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

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Guest Blog: ELAS Calls for End to Improper Use of Zero-hours Contracts

By ELAS’ Head of Consultancy, Peter Mooney

The prolonged and improper use of zero-hours contracts by small businesses will erode employee confidence and foster feelings of inadequacy and mistrust, all of which could irreparably damage the UK economy.

In some instances, zero-hours contracts provide a way for businesses to rule with a rod of iron, without taking heed of established employment law practices. The sad truth is that they are increasingly being used wrongly, which is only adding fuel to the ongoing controversy surrounding them.

This is because zero-hours contracts are capable of exploiting employees when it comes to finding stability in both working hours and earnings. Taking the decision to use them can result in underpaid, undervalued and under-motivated workers who are not engaged with the job in hand, which are detrimental traits for any company that wishes to be profitable and successful.

It is therefore of real concern that some businesses are offering zero-hours contracts in general, rather than in specific circumstances where they work for both the employer and employee.

Zero-hours contracts allow firms to hire staff without any obligation to guarantee a minimum number of working hours and also give companies the right to instigate a period of temporary layoff without pay when there is a shortage of work.

They are proving popular among employers because they offer a cost-effective and easy solution to staffing issues and managing resources in line with fluctuating customer demand and they indeed have their place in the employment market, but only when employed in the proper manner.

They are, for example, used widely by retailers, hotels and in the social care sector and are ideal for providing cover for industries that rely on 24/7 cover and an ‘on-call’ pool of staff to meet those needs. This is why zero-hours contracts offer a vital, flexible resource for businesses that need back up should an emergency arise and those employers that have a genuine need to use zero-hours contracts should do so by all means.

They are definitely not appropriate, however, for small businesses that require staff continuity in order to operate to maximum efficiency and capacity. This is because they do not assist job security or growth or, most importantly, foster staff loyalty.

This could improve extremely damaging when it comes to shoring up a thriving and committed workforce that will ultimately help to forge a strong economy for years to come and this is why this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The good news is that the Government is in the midst of consulting on the future of zero-hours contracts, with this likely to recommend a ban on so called ‘exclusivity clauses’, which prevent employees from working for another organisation. Steps like this are crucial when it comes to planning for and building a fluid and responsive labour market that we are proud to call our own.

The Employment Law Advisory Service (ELAS) is a leading provider of business support services such as HR, payroll services, DBS checks, employment law advice and social media training to businesses both in the North West and nationally.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Chamber Blog: No need for planning permission

By Mike Gibson, Chair of the Chamber's Property and Construction Committee

Those following my planning up-dates will know that last summer I reported that the Government was consulting on more changes to the planning system that would mean that more development will be allowed to take place without the need for planning permission.  The main purpose was to do away with those time-consuming planning applications and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life.

After a period of consultation, the Government has now introduced these changes which, it says, will make better use of existing buildings, support town centres and rural communities, provide much-needed new housing, introduce more free schools and contribute to the provision of child care for working families.

Planning permission is no longer required for:

• shops and financial and professional services (including banks, building society offices and bookies) of up to 150 square metres to change use to a single dwellinghouse or to change to either of these uses combined with a dwellinghouse;
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 450 square metres to change to up to three dwellinghouses;
• shops to change to banks, building society, credit union or friendly society offices;
• premises used as offices, hotels, residential and non-residential institutions and leisure and assembly to change use to a state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare; and
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 500 square metres to be used as a new state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare

Permitted development also allows work that is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building.  The new rules do not apply to development in conservation areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.

These changes of use are subject to a number of conditions and will require ‘prior approval’ where local authorities wish to assess traffic and highways impacts, contamination or flood risk.  Such prior approval can also examine whether the change of use is undesirable due to its impact, such as the potential impact of the loss of a shop on the economic health of the town centre, the need to maintain an adequate provision of essential local services, such as post offices, and the potential impact of the change of use on the character of the local area.  The government says that when considering prior-approval applications, local authorities should have regard to their local plan policies, and it reminds local authorities to have up-to-date local plans, which set out policies for retail areas.

More reductions in red tape are to be welcomed and these changes will not only provide more flexibility when marketing premises, but will also encourage owners to re-use buildings since they would no longer have the trouble and expense of a planning application.  However, uncontrolled changes of use from retail uses to residential could lead to a fragmented shopping centre which could potentially have a harmful effect on the centre.

