QUESTION: I’ve recently launched a new website for my business and would like some advice on getting the best from it.
KEVIN JOHNSTON from Invest NI's e-business section replies:
One of the most important things now is to market your website effectively. You need to promote the web address (URL). Make sure you include it on all printed material — business cards, letters and promotional material — as well as in your email footer.
You should check your website has been optimised to allow the major search engines to index your website correctly so that other people can find you.
You can also drive people to your site with online advertising using pay per click (PPC) marketing campaigns. PPC campaigns can be delivered by most of the major search engines as well as other providers.
You can also advertise on other websites by agreeing to have reciprocal links or other agreements.
It’s important to update your website regularly as out-of-date news, or content that is no longer relevant, will have a negative impact on your image.
As well as using your website as a marketing tool, you can use it to improve the efficiency of your business and reduce duplication.
This applies particularly to e-commerce websites — those websites that
allow customers to order and pay for goods online.
By linking your back office systems, such as your accounts software and order processing systems, to your e-commerce site you can operate more efficiently, improve response times, increase capacity and reduce administration costs.
For more information on getting the best from your website, visit the IT & E-commerce section of www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk
QUESTION: I am about to re-write my five-year business plan
and am aware of a national pension scheme being introduced in 2012. Can you provide more information?
ANSWER: TOM LEONARD, Towry Law senior client partner replies:
The Government is concerned that many people are not doing enough toward saving for the future and that these people will become a burden on the state when they retire. They want to encourage people to save for their own retirement.
Following the relative failure of stakeholder pensions to encourage those on
lower earnings to start saving, their next initiative, the National Pension Savings Scheme (NPSS), is due to be introduced in 2012.
This is a pension scheme into which both employees and their employers will contribute. The default contribution rate will be 8% of band earnings by 2014.
Initially, as a guide, the band will be between approximately £5,500 and £40,000 per annum (broadly the 2008/09 rates) and this 8% will be made up of 5% from the employee, including tax relief, and 3% from the employer.
However, employers will be able to phase in contributions so that they can contribute 1% in 2012, 2% in 2013 and then 3% in 2014 and going forwards.
Many employers who do not currently make pension contributions on behalf of their employees will therefore need to budget for these extra costs starting in 2012 and will also need to decide how much to invest initially in order to meet the twin objectives of their financial budgets and providing competitive total reward packages for employees.
It is also important for employers to recognise that all employees over the age of 22 will be automatically enrolled into the new scheme.
So, while the scheme is not compulsory for these employees, it is believed that a high proportion will not opt back out.
This is likely to increase costs for many employers, including those who currently provide pension contributions on behalf of employees of 3% or more,
as the take-up rate from employees, and hence the number of employees they need to provide for, could increase significantly.
The Government argues that the actual cost to employers will be significantly below 3% per annum, because of tax incentives and also as many employers will currently be offering generous pension schemes.
However, the problem is that the impact of these changes will fall disproportionately on small and medium sized firms, some of which will therefore be struggling in the current economic climate anyway.
They will be faced with the dilemma of meeting these extra costs and as a result may even need to consider reducing salary levels, reducing existing pension benefits or even reducing their numbers of staff.
It is hoped that most firms will not need to adopt such stringent measures which would have a significant impact on staff morale and, potentially, productivity.
Firms should look to take professional corporate advice now so that they can best plan for the introduction of NPSS in a way that is smoother for the business and less damaging to employee morale.
By ignoring the potential consequences now, employers could find themselves having to make some very difficult decisions in two or three years time.