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

Friday, 30 January 2015

Friday Guest Blog: Finance Options for Growth

By Conrad Ford, Managing Director of Funding Options 

One of the key symptoms of a booming economy, like Greater Manchester’s, is a liquid one that helps small and medium sized businesses to access finance for their many different requirements. The Chamber's Campaign for Business: Access to Finance message has this message at its core.

In fact, access to finance in Greater Manchester is massively improving, if you know where to look. Given the array of options available, I’ve taken a snapshot of the market and detailed those funding options below for businesses looking to pounce on upcoming growth opportunities.

1) Cash advances based on turnover

Now a core feature of the non-bank finance market, these loans are based on a percentage of your annual revenue and are much more suited to businesses in their growth stages. Your business pays back a percentage of what you make in turnover on an agreed repayment period. Your repayment eases in the quiet months and increases in the months that the business excels. We're finding that these facilities suit retail and seasonal businesses, and the Chamber's latest economic report showing the increase in retail activity is a clear indication of the thriving nature of this sector.

2) Finance to purchase goods that are pre-sold to the trade

Many businesses in Greater Manchester  export and import from overseas, particularly from the EU. There are various finance solutions to aid your trade operations but an interesting one that can boost your working capital reserves is to raise finance off your future purchases. This allows you to purchase large quantities of goods, providing any lender can track it from the purchase to the end client i.e. you sell to the trade or a business. 

3) Need new equipment and machinery to increase operations

Take the example of a brewery in Greater Manchester that can double its weekly canning capacity with the addition of a high-tech canning machine. If it doesn't have the cash up front to afford it - yet needs the machinery urgently to fulfil a large order from a major supermarket - the brewery can explore various asset finance options to get the machine without forking out a chunk of its capital for the purchase. If new equipment is a part of your plans to grow, make the equipment pay for itself.

4) Secured commercial loans

Unlike traditional lending markets, you can secure a term loan with your assets in a matter of weeks, rather than months. It makes this option ideal for quick growth, providing you have collateral with equity remaining in it. Lenders here will differ in what assets they prefer e.g. different types of property, different types of sites, and some lenders are happy to take security that has an existing charge on it from, say, your bank; a term known as second charge lending.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Member Blog: The Importance of Taking Time Out

By Frances Taylor - Director at Sprout, The Personal Development Company (UK) Ltd

Last weekend I woke up to a bright snowy morning, prised my other half out from under the duvet and went for a long tramp over the Derbyshire moors.  Not a remarkable event you might think.

But midway through the week, I am still feeling the benefits of our eight mile tramp.

We had to apply ourselves on this walk. Navigation over the rough moorland tracks takes care. There are numerous gullies running off the high plateau, cutting deep, stony gorges through the peat, and it's easy to mistake one for another and end up completely lost. Then there was the snow and low cloud, erasing landmarks and reducing visibility to a few feet.

We'd never walked this path before and there was something hugely exciting and satisfying about it. An adventure. A personal challenge. Just us and the bleak wintry landscape.
It was a real time out. Refreshing. Different. Fun. And I'm still noticing the benefits today.

When was the last time you took time out?

When did you last spend a day doing something out of your normal routine? Away from work and home activities, away from visiting your usual haunts? Maybe a morning doing something just for you, or even an hour? Or maybe, if you are lucky (or rather, if you take your wellbeing seriously) you've taken yourself off for a weekend?

If you can't remember the last time and you're feeling bored or stuck or just fatigued then it will be useful for you to know that.

Time out improves your performance and wellbeing.

We are not designed on a physical or emotional level, to stay in the same gear 24/7. The body likes homeostasis- balance- where after a period of stress, intense focus or activity, there is rest and recuperation.  This way you avoid exhaustion, stagnation, loss of perspective and even burn out.

Time out doesn’t just relax you; it improves your ability to THINK!

Convincing research demonstrates that time out improves cognitive function - bringing greater agility and flexibility to your thinking, fuelling creativity and widening perspectives.  It also enhances your memory and ability to make sound judgements. A recent article in the New York Times neatly calls this process strategic renewal.

Major corporates have got the message. Deloitte offers a sabbatical programme to pursue personal or professional growth. And Google has introduced cosy sleep pods for staff to take a daytime nap.
Even if your company can’t offer such benefits, there is plenty that you can do yourself.

How to have time out every day

Time out needs to be part of your everyday life. It can be a moment, a few minutes, a lunch time or a longer experience. Try one or more of the following:

a 10 minute power walk outside
run or walk briskly up and down stairs for 5 minutes
5 minutes listening to a favourite piece of music
10 minutes learning something new and completely unrelated to your work: for example, how to order a beer in Greek or tie a useful knot
a visit to an art gallery for 30 minutes over lunch
enjoy the silence of a local church

These suggestions provide daily refreshment but they are not enough.