The government says that the new rules will remove the barrier of having to apply for planning permission and will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs. We shall have to wait and see if the new rules do this.  Also, it will be interesting to see how local authorities deal with the ‘prior approval procedure’ since this would appear to hand back control that the new rules are intended to take away and, in practice, this could become a planning application by another name.  Watch this space!

Mike Gibson,
Chair of the Property and Construction Committee
Director of Connectivity Associates Ltd.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Guest Post: Auto Enrolment - Is your business ready to roll?

From Ink Employee Benefits

Heading towards a crucial pinch point from a staging date view point, with 30,000 SMEs due to stage between the 1st April to the 1st July, Chris Everard expresses his concern over the number of small business owners who have not set up an Auto Enrolment scheme and the quite incredible number of owners who claimed that they were unaware of their staging date(s).

Using research commissioned by Autoenrol/SME, Ink’s Sales & Marketing Director noted that 58% of SMEs had no Auto-Enrolment scheme and 63% did not know what their staging date was.

“As the UK’s dominant employment section is heading towards Auto Enrolment, I am very concerned over the apparent lack of knowledge displayed by these owner managers and I question the level of support and information they’re getting from their professional advisers, the pension providers and the Government.

“The number of companies going through the Auto Enrolment process is increasing month on month and my greatest fear is that the industry will not have the capacity or resource to cope unless the owner managers of SMEs take the appropriate action early enough.”

Women hit hardest by auto-enrolment pensions change

Ink has partnerships with all the leading pension providers and Scottish Widows have highlighted an area where potentially 120,000 women will be impacted by the rise in the earnings threshold to £10,000.
Chris Everard, said:

“The number of women working part-time hours in the UK is higher than men, therefore this increase in the amount of earnings required before they qualify for an Auto-Enrolment pension scheme will hit women hardest.

“Some simple changes in scheme organisation and an increase in flexibility, in awareness and help would enable women and life partners to plan together for their lives after work.

“The land of post work can be clearly defined as one of those with a sufficient and well managed pension pot and those without. The differences between these two groups will be very distinct as time goes by and it is so important that we all understand this, and save accordingly.”

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Social Media - Keeping it Social

By Tom Linn - Project Manager at Thomas Cole Internet Solutions

Social media can sometimes be an area that businesses know they should be getting involved in, but just don’t know where to start or how to use their time effectively.  For lots of organisations,  what they also have to realise is that social media is an extension of your brand online and not necessarily a direct sales tool.

The key to social media is to be social. By that I mean if you have social profiles on Twitter or Facebook then to get any response from them at all you have to interact with other users. Adding a tweet now and then and expecting a barrage of phone calls will not happen.

Interaction can be done in different ways.  Below are ways to interact on three of the main platforms.

Twitter – Re-tweet, favourite tweets, tweet other users, reply to users.
Facebook – Like status updates, message users, add interesting updates to gain likes, comment on updates.
Linkedin – Connect with people you know, connect with possible sales targets, like posts, comment on posts.

Here are some key points to think about when working with social networks:

- Research and understand the different social media platforms. There are lots of them out there and they all work in different ways. The graphic at this link gives you a tongue in cheek quick run through.

- Think which platforms would suit your business more.  Also look at what your competitors are using and how they use them.

- If your competitors are not using them then maybe you should be? Have a look around to see if they look like the kind of tool your customers would use.

- Nobody knows your customers better than you and your organisation so although you can outsource social media, the person or company doing the social media needs to have an in depth knowledge of your business as anything they say/do is a reflection on your brand.

Once you get a better understanding of how the different platforms work that is when you can make the decision on which to use and how to interact with others.

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

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

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Guest Blog - Connecting Manchester: 3 Easy Tips For Local Online Success

By Lee Jackson, Owner of Webpresence

Manchester’s digital economy is booming.

Over the last few years our creative and digital sector has expanded at such a rate that Manchester’s digital city has a real chance of becoming an online-focused European superpower.

Why? Thanks to creatives, young and old, embracing their talents and having the confidence to connect and collaborate within Manchester and beyond.

A great recent example is the wonderful Code Computerlove, who beat global competition to totally reinvent HMV’s international presence.

All well and good. But what does that mean for you, the small business? The business that is just finding its feet online and has little-to-no online experience?

Building your online presence

As far as you’re concerned more digital agencies in the region may mean more people getting in touch with you to sell you online marketing packages you don’t feel you need!

