End of Year - Guest Blog by Toni Hunter

The end of the tax year is a busy time for those administering the payroll function. There are a number of forms which need to be filed and it is a good time to check that you have been carrying out your payroll calculations correctly throughout the year and rectify any mistakes.

2009/10 is the first year that online filing is mandatory for all employers regardless of the size of the business. Paper filing of forms is no longer an option.
It has been mandatory for large employers to file their forms electronically for some time now but up to last year smaller employers still had the option to file in paper format should they choose to. Electronic filing has now become mandatory for the smaller employer too.
The deadlines which affect end of year payroll are summarised in the table below.

Late Payment of PAYE Penalties
Late payment penalties are being introduced from May 2010 if your PAYE is paid late. Currently interest is only charged when the final PAYE payment for the tax year is received either later than 19th April for postal payments or arrives in HMRC’s bank account later than 22nd April if paid electronically.

From May 2010 your PAYE payment will need to be received on time either each month or each quarter depending upon which basis you pay.  The new late payment penalties will apply to all employers and contractors that do not pay on time.

Details of the new penalties will not be sent out until April 2011 but will apply for the whole of the 2010-11 tax year. Penalties will start at 1% of the late amount and will increase to 4% depending upon how many times you pay late. You will not have to pay a penalty if only one payment is late unless it is more than six months late. Payments that are more than six months late may attract a penalty of 5% and a further 5% if still outstanding after more than twelve months.

Businesses will have to ensure that HMRC always receive their payment on time to avoid the penalties. Postal payments will need to be received by HMRC by the 19th of the month. Electronic payments will need to be received in HMRC’s bank account by 22nd of the month.

If you have any queries regarding the preparation of your payroll our in-house payroll bureau PayScheme will be happy to help. Contact a member of the team on 01767 220199.

Follow Friday Recommendation Friday 26th March 2010

Well, yet another take on a Follow Friday blog from me this week. Instead of me writing the blog I have asked the person I am recommending to write a blog for a change.

I love tweeting with @MissRosieDay, she has a fantastic sense of humour, manages to look after an enormous family, and is just a great person to interact with, as well as being a talented writer.She is also doing some amazing charity work with Project65 as well, and is soon to undertake a mammoth walk in order to raise funds for them.

I have had the pleasure of talking to her on the phone on several occasions over the past few weeks and we have had some great conversations about our respective businesses and we have shared a lot of laughs as well.

Rosie made a comment on the phone and I couldn't help pointing her in the direction of Evernote, some software I thought would help her out. It worked excellently for her and she even managed to show me a new use for it I hadn't come across. Then I introduced her to Tungle, another piece of software which she embraced, and finally I introduced her to the joy of Capsule CRM

She was joking that I had finally got her organised so I asked her to write a blog for us on what that felt like, and here it is:

Guest Blog from @MissRosieDay

I am a writer, that's not my job title, that is who I am.  I cant remember a time when I did not write, from childhood I have recorded the world around me through stories and poetry.  I love words, I love the way that the pictures in my head become organised sentences on the page, but sadly that is where my organisation ends.  I make notes on scraps of paper and keep a track of things in my head, which on occasions gets me into trouble.  I have, until now, never let this worry me, I call it my artistic temperament!

Recently two things have hit me almost simultaneously.  The first was a change in direction and the second was meeting Helen.  So, firstly I will address the reason for a career change.  Before I left the rat race, I worked in business, where I was actually very efficient and productive, but I had staff to take care of the day to day organisation.  Then 2 years ago events in my personal life forced me to re-think my priorities.  I gave up the salary, the financial packages, the company car and became a full time writer.  I work from home and don't miss all those things, I am happy and my children are happy to see more of me.  It has taken a lot of hard work but my writing career has taken off in many directions and has given me a great many contacts.  It is sadly the case that freelance writers are finding the current market very difficult.  Commissions are hard to come by and those that are on offer are at a fee far less than those of just 18 months ago.  Therefore freelancers are all diversifying, including me and I suspect a great many people in other industries.  With the aforementioned contacts and my previous business experience, it has made sense to take a sideways step into PR & Marketing.

