Why Making Tax Digital could improve radically the way business tax is collected in the UK

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The UK government’s tax authority, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is not generally associated in people’s minds with technological innovation. However, the HMRC hopes its new initiative, Making Tax Digital (MTD), introduced in April 2019, will improve radically the way business tax is collected and administrated in the UK.

What exactly is Making Tax Digital (MTD)?

Making Tax Digital (MTD) is the UK government’s strategy to bring tax collection into the 21st century. Under MTD businesses will be required to use digital technology to seamlessly provide the government with the financial data required to calculate their tax liability. This means that businesses will have to ensure they can provide this data automatically to HMRC, from their own digital accounting records.

Who will be affected?

The Government has already introduced MTD for businesses who pay Value Added Tax (VAT). VAT is a consumption tax added to the sales price of most product and services and the standard rate of VAT in the UK currently stands at 20%. MTD will be extended to include income tax and corporation tax reporting in the next few years. This means that the implications of these changes will be both immense and far-reaching.

To get an idea of the size and scope of the current changes it is worth looking at the numbers involved. Businesses with taxable annual turnovers above the VAT (Value Added Tax) threshold of £85,000 (around $107,000) will be required to comply with MTD. In the 2017-18 tax year, 17% of sole traders and 71% of UK companies had to pay VAT.

How does Making Tax Digital work?

MTD requires businesses to use specialized HMRC compatible accounting software. This is accounting software which has been designed to connect directly to the Government’s tax recording systems and transfer the required financial data to them automatically.

This means that business owners or their accountants will not be allowed to simply submit manual returns to the HMRC as they may have done in the past.

The intention is that removing human intervention will help remove the risk that businesses might submit incorrect tax accounting data. This can occur for a variety of reasons such as human error.

What does this mean for businesses?

On the face of it, meeting the requirements of the HMRC’s MTD initiative may appear to be relatively straight forward.

However, businesses will have to ensure that they have accounting systems that now meet the HMRC’s requirements. Significant numbers of business owners will have to make potentially time consuming and expensive changes to their existing accounting procedures in order to comply with the HMRC’s new arrangements. This means that they may have to purchase new compatible accounting software, or, where a business records financial transactions using computer spreadsheets, they will have to obtain special compliant ‘bridging software’ that has been designed to deliver the required financial information to HMRC.

The good news is that the HMRC does not endorse any particular accounting software system and at the time of writing the HMRC website lists and links to over 400 compatible software packages. Well known accounting software providers like Xero, Quickbooks (Intuit) and Sage are on the list, as well as a wide variety of other companies.

When is this happening?

From April 2019 VAT registered businesses and organisations with taxable annual turnover above the VAT threshold have been required to comply with MTD requirements. From 2021, MTD will be extended to include income tax and corporation tax reporting.

Criticism of Making Tax Digital

It is worth pointing out that not everyone in the UK business community is completely happy with HMRC’s plans for Making Tax Digital.

A survey by the British Chambers of Commerce of 967 UK businesses, undertaken in January and February 2019, just weeks before the introduction of MTD, revealed some worrying statistics.

The survey found that around 1 in 5 companies affected by MTD had never heard of Making Tax Digital or know it only by name. Furthermore, 38% of businesses have had to buy new accounting software or upgrade existing software resulting in significant financial costs. (Similarly, a survey undertaken by Quickbooks accounting software developers, Intuit, in March 2019 found that only 25% had already taken all of the necessary steps to become MTD compliant.)

The British Chambers of Commerce survey also revealed dissatisfaction with the Government’s timing of the introduction of MTD for VAT which is at a time when businesses are also burdened with the preparations for the impacts of the UK leaving the European Union (Brexit).

Conclusion

The British Government has high hopes for MTD.

They believe that business owners will benefit from MTD as they will find it easier to submit accurate tax returns. The government itself hopes to benefit because the planned changes will help cut fraud and under/over reporting of tax liabilities resulting from things like human error.

Whether the initiative will help the HMRC reach its goal of becoming “one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world” remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain. Tax authorities all over the world will be watching closely to see what they can learn from the UK’s experience and to see if the benefits the UK government anticipate actually materialize.

