Don’t let the stress get to you

2 - The real cost of stress

Running your own business can be exhilarating, energising and rewarding, but it can also be stressful. As its National Stress Awareness Month, we thought we’d share a few of the main highs and lows of being a small business owner – as well as a few tips to help you reduce stress and make life a little bit easier.

Full of rewarding and stressful moments, running your own business can be a real rollercoaster ride. Chances are most of the following feel familiar to you.

1 - The highs and lows of running an SME

High: You’re the boss. And you answer to no one.

Low: It can be lonely at the top. In fact, according to research by AXA Insurance, 50% of home-based business owners say they often suffer with loneliness.

 

High: It’s your call. You make all the big decisions.

Low: It’s all down to you. You’re responsible for everything and it’s your money on the line.

 

High: Your time is your own. You decide when you work.

Low: You never switch off. Chances are this means you’re always working, or at least thinking about work. And holidays are probably just a fantasy.

 

High: Money, money, money. You could make it big and retire early in the Caribbean.

Low: Times are tight. The economy is far from thriving and with Brexit just around the corner, many changes lie ahead. Plus, many business owners pay themselves relatively little and don’t even have a pension.

1 - Simple ways to stress less

  1. Spread the risk

It’s important to try and spread your business’ income as evenly as possible. If one customer is responsible for 40% or more of your business, it creates a pretty risky situation if they are late in paying and you need to charge interest or debt recovery or, even worse, if they stop working with you for any reason.

 

It’s a good idea to regularly work on finding new clients or customers. You should always carry out credit checks to help you assess their financial stability while doing this.

 

It’s also sensible to check the terms of your existing contracts, renegotiating where possible to help protect you from any unexpected loss of business.

 

  1. Share the load

It can be easy to think the world will end if you don’t handle everything yourself. But the old adage about a problem shared is true.

Finding your second in command can ease the strain and help motivate staff. Look for a strong leader with creativity and good people skills.

 

  1. Plan for the future

It can be hard to look too far ahead, particularly when it’s all hands to the pump. But failing to forecast has been the downfall of many a small business. An online system can help make admin – and life in general – easier. FUTRLI and Pulse are good places to start. There are lots of different ways to plan – take our quiz to find out what type of planner you are: http://www.mybizplan.co.uk/

 

Spending a little time prioritising your own payment schedule and setting up Direct Debits can make a big difference too. With many companies, npower included, it will help you avoiding surcharges.

1 - A helping hand online

We know how important it is to help make life easier for small business owners. That’s why we’ve made sure our online account offers:

 

  • Simple access to bills and more – all paperwork is saved online, so it’s easy to find whenever you need it
  • Handy updates and meter reading reminders – choose to receive text or email reminders whenever something needs your attention, so you can concentrate on running your business day to day
  • Instant access to our helpful customer services team – through online chat

 

You could also sign up to our free Business Rewards scheme and help distress staff with access to specially selected offers, discounts on days out, hotels, and travel, exclusively for npower Business customers.

 

If you haven’t already, it’s easy to register for an online account

 

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and LinkedIn at npower Business

 

The real cost of stress

Stress costs small businesses nearly £1,000 a year per employee (Source: Huffington Post). If left unchecked, stress can result in staff absence, and the cost to your business escalates even futher. Clearly this is bad for your workforce’s health and bad for business. But the good news is that tackling stress in your business can make a big difference, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, a few simple changes could help you save time and money, not to mention keeping your staff healthy, happy and motivated.

It’s natural to want your workforce to be happy. But there’s far more to it than just being a caring boss.

It’s important to be able to spot the signs of stress amongst your staff, before you can do anything to help. If anyone in your business regularly has any of the following issues, it could be a sign they’re stressed:

  • Feeling anxious, irritable or depressed
  • Apathy and loss of interest in work
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Muscle tension or headaches
  • Social withdrawal

Thankfully there are some simple, and free, things you can do to help make your staff’s working days less stressful.
It’s also a good idea to practice what you preach. Following these tips yourself will help to look after your own health and set an inspiring, healthy example.

Get out: Encourage people to go outside on their break. As little as five minutes in the fresh air can help reduce anxiety*

Be flexible: Flexible working helps your staff manage their work and home life more easily. And businesses who already offer this report fewer days off, more loyal staff, better productivity and more satisfied employees as a result

Make it manageable: Encouraging your employees to stick to reasonable working hours, perhaps by using their skills and time better, will help make their workloads far easier to manage

Adapt yourself: There’s no one management style that’s right for every employee. Great leadership is all about listening to your team and paying attention to the early warning signs of stress. Make sure you adapt your management style to suit each person’s individual needs

Show your appreciation: Recognition or rewards can be a great way to show your staff you value them. To make this really easy, npower Business offers all our customers free treats and other benefits for themselves and their employees – take a look for yourself.

