SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions

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Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

There has been a lot of talk this week about the value of third level education and internships, and how well people are really equipped for the world of work after either. Ivan kicked things off by asking Bobby for his opinion on the matter.

“I think a proper internship is a huge opportunity for particularly the employee but also the employer… I think internships are great and you’re right, we can learn all the academia we want in college and all that but there’s nothing like getting in to a place,” Bobby says.

Bobby also warned people to watch out for internships that don’t offer a plan for the intern, where there might be no career progression or you might only be doing the jobs that everyone else hates. For employers, Bobby suggests that if they are offering an internship, there should at least be the hope of a job at the end of it for the candidate.

For hopeful interns, Bobby says to watch out for any company that appears to have a conveyor belt of interns and only go for the places that impress you because in the long term, your internships and work experience are going to be what future prospective employers ask about.

Now onto the listener questions…

I’m an accountant who spent the last eight years working in financial operations roles in retail and the grocery sector. I’m keen to start my own business. Any advice or inspiration to help me step off the cliff of stability?   

Yep, I think if you’re an account and have worked in operational roles, you should have the confidence. I think you need to give yourself a deadline. I would suggest you do all of the research in your spare time and get yourself as informed as you possibly can about whatever the new venture is.

And then you say, ‘Look, I’m going to leave in August. I’ve enough savings to keep me until February. I’m going to work at it night and day from August to February and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll have to reconsider things.’

Ivan also suggested a book by Mark McCormack - What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School - which has a section on how to know if you are suitable or not to be an entrepreneur and run your own business.  

I became self-employed last month as a contract cleaner. As of now, my turnover will reach the threshold for the year of €37,500. Do I have to register for VAT or can I delay it until I get an official contract signed and who will provide it?

The answer is that you can delay it until you get the contract signed but it will be looked at retrospectively. You get on to the RAS and there’s a thing called a TR1 form on Revenue.ie and basically, once you hit €37,500 you are liable for VAT and it’s payable on the 23rd of the month following the period.

There are a couple of exceptions - if 90% of your turnover is in the supply of goods, you can go to €75,000 before you actually register.  As a contract cleaning business, you might have some element of purchases that VAT could be reclaimed on as well so I think there’s a bit of research to be done here as well.

How long can you be on a temporary contract for? I’d been working for the HSE since 2013 under an agency agreement until last January, 2017. I’ve had three 6 month contracts, can this go on indefinitely?

Unfortunately, Lucy, there’s a thing called the Protection of Employees Fixed Term Work Act 2003 and it applies to most employees on fixed term contracts. However, it does not apply to agency workers placed by a temporary work agency at the disposition of a user enterprise, or to apprentices and trainees.

The HSE and other like-minded bodies employ people for years through agencies and I think in Lucy’s case, I think not is the answer.

I’ve a really good business idea. Can I patent the idea and own the intellectual property of the idea? I have no idea how this space operates.

There’s a whole load of bullsh*t about this, just to say, in my view. Just go onto the patents website, they have a great website, and it will walk you through everything. However, there’s a couple of things about a patent - it has to be a novel idea so you need to do your research to see who else has the same idea; it has to have an inventive step to show what makes it different;

You can spend a lot of money on patents if you’re not careful so it’s worth thinking about and exercise your ‘buyer beware’ mindset.

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

If you have a business or SME related query you would like answered - you can get in touch with Bobby each week by simply sending a short mail to agonyuncle@newstalk.com