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

Friday, 31 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog - Ports And Harbours

By Dr Brian Sloan, Chief Economist at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Last week I got a call from Ports and Harbours magazine. Not one of my regular reads and perhaps the magazine might have had a higher readership in the Manchester area before Manchester Liners ceased operations in 1985. Nevertheless, despite the decline of shipping in the region and the British Merchant Navy, it is reassuring that Greater Manchester and the wider North West remains very much on the map as far as maritime transport goes.

The topic of the call was the Atlantic Gateway proposals. I have mentioned them before, but needless to say I was extremely enthusiastic about the potential for jobs, up to 250,000 and investment of £14bn over 20 years. I am also excited about the prospects for improving connectivity for existing businesses located here in the North West, but also for others that, as a result of siting a super port in Liverpool, improving rail connectivity and developing the ship canal, will now consider locating in the North West.

What the call did remind me of was a piece of work that I commissioned last Summer as an intern project from Manchester Business School. I wanted to look at economic diversification and its impact on the stability of growth, the labour market and house prices. I’ll save you all the detail as there is no obvious immediate link between economic number crunching and ships, except maybe an excitable naval architect trying to establish Taylor’s wake fraction. What was significant was the finding that the relationship between stability and diversification could be established in the North West region, but not with confidence at the level of Greater Manchester.

What a surprise, economic behaviour ignores boundaries drawn on a map. And why is this important? In a nutshell, the current government scrapped the Regional Development Agencies and replaced them with Local Enterprise Partnerships based on a “functioning economic area”, but these findings suggest that the North West would be better considered the “functioning economic area”. I’m not bringing this up out of some desire to bring back the Regional Development Agencies, but what we are now left with is a fragmented system of decision making on those big projects that stretch across the region and across several Local Enterprise Partnership areas.

Before those dreaming of a return to the days of the Regional Development Agency shout up, those days were no better. Petty regional protectionist arguments, that do nothing for business growth and employment, were as obvious then as they are today. Even the Atlantic Gateway proposals, when the country was staring into the abyss of a recession in 2008, had fierce opposition. What is needed is for national Government to be bold and step up to drive forward these projects. They are urgently needed to support national growth and establish long term prosperity in our region. The Northern Hub rail project and other infrastructure plans must be brought forward to now, not 2015.

Let’s hope David and George read Ports and Harbours, we need something to improve growth, and with it the country’s finances.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog - Make A Difference In Your Community And Your Team

Andy Hamill, County Club Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Manchester, talks about a new pilot programme that will enable your business to make a difference both in the heart of your community and at the heart of your company. 

As members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Manchester has recently developed Days of Difference, an employee supported volunteering programme with a twist, which we hope to pilot over the next 12 months.  Days of Difference is a way in which your company can get involved in a volunteering experience that makes a very real difference at a grassroots level, whilst also boosting morale and team work amongst your employees.

As a charity we work with 35 youth clubs across Greater Manchester and, through this connection, we can organise a bespoke and unique corporate social responsibility experience for your staff.

As a team you can choose to undertake a piece of voluntary work, such as painting a room at one of our youth clubs, replanting their sensory garden or running a fun day for some of the young people.

But that is not all (here’s the twist!). We want to offer you much more than a volunteering experience.  We would also like to offer your team the option to take part in sports leadership training, where the skills they learn are equally as useful in the boardroom as they are on the football pitch. Or we could take you back to your childhood and organise an activities day which could include challenges such as raft-building or rock climbing where you can bring your team together.

Your team will leave the Days of Difference programme with a sense of achievement, having contributed to something worthwhile and at the same time, having had great team building experience. 

So what’s in it for us? The Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Manchester are dedicated to helping our clubs build links with businesses in their community.  We don’t just want financial backing (but any help with that would be much appreciated!), we also want your knowledge and advice.  Charities nowadays are finding that they need become more and more businesslike and we believe that the more links we have with the business world, the better we will fare in austere or difficult times. 

If you would like to take part in our pilot programme, please feel free to contact Andy Hamill at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Manchester on 0161 477 7735 or email for more information.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Manchester has formally been in existence since 1907. It provides a year-round programme of recreational and educational activities for around 3,000 young people and 200 volunteers in 35 voluntary youth clubs and projects. Our affiliated clubs are in the most disadvantaged communities of Greater Manchester. 90% of young people are from socio-economic background C to E and 90% of members say that their clubs help to keep them out of trouble and evidence shows that where a Boys & Girls Club exists there is less anti-social behaviour.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog - Did the Queen of Shops Get it Wrong?

