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Innovation

7 Steps to the Perfect Home Office

home office

Working from home bestows a number of benefits, not least no more long commutes, no more office politics and a better work/life balance. But one perk that is often underestimated is the opportunity to design your own workspace, created with your specific needs and taste in mind. This means no more drab office cubicles in poorly-lit rooms — you’re in control of where you work and can create a space that you enjoy spending your days in.

The home office, once seen as a luxury, is now the cost-effective and smart choice for those who work in the globalised and technology-driven modern day business environment.

A home office can improve the value of your house, offer lucrative tax breaks, and save you money on commuting and renting an expensive coworking space. Taking the time to create your very own work sanctuary is key.

In this post, we’ll guide you through seven simple steps to create your perfect working space.

Step One: Decide on What You Need

Before you begin to set up your home office, you first need to consider what you actually need and want from it.

An office is a designated work space, so it must be functional and practical, and be able to serve you and your business endeavours.

Start by making a list of your requirements based on your answers to the following questions:

  • What do I need to do in the space?
  • What type of work will I be undertaking?
  • Will external clients visit me in my home office?
  • Will I work alone or will colleagues also occupy the space?
  • What equipment do I need to get my work done?
  • When will I be doing the bulk of my work?
  • Will I need to make conference calls from my office?
  • Will I need to make video calls from my office?

Consider not only what you need now, but also what your long-term business goals are. This will help you establish the foundations of your office. Keep these ideas in mind throughout the design process, so that you can ensure that your home office will meet your needs and have longevity.

Step Two: Decide on a Location

Now you have an idea of what you need from your home office, the next big question to answer is where you will put it. Like with most things, location is everything.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing a location to set up shop, but, as a general rule of thumb, you need to situate your office somewhere that is quiet, separate from family members and other distractions, and offers a degree of privacy. This goes without saying, but don’t attempt to double-up on space by placing your home office where you work out or your children sleep.

You may already have a spare room that you could use, such as that long-unused guest bedroom or old playroom. If not, you may decide that you require an extension to create a separate space that can also accommodate your clients and colleagues. Adding a home office extension will not only meet your requirements, but it will also add value to your house, making it well worth the investment.

Whichever you choose, make sure you speak to a trusted local tradesman. Whether you’re looking for a tradesperson to convert your loft or you’re looking for an experienced painter and decorator to renovate your space, a professional will be able to ensure your office suits you. Explain your needs to them and ensure that all the key requirements are covered, such as a strong internet connection, easily-accessible plug sockets and phone lines.

Step Three: Sort Your Light Source

Think of the worst office you ever worked at. Low ceilings, vacuous walls and the constant flicker of sterile, artificial light that gave you a headache and made your eyes water. If going into work every morning and stepping into the harsh light made you feel low and filled you with a sense of dread, you’re not alone. Low natural light has a negative psychological effect and can leave us feeling depressed and unmotivated.

When it comes to creating your home office, take advantage of natural sunlight by positioning your desk to face a window. Research shows that windows that let in natural sunlight help workers to exercise more, get more sleep (equating to an extra 46 minutes per night), feel more alert and energetic, and benefit from better overall wellbeing and health.

For cloudy days, or nights when you decide to burn the midnight oil, invest in high-quality and energy-efficient full-spectrum lighting. Whether you opt for lamps, overhead lights or floor lights, be careful not to position your lights in front of your screen to minimise glare and eye strain.

Step Four: Storage

Most home offices suffer from the same problem: a lack of storage space. However big your home office, it will probably never meet the scale of commercial offices with their built-in storage facilities and conference rooms. Over time, papers can build up, leaving you drowning in a sea of files and forms. However, all it takes is a clever and creative approach to storage. Live by the maxim, “a place for everything and to everything its place”.

To optimise your space, keep things simple and stripped back. Avoid bulky and ornate furnishings and, instead, opt for magazine racks and simple library shelves to house files and documents.

A well-chosen desk with drawers is an efficient way to store important materials that you use regularly. Pencil cups, trays and cardholders can also be implemented to keep mess at bay. Keep wires tidy with wire clips and ensure they’re placed to prevent trips and falls — health and safety should still be a concern, even when you work from home. Be practical, functional and ruthless: everything in your office should be completely necessary.

