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

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Guest Blog: Google Changes Again!


By Andy Chemney, Managing Director of Ignition CBS Ltd

Google introduced a major new update a few weeks ago that will affect 9 out of 10 searches. This update makes it easier for Google to understand what you meant when you did a search. For example, if you Google “Taj Mahal”, did you mean to search for the monument in India or the curry house down the road?

To make sure the content on your website is optimised for this new update, here are a few tips:

1. Make it easier for people to share your content: embed social media facilities into your content.

2. Use analytical tools: to gain insight as to how effective your content is. Adding an on-site search tool will help.

3. Content can be more than just your blog: think about video, images, ebooks, etc, to spread your message.

4. Language is key: this new update is partly geared to mobile and voice search, so think about using the alternative words and phrases that someone may use as well as how you structure sentences.

5. Match your content to customer needs: ask yourself why customers want or need your product or service and then create the content that supports their motivation.

6. Be clear about what you do and who you are: don’t leave customers guessing about what you do, be crystal clear about your brand and its values.

7. Make sure your content supports sales objectives: relevance is key.

About Ignition CBS
Ignition CBS is a full service marketing, design and web agency. MD, Andy Chemney, regularly shares his knowledge and tips at free seminars around the region.

Andy’s next seminar will be held in Manchester on Wednesday 22nd January 2013. It will be entitled “Reshaping the Web for a Mobile Future”, and will focus on various aspects of internet marketing, website design and SEO. For details or to book your free place, visit www.reshapingthewebforamobilefuture.eventbrite.co.uk or call 01706 222456.




Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Chamber Blog: BIM - Building Bridges


By Matthew Kershaw, Member Policy and Campaigns Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog post for Techhub Manchester (happy first birthday to them by the way!) talking about the need for bodies such as Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce to start to build bridges between Greater Manchester’s excellent digital companies and our more 'traditional’ sectors, for their mutual benefit. Last week we started what will hopefully be a fruitful conversation between some of our digital members and the construction sector.

The Government’s construction sector industrial strategy, Vision 2025, states that: “We are moving quickly towards a digital economy, with profound implications for our built environment. We must act now to ensure UK construction is at the vanguard of smart construction and digital design.”  With targets to reduce construction cost by 33%, carbon by 50%, time by 50% and improve our export levels by 50%, Vision 2025 recognises that big changes are needed to the way we procure, design and construct our built environment, with emerging digital tools being a big contributor to this. One of the methods being promoted to achieve this is Building Information Modeling (BIM). For more on BIM I can recommend visiting www.BIMtaskgroup.org.  By 2016 all central government construction projects will demand BIM be used.

My desire for this meeting was to get the two sides of this discussion looking at the opportunities created by the data the BIM process generates about our built environment. Mark Bew, the Chair of the Government’s BIM Task group joined me to lead a conversation between four firms from across the construction sector, who were already aware of BIM, and four varied digital companies, some of whom were coming to this for the first time. Mark did a fantastic job of positioning the government’s thinking in the steps it has implemented for the move to BIM: where in the process, and to what end, various slugs of data are produced, and how the government is trying to ensure that this data follows recognised standards to allow broad access and ease of use.

With Mark’s help to answer further questions and the open and honest contributions of our construction representatives, a productive discussion started up with some really encouraging steps taken. By the end of the meeting it was agreed that the Chamber and Manchester Digital would start work on organising a broader discussion with the digital sector on the opportunities that BIM, and Vision 2025, present. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Marketing Communication – Don’t Forget the Longer Term



David Wright, Chartered Marketer at BSA Marketing 





In the SME world, marketing can be a fickle friend. With the bottom line of spend now in the expectation of future benefit’, businesses are regularly focused on seeing the quick win, whereas good marketing and good business relationships take time.

Often budgets/resources get stretched as a company commits more than they would like in the hope/expectation of a quick win to balance the books.

Too frequently, the quick win doesn’t happen (or isn’t sustained) and anxiety can quickly grow as the financial hole gets deeper. Almost inevitably, the end result is the programme being terminated and wounds licked until the next time when it all starts again!

