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Spring is a wonderful time of year. Winter is over, the sun starts to come out, and we have a glorious run of bank holidays which help to give everyone a much-needed break.

Opinion is split, however, on whether bank holidays are good or bad from an economic perspective. In 2012, headlines warned that bank holidays cost the economy a huge amount – as much as £19bn each year – while more recent headlines on the topic have been ambiguous.

The 2012 reports were based on a piece of research carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). The institution has since made it clear that the research is dated and no longer accurately reflects the cost of bank holidays, due to the shifting nature of the economy, and should not be relied on as an accurate measure.

Regardless of the accuracy of the figures, the research raises interesting questions around the impact of bank holidays on the wider economy generally, and small businesses specifically.

Do bank holidays bring expense or profit?

While the CEBR has distanced itself from the dated figures on the economic impact of bank holidays, these figures will likely serve as a ballpark figure until there is more recent research to quote.

For some businesses, public holidays are an opportunity to tap into increased consumer spending.  Businesses operating within the hospitality or entertainment sectors, for example, may expect increased footfall and revenue, as customers decide to treat themselves to a meal out or some drinks over a long weekend.

Similarly, there has been some research from retail bodies which indicates a trend of increased sales in the lead-up to bank holidays. Many retail businesses capitalise on the extended free time by offering time-limited incentives or flash sales to entice shoppers.

For others, bank and public holidays are a time to unwind. Running a business is draining, and it’s important to take every opportunity to recharge. BusinessAdvice.co.uk, however, found that the being closed over public holidays can cost small businesses as much as £2163 over the course of a year.

How can we leverage bank holidays for better productivity?

External factors, of course, play an influential role on the effect of bank holidays. Seasonal holidays, particularly spring and late summer, are subject to weather. A sunny bank holiday is more likely to see increased footfall and sales for any high street business, while a washout bank holiday might mean increases for businesses offering refuge – cafes, restaurants, cinemas and so on.

There have been various proposals from sections of the UK political scene to create new public holidays and give workers up and down the country as many as four more days off each year.

While seemingly counter-intuitive, there is a growing body of literature which indicates that shorter working weeks are better for the economy and better for people. Bank holidays obviously play a central role in this already, but the UK has just eight public holidays in the UK, while several European countries have more.

In the context of an economy that is slowly but surely moving towards automation, it’s important to consider how to sensitively manage changes to the labour market, including through reduced working hours.

There are proponents of the four-day working week, which is seen as a way to tackle the UK’s well-documented productivity issues while also reducing unemployment. Experimenting with increased public holidays could see an increase in productivity in the corresponding periods, and could make the case for shorter working weeks even stronger.

The ultimate decision on whether public holidays have a net positive or negative effect seems to be subjective, with arguments to be made both ways. The most important factor, it seems, is to recognise what’s right for your business and your workforce. Lean into your business opportunities while remaining flexible for the future.  

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Garden leave is paid leave for an employee who is leaving your business to work for a competitor. But how do you know whether it’s appropriate, or affordable, for you to place an employee on garden leave?

When is it appropriate for you to offer garden leave?

If you think an employee (or a soon-to-be former employee) could carry sensitive or confidential information across to a competitor, then placing that individual on garden leave is an appropriate course of action.

It’s also a good way to distance an employee from your business to prevent sabotage or to avoid the poaching of other employees from your company by another.

It may make life slightly difficult for their successor without a formal handover process, but it’s a sensible way of protecting your business.

Cost consideration

Garden leave can be a difficult proposition for small businesses. The financial aspect will naturally be a concern, given that employees placed on garden leave still receive full pay even though their work will be redistributed to other team members.

However, when considering garden leave, you should think about the knowledge that the employee in question has and how valuable that is to your business – and how valuable it could be to a competitor.

If the employee is personally involved in a project which may give you a competitive edge, then garden leave is a no-brainer. An employee who has been offered a role either at a direct competitor or in the same industry is a valuable asset to the competition, given that the employee will carry a vast knowledge bank with them.

The knowledge that they take away from your business needs to be replaced at some point, but limiting the damage is the primary concern. By removing an employee from the day-to-day, you limit their exposure to any confidential or sensitive information which could be priceless to a competitor.

Non-compete clauses

While it may be too late to implement this for an employee that’s leaving, it’s worth considering the insertion of non-compete clauses in employee contracts in the future.

