What is 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.

Tips for Building a Boutique

Setting up a business on your own comes with many challenges and there’ll always be a few learning curves. Although Mairead was absolutely certain in her vision for the boutique, she was conscious that the admin side of things also had to be perfect. She heard about MyBusinessToolkit from her local AIB branch and thought it would be useful to help get the business off the ground. The Toolkit offers access to a suite of leading business tools, from Sage Accounting and Payroll to the bOnline website builder. MyBusinessToolkit is free for 3 months when you open a Start-up Business Current Account before the 31st of March 2017. She explains how MyBusinessToolkit has helped her get her business off the ground: “You have so much paperwork, and because it’s a seasonal business it all comes at the one time,” she says. “If you don’t keep up to speed with what and when you need to pay, you’ll quickly fall behind and your front of house suffers. I don’t want that to happen.”

She credits MyBusinessToolkit, and in particular Sage, with helping her keep tabs on the admin side of things. “Sage really helps me define what my cash flow looks like, who my suppliers are and it’s great for categorising everything and keeping me organised. I almost leave them running in the background. I trust them fully and I trust they’ll work. And my accountant can log on to Sage as well and check everything is ok. It was like having an uncle in the background that you knew you could rely on. That’s a strange analogy I know!” she laughs.

The bOnline website builder provided in the toolkit was also a huge help in getting her online presence up and running. She explains: “MyBusinessToolkit has helped me get my business off the ground by allowing me to have an almost free website. That cost would have been a huge undertaking for me at the beginning. It just made it so easy.”

 

Secret to Success

It turns out the secret to Mairead’s success is something learned from her years as a personal stylist – follow your gut. “My advice to anybody starting out is to really and truly follow your gut instinct,” she explains. “Listen to yourself and try and block out all the negatives. And there will be negatives. It’s like anything, if you have confidence in your idea then nobody can take it away from you.”

Mairead is currently focused on building up her online presence and growing her customer database, but she’s definitely staying local at heart. “I love Enniskerry,” she says. “I want to stay here, and I’d love to expand Smock Boutique within itself.”

Fancy a fashion fix? Smock Boutique is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 6pm.

Need help getting your business off the ground?

Call into your local branch to find out more about how MyBusinessToolkit can help your business.

How to Handle Security Breaches

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.

The standard of entrants was higher than ever

With a prize worth €250,000 up for grabs, the race to be a part of the AIB Start-up Academy was fiercer than ever in 2016. After the Academy roadshow had travelled across the country dispensing advice and listening to new business ideas, almost 400 Irish Start-ups applied for their place in the most coveted business competition in the country. Judges from the Irish Times and AIB pored over the candidates’ pitch decks and in late January decided on a 22-strong longlist. The companies on the longlist included food producers, travel and sports companies, and innovative apps. One thing was clear: the competition was about to go up a notch.

The Competition Takes Shape

In February, each of the longlist candidates faced 15 minutes of fear, as they pitched their businesses to the judging panel. The pitching session – which consisted of a five-minute elevator pitch and a grilling from the judges – took place at the Irish Times’ offices in Dublin. The candidates did have a friendly face on hand though –  2015 Start-up Academy winner Fabien Peyaud – who came along on the day to offer some support and words of wisdom.

After a day of laughter, nerves, and some brilliant business ideas, the 10-company shortlist for the 2016 Start-up Academy was announced. With an exciting list of candidates including healthy meal delivery service Dropchef, packaging company Buska Ltd, and Cork-based spice purveyors Rebel Chilli, it was obvious that the competition was going to be hotter than ever this year. The line-up for the final was completed with the addition of wildcard pick Topper Technologies, who won over the voting audience on Twitter.

Solving The Company Compliant

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 requirements for company letterheads and websites

One requirement that often gets overlooked is the requirement for Limited companies to list their full legal title on company letterheads. This includes the company name, company number and registered office address. As well as this, the company directors must also be listed by name in the footer. Both forename and surname must be included and the nationality in brackets beside any director who is in not Irish.

Company websites are another location where a company’s details must be displayed. This includes the company name, number and place of registration. This must be located on the website’s homepage or must be on an alternative web page that is to linked to from the homepage which is easily accessible.