As a result, much selling of marketing services focuses on the short term with promises of great results. If you are touting the Next Big Marketing Thing – it can be an easy sell on the back of the suggestion of rapid results – which all too often don’t deliver, certainly in the way the customer expects.

All of the above may sound negative (if not a bit cynical!) but it is how, in my experience, so much SME marketing operates and the danger that companies never see past the short term.

Marketing is a process – you need to get past the short term!
 
Here are three real-world examples which demonstrate - Never say never - People will respond to your marketing when they are ready, which isn’t necessarily as quickly as you may hope! But reply they will….

A How often have you experienced this?

1.   A productive and encouraging initial meeting with a potential customer.
2.   You prepare your proposals
3.   You follow up
4.   NOTHING…I have a client where this happened then a call from them 2 years later led to a long and successful relationship

B Referral from a colleague. Last year, a colleague of mine gave me the name of someone I didn’t known saying it may be worth my sending them an introductory e-mail, which I did. The response was a big fat zero – until 10 months later when a call out of the blue (“You’ve probably forgotten but you sent me an e-mail a while ago….”), opened up a significant opportunity.

C The staying power of e-newsletters

We have been working with a particular client for a number of years delivering a programme of regular e-newsletters to their contacts. We have always stressed that the key objective of the programme is to ‘keep in touch’, ‘build awareness and understanding’, and make sure the ‘our client is remembered by their contacts’.

The payback is that when a contact has a need, the regular communication will help ensure our client is on an inside track to get the enquiry.

The process was proven recently when our client received a direct ‘Reply-To’ from an e-newsletter sent over a year ago. The reply was an enquiry for a 5-6 figure project.
  
Lessons to Learn

Don’t give up at the first sign of failure

So many people look for the marketing magic wand (BTW whatever anyone says, it doesn’t exist!)

Sometimes, people can start on a marketing campaign and as soon as they decide it isn’t delivering in the way they expect, they start to look for something else. Certainly marketing is speculative but remember:

If you have a strong business proposition that truly adds value and delivers real benefit to your customers and you communicate your proposition to a relevant target market, they WILL buy from you. Not all of them and not all at once but you must have confidence in your offering.

Have a plan and work it

If you don’t have a marketing plan, you will find it really hard to manage and sustain consistent marketing. Even if you do, without a plan to set out what you are doing, why you are doing it and what results you expect, you won’t be able to refer actual results to planned expectations and develop your approach accordingly

Don’t over-stretch your resources

Too much money or time being ploughed into marketing often means just digging a hole you can ill afford. Unless you are lucky and get one or two quick wins, motivation drops and there is a danger that the plug will be pulled

You do need to commit resources (budget and/or time) to your marketing and business development but make sure your commitment is at a level you are comfortable to sustain, and within the framework of a clear and structured plan that allows you to manage and control your marketing.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Business Succession and Business Survival - Do You Value Your Staff?


By David Dawson, Financial Planning Director at Cottons Financial Planning Group Limited

Most businesses will say yes to this rather leading question, but not many businesses make the direct correlation between staff and profit. Certain members of staff will make a massive contribution to the profitability of the organisation they work for but strangely business owners overlook the impact that unexpected death or illness may bring. Losing key people at the wrong time can send the business into a downward spiral! Consider the costs involved in finding a qualified and experienced replacement, the sudden loss of confidence felt by co-workers, management and creditors, the loss of external relationships and the loss of business efficiency that the death or critical illness of a key person can bring. 

Enlightened business owners de-risk their profit and loss account by taking out key person insurance. It is relatively inexpensive and the cost may be tax relievable if set up in the right way.

The process is simple; evaluate the employee in terms of loss of profit (sometimes the reduction in business turnover) and take out short term insurance. Cottons can help you with finding the most relevant insurance provider and can offer assistance to your accountant to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your business.

