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

Friday, 28 August 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Doing business in... Kazakhstan

Artur Krivov, Managing Director of the Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce, explains the business opportunities available in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan offers great opportunities for British companies. It is one of the largest and fastest growing economies in Central Asia. It has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world, the second largest uranium, chromium, lead and zinc reserves and ranks in the top ten for coal, iron and gold.

However, Kazakhstan also offers a wealth of opportunities for SMEs in many other areas, from education and telecommunications to transport and tourism.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, the Republic of Kazakhstan and the UK have developed ever-stronger economic ties with the growth of two-way trade and investment flows.

The Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce (KBCC) is bringing together the entrepreneurial spirit and energy of the UK’s and Kazakhstan’s leading businesses as it strives to drive Kazakh-British business forward.

The Chamber was officially launched in June in the presence of the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the UK, His Excellency Mr Kairat Abusseitov, entrepreneurs and business people from Kazakhstan and the UK and industry associations from both countries. The launch took place at the Marriott Grosvenor Square Hotel during The Fourth Annual International Kazakhstan Growth Forum.

The aim in forming this new Chamber is to create an environment through which individual businessmen, corporations and small to medium size companies with business interests in Kazakhstan and the UK, or those which are looking to enter those markets, can network and benefit from the collective power of the members as well as tap into the considerable resources that KBCC can provide.

The Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit making organisation supported by the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan in London, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Republic of Kazakhstan, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the British Chambers of Commerce.

By promoting Kazakhstan to UK businesses, introducing UK businesses to Kazakh markets and fostering an environment in which members can network, companies and organisations from both countries will benefit from the increasing number of business opportunities they attract.

KBCC is designed to provide members with a dynamic structure to ensure that member companies and organisations have all the necessary tools they need ‘at their fingertips’.

Members will have access to database information on goods and services, with statistics on specific market sectors, and up to date information on the current state of the markets in both the UK and Kazakhstan. An ongoing programme of Events will be organised for member companies, and a prominent feature of KBCC membership is the Chamber’s ability to lobby effectively on a variety of major issues, including trade, finance, export credit and taxation.

For more information on the Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce go to

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Top 10 Tips: For staying energised throughout the working day

by Lara Goodbody, Yogabugs Ltd

1 .
When you wake up in the morning, take 10 slow and deep breathes in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Don’t hop out of bed in a rush – take your time and roll over onto your side, bring your knees up to your chest, let your feet roll over to the side of the bed and then have a good stretch!

As a nation we tend to shower in very hot water but if you can bare to do this you will feel so energized for the rest of the day – turn the shower slowly to cool… have 30 seconds at the end of your shower in cold water – you will get out of the shower feeling fantastic! Try it!

Breakfast like a King and do not rush it. We naturally recommend fruit, low sugar cereal, home made smoothies and non caffeine drinks…!

Try and get some exercise on your way to work – walk, cycle, run... Not possible for all of us, but if you have to drive, park your car at the other side of the office car park and walk those few extra steps to get the heart going.

For those of you seated at a desk all day, common complaints are stiffness in the neck and shoulders and lower back from looking at a pc. Try and give yourself regular short breaks. Simple things you can do whilst on the phone or on the pc:
  • Neck stretches – lifting your right arm up over your head placing on your left ear, let your head fall to right side whilst applying a little pressure to create lovely stretch along left side of neck – repeat on other side
  • Head rotations – let head drop to front and rotate to left and to the right. Life head backwards and rotate left & right as well. Do not roll in full circle.
  • Shoulder lifts and rolls – lifting your shoulders and rotate clockwise & anticlockwise.
  • Ankle rotations – move feet & ankles in clockwise & anticlockwise movements.
  • For people who suffer stiffness and pain in the lower back, find a surface that is level with your hips (kitchen counter, water cooler, photocopier!), stand up and lean forward with arms stretched out over surface, let your head drop. Breath in and as you breath out let your head drop a little further into this stretch. Or find somewhere you can kneel down, have knees hip width apart and put your forehead on the floor and arms along your side. Again as you breath in, let your body fall into the stretch further. We call this child pose in yoga and it is a wonderfully relaxing pose but really helps stretch out stiffness in the lower back.
  • Lastly, for those of us who do sit at a desk all day, and struggle to make it to the gym on a regular basis, you may start to loose strength in the abdominal area. A simple challenge to introduce throughout the day, is pull your tummy in and hold for 10, then 20 and then 30 seconds at a time. I do this whilst sitting on hold, or waiting for someone to answer the phone.
  • Taking this one step further you can work on your pelvic floor area - simply pretend you are pulling up the zip on your jeans… I will leave that to your imagination!

