Using an iPad for accountancy work

The reaction of my work colleagues to my  iPad is still a mixture of “Wow, can I have a go” and “Steve, stop playing with it” or “have you found a use for it yet?”.  The latter is particularly intriguing as I can be busy writing (work!) notes on the iPad yet people automatically interpret it as “playing” rather than working – although, yes it is soooo much more fun working on an iPad!

As I mentioned in a previous post (see below), it is the strength and depth in availability and functionality of iPad applications that will hold the key to success of tablet devices such as the iPad in the workplace.

I am currently finding the following apps of most use day-to-day:

Notes – comes pre-installed on the iPad and provides a useful work journal that I use for internal meetings. Handy because you can email your notes around with action points immediately after the meeting rather than having to get typed up if handwritten.

Dropbox – great to synchronise files (in the cloud) between the laptop and the iPad – free.

Penultimate (£1.79) – nice to be able to sketch out points on an application which is much like a moleskine in look and style.

Osfoora HD – elegant, crisp and lightening fast Twitter application that is well worth the £2.39 price tag.

Reeder – a superb, clean and simple RSS reader which synchronises nicely with Google Reader accounts.

WordPress – free app that synchronises with WordPress blogs and allows you to compose and edit posts directly from the application (far simpler than trying to edit via Safari).

FT Mobile Edition – somehow the font and colour of the Financial Times newspaper is particularly pleasing at the start of the day. A great free app – although registration is required once you hit a monthly article limit.

Bloomberg – a superb free app to follow latest moves on the stock markets, indices, reports and podcasts.

I am looking forward to testing the Apple iWorks office applications and others over the next few weeks and will report back.

The iPad is already changing how I work now and how I can foresee work practices changing in the short to medium term. How long before laptops become a thing of the past?

Emergency Budget 2010: What it means for fast growth technology businesses

There was mixed news for fast growth technology and digital businesses in today’s Emergency Budget. Headlines were as follows:

Corporation tax rates will be cut from 21% to 20% for small companies ie those with taxable profits up to £300,000, with effect from 1 April 2011. Large companies will benefit from tax rate cuts from 28% to 27% in 2011 and a 1% decrease each year to 24% in 2015. A hugely competitive rate.

Capital gains tax for entrepreneurs was actually enhanced with the 10% effective CGT rate preserved under Entrepreneurs’ Relief and the lifetime allowance increased from £2m to £5m. It was disappointing that more was not done to extend the benefits of Entrepreneurs Relief to employees holding share options, many of whom will be taking a career risk sticking with fledgling startups (rather than taking ‘safer’ jobs) so they deserve to be rewarded like the founder shareholders.

New start ups in the north west will benefit from a national insurance contributions holiday for the first year of trading for the first ten employees. The scheme will run for 3 years and could save businesses up to £50,000. It will kick off in September this year but businesses started in the interim may qualify.

Capital allowances will be reduced to fund the above corporation tax rate with the Annual Investment Allowance for investment in say computer equipment and office furniture reduced from £100,000 to £25,000 from April 2012. There are further reductions for investment in fixed assets so businesses should seek to accelerate planned capital spend before April 2012 when the changes take effect.

VAT increases from 17.5% to 20% from 4 January 2011 should have minimal effect on most B2B businesses as the increased VAT rates should wash through in most cases. B2C businesses will be hit next year although a 20% VAT rate remains competitive globally.

R&D tax credits will be preserved which is great news and a review will take place in line with the Dyson review which may enhance the relief. Disappointingly the planned video gaming relief will be withdrawn – why this is the case is baffling to me as the video games industry is one in which we already have a competitive advantage and the likes of Canada already have such tax breaks.

A Regional Growth fund along with pressure on banks to lend to SMEs should assist in ensuring that businesses have much needed access to funding.

Overall, the Emergency Budget was positive for businesses with a clear plan for growth and stability over the next 5 years.

What’s your view?

Emergency Budget Wishes 2010

Letter to George Osborne MP regarding my wishes for next Tuesday’s Emergency Budget Speech:

Dear Mr Osborne MP,

Emergency Budget 2010

I appreciate that you have an extremely difficult job next Tuesday 22 June 2010 in delivering a Budget Report that seeks not only to balance the books over the longer term but to also avoid derailing any possible chance of an economic recovery in the UK in the short to medium term. No mean feat!

