Thinking business with Keith Costello, founder of The Loft

Rural towns in Ireland have a lot to gain from coworking spaces, and Tuam is about to see if one man’s vision can lift its entrepreneurial spirit.

My name is Keith Costello, and I run a business called Irish Wholesale Flags. We are based in the N17 Business Park in Tuam. We have a 2,200 sq. ft. facility and I want to transform the first floor into a coworking space, and a have a local space for local enterprise.
I’m calling it ‘The Loft’. The idea is that local business people become active in designing it and setting it up. I want local business people to be involved from the start and grow it organically. There will be office spaces available for local businesses to rent and The Loft will be a centre point, a meeting place for enterprise events and cultural activities.
The idea came about because I felt Tuam needed a focal point, a central place where business people can meet. When I look at larger towns like Galway, I see how business people band together and support each other. 
“This is where The Loft can come in. It can act as a haven for people who want to talk about the challenges of business with other business people.”
In major towns there are networking and business events nearly every night of the week. The business community and the cultural community in cities meet regularly to share ideas, best practice and contacts. I think all towns should do this and The Loft is designed as a venue for such meetings.
I’m not actively looking for funding. I want The Loft to grow organically. I want to see it as a space used for local events and networking. The idea is simple. Create a space where like-minded people can gather and share ideas and best practice.

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Competitor analysis template

This Competitor Analysis Template gives you the opportunity to conduct a detailed analysis of your business competitors. 
All instructions in brackets and italics – [like this] – are intended to assist you in completing the plan. To help you complete your template, you should refer to the accompanying Marketing Plan Guide for additional information.
The main objectives of a competitor analysis are to understand who your competitors are, what strategies they are using and have planned, how competitors might react to your company’s actions, and how to influence competitor behavior to your advantage.
Every business faces some sort of competition. The key is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your competition, as it is critical to making sure your business survives and grows. Analysing potential competition is also vital because when new businesses enter the marketplace, it leaves existing small businesses at risk.
Using your analysis, learn from your competitor’s strengths and try adopting them to your own strategy, while also taking advantage of their weaknesses.
This template comprises of two main sections:

Competitor profile: This is a detailed overview of who your competitor is, taking into account areas of interest such as:

Summary profile, which includes their social media channels used, the location of the business, the company background, the number of employees, market share, customers and financial information
Pricing, including refund policy, discounts, terms and conditions, and distribution, if relevant
What marketing and communications strategies they use, including key messages, tagline and advertising
What their strengths and weaknesses are


Competitor analysis: This gives you the opportunity to compare your business with that of your competitor in terms of critical success factors (CSFs). You can identify CSFs for the market in which you operate, and then compare your business with that of your competitor in terms of these CSFs, using a scoring system.

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Translating your website to other languages

If your product or service is export focused, it will help if your site ‘translates’ into the languages of the countries you are targeting. Damian Scattergood, MD of STAR Translation Services, gives his advice on proper translation practices. 

If you’re new to translation, it can be a bit daunting the first time around. Where do you start in finding translators and what are the pitfalls?
TIP ONE: Include translation plans at design stage
You should think about translation from day one. Whether it’s a service, software product or website you are creating – include translation as part of the design discussion. 
Before you engage your English web design agency; think about questions to ask them. Here are a couple of design questions to get you started. 
•    Will the new site enable for translation? 
•    What process do you use?
•    If they use plugins – can this plugin work in Japanese?
•    Will we have a single website in five languages or five sites in different languages? What strategy will you take?
•    Did you know German can be 30% longer than English text? So will we have plenty of whitespace in our design, brochures, layouts? How will our brochure or website look when the text gets longer.
Remember, it’s expensive to make changes after the design phase and when the site is live. A good translation company will ask questions about your products and translation during translation. 
TIP TWO: Protect your brand
When you choose a translation agency to work with you are placing your brand in their hands.
Pick the right company for you – one that fits your culture, style and quality. Remember this is a partnership – so you will need to invest time with them.
Cost is not the only factor in translation. You’re effectively giving the translation agency your brand to manage

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Balancing work and parenting during the holidays

Top tips for working parents. How to get the work-life balance right during the summer break. 
The days are getting longer, and the schools will soon be closing for the summer holidays. Your kids are getting excited about the long, lazy days ahead. But you find yourself getting increasingly anxious. How will you keep your kids busy all summer while running a business? Where will you find extra childcare? How much will it all cost? 
School holidays can present business owners with a headache. But with a little planning and focus, you can stay productive. With some creativity, you can find solutions to fit your schedule and your budget. Here are some tips to help you get organised. 

