Each month, Professor Russell Smith answers your queries
Q: Is it true that banks are not lending to small businesses at the moment?
A: It is not true, though it is fair to say that banks are focussed on reducing their exposure to risk. For a small business, this may mean the owner will be required to provide security against a business loan, usually a charge over property such as your home. What it certainly means is that business owners will be required to make a strong case to support any request for debt finance in the shape of a business plan and a cash flow forecast. The key point is that banks need to be persuaded that your business will generate enough profit to be able to repay the loan.
Q: Where can I get clear and helpful advice about which health and safety issues matter in business?
A: The Health and Safety Executive has a really excellent website and its documents are just what you need. Look out for the HSE’s 'An Introduction to Health and Safety' which is available from its website. The good news is that health and safety matters mainly relate to common sense and is all about, as the HSE states, 'preventing people from being harmed by work or becoming ill by taking the right precautions and providing a satisfactory working environment'.
Q: I have a potential issue around bullying within my business. What is the best way to deal with this?
A: It is difficult to comment without further details but a good place to start is the ACAS website. Download a copy of the free advice leaflet 'Bullying and harassment at work - a guide for managers and employers'. The site also offers free online courses in ten areas, one of which is bullying and harassment.
Q: What are enhanced capital allowances?
A: These are tax breaks available to business and relate to the purchase of environmentally friendly equipment and vehicles. There are three main categories: energy saving products, energy efficient vehicles and efficient water technologies. Seek advice from your accountant if you feel that your business might qualify for enhanced capital allowances.
Q: How do I avoid falling foul of the law when selling goods to customers?
A: This is a big topic but there are a number of useful guides that you can obtain online. Start with 'A Trader’s Guide – The Law Relating to the Supply of Goods and Services', which is available from the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills website. The Consumer Direct website has a fact-sheet about the Sales of Goods Act 1979 which is the main piece of legislation that you should be familiar with. The Trading Standards Institute website has a useful help and advice section and also offers a number of training courses.
Q: If I work from home will I have to pay business rates?
A: If you have an area of your home converted specifically for business purposes (for example, some kind of workshop) then you may have to pay rates on that part of your home. The Valuation Office Agency website provides a lot of useful information under its Frequently Asked Questions section. Every home business will be considered separately and it may be that an inspection is required before an assessment can be made.
Common Commencement Dates
Amendments to business law or the introduction of new laws tend to start on one of two Common Commencement Dates which are 6th April and 1st October. The European Union is looking at having a similar system with two dates per year - these are also in April and Octobe,r but will be on the 29th of each month. Details of any changes are always made available at the Business Link website and a summary for October is available now.
This terms covers how businesses can manage their computing and data needs via the internet. It is now possible to store huge amounts of information (customer data, emails, business applications etc) online at comparatively low cost. This removes the need for computers dedicated to data storage in the office and it also means that business owners can access their data from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. In theory, cloud computing should provide a cost-effective business solution.
Send your questions to Prof Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of owner-managers only; always seek professional advice. Professor Smith is the founder of Business Boffins Ltd which, in collaboration with Oxford Brookes University, Anglia Ruskin University, Warwick University, Manchester Metropolitan University and University of the West of England delivers support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Independent and Independent on Sunday readers can enrol on the programme at a discounted rate; see www.businessboffins.com/independent.