Category Archives: Business

New Legislation and New Obligations

New legislation on paternity leave will come into effect in Ireland on 30th September. In advance of that, employers need to understand their obligations under the Bill and what they should expect from employees who want to take this leave, writes Ciara McGuone from the Small Firms Association (SFA).

The Paternity Leave and Benefits Bill 2016 enables a “relevant parent” to take two weeks’ paternity leave within the first 26 weeks of the birth/adoption of the child. The Act defines a “relevant parent” as a person (other than the mother of the child) who is the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the adopting mother or sole male adopter of the child, or in any other case, the father of the child, the spouse, civil partner or cohabitant of the mother of the child, or a parent of the child as defined under section 5 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. From this definition, it is clear that the Bill encompasses a wide range of circumstances and also makes equal provision for same sex couples. The paternity benefit is paid by the Department of Social Protection at €230 per week and employers have the option of providing a further top-up to the father’s paternity benefit to bring it up to their regular salary if they so choose.

What are the Paternity Leave Entitlements in Other EU Countries?

Ireland has certainly been lagging behind other EU countries in the area of paternity leave – most notably Sweden, where paid paternity leave has been in place for over 40 years. The UK, where paternity leave has been in place since 2003, also recently introduced shared parental leave. This means that mothers in the UK are able to share a large portion of their paid maternity leave with their partners, giving families more flexibility during the first year of birth/adoption of the child. As such, when looked at in the overall European context, the paternity legislation in Ireland is long overdue and realigns the rights of Irish employees with those of our European counterparts who have been afforded paternity leave for many years.

 

What are the Key Considerations for Employers?

  • Employers should update their company policies and procedures accordingly to reflect this change (i.e. draft a paternity leave policy / update current leave policies).
  • This proposed legislation ensures there will be no statutory obligation on an employer to continue to pay the normal salary during paternity leave. Employers will have the option of providing a further top-up to the “relevant parent’s” paternity benefit if they so choose.
  • There will be no change to employers’ PRSI to fund this proposal, which limits the potential additional costs for businesses.
  • There is a provision in the legislation that employees will be expected to give their employers at least four weeks’ notice of leave, which will allow employers to plan accordingly. In addition, the two weeks’ leave must be taken in one continuous period, which should help to minimise disruption for employers rather than this leave being broken into days or hours.
  • Research has shown that mothers who are supported at home in the weeks following their child’s birth tend to be healthier and to have lower incidences of post-natal depression. This additional support will help the mother’s transition back to the workplace.

Hire the Best Talent

We hear that a lot in recruitment. The gravity of a hiring decision often leads hiring managers to hesitate when faced with the decision to hire or not to hire – so they wait instead. This last-minute hesitation is often a mistake.

The very best talent often have more than one offer on the table, and they don’t usually want to hang around. Cpl’s recent employment monitor found that 50% of jobseekers have turned down a job offer because the process took too long. To make matters worse, sites like Glassdoor invite users to submit reviews of companies they have interviewed with in the past. That means one candidate’s negative experience could cause others to resist applying because they think your business moves too slowly.

 Why Do Companies Move So Slowly?

The common factor in most “slow” recruitment processes is fear. Hiring a new employee is a big investment and most hiring managers are careful that they invest that money in the right place. However, that determination to make only the right decision often leads to no decision at all.

Instead, businesses will ask a great candidate to attend multiple interview rounds to get peers to rubber-stamp the decision. This can cause as many problems as it solves. If you ask your boss to meet a candidate to confirm they’re the right person, what do you do if you get the wrong answer?

Fear of missing out can also lead to companies simply hitting “pause” on a hiring process. You find a candidate you really like, but maybe you met them very early in the process and think “It couldn’t be this easy”, or you have seen a CV that looks a bit better so you wait until you nail down that interview. The problem with both situations is it leaves a great candidate in limbo – often for weeks.

 

How Do You Speed Up the Process?

The best way to make your hiring process more efficient and avoid these mistakes is to ask yourself the right questions.