That's where Helen comes in, as an existing Twitter friend, she jumped on my tweets concerning my new business and lack of organisation and offered help to bring me up to date.  Her help and advice has been invaluable.  Working from home as a writer and working from home as a Professional providing a service are worlds apart.  A writers life is very solitary, working pretty much to my own deadlines.  In my new business I have to be far more polished, I have to make my clients feel special and confident in my abilities.  I have to be organised.  I am asking people to trust me and that trust has to be earned, missing a deadline or not calling at a pre-arranged time are not an option.

Organisation is not rocket science and there are so many people and online services that can help.  My advice is to be honest with yourself about the things that you are not so good at.  Seek help, a virtual PA is ideal.  By taking away the worry of these things you can concentrate on the things that you are good at, you will become more productive and your business will become more profitable, thus absorbing the cost of your help!

Not Just A Newsletter - Guest Blog by Matt Chatterley

Not Just a Newsletter..
Keep your eyes peeled as you navigate the web and you'll soon realise that almost every single website has a Newsletter which they'd love you to join. This cycle is self perpetuating - when creating a website for your venture, you know everyone else has one - so you have to have one too!
Before you dive right in, stop and think! There are several basic questions which are very useful in this situation (in truth there are more, but these five apply particularly well to Newsletters). If you can't answer them all satisfactorily then perhaps you should wait until you can before forging ahead.
I'll share my answers (on behalf of Mattched IT) with you - and try to give you some pointers to help you to reach your own conclusions.

WHO - do you want to subscribe to your Newsletter?
Our target audience is primarily small business owners (notionally extending to senior managers in larger enterprises) - people who are the "IT decision makers" in their organisations and to whom we can advertise and sell our products and services.

You may find you want to run a newsletter for a different demographic to your default customer base - you may even want to partition your newsletter list and send different messages to different people. Ultimately the key reasons tend to be Sales/Marketing related or to increase the level of engagement and communication which is sustained with clients.

WHY - should they sign up?
Because they've seen our website (or engaged with us via social media - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) and want us to keep them updated on new products/services which we launch as well (or changes to existing services). Occasionally we also offer discounts or other promotions exclusively to Newsletter subscribers.

I often feel that the incentives for joining our newsletter are quite weak, if I am honest. Partly because of the nature of our business - which is service orientated - as well as nature of the services we offer - which very rarely change. It's likely to be very different for you, depending on what you do. If you update your products regularly then you've got a killer reason right there - they can be the first to find out when you start selling widgets in blue as well as red!

WHAT - is in it for me?
Increased engagement with the audience, and the opportunity to periodically remind them that we are here, and that we can help them should they be facing any challenges in the IT department. We also try to encourage our subscribers to forward our newsletters on to their friends and colleagues if they feel the content might be of interest.

There must be a clear benefit to your business for it to be truly worthwhile running a newsletter. If you sell a tangible product then your newsletter can be a very exciting and powerful tool - it's an opt-in list which you can market to, as long as you are sensible and courteous when doing so. Otherwise you may have to look closer to find a good reason!

WHEN - are you going to send Newsletters?
We aim to send one each month, although we do occasionally skip an edition if there is absolutely nothing to report. Mainly because I personally believe it's somewhat frivolous to use our client’s time reading a message - when really we have nothing to say to them - and certainly nothing of value to offer.
It's key that you don't send newsletters out too often. Your unsubscribe rate will tell you immediately if you're too vocal - because it'll be high! People are accustomed to once a month, but that doesn't mean you can't send them out bi-monthly or even fortnightly if it is appropriate for your audience.
Don't save up a colossal amount of information and send out a novel once a month if really you could be sending out relevant messages which have meaning and value to your subscribers on a weekly basis - there is a limit to how much information people can (and want to) absorb in one go!

HOW - are you going to manage your email list and newsletters?
We use MailChimp. It's great - and has a brilliant free trial, too. This lets us manage our lists through a handy user interface, use their API to automatically add subscribers from our website (we can easily integrate yours too, if you like) - and means that we don't have to worry as much about making sure people have opted in, legal requirements and handling bad addresses which get onto the list. The reports have just the right amount of information to help maximise performance too.

Enough of selling someone else’s product! My point is that you probably don't want to just keep a list in a text file - there are strict requirements you need to follow under various pieces of legislation (not least of all the Data Protection Act) - and if nothing else you need to exercise the same due diligence that you do in all the other areas of your business. Plus you need the tools available to work out what happens when you send a message and to help you make the most of your list.

