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

Friday, 26 June 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Tender is the fright...confessions of a serial pitcher

by Alan Salter, Editor and Managing Director, Transport Matters

I thought I would be a bit richer by now. Not necessarily a private jet but perhaps a Mercedes or two.

But all is not lost. After almost two years as an entrepreneur, I am enrolling for the Chamber’s “Exciting business opportunities for SME's in the public sector” seminar. So this time next year, I’ll be a millionaire.

In a former life, I was once approached by a foreign transport company bidding for a public contract in Greater Manchester. They thought that a rival was being unfairly favoured and after an investigation, I agreed.
Sadly, my superiors dithered and while the article mouldered in the “pending” tray, the foreign company gave up, obviously doubting our courage, and dropped their complaints. The story was eventually used on the business pages but by then, it was seriously devalued.

I should have been warned by that episode of the misery which lay ahead. That same company told me it had spent 10 YEARS pitching for large project in South America, only to lose it.
Fast forward, and here I am tendering for my own company...and what a nightmare. Over the last two years, I have probably wasted as much time on preparing pqq’s and tenders as actually doing any useful work.

I have forked out for £5m of employee liability insurance, even though my only employees below board level are two Jack Russell dogs. And one of those has adopted a consultant’s role, lying around on the bed all day waiting to alert me to the arrival of the mail. I would sack him but for my Equality and Diversity Policy.

I have £10m of public liability insurance – and a Health and Safety Policy to avoid ever having to draw on it. Rochdale Council insists I recycle all my household waste. Does that count as an Environmental Management Policy? I’m good at what I do but apparently I need a Quality Assurance Certificate to prove it.
The blurb for my Chamber course speaks of “difficulties in identifying contracts and overly bureaucratic tendering processes” which have put off many small businesses from “getting a slice of this lucrative market”.

Well, I’ve identified the contracts but that is only half the battle. Consider this latest email exchange with a public body with which I have had a long association:

THEM: Dear All, We have now completed the evaluation of the PQQ submissions which we received. Unfortunately, I have to inform you that your submissions have not passed the evaluation process with sufficiently high a score to be able to be passed to the ITT stage.I would like to thank you for the effort which went into the submissions and for providing us with the opportunity to review them. Regards, XXXXXXProcurement Category Manager

ME: Is there to be any feedback?

THEM: Alan, My apologies - on looking for your scores I now realise that although we have a record of issuing a PQQ to yourselves, we did not receive a submission. Please ignore my earlier e-mail. Regards, XXXXX

I am considering my position on that one. I’ve found the completed pqq on my laptop. It was submitted EIGHT months ago. There is little chance of proving that they lost it as all I did was put it in the post. I guess hand delivery is the way forward...though it’s difficult when you are reaching out to the north of Scotland one minute and Cornwall the next.

Then there are the stupid things you do – like spend most of a holiday finishing of the forms for one tender and then taking the word of the woman in Smiths that the envelope you buy is not a “large” and only needs an ordinary first class stamp. Only when we got home – after the closing date - did I check it against the GPO template and discovered that it was, in fact, a “large” and is probably still waiting in a post office in Middlesbrough awaiting the excess payment.

Still, it’s marginally better than applying for jobs. I have a growing blacklist of large public organisations – including Manchester and Salford councils and Salford University - who don’t even bother replying. And my seminar will, I am sure, help me get over the Catch 22 of public organisations demanding a huge turnover before handing out a contract.

And then, who knows, this time next year....
Visit the Chamber's Events Calendar here or speak to our Events team on 0161 875 2359.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

PR on a Budget: today's event

by Sheena Henthorne, Communications Director

Thanks to everyone who attended this morning's 'PR on a Budget' event, we hope you found it valuable. Thanks also to Jo Leah of Weber Shandwick, who gave a great presentation on what PR can do for your business and some steps you can take to generate awareness and ultimately, make that phone ring!
Jo will be blogging for us about the event, recapping some of her ideas and also posting a PR Toolkit you can use to get through to the media more effectively... so watch out for that. We've also recorded the event in full and will be making the podcast available along with Jo's blog.

