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

Friday, 19 September 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Unsubscribes – An Opportunity Not a Problem

By David Wright, Chartered Marketer at BSA Marketing

When I’m talking to clients about using e-mail marketing and e-mail newsletters, there is one question that comes up more than any other….

Will I annoy people?
I don't want to alienate my contacts

You may be surprised that the short answer is an emphatic –
NO! Unsubscribes are good

Unsubscribes are a fact of life in e-mail marketing and not something to be afraid of.

They are another point of engagement between you and your markets. The feedback you get through unsubscribes can help you improve and refine your offer and make your business better.

Don’t forget the basics

People read newspapers and magazines because they are interested in the content. Not necessarily every article but they do have an interest. E-newsletters should be exactly the same. Content should be relevant to the target audience. We receive many more positive comments about our Marketing Matters e-newsletter than we do unsubscribes.

Realistically there will always be someone who simply objects to everything but when you look at the statistics, the power and benefit of well targeted, relevant e-mail far outweighs any negative impact.

Naturally, every e-newsletter we send includes an option to unsubscribe and if someone takes that option, we respect it, because unsubscribes are good…..

Unsubscribes are good

The essence of marketing is to communicate a relevant message to an audience that will recognise the relevance of the message (and consequently a ‘fit’ with the company that sent it)

E-mail marketing is no different, and if someone chooses to unsubscribe that is normally because they don’t see the relevance of the message so it makes sense they don’t receive it.

As a consequence of unsubscribes, the target list becomes ever better qualified!

Use your common sense

As with most things, common sense is a valuable tool and should be used in your marketing.

It’s true that some unsubscribes can be a good thing, but you do want your list to grow as you add new (well qualified!) contacts. Adding qualified contacts tends to be a steady, rather than fast, process so getting too many unsubscribes can make your list go backwards – and if you do see a lot of unsubscribes, perhaps you need to ask your self whether your content really does engage your market? Alternatively, consider just how well qualified are your contacts in the first place?

Watch the stats

As a general rule, you may well see a few more unsubscribes the first time you run a list (maybe 3-5%) and this can be OK on the first ‘send’ but after this, unsubscribes should be much lower – typically well under 1%

Make sure you are adding contacts too

Unsubscribes are part of e-mail marketing so if you aren’t adding contacts to your target list, it will shrink.
Having a sign-up form on your website can be a way of growing your list and it can work well if you operate in a B2C or wide B2B market with a lot of traffic to your site. For B2B businesses working in niche sectors (i.e. most of BSA’s clients!), a more proactive approach to list development is normally required but don’t forget:

Contact quality is more important the contact quantity
Remember, you should be communicating good quality, relevant content to well qualified contacts. If you do this, unsubscribes will be minimal and maintaining/growing your list should not be a problem.

Sometimes an unsubscribe may be worth a follow-up

If you only see small numbers of unsubscribes (and you should!) it is worth keeping any eye on who is unsubscribing.

If it is someone you know personally, it might be worth giving them a call to find out why they have unsubscribed. This shows (at least) that you are on the ball and take a joined-up approach and your conversation may give you valuable feedback which you can use to improve your marketing.

I have even had the experience of finding that someone had unsubscribed inadvertently and my call not only resurrected the contact but resulted in a business enquiry!

Be positive and use your common sense, but remember: unsubscribes are an opportunity, not a problem.

If you want to see how e-newsletters can help you grow your business, call me on 01457 851111 or email

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Member Blog: How a migraine can do everyone’s head in at work

By Brandon Wilkinson - Medical Specialists

Are you a migraine sufferer? Or, are you an employer with employees that you are aware regularly suffer with them? If so, you will be delighted to hear that Medical Specialists® Pharmacy have gone to great lengths to make migraine treatment available for the thousands of people that need it after being inundated with requests for help from your fellow sufferers, and this help could enable you to get on with your day-to-day activities without the pain and stress associated with the condition.

Migraine is the most common neurological condition in the developed world. It is something much more intense and painful than a common headache, even though many people confuse the two. With an estimated one in four women and one in 12 men in the UK affected by migraines on a regular basis, this means around 15% of adults in the UK are suffering. Although sufferers may feel alone and isolated, migraine is a health problem even more prevalent than asthma, diabetes and epilepsy combined.

