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

Friday, 21 October 2016

Disruptive Marketing: The New Way to Shake up any Market

By Sammy Blindell of How to Build a Brand

If you’ve been involved in marketing for more than two minutes, you’ve learnt one thing: Consumers are not only driving the way we shape our brand, they are driving the shape of markets.
Today’s consumer has more power than any consumer in history, and we are having to find ways to really know what they want in order to meet those needs and be noticed. One marketing innovation that has evolved from this condition is Disruptive Marketing. This practice involves two main principles:

  • Predicting the needs of emerging markets and creating a brand to fill a need
  • Reworking an existing brand to meet an emerging need in the market
  • No matter the motive, disruptive marketing will surely do one thing: It will challenge the status quo of current marketing messages, in order to disrupt the market and gain attention for the brand it’s representing. 

If you’ve been involved in marketing for more than two minutes, you’ve learnt one thing: Consumers are not only driving the way we shape our brand, they are driving the shape of markets.
Today’s consumer has more power than any consumer in history, and we are having to find ways to really know what they want in order to meet those needs and be noticed. One marketing innovation that has evolved from this condition is Disruptive Marketing. 

This practice involves two main principles:

The result? Massive visibility for that brand.

This is the reverse of what most of you have grown accustomed to. In the past, a brand was built and then creative ways were designed for getting its message to the right people. Now, essentially, we are being asked to find the audience, generate the message…and then produce the brand.
Is this the best way to create your Passion Project (that thing that comes straight from your heart)? Probably not. However, if you’re careful about how you handle this approach, you could end up experiencing the best of all worlds.
If Disruptive Marketing sounds like something you’re prepared to shoulder, then you’ll need some guidance. 

Here are a few directive principles, to take you into the fray of this reactive, attention-getting type of marketing:

·         Adopt an evolutionary mindset. As you dig deeply into the needs and emotions of consumers, you will likely discover that what you’ve been saying, doing, creating or providing is off the mark. You may have to go back to the drawing board, to adjust your message or entirely revamp your brand. This will be painful. After all, your brand is your passion, right? However, after you recover from the initial shock, you will come to see that making necessary changes will bring positive results.

·         Get your head out of your brand.  You think your brand is great, and you’ve been fashioning your marketing messages around those attributes. But what if that’s not how consumers view your brand? Well, guess what? What you say doesn’t matter. What they think is the only thing that matters. If you’re going to move forward with making your brand great, and disrupting the market to your advantage, you’re going to have to view every move you make (and everything you create) from your ideal customer’s viewpoint. If they don’t like it, need it, respect it…it will not exist in any market—disrupted or otherwise.

·         Put emotion and psychology ahead of technology and common sense.  Read it again if you need to, because this one may take a minute to digest. Consumers are not making buying decisions based on reason. They’re also not subscribing to emotionless propositions. They want to feel. They want to connect. They want to be necessary. Make this happen, by advancing the market in a way that creates something that will be ready when they arrive, and you will win.
Are you feeling a bit rebellious? Are you ready to take a risk? Well, this is a risk that has massive potential for a lucrative pay-out…if you fully commit to being disruptive, for the sake of your ideal customers.

Intrigued? Then you are the kind of entrepreneur or business owner with the drive to build a fast-growth, revolutionary brand. Click here to learn more about the B.R.A.N.D. Building Bootcamp, a one-day fully immersive branding and marketing experience in which you will learn the three strategies I used to take my business from £0 to £18,000 per month in just 12 weeks. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Member Blog: Missed opportunity – A cautionary tale

By David Wright, BSA Marketing
It is a common feature of some SME businesses that they focus almost exclusively on the short term when planning marketing – often confusing marketing and brand communication with lead generation and sales development.
When it comes down to it, if you are only going to focus on either marketing/communication or lead generation/sales then it really should be the latter. A business can survive without dedicated, focused marketing but sales and profitable revenue generation is a must!
Marketing is a catalyst.
A business with an effective marketing process will better understand its customers and markets who will, in turn, have a better understanding of the company, it’s proposition and the value benefit it can deliver.
In short effective marketing makes lead generation and sales easier.
However, if you fall into the trap of thinking you are marketing when actually you are selling can be dangerous and lead to missed opportunity – potentially with terminal results.

