THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Innovation and enterprise blog

The British Library Business & IP Centre can help you start, run and grow your business

Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

04 August 2015

How to research your local area

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In the Business & IP Centre we often get enquiries about how to research a particular geographical area. With an increasing interest in ‘keeping trade local’ and in the provenance of products, many start-ups are choosing to establish and market themselves as ‘local’ businesses - for instance working with the community, or sourcing suppliers from the nearby area. Others are simply interested in finding out more about their area in terms of customers, competitors and marketing opportunities.

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Luckily there is a wealth of information available on specific localities and entrepreneurs can use this information to pinpoint their target market and tailor their promotional activity. For instance, a retailer of high-end luxury goods might want to focus their business in an affluent area, in order to attract high-earning local customers. A new restaurant might think twice about opening on a street with lots of established competition – but it may benefit them to know about nearby markets and food-sellers who could act as suppliers. A fashion designer could research local events and networks where there’s potential to sell or promote their products. Below are a few of the resources you can use to research your area.

At the British Library Business & IP Centre

Local Data Online (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)

Local Data Online gives data and insights for locations, business types and companies. Its searchable map tool lets you select a specific area and examine the overall retail make-up, identify local businesses, or check the geographical spread of an industry or company. It also gives addresses and contact details for individual shops, lists available vacant units, and gives a demographic profile of the area.

You can search for a specific location, company and/or retail category, and information is displayed on easy-to-read maps and diagrams. Extra information for locations includes vacancy rates, the mix of independent shops vs. chains, crime statistics, average earnings and house prices. 

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COBRA (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)

COBRA is an encyclopaedia of practical information for starting, running and managing a small business. Included in the database are a number of ‘Local Area profiles’, covering towns and regions throughout the country. A Local Area Profile will typically include information on sources of business support and advice, financial support, workspaces, business networks, business directories, libraries, local authority trading licences, business rates and HM Revenue & Customs.

Company databases: FAME, MarketIQ, Kompass, ORBIS, OneSource (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)

Our company databases are searchable by location, meaning that you can create lists of companies operating in a specific geographical area.

Grantfinder (access via terminals in the Business & IP Centre)

Gives details of 4,000 grants, loans and awards, searchable by geographical area.

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Other Sources

Business & IP Centre National Network

The Business & IP Centre National Network provides entrepreneurs and SMEs across the country with free access to a wealth of databases, market research, journals, directories and reports. There is a programme of free and low-cost one-to-one advice and workshops delivered by trained staff and business experts on a range of topics including starting up, business planning, marketing and intellectual property. Find a Centre near you.

Your local library

Many libraries will hold local information, newspapers, directories and data.

Social media

Social media can be a powerful research tool. Lots of local groups, associations and businesses will have a presence on social media websites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - or try searching Twitter for name of the area you’re interested in to get rolling updates of what’s going on in the area. 

Council websites

Your local council can provide helpful information about doing business in your area. Some councils also run business support programmes. 

ONS Neighbourhood Statistics

ONS Neighbourhood Statistics allows you to find detailed statistics or a summary report for specific geographic areas. Covers areas such as crime, economics, education, health, housing, income, lifestyle, population, migration, physical environment.

Official Labour Market Statistics (NOMIS)

NOMIS allows you to find detailed labour market (population, employment, economic activity, qualifications, jobseeker’s allowance claimants) statistics for specific geographic areas.

Data for Neighbourhoods and Regeneration

Data for Neighbourhoods and Regeneration identifies and signposts datasets available for neighbourhoods on areas like population, deprivation and income, employment, economy and enterprise, education and skills, health and disability, housing and households, crime and community, environment, access and transport.

Netmums

As highlighted in an earlier blog, the website Netmums has comprehensive listings of small businesses in a local area, from garden services to website design.

Google Street View

Google Street View is invaluable for seeing what a neighbourhood actually looks like, street by street.

Social Sciences databases

A number of the Social Sciences databases can be helpful to those looking to research a particular area. In particular the local government and statistics databases may be of use.

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Image: Freeimages.com/Sille Opstrup

London-specific

  • London Datastore: Greater London Authority (GLA) one-stop shop for statistics and reports on London, spanning topics from culture to crime. The Community page provides visualisations based on the data.
  • Whereabouts London: Website using open data to profile London areas.  Clicking on a locality on the map will give you information on local demographics.

 

Sally Jennings on behalf of the Business & IP Centre 

31 July 2015

Social Media for Small Businesses: Finding Your Feet

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Social media is very powerful in this digital age – in a single minute, around 3.3 million pieces of new content are uploaded to Facebook, 347,000 tweets are posted on Twitter, and 38,000 people upload pictures to their Instagram feed. Each social media platform has its own individual character and way of engaging with audiences and unlocking this is the key to a successful social strategy.  However, it can be a bit daunting for beginners, so here are a few tips to help you find your feet.

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Decide on the right social platforms for you

Begin with a maximum of three social channels to increase your chances of successful engagement with your audience, and be sure that they suit your business objectives. For example, LinkedIn is largely a corporate channel, so it might not be a priority if you’re trying to reach the end-consumer, and Instagram is more likely to be used by the under 35s.

Don’t bombard your audience

Customers do not want to feel spammed, so be mindful that it’s not necessary to post multiple times a day if you have nothing interesting to say. Relevant, engaging content is what you should be aiming for and it’s easy to achieve this if you simply put yourself in the mind-set of your customer.