That hefty colour copier might be useful once a month, but, for the amount of space it takes up, it would probably be more convenient to pop to your local printing store, rather than doing it yourself. To ensure you’re never out of stock of the essentials, invest in a small cupboard for your office supplies.

Exercise minimalism and control in your design choices and set up a space that would provide a professional backdrop in the event of a video conference call.

Step Five: Go Ergonomic

Ergonomics has become somewhat of a buzzword in business, with offices increasingly going the ergonomic way. With ergonomically-designed offices helping to decrease fatigue, discomfort and physical and mental stress, it’s not hard to see why. The result is greater comfort and increased productivity — a win-win.

Designing your office with ergonomics in mind allows you to work more comfortably and efficiently, and it doesn’t have to be costly, either. Follow these simple tips to experience the benefits:

  • Give your eyes a break by placing the top of your computer screen at or slightly below eye level. The idea is that, as you scan down your screen, your eyelids will naturally close a little, providing moisture and helping you avoid dry and tired eyes
  • Improve your posture by positioning your keyboard in such a way that your forearms are parallel to the floor. Poor posture can lead to a host of health problems, including chronic back pain
  • Stay grounded by adjusting your chair so that your feet rest firmly on the floor. If you’re on the shorter side, add a footrest to bring the ground to you
  • Invest in a comfortable chair. Plenty has been said about the biomechanics of seating, but, simply put, you want to choose a chair that you enjoy sitting in. If your chair is uncomfortable, chances are, you’ll be up and down like a yo-yo all day long, which will affect your productivity and posture.

Step Six: Add Some Greenery

This is a short, but sweet, point: it’s been scientifically proven that plants make people happier. Not only do plants give off all-important oxygen, but they also bring some mood-boosting and calm-inducing colour into the office. Stick to plants that don’t need watering every day and that can be left to their own devices over the weekend or during stressful periods, but don’t forget to nurture them.

Step Seven: Personalise

If you’ve kept all of the following points in mind, you should now have a functional and practical home office, complete with all the furnishings you need to work at your best. The only thing that is missing is a bit of unique style. In commercial offices, personalisation can be tricky. If you’re stuck in a cubicle, personalising your space probably extends to having a couple of photos and perhaps a sticker or two. The biggest benefit of having a home office is that you can get creative and make the space your own.

We work better when we’re surrounded by things that inspire and motivate us — a picture of a loved one; a painting we adore. But don’t get carried away: these final flourishes should put you at ease, not act as a distraction. Those quirky vintage chairs you love may look great, but they won’t support your back, and, while you may love bold colours, rich colours can become annoying when you’re surrounded by them day after day. Too much environmental stimulation is a distraction, so opt for small touches, such as patterned rugs, artwork and photos. Your home office should be designed with functionality first and aesthetics second.

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Innovation

Tips For Starting Your Own T-shirt Printing Business While At University

start a t shirt business

When student Ben Francis started selling screen printed clothing from his garage 6 years ago, he would never have thought his startup would grow into one of the biggest brands in fitness. Today, Gymshark is supported by millions of social media followers and boasts customers from over 130 different countries.

Success stories like Gymshark’s demonstrate that setting up your own business at University is definitely possible and may lead to massive success. Being at University is a great time to set up your own business- University students have more free time, fewer commitments and there are a wealth of resources and organisations designed solely to support young entrepreneurs.

Selling t-shirts online has become a popular business model and offering a customisable aspect by printing personalised designs is a great USP. For University students, starting a t-shirt printing business is an inexpensive way to start a business while studying.

Here are 5 tips for starting a t-shirt printing business while at University:

Educate yourself

Don’t worry if you’re not currently taking a business or marketing course, as there may be optional entrepreneurship classes you can take at University to train you for the world of business and give you startup advice.

There are many resources on the web to learn how to run a t-shirt printing business and more pointedly how to create customised prints, including this insightful blog post on how to embroider logos on workwear.