A Case Study

Some time ago, a friend of mine set up an e-commerce retail business. The business was initially an expansion of a hobby where he stored goods in his garage and visited craft fairs as a sales outlet.
The business was low turnover but with virtually no overheads. It was profitable. He then took the business online and the growth (albeit modest) continued.
As those of you who run retail businesses will be only too aware, it can be relatively easy to grow turnover but with inventory costs taking up the majority of the revenue, delivering sustainable profit can be more challenging. It is easy to let overhead creep up and eat into margin.
This is what happened in this case. As the business turnover grew online, the garage wasn’t big enough so they moved into a small warehouse unit – with rent and rates! This step-change in overhead needed a quick boost in turnover and Google Adwords was an obvious choice – and it worked!
Pay-per-click had an almost immediate impact generating turnover to meet the increased overhead. Revenues soared through £100,000 and on towards £300,000 – all was looking positive. Adwords became the key to growth.

Misdirected Focus

Rapid growth brought its own issues with more and more stock to manage and customer orders to fulfil. The process of maximising orders through Pay-per-click meant the management got sucked into dealing with the short term.
The problems that were looming over the horizon were just not on the radar.

Reality Sets In

Retail e-commerce is a cash positive business model. Customers pay up front while suppliers are paid on credit terms of 30 days – or more.
While turnover is growing, this puts short term cash in the bank which can hide a critical factor. There is no profit!
As the initial burst of growth started to level off, reality set in. Turnover was still strong but cashflow suffered. The business started to run out of cash. What was going on?
Products were being sold at good margin and staff and premises costs were under control. The issue was Adwords.
Company focus was on driving turnover through Adwords which meant that the majority of orders received by the company incurred additional cost of the Adwords fees. The margin was going to Google!
However, there was a critical factor that was being ignored.

Missed Opportunity

Clearly a business that isn’t making a profit isn’t sustainable but as the turnover rose, a potentially valuable asset was being created.
Driving sales through Adwords meant that most orders were from new customers. By the time the reality was setting in, there was a database of around 18000 live, paying customers – and nothing was being done with it!
Open any marketing primer and you will read that it is easier to get sales from an existing customer who knows you than someone who doesn’t. In our case here, this huge opportunity was being almost completely ignored.
If there had been a consistent process of communication and relationship building (i.e. Marketing) with these existing customers using lower cost media such as e-mail and social media, profitable repeat business could have been developed where the margin stayed with the company.
The problem was that marketing is a medium to long term process and by the time they realised, it was too late.
A potentially strong and effective business closed down.
I believe a lack of longer term marketing planning was a significant factor in this demise.

The Moral of the Story

Any business that only plans and operates in the short term will only ever have short term certainty.
While short term security is clearly critical, it is only by taking time to also plan and act for the medium and longer term that a business can grow stronger and through this growing strength, make success ever more sustainable.
This might be easy to say but the fact is that longer term marketing planning is easy to forget or ignore.
BSA’s focus is working with our clients to make sure that marketing doesn’t get forgotten and that plans are agreed, and, most important, implemented.
We strive to make sure your marketing works for you.
Is your marketing working? If not, give us a call.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Chamber Blog: Crossrail North

By Chris Fletcher - Marketing & Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce 

Crossrail North.

Don't bother trying to find any reference to this. There’s not even a hashtag - yet.

It doesn't actually exist.

But it should.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been asked for comments on the current state and plans for HS2; we’ve had the launch of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne and finally seen the PM  acknowledge that the Powerhouse is still alive and has a future beyond the Olympic homecoming.