  1. If you met the perfect candidate tomorrow, would you hire them?
    Your answer is the perfect litmus test on your need to bring in a new hire. If you hesitate or answer “No”, then you’re not really ready to start the process. If you start now, and you do meet someone good, you are only likely to frustrate them with slow updates and drawn out timelines. Avoid advertising the role or talking to candidates until you know you’re ready to hire someone tomorrow. That way, when you meet the perfect candidate, the decision will be easy.
  2. Would you really hire your second choice?
    The option of “holding” a good candidate in hand while you look for other options seems attractive but it only offers false security. Besides the fact that this “on-hold” candidate might go somewhere else, there is also a psychological issue with hiring them. The moment you put them “on-hold”, what you’re really saying is they’re second choice. It will be difficult for you to ignore that fact if you do hire them – it will always feel like a compromise. When you get that instinct to look at “who else is out there” you need to ask yourself – “Am I stalling or do I just not want to hire this person?”
  3. What really matters to you?
    Finally, make sure you have a clear understanding of the key criteria in your next hiring, right at the beginning. Beyond the minimum requirements, like skills and years’ experience, what are the factors that will make this hire a success? Personality, background, culture fit – the factors that make your role and your business unique should be the ones you focus on.

Tips for buying an existing business

In some situations, buying an existing business can help you grow your business faster. You can buy your way into new markets, new products and new employees. Buying an existing business has many advantages, but there are also some drawbacks. A business owner may wish to sell a profitable, well-run business for many reasons, so selling does not automatically indicate a problem. However, you should not assume an existing business is self-sufficient and profitable. Potential buyers must conduct adequate due diligence to discover the true short and long-term financial and marketing position of the company before buying it.

The Pros

  • Easier purchase financing because of the company’s proven track record
  • Existence of an established customer base, allowing early and ongoing sales
  • Existing profitability, allowing for the generation of regular income
  • An established marketplace
  • The ability to focus on improving products and services because operating facilities and employees are in place
  • Established stocks
  • The former owner’s expertise and knowledge of the company and its markets
  • Existing business records to guide decisions
  • The initial financial outlay is known and may be less than that for starting a similar business from scratch.

The Cons

  • Inheriting hidden and unknown problems or financial burdens
  • Being stuck with the company’s bad reputation
  • A less-than-ideal location
  • Facilities and equipment that may be outdated or in need of repair
  • Difficulty merging two business cultures.

Buying a business is a complicated process involving many types of skills. You should retain professional advisers, including a qualified solicitor and an accountant, before you embark on this challenging but rewarding journey.

Get Your Business Plan Right

Business plans are dead — or are they? For many entrepreneurs, the business plan is an outmoded document and start-ups rarely think they need one to get by. But the fact is that a business plan isn’t simply a paper document; it can be a very valuable tool and a roadmap for even the smallest or earliest-stage idea, writes Connor Sweeney from InterTradeIreland.

A good business plan can foster alignment of ideas, set the tone for the business and even help with the brand messaging. And by preparing one, a company can identify a clear and definite plan of action to implement the business strategy where every member of the team knows their clearly defined role.

Without a plan, a business is essentially rudderless, and day-to-day activities are likely to be haphazard and reactive, in stark contrast to those businesses that implement a well thought-out and structured business plan.

So, how can you prepare a strong business plan?

1. Presentation
Make sure your plan is easy to read – include headings, paragraphs, tables and graphs if appropriate. Include some white space. You must attempt to keep the reader interested throughout the entire document. Try to avoid the use of industry jargon – not all readers of the plan are as conversant with industry language as you are. Avoid the use of acronyms without first explaining what they stand for. This is especially important if the industry in which you operate uses acronyms as standard. Do you know what a PIP is? It’s a Programme Implementation Plan, but you could possibly have been guessing for ages if you hadn’t been told. Small things like that frustrate the readers of a business plan. Try not to do that!

 

2. Remember the objective
What is the purpose of your business plan? Is it primarily to raise finance? What type of finance? If it’s equity then you should tailor the output to an investor’s point of view, i.e. a return on their investment after a period of programmed development and a sale to maximise their investment – usually via a trade sale for cash. If you are using the business plan to approach a lending institution (bank) for funds then you need to tailor the plan slightly differently – they are interested in the business’s ability to repay. You should prepare the plan with this in mind. Think about the business idea from the reader’s point of view. Why would they have an interest in this project?

