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

Friday, 30 July 2010

Friday Guest Blog: The size advantage: Why SMEs are better placed to compete in the digital world

By Tom Cheesewright, strategy director - AND Digital

Let's face it: size matters. In most spheres of business, big companies carry an advantage. That's not to say the smaller players can't compete - many of the businesses I meet through the Chamber do just that. It's just rare for the smaller enterprise to have a well-defined advantage over the industry gorillas.

But in the digital world, I see that they have just that.

This isn't a pop at larger companies: that would be unwise given the size of some of our clients. Rather it's the recognition of a trend, and an exhortation to the smaller business to take advantage.

Small businesses have always had the advantage of agility: small, tight-knit organisations can be flexible enough to respond to market opportunities that large companies simply cannot. Big businesses have to train more people, adjust more policies, account for more challenges etc. This makes them (generally) risk-averse and conservative.

By contrast, small businesses can often afford to take risks without seriously jeopardising the health of the company.

Today there are some small risks on the web that are worth taking because they carry huge potential rewards. The web is flooded with powerful, low-cost tools, learning materials, sales opportunities, marketing vehicles and more. Businesspeople have an opportunity to reduce their costs, increase their productivity and grow their sales through using these tools. All you need to access them is a broadband connection, a reasonably up-to-date computer and an open mind.

Unfortunately for the corporations, up-to-date machines and open minds are often in short supply. The cost and complexity of upgrades leave many organisations running software that is years out of date. Innate conservatism means that access to the web is often locked down, leaving employees with little opportunity to seek out new opportunities online. If you work in a large corporation, the chances are that you are blocked from accessing social networks, video sharing, photo streams, blogs, software downloads and more. Even if you can, your web experience is likely degraded by the fact that your browser software is years behind the state of the art. In a world where the standards change almost weekly, this is a major disadvantage.

Small companies don’t need to be encumbered by these problems. If there are social networks where your customers hang out, you can likely do a better job of connecting with those networks than your corporate competitors. If there are free or low-cost software tools out there, don't be afraid to give them a try - you could save a load of money and find that they are many times better than the expensive solutions designed for corporate environments.

So I encourage SMEs to get online and live the web in the way that the large corporates cannot. Take a little risk and you could find a huge reward.

Tom will soon be launching a new software tool that helps companies to get better returns on their online marketing investment. If you'd be interested in finding out more and testing an early release of the software for free, please email him at

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Chamber Reacts to Plans to Scrap Retirement Age

Commenting on plans to scrap the retirement age, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: "We believe that the default retirement age should remain 65. While Chamber members recognise the benefits of allowing employees to work beyond this age, they want the flexibility to decide whether or not this is appropriate.

"Many employers already have processes in place that allow staff to work beyond 65, but the default retirement age provides a fail-safe. Scrapping the retirement age at a time of high youth unemployment and slow economic growth is not helpful to business."

Monday, 26 July 2010

Look before you LEP - the next generation of business support and what business can do.

By Chris Fletcher, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

The last few weeks have seen a blizzard of announcements by the coalition government on their proposals to abolish the Regional Development Agencies, the future of Business Link and its replacement by a new generation of business-led organisations called Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).

This is a complex issue and one that is very fast moving with the pace being set by two government departments, Business Innovation & Skills led by Vince Cable and Communities and Local Government led by Eric Pickles. Make no mistake there are different approaches and motives from both departments and irrespective of who triumphs the outcome will have a significant impact on business.

I think I’m safe in saying that in all my time of dealing with business support and policy work I cant recall one issue that has caused so much confusion to so many by so few. It’s a little like trying start a dot to dot puzzle without being sure all the dots are on the page yet.

So what do we know and what can you do to help us get the best deal for business?

The NWDA will be abolished by March 2012 and other regional bodies will suffer the same fate. The replacement bodies for some of these functions will be Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). These will be private sector led with equal input from local authorities and other bodies.

There will be no regional LEP in the North West but there will be either 7 or 8 sub-regional LEPs. The government has started to use the phrase “functioning economic areas” to describe the geographical footprint of a LEP, Greater Manchester being an obvious example.