I'd also like to make you aware that we are holding one-to-one Social Media surgeries with Tangerine PR on 17th September, here at the Chamber's Oxford Street offices. More details and information on how to book can be found on our Events calendar
Thanks again for those who attended and for those who couldn't make it or for anyone who wants to find out more about Weber Shandwick's new Bitesize PR service, aimed at giving SMEs a cheaper inroad into the world of PR, contact Hannah Roberts at Weber Shandwick on 0161 238 9405.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Business on 4: How to motivate your staff

Last night was the start of a new series on Channel 4 - Undercover Boss. If you missed it, you can catch up with it here. In each episode, one of the top dogs of British business goes undercover in their own company to find out what's working, what's not and to discover the employees who deserve some recognition.

To support the show, Channel 4 have produced a microsite with more info about the show and lots of useful business advice, articles and ideas.

GM Chamber's Business Training team has contributed a really useful article to the website about how to motivate your staff - without the need for going undercover! It's a five point plan that any business would find useful.

If you'd like to speak to our Business Training team you can call 0845 608 3388 or just click to view our Business Training Calendar.
Have a good weekend!

Friday Guest Blog: Lessons from Obama

by Phil Lewis, Director of Winning Pitch TV

There’s a formula for traditional advertising and marketing, and consumers are getting rather tired of it. Pick a campaign, any campaign, and the chances are you’ll spot one or more of the following… A tendency by the brand owner to preach, boast, instruct? Check. The use of a ‘God-like’ tone? Check. A solutions-based language? Check. A – yawn – seductive lifestyle proposition?Check check check.

That isn’t to say that advertising and marketing is always badly done, or that some or all of the above techniques don’t have their place. But it’s no surprise that consumers have got wise to how brand owners’ minds often seem to work and are switching off in their droves.

Not all businesses have propositions that can be conveniently boiled down to a USP. Markets are crowded, and in the information age staying ahead of the competition is often a matter of subtle differentiation. For brands with complex value propositions not only does the ‘KISS’ principle often sell them short, it also lacks credibility as it doesn’t reflect the brand’s true nature. It’s OK to be complex; consumers can cope.

These trends are being driven not by advertisers or marketers, and not by brands, but by consumer demand and the endless tsunami of technological change that the internet has done so much to drive. I don’t believe that we can look at the iPhone, for example, and not see a game-changing piece of equipment. Much has been written about convergence – the idea that a range of services will increasingly be delivered through a single provider – and the iPhone is the most obvious example of this principle in action. The mobile telcos will win the convergence battle, too; look at 3, the first mobile provider to, in effect, have completely abandoned the idea of making money directly from telephone calls through its partnership with Skype.

It is no surprise that businesses or individuals who demonstrate a willingness and ability to ride the wave of technological change, and engage consumers where they are already in conversation, rather than standing on the side-lines communicating via the medium of yelling, are beginning to enjoy a significant degree of success.

Much has been written about BarackObama’s campaign last year; as a defining moment in all of our lifetimes and a genuinely amazing story, there is a great deal to be learned from his campaign. Advertising practitioners, for example, often talk about how his vast TV spend in the run-up to the election gave him a much greater share of voice than his rival and paved the way for victory. This is true, but as a social media marketer I was fascinated by the way in which Obama grew the war-chest that made that spend possible in the first place.

In using social media and embracing the idea that a simple idea like ‘change’ has profoundly complex implications for many different kinds of people, Obama was able to engage long-forgotten corners of the electorate in conversation, initially giving the mainstream media the slip. He worked out how to play an innovative volume-game in fundraising terms – creating genuine ‘people power’ and a sense that the election didn’t belong to him, but to his supporters. And he seemed to be genuinely concerned about transparency, honesty, and integrity – translating these values into a campaign where how he communicated with people seemed to say as much as his words and body language. Propositions don’t get much more complex than America; the answer, it seems, was to put the tired old marketing formula in the bin.