You’ve heard of Google and SEO, you’ve heard of social media and Facebook advertising, but just don’t have the budget or time to try them out at the moment.

Don’t worry. It isn’t as daunting as it all appears.

There are a number of simple things you can do to connect your website not just to Manchester’s creative community but to target your online customers and increase your presence.

Let Manchester know you exist

There’s a reason everybody talks about Google.

Google is, for the vast majority of brands globally, the primary source of traffic to their website, blog, or other online presence.

Being in first position for a certain term or keyword, though, can net you upwards of 33 per cent of traffic for that particular search term.

But it’s not wise to concentrate on that when starting out!

You’re a local, Manchester-based business looking to attract the natives: shoppers that will be interested in your products that you can build a long-term relationship with.

Here’s how to do it:

1: Get into Google Places

Ever searched for somebody on Google and noticed the map appear on the side of the search results?
That’s because that business has taken the time to enter their business into Google Places.

It’s Google’s way of categorising your business into its search engine with you showing up for local search terms, appearing on Google Maps, giving you a Google+ presence, and other benefits.

It takes a few minutes to set up and gives potential customers a host of information about your business. Its address, its opening times, payment details, local parking options, and more.

Customers can also leave feedback and reviews about their experience with your company and giving you a platform to respond in kind.

Not bad for five minutes’ work!

2: Talk to people on social media

“I have a social media presence but it’s just not working for me…”

You won’t believe how often I hear that! The problem is usually a very common one, though, and very easy to remedy.

A number of businesses have created social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more) with the presumption that just owning one is good enough.

But the clue is in the name: ‘social’ media!

You have to talk to people and always be alert and on-hand to answer any questions current and potential customers may get in touch with.

If you don’t tweet for days and share an offer every other week then it’s no wonder your follower count is low and interaction is thin on the ground.

You need to find where your social audience is spending its time and join in the conversation with them.

Use social sites’ search features to identify people in Manchester with interests and philosophies similar to those your brand stands for and strike up a conversation with them.

It’s free word-of-mouth marketing at its finest, with your new audience more likely than not sharing word of your business with friends and family and what it can provide.

3:  Creative content that resonates with Manchester

Content marketing is the latest darling of the online marketing industry, but anybody can do it if they have the time!

Creating your own content through your own blog allows your brand to be synonymous with your voice and your passion for Manchester.

Content is the creative glue that gets you noticed and keeps people coming back for more. It gives your site a personality and a human face.

Take photographs of your team and share their experiences of why they love Manchester so much. Talk about why your business has set up in the region and what it means to you to serve the people in the area with your goods.

Have an opinion on Manchester and your industry. Talk to local, influential people in your field and publish their thoughts on your blog.

Most importantly be personable and professional with the content you create.

Be passionate about Manchester, share it all on social media, and build a relationship with your audience that’ll last a lifetime!

Lee Jackson is the owner of Manchester-based online marketing firm Webpresence.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Making your business easier to choose

Andrew Chemney, Managing Director of marketing consultancy, Ignition CBS, shares his advice on how to ensure your business stands out from the competition. 
With many markets becoming increasingly homogeneous, it’s never been more important to find a point of differentiation in your business that makes you easier to choose.

We spend a lot of time working with clients to help them uncover and develop those points of differentiation before we then help execute the idea. It’s this strategic thinking that really makes a difference when it comes to executing a marketing plan.

To get you started, try asking yourself the following questions about your business:

• Could we introduce a new technology that would disrupt the market?
• Could we change/introduce our pricing structure/ business model to gain an advantage?
• Do we have services that we could re-define as products (or vice versa)?
• Can we alter the speed to market? Can we introduce products more quickly?
• Can we provide organisation in a market that is disorganised or connect people who are presently unconnected?
• Is there something expensive (that is stopping a sale) that we can give away for less and then charge for something else?
• Could we take the lead on ethics in our market?
• Should we avoid the mass market and concentrate on the periphery where value is more highly prized?

FREE Marketing Seminars

We run regular free marketing seminars where we explore these topics and others. We have two events coming up in April:

Internet Marketing Refresher Seminar, Manchester (venue TBC) – Thursday 10th April

Essential Free Marketing Seminars, Haslingden – Thursday 30th April

For more information and to book your place on these FREE seminars, please use the Eventbrite icon on our website at, follow @IgnitionCBS on Twitter or call Pauline on 01706 222456.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Guest Blog: How to get workplace pensions-ready in just 10 minutes

By Peter Abraham, Managing Director, HR4UK

Auto enrolment is looming on the horizon for employers. But despite that, the latest research shows that many of them are still woefully underprepared. The majority of employers are also unaware of the importance of preparing early for the changes. The whole process begins with the daunting task of reading through and putting into place the guidance from the Pension Regulator and the pension provider of their choice.