You also need regular more extended times to fully replenish your reserves. If you'd like to learn new ways to do this and improve your performance and wellbeing, join us in Manchester on 27 March for a day of inspiration, learning and fun. Click here for details.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Member Blog: Creating a Welcoming and Professional Reception Area

By Peter Cunningham, Design Manager at Innova

A positive first impression can contribute significantly towards a visitor’s overall impression of your company, brand and even the services you offer. By providing a comfortable and well-designed reception area, you are setting the tone for the entire visit.

Whether refurbishing an existing reception and waiting room area or building anew, it is important to consider all the factors which will impact upon the experience of all visitors.

Make Everyone Welcome

Ensuring visitors feel comfortable will reflect positively upon your brand. Consider all physical and emotional factors such as the age, mobility and tastes of your clientele, and create a reception/waiting room area that reflects them.

It is important to consider access for people who suffer from physical disabilities. Slow incline ramps for wheelchair users and Braille instructions for the blind can help more people feel welcome in your reception area.

Comfortable seating and storage for belongings should be provided. Wi-fi access is a great addition to a reception area; anyone who has to wait around will appreciate fast and free internet access and it’s is a relatively cheap way to improve their experience considerably.

Considered Environmental Factors

Reception areas attract a lot of footfall and are in constant use, so when choosing furniture for this space, opt for durable, quality materials.

Natural environmental factors such as light and sound can have significant impact upon the mindset of your visitors. The NHS released design guidelines for their new-build institutions, which stressed the importance and benefits of incorporating natural light in receptions and waiting areas. The guidelines suggest that it is important to avoid a sudden transition of light levels when entering a building.

The acoustics and overall sound quality of receptions and waiting areas should also be considered during the design and development process – particularly in busy rooms. Quality acoustics ensure that no important verbal information is lost in translation.

Positive Brand Reflection

Make sure that your branding is clearly displayed – your company logo should be prominently placed and the look and feel of the reception area should be consistent with the ethos of your company.

The American Marketing Association explains that branding can help confirm credibility and also create an emotional connection with the target audience. The creation of a new reception and/or waiting area is the perfect opportunity to further develop branding and brand identity.

Clearly Defined Areas

It should be immediately clear to all visitors where the main reception/help desk is located and all important features and amenities should be clearly defined. A simple way to achieve this is to make sure that the reception desk faces the main entrance, and that it is clearly signposted as such.

Using imagery as well as instructive wording can help define areas – especially for those who have poor eyesight or are not fluent in your institution’s primary language – creating a more inclusive atmosphere.

About Innova Design Solutions

Innova Design Solutions is a leading supplier with over 30 years’ experience designing, manufacturing and installing furniture and inspirational interiors for the commercial, education and healthcare sectors. If you’d like to commission a reception your company deserves, contact them on 0161 4775300.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday Guest Blog - New Year – New Plans

Five ideas to move your business forward in 2015

By David Wright of BSA Marketing

For many people, January is a key time for reflection and planning but it is very easy to come back to work after the Christmas break with the best of intentions only to find things slipping back into the same old routines as day to day demands start to impinge. I hope this isn’t happening for you. Over the past few years, I have come up with some ways of keeping focus on planning and development by looking at a specific task.

Here are my Top 5 for 2015:

1. Review everyone you have done business with / had enquiries from over the last year – are you still in contact?
Keeping in touch with contacts is my top tip. E-mail and social media make it easy and inexpensive (or free!) to keep in touch and building relationships with contacts who know you and can give you more work is the best way to grow business.

2. Sort your customers in order of billed revenue – now sort in order of the effort you put in – Do they match? Should you be looking to lose some of your ‘hard work’ clients?
Recognising that not every customer is a good customer was a big lesson for me.

If you are confident in your processes to bring on new business, it can be easier to let some customers go if they don’t really fit your requirements. Even if you aren’t so confident, losing one or two smaller clients who take up a disproportionate amount of your time can free up a surprising number of hours to focus on building more ‘good’ clients

3. List your 3 big successes from 2014 – what can you learn and apply in 2015
Sometimes, good things happen and you don’t even notice! Have a think about your high points from the past year. How did they happen? Was there something you can take into 2015 and repeat the success?

4. List your 3 big disappointments from 2014 – what can you learn and apply in 2015
Hopefully this will be harder because you’ve had more successes than disappointments, but sometimes you can learn more from a negative than a positive. By staying confident and recognising the lessons learnt you can avoid repeating the experience.

