Why outsourcing your IT support could help you take your business to the next level

By Pav Patel, One Source Communications

Many small and medium-sized businesses face a dilemma – should they outsource their IT support on an ongoing basis, bring someone in-house, or simply wing it and seek an expert when something goes wrong?

Understandably, one of the biggest factors that influences this decision is price. What is most cost effective for the business?

While many businesses decide to cross their fingers and hope that nothing goes wrong, this can turn out to be a false economy. In this week’s blog, we’re looking at reasons why outsourcing your IT support could take your business to the next level.

  • You can prevent problems before they occur

Computers are designed to make our lives easier….until something goes wrong. Computer problems, whether to do with your software, hardware or network, can turn what should have been a straightforward day into a nightmare with loads of lost time, lost business and unhappy customers.

When you outsource your IT, you can regularly schedule onsite visits by one or more IT professionals to make sure everything’s running smoothly and identify potential problems before they occur.

Here at One Source Communications, our IT specialists work through a meticulous maintenance checklist, and will check that all of your licenses and documentation are up-to-date. This includes server and workstation maintenance and troubleshooting, virus protection, and system updates, and means that you can continue to deliver a consistent service to your clients.

  • You will have an IT infrastructure that will serve your business now and in the future

When you work with an external company for your IT support and/or telecoms need, they may be able to suggest IT solutions for your company that you didn’t know existed.

It’s important to understand your business goals and to create an IT infrastructure that not only has the capacity to support your business where it is now but to grow to where you want it to be in the future.

Having support from an external company can give you a wider perspective and the input of IT professionals with different areas of expertise.

Want to know about cloud-based solutions, security, back-up options and more? An IT support company like One Source Communications will be able advise you.

  • You will be able to get support when you need it

Another benefit of outsourcing your IT support to an external company is that, in the event of an emergency, you will be able to call on help and even get advice 24/7/365. Most external IT support firms employ multiple IT professionals to be able to guarantee consistent support and a rapid emergency response time.

You may even find that a crisis can be averted by talking to an experienced IT professional over the phone who can walk you through some basic checks and troubleshooting. If they do still need to come to your site, they’ll know what you’ve already tried.

When you outsource your IT support, you don’t have to worry that your IT team are sick or on holiday as someone will always be available. Outsourcing also gives you the flexibility to use more support during business times or during specific projects and upgrades, or less support during slow times.

  • Outsourcing your IT support may be more affordable than you think

If you employ IT staff in-house, you are responsible for the costs associated with the interviewing process, payroll, tax, pensions, holiday pay, sickness pay, maternity pay, training costs and more.

However, when you outsource your IT support, these costs are taken care of by the IT support company, who will also manage things like performance reviews, training, background checks, and so on.

Instead, you will pay for the IT support you need, usually as a monthly fee. This lets you plan your budget in advance with none of the pressures of being an employer. At One Source Communications, we offer a choice of IT support plans to help you access the services you need at a price you can afford.

  • You’ll have quality assurance and a satisfaction guarantee

Most IT support companies will have strict procedures in place to ensure that your computers, software and network are maintained to high standards, following industry best practice and Microsoft standards, for example.

You should also receive documentation of your network and support visits with the opportunity to review your IT infrastructure and the support service at regular intervals. Most companies will also offer quality assurance and a satisfaction guarantee.

  • It’s good for your business

With the reassurance of knowing that your IT systems are exactly what your business needs to function and grow, and that downtime should be cut to a minimum, you can spend more time working on rather than in your business, looking at the big picture stuff that’s necessary to grow. You may be able to offer your customers better solutions or a more enjoyable experience of buying from you, all of which will help to generate good will, repeat custom, and take your business to the next level.

If you would like to know more about our IT support services and how One Source Communications can work with your business, please call us on 08442 570 111.

 

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Record numbers file self-assessment form online

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

A record number of almost 90 per cent of self-assessment taxpayers who filed their return to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by midnight on 31 January did so online, with only 11 per cent sticking to the old paper returns.

 

Some 9.24 million taxpayers completed their self-assessment form via HMRC’s website, meaning that only 1.14 million returns were filed on paper before an earlier deadline. Meanwhile, some 870,000 returns were not received by the deadline, so those who failed to get them in on time will now face financial penalties.

 

However, although taxpayers appear to have embraced the digital return, critics are becoming increasingly concerned abut HMRC’s ambition to “fully digitise” the tax return system, claiming that vulnerable groups will be penalised for not wanting to use the internet.

