Tips on Keeping Your Limited Company

When you incorporate a limited company in Ireland, one of your main concerns should to be to keep the company (and directors) fully compliant from a legal, company secretarial, taxation and accounting perspective. With the level of corporate regulation continuously increasing in Ireland, it is of vital importance to the company and its officers to ensure all such legal responsibilities are met. If you are the director of an Irish company, these tips from Andrew Lambe of Company Bureau Formations Limited can help you and your company stay on the right track.

 

Hire a good Accountant

One of your main priorities as a business owner is to oversee your company’s accounting and tax obligations. A good Accountant is worth their weight in gold, and can take a huge burden off your shoulders. They can take care of your company’s annual returns, payroll, VAT returns, CT returns and statutory annual accounts. It is vital that you choose a dependable Accountant to carry out these tasks as mistakes can be costly.

 

Ensure your company secretary is capable and keep your statutory registers up to date

By law, every Irish company is required to appoint a company secretary. The main duties of a company secretary are to ensure that the company complies with the law, manage the company’s daily administration and any additional duties that company directors may delegate. Whilst there is no qualification requirement for this role, it is important that your company secretary possesses the skillset and knowledge required to keep your company compliant.

The secretary will generally maintain the statutory company registers, which are required to be maintained under the Companies Act. The statutory registers include the register of directors and secretary, members, beneficial owners, transfers, directors and secretary’s interests and debenture holders.

 

Know your dates and put your company on a ‘watch list’

Once your company has been incorporated, it is good practice to add your company to a ‘watch list’.  A watch list will remind you via email that your company’s Annual Return Date is approaching and it will alert you should any changes be made to the company at the Companies Registration Office. Core.ie provides this service free of charge once you register with them.

 

Understand your role as a director

Company directors’ have a wide range of responsibilities which can be quite diverse. Company directors have to comply with the Companies Act 2014 and have duties under Common law. If a director is found to have breached company law, he or she can be liable to penalties that can range from a fine up to €500,000 or a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. There are different categories of offences ranging from 1-4 under the Companies Act.

To avoid such circumstances, company directors should become familiar with the responsibilities and duties of the role. Information can be found on both the CRO and ODCE websites.

Know the primary value of your business plan

Here are some reasons not to skip this valuable tool and roadmap:

  • It will define and focus your objective, using appropriate information and analysis.
  • You can use it as a selling tool with lenders, investors, landlords and banks.
  • Your business plan can uncover omissions and/or weaknesses in your planning process.
  • You can use the plan to solicit opinions and advice.

 

Here is a checklist to help you get started:

  1. Write out your basic business concept.
  2. Gather all the data you can on the feasibility and specifics of your business.
  3. Focus and refine your concept.
  4. Outline the specifics using a “what, where, why, how” approach.
  5. Put your plan into a compelling format

Suggested topics you can tailor into your plan:

A Vision Statement: This will be a concise outline of your purpose and goal

The People: Focus on how your experiences will be applicable. Prepare a resume of yourself and each of your key people.

Your Business Profile: Describe exactly how you plan to go about your intended business. Stay focused on the specialized market you intend to serve.

Economic Assessment: Provide an assessment of the competition you can expect in your business.

Cash Flow Assessment: Include a one-year cash flow projection that will incorporate all your capital requirements. Try our cash flow planner to get started this year.

Handle Security Breaches Tips

In the last 12 months, the number of cybersecurity attacks has grown significantly. The potential ramifications of a cybersecurity breach to a business can be devastating, such as loss of customer confidence, damage to company reputation, theft of assets and extensive administrative costs in dealing with all affected stakeholders. However, there are a number of actions a business can take to reduce the likelihood of a cybersecurity breach and deal with the consequences where the company suffers an attack, writes Barry Connolly of Flynn O’Driscoll.

Risk assessment. Similar to any other risks that a business may face, when seeking to prevent cybersecurity breaches, the first step should include quantifying the risk. In the cybersecurity context, this will include identifying certain elements of a business’s system that are particularly exposed. This will range from the vulnerability of the company’s online web presence to the possibility of physical access (on-site) to a networked platform. Risk assessments should be carried out on a regular basis so that new threats can be identified and the business remains aware of current trends in cyber threats.

