Many small businesses have been resistive, or at least indifferent, to cloud services. For the first few years of its life the cloud just seemed like a buzzword, which promised so much but delivered very little in terms of real benefits for small business owners. The last few years have seen more and more providers delivering some or all of their services on the cloud, and based on Microsoft’s huge push on a business and consumer level for Office 365 we can see that the big boys are betting a good chunk of their future business on cloud services.
So, what should small business owners think about when faced with so much cloud stuff and so little clarity?
Firstly, it’s worth looking at accessibility. Up until 2010 the majority of homes and offices had a relatively slow broadband service via traditional ADSL. In January 2010 a shake-up of the UK’s internet services started when BT launched its Infinity product range and suddenly connectivity speeds (and reliability) previously only available on expensive leased lines were made available to millions of homes and offices.
This factor alone has made running some or all business applications in the cloud much more viable, and year by year we’re seeing increased speeds and decreased costs for connectivity.
So, how does the cloud aid accessibility? Well, at its core the concept of cloud computing is that the data is stored on the internet and is accessible from any internet connected device, at any time, from anywhere. Companies with numerous remote workers, branch offices or international/roaming staff can let their staff access everything they need to work, via the web.
Smaller companies can also benefit as they can improve access to their systems for suppliers, get data on the move, and in some cases can run their entire business from their iPad or mobile phone.
Secondly, a huge plus for small and big business alike is reduced costs. For big companies, moving to the cloud means they can get rid of in-house or hosted servers and pay a lower cost to a bigger organisation to manage these items. They can also shed IT staff – once your email is hosted on the cloud you no longer need that Exchange Server specialist in-house.
For smaller business, the cost saving is based on a reduced need to replace outdated hardware and the reduction in downtime caused by not being able to afford multiple servers or a high availability set-up. Once your email is cloud based, on something like Office 365, the back-end systems running this are being managed and patched by Microsoft. They are highly available (there are numerous backup servers ready for if something fails) and you don’t have to worry about replacing or updating your in-house server. The cost also becomes scalable – as you add an employee to the business, you pay a little bit more per month for their extra cloud services/licences.
So, what is holding smaller businesses back from taking more cloud services from suppliers?
Mainly, it’s a fear of losing touch with their data and the worry that poor internet connectivity may hamper their ability to work, as their core services are all on the internet.
Both of these points are valid, but easily managed. For organisations with sensitive data that must stay in the UK, speak to your IT team or a specialist about a private cloud. This can be your own dedicated cloud set-up that is UK based, and that is solely provisioned for you.
For connectivity, the money saved by moving to cloud services will usually justify the purchase of either a second back-up internet connection (make sure it’s with a different provider) or at least the purchase of a firewall that can use the 3G mobile network as a failover.
Also, with mobile devices and mobile internet, you can work from a phone/tablet if the office has an issue. Or just work from home. It’s much more flexible than the old ‘server in the corner’ which, should the office become inaccessible or the server fail, stops the whole business from working.
Author Bio: Craig Atkins is a Gradwell partner who runs 1-Fix Limited, an IT support company that specialises in services for small businesses, including private cloud, VoIP, Office 365 and fixed priced IT support.
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A recent report by guarantor loans company Amigo Loans has found that the average micro business will need around £2,143 to set up their business. Many of these businesses find it very hard to get funding, with only 20% getting funding through a bank loan and a sixth have resorted to “more dangerous alternative methods” such as payday loans.
50% of the 200 micro-businesses surveyed believed they would need more funding to expand their business, but only 1 in 10 believed they would qualify for a bank loan and 14% felt they would be forced to use a credit card or overdraft facility.
James Benamor, founder and CEO of Amigo Loans, said: "Banks have forgotten why they exist. It's scandalous that, despite billions of pounds worth of taxpayers’ money being given to them, they're not lending to these entrepreneurs who are the life blood of our economy.
"For many small business owners, once they’re turned down by their bank they’ll have to try and find the money elsewhere or resort to extreme measures such as taking out a payday loan.
"For this to change there has to be greater awareness of the alternative funding options available - whether that's guarantor loans, peer-to-peer or crowd funding, so that small business owners don't feel forced down a route which could jeopardise their whole business."
Are you a Micro business? What has your experience been of getting funding?