Next week, Phil Lewis and his colleagues at Winning Pitch TV (WPtv) will be hosting a business conference and giving Manchester companies an insight into the inspirational success story that is BarackObama, demonstrating how the methods he employed to reach his position are directly relevant to Manchester businesses today.

The conference, ‘Business Growth in the Information Age’, will take place in Manchester on 24th June 2009 at 8.00am at The Winning Business Academy, One Central Park, Manchester, M40 5BP.

There will also be a conference in Blackpool on 30th June 2009, 8.00am, at FYCreatives, 154-158 Church Street, Blackpool, FY1 3PS.

To receive a copy of the invitation, please contact Anna Targett on 0161 918 6785 or For more information on Winning Pitch TV, visit

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Wigan Business Awards 2009

by Paul Foster, Local Manager for Wigan

I'm delighted to announce that nominations are now open for the Wigan Business Awards 2009.

Despite the economic climate Greater Manchester Chamber is committed to supporting and celebrating local businesses and we're urging businesses from across the Borough to get involved and benefit from the publicity and kudos associated with the Awards. Wigan Borough businesses need to shout about their successes and along with our main sponsors RBS, we're glad to help them do that.

The range of categories this year ensure that there is something for everyone, with awards as follows:
  • Business of the Year
  • Family Business of the Year
  • Small or Medium Enterprise of the Year
  • Most Innovative Business, Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Employer Supporting Apprentices Award
  • Employer of the Year Award
  • Continuing Professional Development Award - for those firms who demonstrate a commitment to training staff
  • ‘We’re Backing Wigan’ Award for businesses who have secured publicity for themselves and helped to raise the profile of the Wigan borough.

You can find out more about the categories and download a nomination form here.
The closing date for entries is Friday 14th August with the Awards themselves being held in November. Short listed entrants will be invited to meet the panel of judges and will gain significant publicity via the event programme and local press in the run up to the event.

Visit our Awards page to find out more and to see just some of the extensive coverage we got for our nominees last year...

What makes an entrepreneur?

by Matt Hall, Press & PR Officer

An interesting report published today by O2 to publicise the O2 X Awards 2009, which is looking to find the UK's best Male, Female and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

The report states that entrepreneurs are born, not made - an idea that many of us will be familiar with - but following a survey of over 500 small businesses and then hours of one to one interviews, they have also identified five of the key personality traits of an 'entrepreneur'.

See whether you agree...

The five key personality traits forming the entrepreneur DNA:
  1. ‘Obsessive optimism’: this approach to business creates a resilient attitude to failure and setbacks, an essential trait when starting out as your own boss.

  2. Enjoyment of responsibility: a highly developed sense of responsibility enables successful business people to view responsibility as an attraction rather than a burden.

  3. Desire to achieve: a major driver of entrepreneurial behaviour which enables successful business people to be single-minded about achieving their goals in spite of obstacles.

  4. The reward of hard work: small business owners are driven by reward, both in the monetary sense, but also in the more emotional sense of reward and pride in driving their business forward.

  5. The urge to be self-employed from childhood: This trait was present in nearly half (48%) of those questioned and also a common trait amongst celebrity entrepreneurs such as Sir Alan Sugar.
You can read the full article here.

For more information on the O2 X Awards visit:

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Unemployment rises again... but not as steeply as before

by Samantha Dunbar, Policy Manager for Employment

Unemployment in Greater Manchester has risen again according to figures released today. However, the rise is not as steep as in previous months, giving businesses and individuals reason for cautious optimism.

The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in Greater Manchester is 78,314, compared with 77,908 last time figures were released.

Although a rise in those claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance was expected, given we are still in the thick of recession it is positive to see that firms are doing their utmost to hold on to their current workforce. Results from our last Quarterly Economic Survey suggest that there are more firms retaining staff than those planning redundancies, which is excellent news.

However it is important not to get complacent. Indicators suggest we are in a W-shaped recession: while things may have levelled off or may even be slightly on the up, there may be more difficulties to come and we would urge businesses to be optimistic but vigilant.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Chamber Awards 2009 - deadline approaching!

A reminder to all that the deadline for nominations for the Chamber Awards 2009 is approaching.