For setting up a t-shirt printing business it is important to do research into the industry and competitors as well as into the potential market. When it comes to the t-shirt printing industry, there are a wide range of potential customers so be sure to think about who exactly you want to be selling to.

Create a business plan

Creating a business plan is an important part of setting up a new business as it is a good way to explore the feasibility of your new business and is essential if you will be seeking out external financing.

As part of planning for the business make sure to:

  • Establish the mission of your company
  • Know where you will obtain your raw materials from
  • Analyse the competition and know how will you make your brand stand out from other t-shirt companies
  • Think about how you will market the business
  • Identify your target market
  • Do some financial projections, for example a sales forecast

Secure start-up funding

There are many ways to raise startup funding including business incubators and accelerators, angel investors and venture capital firms, and investment from friends or relatives.

Consider researching into small business grants as there are thousands of grant schemes in action across the UK and many will be eligible for University entrepreneurs.

The main sources of grants are from the UK government, the European Union and your local authority but they are also offered by Universities, charities and corporates. It is worth researching into all of these before making a decision.

Another great source of funding is the Prince’s Trust which is the country’s leading youth charity programme, who offer financial help and business support for entrepreneurs aged 18 to 30 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Another financing option is The Start Up Loans Company which is a government-backed scheme helping individuals start or grow a business in the UK. The Start Up Loans Company allows you to borrow up to £25,000 to start a business for a low fixed interest rate of 6% per annum.

Create a support network

Search out support channels such as your University’s business resources and alumni network. You could also reach out to other entrepreneurs and local businesses to gain advice on entrepreneurship and useful contacts. Research into any meetup groups and network/ startup events in your area to widen your network.

Use free resources

To save you money be sure to make use of any free resources, including those provided by your University. Your University may have databases, contacts, workshops, and more that you can use while still studying.

Another great asset is the people around you- fellow students, lecturers, tutors etc. Reaching out to others for advice or opinions can be of great use when setting up a business and you may even find a business partner.

There are also a few charitable organisations which you can use such as the The National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE). The NACUE is an organisation for students in enterprise and has a UK network of over 260 students and enterprises. They support and connect student entrepreneurs through student-led enterprise societies, practical programmes and events.

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Innovation

Trends In New Business Ownership In America

America

New business ownership is a great indicator of how the country is doing, right? Surely the more entrepreneurship going on the better?

Well it’s not just that simple, we need to look at what types of start-ups are happening, how successful they are and what they do once established.

It’s been reported that 90% of start-ups fail and this is due to a whole host of reasons, many businesses haven’t been researched properly, don’t have a market for their product, funding issues or any other thing can kill off a new start-up.

What Types Of Start-Ups Are Happening now?

What are the types of businesses that are starting up in America today and how does this differ from the past? It’s no surprise that online is where business trends are going with companies utilising freelance remote workforces more and more, communication and online marketing etc and even manufacturing and industrial businesses are concentrating more and more on automation and technology based solutions.

The small scale start-up, the spare room or garage success looks like becoming more of a distant memory as even new start-ups are having to come in funded and prepared to compete with the big boys.

High Quality Start-Ups That Are Fuelling The Economy

The number of start-ups are down overall but high growth start-ups are on the increase and a good indication of what the quality of these start-ups are is that the amount of new trademarks are growing each year and this shows that these firms are taking protection of their intellectual property, and therefore growth, more seriously and that is good news for the overall economy and for employment.

Tiny business that only employ the owner or family which account for 75% of start ups are not the answer to growing the economy these days.

What Kind Of Companies Manage To Grow?

From the nations’ point of view growth is really what we want from as many as our start-ups as possible as this fuels jobs, wealth and happiness for citizens. This guide to sustainable growth shows how to not only gain the growth needed but to sustain this to be able to flourish and be the kinds of companies America needs.

Companies that will last need to have a solid direction, this may sound obvious, but it’s shocking how many companies don’t have an adequate business plan or if they do don’t refer back to it to see if they are on track and adjust if not.

The business needs to have a strong brand identity so that customers know it and what it stands for. Most importantly this strategy needs to be long-term and so sustainable growth should be realistic and achievable.