These clauses stipulate that employees are not allowed to enter or establish a business which competes with their former company. These are not necessary in all professions, but in businesses where sensitive information could provide competitive advantage.

There are arguments against non-compete clauses; a government review has suggested that they are restrictive and stifle entrepreneurship by preventing experienced workers from starting their own business.

However, as a means of protecting your business against dangerous competition, it’s a viable strategy and can help you to prepare for life without a valuable employee while giving you the confidence that they’re not bolstering the competition.

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As your business grows, you’ll notice that the workload becomes too much for just one person to deal with. This is an exciting time, to be sure – it’s a sign that business is going well and you can bring someone in to help you with the day-to-day.

This is also a great opportunity for you to think about how your role within your business may develop, and how to make the most of it.

But before the excitement carries you away, there’s a lot of important things to get done. Making sure you follow the correct process can help to lay the foundations for a smooth start while ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

Read on to find out all the essential steps when it comes to hiring your first employee…

Sounding it out

Before you dive in at the deep end and over-commit yourself, give yourself the opportunity to think about and define your needs.

Do you need full-time or part-time staff? Can you afford to take staff on? Is the workplace accessible for employees? Do you know your responsibilities when it comes to tax, pay and pensions?

Take the time to self-reflect, too. Are you ready for the challenge of managing someone? Can you delegate without turning dictatorial? If you’re sure you’re ready and you know what your obligations are, then you can get started.

Registering as an employer

To make sure you’re able to pay your staff, you’ll need to register as an employer with HMRC. This can be done up to four weeks before an employment contract comes into effect (i.e., four weeks before your employee’s first day at work). Depending on the size of your business, the way you register with HMRC differs.

You’ll also need to get employers’ liability insurance as soon as you become an employer to cover any workplace incidents (though we’ll keep our fingers crossed that you have none). Insurance must cover you for at least £5m and come from an authorised insurer. This is a legal requirement, and you can rack up a hefty fine for failing to hold insurance or for failing to display your insurance certificate.

Producing a job description

Writing your job description is a necessary step, and depending on the business you run and the type of work that needs done, the roles, responsibilities and personnel requirements will vary.

Knowing what the current scope of work would be and having an idea of how the role may develop could prove useful in helping to shape the beginnings of the job description. The description should encompass all the key information, including roles and responsibilities, requisite skills and any appropriate experience. Putting these details to paper is also a great exercise to sense check what your true business needs are.

Once you’ve defined the role, you can start thinking about how to advertise your vacancy. Ideally, you’ll want to advertise the job on multiple channels to reach the greatest audience possible. Think about advertising in your local newspaper, at the local job centre, and posting about the position on your website or social media channels.

Make sure your advert is clear in what you’re asking the applicants for – a simple CV, or would you benefit from a cover letter as well?

The recruitment process

Once you’ve attracted some applicants for the position, you can start thinking about inviting the most suitable individuals to interview. Try to have a standardised set of questions you ask all candidates to firstly make sure you get all the information you need in the moment, and secondly to give everyone even ground to be compared on. A good started for 10 is to cover off past experience, what attracted them to the role, and what their salary expectations are.

You’ll need to make sure your preferred candidates are eligible to work in the UK. If it’s relevant for the position, consider whether they need a DBS check.

When it comes to interview, it’s usually a good practise (though it may not be possible, particularly if you run your business independently rather than alongside a partner) to have a second person with you. Having a second opinion from a trusted aide can help to provide perspective when it comes to deciding on who to offer the job to.

Payroll and pension

According to the FSB, an annual salary of £25,000 can actually cost employers something closer to £33,000. This is because employers must account for, amongst other things, National Insurance contributions.

Knowing the true cost of employment is important, and it can be broken down into a handful of different components: salary, tax and pension.

Paying a salary is, of course, the most important part of the quid pro quo arrangement when it comes to hiring staff. Make sure that you adhere to the most up-to-date minimum wage requirements; this is a legal obligation.

Auto-enrolment for pension is fairly clear-cut: you must enrol and make employer’s contributions for all staff who are aged over 22 and under the State Pension age, earn more than £10,000 per year and work in the UK.

These are the most important aspects of employing someone, so make sure you adhere to the rules. You can find out more about minimum wage here, and pension requirements here.

Onboarding

Ticked the admin boxes and found someone who’ll be a real asset to your business? Time to think about ‘onboarding’.

