Category Archives: Business

Work for Small Business

A lack of investment in apprenticeships has led to a decrease in their availability and uptake in Ireland over the past few years. However, Ireland’s National Skills Strategy 2025 looks set to change that, writes Elisha Collier O’Brien from Chambers Ireland.

Apprenticeships are commonly perceived of as being only related to certain trades such as mechanics and builders. However, this simply reflects the limited options which have been on offer in Ireland and is not an accurate reflection of the broad range of areas for which apprenticeships can offer practical and high-level education. At a macro level, the skills gaps, high education dropout rates and high youth unemployment figures all indicate that an increased focus on apprenticeships in Ireland is the right way to go.

Earlier this year the Government launched Ireland’s National Skills Strategy (NSS) 2025, which is set to increase the number and scope of apprenticeships on offer. One of the aims of the NSS is a reform of the apprenticeship system, with a view to expanding participation and industry input. This is a welcome move for Ireland’s education system. Greater input from business and industry will be vital in creating an education system that will meet the needs of a modern economy and be capable of quickly responding to skill needs. Apprenticeships must form part of this system and, with plans to introduce new apprenticeships in the areas of IT, manufacturing and engineering among others, we are hopeful that this is on the way to being delivered. With Ireland’s apprenticeship programme set for expansion into new fields, it is time for both businesses and young people to consider the benefits these schemes can offer them.

A range of industries are set to benefit from the expansion in programmes, from IT to tourism and food. As Ireland moves to increase the number and scope of apprenticeships on offer, we must also seek to change attitudes and understanding of what apprenticeships can offer. They are much more than simply a route to a traditional construction industry job, and this year we will see new apprenticeship programmes introduced in areas as varied as culinary training and insurance practice.

 

Benefits for Employees and Employers

Apprenticeships provide a great opportunity for students interested in getting practical work-based experience as part of their education, while often also allowing them to earn as they learn.

They also offer many benefits to employers. The opportunity to invest in the future of a young person interested in working in your sector cannot be overlooked and apprenticeships can add excellent value to a business, especially an SME. Apprentices are a long term investment by a company and offer employers an opportunity to train new employees in specific practices and to shape their work habits, standards and culture to the particular business. While working within the business, an apprentice is continually acquiring applied knowledge and skills which meet occupational standards, with support from a training body.

Chambers Ireland is encouraged by the commitments of the National Skills Strategy on increasing the scope and availability of apprenticeships and we would encourage employers, particularly SMEs, to look at the opportunities an apprentice might bring and consider making this investment in both their business and the apprentice’s education and career.

Affect the Irish Motor Industry

When we listen to the emotional and sometimes inflammatory debate taking place in the UK in relation to Brexit, it’s hard to have any certainty or even confidence in how the decision might go. Because it is all so unclear, confusing and increasingly theatrical, it would appear that many people in Ireland are just ignoring the potential impact of the UK Referendum, and perhaps hoping that it will somehow fizzle-out like the Y2K Millennium Bug that never happened. However, should it come to pass, Brexit would have far-reaching implications for the motor industry in Ireland, writes Alan Nolan from The Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI).

From vehicle distribution, parts and equipment to professional services, the Irish motor industry is entwined with the UK, with a considerable number of businesses trading in the sector in Ireland, either as subsidiaries of a UK parent company or else supplied through the UK. There are also significant volumes of cars and commercial vehicles in Ireland, as well as vehicle parts and accessories, which are actually manufactured in the UK. A substantial trade in cars and commercial vehicles, mostly used, is sourced by dealers from dealers or auctions in the UK, and vehicle parts are often sourced from sellers in the UK. Used car imports total around 50,000 per year. So, if the UK votes to leave the EU, how will the Irish motor industry be affected?

Medium- and Long-term Concerns

In the medium- or long-term there may well be concerns regarding the potential for tariffs and quotas to be imposed on vehicles or parts manufactured in the UK, as a non-EU country. However, given the value of trade between the UK and EU, this may be more likely a consideration in the setting of negotiating positions rather than in reality. Another consideration relates to vehicles or parts, manufactured in another EU member state, but distributed into Ireland through the UK. Although many of these goods are produced in the Eurozone, they are often charged into Ireland in Sterling. Again, given a two-year transition, there is little doubt that such logistical challenges can be resolved satisfactorily from an Irish Motor Industry viewpoint.

