Tomorrow’s Business

When tax planning can be good!

Life is a precious gift. Don't waste it being unhappy, dissatisfied, or anything else you can be

Tax planning is getting a real battering at the moment – in some cases, for all the right reasons – but there are many instances where effective tax planning is essential for fast growth businesses and, in fact, positively encouraged by the government.

Aside from printing money to erode away much of our UK budget deficit (…), the Government appreciates that by encouraging entrepreneurs to build hi-tech companies here in the UK then we might have a fighting chance of seeing a brighter economic picture in the short-medium term.

To help us achieve this, the Government introduced 5 key statutory tax incentives that they absolutely and positively want entrepreneurs to claim:

  1. Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) / Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)
  2. Enterprise Management Incentive Scheme (EMI)
  3. R&D tax credits
  4. Patent Box
  5. Entrepreneur’s Relief 

As a chartered accountant specialising in advising fast growth companies in these areas – you can find plenty more about these tax incentives on this site or by getting in touch – in my view:

If all UK entrepreneurial businesses took advantage of these five statutory tax incentives (where applicable) and used the funds saved to reinvest in new jobs, new marketing channels and new business ventures; then surely we could reinvigorate our economy with fresh, innovative ip rich companies that can compete on a global scale

Enough of the ‘tax bashing’ – let’s make sure that our entrepreneurs have all of the tools necessary at their disposal if they are to get us back on top – an effective and supportive tax regime for entrepreneurs is one of them (and the good news in the UK is that – for now – we have one…).

Image attribution: @Doug88888 via Compfight

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Tomorrow’s Business – 37 Signals, Duct Tape Marketing plus more

The following are links worthy of your attention in running your small-medium sized business:

Interview with Jason Fried of 37 Signals (video) – fascinating insights into productive work, generating ideas and products, improving communication – overall, tips in relation to the effective modern workplace. Great quote about entrepreneurialism and the danger of getting VC funding too early:

“The things you do more often are the things you get good at – so if early on you concentrate on spending money then you’ll get really good at spending money. If you have to concentrate on making money from day one then you get really good at making money – that’s what you have to be as an entrepreneur”

The Fear is Real – Six Pixels of Separation – Mitch Joel encourages businesses to engage in building their communities online via social media ready for when they might need their tribe to support them if the brand comes under attack. The problem is that there is a fear of getting on board – is it really that scary?

Nic Brisbourne at The Equity Kicker covers some great ideas espoused by Astro Teller on innovation including:

“When someone comes with an idea for a project, insist that they also show you nine other ideas they had and discarded.  Partly this is because people shouldn’t just be coming with the first idea they think of, but also because forcing people with one good idea to go through a ‘I’d better think up nine other dumb ideas for my boss’ process, will generate a lot of creativity.  One of the ‘dumb’ ideas might turn out to be the best one”

John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing sets out an automated lead generation marketing system – simple when you know how.

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Virtual Lean Selling Machines

Can you imagine a business that can reach sales of $9bn per year without having to purchase, store or make any products? This is the question posed by Phil Jones in a recent post on the success of ebay. In our ever flattening world, specialist supply chain experts will continue to be a growth area for businesses new and old.

Take Li & Fung as an example of old businesses that has achieved huge success in optimising global distribution networks. Founded in 1906, Li & Fung has diversified into product design, raw material sourcing, quality assurance, manufacturing and distribution and has grown to 15,000 employees worldwide and its annual sales revenues now tops $12bn – yet it doesn’t own a single manufacturing nor storage facility. It optimises price, quality and speed to market by applying the company’s management expertise and specialist knowledge to manage third party outsourced producers and facilities. This is a virtual business built for the 21st century. (If you’re interested in learning more about Li & Fung, I highly recommend reading Competing in a Flat World).

Closer to home (and as an example of a new company in this space), I recently met up with the owners of a Manchester based company that had started a supply chain management business in the electrical and white goods market and had managed to built sales to £12m in their first year of trading and should top £25m turnover in year 2! This is phenomenal growth yet they operate with a team of just 10 staff, a handful of desks, chairs, laptops (plus bags of ambition and enthusiasm).