Despite this, it can be still misunderstood and underestimated in the workplace. Statistics indicate that over a third (34.3%) of sufferers are experiencing difficulty or discrimination in the workplace due to their condition. (The Migraine Trust, 2004).

Firstly, let’s look at some hard facts about migraine:

* Each year migraine causes a loss of over 25 million working days at a cost of around £2.25 billion to the economy.
* Migraine and chronic headache are the second most common reasons given for short term absence from work.
* A recent YouGov poll involving 2,105 people saw 15% of workers who pulled a ‘sickie’ used migraine as their excuse for a day off work.
* A survey conducted by The Migraine Trust in 2012 found that almost half (46.3%) of workers with migraine say they are unfairly untreated because of illness-related absence, over a third (40.5%) felt unsupported by their bosses and colleagues, and three in ten (30.5%) had received disciplinary action due to their health condition.

The main obstacle between fellow employees and the employer and their employees, is simply lack of awareness about migraines. Migraine pain can be excruciating for those afflicted, but an attack is often disregarded as ‘just a headache’. In addition, many employers are lacking understanding and not providing sufficient support for staff with migraines due to non-sufferers commonly using migraine as an excuse when they have a ‘sickie’ from work.

It is partly this reason why migraine sufferers feel isolated and unsupported, and employers should do their best to communicate with these particular employees, as even with the severe pain experienced during an attack, many sufferers will still continue to either attend or stay in work despite their productivity levels being negatively impacted.  This could have major implications for employers, both financially and with the subsequent drop in staff morale and productivity.

It is called ‘presenteeism’ when an employee still goes to work despite being unwell, and is rife amongst those with regular migraines and headaches because of the fear of reprisals from bosses.  Employers should have a fair and open communication policy with all employees – not just those with migraines – to reduce the risk of presenteeism, which can be problematic for everybody concerned.

The issue of presenteeism could be down to the fact some employers utilise strict absence record systems that focus on performance monitoring after a certain number of sick days have been reached. Some empathy needs to be shown though from the employer – otherwise stress and anxiety can be caused and exacerbate migraine attacks by acting as a trigger.

You as an employer should be aware that depending on the circumstances, migraine sufferers could be classed as having a ‘disability’ according to The Equality Act 2010.  It is employers’ responsibility to put into place appropriate conditions that make it easier for employees that suffer with migraines to actually do their job to a good standard and stop them being unfairly discriminated against.

Some helpful adjustments that employers can introduce for migraine sufferers may include: make sure employees have frequent breaks where possible, offer flexible working hours, amending shift patterns, carry out necessary improvements to the working environment (lighting, computer screens, work station), and make sure there is easy access to drinking water for all employees.

As well as being flexible with working hours, employers should also consider being flexible with regards to sickness policies to prevent migraine sufferer’s absence (which is highly likely to be only short term) resulting in strict/unfair punishments being handed out to them. Remember that the aforementioned changes do not cost much to introduce, and often have benefits to the wider team. A happier working environment will inevitably lead to increased productivity, and a happy employer!

For anybody still worried about the impact of migraine on their working life or indeed any day-to-day activities, Medical Specialists® offer a fantastic range of migraine prevention and migraine relief treatment ( which, for UK patients, can be obtained within 24 hours following an online consultation with one of Medical Specialists’® GMC-registered doctors.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Member Blog: 10 steps to make your business more valuable and saleable

By Richard Wright - Prepare to Sell Ltd

Step 1: Make sure the business can function properly without you

•If you want to sell the whole of your business, its valuation is based on what’s left after you’ve gone. So the ideal solution is to transfer your skills and expertise to your management team. Let them deal with your customers, under your guidance.

•Make sure customer loyalty is increasingly with the company, not with you.

•Enable and empower your management team to operate the business without you. If you’re not doing this already, start small until everybody is more confident with this process, including you. With the right management and financial information systems, this delegation does not mean loss of control.

•Passing decision-making responsibilities is a cultural change for most owner-managed businesses. It’s no quick-fix and often needs some outside guidance to make it work. But it is key to growth whether you are selling your business or not.

