrepreneurial activity in this age bracket” say the report’s authors.

The surge in older entrepreneur numbers “reflects a new trend in the UK’s changing economy,” they argue. “From 2002 to 2008, entrepreneurial activity among the over 50s had a long-run average of just 4% – much lower than those in the 18-29 and 30-49 age brackets. However, from 2008 the rate for over 50s has shown a marked increase – reaching its highest level of 6.5% in 2013.”

The research suggests that both sexes were launching their own 50-plus businesses mainly out of opportunity, not as a result of redundancy, lack of job opportunities, poorly performing pensions and other investments. One of the report’s authors is Mark Hart, Professor of Small Business and Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School. He says: “These are not people who are past retirement, but individuals with years of productive activity in front of them, and their move into the ranks of entrepreneurs opens an interesting new aspect within the UK’s business culture.

Age discrimination

“While the majority of businesses started by the over 50s are driven by opportunity, there is an element of necessity.” He accepts that age discrimination might be a factor, “as people in this age group struggle to get into the job market and are forced into launching their own businesses to get back to work.”

PRIME is a national charity that supports business creation for the over-50s. Alastair Clegg, Chief Executive of PRIME, says: “Everyone is talking about the rise of self-employment and new businesses being started and this report confirms that it’s the over 50s who are driving this positive trend forward.

“The over 50s have the skills, experience and dedication that naturally lend themselves to enterprise and businesses started by older people help benefit the economy, provide jobs and work for other people and more importantly, help keep older people in the workforce.”

  • Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance content writer Mark Williams.

Further reading

Claiming on your professional indemnity insurance

July 28, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Claiming on your professional indemnity insurance{{}}For business that offer specialist services or advice, professional indemnity (PI) insurance is a lifesaver. It covers claims made against you by people who allege a problem in your work has cost them money. As well as compensating the unhappy individual, your PI insurance will also cover any legal fees.

Sounds simple enough but to many businesses, making a professional indemnity insurance claim is a murky subject. Here’s what you need to know.

Who can make a claim against you?

Anyone. But it’ll mostly be your clients. This is usually because they’re genuinely unhappy with your work, you’ve made a mistake or you’ve not done something you said you would do and it’s cost them money (or they claim it has).

It’s less common, but unrelated third parties can also make claims against you. These are most likely for things such as intellectual property theft or defamation – things that are in the public domain.

When can you claim on your PI insurance?

Whenever someone alleges you’ve been negligent or haven’t done what you agreed to.

Claims take many forms. Specifically, you might be accused of: defamation; intellectual property theft; loss of documents; breach of contract or; negligent misrepresentation.

For example, a client may blame you if a project you worked on is unsuccessful and refuse to pay you. Or a competitor might allege you’ve copied their business model or website and make a claim against you. In both examples, your PI insurance will cover you whether the allegations are true or not.

How can you spot a potential claim?

A claim form or snarky letter from your client or their solicitor is usually all the heads up you’ll need, and a strong sign you’ll need to get in touch with your broker or insurer. But not all circumstances are as clear-cut and claims can creep up on the unwary. Subtle warning signs to look out for include refusal to pay bills, increasing tension in the working relationship with your client and unjustified criticism or complaints about your work.

When should you notify your broker of a potential claim?

As soon as possible. Not doing so can seriously harm the chances of your claim being paid. Insurers don’t like surprises and they want to know as soon as you do that there might be a problem. This way, they can prepare and do their best to bat away spurious claims before they escalate.

Late notification is a common reason for claims not being paid. If your insurer thinks their position has been compromised because you’ve not got them involved early enough, they have every right to refuse to pay all or part of your claim. If you’re unsure whether you should contact your broker or insurer, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and do it anyway. You won’t be criticised for being too cautious.

How does a claim affect my insurance?

If you notify your broker about several potential claims but they’re never paid, this shouldn’t affect your insurance. Your careful approach to business will likely reassure your insurer that you’re risk aware and that they won’t face any nasty surprises.

