The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Social Impact reporting – the new annual return...?

By Adrian Ashton

All businesses will be familiar with the concept of the ‘annual return’: a once-a-year reflection on our performance in principally financial terms, usually filed by our accountants, and placed on the public register at Companies House for others to benchmark their performance against, or to asses our relative risk to be assessed against by potential investors.

And it’s been this way for as long as any of us can remember, but times are changing:

-       - Companies Act 2006 saw the biggest shake-up of Company law in living memory, with Directors now    having to be able to show how they’re considering the environmental, social, and community impacts of the business and their decisions.

        - The Environment Agency requires all companies to manage their waste streams sustainably.

-      - The Social Value (Public Services) Act 2012 means government procurement officers can ask us to evidence our local impact and ‘added community value’ in any public contracts we might be delivering.

       - The rise of the ‘ethical consumer’ and ‘generation Y’ amongst employees and graduates means we’re being increasingly held to ethical standards internally and externally.

In light of all the above, the traditional annual return is starting to look like it’s no longer ‘fit for purpose’...  but also in response to the above, there are a range of existing approaches and standards that can be adopted to allow companies to not only identify, but also report on their ‘social impact’. These range from internationally accredited standards such as AccountAbility1000[1] (with a methodology and principles that strongly parallel those of ISO), to politically endorsed approaches such as Social Return On Investment[2] (which reports social impact as a financial ratio), to ‘Local Impact Measurement’[3] that present the findings of the report as a marketing-friendly infographic , and models including Local Multiplier 3[4] that track the contribution of a businesses’ purchasing and employment practices to the strengthening of the local economy it's based within.

But with such a proliferation of tools and standards, it can be easy to become paralysed with indecision and also start to avoid engaging with any process on the grounds that it would be too costly. I’d refute these arguments on the grounds that as a freelance consultant, I’m able to produce an annual report on my environmental, economic, and social impacts that has drawn international interest[5] (to my knowledge, I’m also the only freelance consultant globally to do so!) – and because it’s been embedded into my management information systems it’s actually taken me longer to draft this article than to produce the last set of ‘social accounts’!

What many businesses have found as they embark on reporting their social impact is that it makes little difference to their customers, but reaps dividends internally with regard to strengthening employee relationships, and making better informed strategic and management decisions to sustain the long-term future and success of the company in the context of its values and culture.

I’d be happy to have an initial chat with any fellow Chamber member as to how your business might begin to explore this issue further without expectation or obligation – or if there’s enough interest, perhaps we could ask the events team to put on a briefing seminar which I’d be happy to deliver.

Adrian is a member of the Social Return on Investment Network, a certificated auditor for the Responsible Business Standard[6], and an ambassador for the LiM tool (amongst other things...)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Chamber Blog: Tameside Together

Matthew Kershaw, Member Policy and Campaigns Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, reports back from the Tameside Together event. 

The morning of Thursday 17th July saw a gathering of the Tameside clans at Brother International's conference centre, as several of the main networking organisations in the borough came together for a breakfast event.

Jointly hosted by the Chamber and Tameside Enterprise board, attendees of the Chamber’s Tameside Action for Business event, local BNI groups, the Tameside Collaboration group, and some of the area’s B4B groups enjoyed a morning of networking and workshops.

Phill Brown MBE of Benchmark Building Supplies, Chair of the Tameside Enterprise group, opened proceedings by welcoming Mayor Dawson Lane and 90 delegates drawn from a wide range of sizes and sectors. 

Presentations were given by Tom Cheesewright of Book of the Future and Helen Tse MBE of Sweet Mandarin.

Tom spoke about the effect that ever developing technology is having on the world and how businesses can use it to design the future of their sector, building on Greater Manchester and Tameside’s rich history of design and innovation.

Helen gave some of her eight Chinese Tips for success, urging businesses to look to be innovative and take responsibility for their futures.

Following a break for coffee, networking and Liz Bohler’s Tameside Quiz, the attendees chose from showcases on mobile technology, apprenticeships and exporting delivered by o2, Tameside College, Green Light Skills, Goody Good Stuff and the Chamber’s Export Team.

Across the day’s presentations and workshops there was a strong theme of the benefits for business of looking outwards, to the future, to new products and markets and to the world.  

