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

Monday, 28 April 2014

Guest Blog: Why do I always sign up for a challenge?!

By Lizabeth Bohler, Project Manager at New Charter Housing Trust Group

In January 2013, my work colleague Shaun and I, applied to be contestants on BBC2’s ‘Big Allotment Challenge’. I had previously won an award for re-designing the New Charter Housing Trust Group staff garden, where I work as a project manager. Little did I know what the next 14 months would bring.

After getting through to the TV show in April 2013, I travelled to ‘that London’ every Friday, cultivating our allotment for 15 hours and travelling back ready for a full working week. We did that for six months! During this time I managed the Housing Employer Ownership of Skills Group and started to make links with different industries including hospitality.

Eating out had become the norm after long days on the allotment and I realised that, unless fresh produce is included with your food, you’ll hardly order it. Why? My experience of warm and tasteless tomatoes in burgers was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce! The eateries we visited sold vegetables as a ‘Keanu Reeves supporting act’ to the main ‘Matthew McConaughey chicken’. What a disappointment restaurant food became to Shaun and myself; we went from our green heaven to stodge hell.

Being on the allotment had taught me how easy growing salad items can be - radishes in 5 weeks, lettuce in abundance and sweetcorn to die for. Once Big Allotment challenge weeks began, I had started to plan a new eating concept, a restaurant and bar where you see your order grow - learning while eating. Think ‘pick your own’ and you’re half way there!

The Big Allotment Challenge aired on Tuesday 15th April and together with friends from New Charter and our families we held a party to celebrate. For the two of us, 16 growing weeks came down to just one hour! Over the coming weeks you’ll see sunflowers, dahlias, cordials and hampers. I loved my time on the allotment and am very lucky that my employer was flexible.

So you may have seen the tomato jam? Or the ‘mish mash’ bouquet? What you didn’t see was me sitting in a hotel lobby writing a business plan and making contact with investors, suppliers and advisors such as GM Chamber.

So what now?

New Charter is a  Sunday Times Top 100 employer and that means I’m gaining first hand experience of putting strong values into practice. My role includes managing educational projects, increasing brand recognition and networking. I plan to stay in my role and follow my passion of owning a restaurant in my spare time.

A third of all business failures are restaurants so I’ll plan, plan and plan some more. I’m in no rush, I’d rather take 12 months to get the model right than risk my brand’s reputation.

Why do I always sign up for challenge? I found this explanation; ‘Challenge: A call to engage in a demanding but stimulating undertaking’. I believe you should never stop challenging who you are and how the world is. And for me ‘that telephone’s a ringing!!’

New Charter Housing Trust Group is a social landlord with 19,500 homes, a turnover of £100 million and a workforce of around 1,000 people. The Group consists of New Charter Homes, based in the Greater Manchester area, Gedling Homes in Nottingham and Aksa Homes in Oldham. It has its own New Charter Building Company, and one of its most recent partnerships is with Threshold, based in Oldham. New Charter is proud to sponsor the New Charter Academy, in Ashton-under-Lyne and it has recently sponsored the Silver Springs Primary Academy and Copley Academy in Stalybridge.

The team's mission is to provide GREAT Homes, GREAT Neighbourhoods and GREAT People.
For more information about New Charter Housing Trust Group email

Friday, 25 April 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Singapore – Make the Most of the Rising Asian Market

By Louise Reid, global client service director at BDB

As the fourth global financial centre after London, New York, and Hong Kong, Singapore punches well above its weight (and size) and is often the first port of call for multinational businesses looking to crack Asia. As well as being strategically placed to access markets across the region, and especially South East Asia, other benefits include the ease of doing business, its triple A rated economy, minimal import and export duties and its booming economy.

Mission to Singapore

In June, a North West trade mission is being held, in association with BAE Systems, to Singapore and Malaysia. The mission’s stop in Singapore shows the significance of the city state to North West businesses looking to set up or invest in Asia Pacific. BDB’s Asian hub in Singapore will host the trade delegation, with attendees being given the opportunity to find out how we went about setting up our office and growing our business there.

For British companies, the links with Singapore make it even more attractive. Recently the British Chambers of Commerce in Singapore became the first to receive full accreditation from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). It was, as of 2010, the UK’s fifth largest services export market outside the EU, worth £3.7 billion and the UK is Singapore’s fifth largest foreign direct investor.