Safer browsing. How Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide security and protect your privacy when you use the internet.

Photop of womany holding a tablet computer logged into a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Image by Stefan Coders from Pixabay

Relatively few internet users realize that what they do online can be monitored and that the private information share online can be intercepted, recorded and perhaps even exploited by criminals.

In order to combat these problems, growing numbers of people are using Virtual Private Networks available from Virtual Private Network (VPNs) providers. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) provide online security and enable anonymous browsing. This makes them an effective way to protect yourself against personal data theft and loss of privacy.

What is a VPN (Virtual Private Network)

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) service provider protects your security in two ways. Firstly, it encrypts the data which passes from your computer or other internet enabled device to your server. This encryption process is designed to render your data unintelligible to 3rd parties. Secondly, a VPN provider routes your data through their own servers and these can be located all over the work. This effectively means you are able to browse the web anonymously.

How VPN data encryption makes your private data more secure.

VPNs create a secure and encrypted link between your computer and the VPN’s server. This protects the data passing between your computer and your VPN’s server from unauthorised access by 3rd parties. (See Fig 1, below)

Fig 1: VPNs secure and encrypt your connection by creating a secure, encrypted link between your computer and the VPN’s server.

This process is very effective as it renders data unintelligible to hackers and other 3rd parties who may want to steal personal data and/or invade your privacy.

Travellers and people on vacation wanting to use public wi-fi networks to communicate with friends and family securely have the most to gain from using VPNs. They find using public wi-fi networks such as those free wifi services found in public places like airports, coffee shops and hotel lobbies very convenient. However, users are not always aware that these services are unlikely to be particularly secure. A VPN provides a very effective layer of security, which means that criminals and other unauthoried 3rd parties will be unable to access your personal information when you use unsecured public wi-fi networks.

The potential dangers of accessing the internet on public networks without a VPN cannot be overstated. Using public wi-fi networks without using a VPN means that personal data such as passwords, emails, photographs, online banking login details, credit card details and much more could be stolen by criminals. Furthermore, criminals are attracted to unsecured wifi networks as they know that many people use them without encrypting their personal data.

How a VPN’s server network lets you browse the internet anonymously

VPNs are frequently used by private individuals looking to access websites blocked by the authorities in the country they live in. Authorities can block access to people located in certain countries because they can identify which country you are located in.

However, VPN service providers overcome this restriction by allowing you to browse the internet using the VPN provider’s own servers. These are likely to be located all over the world. All a VPN user needs to do is decide which country they wish to ‘appear’ to be located in and select a service in that country. Once they have done so they ‘appear’ to be located in that country. So, even though you may be in say, Paris, France, you can select a VPN server located in, for example, the US. Then it would appear that you were accessing a website from the US, rather than France. This ensures that your private details are not logged by 3rd parties when you visit different websites.

It can be quite surprising how much visitor information is actually recorded and stored when you visit a website (without using a VPN). This information can include:

  • Your approximate location
  • The Operating System of the device you are using
  • The type of browser you are using
  • Your Internet Service Provider
  • Your IP address

Using a VPN means that your true location is hidden and are able to browse the web anonymously. This is important because many countries ban or restrict access to certain websites. This may be for copyright reasons, for other legal reasons (such as because of the content promotes terrorism, for example), or because the government in that country does not agree with the content of a particular website.

Important: While a VPN may let you bypass government restrictions you should bear in mind that accessing restricted sites may actually be illegal and the penalties for accessing restricted sites could be quite severe in some countries.

We discussed above how governments restrict access by it’s citizens to certain websites. Well, companies themselves may restrict access to their website based on the site visitor’s geographical location. This is called geo-blocking and it is usually done for commercial and/or legal reasons.

For example, advertising and marketing company InboxDollars.com uses geo-blocking to block site visitors from the UK, and redirects them to their company site in the UK InboxPounds.com (See fig 2, below).

Fig 2: Marketing website InboxDollars.com blocks site visitors located outside the US from opening an account.