 

They also predict that the quantity of data sought by the taxman will increase administrative costs and that the trend to push everything online will result in far more tax investigations without necessarily raising extra revenue. These critics also believe that HMRC’s ultimate goal is to obtain highly detailed data, which could result in more frequent and earlier demands for payment.

 

As far as individuals are concerned, the taxman is planning “personal tax accounts”, which are aimed at those whose financial affairs are relatively simple and don’t have an accountant. Meanwhile, small businesses, landlords and the self-employed will have to report information to HMRC quarterly. This plan has gone down badly, with 110,000 small business owners having already petitioned against the change, arguing that quarterly reporting would cost too much time and money.

 

However, HMRC denies that taxpayers will be forced to go digital. In a statement last year entitled Making tax digital: a myth-buster, it said that people who genuinely can’t use digital tools will be offered alternatives, such as nominating someone else to update their information for them.

 

 

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Employers confused over the workplace pension

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

Almost half the employers who will have to set up workplace pension schemes for their employees in the next two years are confused about their responsibilities, according to a recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

 

The business group found that 45 per cent of those polled were unclear about the rules of auto-enrolment and around a quarter were concerned that their business would not be able to cope with the extra cost. Meanwhile, one in four said that they didn’t even know their staging date.

 

The FSB also found that firms were underestimating the costs of implementing auto-enrolment schemes, with small business owners who had yet to set up schemes estimating overall costs to be, on average, £903, which is far less than the £1,436 average in overall costs reported by businesses that have already introduced workplace pensions.

 

As a spokesman for the group pointed out, auto-enrolment for small firms is fast approaching and the sooner small business owns get to grips with what they need to do to comply, the better off they will be.

 

However, The Pensions Regulator (TPR) was insistent that auto-enrolment has been a success so far, with 5.4 million workers having been signed up since 2012. The rules are that all employers, including those who only employ one person, must offer a workplace pension to anyone over the age of 22 and who earns more than £10,000 a year.

 

The Government is currently running a major advertising campaign featuring a 10ft hairy monster called Workie, which is aimed at ensuring that small business owners are aware of the new rules. The FSB said that such a campaign is vital, given that awareness levels are so low. The group also applauded the improved information on the regulator’s website.

 

 

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Do you have a Google+ page for your business?

by AnneMarie Gilbert, Grafixbiz

Have you been left wondering how to best use Google+ for your business? It can take a bit of time to wrap your head around the different options but once you have, you will be thankful for taking the time to fathom it out! What should you have; a personal Google+ page, a Google+ community or a Google My Business page? If you opt for the latter (which is better)should it be a storefront or service area (both local business pages) or brand (non-local business)?

If you are the face of your business – e.g. a business coach, life coach or someone who’s individual personality is very much tied into their brand – you may decide to maintain a personal profile on Google+ to connect with your customers. If you have built up a large network of like-minded people – for example, of work at home mums or solopreneurs – you might decide to set up a Google+ community.

There are several benefits to having a Google My Business page. One is that you can have multiple administrators for the same account – great if you want a team, Virtual Administrator or Social Media Management Company to update the page as they won’t need to use your personal Google+ login details.

For local businesses, having a local business type page can help you secure a strong presence on search engine results pages for searches for businesses of your type.

In order to derive the best results from Google My Business, you should:

  • Represent your business as it’s consistently represented and recognised in the real world across signage, stationery, and other branding.
  • Make sure your address is accurate and precise.
  • Choose the fewest number of categories it takes to describe your overall core business.

Before you decide which page to set up, determine your eligibility
Before you decide whether to set up a local or brand business page, you need to decide which one would be the best fit for your business. Google has strict eligibility criteria for a local Google+ page:

  • You must be able to make in-person contact with your customers during your stated opening hours (although ATMs, video rental kiosks and express mail drop boxes are the exemption to this rule).
  • You cannot have a local Google+ page if your business is under construction or not yet open to the public.
  • Rental or for-sale properties cannot have their own local Google+ page, although sales or leasing offices can.
  • You also cannot list an ongoing service, class or meeting at a location you don’t own or have authority to represent. You would need the ‘host’ or owner of the premises to display your information on their local Google+ business page within the ‘Introduction’ field.

Setting up a local Google+ page

Step 1: Create a Google+ account
If you have a Gmail address, then the good news is that you will already have a Google+ account. If you don’t, your first step will be to set one up. When you go to https://accounts.google.com, you will be presented with the option to sign in or ‘Create an account’. Click on the latter option.

This will take you to the following screen:

https://i2.wp.com/www.grafixbiz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/create-your-google-account.jpg?w=800

 

Complete the form to the right of the screen and you will be given the option to set up your personal profile. Google+ walks you through the process and you can find instructions on Google.