 

3. Keep it to an appropriate length
An investor may have to read a lot of business plans. The more concise and to the point that a plan is the better. The plan should only serve to get you, the promoter, in front of an investor to make your pitch for funds! Make sure that your executive summary (the most important part of the plan) is no longer than 2-3 pages and that the whole plan is less than 25 pages using a font size 12. Oh, and don’t use the executive summary to introduce new ideas – they should have been addressed in the main body of the text. Write the executive summary last. The best plans are the ones that have been distilled down from their original full size version to a clean, concise document. If you have additional information, it can go in an appendix.

 

4. Verification
Make sure that what you say in the plan is correct. Use your prior trading experience, and provide external data and research results to back up what you say. Don’t fall into the old trap of overstating the size of the market. When estimating the size of the market, if you achieved 100% of the market sales would your turnover be what you claim the market size to be? Also, don’t fall into the “We’ll achieve 5% of the global market” trap. How are you going to do this? That’s what the reader wants to know!

 

5. Leave enough time to prepare it properly
Don’t rush the job. If it is prepared in a hurry, it will look like it has been! Get it ready and then leave it alone for a few days before revisiting it. Get someone else to read it – it’s amazing what a second pair of non-industry eyes will do. Often, business owners will look at the first draft of their business plan after a year or so and be amazed how amateurish it looks. Your first attempt will probably be the same! Don’t be put off; everything can be improved with a bit of work.

The key to a successful plan is one that catches the eye of the investor, gets the financials right and has enough detail on the route to market.

A large majority of businesses offside

The InterTradeIreland All-Island Quarterly Business Monitor (April-June 2016) indicated that over 95% of businesses surveyed across the island have no plan in place to deal with the consequences of the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Moreover, nearly one in five report that this uncertainty will lead to a decrease in their level or speed of investment.

Crucially, this uncertainty and degree of pessimism comes at a time when the wider economic and business back drop is very positive, with 90% of businesses reporting they are stable or growing. Encouragingly, also, is the result that almost two thirds of businesses on the island state that they have the ambition to grow in the immediate future.

In the meantime we encourage businesses to focus on the things they can control, such as:
 

1. Customer and Supplier Relationships

Focus on developing close value-adding partnership relationships with customers or suppliers that can endure potentially destabilising changes in pricing relationships.

 

2. Business Planning

Possessing a clear and concise plan for your business that identifies clear objectives, critical processes, threats and opportunities is a vital step to navigating uncertainty. Clearly this plan should be reviewed and adjusted on a regular basis.

 

3. Innovation

Innovation should play a key part in your business plans. Uniqueness in a product or service offering comes with a premium that can offset disadvantageous cost movement. InterTradeIreland’s Challenge Programme  shows businesses how to build innovation into their DNA.

 

4. Currency Hedging

A currency hedging plan reduces a business’s risk of losing out when the value of the currency you are selling in declines relative to the company’s core operating currency. As such, hedging is a risk management strategy that protects rather than creates profits. Guidance on hedging can be provided by your bank.

 

InterTradeIreland Supports

InterTradeIreland is supporting businesses to navigate the uncertain landscape and realise their growth ambitions as the terms and conditions of the UK’s new relationship with Europe – and more specifically that between Northern Ireland and Ireland – emerges.

Our range of trade programmes will become more attractive to inexperienced and first time exporters as new trading relationships begin to emerge. Our Trade Accelerator Vouchers, which can be used for market advice to help scope the potential business opportunity in the opposite jurisdiction and any regulatory hurdles, offer the perfect vehicle for getting expert company-specific advice on changes in the trading environment as they emerge.

Most importantly, we encourage businesses to continue pursuing an export growth strategy. Businesses that export, including those that trade across the border, are three times more likely to be growing!