This all ties up with comments made by Julie Meyer at a recent BVCA Digital Age event about the emergence of ecosystem economics (Jyoti Banerjee of KiteBlue provides a nice summary of this concept here) and how the game changers of the next decade will be those entrepreneurs and businesses that can organise the global systems and technologies to optimum effect.

To effectively harness ecosystem economics and build successful businesses you can be big or small – the playing field’s probably never been more level.

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Know your client – Intermojo provides a one-stop-shop business sales tool

The future of business meetings is about to get a whole lot more interesting with new business sales tools like Intermojo.

Rather than surfing around on ‘Google’ to sniff out further background information on new prospects, clients or future employees, Intermojo provides a one-stop-shop on pretty much everything posted online, primarily via social media websites.

Consider it a ‘best of’ (or not, as the case may be…)

Dawning of video games in the workplace

A key theme discussed in the recent BVCA Funding in the Digital Age was the emergence of gaming in both work and leisure.

Futurist JP Rangaswami described how the typical worker will be faced with a dashboard of flashing status updates and feedback loops rather than an overflowing inbox over the next decade. Rather than working through to-do lists and tasks, workers will complete ‘missions’ and ‘quests’ – a subtle change in terminology yet a potential profound difference in interpretation and motivation.

Rangaswami explained how social networks are already allowing individuals to ‘life-stream’ what they are doing, where they are etc and to collaborate on shared ideas. Gaming would allow trainees to experiment and to be observed (from afar) via digital tools. Meanwhile, more experienced workers would be able to share best practice (e.g. status updates and tips via text, audio or video) and obtain realtime feedback on their progress against predetermined milestones and goals.

This concept resonates with me on a number of fronts:

1. Games have a compelling distractive quality: motivating teams to focus on the important stuff is much easier when it is perceived as a game – notice the difference in team behaviour on ‘away-day’ or ‘team-building days’ when the shared task is built around a game (quite often unrecognisable from the attitude and motivation in the workplace).

2. Games can make the mundane more interesting: getting kids to eat vegetables can be tricky (ask any parent). Since my kids have reached an age where they enjoy video games, getting them to do the right thing (like eat healthy fruit and veg) has just got a whole lot easier when we frame it in video-gaming jargon. Let me explain, we talk about the qualities of fruit and veg in terms of the boosting effect it has on their ‘Energy Bar’ (an icon usually at the top of the screen on the video game showing the energy before the character loses a life). So for example when they eat an apple we comment on how their energy bar has just shot right up. Meanwhile, junk food lowers their energy bar. Interestingly, they have now developed this ‘game’ a step further by asking about the various vitamins in each food and what ‘special powers’ and ‘weapons’ that these vitamins and minerals will bring them! Who would have thought that Vitamin C, iron etc could be so interesting and appealing to 4 – 6 year olds!

3. Games are fun – if we can make the workplace a more fun place to be then let’s do it.

What are your thoughts on introducing video gaming techniques, technologies and principles to the workplace?

Postscript – if the above is of interest you will probably enjoy the following TED talk that I recently stumbled across by Seth Priebatsch:

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Reforming the education system for a new world of work

Following yesterday’s rant about inspiring tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in our schools, I stumbled across this worrying trailer from a forthcoming US movie:

(Note that the UK came 18th in this league and there are lottery systems here too).

Then there are the following dependable words of wisdom from Sir Ken Robinson:

Both videos are humbling.

In the words of Jamiroquai :

“When are we gonna learn?”

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Inspiring tomorrow’s entrepreneurs in school

I had an interesting conversation recently with a teacher who works at a local prestigious private school. He enthused about the private education offered by the school e.g. the high educational attainment levels, freedom from following a rigid curriculum and the worldwide travels and life experiences for the lucky pupils. All highly impressive until he got to the careers that the majority of the pupils go on to follow:

“…our pupils go on to become lawyers, accountants, bankers, doctors or work up to senior management in the local multinational companies…”


As a chartered accountant with a law degree who has held the position of senior manager within a local multinational company, I’m qualified to guffaw with disappointment!

I managed to utter:

“Do many go on to start their own businesses?”

The answer was a predictable “no”. This was swiftly followed by a 20 minute rant from me (poor guy) about how we need more entrepreneurs, more wealth creators and business owners and how we need to inspire them as early as possible. To show kids that there is an alternative to a “prestigious job” within the professions or in industry and to plant the entrepreneurial seeds during their schooling.

