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

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Member Blog: The social media journey that just keeps on giving

By Dylan Moore - Aqua Design Group
Going back to the start of my experience on social media I was more used to LinkedIn and never thought of Twitter as a tool for the business. Thanks to a conversation with a client, the fantastic Becs McNeill @becsmcneill, instilling some insight during a 1-2-1, I created a profile and went from there. Bit of a rocky start but these things take a bit of time. When the journey gets interesting was a year plus in - I was at a healthy 1,200 followers and heard about Theo Paphitis #SBS (Small Business Sunday), so decided to join in.

Many tweets and over four months later, I won on the 16th October 2011; email went on meltdown for a night and the week was spent responding and spending as much time getting to know those that had followed, fellow winners and lots of new glorious contacts. I'm a firm believer in grabbing opportunities and one win led to another and more time on Twitter led to getting to know more fellow winners. I saw that a few winners were offering #SBS badges to winners and thought I might offer an alternative.

The #SBS benefits started happening shortly after the new year in 2012, when a fellow winner wanted to talk about a re-brand and stationery. Others contacted me based on seeing my award badge styles and a few just wanted to chat. All benefits as it's not just about direct business where the business has come, it's come from fellow winners referring and pointing people towards me.

So my advice to anyone taking part in the variety of Twitter competitions is simple: be a business and not a 'diva'! Follow back all those that have spent time to do the same, communicate, get to know them and the benefits will come and might bring some unexpected surprises too.

The business has been fortunate to network with a variety of different businesses both in the UK and across the world, which has resulted in work from overseas. Being involved with a variety of other competitions and networking on Twitter has resulted in a variety of different award badges which bring daily exposure to the business.

Inspired by the activity on Twitter the business designed a range of #TwitterGeek and #TwitterGeekette graphics and promotional items, which in itself has opened some very interesting doors, and on a Sunday during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, the business decided to start its own Twitter competition (started as a bit of fun and has grown from there). That has proven to be royally fruitful for both the business and the competition entrants.

The results of the #SBS win and other social media activity have been the following: being introduced to new contacts, some of which have become good friends and other clients; increased my Twitter followers which are now over 23,000 over the 3 business accounts; passed over 100k tweets; had the opportunity of working on internal communications projects for Ryman Stationery; general awareness of the business on social media has grown; moved in to an office and the business' website SEO has gone through the roof.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Member Blog: Energy Solutions for Business

By Ciara Taberner - Managing Director, Taberner Consultancy Company Ltd

We all look for ways to save money within our businesses but somehow energy saving does not seem to feature high in cost reduction programmes in UK business.

Studies have recently shown that a further £1.6 BILLION collective business savings could be made on energy bills through greater energy efficiency. Going Green is no longer seen as an overhead and businesses are increasingly realising that it’s now a way to make a profit.

“Making your business green is now a way to make profit"
There are lots of simple and cost effective ways your business can save money by reducing your energy consumption. Below are some of the examples; this is not an exhaustive list by any means but I hope some of this information will help you realise some of the potential savings that can be made by making a few changes.

“An industry building could be losing approximately 60% if its heat through the building fabric”

Payback Period

All energy efficiency improvements have an average payback period which is given in years. The payback period is a calculation worked out by taking the total cost of any improvements and dividing it by the estimated annual bill savings for that improvement.

The cost of installing any improvements will vary on any quotes you may receive, as an installer will tailor the quote to meet the needs for your particular building and every building is slightly different. As with any other business expenses, it is always worth shopping around for a few quotes to ensure best value.

You will receive information on your payback period within your energy assessment.

“Payback periods can be less than a year for some energy efficiency improvements”

Solar PV

There are lots of models on the market to help you install a Solar PV system for your building/s. The first and most important thing to understand is: Does my building face in the right direction? Simply get outside your building with a compass! Most smart phones have a compass on there or you could download a compass app onto your phone.

If one side of your building is South, South East, South West it is more than likely to be suitable for Solar. That is your starting point. There are other factors to take into account like the pitch of your roof, shading, your roof type and size, but that this is something that can be looked at during a survey.

There are two options available for Solar PV:

Fully funded model where the system is paid for by an installing company/investor
Purchase the system outright

These will depend on your own business circumstance but my advice from here would be to get a survey completed and ask the provider to detail out the different options that are available. Remember, not every company will be able to provide a paid and funded model so shop around to find the right solution for you.  

Fully installed and maintained system

This would consist of the panels being installed and maintained for 20/25 years free of charge and your company gets the savings on your electricity bill. The provider/investor would get the Feed in Tariff and they would make the profit out of the Feed in Tariff giving them a return on their investment over the agreed period. Savings on your electricity bill will depend on your roof orientation and size.

Purchase the system outright 

The alternative is you pay for the system up front and your business gets the reduction on the electricity bill and the return on investment from the Feed in Tariff

What is the Feed in Tariff? 

Feed-in tariffs (FiTs) make the business case for installing renewable energy for electricity generation more attractive. They were introduced to encourage the use of small scale electricity generation from renewables to help meet the Government's renewable energy generation targets.

The Feed in Tariff (FIT) provides three financial benefits for your business:

1. If you generate your own renewable electricity you are paid for the electricity you produce and the excess exported to the grid, you also don't have to buy as much electricity from a supplier.

