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

Friday, 29 May 2009

PR master classes throughout the summer

by John Walding, PR Manager

Great news for Chamber members who are looking for a bit of help with PR; GM Chamber is teaming up with Regus, Weber Shandwick, Smith & Smith PR and Tangerine PR to offer a series of free PR master classes throughout the summer.


PR on a budget
The first master class, PR on a Budget, will be held on Tuesday 23rd June from 9:00 (9:30 start) - 11:00. Jo Leah, Managing Director of Weber Shandwick's Manchester operation, will give firms practical advice on how to use PR to promote their businesses. Book online here.

Social media master class
The second master class on Thursday 9th July will look at the phenomenon of social media. Nathan Smith of Smith & Smith PR will explain how using innovations such as Twitter and Facebook can benefit businesses. The event will run from 9:00 (9:30 start) to 11:00. Book online here.


Both events will be held at Regus' offices at Peter House, Oxford Street in central Manchester. For a location map click here.


Then on Thursday 3rd September, we'll be holding a Social Media Surgery with Tangerine PR at the Chamber offices at Churchgate House. Members will have the chance to get one-to-one practical advice on how best to approach digital PR in 30 minute sessions held throughout the day. More details to follow. (Read our recent guest blog from Tangerine's Head of Digital PR, Russell Hirst)

If you'd like to know more about any of the events give one of the PR team a call on 0161 237 4103 /4226 / 4124.


Have a great weekend.

Poll: Heathrow's third runway


by Richard Critchley, Policy Manager for Transport

The British Chambers of Commerce is keen to find out your views on a third runway at Heathrow. The airport is important to the regional economy for direct flights to London and beyond and so your views would be much appreciated.

Click here to answer the quick poll question.

Deadline for responses is Friday 5th June.

Friday Guest Blog: Breaking up isn't so hard to do

Rob Richardson
Associate Director at Grant Thornton, Manchester

Of all the truths about shareholder disputes perhaps the most telling is simply this: business divorce is on the rise.

As money tightens, companies are at the very least having to work harder to achieve the same result. In this climate, it’s just human nature for business partners to look at each other and wonder if the person they started out with is still up for the fight?

Sometimes it’s about strategy. Very often it’s about people not pulling their weight. Whatever the cause of a serious dispute, the outcome may well boil down to someone making a permanent exit.

Disputes can arise at just about any time in the life of a business. Even if you keep the management and investment structure mean and lean – perhaps just you and your original partner – there is always the chance that at some stage a radical difference over the direction of the company will emerge.

Difficulties are often exacerbated by the growing pains encountered by most businesses. As partners grapple with setbacks in the marketplace or serious cashflow problems, relationships are often put under severe strain.

Bringing in private equity investors can also be a crunch point as you are suddenly working with people who not only have a significant economic stake in your business, but also their own clear ideas about how it should be run. Indeed, being ousted by new investors probably ranks high on the list of founders’ nightmares.

Needless to say, a united boardroom with all the people who own the business pulling in broadly the same direction is one of the prerequisites for success. So if it becomes clear that someone either wants to or needs to leave the business, then the process of finding a settlement without recourse to potentially damaging litigation has to begin in earnest.

I think people are discouraged from seeking a settlement because the issues tend to be sensitive and complex by nature, but there is always a way out. Ultimately, the value of the business has to be protected and this common interest can drive a cost effective and speedy resolution.

Sometimes partners will have mechanisms outlining how someone can leave. In many cases, however, there’s nothing in place at all. People start out full of confidence in their business partner and it seems counter-intuitive to focus on an exit strategy when faced by so many other challenges and priorities. The trouble with that approach is that you have nothing to fall back on when the dynamics of your situation change – which they probably will.

Either way, even if you have an exit strategy there are going to sharp disagreements over cash. In a recent case I worked on the settlement figure was 500 per cent higher than the opening offer. That wasn’t particularly unusual. The figure could have gone even higher but realism should always be part of the process: whatever figure the parties agree, the business has to be able to fund the deal without being excessively hindered moving forward.

