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

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday Guest Blog

Ken Primrose, Managing Director of Industrial Tomography Systems, shares his tips for successfully commercialising a new technology.

Industrial Tomography Systems (, started life as an incubator company, bringing technologies developed at UMIST to market. ITS has now commercialised the technology so successfully that it trades with companies as far afield as Brazil and the US and boasts an impressive client list including household names such as GlaxoSmithKline, Nestle and Procter & Gamble.

Bringing a new technology to market relies upon a strategic plan and well-targeted research. It is crucial to scope potential markets and test your product offering so you identify exactly where your technology will slot in and what it will add to each market sector targeted. Finding the technology’s unique selling point and positioning it well will be of pivotal importance. A clear understanding of price, margin, volume and timing is also essential.

A business’ sales team are the ones who will ultimately sell the product so it is essential that the sales force is well briefed and knowledgeable with regard to the technology and its applications and critically its potential benefits. An ability to clearly explain the technology in straightforward terms and demonstrate how it will benefit potential client companies is highly important when attracting customers to a new product.

Having all of the relevant accreditations, patents and licences prior to releasing the product to market will not only save time, but reassure potential customers that it is a product that they can trust. However these take time and money, so you should be confident that you are addressing the right segments before investing in areas which may take a long time to pay back. Equally, a strong company reputation will work in your favour – build up a target database of relevant potential customers with which you already have a favourable reputation. This will immediately strengthen your pitch and encourage customers to immediately consider investing in the new technology, based on the company name alone.

A similar way in which to attract confidence in your product is to have the full backing of research centres and well-respected names within the sector in which the new technology will feature. Favourable recognition from well known and renowned names within the field will further strengthen the brand.

Naturally, before embarking upon any of the above, it is essential to seek out the right engineering skills. Finding the right engineering talent in the UK is getting more difficult as the Government culls visas from non-EU nationals. Although this will open up the door to British students, it will be up to 10 years before ripe talent filters through.

Commercialising a new technology can be extremely rewarding both personally, professionally and financially, however it is important to have the have confidence in the talent at your disposal, research and funding when you set off.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday Guest Blog: Retirement Apathy Will Cost You Dearly

By Stephen Samuels, Principal of Samuels Financial

"There is much to be said for living for the moment and, for people coping with the economic downturn, getting through the week is understandably the major consideration. Yet many people risk a life of poverty in retirement because they are significantly underfunding their retirement savings.

We are all expected to live longer and there is a good chance that many of us will live almost a third of our lives in retirement so you would do well not to underestimate the size of the retirement fund you will need to live comfortably.

A pension fund of £200,000 may sound a decent sum, but today that will buy you an annual income of a little more than £10,000, which is why you need to get to grips with your retirement plans long before you pick up your gold watch. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to catch up on missed time.

The difference between starting at 25 and starting at 45 is staggering. It can be even worse for women - they live longer than men on average and many will take career breaks to have children, leaving gaps in their contributions.

A 25 year-old male who wants to retire on £20,000 a year when he gets to 65, will have to put aside £501 a month for the next 40 years. If he waits until he is 35, he would have to save £788 a month to retire on £20,000 a year. The monthly sum will rise to more than £1,300 a month, if the same man delayed saving until he was in his mid-forties (Source: Standard Life, March 2011), so it is important to start your retirement planning early.

People should seriously consider joining their company scheme, particularly if the employer is contributing to the fund as well or if it is based on final salary. Remember that an employer contribution to a pension is effectively deferred salary, so failure to join a company scheme is akin to taking a pay cut.

Yet, surprisingly, many people turn down this ‘free money’. In an experiment by Axa in 2005, tracking the lives of people in Brighton, it found that a number of people did not bother to join their company scheme even if their employer made a contribution.

However, if your employer offers a defined contribution pension scheme, rather than a final salary pension scheme (also known as a defined benefit scheme) the plan alone may not be sufficient for your needs.

Employers tend to contribute far less to defined contribution schemes than they typically used to put into final-salary schemes, so a total employer and employee contribution of say 13 per cent is likely to be insufficient to fund your entire income in retirement.