•By passing day to day responsibility to others, you can concentrate on the direction of the business, and often find a better work/life balance.

Step 2: Demonstrate a track record of growing sales, profits & cash with good projections

•You are selling what you’re doing now and what you’ve done in the past. But a potential buyer is interested in your future earnings and growth potential.

•It’s therefore much easier to sell a business which is already growing and can demonstrate a good performance track-record.

•It is important to show that sales, profits and cash are growing sustainably. But growing sales by cutting margin is not a good story.

•Obviously all this is much easier said than done. If it’s not possible, do you have a good story about the current resilience of the business, and the means by which a new owner can create growth?

•You have to show confidence in the future of your business, even though you won’t be there. So you need a good explanation for selling.

•Place yourself in the position where selling is an ‘option’, not a financial necessity.

•Good, ambitious projections are important for a successful sale, but they must be achievable. They may require the capital investment, skills and contacts the buyers have and you don’t, in order to achieve -but if explained clearly, that’s ok.

Step 3: Reduce dependency on just a few customers, suppliers & staff

•A buyer is looking to build on what you’ve got, not fill the gap created by the business transfer.

•A change of business ownership will put stress on relationships with customers, suppliers and your staff.
Buyers are reluctant to buy if there is a high risk of losing a major customer, critical supplier or key employee. So it’s important that you are not over-dependent.

•Can you survive if you lose your biggest customer or your best employee? You need to ask that question of yourself, because the buyer certainly will.

•It is helpful to demonstrate, as far as possible, a broad spread of customers, old and new, some stable, some growing.

•Your largest customer should on average be no more than 10-15% of your sales. It’s not uncommon for 80% of sales to come from the top 20% of customers. But do those 20% provide 80% of your profits?

•Look at ways to reduce the chances of losing them: through incentives, contracts, future loyalty bonuses, etc. Get key staff to train others to cover for them and transfer those skills and that knowledge.

Step 4: Make sure your business’s brand values are clear, attractive & resilient

•Your business is your brand. It’s a complex mixture of experiences customers have of your products, services, people and attitudes. It includes your premises, website and everything people see, hear and feel.

•Make sure your vision of the value of your brand is properly understood and shared by all your customers, employees and suppliers.

•Why not test to make sure the reasons customers are loyal to you are the same reasons you think they are? If you’re not sure, ask them.

•The benefit of your brand is what you are really selling. It’s the ongoing revenue stream that your brand promises to deliver.

•So how strong is your brand? Can you explain its unique benefits to a buyer?

•How easily customers would switch from you to your competitors is an indication of the strength of your brand. Do you command a price premium? How long have your customers been loyal?

•How will customers perceive your company brand if you, the owner, are not there?

•Your ‘brand’ and what you stand for must be clear, attractive and resilient.

Step 5: Build & reinforce strong loyalty from customers, suppliers & employees

•We’ve said that transferring your business to new owners can test the commitment of your customers, employees and suppliers. So how can you increase that commitment?

•You could offer customers incremental rebates for future business (maybe a 2-3 year deal), or long-term contracts with customers and suppliers, for example.

•Look at staff loyalty bonuses that are paid if they stay for the next 2-3 years, linked to success and targets.

•Get your management teams closer to customers. Spend time understanding in depth your customers’ worries and their wishes. Lead the process of changes they would like to see.

•Make sure every aspect of your package of products, services, innovations, designs etcare as strong as your customers want.

•Ensure your customers and suppliers are close to the teams that actually deliver that package.

•Show customers a breadth and depth of the talent in your business that is not just yours. Your employees will be motivated by it because they feel valued, and your customers will like the feeling of being able to get answers from a team of well-informed and committed respondents.

Step 6: Make your products & services easy to scale-up and difficult to copy

•A buyer who sees your business as a useful addition to their own range of products and services is bound to ask the question: Do we need to buy a whole company or can we buy key assets and poach some good people?

•Your business is worth a lot more if its operations are very difficult to replicate.

•The key is the uniqueness of your expertise, the appeal of your product and service mix versus your competitors, and the level of product and process innovation. Do you have valuable patents and registered designs? Do you have a large capital base that would be expensive to set up in competition?

