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

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Matthew Goldsbrough

Goldsbrough Consulting

Getting Ready for 2010

I don't think I'm alone in looking forward to 2010, and wanting to see 2009 disappear rapidly in my rear-view mirror. It's been a tough year for most, and a new year brings new hopes. But if we're not realistic about how to begin that New Year, we'll not be able to make the most of what it could bring.

The Christmas holiday period is not only a time to enjoy time with friends and family, it's also a time to reflect on the year past and think about what may follow. I'd like to dispel some false notions that we commonly have at this time of year: I think of them as 'The Business Myths of Christmas'.

'It's a short interruption in my business'

While your place of work may only close for a few days, in truth you and your colleagues have been distracted in the weeks beforehand, and won't instantly and automatically re-engage when you get back to work in January. To ensure that everyone gets back into the swing as early as possible, it's a good idea to plan some activity in the first week of January that will refocus everyone on the goals for the year ahead, and get the energy level in your business back up to where it should be.

'It's a happy time'

While most people will enjoy the Christmas holiday, there'll be some who won't. Because a year is ending, people get reflective, and consider their future. I have known many good people return to work in January with a resignation letter in their hands, because they'd reconsidered what they should be doing while they were away. That can be extremely damaging, if you lose a valued colleague at short notice. Are you doing all you can to look after your valued people? Are there pressures on them that will make their Christmas break a time of stress, rather than fun? Can you alleviate the pressure?

'I'll have time over Christmas to plan'

It's a cosy image, spending some quality thinking time by the fireside with a mince pie and a glass of sherry. But it doesn't work like that, does it? You'll be frantically engaged in all sorts of activities that will give you no time to reflect constructively on what your business should do next year. So don't try. Go and relax properly instead. If you haven't already got a crystal clear plan for 2010, ensure that your planning is scheduled to happen in early January. And make sure that everyone you need to involve in the exercise – whether internal or external – has it on their calendar and knows what will be needed from them.

'It's not worth doing X until at least the third week of January'

In this case, X can be marketing, customer surveys, new product development, or just about any other activity. Allegedly, people won't read and respond to a marketing campaign in early January, for example. I know this to be untrue: in fact, I've organised some very effective marketing in that 'quiet time'. So why waste 6% of your year by not being active in those first three weeks? Of course, you'll need to have planned that activity before the Christmas break. In business, it's all about being ahead of the other guys – being faster off the block, more active, more alive.

'December was a surprisingly bad month'

While B2C revenues can be peaking in December, B2B revenues can be down against plan. I've lost count of the salespeople who've said 'I had a bad month because I couldn't get hold of the decision makers'. What this really points to is poor planning for the entire year. Well, surprise, surprise, Christmas is going to happen in December again next year too. And your potential customers will be distracted again. When you can predict seasonal effects on your business with complete clarity, they should be laid into the plan. If not, you start January in recovery mode, trying to get over the 'shock' result in December.

A final thought

In encouraging you to be realistic about how you plan and operate your business in the New Year, I'd also like you to do one other thing. If you're still standing at the end of 2009, still providing value to your customers, still enjoying what you do, and you're excited by what 2010 can hold, do this: give yourself a very big pat on the back.

About the Author

Since setting up Goldsbrough Consulting in 2003, Matthew Goldsbrough has helped his clients to build stronger companies, with marketing at the core of their business strategies. Matthew previously spent more than twenty years in the software industry, leading teams that designed, built, marketed, sold and supported products and services. Matthew helps businesses to plan and use marketing effectively, using the experience developed in a variety of senior roles throughout Europe and the USA. Read Matthew's blog at

Friday, 11 December 2009

Friday guest blog: The joy of networking

by Alan Salter CMILT
Editor and Managing Director of Transport Matters

I am a very busy man. I only have time to write this because my internet provider has let me down and I can’t get into my website to work on it.

It started when I decided to buy some expensive software to make the pages of my online magazine turn. So impressed was I that I thought I had better give the website a revamp to I upgraded my hosting package to a more sophisticated one. I’ve signed up, paid up, and so far I have a half built website online ruining my reputation and a Exchange email account which is bouncing back emails.

Oh, and after two long phone calls to support at 6p a minute to a country which sounds like it may be in South America, and three threatening emails (from my webmail account), I am left with this: “In this regard, we need to reescalate (sic) your case to our Administrators. Please wait for an update from them.”

I am a bit of pioneer in this computer lark. I still have, in my wardrobe, a Sinclair Spectrum. I upgraded proudly to one of the early IBM pc’s - and promptly deleted the operating system by mistake. Of course a computer without an operating system is as much use as a large stone. You need the software to switch it on.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law worked in software at the time and managed to reboot using a floppy disc (remember them?) I even wrote a humorous article for a computer magazine about the experience. They didn’t print it.