5. What 2 new ideas are you going to introduce in 2015 – set a plan to make them happen
So far I have concentrated on taking what has happened in 2014 and benefitting in 2015 but what about those ideas that you have had at the back of your mind for ages but never get around to doing anything about?

Make 2015 the year when you put at least two of them into action.

And finally…
Running your own business can be very challenging, but also very rewarding. Many SME business owners spend up to 70% of their waking hours focussed on their business, so don’t forget to try to enjoy yourself!

Always ready to talk joined-up marketing:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Friday Guest Blog: Choosing the Right Social Media Networks for Your B2B Business

By Christian Michaels

An effective social media campaign is one of the most important ways of connecting with your audience. However, it’s important you choose the right platforms and this is even more relevant for B2B businesses than B2C businesses.

There are many benefits from social media marketing such as brand awareness, connecting with people, and driving traffic to your website and more that any B2B firm can tap into. If you want to run a successful social media campaign then your first step is choosing the right network and that’s what we’ll go into here.

How To Find Out What Social Networks Your Audience Uses
It is quite simple to determine what social media network you should be using and it’s by analysing data.

Depending on where your business is in the social media lifecycle, you can use different sources of information to determine what social media network to focus on. If you use data you can reliably determine what platforms your audience is most engaged with and these are the platforms you should focus on.

There are some key factors you can observe to determine how engaged your audience is and you can take it from there:

Current Profiles:
Look at which of your current profiles is getting the most traction. The easiest thing to do here is look at growth factors and measure traction in this way. A great social media tool for measuring traction, growth and engagement is Hootsuite. For more information take a read of our blog detailing the ten best social media monitoring tools; Hootsuite is number one.

Followers and How Engaged They Are:
Look at how many followers you’ve got and how engaged they are with you. These two variables don’t necessarily mean much but they can give you an idea of where your brand interacts within the context of social media. Look at factors like shares and likes to determine engagement.

Generating Traffic:
Look at your analytics to determine what social network is sending you the most traffic. Even if you’re not spending much time on your social media platforms they still may be sending you traffic so it’s important you pay attention to this factor. You may be suprised at this but LinkedIn is the best social media platform for driving traffic to your website, as this post here details on LinkedIn marketing statistics.

Conversions and Determining Customer Value:
It’s important you look at customer value and conversions from social media. Do readers leave your page as soon as they land? Do they stick around and sign up to your newsletter? These are the kinds of things to think about when determining customer value.

Current Content Strategy:
Certain content is going to help you more than others. Some businesses find that specific platforms work better than others so what you need to do is find out which one has a greater connection for you and focus on developing it.

Customer Preference:
Look at what your customers prefer. You can determine this based on their conversations. Do they spend hours on Facebook? Do they use LinkedIn everyday to get industry specific information? You can always ask if you’re unsure and this kind of self-reported data can help you fill in gaps your analytics may have missed.

Synergies in your Industry:
Some industries tend to have a bias toward B2B such as LinkedIn. Others like retail and hospitality tend to have a bias towards Pinterest and Instagram. If you look at these specific kind of niche industries then you may be able to determine what social networks would best serve your business.

Analysing The Relationship Between Content Type and Social Media Platform

There has been an evolution recently between both content marketing and social media marketing. Now the key to both of these is to get them to match up so there is a synergistic relationship between the two. This should be the goal for your business.

We all know about how popular social media is and it’s only going to grow more popular each year. Each of the social networks is improving their functions and this is only going to attract more businesses to their services.

The recent Google Panda algorithm update is also a key factor in this as well and it now takes into consideration things like social media presence of a business when looking up search results. There are many types of content marketing and you need to find the right one that will work well with your desired social network. This is key for developing a synergistic relationship between both your content marketing and social media marketing.

There are three major types of content:

Written content is one of the most popular and flexible types of content available. It is very easy to break down because you can do it in the form of status updates, blog posts, and many others. Without a doubt written content is one of the cornerstones for every B2B business’ content marketing strategy.

Video is proving to be quite useful for a range of B2B businesses. There is wide variety of video content you can produce ranging from how to videos, expert interviews, and much more. Video is a medium that can be great for many businesses and is ideal for people who aren’t great at producing written content.

Visual content encompasses a range of things such as infographics, images, and various other branded content. Visual content is a great way to add an extra dynamic to your content marketing.

For more information on how you can improve your content marketing, take a look at our blog tag for content marketing which will help you make the most of this important marketing strategy.