So, there will be a Greater Manchester LEP. This is something that we are supporting and talks are already happening about what this will look like, what it will do and the role of partners within this.

What isn’t clear at present though are what powers the LEP will have. The government have passed the ball to us and are waiting for it to be passed back. There is a strong split between nationally led programmes such as inward investment, business support, access to finance and locally led programmes such as housing, planning, start up support.

Our view is that if the LEP is to be successful it needs full access to all the range of business support and growth mechanisms not just a select few. This view is shared by a number of other partners and other areas throughout the country.

What is also crucial is that existing regional funds, assets and programmes are retained as best they can locally and not vacuumed up into Whitehall never to reappear.

Being completely realistic LEPs really are the only game in town. The RDAs are not going to make a comeback, Business Link’s future is far from certain and we still have massive challenges to get the economy back in shape and get a private sector recovery that is sustainable and effective. The government is clear on this, we have an opportunity to craft LEPs into a shape that is really fit for purpose.

The Chamber is at the heart of this and I want to make sure that as many members and businesses are included in the process as possible. I’ve put some briefing information together along with the original letter from Cables and Pickles which can be found at The picture is not an easy one to grasp with huge gaps in knowledge so if you are still wanting more information on LEPs please let us know. We will be asking for your views in a week or so in order that you can play a part in shaping the future for business in Greater Manchester.

The Chamber isn’t into wild speculation and we are keeping just to the facts on this issue. The problem is there are very few facts around. This isn’t just a rehash of leftovers it is a new model that is being set up that will shape the economy for years to come. One thing is certain though, if we don’t even ask for what we want we will end up with what we are given and then we really will only have ourselves to blame if it doesn’t work.

Friday, 23 July 2010

GDP Figures

Commenting on today's GDP figures, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business & Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: "The economy has continued to grow, strengthening by 1.1% in quarter 2. We predicted these figures would show stronger growth on the back of our quarterly economic survey in June, though this result is even better than we had anticipated. It is great news for business, jobseekers and eases the threat of a double dip recession.

"Economic activity in this region is becoming a reliable barometer of the overall national picture; however our results indicate that the construction sector remains very much in the grip of recession within the City Region. This contradicts the outcome for the whole country which has witnessed a dramatic increase in growth, 6.6%.

"We reserve judgement on the figure for construction as this release marks a change in the method used to estimate growth, and a downward revision of this figure would bring overall growth into line with our pre-release expectations."

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Friday Guest Blog

Alex Swift, St John Ambulance’s North West Regional Director.

I want employers to recognise first aid as a vital element of their corporate social responsibility, not just as a legal tick box, but as a way of reducing the number of unnecessary deaths.

We recently found that each year up to 150,000 people die in situations where first aid could have given them a chance to live. Up until now the magnitude of this problem was not known.

In response to the situation, St John Ambulance is challenging UK businesses to take action by providing first aid training to as many employees as possible as part of their corporate and social responsibilities or as an employee benefit.

Many organisations have CSR policies or community initiatives that tackle problems we face as a society, such as making their practices more sustainable. It’s encouraging that businesses want to prevent long-term effects on our environment but by also training more people in first aid they can give staff the ability to make an immediate difference between a life saved and a life lost.

Companies are already required to train a minimum number of staff in first aid. We are asking them to go further and train as many employees as possible or at least help spread basic first aid knowledge within the workplace. We can reduce the number of people dying needlessly while employees feel empowered, cared for and recognise the positive contribution their employer is making. Many businesses offer employees gym memberships or language lessons, but what could be more important that equipping your workforce with the skills to save a life?

Research by St John Ambulance found that nearly two thirds (59%) of people would like first aid training at work, further justifying the argument that training should be offered as an employee benefit.

First aid training helps to keep employees safe, and provides them with life saving knowledge that benefits not only their colleagues, but their families, friends and community. What better legacy for an organisation to leave than life itself, and the ability to preserve it.

St John Ambulance is reinforcing this message with a trade advertising campaign which builds on the success of our recent award-winning national adverts. We plan to introduce a national awards programme next year to recognise businesses leading the way in first aid.

