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

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 (www.preparetosell.co.uk) 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.

http://www.connectivityassociates.com/

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.

http://www.thinkpositive.co.uk/



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 (www.preparetosell.co.uk) helps owner-managers re-engineer their businesses to deliver sustainable growth and release added value if they wish to sell.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Where did all our profit go?


By Greg Jackson - Training and Innovation Manager, SR Supply Chain Consultants Ltd


Regardless of the size of the organisation, the question of why we haven’t realised the profit we expected is worryingly all too familiar. It is particularly worrying as the answer is usually fairly simple, and over and over again it is because organisations fail to understand the concept of cost.

As a procurement training and consultancy firm, one of the first questions we ask is for an organisation to differentiate between price and cost.  Some look confused, some start confidently and slow as they realise they have described the same thing and others give the clear correct description:

Price – is the amount we pay for goods or the provision of a service to a supplier.

Cost – are all the associated sums that are required to enable the successful implementation or use of those goods or services.

As companies we are obsessed with the price of goods, constantly asking to “get it cheaper” or for the explanation of “why can our competitors get it so much cheaper than us?” Sometimes these are valid questions, and by utilising our resources we may be able to reduce down these prices. However, I have yet to work with a company and to find that they were not guilty of getting so tangled up in the price that they fail to realise the competition maybe buying better than them; but it might have nothing to do with the price they are paying.

A simple but powerful example of these costs is that of raising purchase orders.  Every time I see this price in the media it seems to get more inflated, with a recent survey quoting upwards of £200 per order, however this does seem extreme. From my experience it is much more likely to be between £30-£50.  Even at these prices, the implications could be significant.  Even at £30 a company with a margin aspiration of 10% would need to achieve sales of £300 for every purchase order just to cover its cost!  How many purchase orders did your company send last year?  By reducing the amount by 10% how much additional profit could have been achieved? If the value is high maybe it would be worth looking at purchasing cards or the use of e-catalogues for some of your lower spends items.  Even if the price is a little more, maybe the costs are more important.

Purchase orders aside there are hundreds of processes, procedures and transactions that go on within every company, all taking time, costing money and eating away at our profits.

If we manage our costs, though more efficient procurement policies and procedures taking firm control of what we spend in an organisation the savings can be game changing, allowing us realise our profit potential.

If you would like to learn about what we have to offer visit www.srscc.co.uk or email info@srscc.co.uk.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Member Blog: So how do we make our staff want to be in the office?


By Steve Sutherland, Director, Social Circle


Starting to notice the post-holiday blues among your staff? Slumped shoulders, window gazing and a general lack of energy are all key indicators… and for some people, coming back from holiday can trigger feelings that they no longer want to keep doing what they're doing, they’re considering making enormous changes to their lives.

This, coupled with last month’s change in flexible working legislation, which now allows everyone with 26 weeks continuous service the right to request flexible working could fuel any unrest, with employees considering home-working or switching to a part-time role, but not all business models can support these requests.

So with the combination of post-holiday blues and the widely heralded easier route to flexible working, how do we keep our staff motivated and wanting to do their job in the office environment?

Each employee needs to feel wanted in the workplace, both in relation to their job and also socially among colleagues. Demonstrating care to individual staff members can be a cost-effective route to loyal staff. Simple things like ensuring they take lunch breaks will make them happier and also more productive in the afternoon.

Some Manchester companies are taking this seriously and investing in encouraging their staff to be more sociable. We have helped them put a scheme in place to enable them an easy way to interact outside of the workplace and get to know each other better, creating a greater camaraderie when they are in the office.

With these schemes, staff can choose from over 150 activities each month to do with their colleagues, or by themselves, outside of work. The majority of the pursuits, such as fitness classes, zumba, movie nights and ten pin bowling are free to the employee and cost the employer just £1 per employee, per month. There are also more serene activities such as chocolate making and Spanish lessons. Some of the more adventurous activities, such as vertical ice climbing, abseiling and extreme caving are subsidised.

Our clients are saying that the activities their staff are now doing have created a real buzz in the office – not dissimilar to the Christmas party buzz – but they’re now getting it all year round, which is helping with staff retention as well as increased productivity.

Demonstrating a vibrant work social scene can help with recruitment too, especially those who are relocating to the area or younger recruits. Increasingly, job seekers are favouring employers who can demonstrate a friendly, sociable culture.

Ultimately, getting to know colleagues better and trying new things helps employees to feel better in body and mind, which makes them happier, more productive and more motivated to be in the office.

Social Circle currently offers over 150 events and activities each month for employees to choose from, for a cost of just £1 per employee per month. The innovative company is offering free advice on staff retention and free corporate membership trials for Manchester-based companies until the end of August 2014.


About Social Circle

Social Circle is the only company in the UK wholly dedicated to providing employees with a social life outside of the workplace.

The established Manchester-based activity and events company helps increase workplace productivity while reducing absenteeism and recruitment costs. 

Completely different to ‘away day providers’, the innovative company offers employees regular opportunities to socialise with colleagues whilst creating more variety and diversity in their lives. 



Friday, 25 July 2014

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



By Adrian Ashton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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



Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Chamber Blog: Tameside Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, 21 July 2014

Member Blog: A First Look at Twitter Analytics


By Tom Linn - Project Manager, Thomas Cole Internet Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linkedin - http://www.linkedin.com/in/thomaslinn
Twitter - @tomlinnuk
Blog – http://www.tomlinn.uk
Google Plus - https://plus.google.com/+TomLinnuk/posts
E-Mail – tom.linn@thomascole.net

http://www.thomascole.net/