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

Friday, 19 December 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Developing a Healthy Twitter Strategy – Building Your Follower Base

By David Wright of BSA Marketing 

Twitter is a great tool for getting your message out there, and not just for celebrities and big brands. Increasingly, Twitter is being used by SMEs as part of their brand development strategy.

When looking at building a strategy, one of the first questions we would ask is: "What is your objective?" The easy answer to this question where Twitter is concerned, is “I want to get loads of followers". But a bit like “I need to be at the top of Google”, this objective is a little short-sighted.
Before I go on, let’s look at a few stats:

Of Twitter’s 1 billion users:

  • 81% have less than 50 followers
  • More than 500 followers and you are in the top 5%

The average number of followers is 208 (source

Take the “number of followers objective”, and being “successful” on Twitter is pretty easy. 501 followers and you are in the top 5%! You just have to Google “Gain Twitter followers” and you will find plenty of people happy to help you reach that goal. But quite obviously this would be wasted effort. Gaining followers should only be part of your objective.

In my view the real objective should be:

“I want to engage with my marketplace, build a relationship with relevant contacts, and demonstrate that I add value”.

On this basis, number of followers is only one measurement. Equally important should be quality of those followers.

From a marketing perspective, the quality of your follower base should be judged on the following:

1. Are they relevant to my business?

2. Do they have something valuable to add to the discussion?

Are they Relevant?

If a contact is relevant, then normally this relevance should be two way, and as such, the ‘they follow me and I feel it is worth following them back’ (or visa versa) rule should apply.

There will be people who follow you who are totally not relevant (People playing the ‘I want hundreds or thousands of followers and hope most people will follow me’ game), and there will be people you follow who legitimately will not follow you back (national press, and the BBC, to name two)

In general, if your follower base is relevant the follower/following ratio should tend towards 1:1.

At this point it is worthwhile saying a little more about this key statistic; the ratio of Followers to Following.

Sufficient to say:

  • A ratio of 1:1 (Followers=Following) is a good start, and shows that people respect your views and you are playing the game
  • A ratio of >1:1 (Followers>Following) This generally suggests that you have something to say that people  find valuable, and so should be seen as a positive position. That said, if the ratio moves significantly away from 1 (assuming you are not a major celeb) it could suggest that you are not engaging with your audience, and that those following you are not relevant enough or you to follow them back. A very high ratio  could also be seen as a little arrogant (They should follow me, but are not worthy of following)
  • A ratio of <1:1 b="" ollowers="" ollowing=""> This generally suggests you are trying too hard to get followers and people are not relevant and/or not seeing the value in your input, and so should be seen as a negative position.

As a rule of thumb, a ratio of between 1:1 and 2:1 is a good benchmark to use for your own account, and when choosing who to follow

Although I am not going to go into this in detail as there is already plenty out there on the subject (This post for example).

Do they have something valuable to add to the discussion?

So, in assessing the relevance of your followers, you are happy that they are relevant to your market and have a healthy Follower/Following ratio. The final point to consider is are they saying anything of value, or indeed anything at all (Almost 50% of Twitter’s 1 billion users have never sent a tweet!)

Do they engage with their Twitter audience? Are they tweeting/retweeting, and is their input in turn being retweeted? Having great follower statistics is pointless unless they are communicating.

Two questions to ask about your follower activity:

1. Is their content interesting?
2.Is their content relevant?

And if the answer to these are “Yes” then a follow-up: Is their content consistent & sustained?
If the answer is again yes, they are definitely worth following and are a great follower to have on your books.

Following these “rules” should put you on the path to a healthy follower base.

But once you have a follower base, you need to engage with them! We will look at this in a future article.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Member Blog: Five Big Benefits of Flexible Working

By Nigel Girling - Director, The Babington Group
Flexible working has made the headlines in recent years, after huge corporations like Virgin and Netflix set the trend with radically pliable holiday policies.

The UK Government has recently demonstrated support for such policies, making it a legal requirement for employers to listen to requests for flexible arrangements, and to offer clear explanations for refusals.

If flexible working isn’t something you have considered before, here are five advantages of introducing it to your workplace.

1. Engaging staff
Do you ever suspect your employees are tired of the same old routine, or don’t feel they have your complete trust?

This is the case in many workplaces, and you can increase morale by offering something more flexible.

Offering staff more control over their working hours, where they work, and how they work, is a great way of keeping things fresh, and of demonstrating your faith in the people you employ.

2. Retaining staff
As finding new professional opportunities becomes easier with the use of online resources, many companies are seeing their staff turnover increase rapidly.

It’s time to offer your employees a new reason to stay, by giving them a level of flexibility they won’t find easily elsewhere.

As well as demonstrating confidence in your employees, flexible arrangements allows those with other commitments to work around them. For example, new parents may return to work more quickly if they know they can fit their role around childcare.

3. Attracting new talent
Job hunters are looking for increasingly enticing offers. Compete with other employers by offering something different, in the form of a high degree of flexibility.

Free lunches and long holidays just don’t cut it anymore. When looking for long term opportunities, prospective employees value freedom and trust.

4. Reducing costs
Have you thought about the money you could save by offering flexible working patterns? Having employees working from home means you would require less office space, use less electricity, and need less office equipment.

5. New opportunities
An advantage to flexible working that is often missed is the new business opportunities it could create.

Operating from nine to five can limit your options. If you work with clients in different locations, at different times, you could take advantage of having staff willing to work around these circumstances.

While many employers still see the concept of flexible working as a threat to their business, just the right degree of flexibility could have huge benefits on staff acquisition and retention, as well as the reach of your business as a whole.