Onboarding refers to the process of getting people up to speed with the business – key information, key contacts; a sort of crash course in the important things. Getting onboarding right can make the difference between your new start flying or stumbling in the early stages of their new position.

Make sure you provide your new employee with their written statement of employment if they’re with you for more than one month. This document is effectively a pre-contract agreement which details the conditions of employment, as well as key information. You can find a list of all the essential bits of information on the gov.uk website.

Once your new starter is in the door, get them up to speed with all the important policies, including sick leave, annual leave, core hours, health and safety information, and anything else that you can think of which is important or applies to their day-to-day role. Take the time to cover off the non-work-related things too – where can they get lunch? Are there any local attractions near your place of work? Remember that the first week in a new place can be an overwhelming time, so take it steady and allow for time for you to get to know each other.

If you want to do some more reading and research before you get started, there’s plenty of useful advice available from the gov.uk website, as well as from the FSB website.


Hopefully, this guide has been of some use to you – good luck with hiring your first employee, and make the most of all the resources on being the best manager you can be here at Brighter Business.


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Online shopping has had a huge impact on high streets across the country. Alongside this, economic uncertainty has created a difficult climate for businesses to operate in.

For those businesses operating from high street premises, there is the small issue of business rates. As of 1st April 2019, some changes have come into effect. These changes have come at a time when changes to the tax system have also introduced new requirements on small businesses to begin     

Read on to find out what they are and how they may affect your business, and scroll down for the Brighter Business Guide to Business Rates

What’s happening with business rates, and how does it affect me?

Some high street shops and pubs will welcome the news of a cut in business rates over the next two years.

Eligibility for the rates reduction depends on the rateable value of your premises. For premises where the rateable value is below £51,000, businesses will receive a one-third discount to their rates bill.

It’s not all good news, however. The news comes against the backdrop of rising council tax and utility bills, as well as increased obligatory costs like auto-enrolment pension contributions and changes to the tax system.

Organisations have criticised the business rates system, with the FSB calling it “unfair” and “regressive”. And despite the discount, revenue from business rates for the 2019-2020 year are expected to increase overall.

When was this decided, and when does it come into effect?

The change to business rates for the years 2019-2021 was announced in the Autumn Budget in October 2018. This change has been in place since 1st April 2019.

Calculating the value of your premises and estimating your business rates

It’s possible to estimate your business rates using this online tool on the gov.uk website.

While this cut to business rates isn’t a cure-all for the issues facing small businesses today, it’s a small step in the right direction when it comes to creating a friendlier environment for SMEs to operate in.


The Brighter Business Guide to Business Rates: Everything you need to know What are business rates, and who collects them?

Business rates are annual fees levied on certain non-domestic properties or buildings where activities are non-domestic in nature. Effectively, rates are the non-domestic equivalent of council tax.

Shops, offices, pubs, warehouses and guest houses are all considered non-domestic, and so business rates must be paid for these buildings.

Rates are owed to your council, who will send you a bill every February or March with your charge for the following year.


What do business rates cover?

Business rates help to pay for various services provided by local authorities and the government, including cleaning and maintenance of public streets, street lighting, emergency services, and so on.


How much will I have to pay, and how are business rates calculated?

The amount you pay will depend on the rateable value of your property and the multiplier used.

Rateable value is calculated by the Valuation Office Agency, a body which provides property valuation and advice to the government. There are two multiplier values: standard and small business.

You can calculate your business rates on the gov.uk website.


Are there any exemptions to business rates?

Certain properties are exempt from business rates. There is a full article available on the gov.uk website. If you work from home, you may not have to pay business rates, though this depends on the nature of the work conducted from the property.

Additionally, some businesses may be eligible for rates relief; check with your local council to see if you’re eligible and whether you need to apply or if it is automatically applied.

Finally, for businesses in Scotland, business rates are calculated differently. So, if you’re reading from the other side of the border, you will need to consult the appropriate source here.


What do I do if I think I’m paying too much?

First up, start by calculating your business rates using the calculator on the gov.uk website.

If you think you’re paying too much, you can check to see if you’re eligible for the various rates reliefs that are available, listed above. If you work in a building where the nature of the business has changed or changes, the amount you pay may change, too.


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If you’re a football fan, you’ll be familiar with the managerial cliché that everyone requires a different method of motivation: some players need an arm around the shoulder and others need a boot up the backside.