One of the jobs for professional advisers is to take the emotion out of the situation. That’s about telling people what really matters. I’ve seen this most often in family businesses where they argue, bicker or become locked in a battle of wills about slights and perceived slights.

In these cases people need a reality check: the only issue that really matters is the performance of the business and its future prosperity.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Manchester United victory parade - potential road closures

As you may be aware, there is a Manchester United victory parade planned for Thursday 28th May should the team beat Barcelona in tonight's UEFA Cup final. The parade will start from Manchester Town Hall at 5pm and travel out to Trafford, ending at Trafford Town Hall.

If the parade goes ahead, there will be a number of road closures in Manchester city centre, with some starting from 6am and further closures happening throughout the day.

Click on the map for a larger image of the scheduled closures:


Please take a look at the planned route and road closures carefully to see how it may affect you and your colleagues. You may want to make alternative travel arrangements to help reduce potential disruption caused by the parade.


Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Chamber Awards 2009

Manchester’s most inspiring businesses are being urged to showcase their talent by entering a top business award as British Chambers of Commerce launch their prestigious Chamber Awards 2009.

Last year Manchester businesses celebrated success in two categories. Lewis Hymanson Small Solicitors LLP, based in Peter Street, Manchester, won the Chamber’s Award for Innovation through Technology and city centre-based In Call Solutions, an IT/telecoms and call handling business was named as the region’s Most Promising New Business.
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 November 26.

To enter the awards online go to www.chamberawards.co.uk/2009 and for any further information you can contact the Chamber on 02476 472593 or email awards@chamberawards.co.uk. The closing date for entries is Friday 26th June.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Get your tax right - a new tool for business

by Holly Keogh, Assistant Policy Manager, Research

HMRC have developed a great new tool which lets you get reliable and up to date tax advice including guidance for start-ups, tax basics, rules and regs, self-assessment online, advice for employers and a tax deadline calendar.

There's written guides and video guides and they're easy to follow if you're having trouble getting your head round a particular issue or would just like to be more clued up on a subject that affects every business.

We've placed the 'widget' on our Real Help for Business area on the Chamber website. Go and take a look.

The real help area is a new section of the website where we're aiming to bring together all of the useful help and information that's floating around the internet at the moment. There's up to date information on new legislation, Government initiatives, events, news and even a business glossary. Bookmark the page and keep coming back because we'll be updating it as and when new info becomes available.

If you spot anything you think should be added to the page or there's anything you can't find, then please let us know.

Friday Guest Blog: Getting on the front foot

Phil Jones
Director, Brother UK and Vice-President, Greater Manchester Chamber

Spring is here and it's time to put ourselves back on the front foot. Thankfully, stories of doom and gloom are slowing and more positive stories are appearing to inspire us all to greatness. Following a challenging eight months or so, most of the difficult major decisions businesses have had to make have been made and actioned. So what now?

How do we now all set our sails for the journey to recovery, with untold riches ahead of us?

Here's a few tips to stir your imagination: -

Innovation
What have you done recently to challenge, change or dump elements from your business model? Anything? Do you step away from your business to be creative and generate ideas? I bet you could pull 100 ideas from a staff of 10 people in 10 mins if you just asked. The trick is then prioritising these ideas into the easy to do, high impact things and getting on with it. No creativity = no innovation. No action plan = waste of time.

Meet Someone New
Are you meeting new people and increasing your personal learning? It’s amazing how many great ideas exist in non-competing sectors, you can learn these by getting out and networking, either on-line or in person, or just simply reading books or blogs. I use Twitter and Linkedin to sustain relationships and trigger new ones; however you can't beat a personal introduction. Don't be tricked into thinking social media is the absolute answer though, go retro, meet someone in person and add value! Chamber networking events are an excellent way of doing this.

No customers, no business
Get out more. It's invigorating and inspiring. Question and listen to your customers, understand their problems and how they are reacting to the economic climate. You’ll quickly be stimulated to see if there are any new products or services that you could provide or develop for them. Remember, the ratio of talking to listening should be at least 2:1 in their favour.

