All posts in The Week in Review

The Week in Review: Christmas Parties

Wine at Christmas


Time for work.

After filling your face with Weetabix and adorning your work clothes, you step outside and close the front door behind you. Hot wisps hang in the air after every breath. You walk over to your car, which lies victim to the frost that slowly covered it during the winter night, and hear ice crunching beneath your boots. The morning is silent, except for the odd chirp of a robin that has chosen to brave the winter season.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but also ‘tis the season to frantically charge around overcrowded shops the weekend before Christmas Day, snaking between equally distressed people whose arms are flailing about in an attempt to grab whatever remains on the bare shelves. Instead of subjecting yourself to that kind of torture, why not spend the last few days of the working year with your colleagues and arrange a staff Christmas event?

‘But that’s also torture,’ I hear some of you say. Fair enough. However, unbeknownst to some, HMRC will actually relieve some of the tax you incur as part of the cost of the event if you fulfil certain conditions. In English, this means cheaper drinks and a wilder night, as you can recoup some of the costs of the event that you may not be able to remember because you had one tipple too many. Convinced yet? If so, read on. If not, keep reading anyway; the alternative is to return to work with your colleagues that you don’t like, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to do that.

So let’s begin. There are certain criteria that you must meet in order to make a successful claim. HMRC are a little pedantic when it comes to these criteria, but they are by no means strict.

First of all, you cannot simply hold an event that employees happen to turn up to. This is because, in the eyes of HMRC, business entertainment (on which you cannot receive tax relief) is not the same as employee entertainment (on which you can receive tax relief). Therefore, you must class your event as employee entertainment; when an employer provides entertainment for the benefit of their employees, they do so wholly for business purposes.

For some odd reason, HMRC also have an issue with providing business entertainment events for directors, partners of a business or sole proprietors, and don’t allow you to claim tax back on events that only include these types of people. However, where directors and partners of a business attend staff events together with other employees, HMRC allow you to claim tax back. Weird, but true.

Finally, it is fine to allow non-employees to attend the event as well, but you can only claim back tax on costs incurred by your employees.

And that’s not all! If you were convinced that every shred of generosity had been sapped from our government in recent years, and are shocked at what you’ve read above, then what’s coming will absolutely blow your socks off.

There are particular benefits available if you class your event as an annual party that is available to all employees. If the employer provides one annual event for employees, and the cost of the event per head does not exceed £150, you won’t have to pay any tax. (The cost of the event includes VAT and the cost of transport and overnight accommodation, if these are provided to enable employees to attend. In order to arrive at the cost per head, divide the total cost of the event by the total number of people, including non-employees, who attend).

That’s basically all that you need to know. There’s a lot to take in here and a few fancy words have been thrown about, so I’ll summarise it for you below:

  • Basic business entertainment must be classed as employee entertainment, where an employer provides entertainment to an employee for the benefit of the business, in order to receive tax relief.
  • Events that include only directors, partners or sole proprietors are not part of the basic scheme.
  • Events that include both employees and directors, partners of a business or sole proprietors are part of the basic scheme.
  • Non-employees attending events are not part of the basic scheme.
  • Events classed as annual parties do not incur tax if the cost of the event per head does not exceed £150. This cost per head includes everyone attending the party.
  • If you have any queries, feel free to contact REACT.

Hopefully this clears things up for those who find themselves at some business party somewhere and are unsure whether they can slap another drink onto business expenses. Follow the guidelines above, and HMRC won’t charge tax on your food and drink at your next event. Merry Christmas indeed!

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT.

The Week in Review: Interview with Doug Ackerman

This blog is a follow-on from last week, where we discussed the importance of customer service. If you missed it, be sure to check it out here. This week we interviewed Doug Ackerman, of CustomerSure, about the product he is involved with and why it is such a useful tool for businesses.

Hi Doug, thanks for taking the call. First things first, what is CustomerSure?
No problem. CustomerSure is an easy and effective customer service app that enables companies to prove their dedication to customer service by finding and fixing every problem their customers experience. It does this by enabling businesses to easily collect feedback, act upon it, and publish stunning reviews on their website.

And what was the reason behind developing the product?
Guy Letts previously ran a department tasked with improving revenue. He soon found that the best way to achieve this was by increasing customer retention rates by improving customer service.

