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

Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Write Successful and Persuasive Communications

By Heather Baker 

Do you want to ensure people read your messages?  Do you want to convince people to do what you want?  

Preparation is vital before sending any business communication; this may only take a few seconds for a simple email but, even so, ALWAYS STOP BEFORE YOU SEND.

Firstly, establish the purpose of your communication. It is easy to say the objective is “to obtain information” or “to arrange a meeting” but, if you keep asking yourself “why?”, you will usually come to the answer that it is for the success of the organisation.  

Secondly, think about the people who will be reading your correspondence.  The more you know about your reader(s), the better you can tailor your correspondence to make it more effective.  

Next, ensure you have all the information you need, anticipate your reader’s questions and provide answers in advance, ensure you have a clear structure; particularly if your correspondence is complex.  For emails, give your message an informative subject so your reader can easily prioritise.

When you have composed your correspondence, it is vital to proofread before you send.  

In most circumstances in business writing we are trying to persuade somebody to do something for us – it is, therefore, important to use techniques that will make your messages more persuasive.  Here are some ways you could achieve this:

·         Continually maintaining a high standard in your business writing is the basic rule of persuasive writing.

·         Many people still write in a style more suited to the 1950s than the 2010s; using phrases like “If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me”.  These are known as business clichés and they are to be avoided.

·         WIIFM = what’s in it for me.  Tell your reader why it is to their advantage to do what you want them to do.

·         Offer solutions rather than problems.  This is particularly effective if you are trying to persuade senior management.  

·         When we have to ask people something which we expect they won’t like, we tend to write in a manner that anticipates their dissatisfaction.  Our style becomes very apologetic and negative, which can actually exacerbate their displeasure.  Where possible, try to turn bad news into good news.  

·         Use appropriate vocabulary.  For example, use the same sign off as the person you are writing to.

So, what is it that makes the difference? The five Ps – preparation, purpose, people, proofreading and persuasion.  If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else – choose to excel at business writing.

Heather had over 20 years’ experience as a secretary and PA before setting up Baker Thompson Associates in 2000.  The company specialises in the training and development of PAs and administrative staff. 

She travels around the world working with large and small organisations to enable their office staff and PAs to work more effectively.  As well as PA/admin workshops, Heather facilitates sessions in business writing, proofreading, minute taking and much more.

Heather is the author of “Successful Minute Taking ; Meeting the Challenge” and “Successful Business Writing”, in which you learn even more about business writing.  She is the creator of the BakerWrite speedwriting system and the author of “Speedwriting”.  As well as tutor-led courses, BakerWrite speedwriting can also be learnt online at Heather’s website.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Chamber Blog: The Great Train Robbery

By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of 

For the past decade the Chamber, along with a number of other organisations, has been resolute in campaigning for much needed investment in local rail services through the Northern Hub.

At times it’s been like the fund raising efforts for a new church roof with bits of funding being cobbled together or released piecemeal by central government.  Indeed it was less than 12 months ago that the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle was put in place and the last amount required to fund the project was confirmed.

Whilst London had Crossrail and Thameslink we had the Northern Hub. Maybe not as sexy but it felt like it was ours – something that would really make a difference, something that united not divided. On offer - an extra 700 train services a day (that’s 44million extra passenger spaces a year), up to 15 minutes off the journey time Liverpool to Manchester, new platforms at Piccadilly, the Ordsall Curve and all for £560m with a cost benefit ratio of 4:1 – the best ever for a rail scheme in the UK.

A real winner if ever there was one I’m sure everyone would agree. Well, maybe not especially for the good folks at the Office of Rail Regulation who for some reason that I still can’t understand, are looking at possible cuts of 20% to the Northern Hub as part of the Periodic Review 2013.

I’ll repeat that – a cut of 20% - that’s approximately £115m on a scheme that has taken over a decade to be fully funded will have a massive impact on overstretched rail services and will be one of the biggest catalysts you could think of for economic growth across the North of England. Another example of growth through cuts?