Challenging Short-term Issues

From our industry’s perspective, it is the short-term that is likely to provide the biggest and most worrying challenges, especially in relation to currency fluctuations.  According to Swiss global financial services company UBS AG, the value of Sterling could fall by as much as 20% to virtual parity with the Euro, if the UK votes in favour of exiting the EU.  Although Sterling may well rally in due course this may take some time, particularly as the negotiation process – with a UK government damaged by the loss of the referendum – will not be easy and may well move close to collapse before real progress is eventually made. The reality of the UK facing similar terms to Norway for free access to the EU market place could also impact as this may well involve having to contribute to the EU Budget and to adhere to EU Directives and Court rulings, the very issues on which many will have voted to leave.

All of this suggests that Sterling may well remain at a very low exchange rate for some time, with all that this means for our sector during that period. A UK used car priced at £10,000 Sterling last July, would have cost €14,400 whereas it might currently stand at around €12,900 but at parity it would equate to €10,000. And the key issue here is not the potential for higher volumes of imports so much as the potential impact that it might have on used car values in Ireland, and this could very well slow down new vehicle sales, if the cost for a consumer to change their car increases as a result. But this may not only impact on used, or even new, cars as the same price adjustment will be happening in relation to parts and accessories as well.

Choosing a Business Name

No matter how great a business is, an inappropriate or poorly-chosen name can have a negative impact on its success – especially when first starting out. On the other hand, a business name that is appealing and memorable can do wonders for a business’s bottom line.

Some aspects of selecting a business name are subjective and reflect the personal wishes and preferences of the owner. There are, however, some mistakes that business owners make in naming their establishments that just don’t make good business sense. Avoid these and your business name can serve as a real asset that can help bring many profitable returns.

1. ABC
A business name that comes at the beginning of the alphabet can be a plus since many business listings are alphabetical; however, some businesses have taken this strategy to absurd levels. Using A, B, or C as the first letter of your business name can help, but be sure the name is something that makes sense and is something you like and are really comfortable with.

2. Use a Simple Easy-to-Pronounce Name
The idea is to get people to remember your business name and to be able to understand it, spell it and pronounce it. It should also be short enough to fit on a business card or display on a sign.

3. Allow for Growth
Choose a business name that is wide-ranging enough to give your business growing room. Geographic business names are popular e.g. Arklow Housecleaners. But what happens if your business takes off and you’d like to expand the geographic area you cover? The same goes for naming a business after one product or service. For example, the name “Joe’s Lawnmowers” would need to change if Joe decides to add other related products. Stay away from names that describe current fads or trends: If a new “Millennium Bookshop” opened in 1999, it may have sounded timely – nine years later, it would sound dated.

4. Create Your Identity

A business name should be one or more of the following:

  • Memorable
  • Descriptive
  • Imaginative
  • Distinctive

A good way to start is to write down key words that describe what your business is, what it does, and what pleases you about it. Use a dictionary and thesaurus to find different words that express these things. Also look for famous expressions that might pertain to your business.

So, let’s say Mary has a small business selling her delicious fruit tarts, and she considers herself to be the best at what she does. Mary names her business “Queen of Tarts” because: she loves the play on words, it expresses what her business is and does, and the word “queen” is perfect – she’s female and her thesaurus shows that “queen” also means “person of authority”.

5. Being an island

You’ve thought up 15 business names that are in the final running, and you think they’re all pretty good. Now is the time to get some feedback. Run those names by some close colleagues, family and friends. You might be surprised at the number of things they bring to your attention that you’ve overlooked. A little constructive objectivity goes a long way when choosing a business name.

6. Make Sure You Can Use a Name
Before settling on a final name, you’ll need to ensure that you won’t be violating someone else’s trademark rights to a particular business name. You want to avoid being forced to change your business name in the future and possibly paying damages.

The Season for Sprouts

Love them or hate them, there’s no denying Brussels sprouts are the ultimate Christmas vegetable. In fact, each Christmas, we munch our way through around 100 million sprouts, and a good chunk of that number is supplied by Anthony and Enda Weldon from their farm in North Dublin. Much like Santa’s elves, December means serious overtime for the Weldons –  as they aim to ensure a serving of sprouts makes it onto dinner plates around Ireland. Read on to find out how they do it.

