Get your business ready for the new National Living Wage

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Are you ready for the new National Living Wage?

From April 1, UK workers aged 25 and over and not in the first year of an apprenticeship must be paid a minimum of £7.20 an hour, an increase of 50p an hour on the current National Minimum Wage.

The UK government says it aims to enforce the living wage as strongly as the National Minimum Wage, and expects payrolls to have been updated by April 1.

As with the current minimum wage, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have the right to carry out checks at any time and investigate businesses if a complaint of non-compliance is made against them.

If HMRC finds that an employer hasn’t been paying the correct rates, any arrears have to be paid back immediately. There will also be a penalty and offenders might be named by the government.

It’s the employer’s responsibility to keep records proving that they are paying the living wage, and, as with the current minimum wage, most employers use their payroll records as proof. All records have to be kept for three years.

Any payments for the employer’s own benefit, like paying an employee for travel to work, or non-refundable payments by workers like buying tools, uniform, or safety equipment, must not be included when the living wage is calculated.

What is included in the calculations:

  • Income Tax and National Insurance contributions
  • wage advances or loans
  • repayment of wage advances or loans
  • repayment of overpaid wages
  • things the worker paid for that are not needed for the job or paid for voluntarily, eg meals
  • accommodation provided by an employer above the offset rate (£5.35 a day or £37.45 a week)
  • penalty charges for a worker’s misconduct

However your eligible employees are paid, by annual salary or piece work, you need to work out their equivalent hourly rate.

Time to ensure your business is ready. Check you know who is eligible in your business. You can check that out on GOV. UK’s employment status page.

Amend your payroll. Find guidance in HMRC’s tutorials.

Let your staff know about their new pay rate.

Check your staff under 25 are earning the right rate of National Minimum Wage, or more.

Maria Williams is a professional blogger, website copywriter, and PR for small businesses. Visit www.wordsyoucanuse.co.uk

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Two magic words for your customers this Christmas

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For many small business owners, ‘tis the season to be stressed.

If you’re in retail, hospitality, the food industry, or arts and crafts, this time of year is probably your busiest.

Shops are open longer, deadlines for goods or services are tight, and, of course, staff need time off to celebrate with their loved ones.

Couple that with your own family commitments, and December can feel like we’re all running on a festive hamster wheel.

Yet it’s important to remember that Christmas is a time to recognise the efforts of staff, suppliers, and the loyalty of your customers.

There is an important opportunity which should not be missed – the chance to spread goodwill to those who make your business a success.

It’s all about reinforcing those bonds of community between you and your customers, making them feel an important party of your ‘family’.

That’s the kind of relationship which will encourage them to come back for more, and choose your business over your competitors.

It’s the sort of relationship which inspires people to choose small over big business, to shop locally.

Big businesses spend millions on getting that feelgood factor in their Christmas offerings – take the case of the John Lewis Man In The Moon advert.

You don’t have to spend a large amount to spread a little goodwill and Christmas cheer. You just have to say: “Thank you.”

Here are some relatively cheap things you can do:

Send a real Christmas card.

I know ecards are green and cheaper, but you can’t hang them on a string or stand them on your mantelpiece. Personally written and signed cards are a great way to thank your good customers or suppliers, and, of course, your staff. Finding the time to write them will pay dividends for your word of mouth in the long term. Have a very special customer or two? You could send them a box of cupcakes or handmade chocolates alongside your card.

Put some festive goodwill into your website.

A Christmas image and greeting, and a thank you to any customers who view it, are the sort of touches they will remember and appreciate in 2016.

Make a Christmas ‘thank you’ graphic or video.

Perhaps you could make a festive graphic which incorporates some of the successes you’ve had in 2015, how many customers you’ve had, and which thanks those customers for their part in your success story. Share it widely on social media. If you have a little more time, make a thank you video, or put together some of videos from events you’ve attended in 2015 with a thank you message on the end. Share on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Write a Christmas blog.

Let your customers know they’re important to you even though you’re at your busiest. Tell them how you’ve prepared for the Christmas rush, give them some Christmas tips from your field (if you’re in the food business, give them one of your festive recipes, for example), tell them about events you’ve attended, include some yuletide images. If you’ve had good feedback from a customer, share it with them, and tell them how much that means to you. If you’re in retail, tell them how you choose your Christmas tunes for your store. Get interactive on social media and ask them to recommend their own favourites. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, consider outsourcing your blog. Share your blog on social media.

Thank you for reading, and have a merry Christmas!

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Make the most of Small Business Saturday – discover 11 effective ways

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There’s a danger that, after #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday, we’re ready to give in to hashtag fatigue. A #WearyWednesday, if you like.

We need to fight that fatigue, because the most important of the annual hashtags for small businesses is looming this weekend: #SmallBizSatUK.

For many entrepreneurs, Small Business Saturday, which began in the UK in 2010, is a key part of their marketing strategy. It’s the time of year when small businesses unite, when consumers are reminded of how vital small firms including shops, bars, and restaurants, are to the local economy as employers and providers of goods and services.

Of course, it’s not just about physical footfall – online small businesses will also be using December 5 to offer special promotions or deals to increase their website visitor numbers.

There have been a couple of photographs doing the rounds on social media in the past few weeks. They show blackboards outside shops, showing messages about how consumers spending locally supports local business owners. Your locally-spent pounds can “buy shoes for a shop owner’s kid”, one read. Some sources say as much as 70p in a pound spent in a small business stays in the local economy, compared with as little as 5p per pound when spent elsewhere.

It’s a powerful message which grassroots campaign Small Business Saturday UK can harness. The campaign has grown and grown over the past five years. Last year, 16.5 million people shopped in small businesses during the event. Across the UK, businesses reported the growing support they received from customers.