The Northern Powerhouse has been linked to many things since it was first mentioned in public in June 2014 by Mr Osborne. Many of these could be classed as people jumping on the bandwagon. At its heart it was, is and will be about better connectivity - connecting both physically and digitally the major economic areas across the north of England. Whilst the focus falls on Manchester and Leeds it isn't just about those two cities or indeed cities in general. I don’t live in a city. I live in what could be described as quite a rural area but my “productivity” lies squarely within Greater Manchester and specifically in the city centre.  And I have to get there somehow.  Yes there’s always Skype and remote working - I do all that but I still have to get into the city. Plus let’s be honest I’m not sure the digital infrastructure is properly up to it.

So, we need infrastructure - lots of it, proper broadband and roads, ports and air investment as well.   However for now let’s just focus on rail. We hear a lot about HS2 - and just to re-affirm it’s about capacity not speed and we also hear increasingly about the east-west rail link, or HS3 as it was for a time; now it’s called Northern Powerhouse Rail. But do people understand this, know what it’s for and do they know why it's needed? Not just here in the north but across the country?

Here’s a thought  - how about we call it Crossrail North?

That’s what we are looking at both in size, scale and purpose - it is a crossrail project for the north. The same needs that brought about that project exist here and now where we live and work.

Let’s start being clear about what we want, put it in terms people understand and so we can spend less time explaining what it is and why we need it and focus on getting it planned, built and delivered.

If London needed it - and Crossrail 2 is being planned with Crossrail not finished yet -  then I’m absolutely sure we need it too.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Member Blog: The influence of social media on the events industry

By Barry McTierney, Events & Projects Director at Right Events
event social media

It’s been suggested that there are a number of key factors currently affecting the events industry, and none more so than social media and online strategy.

Far from the focus being solely of the day(s) of the event, conferences, exhibitions and larger scale, external events now benefit from extensive pre and post event activity and communication. Treat an event as a campaign, not a single standalone event that begins when the delegates arrive and finishes when they leave. Pre and post event activity can be just as important as the event itself and could make or break your event, even extending its life well past the doors being closed.
Traditionally, an invitation of some sort, followed by a welcome pack after sign-up was common place, and shockingly afterwards, little to no follow up. Now delegates can expect a number of different invites or incentives, from traditional mail or personalised direct mail to a general online campaign or as a series of emails and e-shots. This online activity continues throughout the run-up to the event, during the event itself and afterwards.
Interaction before, during and after an event will almost certainly now include a social media presence. The influence of social media on the events industry cannot be overstated. The chance to interact and influence delegates before they have even arrived at an event is momentous. The use of a hashtag (#) campaign for every event is highly recommended as it brings a sense of community to an event, both unique and timely. To bring together delegates prior to an event brings with it a rare opportunity to set the scene or tone of the event itself, allowing early discussion amongst attendees as well as further, second-hand promotion via the event following or community. As organisers we also have the chance to answer any questions from (would be) delegates and start to excite and prepare the audience for what is to come.
Live tweeting during an event encourages delegates to RT or reply and interact with you, taking the event outside the confines of the venue. This maximises exposure and will create interest in the event and generate possible new delegates for any related or subsequent events. Live streaming an event online allows those unable to attend to still be involved in the event and benefit from its content. Part of this could be streamed free of charge and other content for a fee, thus generating more revenue and raising the events every important ROI.
Post event interaction is possibly the most important of all. Gaining feedback is invaluable. To gauge opinion, keep the key messages from your event alive and address any criticism that may occur is imperative to a lasting positive impression of your event. If some part of the event experience has received some negativity, knowing this will help you to do things a little differently next time. Post event interaction will allow you to capitalise on the immediate post event ‘buzz’ to capture re-bookings for the next event, usually with a discount and/or incentive. By extending the life of an event in this way you are ensuring it, and your brand, receives maximum exposure. In this vein it goes without saying that interaction is not measured on the physical number of delegates at your event, but on how much interaction the event generates. Whether it be social media and use of the aforementioned hashtag, online reviews, re-bookings, email sign-ups etc, the interaction is just as valuable, if not more so, than the content of the event itself.
Managing this interaction, as well as planning the event; its structure, content, guest list and the like can be a complicated task for the novice event planner. By instructing a professional and experienced event management team such as Right Events, you will ensure all elements of your event are taken care of. From venue and supplier sourcing, speakers, catering and audio/visual equipment to delegate management and a seamless online campaign before, during and after your event, come to Right Events.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Member Blog: The Problem with Analytics

By David Wright, BSA Marketing.