Off the pitch and in the workplace, something similar is true, as the balance you take between carrot and stick can hugely affect your team. Recent research published by Sodexo Exchange looking at managerial performance in the UK found that only one in five employees reported being set goals by their manager.

This failure to help employees along the path of professional development is one of the biggest concerns for British workers. This doesn’t just have negative consequences for employees but for the managers themselves, who are seen as bad role models and incapable of treating their staff fairly. This is not the sort of environment that is conducive to good work or business success.

So, what can you to do avoid these pitfalls? Adjusting the way that you manage and interact with your staff can help to reduce any conflict or unhappiness and create a better working environment for everyone.

Management: The theory and the method

Managerial theory has been a field of study since the 1900s. There are several strands, including management objectives, functions, style; even the necessity of managers in a given organisation, and all of them are up for debate.

As such, the analysis of the role of managers (in business as much as football) and the ways in which they achieve their goals has long been a subject of discussion.

Broadly speaking, there are three overarching management styles, which deviate further into different approaches depending on the method you choose.

Autocratic

A traditional, top-down form of management which requires little to no input from staff, autocratic styles are ‘command and control’, though it doesn’t need to be dictatorial or ruling with an iron fist. You can be authoritative, persuasive or paternalistic – these are all recognised subcategories of the autocratic style, with varied benefits and caveats.

An environment with clear direction, clearly defined roles and the right level of supervision has historically been the way to succeed, so there may well be something to be said for this style.

Democratic

The middle ground between authoritative and entirely hands-off management, the democratic style is characterised by its participative and collaborative approach.

Dialogue between management and employees is the central tenet, and communication goes both ways, rather than strictly top-down as is the case in an autocratic environment.

The open and communicative nature of a democratic arrangement can foster strong levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction – great if you have job roles that require more than just monetary motivation.

Laissez-Faire

The hands-off approach, laissez-faire, is French and means “let do”. Laissez-faire leadership involves little guidance from managers and places responsibility for problem-solving and task completion with the group. Communication is bottom-up rather than top down.

This can either be empowering or destabilising. Highly-skilled employees who are well equipped and motivated by the challenge and the freedom they have may thrive under these circumstances. For unskilled or newer workers, it can be a framework which offers little or no support or supervision.

Which style is best?

The Chartered Management Institute has published advice on the matter of managerial style; “the general consensus has moved away from ‘command and control’ styles of management and leadership towards more consultative and participative approaches. However, there is no single ideal, as the best approach may vary according to circumstances and individual characteristics.”

Essentially, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to management. You will at various times be in charge of different people, who are the culmination of different life experiences and routes. Managing different people requires different skills and different times!

Adaptability is important and knowing how to react to situations as they arise can help to set you apart from other managers. There will be times when you will need to direct employees, or times when you can loosen the reins and let them find the best way to complete a task.

Management ultimately comes down to the way you interact and the qualities you display. Your people skills and your nous when it comes to effective motivation will be key; think about the sort of environment that you want to create and how you can encourage your staff to perform to their best.

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Being able to start a new year with a clean slate is invigorating, and it’s full of excitement and optimism.

That can be optimism for the performance of your business, or excitement for the “next big thing” that could radically change the landscape for businesses across the country.

Here, the experts at Brighter Business look into the future and predict the biggest trends in the business world for the year ahead – and there are definitely a few things to be excited about.

Tech collaboration between large corporates and SMEs

The rate at which technology is developing is, at times, frightening. It’s hard to keep abreast of the latest developments and emerging technologies.

In an effort to remain relevant and prevent themselves from falling behind, larger organisations without technological pedigree are increasingly turning towards smaller, more agile start-up business.

The aim for larger businesses is to understand how these technologies may be implemented, while also giving small business the ability to work with new partners, developing their products and propositions while also having the opportunity to network.

Expect more collaboration, and more opportunities for businesses to partner, as more technologies develop.

Big, bad data: The opportunities and the challenges

According to the MIT Sloan Review, bad data is harmful to companies, costing as much as 25% of revenue.

Bad data is data which is incomplete, inaccurate, or irrelevant. When bad data is used, it can create issues down the line including system inefficiencies (half of your outbound email list bouncing, anyone?), irritated customers, and time wasted through repetitive actions.

As such, data and its importance to successful businesses is likely to become one of the central themes of 2019. With businesses all over the world relying on data to reach new customers and retain existing ones, it’s important that data is “healthy”: accurate, complete, reviewed frequently (and purged, where appropriate, in-line with your own cleansing procedures and with a view to remaining compliant with GDPR).

