This week is Big Energy Week, an initiative from Citizen’s Advice that’s designed to get people thinking about how they can cut their energy bills at home.
Chris Huhne at the Big Energy week stand in Westfield. Image by DECCgovuk via Flickr.
Naturally, we think that gas and electricity bills at work are just as important as those at home, so I’ve put together three golden rules that I think will help you get a better deal on business energy:
1. Know when your contract ends. It’s vital that you know when your contract is due to end so you’re ready to do something about it in good time. If you ignore your contract end date, you can be rolled-over onto a new contract automatically, and it might not be the best deal for your business.
2. Get an overview on the market. Don’t accept the first price you’re offered and don’t go direct to a business energy supplier when it’s time to renegotiate your contract. Go to a broker (like uSwitchforBusiness) and you’ll get prices from a range of suppliers so you can be confident that the deal you sign up for is competitive.
3. Use less energy. It doesn’t make business sense to use more energy than you need to. Whatever the nature or size of your business, there’s advice (and maybe even a grant) to help you become more energy-efficient. The Carbon Trust is great starting-point.
I’ve also put together a short reading list of guides that explain more about business energy and how you can make sure you get the best value for money:
- Business energy bills - there are more options than you might think when it comes to billing.
- Business electricity prices and business gas prices - how to find the best business energy prices.
- Business electricity meters and gas meters - the different types of business meter explained.
- Business energy regulators - who are the regulators and what can they do for you?
- The Carbon Reduction Commitment - what does it mean for your business?
For more information on business energy contracts visit our partner company Business Juice.
With domestic energy prices falling, James Constant takes a look at the options and opportunities for business energy customers.
It’s that time again: domestic customers are getting the ‘benefit’ of price drops; energy suppliers are hogging the headlines; ministers are getting tetchy; consumer groups are banging the drum…but what of the wealth generators, the business energy customers?
No price drops?
If you think that, you couldn’t be more wrong. Bear with me whilst I shed some light on the murky workings of the energy market.
‘Market’ is an important word. Energy, be it gas or electricity, is traded on the wholesale market, and like any trading activity, it sets a price payable against a volume available.
The concept of ‘supply and demand’ drives the price; the more there is and the less demand, the lower the price, as someone can always shop elsewhere so the price needs to be keen. When supply is limited and demand is high, the price is driven up, as other options are scarce.
Add in the ‘global complex’ of energy, where the issue of one country affects another thousands of miles away (Whether that’s an earthquake in Japan that knocks out nuclear and means it has to be replaced with LNG, which in turn means LNG imports have to be being diverted away from their Western European destinations, or the fragility of the Middle East affecting confidence in supply and driving trading in commodities to higher prices, or even nearer to home, the interconnector between Britain and France sending fuel to the continent to capitalise on higher market prices while causing a supply constraint in the UK.) the issue is compounded.
And then there's the UK itself: aging, creaking power stations with reliability issues, uncertain weather leading to freak conditions of winter summers and summer winters and generators withdrawing capacity from the market - sometimes justifiably, sometimes questionably.
So all in all, before you take into account the commercial considerations of suppliers (or margin as it is more commonly known) there is a natural volatility in energy markets for which the user bears the cost, whether they’re business or domestic.
But it’s not all bad news. We’ve all seen the adverts with the important warning ‘markets can go up as well as down’ and that’s where the business energy opportunity comes in.
If the market has fallen enough for suppliers to bring down domestic prices, you can bet that the market generally has been on a downward movement for some time.
Why? Well, for domestic customers it is the protocol of suppliers to make as few price changes as possible. (It doesn’t always feel like that of course from the blanket media coverage of consumer energy costs.) As a result, a domestic supplier change will come after a prolonged period of market movement (up or down) which will enable a greater level of certainty for the supplier on where the market is ‘at’, where it is going and how to make a profit.
So if a domestic customer is getting lower prices the market WILL be at a lower level than in recent history and that’s the buying opportunity for a business energy customer.