I ask that you place support for Enterprise and Business at the centre of your plans. In my view, this represents the only fighting chance we have of preserving jobs – so that people can keep on saving and spending – whilst generating profits and economic growth to keep the till ringing at the Exchequer with tax receipts for years to come (and so pay down our monstrous public deficit).

Central to this approach must be a “sleeves rolled-up” desire to discard with red-tape, bureaucracy and other hurdles to businesses getting on “with doing business” aligned with a clear vision and road-map of the UK as a great place to do business. This must be a long term plan backed with long term measures. No short term chopping and changing – we’ve had enough of this of late – as businesses want “certainty” so that they can plan for the future with the confidence that the rug will not be pulled out from under their feet anytime soon. (As an advisor, I agree that this would be nice too).

You have already set out in your coalition agreement that you will increase the rate of capital gains tax for individuals, however, I ask that you stick to your pledge to retain more attractive rates for investment in business assets and avoid implementing any cumbersome taper relief measures that cause wide-spread head-scratching. Keep it simple. In a similar vein, I ask that you withdraw the hideously complex restrictions on tax relief on pension contributions made by higher earners so that people can save for their retirement without having to navigate this minefield.

You have also expressed a wish to simplify corporation tax to make the UK one of the most competitive tax systems in the world. I wholeheartedly agree with this lofty goal but ask that you refrain from withdrawing tax incentives that have helped influence longer term business planning in a positive way such as R&D tax credits, enhanced capital allowances and the forthcoming patent income and gaming relief tax breaks. The UK’s highly successful entrepreneur and inventor, James Dyson, has called for the R&D tax credit to be retained and enhanced – although I question whether the relief should be aimed solely toward particular high tech sectors as Dyson suggests. Further, a recent report by NESTA points to recent findings that the fastest growing 6% of businesses generated 1/2 of the jobs created in the UK between 2002 – 2008 – what these companies had in common was a disproportionate tendency to be innovativeWe have the expertise to build innovative intellectual property rich businesses that become key exporters bringing cash into our country and you should seize this opportunity by demonstrating commitment via targeted tax incentives such as those noted above.

Capital allowances should continue to be used as a lever to encourage ‘greener’ investment and I would also like to see the Government implement tax-advantaged status for specific business parks or zones to encourage inward and internal investment in businesses spread across the UK. The increasing prominence and differential of London as a business centre compared to the rest of the UK regions needs recalibrating and such measures could help. This could also lead to much needed job opportunities in areas of high unemployment – particularly where painful planned public sector jobs cuts are implemented.

Given the substantial revenue raising potential of an increase in VAT rates, I can understand why this is likely to be a target for change. Most B2B businesses would suffer minimally from such an increase as they would pass on the cost in most cases, however, please be mindful of the pain likely to be suffered by UK retailers and customers alike. I would also ask that any planned phased increases take account of the administrative and labour costs of changing prices for each uplift and its timing (e.g. not over the Christmas busy season like your predecessors implemented please), if such an approach is ultimately planned.

Other matters I would like to see addressed include: no drastic cuts to the HMRC Time to Pay Arrangement which so many businesses have been relying on to spread their tax bills whilst the banks have been less willing to lend; a withdrawal of the planned 1% increase in Employer’s National Insurance contributions and some practical, workable solutions for married / civil couples to split their personal income tax allowances.

The above is just a handful of the sorts of changes I would like to see but my overall plea is that a long-term business friendly strategy is adopted that opens the door for new business start-ups, increased overseas inward investment and a supportive tax and business regime that gives every promising UK business a chance to flourish.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best wishes and good luck for next Tuesday.

Yours sincerely

Steve Livingston

Have I missed anything?

Missing link to business success

Luke Johnson, serial entrepreneur who runs Risk Capital Partners, gives a good summary of what it takes to be successful in business. Recommended reading. (His columns in the FT usually are).

I would add one further trait that I see in all entrepreneurs who make it:

It’s that glint in the eye. A steely determination. Listening yet displaying an overarching knowingness. Some might call it passion. It is. But its more than that. Its a level of commitment that transcends all. Like the bridges back to perceived safety and comfort have been burnt and there’s no turning back. “This has got to work – or if not this one, my next venture will.”