Just last month, the world’s second largest consumer goods manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, opened the largest private research facility in Singapore, which it’s calling the Singapore Innovation Centre (SGIC). The facility will house laboratories for product testing and consumer research and cost $250 million to develop.

Entrepreneurial spirit

If you are looking for a base in Asia or a partner to get things going, Singapore is certainly worth exploring.
Having recently moved here to head up BDB’s operation in Asia, I have been struck by the entrepreneurial spirit that emanates, with most people you meet keen to get their own piece of the pie.

It’s a refreshing atmosphere, with optimism and a can-do mentality that can sometimes be hard to find in stagnant or declining economies, for obvious reasons.

However, where there is money to be made, it is important to make sure that any partners you choose are credible, established and stable.  With 110,000 micro enterprises in its tiny 697 square kilometres, there are people claiming to be experts in everything you can think of.

At BDB Asia, you will find a team of communications specialists with the local knowledge and insight required to make an impact in Asia and the global expertise to provide truly integrated and aligned campaigns.

If you are considering expanding to Asia or are looking to grow your profile and presence there, contact us to find out how we can help.

About the author

Louise Reid is BDB's global client service director, based out of the company's Singapore office. BDB is a 27 year old full service international business marketing agency based in South Manchester. Find out more here:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Guest Blog: ELAS Calls for End to Improper Use of Zero-hours Contracts

By ELAS’ Head of Consultancy, Peter Mooney

The prolonged and improper use of zero-hours contracts by small businesses will erode employee confidence and foster feelings of inadequacy and mistrust, all of which could irreparably damage the UK economy.

In some instances, zero-hours contracts provide a way for businesses to rule with a rod of iron, without taking heed of established employment law practices. The sad truth is that they are increasingly being used wrongly, which is only adding fuel to the ongoing controversy surrounding them.

This is because zero-hours contracts are capable of exploiting employees when it comes to finding stability in both working hours and earnings. Taking the decision to use them can result in underpaid, undervalued and under-motivated workers who are not engaged with the job in hand, which are detrimental traits for any company that wishes to be profitable and successful.

It is therefore of real concern that some businesses are offering zero-hours contracts in general, rather than in specific circumstances where they work for both the employer and employee.

Zero-hours contracts allow firms to hire staff without any obligation to guarantee a minimum number of working hours and also give companies the right to instigate a period of temporary layoff without pay when there is a shortage of work.

They are proving popular among employers because they offer a cost-effective and easy solution to staffing issues and managing resources in line with fluctuating customer demand and they indeed have their place in the employment market, but only when employed in the proper manner.

They are, for example, used widely by retailers, hotels and in the social care sector and are ideal for providing cover for industries that rely on 24/7 cover and an ‘on-call’ pool of staff to meet those needs. This is why zero-hours contracts offer a vital, flexible resource for businesses that need back up should an emergency arise and those employers that have a genuine need to use zero-hours contracts should do so by all means.

They are definitely not appropriate, however, for small businesses that require staff continuity in order to operate to maximum efficiency and capacity. This is because they do not assist job security or growth or, most importantly, foster staff loyalty.

This could improve extremely damaging when it comes to shoring up a thriving and committed workforce that will ultimately help to forge a strong economy for years to come and this is why this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

The good news is that the Government is in the midst of consulting on the future of zero-hours contracts, with this likely to recommend a ban on so called ‘exclusivity clauses’, which prevent employees from working for another organisation. Steps like this are crucial when it comes to planning for and building a fluid and responsive labour market that we are proud to call our own.

The Employment Law Advisory Service (ELAS) is a leading provider of business support services such as HR, payroll services, DBS checks, employment law advice and social media training to businesses both in the North West and nationally.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Chamber Blog: No need for planning permission

By Mike Gibson, Chair of the Chamber's Property and Construction Committee

Those following my planning up-dates will know that last summer I reported that the Government was consulting on more changes to the planning system that would mean that more development will be allowed to take place without the need for planning permission.  The main purpose was to do away with those time-consuming planning applications and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life.

After a period of consultation, the Government has now introduced these changes which, it says, will make better use of existing buildings, support town centres and rural communities, provide much-needed new housing, introduce more free schools and contribute to the provision of child care for working families.