 

Software Security Measures. Having identified areas of risk, tailored security measures should be put in place to address these concerns. The company’s IT environment should include effective firewalls and antivirus software to deal with threats. It should also ensure that software used in the business is kept up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates.

On-Site Security Measures. The most effective software solutions will often be rendered useless where a breach of cybersecurity occurs through a breach of the company’s system from within. Sensitive computer systems should include effective access control restrictions, server rooms should be secured at all times and disposal of IT equipment should be handled securely by competent staff.

 

Service Providers. A cybersecurity breach in a third party, providing services to a business can be just as damaging as a breach in the business itself. Unfortunately, the business is likely to have even less control in this scenario; therefore, it is essential that all relevant contracts clearly delineate responsibility between the parties. On the occurrence of a cybersecurity breach, when time is critical, protracted negotiations on liability should always be avoided. Contracts with software providers should also be reviewed to ensure that maintenance services and bug patches apply to earlier versions of the software that may still be in use, and that any software updates are made available to the company on release.

Testing. One of the best ways to reduce the risk of a cybersecurity breach is to undergo testing, such as system penetration testing. Companies can avail of a range of tools from cybersecurity providers that will simulate an attempted system intrusion or a widespread DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.

 

Company Policies and Training. Putting in place effective policies to handle cybersecurity breaches is essential in mitigating the risk of a breach. This may include a specific cybersecurity policy, as part of a comprehensive IT policy. However, even the best policies are useless if staff are unaware of the content of policies or how they should operate in practice. Educating staff on potential threats and how to report them up the chain can be vital in the early detection and response to a cybersecurity breach.

 

Cyber Insurance. As the number of cybersecurity breaches has risen exponentially over recent years, a number of insurance products are now being made available to deal with the damage. Whilst the cybersecurity market is still relatively small, larger organisations are now beginning to take out such policies to mitigate risk. Cyber insurance policies often include a range of additional extras, such as access to technical experts that can assist a business in responding to a breach.

Find The Most of National Digital Week

It might be most famous these days as the home of Olympic heroes Gary and Paul O’Donovan, but Skibbereen is rapidly gaining a reputation as a centre for digital excellence in Ireland. This week, the eyes of the tech world will be on West Cork as the country’s best and brightest come to town for the second annual National Digital Week, backed by AIB. From the 10th to the 12th of November, attendees can take in talks and demonstrations from over 70 experts, visionaries, and movers and shakers in the global tech scene.

As part of our ongoing commitment to the digital sector in Ireland, AIB are the lead sponsor of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, Ireland’s first rural Digital Hub. The Hub offers local businesses world-class fibre-optic broadband in a state of the art 10,000 sq ft facility that rivals anything in Silicon Valley. AIB has also sponsored National Digital Week since its inception last year, and we’ve got big plans this year with a fantastic line-up of speakers on the AIB Brave Stage all week. Read on for our insider’s guide to the best talks, workshops, and entertainment at this year’s National Digital Week.

 

Who to Catch

Kick off the festival on an inspiring note at the AIB Brave Stage, with some uplifting stories from our Digital Champions – including Trendster’s Harry McCann, Lord David Puttnam, and Dr. Seamus Davis from Cornell University. Or dig deep into the future of farming, with talks and demonstrations on tech, innovation and food science, from luminaries like Drone Expo Ireland’s Ian Kiely, THRIVE AgTech’s John Hartnett, and our own head of Agri Business, Tadhg Buckley – all on the Google Stage. We’ll be shining the spotlight on female leadership on Friday, with FM104’s Margaret Nelson, Geraldine Karlsson from DoneDeal, and Ericsson Ireland MD Zelia Madigan taking the temperature of women in digital. On Saturday, we’ll be talking all things Internet of Things, with Leonard Donnelly from ARTOFUS, Donal Sullivan of Johnson Controls Ireland, and Debbie Power from Vodafone. And if you’re a business owner, make sure to stop by the Google Digital Garage all day Friday and Saturday, where Google’s experts will be offering free one to one sessions for all festival attendees to give you a crash course in all the skills to take your company to the next level online.