However, if your insurer has to pay out multiple times, this could increase both your premium and your excess. In extreme cases, your insurer might eventually withdraw cover altogether.  

Remember, if you do have a claim, a broker is on your side – not your insurer’s.

That means they’re ready to offer help and advice at any time, whether you’re looking at a business-threatening claim or you just need someone to answer a quick question.

Copyright © 2014 PolicyBee, a professional insurance broker, specialising in cover for small businesses and start-ups.

Why you should make a will

July 21, 2014 by Guest Blogger

Why you should make a will{{}}Believe it or not, a will is extremely important. If you have not written one yet, here is why you should do so as soon as possible.

If you die without a writing a will you are considered to have died “intestate”. This means the law decides how your estate is passed on – even though it may not be what you wanted.

Intestacy rules

If you pass away before your spouse and children your personal possessions and all assets valued up to £250K goes to your surviving spouse or registered civil partner and everything else is split equally between your spouse and your children. However, your spouse’s half will belong to him/her under lifetime interest. This means your spouse cannot sell or spend the assets, but he/she can draw income from it. If your spouse dies, your children will receive the full benefit of the life interest.

If you pass away before your spouse, but you have no children, everything under £450K will go to your spouse and the remaining money will be shared amongst your parents and your spouse.

If you succeeded your spouse, but you have no children or parents your estate will go to you your spouse.

If you have no spouse or children your assets will go to your parents. If they are dead, your assets will go to any of your other living relatives. If none of these relatives can be found, all your wealth will go to the Crown.

If the above has convinced you to make a will, follow these pointers when drawing up your will. 

1 Decide who your assets are passed onto

Due to the intestacy rules outlined above, you won’t be able to decide who benefits from your will. If you have stepchildren or family friends that you would like to leave something behind for, draw up a will so that you can ensure this.

2 Prevent disputes among your family members

You can make certain instructions in your will so that no one in your family can dispute your will.

3 You can leave something behind to charities

If you frequently donate money to charities and would like to leave money behind to a charity of your choice, you can leave a note in your will stating this. Also, if you donate 10% or more of your estate, it reduces any Inheritance Tax to 36% instead of the usual 40%.

4 Avoid Inheritance Tax

Inheritance tax is payable on estates worth more than £325K. Only married couples or registered civil partners can avoid paying inheritance tax if their will gives everything to their spouse. The £325K that has not been used is then rolled over to be used if the surviving spouse were to die. If that spouse dies, they have the benefit of £650K being exempt from tax.

5 Be prepared in case your spouse dies at the same time as you

Life is filled with the unexpected, so if you and your spouse die at the same time, your family may have no idea what your wishes were, so they won’t be able to honour them. Therefore, having a will ensures that your wishes are written in black and white and that your loved ones benefit in the way you want them to.

6 Draw up a lasting power of attorney

A lasting power of attorney is a separate document and it is not mentioned within your will. Therefore, in addition to drawing up a will, consider having a lasting power of attorney prepared. This gives you the opportunity to appoint someone (called the “attorney”) who will manage your property and financial affairs, or your health and welfare if you lose mental capacity to make your own decisions. 

7 Appoint an administrator

The person you choose to handle your will and make sure that everything goes according to your plan is called the “executor”. Make sure you appoint someone who will be able to fulfill this role. You can have more than one person, if you like.

It’s not too late, or too early to write a will. The sooner you do it the better – and the more certain you will be that the ones you care about are looked after.

Copyright © 2014 Sable Group. The Sable Group manages financial, immigration and legal needs.

Further reading

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Who will hold the online criminals to account?

July 14, 2014 by Guest Blogger

LOnline criminals{{}}ast month, the UK government was trumpeting its role in disrupting the GOZeuS malware, which has affected over 15,000 UK computers.

Computer users were told this work gave them a two-week window to identify weaknesses in their own systems and purge infected machines of malware.