When it comes to sprouts, the Weldon brothers have a lot of pedigree. They’ve been growing them for decades. “The farm has been in the family for around four generations,” Anthony says. “It was traditionally vegetable and cereal growing, but it’s only in the last few decades we decided to concentrate on sprouts specifically.”

“They’re obviously originally from Brussels, but sprouts would have been grown in Ireland from the early part of the last century,” he explains. “My grandfather grew them and he was a young man in the 1916 Rising.”

Brussels sprouts will certainly be making an appearance in the Weldons’ Christmas spread. “I would eat them three times a week,” Anthony says. “The traditional way is to cook the sprouts in the same way as bacon and cabbage, with the sprouts done in the bacon water.”

And younger generations are finding new ways to spice up the sprout with creative cookery. “Just yesterday, my nephew made up a sprout salad with maple syrup and beetroot and it was absolutely delicious,” Enda explains. “Everyone was filling their plates.”

Along with daring new recipes, modern growing techniques and varieties have contributed to a serious uptake in the humble sprout’s reputation. “We plant them a lot earlier than we did traditionally, and we grow them now on a slower regime,” Enda explains. “That way, they use all the natural trace elements that are in the ground.”

“The varieties we have now are a lot sweeter,” Anthony says. “I think that’s what put people off them years ago. They were used as a threat, ‘We’ll give you sprouts if you don’t behave yourself!’ but I think that’s changing now. Thankfully for us,” he laughs.

Preparing for the Christmas Rush

December is definitely the busiest season for the Weldons – with around 50% of their production geared towards the Christmas rush. “The actual volumes that go through in Christmas week are easily twenty times what goes through in a normal week,” Anthony says. “In a normal week, one harvesting machine will suffice but on Christmas week, we need three.”

“We’re coming into the mad season now,” Enda says. “It’s very different from normal operations during the year because we have to take on a lot more people and train them. And we put the show in operation ‘round the clock for about 8 or 9 days. We harvest, size grade, quality grade, pack, and deliver all within around 24 hours. You have to be able to get it done when the crunch comes at Christmas.”

 

A Unique Challenge

And the sprout itself is a tricky customer, as Anthony explains, “It’s probably the most difficult brassica (plants belonging to the mustard family) to grow. The sprouts themselves are fully exposed to the elements at all times. “

This year, a lack of sunlight during the summer has contributed to a sprout shortage across Europe. “We had a reasonably good growing summer,” Anthony explains, “but because we had a lack of sunshine, the crops have tended to grow higher to (reach the) light this year. And as a result, we’ve had a smaller sprout size.”

 

The Benefits of Flexible Finance

Because of the seasonal nature of their work, the Weldons often need fast access to farm finance. “AIB are a huge part of our business, especially in terms of leasing arrangements,” Enda says. “When you’re cropping, you’re taking a chance every year. We personally take that risk, but the bank also takes the risk with us.”

“We’ve availed of financing from AIB over the last twenty years and we’ve always found them very flexible and easy to deal with,” Anthony says. “Sometimes opportunities arise when you need quick decisions. And you need fast clearance from the bank if you’re going to finance something.”

Keeping Your Limited Company Compliant

When you incorporate a limited company in Ireland, one of your main concerns should to be to keep the company (and directors) fully compliant from a legal, company secretarial, taxation and accounting perspective. With the level of corporate regulation continuously increasing in Ireland, it is of vital importance to the company and its officers to ensure all such legal responsibilities are met. If you are the director of an Irish company, these tips from Andrew Lambe of Company Bureau Formations Limited can help you and your company stay on the right track.

 

Hire a good Accountant

One of your main priorities as a business owner is to oversee your company’s accounting and tax obligations. A good Accountant is worth their weight in gold, and can take a huge burden off your shoulders. They can take care of your company’s annual returns, payroll, VAT returns, CT returns and statutory annual accounts. It is vital that you choose a dependable Accountant to carry out these tasks as mistakes can be costly.

