What does a new year mean for your business?  
The way you start the year has a huge impact on how much success it offers to your business. Obviously, we all want to do better this year than we did last, regardless of what kind of company you run. So, how do you make sure that will happen? Here are our six key tips to kicking off the next twelve months the right way.
In particular, small business owners often overlook this key step to success, assuming that managing the day-to-day operation of the company is more crucial than the overall business plan. This is a great way to work your fingers to the bone but run out of steam three months into the year. Instead, set clear goals for the year and keep them at the front of your mind as the days tick by.
Don't just let those annual goals sit on a file on your computer. Keep them close and check on your progress every week. Set real deadlines for completion of each goal and be sure you hit the target on time.
Even successful companies need to develop and change as time goes by. The start of a new year is a great time to think about the things you can do to allow this development to take place as smoothly as possible. One great place to start is your company's website. Take a look at it and ask yourself how well it is selling your business to your target market.
Does your business use social media? If not, it might be that you think it doesn't apply to your industry or the market into which you are hoping to tap. In 99% of cases, this would be a wrong assumption. The vast, vast majority of companies could improve their standing with intelligent social media. If you are already operating a social media arm, how is it helping your company? Perhaps you should consider changing your approach if you aren't seeing the dividends being paid.
Take a look at all the equipment you use on a day to day basis. How up to date is it? Could you gain from upgrading to more modern hardware and software? Use this time to look into what improvements can be made.
What can Machiavelli tell you about business?  
The Prince, Nicolo Machiavelli's 1513 treatise on history and political theory, was a landmark volume that provokes controversy, debate and fierce argument to this day. Characterised by the famous quote, ‘The end justifies the means', it called upon political leaders to not only be intelligent and diplomatic but also to be calculating and cunning, so long as the final results were to the betterment of society in general.
Though chiefly written about politics, The Prince is a must read for anybody looking to get ahead in modern business. Within its pages, you'll find a wealth of deep thought and wise advice on long term economic, financial and business strategy that will help you stay ahead of the competition.
As the princess cannot help being hated by someone, they ought to endeavour with the utmost diligence to avoid the hatred of powerful people.
Nobody succeeds in business without making a couple of enemies along the way. Yet, similarly, nobody succeeds in business without making even more friends. In particular, powerful friends are essential to securing your own power – it doesn't matter if you are the manager in a franchise of a fast food restaurant or the CEO of a multinational corporation. If you want to get and stay in an advanced position, ensure you make strong connections with the top echelon in your industry.
The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
While we all like to feel that we are the smartest person in the room, if you deliberately fill your business with people you know to be inferior to yourself, it will show in your results. Do not be afraid of people with more experience, more intelligence or more capabilities than you. Welcome the input of those whose input is worth having and reject those who are not up to scratch.
"Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times."
There's not a business person alive who can afford to stand still. Pay attention to changes, not just in your industry, but also in society at large. No matter how disconnected they might seem, everything is an influence on your company.
Would an older workforce improve your company  
Generally speaking, when you read about older people in the workplace, the stories are negative in nature. Particularly, we hear complaints being made that, as you get older, the chances of you finding a new job should you find yourself unemployed diminish greatly.
The motivation for employers in seeking out younger employees is obvious. The younger you are the more likely you are to be au-fait with the latest technology, which can be crucial in a world where business is continuously changing and adapting to keep up with hardware and software innovations. Yet, older staff members are often the better option for a number of key reasons. It is well worth considering the potential benefits of an older workforce if you are currently hiring.
The comedian Louis CK perhaps put it best when he said: “If you're in an argument with someone older than you, you should listen to them because, even if they're wrong, their wrongness is rooted in more information than you have.” Experience is invaluable, particularly in the workplace. While a younger worker might have more up-to-date knowledge or even better qualifications, an older worker is less likely to get rattled when the pressure hits or when things don't go to plan.
Where you will often find young employees with so much self-belief that it borders on arrogance, what is less likely to be found is genuine confidence. Confidence is the quality that allows a worker to express their opinion in a manner that is neither bullying, disrespectful nor distracting. Years on the job mean they know when the time is right to share an idea or give somebody advice.