My interest in computers being known at work, I was invited to get involved in the early days of the Manchester Evening News website. I was conned.

This involved mainly the clerical duties of inputting stories of the day and going through an extremely flaky process of uploading to the web. If it worked OK, it took an hour and a half. If it went wrong it could take all day - and as the paper did not come out until lunchtime in those days, when it went wrong, I ended up staying late.

But now, having attended a course on convergence at the University of South Carolina I am as close to an IT expert as I can afford.

So, having set up my own business, I moved on to the joys of networking. There are two sorts of networking. One involves drinking wine and handing out business cards and there is wireless networking. The later is a joyless affair which involves inputting very long passwords over and over again and tearing your hair out.

And when it is down, it can feel like you have been put into solitary confinement. Having become so dependent on the internet, being deprived of it is like walking around blindfolded.

On the move, power management is the big issue. I took my laptop to Germany last week, complete with charger and continental adapter. But the adapter did not fit German plugs and my battery, as usual lasted 10 minutes. I ended up having to write out in longhand a feature about a new electric train being built by the Germans for Scottish railways. Once back in blighty, I found a plug, fired up the laptop, keyed in the text and emailed it off.

In the olden days, we would have found a phone box and dictated the story to a copy typist while members of the public banged on the door, impatient to use the telephone.

There, that’s off my chest and still no news on the website. I’ll have to find something else to do. Perhaps I’ll clear out the shed.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

BRIEFED: The latest news from the website

BRIEFED: The latest news from the Chamber's website

Chamber News - Pre-Budget Report
Speaking ahead of this week's Pre-Budget Report, Chris Fletcher Deputy Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber, said: "We want the Chancellor to abandon plans to scrap the trade credit insurance top-up scheme. This scheme is vital for guaranteeing companies are not left with bad debts and we want to see it reinstated and expanded.

"We would like to see the Pension Protection Fund levy on businesses suspended for two years. The levy is proving to be a heavy burden on companies that are already weighed down by their own pension schemes.

Member news: First Innovation Zone building complete in Bolton
Construction of the first building in Bolton's £300m Innovation Zone has been completed, signalling that schemes are on track in Bolton despite the global recession.

The Deane Road multi-storey car park opened this week, built in a joint project by Bolton Council and National Car Parks.

Chamber News: Police Increase Patrols After Shooting
Police have stepped up patrols in the Longsight area to reassure the local business community following the shooting of a man on Thursday.

Mentoring Programme Available to Greater Manchester Businesses
Leaders and senior managers of small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Greater Manchester can access free mentoring to help them develop their leadership skills, following the launch of the Northwest Regional Development Agency’s (NWDA) new business mentoring programme

Chamber News: Digital Communities Event
A Digital Communities briefing will be held in Manchester on December 15th.

Member news: Regeneration Solutions - The Future Is Bright
The North West’s commercial property market will emerge from the global recession quicker and stronger than before, a panel of experts has predicted.

Chamber News: Employers Demand More Information
One hundred employers have signed up to attend an event tomorrow (December 3rd) explaining the latest education reforms.

Save money on Metrolink in the run up to Christmas
Metrolink is inviting passengers to bag a bargain over the festive period by taking advantage of Saver tickets.Passengers can enjoy unlimited travel anywhere on the tram network all weekend for only £5 with an Adult Saver, or two adults and up to three children can travel with a Family Saver for only £7.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Outsourcing? A solution for SMEs

by Maurice Scott, Regional Director - e-Financial Management Limited

The business environment is constantly inundated with countless dilemmas that challenge most business owners and in the current economic climate the issues facing most companies, regardless of size, are more daunting than ever.

For smaller companies, changes in economic activity are especially unwelcome as SMEs are more susceptible and have less control over their business environment than do bigger enterprises. Every action the company, its customers or suppliers take in an uncertain situation may create a risk to the very survival of its business.

In an economic climate such as our current one, the pressure on companies to reduce staff costs is overwhelming, especially as more companies face extinction. The first cutback business owners and managers tend to make will involve reducing payroll as that seems to have a more immediate effect than other measures. The danger however, is that in desperation, companies will make rash permanent decisions to save costs even when this results in such an unfortunate situation as under-resourcing. The consequence of this is that business opportunities from prospects or existing clients may be missed; administration gets behind, reporting gets delayed- all resulting in further unwelcome pressures on the business.

So why isn’t under-resourcing an option - or technically, not an acceptable option? There are many risks to having insufficient capacity to deal with current orders or potential increase in demand. The business opportunity that may be lost might well have provided the cashflow needed to eradicate the cut back in the first place. Also additional costs often arise through fines, penalties, uncollected debts and other results of not having enough manpower.