Additionally, an increase in the amount of data available to analysts means that there is ever more insight and information available to drive decisions. This means that data visualisation will continue to grow in popularity.

Visualisation helps analysts to tell compelling stories and gain insights into vast pools of data, enabling the improved communication of complex information. This, in turn, helps to drive smart business decisions.

Data poses as many threats as opportunities, in particular when it comes to machine learning and artificial intelligence. A recent poll has found that 41% of businesses are concerned that AI represents an existential threat to their business.

Similarly, legal and regulatory obligations around data protection – particularly the introduction of GDPR in 2018 – make this an area of concern for many businesses. Data security, and good practice around data management, will continue to be important in 2019 and beyond.

Improved customer communications

Communicating with customers, both existing and potential, has always been of central importance. The growth of digital platforms has helped to diversify the ways in which businesses are able to communicate; social media in particular has changed the game, making instant communication the norm.

Chatbots are now becoming more and more common – 2018 was a breakthrough year in the automation of basic customer interactions. Facebook now allows business pages to set up automated chat to answer basic customer questions, which gives businesses some scope for experimenting with the format.

We expect 2019 to see more nuanced and capable versions of chatbots being deployed by businesses to help answer customer questions and generally engage with customers in near-real-time, providing depth to the customer experience.

However, this could also drive a shift towards a more “human” angle in customer service. With our days becoming increasingly saturated withtechnology, consumers may wish to experience a more personal service, whether online or in store.

The rise of conscientious sustainability

With growing awareness of the damage – current and potential – to our planet caused by unsustainable practices, those business that put environmental and ethical concerns at the top of their agendas will be the ones which flourish in 2019.

David Attenborough highlighted the very real and damaging effects of plastic pollution when his document Blue Planet II aired, and climate change moved from an abstract concept to a tangible problem as the UK careened from snowstorm to heatwave.

Business have a leading role to play, both in reducing the use of plastics and in thinking how they can reduce their own impact (and by extension their customers’ impact) on a planet which is coming under increasing stress.

It’s not a simple task, nor an inexpensive one, but it is vitally important every business and individual plays their part.

Work perks and wellbeing

As millennials have come to make up a greater percentage of the workforce, businesses have had to adapt and offer something more interesting to employees, including innovative ways of driving engagement.

This means that pensions are out, and ping-pong tables are in. Okay, pensions aren’t entirely out, but the point is that many workplaces are switching to more material benefits that create a distinct culture. Office dogs, flexible working (work from home Wednesdays, anyone?), free drinks on a Friday afternoon, and all manner of other perks are now presented alongside salaries and job titles, framing workplaces as a place to be as much as a place to work.

This shift has been to place a greater emphasis on the workplace as a space which is as much about wellbeing as it is work. Encouraging sustainable working habits and preventing employees from burnout is one of the motivators for this – even the most talented employees can be blunted by an intense, uninviting workplace.

Offering employees a range of benefits will continue to be a prominent trend in 2019. One popular benefit is flexible working; technology enables people to work from anywhere, even on the move, and workplace benefits are shown to improve employee engagement – with a commensurate positive impact on business performance.

Better than caffeine…

Or not, depending on how squeamish you are about electric shocks.

Admittedly it’s not as bad as it sounds. A research department of the US Air Force has been experimenting with ways to improve concentration overlong periods – and they’ve found that stimulating the brain with electrical current has helped to overcome the natural dip in productivity which comes after a period of concentration.

The researchers have found that concentration naturally dips after 20 minutes – but by stimulating the brain with small jolts of electrical current, researchers were able to extend this to almost six hours without a drop off.

That’s certainly one way to energise your 2019. Time for another Christmas break, anyone..?

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Employee engagement is a hot topic in the business world and it has been touted as one of the ways in which the UK can tackle its productivity slump.

However, with the recent news that just 12% of SMEs are prioritising employee engagement strategies, it’s time to start thinking about how your employees feel about their work and what you can do to improve engagement levels.

Why worry about employee engagement?

Engagement means improving the way that your colleagues and staff interact, both with their work and with each other. Highly engaged employees are generally more productive, and “engaged business units tend to deliver better performance, as measured in terms of revenues and profits” according to the Harvard Business Review.