After trying everything suggested in customer service books, he hit upon the simple idea of reaching out to customers systematically at a time that was most relevant to them. By asking for customers’ feedback to check they were satisfied, Guy was able to find and fix problems, meaning the department was able to keep many more hard-won customers.

Guy wanted to be able to help more businesses implement this system – he then left to set up and develop CustomerSure.

That’s brilliant, because we’re strong believers in customer service. What does CustomerSure do that makes it worth using?
Without customers, there is no business, so it is important to keep them happy. CustomerSure provides a variety of ways to collect feedback at a time that’s relevant to the customer. For example, after you’ve received an invoice, to check that you’re happy with the service.

By asking at a time that’s suitable for the customer, you’ll get a much better response rate, customers will be able to provide you with much more accurate and useful information, and you’ll be inside the window of opportunity to fix any issues which crop up. Your customers will also know that you care about them, that you want to make sure they’re happy with your business. This builds trust between your company and your customers.

CustomerSure also enables you to quickly pinpoint any recurring issues, so you know where you might need to improve.

And what is the biggest challenge facing businesses when it comes to reacting to customer feedback?
Good question. For many businesses, before using CustomerSure, the biggest challenge they face is in systematically handling feedback. Making sure that it’s made use of. Not stuck away in some long-forgotten drawer or computer folder.

There’s little point in asking customers for their feedback unless you’re set up to respond. Once you are set up to respond, with a system like ours, the biggest roadblock to responding to feedback is removed. It’s then just a case of making it part of your business as usual, which happens quite naturally.

Just one last question before I let you go, Doug. What is the main thing you would like readers to take away?
Customer feedback is vital to business success, but your customers won’t necessarily always come forward when they have a concern. They are more likely to suffer in silence. And you’ll never have the opportunity to fix the situation before they leave. Businesses must take the proactive step and actually ask for feedback.

If you focus on what your customers are after, and deliver what they want, it’ll make you stand out.

Thanks very much for your time, Doug. We appreciate it.
No problem at all.

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT, or head over to CustomerSure’s blog to garner useful tips on keeping customers happy.

The Week in Review: The Importance of Customer Service

In today’s world, customers demand more. Whichever business sector you look at, certain standards have been set by corporate giants that small businesses perhaps feel obliged to adhere to. In fast food chains, you can buy exactly the same burger in Newcastle as you can in London. In retail superstores, the look and feel of the hundreds of shops under the same brand name are identical. Branching out to the Internet, almost every modern software company out there has that funky scrolling page of features with a 30-day free trial resting conveniently at the bottom. For small businesses, this can be daunting because you have to be sure that your service matches up to these expectations. If it doesn’t, chances are you may receive a few complaints here and there.

Whether you’re a sole trader or a small limited company with only a couple of employees, it’s easy to become distracted in the daily running of a business. Managing sales, social media, expenses, employees and accounts all at the same time, in order to meet customer expectations, can be a daunting task and may lead to neglect of other areas of a business. However, one area which I believe should not suffer under any circumstances is customer service, and here’s why:

Customers are the lifeblood of your business.

At the end of the day, your customers are the ones who provide the money that pays your wages, your administration costs and your overheads. Without customers funding your operations, there’d be nothing to sell to them and your business would implode. Surely keeping your customers happy should be the most important task on your list?

One way to keep customers happy is to stick to your word – an easy way to do this is to under-promise and over-deliver. For example, promise a delivery within three working days but deliver the next day. The customer is pleasantly surprised at how fast the service was and will likely use you again. Deadlines are something else that shouldn’t be taken lightly and this holds especially true when it comes to accounting; HMRC can issue fines and penalties for documents that aren’t filed on time so keeping track of these is of utmost importance. Shameless plug, but us lot at REACT will make sure this doesn’t happen to you. And if you have no idea what these documents are then give us a call. The number is right there at the bottom of this page.