Not only that, but the flexibility of the price and deal is much greater for a business customer than a domestic one, whether you’re a corner shop or a multi-national, there's a deal to be done.
So what’s stopping you? If you don’t know your contract end date then call your supplier now and find it out as a matter of priority. Alternatively call a reputable broker (I know one I would recommend!) and they will get the information for you and be able to guide you through when best to grasp the falling market opportunity and how best to do it. (Naturally they will do all the hard work for you.)
A couple of pointers:
1. If the market moves down excessively then it could pay to extract yourself from your existing contract and agree a new lower rate one. Always contact your broker before engaging in this exercise though.
2. Despite everything I have said, a falling market isn’t the only buying opportunity. In fact, given that the energy market trades on a half hourly basis, there are 48 price windows a day and a myriad of contract lengths that will drive ‘volatility’ in the market. ‘Volatility’ is the second key word after ‘market’.Prices do not move upwards or downwards smoothly, rather they move up and down like stalagmites and stalactites, so even in a down period there's a movement upwards and vice versa.
Impossible? Not at all
A hassle you don’t need? Let someone else do the hard work for you!
Once you’ve taken the opportunity you’ll not let it drop again, apart from the price that is.
Give our expert business enegy advisors a call on 0800 688 8568.
You may have seen that EDF has announced a price decrease for its domestic customers. It's the third energy supplier to do so; Co-operative and Ovo have already announced their price decreases.
Depending on how much attention you pay to the ins and outs of the energy market, you might also have seen these charts from Consumer Focus:
They show the difference between the wholesale price that the energy suppliers pay for gas and electricity, and the price the customer pays.
As you can see, when wholesale prices go down, this saving isn't passed onto the customer immediately.
Many commentators have suggested that this is unfair, and energy suppliers have come under a lot of pressure to cut their prices in recent months because wholesale prices have been going down.
Business energy prices work differently.
Firstly, most business energy contracts are fixed - so when you're locked into your contract, your prices stay the same. with domestic energy, most customers are on variable tariffs that can rise and fall as the supplier sees fit.
Secondly, business electricity prices and business gas prices are far more volatile, they change almost every day. This is because - unlike the domestic market - business energy isn’t bought in advance, it’s bought as and when new contracts come in. This means that the wholesale market has a huge and almost immediate impact on business energy prices.
This is worth bearing in mind when you're nearing the end of your contract - if you give our business energy advisors a call, they can give you an indication of what trends we're seeing in business energy prices. You can lock in a new contract four months before your existing contract ends too, which can give you a real advantage when it comes to securing the best price.
We're currently seeing a downward trend in pricing, so now's a great time to give us a call and discuss your business' needs (0800 688 8568).
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a way to try and make sure that your website has a good ranking when people use Google/Yahoo/Bing etc to search for a keyword that’s related to what you do.
Here’s a quick explanation of what I mean by keywords and rankings if you’re not familiar with the terminology - a keyword is a word or phrase that people search for that’s relevant to your business. Let’s use the example of a florist in Leamington Spa: relevant keywords might be ‘florist Leamington Spa’ or ‘flowers delivered Leamington Spa’. Your ranking is where you come on the search engine results page (SERP) e.g. first on the page, second, third etc.)
If you optimise your website for search by targeting specific, well-chosen keywords, you’ll get higher rankings which will mean more visitors to your site.
If you have an online shop it’s pretty obvious why this is important. However, even if you don’t do ecommerce, SEO can have a positive impact on your business. If people need a product or service it’s very likely that they’ll go online to look for it, even if they intend to buy it in person. For example, to go back to our florist in Leamington Spa, if they were to rank at or near the top of the list when someone searches for a ‘florist Leamington Spa’, they could expect greater footfall in their shop because of the increased exposure their business gets.
SEO is big business and it can be complicated, so naturally, I can’t explain all the ins and outs in one blog post, or give you a definitive set of rules for SEO success. Instead, I’ve put together a checklist to help make sure you get the basics right. I’ve tried to keep things simple, but if you’re not technically-minded you could run through this list with whoever built or manages your website for you.
