Adventures in micro-business

Professor Russell Smith answers your queries and profiles a small business facing a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Q. Where can I find out more about whether grants might be available for my business?

A. Government support for small business is co-ordinated by Business Link, so you should speak to one of its advisers. Their advice is free. Different grant schemes (sometimes including access to loans and investment finance) are offered within the Regional Development Agency (RDA) areas of England in addition to national initiatives. You can find a local Business Link adviser by entering your postcode on the home page of their website ( www.businesslink.gov.uk ). Alternatively, call the Business Link helpline on 0845-600 9006.



Q. I've heard that certain business software is available for free – where can I find out more?

A. You may be referring to open source software, which is often available as a free download. One well-known example is the Mozilla Firefox web browser, but there are many others with business applications, such as word processing or archiving and even full office suites. You can find a list of the best free and open source software for Windows at www.opensourcewindows.org.

Q. When should I have my financial year end for my new business?

A. There used to be good tax reasons for a year end being in a particular month, but these no longer really apply. The main consideration should be what is best for your business, and this is often just a pragmatic decision. For example, you might want to have your year end at a quiet time of the year in order to ensure that an associated stocktake can be done when you are least busy. Always take advice from your accountant about what year end would be best for your business.

Q. What is a members' voluntary liquidation?

A. A members' voluntary liquidation (MVL) is a mechanism to close down a company that is solvent. The directors must produce a schedule of all assets and liabilities known as a declaration of solvency. That declaration must show that the company will be able to pay all liabilities within 12 months. A liquidator is then appointed after the board of directors has passed certain resolutions and following an extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders (members). The liquidator will realise cash from assets, ensure all creditors are paid, and then distribute the surplus to members prior to winding up the company. Detailed information about MVLs may be found at the Companies House website ( www.companieshouse.gov.uk ).



Q. Are my business accounts confidential?

A. Annual accounts should be prepared by a qualified accountant, and always maintain confidentiality. Subsequent public access to your accounts depends upon your business structure. If you are a sole trader, your accounts are submitted to HMRC ( www.hmrc.gov.uk) from where they are not made public. However, if you wish to borrow money from a bank, then it will almost certainly wish to see your most recent set of accounts. By contrast, if you trade as a limited company then you will have to file annual accounts at Companies House from where access is available to the public upon payment of a modest fee ( www.companieshouse.gov.uk). As a limited company benefits from limited liability, such public access to its annual accounts and other documents gives anyone a chance to make an assessment about the company's financial viability.



Tom Bool/ Integro Languages: ‘It is aimed at people who need instant access to an interpreter’

There's a new breed of student emerging from UK universities – the graduate entrepreneur. Gone are the days when graduates were guaranteed employment, so many now plan to start their own business straight after university. It was while at Anglia Ruskin University, studying for a degree in European business with French, that Tom Bool, 28, wrote the plan that defined his translation-service enterprise, "Integro Languages".

Bool's initial business model is to operate via a network of high-quality translators that he can draw upon when needed. "It took around six months to find the core nucleus able to offer translations in 20 languages, at which point I launched the business," says Bool.

The original plan was to target customers, such as website developers with international clients, via telesales campaigns. However, the campaigns weren't as successful as hoped for, giving Bool his first challenge in business. Undeterred, he looked elsewhere for clients and found an important market niche in social housing.

"Tenants with poor English skills get translations of legal documents and other formal notices that are easy to understand and yet contain all the key information needed," says Bool. Rather than always providing literal translations, it became apparent there was a market need for these "precis" translations.

The approach found favour with law firms, especially those with clients who had foreign property investments. "It's proving really useful to be able to offer a good precis for a range of documents. That includes legal agreements, of course, but also such things as letters from foreign banks and even notices from town halls," says Bool.

Integro Languages has grown rapidly since inception, and doubled its turnover last year. The business now offers translation services for more than 150 languages, a number that is growing. Building on the success of the document translation business, Bool is about to launch "Integro languages on call" – a telephone interpreting service. The service will aim to connect anyone with an interpreter in less than one minute. "The service is aimed at people such as professional advisers who need instant access to an interpreter the moment that a client with poor English enters their office, although it will be available to anyone who needs an interpreter," says Bool. "It's a natural extension of our business model which, to be honest, is quite simple: we help people understand each other."

( www.integrolanguages.co.uk; 0845 0945 390)

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