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

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Member Blog: The social media journey that just keeps on giving

By Dylan Moore - Aqua Design Group
Going back to the start of my experience on social media I was more used to LinkedIn and never thought of Twitter as a tool for the business. Thanks to a conversation with a client, the fantastic Becs McNeill @becsmcneill, instilling some insight during a 1-2-1, I created a profile and went from there. Bit of a rocky start but these things take a bit of time. When the journey gets interesting was a year plus in - I was at a healthy 1,200 followers and heard about Theo Paphitis #SBS (Small Business Sunday), so decided to join in.

Many tweets and over four months later, I won on the 16th October 2011; email went on meltdown for a night and the week was spent responding and spending as much time getting to know those that had followed, fellow winners and lots of new glorious contacts. I'm a firm believer in grabbing opportunities and one win led to another and more time on Twitter led to getting to know more fellow winners. I saw that a few winners were offering #SBS badges to winners and thought I might offer an alternative.

The #SBS benefits started happening shortly after the new year in 2012, when a fellow winner wanted to talk about a re-brand and stationery. Others contacted me based on seeing my award badge styles and a few just wanted to chat. All benefits as it's not just about direct business where the business has come, it's come from fellow winners referring and pointing people towards me.

So my advice to anyone taking part in the variety of Twitter competitions is simple: be a business and not a 'diva'! Follow back all those that have spent time to do the same, communicate, get to know them and the benefits will come and might bring some unexpected surprises too.

The business has been fortunate to network with a variety of different businesses both in the UK and across the world, which has resulted in work from overseas. Being involved with a variety of other competitions and networking on Twitter has resulted in a variety of different award badges which bring daily exposure to the business.

Inspired by the activity on Twitter the business designed a range of #TwitterGeek and #TwitterGeekette graphics and promotional items, which in itself has opened some very interesting doors, and on a Sunday during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, the business decided to start its own Twitter competition (started as a bit of fun and has grown from there). That has proven to be royally fruitful for both the business and the competition entrants.

The results of the #SBS win and other social media activity have been the following: being introduced to new contacts, some of which have become good friends and other clients; increased my Twitter followers which are now over 23,000 over the 3 business accounts; passed over 100k tweets; had the opportunity of working on internal communications projects for Ryman Stationery; general awareness of the business on social media has grown; moved in to an office and the business' website SEO has gone through the roof.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Member Blog: Energy Solutions for Business

By Ciara Taberner - Managing Director, Taberner Consultancy Company Ltd

We all look for ways to save money within our businesses but somehow energy saving does not seem to feature high in cost reduction programmes in UK business.

Studies have recently shown that a further £1.6 BILLION collective business savings could be made on energy bills through greater energy efficiency. Going Green is no longer seen as an overhead and businesses are increasingly realising that it’s now a way to make a profit.

“Making your business green is now a way to make profit"
There are lots of simple and cost effective ways your business can save money by reducing your energy consumption. Below are some of the examples; this is not an exhaustive list by any means but I hope some of this information will help you realise some of the potential savings that can be made by making a few changes.

“An industry building could be losing approximately 60% if its heat through the building fabric”

Payback Period

All energy efficiency improvements have an average payback period which is given in years. The payback period is a calculation worked out by taking the total cost of any improvements and dividing it by the estimated annual bill savings for that improvement.

The cost of installing any improvements will vary on any quotes you may receive, as an installer will tailor the quote to meet the needs for your particular building and every building is slightly different. As with any other business expenses, it is always worth shopping around for a few quotes to ensure best value.

You will receive information on your payback period within your energy assessment.

“Payback periods can be less than a year for some energy efficiency improvements”

Solar PV

There are lots of models on the market to help you install a Solar PV system for your building/s. The first and most important thing to understand is: Does my building face in the right direction? Simply get outside your building with a compass! Most smart phones have a compass on there or you could download a compass app onto your phone.

If one side of your building is South, South East, South West it is more than likely to be suitable for Solar. That is your starting point. There are other factors to take into account like the pitch of your roof, shading, your roof type and size, but that this is something that can be looked at during a survey.