Plan your child care 
Now is the time to start planning the summer months. Probably your biggest challenge is finding a minder for your kids during the regular school hours. Your existing minder may be able to increase their hours, or a family member may step in. But if not you will need to find some new solutions. 
You can start by talking to other working parents. What arrangements have they made? What child-minding solutions are available locally that you may not be aware of?
Think creatively about other solutions. Do you know any teenagers who would cover a few hours a day for a small fee?  Do you have a niece or nephew living abroad who would like to visit and look after their cousins? Is there a local language school? Investigate if you can host students in exchange for some child minding. If you have an extra room in your house, maybe a short-term au pair would solve the problem?
Find activities
Start booking camps and other activities early to avail of discounts. To find options suitable for your kids’ ages, ask parents with children a year or

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Developing a business strategy

Planning to grow? Below are nine points that will help you build a successful business strategy. 
1: When business planning, be alert to changes in your market or in customer behaviours. Many businesses fail because they bury their heads in the sand and don’t read the signs until it is too late.
2: Remember that marketing is an essential part of strategy formulation. It’s about creating value in response to customer demand.
3: Ensure you rely on good data and analysis to inform the strategic direction you take. A reliance on merely historic (usually financial) and other internal data will not provide the necessary insight to plan ahead. You need richer sources of data and market insight.
4: You don’t have to commit to a big research budget to get that all-important external insight. Simple processes, like customer surveys with the incentive of a prize, can be hugely valuable.
5: Involve your staff in the process of gathering information and opinions to inform future strategy. Remember that many winning strategies start with insights from staff members.
6: Communicate your strategy to your staff in a manner that they will understand. Keep it simple and tangible. Ensure you update them on implementation milestones.
7: Consider how you will communicate your strategy externally, particularly to allay any unfounded fears. For instance, if a business plans to expand into a new market and you or a senior manager will be in charge of that expansion, you need to ensure your existing customers understand what you’re trying to do and get assurances that servicing won’t be affected.
8: Your mission statement needs to be widely understood. Don’t fall into the trap of just sticking it on the wall and ticking the box that a new strategy is now in place.
9: Remember that strategies evolve and need a degree of flexibility. They should

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Ten brilliant Irish business ideas

The Irish are an entrepreneurial bunch. Below are ten business ideas that originated in Ireland and changed the world.
It’s difficult coming up with an original business idea. Today, it seems most startups are trying to provide a different version of something else using an app or a piece of software. Back in the day, when people were made of sterner stuff, and computers were non-existent, people had ideas and made things that shaped the world forever. 
Below are ten ideas, conceived in Ireland, that went on to leave an indelible mark on human history. 

The rasher
Perhaps the tastiest invention of all time? It was invented by Henry Denny, a Waterford butcher, in 1820. 
The hypodermic syringe
In 1844, Francis Rynd, a Dublin doctor, performed the world’s first subcutaneous injection with his homemade hypodermic syringe. 

The modern stamp
The perforated stamp was invented by an Irish printer, Henry Archer in the 1840s. 
Artificial fertiliser
Artificial fertiliser was invented in 1817 by James Murray, an Irish doctor with a keen interest in chemistry. Dr Murray also invented Milk of Magnesia. 
The modern stethoscope
The binaural stethoscope was invented in 1850 by the Irish doctor Arthur Leared. 
The steam turbine
The steam turbine was invented by Charles Parsons who lived at Birr Castle in the 1880s. The steam turbine is what drives power stations and the modern distribution of electricity. Where would the electrical appliance industry have been without the steam turbine, or the computer industry or the digital age? 

The submarine
John Philip Holland changed the face of warfare by inventing the first commercial submarine in the late 1880s. 
The defibrillator
Professor Frank Pantridge was a physician and cardiologist from Northern Ireland who changed medicine and paramedics forever by inventing the portable defibrillator. In 1965 he installed his first version in a Belfast ambulance.
John Joly was an Irish physicist, who developed radiotherapy for the treatment of cancer. 

Colour photography
John Joly

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How to write a great business strategy

All businesses need a strategy. Here’s how to write a great one.
The word ‘strategy’ is much used and abused. It has its origins in ancient Greek military terminology, which provides clues about its true meaning – leading and guiding. In a business context, it can be taken to mean how best a business can fulfil its purpose, and achieve its vision and objectives. 
Strategy is about determining a destination and how best to get to there. It’s also about being able to switch course because of changing economic, competitive or other circumstances. Strategy is about the long term, how you may or may not effect changes, and your appetite for risk. It’s not about day-to-day operational tasks, although they may be driven, sometimes unconsciously, by your strategy.

Well-performing small businesses have a clear sense of purpose. They put the focus on their customers and are often first to market with new offers and services. These are good indicators of a strong strategy.
Increasingly, small businesses are being required to commit their strategy to paper, for a variety of purposes, such as raising finance or securing a grant. That’s a good move as it often gives a busy entrepreneur, with a strategy that is sophisticated yet not written down, the incentive to create a long-term game plan.
DOWLOAD: A Business Model Canvas for simple business planning.