If you have a database of customers or potential customers, it is important that you are aware of your requirements under Data Protection legislation.

 

Keep minutes of meetings and have an AGM

Keeping minutes of directors’ meetings is a requirement under the Companies Act and is prudent to ensure key decisions and matters are noted and dealt with. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) is a meeting of shareholders (and directors) of a company where they have the opportunity to ask questions and get information about the company. Whilst this is no longer a legal requirement for most companies, it is a good idea to ensure this takes place. It is usually the duty of the secretary to call the AGM and give 21 days’ notice to the members.

The unveiling of the first Budget Business

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.

 

A glow with bright orange pumpkins when helloween time

Halloween is fast approaching and the shops are all a glow with bright orange pumpkins. But did you ever wonder where they all come from? Step forward Noel Hayes, who has been growing Irish pumpkins for the last 16 years. We caught up with him on his 70-acre farm in Wexford to get a glimpse into what’s involved. “It’s a busy time.” he laughs, “We’re supplying at least 400,000 pumpkins this month – It’s the busiest time of the year.”

Across the year, they grow about three different varieties of pumpkin. But the Harvest Moon variety, with its bright orange colour and large round shape, is a firm Irish favourite. Noel explains, “We sow very little of the other ones. It’s the main seller for its shape and size.” Perhaps it’s because it lends itself so well to being carved which tends to be how we use them. “The Irish mainly use the pumpkin purely for cosmetic reasons,” he notes.

Carving a Niche

The tradition of making a jack-o’-lantern at Halloween is believed to have its origins in 19th century Ireland. It’s said that faces were carved into turnips and lit from within using a candle as part of the Halloween festivities. When Irish settlers arrived in America, the pumpkin took the place of the turnip for its easy to carve qualities. “As far as I’m aware Irish people don’t really use them much for cooking or making pies or anything,” Noel says. “We don’t have the same relationship with a pumpkin as Americans do. Nobody wants to see or hear tell of a pumpkin really after Halloween.”

When pumpkins aren’t in season, Noel farms other vegetables ranging from potatoes to the humble carrot. In fact, as one of Irelands largest producers of carrots, chances are his produce has ended up on your plate.

 

Expanding the Business

Over the years, Noel has expanded the farm to include a washing and packing facility. He explains, “Often farming practices are not that profitable, so I met with some other people and we decided to set up a packing company. And it grew from there.” It certainly did as the facility now washes and packs an average of 40 tonnes of carrots a day. It was a case of spotting an opportunity to add value and running with it. Noel thinks that a good relationship with the bank is key. “It’s very important to have a good relationship with your bank. It’s the mainstay of any business. We have a good relationship with our local bank, although we don’t have any borrowings at the moment.”

A qualified aromatherapist

By chance, she got chatting to an elderly lady in the community, who mentioned in her day they would take the children down to the sea and bathe them. This was just the spark of inspiration that Cheryl needed. “I started thinking about it and I collected some seaweed and made a baby seaweed bath for him and his skin started healing,” she says.

She began experimenting by blending the seaweed with oils and created products for family and friends. They were a hit, and someone suggested she should make a business from it.  She subsequently enrolled in a business course with her Local Enterprise Office and began an in-depth study into growing seaweed and its health-giving properties.  It’s been a whirlwind adventure ever since.

 

Launching the Busines

Cheryl confides that getting the business up off the ground was one of the bravest things she’s ever done.  She’s bootstrapped it from the beginning, handling everything from product development to filling the containers.  She notes: “To start a business, usually people save up or they have all these processes in place, I didn’t have anything in place. I would lie in bed and feel a bit panicky and think, ‘I’m too old for this’.”  But hearing how her products work made it incredibly rewarding. “I think people coming up to me and telling me that the products have made a difference to their skin is the biggest highlight,” she says. “If I can carry on making a difference to even a few people, that’s the best reward.”

 

The Importance of Good Advice

For anyone interested in starting their own business, Cheryl offers the following advice: “I think it’s important to have a bank who knows you and has a good insight into your business.  You can have a magnificent business plan but if you haven’t got a bank who believes in it, then it won’t work.  I believe going to your local branch, to people who know you, is so important.”

