Business On a Budget: Your Top Five Tools

 

In tough economic times, it’s important for small businesses to get as much bang for their buck as possible. Online and electronic tools can often allow you to make the most out of limited resources.

Here are five essential tools for businesses on a budget:

1. Company website

It seems like an obvious one to start with. Very few small businesses these days operate without a company website but not every business makes the most of their site’s potential. Your website serves as a virtual shop window. For many customers it’s their first port of call when they want to find out more about you, your products and services.

Your website should be engaging but it should also be functional, allowing visitors to achieve the task they want to in a simple and streamlined fashion. If you have customers overseas, you might want to look into website localisation. Online search is also increasingly going mobile, and mobile optimised websites are increasingly being seen as a must-have.

2. Reputation monitoring

Whether you have a strong online presence or not, the chances are that your customers are having a conversation about you online. There are numerous companies offering online reputation monitoring services but a good free tool is Google Alerts. This allows you to enter a keyword (such as your company name) and receive email alerts whenever that keyword is mentioned in Google’s search results. You can easily monitor the online conversation and respond or take remedial measures as appropriate.

3. Communication tools

Emails might have overtaken the humble telephone as the most convenient way to communicate, but there are still times when talking to another human being is more appropriate or far more likely to yield better results. Video conferencing systems are now far more streamlined than the jerky picture of early efforts, and even budget personal laptops now usually come complete with inbuilt cams. Professional systems allow intercity and international meetings without the hassle and expense of travel. Skype is a well known brand offering both voice and multimedia communications and can be useful in business as well as private use.

4. Accounting software

Keeping meticulous accounts is essential in any business, both for tax purposes and in keeping a grip on your company finances. A comprehensive online account management tool is ideal, providing a simple way to record all the money that goes in and out of the business. In-house staff can keep records without accountancy training or expertise and, as data is being stored online your accountant can access the information he needs at a remove.

5. Payroll software

Similarly, online payroll software can help streamline another essential process. UK companies have undergone something of an upheaval this year, being obliged to comply with new Real Time Information (RTI) rules.

This means that information relating to all employees’ pay must be submitted to HMRC electronically as and when they’re paid, as opposed to annually as was previously the case. Good quality payroll software can streamline the process and help you comply with the new rules.

The Global Rise of Litigation Funding

The recent increased interest in litigation funding has been most keenly felt in the jurisdictions of England & Wales and Australia, as well as to a lesser extent, the United States. But what about elsewhere?

Well, in other areas of the world, the process of litigation funding is not so simple. Globally, the rise of litigation funding has, and continues to be, hampered by the continued prohibition of both maintenance and champerty:

  • ‘maintenance’: meaning the funding of litigation by a third party who is a stranger to the dispute
  • ‘champerty’: the funding of a litigation by a stranger third party in exchange for a percentage of the win.

Canada

Canada has seen more funding recently, since the ‘Manulife’ decision last year. The judge held that the funding agreement in that case did not violate rules on champerty and maintenance and was beneficial to access to justice.

South Africa

In 2004 the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa held that the need for the rules of maintenance and champerty had diminished in light of the right of access to justice enshrined in the Constitution of South Africa and the coming into force of the Contingency Fees Act 66 of 1997 which made speculative litigation possible by permitting “no win, no fees” agreements between legal practitioners and their clients.

Germany

Like England, Germany has no common law doctrine of champerty or maintenance.  Here, the litigation funding market is thriving, with particular emphasis on cartel damages cases.

Jersey

In Jersey, the litigation funding market was given a boost when the courts approved the use of funding in the Valetta Trust case.

Hong Kong

Solicitor Winnie Lo was jailed for 15 months for conspiracy to ‘maintain’ in Hong Kong back in 2009. However, hope remains for the funding market, as her conviction was overturned on appeal, where the Court recommended that reform should be considered for this area of the law.

Litigation funding has now taken its place on the worldwide stage as an invaluable tool for litigators and their clients.  The likelihood is there will be a lot more global developments in this field over the coming months and years.