So in many ways business start-ups are changing in that they are focused more and more on technology, automation and the internet. But in many other ways nothing has changed, businesses still overwhelmingly fail and those that succeed are what drives the economy forward.

So long as we have the 10% of success stories driving the economy forward then progress will be ensured long term.

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General

Love Pets? Top Startup Ideas for You

pet care industry

The domestic animal (pet) industry is buoyant with pet care said to be one of the most recession proof sectors around. Maybe this is why there are many successful franchises operating, from short stay and daycare centres, to training and exercise gyms and speciality stores.

In business, we’re told to do something we love and if we do and do it well, we’ll be successful. Well, here’s your chance. If you love pets, consider a business in one of these areas:

1. Pet training services

The great thing about domestic animals and birds is they have a brain so we can train them, and not just for our entertainment. In fact training an animal for our pleasure is somewhat frowned on so focus on training for drug and bomb detection, or search and rescue.

Plus there’s also the specialist field of recovery particularly after a major event.
Cadaver dogs do an amazing service using their nose of which their sense of smell is way better than humans.

Animals also provide support and company for the elderly, and the disabled so there’s a lot of opportunity in animal training.

A pet training camp can be a great way to turn what you love into a sustainable business.

Law enforcement agencies, for instance, need police dogs to undergo training. Normally, police departments have their own dog training academies, but those in smaller town will have to get contractors to handle the training. K9 units often undergo obedience and agility courses, so you may as well include these in your curriculum.

Another great idea. albeit more left field, is, bird training. Not just any bird but Psittaciformes, which include parrots, cockatoos, parakeets. This is definitely a specialty area. If training is just not your thing, consider short stay pet accomodation or a daycare center.

2. Daycare centers

In America, ‘pet sitting’ while you’re on vacation or out for the evening, has always been an important tradition among suburban families, however pet hotels and daycare facilities now reign. It’s not just for Hollywood celebrities, everyday homes are using these businesses to mind their previous pets rather than leave them alone while the children are at school and the adults are at work.

So are a dog daycares profitable? K9 Franchise, did their research, and found it’s a multi-million dollar industry! So with the right business model and support systems it’s a sector that growing and is highly successful, and that’s due to us.

As our lifestyles have changed over the time, so too has our desire for pets. We’re having children later in life, so the pet comes first, and of course they’ve ingratiated themselves so they are around when the children come and go. Even non animal owners have turned to pets to avoid empty nester syndrone, as it’s proven that domestic animal ownership alleviate loneliness.

Taking on a daycare franchise, may be the way to move forward in your own business. The huge investment needed to get your daycare business started, plus the cost of support services like marketing, tech, and operational procedures are shared among the all franchisees, so the franchisee model works well in this sector.

3. Boutique and specialty stores

People love to pamper their pets. Pampering them is a surrogate to pampering a child or us.  So there’s no limit applied to how often toys and accessories are purchased to keep pets comforted and entertained.

This is an exciting business with lots of innovation in this sector. There are boutiques and specialty stores that sell items from costumes, aquarium decorations, hamster cage setups, baked goodies, and other nifty things that cater to every pet lover.

However we say: caveat emptor aka ‘buyer beware’. Do your homework before venturing too far into the unknown when it comes to speciality products and services. There’s a risk, there will be a lack of demand, or you’ve entered a crowded marketplace with too much supply. However with more risk there’s more upside when offering a unique proposition. Word will get out among pet lovers and there’s no distance too far to go, when it comes to pampering pets.

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Innovation

New Packaging Machinery A Win For Food Outlets

food packaging machinery

Packaging is everywhere, and none more so now than in the food industry.

Packaging machinery used to be complicated to use and needed a lot space hence it was manufactured for wholesalers only. Of course this is no longer the case in fact, it is so ingrained in our retail culture that we don’t really think about it very much anymore beyond which bin it should go in once it has been used. This is a shame because, despite the recent negative press, packaging has a serious job to perform.

Longer Shelf Life

Go and have a look in your fridge – how much fresh food is there in here that would have already perished if it weren’t for the wrapping it came in? The answer is most of it.