St John Ambulance can work with businesses to find a solution that suits them and can offer in-house training if needed. For a free needs assessment or to book a first aid course call 0844 770 4800 or text ‘needs’ to 88008 or visit Chamber of Commerce members are entitled to a 10% discount off St John Ambulance courses in the North West.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Chamber Networking Lunch

The Chamber is holding a networking lunch in the delightful setting of the Moorside Grange Hotel and Spa in Disley on July 22.

There will be lots of opportunity to network informally before lunch and then a round table during lunch. You will also have the chance to promote your business during the one minute rounds. A promotions table will also be available for you to display company literature. It costs £20 including VAT for Chamber members £30 including VAT for non-members. The event will take place between 12 noon and 2pm on July 22.
For more information email or call 0161 875 2357

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Hospitality & Tourism Sector Event - 20th July

After the success of our Hospitality and Tourism networking launch Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, in association with Thomas Pink and Great John Street Hotel, is pleased to announce our next evening networking event.
Held on the Rooftop Lounge at Great John Street Hotel, the evening will begin with a drinks reception and canapes followed by our guest speaker Paul Newman, Head of Communications at Peel Media. Paul will be providing an interesting and insightful update on MediaCityUK and its relevance within the Hospitality industry.
The event will start at 6.30pm on July 20th. The cost is £15 for Chamber members and non-members. For more information phone Philip Murphy on 07841 080936.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Friday Guest Blog by Mark Blackhurst

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is by far the most cost effective way of marketing your business.

Effective SEO is all to do with creating a plan or strategy that will make your website much more effective or attractive to the Search Engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing for example. Research carried out by many leading authorities have shown that if an SEO and Adword/Pay per click search campaign is run at the same time, the end result can mean an increase in website business by figures of 200/ 300 /400% sometimes more.

Of course the work has to be carefully planned and managed.

In the current business climate it could mean problems for you if your business isn`t appearing on page 1 of the search engine results. Certainly people are moving from the shopfront only situation and many who have an effective SEO strategy are seeing their online trade increase exponentially. If your website is not featured upon page 1 of the search engines it is clear that your corporate identity or brand may be seen to be less effective or less dependable than the companies featured near to the top of page 1.

The race for companies is now to get into the first two pages of the search engines but there are people who are spending large amounts of money on building great websites which showcase their fantastic products or brilliant service only to find that no thought whatsoever has been given to producing a website that is Search Engine friendly.

When building a website the first thought should be ‘where is my site going to be placed on google?’ and at this stage effective planning for the SEO campaign should begin. For small businesses thinking about creating a website find out what SEO is best for your business and what you need to do to get your website ranking up at the top of the search engine pages. Beware of agencies that offer SEO or pay per click campaigns very cheaply.

The idea that SEO is a dark art is now being dispelled by making the SEO service open and accessible to organisations that genuinely have aspirations to do better in their online
business and trade. SEO is a process that has to be ongoing. New content and articles must be created to keep your site relevant and these will build inbound links to your site. It can be a full time job and costly to do in house, you may be able to save time and expense by engaging the services of a good reputable SEO agency.

Good SEO may be the best marketing tool you have, outstripping traditional forms of advertising and media. In some cases the benefits can be mind-blowing. It will work for current sites and new site designs, so if you have a website and ambition, with correct planning it will work for you.

A tip is the older a domain name the better SEO potential as it is normally more respected by the search engines. Just remember if you are placed well on Google and the right organisation finds you this could mean new contracts not just in the thousands of pounds but in the millions of pounds.... I have seen this happen a number of times in the past few years.

The costs of SEO are monthly, the work is carried out month on month and the net result is that new business and search engine ranking go hand in hand.

Good tips for website owners to enhance your online presence, all of which can be managed by a reputable SEO agency.