Some of the elements affecting SMEs

In last year’s Budget, the Minister introduced an Earned Income Tax Credit of €550 for small business owners who cannot benefit from the PAYE tax credit of €1,650 available to employees. The Minister announced an increase in this credit to €950 for 2017.

The three lower USC rates have been reduced by 0.5%. Accordingly, all income earners will have a lower tax burden to varying degrees. The ceiling at which the 2.5% USC rate applies is increased to €18,772 – this ensures that a full-time worker on the minimum wage will remain outside the top rates of USC.

 

2. Minimum Wage

The higher cost to employers arising from the increase in the hourly minimum wage from €9.15 to €9.25 will take effect from 1st January 2017.

 

3. Entrepreneur relief

The standard rate of capital gains tax remains at 33%. However, the Minister announced a reduction to 10% in the capital gains tax rate that applies to disposals by Entrepreneurs of qualifying assets. Entrepreneur relief offers the reduced rate of capital gains tax on the disposal by an individual of business assets up to a lifetime limit of chargeable gains of €1 million. The Minister is to review this lifetime limit in future budgets.

To qualify for the relief, the business assets which include shares in a company must have been owned by the individual for a continuous period of at least three years in the five years immediately prior to the date of disposal.

 

4. Share-based remuneration

Following a public consultation and review of share-based remuneration earlier this year, the Minister announced the intention to develop a new, SME, focussed share-based incentive scheme which is to be introduced in next year’s Budget.

 

5. Retailers and Tourism

The reduced 9% VAT rate for tourism and related activities will continue to apply.  The Minister noted that the reduced rate will act as a buffer for the sector against the weakness in sterling which increases the cost of holidaying in Ireland for British tourists.

 

6. SMEs in the Construction and Property Sector

The Minister introduced a new ‘Help to Buy Scheme’ for first time buyers of new houses that take out a mortgage of at least 80% of the purchase price. This scheme will provide a rebate of income tax paid over the previous four years. The rebate is subject to a maximum of 5% of the purchase price of a new home up to a value of €400,000. New houses with a cost between €400,000 and €600,000 will also qualify for the scheme but the rebate is calculated at the €400,000 limit. No rebate will be paid on new house purchases in excess of €600,000. The rebate does not apply to the purchase of second hand houses.

The majority of phone numbers

Traditional telephony, where your phone calls are trafficked over physical lines, is dying out. The public switched telephone network (PSTN) has been decommissioned in some European countries, with end of life dates set for the near future in others. It is expected that the end date for Ireland will be announced soon.

The reason for this is IP telephony, or VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). This technology uses your broadband connection to traffic your phone calls and has long been accepted as the alternative to PSTN due to the real business benefits it can offer. Essentially it allows you to put your phone system and phone numbers into the “cloud” so they are not reliant on the physical PSTN to work.

How does this improve your business communications? Let’s take a look at five very real benefits.

 

1.    Flexible user management
For cloud phone numbers, the inevitable comings and goings of employees in an organisation pose no issues. If an employee leaves, assigning their old number to a new starter in your organisation can be done with a couple of clicks, no matter where they are based. They don’t need to sit at the same desk as the previous person and use the same phone cable. They don’t even need to be in the same office.

If someone needs to work remotely, either from home or while they travel for business, there’s no issue with them staying contactable via their same number. In its most basic setup, a cloud phone number is usually pointed at one or more devices i.e. your desk phone or a soft phone.

 

2.    Improve your operations
With a cloud system, you can put time of day rules in place with some simple clicks. This means that when someone calls out of office hours, you can play a specific message mentioning what the office hours are or perhaps providing them with an alternative contact method. You can prompt them to leave a voicemail afterward, or even redirect their call to that alternative contact number.

If a person calls within office hours, they can be directed to the receptionist or the boss or even given a full menu of options to choose from for each department. This is known as Interactive Voice Response (IVR).

Your organisation may have more than one “main” number. For example, your sales team might have its own general number as well as each sales rep having their own direct dial. When the sales line rings, it’s possible to set up which team member’s phone should call first, or perhaps all of them should. If the call goes unanswered for a period of time, you can redirect it to the team leader’s or manager’s phone.