Increasing your retirement provision through AVCs (or additional voluntary contributions) or Personal Pension Plans is a highly tax-efficient way of boosting retirement provision and it is worth seeking advice on maximizing this opportunity to meet your personal goals. Even if your employer doesn’t make contributions, having a fixed sum transferred from your salary each month is a pain-free way to start the savings habit.

Retirement planning is not just about investing into a pension – Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs) can come into the mix, for instance. Indeed, younger workers who expect to be higher-rate taxpayers later in their career could consider saving via an ISA first and then moving those savings into a pension when they become higher-rate taxpayers to benefit from the higher tax relief.

It should be noted that the levels and bases of taxation and reliefs from taxation can change at any time as they are subject to changes in legislation. The value of any tax reliefs depends on individual circumstances.

As you get older and move into your forties and fifties, you need to work out whether the plans you had in place are on track. Firstly, establish what your likely state pension entitlement would be. You should also contact the pension trustees of your current and previous employers, who will be able to provide pension forecasts, as will the companies managing any private pension plans.

Given the volatility of stock markets there is a chance that what you are currently on target to receive is less than you’d ideally like, or perhaps even need. It makes sense to seek advice about how you can bridge this gap. You might need to consider whether options such as retiring later or working part-time beyond your retirement date may be a more realistic way of meeting your retirement goals.

As you get even closer to your chosen retirement age, you may need to consider reducing the risk of your investments to protect the fund you have built up over the years. Many experts suggest that this risk reduction should start at least five years before you wave goodbye to the working world for good.

Retirement planning may not be the hot topic of conversation at dinner parties and social gatherings but that does not mean it should be ignored. Planning ahead and getting your strategies in place early will mean that your dreams of a happy retirement have a greater chance of coming to fruition. Failure to act will mean that they are nothing but pipe dreams."

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Inflation Rises

Commenting on today’s inflation figures from the Office of National Statistics, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “As we warned last month the fall in the consumer prices index to 4.0% was only temporary, caused by the later timing of Easter this year compared to last. With inflation now rising sharply to 4.5% and with consumers already lacking confidence to commit to those big ticket purchases the effect will ripple through the economy over the coming months, inevitably reducing demand and suppressing job creation in the private sector.

“We are in a low growth environment and trading will be difficult in the domestic economy for some time to come so we must focus on promoting exports. In our opinion an interest rate rise at this time would be very damaging to the domestic economy, although inevitably this release will increase pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates; though we suggest that the Bank remains focused on supporting domestic growth.”

Monday, 16 May 2011

Who Cares?

By Chris Fletcher - Director of Policy, Research & External Affairs & Deputy Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Last week the BBC released the results of a survey looking at how spending on social care will be impacted following the cuts announced in the Government’s spending review.

The survey found that adult social care spending in the North will fall by an estimated 4.7%, whilst in the South it will rise by 2.7%.

That wasn’t the total picture, however, as only about two thirds of all Councils responded and due to some of the complexities around funding allocations, some of the figures were “skewed”. In response, the Government has acknowledged that reform of the system is needed to ensure continuing affordable and sustainable funding for care and support for all adults in the future.

So, what has this got to do with business?

My response: A lot more than you’d think.

I recently attended a meeting of the Chamber’s Care Sector Council made up of Chamber members representing the ten local authorities in Greater Manchester who all run care or residential homes. Whilst there are a number of different types of home and care provision, they all shared one thing in common…….they were all businesses.

They employ staff, they have to watch their costs, battle against increasing energy bills and get to grips with there not just being less money in the system, but some fundamental changes to the system itself. Oh, and also look after those people they have been trusted to care for.

Martin Clark, the Chair of the Sector Council, sums up the issue succinctly: “Within the ten Greater Manchester Councils, all appear to be making cuts to the Adult and Social Care budgets, as well as raising eligibility criteria and increasing charges to customers to use services.

“Independent and voluntary care providers are being told there is no money available to increase the amounts they are given to provide care, even though they face inflationary increases in their operational costs, and an increase in dependency of the people they care for. Some providers have had to fight to even sustain their previous funding with Council officials asking them to accept cuts in their funding, whilst still acknowledging that the costs to provide care have gone up.”

That, I suppose, is the real challenge with this sector – people just assume that all they do is “look after old people” totally oblivious that they feel the strain of economic issues and changes in government policy like any other business, sometimes even more so.