By 11am most people are clock watching and hungry, but it’s not time for lunch yet… so have some pick-me-up snacks in your desk draw. Our recommendations – a banana or some dried fruit, handful of nuts or pumpkin seeds.

If you get tired and lethargic after lunch, you need to try food combining… what does this mean? Simply don’t mix your proteins and carbohydrates. It’s not the Aitkens Diet –we strongly recommend everyone eats Carbs, but just don’t mix them with proteins. After a day of following this routine you will feel amazing. And lastly – leave it an hour after any meal before you eat fruit. It messes with the digestive juices and can create an imbalance in your energy levels.

Try our 4pm slump energizer: Not only will it re-invigorate you but may even raise a smile or two in the office!

  • Standing with feet hips width apart and your hands by your side, raise your arms up to shoulder height in front of you and take a short breath in through your nose
  • Take them out to the sides, still shoulder height and take another short breath in through your nose
  • Take both arms straight up above your head and take a last short breath in through your nose.
  • Now bend your knees as you sweep your arms down and fold forward as you breathe out through your mouth with a long exhalation and making an aaaah sound – but this is optional in the office environment!
  • This should be repeated between 10 and 20 times getting faster and faster or until co-ordination is lost!

Make sure you drink lots of water throughout the day, try to avoid caffeine; have 1 minute of focused breathing every hour and make sure you get some fresh air throughout the day.

Lastly, remember to smile every now and then – it warms up the face muscles and without noticing you will feel happier!

We'd like to feature your Top 10 Tips here on the GM Chamber Blog. Anything relating to business! Send your ideas to Matt Hall

GCSE youngsters should consider all options

by Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Exec.

Most of those receiving their GCSE results today will be planning to do A-levels and then go on to university.

I would urge these young people to look at all the options available to them including apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications. Schools must show pupils that the academic route is not the only path to a career.

We’re not saying that young people shouldn’t do A-levels and degrees, but that they should consider all their options. We need people with vocational and academic qualifications if we are to have the full range of skills our economy needs.

Most businesses are fed up with the old debate about whether exams are getting easier. What they want is young people equipped with the right skills for the world of work.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

New high speed rail link will serve Manchester

by Richard Critchley, Policy Manager for Transport

Network Rail have today announced that Manchester will be one of the cities connected to the proposed new High Speed Rail Link from London to Glasgow. This is excellent news for the future of rail travel in Greater Manchester and the North West.

Our local economy relies on strong connections and fast, reliable services to other cities and in particular London. Today’s announcement paves the way for a revolution in journey speeds bringing Greater Manchester closer to key markets, with predictions that productivity benefits alone could be worth tens of billions to the national economy.

A dedicated high-speed line would free up capacity on existing routes, enabling enhancements to commuter and freight services, whilst making Greater Manchester an even more attractive location in which to invest, visit and study. Today’s announcement will put our city on the map.

Our primary concern now is to ensure that the Government commits funding to enable this development to happen. With the current state of Government finances, it is unclear how any major infrastructure works will be delivered.


Steven Broomhead, NWDA Chief Executive, comments:
“The growth of the Northwest economy relies on fast and reliable connections to London and other UK cities, so this report is a major step forward in realising this aim. It’s clear that without major investment, the outlook is for growing congestion on our rail network.

"We particularly welcome Network Rail’s prioritisation of a high speed link to the Northwest, which would cut journey times to and from the capital to their shortest ever. The challenge now will be to build a strong case for Government investment to ensure this project happens.”

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Chamber teams up with Pinsent Masons for Construction Business Seminars

Pinsent Masons has teamed up with Construction Industry Solutions, part of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, to offer a series of Construction Industry related seminars for firms across Greater Manchester. The events will take place at Pinsent Masons' new office in the heart of the city's Spinningfields business district.

The series will cover a range of issues including finance, waste management, health and safety and employment law.

The first event in the series, entitled Roll out the Red Tape will take place on 8th October and is a free session, providing local construction firms with a run down on new legislation and other changes in law that will affect the industry.

Commenting on the launch of the events series, Chris Hallam, Partner at Pinsent Masons LLP, said: “As the market leading construction law practice, we are naturally delighted to form a partnership with the UK's largest Chamber of Commerce to host these training events for construction industry sector members. We hope that the sessions will prove to be useful, both in terms of training and in providing a good networking opportunity, and look forward to welcoming Chamber members."

Angie Robinson, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, added: "We are delighted to be teaming up with Pinsent Masons to deliver this series of events. As one of the largest legal firms in the UK, Pinsent Masons has a wealth of experience in the construction, engineering and infrastructure industries. I am sure that the events will be of great benefit to local firms across the sector."