Change your habits
As human beings, we can easily fall into routines. Break them. Take a look at all the meetings you might hold regularly, have a review, do you still really need them? How can you release your diary to spend more time with customers? Ask yourself, why have we always done it that way?

Talk to your people
Be available, answer questions, ask questions! Some of the best ideas ever implemented came from internal staff in organisations. Fire them up, get some ideas flowing and get some rubber on the road.

Be positive
Your subconscious is programmed by your thoughts. The more good stuff you put in, the more positive you will be. You can still be positive and realistic. Life is far more interesting on the upside.
Phil blogs throughout the week at The Corporate Bubble, focusing on leadership, innovation, the environment and business in general. You can also follow Phil on Twitter here or to share news and discuss the issues affecting business in Greater Manchester, join GM Chamber's Linkedin group.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Car scrappage scheme begins

by Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Exec

Today sees the official launch of the car scrappage scheme announced in April's budget by the Chancellor. Whilst the concept behind the scheme seems to be on the right lines many businesses are waiting to see what the impact will be of the scheme which has been heralded as the solution to many of the problems facing the automotive industry.

Schemes of this type have been hailed as a great success on the continent and it came as no surprise given the circumstances and challenges we face in the UK that something similar was formally announced by the Chancellor. There is no doubt that any help or assistance is more than welcome to kickstart the car market which has been in the doldrums however the jury is still out on how effective this scheme will actually prove to be in the long run.

Thousands of businesses rely on the automotive sector and speaking with our members their hopes are that this will not prove to be another gimmick like the VAT cut but something that will give this key sector a major shot in the arm.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Silver Surfers Day 2009

Anne Huscroft, author 'How to be a Global Grandparent'

Today is Silver Surfers Day 2009 and thousands of people up and down the country will be attending events and learning more about the use of IT and how it can make life easier. I’ll be at Sale Library throughout the day after Manager Nancy Murray asked if I’d be willing to help out with the training sessions. Never one to pass up an opportunity to train keen students, I jumped at the chance knowing how much IT has improved my own family’s ability to keep in touch.

When I was living in Holland with my family my father Fred, now aged 75, learned how to use the internet at a similar ‘Silver Surfer’ course in Newcastle. It opened up a new and exciting world to him; once he’d mastered emailing, he learned to search and shop online. He also regularly downloads routes to his GPS system which he uses as reference points when working as a voluntary ranger for his local
National Trust. Most importantly to us, he was able to stay in contact easily through use of email and more recently, Skype.

Without these recently acquired skills, Fred’s life wouldn’t be as exciting and interesting as it often is now.

All of this experience has fed into my book, entitled
‘How to be a Global Grandparent’ which provides practical advice and suggestions on how to cope with the move from both sides and tips on how to keep in touch with loved ones.

Alongside my co-author Peter Gosling, I’ve spent the last year speaking to people around the globe about their own experiences of keeping in touch with families abroad and the use of IT has been a massive part of that.

Becoming familiar with new technology can be a daunting experience and one of the most useful sections of the book is a series of step-by-step advice for the use of computer technology such as emails, webcams and Skype. Many of us are confused or even intimidated by this technology but it truly is a lifeline when communicating with loved ones who are far away – and of course, it opens up many other possibilities!

For details of Silver Surfers events running throughout the day,
click here.

Or come and see me at Sale Library! Sessions will be running throughout the day.
Sale Library, Sale Waterside, Sale, M33 7ZF Tel: 0161 912 3008

And remember, this is by no means your last chance to get involved, for other Silver Surfer courses call the National Learning Helpline on 0800 100 900.

Priced at £8.99 How to be a Global Grandparent (ISBN 9781904566847) is available at all good bookshops, through
amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, Zodiac Publishing's own website www.zodiacpublishing.org and via the book's dedicated website www.theglobalgrandparent.com
Anne runs a consultancy specialising in relocation and organisation solutions for families and expats in the NW area. For more information, please visit her website: www.reo-solutions.co.uk

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Enterprise Finance Guarantee: Tell us about your experience

by Ilona Krohn, Principal Economic Adviser

In order to improve access to finance for small and medium-sized businesses, the Goverment launched the Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) scheme at the beginning of the year.