 

Ensure your company secretary is capable and keep your statutory registers up to date

By law, every Irish company is required to appoint a company secretary. The main duties of a company secretary are to ensure that the company complies with the law, manage the company’s daily administration and any additional duties that company directors may delegate. Whilst there is no qualification requirement for this role, it is important that your company secretary possesses the skillset and knowledge required to keep your company compliant.

The secretary will generally maintain the statutory company registers, which are required to be maintained under the Companies Act. The statutory registers include the register of directors and secretary, members, beneficial owners, transfers, directors and secretary’s interests and debenture holders.

 

Know your dates and put your company on a ‘watch list’

Once your company has been incorporated, it is good practice to add your company to a ‘watch list’.  A watch list will remind you via email that your company’s Annual Return Date is approaching and it will alert you should any changes be made to the company at the Companies Registration Office. Core.ie provides this service free of charge once you register with them.

 

Understand your role as a director

Company directors’ have a wide range of responsibilities which can be quite diverse. Company directors have to comply with the Companies Act 2014 and have duties under Common law. If a director is found to have breached company law, he or she can be liable to penalties that can range from a fine up to €500,000 or a maximum jail sentence of 10 years. There are different categories of offences ranging from 1-4 under the Companies Act.

Brexit affect the international logistics industry

How would Brexit affect the international logistics industry? At this stage, it’s difficult to predict every potential implication for Irish business, but what we can state with some confidence is that Britain operating outside the EU would add complications and costs to the supply chain and inhibit movement of goods across our borders, writes Alison Moore from DHL Express Ireland.

Given its position as Ireland’s most important trading partner, if the UK was to exit the EU the very strong likelihood is that there will be a very negative impact on trade flows between the two countries. The ESRI has estimated that the negative impact on trade between the two countries could be as high as 20%, which would have a significant impact on both economies – most especially on the Irish economy. How this would, in turn, affect individual companies would of course vary. It is reasonable to suggest that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with a higher proportion of their trade with the UK would be more severely impacted than larger companies that tend to have a more diverse range of export markets and are therefore less dependent on the UK as a destination.

 

Certain Sectors Susceptible to Brexit

The severity of the consequences of Brexit is also likely to differ by industry sector. For example, the pharmaceutical and medical devices sectors, which historically have a significant FDI investment, have a wide range of both EU and non-EU export markets. In contrast, the agriculture and food & drink sectors are more dependent on the UK as a market, so the impact of a Brexit on these sectors would be much more significant. According to a study by IBEC, the UK accounts for over half of all meat exports, valued at close to €2 billion and 30% of Irish dairy exports, valued at close to €1 billion. The UK is also an important market for ingredients and prepared consumer foods, accounting for 70% of exports in this area. However, even if the UK decides to leave the EU, it’s still likely to be an important market as businesses tend to sell perishable goods to nearby markets. Irish firms will still have to apply EU regulations but may also have to shoulder the cost of applying separate UK regulations as well. Regardless of the type of new arrangement it reaches with the EU, if the UK votes to leave the EU, customs and other procedures are likely to become more onerous for exporters to the UK in comparison to the current trade agreements.

 

Some Silver Linings Amongst the Clouds?

It could be argued that British exports to the EU would decline in light of a Brexit and this represents an opportunity for Irish companies to provide similar, substitute products. A recent article in The Guardian in the UK suggests that trade concerns are minimal due to the fact that, should Brexit actually proceed, the most likely outcome would be that the UK would negotiate a free trade agreement. It points out that the UK is the largest export market for the EU and, in that context, it has a strong negotiating position. However, many British business leaders are sceptical about their negotiating power and they point out that while the UK may have 65 million or so consumers, the EU represents 500 million and therefore has significantly more clout.

For Irish businesses that are currently relying heavily on the UK as a market, it may be an opportunity to delve into other international markets. If the UK exits the EU, then the likelihood is that the value of Sterling will decline against the Euro. This will have some implications for Irish exporters to the UK, potentially making their prices less competitive to UK consumers or retailers. A drop in the value of Sterling, along with some potential additional trade barriers, could put some Irish businesses at risk. To mitigate this risk, Irish companies (in particular SMEs that have less product market diversity) should really look to expand their market base to destinations further afield.