For further information on any of the event or to reserve places please contact the Chamber events team on 0161 875 2359 or email:

Monday, 24 August 2009

Briefed: the latest news from the Chamber website

Northwest shows off its full potential as PRide 2009 produces record-equalling entries
PR professional across the North West are continuing to shine despite the credit crunch as this year's PRide Awards get set to be the biggest yet.

Bentleys Chartered Accountants are advising that only a few months after HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) announced it would start contacting taxpayers by text to discuss their tax affairs, a warning has been issued regarding electronic communications from bogus organisations which offer to refund overpaid tax directly into the recipient's bank account, if they provide the details.

HMRC is writing to half a million companies and tax agents this month, to alert them to important changes to Corporation Tax (CT) filing.

Greater Manchester businesses to get share of £600,000 'creative credits'
The UK's innovation body NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), will be piloting a world-first programme in Greater Manchester offering small businesses creative support to help them to become more profitable.

Alistair Darling was quizzed by Manchester business leaders during a private meeting requested by the Chancellor at Greater Manchester Chamber on Friday.

Commenting on today's A-level results Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive and Policy Director at Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "Firstly congratulations to all the students who have been successful with their studies.

Member News: Cuckoo Design pockets two new business wins
Manchester design agency, Cuckoo Design, is flying high once again as it picks up another two new clients, GGR Group and London Remade

Chamber members are being given the chance to try front page Google for free by fellow member 1 Click Marketing.

BSM are offering 15% off driving lessons to Chamber members and their employees.

O2 in Bury is ten years old - and is marking the special birthday with a week of celebrations at its Dumers Lane site.

Member News: Major Japanese company announces Northwest research collaboration
Murata Manufacturing Co. Ltd, a Japan based manufacturer, has selected Professor Paul O'Brien and his research team in the School of Chemistry at the University of Manchester to form a research collaboration, with help from the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA).

Celebrating its second successful year the British Business Awards recognise and reward people who are building businesses and brands in China through innovation, enterprise and endeavour.

A key measure of inflation has unexpectedly remained at 1.8%. Economists had expected the Consumer Prices Index to drop to 1.5% last month.

Solicitors from Beachcroft have teamed up with the charity Lifeshare, to help homeless people in Manchester improve their computer skills and increase their chances of getting back into work.

Chancellor visits Chamber

Alistair Darling was quizzed by Manchester business leaders during a private meeting requested by the Chancellor at Greater Manchester Chamber on Friday.

The main issues discussed were the reluctance of banks to lend to businesses, the lack of empty property tax relief and the increase in National Insurance contributions.

The meeting was attended by representatives from a range of Greater Manchester industries including construction, manufacturing and brewing.

Angie Robinson, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "We had a wide-ranging discussion, which covered everything from property tax to pensions and the licensed trade.

"We were delighted to respond to the Chancellor's request to talk to some of our members. This shows the key role Greater Manchester plays in the UK economy.

"The Chamber is in regular dialogue with the Chancellor and Number 11 and this visit was just less than a year from the last time he visited the Chamber."

The Chancellor last visited the Chamber in September during the Labour Party Conference.

A full report on the meeting will appear on the GM Chamber Blog this week.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Dressing for the occasion

by Nick Hartshorne-Evans and the Team at Nicholas Jones Bespoke in Manchester

“It’s always the simple things in life that are difficult to get right”

This is very true and definitely relates to your choice of clothing. What you wear in terms of colour, texture and fit has a definite influence in how people perceive you.

Now this may sound very blunt but whether your clothing stimulates mutterings or just subconsciously flicks switches (remember these can be positive or negative) then it is worthwhile thinking about what you wear, the impression it gives and how your imported skin can affect the people you have relationships with whether it be business, pleasure or leisure.

What I will be giving you is some tips on how to ensure that you get the best out of your suit purchases. There are lots of rules that are archived in the vaults of tailoring history and they are not all necessarily correct. An example of this is that if you have a large frame steer clear of checks as they accentuate width. What isn’t taken into consideration here is fabric weight, texture and colours which considerably alter the equation. Being a person with a large frame myself, one of my best suits is a check and people generally ask where I got it from, for positive reasons of course.