With all those in attendance agreeing that the event was a great success, plans are already underway for next year’s event.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Member Blog: A First Look at Twitter Analytics

By Tom Linn - Project Manager, Thomas Cole Internet Solutions

You may or may not be aware that Twitter has opened up analytics for all users. If you have not seen them yet go to and sign in with your Twitter username and password.

Firstly you will notice a stream of your tweet activity from the last 28days. Here you have a list of all your tweets and conversations you have taken part in. You can see an overview of impressions, engagements and your engagement rate. Engagements are interactions with your post or profile and you can dig down deeper into these by clicking on a post to see the key metrics. Under key metrics you can see how many impressions a post has had, user profile clicks, replies, retweets, favourites, etc.

This information is very useful and gives you a good idea of what posts or comments you made got the most interaction. It also helps you to see which #hashtags work well for your industry.

From the top menu you can click a follower's link which takes you to information about your followers. You see straight away a graph showing the rise/fall of followers over time. What is even more interesting about this section is the information it gives on the different followers from their interests, locations and even gender. Knowing this information is a great way of getting to know your audience and helping you mould your tweets to specific interests.

Next along the top is Twitter Cards. Under this section you can see snapshots of how well your account is doing overall. If you have a website related to the Twitter account you can link these up and get stats on how many click-throughs you have had from Twitter to different pages on your website. You can measure which Twitter Cards are working for you. If you are not sure what a Twitter Card is, it is a way of showing information from your website when someone copies a link from your site and posts it to Twitter. More info can be found here on these.

Overall from my first look over I certainly see the benefit of Twitter Analytics in enabling you to improve your tweets for your audience and also allowing you to see what works in terms of your Twitter strategy. And like anything the stats will only get better and more useful as Twitter improves them.

If you would like any more information or a quick chat connect with me below:

Linkedin -
Twitter - @tomlinnuk
Blog –
Google Plus -
E-Mail –

Friday, 4 July 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Six ways to improve your international business marketing

As a Queens Award for International Trade holder and with an envied international client portfolio, René Power (pictured), business development director at BDB, offers some advice around international marketing.

There are a wide variety of things to consider when entering new markets – from the linguistic to the logistics, distance to distribution and sales to service. But marketing is often something left to last. Build these six steps into your planning for your next market entry plan.

1. Insight research

Building a comprehensive picture of the business environment you’re entering provides information to make intelligent decisions.

Use a variety of primary and secondary data sources to understand your new target customer pool, their motivations and buying behaviour, and your competition.

Consider drawing on media subscriber lists and email opportunities to survey a relevant group. Also, tap into services like the UKTI OMIS report scheme or Open to Export portal.

2. Unique positioning

Achieving standout in new and competitive markets is critical to creating sustainable business. Again research will help uncover major players and how they position, but it will also highlight un-met customer needs.

Think like an ‘advertiser’ to distill the benefits you offer into easy to understand positioning. Then make this your vocabulary.

Check this is transferable into other markets – making sure brand elements like colour, tone, font, message and images are all culturally acceptable. And test different incarnations of the same material to see which works best.

3. Creating an expert profile

What does it mean to be an expert? You know your industry. You understand the critical issues, challenges and opportunities. You are respected by your peers.

This comes from being active in your sector, providing not only news, but views too. Informing, education and training through a wide variety of channels and content.

Start by using your research of industry watering holes to establish what people like, need, want and value and re-configure how you talk about what you do.

4. Qualified lead nurture

You can bet there will be lots of interest as you enter your new market, but how do you try and focus on the bona fide customers?

Traditionally, targeted direct marketing works best to put the right offers in front of the right people. The advent of online affords the opportunity to put better conversion metrics in place to ascertain who is interested in what and who really is a customer.

Make sure you tap into every type of analytics available – media readership, email click through, website traffic and conversion.

5. Effective selling

Great salespeople need great sales tools. And great sales tools can continue to work even when your salespeople aren’t. This means every piece of collateral (print or digital) needs to be regionally relevant.

The new buzzword ‘transcreation’ is replacing translation – as content is re-developed for different markets rather than simply being translated.

It is important that all sales materials – brochures right through to apps – are  validated by the people using them, so they can refined and work better for and with customers.

6. Digital footprint

It is very easy to get lost in digital marketing. Get the basics right. Have a smart customer focused website that is well signposted, easy to navigate, with some useful content and clear contact information.