The legal consequences for businesses and citizens

Brexit would make legal history. No Member State has ever left the European Union in its 60-year history – territories have left (Algeria, Greenland and Saint Barthélemy) but never a Member State. Moreover, the legal consequences for businesses and citizens are both unknown and unsure, writes  Dr Vincent Power, Partner at A&L Goodbody.

The legal regime for a Member State’s withdrawal from the EU has neither been designed fully nor tested before – a broad roadmap exists in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) but it is sketchy.

If the people of the UK and Gibraltar vote on 23rd June that the UK should leave the EU, it would be as dramatic as New York leaving the USA. It is not that trade or the movement of people between the UK and the smaller EU would stop, but both trade and migration would probably be more difficult in the absence of a satisfactory agreement between the EU and the newly departed UK.

Legally, if the UK wants to leave then it must inform the European Council. Negotiations would then commence after a mandate for negotiation has been agreed by the EU. The negotiation process may take however long is agreed but, by default, it would take two years. A two-year period is optimistic: to unscramble 43 years of membership and thousands of laws in such a short timeframe seems unrealistic. After all, the UK’s application process to join a slimmer European Communities took 12 years and had hiccups.

Post-Brexit Agreements and Law Changes

There would probably be post-Brexit agreements between the UK and the EU such as a “Withdrawal Treaty” and a “Relationship Treaty”. These agreements would legislate for many (but not all) of the issues which would arise. There is no precedent: the much mentioned “Norwegian”, “Canadian”, “Turkish” and “Albanian” models are all for countries which were never EU Member States and one would imagine that the UK would expect more from the “old club” than those who were never members. Conversely, the EU might not want to be generous to a departed member (so as to avoid encouraging others to leave) while some of the third party agreements are designed to encourage non-Member States to join. So, negotiation would be difficult.

There would probably be a “trade agreement” between the UK and the EU. There would also have to be clarity on the trade relationships between the UK and the rest of the world so this would probably mean many more agreements than just the UK-EU one. One should not underestimate the difficulties of reaching agreement on an EU-UK trade agreement: the 1,598 page EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is still not in place after a decade of discussions. Even the arrangements in place are complicated (e.g. the EU and Switzerland have over 100 agreements between them).

There would also have to be amendments to UK law to deal with the fact that the UK is no longer an EU Member State. Measures embodied in “Regulations” (e.g. the EU Merger Control Regulation by which businesses benefit from the “one stop shop” of EU merger control regulation) would no longer apply but “Directives” (e.g. on employment and environmental matters), which had been implemented into UK law (i.e. national UK laws that were adopted to give effect to EU directives), might have to be neutralised or reversed (if the UK wishes to do so) by adopting new UK laws. There is no doubt that there would be a period of legal uncertainty while the UK legislative regime is adapted to cope with the new reality.

Descriptive Brand Names

It is important that brand owners be aware of the trademark registration process when choosing a new brand name. Not only should a brand name address the commercial needs of a company, it should also satisfy the legal requirements for registration. To qualify for registration, a trade mark needs to be distinctive so that consumers can easily identify the trade origin of products or services, say David Flynn and Mary Bleahene of FRKelly- Ireland’s leading Intellectual Property firm.

 

There are many types of brand names which do not qualify for trade mark registration and these include “descriptive” trademarks. A trade mark is considered descriptive if it has a meaning which will be immediately perceived by consumers as providing information about the goods and services on offer. For example, the mark DetergentOptimiser was refused registration for washing machines (laundry machines / dishwashing machines), the mark ELITEPAD was refused registration in respect of tablet computers and the mark Original Eau de Cologne was refused registration for cologne.

 

All of these trademarks provide immediate information about the goods being sold. The rationale behind forbidding registration of descriptive trademarks is that purely descriptive terms should be left available for all traders to use. However, it should be noted that trademarks which are merely suggestive of the goods or services are generally protectable.

 

Trade marks which attribute quality or excellence to the products or services on offer are also unregistrable because they are considered descriptive in a laudatory sense. Examples of laudatory terms include “Finest”, “Prime” and “Deluxe”. The reluctance to permit registration of laudatory trademarks is based on the belief that the customer will view the mark as a promotional or advertising term which describes positive aspects of the goods, rather than as a trade mark denoting trade source.