Knowing how much flexibility to offer is part of being a great business leader. To find out more about developing your leadership and management skills, get in touch here, or give us a call on 01332 613688.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Member Blog: Manchester pharmacy’s advice on surviving the office Christmas party

By Brandon Wilkinson - Medical Specialists Company

The first week of December has now arrived, which means a potentially perilous yearly event will be creeping up – the dreaded office Christmas party.

Whilst for some it can be a great way to get to know colleagues outside of the working environment and talk about things other than this year’s sales figures, for others it is a more nerve-wracking, painful experience than major dental surgery.

There are the weeks in the run up to the party, being stressed about losing weight to fit into that expensive new outfit, not to mention the actual evening itself…being forced to engage in idle small talk with co-workers, see them drunkenly embarrass themselves, or worse – get too drunk and have them witness your drunken antics. This is followed by the sheepish walk into work on the Monday morning and having to look everyone in the eye!

Remember, the shenanigans and over-the-top behaviour at the work Christmas party cannot be erased with a quick press of the keyboard’s delete button, so therefore Medical Specialists® Pharmacy are on hand with some helpful dos and don’ts when it comes to the office Christmas party. These tips may come in useful when trying to navigate through this potentially dangerous minefield to improve the chances of a reputation and a job still being intact come Monday morning.

Don’t get drunk

Employers generally consider events such as the festive office party to be part of work time, so employees are still technically ‘at work’ during social gatherings occurring after hours. Many employees are either unaware of this, or choose to ignore it…big mistake! Chugging down the free booze may seem like a good idea at the time, but it won’t be later on if idiotic drunken behaviour has cost the person their reputation, credibility, or worse, their job. Pacing the drinking and eating beforehand or during the party is advised to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, and alternate alcoholic beverages with water or juice.

Don’t overindulge

Attempting to lose weight at Christmas can be the most challenging time of the year for dieters, especially with mince pies or chocolate treats seemingly everywhere as far as the eye can see. If there isn’t a more traditional set menu and a buffet is provided, the office Christmas party will undoubtedly comprise of appetising fatty foods like pizza, quiche and sausage rolls, all loaded with calories. Therefore, load the plate up with as much fruit and vegetables as possible. Moreover, alcohol is an appetite stimulant, which goes some way to explaining why takeaways are always busy at the end of a night on the town. Anybody wanting to lose weight should avoid popping into the local takeaway on the walk home. Some donner kebabs can contain as much as 1,990 calories – to put this into context this is nearly the same as a woman’s recommended daily intake of calories. There is also roughly 70g of saturated fat in a typical donner kebab – three and half times the daily recommended amount for a woman.

Be professional

Avoid crude, foul language, as well as any inappropriate jokes or conversational topics, perhaps limiting these types of things to close friends. Basically, there are certain things we may do or say with friends at the pub that are simply a no-go area with the boss at a party, especially when there is alcohol involved. Using colourful language with mates may seem like a small matter and unimportant, but to others it can leave a lasting, and sometimes damaging impression.

Tread social media carefully

The modern day ginormous rise of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter means that it is not always the case that what happens at the Christmas party will stay at the Christmas party. One’s behaviours and indiscretions can be recorded with smartphones and quickly posted and shared for a worldwide audience, meaning the employee’s and the businesses’ reputation could be wrecked in an alarmingly quick time. Something starting out as “John just stole a plant” plastered onto social media could spiral to “John just got his P45 from HR”. It is still a work event despite being after hours, so behave and consider that plenty of alcohol and smartphones do not mix well, steer clear of any damaging photo opportunities that could land people in serious trouble or bring about merciless jibes from colleagues!

If possible, avoid romantic liaisons

An alcohol-fuelled Christmas party may not be the most ideal of times to tell Susan from accounts about a long-standing desire to take her on a date, and whether the drinks are flowing or mistletoe is in the air, it is not an invitation to hurl one’s self at the pretty receptionist. For those who do take an interest in someone at the party, and sense a mutual interest, be subtle, don’t be overly flirty, control your libido and perhaps limit things to a kiss near to the end of the party. Medical Specialists® provide the inexpensive and popular Gold spot breath spray - perfect for this point of night; easy to carry in a pocket and will mask the unpleasant odour of stodgy food and alcohol from the party. Should two people decide to take things a little further, condoms are essential to protect against an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.

Make an effort and mingle

Don’t try to monopolise conversations, however the Christmas party presents an excellent opportunity to chat to a wide range of people from staff in other departments, senior management to partners and spouses. It is probably the best chance of the year to build up networking and even a bit of self-promotion, so make the most of the opportunity without coming across as an obvious big-head.

Finally…have fun!

It might seem impossible after the previous points mentioned, but believe it or not, it is possible to enjoy the office Christmas party whilst at the same time keeping dignity and professionalism intact.
Try to discuss things other than work and get to know more about colleagues. As long as a certain standard of behaviour is upheld then everyone should be able to enjoy the food, drink and be merry!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

President's Blog - Neil Smith

Newly-elected Chamber President, Neil Smith, gives his views on what’s been happening in the
Greater Manchester business community. 

In my first month as President, we have seen some considerable activity from Whitehall. ‘Devo Manc’ seems to be on every business page at the moment as the Government announces more powers to Greater Manchester with a caveat that there will be a requirement for an elected mayor to oversee key areas, including infrastructure and employment and skills.

According to a recent Commission for the New Economy report, over £1billion of government money will pass to Greater Manchester to fund post-16 skills and employment. The recent success of the Chamber’s skills team in piloting an employer-led programme has huge potential. Whether the methods of funding will be changed as part of the devolution process will be an important one to understand. The goal is to develop a model that engages small business with the mainstream skills system.

The fine detail is still to be understood as regards funding, but it has certainly got the Chamber policy team into high action. Watch this space and the social media outlets at the Chamber for more information.