At REACT, we’re dedicated to keeping our clients happy and you should be too, because happy customers bring obvious benefits to your business. Not only will they be more inclined to buy from you again, but they may tell their friends and family about your services, too. Unhappy customers, on the other hand, are no less vocal about their opinions and if someone is unhappy, they won’t be afraid to pipe up about it. This is nothing to worry about if they contact your customer service team directly, as the problem can be rectified and the happy relationship between business and customer restored. However, one platform that can be a nightmare for businesses is social media. Without trying to be a scaremonger, one negative comment can spiral out of your control into a viral storm and the reputation of your business can be ruined with a single tweet. As a result, customers could be lost, meaning less money for you. A fantastic example of social media support done well, however, is local water company Northumbrian Water. They have a whole Twitter page dedicated to customer complaints or queries. In one case, a customer couldn’t contact the company by phone so posted on Twitter instead, and within half an hour a service van was outside their door. This painted a positive picture of Northumbrian Water, and they managed to turn around a complaint into a success story that people can see. Complaints are not a bad thing if dealt with correctly.

What’s the best way to deal with complaints, you ask? In short, taking a more personal approach goes a long way. No one wants to talk to a machine because it’s like talking to a brick wall, so make sure there’s a real person on the other end of the phone to talk to the customer. Additionally, telling someone their complaint will be taken on board and actually acted upon not only improves your business, but is arguably the most important thing to consider when dealing with a complaint. After all, everybody likes to be listened to.

Next week we will be talking to Doug Ackerman, a Communications Manager at CustomerSure. In the meantime, be sure to check out their blog here. It is full of information about keeping customers happy, from the experts themselves.

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT.

The Week in Review: Is a Work Ethic Revolution Upon Us?

I was in the supermarket the other day, doing my shopping, when I happened across the technology section littered with fancy iPads, Galaxy Tabs and booming chart music. While strolling through, the words ‘Princess of Security’ caught my eye. The words belonged to a news story – a report on a woman, Parisa Tabriz, who is an ethical hacker at Google’s sprawling campus in Mountain View, California. This campus was chock-full of eccentric geniuses that implemented extraordinary working techniques: a conference meeting on a seven-seater circular bike, a team working in a ball pool with their laptops, and an employee spinning in circles while smoking a cigarette to deprive his brain of oxygen, so that when it rushed back his brain would ‘restart’ and the solution to his problem made clearer. And it turns out that these techniques were in place not to have a fun time, but to increase productivity.

Obviously these are all extreme cases that some may dub as American practice, however reading this news story made me wonder if we could implement similar techniques in our own offices here in the UK. I’ve only been in an office environment for just under a month now, but admittedly my eyes have felt heavy from time-to-time and the ‘mid-afternoon slump’ has already crept up on me. I’m sure we’ve all been in that situation, where it’s 3 o’ clock on a Friday afternoon and the urge to run off home and leave the rest of the work until Monday begins to overwhelm. So is there a solution to this, one which will increase productivity? Perhaps there is, and maybe it’s already happening.

We’re already seeing a gradual change in work ethic in the UK. For example, the advent of cloud computing has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people working from home – the figure has increased by 1.3 million since 1998, and currently 13.9% of those in work are home workers (from the Office for National Statistics). Flexible working hours have become more common, too. Zero-hour contracts, which seem to be plaguing students more than other demographics, have cropped up more frequently in the news and the traditional 9 ’til 5 job may be slowly dying out, especially for those who are self-employed (what a way to make a living). In my eyes, these changes are just the beginning of a revolution in the way that people work and I think it’s set to continue.

Bringing this all back to an office environment, I believe the main goal should be to stop ourselves from feeling limp and demotivated. I believe we should grasp any opportunity to look away from the computer screen or, even better, move about for a bit. Instead of sending an email to a colleague at the other end of the office for a simple request, we should move away from the confines of our desks and actually talk to them like real human beings. Various studies have already been conducted to show that withdrawing someone from a working environment for just a few minutes will increase their productivity for the next activity. An example of this is a 2012 study led by Hiroshi Nittono et al, where participants were more careful and worked to a higher standard after viewing cute images of cats – fun and quirky. Breaking up your long working day with anything you find entertaining will naturally stimulate your brain, whereas boring or repetitive activities will simply cause you to shut down. Another quick tip would be making sure that you eat lunch away from your desk – I always take a breath of relief and fresh air at the end of a long working day, so why not do that at lunch as well and go outside for half an hour?