There are two options available for Solar PV:

Fully funded model where the system is paid for by an installing company/investor
Purchase the system outright

These will depend on your own business circumstance but my advice from here would be to get a survey completed and ask the provider to detail out the different options that are available. Remember, not every company will be able to provide a paid and funded model so shop around to find the right solution for you.  

Fully installed and maintained system

This would consist of the panels being installed and maintained for 20/25 years free of charge and your company gets the savings on your electricity bill. The provider/investor would get the Feed in Tariff and they would make the profit out of the Feed in Tariff giving them a return on their investment over the agreed period. Savings on your electricity bill will depend on your roof orientation and size.

Purchase the system outright 

The alternative is you pay for the system up front and your business gets the reduction on the electricity bill and the return on investment from the Feed in Tariff

What is the Feed in Tariff? 

Feed-in tariffs (FiTs) make the business case for installing renewable energy for electricity generation more attractive. They were introduced to encourage the use of small scale electricity generation from renewables to help meet the Government's renewable energy generation targets.

The Feed in Tariff (FIT) provides three financial benefits for your business:

1. If you generate your own renewable electricity you are paid for the electricity you produce and the excess exported to the grid, you also don't have to buy as much electricity from a supplier.

2. A generation tariff pays for every kWh of electricity generated. The level of the tariff depends on the type and size of technology used, and when it was installed. You are "locked into" the tariff level that is current when the equipment is installed for the life of the installation or the life of the tariff (10 - 25 years).

3. An export tariff pays for any electricity exported to the grid. You can either accept a flat rate or try to negotiate a better rate with your electricity supplier.

To recap…. when you have the system installed for free you get the savings on your bill and the investor gets the Feed in Tariff.

When you pay for the system yourself – you get the savings plus the Feed in Tariff. As you have paid for the system up front it will take a few years for you to move into profit but once that original is paid off you will start to see your return on investment. How quickly you will start to see that return will depend on a number of factors such as the size and orientation of your roof but you will make a return on your investment!

I am not suggesting you take that option. It is obvious that for some businesses the free model will work better and you will still be receiving the big savings on your energy bill therefore whatever model you choose, if your roof is suitable, I would still encourage you to install as many energy saving technologies as you can.


I would encourage you to have a survey completed on your property to establish if your property is suitable for any kind of insulation measures such as solid wall insulation, cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, flat roof insulation.

Most of these measures are relatively low cost and provide huge bill savings.

LED Lighting

Again another simple, low cost solution that can save approximately two thirds of the cost of your lighting bills! Payback periods are normally as low as one year.

Other Energy Saving Tips and Advice 

Make sure your boiler is regularly serviced; every 12 months is a must to ensure it's working effectively and efficiently.
Draught Proofing - do the one pence test. If a one pence coin can slide between a window and its frame, draught proofing will be cost effective.
Draught proofing doors
If you do need to replace your boiler make sure you use a GASSAFE registered installer. Shop around for quotes and ensure your installer sizes the boiler correctly for your building size, usage and radiator numbers.
Keep windows and skylights clean to maximise daylight
Add loft insulation to any uninsulated roof space
Check internal wall insulation and consider upgrading
Take advantage of any refurbishment work to make energy saving improvements
Get online and check out British Board of Agrément Website. You can check your insulation installer on here to ensure they are accredited to install the different materials  
It is also good to check the National Insulation Association website. There is a public area where you can check out your installer.  It really important to select a good company as incorrect installation can lead to problems in the building later on:

What next?

Get an EPC or ESOS assessment completed on your property to establish which technologies are best for your building.  It’s important to choose a suitably qualified individual who can look at your building and advise the best possible ways for your business to save money and reduce energy consumption.  Make sure this is someone independent.

You should ask them to produce a report on your business, along with which technologies would be best suited to your building, payback periods on each measure and your energy usage.