Pride in their work
One thing that there is less and less of amongst new members of the workforce (and this counts for those coming from both school and university) is pride in their work. Unless they are doing their dream job, many younger employees cannot wait to get out of work every day – it doesn't matter how well they've worked or how complete the day's workload is. Older workers will have much more of a sense of responsibility, while taking a greater pride in a job well done.
Want to run a business from home Read this  

Are you about to start a small business? Then there is a good chance you have already considered running it from your home. Before you do, there are a few things to think about. This guide will run down the pros and cons of working out of your house and give you a few key tips to doing so effectively.
The Advantages
  • The one that most appeals to those who punch a clock in an office every day is that you get to spend the day at home. This is, in many ways, the ultimate freedom for the self-employed person. Your hours can be every bit as flexible as you would like them to be.
  • Cost is another important factor when it comes to running a business at home. No rent to pay, no commuting costs and, if you are a parent, you can save money on childcare costs. Plus there's a number of tax benefits for those launching a home based business.
  • Thanks to the lower start-up costs, you can launch the company as a part time business and allow it to develop from there.
The Disadvantages
  • The first advantage could also be read as a disadvantage: spending all your time at home could lead to cabin fever pretty quickly. Running your business at home might also disturb your lifestyle and family privacy.
  • There's also your neighbours to consider. Running a company results in all kinds of comings and goings at your address that could lead to disturbances in your neighbourhood.
  • Being at home can sometimes make it difficult to get into the business-like frame of mind, making the establishment of daily timetables and disciplined working tough. There's a lot more distractions at home than there are in the office.
Tips on getting it right
  • The first thing to do is to assess the risks in your home. The Health and Safety act applies to a home business just as much as an office-space.
  • Will there be employees in your home every day? If so, you are legally required to take out employer's liability insurance.
  • Will you be taking meetings with clients, customers or business visitors not employed by the company at your address? Then public liability insurance will be essential.
  • Insurance will also be required for any business stock that you keep at home, plus a business interruption policy is worth picking up too.

What can 3D printing do for your business?  

Chances are, you've heard plenty of chatter about 3D printing over the last 12 months or so. Depending on who you ask, it is either the future of manufacturing, a nerdy pastime for gadget geeks and gamers or a passing fad that will be gone the way of the mini-disc by this time next year. Despite what the cynics might say, the technology and business headlines in early 2014 all indicate that 3D printing is very much here to stay, with numerous large, multinational companies and major organisations firmly getting behind the technology.
Dell has just signed a deal to sell MakerBot 3D printing products through its online store, NASA is convinced 3D printers will play a huge part in getting astronauts to Mars and Credit Suisse's Jonathan Shaffer has estimated that the global worth of the 3D print industry in 2016 will reach $800 million.
The big question for you in all of this is: how might this impact my business?
If you do not work in a company that sells a tangible product of any kind, then the likely answer is ‘not at all.' If, however, you work in any industry that relies upon manufacturing then the almost certain answer is ‘very heavily and very soon.'
3D printing is particularly useful in the prototyping stage of product development. From the earliest moments of designing an object to the production of the final prototype, 3D printing can make the process more cost effective, quicker and, most importantly, more effective. Small details can be changed on the original CAD, and then printed without compromising the prototype's structure.
So, if you work with prototypes, then 3D printing will be essential to your future. Then there is the question of 3D printing for small parts. While mass producing machinery or products through 3D printing is not cost effective enough for widespread implementation, the printing of individual components for machinery is being adopted more and more across the globe. For example, an RAF jet that recently took off from a UK airstrip included 3D printed parts. Future plans are to house 3D print devices at bases across the world, meaning airplanes can be repaired and maintained using parts printed on-site, massively speeding up the repair process.
The same principle could be used on a much smaller scale for engineers, plumbers or maintenance workers. Rather than having to check they have all the spare parts for a job before arriving at a job-site, they could 3D print them after examining the broken device, once again saving time and cost.
