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

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Member Blog: So how do we make our staff want to be in the office?

By Steve Sutherland, Director, Social Circle

Starting to notice the post-holiday blues among your staff? Slumped shoulders, window gazing and a general lack of energy are all key indicators… and for some people, coming back from holiday can trigger feelings that they no longer want to keep doing what they're doing, they’re considering making enormous changes to their lives.

This, coupled with last month’s change in flexible working legislation, which now allows everyone with 26 weeks continuous service the right to request flexible working could fuel any unrest, with employees considering home-working or switching to a part-time role, but not all business models can support these requests.

So with the combination of post-holiday blues and the widely heralded easier route to flexible working, how do we keep our staff motivated and wanting to do their job in the office environment?

Each employee needs to feel wanted in the workplace, both in relation to their job and also socially among colleagues. Demonstrating care to individual staff members can be a cost-effective route to loyal staff. Simple things like ensuring they take lunch breaks will make them happier and also more productive in the afternoon.

Some Manchester companies are taking this seriously and investing in encouraging their staff to be more sociable. We have helped them put a scheme in place to enable them an easy way to interact outside of the workplace and get to know each other better, creating a greater camaraderie when they are in the office.

With these schemes, staff can choose from over 150 activities each month to do with their colleagues, or by themselves, outside of work. The majority of the pursuits, such as fitness classes, zumba, movie nights and ten pin bowling are free to the employee and cost the employer just £1 per employee, per month. There are also more serene activities such as chocolate making and Spanish lessons. Some of the more adventurous activities, such as vertical ice climbing, abseiling and extreme caving are subsidised.

Our clients are saying that the activities their staff are now doing have created a real buzz in the office – not dissimilar to the Christmas party buzz – but they’re now getting it all year round, which is helping with staff retention as well as increased productivity.

Demonstrating a vibrant work social scene can help with recruitment too, especially those who are relocating to the area or younger recruits. Increasingly, job seekers are favouring employers who can demonstrate a friendly, sociable culture.

Ultimately, getting to know colleagues better and trying new things helps employees to feel better in body and mind, which makes them happier, more productive and more motivated to be in the office.

Social Circle currently offers over 150 events and activities each month for employees to choose from, for a cost of just £1 per employee per month. The innovative company is offering free advice on staff retention and free corporate membership trials for Manchester-based companies until the end of August 2014.

About Social Circle

Social Circle is the only company in the UK wholly dedicated to providing employees with a social life outside of the workplace.

The established Manchester-based activity and events company helps increase workplace productivity while reducing absenteeism and recruitment costs. 

Completely different to ‘away day providers’, the innovative company offers employees regular opportunities to socialise with colleagues whilst creating more variety and diversity in their lives. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Social Impact reporting – the new annual return...?

By Adrian Ashton

All businesses will be familiar with the concept of the ‘annual return’: a once-a-year reflection on our performance in principally financial terms, usually filed by our accountants, and placed on the public register at Companies House for others to benchmark their performance against, or to asses our relative risk to be assessed against by potential investors.

And it’s been this way for as long as any of us can remember, but times are changing:

-       - Companies Act 2006 saw the biggest shake-up of Company law in living memory, with Directors now    having to be able to show how they’re considering the environmental, social, and community impacts of the business and their decisions.

        - The Environment Agency requires all companies to manage their waste streams sustainably.

-      - The Social Value (Public Services) Act 2012 means government procurement officers can ask us to evidence our local impact and ‘added community value’ in any public contracts we might be delivering.

       - The rise of the ‘ethical consumer’ and ‘generation Y’ amongst employees and graduates means we’re being increasingly held to ethical standards internally and externally.