Do you have business partners or co-shareholders? Control of your business is at risk if arrangements are not in place to allow for the purchase of shareholdings from deceased or seriously ill shareholders. These arrangements protect families from the trauma brought on by the shareholder becoming seriously ill or dying as well as allowing surviving shareholders total control. Arrangements are easily put in place which create the right money in the right hands at the right time without compromising valuable Inheritance Tax reliefs. Cottons are experienced practitioners who will help you through each stage of this strategy. We will work with your other professional advisers to ensure that your business and your ambitions are not shattered by the unexpected illness or death of a shareholder. Generally the shareholders take out insurance in trust for the other shareholders benefit and an option agreement triggers share transfers. Sometimes the business itself will take out the insurance and buy and cancel shares from the deceased shareholder’s estate. Cottons can work alongside other professionals to find the optimum solution.

The above text assumes that the business is a limited company. If the business is a partnership or LLP similar arrangements can be put in place using partnership agreements and options.  

Businesses can also insure the cost of executive pay so that should a shareholder director be incapacitated the cost of maintaining that person’s salary is met out of the benefits of an insurance contract. This allows the business to focus on profits and dividends rather than getting concerned about cashflow.  It also allows time for due consideration of the options available to both the incapacitated and the other shareholders.

In summary all businesses should know what their strategy to manage succession and business survival is. The time to mend the roof is when the sun is shining. The time to consider the risks associated with human resource is when things are working well. This is one area where the ‘do it now’ philosophy pays dividends. 

Call us today to protect your valuable business assets on 0161 216 4020 or email david.dawson@cottonsfp.com 




Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Guest Blog: Women in architecture are a rare breed, but why?


By Lisa Raynes - Raynes Architecture


ARB statistics state that despite roughly 40% of all architecture students (not graduates) at any one point in time are female, only around 20% of British architects in practice are women.

To make matters worse, according to The Architect’s Journal’s first Women in Architecture Survey the percentage of women in architecture has fallen over the past few years and it is forecasted that this could continue to happen – leaving an even smaller female representation in the industry in coming years.

Women in Architecture are a rare breed, but why and what can be done about it?
From the 2012 AJ survey, as shocking as this may sound, 63%, almost two-thirds of respondents, express that they have experienced sexual discrimination at some stage in their architectural careers!

80% of women thought having children put them at a disadvantage in architecture. Only 8% felt that raising a family would harm their male counterparts’ careers. This theme underlines the inequalities faced by women in the field, partly due to the long qualification time required of seven years.

Architecture training is bloody long, by the time you qualify, the body clock is ticking, and you either take a break at a career critical time, or miss the opportunity, which sadly happens to far too many female architects. We need training earlier. The education system, needs to be reviewed.

Architecture is under valued and badly paid. The industry can’t afford to support women on career breaks. In a recession, there are countless stories of women, being made redundant whilst on maternity leave.

Raising awareness of architecture and design in Manchester will help increase the value of architects. Public facing programmes such as Open House and RIBA’s love architecture festival are greeted with open arms in the capital.

Traditional architecture practices are not flexible enough, and women are undervalued. New practices have emerged out of the recession, they think a little differently, are a little bit more nimble and savvy.

We all need to accept that feminism as good. What is feminism? It is the right for women to be treated as equal to men. Simple, not bra-burning, controversial, but just a simple human right. We need to put feminism back on the agenda. This month Charlotte Raven has revived the 1970s feminist magazine Spare Rib, and relaunched it as Feminist Times.

We still need role models, mentors, education at school level, and organizations like Women in Property and the AJs Women in Architecture awards, to provide support and inspiration.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Are you getting the most out of LinkedIn?


By Hakeem Adebiyi – Director, Hands Associates

LinkedIn is probably one of the best professional marketing platforms on the market. The question is, why do so few people use it effectively?  

Broadly speaking, on LinkedIn there are three groups in terms of numbers of connections and interaction:

1.Fewer than 500 Connections = Low level of interaction/engagement
2.More than 500 Connections = Low/Medium level of interaction/engagement
3.More than 500 Connections = High level of interaction/engagement
  
The first two categories are where the vast majority of people tend to be and the aim is to move into the lucrative third category, and have a large number of engaged active connections and groups who enable you to build authority in your given area and ensure you and/or your company benefit financially from your marketing activity on LinkedIn.

There are several things that need to be done to enter into that third category and the most important is to maximize your profile. According to LinkedIn, you are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn if you have a complete profile.