In Maidenhead last year, footfall to the town centre doubled. The town’s day included a Christmas market, 130 artists selling work on the street alongside two stages of music and performances, busking, free creative workshops, Father Christmas, pop-up shops, street food and market produce.

More than 16,000 people visited last year’s Small Business Saturday market outside York Minster. Aliz Tennant, project manager with joint organisers Proudly, said: “Small independent businesses are the heart of York, both on the high-street and online, and are what make the city so unique both for residents and visitors.”

This year, planned events include a day of Christmas entertainment at Barrow Market Hall, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has its Woolwich Winter Warmer event, there is a small business showcase at Romsey Town Hall organised by Romsey Chamber of Commerce, Worthing Town Centre Initiative is funding a stage and road closure in Portland Road for the event, and Wandsworth Council is promoting Small Business Saturday offers in its online directory.

Portsmouth and Southsea Consortium is hosting an Etsy Made Local market in Portsmouth supporting more than 30 creative businesses, and there is a young enterprise fair, local produce market and crafts fair at Horsham. Kirkcaldy 4 All and Kirkcaldy Business Improvement District are staging an event with fire eaters and magicians roaming the High Street. Shop Arran says 30 island retailers are promoting local trade there. Ballycastle, Ballymoney, Coleraine and Limavady will all see town centre entertainment, says Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.

Seizing the opportunity to promote a city’s small businesses

Small businesses in one city centre are looking forward to a better future after the opening of a new £117 million shopping centre – and are hoping to capitalise on the positive energy the development has brought.

In Newport, Gwent, Friars Walk opened last month. Newport City Council says it is estimated the centre will attract between 10 and 12 million shoppers a year. It’s a major boost for independent traders and small businesses around the new development. It is estimated Friars Walk will add retail sales of £100 million a year in the city centre.

The past decade has seen some hard times for small businesses in the heart of the city. Newport topped the UK league for closed city centre shops as a number of businesses moved out due to falling footfall.

The new shopping centre provides fresh hope for small businesses there – already, a number of new food businesses are springing up around the redeveloped shopping mall. There is also a move to redevelop empty properties as homes, bringing more people back to live in the city centre, helped by a multi million pound grant to the city council under the Welsh Assembly’s Viable and Vibrant Places scheme.

The city’s business improvement organisation, Newport NOW, traders, social landlord Newport City Homes, and local group Newport Rises, are going one step further than the usual Small Business Saturday with a “shop local” weekend on December 5 and 6.

A Christmas market is planned on Bridge Street from 10am to 4pm on December 5, with a Christmas antique, crafts and collectors fair between 10am and 4pm on December 6.

Alan Edwards, the chairman of Newport Now, is encouraging local businesses and consumers to get behind the initiative: “The opening of Friars Walk is a fantastic development for the city attracting lots of new visitors. Raising awareness of what smaller businesses offer will be important at this exciting time”.

Rogerstone City and Community Councillor Chris Evans, a founding member of Newport Rises, the group which originally began ‘Shop Local Saturday’ in the city said: “I’m a big supporter of our independent traders, who, I believe are the backbone of our economy.

“They’ve also stuck with our city centre during the bad times, and help to give Newport, its unique character. This year, I’m challenging neighbours, to pledge to spend 50% of their Christmas budget, with Indie traders.”

It’s hoped Newport’s weekend-long event will become an annual one. The organisers are encouraging small businesses to offer promotions and special deals over the weekend, and are asking people to tweet @newportnow using #shoplocalnewport.

How you can make the most of #SmallBizSatUK

Here are a few ways you can make the most of the opportunity for your small business:

Before the big day:

Download the organisers’ pack here https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/#get-involved – that includes posters and a window sticker.

Tell people what you’re planning to do – plug any promotions or deals via social media. Use #SmallBizSatUK on Twitter and Instagram, people are already looking for it.

Set up a Facebook page for your involvement in Small Business Saturday, or create a landing page for your website. Plug that on all your social media.

Register on Small Business Saturday’s Small Business Finder section here https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/small-business-finder – it’s free.

Let your local media know what you’re doing – many will be looking for information on the day. Drop them a quick email.

On the day:

Use the Twitter hashtag #SmallBizSatUK – share what you’re doing with consumers and other businesses to build interest and stimulate more footfall and online visits. Join the conversation. Tweets which include a picture or video get much more engagement than those which do not. Tweets which use quotation marks also get more engagement – don’t be afraid to quote your customers.

Share your images, video, and what you’re doing on the official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturdayUK. Don’t forget to provide links to your own Facebook page or website in those posts – people will click through, especially if you have more on your own Facebook page, or a special landing page on your site for your Small Business Saturday images and words.

Are you on any share-now video sites like Periscope? If you’re at an event with entertainment, you can share your videos during Small Business Saturday, and hopefully inspire more people to pop in to your business or on to your website.

Don’t forget image-led social media like Instagram and Pinterest, they can also help build buzz on the day. If you have good images, you can share them on the official Instagram feed https://www.instagram.com/smallbizsatuk/

After the event:

Why not keep a Facebook page or landing page going for the whole of the year? Let your customers know what you did, why the day is important for small businesses, and how important their custom is all year round. In the run-up to the next event, update your page and keep plugging it on social media.

Do you have good images or video? Why not send them to local media who will be looking for images and video for their websites. Photographs might also make it into their print newspapers. Perhaps, at the same time, you could also provide some quotes to let your customers know the importance of the trade boost from the event. Was your trade doubled from a normal Saturday? Were your figures up on the previous year? Consumers like to know they have helped small businesses by their spending decisions. Feelgood factor this year = coming back for more in the next year.

Here’s to your tills ringing a merry tune this Small Business Saturday.