Whilst I’m no expert in care and admire anyone working in this sector, what I can do and what I can make sure the Chamber does, is start to put things on an equal footing so that this important sector gets recognised and treated as it should. Faced with ever increasing financial cuts and rising prices, they cannot as easily expand as other businesses, so they really do have to watch every penny. The landscape that the sector operates in is changing and coming under real scrutiny from both central and local government. At times it must feel like they are in a vice.

So who cares? Well there are a number of people that care passionately and face every day, 24/7, not just the battles that all businesses face, but also the extra pressures of looking after residents or people in need. In uncertain times, they have to offer a sure service.

I think that’s something we should all care about.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Guest Blog

Improving your Business “Postbox” Process

Dave Robert Fricker – Managing Director of Daviker TotalWorkFlow

We work with many businesses who have taken the time and effort to put processes in place, but then never really get the opportunity to look at if the process could be improved upon or if it is being followed properly. Monitoring and managing existing processes within a business can be a very quick and simple way of increasing efficiencies and productivity throughout your business.

We find that many businesses deploy what we have termed ‘post box processes’. Bear with me here, but many companies we work with treat their processes like they treat their post! We all know that if we place our letter in an envelope, write down clear instructions for the staff, then stick it in a Post Box it will eventually 99 times in 100 work out well and our ‘process’ will get delivered. What we don’t know is could the process be improved from the ‘Postbox’ to the delivery. It is clear the processes are working, but could the service be faster, cheaper or better? In some cases we only know there are problems when post goes missing and customers become dissatisfied. Could you be losing out on the chance to improve your bottom line even more?

On occasions, businesses large and small will experience common problems within their processes. These include poor prioritisation of tasks, human errors and job role ambiguity which can result in missed deadlines and inconsistent service. However, if these issues occur more frequently in a short space of time, it can result in fewer repeat business orders, drop in revenues, low staff morale and poor retention of personnel. The net result - a successful enterprise turns into a poor one, even with all these wonderful processes.

Fear not, as there are various products on the market that can assist with developing your business processes, one example is workflow software.

Workflow software enables you to break down large processes into smaller manageable tasks. The software consistently manages these tasks and processes ensuring your staff get right tasks completed in the correct order. Workflow programs gives you the power to make key management decisions based the real-time data provided.

There is a school of thought within small to medium business community that such bespoke workflow software is costly to install and hard to manage, but there are now products including TotalWorkFlow out there that are targeted just to the SME market, which can bring the costs down considerably.

Remember, we all know post will get there eventually but could your business do with upgrading from 2nd class post to 1st class processes.

Members of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce are entitled to a six-month free trail of TotalWorkFlow. If you are interested in finding out more about TotalWorkFlow and how it can help your business, call 0845 250 80 70 or e-mail

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Latest Trade Figures

Commenting on the trade figures for March published today by the ONS, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The trade figures for March indicate a widening of the trade deficit and a decline in exports, which is disappointing. However with recent global events it would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that these export figures are evidence of slowdown and recent levels of exports have after all been at record levels.

“Yes, they should have been stronger, but we are making progress with exports to non-EU countries at a record level on a three-month measure. The deficit with these countries has widened and more should be done to promote the opportunities in these markets to our exporters and ensuring they can compete on equitable terms in areas such as trade finance and insurance is vital.”

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Interest Rates Held

Interest rates have been held at the historic low of 0.5%.

Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business & Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is likely that global events of recent months, that have increased uncertainty over the economic outlook, have been a major factor in the Bank of England’s decision to hold interest rates at the record low of 0.5%. The strength of our recovery remains weak and recent data suggests that growth has been flat over the last two quarters.

“As a result it is imperative that private sector businesses are supported by this expansionary, low interest rate stance for a while longer. The Bank’s decision is the right thing to do and we said in February that it would do more harm than good if it increased in May as many anticipated.

“Talk that the Monetary Policy Committee will lose credibility by not tackling inflation ignores the wider brief that the committee is also bound by the Bank of England Act 1998 to support Government objectives for growth and employment. Global events will have eased inflationary concerns allowing the Bank to take this decision today, but that said we must not be complacent as we cannot rely on factors beyond our control acting in our favour over the longer term.”