For these and more reasons, 3D printing is a technology to which it is well worth paying attention.

Why now might be the perfect time to start  
With the UK economy continuing to tread an uncertain path, it might seem the last thing you want to do is to set-up shop on your own. The threat of recession and a lack of confidence in UK businesses in general is probably enough to put off even those with the necessary skill, ambition and capital to launch their own start-up.
Yet, as economic experts have pointed out time and time again, times of economic downturn are, in fact, the ideal time to establish a new company. There are several reasons for this:
• Take advantage of people's desire to save
During times of economic strife, customers become far more careful with their money. If you are entering a crowded marketplace as a start-up, it is quite possible that you can minimise your overheads in a way larger, more established competitors cannot. Being the ‘cheap alternative' is a huge advantage when people's wallets get light.
• Take advantage of high unemployment
While nobody likes to see unemployment figures rise, a high level of joblessness presents an opportunity to the new start-up. With so many qualified and ambitious people looking for work, the talent pool is much larger from which you can choose your employees.
• Take advantage of decreased prices
Everything – from office furniture to rent to workforce – costs less when the economy is in trouble. By setting up your business at this time, you can purchase all the essentials of your workplace for a fraction of the price then if you waited for the economy to boom again.
• Take advantage of a depleted field
Start your company during the boom-times and prepare to fight tooth and nail for position in an arena filled with powerful competitors. When money, and credit, is not so easy to get your hands on, a good half of those competitors, regardless of your industry, are likely to disappear.
• Take advantage of a slow market place
A weak economy slows things down across the market place. In such an atmosphere, a dynamic young start-up is a real attraction. See the lack of activity in your field as an opportunity, not a disadvantage.
Tip on interviewing job candidates  
If you run a business, there are few more important meetings you will take than the interviews you do with prospective staff. Your workforce is your most valuable asset and so staffing your office correctly will be essential to your success.
Yet interviewing is not a skill that comes naturally to everybody. Even the smartest business brains and the most competent managers might be unsure how to approach this situation. With that in mind, here are five top tips for running a successful interview.
• Decide what you want
This might sound obvious, but it is amazing how many interviewers are themselves unsure of the kind of skills they want from a candidate before the meeting begins. Take the time to discuss this with other experts in your business, to be sure you are zeroing in on the right things during the conversation.
• Write up the questions
Depending on your own personality, you might prefer to be a different type of interviewer. Some like to keep thing conversational, putting the candidate at ease with a natural, friendly style. Others prefer to plan rigidly in advance, writing down each and every question and sometimes even the correct responses that they are hoping to hear. Either way, you should write up a list of the areas you plan to touch on beforehand. The last thing you want to do is reach the end of the interview and then realise you forgot something crucial.
• Keep it real
Always get your candidate to clarify their answers with references to real incidents and experiences from their past career. Vague promises to be ‘self-motivated' or a ‘fast learner' are meaningless unless they are proven by the interviewee's track record.
• Don't evaluate until it's finished
Don't make the mistake of trying to weigh up everything the candidate says while they are saying it. Keep notes, record the answers, collect the evidence and then, when the candidate is gone, assess, overall, what they have brought to the table.
• Consider a marking frame
If you are working in an interview team with other interviewers, it might be a smart move to set-up a ‘marking frame', which will rate the candidates against a set of criteria. This will help to formalise the process, ensuring you are doing more than just going on your gut instincts.
Three key steps to save energy in your office  
For the modern workplace, it pays to be green. If you can lower your power consumption and lower your consumable usage, you can boost your budget. It doesn't matter what industry you work in or how many staff members you employ or how big or small your workplace is, a greener workplace will be a more efficient and cost effective workplace too.
Here are some key tips to keeping your business' environmental efficiency high and running costs low.
• Switch it all off
If you go into the average UK office outside of business hours, you would be amazed to see how many machines are still running, needlessly draining money from the budget. While the workplace is deserted all weekend, you are still likely to find copiers in standby mode, monitors still up and running, vending machines plugged in and overhead lights still on. In some cases you will even find air conditioning or heating units still running at full blast to the benefit of nobody.