Packaging isn’t just there to give you nutritional and health information such as sell-by dates and calorie content; it is also there to act as a passive preservative that means you can safely eat it for a much longer period than if it wasn’t well sealed.

Using packaging like this isn’t just good for consumers; packaging also allows businesses to thrive.

The right packaging can extend the shelf life of a product by a significant amount of time (think about that tin of beans that is yet to expire despite sitting covered in dust at the back of the cupboard for the last few years!).

In particular, fresh products last longer, giving customers more time to purchase and creating a much more competitive price margin.

Rise Up The Boutique Food Retailers

Packaging technology has been around for a long time but recent tech advances mean that now even small boutique food retailers can use it.

Instead of relying on large factories to produce fresh foods, home businesses are now able to create a more sustainable business model using clever packaging designs and technologies. For example, a baker could now bake a cake a day or two ahead, package it and deliver, still fresh, to the customer later on.

While shelf life might be the most important thing for the food inside, presentation is another factor that is significant for consumers.

We are all naturally curious about what we eat and checking to see whether something looks appetizing before purchasing is an instinctive behaviour. We want visual assurance that what is in the box is what we expect and nothing more.

Shrink wrapping is particularly great for this as it is one of the best ways to add valuable days to a used-by date as well as show off a particular food or product.

Whether the shrink wrap is used to expose the whole item or shrouded in cardboard with a handy peephole, shrink wrapping also gives the consumer a feel for the texture of a product.

Bright Future For Small Food Outlets

For small businesses, getting the packaging right is crucial. Being able to pack on site is the best way to minimize waiting times and maximize shelf life.

C Pack Packaging Machinery have been in the business of selling new and used packaging machinery for years and they say their client base has broadened a lot in recent times. Their client base used to be large manufacturers but tech advancement has allowed smaller retailers to create new service lines like take out freshly cooked roast dinners due to the use of the new technology. As a business, C Pack Limited say they’ve learnt a thing or two about dealing the retail sector and it’s great for their business and of course the food outlets.

As packaging technology has developed, customization has become possible meaning that small businesses can get exactly what they need from the tech. and they can accomodate the machinery in their premises.

Similarly, simplifying the technology to make it more user-friendly has allowed smaller businesses with non-specialist staff to get in on the market.

Summary

Consumers might not think too much about packaging but that is usually because it is doing its job so well. And with further advances in technology, the future of food production is looking bright. Startup businesses in freshly cooked or made food have a bright future too so here is yet another example of how advances in technology are working for us!

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Innovation

Smart Ways to Reduce Packaging Expenses

plasticbag

Selling products online has many advantages over the traditional walk in store, except for one – how to get the product to the customer. For most walk in stores the customers chose, buy and take their purchase with them, so there’s no need to deliver it. Online shopping requires the business to deliver the product to the customer and it must be a seamless process that’s trackable and the it arrives in perfect condition.

So how do these businesses deal with the challenges of delivery?

Online shoppers are not always local too so the product will often go by sea or air. If you sell products that are fragile, contain chemicals, or are prone to spilling, this is surely an added complication and cost, so here are some tips from shrink sleeves manufacturers Flexo Impressions.

Shrink Wrapping

Taking the air out with shrink wrap systems and machines saves on space and increases the shelf life of products. Saving space saves on packaging costs and products that were typically bottled can now be packaged in shrink sleeves reducing the likelihood of leakage or breakage.

The shrink wrap solution has been technology disruptive in a very positive way and it’s allowed businesses to be more innovative including the pervasive ready made meals market.

Use Recycled Materials

Newspapers, scrap paper, and other recycled materials make for great cushioning and can offset your carbon footprint. Also use recycled packaging ideally made from a sustainable business. Yes it takes more time, locating your suppliers however think of the marketing opportunity for your business and how it can stand out amongst it’s peers.

Some of the materials you use will be cheaper, others not but the discerning customer will choose your business and thus there’s the opportunity to make more sales.

Products Prepared Shipping Before Purchase

Products ready for shipping before they’ve been purchased will save you time and money. Depending on the kinds of products you sell, you might be able to have your products already packaged and packed before you get the actual orders.