Make sure you’re using Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.
These tools are free and easy to install and use. They give you lots of information about your website’s performance, for example how many people visit it, how long they spend on the site and how well you rank for different keywords. With Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools you’ll be able to see the difference made by any chnages you make. Google Analytics has a nice feature called annotations which lets you make a note on the timeline if you make a change to your website - this makes it even easier to keep track of your progress.
Make and submit a sitemap.
If your website doesn’t already have a sitemap then you should make one. Once you’ve done that, submit it to Google Webmaster Central and Bing Search Webmaster Tools. This is an important step to help make sure your website can be found by search engines.
Find out what people actually search for.
Use Google AdWords Keyword Tool to see how many people search for different keywords in the UK. It will suggest keywords you might not have thought of. One tip - make sure you check the box that says ‘exact’ and uncheck the box that says ‘broad’.
Use your keywords in the right places.
Once you’ve researched your keywords and chosen the ones you want to target, you need make sure you’re using them in the right places on your website. You should try and include your keyword(s) in the:
- title tag,
- meta description,
- H1 (the title),
- the text on the page itself,
- image filenames,
- alt tags on images.
You shouldn’t just cram in keywords all over the place though - the search engines are smart and can penalise you for trying to cheat. Also, the most important thing is to make sure your website is interesting and makes sense to real people - they won’t click on your link on the results page or stay on your website for long if you’ve got a lot of meaningless phrases instead of real copy.
The title tag and meta description are arguably the two most important things to get right because they act as an ‘advert’ for your website on the results page. In this example, I've searched for 'flowers delivered Leamington Spa' - the keywords are all there but the title tag and meta description are readable too, plus there's the offer of free delivery as an extra encouragement to click:
Make sure you’re included in local search.
If there’s a local element to your business then it’s a really good idea to add your business to the local listings of the major search engines. The most important one is Google Places. With Google Places you can really help your business to stand out - your address and phone number will feature on the results page, you can show up on Google Maps, you can add photos, videos or special offers and customers can leave reviews. And it’s all free!
Add interesting, relevant content.
More content means you can target more keywords and there will be more chances for people to find your website. It might be a good idea to create a few pages dedicated to targeting important keywords. Try to add content that your customers need or will find interesting - think about what questions you get asked and what’s important to your existing customers. So for example, our fictitious florist in Leamington Spa, knowing that potential customers are searching for ‘wedding flowers Leamington Spa’, could create a page all about wedding flowers, explaining what they can provide, with images and customer testimonials.
Get people to link to you.
The number and kind of links you have coming into your website will make a big difference to how well you rank for your chosen keywords. Think about who you can ask to add a link to your website from theirs - friends, family, trading associations, other businesses you work with. The anchor text (the words that they use to link to you) are important - try to make sure that whoever links to you uses your business name or one of your keywords as anchor text, rather than something like ‘click here’ which doesn’t relate to your business.
So that's my checklist of SEO basics, if you found it helpful I'd love for you to share it. If you've got any SEO tips or advice of your own, leave a comment.
As I said at the start of the post, this is really just an introduction - here are some more articles and tools that might be useful:
- SEO tips from Google - straight from the horse's mouth
- SEOMoz's excellect beginner's guide to SEO
- Advice on SEO for small business sites
- Google AdWords Keyword Tool
- Google Analytics
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Places
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- The draft Energy Bill: a five-minute summary
- 60% increase in business energy costs as average turnover falls by 6%
- Business week in brief: 11th May 2012
- Ed Miliband and the Queen talk energy
- Interview with Steve Fitzsimons of new business energy supplier, Hudson Energy
- Business week in brief: 4th May 2012
- The see saw of corporate profit
- Business week in brief: 27th April 2012
- EDF Energy’s Business Customer Commitments: four key pledges
- Businesses buck the trend when it comes to smaller energy suppliers