Smarta blog

Andreas Liveras

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

As the Mumbai tragedy continues, the only confirmed British victim of the massacre is shipping entrepreneur Andreas Liveras.73-year-old Liveras truly embodied the entrepreneurial spirit: having left Cyprus with his family in 1963, he worked at the 'tiny' Fleur De Lys bakery in Kensington, until the business' owner decided to shut up shop five years later. Liveras took on the bakery, and grew it to become one of Europe's biggest frozen gateaux manufacturers.In 1985, Liveras sold Fleur De Lys for 'an eight-figure sum' to Express Dairies, and used the money to start a new business, Liveras Yachts, in Monaco.

According to The Guardian, the luxury yachts included features such as Roman baths, saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzis, cinemas and helicopter landing pads.Liveras built the 280ft Alysia, the 'biggest charter yacht on the seas', which cost £500,000 a week to charter. Guests have included Robbie Williams and the King of Bahrain.Shortly before he died, Liveras spoke to the BBC from inside the basement of the Taj Mahal hotel, where he was barricaded with a group of guests. "We're just living on our nerves," he said.The Telegraph reported that a woman at his son Dion's house last night told the paper the family are 'in deep, deep mourning'.The death of such a vibrant, creative individual represents a huge loss to the entrepreneurial community - our best wishes go out to his family.

Borrow from the government?

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

loan.jpgThere are many routes you can go down to secure funding these days – equity finance, bank finance, if those are non-starters, scrabbling around down the back of the sofa usually turns up something.An interesting blog from Robert ‘darling of the recession’ Peston alerted Smarta to the government’s newest suggestion, though: publicly funded business loans.The £1bn scheme, announced by Alistair Darling in his pre-budget report on Monday, will allow small businesses to borrow between £1,000 and £1m at ‘more flexible terms than before’ which, according to Darling, will make lending ‘more affordable and easily accessible’.Is it a good idea, though? Well, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) certainly seems to think so.“It’s a sign of the importance of small businesses to the UK economy,” beamed the organisation’s national policy chairman, John Walker. “It will provide a vital cash boost to businesses struggling with rising costs and a lack of credit.”While Smarta can see some problems associated with having a group of entrepreneurs who are essentially working for the government, we’re inclined to agree. Well done, Darling. You’ve have given us at least one thing to look forward to in February.

The small changes that can make a big difference

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

plastic bottles.jpgThe recession doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Not to say it’s a good thing, but forced cut-backs can teach businesses some very valuable lessons.For a start, all companies worth their salt are now looking for ways to reduce overheads and production costs. Scrutinising the necessity of even a micro millimetre’s worth of material can lead to big savings when the difference is spread over a large quantity of product. Coca Cola, for example, has saved on 15,000 tons of aluminium in the past year across Europe by making its cans ever-so-slightly thinner. (Who would’ve known?) Drinks giant Britvic has managed to cut back on 1,670 tons of plastic per year simply by redesigning its Robinsons squash bottles.And all of Cadbury, Mars and Nestle have announced that they’ve stealthily cut back on Easter egg packaging by a quarter. These changes were all led by consumer pressure to reduce packaging for environmental purposes, but the lesson is clear – a bit of time spent reassessing design and packaging can lead to massive reductions in materials.Reductions mean savings. And savings, right now, mean survival.

A bit of tech and a bit of fluff

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

techfluff.jpgInteresting and fun new site for all tech entrepreneurs is www.techfluff.tv. It features 10 minute video round-ups of all things tech, including interviews, events, advice and upcoming dates for the diary.The vids are engaging and fun - not too much fluff, and not too much tech, but enough of both to keep you interested and smiling.It's all been put together (and is presented by) young new media entrepreneur Hermione Way, who is still in her very early 20's but is already - with this - on her second major project. Big congrats to her for knocking up Techfluff, which has today got the Twitter crowd all a-flutter with praise.

A fresh take on the budget (no, really)

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

buying a business.jpgBudget budget budget. There’s no getting away from it.So instead of debating the rights and wrongs of Darling and Osborne and Brown and Cameron, the woes and foes and yes-and-nos of the political moves du jour, as everyone else everywhere is, we thought we’d give you some useful, fresh advice to do with budgeting.Here’s a little introduction on how to write your own 12-month budget for your business.

  • Your budget is made up of three basic elements: projected cashflow, costs and revenues
  • 12-month budgets work best when they’ve been drawn up on a month-by-month basis
  • Work out predicted cashflow, costs and revenues for each month for the year ahead
  • As a rule of thumb, halve what you expect your revenues to be and double your anticipated costs – it’s best to be on the safe side
  • Once you’ve made your first draft, find ways to reduce costs
  • Figure out any periods where cashflow might be a bit sticky and work out how to avoid problems – working out how much you need to save from times when your revenues are higher, for example
  • Consult an accountant or anyone you know who has financial experience
  • Refer to your budget frequently – at least monthly – and measure your progress
  • Revise it if and as often as necessary
  • Many successful businesses use a rolling budget that always plans the next 12 months – aim for this

There you go, you’ll be filling Darling’s shoes in no time. (Or Osborne’s, depending which camp you’re in.)