Video streaming companies use geo-blocking to regulate who can and cannot access their sites. For example, to access Netflix USA you need to be in the US. Similarly, if you want to access TV shows on the UK’s BBC iPlayer service you need to be in the UK. So, for example, even though you have paid to access Netflix USA the fact that you are outside the US means that you cannot access the site.

VPNs overcome this problem by letting you access these services using VPN’s own servers which are actually located in those particular countries.

Geo-blocking can also be a problem when purchasing from websites located in other countries. Websites may vary the cost of items on their site, or even decline to complete a financial transaction, based on the apparent location of the person making the purchase. Again, VPNs can help overcome obstacles like this by making it appear as if the person making the purchase is located in the same country as the retailer.

Conclusion

VPN software can be easily downloaded and installed on phones, tablets and laptops and there are a wide range of VPN providers in the market today.

Whether you want more security when accessing the internet through public wi-fi networks or you want to bypass access restrictions, VPNs are a relatively simple solution to a potentially massive problem. Furthermore, the benefits of VPNs mean that their use is only going to increase in the future.

So, what do YOU think? Do you use a VPN? If you do, why? Share your views about using VPNs with our community in the comments section below.

So, what exactly IS a digital nomad?


Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Spend time searching online for references to freelance work and you will quickly encounter the term ‘digital nomad’.

It can seem like everyone is talking about becoming a digital nomad and it appears to be a hot topic at the moment. A search for the term digital nomad on Google returns more than 3.3 million results!

So, what exactly IS a digital nomad and what is involved in becoming one?

What is a digital nomad?

The term ‘digital nomad’ is simply a ‘buzz word’ for someone who combines work and travel. More precisely, they can be described as location independent workers who combine freelance work with living in interesting and exotic locations. Digital nomads will have clients all over the world and interact with them over the internet. Relatively small numbers of people have worked remotely for centuries (e.g. journalists or writers) but now this opportunity is being embraced by increasing numbers of (mostly) young, highly skilled and very motivated people.

Geoarbitrage and the internet have made being a digital nomad possible

Digital nomads live in one country and sell their sevices in another. This is simple geoarbitrage. Geoarbitrage is a concept often associated with Tim Ferris, the author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Geoarbitage works so well because different countries have different living costs. Digital nomads live in beautiful and exotic locations with relatively low living costs and relatively high-speed internet and sell their services in countries that pay relatively well for them.

Geoarbitrage enables nomads to live relatively cheaply and means that they can use their earnings to finance further travel. This has made location independent working not just viable, but a particularly attractive option, for thousands and thousands of people.

Location — the key to the Digital Nomad lifestyle

The ideal location for digital nomads is one with lower living costs and relatively good internet. It should come as no surprise that there are many countries in Southeast Asia, South America, and perhaps to a lesser extent, parts of Europe that do offer that alluring combination of relatively low living costs and fast internet speeds.

Many nomads who are looking for that ideal location to live the digital nomad lifestyle start their search using websites like NomadList.com, developed by entrepreneur Pieter Levels. This is a frequently updated database of more than 2,000 of the best geographical locations for digital nomads. At the time of writing, some of the best destinations listed include Canggu in Bali, Bangkok in Thailand, Budapest in Hungary, and Buenos Aires, Brazil.

So, where do digital nomads actually work?

Every entrepreneur needs somewhere where they can run their business. The stereotypical image of a digital nomad is someone lounging on the beach with a cool drink in their hand, while blissfully working on their laptop. However, the reality is somewhat different!

You may find some people happily working from their hotel room, hotel lobbies, beachside cafes and yes, even lovely sandy beaches. However, many location independent workers find that the distractions, safety concerns, and feelings of isolation can mean that these are not always ideal workspace for long term success.

Consequently, this has lead to the rise of coworking shared workspaces where nomadic workers can rent a comfortable place to work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Nimman in Thailand, Hubud in Bali, and La Casa Redonda in Medellin, Colombia are just a few of the hundreds of shared workspaces worldwide that are popular with the growing community of location independent workers.

What sort of work do digital nomads do?

If there is a service that people are prepared to pay for and it can be provided over the internet then there is a good chance that a digital nomad is offering that service for sale, somewhere in the world.