I recently read a post about Google Analytics that made me consider what it means to call yourself a marketer, and what good marketing looks like?
You can read the full article here:

I spend a lot of my time advising clients what good marketing looks like and that, to be effective, marketing should be planned and joined up.
Clients also regularly ask for advice regarding a ‘marketing’ service that someone is offering to them.
Often, the sales pitch for these services revolves around analytics, getting high search rankings and driving specific metrics.
The real issue is not analytics per-se, it is how people are encouraged to use it.
No-one is an expert in everything
Tools like search and SEO are too often sold as stand alone marketing solutions the success of which is measured using Analytics. They are presented as magic wands which can solve any marketing problem.
If success was all about driving metrics in Analytics, that would be fine, but in reality success with analytics will not necessarily lead to business success.
The article also talks about the importance of people having proper marketing qualifications. Whilst qualifications are valuable in demonstrating commitment and professionalism, the real issue is that service providers need to accept that they are not experts in everything and that the service they offer is not a magic wand.
In reality the best results come when experts in individual disciplines focus on what they do best and come together with other experts to create great marketing programmes.
In my experience, the worst offenders in the “we can do everything” department are not SEO or social media experts, but web designers. Sure, there are some great designers out there who can create a fantastic website layout and code developers who can turn designs into efficient, effective websites, but look at their own websites and these people will so often position themselves as Marketers, offering a full range of services from web development to SEO, Social Media and Email marketing.
In reality, their primary interest lies in creating the website rather than using it as a marketing tool once it is complete. Whilst they may be experts in design and web coding, they are not marketing experts. Once the web project is complete they want to be on to the next project.
Conversely, BSA Marketing are at their core, experts in niche Business to Business Marketing. We understand the values, strengths and weaknesses of the variety of marketing tools on offer and there relevance to a particular business and objective.
Our mission is to make your marketing work for you.
To achieve this we use our in-house marketing expertise and then call on specialists in specific disciplines to create marketing programmes that really work.
Back to Analytics
Coming back to Google Analytics; has it has ruined marketing?
In itself, I think not. Google Analytics has brought visibility to the cause and effect of marketing. In the time before Google Analytics, identifying whether or not your marketing was going in the right direction usually involved expensive market research to assess the short term impact of your efforts. This process was beyond the budget of most SME businesses. Google Analytics has changed the playing field and allows any business to see if marketing activities are having the desired short term impact.
However, the ease with which this can now be done has encouraged people to focus on measuring the short term effect (eg is my social media campaign driving people to my website), and forget about the real long term objectives:
Engaging with my target market to communicate my offering through the use of website and social media, building awareness, growing confidence and delivering increased sales.
The issue is not “Has Google Analytics ruined marketing”  but  “Has Google Analytics made marketers blinkered to what they are really trying to achieve, and susceptible to the magic wand salesman”.

Whilst the answer to the first question may be NO, there is far too much truth in the second!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Member Blog: Brexit - Universities facing uncertain times

By Paula Cole, Partner Employment at Squire Patton Boggs

Of all the tweets I saw the morning of June 24th, the one which lingers in my memory was a picture of an empty lecture theatre bearing the caption “meanwhile at the 9am EU law lecture”.
In reality the issues for universities arising from the Brexit vote are much wider than whether they continue to teach EU law as part of their law degree syllabuses.  The issues affect almost every aspect of university life from student numbers (and funding) to staff mobility to EU research funding and collaboration opportunities.

Whatever happens in the long term post Brexit– the biggest issue currently facing universities is the uncertainty and the impact that has the ability of both students and universities to plan for the future.

