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If you run a small service business, you’ll probably know that taking bookings from your clients is often more complicated than it should be. There’s all the hassle with keeping track of every single booking, request to reschedule and cancellation, and it's really easy to lose important information.

Sound familiar? Then you may be interested in learning more about our friends Appointedd. They’re an awesome online system designed to enable small businesses to take bookings online, automatically update their records and send automated email and SMS campaigns to customers. Think of it like a web-based version of Iron Man’s amazing PA, Pepper Potts - helping you accept bookings 24/7, keep better customer records and have a wider view of your business time at a glance.

If you’re a FreeAgent user who charges for their time - and we know that there are a whole lot of you that do - we’ve got some good news. FreeAgent is now integrated with Appointedd, which means that subscribers to both our services can seamlessly take appointments online and automatically raise invoices against them. That means they can save even more valuable time when doing their business admin. We reckon it’ll be a super-useful feature for photographers, salons, therapists, freelancers and anybody else who charges for their time.

So how does this work? Appointedd provides you with a free online booking website and some handy tools for taking bookings from your own website or your Facebook page. Then once you’re up and running and taking new bookings, each new customer who books through Appointedd is automatically added to your FreeAgent contacts folder (and vice versa as FreeAgent contacts are also imported as customers to Appointedd once you’ve integrated both accounts).

Once your customer has booked online using Appointedd, an invoice is automatically generated in FreeAgent and you can email it directly to the customer. No hassle, no fuss and no scrabbling around trying to find your customer’s address or phone number - and no need to generate the invoice from scratch!

As an added bonus, Appointedd is also offering FreeAgent users a super-special deal to celebrate the integration. Simply enter the code FREED2015 and you’ll get 50% off the price of your Appointedd subscription for 6 months.

If you want to find out more - and if you’re in or around Edinburgh on February 11th - we’re going to be hosting a joint event here at FreeAgent Towers to officially launch the integration. If you’d like to attend this free event, simply follow the link and RSVP.

Nine low-cost marketing ideas for your small business

Posted on 23 January 2015 by Matt Perkins – 0 Comments

January can often be a cash-strapped month for small businesses, thanks to holiday downtime and a lull in spending. But it’s also a great time of the year to plan ahead – so if you’ve got big hopes for your business in 2015, here are some creative, low-cost ways of promoting your small business that won’t break the bank.

First, get some basics right

Before you get started, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’ve got the basics of your small business marketing in place.

Understand your Unique Selling Proposition

Your Unique Selling Proposition (or USP) is the attribute that makes your business stand out from the crowd. It may be a special feature or service that only you offer, or just an approach to working that sets you apart. Here are some examples of USPs:

  • A carpenter with a unique 10-year warranty on their work
  • A web designer who specialises in e-commerce businesses
  • A bakery that sources all of their ingredients from local organic farms

Once you know what your USP is, you can build it into everything else that you do, including your elevator pitch!

Perfect your elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is your answer to “so, what do you do?” – it’s a quick, compelling description of your company that highlights your USP and will hopefully invite interest and further conversation. For example, an elevator pitch may be:

"I own a bakery called Lovely Cakes that creates organic celebration and wedding cakes – all of our ingredients are 100% organic and bought at a sustainable price from local farms. Have you heard of Reed farms? That’s where we source our eggs."

Just make sure it doesn’t sound too rehearsed.

Once you have these basics in place, you may be surprised at all the places you can use your elevator pitch and USP online and offline. You can use modified versions for your social media profiles, for advertising copy and for any flyers or business cards that you’re creating, and they’ll serve as a great foundation for the rest of your marketing activities.

Nine low-cost marketing ideas

1. Do something great on social media

Time is money, so if you don’t have enough time to create a range of new social profiles or strategies for your business, why not just find one simple, awesome thing that you can do well on social media. For example, check out how craft beer bars tweet a picture of their daily/weekly menu, or how this attic conversion company posts videos of all their completed projects. Or how about something completely out of the box, like Blendtec’s infamous “Will It Blend” videos?

2. Run competitions or donate a prize

Everyone loves to win something, so a great, inexpensive way to get your brand out there is to run a competition for something that people really want – whether that’s a free product or service from you, or just a popular prize. If you get people to do something in return for their entry (such as liking and sharing your page, subscribing to your newsletter or just giving you their email address), you’ll reap the benefits without breaking the bank. If you’re still stuck for ideas check out some of these expert tips for inspiration.