Below is a list of guidelines, nothing too technical, to help you make an educated decision when buying a suit:
  • Straight Pockets on a jacket can cut you in half if you are shorter than the average – therefore go for slant pockets that accentuate your height.
  • The question of how many buttons at the front always crops up. For a classic look go for a two button jacket with notch lapels, three buttons is always more business orientated although for a casual jacket three buttons can work well with a notch lapel. For a real contemporary feel plumb for a one button with peak lapels, the jacket is cut with more shape and the jacket swings appealingly especially when accompanied with a peak lapel. If you have a large frame then generally steer clear of double breasted jackets – however if the wrap is small then they can work for you but they need to be well tailored.
  • Pinstripes can be very flattering but be careful as everything works through proportion – as a general rule keep the stripe under an inch between each stripe and not too bold.
  • Keep the jacket lapel in proportion to your shape – the shorter you are the narrower the lapel and vice versa.
  • For a jacket to be waisted it doesn’t have to be tight – it just needs to be well tailored – jackets that are pulling at the front look worse than anything else.
  • One of the most important aspects of a suit is how it hangs from the shoulders – if it is wrong then no matter what you do it won't look right. A jacket depends on the shoulders to hang from so therefore make sure that the “point to point measurement” which is the measurement between the two sleeve seams across the back of the jacket across the top of the shoulders is correct. This is a common problem when buying a suit as you may find this is too wide but then may go down a size to get it right and find it is too tight. This is a real problem with suits off the peg.
  • When buying a suit, if you have a larger frame then always try to plumb for a medium to heavyweight cloth as modern lightweight fabrics show all the bumps and curves. Medium to heavyweight cloths tend to have a better drape.
  • Flat fronted trousers give a cleaner more contemporary feel. Pleated trousers help more with the stout shape but saying that pleats also compliment tweed suits better than flat fronts.
  • Try not to wear a belt with a suit, if you ask yourself honestly this is probably because they don’t fit you. The belt provides a focal point which is not the focal point you want people to be looking at – if you can find trousers without belt loops then these create a cleaner profile. Belts give the effect of chopping you in half.
  • Pockets aren’t great at the back of trousers as you can create a cleaner shape without them because there is no pocketing inside the trouser which can bulge.
  • Turn ups are only for double breasted suits not single breasted suits.
  • Try not to use the exterior pockets on your jacket – you may find that pockets have been loosely stitched. This is done because they then retain their shape.

Above is a list of some very simple guidelines to take into account when buying a suit. If you buy off the peg then you will encounter one or more of these above. If you go to a tailor and remember go to a reputable one then all these points should be covered off without the tailor thinking about it and you knowing why the question has been asked.

If you would like to ask any questions then please feel free to tweet @NicolaTheFiat on Twitter, call us on 0161 834 4992 or visit our website at and we are more than happy to give you some complimentary advice.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Top 10 Tips: For being a great leader

by Kathy Robison, YURU inspires

1. Start your day like a designer asking, “What do I want to create today?”

2. One of the most important roles of a leader is encouragement. The best way to encourage desired behaviours is to model them.

3. Encourage good old-fashioned debates at every meeting. That’s where the good ideas live.

4. Remember, trust is knowing that when your teammate is challenging you it is because they care about whatever you are discussing.

5. Hold people accountable to their agreements, not your expectations. Most people care deeply about keeping their own agreements but rarely care about someone else’s expectations.

6. Just like you create value for your clients/customers, you must create value in a work environment that promotes passion, trust, respect, and collaboration. Those are the things great companies are made of.

7. Get curious and start asking a lot of questions. . . the answers will generally take care of themselves.

8. Think bigger; until your dream of success is absolutely out there and impossible to ever achieve.

9. Don’t underestimate the influence you have on others.

10. Don’t take yourself so seriously; learn to laugh and have fun at the office.

We'd like to feature your Top 10 Tips here on the GM Chamber Blog. Anything relating to business! Send your ideas to Matt Hall

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Ryanair's decision to withdraw routes unlikely to have major economic impact

by Richard Critchley, Transport Policy Manager

Ryanair's decision to withdraw routes out of Manchester is disappointing, but unlikely to have any major economic impact. Over a hundred airlines fly from Manchester serving many of the same destinations as Ryanair, so the area will continue to have access to these key destinations.

Proposals by the airline to relocate many of the routes to other nearby airports and create a new base at Leeds Bradford International, will hopefully mitigate many of the potential job loses and provide opportunities for staff to be relocated elsewhere within the company.

It is essential that Manchester Airport continues to work in the interest of all the airlines and passengers by investing in improved facilities, attracting new airlines and increasing flights to new destinations.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Briefed: the latest news from the Chamber website

Member News: Cetus offer free seminar for firms to learn of benefits of Virtualisation Technology
Greater Manchester firms are being invited to find out about the business benefits of Virtualisation Technology at an event being organised by local IT specialists Cetus Solutions in Manchester on the 23 September.

Member News: Beachcroft lends helping hand to the homeless
Solicitors from Beachcroft have teamed up with the charity Lifeshare, to help homeless people in Manchester improve their computer skills and increase their chances of getting back into work.

Member News: On the right track – Speedway youngsters awarded
The second wave of ‘Project Speedway' children were awarded at the renowned Belle Vue stadium last week for their outstanding contribution to the business led Speedway course.