These tips will help highlight four key steps in doing just that:
  
1.    Your Profile Picture

Remember LinkedIn is a professional network - emphasis on the word professional - hence make sure that you have a professional photo. This isn’t the time to have a photo with your pet unless, of course you sell pet supplies or you are a pet groomer then it might be nice to have a photo with your pet. It’s also not the time to see you on the beach or having a good time in Rio if you’re not a travel agent. Always remember that LinkedIn is a business-to-business platform so you want to project that professional image of yourself.

2.    Your Profile Headline

Make sure that you have an engaging headline i.e. tell people what you do and how you can help. For example, if you are an insurance agent, headlines like “Business Insurance Agent” - “Saving Businesses Money on their Insurance costs” ===> “Specializing in…” etc, leave people in no doubt about what it is you do or how you can help them in particular. Also it is good practice to put how they can contact you in the headline, to make it easy for people to contact you outside of LinkedIn. The most effective contact in this regard is a direct phone number.

Contact Information

Fill out your contact info fully paying close attention to:

Industry sector
- Make sure that you have categorized your profile to the right industry and that you use the right keyword in your summary and your job description. (i.e. what are the people you are targeting looking for). The keywords will help people who are searching to find you.


Website
– when you are adding a website use the other category in the dropdown box if you use this category then you can enter a specific name for the website and then put the actual link, rather than the title just saying “company website” or “personal blog”. Again this helps your branding and searchability.


4.    Your Summary
Now this summary is your CV/resume. This is how people know that you’re professional and that you know what you’re doing. So you want to say, what you do and how you can help, you also want to list your services.
Always write the summary as if you are speaking to your ideal customer.  As said before you also want to make sure that your keywords are scattered throughout your summary, obviously do it in a way that reads well but this will further enhance people’s ability to identify you when they are searching for someone who can offer what you do.
Whilst you do want to put your personality across, remember as always the watchword here is being professional, so telling someone that I have two children would be appropriate on Facebook but it might not be so appropriate on LinkedIn.

These are just four quick tips to get you started maximizing your profile and hence increasing your potential of receiving business opportunities through LinkedIn.

For more information and to secure your place on my free webinars, visit: http://trainingforlocalbusiness.com/


Friday, 25 October 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Investing in Youth – Three Reasons to Hire a Graduate


By Lee Parker - Managing Director, Parker Sourcing Limited


Freshly qualified graduates are labelled – a lot of the time and quite unfairly so – as a group of loutish and work-shy slobs who would rather sit at home watching Jeremy Kyle than flourish in an exciting new career. I should know; in the past I’ve been tarred with the same brush as those few who give students and graduates alike, a bad name. But in reality, when it comes to hiring new recruits, an attitude similar to this could see you miss out on a potentially brilliant candidate and addition to your workplace.
So here I am, armed with three great reasons why you should invest in graduate youth when it comes to expanding your business.
Graduates Have Bags of Enthusiasm
They’re young, they’re ambitions and their dreams haven’t been squashed (yet). This all takes the form of raw energy in a graduate, which can be tapped into and utilised in all kinds of ways for your business. Whether that be integrating with other staff members, raising the morale of your team, learning new skills for the job or even just brightening the atmosphere up a little – it’s a great kind of energy to have in the office!
Granted, there can be times when too much energy can be a distraction, but it’s all about tapping into what’s there in abundance and controlling it.
Graduates are Like Chameleons
It’s actually a popular misconception that Chameleons can adapt to suit their surroundings, but the analogy will suffice for my point – that graduates are extremely flexible when it comes to a new environment.
They don’t bring with them any kind of baggage from past jobs, or draw comparisons from previous positions they’ve held. This makes them very easy to mould into your way of thinking when it comes to character development, so that they fit seamlessly into your setup.

Graduates Bring in New Ideas
Sometimes, a company can get so bogged down in its day-to-day routine, that there is neither time nor the room left for creativity to thrive. This is where graduates really prove themselves to be a popular asset among team-leaders.
A graduate is new to the business world. Their thought processes have not yet been restricted by business ‘best practises’ or ‘proven methodologies’. Their minds are essentially unshaped pools of new ideas and fresh outlooks.

http://www.parkersourcing.co.uk/