In light of all the above, the traditional annual return is starting to look like it’s no longer ‘fit for purpose’...  but also in response to the above, there are a range of existing approaches and standards that can be adopted to allow companies to not only identify, but also report on their ‘social impact’. These range from internationally accredited standards such as AccountAbility1000[1] (with a methodology and principles that strongly parallel those of ISO), to politically endorsed approaches such as Social Return On Investment[2] (which reports social impact as a financial ratio), to ‘Local Impact Measurement’[3] that present the findings of the report as a marketing-friendly infographic , and models including Local Multiplier 3[4] that track the contribution of a businesses’ purchasing and employment practices to the strengthening of the local economy it's based within.

But with such a proliferation of tools and standards, it can be easy to become paralysed with indecision and also start to avoid engaging with any process on the grounds that it would be too costly. I’d refute these arguments on the grounds that as a freelance consultant, I’m able to produce an annual report on my environmental, economic, and social impacts that has drawn international interest[5] (to my knowledge, I’m also the only freelance consultant globally to do so!) – and because it’s been embedded into my management information systems it’s actually taken me longer to draft this article than to produce the last set of ‘social accounts’!

What many businesses have found as they embark on reporting their social impact is that it makes little difference to their customers, but reaps dividends internally with regard to strengthening employee relationships, and making better informed strategic and management decisions to sustain the long-term future and success of the company in the context of its values and culture.

I’d be happy to have an initial chat with any fellow Chamber member as to how your business might begin to explore this issue further without expectation or obligation – or if there’s enough interest, perhaps we could ask the events team to put on a briefing seminar which I’d be happy to deliver.

Adrian is a member of the Social Return on Investment Network, a certificated auditor for the Responsible Business Standard[6], and an ambassador for the LiM tool (amongst other things...)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Chamber Blog: Tameside Together

Matthew Kershaw, Member Policy and Campaigns Manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, reports back from the Tameside Together event. 

The morning of Thursday 17th July saw a gathering of the Tameside clans at Brother International's conference centre, as several of the main networking organisations in the borough came together for a breakfast event.

Jointly hosted by the Chamber and Tameside Enterprise board, attendees of the Chamber’s Tameside Action for Business event, local BNI groups, the Tameside Collaboration group, and some of the area’s B4B groups enjoyed a morning of networking and workshops.

Phill Brown MBE of Benchmark Building Supplies, Chair of the Tameside Enterprise group, opened proceedings by welcoming Mayor Dawson Lane and 90 delegates drawn from a wide range of sizes and sectors. 

Presentations were given by Tom Cheesewright of Book of the Future and Helen Tse MBE of Sweet Mandarin.

Tom spoke about the effect that ever developing technology is having on the world and how businesses can use it to design the future of their sector, building on Greater Manchester and Tameside’s rich history of design and innovation.

Helen gave some of her eight Chinese Tips for success, urging businesses to look to be innovative and take responsibility for their futures.

Following a break for coffee, networking and Liz Bohler’s Tameside Quiz, the attendees chose from showcases on mobile technology, apprenticeships and exporting delivered by o2, Tameside College, Green Light Skills, Goody Good Stuff and the Chamber’s Export Team.

Across the day’s presentations and workshops there was a strong theme of the benefits for business of looking outwards, to the future, to new products and markets and to the world.  

With all those in attendance agreeing that the event was a great success, plans are already underway for next year’s event.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Member Blog: A First Look at Twitter Analytics

By Tom Linn - Project Manager, Thomas Cole Internet Solutions

You may or may not be aware that Twitter has opened up analytics for all users. If you have not seen them yet go to and sign in with your Twitter username and password.

Firstly you will notice a stream of your tweet activity from the last 28days. Here you have a list of all your tweets and conversations you have taken part in. You can see an overview of impressions, engagements and your engagement rate. Engagements are interactions with your post or profile and you can dig down deeper into these by clicking on a post to see the key metrics. Under key metrics you can see how many impressions a post has had, user profile clicks, replies, retweets, favourites, etc.

This information is very useful and gives you a good idea of what posts or comments you made got the most interaction. It also helps you to see which #hashtags work well for your industry.