EU student recruitment
Students are understandably concerned about applying for and starting courses now, which they may not be able to finish or which might cost them significantly more (with no or reduced financial support) before they can graduate. The Higher Educations Statistics Agency (HESA)  reported in 2014/15  that studying in UK universities were 78,435 undergraduate students and 46,230 post-graduate students from the EU (excluding the UK).  This equates to 5.5% of the total student population (8.9% in Scotland where EU students are eligible for free undergraduate education in the same way as Scottish students).  If EU students planning their futures look for more secure and less risky alternatives elsewhere in the EU and consequently do not take up their places for the next academic session – this could leave UK universities with an immediate shortfall (although many of those places will probably be taken up through clearing by UK students, assuming of course they have the academic grades).

Staff mobility
The bigger issue is probably the longer term recruitment of both students and staff.  Approximately 14% of academic staff in UK universities are nationals of other EU member states.  Free movement of workers was probably the key “political” reason for the Brexit vote and will be a fundamental issue in negotiations to secure our Brexit. If ultimately the politicians agree a deal which does not include free movement of workers the reality is that leaving the EU will reduce the numbers of academic staff from elsewhere in the EU coming to the UK due to the challenges (real or imagined) of securing a visa.  True, as with the students, those roles could be backfilled by UK nationals but the question will remain as to whether UK universities are able to attract and retain the brightest and best especially against a background of talented researchers ‘following the money’ to the EU and elsewhere.

Financial impact
Alongside the potential threat to university finances from reduction in student numbers is the far bigger threat from the removal of EU funding, with the BBC recently (on 5 July) reporting that European academic bodies are already pulling back from research collaboration with UK academics due to the uncertainty about what the future may hold.  The decline in EU student numbers  may in any event be overshadowed by the reintroduction of controls on student numbers which may occur if, (as is widely feared) the country goes into recession.  The optomists amongst us might suggest that the Government will redirect some of the money it is no longer paying to the EU into the Higher Education sector but in times of recession, there will be many other claims on that funding (not least the NHS who may not, we now discover, be getting the whole of the EU contributions  but is likely to get at least some of that money).

So the UK Higher Education sector is (like the rest of the UK economy) facing very uncertain times.  The key difference for the sector is that it can’t continue to say, as many businesses are doing, “it is business as usual” unless or until the button is pushed on Article 50. Universities are long term organisations and  no longer  have that  luxury, now that European Academic bodies have effectively pre-empted the Article 50 process and started their own separation process.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Member Blog: Is the North / South divide making a comeback post Brexit?

By Paul Burke, Managing Director of Davenham Asset Finance

A report by Manchester City Council’s Chief Executive, Sir Howard Bernstein, has been leaked recently, revealing that Greater Manchester is set to miss out on £320m after the decision for the UK to leave the EU. 

Pre-Brexit, Greater Manchester was expecting to receive £176m of the European Regional Development Fund and £145m of the European Social Fund up to 2020, an amount that had to be matched by a minimum of 50% non-EU funds, creating a total programme of almost £650m.
Initially, it had been stated that there had been “significant delays” on the funding agreement meaning only £36m of funding had been contracted for Greater Manchester, but after the referendum, the government promised that existing EU funding contracts would be honoured although no new ones would be signed.

The Interim mayor for Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd has urged the government to "replace funding" lost through Brexit, and to “live up to the promises made during the referendum campaign” and rightly so we say. A spokesperson for HM Treasury has reassured that the government has ensured that EU funding is directed towards the UK's economic priorities, like the Northern Powerhouse.

However, further reports seem to show that this is far from the case, with North West listed companies losing around £1.4bn due to Brexit uncertainty, according to a recent article by Bdaily North West. It’s bad news for large corporates as the largest North West firms are believed to be the worst hit, as the 15 FTSE 250 companies in the region collectively losing £1.2bn.
Fortunately, despite ongoing market uncertainty, a number of North West-based companies have demonstrated strong trading, proving that the Northern Powerhouse is still fully intact.

Being based in Manchester and proudly part of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the team at Davenham are on hand to provide effective asset finance and refinance solutions and work in partnership to advise on any funding requirements / issues which may have occurred as a result of the decision; see our blog on Brexit. To speak to a member of our friendly and experienced team, call 0161 832 8484.

