Monthly Archives November 2012

How to Start and Grow Your Business in Latin America

Below is an article I have been sent by a business owner in Argentina whose business is an expanding start-up. I’ve not changed any part of it so it has an authentic Latin American flow and it contains some universal lessons that any new business owner should be aware of.

How to Start and Grow Your Business in Latin America

We are the biggest Price Comparison Site (Aggregator) in Latin America with more than 4.000.000 unique users and 20 employees in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and México.

But this is not about who we are or what we do, this is about how you can replicate this tactics and use them in your Start-Up.

1) Be diligent: There is not shortcut or trick, you have to work hard day and night, no other option. We start 4 years ago and we focus first of all in creating a great Service, you absolutely need to have a product that is a “Solution to an specific Problem”.

Perseverance when you are starting is your best friend. Forget about competition, when you are young what will kill you is not competition it is: Lack of work, lack of a great service or a bad relationship with your co-founder.

2) Always be learning: In order to grow without a big budget (since in this region of the world, Angel Investment and Venture Capital at the time was not an option), we have to learn and keep learning everyday about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Email Marketing. For more information you can check out the SEOMOZ community with a lot of free resources about SEO and MailChimp for newsletters.

We get very close to be experts in these fields, we need new customers and with them we will to generate Revenue in order to grow organically our business. The reality, is that most of the Start-Ups needs to do this, and even more in the first days, when they are testing if their business model will actually work or not.

3) Keep focus on Feedback: What we learn by doing good things and also mistakes, is that listening to your customers is the best way to improve. There is no one in the world, no even the Founders, that know more about what the product should do, than the Customers.

Ask for comments and make surveys about what the Client need and start developing from there.

4) Iterations are the secret to Success: When you start you have only an idea, but the proof of concept in the first touch with the customers always almost fail. That is why you have to be prepare and confident to pivot your business. The best source of information in this subject is Eric Ries with The Lean Startup Movement.

Finally, forget about the Tech Stars like Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., focus first on solving a real problem, what happens next is a matter of testing and learning, all the nice companies that I just mention start this way: no magic, no tricks, no shortcuts, only hard work and dedication.

Christian Rennella CoFounder at elMejorTrato.com the leading Price Comparison (Insurance and Loans) in Argentina. Now also working in Brazil, México and Colombia with oMelhorTrato.com. The Internet market is growing at 43% a year in the region.

 

My First CreditFocus Experience

In these times of austerity, cut-backs and rising costs the amount of disposable income is less for many people.

The slow economy is putting a strain on businesses as well as consumers and the paying of bills is prioritised by what is essential and who is making the most noise.

This is the same for everybody and essentials such as the mortgage, food and electricity are clearly top priorities for homeowners and I found a helpful guide of ‘Priority Bills’ here: http://moneyaware.co.uk/2012/08/which-bills-should-i-pay-first/#more-3788 with a link to an ‘infographic’ (a picture with information) detailing the consequences of not paying these priority bills.

Losing your house is quite a big incentive and when faced with this as a consequence people tend to get motivated and do whatever they can to meet the payments.

Some people also bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem sorts itself out but my recent experience focuses on the former, more motivated kind of person (well, eventually!).

A company owner/director of a one man band working in the building industry had a bit of trouble getting motivated to pay his bills.

This went on for a while and a small, friendly business kept doing little bits of work for the company director without receiving monies owed.

Naturally this couldn’t go on forever but the service provided by the small business was not unique so the reluctant payer could easily up sticks and go elsewhere and although the small business could quite easily stop doing any further work there was no incentive for the bills to be settled.

One had to be created!

Now there’s often no need to ‘send the boys round’ at the first sign of trouble. It could be considered overkill when there’s a far more sensible approach.

CreditFocus!

As a point to note I am not familiar with any other systems or similar solutions so I don’t know if there is better or worse available.

CreditFocus was introduced to me through Barclays with whom I bank but don’t own shares in.

It is an online system that costs £10 per month (+VAT – which I found out after the first payment was taken!).

In my opinion it’s still worth it!

What you do is….. Once registered, sign in and create a record of clients. You can add them all or just the ones who are already a bit behind.