This article was contributed by Laura Moulden on behalf of Vannin Capital.  To find out more about Corporate Litigation for your business, visit their website.

How to Improve Your Credit Score and Save BIG on Interest Fees in 2013

This guest post was written by Jason Bushey. Jason is a personal finance blogger and consultant.

If your New Year’s Resolution of improving your credit score already feels like it’s hit a dead end, fear not – there are some simple ways to get your credit on the right track in 2013.

Improving your credit can go a long way towards lowering your interest fees on big-ticket loan items you might have your eye on, including home loans car loans. A strong credit score is made up of multiple factors, but there are some simple practices that are easy to follow that will improve your credit over the upcoming year.

The very first thing you can do to improve your credit in 2013 is apply for a new credit card. If you have poor credit, there are some credit cards for bad credit available for consumers in your exact situation.

Bad credit credit cards can improve your score in a number of ways, the first being that a new line of credit can have an immediate positive impact on your credit score. How so?

Well, new credit lines make up 10% of your FICO scores. Along those same lines, the amounts you owe on your total available credit line make up another 30% of that score. Basically, your credit utilization ratio – the amount of credit debt you owe in relation to your total available credit – should always remain under 30% and in a perfect world it would be less than 10%.

When you open a new credit card account, right away you’re lowering your credit utilization by adding total available credit to your profile. So the impact is two-fold: you’re adding new credit and lowering the amounts you owe. This should lead to a modest boost in your credit score in 2013.

However, the biggest factor determining your credit score is your payment history. On-time payments and payment delinquencies make up a full 35% of your FICO scores, so the number one thing you can do to improve your credit score in 2013 is make paying your credit card bill on time each month a priority.

Not only will on-time payments improve your credit score exponentially – especially those made on your new credit card – but consequently you’ll be lowering your credit utilization ratio, too. That’s another win/win when it comes to rebuilding your credit, and is of course a simple practice to understand.

The third thing consumers can do to improve credit scores in the upcoming year is dispute old debts. This means obtaining your credit report – we’re all allotted one free report per year by law – and combing through for things that don’t look quite right.

If you see something fish-y or odd on your credit report, then the next step to take is to send the credit reporting agency (CRA – this would be either Equifax, TransUnion or Experian) a debt validation letter. This is a simple, to-the-point letter asking the CRA to verify or validate this debt as legitimate.

The CRA then has one month after receiving the letter to respond. If they can’t validate the debt, that negative blemish will be wiped from your report. If they do validate the debt but you’re still not sold that this debt is legitimate, you can follow up with a dispute to the creditor reporting the debt to the CRA.

Remember – the key to disputing errors on your credit report is through documentation. Don’t pick up the phone! Draft a letter, send it off and await the response. Removing errors on your credit report is one of the most important things you can do to improve your credit score in 2013, and while it might seem irksome to write letters and await responses from big agencies, think of the hundreds or even thousands of dollars you can save in interest with your healthy new credit score.

If you respond more to lists, here are three ways to improve your credit score in 2013:

  1.  Apply for a new credit card.
  2. Make on-time payments each month, no matter what!
  3. Obtain a copy of your credit report and dispute, dispute, dispute!

An active, responsible consumer with multiple forms of credit who ALWAYS pays on time is a consumer with great credit. Rebuilding your credit score might sound complicated, but the road to excellent credit is simple if you make it a priority. And if you have goals of owning a home or buying a new car, it’s imperative that you have a good credit score moving forward.

Your Circumstances Will Change for Better or Worse: Protect Yourself with Insurance

As humans, we think, perhaps subconsciously, that whatever we are experiencing now we will continue to experience. That is why when people work overtime for a long enough period of time, they quit being careful with that extra money and instead allow income creep to take place. They go out to eat more frequently, they buy themselves more clothes and some treats such as a comfortable recliner chair. When the overtime ends and they go back to their old salary, suddenly they can no longer make ends meet.

Mortgage Insurance Offers Protection

This is also why people do not take out insurance that may help protect them. If you are planning to become a homeowner or are one now, do you have mortgage insurance?