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The 2013 budget was revealed yesterday by Chancellor George Osborne. Of all the points covered, here is a summary of the most important elements in relation to entrepreneurs, startups and businesses.
- Described by Osborne as ‘the largest tax cut in the budget’, a £2,000 Employment Allowance will be introduced from April 2014, to reduce employer national insurance contributions for all businesses. This means 450,000 small businesses will pay no insurance tax at all. ‘They can hire someone on £22,000, or four people on the minimum wage, and pay no jobs tax.’
- In 2014/5, everyone’s tax-free personal allowance will be £10,000, and increase of £560. This is a year earlier than planned, and should help business owners who are taking a modest amount of income out of their business and make workers better off.
- The planned 3p rise in fuel duty planned for 1 September 2013 is to be cancelled. According to the Budget report, this means that it will ‘cost the typical motorist £7 less to fill up their tank every time they visit the pump from April.’ This is great news for commuters and businesses dealing with delivery and travelling between clients.
- From 2014, employers will be able to offer tax-free loans to their workers for items such as season tickets for commuters, up to a value of £10,000. This is double the current limit.
- The ‘shares for rights’ scheme is to be made more generous, with the first £2,000 of share value that anyone receives under the new status to be free from income tax and NICs. The scheme means employees are able to forfeit key employment rights in exchange for tax-exempt shares in the company, and has been widely criticised since it was announced last year. On the plus side, employee ownership should help them to be more invested in the business.
- The government is to provide £30m for a Growth Vouchers programme in England, to test a variety of approaches in order to help SMEs overcome barriers to achieving growth.
- The main rate of corporation tax for big business is being reduced to 20% from 21%, boasting that this gives the UK ‘the lowest business tax of any major economy in the world’. Unfortunately, small businesses have not benefitted from this because there will be no cut in the tax paid on profits under £300,000. From 2015 small and big businesses will pay the same rate: of 20%.
How will these changes affect your business? Let us know below.
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Small businesses are optimistic for 2013 but consider this unlikely to translate into investment and jobs in the next six months, according to a recent report.
A survey by Lloyds TSB Commercial has revealed that 42% of small firms anticipate an increase in orders over the next six months, 44% expecting sales to increase and a third are anticipating increased profits. In addition, the majority of businesses expect to grow their total exports to Europe and the rest of the world during the first half of 2013.
On the other hand, the report also found that businesses are still cautious about investment, with only 19% of businesses planning to increase investment in the next six months, and 17% expecting to cut it. Also, less than a fifth of firms anticipate an increase in employees, whilst 11% may need to make staff cuts. Two thirds of companies said they had no recruitment plans, while 22% say they anticipated creating new jobs.
Almost half of the participants named weaker UK demand as the biggest threat to their business in the next six months, followed by employment and regulatory concerns at 25%.
"Despite the good news that businesses are feeling more upbeat about trading in 2013, weak domestic demand is still a major concern for British businesses," said David Oldfield, managing director, SME and mid markets banking, Lloyds Banking Group.
"In order for UK growth to prosper it is essential that banks, government and professional advisers do all that they can to provide the right trading environment to ensure businesses can seize opportunities and develop."
In 2013, Gradwell is continuing to go from strength to strength with strong growth plans to ensure we can achieve our 4x4 plan – to grow 4 times in size within 4 years. Unlike the majority of survey participants, we are planning to further increase our staff numbers and anticipate an increase in sales and profits to contribute to our growth.
How does these survey results fare to your business? Do you anticipate a successful business year? Why not speak to one of our sales consultants on 01225 800 808 to discuss how Gradwell could help your business prosper in 2013.
We all understand that keeping business costs down is hugely important to any company. But for smaller businesses cost savings can be crucial, with even minor savings making a difference when matching up to big competitors. An excellent place to start is by using the internet to reduce your phone bills.
Moving over to VoIP can significantly reduce the amount of money your business spends on phone calls a month. Try our cost savings calculator to find out how much you can save.
It’s not just cheaper calls and savings on line rental that make a difference either – VoIP is likely to require less maintenance than a traditional phone line, and savings can be made via the increase in efficiency and productivity.
Gradwell VoIP-to-VoIP calls are free and the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere with an internet connection means more work can be done. This is great for working from home or other locations, and some businesses even close offices and work completely virtually.
With lower costs and higher productivity, VoIP can give small businesses the edge they need to get ahead.