By Lisa Dickinson - Managing Director, Venus Flowers

In December 2011 Mary Portas published her report into the on-going decline of the British High Street. In her report she clearly identifies the upward trend in eCommerce as one of the main reasons why sales and footfall on the nation’s high streets are in free-fall. Mary makes 28 recommendations all of which are valid but I am left wondering why she doesn’t encourage the small trader to believe that they have as much right to profit from the opportunities of eCommerce, Social Media and Search Engine Marketing as the big boy multiples with their enormous digital marketing budgets?

Who am I to have an opinion?

I am essentially Mary’s cause – Queen of my own shop and the proud owner of Venus Flowers.

A Manchester City Centre florist – a somewhat unusual sight in Manchester City Centre these days – a small independent retailer who engages in a daily battle to survive if not thrive in the brave new world of post credit crunch depression.

Like most small businesses I recognised years ago that I needed an on-line presence and have since lost count of the amount of time and money I have spent engaging with ‘experts’ in the field of web-design.

I am now onto the third developer and the third version of my site the previous two being utter disasters the details of which I don’t have the time or energy to go into.

I have literally lost thousands of pounds and at times my faith in humanity.

Sadly, I know from talking to other small business owners that I am not alone.

Taking Back Search Marketing and Social Media Control

At the end of 2011 I discovered by accident a huge mistake in the development of my current website (quickly acknowledged and rectified by my current developers) which was the final straw – I had an epiphany…

I realised that without knowledge I would never have control, I understood something of every other area of my business why not this one? So after some research (web based of course), here I am attending Salford Business School’s Search and Social Media Marketing Course, a slightly nervous florist/business owner/complete novice.

My eCommerce Journey So Far


Here I am four weeks in writing my first blog-post, but more than that, understanding why blogging is important and how I can respond to some of my potential customers long-tail searches and build links to my website by writing interesting and authoritative blogs on subjects I understand and enjoy (GET ME!). For example this beautiful picture of a brides bouquet we made a couple of weeks ago which is lingering on my iPhone:

now gets a title of “Spring Brides Bouquet” (in response to a small but significant number of long tail searches I found when I was developing my keyword plan), and becomes a part of venus flowers blog I am writing on the subject, this will include a video of us making a Spring Brides Bouquet as well as links back to my wedding page where brides to be can click on a link to request a no obligation consultation – impressive hey? In the meantime I have been able to share this image with our Twitter Followers.

eCommerce – importance of Keyword Research

Using Goolge Adwords to research how people are searching for your products and services has to be the simplest but the most revealing part of the course for me. Why is it when I have paid thousands to have an eCommerce site developed I have been asked to write my own content “so it will be more authentic” without so much as a reference to the importance of keyword research?

I am ranking third for “florist Manchester”:

This ranking is more by luck than judgement, but I rank nowhere for “flower delivery Manchester” which has far higher search numbers – time to write some content!

I have also learned that my industry language isn’t necessarily the language of the searcher, when writing I would always use the term Sympathy Flowers believing this to be more grammatically acceptable, however my Google Adword research revealed only 480 monthly searches for this term and over 12,000 for “Funeral Flowers” – time to get back to plain English and write even more content!

Suffice it to say that encouraged by my tutor and our guest speakers industry experts like the mind-blowingly brilliant Mark Johnson from Latitude and Dan Taylor from Seowned both of whom have restored some of my faith in the integrity of the industry, I now have a fully researched keyword plan. This along with a carefully considered Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign for the areas I don’t yet rank organically for means that hopefully I should get a return on my course investment in the near future.

eCommerce and importance of Links

Having spent ages agonising over why a competitor who (in my humble opinion) has a poor website and isn’t actually anywhere near as good as we are consistently out-ranks us for some key terms. Using tools and techniques I have learned over the last four weeks like using google link query and SEOToolbar, I have been able to compare our sites and it’s clear that the only reason for this is the number of links into their site. Link-building is somewhat more time consuming and complex than keyword research and content writing, it also involves good old fashioned relationship building and networking. I however understand how vital this is to Google and also how to go after links with authority – quality rather than quantity.

Watch this space competitors I’m on your case!

Like Raef and Stuart from Channel 4’s Celebrity Wedding Planner you can follow us on twitter or Facebook where I will be sharing our latest flower pictures, stories and offers from Venus Flowers:

So…eCommerce and the High Street – Crisis or Opportunity?

Having read my blog tell me what you think, do you think that eCommerce can help small business owners to stay on the High Street or are you with Mary Portas and believe that eCommerce will mean the end of British High Street?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog

By Sharon Betton - Business Development Officer, NorthWest Landlords Association

There are a number of recent changes that landlords in the area need to be aware of, as they may have an impact upon their business.

Universal Credit – Universal Credit has been a cause of great concern in the run-up to its national introduction from October 2013. Its stated intention is to pay the major benefits (including housing and council tax benefit) in one lump to the tenants.  Many landlords  help those dependent on benefits, or have tenants that unfortunately come out of work. They know their tenants and are on the front-line, unlike the officials who propose these changes. They know their tenants will fall into rent arrears, not because their tenants don’t want to pay, or don’t care about their landlords, but because times are hard.  Managing money is hard and benefits are very limited.

