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Getting advice

There are hundreds of business advice services, yet many people are still unaware of the wealth of knowledge and experience available to help them set up in business, much of it free. Business advisers help potential, new and established businesses.

They can offer general advice based on their experience and knowledge of business matters, as well as focusing on specific areas of expertise such as finance or marketing.

Who can give me advice on starting a business?

Advice on starting a business is available from a variety of sources, including:

  • Business advisers
  • Accountants
  • Solicitors
  • Trade associations

Advice is also available in a variety of specialist areas, including public relations, management, IT, health and safety, and environmental issues.

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Why should I consult a business adviser?

There are a number of reasons for consulting an independent business adviser, as they can provide new ideas and ways of looking at issues that will help you to develop your business. A business adviser can offer:

  • Objectivity - it is easy to get so involved in developing your business idea that the ability to be objective can be lost.
  • Business concepts and methods - an adviser can provide advice on methods of business analysis and new management techniques that may help you to structure and run your business effectively.
  • Contacts and local knowledge - an adviser will know a great deal about the local market conditions and commercial networks that can help you carry out your market research and set up your business.
  • Experience - advisers have normally worked in industry or run their own small business, and will be able to pass on practical experience, insights and strategies that have worked for them.
  • Access to additional resources - advisers will have information about local grant schemes, business publications, research material and reports, all of which can be useful when setting up a new business.

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Why should I consult an accountant?

An accountant can provide advice and assistance on a variety of issues affecting the start up of your business, including:

  • What type of accounting system is needed and how to set it up.
  • Keeping proper books of accounts to meet relevant legal requirements. Many firms use accountants or bookkeepers to prepare their accounts for them, although there is a danger that managers of small firms can lose touch with up-to-date financial information if they pass on all of the responsibility.
  • How to organise the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income tax contributions for yourself and any staff.
  • Whether you will need to register for VAT and the procedures involved.
  • The tax implications of running a business from home.
  • The tax implications of employing family members

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Why should I consult a solicitor?

There are a number of reasons for consulting a solicitor when setting up a business. Solicitors can provide advice on a range of legal issues, including:

  • Company formation and administration - a solicitor can draw up the articles of association or deeds of partnership, and assist in making sure that your business complies with necessary legal requirements.
  • Contracts - expert help will be required in drawing up effective terms and conditions of trading.
  • Premises - when buying or leasing premises, a solicitor is essential. They will give advice on contracts and on how to avoid contravening planning law.
  • Franchises - if you are considering taking on a franchise, the agreement may be quite complex. It will be worth having a solicitor study the contract before making a commitment.

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Why should I consult a trade association?

Trade associations have always been a fundamental part of business life. Their strength and importance continues to grow, with many associations regulating the industry or offering specialist legal and insurance services. They often offer a range of services that can be useful when starting up a business, including:

  • Information services - including up-to-date developments within the industry, market research and trends that may affect the future development of your business. During the start up or planning phase of your business, they can provide a range of material that will be useful when drawing up your marketing plan.
  • Industry standards - many trade associations set standards and have a code of conduct with which members must comply. They often have a complaints service offering independent arbitration over grievances between members and their customers.
  • Training - the availability of short courses or Continual Professional Development (CPD) will ensure that your skills remain up-to-date and that you are aware of changes within your industry.
  • Networking - many associations have regional branches that meet on a regular basis, offering you the chance to meet and talk to other people working in the same business, sharing ideas and resolving difficulties common to the industry.

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Hints and tips

  • You should not hesitate to ask your business adviser, in an informal way, about their qualifications and background. The adviser should feel comfortable about disclosing this type of information.
  • It is important not to allow an adviser to undermine your opinions. They can only offer advice and will not have all the answers.
  • Different agencies will be able to offer different levels of advice. It may be useful for you to contact a number of organisations before committing to an adviser.
  • An accountant should be recruited during the planning phase of your business. Receiving advice from the start can prevent problems in the future.
  • It is important to shop around to find the accountancy firm best suited to your business' needs.
  • Before choosing an accountant, you should find out the basis on which fees are calculated. You should not be afraid to question and negotiate fees.
  • The level of services required must be agreed with the accountant. If this is not clearly specified, they may end up doing more or less work than they expected.
  • A directory of legal firms and individual solicitors that are affiliated to the Law Society can be found on the website www.solicitors-online.com and can be searched by name, area and specialisation. The printed version, entitled The Law Society's Directory of Barristers and Solicitors, should be available through your local library.
  • The Law Society also operates a scheme called Lawyers For Your Business (LFYB), a network of 1,400 independent legal firms that specialise in commercial legal problems.
  • It is advisable to talk with other businesses in the industry to find out about associations and professional bodies that have been particularly useful to them.
  • Anyone looking at options for starting their own business can receive invaluable information about particular business ideas from trade associations by contacting them by phone, post or e-mail.

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