If your business is based around shift work, then some of the above points may be easier said than done. But don’t worry, there are still some very useful things you can do.

First of all, talk to your staff about their lifestyles. Believe it or not, early birds and night owls really do exist, and you might be able to find new ways to organise your rota to suit different people’s needs.

It also makes sense to try and review your schedule as a whole and make sure it works as well as possible. It’s well worth trying to avoid things like asking someone to switch between early and late shifts, as this will disrupt their quality of sleep – which is a leading cause of stress and illness in shift workers.
With just a few small changes, you could dramatically reduce the impact of stress on your people and your business.

 

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and LinkedIn at npower Business

What causes the largest amount of stress in small businesses?

As it’s Stress Awareness Month we took a look at how stress can affect you both physically and mentally, as well as delving into the types of stress that are common in smaller businesses and how to tackle it head on. Things such as financial difficulties, competition, employee turnover and burnout can all affect your ability to successfully run your business. As well as a risk to the business, you’re also putting your own health at risk when stressed and while this may cause you to suffer from milder ailments such as headaches, it can also lead to really serious problems like a cardiac arrest.

According to Business Knowledge Source, a lack of control is the leading cause of stress in the workplace. For small business owners this may include the weather, employee behaviour, supplier prices etc….so the only area you have real control over is yourself and how you react to these unpredictable and uncontrollable factors. Try to recognise these factors and develop ways to handle them when they do occur.

Trying to hide your worries and frustrations as well as failing to communicate comes a close second as another cause of stress in the workplace. Carrying ‘the weight of the world’ can end up with you experiencing a stressful breakdown. Recognise the signs of stress: lack of appetite, poor sleep, unexplained aches and low energy levels. Slow down and seek help if necessary.

Excessive workloads are of course common in small businesses. With such a small number of staff it’s often the case that you’ll be doing two or three people’s roles and probably working much longer hours, which can lead to you feeling rushed, under pressure and overwhelmed.

Stress is usually triggered by your attitude toward things you can’t control. A positive outlook toward your business and your employees can help you better accept their shortcomings and appreciate those areas that do flow smoothly at work. Letting go of unrealistic expectations can really lower your stress levels. For example, you can’t control the weather, so there’s no point in stressing when it interferes with your business plans.

Stress isn’t always negative, a certain amount of it is necessary and can even motivate us. When you’ve got a super-stressful day ahead, look at it as a challenge. Set goals, focus on the most important tasks, encourage yourself along the way and reward yourself, even if it’s just with a mental pat on the back as you cross each item off the list

Find support among your peers who face the same kinds of uncontrollable stress. Join a business network that provides opportunities to share experiences, vent and look for solutions.

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and Linkedin at npower Business

Cyber attacks and malware threaten all businesses

Cyber attacks aren’t going away. Email will continue to be the main distribution method and social engineering practices (tricking users) will continue to evolve.

  • With data breaches becoming more common and high profile, there is a need for increased diligence from directors concerning cyber security, to prevent claims arising
  • Directors in the US are potentially vulnerable to cyber-related directors and officers claims, and the trend is almost certain to cross the Atlantic
  • To prevent exposures, cyber risk management must become the responsibility of directors

No company is too small to face a cyber attack, and the increasing regularity of such incidents means that as cyber breaches become more common, claims against directors, following losses suffered by the company, will no doubt increase.

These are the 5 most common cyber attacks to be aware of:

1. Phishing – emails are sent from an allegedly trusted source asking for sensitive information

2. Spear Phishing – a specialised attack on a particular person in your company

3. Physical baiting – leaving an infected piece of hardware such as a USB stick in the office in the hope someone uses it and infects the network

4. Pretexting – an attacker pretends to be a colleague or a supplier and asks an individual to provide sensitive information.

5. CEO fraud – posing as a member of senior management in order to trick someone to transfer money to a specified account

In 2015, 74% of small UK businesses experienced a cyber breach. It is estimated cyber crime costs British businesses £34 billion a year and can also have a devastating effect on a company’s reputation. UK cyber attacks have risen 40% in the last year and the UK is now the European country targeted most by cyber criminals.

While cyber attacks on major corporations such as TalkTalk and Wetherspoons may generate more media interest, SMEs are increasingly being targeted by cyber criminals too.

Recently, a small family business in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, lost more than £26,000 after falling victim to a sophisticated email fraud, and UK charity, the National Childbirth Trust, apologised to 15,000 new and expectant parents after their registration details were accessed in a data breach. These scenarios demonstrate the varying nature of cyber threats and the associated risks.

