Tag Archives: CoBRA

An ExCel-lent opportunity to show off our wares

Eveleen and I visited The ExCel Business Show last month to promote Westminster Business Information Points (BIPs). This event is organized every year  to create stimulus for budding entrepreneurs and business people.

BIP staff at the ExCel Business Show 2013

After a brisk tour of the many exhibits and saying hello to colleagues from The City Business Library, we set about promoting the BIPs and telling people the business benefits of a Westminster Libraries membership card – chiefly the opportunity to access fantastic online resources, free.

Zsuzsanna and the lizard at the ExCel Business Show 2013While this lovely Bearded Dragon lizard was unable to join, we signed up more than 50 professionals and enthusiasts. They included Blondell, who is keen to set up a business in the motor industry, and Guru, who knows he wants his own business but is not sure which path to pursue.

We were able to advise Blondell that she would be able to research the motor industry market using MINTEL, Keynote and Marketline reports, and Guru that he may find it easier to narrow down his business idea by first reading “20 tips to help you choose a business idea” from COBRA and then exploring the Business Opportunity Profiles which are available for pretty much every start-up you can think of – and many you probably can’t.

At the ExCel Business show 2013Whilst inside, one was overwhelmed by the sheer number of stands – there were more than 150 exhibitors, including business giants like Lloyds TSB Bank, PC World, IKEA etc., as well as small startups run by one or two people. The whole place was buzzing with deals being made, products and services being explained, people being enticed into buying, understanding, selling and networking. It was a frantic adrenaline rush for anyone entering the arena, with very inspiring and motivating lectures and seminars from famous speakers like James Caan.

At the end of day with tired feet and dry throats we came out, leaving behind the exciting world of the Business Show. We met many people at the event who were delighted – and astonished – to discover that there is a free service out there, with no hidden costs for their business research. Most found it hard to believe that thousands of pounds worth of invaluable market reports and more are available to use, free, from Westminster Libraries. We’re proud to host one of the best and most comprehensive ranges of online business databases in the country.



Our neighbour’s business

Business InformationLast week I headed out west to ‘Hammersmith & Fulham Means Business‘, described as the ‘biggest business expo in West London’. I was charged with getting the word out about what Westminster Libraries Business Information Points have to offer.  Joint provision of Triborough library services was suddenly writ large!

Westminster Libraries Business Information Points was one of over 50 stands, an interesting mix of small independent companies and support organizations. On this occasion, I was flying solo and while I initially bemoaned the fact that, confined to my table, I could not readily mingle with the crowd, I soon found that plenty of people wanted to chat. So much so that eventually I had to steal not one but two chairs so people could stop and chat and – more importantly – fill out membership forms and join Westminster Libraries in relative comfort.

So, of the 27 people who went home with a new library card, who joined and why?

Pimlico LibraryThere were sisters who wanted to set up a pet accessories company, a young man already running a lingerie company and seeking to further establish his business, a would-be designer & retailer of eco friendly jewellery wanting to get started.
It was heartening too to find people who were already trading now looking to expand, make new contacts or find out how to go about recruiting and employing people.

Paddington LibraryWhat, they asked, could Westminster Libraries Business Information Points do for them?

We provide access to some of the best, if not the best, online business information databases in the UK. License agreements with online providers mean that users must have a Westminster Libraries card to get access – something that the advent of Triborough Libraries has made easier for everyone in the three boroughs.

Church Street LibraryTo use the examples above, the sisters joined to access COBRA as it provides hundreds of business opportunity profiles, including one on pet services. It will tell you how register your company, or how our would-be jewellery entrepreneur can set up as a sole trader, or locate premises, start retailing online or from a shop. The lingerie entrepreneur needed market research to support his expansion – he will find all that he needs an more with Keynote, Mintel and Marketline. The eco jewellery designer wanted to use recycled materials and scrap metals – the KOMPASS Worldwide online products and services directory will help source these materials from the UK and beyond.

Westminster Reference LibraryNetworking was an issue for many sole traders or those already self-employed, Experian company information database will allow users to find new industry contacts and create mailing lists to market niche services.
All the BIP Libraries in Westminster hold events monthly providing excellent networking opportunities. You can also find out about these by liking BIPs on Facebook.

Not only have library members access to a wide range of exclusive business databases, many are available remotely from home or office via the 24/7 Library. So for all the above reasons and more, people took the opportunity to join Westminster Libraries to get access to these online information sources because they knew immediately they were on to a good thing! No argument there.


Harvest time all year round, thanks to the Tariff [e-resource of the week]

About HMRC Customs and Excise Integrated TariffPining for fresh plantains?

This is unlikely, thanks to the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom, known as the Tariff, which facilitates the availability of such goodies anytime, anywhere, from a retailer local to you.

While the Tariff is all about tax or rates of duty (or none) payable on items traded to and from the UK, it’s also all about food – in fact all the goods and commodities you can think of from plantains to pigeons (and even some you can’t – Quebracho extract anyone?). So if you are pining for a plantain or sourcing those oh-so-special UK sausages when overseas, it is the Tariff that has made possible your supply by oiling the wheels of the UK import and export industry.