The Autumn Statement was presented at the start of December. Highlights included a commitment to a wholesale review of the business rates system by government, which is something we’ve been heavily campaigning for. The Chancellor also made mention of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and highlighted his commitment to strengthening our regions, which we’re all in favour of. Greater Manchester also directly benefits from the  announcement of a £235m investment into the Sir Henry Royce Institute of Advanced Materials, which will be headquartered here, as well as £78m of funding for a new theatre and performance space at the old Granada Studios space, building on the region’s status as a creative and cultural hub. Take a look at the Chamber’s reaction to the Autumn Statement here for more about the impact on our region.

This month, I’ve been fortunate to attend a lecture by Professor Konstya Novoselvo, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for graphene. The recently opened £61million Graphene Institute in Manchester paves the way for the city to be at the forefront of commercialisation of this revolutionary material. In June 2015 the city opens its doors to worldwide companies to engage with the institute, so I hope Chamber members will be able to play a key part in building its success.

One of my other roles is as a member of the Trafford Economic Growth Board, and at our last meeting we were pleased to receive a presentation from the Local Enterprise Partnership outlining some of the current work being undertaken. All the activities are in the public domain including reference to the Greater Manchester manufacturing strategy which has just finished consultation.  I hope to give an update on this core part of economic growth for the region soon.

That’s it for now! Until next time, have a great break over the festive period and I wish everyone a very prosperous New Year.


Neil Smith, President of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
Managing Director, Kinetic PLC

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Team Talk: Natassja Wright

This week Natassja Wright, Membership Executive, talks about her role at the Chamber.

Moving into my ninth month at the Chamber, I am lucky to be part of a dynamic and exciting membership team. Our office move to Elliot House this month will introduce a Members' Lounge and I am looking forward to our new bright and open workspace.

The main focus of my role as Membership Executive is to engage with members, helping them to fully optimise their membership. I am office based and work closely with Regional Managers to support businesses across a wide range of requirements. The favourite part of my role is the diversity of sectors I interact with- providing me with new challenges and insights everyday.

As a Chamber we strive to support our members through our broad offering of services. This year we have introduced several new benefits which have proved to be very popular and useful. These include our Funding Finder Tool, Chamber HR, Chamber Energy Solutions and Skills Reviews. We also have a great networking platform with over 150 events a year, including the 42 'Action For Business' events free for members to attend.

I have been fortunate enough to attend some of the expos and events across Greater Manchester and to represent the Chamber at the British Chambers of Commerce awards this year in London. They have all been excellent opportunities to engage with our members and celebrate the successes of businesses in Greater Manchester.

Finally, there is never a dull moment as I am also part of the Chamber's netball team, the 'Chamber Challengers'. Our team of nine has united the office and brought a spectrum of wisdom and youth together. As we enter our second league we continue to grow and improve each week - always having fun!

If you would like to discuss your membership, please contact me directly on 0161 393 4328 or email me at:

Monday, 1 December 2014

How Can Your Business Benefit From the HS2 Rail Project?

By Dave Thornton, Director of Thornton & Lowe

Much has been said and written about the High Speed 2 (HS2) project, and there’s a fair chance you’ve already given a great deal of consideration to how the railway will benefit your business.

Once the network is completely up and running, it is expected to generate £59.8bn in “user benefits” as well as £13.3bn in wider economic benefits. While the long-term financial rewards are clear, many companies can also make a huge amount of money by getting involved in the building of the railway.

There will be a multitude of hugely-lucrative contracts being made available to companies in the manufacturing and construction sectors in particular, with forecasts suggesting that 9,000 building jobs will be created in Phase One of the project and a further 10,000 during Phase Two.

This is great in theory, but do enough businesses know about the incredible opportunities that could be presented to them?

Getting the wheels in motion

With so much legal wrangling – HS2 chiefs have been forced to fend off opponents of the project in the High Court this year – companies can be forgiven for feeling a little confused as to when, or even if, the work required to deliver the project will start.

However, there have been clear signs of progression in recent months. Towards the end of October, representatives from around 500 businesses attended a conference held by leaders of the HS2 development in Manchester. The event gave HS2 chiefs an opportunity to brief companies on what will be expected of them when they eventually bid for work.

HS2 Chief Executive Simon Kirby confirmed that £10bn worth of contracts would be up for grabs during the first stage of the project (the section between London and the West Midlands) alone. The sheer value of these contracts shouldn’t really surprise us, after all the whole infrastructure development has an overall budget of £42.6 billion.

To spice things up even further, the government recently gave its backing to the possible development of HS3, which if the proposals come to fruition, will link major cities in the North of England. These plans are very much in their infancy, but you can be sure that opportunist engineers, manufacturers, builders and environmental businesses, to name a few, will be monitoring the situation very closely.

Can you compete? 

The government’s intention is to have shovels in the ground by 2017, with the first section of the line being operational by 2026. Invitations to tender have already been sent out for engineering and environmental services for the project, and competition is likely to be intense.

This is where a solid bid writing team is an absolute must. There will be no shortage of takers for these contracts, so you need to submit a bid that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Before putting so much time, effort and expense into an application, you need to weigh up whether or not it is worth your while bidding. What can you offer that your competitors can’t? Have you got a track record (excuse the pun) of working on this type of development in the past?

HS2 is Europe’s largest infrastructure project, and as such, there will be very few companies out there that have delivered such a monstrous development in the past. Although you’ll have to put together a special pitch in order to win a HS2 contract, you cannot afford to overstretch yourself.

As well as thinking about what your competitors can do, you also need to be realistic about your own company’s limitations. If you bite off more than you can chew, you could land yourself in big trouble, as failure to deliver on such a high-profile project will not only have severe financial repercussions, but your reputation could also be damaged beyond repair.