This year’s categories are: Business of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year, Achievement in International Business, Excellence in Customer Service, Excellence in People Development, the Most Promising New Business, the Green Award and the Award for Innovation Through Technology.

All regional winners will go through to the national awards to be in with a chance to become the ‘Winner of Winners’ and scoop the top prize of £50,000.

The regional winners will be announced in September, followed by the national awards ceremony at the National Maritime Museum in London on 26th November.To enter the awards online go to and for any further information you can contact the Chamber on 02476 472593 or email

The closing date for entries is Friday 26th June.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Making Apprenticeships work for you

by Heather Green, Greater Manchester Chamber

Millions of us were glued to our screens on Sunday when Sir Alan Sugar appointed his Apprentice for 2009. Well now we’ve begun our own search… for local businesses who can follow that example.

The Chamber’s Apprenticeships campaign will encourage businesses of all shapes and sizes across Greater Manchester to consider the advantages of taking an apprentice on – and unlike Sir Alan, who has to go through a 12-week screening process, our recruitment team are able to do most of the legwork for local firms to ensure they find the perfect match.

Apprenticeships have long been a rewarding and cost-effective way for businesses to source the skills they need for now and the future. So what are the reasons employers find apprenticeships such a great fit in terms of recruitment, training and productivity? I’ve listed a few below:

Relevant training
Apprenticeships are designed by industry specialists who understand your business needs. The beauty of on the job training also means that you can provide your workforce with skills directly relevant to your company, your working habits and your standards.

Avoid skills shortages
By taking on an apprentice you have a real opportunity to address any skills gaps you may have in your company. Whatever sector you may be in, there is always pressure to keep pace with new advances – apprenticeships allow you to do this through a combination of on and off the job training. A mentor works with the employer to follow the apprentice’s progress and ensure you’re both getting the best out of the arrangement.

As your business expands, you get to take on an extra worker that you can start out on a lower rate of pay, but is eager to learn and progress as quickly as they can. Many businesses believe that apprenticeships also lead to lower overall training costs.

Plan for succession
Apprenticeships mean you can train someone who, down the line, you will be able to rely on to do very productive work according to your standards and who can progress within your company.

Fill vacancies quickly and easily
By coming to Greater Manchester Chamber to fill your vacancy you can massively speed up the process and also reduce the usual recruitment costs.

We’ve been looking at some ways to improve the flexibility of apprenticeships for employers because at the moment, not every business may want to commit over a long period. Some businesses may have specific projects or temporary placements they’d like to recruit for and where possible, we’d like to help with this. There’s more on this to come.

In many ways an apprentice can be even more valuable to an employer during tough times. They offer a cost effective way of investing in your firm’s future by ensuring you have the necessary skills. They also ensure our local firms are equipped for dealing with the challenges ahead and are best-placed to profit when the upturn starts.

Any employer wanting to find out more information about taking on an apprentice and the advice and help available should call 0161 233 2656 or email: for more information.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Chamber launches apprentice campaign

by John Walding, PR Manager - GM Chamber

As one search ends another one begins. The dramatic climax to this year’s Apprentice coincides with the launch of a campaign by Greater Manchester Chamber to encourage local businesses to follow Sir Alan Sugar’s example by taking on the region’s future talent.

The two-month campaign will focus on making firms across Greater Manchester aware of the benefits an apprentice can bring to businesses of all sizes. Over the past few years the Chamber has helped over 3,000 apprentices enter the world of work, supported by a variety of employers from high-profile names such as the Bank of New York and Siemens to small to medium size firms that make up the lion’s share of its membership.

The campaign runs until the end of August and will also look at encouraging young people to consider how they could benefit from doing an apprenticeship.

Any employer keen to find out more information about taking on an apprentice or about the advice and help available should call 0161 233 2656 or email: for more information.

Monday, 8 June 2009

GM Chamber takes home World Chamber Award

The Chamber was triumphant at the World Chamber Congress last Friday - we took home the award for Best Networking Project in recognition of our work to revitalise the Hambantota district, in southern Sri Lanka, an area seriously affected by the tsunami of 2004.