Additionally, engaged employees are more likely to stay with their employer, according to research. If retaining top talent is important to you or your businesses, then improving engagement should be on your agenda.

Finally, engaging work has been found to be central to our overall happiness, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report 2017.

The theory

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can help you to understand what drives happiness. Work broadly meets the base-level conditions needed; security and safety (providing a stable job with a steady income), but to see improved performance from employees, it’s important that work meets other psychological needs.

These include the need to belong (in a social and professional sense) and the need recognition or validation (labelled self-esteem on the pyramid, this can be thought of as confidence or self-belief). The higher up the pyramid an employee is, the more engaged they are.

The idea behind increased engagement is that it will lead to employees making greater “discretionary effort” in the work. Discretionary effort is that which goes above and beyond the minimum needed for certain tasks; working in a more impactfulway.

If employee engagement aims to increase the level of discretionary effort made by employees, this raises an important question: are your staff currently underperforming, and if so, why?

There are several factors that may be to blame. Common themes include pay, management, rewards packages, as well as personal circumstances, workplace culture or alignment with career goals.

Increasing engagement

When faced with a dissatisfied workforce and several possible causes, figuring out precisely what the issue/s are. Smoothing out any issues can help to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable.

One of the best ways to understand any issues is to create a communicative atmosphere.

As highlighted by Glassdoor, the online job search and recruitment company, “increasing employee engagement starts with giving people a voice”. By fostering a workplace where staff can feel comfortable communicating, you can get feedback about what your staff value, what works for them and a chance for them to air any concerns or ideas.

Once you have the feedback from your staff, you can begin to implement changes. Employee engagement is perhaps best understood as the “perks of the job”, the rewards that are separate from salary.

Companies like Perkbox have helped to highlight what matters to employees, and large companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook have long offered their staff a range of benefits: on-site (or subsidised) childcare, flexible working hours, unlimited holidays… the list goes on.

Workers across the world are increasingly benefitting from these flexible benefits. These perks go above and beyond the basic requirements of a job (providing a stable job with a steady income). These perks can keep morale and motivation high, helping employees to feel valued and driving engagement.

What can you do?

If you’re interested in offering a flexible benefits package for your employees, you can consult with your employees and see which benefits are the most appealing to them. You can then engage with a provider (such as Perkbox, or similar) to implement a scheme.

The cost of a scheme will depend on the number of employees you have and the type of benefits that you choose.

Recognising the importance of your employees to the success of your business – and rewarding them with something a little bit different – could be the best decision you make.

  

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The energy market is challenging and can be a turbulent place, especially for new or smaller suppliers. It’s unlikely that you will find yourself without an energy supplier out of the blue, but it can happen – so what next?

Nobody likes unexpected change when running a business. The good news is that there is a silver lining. Read through the steps below and we’ll walk you through what to expect, and how your business can benefit from a change in energy supplier.

I’ve found out my supplier has gone under. Now what?

1. Your energy supply won’t suddenly stop.

Just because your supplier is out of business, it doesn’t mean your energy supply is.

Your electricity and gas will continue being supplied to your premises, so there’s no need to worry. If you don’t have a meter that takes readings automatically, it might be worth taking a meter reading now, so you have up-to-date information to hand.

2. You will be automatically moved to a new supplier

Ofgem is the independent body that works to regulate the energy industry and work on behalf of the consumers’ interests.

They will start seeking out a new energy supplier who can take on your account, and the accounts of everyone else left in the lurch.

It’s their job to get the best possible deal for you, and a number of suppliers will likely make a bid to try to win your account.

3. You won’t be locked into a contract

When a decision is made, you will be given your new supplier and put onto their “deemed rates”. Your new supplier should get in touch with you to explain all the details.

“Deemed rates” simply means that these are rates you haven’t chosen. This contract can last indefinitely, so it’s absolutely advisable that you start looking around to get a competitive deal.

4. Your bills could change, and they will probably go up

While Ofgem will try to get you the best deal possible, deemed contracts are often more expensive – especially if a supplier has had to buy energy at short notice on the wholesale market to deal with the increase in customers.

It’s generally recommended to get onto a fixed term contract as soon as you can to ensure bill certainty and a competitive rate.

5. Not happy? Now’s the time to switch

The good news is that you don’t have to go with your new supplier if you don’t want to.

If you wanted to leave your new, deemed contract, you can do so without incurring any exit fees.