So just what is it? The Tariff is essential reading for anyone in the import or export industry, providing traders, freight forwarders, distributors, customs officers and brokers with all the information they need on commodity codes, classifications, rates of duty and the up-to-date regulations required to trade, along with details of all documentation necessary and guidance on the paperwork that, if done properly, can save money on any duties or taxes payable.

While it once rolled laboriously over 3 or 4 loose-leaf volumes and indexes that caused even the most intrepid enquirers to lose heart, the Tariff is now much more accessible in its online format. Search functionality is enhanced throughout the 3 volume format, which remains, but now with easy-to-use navigation via indexed hyperlinks enabling searchers to drill down to find exactly what they are looking for.

Also provided are accessible, explanatory section notes with options to print or download content in pdf format. Signing up to the useful email alert facility allows for timely updates on any specific content changes.

If you are thinking of importing or exporting, you are likely to develop a close relationship with the Tariff. Further help and advice can be found from HMRC, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Cobra too, as the ‘complete business reference advisor’, provides clear concise information on how to go about setting up business as an importer or exporter.

While Business Link, the government’s online resource for business also provides an accessible platform to understand and navigate the Tariff, if you want to access the full enchilada – the Tariff with detailed help features & contacts, full indexing, alerting service and guidance notes – you’ll need to visit the Business Information Point at Westminster Reference Library. It’s worth the trip.


A friend in need is… a reptile [e-resource of the week: COBRA]

So you’re bored with your job, worried about the bad side of fossil fuel consumption, and you want to become a biodiesel producer. Well, it’s all the rage, an alternative fuel, helping to save the planet… possibly. You’ve identified a reliable source of vegetable or animal fat, convinced HM Revenue & Customs that your product satisfies the rules for paying a lower duty, tracked down all the specialist equipment, and got your waste management licence. You haven’t? Then perhaps you’d better look at COBRA before you give in your notice at work.

COBRA is described as the “complete business reference adviser”, one heck of a claim. All I can say is that I have had a few goes at testing it to destruction, without success. It’s just so very good at taking you by the hand, especially if you are just starting in business, and leading you through the thickets and quicksands. Are you the right person to be starting this business? Have you got enough money, enough training, and the right team of advisers lined up to get you through testing times? Are you in the right place, and is this the right time? COBRA will ask you all these questions, and if you decide you can tick most of the boxes, it will help you fill in the gaps, and will be there for you when you need more help.

As well as profiling business opportunities, COBRA has market intelligence, area profiles, legal and financial information, and listings of events and exhibitions which provide opportunities to promote your business. I hope your breath has been taken away by that lot – you could pay many thousands of pounds for any one of those, and here they are in one friendly package – free for Westminster Libraries members. I’m not saying you won’t need to consult a lawyer or a money-guru somewhere along the line, but even here COBRA can help you identify the sort of expert you need.

Oh, did I mention that COBRA has advice for charities as well? Running a charity has many of the same rewards, and the same risks, as running a business for profit, so you need the same level of support.

I want to go on and on, but I mustn’t keep you from the thing itself:
Try it. Love it.

Westminster Libraries subscribes to COBRA, for the benefit of members. To use this or our other online business resources outside a Westminster library, you will need a library card.


Cobra targets charities

Use COBRA with your Westminster Libraries membership cardThis is not about the danger of snakes in Oxfam shops. A shame really – it would make a good story.

CoBRA is the Complete Business Reference Adviser, and it’s a little gem, slightly forbidding when you first see it, but highly attractive when you look closer (a bit like the snake). It guides you gently but authoritatively through the complexities of setting up a small business. What do you need to start? Are you suitable? Is yours a good area? Are you likely to make a living?

If you decide to take the plunge, Cobra will help with financial requirements, legal pitfalls and market research. It’s very thorough, and very wide-ranging. But I was a bit surprised to discover that it also covers charities. Time for honesty – I didn’t discover it, my colleague Nicky did. What she uncovered was a string of items on setting up a charity, charity shops, not-for-profit enterprises, sports clubs, and many more.

Of course, much of Cobra’s advice on subjects like business rates and licensing is as useful to a charity as it is to a small business. Down the list, I noticed “getting your press release published”, which is an obvious requirement for most charities.

Also on the list was “babyproofing service”. My mind boggled. What do you proof the babies against? A water- or fire-resistant baby would obviously be useful, but it turns out that this is a service to assess, and act upon, the risks to babies and toddlers, in terms of safety devices like stair gates and soft edges. Of course, this needn’t be, and often isn’t, a charitable concern – handyman businesses offer this service. But it might be voluntary, and that’s the point.

Well done, Cobra, and thanks to Nicky, my informant. Cobra is an Exclusive Resource for Westminster Libraries members. You will need your library card to log in at home.