For the last four years, Greater Manchester Chamber and our service delivery arm, Manchester Solutions have worked on a number of projects with Hambantota Chamber to help the economic recovery of the district. These have included an economic development strategy and the promotion of tourism in the area, as well as direct support to the Hambantota Commerce itself.

Representatives from our two Chambers presented their work to the international judging panel as part of the 6th World Chambers Congress held last week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Drew Thomas, Deputy Chief Executive of Manchester Solutions said: "This award is great recognition for the work that our Chambers have undertaken over the last four years. We have made major advances in supporting the Hambantota Chamber to contribute to the District's economic and social recovery. We are very proud of our partnership and work with colleagues in Sri Lanka and there is still much that we will do."

Azmi Thassim, Director General of Hambantota Chamber said: "Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Manchester Solutions have significantly enhanced the capability of Hambantota Chamber to help its members as well as the wider Hambantota District and we are delighted that together, our work has gained such recognition."

The World Chambers Competition, organized by the ICC World Chambers Federation, is the only global awards programme to recognize the most innovative projects undertaken by chambers of commerce and industry from around the world. The 2009 edition of the World Chambers Competition attracted 48 entries from 31 countries.

Congratulations to everyone involved!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Three Essential Steps to Successful Marketing

Matthew Goldsbrough, Goldsbrough Consulting

Soon after meeting someone, I often get asked something like, “Do you think I should do some telemarketing, or would email be better?”

My answer is always the same: it depends on what you’re trying to do.

The question I was asked was about a choice between tactics, but without knowing what the goal is, it’s impossible to make that choice. Strategy has to precede tactics. Your strategy will define how you can beat competitors in one or more market segments. I think of strategy as ‘the sense of direction around which I improvise’.

So, let me make the route to successful marketing as simple as possible. I’ll reduce a complicated subject to three steps, which should be the bare bones of your marketing planning. Get more sophisticated once you’ve got these steps in place.

Step 1: Define Your Value Proposition
An essential part of your strategy is your value proposition, which is marketing jargon for your response to the question ‘Why should I buy from you, and why now?’
If you can articulate your value proposition, you’ll be able to say:

  • Who your product or service is for;
  • The problem that they have, described in their terms
  • How your offering solves that problem;
  • The benefits of your offering;
  • Why those benefits are more valuable than those of competitors;
  • How you have already provided those benefits to similar customers.

This is all about differentiating your higher value from what your competitors provide. It must pass the ‘so what?’ test. If your message isn’t concise and compelling, it doesn’t matter how loudly you shout it. Test your ideas with colleagues and customers. If someone outside your usual world doesn’t ‘get it’ immediately when you pitch your value proposition to them, go back and refine it.
(Take a look at for more on this subject.)

Step 2: Build Your Financial Model
So now you know who you’re trying to reach with your offering. You’ve defined how much your offering is going to cost. To meet your sales target, you can work back to how many people you need to engage with in your marketing.

Let’s say that you have a sales target of £100,000 and your average selling price for your offering is £100. That’s 1,000 sales you’re going to have to make. It’s probable that not everyone that you contact will become a buyer. Will you make sales to one in three interested contacts, or one in twenty? That ratio will be important in deciding your marketing tactics. What evidence do you already have for what that ratio is?

In our example, let’s say there’s a one in ten conversion ratio from people who’ve taken an interest in your offering to becoming a customer. Now we know that you’ll have to market to at least 10,000 people. And you may have to put your offering in front of them on more than one occasion, possibly in a variety of ways.

The last bit of this simple model is setting your marketing budget. How much can you afford to spend? How much will that mean that you can spend per contact to attract their attention?

Step 3: Choose Your Tactics To Suit Your Proposition
OK, so we’ve got a feel for who we’re trying to reach, we’ve got a message that’s compelling, and we know roughly how much we’re going to be able to spend.

It’s now possible to look at the tactics that you can use within your budget and estimate how many leads each activity is likely to bring in.

A good marketing plan will use more than one tactic to reach your audience.