The beauty of a cloud-based phone number is not that these services are simply available. They are available for PSTN numbers too (although it can be an arduous and expensive process). Rather, with a cloud phone number, these rules can be tweaked whenever needed by someone within your own organisation – no matter how many times they need to be changed.

 

3.    Get in-depth reporting
As your cloud phone number works via the internet, it is a lot easier for your virtual phone system to provide reporting data on your calls. Duration, date, number called or whether or not it was a transfer – all of this information is easily available.

You can use call recordings for training purposes, check the call performance of your in-house sales team or an individual user, or keep a tab on how many calls are coming in to your customer support team.

Reporting for a traditional phone system can be accomplished. However, it will be priced as an add-on to your service or you will need to contract a third party to provide you with the capability rather than have it included with your phone system. There will also be limitations on the information that can be provided.

How to grow brussels sprouts on easy way

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying Brussels sprouts are the ultimate Christmas vegetable. In fact, each Christmas, we munch our way through around 100 million sprouts, and a good chunk of that number is supplied by Anthony and Enda Weldon from their farm in North Dublin. Much like Santa’s elves, December means serious overtime for the Weldons –  as they aim to ensure a serving of sprouts makes it onto dinner plates around Ireland. Read on to find out how they do it.

When it comes to sprouts, the Weldon brothers have a lot of pedigree. They’ve been growing them for decades. “The farm has been in the family for around four generations,” Anthony says. “It was traditionally vegetable and cereal growing, but it’s only in the last few decades we decided to concentrate on sprouts specifically.”

“They’re obviously originally from Brussels, but sprouts would have been grown in Ireland from the early part of the last century,” he explains. “My grandfather grew them and he was a young man in the 1916 Rising.”

Brussels sprouts will certainly be making an appearance in the Weldons’ Christmas spread. “I would eat them three times a week,” Anthony says. “The traditional way is to cook the sprouts in the same way as bacon and cabbage, with the sprouts done in the bacon water.”

And younger generations are finding new ways to spice up the sprout with creative cookery. “Just yesterday, my nephew made up a sprout salad with maple syrup and beetroot and it was absolutely delicious,” Enda explains. “Everyone was filling their plates.”

Along with daring new recipes, modern growing techniques and varieties have contributed to a serious uptake in the humble sprout’s reputation. “We plant them a lot earlier than we did traditionally, and we grow them now on a slower regime,” Enda explains. “That way, they use all the natural trace elements that are in the ground.”

“The varieties we have now are a lot sweeter,” Anthony says. “I think that’s what put people off them years ago. They were used as a threat, ‘We’ll give you sprouts if you don’t behave yourself!’ but I think that’s changing now. Thankfully for us,” he laughs.

Preparing for the Christmas Rush

December is definitely the busiest season for the Weldons – with around 50% of their production geared towards the Christmas rush. “The actual volumes that go through in Christmas week are easily twenty times what goes through in a normal week,” Anthony says. “In a normal week, one harvesting machine will suffice but on Christmas week, we need three.”

“We’re coming into the mad season now,” Enda says. “It’s very different from normal operations during the year because we have to take on a lot more people and train them. And we put the show in operation ‘round the clock for about 8 or 9 days. We harvest, size grade, quality grade, pack, and deliver all within around 24 hours. You have to be able to get it done when the crunch comes at Christmas.”

 

A Unique Challenge

And the sprout itself is a tricky customer, as Anthony explains, “It’s probably the most difficult brassica (plants belonging to the mustard family) to grow. The sprouts themselves are fully exposed to the elements at all times. “

This year, a lack of sunlight during the summer has contributed to a sprout shortage across Europe. “We had a reasonably good growing summer,” Anthony explains, “but because we had a lack of sunshine, the crops have tended to grow higher to (reach the) light this year. And as a result, we’ve had a smaller sprout size.”

 

The Benefits of Flexible Finance

Because of the seasonal nature of their work, the Weldons often need fast access to farm finance. “AIB are a huge part of our business, especially in terms of leasing arrangements,” Enda says. “When you’re cropping, you’re taking a chance every year. We personally take that risk, but the bank also takes the risk with us.”