Ask them to include an analysis on your gas and electricity tariff to see if you can make any savings on that too. You will then need quotations/funded models for each of the measures and you can make an informed decision the next course of actions.  You might decide to get one company or various companies to do this. Make sure you get a few quotes from different suppliers.

If you are a large undertaking you must carry out an ESOS assessment every four years. ESOS is the Energy Savings Opportunities scheme. ESOS is a mandatory energy assessment scheme for organisations in the UK that meet the qualification criteria. These assessments are audits of the energy used by their buildings, industrial processes and transport to identify cost-effective energy saving measures.

A large undertaking is an organisation that carries out a trade or business which either:

employs at least 250 people
employs less than 250 people but has an annual turnover in excess of 50 million euro (£38,937,777), and an annual balance sheet total in excess of 43 million euro (£33,486,489)

Helpful Links:

Contact Ciara at Taberner Consultancy Consultancy Ltd via

Friday, 6 March 2015

Member Blog: It is all About Building Your Brand

By David Wright, a Director at B2B marketing communication specialists BSA Marketing 

A number of things have conspired over the last week or so to make me think carefully about what digital marketing is all about, and the realities of SME marketing and growth in the digital age.

What got me thinking were discussions with three clients (all SMEs) about our work with them.

Each is focusing on a different priority:

  • Leads and short term business development
  • Analytics and measurement
  • Brand, and tone of voice in communications

Since the 1980s I have worked in marketing in both the corporate and SME worlds, through the birth and growth of the digital marketing age.

In my experience, corporates (successful ones at least) focus on building the brand, whilst SMEs tend to focus on generating leads and short term business development.

Perhaps this is not too surprising as traditionally, building the brand has been an expensive process that is beyond the resources of smaller companies, whilst taking the short term approach, many SMEs are able to build a reasonably successful and profitable business - up to a point.

However, to see real success and growth, maybe companies need to look longer term and think more about building their brand.

I believe this is where the real potential of digital marketing lies for SMEs.

Looking at how digital marketing services are often sold and it’s too often about the short term:

  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Google/Social Media Advertising
  • Website Conversion Optimisation
  • Optimistation of the sales funnel

These are all sold (by some web marketers) as “magic wands”. They can be relatively easy to sell as they seem to offer highly measurable, short term benefits. However in my experience, they too often disappoint!

Now don’t get me wrong, they are all potentially vital elements of successful marketing programmes, but my suggestion is that by focusing on them as the ultimate goal you are focusing on the wrong thing.

Let’s face it, all really successful companies have one thing in common. They have a strong brand, and marketing is focused on maintaining and developing that brand as a platform. By telling their story in a way that is relevant and attractive to their target market, people see the benefit they can get so do business with them and, assuming their business model is sound, sales and profitability tend to follow. Within this context the elements described above become tools in the process of building a brand in a planned and measured way. But the ultimate goal is the development of the brand, not the optimisation of individual metrics.

“That’s great in the resource rich corporate world” I hear you say, “But how does that relate to me?”

I would suggest that through digital marketing, every micro and SME business now has the potential to build a brand and to deliver the successes associated with this that used to be only accessible to large, rich corporations. But by focusing on the short rather than long term they are missing out on this opportunity.

Let’s look at the process of building a brand. I see it as a simple four step process:

1. Understand what your business is about, and the value that you offer

2. Understand your market and how they will perceive this value

3. Use this to build your brand story

4. Engage with your market to tell your story using the tools offered by the digital age

I accept this is easy to say, but slightly more difficult to bring to reality!

Even so, developing a strong brand is well within the capacity of most business owners, and ultimately can deliver! However it does require a shift in mindset and the willingness and resources to commit to investing (and yes, it is an investment) in marketing communication.

The digital marketing tools now available mean that your investment need not be substantial, is not always purely financial, and is well within the reach of most micro and SME businesses.

BSA Marketing specialises in supporting businesses through this process, and helping clients to build their brand using digital marketing. Furthermore, we can access financial support to assist SME businesses who would like to explore the process of brand building as a route to profitable growth.