With HS2, and possibly HS3 in the pipeline, these are undoubtedly exciting times for businesses across the UK, but that being said, you cannot afford to get too carried away.

Dave Thornton is the director of Thornton & Lowe, a company which specialises in helping businesses create winning tenders, bids and proposals across the UK.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Are You Losing Out on Sales Because You Fail to Gain Face to Face Meetings with Decision Makers?

Kevin Charlton, Telephone Coaching Expert 

You may have the best products or services in the world but if you can’t get to tell your story to key decision makers you will never maximise your potential.

Many businesses suffer in this way and I was no different; working in sales for others or running my own company, the challenge was always gaining that all important meeting to present and, sell.

You and I are more comfortable dealing with people in person; the telephone creates a different set of obstacles, not least because 82% of communication over the telephone is attributed to voice quality and you have less than 7 seconds to get the listener to warm to you.

How often have you prepared for your call, only to fumble the first few lines or be thrown off course with the first negative response you receive? You never get a second chance to make a first impression...and you’ve just blown it! Don’t worry, you are not alone and there is a system you can follow that will guarantee much greater results.

I’ve worked as a sales trainer for almost 20 years and without doubt, making effective outbound calls remains one of the most sought after skills that I’m asked to address. Normally my work is on a consultancy basis and I have helped my clients make over 13,000 meetings with decision makers.

Now however, I’ve created a new programme called FACE TO FACE where I can deliver the same results to a different audience in a one day seminar. This enables companies to train key personnel in one day, to gain the skills they require to massively increase their telephone success.

There is a SYSTEM to follow that can be adapted for any style of call and delegates will discover:

  • There are only 6 possible responses to any call
  • The 5 key steps you need to address to gain more meetings
  • A simple objection handling technique to put them in control of the call
  • Why people respond in the way they do and how to win them over

I’m passionate about helping people improve results from the telephone and running this style of event means I can help more people, more often.

So if you are in business for yourself; part of a sales team; in customer services; operating a call centre or just wanting to improve your telephone skills this could be an invaluable investment in your future.

The next event will be scheduled in Manchester and for members of the Chamber there is a discounted price for the day from £197 to £97 and if you want to invite additional colleagues, subsequent tickets will ONLY cost £49  (I even throw in tea & coffee!)

For more information and a FREE audio download visit: or give me a call on: 07866 469194.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Export Expert: Know Your Export Documents

The Chamber’s Export Documentation Department is the leading provider of Export Documentation
Services to companies in Greater Manchester.

We issue over 35,000 documents per year to exporters within the city region. In Greater Manchester, Export Documentation services are accessible at our office in the city centre and at our base at The World Freight Terminal at Manchester Airport. We can provide advice on worldwide export documentation requirements and trade regulations, plus a range of specialised ICC publications on international trade.

It is important to remember that different countries have different documentation requirements. If you are ever unsure of what Export Documents you need then feel free to contact our Export Documentation Team at

Here is an overview of documents available here at Greater Manchester Chamber -
  • Certificates of Origin are used as documentary evidence to show where goods being exported from the United Kingdom were originally manufactured. They can be required for different reasons, such as customs clearance or payment via Letter of Credit.
  • ATR/EUR 1 certificates establish the customs duty status of goods that qualify for preference when goods are exported to countries that have preferential trade arrangements with the EU.
  • ATA Carnets facilitate the temporary exportation of goods for up to 12 months; acting as a ‘passport’ presented at each customs post, this enables the temporary exportation of goods without having to lodge duties on deposit with overseas customs. They are recognised in 45 countries world-wide
  • International Import Certificates facilitate the issue of export licences for ‘controlled’ goods imported into the United Kingdom.
As a member you can benefit from discounts of up to 50% on some of these documents. To speak with a Membership Executive about our International Trade Services and other Member Benefits contact our team on 0161 393 4321.

Exporters – ‘Save Time and Go Online’

e-z Cert is a service offered by Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce which enables exporters to obtain certified export documents online.

The e-z Cert service has been operating successfully for over 10 years and is now processing over 50% of all UK Certificates of Origin.

About e-z Cert

e-z Cert can be used to obtain European Community & Arab British Certificates of Origin, EUR1 and A.TR documents.

The e-z Cert system has 2 submission options -

Express Applications are approved by the Chamber online within hours of submission. This enables the exporter to print certified/validated documents at their own premises.

Standard Applications can be applied for which the Chamber will then print. These can either be posted out to you or collected if you wish.

e-z Cert can also be used to certify other commercial documents such as commercial invoices and packing lists. It is approved by the British Chambers of Commerce as being compliant with regulations and data security requirements.

To apply electronically for your documents register at  or simply contact the Export Documentation Team in Manchester City Centre on 0161 393 4313 or at Manchester Airport on 0161 489 3170

Save time, save money, start working with e-z Cert.

Focus on Export Training

The world of International Trade can seem a little daunting at times as there are lots of important aspects that you need to consider. Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce continues to look at ways in which we can help businesses get a more detailed understanding of exporting and what’s involved. As such we have put together the following training courses -

•Export Documentation

• Incoterms

• Letters of Credit & International Payments

• ez Cert – Electronic Certification

• International Trade in a Day

Not what you are looking for? Don’t worry, we welcome all feedback and are able to put together tailored packages of training specific to your business needs; we can even undertake the training at your premises in some instances. To discuss this more detail or to express your interest in the above mentioned courses please contact

Sounding Board: Jane Boardman

This week we focus on Jane Boardman, one of the new Chamber Board members.

Jane Boardman grew up in Ellesmere Port on the Wirral and came to Manchester in 1993 where she studied Maths at the University of Manchester. She confides that she initially chose Manchester because it was 35 miles from home and she thought if she got homesick she could go back fairly frequently – although she remembers not going home very much during her years of study.

