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

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Have you filled in the latest Quarterly Economic Survey?

Want to ensure that the Government and your local authority get the message about what is really going on in the economy?

Want to influence future policy, interest rates and inflation rates? If so then here is your opportunity to make your voice heard!

The results from the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey (QES) are sent directly to the Bank of England and the heart of Government. The survey is one of three credited in the Bank of England’s Quarterly Inflation Report, giving clear proof that it influences their decision making when setting monetary policy.

By contributing to this survey, you are helping us to ensure that the voice of Greater Manchester is clearly articulated and heard and with results from previous surveys helping us to lobby for key infrastructure in Greater Manchester, your input is vital.

This quarter the Chamber has partnered with BBC Radio 4 to try and understand what is really happening in our economy. We want to cut through the rhetoric and hear the facts from business.

Do you want to ensure that the needs of Greater Manchester businesses are clearly heard? If so then take a couple of minutes of your time and click here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Financial Solutions for Businesses


By Louise Ryder –Client Support Officer, Business Finance Solutions

“Many small businesses are still struggling as a result of the recent recession and SMEs are continuing to find it hard to secure finance from mainstream lenders.

Business Finance Solutions (BFS) is a not-for-profit organisation, funded through European Regional Development Funds (ERDF). We provide alternative finance for start-up and existing businesses in Manchester, Trafford, Tameside, Stockport, Salford and Cheshire.

Unlike a lot of mainstream funders, we do not use a credit scoring system when reviewing applications. We ask that applicants provide us with a full, comprehensive business plan in order to come to a decision based on business growth, viability, and the overall risk. As the business plan is the main tool that we use when assessing the applications, if any applicants require assistance with completing a plan we recommend that they contact the Business Link Access to Finance Team, who are familiar with our application processes and can assist them with this.

As well as having loan funds of between £3,000 and £50,000 available to start-up and existing businesses in the region, BFS also has additional ERDF funds that are available to businesses looking to invest specifically in carbon reducing or innovative products. These can be used to either fund new carbon reducing processes within the business, or for businesses producing carbon reduction products or services.

A recent loan application from a start-up business based in Macclesfield, which supplies healthcare products to care homes, was successful in securing a loan of £50,000 to fund stock, website and marketing costs. As the development of the website was an innovation within this new business, the applicant was eligible for the ERDF loans allocated for innovation and technology. Thanks to the loan from BFS, this company is now trading and looking forward to future opportunities for growth and expansion and job creation.

BFS has granted over £5million in loan funds and has created or protected over 1500 jobs in the region. We are a provider of Enterprise Finance Guarantee and a fully accredited Small Firms Loan Guarantee lender.”

Anyone who is interested in finding out more about BFS and the services and products they offer, should call 0161 245 4977 or e-mail info@business-finance-solutions.org.uk

For more information about Business Finance Solutions, visit: http://www.business-finance-solutions.org.uk/

Anyone who wishes to speak to a Business Link advisor regarding access to finance or seeking help in completing a business plan, can call 0845 006 6888.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Hey Big Lender


By Chris Fletcher – Deputy Chief Executive, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

There are certain times when it seems that everything happens at once when it comes to major government announcements regarding key issues that affect business. This last week has been one such time. Set against the backdrop of National Apprenticeship week, with some ongoing strong and supportive noises coming from government and business, there have been two significant initiatives launched by government that we have been raising as major issues on behalf of our members for some time.

The first was the roll out of the results of Project Merlin which was the government’s attempt to curb bankers bonuses whilst getting the banks to lend more to business – SMEs in particular. A real double win if it could be pulled off.

Well, the announcement was made along with suitable noises about bonuses and an increased amount of funds set aside for lending - £190bn of which £76bn will be set aside for SMEs. Backed up by an earlier announcement to increase the bank levy this year by £800m and on the face of it looks like job done. But is it?

Our view and the view of our members is that the headline issue here, i.e. bonuses, acts as a diversion away from the main issue - the willingness and ability of banks to lend money and the availability of good businesses to borrow it. Merlin means that the money should be there if businesses have the appetite to borrow it at current commercial rates (the red flag here is that rates may rise in the not too distant future to damp down inflation) and the banks have more of it – 15% more than 2010 – should they wish to lend it. So, why aren’t we hanging out the bunting?