Strategy types

It’s important to realise that there are different types of strategies and different processes for strategy development which are adopted by different types of businesses, large and small. Renowned academic and strategy guru Henry Mintzberg is credited with coming up with these six broad definitions:

Planned: strategies that are formulated centrally (usually by ‘head office’)
Imposed: strategies either dictated by a parent company, or by economic or other circumstances
Opportunistic: deliberate strategies to respond to opportunities as they arise

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The business end of Budget 2017

What were the main business related results of Budget 2017? How did this budget affect SMEs and farmers?
The eleven key takeaways, for SMEs and farmers, are:
1: There was a continued strong commitment was made to the 12.5% corporation tax rate.
2: The ‘Start Your Own Business Relief’ was extended for a further two years to the end of 2018.
3: Foreign Travellers Relief – ‘SARP’ and ‘FED’ extended to 2020 and the minimum number of travel days is reduced to 30.
4: A new SME-focused share based remuneration scheme to be introduced in Budget 2018.
5: Farmers being able to opt out of income averaging for the 2016 tax year was announced.
6: Farm Restructuring Relief was extended to the end of 2019.
7: The flat-rate addition for farmers is being increased from 5.2% to 5.4% from 1 January 2017.
8: The Minister confirmed that an independent review of the Corporate Tax code is to take place. The report and recommendations are due by the end of Q2 2017.
9: The 9% VAT rate for the hospitality and tourism sector is retained.
10: Savings – a 2% DIRT reduction from January 1, 2017 followed by three further 2% reductions out to 2020.
11: For startups and SMEs, the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) rate was cut from 20% to 10% up to just one million euros.
For full details visit Budget 2017.

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Think pensions with ThinkBusiness

There has never been a better time to start a pension. If you plan to retire well, it’s never too early (or late) to think about a pension.
There are different types of pensions. A pension is the most tax efficient way you can save money. Also, if you are an employer, you are legally obliged to allow staff access to a standard PRSA arrangement. Your first port of call when investing in a pension is to talk to a bank or to an authorised pension adviser. Below is a quick guide to the types of pensions available to you.  

Personal retirement savings account (PRSA)
Certain financial providers, including banks, building societies, insurance companies, and authorised investment firms, provide PRSAs. The money paid into a PRSA is invested in pooled investment funds, which are provided by unit trusts and some life assurance companies.
Anyone may open a PRSA, irrespective of whether they are working or not. However, only people who are self-employed, or who are employees not covered under an occupational pension scheme, may claim tax relief on contributions made to a PRSA.
Generally, the benefits under a PRSA may be taken between the ages of 60 to 75.  Access before the age of 60 is allowed in the event of ill health or certain other limited circumstances. If the PRSA owner dies, the PRSA fund forms part of the owner’s estate and is administered in accordance with the provisions of the owner’s will.
On retirement, the PRSA owner may withdraw up to 25% of the fund in cash, up to a maximum of €200,000 in cash. The remainder of the benefits are payable as follows:

The balance of the fund may be left in the PRSA (which becomes a “vested” PRSA) and used to make future withdrawals. These withdrawals will be subject to income tax and USC.
Alternatively, the fund

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Avoid a business plan disaster

Business planning isn’t easy and there are certain things you should avoid when writing your plan. 
First up, here’s a brilliant, free business plan template you can work on. And below are the business plan mistakes you should avoid.
Not enough research
This is a killer for many small businesses and is easy to avoid. If you put the work in beforehand and are honest and accurate, then your business plan will be more impressive. Nobody wants to read a vague plan.
Poor writing and presentation
If you aren’t a great writer, find someone who is and let them write the plan.
An incomplete plan
If you miss out on any of the key sections, it will affect your chances of generating interest in your business. Likewise, if you include too many technical details, you will lose the reader’s interest.

Unrealistic aspirations
Don’t kid yourself about what your business is capable of. Know your market, pricing and competitors, and base your projections from there. Don’t assume that risk does not apply to your business.
Cutting and pasting from other plans
This is a cardinal sin, and surprisingly frequent among new business owners. Don’t just copy what a high-performing competitor has done. Take the time to identify what makes your business special, and go from there.
No customisation
Your business plan, particularly your executive summary, will need to be modified, depending on your audience. If you don’t make any changes, you will come across as lazy and uninspired, and will dissuade potential investors.
A dead document
Your business plan should develop alongside your business. Your business plan shouldn’t be gathering dust at any stage. Keep it up to date.
READ: How to get that loan application over the line.

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