With this in mind, most businesses are in favor of an option that has become acceptable in today’s business world. Outsourcing and insourcing - entrusting another company with your finances and other strategic assets has become a viable lifeline, even an essential business model. The advantage is that companies can afford to plug the gap in staffing as and when required, usually on a flexible payment platform, and often at a lower cost than full time employment.

Many companies deciding to tread this path for the first time are faced with issues of trust, security of information and level of expertise and service. The main question remains ‘How do you know which companies you can trust?’ – and here trust encompasses every single element of the relationship, including reliability, flexibility, pricing and a true commitment to provide value.

How does one find the right partner or supplier? How do you vet a vetting company- if you decide to use one? Do references really give a true picture?

The truth is that there is nothing as effective as a personal, independent search; especially for high volume, long term contracts. Visit websites, speak with representatives from the company, get references and referrals from personal or professional networks, as well as the Chamber.

You should explore as many sources as possible until you are satisfied. Admittedly, you may well discover subjective information but it at least tells you something about the people you are thinking of trusting with your business. Find out who your competitors are using and that’s quite easy these days with close supplier networks and the internet. The most important point is not to depend on one single source, but when you decide to, make it subject to an ongoing review.

Maurice Scott is Regional Director, e-Financial Management Limited, the financial management outsourcing company that offers a wide range of expert financial management solutions on a pay – as – use basis.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

UK Corporate Games 2010 - Invitation to Chamber members

On 13-16 May 2010, Liverpool will be hosting the 17th UK Corporate Games which is a really prestigious event for the City. The fabulous Echo Arena will be the venue for the Celebrations, with the sports being played at carefully selected venues across the City of Liverpool.

Thousands of “Weekend Sports Warriors” representing hundreds of businesses from the locality and throughout the UK will be competing and this is your chance to be involved in the largest Corporate Multi-sport festival in Europe.

We would like to give you this opportunity to create your own team, tiny or tremendous, building confidence, loyalty and team spirit along the way!

The Corporate Games is the ultimate mix of sport, business and tourism and there are many ways that you can take part. I would like to invite you personally to one of the presentations on the UK Corporate Games which will take place on Thursday 10th December in Manchester at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, 303 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ.

You are invited to bring a colleague with you to find out how the Corporate Games can be a powerful catalyst for your business.

The Games flyer and website have all the details on the celebrations, official sports programme, entry fees, corporate benefits and how to enter.

There are 2 presentations at 11.30am & 2.30pm for just 30 – 40 minutes. If you would like to attend, just reply to my email stipulating when you would like to attend and the names of those attending from your company.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Yours sincerely
Gareth Clark

Corporate Games
World Headquarters
T 44 (0) 1733 380888

Top 10 Tips: For SME success through the recession

by Tony Wilson , MD Proofsouth Ltd,

These selected ten tips of practical advice that works will help Managing Director/Owners in all SME businesses to bring their companies through recession in the best possible shape.

1. Treat Cash as King
This is your first priority. Daily & weekly control are worthwhile over the next year of recession. Lack of cash is why business fails more than any other reason.

2. Monitor your business against a plan
A rough & ready plan is better than none for starters.
Monthly accounts are a good framework for reviewing actual v plan. Be clear what your key performance indicators (KPIs) are. Use 'variances' from plan to drive your corrective action.

3. Allocate your time so you are working ON your business as well as IN your business.
Beware the pressures of recession which tend to squeeze you further into the detail of business.

4. Choose experienced external advisers you can trust and build an ongoing relationship.
Use them as a virtual board or consultancy to help you work ON the business. The MDO role in an SME is lonely in comparison with the MD in a larger company with a Board of directors and management team. This investment is always worthwhile.

5. Prioritise team work – delegate to employees to work IN the business which will motivate them. This is more effective even if you could do everything better yourself. Spend your time with those things they cannot do and also control your delegation.

6. Set & monitor realistic objectives with your team
Feed these back through team meetings. Measure results and use KPIs where you can.

7. Use grant and soft loan assistance.
Your external advisors will help you access it & immediately reduce their cost to you– there is lots to help SMEs in training, business development & investment. This cost reduction should help justify your moving ahead.

8. Hold regular team meetings
These should be brief, results oriented and with clear purpose.
Use these as a tool of development, delegation and maintaining focus on business objectives.

9. Use advisors and employees together in teams.
Review but don’t be involved in everything. Control but don’t dominate. Bring the IN the business and ON the business together where helpful.

10. Review budgets and priorities using your team(s) but avoid an ill considered rush to cut.
Use advisors / team to help you get maximum value for every £ spent. Set & use targets to help match expenditure & results.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Shadow Business Minister meets with Chamber members

The Shadow Minister for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform John Penrose met with Chamber members yesterday to listen to their views and discuss his party’s plans to cut red tape.