Under the scheme banks can obtain goverment guarantees for up to 75% of loan amounts provided to businesses, as long as they meet the defined criteria. Please click here for more details.

The Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) is now consulting with interested parties to collect evidence on the practicalities, effectiveness and usage of this programme.

We are looking for comments and feedback about your experience with lenders under the scheme. Please click here to tell us about your experience.

The deadline is a week on Friday, 22nd May.

Thank you very much for your support!

£1.4billion transport boost to Greater Manchester

by Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Exec.

Greater Manchester is to get a £1.4billion transport boost which will see a host of transport improvements previously put on hold. This is great news. Following the TIF referendum in December, one thing everyone agreed on was that there was still a need for improvements to our transport infrastructure and the Chamber has been keen to pursue how these needs could be met. The funding package is a huge step forward in making these proposals a reality. In the current climate this will have great benefits for the local economy not just in the creation of jobs but also long term economic growth.

Some of the projects now taking place are: completion of the Metrolink Big Bang, with extensions to Chorlton, East Didsbury, Manchester Airport, and Rochdale and Oldham town centres. The money will also pay for:
  • A Stockport bypass linking the airport and the A6
  • The Mottram by-pass
  • A guided busway between Leigh and Manchester
  • The Wigan inner-relief road
  • Increased park-and-ride facilities across Greater Manchester
  • There will also be a `cross-city' bus package, with better and more frequent routes through the city centre.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Unemployment figures reach 2.2million

by Samantha Dunbar, Policy Manager for Employment & Skills

Unemployment figures may have been made available a little earlier than expected but there are no great surprises with a rise to 2.22 million out of work in the first three months of 2009. The drop in manufacturing jobs nationally has been mirrored locally, with the highest increase in claimants concentrated in the industrial parts of Greater Manchester.

Results from our Quarterly Economic Surveys have indicated that employers have been doing their utmost to preserve employee positions, with many companies choosing not to make people redundant in the early stages of the economic downturn. With the onset of the new financial year, such businesses have had to make some difficult decisions - no business takes letting hardworking employees go lightly.

Real Help for Business - a new area of the Chamber website

A number of initiatives have been launched in response to the downturn as well as websites offering help, advice and information for business. Our aim with our Real Help area is to bring together the information most relevant to Greater Manchester Chamber members and to point you in the direction of the most useful sources of help. We'd like to make this a reference point so you don't have to waste time scouring the internet. If there's anything you feel should be added to this webpage, please let us know.
Or if there is anything you can't find, please give Matt a call on 0161 237 4124.

The area includes the latest news, legislation, Government initiatives, events and some useful links.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Timebank: free consultancy advice for Manchester businesses

by Sheena Henthorne, Communications Director

The Chamber has teamed up with Manchester City Council to create Timebank, a scheme which enables Manchester businesses to get free business advice from some of the region's best professional consultancies and support agencies.

How does it work? These organisations will donate their time to provide one-to-one consultancy for Manchester companies. They will offer advice on subjects such as finance, law, employment, pensions, supply chain, process improvement and sales.

I'd encourage anyone who can to take up this offer. We've got some really big hitters on board and a couple of hours consultancy could have massive benefits to your business. The idea is to provide a helping hand whatever situation you're in - it doesn't have to be critical! You may just want a second opinion from an objective voice.

If you want to find out a bit more, give our Business Advice Team a call on 0845 608 3388 or you can complete the form here and they'll give you a call back at a convenient time.
Let us know how you get on!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Friday Guest Blog: Twitter - where business is going wrong

Russell Hirst, Tangerine PR

Twitter has today rolled out its real-time search box and trend links across all user accounts. I was actually lucky enough to have this installed on my account a few weeks back (I’d like to say it was because I’m so important, but in reality it was just luck that I had one of the beta test interfaces!) and I’ve found it extremely useful.Basically, the search box does exactly what you’d expect – it searches all tweets for whatever term you enter. It’s real-time too, which means that something tweeted just a few seconds earlier will be displayed in the results.