While life may be fine right now, and you have enough money to make ends meet plus put money away, what if your circumstances change? What if you lost your job or got sick with a serious disease such as cancer? How quickly would you run through your savings? What if you are injured and are no longer able to perform your job?

Your situation can change in less than a minute. Dawn, a Genworth employee who assists those with mortgage insurance who are experiencing difficulties paying their mortgage, explains how she can help people stay in their homes.

When your life changes drastically, the last thing you want to worry about is losing your home, uprooting your family and having to move.

Other Types of Insurance to Protect Yourself

The Huffington Post also mentions several other important types of insurance that you should have, especially if you are the head of household or your family relies solely on your income.

Disability Insurance–If you are a full-time employee, this insurance is likely one of your benefits. However, more and more people are self-employed and own their own business or freelance. For instance, if you are a writer, what if you sustain a head injury and are unable to work for several months? You will have no money coming in unless you had the foresight to take out disability insurance.

Long-Term Care Insurance–Again, if you are injured and need someone to come to your house to care for you, that care can be very expensive. Long-term care can help you pay these expenses while getting the quality care you deserve.

The old saying is prepare for the worst, hope for the best. If you are diligent about taking out the appropriate insurance for your situation as well as having an emergency fund, you should be able to handle most difficult financial situations that come your way.

Have yourself a merry but cheap little Christmas

When the weather outside is frightful, the fire may well be delightful…but the state of your finances may well not be.

Yes, Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat but your wallet probably isn’t.

They say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but for many it is a period of great expense and frustration.

In this difficult economic climate a lot of people will want to tighten their purse strings, but how do you cut back without turning in to Scrooge?

Well, here we look at some handy tips which will ensure you can have a merry Christmas without breaking the bank.

Voucher schemes

Websites such as MoneySupermarket.com and MoneySavingExpert.com regularly run promotions with product providers which enable you to save a few quid thanks to printable vouchers and discount codes.

These savings can range from as little as five per cent to as much as 50 per cent and can come in handy when looking for gifts for friends and family.

Indeed, the person you are buying for will never know that you scrimped a few pounds because they will get a quality gift from a recognised retailer.

Shop around

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Well, you’d be amazed at the number of people who fail to look around the stores for the best prices and just buy items from a select number of outlets.

This is particularly the case with those people who leave their festive shopping until the last minute and thus have to do things in a rush.

When shopping around it also makes sense to check prices online as you may well find that items can be bought much cheaper. The only real downfall to online purchases is the time it takes for the goods to be delivered so make sure you leave plenty of time or you’ll be handing out gifts at some point in January.

Work out a budget and stick to it

If you do your Christmas shopping on a whim there’s a good chance you’ll over spend.

Because of this it is important to sit down and work out exactly the amount of money you can afford to splash out on each of the people you need to buy for and tell yourself that no matter what happens you will not be spending any more.

Dig out last year’s spare cards and wrapping paper
When Christmas is just around the corner there is the urge to go out and buy new rolls of paper and boxes of stylish cards, but first have a check around your house for any bits you may have purchased in previous years and never used.

Wrapping paper isn’t like clothing, it does not go out of fashion. So if you’ve got a few rolls going spare in the loft then make sure you put them to go use before buying more.

Sell old items

If you’ve got items laying around your house that you never use then there’s no better time than to sell them and get in some much needed wonga for the yuletide period.

Online auction sites such as eBay are great places to get rid of things which may seem like junk to you but are in fact desirable objects to other people.

This could include that collection of books you have never gotten around to reading or that exercise bike that currently does nothing more than serve as a place for you to hang your clothes on.

Save up your loyalty points

Most major supermarket chains offer loyalty discounts to regular customers so with a little forethought you can use these to pay for festive foods and even gifts.

Indeed, if you regularly buy your toiletries from Boots, you may well find that come December you have accrued enough points to pay for a small bottle of perfume or one of those gift sets of smellies which are always popular at this time of year.

This article was produced by debtfreedirect.co.uk who offer help with debt management, consolidation and bankruptcy. If you are having problems with debt then don’t hesitate to get touch or visit us online.