Post university, Jane went straight into graduate employment with what was then Arthur Andersen.  Here she trained to be Chartered Accountant and qualified in 1999. In 2002 - post the Enron scandal - Arthur Andersen was acquired by Deloitte. At Deloitte in 2007, she was made a partner at 31, then the youngest partner in the UK firm. Commenting on when Arthur Andersen and Deloitte came together, she believes, “you got the best of both worlds”.

As someone who has spent her whole career working with other businesses, Jane sees numerous opportunities for her and for the Chamber to utilise her own considerable work experience: “One of the reasons I want be involved with the Chamber is to get closer to businesses and to businesses’ opinions. I see that at Board level. My client base is very diverse. I have a slight bias in my portfolio towards energy and resources clients and within that sector, regulated utilities: water companies, electricity companies – but I have clients across a wide range of industries and a wide range of sizes as well -everything from start-ups to global multinational businesses.”

She recognises the value of seeing businesses from different levels – local, national and international: “In one sense business is becoming more international and in my field that can sometimes take you away from what is going on in your immediate surroundings. You get a very good view of the international business environment – but that can result in you becoming “more disconnected from what is going on in the city and I love the city.” 

She is also passionate about the number of great developments taking place across Greater Manchester: “You look at Graphene, sport city, media city, airport city ... and a lot more to come with HS3 etc and that really excites me.” She believes that working with the Chamber allows her “to harness that excitement for what’s going on here.”

She believes that there is real value for her own and the Chamber’s development, commenting that her association with the Chamber gives her “better visibility”, but also “an opportunity to contribute.”

Once Jane graduated and was working she played football for Manchester City for 13 years. She believes that this was great experience, since her team mates came from all walks of life. “That kept my grassroots connections to the city” she says.  Although she played for Manchester City, she nonetheless remains devoted to Liverpool Football Club.

Jane believes that there is a special chemistry to Greater Manchester, calling it “something intangible”. She recalls her first positive impressions when she first came for a university interview: “It was the people I met, the energy about the place”. She believes that that this initial impression has been proven to be true in her many years working in the city region.

She confesses that she had no history of working with Chambers of Commerce, but remembers how she first came into contact with them: “Having got to know David McKeith through one of his non-executive positions about three-four years ago” she now acknowledges that “the best thing about the Chamber is that it’s a membership organisation and so it’s actively responding to members’ issues and it’s independent.” She adds: “The Chamber is unique in its ability to service the private sector.  Having a truly independent interface between the public and private sector, that is well-regarded, that is founded on economic data that is robust and has a good communication mechanism with its members - so it can demonstrate it is actively and accurately reflecting the views of its members - I think that’s a huge opportunity.”

She is also confident, in the many debates around policy over the coming years, that “the Chamber will have a fundamental role to play in that.”

Member Blog: Beware Unmanaged Cooling Towers

Jamie Tranter, legionella specialist and General Manager at Legionella Control International

The current outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Portugal is now one of the largest ever recorded and is believed to have been caused by legionella contaminated cooling towers at a fertilizer factory at Vila Franca de Xira, about 30 kilometres north of Lisbon.

The importance of cooling tower legionella risk management was brought home this week with the news that cooling towers at the Portuguese fertilizer plant were said to be the likely source of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has now seen over 300 people infected and 8 people killed.

This has made it one of the world’s largest ever outbreaks of the deadly disease, with the WHO (World Health Organisation) classing the outbreak as a major public health emergency.

In view of the tragic outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Portugal, we believe it is vital that organisations using cooling systems (which may consist of a cooling tower or evaporative condenser) conduct a legionella risk assessment and put into place measures that are appropriate to control the risk of legionella and a subsequent outbreak of Legionnaires disease.

Cooling tower legionella safety - general approach

As can be seen from the outbreak in Portugal, there is a considerable risk from legionella in both cooling towers and evaporative condensers, and serious problems can rapidly spiral out of control.
Fortunately, if appropriate risk management plans are put into place and implemented correctly, it is possible to significantly reduce the risk of any out-break of Legionnaires’ disease.

It is vital that organisations using cooling towers conduct a comprehensive legionella risk assessment and put into place measures that are appropriate to control the risk of legionella. This is a legal requirement and a failure to do so can have serious consequences, lead to prosecution, hefty fines and civil action.

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published an effective approach in its Approved Code of Practice document: L8: Legionnaires' Disease - The control of legionella bacteria in water systems.

After an in-depth study of previous outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, the HSE have identified the steps that all companies who utilise cooling systems should take:

• Firstly, the sources of risk should be identified and then assessed.
• The next step is to prepare an action plan to prevent or control the risk
• This should then be implemented, managed and effectively monitored
• Detailed records should be kept of all precautions
• A senior person should be appointed to be responsible for ensuring the previous steps are carried out correctly and effectively.

Identifying and controlling risk

Although the source of the legionella outbreak in Portugal has been attributed to the cooling towers, the reasons why will take somewhat longer and will require detailed investigation.

However, we can look at previous outbreaks and according to the Health and Safety Executive, 90% of such outbreaks have failure to identify and control risk as the root cause.

The HSE says that failure to identify and put into place effective controls can leave such facilities vulnerable to a range of threats, such as:

• Failure to keep to planned cleaning and maintenance schedules. This can result in plant conditions getting worse, and allowing longer periods for problems to develop.
• Changing processes, which can lead to changes in the risk and existing precautions and controls becoming ineffective.
• Loss of knowledge due to staff or contractor changes
• Inconsistent control measures due to an intermittent use of the plant
• Unusual weather conditions, for example, legionella bacteria multiplying quickly in warmer weather.