3. Get your logo out in the real world

Online recognition is important, but don’t forget to get your brand out in the “real” world, too! Print advertising, business cards, magazine/newspaper features and corporate branding at events are all great ideas – and they don’t have to be expensive. Try a few low-cost offline guerilla marketing ideas to get your brand out there. And if you have a bit more money to spend, you may find that putting a logo on a vehicle could give you more impact for your money than a billboard.

4. Rope in your family and friends to be advocates of your business

Friends and family aren’t just a valuable source of advice and a vital place to look for help in financing your small business’s growth – they are also a great, free resource for building your brand. Arm them with business cards, flyers and any other tools they might need to promote your business to the people they meet and deal with every day. It’s a great, inexpensive way to widen your circle and introduce your company to people who might not have known about it otherwise.

5. Go to networking events

Using social media and building up your digital networks is important, but don’t forget about traditional “face-to-face” networking as well! You don’t even have to look at pricey, membership-only groups as there are a host of smaller, more affordable events on sites like meetup.com to consider. Attending a networking event can be a great way of growing your reputation, building relationships and finding new business opportunities, so bring a stack of business cards and become one with your elevator pitch before you go. And check out some of our top networking dos and don’ts to get prepared in advance.

6. Hold a meetup or a coffee morning for your clients

Networking isn’t just a great thing for you to do – it’s also super-important for your clients. So why not make it easier for them to network with each other by hosting your own, low-budget meetup or regular coffee morning? Open up your office, find an affordable space to rent or just meet at a cafe for an hour or two, invite your clients, lay on the espresso and pick a topic for everyone to talk about. Then make it a regular event for everyone to put in their calendar, and consider alternating hosting duties to keep the costs down. Check out these tips for hosting a meetup if it’s your first time organising one.

7. Create a refer-a-friend scheme

Customer recommendations are gold dust for your business, so why not encourage people to tell their friends about you. Setting up a dedicated referral scheme could help you make more sales in the long run and create a strong buzz around your services. Just make sure you factor in the amount that you’ll have to absorb for those discounts and make sure your business can accommodate it!

8. Enter industry and local competitions

Awards can also be a great way to strengthen your credentials and spread the word about your business. So look for award competitions in your industry, and don’t forget local or regional awards as well. Remember that even if you only make the shortlist and don’t win, you can still feature that nomination in your marketing materials and on your website to raise your businesses profile, which could be more than worth the entry fee.

9. Look out for fairs, special events or shows

Trade events aren’t just for the big players with cash to burn – there’s plenty of scope for smaller businesses to benefit, too. Keep an eye on what’s happening in your area and, if you can afford it, try to get a table or exhibition space at one where you can show off your wares. Local shows and fairs will cost a lot less to exhibit at than national ones and may be a better match with your business. If cost is an issue, you may find cheaper exhibitor rates if you wait until the last minute – or you could team up with a complementary partner company and split the cost. And even if you can’t afford to exhibit, you can still attend as a member and use it as a great networking opportunity. Just remember to pack a big stack of business cards!

If you want to make some improvements to running your small business, it’s tempting to go into full “overhaul” mode and try to change lots of things at once - but instead of making big changes, you could see benefits just by adding a few daily habits to your routine. Here are some quick, two-minute tasks to consider introducing into your day that could benefit you and your business.

Keep up a healthy cash flow

Your cash flow is essential to your business, but many business owners often leave their invoicing to the end of the month, or may not chase unpaid invoices until weeks after the due date. Invoicing and chasing payments promptly is a great way to keep your cash flow healthy and teach your customers to pay on time, and it only takes a few minutes if you do it every day. Get into the habit of checking daily for any overdue invoices and firing off a reminder, and remember to write an invoice and send it to your client as soon as the work is done.

Remember that FreeAgent also allows you to set up automatic invoice reminder emails that remind customers about overdue invoices, which could help save you further time and hassle when it comes to chasing money.

Stay on top of your costs and expenses

How many receipts do you have in your wallet right now, waiting to be forgotten or lost? We’ve found that most small business expenses are under £20, but many business owners don’t claim them, potentially missing out on tax relief. In FreeAgent, it just takes a minute or two to take a quick snap of your receipt on your phone, upload it to your accounts, then throw the receipt away, safe in the knowledge that the cost is recorded. And yes, in most cases, HMRC will accept the scanned receipt as proof of the expense!