•If you’re happy that you’ve done everything to make it hard for existing or new competitors to take business from you, how easy is it to expand your business? A buyer will want to grow what you have.

•A high level of expertise and in-depth knowledge that a bespoke service provider can offer to customers is a good way to command a price premium and keep customers locked in. But scope to expand is restrained by the number of employees with these skill sets.

•If every customer is given its own product or service built around its specific needs, that’s very time-consuming and resource-hungry, and difficult to roll out.

•Providers of bespoke products and services may benefit from exploring a more standardised range of packaged services which are then tailored to customer needs. This can be understood by a sales team with a broader skills base, under careful guidelines for implementation, and therefore expanded much more rapidly.

Step 7: Make sure your management & financial information & reporting is good, complete and reliable

•If you don’t delegate many of your management functions already, doing so is a bit scary, but essential for growth or sale. It’s less scary if you know you are still fully aware and informed of everything that’s going on.

•The key to that is putting in place management & financial information systems that keep you fed with accurate information when you need it.

•If you have empowered your management teams sufficiently to effectively operate the business on a day-to-day basis, this information is vital for them to make good management decisions.

•A key indicator of the business’s dependence on you is to see who is in charge of setting and measuring your company’s key performance indicators.

•A buyer will need to see there is a good history of complete, accurate and reliable information, covering all aspects of the company’s performance.

•It would be helpful to make full audited and consolidated company accounts available to prospective buyers, showing your performance over several years.

Step 8: Run the business as though selling is an option not a necessity

•The ideal selling position is to have numerous potential buyers bidding for your business. If you haven’t, that may show if you don’t have ready answers to the questions other bidders would ask.

•Either way, it’s preferable if you can show that, for you, selling is an option not a necessity.

•It is vital that you demonstrate your ongoing commitment to the business (particularly as you may have to work with or in the business for a period after the sale has gone through).

•Your enthusiasm –or lack of it –will show.

•The buyer(s) will look at whether you have continued to invest in your business, replacing capital items when due. Have you continued with new product development, training, process innovation, updated website and promotional material?

•Continued investment shows a buyer you still believe in the business, so they can too.

Step 9: Tackle problems that may lead to legal disputes or compensation claims later. Make sure you are fully compliant.

•Many business sales fail at a late stage because of lots of seemingly ‘minor’ details which add together to create a higher overall risk for the buyer.

•A higher risk for the buyer means a lower deal price for you.

•The details which come out of the legal & financial due diligence can mean that the deal price you agree in principle early on is lowered later.

•The sorts of items we are talking about here are things left unresolved that could become a compensation claim or legal dispute in future years for the buyer.

•For example, are all your shareholder agreements as they should be? Are you compliant on all legislation such as Health & Safety, the Environment, Data Protection, Copyrights?

•Have you any employee disputes looming or outstanding, or potential claims from customers or the public? Are all your contracts of employment correct and up to date? Are your trading terms & conditions robust?

•Has the business any future pension liabilities or potential claims for unpaid taxes?

•If these can be addressed before putting your business on the market, you are more likely to sell, and less likely to face a warranty claw-back in the future.

Step 10: Make sure first impressions of your business are positive, professional & appealing

•This is step number 10 because ideally you will want to tackle steps 1 to 9 before you meet a potential buyer.

•The very first impression a potential buyer has of your business is critical. That may be existing knowledge, an Information Memorandum sent out by a sale broker, your website, or your first meeting.

•Your website, brochures, office d├ęcor, call-handling reception, your operations and your people will all influence that first impression.

•A disorganised and undisciplined operation will show straight away.

•A good atmosphere created by happy and engaged staff will also show straight away.

•‘Window dressing’ will not work. A buyer will study every aspect of your operation. Everything you state or imply must be verifiable. If your business has structural weaknesses, address them as far as you can but be honest about them and disclose them. This will help to build trust and reduce the chances of warranty claims later.

•Buyers are more concerned about unknown quantities, and their valuation will reflect the risks they perceive.

Why you should take the 10-step plan

All 10 steps are easy to talk about but harder to do. They take a lot of time and effort, and you may well need some outside help.