And where does that leave us?
Put plainly, a newsletter can be an enormously powerful business tool and can be hugely beneficial to both you and your clients if used properly. But if used poorly or badly implemented/managed, it'll achieve very little apart from using up your precious time. Remember - failing to plan is planning to fail!

Matt Chatterley
Director - Mattched IT

Mattched IT offer a wide range of Web Design, Web Development and Search Engine Optimisation services tailored to meet your needs and requirements.

What did we do before Technology?

I sat and wrote this blog with good old pen and paper. Why? Because I took my lovely shiny netbook, with an 8 hour battery, along with me when I took small child for her swimming lesson last week so I could catch up on some work.  And because I failed to check that lovely shiny netbook with an 8 hour battery actually had any charge in it before I left the house!

It got me thinking, how did we ever cope without the gadgets that we have today, and have they really made my life better?

I grew up in the age of the Spectrum ZX, the BBC, the Acorn and the Commodore 64.  Printers were only found in offices and then they were the old multi-sheet lined paper feed dot matrix printers.  The first computer I used at work was Windows 386.

Programmes like Word weren’t in every office, we didn’t have access to the internet, not that I am sure I had heard of it then, and I had never heard of email.

Mobile phones were only for yuppies, and came with a battery pack larger than my handbag.

Do I miss those days? Not in the slightest.  I fully embrace technology and all that it means to me. I make my living from this virtual world and I would not be without it.

I work online, I shop online and I socialise online.

Thanks to the wonders of the digital technology I have masses of photos of my beautiful daughter, and can share them online with friends and relatives around the world.  I can take two or three photos to ensure that I get the shot that is just right for me, no more waiting till the film comes back to realise that small child was sticking her tongue out, no more counting how many flashes were left on the flash bar, or how many shots were left on the film.

I can talk via Skype video with colleagues, clients and family and friends around the world.

I can use the resources of the internet to find the perfect family holiday, to figure out what small child’s maths homework actually means, and I can sit back in wonderment as my daughter researches the current topic at school, then writes up her report on Textease.

Thanks to the Nintendo Wii I have watched three generations of family laugh and play together from age 7 to 75, and have been pleasantly surprised at the interest it has re-kindled in the less active of us in exercise.  Anything that makes exercise feel like you are playing a game wins in my book, though I have to say, watch out for those wii related sports injuries, they hurt as much as the real thing!

Whilst there are things that are anti social about technology, there are many advantages as well.  Used in balance it eases workloads, improves communication, generates knowledge and makes life sweeter and easier. 

I have made friends, learned new things and broadened my horizons all thanks to the internet and the technology that allows me to use it, from my laptop, my netbook and my mobile phone.  It has also allowed me to win an argument occasionally as I googled the answer to some silly question, just to prove I was right.  Not to mention it is perfect for when small child comes out with her latest curiosity - "Mummy why do nettles sting, what makes them do it?" Good old google to the rescue.

For someone who wasn’t the first to get a mobile, a home PC or a PDA, I am now at a loss without them.  I crave access to my social network, email and internet when I am deprived of my wireless connection.  Today I sat in a broken down car for over an hour waiting for a recovery truck. Thankfully, between my laptop and my mobile broadband I didn’t waste that hour but spent it productively instead. 

So do you embrace technology or do you wish for the good old days? Your comments are welcomed.

How to successfully work from home - Guest Blog by Heather Townsend

How to successfully work from home

Whether you are a start-up business, kitchen table entrepreneur, home worker or sole practitioner, your first office space is normally situated at home. After a nearly a year of a ten second commute, I admit the novelty of working from home is starting to wear a little thin.

Here are my thoughts on how to make working from home work for you.

Create a dedicated work space.
It doesn’t need to be anything as formal as a home office – although if you can do this, then great – but a space that is dedicated to your work. A dedicated workspace helps you to separate the two halves of your life – home life and work life. If you have young children, then having a work area that you can physically shut away is a must!

Create boundaries
When you start to work from home, the boundaries of work life and home life get very blurred. From personal experience, I know it can be very hard to switch off at the end of the day, and let my work seep into my quality time with my family. It takes discipline to keep home and business life separate – but as time goes on, it becomes essential to create that boundary.