Then add the details of each outstanding invoice.

Then (and here comes the science) click a few buttons and hey presto, a letter is sent out to your client from a solicitor politely suggesting they pay their bills or face potential legal action.

7 days later that same solicitor gets in touch (by email) to ask if you’ve managed to recover the debt or if you’d like them to pursue it further (for a fee).

At no point do ‘the boys’ get called into action!

I found the first stage was a sufficient incentive for my reluctant payer.

A nice letter….

So far I’ve only had to use it once but since registering for the service I have recovered 36x the cost of the service!

All in all a very easy system to use and effective.

To be honest I actually send statements out to clients now with just a footnote mentioning that unpaid debts may be referred to a debt collection service and that has also worked on occasion!

Sometimes people just need a gentle shove in the direction of their wallets!

Something about a Tax Refund?

Our tax pays for the public services that we all use, so most of us don’t see it as a problem that we have to pay it. However, a high tax bill can put a serious dent in one’s income and when it comes to tax refunds, not all of us know if we are entitled to one or what we’re entitled to.

Let’s delve into some of the factors that can influence how much we pay and if we may be able to receive a refund.

Your tax code

An incorrect tax code is possibly the most common cause for overpaid tax (if you are employed). This can happen for several reasons such as information not getting updated at the tax office, your employer making a mistake on a PAYE return or simply accepting that you must be one of the lucky people that pays a lot of tax and not questioning it.

The number on your tax code, when multiplied by ten (give or take £5), is the amount of money you can earn before you pay tax. This is known as your ‘personal allowance’. The letters mean various things:

L – you are entitled to the basic personal allowance (currently £8,105 for the 2012/13 tax year)
P – You are aged between 65-75 and eligible for full personal allowance (£10,500)
Y – Over 75 years old and eligible for full personal allowance (£10, 660)
T – The HMRC believes there are other items that need to be considered when calculating tax
NT – No tax is to be taken
BR – ‘Basic rate’, which is at 20%
D0 – You income is tax at a higher rate, around 40%

If you think that your tax code is wrong you can get in touch with HMRC on 0845 300 0627 (I got the number from here: http://search2.hmrc.gov.uk/kb5/hmrc/contactus/view.page?record=hpkspulskxM

Check your previous Tax Returns

If you are self employed or have additional income to your usual job you should be submitting a Tax Return every year. This provides HMRC with details of your income and your expenses. The simple way to work out how much tax you pay is to subtract the expenses and then your ‘personal allowance’ from your income and you pay tax on the rest (profit!).

If you haven’t entered all of your expenses then the profit will be higher and so will your tax bill. It’s best to get advice from a good accountant about this or you could be paying too much tax and you (or a bad accountant) could have been making the same mistakes for years.

Go back through your previous tax returns. You can amend the figures and claim for a refund from up to four years ago.

You can’t just make up more expenses; you need to have the proof and as you’re supposed to keep everything for 6 years anyway that shouldn’t be too much trouble should it?

The important thing to note is you can only use expenses that have occurred in your direct line of work.

To make the process simple there are (as one would expect) companies that specialise in helping people obtain tax refunds. One such is RIFT who started in 1999 and to date have helped claim back over £30 million!

Make an effort not to declare tax free income

There are a few savings and investment products that can be utilised to ensure your savings aren’t hit by tax. The most well known of these is the ISA which, offers you tax free interest on your savings. Don’t declare the interest as income from these types of savings to the HMRC. It’s not evading tax – these savings are tax free for a reason!

If you’re not sure about that it actually confirms as much on the HMRC website.

The specific wording is: You do not have to declare income and capital gains from ISA savings and investments or even tell your tax office that you have an ISA.

Are you saying ‘Doh!’ about now?

If you are then decide if you need to seek professional help (for your tax). If you are paying too much tax because of a mistake in your self-assessment form it may take a keen eye to spot it and may require an audit by a bookkeeper but once you get it right you will get the tax back that you didn’t need to pay.

Look into everything you earn and what you spend to make sure that you’re paying the correct amount of tax.

Keep every receipt! In fact, keep everything! Let your bookkeeper sort it out! That’s what good ones do!