It is anticipated that The National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) will be the preferred option for the majority of SMEs as they are the only provider that has to accept all applicants by law. But this means that business-owners will then have to read NEST’s simple guidance booklet - which stretches to some 64 pages!

At HR4UK we’ve developed a quicker way for businesses to get up to date, transforming the lengthy guidance information into a practical step by step report, via a 10 minute survey!  We’ve taken the 64 page NEST booklet - and its 13 flow charts - and turned it into a short, simple report that outlines what they need to do and when, plus draft letters for employees. The report is designed to remove all the worry around not complying with the new regulations and being fined, or worse still, being subject to an Employment Tribunal claim.

To access the report and the draft letters, all business-owners need to do is complete a simple 10 minute survey. The report would usually cost £85 plus VAT, but is currently available for free. Click here to go to the survey now. On completion, you will receive a report and draft letters to help you prepare for auto-enrolment, at no cost to your business.

For more information, visit

Friday, 14 March 2014

Friday Guest Blog: The Return of Real Business Marketing?

By David Wright of BSA Marketing

There has recently been a good deal of talk about the death of Guest Blogging as a Search Engine Optimisation tool, and it got me thinking:

What has happened to real business marketing?

For many SMEs, over the past few years, all too often marketing has boiled down to:
1. Get a website
2. Get good search rankings
3. Customers will find you

Couple this with the constant bombardment of emails telling you that your website is missing out on vital search traffic, offering (for a fee) to help you out, and you can be forgiven for thinking that SEO is THE marketing tool available to businesses.

I have never agreed with this point of view. Let’s look at the history of SEO and the techniques used by Search Engine Optimisers:

1. First it was all about keywords; people abused this by inappropriately stuffing keywords to manipulate Google’s algorithm - so Google changed the algorithm to prevent this - RIP Keyword Stuffing as an SEO tool

2. Next came links – SEOs abused this by creating spammy, valueless links to clients’ sites to manipulate Google’s algorithm, so Google changed the algorithm to prevent this - RIP Link Building as an SEO tool

3. Next came content and guest blogging – SEOs abused this by creating spammy, valueless content to manipulate Google’s algorithm, so Google changed the algorithm to prevent this - RIP Guest Blogging as an SEO tool

Could there be a pattern forming here?

Through all of this our advice has been consistent:

Google want to see top quality information and content from topic experts at the top of their listings.
If you create a well built site that:

 Is easily accessible by the Google spiders
 Contains good quality, up to date, relevant content
 Contains appropriate keywords (yes they are still relevant)

Then Google want people to find that content, so will not be working to keep it out of their listings.

On top of this, if you are in a niche market (and many of our clients are), people want to read your content and will seek you out. Building a solid mechanism to promote your site content through tools like email, social media, and (yes) relevant guest blogging is a sound marketing strategy that works, and will not be the victim of the Google’s fight against “the Next Big Marketing Idea”.

As an SME, using real business marketing, you can build a solid, sustainable, marketing strategy that delivers real results.

We are about solid sustainable, effective web marketing. If you want a marketing strategy that does not live or die by Google’s next algorithm change, we would love to talk to you! Call me, David Wright on 01457 851111.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Guest Blog: Is Content Still King?

By Hakeem Adebiyi - Director, Hands Associates

This is a regular question posed in Internet marketing circles and with Google changing algorithms every other month is content still important?

Well it depends what you mean by content as not all content is equal. If you have good quality content then it can still make a huge difference to your results on the internet.

Bing, Google and other search engines want quality content and lots of it.

Therefore they continue to genuinely clamp down on internet sites with thin or none existent content and slide them out of the rankings

It's simple really.

They want their users, which means that anyone making use of their search function, including you, to find out the information/product or service they're looking for.

Think about when you look for something on the internet.

Would you like to visit a poor two-page internet site with practically nothing on it but affiliate marketer/sales links, OR would you prefer useful, high quality information relevant to what you were searching for?

Therefore, if there are links on the page, you do not mind because the website benefited you so the links could too, right?