It was the staff at her local branch who first told Cheryl about MyBusinessToolkit, a package offering access to a suite of five leading business tools, from Sage Accounting and Payroll to the bOnline website builder. MyBusinessToolkit is free for 3 months when you open a Start-up Business Current Account before the 31st of March 2017.

Having access to MyBusinessToolkit through AIB and in particular Sage has helped Cheryl to keep everything organised. She explains, “Since using Sage in MyBusinessToolkit, I can actually see how much I have in my account and how much I’ve spent on products and that gives me an idea of where my account is at.” The software is also a huge timesaver. “At the moment my time is so taken up with the business and Sage just frees me up.” Knowing that she won’t have to move to new software when the business grows is also a huge plus. “I know that Sage will grow with my business,” she says.  “Some of the other packages can only cope with a small amount of money going through it, but with Sage there’s no limit so I can just carry it with me as I grow.” Being able to pick up the phone and speak to a dedicated customer support person from BCSG is also a huge plus.

 

Skincare for Everyone

Since launching in March 2015, the brand has gone from strength to strength. Within a year, Ocean Bloom was an award winning skincare brand, with their Seaweed Serum Pouches being shortlisted for Natural Beauty Skincare Product of the Year 2015.  Cheryl’s products have since earned a cult following in the beauty industry, with famous names like Triona McCarthy and Rosanna Davidson counting themselves as fans.

Sourcing the very best of everything is important to Cheryl.  As it turns out, her hometown of Castletownbere on the Beara peninsula has some seriously superior seaweed. “We have some of the cleanest waters in the world,” she explains. “They’re classed as Grade A waters, which means they’re crystal clear and there’s no pollution.”

Dare on Business is Needed

Don’t let pride get in your way: Bridge knowledge gaps. One of the biggest growth barriers that business owners face has nothing to do with weak sales, sloppy strategic planning or lacklustre personnel. It’s a psychological hurdle: knowing what you don’t know.

The ability to recognize holes in your knowledge — and find ways to plug them — propels your business. Otherwise, you might see yourself as a jack-of-all-trades and repeatedly take on duties for which you’re unqualified. Making decisions when you lack understanding or familiarity with the issues can lead to disastrous results. It sounds simple: Admit your weaknesses and address them. Yet when events unfold at breakneck speed, chief executives of young companies may feel that they lack the luxury of time to sit back, assess the situation, recognise their knowledge gaps and fill them.

Overcome the obstacles

What makes it so hard for founders to confront what they don’t know? For starters, they grow so accustomed to improvising that they assume they’ll learn whatever they need to know by doing. They assume part of running a growing business is rendering judgments without having all the answers.

Have you fallen into this trap? See if the following statements sound familiar:

  • I’ll never have all the information I’d ideally like to have, so I need to do my best with what I know
  • I don’t have anyone critiquing my performance every day. There’s no one around telling me, “You don’t know enough about this. Learn more before you plunge in”
  • Launching a business is a leap of faith. I’m busy drumming up excitement in our future. Obsessing over what I don’t know isn’t going to help us grow

What’s more, business owners cherish their independence. They may reject unsolicited input from others, especially if outsiders try to tell them what to do or how to do it. Unless entrepreneurs schedule periodic meetings with a mentor or advisory board, they may operate in a vacuum and lose perspective on their own strengths and weaknesses.

Self-confidence is a prerequisite for building a business. But too much confidence can convince you that you know what you’re doing when you really don’t, causing you to stray far from your field of expertise. Another obstacle is the temptation to assume you can muddle through on your own. Telling yourself, “I can get by for now” or “I can figure this out myself,” prompts you to accept your limitations without attempting to patch up knowledge holes. Even if you accept your knowledge gaps, you might not want to dwell on them because it makes you uneasy. Feelings ranging from misguided pride to flaring anxiety can lead you to forge onward rather than taking the time to confront unknowns.

Through the Lens of a Dedicated Follower

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.

 

If a brand owner is concerned that its trade mark could be refused registration because it is descriptive / laudatory, the crucial question is whether the mark provides immediate information about the goods or services of interest.