 Understand your target market and work out what you aim to achieve.
 Incorporate Blogs in to your site and blog regularly.
 Create content that is correctly focussed and well distributed
 Investigate and ask your SEO agency about social bookmarking
 Join internet forums as these provide a way of networking and connect you with like minded or forward thinking individuals.
 Think about an online video, as this creates a more tangible interaction with potential customers. Web video creates a fast interaction and brings personality to your profile.
 Think about online events – using the relevant networks such as linked in and the new interactive networking get togethers.
 Social media – Facebook etc who is discussing your brand? Create buzz and excitement.
 Online PR – Submit news and make the net work for you.

The web and social media creates a connected web and network. Your reputation and online profile can mean the difference between great success or the total opposite.....

07989 961 392
0845 539 0642

Friday, 9 July 2010

Friday Guest Blog - Life as an apprentice on the Creative Break Programme

Young people in Greater Manchester looking for an exciting career opportunity recently received ‘break’ thanks to the launch of a brand new, Apprenticeship programme – Creative Break.

A partnership between public sector Apprenticeship support organisations and Greater Manchester's ‘creative industries', the goal of the Creative Break Apprenticeship Programme is to generate vacancies within the creative sector.

Vicky Parry, Junior Account Executive, Tangerine PR, Manchester, is one of the recent recruits to the scheme and talks about how she has benefited from her Creative Break.

“So, I started out my career in PR almost nine months ago now, fresh out of college and desperately looking for a job to prove that not going to university was the right thing to do. I applied for a number of jobs and thought I stood a good chance, especially with ten GCSE’s and three A Levels in the bag... but oh no! “You need more experience”, just a way of telling me I basically needed to have worked somewhere other than a bar before standing a chance of getting a job.

“I had never considered an apprenticeship before; some of my friends had done them and gave me a rough idea of what was involved, but they were in more practical fields such as joinery or hairdressing – neither of which I wanted to do. Then I stumbled upon the Apprentice Academy, and they were offering NVQ Level 2, Business Administration apprenticeships – much more up my street. Firstly, I had a telephone interview and then went to their office to have a face to face meeting and carry out some basic office work, such as typing and answering the phone, just to see how I coped. I finally landed an interview with Tangerine PR and that was it... my career began.

“Life as an apprentice was great, I was learning new skills, building up my confidence and also a bank of knowledge that would stand me in good stead for future careers. Because I was working and learning at the same time, all of the work I was doing helped me in building up a great portfolio of coursework and evidence which meant I had a good work/learning balance.

“Daily tasks were the usual admin jobs, sorting the post, answering the phones, welcoming clients and visitors but I was also given the opportunity to get involved with PR activity too and that’s when I discovered I had an interest in PR. Six months flew by and suddenly I had an intriguing request to have a meeting with a board director. It was hard to contain my excitement when I stepped out of the meeting with an enormous grin on my face, I had just been offered a permanent position at Tangerine PR as a junior account executive, that’s right, a permanent PR role, brilliant!

“The following two days were a buzz of excitement for me, I had told my family about the promotion, but had to keep it to myself in the office until the email went around telling everyone about my new job role. People were rushing over from all angles to congratulate me, one person even said they felt like ‘a proud mum’. I hadn’t felt so pleased and excited since I had been offered the junior captaincy at my golf club!

“So here I am, almost three months into my new role and loving every second of it. I have already learnt so much but I know I will keep learning more interesting skills and qualities from my colleagues. Getting a proper salary means I can also treat myself because I can afford it, many of my student friends are jealous as they are in a lot of debt.

“My advice to anyone in the same position-if you don’t think university is for you, look into apprenticeships and give it a go, you never know what it could lead to!”

Businesses interested in finding out more about taking on an apprentice through the Creative Break programme can visit

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Export Credit Survey

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is currently working on a project regarding export credit schemes for UK exporters with Deborah Lewinson, a student on Manchester Business School's Global Business Analysis Masters programme. We would like to get your opinion on the challenges facing UK exporters. Please complete the survey by clicking here and submit it by Friday 23rd July. Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact

Interest Rates Held at 0.5%

Commenting on the MPC’s decision to hold interest rates at 0.5%, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber, said: “Today’s decision to hold rates at 0.5% is again no surprise despite one committee member voting for a rate rise last month.