Planning permission is no longer required for:

• shops and financial and professional services (including banks, building society offices and bookies) of up to 150 square metres to change use to a single dwellinghouse or to change to either of these uses combined with a dwellinghouse;
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 450 square metres to change to up to three dwellinghouses;
• shops to change to banks, building society, credit union or friendly society offices;
• premises used as offices, hotels, residential and non-residential institutions and leisure and assembly to change use to a state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare; and
• buildings used for agricultural purposes of up to 500 square metres to be used as a new state-funded school or a registered nursery providing childcare

Permitted development also allows work that is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building.  The new rules do not apply to development in conservation areas, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites.

These changes of use are subject to a number of conditions and will require ‘prior approval’ where local authorities wish to assess traffic and highways impacts, contamination or flood risk.  Such prior approval can also examine whether the change of use is undesirable due to its impact, such as the potential impact of the loss of a shop on the economic health of the town centre, the need to maintain an adequate provision of essential local services, such as post offices, and the potential impact of the change of use on the character of the local area.  The government says that when considering prior-approval applications, local authorities should have regard to their local plan policies, and it reminds local authorities to have up-to-date local plans, which set out policies for retail areas.

More reductions in red tape are to be welcomed and these changes will not only provide more flexibility when marketing premises, but will also encourage owners to re-use buildings since they would no longer have the trouble and expense of a planning application.  However, uncontrolled changes of use from retail uses to residential could lead to a fragmented shopping centre which could potentially have a harmful effect on the centre.

The government says that the new rules will remove the barrier of having to apply for planning permission and will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs. We shall have to wait and see if the new rules do this.  Also, it will be interesting to see how local authorities deal with the ‘prior approval procedure’ since this would appear to hand back control that the new rules are intended to take away and, in practice, this could become a planning application by another name.  Watch this space!

Mike Gibson,
Chair of the Property and Construction Committee
Director of Connectivity Associates Ltd.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Guest Post: Auto Enrolment - Is your business ready to roll?

From Ink Employee Benefits

Heading towards a crucial pinch point from a staging date view point, with 30,000 SMEs due to stage between the 1st April to the 1st July, Chris Everard expresses his concern over the number of small business owners who have not set up an Auto Enrolment scheme and the quite incredible number of owners who claimed that they were unaware of their staging date(s).

Using research commissioned by Autoenrol/SME, Ink’s Sales & Marketing Director noted that 58% of SMEs had no Auto-Enrolment scheme and 63% did not know what their staging date was.

“As the UK’s dominant employment section is heading towards Auto Enrolment, I am very concerned over the apparent lack of knowledge displayed by these owner managers and I question the level of support and information they’re getting from their professional advisers, the pension providers and the Government.

“The number of companies going through the Auto Enrolment process is increasing month on month and my greatest fear is that the industry will not have the capacity or resource to cope unless the owner managers of SMEs take the appropriate action early enough.”

Women hit hardest by auto-enrolment pensions change

Ink has partnerships with all the leading pension providers and Scottish Widows have highlighted an area where potentially 120,000 women will be impacted by the rise in the earnings threshold to £10,000.
Chris Everard, said:

“The number of women working part-time hours in the UK is higher than men, therefore this increase in the amount of earnings required before they qualify for an Auto-Enrolment pension scheme will hit women hardest.

“Some simple changes in scheme organisation and an increase in flexibility, in awareness and help would enable women and life partners to plan together for their lives after work.

“The land of post work can be clearly defined as one of those with a sufficient and well managed pension pot and those without. The differences between these two groups will be very distinct as time goes by and it is so important that we all understand this, and save accordingly.”

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Social Media - Keeping it Social

By Tom Linn - Project Manager at Thomas Cole Internet Solutions

Social media can sometimes be an area that businesses know they should be getting involved in, but just don’t know where to start or how to use their time effectively.  For lots of organisations,  what they also have to realise is that social media is an extension of your brand online and not necessarily a direct sales tool.

The key to social media is to be social. By that I mean if you have social profiles on Twitter or Facebook then to get any response from them at all you have to interact with other users. Adding a tweet now and then and expecting a barrage of phone calls will not happen.

Interaction can be done in different ways.  Below are ways to interact on three of the main platforms.

Twitter – Re-tweet, favourite tweets, tweet other users, reply to users.
Facebook – Like status updates, message users, add interesting updates to gain likes, comment on updates.
Linkedin – Connect with people you know, connect with possible sales targets, like posts, comment on posts.

Here are some key points to think about when working with social networks:

- Research and understand the different social media platforms. There are lots of them out there and they all work in different ways. The graphic at this link gives you a tongue in cheek quick run through.