Member News: Frontier PR wins Green Industry Client
North West based high-tech green technology company, Arvia Technology has appointed Frontier PR to further its commercial ambitions in the water treatment market.

Chamber News: Unemployment up as Greater Manchester firms continue to feel the pinch
Unemployment in Greater Manchester risen slightly, according to new figures released...

Local firms encouraged to shine a blue light for World Diabetes Day
November 14 is World Diabetes Day and in order to commemorate the occasion , iconic buildings and sites throughout the world are once again being encouraged to light in the colour of the blue circle symbol for diabetes - the central component of the World Diabetes Day campaign logo.

Member News: MediaCityUK’s Metrolink line is on track as rails are put in place
Transport bosses have seen firsthand the exciting progress that has been made on one of Greater Manchester's new Metrolink lines.

Quarterly Northwest manufacturing survey signals cautious optimism
The latest quarterly Manufacturing Institute survey of business challenges among manufacturers in Northwest England signals improved confidence...

Member News: Think Ahead Stroke Group signs with Frontier PR
Manchester public relations agency, Frontier PR has been appointed by Wigan-based stroke awareness and support charity Think Ahead Stroke Group to assist in raising the profile of the charity and strokes.

Chamber News: 40% off Regus Manchester Meeting Rooms
If you are a Regus businessworld gold and a Greater Manchester Chamber member you are entitled to exclusive discounts. For the months of August and September only, Regus would like to offer members 40% off your next meeting room booking.

Swine Flu - The Law

by Peter Carey, Partner Sedgwick Phelan and President, Rochdale Local Chamber Council

Lawyers are finding an increase in requests for legal advice about the implications of the swine flu pandemic. Do you know your legal position?

On 6 August the Daily Telegraph reported that 'we're a nation of skivers.' The report highlighted the problem of employees using the current swine flu epidemic as an excuse to take time off. However, there are also genuine problems facing employers arising from this health scare with matters predicted to get worse in the autumn.

The number one question has been whether swine flu is 'force majeure?' Most commercial contracts include a call called force majeure. If an Act of God, war, trade embargo, possibly a strike and other circumstances beyond the control of a party to a contract prevents their complying with the contract, they are excused. However the devil is in the detail. If the clause specifically mentions disease it is going to be much easier to say this is a circumstance beyond the party’s reasonable control. If staff are off sick then it may be reasonable to expect that employer at high cost to buy in contracted labour for example. It is not enough to refer to circumstances beyond a party’s control. It is much better also to list what amounts to force majeure including listing issues such as the current Swine Flu problem.

Another issue is often whether the terms and conditions of sale of a supplier apply or the conditions of purchase of a buyer. Sometimes it is unclear and usually the party who “got in last” before the work was done finds their terms prevail. It is important to know because even on issues such as force majeure there will be major differences between conditions of purchase and supply. What is very clear is that swine flu or other sickness amongst staff is not automatically going to be force majeure. Individual clauses need to be considered. We can help advise you on your contractual position and draft your contract terms to ensure they excuse your non performance of a contract in situations such as this.

It is recommended that business clients review their terms and conditions to avoid being caught out by having insufficient staff to service exisitng contracts thereby breaching the contract terms.Sedgwick Phelan can assist in advising clients on their trading terms or draw terms of business for business clients who have no such terms at present.

Call Peter Carey on 0161 653 5299 for advice on trading terms and conditions.

Greater Manchester Chamber has also published guidance on the Chamber website.

However, if an employer is facing staff problems with employees not turning into work and using the current pandemic as an excuse, what can be done?

Chris O'Rourke, from Sedgwick's Employment team provides a different perspective on matters from the employment point of view.

He comments: "An issue for employers arises with genuine staff sickness. But some may not be so 'genuine'. As the Daily Telegraph has reported, plenty of employees are using this as an excuse to skive and employers have perennial problems over when they can sack employees for faking sickness. Although absence levels have plummeted in the private but not the state sector in the recession as people worry about losing their jobs, some are still seeking to milk the system with faked swine flu and other illnesses. However others again may be coming into work when they are too ill and may infect their work mates. The employment law issues need to be sensitively handled and legal advice sought where necessary."

Call Chris O'Rourke on 0161 653 5299 for further employment advice.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Making your website work for you

by Paul Rouke, Usability and E-commerce specialist, PRWD

Almost all SME’s have a website, and many of them spend money on getting traffic to visit it. To get more traffic to your website you can spend more money on the likes of Google Adwords, and some of this traffic will convert into more potential new business for you. So far, this isn’t rocket science!

Where the big opportunity exists for companies is in improving how effective your website is in generating sales leads or actual sales (for the retailers amongst us).

