Monday, November 25, 2013

This year's mincemeat - getting ready for Christmas

Just a quick post to remind any ambitious parties who are planning to embark upon making their own Christmas puddings, mincemeat or Christmas cake, stir-up-Sunday was just this weekend and it is perfect timing to get stuck-in and make your house smell like Christmas.

I wonder how much mincemeat I’ll be making this time next year? I’m so excited about getting started with the business I can barely concentrate on all the (still many, many) tasks at hand in order to start... This year I made a modest amount just for gifts, samples, and I’m reserving a special 400g of it to take back to my family in the UK in a couple of weeks time, to bake mince pies “for Father Christmas” with my niece and nephews.

I made this particular mincemeat with butter instead of the traditional suet, as suet suitable for baking is hard to come by in Japan and I wanted to see if I minded the non-traditional version. I’m pleased to report that I don’t mind at all! It is really lovely. Of course it also means that my vegetarian friends can enjoy the mincepies too.

Here is the recipe I used, adapted from Delia Smith and Mary Berry's recipes.

  • 225g Bramley apples cored and chopped
  • 175g raisins
  • 110g sultanas
  • 110g currants
  • 25 chopped almonds
  • 110g butter
  • zest and juice 1 lemon
  • zest and juice 1 orange
  • 175g brown sugar
  • 60g dried apricots, chopped
  • 50g candied lemon peel
  • 60g candied orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of brandy (or preferred amount to taste)

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pan and heat gently to melt the butter and sugar. Continue to heat through very gently for 10 minutes, stiring occasionally and leave to cool.
  2. Once cool, add your preferred amount of brandy and decant into sterilised jars. 
  3. Store the mincemeat in a cool dark place while the flavours develop further until you need it at Christmas.
Note that if you are using glass jars with metal lids, it's best to put a piece of plastic wrap between the lid and the jar to avoid any reaction between the lid and the acidic contents of the jar. 

The best thing about making your own mincemeat is that you can adapt the mix of dried fruit to your own tastes – just keep the total weight of dried fruit roughly the same as your recipe. Many recent recipes add cranberries, I like to add dried apricots, as I think they go fantastically with the almonds and brandy.

If you've also made your own British mixed spice and customised your blend of spices to your preference, then you’ll have a totally unique mincemeat of your own!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Choosing consistent colours for branding your business

Near my current office in Tokyo is a branch of a the paint shop Benjamin Moore. I popped in the other day to take advantage of their wall of colour swatches (free to take!) and to start homing-in on colours for my business.

Despite appearances, I'm not planning pink!

For consistency in your brand identity – making sure your online content, business cards and in-shop decor match as far as possible - you will want to define your brand colours across a few of the standard colour systems.

It's quite fun and not too difficult to do to a basic level (if you want to take it quite seriously however, look here and here). It can reinforce your brand's message and helps you build a recognisable and trusted identity with your clients (good summary in that link), while also avoiding giving an unprofessional, slapdash impression by not having thought about it.

Where to start depends on where you will be using your branding the most, because the different colour systems create colour differently - for example by using light, or using ink - and not all colours are available across all systems. You probably don’t want to start in a paint shop, fun though that is. :)

If you’re mainly online, then start by looking at RGB and hexadecimal colour picking tools - use design software such as PhotoShop or one of the tools listed below. If printed material will be more important to your brand, then it’s probably best to start with CMYK, since most of your printing will probably be done using digital printers.

Many major brands choose specific Pantone colours for their branding. Pantone corporation developed this system of uniform colour definition and produce sample books of colours that are used by manufacturers, designers and brands to ensure their materials are precisely the same colour wherever they are produced. These colours are labeled with a PMS (Pantone Color Matching System) number, and approximations (or exact matches for some of the colours) in CMYK are given in some of their swatch books.

It can be handy to know your equivalent or closest approximate PMS number, in case you need to manufacture goods in your corporate colours, or to do large single-colour offset printing but in general, it appears that decisions on CMYK and RGB/Hexadecimal will be enough for a small business.

For a degree of consistency across various media, once you have your main brand colour defined in the most suitable colour system for your business, you can look up the closest matches in the other systems using conversion tools like those listed below.

Note that there are many more colours available online (RGB/hexadecimal) than can be created in ink, and so if you are starting with a web colour, it could be hard to get a perfect match. If possible, test print the CMYK version of your chosen brand colour before doing your first large print project.

Building outwards from your main official colour, you can also use colour theory to look up contrasting and complimentary colours and create a brand palate (try this color calculator tool).

Keep note of all your colour values and create an official colour guideline for your brand - in RGB, hexadecimal, CMYK, Pantone if you like, and perhaps even a paint range! You can then refer to this guide when you design new online materials, need to ask a designer to create something, order panels for your trade show booth, or a sign for your shop-front...

Have a look at some brands' style guides to see how they do it. Note that large brands often go into tremendous detail (pdf) and include (pdf) direction regarding fonts, required space around logos etc. You probably won't need to be quite as extensive or strict as these examples, but preparing at least a basic style guide for colour sets you off in the right direction as your business grows.

Some useful tools to play around with: - Cool little colour wheel you select or input your hexadecimal and get to see various workable colour combinations to go with it. – Great tool converts CMYK or RBG (and other) colour systems to equivalents in well known paint ranges. Also helps look up complimentary colours and tells you the closest 'web safe' version of your chosen colour. – An online Pantone colour chart (oxymoron?), click to see colour fill the browser window, also shows CMYK and hexadecimal values. This isn't an official Pantone site. - Official Pantone apps, including one that looks up Pantone colours from CMYK/RGB. (Video of app) – No Pantone or CMYK values here but a fun colour gallery with images of rooms using your selected colour along with complimentary options if you want inspiration.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Incorporated! Becoming a kabushiki kaisha

It’s official, the business is incorporated! It took about 3 weeks in all, with the help of a fantastic lawyer to prepare and submit the documents.