So you need to be sure you've got good quality, original content on your own site. We're not just talking about a few lines, there needs to be lots of well-crafted relevant information that will benefit people in your niche or business area.

Make sure you mix up the content by using:
  • News
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Tips
  • Reports
When you spend just a little time making sure everything you post is high quality, suitable and useful, you'll get huge advantages later as the search engines will reward you with better rankings.

And don't forget, when you post great content on a regular basis, your visitors are much more likely to come back for more. If they are on your site then they aren't on your competitors'. If they like what you have to say then they are more likely to trust you and hence more likely to buy what you are selling.

In summary it's simple, Google always has and in all likelihood will continue to rank sites which has content that visitors love, so keep it simple and give Google what it wants. Content remains king!

Now I know some people don't like writing articles or just don't know where to start, if you need a helping hand feel free to contact me on

Friday, 28 February 2014

Guest Blog: The Pitfalls of Property Insurance

By David Whitby, Commercial Insurance Specialist at Cottons

After working with landlords on a daily basis for a number of years, common traits regarding their attitude towards insurance become noticeable. Naturally not all property landlords are the same, however it is alarming how little many landlords know about the type of insurance cover they have in force. Most will buy insurance over the internet believing their property assets are fully covered, which is not always the case. 

The general attitude of insurance is one of  ‘I don’t want to spend my money on something that potentially won’t happen’. As insurance is a non-tangible product, it is human nature to have this attitude. When you spend several hundred, or thousands of pounds, you are expecting to receive more than some pieces of paper and a policy booklet. You only see the benefits of your purchase in the event of a claim, and even then, you aren’t sure as to the level of service you will receive. It is in the event of a claim where you will find out whether you are covered correctly and whether the money you have spent on your insurance policy was justified.

The most common landlords’ insurance policy sold is your basic ‘no frills’ Buildings cover with Property Owners’ Liability. Generally, this would cover the building only in the event of the following perils: Fire, Lightning, Explosion, Aircraft, Earthquake, Riot & Civil Commotion, Theft or Attempted Theft, Storm, Flood.

Note that the above does not include any mention of Accidental Damage or Malicious Damage. These covers are not written into every property insurance contract, so if it is something that you require,  then it is advised that you request them.

Your buildings will be covered based on the rebuild value of your property. This shouldn’t be confused with the price you purchased the property. You do not want to be paying more than you should for an insurance policy by being over-insured, but also, should you be underinsured, insurance companies will apply the condition of ‘average’ and you will not receive the full amount for your claim. For example if you were to insure a building for £100,000 but the rebuild value was £120,000 and there was a fire causing £20,000 worth of damage, insurers would only pay you £16,666.67. Should you have any queries relating to the rebuild cost of your property, please use the link below which will forward you to the Association of British Insurers ‘Rebuild Calculator’:

The area of contents cover should also be highlighted as different insurance companies will have differing definitions of what constitutes contents cover. The main culprit with the differing definitions is that of carpet. Some insurers classify carpets within the buildings cover, whereas others include it within contents. 

Another scenario that you should consider is financial loss - imagine your property were to suffer from a fire which caused £20,000 worth of damage to the buildings and contents, whilst also rendering your property uninhabitable. You would expect your insurance to pay out this amount to get your property back into the same state it was in prior to the loss. But what about the impact with regard to your tenants? Where would they live whilst the property was uninhabitable? Who would be paying you rent? You can include Rent Receivable and Alternate Accommodation into your policy to cover your financial loss as a landlord if this were to happen.

Other claims that can arise are those of a legal nature. All landlord insurance policies include a basic cover of £2 million Property Owners Liability – more commonly known as Public Liability. Should a tenant or person(s) visiting the property suffer an injury due to any defects in the property, this will indemnify you for any costs incurred. Other legal add-ons you may wish to consider are Employers’ Liability and Legal Expenses. For example, should you employ any person(s) to look after the upkeep of your property, it would be advisable to include this within your cover in case of injury whilst working for you. Legal Expenses will indemnify you for any legal fees such as Property Disputes, Repair & Renovation Disputes and Health & Safety Prosecutions. Indemnity limits and cover provided are subject to which insurance company you choose. Legal Expenses can be expanded to include Rent Indemnity, whereby should a tenant default on their rent, you will be indemnified accordingly.

If you are require any further information with regards to the topic of this blog or Commercial Insurance please do not hesitate to contact or call 0161 216 4020.