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

Recruiting the right people

Recruitment is very important, especially in small businesses. In your SME, your people are your business, so it’s important to hire the right ones. Sometimes this can be hard, especially for start-ups with low financial resource, in fact, 1 in 4 businesses said hiring skilled staff was a barrier for growth.

During a period of rapid growth, many businesses are tempted to hire quickly and sometimes the wrong type of people. This can be bad for business as it can cause a high turnover of staff and cost a huge amount of money.

We asked some of our case studies if they find it hard to find the right people to help grow their business. Here’s what they said:

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

The npower Blog 2017-01-30 08:56:54

At times, running a small business can be pretty overwhelming. To succeed and grow your business, you need the perfect mix of having great talent and the right technology, all the while making sure you’re flexible and responsive to constant changes.

A quick poll of small business owners told us that;

20% thought technology was most important to their business’s success

Considering that a lot of SMEs will have one platform for sales, marketing, customer service functions and processes, it’s easy to see why having the right technology and keeping up to date with it is vital for growth and efficiency.

31% believe that having the right people is key for growth

Get it right and your business’s growth will most likely increase, but get it wrong and it could lead to a one step forward two steps back scenario, proving to be costly, stressful and time-consuming. As difficult as it can be to let go of some of the workload and responsibility when it’s your company at stake, it can pay off no end with the right team in place.

49% of the of SMEs asked said being flexible and agile was important

That’s not surprising, considering the fact that small businesses need to grab every new opportunity as it presents itself, or risk losing out to competitors. Flexibility also gives employees in the business more freedom and accountability which has a positive effect on how they perform.

We asked some SMEs what their business ‘must haves’ were, here’s what they said:

US Election: Have your say

It’s now a few weeks since Republican Donald Trump won the US presidential election;  a businessman known more recently as a reality TV figure, and with no political background who is now set to become the American president in January.

His victory over the democratic candidate Hilary Clinton defied expectations, and has had an immediate impact on the global economy, before he has even taken office.

A few months ago, we asked members of our Business Voice panel, made up of representatives from all kinds of small businesses, how they felt about the American election and how they felt the results might affect their business.

Among the businesses we surveyed:

43% were interested in US politics, but only 22% felt concerned about the effect that the presidential election might have on their business.

In the final days before the election took place, we opened a forum on our Business Voice panel, and invited members to share their thoughts and opinions as events unfolded in the final stage of this historic presidential campaign.

This wordcloud shows some of the overriding reactions and sentiments of our panel members:

Here are some selected (but hopefully balanced!) comments:

“Now that the results are in and Trump is President, it shows that the Americans are a bit fed up of their situation and have taken the gamble with him.   I hope it works out for their good.   I don’t think it will affect my business in any way, shape or form.”

“Very disappointed. Both in the electoral college system (which elected Trump even though Clinton won more people’s votes) and in the attitude of voters.”

“Very much looking forward to welcoming President Trump into The White House in January.”

“When America becomes isolationist, bad things happen. This has happened twice before. In both the UK and US rabble-rousers have let the genies of hate out of the bottle, it will be very hard to seal it again. I fail to understand how a country with a huge population could have chosen two candidates, both in their way, so unsuitable. Yes the implications will affect my business, the dollar has slumped and is likely to continue to do so.”

“It is a little like when Brexit was announced, I’m a little in shock. Surely these two were not the best that the US could offer. I just don’t believe it makes the US look very sensible!”

“Surprised by the result,  but can understand why the American people are sick of the status quo and voted for change. I think people underestimated just how dangerous  Hillary Clinton would have been.  Relations with Russia would have deteriorated even further,  for a start. It won’t affect my business. Think it will be good for Anglo American relations and may result in a better Brexit outcome for us.”

The main concern from a business perspective seems to be the volatility of both the dollar and sterling, as these affect the price of goods imported from overseas; but also how competitive our prices are when selling to overseas customers. Other common worries are Mr Trump’s approach to foreign policy and the possibility of global conflict.

However, many people are optimistic about Trump’s potential, claiming that his business experience and anti-establishment attitude are just what America needs.

Trump is certainly no stranger to controversy, and is used to polarising opinion – a tactic that succeeded in winning him a lot of media attention during his campaign. Can he use this platform to bring unity to a divided nation?