Cyber risk management is an issue that should be at the heart of boardroom discussions, and not one that is solely an IT department problem.

Although it is impossible for SMEs to completely eliminate the threat from cyber criminals, there are measures they can take to reduce the risk.

For example, more than 1,000 UK businesses have adopted Cyber Essentials, a government scheme to protect firms against some of the most common online threats, including viruses, malware and hacking.

Businesses can also build a human line of defence against cyber attack – for example by educating staff on the types of scams that cyber attackers use and encouraging employees to report these types of scams to their company’s IT department.

Speak to one of A-Plan’s commercial insurance experts for more information on this important topic.

 

Guest blog by A-Plan Insurance

The survival skills Britain’s SMEs need in 2017

Almost one in five of Britain’s SMEs are missing payday in battle to stay in business

  • 17% of British small and medium-sized enterprises have missed a payday
  • Business leaders are self-financing with 19% of SMEs relying on personal savings for financial support
  • Reassuringly, businesses have a positive outlook with over a third (36%) of SMEs more confident about their growth prospects for 2017 (compared with last year)

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LONDON, 28th March 2017: British businesses are feeling the pinch with nearly a fifth (17%) missing payday[1] in order to survive.

Despite being responsible for nearly half of Britain’s economic activity[2], research commissioned by npower Business has shown the shocking extent to which SMEs are struggling to keep their head above water.

In an increasingly competitive and complex economic landscape, SMEs businesses were found to be predominately self-financing with over half (57%) of businesses claiming they don’t rely on anyone or anything for financial support these days. Less than one in five (19%) also rely heavily on personal savings.

As with the Brexit vote, which split the country, business are also split in their confidence for growth over the coming year. Over a third (36%) of SMEs are more confident about their business growth prospects for 2017, compared with last year, mainly due to the economic outlook for Britain and the decision to leave the EU. However, a quarter (25%) of the respondents are less confident about their business growth prospects for 2017, with 67% of these attributing this to Brexit.

SMEs account for more than 99% of private sector businesses in the United Kingdom and provide employment for 16.8 million people[3].Their economic contribution should not be underestimated and that’s why npower Business has partnered with Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of BBC’s The Apprentice, to highlight the importance of these businesses, and the necessity for increased support from each other, larger businesses and Government.

Richard Longbottom, Acting Head of npower Business, said: “SMEs are super powering towns and cities across Britain, helping to determine the success and character of regions across the UK. However, it’s clear from our research that some of these businesses are relying entirely on themselves to succeed. At npower Business, we believe SMEs could do more to learn from each other in the same way that we continually learn from those who we talk to everyday. This is why we are calling on SMEs to share their superpowers and learn from each other to help improve their bottom line.”

Businessman and Apprentice winner Tim Campbell, who is fronting the campaign said: “SMEs are absolutely fundamental to Britain’s economy. Not only do they inject a substantial amount of money into the economy, they create significant jobs throughout Britain.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed a number of remarkable ways in which SMEs have overcome problematic issues before going on to flourish and prosper. Their capabilities should be recognised and celebrated.”

Follow the conversation on twitter @npowerbusiness using the #BusinessSuperpowers

Find us on Linkedin or on http://www.npower.com/business/

 

About the research

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1088 SME Senior Decision Makers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th– 21st February 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of SME business sizes.

 

About npower Business

npower Business is one of the leading energy suppliers to the UK business market, serving gas and electricity to more than 195,000 small-to-medium sized businesses (SMEs).  Dedicated to helping UK SMEs, by helping our customers better understand and manage energy, we help them to reduce their energy costs and in turn improve their bottom line. We’re in touch with more than 1000 SMEs and through them, we hear what business owners want from their energy company and the issues they face when running a business.

npower Business is part of npower Group.

About Tim Campbell

Tim Campbell first became known to the British public after being hired by Lord Alan Sugar in the first series of the BBC’s The Apprentice. Since then Tim Campbell, who was awarded the MBE for Enterprise Culture in the 2012 New Year’s Honours List, has gone on to found businesses, speak favour business to global audiences and start the charitable organisation called the Bright Ideas Trust. Bright Ideas Trust has supported over 250 innovative start- ups all started by 16-30 year olds in London.  Whether it be creating wealth and employment or changing the world, Tim believes that business, in the right hands, is the catalyst of modern positive change.