Customer expectations are very different today and viewing an image of a product is enough to make a purchase. Even if your company only sells one kind of beauty product and you mainly cater to individual clients, you can have as many as a hundred orders shrink wrapped and prepared, just waiting for you to slap a label on the box. Of course your method may differ if you cater to both individuals and large-scale clients, but at least you can be ready with pallets secured and wrapped in plastic, and individual orders neatly lined up and ready for immediate delivery.

Have a Relationship with a Mail Service

Want to keep shipping-related business expenses as low as possible? Maybe you should establish a relationship with a preferred mailing service. For instance, companies like FedEx will come to your place of business on a daily basis to take all orders to their destination. This saves you from having to drive, and it also helps you to give your customers accurate arrival date estimates.

With the United States Postal Service, businesses can even go as far as choosing the time that shipments are picked up each day.

Delivery logistics including packaging doesn’t need to be a huge challenge or expense. Hone your system to find cost-cutting shortcuts, and remember nothing stays the same so always be on the look out for innovative solutions that make your job easier, and gives your business kudos. Working with social enterprises for example may be the way to go to forge closer relationships with your customers. Plus share your experiences on your blog, including how you’re improving the business with innovation to provide a better product or service for your customers.

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Innovation

How to Manage Business Energy Costs

windpower

Running a business can be an incredibly exciting and rewarding venture, but it can also be incredibly expensive given the myriad of costs which come with it. From having to purchase supplies to paying staff, there are many costs which every business owner must take into account to keep the business afloat and make a profit.

Keeping an eye on the costs and where savings can be made is an ongoing requirement for all businesses. Take utilities for example, there are lots of energy service providers and deals on the go all the time.

Bundling energy with data provision is the way to go nowadays so do some research on which provider is right for your business.

Provider

We’re all reluctant to pay more than we need to for utilities therefore your energy provider needs to be competitive on many different levels including support and most importantly cost.

There’s been a rise in service provider companies, such as Utilitywise, whom exist to help businesses find the most cost effective providers of not just power but also data.

While you may have thought this is enough to manage, and deliver on, providers wanting to differentiate from their competitors also provide other services like managing the bills from the chosen utility providers so you don’t need to.

Using a third party to take care of your business bills is also an efficient way to save time and manpower that you could use elsewhere.

To work out if switching energy providers is worthwhile, the first step to take would be to get an energy audit – most companies offer free energy audits and will help you figure out how your money are spent on energy bills, they ways you can increase energy efficiency and how to make adjustments to decrease the amount spent.

Energy Efficiency

Managing where and how much energy is used within the business can reduce usage and thus the cost.

Focus on making sure whatever uses energy is only doing so when necessary (lights, computers, machinery etc.) and that you have energy efficient infrastructure in place.

Installing motion activated lights, for instance, may be a good way to reduce electricity usage in the long run, as well as using a programmable thermostat to control the temperature and make sure that the heating is not constantly on. There is plenty of energy efficient equipment on the market which could be an effective investment for your business.

It might also seem pretty obvious, but switching off equipment when not in use can really make a difference. You’d be surprised how much you could safe by not letting computers, printers and other devices sleeping, rather than switched off.

Keep your hardware wired into a single power-strip, so once you are ready to leave you can shut them all down with just a single switch.

Renewable Energy

You may also want to consider supplying some of your business’s energy needs yourself by installing renewable energy devices.

Two of the most common pieces of kit would be a wind turbine and solar panels, but there will likely be many more innovations to come as technology continues to progress.

Many businesses are going green these days, so it is well worth staying ahead of the trend and investing in renewable energy, both to keep costs down and to minimise your business’s impact in the environment.

You might want to consider letting a bit of sunlight in your office.

As simple as it is, this could help you reduce costs from keeping the lights during daylight hours. On the other hand, you need to make sure that the light is not intrusive and actually makes feel your employees uncomfortable.

Summary

These are just some of the many different methods you can apply to manage energy costs effectively and efficiently.

Adopting the best practices now could well save your business a fortune in the long run, so be sure to look into every option available to you.

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