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Why I started the Donut

I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.

Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.

We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.

So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.  

What we’ve achieved in a year

As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.

We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.

All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings – we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)

Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.

Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.

The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.

2010-2011: what’s in it for you?

As we expand the core “answers to your questions” pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.

We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We’re currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.

We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds – a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.

An SME owner’s work is never done, so I’m signing off to tackle the above. Before I go – thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.

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Cashflow is the lifeblood of any organisation. Getting it wrong means that your business will fail, but getting it right at a time of economic uncertainty is a significant challenge.

Having a healthy cashflow is crucial for all companies, but can have a massive impact for start-ups. A new business can only survive for a short time with a negative cash flow, and ultimately the business will end up insolvent. Start-ups must adopt processes to help manage their cashflow from the moment they are set up.

Late payments are a significant problem for entrepreneurs to deal with. Half  of the small businesses polled by Sage in its monthly Omnibus said they had been impacted by late payments over the last twelve months.

For start-ups waiting to improve their business cashflow, there are a number of steps to take, including:

Know where your money is – It sounds simple, but a lot of small businesses will fail because their owner doesn’t keep a close eye on the funds coming in and out of the business. That visibility is best achieved by maintaining regular updates on your cashflow forecasts.

Know your customers – Many businesses have a set date for paying invoices, learn when these are for your customers and record the date. If the date passes and you are yet to be paid, then there is a good chance that something is not right and you can follow up with your customer.

Set-up an online automated contingency plan – This will help you actively manage your cashflow. It is critical that start-ups remain aware of how much money they are owed and when payments are due, so that late payments do not occur in the first instance. However, if they do occur good management can ensure the late payment does not have a damaging effect on the overall cashflow. These are all aspects that business accounting software can help you get to grips with.

By implementing theses correct processes a start-up will be able to manage their financial planning effectively, forecast the year ahead and identify any potential cashflow issues. By following these guidelines and implementing the right software, businesses can make sure they remain strong and cash positive.

Brendan Flattery is the Managing Director of the Small Business Division at Sage UK and Ireland.

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In the recession, entrepreneurs and businesspeople are in search of business ideas to help them boost sales revenue and reduce overheads.  If you are thinking of starting a business, then you should be even MORE focussed on technology which can give you a competitive advantage.

Find out what some of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs have to say about technology, and how it can help you be successful with your existing or new business …

The business experts in this series include: Tim Smit (Chief Executive and Co-founder, Eden Project), Doug Richard (BBC2’s Dragons’ Den), Luke Johnson (Chairman, Channel 4 Television Corporation), Chey Garland (Chief Executive, Garlands Call Centres), and Miles Templeman (Director General, Institute of Directors).

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