 

If a brand owner is concerned that its trade mark could be refused registration because it is descriptive / laudatory, the crucial question is whether the mark provides immediate information about the goods or services of interest.

Remote and Mobile Working in Your Business

Remote and mobile working – where an employee is working outside the traditional office environment – have become increasingly common. The benefits are hard to ignore. Happier employees chasing a work-life balance and increased productivity from employees on-the-go are something most businesses wouldn’t turn their nose up at, writes Neil Doyle from Blueface.

How is working away from the traditional workspaces now possible? And, more importantly, how do you manage practices that are becoming more and more commonplace?

Improvements in communications technology have helped remote and mobile working become reliable enough for larger numbers of employees to take advantage of the benefits. Remote working has been around for a long time; working from home or outside of the office is not a new phenomenon. However, it has become more efficient in recent years.

Mobile working has taken the business world by storm with seemingly every professional now performing at least some of their daily work tasks via a smartphone or tablet.

 

Why Have Remote and Mobile Working Risen in Popularity?

Improvement in broadband connectivity has allowed for the development of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) – essentially phone calls made over the internet rather than via copper wire in the ground. VoIP is much more flexible than traditional telephony, allowing remote workers to redirect their numbers while out of office with ease or, in some cases, to simply take home their special VoIP-enabled phones and plug them into their own broadband connection.

VoIP is a much more flexible alternative to traditional phone systems and, as it has become more mainstream, remote working has too.

For those working from home or elsewhere without access to a handset, softphones are device applications that mirror the functionality of a handset. After some easy setup, users are able to make inbound and outbound calls over the internet. For those working abroad, softphones over a way around roaming charges.

For mobile working, improvements in mobile networks have been the main enabler. The introduction of 3G, and later 4G, to Ireland and UK allowed mobile users the same level of internet access as desktop users. Sending and receiving files of any type, and using applications no longer meant staring at a loading or buffering icon for prolonged periods.

Cloud-based technology removed the need for applications to be installed on an individual device. Allowing users to access data and business services via the internet has enabled mobile devices to provide the same level of productivity as desktops.

Cloud software and improving mobile networks are the perfect complement, allowing mobile working to flourish.

The Most of National Digital Week

It might be most famous these days as the home of Olympic heroes Gary and Paul O’Donovan, but Skibbereen is rapidly gaining a reputation as a centre for digital excellence in Ireland. This week, the eyes of the tech world will be on West Cork as the country’s best and brightest come to town for the second annual National Digital Week, backed by AIB. From the 10th to the 12th of November, attendees can take in talks and demonstrations from over 70 experts, visionaries, and movers and shakers in the global tech scene.

As part of our ongoing commitment to the digital sector in Ireland, AIB are the lead sponsor of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, Ireland’s first rural Digital Hub. The Hub offers local businesses world-class fibre-optic broadband in a state of the art 10,000 sq ft facility that rivals anything in Silicon Valley. AIB has also sponsored National Digital Week since its inception last year, and we’ve got big plans this year with a fantastic line-up of speakers on the AIB Brave Stage all week. Read on for our insider’s guide to the best talks, workshops, and entertainment at this year’s National Digital Week.

Kick off the festival on an inspiring note at the AIB Brave Stage, with some uplifting stories from our Digital Champions – including Trendster’s Harry McCann, Lord David Puttnam, and Dr. Seamus Davis from Cornell University. Or dig deep into the future of farming, with talks and demonstrations on tech, innovation and food science, from luminaries like Drone Expo Ireland’s Ian Kiely, THRIVE AgTech’s John Hartnett, and our own head of Agri Business, Tadhg Buckley – all on the Google Stage. We’ll be shining the spotlight on female leadership on Friday, with FM104’s Margaret Nelson, Geraldine Karlsson from DoneDeal, and Ericsson Ireland MD Zelia Madigan taking the temperature of women in digital. On Saturday, we’ll be talking all things Internet of Things, with Leonard Donnelly from ARTOFUS, Donal Sullivan of Johnson Controls Ireland, and Debbie Power from Vodafone. And if you’re a business owner, make sure to stop by the Google Digital Garage all day Friday and Saturday, where Google’s experts will be offering free one to one sessions for all festival attendees to give you a crash course in all the skills to take your company to the next level online.