Being able to interact with clients is vital, of course but that is not a problem forlocation independent workers. With a quality internet connection, a laptop, a Skype account, and a telephone headset, working for and communicating with clients could not be easier.

There are numerous freelance opportunities out there and many, perhaps most of them, will fall into one or more of the following categories:

Coding/ Programming — developing code such as Python, Ruby on Rails and C++.

Web development — setting up WordPress websites and plugins for clients. Also includes coding in PHP and HTML.

Internet marketing services — providing Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Social Media Management (SMM) services.

Graphic design — creating business marketing material such as business cards, company brochures, business branding, and logo design.

Translation, interpretation and English language teaching — interpreting or translating the written word to or from English. Internet video services such as Skype are ideal for teaching English to pupils anywhere in the world.

Copywriting and writing for the web — writing advertising sales copy and website content such as commercial web pages and articles.

Many digital nomads are exploiting other opportunities to earn a living including teaching in-demand skills online, travel blogging (and earning through affiliate advertising on their blog) and establishing e-commerce sites.

Digital Nomad Visas

Interestingly, a number of countries have recognized the massive potential benefits that digital nomads bring to their chosen destinations such as their entrepreneurial spirit, technical knowledge, as well as their spending power.

In order to capture that talent and enthusiasm countries are creating specific visas to allow location independent workers to live, work and pay taxes in their countries. For example, Estonia’s Ministry of the Interior plans to develop the world’s first Digital Nomad Visa, Thailand has a SMART visa program and in Europe, Berlin in Germany offers nomads the opportunity to apply for a Freelancer Visa. This appears to be a trend that could continue.

As so many people have demonstrated, it really is possible to set up your business in exciting locations with little more than the right skill set, a laptop, and a fast internet connection.

Of course, being a location independent worker does not mean that the other pressures that entrepreneurs face suddenly disappear! You will still be running a business on your own, possibly with limited funds, thousands of miles away from your personal support networks.

However, this should not deter you if you want to live the digital nomad lifestyle. There are many nomads out there who have been able to make the transition to location independent working, successfully. If this lifestyle really appeals to you, then you will be in good company. Thousands and thousands of people are living the ‘digital nomad lifestyle’ already and with the right level of passion and determination, you could be one of them, too!

Understanding the UK’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

(This article is the opinion of the author, and is not intended to constitute legal advice.)

— — — — — — — — — — —

Do you remember 1998?

That was the year US president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were in the news, the dot-com bubble was getting bigger, the DVD format was released onto the UK market for the first time and the highest grossing movie of that year was Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Most importantly, it was also the year that the Data Protection Act 1998 became law in the UK, regulating the storage of personal data stored on computers or in paper filing systems.

You remember paper filing systems, right?

Data protection for the 21st century

In 2018, 20 years after the 1998 Act became law, the UK along with its EU partners will be updating the regulations around the management of personal data. The new regulations are called the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and they will become law on 25th May 2018 (regardless of the country’s Brexit negotiations!).

There are a variety of reasons for this important and far-reaching update.

Clearly, the ways we process and manage personal data have changed considerably over the last 20 years. However, legislation did not always keep pace with these changes.

We are seeing a trend for more and more private, personal data being held and shared within and between companies. That trend is only going to continue for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, personal data is an increasingly valuable commodity and is of great value to criminals and to marketing companies, for example. In recent years we have also seen numerous serious data breaches which exposed weaknesses in the existing legislation. So, it is hardly surprising that many experts came to the conclusion that a review of the ’98 Act was long overdue.

GDPR — What you need to know

This is a relatively brief introduction and is designed simply to update managers in organisations preparing for the introduction of the GDPR. For managers responsible for leading those preparations it is recommended that they visit the UK Information Commissioner’s Office website which provides comprehensive guidelines on the GDPR and the preparations that organizations must make to comply with the regulations involved.

The legislation is complex and will impact on different companies in different ways. Importantly, it will impact on any company wherever they are in the world, that processes the personal data belonging to EU nationals.

So, any company in this position needs to be prepared for the introduction of the regulations in May 2018 and the earlier companies start preparing, the better.

With this in mind here are 7 key things that people working in organizations that handle the personal data of EU nationals need to be aware of.