Overall, it’s believed GOZeuS — together with its accompanying malware Crytolocker — was responsible for emptying bank accounts of £60m, worldwide. Russian hacker, Evgeniy Bogachev, is thought to be the brains behind the operation.

The malware itself is unknowingly distributed via email attachments or links that appear to be genuine. The software then monitors the files on your computer and — if you sign into online banking — can even access your financial accounts.

Sometimes, the malware will lock your computer and ask for a ransom to release your data. It’s extortion on an enormous, international scale.

David Cook, specialist in cybercrime at Pannone Solicitors, warns that although these pieces of malware may be tricky for law enforcement to control, the law around implementing malware is very clear:

Sections 1 and 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 criminalise unauthorised access to and modification of computer data.  There is also clearly a blackmail offence involved as well.“

The computer misuse offence carries a maximum sentence of ten years’ imprisonment and the maximum for the blackmail offence is a custodial sentence of fourteen years”.

However, Bogachev’s whereabouts is reportedly unknown, so will he — or anyone — ever be held accountable for these crimes?

Well, the government is pledging to invest more cash into taking down malware and pursuing cyber-criminals across the globe. But with more than 10 million pieces of malware out there, tracing and prosecuting everyone involved is quite a task.

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How to deal with grumpy employees

July 07, 2014 by Mark Williams

How to deal with grumpy employees{{}}Many of us will have worked with a grumpy colleague or employee, people who are best avoided some or even most of the time. Some of us may even be those very people, of course. Having to share oxygen with grouchy, cantankerous, huffy, prickly, churlish, sniffy, waspish workplace Victor Meldrew types, who function as ‘drains’ rather than ‘radiators’, is energy-sapping. But the good news for employers is grumpy staff are more productive.

That’s according to a study carried out by the universities of Illinois and Pennsylvania, as published recently in the journal Social Psychology (and reported by Mail Online). Such employees (tagged ‘Haters’ by the researchers) usually become better at their jobs because they’re more focused on work and concentrate on fewer tasks, which enables them to hone their skills and be more productive.

More popular workplace ‘Likers’ (ie bonhomous types who radiate positivity) usually spread themselves more thinly, which makes them less productive, according to the research. They struggle to restrict their attention to one task, because they perceive “many interesting opportunities in their environment”. Consequently, they only develop skills to a certain level, albeit more widely.

Some employers might be perfectly willing to leave otherwise productive employees to their grumpiness, but what if a staff member’s simmering anger, moodiness and general attitude problem become intolerable? This could become a big problem for your business – especially if they come into contact with your customers.

Addressing the problem

As any seasoned people manager knows, you must address unacceptable staff behaviour as soon as it arises, otherwise it can send out the wrong message that it’s tolerated within your business. Employers are advised to take grumpy employees to one side for a private word. You should explain the effects your employee’s belligerent, curmudgeonly ways are having on their colleagues and/or other aspects of your business (in the worst cases, it can seriously damage team morale and sales).

According to the Acas guide Discipline and grievance at work: “Cases of minor misconduct or unsatisfactory performance are usually best dealt with informally. A quiet word is often all that is required to improve an employee’s conduct or performance.”

If the employee’s anger is work-related and valid, it should be addressed. If it’s related to a personal issue, you can offer support (although employees should know that personal matters should not be allowed to affect their work if possible). Having a written policy or code of conduct describing acceptable behaviour and attitude can be enormously helpful.

Formal action

A quiet word might be all that it takes to ensure that the employee mends their ways (or at least treats others in a more acceptable manner). They might even be grateful for being able to get something off their chest.

But as the Acas guide concedes: “There will be situations where matters are more serious or where an informal approach has been tried but is not working. If informal action does not bring about an improvement, employers should provide employees with a clear signal of their dissatisfaction, by taking formal action.”

  • Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance content writer Mark Williams.

Further reading

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