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The University of Wolverhampton: Helping Businesses to Innovate

Most business owners want to grow their company but often lack the budget, the people or the ideas to achieve their goals. They also find it difficult to create enough time to be truly innovative and develop the ideas that will keep them one step ahead of their competitors.WLV_LOGO_09_black

Being able to develop financially-viable ideas can be challenging, but they are not challenges that business owners have to face alone.

The University of Wolverhampton has an impressive track record of working in partnership with businesses, regionally, nationally and internationally, to help them overcome the challenges being innovative can bring.

Over the last two years, the University has supported more than 1,600 businesses by providing training, consultancy and funded business support programmes. It has delivered nearly 9,000 days of training to give businesses the skills they need to confidently innovate and over 900 consultancy opportunities that were focused on using innovation to expand the business.

The University’s business support programmes have been designed to help organisations in their search for innovation. For those businesses looking to develop new products and services, the University offers a highly-focused innovation programme that allows them to actively collaborate with some of the best business experts and graduates in the region.

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme develops bespoke solutions to specific organisational needs and provides the budget and expertise needed to deliver that solution.

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Social Media: does it make you, or cost you, money?

This post will explore why social media isn’t all about improving your bottom line and how it should be viewed more as a cost centre within your business.

Long gone are the days (I hope!) of social media advisors professing how they can help you double or triple your turnover using social media. That’s not to say you can’t use social media to improve sales, absolutely you can: it all comes down to what business type you are and what objectives you set for Social Media.

Let’s take an example: you run an e-commerce site, a classic example where you can set an objective of e.g. increasing web traffic from social media sites by 40% over the next 12 months. A clear objective, easily measured via analytics.

Compare that to an objective for a lot of professional services firms: e.g. raising company brand and profile in the local market. Firstly, how would you measure that accurately? Could you precisely match your social media efforts to any increase in sales? Good luck!

Another way to look at social media is that just as 20 years ago many businesses looked at websites as not essential (!), here we are with businesses stating social media isn’t essential for their business. The bad news is it is essential for most businesses these days.

Why? Simply put, consumers are lazier than ever thanks to the digital age and want information pushed out to them (principally via social media), even doing an online search is beyond some users these days. If you’re not part of this online conversation, you potentially miss out on a lot of business.

For many businesses now, social media is an additional customer service channel (that is expected by the customer). Whilst indirectly you may be able to attribute increased sales to improved customer service by being present on the likes of Facebook and Twitter, ultimately it’s another cost to your business.

A website is a cost to your business, social media should be viewed no differently; time is money. If you can build social media objectives for your business that you can directly track to increased sales, then you’re one of the lucky ones!

Otherwise, accept you have a new cost centre thanks to social media, then look at how you can use it most effectively to keep costs to a minimum while ensuring maximum return (be that financial or in terms of reputation).

Jan Minihane, Social Media Advisor

www.thenetadvantage.co.uk

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Sums Insured and The Perils of Under Insurance

When reviewing Buildings, Contents, Stock and various Property Insurances the question of the adequacy of Sums Insured is always high on our agenda.

Often, people know the market value of their house, a figure most of us readily have in mind.

Alan Richardson
Chartered Insurance Broker

However the market value of a property has no relationship with what the insurance policy requires, the cost of reinstatement, rebuilding or replacing – and correspondingly the Sum Insured.

With regard to a simple residential building, there are examples of where the market value is well in excess of rebuild cost, for instance in much of London – but equally there are areas of the country where the cost of rebuilding a property can be far higher than the market value. Many towns and cities of the Midlands and North have areas where terraced houses can be purchased at a cost far below what the property would cost to rebuild.

A property investor can still buy a house in some inner cities for £10,000 – but the rebuild cost could easily be ten times higher.

But does this matter? “Most claims to my property would still be adequately covered by my sum insured”

Insurance policy contracts generally require the property to be insured for the true cost of reinstatement; in the case of a total loss both parties know what the payment will be but less so for smaller losses.

Insurers have a remedy for settling smaller claims where the sum insured may not have been adequate, this is called the condition of ‘Average’.

Basically if there is under insurance of for example 50% (a building was being insured for £100,000 where the true cost of rebuilding would have been £150,000), a small claim for say £10,000 would be settled proportionately to the under insurance – the £10,000 claim would be settled at two-thirds, so £6,666 – less the relevant excess.

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A Lasting Power of Attorney is not just for the elderly

We all know that we should write a will, but too few of us consider something called a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) – a document which enables trustworthy persons of your choice to look after your financial affairs or health and welfare should you lose the capacity to do so.