 

Where to Go

The bulk of the action during National Digital Week will take place at the West Cork Hotel in the centre of Skibbereen. You won’t be able to miss the AIB Brave stage. We’re right beside the registration area as you enter the hotel – and adjacent to the Food Hall if you’re feeling peckish. Still feeling lost? You can check out the event map here. The National Digital Week website also has you covered for accommodation, with info on some of Skibbereen’s best hotels and B&Bs.

 

What to do After Hours

You won’t be short of things to do once the talks end and the real networking begins in the pubs and restaurants of Skibbereen. On Thursday night, NDW attendees can take a tour of some of the town’s best bars with entertainment including a trad session from local legends, Brendan McCarthy and Derry Moynihan, an old-school storytelling session in Annie May’s pub, and a special performance from folk duo Alchemy in The Corner Bar to round off the night. If you want to sample some local cuisine in spectacular surroundings, The Church restaurant is housed in a 19th century Methodist church which retains its original stained glass windows and has a crowd-pleasing menu to provide some serious festival fuel. On Saturday, rabble-rousing festival favourites the Booka Brass Band will finish the week off in a style with a gig at the Google Stage, before DJ Ian Richards takes the party into the early hours with a party-starting mix of funk, soul, and rock & roll.

National Digital Week takes place from 10th – 12th November in Skibbereen, West Cork. Get all the info you need at the official site and stay tuned to AIB’s social channels for exclusive video content from the festival.

Starting Out in Business

For 15 years, David Wallace was a familiar presence on the rugby pitch, representing Munster, Ireland and the Lions with distinction. As a two-time Heineken Cup winner and member of Ireland’s historic Grand Slam winning team of 2009, David is someone who reached the very pinnacle of his sport.

Since retiring from rugby nearly five years ago, David has embarked on a career in business, opening a number of vintage style sweet shops in the Munster region. During the AIB Start-up Academy Summits, David stopped by to discuss his transition from the rugby pitch to the boardroom.

Moving from a career in rugby to a career in business must have been a culture shock. How did you adjust?

“I would say I’m still adjusting, four years on! I suppose I threw myself into everything that came my way, which was good and bad in equal measures! I think coming from a professional environment helped, because you’re used to working so hard and you have all that energy to put into something else. I was just eager to start my new career.

I threw myself into a few things after I retired from playing, which was a fantastic learning curve for me. Even simple things like getting out and meeting people was brilliant, because you are in a bit of a bubble when you’re playing professional rugby. It was a great experience at the time and very refreshing too.”

How easily handled on your website

As a small business, it’s important to have contact with your customers. But some phone calls could easily be handled by your website and other digital channels — saving time for you and your customers. Here are some ideas for how to tweak your website to handle some routine calls.

 

1. Add an FAQ page

You already know which questions come up again and again. Answer them once and for all on your website by creating a frequently asked questions (FAQs) page. Update this page regularly to keep up with the latest developments and to answer timely questions.

2. Review your website navigation

Maybe you already have plenty of information on your site, but no one can find it. If you use a creative, nonstandard navigation scheme, take a look at your web analytics to see if that is preventing people from finding the information they need. Even if you use standard navigation, check your labels. Are they clear and accurate?

3. Add a video demonstration

If you’re spending a lot of time on the phone giving directions on how to use your product, a video demonstration could save time. And because nothing beats a visual demonstration, an online video will be more helpful to your customers than a phone conversation with you.

4. Offer Internet-only sales

Take a page from the airlines’ book, and offer lower prices for customers who purchase online. Or, offer online-only sales to encourage people to buy online rather than calling or visiting your store. Financially, this strategy makes sense because buying online does not use your staff resources they way an in-person or telephone sale does. And, a lower online rate helps defray the cost of shipping, which is one reason many customers prefer to shop in person.

5. Utilise your social channels

These days, people are very content to engage with a business on social media to get to the bottom of their issues. Instead of leaving an email or making a call, why not enquire on an open platform like Facebook or Twitter – you might even find your answer on a business’ profile already.