Once your Google+ account is set up and you’ve clicked the ‘Finish’ option, you will be taken through to a screen where you will see options such as ‘All’, ‘Friends’, ‘Family’ and ‘Acquaintances’ across the top of the page. To the top left, you will see a button that says ‘Home’. Click on this to view a pulldown menu – the eighth option on this is ‘Pages’. Click on ‘Pages’ to continue.

Set 2: Get your business page

You’ll be taken to the following screen:

https://i2.wp.com/www.grafixbiz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/get-on-google-for-free.jpg?w=800

 

Click on ‘Get your page’. You’ll then be taken to screen where you need to choose what type of Google business page you want.

choose a business type

 

Choose the Storefront business option if you serve customers at your business location and you want them to be able to find you on Google Maps – this is ideal for shops, restaurants and hotels.

Choose the Service area business option if you serve customers at their location within a specific service area and want your customers to be able to see whether you cover their area on Google Maps – this is the perfect choice for plumbers, electricians, taxi firms and takeaway food companies.

A Google+ brand page is similar to a Facebook business page in that it lets you reach out to existing and potential customers. This is the best option if you work with customers all over the country, or even the world.

Setting up a Storefront or Service Area page

If you click on the Storefront or Service Area options, you will be taken to a map where you will be asked to enter your business name and address. If Google has a record of your business or there are several businesses with a similar name, you will be shown one or more pins on the map and asked to choose which one is yours.

If none of the options Google gives you match your business, you’ll see an option on the search bar drop down which says: ‘None of these match. Add your business’ – click on this. You will then have the opportunity to enter your business name, country/region, street address, city, postal code, main business phone number and choose a category that best fits your business.

On this screen, there is a tick box asking whether you deliver goods and services at your customers’ locations. You would tick this if you run a Service Area-type business such as a pizza delivery company or you’re an electrician, for example, but if people come to you, leave this box unchecked.
Whether your business was already on the map or you had to add the business, you will then see a message asking you to confirm that you are authorised to manage the business and agree to the Terms and Conditions. Tick the check box and click Continue.

Google will then show a message about sending you a code to verify that the page is yours. Click ‘Continue and verify later’.

You will then be taken through to your Google My Business Storefront or Service Area page where Google will talk you through how to configure your settings, access your business apps and edit your page. Your edits won’t show up on Google until you verify your page.

It is at this point that you can add a profile picture (this should be at least 250 x 250 pixels but can be larger) and a cover image (ideally, this should be 1,080 x 608 pixels). You can also add photos of your business, change your opening hours, add further contact details and much, much more.

Once you are happy with your profile (which you can edit at any time in the future too), click on the ‘Verify now’ button.

Setting up a Brand page
If, from the ‘Choose your business type’ page, you click on ‘Brand’, you will be taken to the screen below where you should enter the page name, your web address and the type of page (choose from Product or Brand, Entertainment, Community or Other). Tick the ‘Page Terms’ statement and click on ‘Create page’.

https://i1.wp.com/www.grafixbiz.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/create-your-googleplus-page.jpg?w=800

 

As with the Storefront and Service area pages, you’ll then be given the opportunity to set up your Brand page – you can take a tour if you’re not sure what to do first. Upload your profile picture and cover image before adding your contact details; at this stage, you can decide who can see those details, e.g. make them public, people in your Extended Circles or Your Circles. As a business, you’ll probably want as many people to see your page as possible.

Next, you will be prompted to write a short introduction about your brand. You can add a website or email link in here.

After being asked to add a tagline, the final step is to verify that the website you’ve listed as yours on the page is correct. Google will give you a link to information about how to do this in Google Webmaster Tools.

So, there you have it – how to set up the bare bones of your Google for Business page. Once your page is set up, you can then add in more ‘About’ information, links and images, and begin posting to your customers.

Source: This post has been edited from the original posting to the Grafixbiz blog, July 23 2015. Used with express permmission See original text here

 

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Personal tax accounts unveiled

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

 

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has gone live with its new system of personal tax accounts ahead of the 31 December deadline of self-assessment filing, in a bid to make the department one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world.

According to the department, the move will mean that UK taxpayers can manage their tax affairs online, as the online personal tax account (PTA) aims to provide a “joined-up view” of taxes and benefits.

By 2020, the new digital accounts will encompass all taxpayers, whether individual or corporate, and from April 2018, businesses, including the self-employed and landlords, will have to update HMRC every quarter if this activity is their main source of income. The obligation to report quarterly will also apply where the money is a secondary source of income worth more than £10,000, and the main income is from employment or from a pension.