Under the current system, landlords can ask for the rent to go direct to them, if:  the tenant is vulnerable; has a proven history of rent arrears; or falls 8 weeks into rent arrears.
Up until now, nothing concrete has been announced about safeguards for landlords, when arrears start to build up.
Representations to Government, from the British Property Federation, housing associations, consultative groups as well as individual landlords, now seem to be softening the stance on payments to tenants.  The Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, has said the Department for Work and Pensions will be able to pay landlords direct from the start of the scheme.

Further details are awaited, so join NWLA, attend our meetings (next in August and our AGM in October) to make sure you know exactly what is happening and how.

Squatting - Squatting has, until now, only been classed as a Civil offence, so penalties were hard to enforce and it was a lengthy and expensive process to recover the property.  Government has taken on-board representations from various landlord associations and from 1st September 2012, squatting will become a criminal offence.  This means squatters will face a six month prison sentence and a £5,000 fine.  Despite this, Landlords should do what they can to avoid squatting: have a good security system and keep void periods as short as possible.

Contractor Deaths - Two recent cases should ring alarm bells, though neither of them in the NorthWest, fortunately.  In two separate cases, fatalities have occurred to people undertaking roofing work for landlords.  In one, a 79 year old contractor was undertaking repairs to the gutter and carport of a property.  He fell through a roof panel and he fell approximately 7 feet to the ground, which resulted in his death.

In the other, a self-employed builder was replacing a roof.  It is not known whether he had experience in this type of work, but the three people assisting him did not.   Tragically, he fell just as the work was finished.  No scaffolding had been erected.

In both cases, the persons held responsible, with fines and costs imposed, were the landlord/agents, who had commissioned the work.  Landlords must ensure that when they have work done, the contractor is qualified, has exercised a duty of care and is competent to do the work.  In the second case, most basic common sense would say that roofing work cannot be undertaken safely without scaffolding and the costs should have been included in the quote.  The fact it did not,  should have alerted the agent that the quote was far too low  and withdrawn from the contract.    

Training NWLA works closely with the accreditation schemes in the NorthWest.  Accreditation is the voluntary scheme favoured by the Government, for raising standards in the private sector.  Being a member of the NWLA proves you are a responsible landlord; being an accredited landlord, or a landlord with accredited properties, can only add to this and allows access to the many benefits that the accreditation schemes can offer.

Selective Licensing - Newham local authority has decided to impose selective licensing on all private rented property.  Once the conditions for licensing were relaxed, which left it to the local authorities themselves, it could be foreseen that some authorities would take the opportunity to introduce wider-scale licensing as a means of revenue raising. 

Although some authorities in the North West had planned quite wide-spread licensing, none so far have announced anything as far reaching as Newham. There seems to be a shortage of private sector property in the area so residents are being encouraged to move out to areas with a greater availability of property.


Friday, 3 August 2012

Friday Guest Blog

By Cathy Craig - Director, Blue Hole Coaching and Consultancy

We are living in a fast-changing global economy and the UK needs to become a world leader in skills in order to keep up with these changes and ensure economic prosperity. As learners and the workforce of the future, young people are key to facilitating this change. They need to be resilient and have transferable skills. Enterprise Education is ideally positioned to equip them with these skills, helping them to be creative and innovative, to take risks and manage them, and do this with determination and drive.

What better place to start than primary age school children? This age group is keen to learn and often possess budding enterprise ideas with no particular outlet within the current national curriculum. There are many examples of entrepreneurs who started their career before high school. With this in mind and being the mother of two enterprising children and running my own consultancy business, I approached my local school to see if they would be interested in hosting an Enterprise Development Event for 8 – 11 year old groups.

Greenhill Primary in Bury has enjoyed an excellent well-deserved reputation for a number of years for supporting children in the development of their social skills as well as their academic needs. They are always keen to develop new ideas to engage the children and wholly welcomed the idea of an Enterprise Event for Y4 and Y5. It fit in well with their overall desire to develop enterprise skills through different initiatives.

Blue Hole Ltd is a business consultancy based in Bury with an interest in developing businesses and social groups to deliver successful outcomes. Together with the teaching staff, Blue Hole created an engaging one day event where pupils had to come up with an idea for a new phone app or console game and take it through the various business development stages; design, selecting a target market, creating a budget, creating marketing materials and finally presenting their idea to a panel of judges. The winning teams were selected on the strength of their original idea, the extent to which they explained their idea as a business model and how well they presented to the panel.

The event really captured the children’s imagination and created excitement which reached beyond the classroom. The event was so successful a repeat is already planned for the new school year.

For more information, contact