Time will tell – and the new president certainly has a lot to prove to silence his critics, which will make for an interesting 4 years at the very least.

If the current uncertainty is causing problems for your business, take a look at this post and Don’t Panic!

How do you feel about the American election result? Feel free to have your say in the comments below.

 

Managing your account online

As a business owner there is already so many things you have to remember. Paying bills, looking after staff, running your business , cashflow, the list is endless. Make sure you don’t let energy bills be one of them.

Managing your energy online is simple, cost effective and is one less thing to remember, especially before Christmas.

Setting up your account online only takes a few minutes and you’ll have access to a host of free services:

Send us your meter readings whenever you want

No one likes to receive an estimated bill, no matter where it’s from. With online account management we can text or email you when we need to update your account. This can help you ensure you always get correct bills and help you to budget for more exciting things, like Christmas.

See your bills online whenever you want to

Waiting for a bill to come through the post is never an interesting activity and budgeting to pay them is even worse. You can view your bills from the last 2 years and cut out that annoying paperwork with online account management taking your business towards a paperless office.

And don’t worry about budgeting either, we’ll notify you when your bill is ready.

Pay your bills online

If your company struggles with cashflow, you’re not alone – most small businesses experience difficulties balancing the books. Paying your bills online is a step in the right direction to help manage this and one less thing to think about. We will let you know when your payment is due and you can simply log in and pay.

Join 30,000 business customers who’ve already chosen to look after their business energy online.

Why SMEs don’t grow

According to research produced by Capital Economics*, SMEs are set to see enjoy substantial growth by 2020. They’ll contribute an estimated £1.6bn to the UK economy and cities including Birmingham, Leeds and Brighton will become new hubs for enterprise.

So, the future looks rosy. But business growth doesn’t come easily – for continued expansion conditions need to be right and correct decisions made, and without these a business won’t see the desired level of growth.

Here are a few things guaranteed to stop your business from growing, and how to put them right.

Having the wrong infrastructure

Small businesses can spend a lot of money on rent and overheads which could better be earmarked for expansion. While having your own office space is important, pumping money into cavernous spaces when barely scraping the bills won’t get you very far.

Start-ups should look to shared business zones and enterprise spaces for room without the same cost. They also offer flexibility should you need to relocate quickly, while allowing you to save money until you grow your operation.

Simple things like the broadband can hinder productivity as well. A superfast network can offer opportunities like remote working and a solid shareable network to a workforce, yet only 1% of SMEs take the opportunity to invest. For a small initial outlay you could soon be managing a slick operation ready to expand, instead of risking losing ground to competitors and staying still.

Missing basic marketing opportunities

It doesn’t take a blog post to tell you the importance of the internet, yet businesses continue to overlook what it can do for them. It’s the chosen path for many consumers, and not having even a basic website drives them into the arms of your competitors.

If you’re part of the staggering 21% of SMEs which don’t have a website, it means potential customers don’t have access to basic information like your name, description or contact information, and will therefore likely look elsewhere. And that’s before you even get to the missed e-commerce opportunities for larger organisations.

And while no one is saying a fully-fledged big budget advertising campaign is needed to achieve growth, well-placed promotional materials can attract attention and bring in the money. So start with a basic site and look to grow your online presence as you do. The two go hand-in-hand.

Missing out on skilled staff

A business with the grandest of ambitions but which doesn’t hire the right people is unlikely to go very far. Diligent recruitment is a must, but implementing the right organisational structure is equally important.

The focus should be on a strong HR and marketing presence to ensure business organisation and employee fundamentals are well taken care of. On this you can integrate a learning culture, with yourself included, to ensure your staff are continually upskilling. The more skilled you are, the more successful you’ll be, and the more people will want to join a growing company.

Companies which offer incentives are also more likely to see progress, and that’s not just limited to financial compensation. Employees increasingly consider things like location and onsite / nearby facilities when choosing a job, and failing to make your business appealing can see you miss out the people that could help you expand.

Neglecting the finances

Not keeping an eye on finances is an obvious reason for lack of growth, but it’s an area many businesses, even successful ones, assume will take care of itself. In short, it won’t.