“Recent encouraging news on the economy, including our own Quarterly Economic Survey indicating that growth has accelerated in Quarter Two, suggests that there are some underlying concerns over the strength of the recovery and the impact of future spending cuts and tax increases on growth going forward.

“Inflation is still over target and a continuing concern for the Bank, though ongoing problems in the Eurozone, concern over the strength of the US recovery and a clear deficit reduction plan are acting in favour of Sterling, easing some of the upward pressure on inflation that was seen in our economic survey. With this in mind, we feel there is not yet a strong case for rate rises and expect inflation to fall further over the coming months.”

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Hospitality & Tourism Event - 20th July

Following the success of our Hospitality and Tourism networking launch, Greater Manchester Chamber in association with Thomas Pink and Great John Street Hotel is pleased to announce its next evening networking event.
Held on the Rooftop Lounge at Great John Street Hotel, the evening will begin with a drinks reception and canapes followed by guest speaker Paul Newman, Head of Communications at Peel Media. Paul will provide an interesting and insightful update on MediaCityUK and its relevance within the Hospitality industry.
The cost is £15 for Chamber members and non-members. The event will take place on July 20th. You can book online by clicking here or by calling Philip M urphy on 07841 080936.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Wigan Business Awards 2010 now open for entries

Greater Manchester Chamber is delighted to announce that nominations are now open for the Wigan Business Awards 2010. The highlight in the local calendar, the awards celebrate business excellence across the borough, and entries are welcome from member and non-member firms in all categories.

Commenting on the launch of this year's awards, Joanne Fletcher, Director of Business & Commercial Banking for NatWest in Wigan the headline sponsors, said: "We are very pleased to once again sponsor the Wigan Business Awards. Despite the challenging economic conditions over the last few months there are still many businesses throughout the borough which continue to perform well and these firms deserve recognition for their achievements. The awards are a great platform to highlight the good things taking place across the borough and to demonstrate the strength of Wigan's business community."

Miranda Barker Wigan President of Greater Manchester Chamber, added: "We urge businesses from across the Borough to get involved and benefit from the publicity and kudos associated with the Awards. Wigan Borough businesses need to shout about their successes and the Chamber is delighted to help them do that.

The closing date for entries is Thursday 12th August with the Awards themselves being held at a black tie gala dinner in November. Short listed entrants will be invited to meet the panel of judges including John Winnard of William Santus Limited, John Hughes of Hughes Brothers, Colin Weaver of The Best of Wigan and Richard Waterfield of Waterfield's Bakers. Shortlisted firms will also gain significant publicity via the event programme and local press in the run up to the event.

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

To download the nomination form and find out more about the awards, please visit or for a chat about the nominations process, please call the Chamber's Local Policy Manager, Patrick Prinsloo on 0161 237 4250

Friday Guest Blog

Sue Killen, Chief Executive of St John Ambulance

We welcome the Government’s forthcoming review into health and safety legislation.

David Cameron has said: "The rise of the compensation culture over the last ten years is a real concern, as is the way health and safety rules are sometimes applied."

Consequently, former Trade and Industry Secretary Lord Young has been appointed to lead the health and safety review.

Lord Young has been reported to say: "Health and safety regulation is essential in many industries but may well have been applied too generally and have become an unnecessary burden on firms, but also community organisations and public services… We need a system that is proportionate and not bureaucratic."

The right approach to health and safety saves lives – in 2008/9 we saw a 22% decrease in the number of people who die at work compared with the previous five years' average figures.

I believe it is the misinterpretation of health and safety guidance that causes problems and welcomes a review to ensure sensible and proper execution.

We’d be concerned if workplaces like offices had their guidance reduced. Our research has shown that 45% of office incidents requiring a first aider were serious enough to involve resuscitation compared with 21% of incidents on a building site, which is traditionally seen as more high risk. Good health and safety management is part of effective management. All workplaces need to put measures in place to protect their staff and customers, as we know that trained first aiders are the difference between a life lost and a life saved.

For further information about health and safety and first aid call St John Ambulance on 0844 770 4800 or visit

A free workplace training guide for Chamber members is available at:

Chamber of Commerce members are entitled to a 10% discount off all St John Ambulance courses in the North West.