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Small businesses accounted for more than 80% of UK R&D claims in the 2013-14 tax year

A couple of years ago, the government made it easier for owners of unused office space to get planning permission to convert it into residential homes. Following on from this, in October this year it announced that around 4,000 office to residential conversions had been given the green light between April 2014 and June 2015.

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Small businesses are feeling the strain caused by late payments, but the impact can be reduced by following some practical steps

Of all the challenges faced by small business owners, the one that probably causes them the most sleepless nights is late payment from their customers.

It’s also one of the most common problems encountered by small and medium enterprises (SMEs); a recent Yougov poll suggested that about 85% are affected, while the sums they are owed have reached £39.4 billion, according to data published by direct debit company Bacs Payment Schemes.

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Struggling to balance a home-based business with family commitments? Our panel of experts answered your questions

While words like parentpreneur may be proving polemical, there can be no doubt a record number of people are working from home. However, home-based businesses present certain challenges, not least of which is figuring out how to balance family life around your work. Here are six of the best questions our panellists were asked, and how they answered.

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The entrepreneur has been sued, hacked and armed police called to her house by a hoaxer, but she’s proud to offer a forum for everyday acts of kindness

Both, but it was a business venture with a business plan. I tried to raise money and get investors in, and I definitely meant for it to be profitable. It morphed as it developed and took on a life of its own. And it soon became very valuable – not so much in a monetary sense, but in providing a purpose.

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Will Little is working to shake up the instant coffee industry with his brand of flavour-infused drinks

We are a coffee manufacturer specialising in a range of flavoured instant coffee. It is a family-run business that was started by my parents in 1987. My wife Caroline and I came on board five years ago.

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Entrepreneurs warn how relying on one supplier was nearly a disaster for their business

Having all your eggs in one basket can be a recipe for disaster – nowhere more so than in business. For small business owners, relying on a single supplier could, at best, reduce competitiveness, quality, reliability and continuity; at worst, it could put a company out of business.

“Suppliers can go bust, or they can become so successful that lead times lengthen or prices dramatically increase,” says Jeff Long, small business consultant with Business Doctors. “And while the product or service they provide may be critical to your business it may be a marginal one for the supplier, with the risk of your vital product or service being discontinued.”

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When only 15% of engineering and technology undergraduates are female, women who work in traditionally male-dominated areas can find it tough to push back

Elizabeth Varley is as far removed from the geeky loner stereotype of the successful technology entrepreneur as it is possible to be. Yet at 38, Varley has already created and run not one, but two successful technology businesses.

Varley was in her early 20s when, after a period of working as a journalist, she set up Online Content UK, an editorial agency providing content for businesses such as Amazon, Shiny Media and Microsoft. In 2010, she co-founded TechHub, a physical and virtual network for technology entrepreneurs, enabling them to meet, share ideas and collaborate. TechHub now has a presence in three continents and six cities.

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‘We are now stocked in around 100 independent retail outlets around the UK and will soon be available across London in Planet Organic and Whole Foods’

Name: Love Kombucha
Based: Thatcham, Berkshire
Website: www.lovekombucha.co.uk

We launched our first Love Kombucha drink into the market in September 2013. At which point I was brewing kombucha in the spare room of my very modestly-sized house.

We are now stocked in around 100 independent retail outlets around the UK and will soon be available across London in Planet Organic and Whole Foods and 45 branches of NutriCentre.

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Language, time zones and server location may seem like obstacles to setting up a website that caters for your international clients

Your traditional British pickles and chutneys are sitting on the sideboard, boxed up and ready to export. All you need to do now is to wait for some orders. But who’s clicking on your website? Perhaps your target audience are overseas, and don’t understand your site. Or maybe your servers are slow and they’re just getting a pickle, one pixel at a time. So how do you make your website navigable for a global audience?

Communication is key, and this means that potential customers should understand what it is you’re trying to sell. Do you cross your fingers and hope that the Google translate button pops up alongside your URL? Or do you hire someone to translate your entire website into several languages?

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Developing in-house expertise is the most cost effective way for small businesses to meet a growing demand for digital skills

A recent study found that Britain will need 745,000 additional workers with digital skills to continue growing the economy over the next four years, but businesses are struggling to keep up with demand. As large companies invest money and time in plugging the shortfall, will small ventures be left behind? Learning to code could be a starting point for entrepreneurs that want to keep pace with this growing need for digital skills.

Not knowing code can put tech entrepreneurs at a disadvantage. Daniel Thompson, founder of software development firm D4 Software says if you’re running a website or app or selling online, understanding code is a necessity. If you have a large amount of customer data you want to analyse online, you’ll also need code. “Inside a tech startup, you’re either a coder or a sales/marketing person,” he says. “Anyone who thinks they are the ‘ideas guy’ or a general manager is just dead weight.”

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