Charities who care for the elderly recommend that LPAs are put in place to ease the potential burden on our relatives, but physical and mental incapacity can strike at any age through accident or sudden illness and family members will not have the authority to deal with your investments, bank accounts, or your home.

If you do not have an LPA in place and later become mentally incapacitated, relatives must apply to the Court of Protection to take control of your assets and the cost of doing so can be as much as £2,000 – so it makes sense to plan ahead.

There are two types of LPA:

  • An LPA for property & affairs. This gives your Attorney(s) the right to make decisions concerning your financial affairs and assets, such as your house, savings, investments and business interests. It can give your Attorney wide powers to manage bank accounts, buy or sell property and receive income or benefits due to you.
  • An LPA for Health and Welfare. This LPA can only be used after you have lost mental capacity to make decisions regarding your personal welfare. It allows your Attorney(s) to decide such things as where you should live, the day to day care you receive, and to consent to or refuse medical treatment.
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Alternative to bank funding for growing businesses

Finance Birmingham provides flexible and innovative funding for business growth, through a series of funds and managed programmes.  The business has £500 million of funds under management and although the majority have a West Midlands focus, some funding is available nationwide. 

Since its inception in 2010, Finance Birmingham, a 100% owned subsidiary of Birmingham City Council, has successfully invested a combination of debt, mezzanine finance and equity in businesses where there is a clear growth story plus job creation opportunities.  Often in situations where traditional funders may have been less comfortable investing.

Depending on your location and business type, if you feel any of these are suitable and could help your business grow then please get in touch to learn more.  We have a process that provides quick decisions and we will listen carefully to the requirements of your business so as to ensure that the right investment package is structured. The following, provides details of the different funds available.

Debt, Mezzanine and Equity Finance – For businesses within the West Midlands, up to £2.0 million of funding is available to SME’s for growth or working capital as well as capital expenditure projects.  All sectors (including property) are eligible.

Tooling Fund – Available to businesses throughout the UK, this fund has been set-up to help toolmakers and component manufacturers fund the design, development and manufacture of tooling or the expansion of tooling capacity.  It is open to manufacturing companies seeking a loan of up to £1.0 million.

AMSCI Fund – (Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative) is also available nationwide, and provides grants and loans to improve UK global competitiveness in the advanced manufacturing supply chain.  Funding is available for projects involving R&D, skills training and capital investment.

High Tech / Creative business equity funding – Equity provision for early stage businesses.  Can be pre or post revenue but the company must be a Birmingham City Council rate payer.  Able to invest up to £0.5 million.

In the last three months we have invested over £5 million into six businesses.  We are always interested in speaking to more growing businesses, so please contact the team on 0121 233 4903.

Robert Griffiths

www.financebirmingham.com

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The New Intestacy Rules

The following is a brief analysis of the changes in the law  that affect the way in which property and assets for people  who die intestate are dealt with.

The Inheritance and Trustee Powers Act 2014 (ITPA 2014) came into effect on 1 October 2014.

‘Inheritance Law Simplified’ proclaims the Ministry of Justice website, which boldly claims “the changes have been designed to speed up and modernise the process for dividing the money, property and other assets of someone who has died intestate.”

Dying intestate refers to a situation where someone dies without leaving a Will (or valid Will).

Historically, where there is an intestacy, then your estate is shared in accordance with the Rules laid down by Statute – The Intestacy Rules.

In what respect have the Rules been changed? 

Married couple – no children

Before 1 October 2014, in the case of a couple who are married, but without any children, if say the husband died first, his wife would receive the first £450,000 plus one half of the remaining estate.  The rest passed to blood relatives in order of priority, such as parents, nieces, nephews etc.

After 1 October 2014 the wife will now receive everything

Married couple – with children

Again before 1 October 2014, if a husband died leaving a wife and children, the first £250,000 went to the wife.  She would also benefit from the income from the remaining 50% until her death, when it passed to the children.

So in effect the wife received £250,000 plus a life interest only in half the rest of the estate, the remaining half passing to the children.

Since 1 October 2014, the life interest rule disappears, so now the wife in that example would get £250,000 plus half of the rest of the estate.  The remaining half passes to the children.

These Rules apply equally to civil partners.

The MOJ website proclaims: –

“We want to make sure that when someone dies and they haven’t left a Will, their property will be dealt with sensibly and as quickly as possible.  That is why we have made these common sense changes to modernise the law and make administering an estate faster and easier.