I have written to the ORR expressing concern at the proposal. This is just a start though. We need to show the same level of support that we garnered for the scheme in the first place to make sure this clawback does not take place.

Some would argue that there lurks an ulterior motive behind this. I don’t think so. It’s another example of reckless penny pinching with no concept whatsoever of what the impact is.

Coming so soon on the back of news of price hikes next year in rail fares and you do wonder what on earth is going on.

Just over 50 years ago a criminal gang pulled off what became known as the Great Train Robbery. I always found that a bit of a misnomer. It was cash that went, not the train. If the above proposal goes through it could well be that not only will the cash go, but so will the trains and the tracks themselves.

If you want to register your concern about this please drop me an e-mail at

Friday, 23 August 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Keeping the Greater Manchester business community at the leading edge of digital communications

René Power, Digital Director at BDB

Few would doubt Greater Manchester’s role as a world leader in championing digital creativity. The birthplace of the world’s first programmable computer and for many years the location of the most profitable Google office on the globe – the region has a proud history at the forefront of the digital revolution.

Never a place to rest on its laurels, Greater Manchester remains ambitious about its position in the digital world. Indeed, Manchester is currently striving to become one of the world’s top 20 digital cities by 2020, with plans to invest more than £60m on its digital infrastructure. In MediaCity, meanwhile, the region is also home to the largest purpose-built media and digital hub in Europe.

And the future looks even brighter for Greater Manchester’s digital sector. With over 10,000 students studying digital, creative and media courses across the region, it has one of the world’s largest talent pools from which to draw. And innovative and forward-thinking groups and associations such as the MPA and Manchester Digital are uniting the region’s digital specialists and providing an even stronger innovation platform for the sector.

But, the online world is a fast moving place and for vibrant local businesses that want to stay at the cutting edge of digital communications, it’s crucial to always be ready to identify and embrace the latest trends. With that in mind, René Power, digital director at Altrincham-based international marketing communications agency, BDB, provides some insights into upcoming key trends that could help Greater Manchester businesses stay ahead of the pack in their digital communication strategies.

1. Mobile

Depending on who you listen to, internet use via the mobile smart phone has already tipped into the mainstream.

This cool infographic from DCI charts some impressive numbers on mobile Internet use. Though it focuses on the US, it is a pretty good barometer for how we’ll be using our portable devices moving forward.

64% of mobile time is spent in apps; 30% of mobile search is with local intent; mobile advertising market predicted to hit $24.5bn by 2016.  Only marketing for a 15” desktop monitor is a business and career-limiting move.

Takeaway: If you aren’t thinking mobile when it comes to web experience; and how customers want ‘at a touch’ information, you will deliver a sub optimal experience and lose business.

2. Social media

87% of US marketers use at least one social media platform –Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest – to distribute content.

The biggest impact the social age has had on marketing has been in the replacement of traditional campaigns in favour of ongoing programmes of engagement.  Dialogue has replaced broadcast as millions of people at a touch of a button can interact directly with brands…and publish their view of a brand.

Takeaway: Showing up regularly and in a focused way is critical on social networks. Advance the work of others in the community as well as your own to truly be seen as the industry ‘go to’.

3. Content marketing

Good social media requires content. The Content Marketing Institute believes through surveys that 94 percent of UK marketers use some form of content marketing.

True, using content to impart knowledge and derive expert positioning can increase back-links, web traffic and leads. But, there has been such an explosion in people doing this there is now a quality imperative.

Content marketing is really about providing relevant information in agreeable formats to allow customers to do a better job. Through the process, building trust in you as an expert in your craft, it’s a longer term promotional proposition but creates traction and a dialogue over time.

That’s why articles, blog posts, video and case studies consistently rank amongst the most relevant forms of content. Just remember to answer that customer focused question – ‘What’s in it for me?”