Each site should have its own scheme with the intention of controlling the specific risks to that system, and should be backed up by rigorous working procedures.

This scheme should be updated when there is any change or issue that can have an effect on the ability to effectively control risks, such as in the examples above.

System monitoring

As well as managing and controlling risk, it is vital that rigorous monitoring of the water quality is undertaken, including:

• chemical monitoring
• biological monitoring
• visual checks to ensure everything is working as it should be

It can be useful to routinely monitor bacteria levels, but in no way is this a substitute to ensuring the plant is kept in the best condition possible and cleaned on a regular basis.

System monitoring and then subsequently interpreting the results (including identifying any trends etc.) all need to be done by someone who has specialist knowledge.

Senior managers and the "responsible person"

Both the appointed responsible person and the general senior management team should seek assurance that effective controls, monitoring and auditing are all in place and any results are acted upon promptly.

As well as the failure to identify and control risk, according to the HSE poor communication and a lack of training are contributory factors in Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks.

It is therefore essential that everyone involved is trained, competent and fully aware of their role and responsibilities, and clear communication channels are in place between the different stakeholders involved, such as management, maintenance staff, contractors and subcontractors.

It is important that individuals are given specific roles and responsibilities, with a rigorous process in place for the tracking and signing-off of completed work as well as the oversight of contractors.

Expert legionella risk management support

Legionella Control International ensures world class solutions are implemented to minimise, control and prevent the risk of legionella outbreaks in organisations across the UK and internationally.

Offering independent, impartial advice, they offer companies an extensive range of legionella risk management services including risk assessments, compliance audits, training, assessment of water systems, crisis management, and laboratory testing as well as an array of other essential options all de-signed to safeguard against legionella.

To find out more about how Legionella Control International can help with the management of cooling towers, and other cooling systems please contact me:

Jamie Tranter
Tel: +(44) 161 877 0586

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Are Your Employees Workaholics or Work-alcoholics?

By Brandon Wilkinson - Medical Specialists Pharmacy 

According to a 2007 survey carried out by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there are an  estimated 1.6 million people in England alone that are dependent on alcohol, and it is a casual factor in over  60 medical conditions, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast, high blood pressure, depression and cirrhosis of the liver.
The abuse of alcohol is said to cost the country a shocking £21 billion annually through the treatment of alcohol-related disease, the resulting crime that follows a bingeing episode of drinking, and loss of work productivity (about 8 to 14 million working days are lost each year in the UK because of alcohol).

The first two impacts of alcohol abuse are probably quite obvious to some, but the impact on alcohol to the workplace can often be dramatically underestimated – and it is a serious problem that many employers are having to tackle as alcohol dependency does not discriminate according to occupation.

Firstly, let’s look at the repercussions of alcohol in the workplace. Through either sustained alcohol dependency, or from isolated occurrences of heavy drinking, the main issues relating to the workplace are: Loss of production, absenteeism and extra sick leave, injuries and accident rates, and the risk of premature death or fatal accidents.

Alcohol can and will impair an employee’s decision making at work, slowing down reaction times, potentially inducing sleepiness and drowsiness, increase the risk of errors occurring and lead to the employee delivering goods or services to a substandard quality. It may even cause friction and anger amongst those employees that have to carry the burden of compensating for those whose work output is declining due to drinking.

It is usually primarily the after-effects of drinking – being hungover – that impacts the ability to perform a job correctly, or even turning up to work at all. In fact, a 2006 survey conducted by YouGov for PruHealth discovered that there are an estimated 200,000 workers in Britain coming into work hungover from the previous night’s drinking.

Some alarming finds were made in the survey: 22% admit they have made errors at work as a consequence of their hangover, 83% admit their hangovers change the way they perform their role, a third even admit to ‘drifting off’, whilst 28% say they have to work with headaches because of their hangover.

It is generally believed that the common working factors linked to increased alcohol consumption include feeling stressed at work, periods of inactivity or feeling bored, low job satisfaction, shift or night work, working remotely, having to travel long distances, and frequenting business meals where there is a likelihood to be alcohol available.

Employers should be able to spot if an employee has a drinking problem through a number of common traits.

Signs for employers to be aware of

  • The employee’s job performance declines.
  • Frequent absenteeism due to sickness. 
  • Frequent lateness to work or late to arrive at meetings. 
  • Frequent toilet visits. 
  • Attempts to mask the smell of alcohol with chewing gum, mints, breath sprays, or applying lots of aftershave/perfume and deodorant. 
  • The employee is absent from their desk for large periods of time. 
  • Suspect stories emanating from colleagues trying to cover for each other.

What can employers do?

First and foremost, employers should remember they have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work. Employers can be prosecuted for knowingly allowing an employee to work that is under the influence of excess alcohol.

A clear substance use (i.e. alcohol and drug) policy should be in place for all employees and employers should quiz their staff on what they know about the impact that alcohol has on health and safety, and their thoughts about drinking during working hours. All supervisors and managers should be trained to spot the signs of both alcohol and drug use and be aware of what actions to take if an employee confides about a problem or they suspect an employee might have a problem. 

If the employee was a vital and valued member of the team before their alcohol dependency issues began, the employer might be wise to consider offering help and support where possible. After all, that employee will be incredibly grateful for this and probably show a greater sense of loyalty and commitment to the organisation, a huge benefit to the employer of course.

What can employees do? 

Employees with alcohol dependency problems should have easy access to occupational health services, but under no circumstances should employees go into work whilst still under the influence of alcohol (or drugs for that matter).

Any employee with alcohol dependency issues should be open and honest with their employer to discuss what can be done to help the situation, and feel comfortable in speaking about it to their GP, or even any local pharmacy if that is preferred.