Integral to farming success

To get an overview of some of the options available to farmers, we spoke to AIB Agri Advisor Patrick O’Meara about the current landscape and its effects on cash flow. He also provided us with some useful methods for cash flow planning and dealing with common cash flow concerns. Read on to find out more.

 

The Current Landscape

For all farmers, the outlook for 2017 depends on the specific sector you are working in. “Pig and dairy sectors are going through a positive period at the moment in terms of increases in market prices,” Patrick notes. “Both those sectors have come through a difficult period so it’s encouraging to see. In the beef and tillage sectors, there’s some frustration at farmer-level with prices and also concern around Brexit.”

Brexit will continue to throw up challenges for farmers and add a level of uncertainty, but there are some aspects of the changing economic climate you can plan for. “It’s difficult to know exactly what the effects of Brexit might be,” Patrick explains. “But in the short-term, you’ll need to consider the impact of exchange rates on output prices when planning.” In the medium term, he says, legislative changes will come into play: “You’re looking at the potential impact of CAP reform and you’re also considering tariffs and trade agreements that may be developed between the UK and Europe.”

While there are many uncertainties that are outside of the control of farmers, it is important to control what is inside the farm gate. “Improving on-farm efficiency and competitiveness is essential to managing risk and sustaining your business through any future potential challenges” according to Patrick.

There are positives to consider also. An increase in global population and the expansion of new markets offer opportunities for the industry. “There’s growing demand for protein foods in terms of meat and dairy products” Patrick says. “Ireland is among the most efficient producers of dairy globally and up there in the top five in terms of beef when it comes to carbon footprint.”

When it comes to cash flow planning and concerns, Patrick’s biggest piece of advice is to address them sooner rather than later. “The earlier someone comes in, the more options that they have,” he explains. “Those options can include increases in working capital and overdraft facilities. Other options to address cash flow issues include short-term loans and extending the term of a loan*.”

Again, Patrick notes, time is of the essence: “If someone thinks that they have impending cash flow pressure coming up, look at it early. First, consider what the root cause of it is. Ask yourself how much cash flow pressure there will be or how much will be needed to get you over that pressure. Then put a cash flow plan in place. We can offer support and there are more options the earlier you look at addressing it.”

If you want help right now, our cash flow planning tool offers a simple way to forecast and manage your cash flow.

Identifying your target market

A good way to determine who is likely to become your customer is to clarify the problem that your product or service addresses. For example, you run a housecleaning service. The problem that you solve is doing cleaning for people who cannot or do not want to do these jobs themselves. Upper income families, families where both parents work, and older people who no longer have the ability to do their own housekeeping, are all potential customers for your services.

Define your customer’s characteristics

Listing out the characteristics of your typical customer is another good step towards identifying your target audience. These characteristics need not be personal ones; they can pertain to lifestyle, income, geographical location, hobbies, and many other things. For example, for a gardening service, one type of target customer are people who live in neighborhoods with well-manicured lawns, attractive plantings and colorful flowers around their homes.

The business could also target corporate clients who want their office surroundings landscaped. For a business that specialises in home security, the ideal customers may be in a residential area that has a high crime rate and in high-income residential areas. Women living alone who worry about safety may be another potential target for sales. Listing out these characteristics allows you to zero in on your target audience accurately.

What is your primary market?

Many products and services address the needs of a variety of people but they still have a primary audience. These are the people who:

  • Gain the most benefits
  • Have the greatest need for these services/products
  • Have the ability to pay for them
  • Buy the biggest quantity of them on a regular basis.

Knowing who makes up this primary audience should be your goal when you are trying to identify your target market. For example, for a bakery, the local consumer may be a recurring source of business, but the icing on the cake (forgive the pun) may be local restaurants who buy breads and desserts in quantity to serve to their customers.

Build Growth Strategy on Your Business

Setting up a business is hard, but growing your business can be even harder. Have you got a successful business and aren’t sure how to plan for growth? Read on for some expert advice on devising a growth strategy.

Sasha Kerins is a tax partner with Grant Thornton in Kildare. With over 16 years of experience in tax advisory roles, she has also advised businesses in areas including e-commerce and construction. We spoke to Sasha to get her expert opinion on devising a growth strategy for your business – and some of the pitfalls you need to watch out for when expanding.