The trends are simply text links of the most popular things being said on Twitter – today they include ‘Swine Flu’, ‘Happy May Day’ and ‘Wolverine’ – thank goodness ‘Susan Boyle’ has now dropped off!

Firstly, it’s quick – which is no mean feat when you consider how many people are now Twittering – but more importantly it gives results in real-time. You can save your favourite searches so that a text link is added to your navigation bar which means that the next time you log-in, just one click will bring you the latest results for your search term.The fact that all of this is free (for now!) means that businesses have a wealth of information at their fingertips that won’t cost them anything apart from their time.

And that is where people are going wrong with Twitter and other social networking sites. We’ve all done it at some point – seen a cool site in the news or overheard it being mentioned on the telly, signed up, used it for a day or two and then very swiftly forgotten all about it. That fact was cemented this week when a Nielsen Online survey claimed that 60% of Twitter users stop using the site after just one month. I think the reason behind this unusually high fall-off rate (which interestingly is much higher than Facebook’s) is because lots of people still don’t ‘get’ Twitter – or, they just can’t see how they can make any money from it. However, in reality it really is very straightforward – here are two uses that will take just a few minutes of your time:

Benefit from your competitors’ poor service!

Search for your rivals’ brand names - if you find a tweet from somebody who is complaining about poor service at one of your competitors, reply to them and suggest that they use you instead – it’s cheeky, but they’ll probably appreciate that you’re on the ball and take that as an indication that you’re good at what you do.

Keep up to speed on general opinion.

Find out what people are talking about and use it to your advantage – for anything from planning your latest shop window display or deciding what to blog about that day. You’ll look savvy and on-trend (literally!).

There are of course many more benefits to Twitter, however the financial ones (however indirect they are) are the most valuable to businesses who use the service – especially with the current financial climate where businesses are doing their upmost to attract (and retain) customers. I really do hope that businesses embrace Twitter for more than just an initial week or so – even if a member of staff spends just 15 minutes a day checking the current trends, responding to appropriate tweets and looking at what is being said about their brand (and those of their rivals) then the benefits can be huge.

GM Chamber will be releasing a free white paper written by Russell detailing how you can use free social media tools to both increase your sales and protect your brand later this month. For your copy, email Matt Hall or just subscribe to the GM Chamber blog by clicking one of the icons to your right!

Russell is Head of Digital at Tangerine PR in Manchester, handling digital PR campaigns that embrace social media, viral, buzz and word of mouse actvity for a variety of B2C and B2B clients. You can email Russell at russell.hirst@tangerinepr.com

Chamber Annual Dinner at Manchester Central last night

by John Walding, PR Manager

The Recession and our region's response to the challenges this creates was the key theme of this year's President Peter Heginbotham's keynote address, in which he stressed the importance of public spending on large scale projects and welcomed the new powers given to the city region in the recent Budget.

Guest speaker BBC Newsnight's Gavin Esler treated guests to some interesting insights into his chequered broadcasting career, including his stint as the North American correspondent covering the Clinton administration and his early days on the Belfast Telegraph.

After dinner entertainment was provided by Mock the Week's very own Dara O'Briain.

The charity prize draw managed to raise £3881 on the evening for the Christie and ME Association. Prizes were kindly donated by The Royal Exchange Theatre, Living Room Group, Living Ventures, Berkley Bowen and PZ Cussons. The first prize was two businessfirst class return tickets to New York from Manchester donated by Continental Airlines.

Thanks to Swinton the main sponsor for the evening and also to our associate sponsors Manchester Central, Business Link North West and Marketing Manchester.

Our thanks also go out to all of the members who gave up their evenings to come along to the event who helped to make last night's event a memorable evening.

Keep checking the site for a podcast of key highlights from the evening as well as a picture gallery of photographs taken on the night.