But here are 5 reasons why you should take the 10-step plan:

1.Everything you can do in these areas will add value to your business.
2.You need to if you are planning to sell, or want the option to sell at some future stage.
3.They will ensure you are in good shape if you are approached unexpectedly by a potential buyer.
4.They are helpful if you wish to grow by acquiring other businesses.
5.You will also probably discover a shorter working week and less stress, from the reduced dependency of the business on you.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Friday Guest Blog - Business Success: The Right People in the Right Places

By Andrew White – Director, Dream Move Relocation

In an age where technological advances are readily affordable to many businesses, employee attraction and retention is even more critical to business success.

Business success is largely dependent on attracting the right people to the right posts and ensuring employee retention once achieved.  To ensure this, businesses need to be creative in both their employee recruitment and retention strategies.

Whilst recruitment can be difficult, it is often employee retention which proves more difficult. The first three months of employment are critical for both the employee and employer, especially in cases where the employee has to relocate.

Employers should be thinking of creative ways to attract and retain the talent required to ensure the business succeeds. Options such as a variation of relocation packages and comprehensive inductions into the business are just a few elements that need to be considered. For those employees who do have to relocate, the relocation package offered by their employer is often a deciding factor in their eventual decision.

As each employee has different needs and circumstances, there are a multitude of elements for employers to consider. From suitable accommodation, transport arrangements and spousal support, each employee relocation has to be tailored to their respective needs.

Whereas some employees may prefer city centre living others may wish to live in the country. Meeting these relocation demands is often difficult for in house HR teams and outsourcing to relocation professionals can have huge benefits.  Just some of the benefits of outsourcing employee relocation are reduced housing costs, improved operational efficiencies and local expertise. In many cases, HR teams struggle to offer this due to their office location and the stressful demands of having a range of other HR responsibilities.

For further details and information relating to the range of relocation services Dream Move Relocation provide, please feel to contact Dream Move Relocation via email at or phone  +44 (0)161 282 5558.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Member Blog: Does coaching really get results? The simple answer is YES!

By Sarah Barrett – Director and Founder, World of Business Change Ltd

CFO asks CEO: “What happens if you invest in developing our people and they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t and they stay?”

Training is a hot topic for businesses especially SMEs who are often facing the challenges of growth, competition, cash conversion whilst at the same time wanting to retain and attract talented employees.

Too often businesses spend money on ‘off the shelf’ training courses and find they are great at fine tuning individual employee’s skills but have very little impact on the wider business. Therefore the return on investment is limited.

It was Bill Gates who said “everyone needs a coach”
Coaching is a different way of developing individuals to be the very best they can be. In return they go on to be better role models and leaders in the business, they themselves create highly performing teams through a coaching culture and positively impact the success of the business.
Coaching is a way of really optimising spend on training to have the greatest impact on the workforce and the business therefore delivering scalable return on investment.

How does executive coaching work?

Coaching is very personal to the individual concerned and our programmes are always tailored accordingly, however here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about how coaching tends to be structured:

Is coaching always on an individual basis?

No, coaching can take place as a team to really galvanise effectiveness and tackle challenges. Executive 1:1 coaching is obviously a very personal thing and so would always be carried out on an individual basis but in a corporate setting, team coaching may be suitable and we can always advise on this. Team coaching programmes are structured around team requirements.

How long are coaching sessions?

To a great degree, sessions vary in duration to suit the need and the individual’s schedule.

How structured is each individual session?

Whilst the coaching journey is organic, each session is focused on working to achieve desired outcomes. Typically, we may focus on self-awareness to begin with, then look at making sense of it all, and then how to take ownership of change with confidence.

Where is coaching carried out?

Sessions can take place in the workplace, but it’s often better to get a change of scene with no interruption or distraction, that’s why we like to conduct our sessions in relaxing venues.

How many coaching sessions are required?

Usually 4 – 6 sessions are enough for individuals to see and feel a positive difference and for the impact to be noticed by others. Some people like to have an ongoing coaching relationship to draw upon as and when they require.

What results can be expected?

Coaching sessions are tailored around specific desired outcomes which will vary from individual to individual but typically, coaching can be expected to help improve work performance, business management, time management, team effectiveness, self-confidence, work relationships, communication skills and work-life balance.