If this has inspired you to rethink you marketing and want to explore the possibilities, for your business, we would love to talk to you. Email 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Member Blog: How can an apprentice benefit your business?

By Adrian Bird - The Apprentice Finder

Next week is National Apprenticeship Week in the UK, so now is a good time to take a look at apprenticeships and how they could benefit your business in time for the summer influx of candidates seeking apprenticeship positions.

First of all, let's get the basics out of the way. The Oxford Dictionary definition of an apprentice is: A person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages.

Breaking the definition down, the wage needs to be at least £2.73 per hour, the work needs to be for at least 30 hours per week (therefore classified as full-time) for a minimum of 12 months. Most industries have a form of structured apprenticeship scheme to offer these days so it is a viable way for businesses to introduce entry-level employees into their workforce and should see apprenticeships as part of a structured long-term succession plan to ensure that they have the skills needed within their organisation. Apprenticeships shouldn't be seen either as a short-term fix or a low-cost solution. To be effective, you need to ensure you have the resource to support, mentor and train your apprentice(s) so they go on to be successful for your business.

Apprenticeships were often seen as a second-class option for many educators, offered only to those who didn't have the capability to enter higher education. This is no longer the case. Professional organisations such as accountants, schools and solicitors are now turning to apprenticeships because many able young people are being put off by the high cost of attending University (the average debt a graduate can expect currently stands at £44,000). The benefit for the young person is clear, but what about the employer? Well, it gives the employer the chance to recruit someone with graduate potential before they want to command the graduate salary. They can mould the apprentice into the type of employee they're looking for at an age when people are at their most impressionable. Many employers will then subsidise and support their apprentice through higher levels of learning when it's appropriate because by that stage they know that they have a staff member worth investing in.

In some instances, apprenticeships can offer the same learning as a degree can. Take Digital Media for instance. I was recently discussing and comparing what apprentices learned on the Level 3 apprenticeship as opposed to a degree in the subject with a University lecturer. His response to me was: “If they learn how to update web pages, optimise them, write blog articles and manage social media accounts there's not much point in sending them to us as that's what we teach them.”

In order to recruit an apprentice, there are several paths an employer can take. Local further education colleges are one option, as are the wide range of private training providers that deliver the training. You might find that the ideal candidate makes a personal introduction or you could also use a specialist apprentice broker/ recruitment service such as ourselves to help you. Typically there won't be a recruitment fee to pay as the Skills Funding Agency factor recruitment costs into the funding amounts issued to the providers.

In order to give yourself the opportunity to find the most suitable candidate, as an employer you should expect the process to take a couple of months from start to finish. It might be that the agency you work with already has the talent you're looking for on their books. If so, the time frame will be shorter. At this time of year candidates that are still at school or college start making enquiries. Often these are the strongest candidates as they are working pro-actively to ensure they have their next step arranged before they tackle their exams in May and June.

If you think that apprenticeships could benefit your business, why not book an initial consultation with The Apprentice Finder? They work with a range of providers in the area to make apprenticeships happen. You can contact them on 08001444022 or by sending an email to:  

Friday, 27 February 2015

Member Blog: The Pros and Cons of Social Media

By Ailsa Lorimer – Screening Manager, REED Screening & Compliance Services

In this day and age it’s hard to go a day without checking our various social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and so many others that it would take up this full article to mention them all. I can’t be the only one who breaks out into a cold sweat the minute I realise I’ve left my precious smart phone at home and now have to suffer through a day without those all important insights into what my friends, family, colleagues and various other people I don’t even know have had for their dinner.

Whilst the content of my Facebook page and Instagram keeps me more than entertained on a daily basis, working in the pre-employment vetting industry I can’t help but think about just how much information there is about an individual online. Information that can more often than not be incriminating and information that the majority of people wouldn’t want shared with prospective employers, particularly when they’ve put so much effort into a CV that paints them in the best light.