1. Expect the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to be impactful.

Businesses that process the personal data of EU citizens, regardless of where they are in the world, have until May 2018 to fully comply with GDPR. Companies found to be in breach of the Regulation after that date could find themselves facing substantial fines and the reputational damage they may suffer as a consequence should not be underestimated.

The implications of the legislation will be felt far beyond a company’s legal or IT departments. It will have implications across the organization including marketing, finance, human resources, and because breaches of GDPR may result in non-complying companies being fined, it will be felt in the boardroom too.

2. Company size

The amount of work each company will need to undertake in order to ensure that they comply with GDPR will depend on:

Number of employees — Companies with 250 or more employees will find that the legislation could involve a greater administrative burden than businesses with less than 250 employees.

Existing data protection processes — Businesses that are compliant with existing data protection legislation will find that there is far less work involved than companies will little or nothing in place. So, for example, new business startups will need to ensure that they are collecting personal data in a manner that is compliant with this legislation.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has produced a 12 step guide for companies to help them prepare for the introduction of the new legislation.

3. Handling of personal data

“Personal data” is defined as “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person” and that person is called the data subject.

A personal data breach is “a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorized disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored or otherwise processed.”

Under the GDPR, non-complying organizations can face severe fines. This has the potential to be one of the most impactful areas of the Regulations. There are provisions in the legislation, for non-compliant businesses to receive penalties depending on the violation, of 2% or 4% of an organization’s total worldwide annual turnover during the preceding financial year.

4. Consent

The GDPR aims to give people genuine ongoing choice and control over how their personal data is used.

Organizations must be able to demonstrate that consent to store personal data was “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous”.

Where an organization processes data belonging to children under 16 years in the UK (although the age may be as low as 13 in some EU states), then they must obtain parental consent.

The legislation establishes the following rights for EU citizens:

Right to be informed
Right of access 
Right to rectification
Right to erasure
Right to restrict processing
Right to data portability
Right to object
Rights related to automated decision making including profiling

Importantly, in addition to the express consent required from the data subject under GDPR, before their information can be processed, data subjects will have the right to withdraw their consent at any time

5. Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs)

The Information Commissioner’s Office encourages a ‘privacy by design’ approach to data privacy.

This means that privacy should be a key consideration in the early stages of any project and for the duration of that project. Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) will:

i.) help identify the privacy risks involved in company projects

ii.) give companies the information required to respond appropriately where a PIA reveals that there is a potentially high risk of a privacy breach.

6. Appointing a Data Protection Officer

The GDPR outlines those situations where organizations must appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO). These are where an organization carries out large scale:

i. systematic monitoring of individuals (for example, online behavior tracking); or
ii. processing of special categories of data, or data relating to criminal convictions and offenses

The requirement also applies to public authorities (except for courts acting in their judicial capacity);

7. Identifying the roles of data controllers and data processors

The GDPR recognizes that different businesses involved in the processing of personal data have different degrees of responsibility for, and involvement in processing of, personal data.

So, it makes the distinction between the roles and responsibilities of a data controller and of a data processor:

Data Controller — determines the purposes and means of processing personal data. The GDPR obligates controllers to ensure contracts with processors comply with the GDPR and to notify the Supervisory Authority, no later than 72 hours after having become aware of a data breach that is likely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of the person involved. In the UK the Supervisory Authority will be Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Data Processor — processes personal data on behalf of a controller. The GDPR places specific legal obligations on processors including legal liability if they are found to be responsible for a breach. Where a data processor is responsible for a personal data breach, they must notify their Data Controller.

The Data Processor and the Data Controller can be a person, business or public authority. A Data Processor is under fewer obligations than a Data Controller and companies can be both Data Controllers and Processors.

Conclusion

The world has moved on a lot since the 1998 Data Protection Act became law in the UK. However, despite changes in technology it is important to recognize that GDPR is not an attempt to rewrite existing data protection legislation, it is simply intended to update and strengthen it.

This is good news for those companies that are complying with the 1998 Data Protection Act before GDPR becomes law. They will have robust foundations upon which to build and the road to compliance may well be relatively short.

