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Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Ask the Small Business expert

Andrew Cave talks business
Andrew Cave talks business

Andrew Cave of the Federation of Small Businesses answered your small business questions on Friday's programme.

Click the links below to go to a particular issue or scroll down the page to read them all.

This week it's all about pensions:Click here to email your questions to our regular pensions guru Malcolm McLean.

Graham Evan is hoping to set up his own eco-friendly business and wants to know how he can find out about any grants that might be available in his local area.

There are vast opportunities for small firms to set up a business in the eco sector particularly. WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) offer Capital Grants to small businesses that have identified a clear gap in the market or have a strategic need. Business Link also has a wealth of information on green grants, and Envirowise can offer support and advice to 'green' businesses. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be able to tell you about Government grants available and the Carbon Trust can offer invaluable advice.

Penelope Belinas wants to know if there are grants specifically available to women setting up a business...

There are over 4,500 grants available to small businesses across the UK and a number of those are available to women. With over 2 billion going unrewarded and only 16 per cent of small businesses are started by women, there is huge scope for female entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year, the Government launched an Aspire fund - a 25 million investment fund for women-led businesses, jointly funded by the Government and the private sector. The fund can be accessed via Business Link, the fund provider's equity finance to small businesses run by women to help them grow and develop.

A 10 million fund was also set up by a networking community, Enterprising Women, offering finance loans, training and mentoring for aspiring female entrepreneurs. Enterprising Women offers its members the chance to apply for loans of up to 30,000 from the fund, which is set up in partnership with Lloyds TSB.

Natasha asks whether, given the current economic climate, now would be a bad time to start up a business?

Many serial entrepreneurs will tell you that the best time to set up a business is in the depths of an economic downturn. It often pays to buck the trend and recessions can provide many opportunities, the classic example being shoe repairs. When people are feeling the pinch they are more inclined to have shoes repaired rather than throw them away. Cobblers will be doing a roaring trade in the months ahead.

The basic rules of setting up a business remain, but even more so. It is even more important to research your market and absolutely essential to have a business plan. Basically, fortune favours the brave and if you can cut it in tough times you will be flying when the economy picks up.

Bob Sherrard says will the bank bailout make it easier for a small business to get a loan?

In theory, yes. The Government saved the banks in order to save the wider economy. In reality, the recapitalisation of the banks won't really take effect until the New Year and only then will we start to see confidence return.

At the moment, banks are terrified of losing more money by lending to businesses that could fold in the economic downturn. However, we are beginning to see a shift. HSBC recently announced that they will lend 1 billion to small businesses, and both RBS and LloydsTSB have made commitments to small business lending.

Peter Alderslade wants to know whether business deposits are given the same 50,000 guarantee protection that individual deposits are given.

The deposit protection scheme was set up primarily for private individuals, the FSCS says.

But small businesses get similar protection to savers if the limited company can satisfy at least two of the following three criteria:

A turnover of not more than 6.5m

A balance sheet total of not more than 3.26m

A total number of employees of not more than 50

Partnerships - not the individual partners - could claim up to 50,000

For a sole trader account, the sole trader could claim up to 50,000 in total, but can only claim for either personal or business accounts with each institution - they cannot claim for both.

Russell Barness asks what kind of insurance premiums a one-person company needs when setting up a new business, e.g. liability insurance?

If you are setting up a small company on your own, and you have any interaction with customers and the general public, you will need to take out public liability insurance against any unforeseen circumstances. For instance, if you are a roof fixer and the roof falls in, or if you have your own cafeteria, and your customers get food poisoning, public liability insurance will cover you.

Chris Hawkins wants to know if any further announcements have been made in regards to the Government's proposed small business finance scheme?

The Small Business Finance Scheme was announced by the Government in the recent Pre Budget Report (PBR). It is based on a proposal first put forward by the Federation of Small Businesses as an emergency measure that could be introduced immediately to offer short term finance to viable small businesses.

There have been no more announcements from Government since the PBR, but the FSB has called for the fund to be available from January 1 2009. The fund should be available on a commercial basis to any viable small business. It is likely that the fund will be available through the banks, but guaranteed by the Government. You can expect to hear a lot more about this shortly as the Government has promised to engage in a big promotional campaign.

Vince Law says he's invented a product which would help reduce the impact of flooding. He wants to know how you go about patenting a product?

Go to the Patent Office to patent any product and get a specialist lawyer, called a patent attorney, to represent you. You must also ensure you register your product with a worldwide patent. Go to the Intellectual Property Office for more information:

Intellectual Property Office

For your information, 40 per cent of worldwide patents originate in the UK and 60 per cent are from small businesses.

The views expressed here are not those of the BBC.


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