Pre-Budget Wordle

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

wordle.jpgSmarta: Making the Budget fun.Thanks to Wordle.

Come on, Darling

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

red box.jpgIf the Treasury got a pound for every time someone says small businesses are the ‘engine’ of the economy, the (£78bn) national debt would be severely reduced.And if it received a pound for every time someone – politician, journalist, speaker – rehashed the same old ‘small firms make up the vast majority of businesses and employ around 60% of the private sector workforce’ figures, we’d be very close to solving world debt.Darling’s pre-Budget report – one of the most hotly anticipated in living memory – made it clear he sees small businesses as one of the most important parts of the economy. Here’s our round-up of what Alistair Darling wants to do for you:

  1. The much-publicised VAT reduction, bringing down VAT from 17.5% to 15% - and encouraging more consumers through your doors.
  2. An increase in the threshold for empty property rate relief to £15,000 – which will, according to Darling, make 70% of all empty properties exempt.
  3. A new tax timetable allowing small firms to spread out the payment of their tax.
  4. An agreement with banks which receive government funding, compelling them to maintain their lending to small businesses at 2007 levels
  5. A £1bn small business finance scheme which will ‘allow businesses to borrow sums from a thousand pounds to a million pounds at more flexible terms than before,’ which, according to Darling, will ‘make lending more affordable and easily accessible’.

“I believe these steps will help businesses through the current difficulties and enable them to invest so they can make the most of opportunities as the global economy recovers,” concluded Darling. We just hope it works...

Woolies sympathy: rediscovered

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

woolworths.jpgA few months about we blogged about Woolworths’ financial problems. Back then, we had misplaced our sympathy somewhat – but after the news yesterday that the much-loved chain is likely to be put up for sale for just £1, our sympathy synapses were finally re-stimulated.It’s not just Woolies, though - the whole high street is in trouble. In response to figures out today which revealed retail sales shrunk by 0.1% during October, Marks and Spencer announced its ‘One-day Christmas spectacular’, slashing 20% off the price of, well, pretty much everything – its first pre-Christmas clearance sale for four years, according to The Guardian. The Arcadia group, which owns TopShop, Dorothy Perkins, and Miss Selfridge, is said to be ‘seriously considering’ cutting prices, and Debenhams is running a 25% of sale for the next three days.How is the government going to ease this? Experts are predicting another cut in interest rate next month after minutes from the last meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) revealed they considered a 2% cut in November, while Alistair Darling is expected to make provisions in his pre-budget report.We’re genuinely worried about the fate of Woolies now. If it goes into administration, where will millions of children get their pick’n’mix from?

What teenage girls really, really want

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

302001867_03731def87.jpgWhen Smarta thinks back to its career ambitions as a teenager, an image of its 13-year-old self dancing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush in its hand and the Spice Girls on the stereo starts to swim hazily into view, before we suppress it quickly by remembering our actual ambition, which was, obviously, to be a hard-nosed business journalist.Serious though our adolescent ambitions were, it’s still come as a bit of a surprise that a survey has found some 70% of teenage girls would consider starting their own business in the future.In fact, Britain’s teenagers have totally thwarted our expectations – apparently, nearly a quarter of teenage girls harbour ambitions to become a businesswoman, doctor or lawyer, compared to just 2% who plan to become a footballer’s wife.But why are so many young girls suddenly so enthused about starting their own business? Ultimo lingerie founder Michelle Mone says it’s down to an increase in role models.“Positive role models have a crucial role to play in inspiring the next generation of female entrepreneurs – women of all ages need to draw encouragement from the success of other women around the world who have achieved amazing things through sheer grit and determination.”Here’s to a new generation of the entrepreneurial sisterhood – see you at Silicon Stilettos.

A very NOVEL idea

Monday, October 05, 2009 by Jim

shutterstock_20237860.jpgOo, we do love to spot a trend, particularly when it's one as delicious as this... Publishing your own book is THE thing to do this Christmas, and you heard it here first. Going to the trouble of pulling together beautiful images and copy for friends and fam is so much more special and effective than M&S socks, and is something the lucky gift-receivers will never, ever forget. (Or if they do, they're very, very mean.)There's a couple of companies doing this at the moment. Our fave is Blurb, where you can literally make any kind of book you want - whether that's an artistic portfolio, baby snaps or a cookery book of all your fave snacks. You have total control over the layout and you choose all your own images and words. And the best bit is, the books are incredible quality - exactly as if you'd bought them from a shop, no joke. I've seen them in the flesh (so to speak). Blurb also gets top points as its lovely founder, Eileen Gittins, came in for an interview with Smarta the other day - watch this space if you want to see the vid. But seriously, the books are beautiful. And start at under £15!Blurb's books are the best quality, but there are a whole host of other photo album upload book sites that are giving this trend momentum.And other strong options for great Christmas pressies (or a little self-indulgence) are personalised travel guides, where you publish the exact route you want to take, including maps, images, notes, of course book title and everything else you could want in your very own guide. Check out Dorling Kindersley. Offbeat also offer personalised travel guides, with bang-up-to-date info pulled from the web at the moment you publish.Stop waiting, start creating!(I might have to publish a poetry book with rhymes as good as that.)