Contact details:

npower press office

0845 070 2807

press.office@npower.com

 

Golin – Dafydd Wyn

020 7067 0865

Dwyn@golin.com

 

[1] Missing payday is defined here as not paying employees or the business owner not paying themselves

[2] Capital Economics, Prospects for SME growth in the United Kingdom: An assessment of the economic performance and outlook for the SME sector in cities and regions across the United Kingdom, September 2016

[3] IBID

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and Linkedin at npower Business

The ABC of coping with energy debt

Electricity and gas are crucial to the day to day running of most small businesses. Get into serious energy debt, and you risk being cut off.

With npower’s energy debt ABC, it’s easy to avoid this stressful situation and keep your business running:A. Acknowledge the problem

Maybe you’ve missed a few payments or ignored some letters.  Don’t panic, just get your head out of the sand.

The first thing to do is look at your cashflow. Have you got delays on money coming in? Could you cut down on your outgoings?

If you don’t already have a money management system, there are lots of free online accounting and tracking tools that will help you analyse your spending.

B. Bring in the expertsNow you know what’s causing the problem, get in touch with your energy provider and explain the situation. If you’re an npower Business customer, speak to our dedicated team of advisors who are experienced in helping customers with energy debt. They will work with you to create an achievable payment plan, and help you make progress with tackling the problem.

Stop non-essential spending and get in contact with your late payers. You’ll find lots of free letter templates for chasing late payments online.

C. Control your cashflowOnce you’ve got a plan in place and you’ve tightened up on your spending, you need to stay in control.

Set aside a bit of time every week to look at your income and outgoings, including any direct debits.  If you don’t already manage your npower account online, that can help you keep on top of your energy payments. npower will never adjust your direct debit without telling you in advance, so you’ll know exactly what your energy cost is.

For more advice on managing business finances, take a look at our article: Master your business cashflow.

Struggling to pay for your energy? There are organisations that can help you. Both Business Debtline and Step Change provide free, impartial and confidential advice on debt and cash-flow issues for small businesses and the self-employed. Get in touch via their websites or give them a call. You’ll be glad you did.

Business Debtline: 0800 197 6026
www.businessdebtline.org

Step Change: 0800 138 1111
www.stepchange.org

Like what you’ve read? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and Linkedin at npower Business

Unleash your Super Powers

We’re encouraging Britain’s businesses to ‘Unleash their Super Powers!’

It’s a well-known fact that small business owners are super busy (excuse the pun) trying to run and grow their business. A recent survey revealed that smaller businesses have little time to engage with energy suppliers but are very wary of price rises. They also feel that prices can be too high but find comparing different tariffs and suppliers too time consuming and confusing. When speaking to business owners their general feeling about energy contracts was one of ‘I’m just too busy to think about it’ as well as ‘I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Experience is neutral and neutral is good’ One family run taxi firm stated ‘If your electricity and heating is working it’s the last thing on your mind’.

We listened to the feedback and now offer businesses the chance to fix their businesses energy prices for 3 years, meaning that they can forget about renewals and focus on unleashing their super powers and being the best at what they do. No need to worry about unexpected price rises, with the SuperFix they know that their prices won’t budge until 2020.

For more information about the SuperFix tariff visit www.npower.com/superfix2020

Using a mobile phone while driving

By now everyone should have seen the new penalties for hand-held mobile phone offences, if not, you really need to take a look.

Even though it has been illegal to use a hand held mobile phone when driving since December 2003, the penalties are changing and these came into force on 1st March 2017.

What are the new penalties?

  • You could be fined up to £200 and get six points on your licence
  • If you’ve been driving less than two years six points would mean losing your licence
  • You could go to court if you refuse the penalties – fines in court will most likely be larger and could lead to disqualification
  • The police can decide to send you straight to court if the offence is bad enough

What do I do if I need to take a call?

  • Pull over where it’s safe to
  • If you must talk and have a hands-free, make sure the conversation is short until you can safely pull over

What do I do if I have employees?

  • Have a mobile phone usage policy and make sure highlight the penalties so all employees are aware, especially if their job is driving
  • You may be open to prosecution if you permit or cause employees to use a phone when in a vehicle

Is there any time I can use a mobile phone when driving?

  • To make emergency phone calls such as 999 or 112
  • If you use a two-way radio

For more information on the new penalties or on what you can and can’t do when using a mobile phone while driving, visit https://www.theaa.com/driving-advice/legal/mobile-phones.

 

 

International Women’s Day – Lauren McCullough

This week we’ve been celebrating International Women’s Day (8th March). We’ve asked some of our female colleagues about their career, from leaving school all the way through to what they are doing today. Our final interview comes from Lauren McCullough:

Lauren

Lauren McCullough, Continuous Improvement Delivery Manager, npower

“I joined npower in 2010 straight out of University where I studied Sports Journalism and Magazine Design at Sunderland and moved onto the Graduate Scheme. I am a passionate and highly ambitious individual who thrives when working under pressure and having the ability to challenge the norm. My strengths include story boarding and communicating, driving performance of both my team and achieving tangible results through both motivation and problem solving skills. I take great pride in being confident, efficient and bringing fun into the workplace.