7 Social Media Networks You Need To Leverage
 It’s important to remember that with social media you need to be using more than one network if you want the best results. When determining which social networks to use, you need to make decisions based on data and real audience insights, and use this to evaluate your social media marketing strategy.

When you analyse data and audience insights you’ll see where there are trends occurring. You will need to consider all 7 of the social networks when devising a social media marketing strategy for a B2B business.

1. Using Pinterest and Other Image-Based Networks
Pinterest is primarily a tool for connecting with consumers but it still has its place in the B2B world. There are ways that you can apply a visual angle for your business and make it work successfully in the B2B world.

• Try to find the visual approach in your work because it can be a great way to supplement your other work. It might be something like showcasing your product and various other ways you can apply a visual angle to your brand.
• Create infographics based on data and case studies related to your business.
• Explore branding for your business to include a visual component. Think about how you can tell your story about who you are, your products and services, and do so in a visual way.

2. Make The Most Of YouTube and Vine
Video is one of the best ways to connect with your audience and there isn’t much better than YouTube and Vine. B2B firms have some great options available for using video content and here are some things you should consider:

• Experimenting with different video lengths and see which ones resonate the most with your audience.
• Cross-promoting video content on mainstream networks by utilising tools like Twitter cards and featured videos on LinkedIn profiles.
• Try using both scripted and unscripted videos. Sales copy can be very powerful when translated into a scripted videos but unscripted can also be just as useful for those moments when your genius can emerge unplanned.

3. Using LinkedIn
LinkedIn is the most popular social network for many businesses and working professionals. There are some great features on LinkedIn that B2B businesses need to be utilising such as:

• Targeting the right people: One of the great things with LinkedIn is that you can avoid the gatekeepers of any business and go straight to the important people making the decisions in an organisation.
• Use LinkedIn’s news feed: It’s important to share great content on here just like with any other social network.
• Publishing your content: You can now publish content directly to LinkedIn’s network. LinkedIn should be an important part of your content marketing strategy just like other social networks you publish content on.
• Targeting LinkedIn Personas: Are you targeting a LinkedIn persona yet? If not, then you should start thinking seriously about who follows you on LinkedIn. Think of the type of people that connect with you and create a targeted persona based around that.

4. Use Twitter and Facebook
Twitter and Facebook are the two biggest social media networks in the world. It goes without saying that you should be actively using both of these networks. Always publish your content on these two networks, and use them as a great way to connect with your audience and build a relationship with them. Using these two networks effectively gives you an incredible amount of leverage in the context of social media marketing.

5. Finding Niche Networks
Your B2B strategy should consist of finding niche networks and targeting them. These communities tend to have some of the best customers because of how specific they are to your niche. They may be generally small most of the time but they tend to be very active communities and may represent a great opportunity to generate a lot of qualified leads.

6. Using Google+
Google Plus is becoming more important as a social network for businesses. Matt Cutts has recently stated that Facebook and Twitter don’t directly contribute to SEO and this just reinforces the importance of having an active Google Plus profile.

• Use Google Authorship. This is one of the big advantages Google Plus has over other networks.
• Be active with hangouts and chats. Get people involved in your conversations and build relationships with them.
• Enhance user experience using communities and video.

7. Don’t Forget Location-Based Networks

Remember to keep a focus on local businesses in your network. They aren’t going to go away and it’s important you keep a strong focus on them. Using a social network like FourSquare could be great here.

In Conclusion
Choosing the right social network for your business is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your B2B business. You need to make clear choices regarding your social media marketing campaign that are based around solid data, insights into your audience, and from here you’ll be able to conduct a conduct a campaign that’s effective and gives you the best ROI.

What social networks do you find work great for your B2B business? How did you decide what social network to focus on for your social media efforts?

For a consultation on your social media and content marketing strategy why not give us a call on 0161 312 8521 and let us help grow your business efficiently and professionally.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Member Blog: Manchester Online Pharmacy inundated for Selincro requests for Dry January

By Brandon Wilkinson, Medical Specialists Company Limited

Now that the festive work office party, Black Friday, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are firmly out of the way, many will now be taking stock of exactly how much alcohol they have drank during the last few weeks, with some people undoubtedly thinking about cutting down on drinking.

With the beginning of a New Year, there is never a better time than now to put into action the process of reducing alcohol intake, or even stopping drinking for good, and much of the country will no doubt have ‘cut down on boozing’ near the top of their list of resolutions. Another popular choice of resolution is ‘lose weight’ and reducing alcohol intake can actually help to reach this goal due to the high amount of calories in alcohol.

In addition to January being the month when the nation usually kick-starts their resolutions, the first month of the year is also known as ‘Dry January’ due to the annual campaign of the same name, pioneered by the small national charity Alcohol Concern, who challenge all drinkers to abstain from booze for the entire 31 days of January.