For the source of this blog, and to learn more, visit:

Friday, 5 August 2016

Member Blog: What you actually need to do if you're hacked

By Farooq Shah, Territory Account Manager at F-Secure UK & Ireland

Employees, even well-informed security conscious individuals, are often unprepared to deal with security issues. It can even be difficult to know whether they’re compromised, or just experiencing some kind of IT problem. And according to Janne Kauhanen, an expert with F-Secure’s Cyber Security Services, it’s pretty common for people to panic and stress out when they think they’ve been hacked. They can even make problems worse by not dealing with the situation correctly.

So before people freak out and throw their computer out the window or something, they should consider following this plan. Calmly taking these steps to begin limiting the damage and figure out what’s happened will save companies time, money, and headaches.

1. DON’T turn off the computer or device: 
One common mistake many people do, after panicking, is to turn off the device. After all, a compromised device can’t do any real damage without power. But this is something that actually helps attackers.Turning off the power will wipe out any information stored in the devices random access memory (RAM), which can be useful to investigators. “Turning off the computer is like destroying evidence – evidence that can help uncover who the attackers are and what they’ve done,” says Janne. You should also plug-in devices to make sure the battery doesn’t die before investigators have a chance to look at it.

2. TURN OFF your device’s network connections: 
“Physically, if possible,” stresses Janne. While turning off the computer is something that will benefit your adversaries, leaving it connected isn’t really an option. “Your device might be pwned, but at this point, you shouldn’t assume that the attacker has had the opportunity to move laterally through your network. So shutting down network connections will prevent the attacker from using your device to infiltrate deeper into the network.” Here’s a few connections many people use at work:
Mobile Data Network (remove the SIM card)

3. Stop touching the computer: 
If you’ve followed the first three steps, you’ve accomplished quite a bit. You’ve successfully cut off the attackers from using your device to move through your company’s network. And you’ve done this without destroying evidence that others (such as your company’s CISO or a professional forensic investigator) can use to trace the attack and find out how and when the breach occurred, what the attacker has done, and with any luck, who they are. 

4. Write down what’s happened: 
Try to include as much detail as you can recall. Write down what tipped you off that there was a problem, what you were doing when you noticed there was an issue, what you’ve done since discovering the problem, any mysterious emails or other interactions you might have had recently, whether you’ve used any removable storage devices or other peripherals with your computer etc. “Dates and times of events are particularly important,” says Janne. “Devices contain lots of potential evidence, but keeping track of what happened when will help narrow the scope so everyone can work faster.”

5. Call for help: 
“Now’s the part where you need to get some help,” says Janne. Who to contact will be a bit different for every company. But no matter what, you need to bring this to the attention of more people, whether that be a CISO or an external security consultant.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Member Blog: If at first you don’t succeed, learn…..but focus on the process

By David Wright, BSA Marketing.
I was talking with one of our service partners the other day. They offer specialist creative/technical services – and they are good!
The business has become established and grown steadily (though unspectacularly) over the past few years. In the middle of last year, the owner decided he wanted to ‘go for it’.
He took on additional staff both in sales and technical/creative, he moved offices to central Manchester – and he went for it….
9 months later, things haven’t gone quite according to plan. The business did not take off like a rocket yet the overhead taken on to deliver the growth was still there month after month – something had to give. The decision was taken to restructure the business back to more like it was before. It was accepted that the plan hadn’t worked.
But that is business life. Things don’t always work – statistically they most commonly don’t work!
The important thing is that the business is still viable. Business is a process and it is important to try new things because this is how we learn. If a new plan succeeds, great. The business moves to the next level, ready for the next push.
If a new plan doesn’t succeed, it shouldn’t matter, it is just part of the ups and downs of business.
Remember Google Answers, Google Reader, iGoogle? All gone.
In the past 10 years, Google has closed or reintegrated over 100 different services

