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.