“We’ve availed of financing from AIB over the last twenty years and we’ve always found them very flexible and easy to deal with,” Anthony says. “Sometimes opportunities arise when you need quick decisions. And you need fast clearance from the bank if you’re going to finance something.”

How to success on business fashion

He’s only been in business for five years, but Evan Doherty has already gained a reputation as one of the most sought after photographers in Dublin. The 31-year-old from Bayside counts Dunnes Stores, Debenhams and Ryanair amongst his many commercial clients. What’s more, he regularly shoots fashion advertorials with the top models like Vogue Williams, Rozanna Purcell and Teodora Sutra.

“Most days I’m so busy that the phone is constantly ringing,” he says. “It’s hard work but I’m not complaining.” Although he has long had a love of photography and always showed an artistic flair, Evan studied Sound Engineering after school. He soon found it was not for him and left after a few months to take up a role as an assistant chef working on Irish Ferries. It was only when he was made redundant in 2011 that he decided to study photography.

 

A Change of Direction

“Taking pictures was always a hobby for me. It never occurred to me to try to make a living from it,” he says. “But when my friend’s mother suggested that I do a year-long course in photography at Marino College of Further Education, I decided to give it a go. After that, I did work experience with fashion photographer Barry McCall.”

Evan was then offered a place on a fine art photography course in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Although it was a four-year course, Evan found he was being offered work with top clients after just two years and decided to leave. He hasn’t looked back since.

 

Learning on the Job

“I threw myself into it head first,” he laughs. “And in many ways, I learnt on the job. It helped that it was around the time of the changeover to digital from analogue photography.”

However, he emphasises that it’s not just the ability to take a good photograph that makes a good photography business. “You have to have people skills too,” he says. “And be good at marketing yourself. Of course, there is all the admin to manage too. It may sound glamorous – and believe me, it is at times. I travel all the time, work with celebrities and shoot in exotic locations. But it is a lot of hard work and you’ve got to have a good work ethic.”

 

Getting the House in Order

That’s where AIB’s MyBusinessToolkit came into play. Evan discovered the service when he opened a business account with AIB last year and has found it an invaluable tool ever since. “My accountant used to laugh at my accounts,” he says. “Realistically, it’s hard to keep track of finances when you are working all day on the job and you’re tired in the evenings.”

“What’s more, in the first couple of years I had to spend money to update my equipment on a regular basis. I needed a good computer and hired a studio on George’s Street. I used to just spend without thinking about what money was coming into my account, and I used a personal account for business so I mixed the two.”

Descriptive Brand Names

It is important that brand owners be aware of the trademark registration process when choosing a new brand name. Not only should a brand name address the commercial needs of a company, it should also satisfy the legal requirements for registration. To qualify for registration, a trade mark needs to be distinctive so that consumers can easily identify the trade origin of products or services, say David Flynn and Mary Bleahene of FRKelly – Ireland’s leading Intellectual Property firm.

 

There are many types of brand names which do not qualify for trade mark registration and these include “descriptive” trademarks. A trade mark is considered descriptive if it has a meaning which will be immediately perceived by consumers as providing information about the goods and services on offer. For example, the mark DetergentOptimiser was refused registration for washing machines (laundry machines / dishwashing machines), the mark ELITEPAD was refused registration in respect of tablet computers and the mark Original Eau de Cologne was refused registration for cologne.

 

All of these trademarks provide immediate information about the goods being sold. The rationale behind forbidding registration of descriptive trademarks is that purely descriptive terms should be left available for all traders to use. However, it should be noted that trademarks which are merely suggestive of the goods or services are generally protectable.

 

Trade marks which attribute quality or excellence to the products or services on offer are also unregistrable because they are considered descriptive in a laudatory sense. Examples of laudatory terms include “Finest”, “Prime” and “Deluxe”. The reluctance to permit registration of laudatory trademarks is based on the belief that the customer will view the mark as a promotional or advertising term which describes positive aspects of the goods, rather than as a trade mark denoting trade source.