Yes, that means no quick cheeky pint after work with colleagues, or an ‘unwinding’ glass of wine with an evening meal, or a heavy session out on the town with mates. It should be remembered though that this is an awareness raising campaign and a fundraiser for Alcohol Concern. It is not a medical detox programme and those with severe drinking problems may need to go to a hospital or clinic to detox as the withdrawal symptoms will be severe and probably require specialist treatment.

For those that do undertake the Dry January challenge, there will be plenty of benefits to be felt in the short-term. Abstainers could look forward to better sleep, weight loss, a boost in skin and hair quality, and let’s not forget all the money saved from not spending it on alcohol – just think of all the other things that can be bought with the extra pennies! As it is only a month off the booze, it is unlikely that any major change in liver function will occur in the 31 days though.

However, everybody needs a break at times, and the human body is no different. Therefore, Medical Specialists® Pharmacy encourage the nation to get on board with Dry January and it may even have a positive effect to future drinking habits. Research has shown that those who successfully complete the challenge actually manage to cut down on their drinking in the future, drinking less alcohol each day, getting into a drunken state less frequently and having more willpower to be able to say “no” to having an alcoholic drink.

It is not just members of the general public though that are seemingly embracing Dry January. One famous face has surprisingly decided to test himself and see if he go 31 days without any alcohol. UKip leader Nigel Farage is the famous face in question, deciding to go teetotal for the first month of the year.

Farage is possibly the most surprising celebrity banishing the booze for a month considering the controversial politician - even during campaigning - is often snapped joyously at the pub with a glass of ale in his hand, perhaps helping his image as a more approachable and jolly party leader. However, like many of us, Farage has admitted to a season of overindulgence and has now temporarily given up drink. Speaking to Sky News, he said: “I started before the New Year. I'm not being particularly virtuous, it's just I need a break. It does us all good to have a break now and then.”

Medical Specialists® Pharmacy are fully behind the Dry January campaign, and have already witnessed a huge surge in the requests for alcohol dependency treatment Selincro during the last few weeks especially, as thousands around the country prepare for a dry month. However, we understand that this can be difficult for some to achieve without some motivation, which is why Alcohol Concern have provided a unit calculator on their website. All people need to do is tally up the number of drinks they have consumed, say on a typical Friday or Saturday night out, and see the probable alarming number of units and calories this equates to. As many look to lose weight in the New Year following the Christmas excesses, seeing the shocking total calories that drinking adds will no doubt provide the final motivation to truly achieve a completely dry January!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Chamber Blog: The Prime Minister's North West 'Powerhouse' Plan

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

On Thursday 8th January over 200 Chamber members gathered at the old Granada Studios building in Manchester for what was a unique opportunity to hear direct from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about the government’s plans for future economic growth in the North West.

For keen followers of policy none of the announcements were new and much of the narrative centred around the Northern Powerhouse proposals; however what was different was the fact that they have now been packaged under the banner of 'The Long Term Economic Plan for the North West' with six pledges.

The first was around creating 100,000 new North West jobs in the next parliament; the second was to deliver the largest transport investment ever in the North West – approximately £4.5 billion; next a statement to make the North West a global science centre; forth was to raise the quality of life in the region; fifth was to deliver on giving more power to the region’s cities and finally to raise the standard of living throughout the region so that residents earn more money.

The Prime Minister outlined the pledge and then the Chancellor delivered the detail.

All excellent stuff and nothing you could disagree with. The caveats, as ever, are how this will be delivered, over what timescale and from our members’ perspectives, what their roles are in making this happen?

Some of these issues came out in the Q&A session that followed, with particular focus on SME involvement with this – something that the Chamber’s skills service has tackled well over the last two years with 900 new apprentices in work.

When questioned on the region’s engineering and manufacturing sector and what role this can still play, the interesting answer outlined that when the government says rebalancing the economy, it isn't just geographic, i.e. London vs everywhere else, but the sectoral differences also need tackling. Something pleasing to hear, but which has proven a huge stumbling block in the past.

The event ended after an hour and for the few members that hung on till the end, both the PM and Chancellor came back into the room to do some personal meets (and quite a few selfies!)
So all in all a great chance for a large number of Chamber members to get to listen, meet and, in some cases, quiz the two most senior politicians in the UK.

Obviously the starting gun has been fired ahead of May and we will keep tabs on all the major issues through our Campaign for Business and this, no doubt, will be the first of many similar events over the coming few months.

If you attended the event and want to comment on anything you heard, please e-mail me at