A common mistake companies make is presuming that the number of enquiries or sales their website generates is OK and so why change something that isn’t broken?

Well, unless you already manage to convert a high percentage of visitors into making an enquiry or placing an order – say 30% - then there is a big opportuntity for you to improve how effective your website is for your business.

How to make your website work harder for your business

This is achieved by making incremental changes and improvements to key pages of your website, such as your contact page, services page or your shopping pages, and testing whether the change either increases or decreases your conversion rate. This type of testing, sometimes termed split-testing or A/B testing when carried out continually, is a surefire way of making your website perform better than it did before you started testing.

We are finding more of our clients are now more focused on improving how well their website performs compared to previously, when the main objective was to just to get more traffice to their website.

What if I only make a 1% improvement - why bother?

On its own 1% may not sound too exciting and probably not headline news for SME’s. On the other hand, when a business manages to improve their conversion rate by 1%, they benefit from a continuous improvement in the return-on-investment they get when spending money on search engine marketing.

Depending on the sales values of new leads to your business, this 1% can soon pay off more of your marketing expenditure in turn creating the business case to spend more money in getting traffic to your website.

If you are selling online, improving your conversion rate by 1% is guaranteed to make a big impact to your sales and return-on-investment as each week goes by.

What areas is it possible to improve?

Whether you have an e-commerce site, a brochure website or business site there are many areas that you can expect to improve including:

The number of online enquiries you receive
The number of people completing your online quotation form
The number of visitors downloading a key business document
The number of registrations you receive
The number of applications that are completed
The number of people making a purchase from you
The average amount of money shoppers spend with you

3 keys steps to improving your website performance

I recently presented at an event in Liverpool on the subject of improving website performance through three key steps – the slides from the presentation provide a greater degree of advice and recommendations for businesses, with the 3 steps covering:

Understanding your visitors and potential customers
Measuring the performance of your website
Testing different versions of key pages to improve conversion rates

Step 3 is what I have focused on in this article and I hope it has given you an appreciation of how your business website can be made to work harder in impacting your bottom line.

Lead or follow?

You may be wondering whether this approach to making your website work harder for your business is being done by most businesses already.

The good news is that it isn’t – and its highly unlikely your competitors will be doing this type of testing and improving.

For most businesses this means that you have an opportunity to take a lead on your competitors by investing more time and effort into making your website more affective. My advice to you is let your competitors follow you, probably after you have already made significant improvements to your website conversion rate!

Next steps

If you have an existing web design and development company looking after your website, you should ask them whether they can help improve your current conversion rates through testing. Hopefully they will be able to and you begin looking forward to your website working harder for your business – it will cost you but its worth the expense.

If you don’t have an existing web design and development company, or perhaps you look after your own website, you will need to find a company such as ourselves who specialise in helping business improve how effective their websites are.

Further details

Paul Rouke is the founder of PRWD, a company who specialise in helping businesses generate more leads, enquiries and sales from their website.
PRWD also design and develop new websites and online shops for businesses looking at moving their business onto the next level online, and they help businesses (particularly manufacturers) improve their internal processes with made-to-measure software. You can contact Paul on 0161 918 6729 or by email.

Trading Online Beginners Guide

Paul will be speaking as part of a panel of experts at this event, to be held at 6:30pm on Tuesday 25th August. Join in as they discuss the nuts and bolts of online trading, and how to get it right! Click here to reserve a place.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Unemployment figures rise slightly in Greater Manchester

by Samantha Dunbar, Policy Manager for Employment & Skills

Unemployment in Greater Manchester risen slightly, according to figures released yesterday (12 August).

Overall unemployment for Greater Manchester has risen by 0.1% with the number of people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance in the region rising to 79,292 compared with 78,003 last time figures were released.

The increase in people claiming job seekers allowance is disappointing news and shows that the Greater Manchester job market continues to be challenging. The data also suggests that despite gradual signs of recovery this continues to be a difficult time for many local businesses in what experts believe will be a slow and protracted recovery.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Increasing water bills

by Richard Critchley, Policy Manager for Environment

The Chamber is working to support businesses that have seen a rise in their water bills and in particular, surface water drainage costs.

United Utilities has changed the way it charges for drainage services, which has led to a significant increase in bills for some businesses, mainly with large hard standing areas such as warehouses and storage yards.

If you are affected by these changes, please contact me on 0161 237 4037, by email or leave a comment with your contact details below.

Briefed: the latest news from the Chamber website

Kings of Lancashire event - Thursday 17th September
The Professional Footballers' Association brings together the Kings of Lancashire in this exclusive Premiership preview.