Whilst the change is welcome, on any view the changes are modest in nature and the position in relation to unmarried couples remains completely unchanged.

Unmarried couples

The situation remains unchanged – the new intestacy rules have no bearing on unmarried couples.  So, take for example “John and Mary”, who perhaps have lived together for many years. If John dies, Mary will receive nothing unless John has made provision for Mary within a valid Will.

Giving the modern trend in society for couples to live together, the claims by the Ministry of Justice on its website that “the reforms bring the law into line with the expectations of modern society and will make the process easy to manage for relatives and friends” do ring rather hollow.

In fairness, the ITPA 2014 also introduces a provision which closes a loophole to make sure children who are adopted don’t lose their inheritance after their parents death.

In conclusion, do the changes under the new intestacy rules mean that there is no longer any need for people to make a Will?

The answer to that is a resounding no and people should generally speaking make sure that they have a valid and up to date Will.  And this applies particularly to couples who are not married.

Wills are often recommended for a variety of other reasons for example as part of a Testator’s Inheritance Tax planning or care home fees planning; or to make provision for friends or family they particularly want to benefit; or for the purpose of charitable giving, which can in itself have Inheritance Tax benefits.

Most Solicitors charge in the region of £100 – £150 for the preparation of a basic Will to include appropriate advice.

Jeremy Charlton

Solicitor

Terry Jones

Private client dept Shrewsbury

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Divorce – FBC Manby Bowdler

Divorce is traumatic, heart-breaking and final. What many people fail to appreciate at the outset is that it can very quickly become pretty much all about the numbers.Anne Thomson FBC Manby Bowdler

Around 320 couples file for divorce every day. If you believe the internet ads on relationship advice websites, a DIY divorce can cost as little as £37. That may seem tempting for someone who thinks there’s an easy way out of their marriage.

Reality starts to bite when you get into the nitty-gritty. A decree absolute costs £45, although this fee won’t apply if you started your divorce after 1 July 2013, as it’s now part of the fee for starting the divorce. But it does come after the initial £410 fee to ask a court to legally end a marriage.

Of course it shouldn’t be about numbers. It’s an emotional, stressful and sad time for all parties. But, in most cases, believing that you’re able to divorce quickly and easily and for as little as £37  is, frankly, ludicrous. If there are children, a business, property, even pets involved, the cost of working out a settlement will be far higher.

It’s a process that involves tough decisions and having someone on hand who understands what you’re facing, the trauma your children are experiencing and can guide you through the plans that have to be made is crucial. Engaging a solicitor with experience and expertise in family law is, at this stage, a prerequisite not an option.

Sometimes it surprises clients when we ask them to look at their finances before embarking on those tough decisions. Amicable splits are rare and arguing over who gets what can see the size of a settlement significantly reduced. When settlements are really complicated, it is actually helpful to do a cost/benefit analysis to see whether it’s worth fighting for whatever is the subject of dispute!

In the end, the couples who agree the most between them before heading to final settlement will save themselves the most money. It’s the hardest time to remain practical – but it’s also the most important time to do just that if you can.

Anne Thomson is a Partner and Head of Family Law at award-winning law firm FBC Manby Bowdler which has offices in Shrewsbury, Telford, Bridgnorth, Wolverhampton and Willenhall. Its Family department is ranked in Band 1 of the family/matrimonial category of Chambers UK Directory 2014.

For further information, please visit www.fbcmb.co.uk, or follow the Firm on Twitter @FBCManbyBowdler.

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Five ways to create more time in the day

You’ve worked like mad to get everything done before your much needed holiday. Ah, bliss, a couple of weeks relaxing, doing what you wanted to do with no work demands. But, no sooner has your holiday started and it’s back to work and soon your wonderful holiday starts to feel like a distant memory. If only you could create some extra time in the day, you’d get everything done!  Teresa headshot large

Well, you can’t magically produce additional time on the clock, but what you can do is think about how to make the best use of the hours that are available to us. Let’s be frank, we all have at least the same control over how to allocate our time, however some people seem to be better at this than others. So, here are some suggestions to help…

1)      Value your time

Think of time as an ‘investment’ rather than a free resource. This helps focus the mind on the idea that there should be some sort of return on your investment. Plan your day around creating value for minutes – don’t waste any of your precious resource.

2)      Think carefully about who borrows your time

As you’re now thinking about your time as an ‘investment’, clearly wanting a return, it will make you think twice about who borrows it. You wouldn’t let just anyone borrow your money would you?!