The official seal (round), and the every-day seal (square)

It costs about 400,000 JPY including lawyer’s fees to incorporate as a kabushiki kaisha (stock corporation - the most common company type) in Japan - standard notarization fees are 52,020 JPY, registration duties are 150,000 JPY and there are some other sundries such as company seal creation in addition to the lawyer’s service fee. Though it is possible to prepare and submit the documents yourself, I felt it was more than worth it to have a lawyer's help for the process to happen quickly and efficiently, without the mistakes I undoubtedly would have made, and to be able to ask questions along the way.

Even with a lawyer’s help, there are certain things you will need to decide and prepare for the articles of incorporation to become a 株式会社 / kabushiki kaisha / joint stock corporation:
  • 会社名 / kaisha mei: company name 
  • 住所 / jyusho: company address 
  • 資本金額 / shihon kingaku: starting capital 
  • 代表取締役 / daihyou torishimariyaku: Representative Director 
  • 取締役 / torishimariyaku: Director 
  • 出資者 / shusshisha: investors 
  • 目的 / mokuteki: business activities 
  • 取締役の任期 / torishimariyaku no ninki: serving term of Directors 
  • 営業年度 / eigyo nendo: financial year
  • 定款 / teikan: articles of incorporation
  • 代表者印 / daihyoushain: company's representative seal, registered with the legal affairs bureau. Your most important company seal as it legally represents your company (also called 会社実印 / kaishajitsuin, or 社長印 / shachoin)
  • 会社印 / kaishain: corporate seal for every day use, stamping invoices etc.

Note that after incorporation there are a number of notifications that need to be submitted within specific time frames to the tax office by your accountant, and so you’ll probably want to be sourcing an accountant while you are undergoing the process of incorporation. TBEP have many good and often bilingual accountants to refer you to if you are not sure where to start.

For the company name, you could start by checking here (in Japanese) to see that no-one has already registered a business under the name you are considering. I have found that not all companies are listed in this database, but it's not a bad place to start.

For a more complete database and also bit of help deciding what you'll list up for your business activities, if your Japanese is quite good, consider registering with and have a look at the articles of incorporation for other companies. You'll need to know their company name and what region they are registered in, in order to look them up. You can also drop in your local legal affairs bureau and look up company records at their office, if you don't want to go to the trouble of registering with this site and wading through the kanji.

This site can be helpful to see what kinds of activities other companies have listed, and also includes the documents for companies that have since closed. You need to register a credit card to use the service, and wait for your user name to arrive through the post (snail mail!).

There is a small charge each time you request a pdf of a company’s incorporation document, and the system only keeps them in your account for a short time. When listing your planned business activities, the general advice is to be quite broad and extensive, as changes to your articles of incorporation later on will incur additional charges. Strictly speaking, you're not supposed to carry out any activities not covered by your incorporation document.

If you do not yet have an office address and don't want to/can't use your home address to register, some virtual offices allow you to use their address for setting up new companies, and for registering with bank accounts as well as serving as a mail box/mail forwarding service until you are set up at your new premises.

Regarding the financial year, you can choose to have it whenever you like. You don’t have to keep with end of March like most Japanese companies, and perhaps it will be better to have your year end at a time your accountant will be less busy with other year end accounts. Another important consideration is that setting your year end to almost a full 12 months after your date of incorporation means that you have a couple of financial benefits – you have the longest period of time before your first corporate tax bill and you get to benefit from not paying consumption tax for a full 24 months (if your accountant has submitted the appropriate tax notifications for you, as these have effect for the first 2 financial years of your business).

Once you've decided the details of your articles of incorporation (in English or Japanese, depending on whether translation is included in the service you use) your lawyer will prepare the necessary documents for you and any other shareholders to stamp with your officially registered personal seals. You’ll need certifications from the ward office to prove your personal seal is registered with them as officially belonging to you (they take a copy of your stamp's impression and keep it on record).

With these documents submitted, you will now need to show proof of the starting capital for your company. A kabushiki kaisha can now be created with any amount of capital, but most small companies have between 3-million and 9.9-million yen. Note that you will need 5-million or more if you are going for a business manager/investor’s visa. Higher than 10-million yen takes you into a different tax bracket.

Since you won’t have a corporate bank account yet, you prove your capital using the passbook of your bank account. I used my Shinsen account which is online only, and so we proved the account was mine by using an official statement I requested printed on Shinsen headed paper for a previous month, and then a screenshot of recent transactions showing the amount of capital.

Somewhat strangely, this involved me having to withdraw the exact amount from my account and re-deposit it into the same account, so that the exact amount of capital was visible on one line on the screen shot.. Oh, and I had to do this physically, with the cash, at an ATM..!

If you are planning to withdraw and redeposit like this, do call the bank in advance, as certain branches don’t have millions of yen in cash available every day and may need to order it in for you, and they may also want you to book an appointment to do it. Similarly, if you’re planning to just transfer the amount in bulk to another account you own, make sure your daily transfer limit is set high enough in advance so everything will go smoothly. Finally, if there is more than one investor, you’ll need to transfer everyone’s contribution to one bank account.

Once you've submitted this proof of capital you can then start using it if you need to, to pay your lawyer etc. My lawyer’s incorporation package very handily included her sorting out the company seals for me too, and so once all the documents were submitted I just needed to wait for the update that everything was approved, and it was. Hurrah I say! Now we can start having serious fun :)