However, it is those companies who have made little or no progress towards compliance by May 2018, due to negligence, ignorance, or the fact that they are newer companies, that may find complying with GDPR more difficult to achieve and have the most work to do.

From Farmer To Fork — How Blockchain Technology Is Adding Transparency To Food Supply Chains


Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash

Food provenance and food safety are enormous concerns. Blockchain technology is seen by many industry experts as providing the answer to these concerns. That is because it creates a permanent public record of the provenance of the food in the supply chain – from farmer to fork.

That is great news for consumers concerned about where their food comes from and this technology can address their concerns around animal welfare, use of pesticides, farming methods, places of origin and manufacturing methods.

It is also good for food manufacturers who can be sure that what they are buying is exactly what it says on the label.

The World Health Organisation estimated in 2015 that almost 1 in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food, and 420 000 people die. So, for public health professionals blockchain means that, in the event of food-related public health issues, they are able to scrutinize the whole food supply chain, from farm to store, rapidly and accurately and hopefully save lives in the process.

The problem with modern food supply chains

To understand how blockchain might impact the food supply chain let’s look at the problems with existing supply chains.

Modern food supply chains can be long and complex. So, there are opportunities for human error, food fraud, and adulteration.

Various certifications and guarantees exist already that have been designed to reassure manufacturers and consumers about the provenance and safety of the food that they buy. However, existing regulatory systems rely on inspections by trusted third parties, records stored on computerized databases and paper-based systems, possibly located long distances from one another. These systems can add additional costs, can be subject to fraud and none of them are infallible.

How blockchain helps prove food provenance

Blockchain technology is more commonly associated with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. However, that same technology can be used to produce a trustworthy record of the entire supply chain, from farmers through to consumers. It introduces a previously impossible level of traceability and transparency into food supply chains.

Blockchain technology can provide this level of security because it is a distributed ledger system where multiple copies of the same database are stored across multiple computers. When transactions between parties take place these transactions are recorded in a way that is verifiable and permanent. While changes can be made, everyone involved in the blockchain must agree to those changes.

So, this technology creates secure and reliable records of the whole food supply chain. Consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and suppliers will be able to access this public information trail revealing each transaction in the supply chain.

Using blockchain technology in agriculture

Blockchain technology is a game changer in the agricultural industry where incidences of bacterial contamination, food fraud, and adulteration can be expensive and can have serious and long-lasting implications.

A number of companies are already demonstrating how blockchain technology can improve supply chain traceability and transparency.

San Francisco based Ripe.io uses blockchain technology to create secure and reliable product histories for a variety of foodstuffs.

AgriDigital is a Sydney, Australia based company that has created a blockchain enabled commodity management platform to revolutionize the supply of grain.

Beef Ledger is an Australian company using blockchain to prove beef provenance and safety for customers in Asia’s growing middle-class market.

Researchers from Russia’s Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University have created a blockchain system that proves the provenance of dairy products to help prevent counterfeiting.

Walmart and 9 food companies including Unilever, Nestle, and Dole are collaborating with computing giant IBM on a project exploring how to apply blockchain technology to food supply chains.

Blockchain technology and public health

Locating the sources of food-borne illnesses such as Listeria, E.coli and Salmonella can be a time consuming and at times difficult process. One benefit of blockchain technology is that it enables the origin of contaminated food to be traced right back to the food producer. Furthermore, where a whole batch of food is contaminated, other contaminated items in that batch could also be rapidly located and removed from food stores.

Conclusion

Demand from consumers for more information about the origin of their food is only going to increase as the public concern grows about the quality and safety of the food that they eat.

Blockchain offers everyone involved in the food supply chain the opportunity to track the provenance of their food — from farmer to fork — perhaps by simply scanning a product’s barcode or QR code. For consumers, and food companies, this offers the reassurance that the food that they buy is exactly what it says on the label. For public health officials, it makes identifying and dealing with the sources of food-borne illnesses faster, and easier, than ever before.

Twitter 101 — How To Start Marketing Your Business Using Twitter

con-karampelas-1178811-unsplash (1)Twitter has millions of loyal users and, as any entrepreneur will tell you, where there are people, there are potential customers and clients.