Former Regional Director of Government Office North West (GONW), Keith Barnes has been appointed as the University of Salford's Executive Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Partnerships and Development).

Organisations should consider acting now to renew their electricity contract or risk falling victim to peak prices this autumn, warns Salford-based energy management business ENER-G

Manchester-based has just launched a new website tool that can help increase online conversion rates by 300%.

Commenting on today's decision by the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, Ilona Krohn, Principal Economic Advisor at Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "We welcome the MPC's decision to increase quantitative easing (QE) by £50 billion...

Pathfinder, an innovative new service set up by Corridor Manchester to help people living in the Oxford Road area of the city progress into work, has got off to a flying start with 75 people already signed up to service.

For the 5th year running Cathay Pacific is launching the Cathay Pacific China Business Awards 2009 aiming to honour UK enterprises that have capitalised on opportunities and operate successfully in Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China.

This is a unique opportunity for businesses to get their message to the highest levels of government offering a real chance for government reform and meaningful reduction in international trade red tape.

Matmi's latest online viral game promoting Cancer Research UK's Run 10k events has been played over 2 million times in its first month.

National commercial law firm, Beachcroft LLP, today announced a major appointment to lead its new Health Advisory Service, with Professor Sir Ian Kennedy set to join Beachcroft as a consultant.

A total of 25 colleges and training providers across the North West are to get extra Government funding for training to help people, who have lost their jobs or are facing redundancy, back into work.

Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA) is investing £2 million on major overhauls of the St Peter's Square and Piccadilly Gardens stops - two of the most heavily used on the network - to make sure even more people can use them.

Greater Manchester could have a cleaner, greener future ahead following a £29 million bid to become the country's first 'sustainable travel city'.

Win your workmates a day off in Blackpool
visitBlackpool are offering one business from the North West the opportunity to spend a VIP day in the famous resort, travelling there in style by vintage bus with a return by rail.
Following the success of the first Taster Event for the LEAD Programme at the University of Salford a second event is scheduled to take place on the 18th August 2009.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Friday Guest Blog: The secret of free publicity

by George Dearsley, Avante Media

Would you ask someone to build you a house who had never laid a brick? Of course not.

Yet in 1995 a company entered the financial services market for the first time with a personal equity plan and took £75m worth of investments from customers, the largest share in the industry.

That company was Virgin and people trusted Richard Branson with their money because they believed he was a winner, despite no financial track record.

Branson’s enviable brand loyalty owed much to his clever manipulation of the media and businesses of all sizes, even the smallest, can learn from his success.

Statistics that show the public has increasingly less faith in the media obscure a powerful truth. Visibility and recognition are the keys to marketing your product and service.
And the beauty is that if you are media savvy and invest a little time you can achieve incredible results without spending a penny.

The trouble is most people, including businessmen and women, fear the media. They remember how one inappropriate joke cost Gerald Ratner £500m. They wince as Jeremy Paxman puts yet another MP through the Newsnight wringer. Yet every day, lower down the media food chain, legions of hard-pressed print and broadcast journalists struggle to fill acres of newsprint and miles of audio or video tape with material that will interest their own “customers”. They need stories, they need interviews and they need expert knowledge.

So one simple way of promoting your business is to become a perceived “thought leader” in your field of expertise. Note the word “perceived”. You don’t have to be the best or the biggest. You just need a story and you have to tell it simply and with passion. If you do, you will be invited back.

This was the way American Suze Orman catapulted herself from waitress to multi-millionairess. Born on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, in 1951 to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants, bad stock market investments later caused her to lose the 50,000 dollars a customer loaned her to start a restaurant. Angry and unable to repay the debt, she trained as a stockbroker and became a financial planner. What differentiated her from tens of thousands of similar advisors is she began to write books and articles. She was soon noticed by TV and radio producers and the exposure they gave her helped to quickly build a 32m dollar fortune.

The technological revolution means that there are now many more ways to reach your target customers than traditional routes of newspapers, radio and TV. But you can alert so called “mainstream” media to websites and blogs that contain good content, video or podcasts.

Exactly how you identify your story and then make it sing, maybe I’ll explain another day. For the moment remember that editorial is 10 times more powerful than advertorial. “You’ve got to be in it to win it” was the slogan used by The Sun years ago to launch a major competition. And so have you. Journalists feed off what they see and read in other media.

Look at what happened to Guy Goma, the out of work computer technician who went for a BBC job interview, blundered into the studio and was wrongly interviewed about an IT lawsuit. He went on a media merry-go-round which included appearances on GMTV and CNN and talks about a Hollywood movie. And he didn’t even know what he was talking about!

Relive the moment that shot him to fame here

That’s the power of the media.