The first step to stop this happening is to build your own bedrock of financial knowledge. Look to online courses or even ‘How To’ books for a basic background if you’re not a ‘numbers person’, but it’s important to know what you’re doing when you start. From there a skilled financial manager can fulfil the ongoing duties, and you’ll be in the position to hire the right people (see above – it’s all connected).

Missed opportunities can also cripple a business’ chance of growing, so it’s vital to have access to capital should one present itself. There are plenty of government-led grants and schemes for those not in a position to get hands on cash, so research the one relevant to your industry and take the chance. If you don’t, you can be sure your competitors will.

By spotting the things that are holding your business back, you can position yourself for growth, and take full advantage of all available opportunities. Take some time to step back and look at the obstacles in your SME – you’ll soon reap the benefits.

*SME Growth Forecast Index, commissioned by npower Business in 2016. View the report.

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

SMEs: The Beating Heart of the Economy

Dale Murray CBE, Board Advisor at the Centre for Entrepreneurs shares her views on the SME Growth Forecast Index.

As a former entrepreneur I am frequently inspired by the energy and innovation of small and medium sized enterprises. Yet for all their entrepreneurial flair, they are not just the backbone of the UK’s economy, but as Capital Economics’ report for npower Business shows, its beating heart.

The statistics tell their own story. SMEs generate £16 billion annually for the economy, support jobs for 16.8 million people and have been behind four-fifths of the increase in private sector employment since 2010: small and medium sized they may be, but they are huge in terms of impact.

As the report shows, there are clear hotspots for SME growth. This “heat” is driven by a number of factors, over which policy makers have considerable control; not least access to a skilled and growing workforce, which improves skills matching for employers and employees.

Good living conditions and positive transport links also score highly as a driving factor of SME growth. A compelling Newsweek story highlights how the small US town of Ogden turned itself into a thriving and egalitarian hub of business activity. It did this in part by attracting recreational and lifestyle businesses, to make Ogden an attractive place for people to live. They improved living conditions with their recreational offering, which in turn attracted high-tech start-ups.

It will come as little surprise to any business owner, meanwhile, that business rates were cited in the report as among the top barriers to SME growth. Some 33 percent of those surveyed cited this as an issue. (On the positive side, Enterprise zones, simplified local authority planning and government support all help).

Good internet (and transport) connectivity are also crucial: business performance slumps with sluggish connectivity and picks up with a fast and reliable connection. Happily for SMEs and start-ups it’s getting cheaper to start a business: the development and greater use of information, communication and technology products has pushed down equipment and advertising costs for example; uninterrupted digital highways are increasingly more important than real ones.

Such falling costs allow entrepreneurs and SMEs to take more risks, whether they are in Birmingham, Brighton or Bristol (all thriving as the report shows, in no small part thanks to their innovative small businesses). Growing numbers of people across the UK are choosing to strike out and start businesses, Capital Economics’ shows. This has been the largest contributor to SME employment growth in recent years. Entrepreneurs are putting their time, energy and capital into enterprises that they are passionate about. The greatest hotspot is, ultimately, where the heart is.

Want to know more? You can catch Dale’s webinar online until 5th October – watch the webinar on BrightTALK.

Download the report and take a look.

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

UK SME Growth Hotspots – infographic

We commissioned the SME Growth Forecast Index from Capital Economics – a report that identifies the areas where small and medium sized businesses have been growing over the last 6 years, and predicts where growth will happen in the next 5 years.

As you’ll know, SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy, but did you know that businesses like yours are set to contribute a whopping £16 billion each year by 2020?

This infographic show the Top 10 UK cities that have great potential for SMEs to grow:

SME Growth infographic_npower

Our report also examines the factors that are supporting and assisting this growth, and ranks the top 15 cities for SME growth.

Download the report and take a look.

Want to know more?

Join Dale Murray on 14th September for a webinar where she’ll share her insights and business growth tips – Register here.

 

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

Infographic based on data from the SME Growth Forecast Index, a report produced by Capital Economics, September 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from: tech start-up Wriggle

Wriggle is an award-winning platform that provides real-time offers for independent restaurants, bars, cafes and events in Bristol, Brighton and London.
This helps businesses fill empty tables or seats, and sell excess product through smart pricing, while attracting new customers.

Here founder Rob Hall shares the story of their success so far:

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