Is coaching confidential?

All sessions are completely confidential and are performed under a coaching contract.

World of Business Change is offering a 20% discount on Executive Coaching sessions for all members of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

To find out more email, or contact the team through the 'contact us' form on the website or call Sarah on 07958 903 925.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Selling your business: If you're going to exit, open the door first!

By Richard Wright - Prepare to Sell Ltd

There are 3 occasions when owner-managers of businesses consider selling:

- When circumstances change unexpectedly such as ill health or bereavement;
- When they realise they have taken the business as far as they probably can;
- When it’s getting near to retirement.

In all 3 cases the danger is that a sale process is initiated before sufficient groundwork is done to enable maximum sale value to be achieved.

As an owner-manager you are probably the key asset. You have the experience and expertise; the business dances to your tune. So if the value of your business is what’s left after you’ve gone, where does that leave you?

Getting that experience and expertise spread evenly amongst those who will remain in the business and allowing a business to dance to its own tune is hard. It’s a cultural change. It takes time. And while you are too busy running the business how is it going to happen?

Giving employees and managers permission to take ownership of the decision-making process and take responsibility for the outcomes is hard for both you and them to come to terms with. But it is essential to liberate the value in your business.

You may need new key people to start to fill the skills gap. That might be a cultural change too, if they are any good.

So the race is on to build that value into the business to remain after your exit.

It is not a quick fix. Cultural changes never are.

Yet far too many business sale brokers will push to get your company sold quickly, only allowing time for a quick tidy up of the figures: window dressing.

What is less well understood by the owner-managers is that the sale value you hope to get, or agree on, is often not the sale value you get to keep if what is behind the window dressing does not match expectations. ‘Due diligence’ and ‘warranties’ become the battle ground, not the initial deal price agreed in ‘Heads of Terms’ if you are not careful.

Re-engineering your business to build sustained value through and beyond the sale process requires time and a lot of skill. If your workforce have not seen that before they will be suspicious of your motives. That’s not a good thing whilst you are also trying to market the business! But introducing organisational changes for the benefit of everyone and for the long term success of the business is a perfect mask for the business sale process.

Prepare To Sell Limited ( is an advisory service set up to help owner-managers of smaller/medium sized companies re-engineer their businesses in preparation for a sale. We can help you appoint the right sale brokers, solicitors and accountants if required to help maximise the value of your sale, whatever the circumstances.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Chamber Blog: Government consults on more changes to planning

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

Those following my planning up-dates will know that the Government has been making changes to speed up the planning process and to reduce the burden on applicants for over the past few years.  Its reform of the planning system continues and it has recently published some more ideas with the same objectives.  In its ‘Technical Consultation on Planning’, the Government is proposing to take its changes even further and is inviting responses to consultation until 26 September.

The Government has criticised the planning system as being ‘convoluted, confusing, expensive and in many cases ineffective’ and its latest proposals:

• seek to make it easier for residents and businesses to come together to produce a neighbourhood plan or development order;
• set out proposals to further expand ‘permitted development rights’, to reduce red tape and support housing and growth and to help ensure that the planning system is proportionate and that a planning application is only required where it is genuinely justified;
• put forward four proposals to improve the use of planning conditions and enable development to start more quickly after planning permission is granted;
• focus on improving consultation with statutory consultees so that this is proportionate to those developments where the consultees’ input is most valuable;
• propose to raise the screening thresholds for environmental impact assessments (EIA) for industrial and urban development projects outside defined sensitive areas, thus reducing unnecessary bureaucracy and the cost and time taken to get planning permission;
• seek improvements to the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime, including expanding the number of non-planning consents which can be included within Development Consent Orders.

Of particular note are the Government’s proposals to:

• make permanent the ‘permitted development rights’, allowing offices to be converted to residential and householders to build larger extensions, that were originally intended to last for a temporary period until 2016;
• allow light industrial and warehouse buildings, launderettes, amusement arcades, casinos and nightclubs to be converted to residential without the need for planning permission;
• broaden the shops ‘Use Class’ (A1) to incorporate the majority of uses currently within the financial and professional services ‘Use Class’ (A2) to provide businesses with greater flexibility to move between the various uses without the need for planning permission, although planning permission would be required to change from a shop to a betting office or a pay day loan shop;
• allow shops (both A1 and A2) to change to restaurants and cafes (A3) and to cinemas and music and concert halls (D2) without the need for planning permission.

