What is superpowering Britain’s SMEs?

The whole nation has seen a surge in SMEs, but we dug a little deeper to find out what was driving growth in seven UK cities: London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle and Hull.

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SME growth was highest in Manchester (50%), London (41%) and Leicester (36%). So what superpowers are driving these SMEs forward? Our research found that growth is being fuelled by a number of emerging sectors. Nationally, these include film and TV production, machinery repair, and healthcare. At a city level other hot sectors were mobile food services, education support and healthcare activities.

We also found that SMEs are attracting highly qualified staff; SMEs with between two and 49 employees are now more likely on average than large businesses to have employees trained to degree level.

To celebrate the success of Britain’s SMEs, we’ve teamed up with entrepreneur Tim Campbell, winner of the first series of BBC’s The Apprentice. Together, we are on a mission to highlight how important SMEs are to the British economy.0E1A8327_resized

Tim Campbell said: “SMEs are fundamental to Britain’s economy. Not only do they inject a substantial amount of money into local economies, they create significant jobs throughout Britain.

“Throughout my career, I have witnessed many remarkable SMEs grow into new markets before going on to flourish and prosper. Their capabilities should be recognised and celebrated. So I’m thrilled to be working with npower Business to get SMEs the recognition that they deserve.”

To celebrate Britain’s thriving enterprises and the super powers behind them, we’re giving one lucky entrepreneur the chance to win £5,000 and a session with Business Growth strategy expert Gary King.

All you need to do is demonstrate in no more than 250 words why your business truly is ‘Super Powered’, by explaining how it performs in the following areas:

1) INNOVATIVE: if your business does something creative that other businesses may not have considered.

2) SUCCESSFUL: if your business does something that makes a significant difference either to your bottom line, or in day to day management.

3) ENGAGING: if your business has something distinctive and memorable – something other SMEs would be interested to hear about.

The judging panel to impress will include Tim Campbell himself, alongside Mirror Money editor Tricia Phillips, entrepreneur Matthew Roberts of Timber Neutral, business growth expert Gary King, and our very own Richard Longbottom from npower Business.

To enter and for further information including full T&Cs, visit http://tinyurl.com/kwsowep #BusinessSuperPowers. Good luck!

Forecasting made as easy as 1, 2, 3

Forecasting. Just the word can make business owners slightly nervous. But the good news is it doesn’t have to be daunting.  In fact, it could be as straightforward as 1, 2, 3…

  • 1 handy template to make life easier and help you get
  • 2% more profit*, from
  • 3% better forecasting*

* AMR Research

In this post we’ve condensed down some of the main reasons to forecast, and some easy pointers to help make it easier to do. We’ve even created a simple forecast tool to make life easier and help you get started. It’ll do all the calculations for you, and let you see at a glance how your business is doing.

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Then just follow these three steps:

1. Fill out the Expenses Forecast tab to record all of your business outgoings

2. Complete the Sales Forecast tab to help calculate your sales growth

3. View your forecast in the Summary tab – it will help you visualise what’s going on and monitor your figures over time

Why it pays to forecast

From keeping an eye on cashflow, to planning ahead for the future, effective forecasting can make all the difference to your business. But when you’re busy day to day, forecasting can all too easily slip down the To Do list.

However, it could just be one of the most important things you do for your business. Here‘s why accurate forecasting is a very good idea:

  • You’ll know what’s going on with your cashflow, sales and revenue, giving you a clearer picture of your business and increased peace of mind
  • You can set more accurate budgets and targets
  • You’ll uncover new cost savings
  • You can make better informed decisions – about everything from staff and space to your marketing and sales strategy
  • You’re more likely to access finance – as investors will be more confident if you’re planning ahead

What do you want to know_

Business forecasting is so much more effective if you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to find out.

  • Who is your ideal customer, how many of them can you reach? How often will they buy from you?
  • Don’t forget the rule of thumb: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers
  • What are your plans for expansion?
  • What are the market conditions?
  • What’s your position amongst competition? Estimate your market share.
  • Are you affected by seasonal trends?
  • What’s the average price of a single purchase?

Expenses are a good place to start

Many people find that forecasting their business expenses is a straightforward place to start. Don’t forget these simple rules:

Fixed costs stay the same every month

Variable costs fluctuate according to sales volume

Sales are also a very useful thing to forecast, helping you make important decisions about your business’ future.

  • Look at historic data and make logical assumptions about the future
  • Don’t get overwhelmed – start with a 2-year plan and build from there

Projected sales: a handy formula

Here’s how you can quickly calculate conservative, expected and optimistic projections:

Number of customers X average sales price X number of yearly purchases

= yearly projected sales


With so many great reasons to start forecasting, plus our free tool to make it easy, there’s nothing to stop you. Start forecasting now and the outlook for your business could be bright!

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

How to find and keep great staff

A bad hire is an expensive and stressful mistake for any business, but especially for small businesses with no HR department on hand.

Here’s a simple guide to help you avoid bad hires and find the right people to grow your business.Identify the skills you need

Think broadly about the role and the ideal combination of skills you need, not just about finding a like-for-like replacement or plugging a gap that exists now.

It might help to list weekly and monthly tasks in your business, and then assess how you currently perform.  Consider the skill, energy and capacity levels across your team against those tasks and you’ll see where an extra member of staff can help. You can then use that information to define a really clear job spec for your vacancy.Be clear about what’s in it for them

When you’re writing a job spec, make it simple and persuasive. You want candidates to know that they’re a great fit for your business and feel excited about the opportunity to join you.