Mr Penrose attended the meeting hosted by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, where he was quizzed over his plans on how the regulatory burden for business could be reduced.

He said: “We are at a stage where we are trying to recover from the biggest recession in living memory. Wouldn’t it be better to rebound from recession without all that dead weight dragging us down?”

Mr Penrose laid out his plans for reducing red tape, including introducing a system where government departments would be required to implement regulatory cost cuts at least equal to the new legislation they were proposing.

He said: “We want to apply this to every quango in the country. They will have to come before parliament and justify their existence.”

Mr Penrose informed the group that under his plans, every new law would be assessed after three or five years.

And he proposed that every year, groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce would be asked to propose the 10 most ineffective business laws, which would then be examined to see if they could be reformed.

Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive and Policy Director said: “It was a great opportunity for Chamber members to meet with the minister and make their views known.

“Much of what was proposed makes sense, and seemed to be welcomed by local businesses. However, the key will be whether the Conservatives can make these proposals a reality if they come into power.”

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

What issue is your business facing?

We'd like to hear from you about the day to day issues you face as you do business.…
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  • Is there a subject that you'd want to hear top tips on from an expert in that field?
  • What do you think about our magazine 53 Degrees? What improvements, or features would you like to see added?
Or is there a more pressing concern that you'd like to speak to a member of our Policy team about?

Please get in touch and let us know and we'll help in whatever way we can...

BRIEFED: The latest news from the Chamber website

Member News: PwC appoints property specialist in Manchester
Jonathan Haigh has joined PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) as a senior manager in the business recovery services real estate team.Based in the Manchester office, his role is to devise and execute real estate strategies in turnaround and insolvency situations and to develop PwC's wider real estate practice.

Fresh Group - the creative communications agency - has topped another record-breaking year after being crowned at the inaugural Marketing Industry Network Awards 2009.
The awards - hosted by the Marketing Industry Network and supported by The Drum - were established to identify the best media, marketing and communication agencies and teams across the UK.

Stockport College Marketing Wins Multiple Industry Accolades
The Marketing department at Stockport College has swept the board at major national and regional industry awards recently by winning top gongs at the CIPR PRide Awards in Manchester and the FE First Awards in Coventry on the 18th and 23rd November. The department beat hundreds of top agencies within the PR and Marketing industry, and was judged as having some of the best marketing and communications campaigns and collateral in the UK Further Education sector.

Chamber Team Wins International Trade Award
Greater Manchester Chamber's International Trade Team have come top in the British Chambers of Commerce Awards.The team have now won the award for Excellence in International Trade Services for the third year running.

Waste management the subject of Chamber construction & engineering seminar
Waste management and its implications for local construction firms will be the next subject in a series of sector-specific seminars, being organised by Greater Manchester Chamber and Pinsent Masons on the 9 December.The event entitled "Brass in Muck - How waste management became sexy" will give local construction and engineering firms the chance to learn about the burgeoning waste management sector and its implications for their industry.

Cityco appoints new Chief Executive
Cityco announced today that Vaughan Allen (42), currently chief executive of Urbis, has been appointed chief executive of Cityco, Manchester's city centre management company.

Manchester City Council sign First Street Development Agreement
Manchester City Council's Executive has approved the final development agreement between Ask Property Developments and Manchester City Council for the First Street project. This gateway site is located on the southern edge of the city. Totalling 20 acres, First Street acts as a vital link between Manchester's central business district and the Oxford Road Corridor.

Member News: Local Company Provides Vehicle Access Steps For Delivery Giant City Link
Bolton-based Ladderstore has recently fulfilled a major contract to provide 45 bespoke Mobile Double Decker Vehicle Access Steps to City Link, the UK’s leading Premium Express Delivery Company.

Cross City Bus Transport Scheme
Cross city bus is one of fifteen transport schemes announced by AGMA in May. It is part of the Greater Manchester Transport Fund and an investment programme of £1.5 billion, incorporating prioritised transport schemes, based on delivering the maximum economic benefit to Greater Manchester.

Member News: 24/7 Uptime offer offsite data backup at less than £1 per Gb
No business can operate without data - contracts, sales records, proposals, accounting records, business contacts and emails, etc. Yet many small businesses only take occasional data backups, don't store their backups safely or don't backup at all!

Business Finance Solutions wins share of Barclays enterprise fund
Manchester based Business Finance Solutions have been awarded a £30,000 grant to help improve its services to small businesses. The company provides loans and support to companies that struggle to raise conventional bank finance, and was one of only five UK non-profit lenders to be awarded a share of the funds.