3)      Power up the mind

Seems obvious I know but making sure we have enough sleep, food, water and exercise is vital in ensuring our bodies operate fully. However it is all too tempting to skip lunch, borrow time from sleep in order to allocate this time to fit more work in. Whilst this ‘fasting’ may be ok for a short amount of time, to do this on a long term basis will create health issues and burnout can occur. Chances are if you’ve powered up your mind with the right amount of rest, food, water and exercise, you’ll get things done more quickly and to a higher standard, which will save you time in the long run.

4)      Lark or Owl 

Work out which part of the day you are at your most productive and schedule your work around your energy levels.

5)      Use the clock wisely

By giving yourself time allocation to complete specifics will help focus the mind. If you anticipate that it will take 20 minutes to complete that report then set a time for 15 minutes, giving you that all important nudge knowing you only have 5 minutes left to complete the task you set yourself. If you’ve not finished then it will help focus the mind, and if you have, hey presto you’ve gained back some time!

By taking these steps every day you’ll soon be creating those additional minutes each day – to invest in you!

Thanks to Teresa Boughey, Director of Jungle HR Ltd for this months guest blog.

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Think outside the box!

We’ve all heard the old adage – “You could get run over by a bus tomorrow” – but have you really thought what that would mean for your company?

How would your staff cope if the worst was to happen and you weren’t around to run the business anymore?

Most business people are fully aware of the need to have a will in place to clarify their wishes after their death.

But your company is a completely separate entity to your personal assets, and you can’t simply dispose of it through your will.

If you do die, your company will continue to exist – a harsh reality, but a true one, and it’s something you need to be prepared for.

The company could either carry on without you, or be wound down.

Let’s face it though, most small companies are run by sole directors, spouses or family members, and carrying on without the key person at the helm would probably be very difficult.

So what do you do? You leave instructions for how the business should move forward.

All too often, the spouse or relative left behind hasn’t previously been regularly involved in the day-to-day operation of a company, and so they struggle to cope if the main director dies.

To avoid this difficult situation, you’ll need some form of company will as well as your personal one. It doesn’t need to be complicated, just a ‘letter of instruction’ for the executors of your personal will.

Set out how the company is run on a daily basis, and include details of the main professional advisers you use. Give details of the company’s current assets and liabilities, and offer advice on who should run the company until all the formalities are completed.

Bear in mind though that such a letter or any other documents you leave can always be ignored! As the company is separate from your personal assets, your letter isn’t legally binding so the people you leave behind are not required to follow your guidance.

But equally such a letter could prove invaluable at what could be an incredibly stressful time, and although you might think it’s a morbid subject, it’s time to think outside the box – before it’s too late and you find yourself in one!

Graham Davies

Senior Partner, Martin-Kaye LLP Solicitors, Telford

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Boating holidays lifting the gloom in 2014

The canal age, although short, was revolutionary. As the British summer seems to be well on its way, with the Summer Solstice being a scorcher, I thought of Mike Dowse who runs Heritage Narrow Boats based in Macclesfield.

Mike and his team run a great business and I imagined the canals would be getting rather busy, now so commonly used as a great way to reflect and unwind. So, we asked Mike to put together a guest blog for this months newsletter edition…

At Heritage Narrow Boats we are experiencing a major uplift in the sales of boating holidays this year!

2012 & 2013 were both very poor years for holidays in general. As a result some boat operators have left the industry for good! However this year in line with the uplift of the British economy we have seen a marked increase in business, with holiday bookings up by 20%.

Heritage Narrow Boats Limited offer a range of 3 to 8 berth holiday narrow boats that are ‘Visit England’ graded.  We have traded from our Marina in south Cheshire for approximately 40 years.

As well as narrow boat holidays, we have 2 day boats that can hold a maximum of 12 persons each, and a large self catering holiday bungalow that sleeps up to 14.

Situated on the beautiful Macclesfield Canal we have extensive facilities for private boaters with the moorings that we extended in 2003, accommodating up to 70 narrow boats.

 Our facilities include:-

  • Boat painting
  • Chandlery
  • Pump out, diesel and Calor gas supplies
  • Gas engineer
  • Large private car park.

What are the signs for 2015 boating holidays?   Early indications are showing that we should have another strong year!

We are currently offering a 5% discount on all 2015 bookings!

Contact

Mike Dowse

Heritage narrow Boats Ltd

Station Road, Scholar Green.  ST& 3JZ

Telephone: 01782 785700

Email: email@heritagenarrowboats.co.uk

Website: www.heritagenarrowboats.co.uk

 

 

 

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