  • Make job titles simple and clear – no ninjas, wizards or gurus please.
  • Make the job description snappy. On average, people take 49.7 seconds to dismiss a job description. You’ve not got long to grab them.
  • Keep your requirements short and relevant. Don’t waste time with generic skills like ‘good communicator’.
  • Excite them about your business. Tell them what makes you different and a great place to work.
  • Give a salary range – it manages expectations and makes sure you don’t waste your or your candidates’ time.
  • Include other benefits – not just holidays and pension or childcare schemes but is flexible working an option? What about training and career development? Do you reward loyalty?

Shortlist your applicants

Use your job spec to filter all your applicants.  Under the Equality Act 2010, everyone should have an equal chance to apply and be selected for jobs, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or pregnancy or maternity.

Make a list of everyone who has applied and then score them against the ideal skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job. This will help you sort out the ‘possibles’ from the ‘definite nos’.

Send the ‘nos’ a polite reply thanking them for their application and explaining that you won’t be taking it any further. Every applicant, however unsuitable, deserves the courtesy of a response.

Then get to work on your possibles.

Use your skills/qualifications/experience scoring to prioritise. Read CVs and covering letters carefully – they can tell you a lot about the applicant and how genuine their interest in your job is.  If they’ve done their research and know a bit about you, it’ll shine through.

Let any more rejected candidates know they haven’t been successful this time and then invite your shortlist for an interview. Don’t forget to tell them who they’ll be seeing and what to expect. Interviews can be nerve wracking!Interview in stages

To be confident in a good hire, you need to be absolutely sure of the candidate’s skills and their fit for your business.

Prepare for interviews with a prioritised list of the skills you need.  What are essential and what can you live without?

Keep questions relevant and invite useful answers.  A mixture of ‘tell me how…’ and ‘what if…’ will prompt people to explain their thought process. Asking candidates to share their proudest work achievements will show you what they consider to be great.

Grade all candidates’ answers consistently and take notes.  A numbered system, or poor to excellent will help you compare everyone equally.

Always follow up successful formal interviews with an informal coffee/meet the team.  You’ll get to know each other and see quickly if there’s a natural fit.treat your candidates with respect

To snare the best candidates, applying for your job should be easy and enjoyable. Make them feel welcome and part of the team – they’ll want the job more for it.

Keep in regular contact when you’re arranging and confirming interviews and during your decision making process. Candidates go to a lot of effort in applying for jobs, the least you can do is let them know where they stand.

Be sensitive to their current situation. It’s not easy to take time off work for multiple interviews, so if you have to meet a candidate again, be prepared to do it before or after work.

Of course, your other option is to use a recruitment service to find great candidates for you. That may seem like an expensive route, but using an expert to handle the hiring process from start to finish means you can focus on running the business.

For regular help and advice, join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow and LinkedIn at npower Business

Managing your business energy online

As a business owner there’s already so many things you have to remember. Looking after staff, running your business, paying bills, cashflow, the list is endless. You don’t need to let energy bills be one of them.

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

Setting up an online account 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 estimated bills and 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.

See your bills online whenever you want to

Waiting for a bill to come through the post is never interesting 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 let you know 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’ll let you know when your payment is due and you can simply log in and pay.

Join the business customers who’ve already chosen to look after their business energy online.

Like what you’ve read? Join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow or Linkedin at npower Business

National Share a Story Month

National Share-A-Story Month is an annual celebration of storytelling and sharing, set up by ‘Federation of Children’s Book Groups’. The theme for 2017 is ‘Picture a Story’, the idea being to celebrate the power of illustrations.

Why not take this month to share the story of your business? It helps to create an emotional bond with customers, and the loyalty that follows. Don’t blame it on having nothing to say either, look around you. Everything has a story. That coffee you’re drinking was once a bean in Ethiopia, but somehow now finds itself as a hot liquid on your desk. If a cup of coffee has a story worth telling, so do you.

Before you start writing, make sure your story is held in a place where people can find it. The point of sharing your story is so people see it and get the view of your company how you want them to see it, so don’t hide it away at the bottom. It might be best to put a tab along the top or left hand side of your page saying ‘Our Story’ or ‘About Us’ to grab the attention of people reading.

People will read it. Customers like to know they’re dealing with a business they can trust, or that share their views. Even more importantly are the people who will stumble across you by accident with no prior knowledge of you- a good tale could convince them to look into you further. It can also prevent a faceless, Grapes of Wrath style, view being made of the company and allow a customer to make more of a connection with you.

Start by thinking about your company: why did you start? When? Have you always been in the same area? Is your business family owned? Where do you take inspiration from? These are the things that give you an identity and separate you from the competition. Discuss the obstacles you have overcome to get where you are. Be honest and modest and show pride in what you’ve achieved. You are your biggest critic and a good review from you shows confidence that will radiate out onto potential customers.

Remember, not all stories have to be set in the past. Think of it like an online dating profile, tell people what’s important to you. Tell the truth, but also sell the best version of yourself.

If you only use fair trade farmers, add in a photo of one of them, or at the very least write about why you chose to do this. If your main concern is the quality of your product or service, then say it! Alternatively, if you prioritise a good price for your customers, make this known instead. Customers already know that you sell coffee or fix motorbikes, so use storytelling as a way of telling them what makes you different or what your drive is.

If you’re still not inspired or can’t think of anything worth writing about that has already happened, write about the future. Create a mission statement if you haven’t already about what you want to achieve. It doesn’t have to be something you will achieve alone, just a change you want to see and how you will do it. You don’t need to solve world peace, just show that you’re passionate.

You might not be Wilbur Smith, but by being honest and passionate you can be a great storyteller. Take inspiration from this month and decide how you are going to tell your own story, regardless of whether it’s about solving clime or your business ethos.

Like what you’ve read? Join us on twitter @npowerbusiness #energytogrow or Linkedin at npower Business

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.