Draw on existing communities to help extend your reach – bodies like UKTI and the British Chamber have groups all over the world.

Invest in all the regional URLs you are likely to need to protect your web footprint ( for Spain, for France and so on).

Of course, consideration needs to be given to regionally hosted and local search engine optimised, multi lingual landing pages as well as regional social media. But that is a whole other blog post for another day.

For more visit today to learn more about how you can improve your visibility in specific parts of the world.

Need help? We love to talk digital strategy. Sound us out, email:

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Chamber Blog: Virgin is Back on Track

By Emma Antrobus,  Member Policy and Campaigns Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

It is great news to hear that Virgin has signed off a new directly awarded franchise agreement to run services on the West Coast Mainline until April 2017.

You may remember the fiasco that surrounded the re-letting of the franchise in September 2013 which resulted in a legal challenge to the process by Virgin and an embarrassing climb-down from the Government. During that time we received an unprecedented number of calls and emails from businesses saying that they didn’t want Virgin to lose the franchise as they offered great service.

As well as the huge cost to the taxpayer, the mostly unseen outcome from the franchise delay was that the company was poised to refurbish all the trains under the new franchise agreement and had to lay people off as the all plans were put on hold.

This new franchise agreement will see significant improvements for passengers with improvements to Wi-Fi on board and free Wi-Fi at all Virgin managed stations. There will also be investment in waiting rooms, seats and shelters, and the introduction of new automatic ticket gates across the franchise.

The big change will be that there will be a reconfiguration of first class seating, creating an extra 5,500 standard class seats EACH DAY. This has been one of elements that the anti-HS2 campaigners have been suggesting as the silver bullet to solve the capacity difficulties. Whilst it may impact on capacity in the short term it will not provide extra services to destinations with no current direct link to London, and will do nothing to increase freight on rail.

Other improvements are likely to come on stream, with possibilities of services to Blackpool and Shrewsbury, and there will be an increased premium paid by Virgin – so an improved position for all taxpayers regardless of whether they travel by train or not.

As a Chamber, we will continue to work with Virgin to help improve the experiences that businesses have using their services and would welcome any comments you may have.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Do You Keep in Touch With Your Contacts? If Not, You Should…

By David Wright of BSA Marketing

I appreciate that ‘keeping in touch’ is at the heart of our business but it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t!
Over the past few weeks I’ve been asking the direct question to people I meet:

“Do you keep in touch with your contacts?”
Obviously I’m not talking about the people you are actively working with, it is all the others:
  • Enquirers where they don’t do business at the time
  • Sales contacts & prospects you have met/talked to
  • Contacts from networking
  • Referrals from customers and other contacts

Have a think:
“What has happened to all the business cards you’ve been given
over the life of your business?”

Admittedly, some people do send stuff to their target contacts but this is normally limited to offers and promotions. They were always going for the short term sale rather than aiming to really engage with their contacts to build the relationships, understanding and trust that foster the strong, long-lasting business opportunities.
Here are a couple of diverse examples that I have been given by clients recently. Each shows how fully engaging with your contacts can have real, profitable impact:
Example 1 – The Industrial Equipment Supplier
We have been working with this client for several years.
BSA designed, set up and implemented an e-newsletter programme to keep our client in touch with their contacts, giving them news, advice, company developments, case studies, testimonials etc, all intended to demonstrate how our client is an expert in their field of industrial equipment.
While the e-newsletters were never intended to sell directly, they all clearly demonstrate that if someone was looking for the products and services offered by our client, then our client was a good potential supplier and worth talking to.
Although the e-newsletters consistently elicit response, a recent reply shows just what can happen:
Our client received an e-mail which was simply a ‘reply’ to an e-newsletter that had been sent over two years previously (who says e-mail is transient!). The e-mail was an enquiry with a value in excess of £100,000. By itself this represents a return on marketing investment of over 1500% – and then all the other business is free!
Example 2 – The Business Consultant
Not such a big company as the first example (but at least as important for the owner).
We have been working with this client for many years and send out e-newsletters, only three or four times each year but enough for him to keep in touch with his list of around 150 key contacts and say ‘hello‘.