In business, we are always learning. It’s important to get something out of everything you do – even if it isn’t what you were hoping.
Don’t ignore the signs
In September 1989, BSA Marketing was going through a tough patch. Income wasn’t covering overheads and something needed to be done. That ‘something’  included redundancies but it was my job to make them and I tried to ignore it. I hung on for 3 months until I had to face up to things. I still had to make the redundancies and my procrastination cost me £30000 – over £50k in today’s money.
I’m glad to say we survived the experience, but I have never forgotten it.
I take my hat off to our service partner. They made a plan, implemented it, then took action when they saw things going off-track.
Have a written plan
Having your plan written down crystalizes your objectives. If you specify your expectations and what it is you are going to measure to control your plan, it is easier to avoid ‘specfication creep‘ where the plan adapts itself to fit the outcomes you achieve. If uncontrolled, this can be dangerous.
It doesn’t actually matter if you don’t match your targets. It does mean things aren’t going as planned and it is an opportunity to review your plan in the light of real experience. It could be that things are going better than expected though this can create it’s own problems! The important thing is that you learn and get better at what you do.
Stay realistic
The reality is that most plans don’t work out as expected (some work out better!) so if you over-commit resources and don’t see the anticipated results, you can find yourself digging a financial hole. Planned holes are fine – arguably they are at the heart of entrepreneurship and business – but be careful not to let a hole get too deep. It will be difficult to fill in! In both of my real-world examples above, we lost money, we dug a hole. In both cases the hole was manageable and that’s the important thing.
And remember, the opposite of digging a hole is making a pile. Even if you are only making a small pile, it’s still a pile.

…and you are in business, ready for the next step – whatever it is.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Member Blog: How Cultured Are You?

By Tom Short, Social Media Executive at Connections Recruitment

It’s easy to get bogged down in business jargon – empty buzzwords like ‘Corporate Competency’ and ‘Synergy’ are constantly being created. They’re also likely to turn off employees. In a survey conducted last year by Animal charity SPANA, 7/10 office workers indicated that they will simply switch off if a more senior colleague starts using them. There is one phrase which is worth paying attention to however.

Company Culture has been a favourite topic in the industry for some time now. Unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard to define. This is sort of the point: company culture may be defined in a mission statement, but it evolves organically, being as much a result of shared values among employees, and the unpredictable decisions that can arise from them.

For Linsday McGregor and Neel Doshi at Harvard Business Review, it’s ultimately about motivation. Creating cultures formed around play, purpose and potential, rather than emotional pressure, economic pressure and inertia (purposeless working) has been identified as one of the keys to the success of modern giants like Twitter and Facebook.

Much of company culture could be summed up as identity. Having a vision or an unofficial motto gives employees an overall purpose for their work (Airbnb’s ‘Belong Anywhere’ is a brilliant, concise example). Narrative could be considered as an elaboration of this, often describing a journey (starting in a garage, offering the world affordable furniture) which creates an emotional connection with a company for staff and customers.

Rather than advocating a top-down message however, McGregor and Doshi recommend cultures based on transparency. Giving employees the opportunity to observe evidence of their work is essential to motivation, as are models of working which encourage collaboration. Innovators in this field include Salesforce, whose employees share ideas and analyse data in real time via an app called Chatter, avoiding the office cubicle-mentality which email can encourage. This relates to the idea of play in job design. Giving employees the opportunity to be creative with their time has well-documented benefits. Gmail and Google News both famously resulted from a policy of 20% time, in which engineers could spend a fifth of the working week on personal projects.

I’m aware that most of my examples have been from headline-grabbing tech companies. What about businesses in other industries? I’m not a Harvard Business researcher so I may not have the best data, but I can offer my own experience at Connections Recruitment. Having joined the agency recently, I’ve been impressed with the company narrative, built around its very real origins as a thirty-year old, family-owned business with a great deal of personality and respect for its employees and clients. I’ve been offered plenty of freedom in my role as social media executive to explore new ways of representing the company, and been listened to in meetings with the Director. These are all reasons why I’m still here. It’s easy to disregard the working practices of billion-dollar companies, but these cultural ideas are universal, and they work.