- Think which platforms would suit your business more.  Also look at what your competitors are using and how they use them.

- If your competitors are not using them then maybe you should be? Have a look around to see if they look like the kind of tool your customers would use.

- Nobody knows your customers better than you and your organisation so although you can outsource social media, the person or company doing the social media needs to have an in depth knowledge of your business as anything they say/do is a reflection on your brand.

Once you get a better understanding of how the different platforms work that is when you can make the decision on which to use and how to interact with others.

If you would like any more information or a quick chat connect with me below:

Linkedin -
Twitter - @tomlinnuk
Google Plus -
E-Mail –

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Guest Blog - Connecting Manchester: 3 Easy Tips For Local Online Success

By Lee Jackson, Owner of Webpresence

Manchester’s digital economy is booming.

Over the last few years our creative and digital sector has expanded at such a rate that Manchester’s digital city has a real chance of becoming an online-focused European superpower.

Why? Thanks to creatives, young and old, embracing their talents and having the confidence to connect and collaborate within Manchester and beyond.

A great recent example is the wonderful Code Computerlove, who beat global competition to totally reinvent HMV’s international presence.

All well and good. But what does that mean for you, the small business? The business that is just finding its feet online and has little-to-no online experience?

Building your online presence

As far as you’re concerned more digital agencies in the region may mean more people getting in touch with you to sell you online marketing packages you don’t feel you need!

You’ve heard of Google and SEO, you’ve heard of social media and Facebook advertising, but just don’t have the budget or time to try them out at the moment.

Don’t worry. It isn’t as daunting as it all appears.

There are a number of simple things you can do to connect your website not just to Manchester’s creative community but to target your online customers and increase your presence.

Let Manchester know you exist

There’s a reason everybody talks about Google.

Google is, for the vast majority of brands globally, the primary source of traffic to their website, blog, or other online presence.

Being in first position for a certain term or keyword, though, can net you upwards of 33 per cent of traffic for that particular search term.

But it’s not wise to concentrate on that when starting out!

You’re a local, Manchester-based business looking to attract the natives: shoppers that will be interested in your products that you can build a long-term relationship with.

Here’s how to do it:

1: Get into Google Places

Ever searched for somebody on Google and noticed the map appear on the side of the search results?
That’s because that business has taken the time to enter their business into Google Places.

It’s Google’s way of categorising your business into its search engine with you showing up for local search terms, appearing on Google Maps, giving you a Google+ presence, and other benefits.

It takes a few minutes to set up and gives potential customers a host of information about your business. Its address, its opening times, payment details, local parking options, and more.

Customers can also leave feedback and reviews about their experience with your company and giving you a platform to respond in kind.

Not bad for five minutes’ work!

2: Talk to people on social media

“I have a social media presence but it’s just not working for me…”

You won’t believe how often I hear that! The problem is usually a very common one, though, and very easy to remedy.

A number of businesses have created social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and more) with the presumption that just owning one is good enough.

But the clue is in the name: ‘social’ media!

You have to talk to people and always be alert and on-hand to answer any questions current and potential customers may get in touch with.

If you don’t tweet for days and share an offer every other week then it’s no wonder your follower count is low and interaction is thin on the ground.

You need to find where your social audience is spending its time and join in the conversation with them.

Use social sites’ search features to identify people in Manchester with interests and philosophies similar to those your brand stands for and strike up a conversation with them.

It’s free word-of-mouth marketing at its finest, with your new audience more likely than not sharing word of your business with friends and family and what it can provide.

3:  Creative content that resonates with Manchester

Content marketing is the latest darling of the online marketing industry, but anybody can do it if they have the time!

Creating your own content through your own blog allows your brand to be synonymous with your voice and your passion for Manchester.

Content is the creative glue that gets you noticed and keeps people coming back for more. It gives your site a personality and a human face.

Take photographs of your team and share their experiences of why they love Manchester so much. Talk about why your business has set up in the region and what it means to you to serve the people in the area with your goods.

Have an opinion on Manchester and your industry. Talk to local, influential people in your field and publish their thoughts on your blog.

Most importantly be personable and professional with the content you create.

Be passionate about Manchester, share it all on social media, and build a relationship with your audience that’ll last a lifetime!

Lee Jackson is the owner of Manchester-based online marketing firm Webpresence.