By regularly ‘tapping his contacts on the shoulder’ they remember him and the work he does. The e-mails we send regularly produce business opportunities. Last month was no exception.
He emailed me saying there had been service developments he wanted to let his contact know about. Because we have a good, established relationship we were able to put together his marketing e-mail, he approved it and we sent it – all within a couple of days.
He started to see the response almost immediately with a series of replies which he expects to yield a number of opportunities – this time the ROI will be around 1200%
Stop Press, June 2014: Latest feedback shows current ROI
is at 4500% with additional potential for next year

In both of these examples our clients were making the most of who they know.

Do you make the most of the contacts you know? There is good business in it!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Member Blog: Making a difference can make your day

By Karen Sykes, Marketing Manager at Garcia & Sykes

We received a call two weeks ago from Tameside4Good who said they had nominated us for the "Community Engagement" Award in the Pride of Tameside Business Awards 2014.  It was to recognise what we had done to help them and the local community over the last year or so. This included donating two office desks to local charitable groups, providing fencing to the You Can Youth Community Project (see below) and also weld mesh to the Wooden Canal Boat Society in order to build a cage for safe storage of gas canisters. (See our post on this blog from 9th May).

More recently, Gareth Sykes, our MD, had also been involved in the Enterprise Challenge with Tameside4Good and Tameside College encouraging enterprise students to "build" a business and help with their projects and then judge the results which happened last week.

We were shortlisted against another local company and invited to attend the black tie gala dinner and awards ceremony which took place in the Jubilee Hall of Dukinfield Town Hall on Friday 6th June.

It is an event now in its fourth year, organised by Tameside Council together with sponsors to recognise local businesses and what they offer.  The night was a great success with fantastic entertainment and food before the awards themselves….

We are pleased to say we won the award and were extremely proud to pick this up and be amongst a number of other great local businesses. As a result of this, myself and Gareth (below) had an interview with Lizabeth Bohler for Tameside Radio which was broadcast the following morning.

So, it just goes to show that through giving back every now and then and helping the local community, good things can happen. Look beyond the day-to-day workings of your business and see how you can make a difference.


Friday, 30 May 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Intellectual Property – Can You Afford Not to Protect it?

By Ben Appleton, Senior Associate at Wilson Gunn

The majority of SMEs in the UK don’t take advantage of the intellectual property (“IP”) rights they create, with most being unaware that they’ve generated rights in the first place.

Intellectual Property’ covers a wide range of rights, including inventions, technical knowledge, trade marks, designs and database rights. Some of these IP rights can be protected by registering the rights, but many are protected automatically, without the owner having to do or pay anything.

If you don’t protect your IP rights, then you stand to lose out on revenue, licensing opportunities and to put it bluntly, weapons to use against your competitors. In addition, there are some very nice tax breaks which the government has kindly handed out in relation to patent rights and R&D which all companies undertaking R&D should look into.

Below is a quick guide to the main IP rights and tips on their use:

Patents – cover “inventions”, and are registered rights covering technical ideas, which can last for up to 20 years from filing. A UK company with a granted patent (in the UK or Europe) allows that company to claim tax relief under the UK Patent Box scheme, which can result in an effective tax rate of around 11% on profits generated globally from products covered by a patent. Not to be sniffed at!

Trade marks – cover your brand names, logos, strap-lines and many other “markers” of your company.  In this day and age of e-commerce, having your brands protected by registered trade marks enables you to quickly remove online counterfeit and copy-cat products as well as through traditional physical sales routes. Your registered trade marks can last forever if managed well.

Registered designs - cover the shape, surface patterns or artwork on your products and are cheap and easy to obtain. There have been a number of high-profile cases, such as the Samsung vs Apple tablet shape disputes, in which registered design protection has been a key battleground. Registered design protection can last up to 25 years.

Unregistered rights – include copyright, unregistered design rights and database rights, and they tend to be automatic, with nothing for you to do other than recognise that you have them, and of course use them to your advantage! The great benefit of unregistered rights is their flexibility – for example with unregistered design rights you can pick only a part of your product’s shape and claim design rights in that specific part, which stops competitors from taking the core of your designs and changing some aspects but not others.

There are many other rights that you can use to protect your ideas and products, and Wilson Gunn is always happy to offer a free initial consultation to discuss your business and advise you on your potential IP rights. 

For more information call on 0161 827 9400, email or visit

Wilson Gunn is a firm of Patent & Trade Mark attorneys, established in 1864 and based in Manchester.