For the first two years on the graduate scheme I had to take various placements across the business;

  1. PR – Football League Sponsorship: My role was a PR sponsorship executive. I had to directly liaise with Football Clubs and PR Agencies to ensure we were maximising our return on investment. The job also included hosting competition winners and sponsorship events around the country.
  2. Change and Service Improvement: I made the decision to move up to the North East and gain experience in Customer Service, recognising that this is where I could gain some real leadership experience. My specific role was to take accountability for delivering digital change and set up Web Chat.
  3. Complaints Operational Manager: For my final placement I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and manage our customer facing teams in our most challenging environment; complaints, where I was responsible reducing the volume of our complaints. This was the job that cemented my passion within npower, which was improving our service to customers and developing people. I got offered this job on a permanent basis and this was my first step out of the graduate scheme and into a ‘proper’ job!

You have to have some pretty broad shoulders to manage people through a change curve, both emotionally and technically. The biggest challenge when managing a team is being is able to create a resilience and tenacity in yourself to ensure you are provide consistency and belief for the team. Being able to adapt your leadership style is key when managing on a large scale because you have to recognise that everybody’s values and beliefs are different and therefore not everybody will react in the same way.

I get my energy and drive from seeing a change in people and from my experience, the easy part of the job is changing a process or building a solution, however transforming a culture is what makes the job extremely hard, but without that this, the job wouldn’t be so rewarding!

I absolutely love problem solving! Working in Continuous Improvement means that there are always things to improve or problems to solve, but it genuinely gets me out of bed every morning knowing that myself and the team can really make a difference for the business and the customer with the solutions that we come up with. I thrive under pressure and having to work to really tight deadlines and the knowledge I have gained over the last few years means I now see work through a completely different lens and I am constantly looking for opportunities to make a difference.

The boldest thing I’ve ever done in my career is probably finishing in the top 3 for the National Young Energy Professional of the Year Awards in 2015 for Customer Focus. I am so proud of this achievement and never thought I would get recognised externally for something that I am passionate about and for a category that is so close to my heart! It was some of the toughest years of my career so far and there were a lot of emotions and challenges along the way but it was a time that genuinely changed my outlook on what I want to do for the rest of my career.

People ask why I chose this career after studying sports journalism. The honest answer is there wasn’t a lot of money in being a trainee sports journalist and I decided to join a graduate scheme so I could start earning a bit more money to buy a house. However the reason I chose npower was because we had just taken the Football League Sponsorship and my first placement was in PR which was closely linked to the press and media which was a very similar skill set.

When I left the graduate scheme, I developed a passion for customer service and realised I was pretty good at it! I was then talent spotted within the operation as a candidate to work in our transformational teams and was trained up. They genuinely changed the outlook for my career and introduced me to new tools and skills and I fell in love with it! Ultimately I would love to join the dots with my passion for sports media and lean transformation and do this type of role for Sky/BBC later on in my career.”

Get involved with International Women’s Day at https://www.internationalwomensday.com

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business

International Women’s Day – Birgit Lichtenstein

This year March 8th is International Women’s day, with the theme ‘Be Bold To Change’ and to celebrate, every day this week we’re featuring some of our female colleagues, asking them all about their career from leaving school through to what they are doing today.

Birgit Birgit Lichtenstein,

Managing Director Innogy Business Services UK

I grew up in North West Germany close to the Dutch border. Having studied Economics my first job was in the corporate development area in RWE Energy in 1992, where I was responsible for looking for new business opportunities.

In 2015 I made a bold move to the UK on secondment and am now responsible for IT across the business. The role offered a huge opportunity for me to improve the situation as we were over outsourcing which was leading to issues that affected the business negatively. I love the challenges that the job brings, seeing the improvements being made gives me a great kick personally. IT is so vital these days in a Retail environment as literally no processes could work without it. The opportunities offered by this are almost limitless.

I think with women the work-life balance is a very personal thing but I think we have a very strong drive to get done what needs to be done and also what is expected of us. Over time people learn how to make the balance work for them.

Despite working in a very challenging environment I try to make time to enjoy some gardening, cooking with friends and sports, particularly Tennis.

Get involved with International Women’s Day at https://www.internationalwomensday.com

Like what you’ve seen? Why not join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #BeBoldForChange and Linkedin at npower Business