Medical Specialists® Pharmacy are now able to actually help those with alcohol addiction through the treatment Selincro (nalmefene). This medication is suited for people who are heavy drinkers, but don’t require immediate detoxification, and whom have a high level of alcohol consumption 2 weeks after the first consultation with their doctor. This is defined as more than 60g of alcohol per day for men or more than 40g of alcohol per day for women. The great news for those who are prescribed it is that there is no risk of becoming dependent on Selincro.

Selincro’s active ingredient nalmefene works by latching onto certain opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for addictive behaviour, altering their activity, thereby decreasing the urge to continue drinking.

Unfortunately, alcohol dependency is a disease that affects all aspects of life, not just in workplace. It has a major impact on life at home too, being incredibly stressful for friends and family of the person drinking. It is a disease than can be beat however, with help and support usually available from employers to their employees - if there is complete honesty from the employee of course, and obviously support coming from loved ones of that person.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Member Blog: Alternative Finance – A hassle-free way to help SMEs flourish

By Tony Pegg, Managing Director at United Kapital

Alternative finance is a great way for small business owners to quickly obtain the finance they need, without fear of a high rejection rate. United Kapital’s innovative financial product, the Merchant Cash Advance, works as a flexible alternative to a traditional bank loan. It is an innovative method which enables business owners to carry out all of their plans straight away. It is a hassle-free system which is helping the SME economy to once again flourish.
United Kapital will offer a customer finance after looking at their monthly sales volume, taken through their credit and debit card machine. The merchant can raise up to 70% of that figure to grow their business. This works particularly well for the retail and hospitality industry, the card spend within these business types are typically very high. Generally companies within this industry need finance to keep their stock ‘on trend’ and modify their interior through refurbishment.

The repayment of a Merchant Cash Advance is extremely easy. It is completed through the credit and debit card sales a business acquires. A small pre-agreed percentage is taken every evening until the money is paid back. Many merchants love this innovative idea because the money is automatically withdrawn at the end of their working day, so they don’t have to struggle to save each month. It works alongside their business activity meaning if they have a slow day they payback less and if they have a busy day more is repaid.
Like many small local businesses, United Kapital has grown incredibly since its start-up, and for this reason it is the passion of each employee to help other SMEs do the same. The account managers have a keen interest in each business they deal with, and love to discover how the Merchant Cash Advance has had a positive and profitable impact.

Since launching into the financial market, United Kapital has grown year on year as business owners have become more aware of alternative lending options and their numerous benefits. The office, based in Altrincham, has a thriving sales team who offer exceptional customer service and one to one guidance. Their aim is to discover the individual needs of each customer, and support them through the process of acquiring a cash injection. United Kapital’s knowledgeable marketing team are responsible for creating educational pieces, to make the SME industry aware that this product is readily available. There is also a sales support team who oversee the process of obtaining an advance and ensure everything is completed in a timely manner. United Kapital’s Merchant Cash Advance is at the forefront of the alternative finance industry, and they pride themselves on their impeccable service, from building relationships with customers to ensuring money is swiftly transferred. The company has extremely good customer satisfaction, with over 90% of the clients stating they have found the service to be pleasing.
Over the years, United Kapital have lent millions of pounds to SMEs and independent retailers. They say it is rewarding knowing that the owners of these enterprises are able to thrive and elevate their businesses success using funding by United Kapital.

United Kapital is a Manchester based business which has offered finance to SMEs across the UK since its creation in October 2008.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Export Expert: Foreign Exchange Service

If you have international payment requirements, our new service will assess your current provision and look
to save you money.

Chamber Foreign Exchange will assess your exchange rates, transfer fees, speed of payments, impact of currency movements on your payments, credit terms and your online capabilities.

Key Benefits:

• Bank beating exchange rates – typically as much as 4% better than the banks.

• Expert market guidance at the end of a phone – professional currency dealers can guide you through the foreign exchange market.

• Fast online money transfers 24/7 – trade at convenient times with online accounts and live rate information.

• Safeguarded client funds – our Foreign Exchange provider is authorised and regulated by the FCA to provide payment services and safeguards all client funds in a segregated customer accounts.

This new service is exclusively for Chamber Members and includes:

• Low transfer fees – fees start from just £5, a substantial saving over the £20 - £40 that banks typically charge.

• Free foreign exchange health check – free assessment of your business’s foreign exchange requirements, to help you pin-point where you could improve your margins.

• Free account opening – buy and sell any of 35 currencies.

For more information or to set up a free health check, please contact Stacey Byrne on 0161 393 4368 or email

Team Talk: Julie Griffiths

Julie Griffiths, Finance Manager, talks about her role at the Chamber. 

I have spent over 25 years in the finance industry, beginning at National Westminster Bank and gradually moving on to more accounts based roles, which gives me a good insight into how it all works at all levels. 

I joined Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce last December as Finance Manager, which is a varied and busy role working within a great team reporting to the Finance Director. The main part of my role is collating information and producing month end departmental management accounts for the Finance Director and the Board. There is never a dull moment as there are certainly plenty of things to consider, from the Pipeline Analysis, Skills Gateway, Trustmark, BIM, Skills Reviews, Export Documentation, not to mention all the current and future events, and that’s just to name a few! I provide financial analysis of the events held by the Chamber, to assess the popularity and success of these events so we can improve in the future and provide more of what you as our customers want! If you have any feedback on our events or have any suggestions or queries please contact  
A normal day can range from overseeing the general day to day running of the finance department so myself and the team can resolve any queries you may have, general administration of the staff pension scheme, sending pension payments, payments to suppliers, sending payroll. There are plenty of financial reports to provide to internal and external sources to ensure the smooth and effective running of the Chamber.