At REED Screening our aim is to vet potential employees to the best possible standard thus ensuring that our clients are getting quality workers who pose minimal risk. Our clients have very specific needs with regards to the checks we carry out on individuals. We complete a range of checks including credit, fraud, ID, referencing and criminal record checks, but, as times have moved on so have the needs of our clients and one area that has featured heavily this year is the increased use of social media checks. At the most basic level this is done in the form of a Google search, which in itself returns interesting results. If you’ve ever taken the time to Google yourself you’ll know that results include information about your Facebook account, your Instagram account, your LinkedIn profile and any news articles you may have been mentioned in and you’re only a click away from those pictures you wish you’d never taken.

Working in recruitment I know that it’s the news articles in particular  that are most relevant for any employer. Despite what information is held on your CV, it’s actually these results that can make the difference between your dream job and another week trawling through various job sites. News articles can be particularly damning. One recent example that springs to mind is a news article that featured a recruitment consultant based in Huddersfield working for a well known recruitment agency. Just a simple search on that worker's name calls up several articles on £8,000 fraud that he committed whilst in employment. Dependent on the other checks that have been run in conjunction with the media check, it’s very possible that this information would have cropped up elsewhere, however I think it’s safe to say that the media check alone is worth its weight, particularly if the appropriate actions haven’t been taken by the ex-employer in terms of full disclosure to future employers on the reference and adding that person to the relevant fraud databases.

There are a lot of clients who don’t conduct this check just yet so all is not lost for now, but with the increased number of us that now use social media and the freely available information I can’t imagine it will be too much time before other employers begin using the check as part of their pre-employment vetting.

So, in summary, and the very obvious moral of the story, for all those wishing to procure a new job in the near future, pay very close attention to exactly what it is you’re uploading to your various social media sites so that you can walk into that coveted interview with the knowledge that your potential employer is getting the best possible first impression.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Chamber Blog: A Night at the Museum

By Emma Antrobus, Transport Policy Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

After working really closely with Alstom as a Chamber patron over the last two years, I was delighted to be invited to their annual dinner, being held at the Natural History Museum in London. It was my first visit to the museum and I was rendered speechless as I arrived. The architecture is stunning – designed by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed Manchester Town Hall – and beautifully lit against a clear winter’s evening.

More than 300 guests from the energy and transport sectors were gathered to celebrate Alstom’s partnerships and successes over the last year and to look forward to evolving over the coming year as the power business transfers to General Electric, and the high levels of investment in the transport industry start to offer increasing opportunities for engineering companies.

Dinner was held in the main hall of the museum, overseen by the Diplodocus who is soon to go on his travels. Compered by Alstom’s Communications Director, Mike Scott, there was a short introduction from Terence Watson, the UK President and Transport Managing Director. This was followed by an inspiring and humorous speech from Patrick Kron, Alstom’s Chairman and Chief Executive (Président-Directeur Général).

The keynote speaker was Maggie Aderin-Pocock, scientist and co-presenter of the BBC’s The Sky at Night. She spoke movingly about how visits to the Natural History and Science museums inspired her to want to work in space and that the logic of engineering helped her to overcome her dyslexia. As well as her enormous enthusiasm for engineering, she is passionate about inspiring the next generation to want to follow in her footsteps - a theme which resonates with so many of the Chamber’s activities.

Overall my night at the museum was entertaining and fascinating, and I can’t wait to visit again.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

President's Blog: Neil Smith

Chamber President, Neil Smith, gives his views on what’s been happening in the Greater Manchester business community.

Momentum in the Manchester devolution agenda continued into the New Year with the Chamber hosting a visit to Manchester by Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne. Held in the old Granada Studios building, with the site shortly to be renamed ‘the Factory’, the £80million home for theatre and performance and the new, permanent home of the hugely successful Manchester International Festival. The phrase “long-term economic plan” was restated, but it remains a concept with which no one can disagree. As a businessman I would argue that, yes, it needs to be long term, but it also should have sustainable competitive advantage as part of its mantra too.