I think we should all break away from office traditions that appear to be set in stone. It all seems a bit extreme, but if the big, billion-dollar names at Google are implementing wild and wacky techniques and achieving respectable results, should we not take a page out of their book and do the same?

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT.

The Week in Review: Effective Online Marketing

While browsing the web during lunch, as you do when you’re cooped up in an office all day and become temporarily agoraphobic, I stumbled across a rather interesting article. No, it wasn’t about the ten cutest cats ever or a shocking ‘skinny pill’ that was angering doctors around the world – instead it talked about effective online advertising, information that could prove invaluable to many.

As a business it is hard to determine the effectiveness of advertising. There is no definitive way of discovering which adverts brought in which clients, unless you asked every new client how they heard about you. On a similar note, it’s difficult to find out what percentage of people that see an advert actually become clients. Even when taking these unknown factors into consideration, some companies are still tempted to shovel a load of money into slapping an advert onto the side of a bus, into a newspaper or on a Google search page through the medium of Google Ads.

I was under the impression that the ads at the side of Google search pages were fake and automatic, with many leading to scam websites that would steal your bank details. In actual fact, these ads are legitimate and paid for by real companies. With this in mind, you would think that most companies out there would spend time producing an effective advert that generates more customers or clients for their business – after all, you rarely see a poorly produced billboard advert in town, so why not invest the same effort into adverts online?

Oli Gardner, the author of the article I found, outlines two key components to online advertising that increase customer or client conversion rates and achieve a higher return on investment. These components are Attention Ratio and Message Match, and it turns out that an extremely small minority of ads utilise these, leading to ineffective advertising. What does this mean? It means too many companies are throwing money into ads that only really improve the profits of Google and not the advertiser themselves. I could easily ramble on about what these two key components actually are, but that would mean re-writing Gardner’s entire article. He explains it so well, so for ease-of-use and to allow me to get back to my proper job, I’ll provide a link to his article here. How convenient!

I highly recommend giving it a read. Not only will it help you get ahead of the competition if you decide to delve into the complicated world of online advertising, but it will also give you a broader insight into advertising and marketing in general, helping to propel your business into a positive future.

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT.

The Week in Review: Chapter One

Bowl of Cornflakes

I’d had the longest night’s sleep since I finished school three months ago. I woke up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and looking forward to another relaxing day off. ‘How am I going to spend my time today?’ I thought to myself. Perhaps I would walk the dog for an extra hour, peruse the outdated newspapers lying on the kitchen table – or, really push the boat out and begin writing a novel. My heart raced excitedly at the countless possibilities that the day ahead could bring. But it was then I realised that in actual fact, my first day of work was upon me. My elation faded. No longer was I to be led by the hand by teachers, through a school curriculum and exam boards. No longer was I able to lie in bed until the late afternoon without a care in the world. Instead, it was now down to me to fend for myself against the relentless hoards of accounts in this big, scary world the elite call business.

My mind wandered as my body ran on autopilot. ‘Which work clothes am I going to wear?’ as I stepped out of the shower. ‘These work clothes seem a bit too tight for my liking,’ as I scraped the remnants of cornflakes out of my cereal bowl. Before I knew it I had began the arduous walk to the office, and unaware of the low, early-Autumn sun obscuring my vision and the smell of petrol from the cars roaring past on the main road beside me, my mind pondered over one final thought: ‘What actually is accounting?’

I snapped back to reality at this horror and observed what was in front of me – a towering red door with the number ’14’ bolted onto it. I hesitated, then realised this was the door to the office, the door that would welcome me every working day for just short of a month because we were due to move offices soon (quite the inconvenience). I checked the time on my phone – 8:45. Fantastic, I was far too early. It wasn’t long, however, before Bob kindly let me inside and led me to my desk. I sank in my chair a little as I sat down and felt strangely comfortable in this different environment. This was it, this was where I’d be working. ‘This is alright,’ I thought, ‘I could get used to this.’ Hang on. My clothes… back in the shop where I purchased them, all seemed well; however upon closer inspection the shirt collar was too tight, the trousers were too short and the shoes were too small. Never mind though, they’ll stretch, won’t they?

I had no idea what I’d let myself in for. Although I was handed a shiny new laptop, which was nice.

The Week in Review is written by Mitch, our new apprentice. Stay tuned to hear more about his adventures here at REACT.