I questioned whether it would be possible to set a week aside as some sort of “Enterprise Week” within the school – a week dedicated to developing tomorrow’s young entrepreneurs?

This could kick off with an inspiring talk by a successful entrepreneur. This would get the kids enthused and ready for the fun and exciting week ahead. The pupils would be put into mixed teams ready to take on a week long intensive project. The actual outcome is far less important than the learning but the project could be framed around solving a customer or consumer problem (like the best entrepreneurial ideas usually do) with a view to each team presenting their proposed product, service or solution at the end of the week.

Each day could have a different theme or focus such as:

  • Monday – innovation techniques, brainstorming, strategy etc
  • Tuesday – team dynamics, character traits, building a team etc;
  • Wednesday – defining target markets; supply chains and distribution;
  • Thursday – branding, marketing and turning customers into mad raving fans;
  • Friday – presentation / pitching skills building to a (friendly) Dragons’ Den type event with external participants from the local business community

Each stage could be faciliated by external specialists. The week would be activity and experimentally driven i.e. minimal class room style teaching. Mistakes would be encouraged and celebrated as it takes the teams closer to a better solution.

Who knows it might even lead to the creation of solutions that are better than those delivered by the ‘real world of work’?

Is this already happening? If so, please let me know as I would love to get involved or at least shout about it here.

Photo credit

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Zappos points to Future Business Model

You will see from the above video that Zappos is no ordinary company.

Zappos launched in 1999 and today has annual sales in excess of $1billion.

Zappos sells footwear and clothing online. Sounds fairly ordinary however, the key to Zappos’ success is its unwavering focus on building a unique community culture amongst its staff and customers by aiming to build WOW! into every interaction.

This culture is evident from its (refreshingly different) values:

Deliver WOW Through Service

Embrace and Drive Change

Create Fun and A Little Weirdness

Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded

Pursue Growth and Learning

Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

Do More With Less

Be Passionate and Determined

Be Humble

Yet the Zappos culture is disruptive in other ways too including the fact that:

  • employees are encouraged to open Twitter accounts – so for any customer complaint posted to Twitter, expect to see an employee run to the rescue within minutes (that’s if a raving customer fan doesn’t get there first!)
  • all new employees are put through an intensive training induction course then offered $2,000 to quit! Not only does this weed out those in it solely for the money (merely a job!) but it also helps maintain morale for the existing team who are reassured that only the committed join the community.
  • Zappos is active in all social media channels and listens to customer comments as well as gripes. An online suggestion to stock sunglasses was listened to and acted upon. Sunglasses sales rocketed and Zappos is now one of the largest online suppliers.
  • It offers a 365 day returns policy. Likely to be abused, most would think – however, those that do return items turn out to be Zappos’s most profitable customers overall.

The list of counter-intuitive policies and business practices (compared to conventional business wisdom) goes on and on….. yet the success of the business is undeniable (Amazon acquired the company for c$1 billion).

The really interesting point is where Zappos could go from here. It has built a reputation for reliability, trust, innovation, relentless customer focus, community, inventiveness, transparency, passion and fun. At a time when traditional BIG business has suffered a fall from grace, there is an open goal waiting for disruptive businesses like Zappos. Zappos is, in effect, a service company (that currently happens to sell footwear) and could go on to sell anything as its mad raving fans would flock to support it.

How many UK companies match Zappos’ approach to business?

Patchwork Traditional Food Company launches new products NOT so traditionally

It is great to see The Patchwork Traditional Food Company:

a) launching exciting new products and

b) using new social media channels to good effect to launch quickly, cheaply and effectively.

I’ve long been a HUGE fan of their pate so to see the launch of this ice cream is great news. Here is a business that has stuck to the knitting in producing high quality pates from a family recipe over a good few years. Now run by the founder’s sons, it is great to see traditional family business values mixed with forward thinking marketing techniques and product innovation.

I stumbled across the announcement of the launch of the new alcoholic ice creams via Twitter. A click on the Twitter link led to their Facebook fan page where the company is already generating some buzz around this new product launch.

Throw into the mix some nice artwork (just one example above) to support the new products and its difficult not to comment. But that was the point…. wasn’t it?