Visuals are key

Images are processed 6,000 times faster than text by the human brain, so your followers will be more engaged with your content if an image is part of the post. According to Twitter, an image will make your tweet five times more shareable, so a bank of relevant imagery is helpful for a successful social media strategy.

Keep an eye on your channels

On average, customers expect a response to their queries or comments within an hour, and research suggests that a solution should be reached within six hours to maintain customer satisfaction. For SMEs this is so important, as word of mouth is a key part of growing your customer base. It’s essential to keep your customers engaged until a solution is reached. Facebook in particular is helping this support process with its recently launched ‘Saved Replies’ feature, which allows admins to quickly respond to customer enquiries with pre-written responses, such as directing them to the Help Desk – a quick way to maintain customer satisfaction if you’re pressed for time.

Don’t be too ambitious too soon

Immediate results are unlikely for a smaller business engaging in social media, but if you are smart in your approach then tangible benefits will be realised before too long. The ultimate goal should be engagement with your audience, so measuring inbound as well as outbound social media activity is important. Winning advocacy of your products or services is of course your ultimate goal.

 

John Morris is COO of UK2 Group a global group of web hosting brands providing web hosting and internet services to savvy surfers, small businesses and blue chip giants alike. They are also a corporate partner of the Business & IP Centre. For more help with social media for your small business attend an introductory workshop in the Centre. 

29 July 2015

Top tips on online accounting for small business

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Books are migrating to e-readers, music is being streamed and accounting is now happening in the cloud. This is the quiet revolution that accountants whisper but dare not speak aloud. Accounting software is dead; it’s online and upwards to the clouds. Online accounting has arrived.

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It may sound a touch over the top but it’s true. As a business, how you manage your books pretty much manages everything else. Your accounting is an important engine in your business. A well-oiled efficient system will reap rewards; a slow burner with too many miles will underperform and slow you down.

This is where online accounting in the cloud is so significant. Consigned to software history is the accounting package sold ‘out of a box’ installed onto your desktop, run on a local drive and perhaps backed up onto a different drive. It was fun while it lasted but now SMEs have multiple choices when it comes to doing their books.

And here lies the problem. Business owners are generally uncertain about how to choose an online accounting package that works for them. But help is at hand, outlined below are some helpful tips to help you decide on how to choose the best package.

Why choose online accounting?

It’s easy to say the future is online but what are the actual advantages?

  • Firstly, you can access it anytime, anywhere and aren’t bound to the PC in your office and you don’t need to keep installing updates
  • Being on the cloud means information can be easier to share as well
  • It can save considerable time and keeps your records up to date

The question then is which online accounting package to choose? There are numerous packages you can subscribe to out there. Xero and Quickbooks are making inroads but there are lots of others too. There are well over thirty providers of online accounting, so choosing the right one for you can feel overwhelming. The best thing to do is to narrow your focus by asking yourself a few of the following questions:

  • How long has the software been around? In other words, is it market tested?
  • Is the software UK compatible? Can it deal with VAT? You will need a system that works effectively for VAT returns.
  • Can it work with multi-currencies (if you need to trade overseas)?
  • Can it integrate with other software easily (known as API) such as CRM or invoicing programmes?
  • Will it securely connect into your bank account? This can be very helpful when it comes to bank reconciliation and looking at a live picture of the financial state of your business.
  • What is the level of customer support? Are you able to call or use chat while online?

Having confidence in the provider you choose is important as they will be presenting all the data and running all the reports for you. Reports are your window into what’s happening with the numbers in your business, so it’s vital you can see what’s going on clearly. It’s best to see if your accounting software can run any of these types of reports clearly and effectively:

  • Profit and Loss reports
  • Balance Sheets (divided monthly)
  • Company snapshots
  • Debtors and Creditors
  • Product and Inventory reports (if needed)
  • Employee and payroll

Test, test, test

Most of the major online accounting platforms will give you a free trial. Riz Wasti from 2E Accountants and participant on the Innovating for Growth programme recommends you test the software first to see how it works for you. He suggests doing the following:

“Most online software offer 30 days trial period. That’s your opportunity to test the software before relying on it. Use your real transactions, bank payments & receipts, sales invoices, bills and expenses, etc. Softwares will also have a Demo Company setup with data already entered. That’s your opportunity to play with the software”.

Migration to your online platform

Once you’ve selected the best online accounting package for you, do allow for time and some cost to migrate across from an existing platform. As ever, the devil is in the detail (and the numbers). Riz advises that:

Migrating data from an existing system can be complicated. It’s best to do it in stages, for example starting with sales invoices and bills in batches of months and reconcile bank statements for each month entered. The payment allocation process can be time consuming. Bank data can be uploaded in one go separately to sales and bills, but then bank payments need to match or be allocated.”

All the more reason to do all the research you can on finding the right online accounting package for you. The effort is sure to be well worthwhile in the medium to long term for your business.

If, like most business owners, you sometimes feel confused about your finances in the business, the Business & IP Centre has help available: from how-to guides on running your business, to workshops including “Get Cashflow Confident” with our ‘numbers coach’, Johnny Martin.  

 

Jeremy O’Hare is a Relationship Manager for the British Library’s Innovating for Growth programme, which provides £10,000 of fully-funded and tailored advice for businesses looking to grow. Since joining the British Library in 2005 he has worked with countless businesses, facilitating advice and research as well as providing workshops and information advice for start-ups and established businesses. 

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