The recent Chamber Assembly debated the impact of an elected mayor, as well as the delivery model of devolution. Currently the roles of all stakeholders in managing this are still unclear, but the model we will have to work with is now known. The Chamber has strong relationships with all parties and will continue to communicate with them and establish its position in supporting the process and, importantly, clarify not just how this will impact the business community in Greater Manchester, but also how its voice, needs and concerns can be clearly heard and truly influence this new development. This month, I was also invited to a session at the British Chambers of Commerce in London to further understand their strategy and to reinforce the link with their largest and most influential chamber – Greater Manchester. Our Chamber is very much leading in the way in strengthening the links between the Chamber network at the BCC: we’re currently hosting a number of BCC staff in our offices for short periods to increase the partnership and collaborative working between the two organisations, in the same way that our head of research is working closely with BCC and is leading the national network position on a number of subjects. The BCC has recently published its manifesto – “A Business Plan for Britain” – and this is the focus of their campaigning work in the run-up to, and beyond, the coming general election. Amongst the key areas of focus, two core campaigns were highlighted for 2015.

Firstly, internationalisation .There is a plan to further redevelop a worldwide model which will complement the current UKTI model of support. All of this is linked to a government target of £1 trillion of exports by 2020, a tough ask indeed, and one we have criticised for being unachievable: nothing is gained by setting policy on the back of big round numbers, much better to define a clear and tangible strategy. Worthy of note is that the UK is second in the world in exporting services, an area often ignored in our current export support initiatives. Many of those focus on manufacturing exports and on medium- and large-sized businesses, however far more needs to be done to engage with SMEs, and particularly the smaller ones. Greater Manchester Chamber is focusing on enhancing the model currently in place, and I’ll give an update on this key campaign and its delivery next month.

The second campaign is to further link and enhance the relationship between education and business. This is something the skills team within the Chamber has as a core priority, linked to the apprenticeships offering as a clear alternative to further education. Lots of energy is spent talking about apprenticeships and links with colleges and universities, but the BCC is rightly campaigning for greater engagement before this stage, strengthening the links between business and schools. The earlier we can engage, influence and guide our young people about the options available to them in the future world of work, the more successful both they and our companies will be.

On that note, the success of the Employer Ownership of Skills pilot led by the Chamber’s Employment and Skills team has been widely recognised and acknowledged by government – it has been the single most successful scheme in the whole of the UK. As this pilot comes to an end, it is critical that we continue to influence the future commissioning of employment and skills, so that further investment can be made into this model. It is only when a true intermediary like a Chamber of Commerce can be used that any successful penetration of the SME market will happen.

In many ways, the greatest event recently took place at the end of last year. Finally, in December, the Chamber relocated to Elliot House. It is a fantastic venue for staff and members alike, situated on Deansgate in the heart of the city. Such a relocation is no mean feat, but it was extremely well-executed and serves as a great venue to further the Chamber’s ambitions and its offering to members for the coming year ahead.

I look forward to catching up with as many of you as possible in our new location.


Friday, 20 February 2015

Member Blog: Forewarned is forearmed

By Dave Buston, Chief Executive Officer of Trident Operations Ltd

Going about our daily business, we would all like to think that the threat of a terrorist attack is a distant one. Most of us have more pressing matters to deal with, targets to meet and clients to keep happy.

But the recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris proved a sobering reminder of how swiftly that risk can become a reality.

The sheer range and scale of current threats means that our businesses must become more resilient, pro-actively putting in place measures to reduce the vulnerability of our people, assets, sites and critical activities.

Trident’s team of former military and police consultants have started running work shops to try and raise awareness among our fellow Manchester companies and help them prepare for any eventuality, ensure their staff are adequately protected and their business can bounce back quickly and efficiently.

Is there a threat to Greater Manchester?

The current UK threat level from international terrorism is set at severe, meaning a strike is “highly expected” and the British security services have warned of an increased likelihood of “mass casualty attacks”.

With Manchester having one of the busiest retail centres in the country, it then follows that it would be an attractive target. The outcome of a successful strike would, of course, create the high media profile ‘spectacular event’ that terrorists seek to exploit. These events have happened and unfortunately might happen again here.