This is the silver lining: you could have previously been tied into a four-year contract with your previous supplier, with no flexibility to switch. Now, you have a chance to take matters into your own hands.

You are under no obligation to stay with the supplier you’ve been given and are free to find a competitive deal that suits your needs.

6. Find a supplier that understands your business

As a business, you might want to choose a supplier that specialises in providing energy exclusively to businesses. We might be biased, but as a supplier that exclusively serves businesses, we think that getting your gas or electricity from Opus Energy could be a brilliant choice.

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Remember when meetings were useful? No, we don’t either.

Apparently, they used to be good for getting the right people together, communicating key ideas and hashing out solutions to problems.

Now, it’s easier to see them as a barrier to work, a distraction that you have to go through with. And it turns out that all these meetings cost businesses a lot of money.

How much do meetings cost your business?

According to the Independent, UK workers waste 13 days each year in unproductive meetings, and research has found that these unproductive meetings are costing SMEs almost £1m per year.

The exact cost to a business depends on the size of the company, the number of employees involved in a meeting, and the number of meetings attended each year. To estimate the cost of meetings to your business, you can use the Harvard Business Review Meeting Cost Calculator – try it out below.

All you need to do is insert the duration of the meeting, the number of employees attending and the rough salary of each employee (NB – this tool works in USD rather than GBP, so here’s a currency converter if you need).

Click here to visit the Harvard Business Review Meeting Calculator >

Once other costs are accounted for – catering for a lunch time meeting, or travel expenses for staff – the costs can quickly stack up. And while there is the financial cost of meetings, and there is also the cost of lost productivity to consider.

The cost of lost productivity

Productivity is measured in economic output per hours worked. This is, essentially, measuring the volume of production over a set period.

Productivity in the UK has been low since the economic downturn in 2008. Regardless of the reasons why (no-one really knows, not even the economists), statistics from both the Office of National Statistics and the OECD show that productivity is demonstrably lower in the UK than in many neighbouring European countries and other members of the G7.

While it may be a stretch to assume that the productivity gap is solely down to unproductive meetings, it might not be far from the truth. With a handful of meetings to attend and a constant stream of notifications pouring in, it’s not difficult to see how productivity could fall.

This is the detrimental effect on productivity not just at the macro scale, but at the micro scale, too.

Overstimulation in the form of meetings and excessive demands on our attention can prevent us from engaging with tasks in a deep and meaningful way. Our inability to multitask – the actual capacity of our neurology to simultaneously manage multiple tasks efficiently – is a big part of this.

“Deep work” is a term coined by Cal Newport, an American professor. When studying for his degree, Newport blogged (and later published a book) about how to focus in the digital era while we are peppered with notifications and distractions.

Newport advocates “deep work” as a method to engage with tasks in a productive, meaningful and focused way. The way to achieve this concentrated state is to ignore distractions – phones, , and unnecessary meetings.

Carving out time in a schedule for this – by avoiding unnecessary, unproductive meetings – can help you to engage with work tasks more fully, helping to make up the productivity gap.

The ONS has a tool for measuring the productivity of your business. Check it out here.

How to keep your meetings on track

While productivity outside of meetings can be increased by “deep working” methods, meetings are also an area with plenty of room for improvement. Below are a few tips to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of meetings.

– Before you start – or before you arrange the meeting – try to define the aim that you want to achieve. What is the purpose of the meeting? Who, realistically, needs to be there and who doesn’t?

– Next up, you should set an agenda. Try to create a logical flow to the points so that it’s clear what you want to cover in moving from one point to the next.

– When you arrange the meeting, be sure to only invite the necessary people, because meeting costs increase per attendee. If you’re invited to an unnecessary meeting, don’t be afraid to swerve it – just give the organiser a heads up; it’s only polite.

– When your meeting is due to start, just start; don’t wait for latecomers. Getting underway promptly indicates a respect for those who have arrived on time and prevents too much wasted time.

– If you want to ensure concentration, take some tips from Cal Newport – don’t allow phones or laptops in to meetings. They’re a source of distraction and not conducive to productive meetings.

 

If you had to use a single word to describe this plan, the best one would probably be minimise: minimise distractions, minimise attendees, minimise meandering conversation.

Meetings should be a forum for decision making rather than an ineffective and time-draining distraction. The HBR also cites “dysfunctional meeting behaviour” as detrimental. Sending emails during a meeting, for example, or working on something else is counterproductive.