There is no compulsion on the banks to lend money and to be honest nor should there be. Targets for lending are the first step to the return back to the easy credit bonanza that got us in the mess in the first place. However our members tell us that it is not just access to finance that is the overriding concern, but actually the cost of finance that is the real problem. It is very difficult as we approach nearly two years of having a 0.5% base rate to fully understand the mechanics of why loans are the price they are. The truth is that in many examples it now costs more to borrow money, and when coupled with a drive over the last few years to convert working capital facilities to term loans, you soon understand why many business owners are shrugging their shoulders at what is on offer following this week’s announcements. Put bluntly, it seems to be more of the same which actually results in less – no wonder it’s called ‘Merlin’, that’s a real magical feat.

It seems strange that there is nothing more imaginative on offer to get the money flowing. From my own banking background I know that some propositions are just not workable, but to, in effect, just throw more money at the problem is a bit of a disappointing outcome especially when it just doesn’t seem to be getting through to the front line.

It will be interesting to come back to this over the next 12 months and we will be keeping a very close eye on this issue.

Another issue that we have been doing a great deal of work on, in an attempt to get things moving for our members, is international trade, which was the basis of the second big announcement this week: the release of the government’s white paper on international trade and in particular recommendations on how to solve the very tricky issue of export credit insurance.

Last week I met the MDs of Coface and Euler Hermes, two of the biggest suppliers of trade credit, to discuss how we can begin to ease the conditions to get more businesses in a position to look at exporting as a viable opportunity to grow. This week’s white paper seems to have come up with some good suggestions and over the coming weeks, we’ll be assessing these with various experts as well as taking a delegation of members to London to meet the key officials behind the recommendations.

I will keep you up to speed with this as we are on the verge of making a real change here that has taken some time, a lot of hard work, but most importantly our member’s evidence and input to make the case backed up by our own International Trade Council.

It isn’t quite game over yet. There is still some way to go, so if you have had problems with export credit insurance and want to find out more about our activity please get in touch: sana.nabi@gmchamber.co.uk or 0161 237 4045.

Friday Guest Blog: Marketing for Local Businesses


By Steve Prescott - Director, Square Pear Design and Marketing

“There are some interesting statistics flying around the Internet and trends that local businesses should take notice of:


• At the end of September 2009, there were over 418 million people worldwide with Internet access (over 52% of the total population of Europe). This compares to 105 million users in 2000 - growth of 298%.


• Total UK online population stands at 46million (UKOM, September 2010).


• 64% of C-level executives conduct six or more searches per day to locate business information (Google, Forbes, BtoB, June 2009).


• 74% of Internet users perform local searches (The Kelsey Group).


It’s clear that the Internet is still growing in prominence and the amount of local search terms coming through Google, Yahoo and Bing is growing. In this blog, I’m going to specifically concentrate on Google Places because Google has 91% of the UK search engine traffic.

Google has just integrated its new Google Places / Maps page on the front page of Google for most business industry searches. This means the standard local business can now compete for front page Google listings and connect with local customers for the market they are operating in.
There is data to back up that a customer looking for a local provider will type in a location after their keyword. For example: "Accountants in Bolton”.


So, how do you get to rank highly in Google Places?


Firstly, claim your page. The first action any business needs to take is to check that you claim your places page. The majority of businesses don't know Google has created one for them and that they are missing out on free traffic. If your listing doesn't say ‘verified listing’ but says 'business owner', you need to take action!!


Secondly, make sure your places listing is 100% complete. This is where lots of companies fall down. The places page needs all the correct information and your listing needs to be filled out completely. Complete listings get priority on rankings so it’s important to do this.


Thirdly, get some reviews. What your customers think and say about you is important and Google seems to think so too. It’s important that you get at least 5 reviews as a minimum from your clients and get them on Google Places, Yelp, Qype, etc. Google looks to these reviews in the ranking process; the more reviews you have the better. In addition, it builds trust with a potential client.


Finally, think about citations. Where your business is mentioned on other directories and places on the Internet is essential. Google also involves this in the ranking process, and you need to make sure that the numbers and all address details match up.


So why is all this important? Google Places has a prominent place on the front page of the Google search engine now for your keywords. Your potential customers are seeing listings from your competitors.


The increase in the use of mobile phones for Internet browsing is on the increase and is one of the large trends of 2011. Customers look for a service provider to call from their iphone.
Everyone has their phone on them these days probably more so than taking their wallet. Google Places sets you up for the mobile Internet without having to create an iphone app to reach your potential customers.