Every Business Needs a Growth Strategy

“Strategy in business is really important from the point of view of focus. To identify what your strategy is, you’ll need a business plan in place. The business plan identifies the milestones that you need to hit to achieve that growth.

One of the key questions in any plan or strategy is: where are you adding value? What is the proposition of your business that’s going to differentiate it from everyone else out there? Asking those questions is a key element of any strategic process.  That will identify where the growth is in the business, be it nationally, within Europe, or internationally.”

The Importance of a Constantly Evolving Business Plan

“The business plan should be a constantly evolving document. Remember, it’s both an operating tool that you can use internally within the business and a marketing aid externally – from a funding perspective when you go to talk to the bank, from a grant perspective when you go to talk to various different government bodies and from a third-party investor perspective.”

Factors to Consider When Growing Your Business

“When you have a strong existing sustainable business and you look at growth there are two important questions that you need to ask:”

  1. Where is the growth going to come from? If it’s a manufacturing business you may need to scale up production or outsource. You may need to take on new employees which has its own cost. With growth, is it going to add to your margin or are you going to have to sacrifice some of your existing margin to achieve it? There’s no point in growing the business for the sake of growing it if it’s not going to give added value and add profit to the bottom line.
  2. How is it going to be funded? Cash is key to all businesses. You need to consider whether you’re going to use existing cash within the business to fund the growth or use external providers. The real risk is that you could end up being in a position where you’ve used funds from the existing business or you can’t fund what you’ve planned to fund over the period.”

Preparing to Look for Growth Funding

“When you’re looking at external funding you need to consider what kind of external funding you want. Debt and equity are very different sources of funding from the point of view of what they mean to the business.”

With debt, there’s an existing upfront cost – you have to repay it with an associated interest cost on an agreed repayment plan. There are obviously some conditions that the funder will look to satisfy – your ability to fund those debt repayments, the cashflow in the businesses and the future growth projections. The numbers are very important from that perspective. With debt, they really have no interest in the business and they really have no direct say in the business and the ongoing business operations.

Equity is slightly different. Somebody puts in funding today and gets share capital or preference share capital. The business is getting a direct injection of cash today but with no direct requirement to make any agreed payments. However, you’re now giving up an element of your business to a third party. You will now have someone who has more of a say or more of an involvement in the activities of the business on an ongoing basis.”

Influence business around the world

Irish people can sometimes be guilty of overestimating our influence around the world, but when it comes to business, it’s most certainly a trump card.

And if anyone should know, it’s Bobby Healy, founder of Ireland’s most valuable tech company, CarTrawler, which facilitates airlines, online travel agents and accommodation providers by connecting their customers with car rental, private transfers and rail connections all over the world.

Before CarTrawler – long before, in fact – Bobby founded travel software firm Eland Technologies as a young twenty-something back in Mexico City back in the 1980s.

Speaking on The Capital B podcast about the rise of Eland Technologies in Mexico over 30 years ago, Bobby said: “There was no Internet, there were no mobile phones, we had a real tangible business that was selling magic. No-one knew what software was, but we were making millions of dollars selling stuff to them.”

Asked by host Nick Webb about how he grew the company, Bobby explained that getting the right talent was the most important thing and how he discovered just how much of an advantage being Irish really was.

“The same applied back then, nearly 30 years ago, as it does now,” Bobby said.

“It was getting really good technology people that sometimes aren’t the best at vocalising their abilities or commercialising them and forming a team with really strong tech people”.

“I think what was unique about me and us at the time, was that we were able to commercialise it. It’s something I would always say that the Irish, for whatever reason, we’re accepted, like American Express, in every country; we’re just universally accepted and that is an inherent cultural advantage we have.”

“My company, everywhere we’ve been, we’ve always seemed to capitalise on that.”

A fascinating character, in an excellent interview with Nick Webb, Bobby also spoke about being held at gunpoint in Mexico, losing millions after 9/11 and being dressed up as Willy Wonka while Northern Irish rockers Ash, performed in his back garden.