Systemic change

If meetings really are out of hand, you may need to consider making systemic change. If attendees are sat in meetings sending emails or typing away at a laptop, then it’s time for drastic action.

To enact change, it’s important to understand how meetings can interrupt individual and group time, and the subsequent impact of that interruption.

By inviting individuals to meetings, you interrupt their personal work. This impact is multiplied across groups. The frequency of meetings and their occurrence on a given day can impact with schedules, too, and may inhibit the ability of workers to find time for “deep work”.

Need some inspiration from movers and shakers? Jeff Bezos from Amazon refuses to call or attend a meeting where two pizzas aren’t enough to feed the attendees. Similarly, Elon Musk advocates leaving a meeting or call as soon as you’ve made your contribution or the discussion goes beyond your area.

By recognising how meetings impact on schedules and work output, and reducing the frequency, occurrence and structure of meetings, you can move to a more successful model for meetings.

Recalibrating workplace culture can be a difficult task, but it’s an important step to take to reduce costs and improve productivity.

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The rise of the pop-up shop has been almost meteoric, particularly over the last ten years. The phenomenon has grown hugely in popularity to coincide with the growth of ecommerce and changing face of traditional high street retail.

The pop-up format is hardly new. Farmers markets, or seasonal markets around Christmas, for example, could be considered the original pop-ups, appearing for short periods before disappearing. It’s this sense of fleetingness that makes the format so popular with consumers.

The method appeals to brands for a different reason: it allows businesses to test their viability with less of the associated risks or costs. The opportunity to experiment with a high-street presence without breaking the bank is great, particularly when it can also help to increase brand awareness and reach new customers.

The good news for up-and-coming businesses is that the pop-up phenomenon is not slowing down. The industry was reckoned to be worth £2.3bn a year to the UK economy in 2015, and it’s growing. So how can up-and-coming businesses get involved in the action?

Finding a space

It’s not as easy as finding a dream location and getting started straight away – we learned this the hard way when we opened our very own small business, the Kinetic Café by Opus Energy.

Luckily, there is a growing number of companies that are catering to businesses and entrepreneurs looking for spaces on short-term lets. When we were looking, we used Appear Here (dubbed the “Airbnb for retail”), though there are several other options.

Using an intermediary like this can help to remove some of the difficulties associated with short-term commercial lets, but not all of them. One of the significant stumbling blocks is that you must pitch your business to the landlord of the premises.

There are several other challenging constraints you’ll have to work within. Cost, availability, and location are all primary concerns; the space you want may not be available at a time which suits you, or it may fall outside of your ideal area. This can be a stressful process, but it’s so rewarding once it’s all finalised.

Then there are secondary concerns: depending on the nature of the business, you may need certain permits. Want to play music? You’ll need a PRS licence. Serving food and drink? Food safety. Short-term insurance arrangements may not have crossed your mind, but they should.

Designing your space

­We’ve written before about how important it is to design a retail space to attract and interest passing footfall. The same is true of a pop-up space: it needs to be eye-catching, engaging, interesting, especially as it will exist for such a short time.

You’ll need to be aware of your budget for design, but if you’re lucky you may find a premises which is already set up functionally for your purposes and aesthetically close to what you would like.

If not, you’ll have to work within the terms of your lease to design the space in a way that the landlord finds acceptable. There will be some constraints here, but do your best to work within them to create an engaging environment for your customers.

Open season

Next comes the exciting (but equally stressful) bit – opening the pop-up! Now is when you get to show off all your hard work to the world.

Because your shop will only be open for a short time, it’s important to make the most of every opportunity. Make sure to bring along printed marketing material that people can take away even if they don’t make a purchase. Business cards, flyers, leaflets with offers… anything that will jog peoples’ memories a few days or weeks down the line.

Signposting people towards your online presence, whether that’s social media channels or a website, can help to improve brand awareness, too.

Then there are the functional, practical things to figure out. Have you thought about how you’ll manage sales? You’ll need a point-of-sale system and, given the fact that most people are ditching cash in favour of card, accepting card payments could be a make-or-break element.

While pop-ups can be a shortcut to growth, it isn’t always reasonable to expect incredible results. It takes a lot of hard work and a promising business concept to get things up and running, so don’t be put off if you don’t get the wave of customers that you expect. But that’s the beauty of the pop-up – allowing you to create a small, nimble business that can pivot quickly to test a number of routes to success. As the saying goes – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

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