Perhaps you’ll split your budget three ways, into a programme to encourage referrals from existing customers, an update to your website, and a campaign to generate leads in a new market segment that you want to enter. Or for your particular target market and value proposition, another combination will be more appropriate. The work you put into defining your value proposition will guide you in choosing the right tactics.

Whatever the mix, you’ll try to get each of those tactics to support the other ones, so that the impact you have is greater than the sum of the parts. Your marketing will have less wastage in it, because in each activity you’ll be communicating the same concise, compelling message.

Calm Down, Marketing Experts
By now, some of the marketing experts out there may be shouting at the screen, ‘it’s not that simple!’

Well, you’re right. Marketing is a deep subject. I’ve not talked about networking, social media, press relations, integrated web marketing, referral programmes, telemarketing, advertising, international marketing, account development, indirect channels, alliances, and much much more.

But in this article I wanted to reach the managing directors and sales directors like those I often meet – people who haven’t had the time or opportunity to learn about marketing – who are uncertain how to make marketing successful in their company, and need rapid results. I believe they’re right to want to keep things as simple as they can.

And I also meet people responsible for marketing who are confused; it’s as if they know too much about the subject and get overwhelmed by the choices available to them. They often find it difficult to explain some basic steps to their colleagues. I hope I’ve given them some food for thought too.

About Matthew Goldsbrough
My business strategy advice helps people to build stronger companies and make more money. For your company to succeed, you must have a clear idea of where it should be going, and what it needs to do to get there. Developing your business strategy is the foundation for achieving your targets for stability, growth and profitability. Read more at Goldsbrough Consulting’s website and Matthew’s blog

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Latest Business Doctor advice from our members

by Matt Hall, Press & PR Officer

The latest expert advice from our members:

We want to fill the Business Doctor page with practical advice for business during the downturn - so if you have something to add from your own experience, please get in touch on 0161 237 4124 or email Matthew Hall.

Free Regus Gold Card for Chamber members

In partnership with Regus, we can offer members:

  • Unlimited, walk-in access to any of our 950 global business lounges and caf├ęs
  • Complimentary internet and refreshments
  • 10% discount on meeting rooms
  • 10% discount on Day Offices
  • 10% discount on Videoconferencing
  • Professional administrative support, from packing and shipping to document printing and binding
  • Access to Regus Purchasing Group
  • £200 per annum service - for free!

Click here to register for your card today

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

M.E.N launches Business of the Year Awards

The Manchester Evening News (M.E.N.) has launched its prestigious annual Business of the Year awards. Now in their 16th year, the M.E.N. Business of the Year awards recognise excellence in companies based in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire.

Prizes are presented across four financial categories - turnover under £10m, £10m-£25m, £25m-£50m and turnover over £50m. To enter companies must have their principal location and management in the M.E.N. circulation area and have a trading history of not less than three years. For the newest and brightest young stars there is the Young Business of the Year award open to all businesses that have been trading for less than three years.

People interested in entering can download an application form from the Business pages of the MEN website or email

The closing date for entries is Thursday 2nd July.

Winners will be announced at a gala dinner at the Lowry Hotel on Thursday, 5th November. Out There Events is managing the event for the third year running.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Action for Business Update

by Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Exec.

Over the last few weeks we have been busy reviewing Action for Business, taking into account our latest surveys and evidence from members about the current state of the economy and the challenges that are still out there.

Whilst the political news seems to have been dominated by MP's expenses this has also brought into focus the fact that we are edging nearer to a General Election, something which has also influenced our thinking on what we now need to be saying and campaigning for on behalf of business.

Our new Calls for Action reflect the key priorities that business need, not just to see them through the current economic situation but to put them in pole position for the recovery.

They are as follows:

There are a lot more details to support each of the above and we will keep you informed of progress and upcoming activity.

Your views matter to us: the Government and opposition parties are after evidence from the business community and we are in regular contact with key ministers and shadow ministers . To get your voice heard or if you want to discuss any of the above contact Chris Fletcher on 0161 237 4107 or go to the relevant Call for Action for details of the appropriate lead contact.