Catch George on Twitter:

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Chamber reaction to Interest Rates and Quantitative Easing decision

by Ilona Krohn, Principal Economic Advisor

We welcome the MPC's decision to increase quantitative easing (QE) by £50 billion. QE and its efficacy remain a very complex issue. This is new territory for any central bank and its main effect so far seems to have been to bolster the capital base of the banking system.

New lending, particularly to small and medium businesses, remains low and has actually fallen over the last three months. There is also no significant increase of money in the economy.

It is important now that the Bank of England analyses the effects the programme has had so far and to clearly understand its impacts. Then we need a clear and focused plan of action covering the next few months. Clarity and predictability are vital to maintain stability and enable businesses to plan in unprecedented and uncertain circumstances.

President's Blog: The last thing we need is a fandango of quangos

by Peter Heginbotham, President of Greater Manchester Chamber

Let me be absolutely clear, as I have said many times before, that we will do everything that is necessary to assist hardworking businesses to get over the current difficulties which began in America and in particular to deal with the effects of swine flu which began somewhere near America. We will not be cutting public spending except where it is essential to do so.

Does that paraphrase reassure you? No, nor me. Businesses are facing higher taxes with the prospect of even more to come, and the certain knowledge that we will be paying more national insurance and charging more VAT. And, remember, it is business that generates the wealth for UK plc.

For me, the issue in this recession is more about delivery and implementation and not so much about policy. The last thing to do is pour more resource into a fandango of quangos. It’s notable that some are still recruiting in large numbers. When the Chamber visited Westminster last autumn, I put a pound coin on the table. I asked Ministers to imagine that coin as it left the Treasury and went through various ministries, departments and agencies, navigating strategic plans, allocations, tenders, audits and all the rest of it, and ask themselves two questions: How much of that pound gets to the front line, and how long does it take? I don’t know if they found the answer or even if they cared to ask. Half of them are already in new jobs or no jobs in the perpetual Cabinet carousel.
No Government is going to throw hordes of civil servants onto the unemployment register, nor do I suggest it. We could stop recruiting for newly created posts though. There is only one way out and that is to put the resources into the right place urgently so that businesses can begin to thrive, turn the corner and create new job opportunities. The private or business sector must be made as free as possible to grow and where it needs help, the resource should come straight to the front line and not be used in cumbersome and generally pointless process management. The focus should be on two things: direct investment in long-term assets, which create immediate jobs and leave us with facilities we need anyway, whether they be schools, better transport links, houses and so on and, second, in developing skills training, re-training and apprenticeship.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Social Media Guidelines

by Matt Hall, Press & PR Officer

GM Chamber have produced our own Social Media Guidelines offering information, best practice and guidance on how best to engage online. If this is an area you've yet to look at, they may provide a good starting point for thinking about your own social media policy.

As social media grows, with the increasing influence of blogs and the growing popularity of networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, there will be new opportunities for communicating with customers, potential customers, partners and press.

These guidelines are by no means exhaustive but outline some of the issues to be aware of when representing yourself and your business online and also some ways to encourage conversation and make you that bit more accessible!

Download the Social Media Guidelines

As social media is changing all the time, we'll be continually looking to update the guidelines. As such, your thoughts and feedback would be much appreciated. You can email me here.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Scam Alert

We are warning businesses to remain vigilant for scams.

A number of members have contacted us in recent weeks to try to verify invoices that they have received from third parties. We are advising members to be vigilant for scam invoices, especially for lesser amounts which the scammers hope will pass under the radar.

A quick check of Companies House can allow you to verify whether or not the business is registered. All limited companies should be registered with Companies House.

Members should also be wary of invoices sent without contact details for enquiries.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Briefed: the latest news from the Chamber website

Member News: 'Change and survive' says Ready Steady Store poll
A third of local businesses claim to have changed their product and service offering over the past six months according to a new study.

Manchester creates more jobs
Greater Manchester has been given £52 million to create up to 8,000 jobs over the next two years through The Future Jobs Fund.

Member News: PwC hosts budding business tycoons
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) in Manchester has joined forces with education charity Young Enterprise and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) to provide local students with first hand business experience.

Member News: Lisa Dicken is the latest to join HURST’s expanding team
Following a series of new client wins, the growing tax team at HURST, the Stockport and Manchester accountants and business advisors, has been strengthened by the appointment of Lisa Dicken as associate partner.

North West businesses must now act to counter effects caused by swine flu
Chartered accountants and business advisors Beever and Struthers are warning businesses to prepare for the potentially "immense" effects of widespread absenteeism caused by a predicted onslaught of swine flu this autumn.

Workers Memorial Day consultation begins
The Government today launched a consultation into officially recognising Workers Memorial Day to remember those who lose their lives at work.