From the top menu you can click a follower's link which takes you to information about your followers. You see straight away a graph showing the rise/fall of followers over time. What is even more interesting about this section is the information it gives on the different followers from their interests, locations and even gender. Knowing this information is a great way of getting to know your audience and helping you mould your tweets to specific interests.

Next along the top is Twitter Cards. Under this section you can see snapshots of how well your account is doing overall. If you have a website related to the Twitter account you can link these up and get stats on how many click-throughs you have had from Twitter to different pages on your website. You can measure which Twitter Cards are working for you. If you are not sure what a Twitter Card is, it is a way of showing information from your website when someone copies a link from your site and posts it to Twitter. More info can be found here on these.

Overall from my first look over I certainly see the benefit of Twitter Analytics in enabling you to improve your tweets for your audience and also allowing you to see what works in terms of your Twitter strategy. And like anything the stats will only get better and more useful as Twitter improves them.

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

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Friday, 4 July 2014

Friday Guest Blog: Six ways to improve your international business marketing

As a Queens Award for International Trade holder and with an envied international client portfolio, René Power (pictured), business development director at BDB, offers some advice around international marketing.

There are a wide variety of things to consider when entering new markets – from the linguistic to the logistics, distance to distribution and sales to service. But marketing is often something left to last. Build these six steps into your planning for your next market entry plan.

1. Insight research

Building a comprehensive picture of the business environment you’re entering provides information to make intelligent decisions.

Use a variety of primary and secondary data sources to understand your new target customer pool, their motivations and buying behaviour, and your competition.

Consider drawing on media subscriber lists and email opportunities to survey a relevant group. Also, tap into services like the UKTI OMIS report scheme or Open to Export portal.

2. Unique positioning

Achieving standout in new and competitive markets is critical to creating sustainable business. Again research will help uncover major players and how they position, but it will also highlight un-met customer needs.

Think like an ‘advertiser’ to distill the benefits you offer into easy to understand positioning. Then make this your vocabulary.

Check this is transferable into other markets – making sure brand elements like colour, tone, font, message and images are all culturally acceptable. And test different incarnations of the same material to see which works best.

3. Creating an expert profile

What does it mean to be an expert? You know your industry. You understand the critical issues, challenges and opportunities. You are respected by your peers.

This comes from being active in your sector, providing not only news, but views too. Informing, education and training through a wide variety of channels and content.

Start by using your research of industry watering holes to establish what people like, need, want and value and re-configure how you talk about what you do.

4. Qualified lead nurture

You can bet there will be lots of interest as you enter your new market, but how do you try and focus on the bona fide customers?

Traditionally, targeted direct marketing works best to put the right offers in front of the right people. The advent of online affords the opportunity to put better conversion metrics in place to ascertain who is interested in what and who really is a customer.

Make sure you tap into every type of analytics available – media readership, email click through, website traffic and conversion.

5. Effective selling

Great salespeople need great sales tools. And great sales tools can continue to work even when your salespeople aren’t. This means every piece of collateral (print or digital) needs to be regionally relevant.

The new buzzword ‘transcreation’ is replacing translation – as content is re-developed for different markets rather than simply being translated.

It is important that all sales materials – brochures right through to apps – are  validated by the people using them, so they can refined and work better for and with customers.

6. Digital footprint

It is very easy to get lost in digital marketing. Get the basics right. Have a smart customer focused website that is well signposted, easy to navigate, with some useful content and clear contact information.

Draw on existing communities to help extend your reach – bodies like UKTI and the British Chamber have groups all over the world.

Invest in all the regional URLs you are likely to need to protect your web footprint ( for Spain, for France and so on).

Of course, consideration needs to be given to regionally hosted and local search engine optimised, multi lingual landing pages as well as regional social media. But that is a whole other blog post for another day.

For more visit today to learn more about how you can improve your visibility in specific parts of the world.

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