Takeaway: Consider creating a hub of interesting content that grapples with known industry problems – a blog, Slideshare account, YouTube channel.

4. SEO and author rank

Author rank is a metric that has been given greater prominence by search engines like Google to better position web pages in search page results. Higher ranking is afforded to original content that is shared on sites like Google+ and other social networks and the degree to which it is engaged with by audiences.  

Content that is liked and shared more positions the author as an expert. Find out more about how to make the connection between your content and your authorship here.

Author rank becomes the driving force for a digital marketing strategy built on great content delivered across multiple platforms and available to a range of devices. If you click my name in the introduction of this article, we’re exploring it too.

Takeaway: Start with Google+ by creating a page, establishing circles from your connections on other platforms and publishing links to your existing content.


Don’t be fooled that digital advances aren’t necessary in your sector. However niche your products and services are, however niche you think your trade media is, however well you think you know your customers – bear the following in mind.

They are online. They are using a range of devices. They are seeking advice, opinion, recommendation and referral. They will find this elsewhere if you don’t offer it.

Need help? We love to talk digital strategy. Sound us out

Friday, 9 August 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Improving the Built Environment

By Jason Brownlee of Rider Levett Bucknall

The need to improve the UK’s built environment is unquestioned. The recession has forced many to think outside the box as traditional funding routes remain stalled.  However we may be thinking too hard as the buildings themselves, our most valuable asset, are left waiting patiently for recognition to dawn.
Transforming buildings to make them more efficient and fit better the demands of today offers the most exciting opportunity for decades.

Buildings are under occupied. Buildings are inappropriately sited. They are energy inefficienct. They no longer match the functions they supposedly facilitate. The list goes on.

Rethinking and reconfiguring our building stock opens the way to release capital, from selling excess buildings or land. The cash can fund major improvements and new building. That in turn provides current account savings through lower running costs, potentially with fantastic payback periods. The savings can be remarkable.

But while looking at inefficient buildings may spark one idea, the starting point of any asset management is not simply looking at the building itself. The key is to fully appreciate the real objectives of the organisation.

Of course occupancy levels, building management systems and smart technologies come into it, but you have to look beyond that. How can processes be made more efficient? Are current processes inefficient because they’ve had to fit the building? Is there a desire for more flexible working? Where do employees actually live?

You have to think laterally. Quirky things can produce big savings. That’s the fun.

Interestingly it’s government and big public sector bodies that are leading the way. They see the big savings – not just in money but in saving the planet’s resources.

In 2008 the Government produced its first State of the Estate reports looking at the efficiency and sustainability of its property.

The opening lines read: “Property is Government’s second most expensive asset after its staff.” Now there’s a clue.

In 2012 the latest report released in late May showed it had cut the size of its estate by almost a quarter five years.

Meanwhile the estimated running cost fell about £400 million in cash terms over the four years. That’s 10%. Given inflation, particularly fuel inflation, has was high, the savings against what would have been spent are far greater.  

The impact on carbon reduction targets has been encouraging. From 2009/10 to 2011/12 it cut carbon emissions from its estate by 12%.

The estate being measured here is just part of the total buildings and structures under public ownership. Big improvements are being made elsewhere.

In the public sector, some of the juiciest opportunities probably lie with local authorities. What’s more they are beginning to see how working with local businesses can supercharge the benefits to their communities.

Ironically perhaps, the opportunities can only increase as the public sector looks to scale down its workforce and streamline what it does as austerity bites.

So why has the private sector been so sluggish? There are many reasons, not least because strategic asset management, such as it is, tends to emerge from firms seeing what’s in the market and leasing accordingly.

Pretty much, looking at the private estate as a whole, it’s mainly commercial landlords reading the signs in the market that shapes the commercial estate.

Perhaps firms with big estates might take a leaf out of the public sector’s book and take a harder more strategic look at how they match their buildings to their business objectives.

Either way, for construction, this looks like the success story for the next decade or so if the more traditional funding routes remain tight.