Keep track of your transactions

Do you know what you spent your money on in the last week? The last month? If you only sit down to reconcile your bank statements weeks later, it can be tricky to remember what each transaction was related to. You may also miss out on insight about how your business is doing this month if you don’t have up-to-date information about what’s coming in and out of your account.

Instead, set up your accounting software to import your bank data daily, then just take a few minutes at the end of the day to log in and explain all of your latest transactions - it will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Take control of your timesheet

How many times have you sat down to fill in a timesheet at the end of the week, then realised that you weren’t sure how long you’d spent on a task? The best time to track your time is as soon as you do the work - when the details are fresh in your mind. So as soon as you finish a task, just take two minutes to record it - that way, you won’t have to scramble to remember what you did when you’re putting together a timesheet for your client later on. We recommend that you also track your unbillable time, as this will give you a full picture of your profitability and can help you make better decisions about where to spend your time.

Two minutes may not seem like much time, but it can be more than enough to create some big benefits for your business!

The deadline for filing 2013/14 tax returns is almost upon us, and that could mean that you’re trying to finish yours in a hurry. Here are some top tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes people make in the rush to file before 31st January.

Remember to declare interest received on all bank accounts

The main section of your tax return must include the interest you received on all your bank accounts for the tax year in question (in this case, the tax year 2013/14, which finished on 5th April 2014). The only exception to this would be a bank account on which the interest is paid tax-free, such as an ISA.

When declaring interest received on bank accounts, be sure to include:

  • interest received on a business bank account
  • your share of interest received on any accounts you held jointly with another person
  • interest received on personal bank and building society accounts

Don’t forget to declare business income not yet received

It might surprise you to hear that you must declare all income from your last accounting year in your tax return, even uninvoiced and unpaid income (unless you're using the cash basis to prepare your accounts). Yes, you really do have to pay tax on money you haven’t yet received!

If your accounting year end falls on the same date as the tax year end, for example, you would need to declare any income for work that you’d completed by 5th April 2014, but had not yet been paid for, in your 2013/14 tax return. If you still need to invoice or chase an unpaid invoice for any of this work, now’s the time to do it!

Remember to record unpaid costs

Just as you have to declare all income in your tax return, you need to record all costs from your last accounting year as well, even those that were unpaid by the business at your accounting year end date (again, unless you're using the cash basis to prepare your accounts). If the end of your accounting year falls on the same date as the tax year end, for example, you would need to record any unpaid costs that were incurred by 5th April 2014 on your 2013/14 tax return.

You will need to include two types of unpaid costs:

  • costs that will be paid by the business after your accounting year end date (e.g. an office telephone bill)
  • costs for which cash will never leave your business bank account (e.g. business use of home expenses and the cost of mileage for business travel)

Don’t forget to declare salary, benefits and repaid expenses from your job

If you have a salaried job in addition to running your own business, you will have received a form P60 for the 2013/14 tax year from your employer in April or May last year. This will show you how much you earned in wages and how much tax was deducted. You need to record this information on the Employment pages of your tax return.

If your employer provides you with any non-cash benefits (e.g. medical insurance), or reimburses you for expenses, you will also have received a form P11D which outlines these details. Be sure to record this information, in addition to your salary and tax deductions, on the Employment pages of your tax return. If the expenses you were reimbursed were all incurred for the purpose of doing your job, remember to include these in boxes 17-20 so that you don’t pay extra tax on the money your employer reimbursed you.

Remember to declare underpaid or overpaid tax from a PAYE Notice of Coding

If you are employed and, as a result of a change to your PAYE tax code change, you underpay or overpay tax, you will receive a letter called a Notice of Coding, which outlines the details of the underpayment or overpayment. If you have received a Notice of Coding which states that it relates to the tax year 2013/14, or that you need to declare it in 2013/14, you will need to include this information in the Tax Adjustments section of your tax return.

It’s worth checking this because leaving out details of underpaid or overpaid tax from a PAYE Notice of Coding in your tax return can cause problems further down the line. HMRC may try to make you pay any underpayment twice: once through your tax return and once through your tax code. There is also a chance that HMRC might refund you an overpayment twice, but this isn't as exciting as it sounds: they will realise their mistake eventually and will make you pay it back!

If you’re looking for even more last-minute help, check out our Self Assessment Checklist. And as always, if you are in any doubt about how to fill in your tax return, talk to your accountant or call HMRC’s Self Assessment Helpline.

This blog post was first published on 23 January 2014 and was last updated on 19 January 2015.

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