It has been an interesting and challenging year with the events that have been held. The success of the Annual Dinner and Skills Awards, were perhaps the highlights, and the future looks an exciting due to the relocation to new premises at Elliot House on Deansgate in December, which will offer a great new base to expand and progress.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Friday Guest Blog: The Basics of Search Engines and SEO

By Christian Michaels

Are you confused by how search engines work? If you are then this is a problem because it makes you susceptible to bad advice regarding search engine optimisation, and this is something you need to watch out for.

In this post I’ll be explaining some simple concepts regarding SEO that anyone can understand. Let’s get into it.

There are Three Basic Search Engine Concepts

1. Relevance 

Relevance.What does this even mean? It means that this is the first thing a search engine deals with when looking at a web page. Does your search query match up to that web page? That is basically what the search engine is asking once you’ve typed your search engine query in, and Google’s crawlers can start looking for relevant web pages.

There are a number of things Google looks at to determine if a web page is relevant to your search query:

•    Title used in the web page. The title will tell you what the rest of the content is about.
•    Semantic analysis of the content. This is the general relevance of the content used in the page so the words and phrases used to give a general indication of what is in the content.
•    Text used in links to the page. The text you use in the link is also an indicator of what the content is about.
•    Third party pages linking to your website. If there are third party pages based around your topic linking to your page then this is great relevance Google picks up on.
•    The topic contained on the site. The web page will do better if it’s related to the topic that the site is about.
•    User behaviour to the content. The way a user responds once they click on your content is an important indicator used by Google. If a user clicks on a link to your page but clicks off it immediately then it’s a bad sign.

Relevance and its Impact

It should go without saying that you’re not going to rank for a search query if you don’t have content that is relevant to the search query. Find out what keywords people are searching for and then create content based around these keywords.

Make sure that you have content on your web pages that supports the search query. Create a keyword rich title and make sure the content is also strong.

2. Importance

Another factor that search engines use to determine where to rank a web page is importance. The way that Google primarily determines importance is via links and this is what they use to determine where your website will rank in search results.

Importance and its Impact

Importance is a valuable factor in determining where your web page will rank. If your web page is being linked to by other sites, especially those that are already an authority on your topic then Google will deem your page to be important. Therefore it will rank higher.

You need to make sure that you create great content that is valuable to readers. However, it’s not enough to just create the content. You need to market it so it gets in the hands of the right people.

3. Popularity

Importance isn’t always as interesting to determine as popularity. For example if you type in a search query like, “What is the hottest music?”, then it’s obvious that popularity is going to be a factor in where these pages rank.

Popularity is a powerful ranking factor in trending topics such as breaking news, and this is where social media is going to be important. Social media is a great indicator as to how popular something is and important in determining where a web page will rank. The more interaction, engagement and shares a social or blog post receives the more popular Google will perceive it to be.

Popularity and its Impact

There are a number of ways to create content that will become popular. The easiest way to explain how to do this is to create something that will cause an emotional reaction in the reader. If you create an emotional reaction then people are far more likely to share your content.

Additional Search Engine Concepts


This is based on the idea of changing search results based on what the users want. For example someone searching for wildlife in Egypt is going to want a different result than say someone in Singapore.

This concept is called localisation and there are also other ways to segment users into groups:

•    Personalisation. If you’ve been to a particular page recently then Google will use that information to promote the page to a higher ranking.
•    Google+ connections. Google+ connections are used to alter rankings. If someone you follow shares or +1s something then its ranking can be promoted for you.
•    Time of day. Time of day means that a user is probably looking for different things. For example a search at 8am means a user is probably looking for breakfast rather than dinner.
•    Time of year. The same is true depending on the time of year. If it’s winter then the search results are going to be different than what they would be in summer.
•    Other recent search queries. It may link together previous search queries. For example if you searched for hotels and the previous search was Berlin then the search result may include hotels in Berlin.

Segmentation and its Impact

Make sure your content is tailored to your audience. The more your content is tailored the more likely it is to rank for certain keywords. For example if you’re running a restaurant in Glastonbury, Somerset, then make sure that this information is on your website, along with the different types of food served such as Italian or tapas etc.

Make sure that there are other things related to the points mentioned above clearly stated on your website as well. It will help rank your website.


Diversity is important for search engines. What this means is that if a web page ranks well for relevance and importance, for example in third place in search results but is very similar to the first and second results, then it will still show a different result in third spot.

This is because of the need for diversity. If a searcher doesn’t like what they see in the first and second place then they don’t want to see the same result in third place.

Diversity and its Impact

You need to make your website stand out in different ways.

Some of the ways you can do that is by looking at other businesses in your industry and promoting yourself in a different way. You can establish yourself as an authority within the same industry but in a different way.


Quality is important because this is what provides a reader with value and this is something that Google looks at. You can have a web page with an optimised title which is relevant and important or popular but if the content is poor quality it won’t rank well.

Quality and its Impact

Make sure that your website is full of quality information. Make sure the information is useful, check spelling and grammar and make sure it’s optimised. Your site needs to be so good that others will talk about it and want to link to it. This is the benchmark to determine the quality of your site.


Trust is important for Google. You may have a site that is relevant and authoritative but if it violates search engine guidelines then it is going to be pushed further and further down the rankings.

Trust and its Impact

It’s important that you make yourself familiar with what Google considers to be a trustworthy website with unique content. This is the easiest way to know what to avoid so you don’t get penalised by Google. Take a look at our recent blog post explaining all about the Google algorithm updates and how to fine tune your website so it meets these guidelines.

It is a good idea to get others to look at your site and give feedback and another great way is to establish relationships with leading figures in your industry.


These are the basic concepts you need to know if you want a good understanding of SEO and how it works at a fundamental level. Has this helped to improve your knowledge of SEO at a fundamental level? Do you think it will benefit you when you work with an SEO company?