Make sure every department in your building has a person who is responsible for ensuring all power-consuming items are turned off when not in use. Also, make sure your schedules for things like air conditioning are carefully followed.
• Take advantage when the workforce is smaller
At certain times of year, a large proportion of your workforce is likely to take holidays simultaneously. At Christmas, for example, there's a very good chance you will have a week or two-week period where your staff numbers are heavily depleted.
While this might lower your output, it can also boost your budget thanks to reduced running costs. To take full advantage, move all present employees to the same part of the office and then turn off the lights and hardware in the rest of the business.
• Buy Energy Star certified products
The Energy Star is the globally recognised symbol for sustainable hardware. This little blue box is only awarded to truly cost effective and eco-efficient products. If you ensure you only purchase equipment that has earned this certification, you can rest assured that your power consumption will never be needlessly high due to the hardware.
Should you allow your employees to work from home?  
Telecommuting is a word that sends shivers up many bosses' spines. The idea of relying upon your workforce to remain efficient, productive and disciplined when they are out of your sight goes against many business leaders' core beliefs about effective management. After all, you could be, unwittingly, paying your staff members to play with their dogs or sit on the couch watching daytime telly.
Yet allowing staff members to work from home either on a periodical or full time basis offers a number of terrific benefits. While it might not be suited to every company, it is well worth considering how many of these could apply to you should you allow telecommuting.
Lower costs
This is, perhaps, the best reason to introduce a work from home scheme of some sort in your workplace. The less members of staff in your building, the less you will be spending on running costs, expenses and your monthly bills. You might even be able to downsize to a smaller office, thus saving on rent, or perhaps even do away with a physical business location completely.
Lower your carbon footprint
If you are concerned about your business' environmental impact, then telecommuting is going to be a smart move. The traditional office, with its mountains of paperwork and non-stop power consumption, is not generally a green organisation. Telecommuting reduces your carbon footprint, placing a greater emphasis on digital data movement and less of an emphasis on copying and printing.
Attract employees from a wider geographical area
If employees do not need to be in the office every day, the net for who you hire becomes larger. You can even employ skilled workers living in different cities or countries. With a bigger geographical area to choose from, the chances of finding high quality workers become better.
Happier workforce
Telecommuting has plenty of advantages for the worker too. One of the key elements workers who prefer telecommuting cite is the improved work-life balance it offers. Without the daily and nightly commute to and from work, the employee gets to spend more time with their family. Similarly, it allows them to choose where they live based only on how good it is for them and their loved ones and not on its proximity to the office.
4 things you need to be a great business leader  
There are plenty of people out there that want to run a business but, once they find themselves in such a position, suddenly realise they don't have the skills for the job. Leadership is more than business acumen, market knowledge or sound planning. It is just as much about attitude, influence, personality and passion.
Contrary to what some people may say, however, the skills of a good leader are things that can be learnt with experience and forethought. Here are five steps you can take towards being a great business leader.
Even the toughest, most discipline insistent boss has to have a positive attitude towards the business and what the business does. A complete confidence in the company and the future of the company goes hand in hand with confidence, good decision making and success all the way through the company.
The job of the leader is not to the do the work but to make sure the work gets done. Particularly in new start-ups, there is an issue with the founder of the business attempting to take care of everything themselves, though a lack of trust of those around them. Hire skilled people, with specialist skills, that you trust to take ownership of their areas and make sure they do their jobs correctly.
While all great leaders are remembered as trailblazers that always seemed to know what to do best in any given situation, the reality is likely to have been quite different. In truth, the best leaders are always open to advice from those more experienced or qualified in certain fields. Don't assume you know best in every situation but make sure it is known that your decision is final.
A leader is only as good as the belief other have in them. Your employees won't believe in you just because you pay their wages. You earn their belief and positive feelings by your actions, decisions and reputation. Never lose sight of this fact and ensure you always behave in a manner that persuades them of your capabilities.
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