To get the best from Twitter you will have to learn to communicate using a limited number of characters (Twitter plans to increase the number of characters in a Tweet from 140 to 280, shortly). Fortunately, with only a little inventiveness, you can communicate your message, despite these restrictions.

This makes Twitter a deceptively powerful tool and there is a ‘pot of gold’ hidden out there for entrepreneurs who are willing to put in the time and effort to master this platform.

If you are new to Twitter, or you have an account but just never ‘got’ what it was all about, I want to share my top tips for anyone wanting to get more out of Twitter.

1. Choose a good Twitter username

Choosing the right username matters, as this is how you will be recognized on Twitter. Usernames always start with ‘@’ and although the maximum length of a username is 15 characters, the shorter your username, the easier it will be for people to remember. Wherever possible, choose your name, your business name or a meaningful variation of either as your username. Avoid adult, political, or other usernames that might give people an impression of you that is incompatible with your business.

2. Customize your profile

It is highly recommended that you customize your Twitter Profile. This will become your ‘homepage’ on Twitter and the page people see first when they search for you using your Username or follow your link back to Twitter.

There are 4 steps to customizing your Profile:

i. Choose a background color for your Profile.
ii. Complete the free text boxes. This is an opportunity to tell others a little more about you and what you do. The Bio field offers up to 160 characters to sell yourself and you can also share your ‘Twitter name’ (this can be different from your Twitter Username), location, birthday and link to your website, using the fields provided.
iii. Choose an appropriate header photo (1500 x 500 pixels). This is usually something pertinent to you or your business.
iv. Profile photo (400 x 400 pixels). For business purposes this should be your head-shot rather than your business’s logo.

3. Learn the language

Twitter has its own language and if you really want to get the best out of using it, you really need to learn the lingo. Here are some of the most common Twitter terms you need to know:-

Tweet — A Tweet consists of text (up to a maximum of 140 characters).

Follow / Un-Follow — When you ‘follow’ another Twitter account their Tweets are listed on your home page. Un-following stops their Tweets appearing on your homepage.

RT or R/T — Short for Re-Tweet, this is the act of taking a Tweet from someone you are following and ‘broadcasting’ it to everyone who follows you. Re-Tweeting is usually seen as a form of endorsement of the information in the shared tweet.

HT or H/T — Hat Tip or Heard Through, use this to acknowledge that someone else made you aware of the content you are sharing. For example: “This article explains how it all began ….H/T @JohnSmith”.

DM — Twitter has a direct messaging function where you can send private messages to someone who is following you.

@ — the ‘@’ symbol the identifies every Twitter username as in @raykay.

# — The ‘#’ or hashtag symbol is a way of categorizing tweets. The great thing about using hashtags is that when you click on a word preceded by a hashtag any other Tweets with the same hashtags are also listed. Well known Tweets include #Election2016, #SuperBowl and #IceBucketChallenge.

Blocking — Blocking is a function that you can use to stop someone from seeing or responding to your Tweets and gives you control of your interactions with other Twitter users.

4. Follow the experts in your industry

Follow the experts in your industry, niche or profession. Twitter suggests who you might want to follow, and although they do not always get it right all the time, it is still a useful feature. Additionally, you will be able to see what others are tweeting about. Furthermore, you can respond directly to those tweets, join a conversation or even re-tweet their tweets to your followers. With a bit of luck, they might even follow you back.

5. Interact with potential customers

Interact with potential customers but be careful not to pitch your services, too early. In the beginning, just make them aware of your presence, for example by sharing information with them, offering advice or re-tweeting their tweets to your followers.

6. Grow your list of followers by tweeting often

The more active you are on Twitter, the larger your following is likely to be, up to a point. If some of your followers find that you are tweeting excessively they may decide to un-follow you. So, spend no more than 15 to 20 minutes each day on this task and space your tweets out over the course of the day.

Of course, Twitter is a relatively simple platform, especially when compared to Facebook. However, it is precisely its simplicity, and ease of use, that makes Twitter one of the most popular social media platforms in the world today.

Credit: Photo by Con Karampelas on Unsplash