Other changes would allow, without the need for planning permission, ancillary buildings, the extension of loading bays, the installation of solar panels on the roof of non-domestic buildings and the erection of larger extensions for shops, offices and industrial and warehouse buildings.

The Government is concerned that conditions of planning permission can take a long time to get Council ‘sign-off’ and proposes to introduce a ‘deemed discharge’ measure if Councils do not respond within a ‘reasonable time’. Where Councils impose ‘pre-commencement’ conditions of the type that forbids development commencing until such conditions are discharged, they must give a written justification as to why it is necessary for that particular matter to be dealt with before development can start.

More reductions in red tape are to be welcomed and these proposed changes will help to lift the burden on applicants by removing the need for planning permission in many cases and speeding up the consultation process and the discharge of conditions which can significantly prolong the application process and add to the cost of planning permission.  If the changes manage to get Councils to impose fewer conditions and no pre-commencement conditions then they will be well worthwhile.

Allowing more changes of use without the need for planning permission will provide more flexibility when marketing premises and will avoid the considerable time and cost involved with an application. However, uncontrolled changes of use from retail to a variety of uses could lead to a fragmented shopping centre, which could potentially have a harmful effect on the centre.

The proposed changes will no doubt get a different reaction from the business community than from local authorities and it will be interesting to see if all these proposals come into effect come the spring.  If they do it will be good news for businesses but will require a culture change from Councils.  Watch this space!

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

Friday, 15 August 2014

Friday Guest Blog - Making Automatic Enrolment Easy

By John Stirzaker - Financial Adviser, Positive Solutions

Employer duties around Auto Enrolment have been introduced in stages since October 2012, the date your duties first apply is known as your staging date and can be obtained from The Pensions Regulator.

You will need to assess your workforce to determine what kind of ‘worker’ they are. This can be done for you by an adviser, in conjunction with many of the providers in the market. Your duties will then depend on the different types of workers you employ. Some will be enroled into the scheme and others will be offered to join, you are then responsible for the ongoing communication, maintenance and record keeping.

All this can be achieved easily through the use of middleware, a piece of software that will communicate with your payroll system and staff.

Staging dates for smaller employers began in August 2014 for firms with 61 staff through to October 2015 for workforces of 30-39 staff. Fines will be levied of up to £500 per day for not having a scheme in place in time and further fines can be made for not communicating to staff in the correct way.

The right provider and adviser are essential to ensure that the implementation does not impact on your day to day business and leave you with a scheme that does have the right investment potential for you and your staff.  It also presents an excellent opportunity to re-visit the way that you reward and motivate your staff, by reviewing Group Life and Flexible Benefits options.

Positive Solutions have a fantastic proposition that includes firms such as Now:, Peoples Pensions, Standard Life and Scottish Life who have been recognised in the industry for having a fantastic investment proposition and will provide middleware at no extra cost, depending on contribution level at outset.  We have the expertise and knowledge to ensure that your business is not impacted and you are engaging your staff in the process.

Some providers need at least six months to set up the scheme for employers so TPR recommends that you begin to plan for Auto Enrolment 12 months in advance.  Late submissions to providers will either be refused, risking fines, or be charged extra e.g. £2,000 for pushing schemes through.

There are still very real concerns about “capacity crunch” so it is vital employers get the right help as soon as possible. The value of the investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back as much as you put in.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Do You Visit Your Customers?

By David Wright of BSA Marketing

In my last article a couple of months ago, I asked the question:

Do you keep in touch with your contacts?

As a follow up, here is another question:

Do you visit your customers?

I have been struck recently in discussions with clients where they tell me they don’t have regular review meetings with their long-term customers, many of whom form the backbone of their revenues!

Although they say they don’t meet regularly, they recognised the importance of maintaining the business relationships and ensuring that their position as supplier isn’t compromised by the competition. I think they are taking a risk – and missing an opportunity.