Meanwhile, in the ‘back office’, the department will bring together all the information it holds on a taxpayer into one system, including data from employers, banks, building societies and other government departments. This will eventually lead to the demise of the annual tax return for most taxpayers and so the current system of self-assessment, introduced in 1996 and now largely online, will wither away.

As a spokesman for the department pointed out, because self-assessment for individuals and small firms will work through digital tax accounts, there will be no need for them to send in annual tax returns.

However, the obligation for taxpayers to inform the department of taxable income or to provide information relating to that income will not change, where HMRC does not have the data from another source. As the spokesman said, they will still have to confirm their information is correct and make sure that the right tax is paid.

 

 

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Employers cautious over pay rises next year

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

As 2015 draws to a close, a study by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) shows that bosses plan to keep hiring staff next year but could limit pay rises in anticipation of the new national living wage and apprenticeship levy.

According to the business group’s annual employment outlook, some firms are also thinking about price hikes or recruitment freezes to offset the higher labour costs the new wage and levy are expected to bring.

The survey found that almost half the business owners polled anticipated that the new levy would be “costly and bureaucratic”, although it was conducted before Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his Autumn Statement that it would be set at 0.5 per cent of an employer’s payroll only if the annual wage bill of the firm was more than £3m.

According to the CBI, the employers surveyed had expressed support for the aims of the levy and for funding it but some had concerns that the Government merely wanted to hit targets for a quantity of apprenticeships rather than focussing on quality.

Meanwhile, just over 40 per cent of respondents said they expected their workforce to be larger by the end of 2016 and more than 50 per cent said they intended to increase pay in line with the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation, which was 1.1 per cent last month.

When asked about the national living wage, which will increase the minimum hourly rate for workers aged 25 or older to £7.20 from £6.70, a small percentage thought they would have to raise prices to offset it and almost 30 per cent said they would be employing fewer people because of it.

However, the effect will be more pronounced in the hospitality industry, which traditionally relies on lower paid staff. More than 50 per cent of employers in this sector anticipated having to raise prices and almost 30 per cent said they would employ fewer people.

 

 

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Submissions invited on Charities Bill amid fears for the independence of good cause

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

The charity sector has been asked for its views on provisions in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill as it reaches committee stage in the House of Commons.

MPs last week passed a second reading of the proposed changes and have passed it to committee stage in the House of Commons.

The parliamentary website urges those with “relevant expertise and experience or a special interest” in the bill to submit their response.

The bill would give extra powers to the Charity Commission, including a controversial power to give official warnings to charities.

Shadow minister Anna Turley told Parliament this would risk threatening the independence of charities.

She said the main fear was that the powers would be used for issues of “relatively low concern”.

“There are no objections in principle to giving the Charity Commission the power to give warnings to a charity, but the current drafting raises some concerns within the sector,” she said.

Another provision would be enabling the Charity Commission to automatically disqualify from trusteeship those with convictions for sexual offences, money laundering or terrorism offences. It would also give charities the ability to make social investments.

Turley said: “We think it is absolutely right that charities have the freedom to dispose of their assets in the way that they see fit.”

Conservative MP Wendy Morton called for the bill to “ensure that smaller charities are not disproportionately affected by any bureaucracy or too much legislation”.

“It does not matter whether a charity is small or large: charities have so much to give to our country, society and communities, and I will do all I can to ensure that they get the support they deserve,” she said.

But the minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, said the bill “seeks to achieve a balance” and dismissed concerns of an overly powerful Charity Commission.

He said: “The new Commission powers need to be broad enough to make them useful. If they are too narrow they would be impractical and go unused or would leave loopholes to be exploited by the unscrupulous.”

The committee is expected to hold its first meeting on Tuesday 15 December.

The deadline for submissions from charities is Thursday 7 January, when the committee will finish and report the bill back to MPs.

 

 

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Chancellor’s latest Autumn Statement

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

The lack of big changes to tax or regulations in the Autumn Statement will help businesses plan for the year ahead, according to East of England-based accountants Moore Thompson.

There was much anticipation ahead of the Chancellor’s latest Autumn Statement, especially following the big announcements made during his three previous announcements to Parliament.

However, it soon became clear that George Osborne’s focus was on the economy and public finances. He said “economic and national security” was at the heart of his Autumn Statement and that he wanted to create “an economic recovery for all, in all parts of the country.”

During his speech the Chancellor announced that the Government would double the housing budget to £2 billion a year, which will fund the creation of an additional 400,000 homes in England.

This measure will provide a significant boost to the construction industry and the suppliers that support it.