Are we taking the threat seriously enough?

In my experience, some companies do a great job of managing risk well. This is often as a result of top management ownership and an effective governance and communications mechanism that is embedded throughout the organisation. However, most companies are challenged with the immediacy of improving or at least maintaining the bottom line for survival, so something has to give. Risk assessment has a subjective, perception-based component so inexperienced individuals can fail to properly determine the threat, leading to inaccurate metrics and the failure to put in place the appropriate preventative controls.

What makes a business vulnerable?

Not having effective, fit for purpose response and recovery contingency plans and procedures in place to mitigate the disruptive nature of a crisis and any adverse impact on an organisation's revenue, reputation and regulatory compliance. A lack of physical protection, security awareness and access control by staff could disrupt a company to the extent that it is unable to sustain the minimum level of operations it needs to survive. Meanwhile, failing to manage stakeholder expectations and the media will cause huge intangible damage. Furthermore, not protecting, training or briefing staff adequately could lead to non-compliance with H&S Law, the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act and also the Civil Contingencies Act (the latter if a public organisation, or Critical National Infrastructure).

What is the biggest mistake most companies make?

The key error is to put in place systems that simply tick the corporate governance, risk management and compliance box, but in reality are not fit for purpose, never tested, never properly trained throughout the normal turnover of staff and, therefore, leave a business exposed during a real event. Very few anticipate the threat, assess the impact and prepare so that they can respond and recover much more quickly. Even less continuously review the framework and learn from it so that they can be much more effective in their response.

What can Manchester firms do to prevent such an attack?

Speak to Greater Manchester Police Counter Terrorism Security Advisors (CTSAs) for free and up to date advice. Engage suitably qualified professionals to independently review and test out their incident/crisis management plans to ensure they are fit for purpose. This will bridge the gap between what the police can offer and the work of an internal risk manager or business continuity manager.

Regularly conduct a thorough business impact analysis and threat assessment to identify critical business activities, how they may be affected over time during a disruption and ensure simple, coherent plans are in place, staff are trained and alternative arrangements and resources are available.

Who can help?

Trident Operations Ltd offers consultants who draw on vast experience of working in counter terrorism, business continuity planning and audit and wider enterprise risk management. We offer a variety of crisis management services from devising contingency plans right through to handling physical and mental trauma risk management in staff, conducting comprehensive security vulnerability assessments of facilities or running full scale ‘live’ scenario-based exercises involving physical security penetration testing.

For more information, visit:

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Member Blog: The Cyber Security Risk to SMEs

By Andy Long - Regional Partner at Stonehouse Logic Limited

One of the topics I always raise when visiting potential clients is what measures they have in place to protect their IT network and business from internet borne threats. Disappointingly, a lot of small business owners and directors will often either plead ignorance in this department or, more worryingly, not feel this is something that will effect an SME. A common response is that why would a cyber-criminal target my little business, surely they are after the big corporations? The fact is, most large corporations have extensive budgets for cyber security making them a very difficult nut to crack. This has resulted in hackers moving lower down the chain and specifically targeting smaller business with weaker systems.

It's important to understand that today's hackers are no longer the spotty 16 year old sat in his bedroom trying to cause a bit of havoc. Cyber-crime is big business and is carried out by advanced criminal organisations and even governments. So ask yourself, do you have anything that may be of interest to them? The simple answer is if you have money in the bank, have some intellectual property such as a blueprint or formula that is unique or even if you are in the supply chain to a larger organisation then then the answer is most definitely yes.

Here are some facts. In 2014, 60% of small business reported a security breach. The cost of the worst breaches on average ranged from £60k to £115k and this figure has increased year on year for the last three years. I personally helped a local business that had what the owner described as a "substantial amount of money" taken from their bank account due to a security breach.