And finally a warning: Google has a set of best practices to follow to optimise your listings. If you try to cut corners or do this incorrectly it could harm your listing.”


For advice or a free consultation, call Steve on 01204 265002, or for more information, visit http://www.squarepeardesign.co.uk/

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Interest Rates Held

Commenting on today's decision to hold interest rates, Dr Brian Sloan, Head of Business and Economic Policy at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: "Businesses and consumers will be relieved that yet again the Bank of England has held rates at the record low of 0.5%, however it is likely to have been the surprise news of the 0.5% contraction of the economy during the final quarter of 2010 that has stopped more members of the committee joining Andrew Sentance and Martin Weale’s call for an interest rate rise.

"We firmly believe that whilst a rate rise now will do more harm than good, businesses and consumers should prepare for a rate rise in the next three months. On top of tax increases, which are only temporary inflationary influences, inflation is being imported due to strong growth in the emerging economies. It is this imported inflation that is leaving the Bank with little option but push rates higher sooner than it might have otherwise preferred."

Friday, 4 February 2011

Friday Guest Blog: Surely all marketing spend should be measurable in some format?



By Ian Feingold, Director at Code Promotional Merchandise

Whether it’s during challenging economic times or periods of sustained economic growth, the allocation of marketing budgets should never be a simple question of ‘repeat what we did last year’ or ‘do what the competition did’! The allocation of such funds needs to be strongly linked to all elements of the business plans for your business.

I was recently presented with a cost estimate (unsolicited I might add!) by a marketing agency who promised me the transformation of the way my business is perceived in the marketplace. They were going to re-design my logo (it’s dated apparently!), provide me with “fresh, stimulating visuals” and support this by changing the font we have used to a more “modern, friendly style suitable for 2011”.

How will this support our business plan to increase sales this year? What will this radical overhaul of my visual style mean to my online customer as they search for a promotional item to use as a marketing tool at their next exhibition? How will we know if the re-design has worked? As you would suspect, there were no answers to these questions as they had no idea about me, the business or the plans we have for the business both short and long term. And most importantly, they presented no tangible evidence and how the activity would impact the bottom line of the business.

My point is if you are allocating several thousands of pounds to a design fee, personally I would question it! How have they come to this valuation? The value it can add to my business? Hourly rate possibly...but they might take 10 minutes, 10 hours or 10 days to come up with the idea so how do they know? And will it have a justifiable impact on your bottom line...apart from the additional cost of new signage, van livery and stationery!

Surely, any allocation of marketing budget must be linked to a tangible, measurable, increase in sales? After all, why else are we in the private sector in business. I love to see ideas, innovations and suggestions...but these must be quantifiable. For example, I know a lot of my customers now see the promotional merchandise they distribute at trade shows and exhibitions not as a free giveaway, but as an exchange for a business card to allow for an opportunity to develop a relationship with a cold prospect.

In my humble opinion, it’s not the design of a piece of marketing support you should be allocating funds to...it’s the capability of that piece to add to the bottom line that should be the be all and end all.



About The Author
Ian Feingold is a Director at Code Promotional Merchandise, an online supplier of promotional products and corporate gifts to businesses, charities and public sector organisations with products including promotional pens, promotional mugs, promotional umbrellas, promotional desk top items and eco friendly promotional giveaways. The full range can be found at http://www.codepromotional.co.uk/ or call 0844 879 7323.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Your last chance to take part in the Chamber's Digital Survey


By Sana Nabi, Policy Officer at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce


Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is conducting a digital survey and we would like to hear your views on your current Internet service.

The aim of this survey is to find out what businesses use the Internet for and also to discover what demand there is in the region for high speed Next Generation Broadband.

Sana Nabi, Policy Officer at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said:
"We really need to hear from all businesses as the data from this survey will demonstrate the demand in the region for a faster network. Businesses from all sectors and industries use the Internet and we therefore want to know how valuable the Internet is for businesses and whether their current service fulfils their business needs.”

This quick survey takes less than a couple of minutes to complete and will be running until Monday 7th February.

To take part in the survey, please click here

If you would like to discuss the survey or the work the Chamber carries out on digital policy then please e-mail Sana Nabi on sana.nabi@gmchamber.co.uk