Adventures in micro-business: 'Where can I get support to expand my business?'

Professor Russell Smith answers your queries


Q My small business has been successful over the past five years, but now needs to expand its product range and target new markets. As our products are quite technical, where might I find appropriate support?

A It sounds like your business may be a candidate for a “Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)”. This is a nationwide scheme that links businesses with academic institutions, so they can access specialist help and expertise. KTP projects can run from three months to three years and are part-funded by a Government grant such that small to medium-sized businesses may only contribute around one third of the project costs. Recent data indicate KTPs have a positive impact on business growth including increased turnover and the creation of new jobs. Visit the KTP website ( ktponline.org.uk/business ) to register your interest.

Q What are the key criteria that banks use when assessing an application for a business loan?

A The key assessment is whether or not the business generates (or will generate) sufficient funds to meet the interest and capital repayments. In general, banks use seven criteria in making their judgements: see the Campari assessment definition in the Jargon Buster section below.

Q I want to start a business and to run it from my home. Where can I find out about working from home?

A There are a number of issues to be aware of when starting a business from home, and an accountant will be able to advise on most of them. For an excellent introduction, download Business Link’s guide from businesslink.gov.uk/homestartup . Depending upon the type of business you wish to run, you may need to seek planning permission, especially if you intend to alter existing premises. Visit planningportal.gov.uk for further information. You may also need to speak with the Valuation Office Agency to check whether you will have to pay business rates. Download the “Working at or from home” leaflet from their website ( voa.gov.uk ).

Q My business occupies a small office. What do I need to do in order to comply with fire regulations?

A The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) came into effect in October 2006, and applies to all non-domestic premises in England and Wales. As the person who is responsible, you must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and put in place a fire management plan. Useful guidance is available from the Communities and Local Government website ( communities.gov.uk/fire/firesafety ). This includes information about fire safety law. There is also a downloadable fire risk assessment form. In addition, a lot of very useful information is available on the London Fire Brigade website ( london-fire.gov.uk ).

Q Is it possible to file a patent without using a patent attorney?

A You can prepare and submit an application yourself, but you would be advised to seek help from a patent attorney. Obtain the Patents: essential reading document from the UK Intellectual Property Office (downloadable at ipo.gov.uk/p-essentialreading.pdf) to see if a patent is the right form of intellectual property protection for your idea. Members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys deliver clinics giving free advice to people at the early stages of developing an idea. Visit cipa.org.uk for more details.

QUESTIONS PLEASE

Send your questions to Professor Smith at independent@businessboffins.com. Selected questions will be answered each month. Answers are for the general guidance of ownermanagers 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 and University of the West of England, delivers support programmes to small businesses nationwide. Readers of The Independent andThe Independent on Sunday can enrol on the programme at a discounted rate. See businessboffins.com

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