Start as you mean to go on

When we start working with a new client, we always meet with them and set a plan of activity so everyone knows who is doing what and when.

An important element of the plan that we always include is scheduling regular future meetings where we can review progress, discuss outcomes and plan forward. We normally aim to meet three-four times a year, though it can be more often if appropriate.

Regular client meetings are key to relationship development.

People buy from people

Unless you are supplying a pure commodity product where price and availability are the predominant buying criteria, you shouldn’t forget the adage that ‘people buy from people’.

This is particularly important where your business benefits from building long-term relationships with your customers. Simply supplying a great product or service at a good price just isn’t enough.

Competitors often have equivalent products or services and can compete on price but they don’t have your relationship with your customers. A relationship needs to be nurtured. It can be what keeps the competition at bay.

Importance of a joined-up contact process

We drive email newsletters as a valuable communications tool, and it really is, but it is just one option in your marketing toolbox. Good marketing should be based around a joined-up process.

While e-newsletters are a great way of keeping in touch with your contacts, letting them know what you are up to, and helping to make sure they don’t forget you, it would be wrong to think that e-mail marketing is all you need. It can create a great platform from which to build engagement with your market but, for most B2B business, it is unlikely to deliver sufficient results by itself. Some ‘sharp-end’ contact can be the activity that takes the relationships established and maintained by e-newsletters and other marketing and turns them into live business opportunities.

Let’s face it, business meetings can take up a lot of time and need to have value for everyone. I mentioned at the start of this article that we typically aim to meet up with clients at least every three-four months. We find this frequency works well as an opportunity to review what we are doing together, resolve any issues and identify development opportunities. On top of these business reasons, and in some ways more important, a face to face discussion will reinforce the personal touch of your business relationship and, as I said above, this can be the essence of success.

Three or four months can be quite a gap and this where a joined-up process combining e-newsletters with meetings can work well. Even if you only send an e-newsletter every two-three months, it means you are contacting your customers almost monthly in one way or another, and this is on top of any deliveries or other informal contact that you might be doing.

Take a look at your own business. Do you visit your customers regularly?

If you don’t visit your customers, maybe you should….

Monday, 4 August 2014

Member Blog: Dangers Facing SMEs out of Recession

By Richard Wright - Prepare to Sell Ltd

Out of recession, most businesses are growing and in many cases experiencing a surge of pent-up demand as investment starts to make up for lost ground.

The big danger for owner-managed smaller/medium sized businesses is 2-fold:

- They cannot continue to grow by simply working longer and harder – that’s not sustainable;
Customers are very sensitive to signs of suppliers under strain. They cannot risk failing their own customers as a result of their suppliers failing to deliver on time and on spec.

In the coming months many SMEs will lose their new customers and their established customers by not properly re-engineering their businesses to cope with sustained growth.

So what does ‘re-engineering’ mean for SMEs to enable them to keep growing profitably?

It requires a cultural change from top to bottom, and more importantly from bottom up.

It means communicating to everybody in the company what the new priorities and performance standards are when operating at full capacity. How often do companies tell their customers “Quality is our top priority” but Production tell their workforce “Just get it out of the door”? The mismatch of priorities is very common and very dangerous. As the workforce become tired, less able and willing to do more overtime, and managers have less time to train new operatives, management generally becomes reactive and increasingly short term.

Customers pick this up straight away. When the phone rings for longer before it’s answered, when people are slow to ring back and are less precise about achievable delivery dates, and when quality dips and dates are missed, it’s time to think about other suppliers. At that stage the goodwill pool (customers’ tolerance) rapidly disappears.

When that happens senior management have limited time and scope to respond. Their options rapidly become limited.

The only solution is to allow everybody in the organisation to take ownership of the solutions and the process to deliver them.

Initiating that process to deliver sustainable growth and release the potential energy and initiatives from the workforce requires outside skill. It’s a cultural change. The management that allowed the problems to arise surely can’t be entirely trusted to deliver the solutions on their own, can they? If the solutions come from senior management as a directive, that’s not a cultural change. So it probably won’t work longer term, will it?

Prepare To Sell Limited ( helps owner-managers re-engineer their businesses to deliver sustainable growth and release added value if they wish to sell.