HR · 2 August 2016

Magic Whiteboard founder: “Don’t let your auto-enrolment staging date creep up on you”

The Magic Whiteboard team is in control when it come to auto-enrolment
The Magic Whiteboard team is in control when it come to auto-enrolment

Winning investment in the Dragons’ Den in 2008 gave Magic Whiteboard not only nationwide notoriety, but also the right platform from which to achieve fast, sustainable growth.

Eight years on, and the small company exports to 20 overseas markets, with a recent business trip to Japan opening up a wealth of opportunities in the Far East.

The success of the firm’s signature product – a reusable, portable whiteboard on-roll – on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den allowed Magic Whiteboard owner Neil Westwood to expand the firm’s range of innovative re-usable stationary products to include notebooks and post-it notes, as well as key and smart phone finders.

Based in Worcester with a team of five young employees, Westwood told Business Advice that despite not knowing anything about auto-enrolment when the initiative was first announced, the process of preparing for the firm’s staging date has been relatively painless.

Originally set for November, Westwood was able to bring his firm’s staging date forward to 1 September this year to coincide with a new starter joining the team – also allowing him to maintain his busy schedule of trade shows and sales meetings towards the end of the year.

“It was easy to change the date,” added Westwood. “We have many trade shows in November and business will be hectic, so it’s helpful to have the staging date moved to a quieter month. On top of that, it gives us the chance to put everyone on the scheme at the same time, including our new staff member.”

Have a read of the comprehensive auto-enrolment digital guide put together by our sister title, RealBusiness.co.uk.

For Westwood, receiving advice from an accountant has been important in preparing for auto-enrolment. His accountant is responsible for the Magic Whiteboard payroll, and for a small fee oversees the administration that’s involved with the transition to the scheme.

“My accountant’s been great,” Westwood went on to say. “I file all my letters from the government with him and he helps me to make sense of them. We’re fully prepared to start making contributions on 1 September.”

Westwood pays a flat monthly fee of £80 to his accountant for payroll services – a worthwhile expense considering the time he would have to spend understanding the process himself.

“Make sure you speak to someone about your options, and don’t let it creep up on you,” Westwood advised fellow small business owners.  “My worry is that the smaller firms with only a handful of staff will leave it to the last minute, so don’t ignore it. Start making enquiries early and seek advice when you need it.

“I didn’t know, for example, that you could bring forward your staging date if you wanted to. Moving it will be very helpful.”

One of the challenges Westwood faced was deciding which pensions provider to go with. He settled on NEST – the government-backed workplace pension scheme.

“Knowing which provider to go for was tricky because [as a new legal requirement] it’s hard to know which ones are going to be good or not. That’s how I’ve approached the whole process – knowing very little about pensions to begin with – what’s going to have the least impact in terms of cost to my business,” he added.

With a fast-growing turnover of around £1.2m, Westwood aims to build on the success he’s had with Magic Whiteboard in the coming years. Having the firm’s auto-enrolment duties taken care of will be a weight of his mind as a busy trade show season approaches.

“My relationship with my accountant is key, and should guarantee we stay compliant,” concluded Westwood. “It remains to be seen how well my staff pick up on the initiative, but from my side, knowing everything’s been set up in good time means I can get on with running my business.”

If, as a micro or small business owner, you’d like further guidance on auto-enrolment then visit The Pensions Regulator website, where you’ll also be able to discover your personal situation through its Duties Checker system.

Also, if you’ve enjoyed the story of how Magic Whiteboard is approaching auto-enrolment compliance and duties then have a look at our other two in-depth case studies – Longthorne Gunmakers and Songbird Survival.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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