Mr Osborne also announced that 98 per cent of businesses would not have to contribute to the apprenticeship levy, following the introduction of a £15,000 allowance. The levy will see some businesses pay 0.5 per cent of their payroll budget to support future apprentices in the UK.

The Chancellor also announced that the 3 per cent company car benefit-in-kind diesel supplement would be retained until 2021, instead of being removed in 2016.

In his speech to the Commons he reaffirmed the creation of 26 new or extended enterprise zones and said that plans to devolve business rates powers to local councils would go ahead.

The Chancellor’s latest Statement has been pretty quiet compared to the last few that he has delivered and may have surprised many small businesses.

While there may not be any big moves to support SMEs, the fact that the Chancellor has decided not to make big changes to tax or regulations should be welcomed.

Knowing that the next six to seven months will hold fewer surprises will allow businesses to plan, invest and grow more easily, without the fear of a sudden change to their operations.

The Statement did contain some significant changes, especially for those looking to invest in the property market.

The introduction of an additional 3 per cent surcharge on stamp duty land tax for individuals looking to purchase buy-to-let properties or second homes will be a big disappointment for those seeking to make a strong return on their hard earned money and may shelve many people’s long-term plans.

Individuals should consult a professional if this measure affects their future retirement or investment plans.

 

More details on www.moorethompson.co.uk

 

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Are you considered progressive too?

What do your staff think of you as their employer? Is it in the words of the Strawbs song, “I say what I think that the company stinks” (sorry 1970s, show my age) or do they see you as an employer of choice and “Great to work for”?

Asking these question may give you some interesting answers and not always what you might expect. Measuring staff attitudes can be a highly effective activity to keep your finger on the pulse and gauge whether your employee relations and internal communication policies are as effective as you believe.

Over the years we have conducted a number of comprehensive staff surveys for our clients. These are always valuable and generate a good deal of information on what activities are well received and worthwhile and what issues staff feel uncomfortable about and where there is room for improvement. Managed appropriately, the responses can lead to such things as improved employee engagement, retention rates and increased productivity – all areas where HR can have a genuine impact on the bottom line of a business.

A good survey will be conducted independently and be structured carefully and might well include various activities such as teamwork, morale, pay and benefits, training, prospects and performance management. Results are likely to show your strengths and not so good points, of course, but will indicate where to concentrate efforts to improve.

One survey that we have done over recent weeks shows that our client, an international public limited company, is in remarkably good shape. Responses showed an overall 85% positive rate across their exceptional 100% level of participation. Although obviously delighted by the very healthy outcome, the company were able to pick up on a few areas where it can make comparative improvements, as well as the need to keep up their good work.

As part of the survey, we asked staff to select from a list of positive and negative adjectives how they saw the business. We fed the results into our computer and generated what is a quite fantastic Word Cloud. The words that were chosen are represented pictorially in direct proportion to their use in the survey. So what employer wouldn’t want their staff to acclaim they work for a company that is Progressive, Dynamic, Efficient, Supportive, Loyal and Fair? Descriptors such as Dull, Prejudiced and Unresponsive literally didn’t get a look in.

So how do you think it looks – Are you considered progressive too

 

David S Dixon – Principal, Personnel Matters

November 2015. ©Personnel Matters 2015

 

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Calls to scrap ineffective carbon taxes

By Ken Maggs, Moore Thompson

The Government should scrap “ineffective” carbon taxes and offer tax incentives to reduce emissions instead, according to manufacturing lobby group the EEF, which has recently produced a report in response to Chancellor George Osborne’s pledge to review energy taxes.

According to the EEF, the carbon floor price, which is the amount companies must pay per tonne of carbon dioxide produced, and the carbon reduction commitment (CRC) scheme are examples of “over-complex taxes”, which have been less than effective in reducing emissions and have actually raised prices for UK consumers.

The report estimates that the carbon price floor will end up costing energy consumers £23bn between 2013 and 2020, but only £6.5bn of this will achieve its intended aim of supporting investment in renewables.

With these facts in mind, the group is calling for the introduction of a new energy efficiency tax discount to incentivise investments in greener energy models, bringing it line with the higher levels of investment in the EU.

As a spokesman for the EEF points out, there are technologies such as carbon capture and storage that could be exploited or firms could use biomass materials in place of fossil fuels, as well as promoting energy efficient technologies and decarbonising the National Grid by using low-carbon electric alternatives.

He adds that many businesses know they are wasting energy but are too afraid of the risks involved in investing in the technologies to improve energy efficiency, as these are not within their expertise. However, if the incentives were in place, he argues that there are significant rewards on offer, as the global market for low-carbon environmental goods and services was estimated to be worth £3.4trn as long ago as 2012.

 

 

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