Nothing beats the energy and excitement of working with and being in the company of entrepreneurs.

What key traits or attributes would you add as contributing to success in business?

Photo credit: Paul (Dex)

Effective communication need not cost the earth

If you’ve been wandering around the streets of Manchester of late, you might have noticed a new and ingenious advertising opportunity as demonstrated by on the pavements and side-walks. cleans paving slabs using just water and a stencil to spell out each striking advertising message. Simple, eco-friendly, clean, innovative and 100 times more noticeable than a billboard!

Could this work for your business to communicate its message in a highly effective yet affordable way?

I highly recommend that you visit their website to view examples of their 3D pavement art – simply stunning. Watch this short video as a taster:

Whilst we’re on the subject of innovation and things being not quite what they seem; how about the following for a novel way of reducing road speeds:

If you saw this ahead, would it slow you down?

Likely. But you could be cunning and aim to drive so that you’re wheels straddle the pot-hole either side. To combat this, would the following slow you down?

Almost certainly, but hey it’s not very eco-friendly or cost efficient to go around digging potholes in otherwise perfectly manicured roads – unless all is not quite what its seems?

Two good examples of effective and innovative communication that need not cost the earth.

Do you have any other creative and innovative examples to share?

Putting Client Service 1st

It is tempting to spend your time chasing new clients and new work. It seems that as humans we are wired this way – the thrill is in the chase.

But when I look back over the past 12 months, I am pleased to say that most of my new work has come from existing clients. This makes sense as my business consulting and advisory work usually results from either:

  • clients happily picking up the phone to seek advice for specific business opportunities or issues
  • regular update meetings I arrange to identify opportunities e.g. tax saving or other growth opportunities
  • client referrals.

My key objective as a tax and business advisor is to develop close working relationships with my clients such that they view me as part of their business management team. To serve my clients first. If my clients grow, then I can grow. To have received the humbling feedback that I did from my clients in a recent survey suggests that I am on track in achieving this goal.

The challenge now is to further invest in my client relationships, to find new and more effective ways of working collaboratively (ideally in real-time) to deliver great service and, overall, to continue to build a circle of exciting, ambitious entrepreneurial clients (ideally by referral) here in the north west.

How have you benefited from putting client or customer service first in your marketing?

Time to share your Secret Sauce

Successful businesses used to protect their No.1 position by keeping their guard up at all times. Investing huge sums in protecting their winning ideas, strategies and practises. Keeping their key employees under lock and key (with lips sealed). In a nutshell, doing everything possible to keep their secret sauce bottled and firmly corked.

However, there is a new breed of business emerging that does the complete opposite – and they are reaping the rewards as a result.

Think about businesses like Zappos , Southwest Airlines, Innocent Drinks, Starbucks. What is it that they all have in common (aside from becoming hugely successful businesses over the past decade)?

It is that they are not afraid to share their secret sauce – in fact they’ve turned sharing their secret sauce with the world into a game-changing competitive advantage. Whilst their laggard competitors invest huge sums in a vain attempt to defend their fleeting advantage, these new businesses are open and transparent in providing access to their culture, working practises, what makes them tick and even show-casing their key employees’ thoughts and strategies.

Identifying and then sharing your business’s secret sauce with your customers, your competitors and the world might seem counter-intuitive to most business owners, yet time and again in recent years, it proves to be that elusive missing ingredient that can be attributed to the success of that new kid on the block.

Isn’t it time for you to find and start sharing your firm’s secret sauce with the world?

[Post script: if you’ve yet to find your secret sauce, there’s never been a better time to start experimenting with some new recipes and ingredients]

Business lessons from the BP catastrophe

With rumours swirling of a potential BP bankruptcy (seriously!), businesses should take heed from the following lessons:

  1. The ONE business certainty is uncertainty. Plan, test, review, adapt. Quickly. Repeat.
  2. Do good. Build a sustainable business. Do great work. Make a difference. Invest for the future. Engage mad raving fans – they might then support you when the s**t hits the fan.
  3. Be humble (hint: otherwise this could be about your business).
  4. Be prepared to think the unthinkable. But never be deterred – refer to point 2.