Plan your day
It’s very easy to waste time when you are working on your own at home. When you finish for the day, make a list of what you need to achieve for the next day. This will help you mentally switch off at the end of your working day, and be ready and focused for what needs to happen when you start work in the morning.

Set expectations with your family
When I first started working from home, my husband thought that I could do all the housework while I was meant to be working. He also thought that on my ‘working days’ I could look after the children while he went to the gym. We knocked those ones on the head pretty quickly! Don’t muddle up your domestic chores and your business work. Set separate times to do your housework –and gain the commitment of your family to this new regime.

Put some structure in your day
Whilst you may love not having to get up every morning to go into the office, it is important to put some structure in your day. By this I mean, a time when you intend to be at your desk and a time when you will stop working. This will help you separate your work and home life – and help the people around you get used to your new routine.

Seek out people
Particularly if you are an extrovert, you will need people around you. Balance your times in the office with the quieter times in your household. Go out networking during the week so that you can meet people.

Keep your home and office tidy
At some point you will have some work people visiting your home. Make sure you keep your workspace tidy and free of domestic clutter, so that any visitors to your home office wouldn’t be alarmed at your untidy house.

Install a business phone line
If you can afford it, use a business answering service. I have found to my cost that my husband is a lousy receptionist and tends to forget to write down messages. An answer phone is an OK solution – but 8/10 people don’t leave a message on a voicemail. Can you afford to miss a potential new business enquiry?

Heather Townsend
The Efficiency Coach

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Think outside the box

It’s been an interesting twelve months to look back on, apart from the fact that this time last year I was only toying with the idea of self employment; I have seen some interesting changes take place amongst the people around me.

Twelve months ago I had a difficult decision to make, either accept reduced working hours in my full time job or be made redundant, albeit with no real payout as I had only been there a couple of years. It was a bit of a Hobson’s choice really. I just had to work out how to pay five days worth of bills and mortgage from a four day salary.

Not one to sit back I decided to do something about it. I looked at the skills I already had, the knowledge that I had gained and the resources that I had access to. What could I do? The obvious answer was to set up over the next few months as an Executive Virtual Assistant and be fortunate to be able to
grow my business to full time status in September last year.

Now I wasn’t the only person in that position where I worked, and apparently not the only one to show some get up and go. Over the course of the next few months no fewer than six of us left and became self employed. We looked at the situation we were in and looked at what we could do about it. I won’t say none of us complained at times or felt hard done by, we did, but we got up and
did something about it, and I am pleased to report that we are all doing extremely well and not regretting our decisions at all.

Yes, I know there is a recession out there, but I made a conscious decision to stop listening to the news, it either depressed me or angered me. Instead I put my energy to better use.  I made a conscious decision not to listen to the doom mongers, as I didn't want them to affect what I wanted to do, I could concentrate on what I believed in, which was running a successful business.

Be realistic about the situation that you are in. Talk it over with your Accountant or Financial Advisor; get their honest opinion on it. You probably have a gut feel for how things are going as well. Listen to it. I have watched Clients make some very hard decisions over the last few months, but I have also seen them weather the storm because they made the right decisions, believed in what they were doing, and worked hard to overcome the obstacles.

Take a good look at what your business offers. Rather than walk away from it is there something that you could add to that offering that would compliment what you do, without breaking the bank in the process?

I work with a team of other Virtual Assistants to offer our own bespoke call answering service, it compliments our other services, and by working together we are all able to strengthen the offering and our businesses.

One Client decided to compliment their services as an Independent Financial Advisor by adding a virtual estate agency service to his offering. He has real knowledge of the area he covers because he lives there, he can advise prospective buyers on the local schools, pubs and shops, how easy it is to
to get from A to B, what the local facilities are, and best of all he is practically a one stop shop now as he can also sort out the mortgage for both the buyer and the seller.

Another Client has formed strategic partnerships with other suppliers in the same field, by working together, in much the same way as Virtual Assistants do; they are now able to offer a broader range of services, including new products that they would previously not have been able to supply.

I have other Clients who I have introduced to each other, who traditionally would not have worked together, but by thinking outside the box, have formed strategic alliances that enable them to offer their existing client base each other’s services, again strengthening both their businesses.

Look at what is working around you, talk to the people around you and look at the opportunities out there for collaboration or out of the box solutions.

I would be interested to hear your comments on the subject.