Increasingly, security breaches are cleverly targeted at a specific company. It doesn't take much detective work to find the names of people within a business and at that point a criminal organisation can start to use a "social engineered" attack with personalised emails to an employee containing malware, quite often followed up by phone calls claiming to be from their bank. This was the method used against the company I mentioned earlier and within minutes two transactions had been taken from the account.

Another threat that businesses often forget about is that of employees. You trust your employees with access to sensitive data and systems, however a large proportion of security breaches are either maliciously or accidentally caused by staff members. This can be either stealing important data or information, sabotaging data or just plain and simple deleting data by accident.

So what basic steps can you take to help protect your business? Here is a checklist:-

* MALWARE PROTECTION - ensure up to date antivirus is installed on all systems and that Windows or Mac OS security patches are updated regularly. Running out of date operating systems (such as Windows XP) and internet browsers is an easy way to invite problems

* NETWORK SECURITY - use an effective firewall to protect your network at the boundary and ensure your wireless network is secure

* SECURE CONFIGURATION - keep an inventory of your IT equipment and software and use policies to ensure users have effective and difficult to crack passwords

* MANAGE USER PRIVILEGES - keep access for staff and third-parties to the minimum. Over-privileging users is a common way for data to be compromised or stolen.

* HOME AND MOBILE WORKING - where possible, encrypt sensitive data on mobile devices and ensure online transmission of data is via secure methods only.

* REMOVABLE MEDIA - restrict use of media such as USB drives and memory cards and ensure any sensitive data that needs to be stored on these is encrypted.

* TRAIN YOUR STAFF - this is possibly the most important area. Ensure your staff are aware of the risks and their role in keeping the business secure.

As you can see, some fairly basic steps will help protect your business and mitigate the risk posed by cyber threats. If you have concerns or would like some further advice then please contact StoneHouse Logic and we will happily discuss how you can improve your IT security.

The team at Stonehouse Logic is holding an event on 24th March about Office 365 and Sharepoint - The new way to work together. For more information, follow the link below:

Friday, 13 February 2015

Member Blog: Pressure is the catalyst for results

Pressure is the catalyst for results, says Natalie Merrison, Head of Affiliates at Active Win Media. 

As a company expands, so does the workload. The incredible expansion that Active Win has undergone in its first year of business has resulted in vast opportunities for the team and an immense workload for all involved.

As Head of Affiliates, I am responsible for ensuring our affiliate programme is of the highest standard for our clients. I manage a team of ten and a budget in excess of £6M.

I firmly believe that pressure is the catalyst to getting results.

Being part of a fast- paced environment often puts substantial demands on people and requires well-honed organisational skills. Staying organised is key to everything I do. I employ basic strategies to keep on top of my job and ensure everything is done on time.

Good planning can help diminish stress levels. I develop logical (and realistic) plans that can be broken down into manageable tasks.  I write endless ‘to do’ lists and trust the ‘task’ bar on the computer to remind me what needs to be done from day to day. My inbox is colour co-ordinated so I know what I need to chase up, and from whom. In this respect it’s a great help having a structured set of departments.

As a team we try to go out socially regularly so we can relax around each other and have conversations about other areas of our lives. Team activities are always beneficial and can really bring the team together. I am currently planning our next team bonding day for summer.

My advice to anyone in this type of environment is to not take things to heart. When facing deadlines in any fast-paced industry, it’s easy to become stressed, especially when you’re spinning so many plates. But take a moment to stop and check that you’re spinning the right plates. Do they align with the company’s /clients vision and goals?

I find it helps to keep a level head when completing the task in hand.

Maintaining a healthy work and home life balance is also crucial. It’s important to not carry the weight of stress around with you. I often take my laptop home at weekends; however, I try to leave it in the office during the week. Remaining organised allows you to stay on top of things so that you don’t fall behind and create unnecessary stress.

Don’t be afraid to go above and beyond to get results, but don’t forget that having time to yourself is vital and results in consistency and happiness - as opposed to burning bright and burning fast!
Leaving work knowing you have done the best you can guarantees satisfaction and makes you look forward to continuing the next morning.