2. A generation tariff pays for every kWh of electricity generated. The level of the tariff depends on the type and size of technology used, and when it was installed. You are "locked into" the tariff level that is current when the equipment is installed for the life of the installation or the life of the tariff (10 - 25 years).

3. An export tariff pays for any electricity exported to the grid. You can either accept a flat rate or try to negotiate a better rate with your electricity supplier.

To recap…. when you have the system installed for free you get the savings on your bill and the investor gets the Feed in Tariff.

When you pay for the system yourself – you get the savings plus the Feed in Tariff. As you have paid for the system up front it will take a few years for you to move into profit but once that original is paid off you will start to see your return on investment. How quickly you will start to see that return will depend on a number of factors such as the size and orientation of your roof but you will make a return on your investment!

I am not suggesting you take that option. It is obvious that for some businesses the free model will work better and you will still be receiving the big savings on your energy bill therefore whatever model you choose, if your roof is suitable, I would still encourage you to install as many energy saving technologies as you can.


I would encourage you to have a survey completed on your property to establish if your property is suitable for any kind of insulation measures such as solid wall insulation, cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, flat roof insulation.

Most of these measures are relatively low cost and provide huge bill savings.

LED Lighting

Again another simple, low cost solution that can save approximately two thirds of the cost of your lighting bills! Payback periods are normally as low as one year.

Other Energy Saving Tips and Advice 

Make sure your boiler is regularly serviced; every 12 months is a must to ensure it's working effectively and efficiently.
Draught Proofing - do the one pence test. If a one pence coin can slide between a window and its frame, draught proofing will be cost effective.
Draught proofing doors
If you do need to replace your boiler make sure you use a GASSAFE registered installer. Shop around for quotes and ensure your installer sizes the boiler correctly for your building size, usage and radiator numbers.
Keep windows and skylights clean to maximise daylight
Add loft insulation to any uninsulated roof space
Check internal wall insulation and consider upgrading
Take advantage of any refurbishment work to make energy saving improvements
Get online and check out British Board of Agrément Website. You can check your insulation installer on here to ensure they are accredited to install the different materials  
It is also good to check the National Insulation Association website. There is a public area where you can check out your installer.  It really important to select a good company as incorrect installation can lead to problems in the building later on:

What next?

Get an EPC or ESOS assessment completed on your property to establish which technologies are best for your building.  It’s important to choose a suitably qualified individual who can look at your building and advise the best possible ways for your business to save money and reduce energy consumption.  Make sure this is someone independent.

You should ask them to produce a report on your business, along with which technologies would be best suited to your building, payback periods on each measure and your energy usage.

Ask them to include an analysis on your gas and electricity tariff to see if you can make any savings on that too. You will then need quotations/funded models for each of the measures and you can make an informed decision the next course of actions.  You might decide to get one company or various companies to do this. Make sure you get a few quotes from different suppliers.

If you are a large undertaking you must carry out an ESOS assessment every four years. ESOS is the Energy Savings Opportunities scheme. ESOS is a mandatory energy assessment scheme for organisations in the UK that meet the qualification criteria. These assessments are audits of the energy used by their buildings, industrial processes and transport to identify cost-effective energy saving measures.

A large undertaking is an organisation that carries out a trade or business which either:

employs at least 250 people
employs less than 250 people but has an annual turnover in excess of 50 million euro (£38,937,777), and an annual balance sheet total in excess of 43 million euro (£33,486,489)

Helpful Links:

Contact Ciara at Taberner Consultancy Consultancy Ltd via

Friday, 6 March 2015

Member Blog: It is all About Building Your Brand

By David Wright, a Director at B2B marketing communication specialists BSA Marketing 

A number of things have conspired over the last week or so to make me think carefully about what digital marketing is all about, and the realities of SME marketing and growth in the digital age.

What got me thinking were discussions with three clients (all SMEs) about our work with them.

Each is focusing on a different priority:

  • Leads and short term business development
  • Analytics and measurement
  • Brand, and tone of voice in communications

Since the 1980s I have worked in marketing in both the corporate and SME worlds, through the birth and growth of the digital marketing age.

In my experience, corporates (successful ones at least) focus on building the brand, whilst SMEs tend to focus on generating leads and short term business development.

Perhaps this is not too surprising as traditionally, building the brand has been an expensive process that is beyond the resources of smaller companies, whilst taking the short term approach, many SMEs are able to build a reasonably successful and profitable business - up to a point.

However, to see real success and growth, maybe companies need to look longer term and think more about building their brand.

I believe this is where the real potential of digital marketing lies for SMEs.

Looking at how digital marketing services are often sold and it’s too often about the short term:

  • Search Engine Optimisation
  • Google/Social Media Advertising
  • Website Conversion Optimisation
  • Optimistation of the sales funnel

These are all sold (by some web marketers) as “magic wands”. They can be relatively easy to sell as they seem to offer highly measurable, short term benefits. However in my experience, they too often disappoint!

Now don’t get me wrong, they are all potentially vital elements of successful marketing programmes, but my suggestion is that by focusing on them as the ultimate goal you are focusing on the wrong thing.

Let’s face it, all really successful companies have one thing in common. They have a strong brand, and marketing is focused on maintaining and developing that brand as a platform. By telling their story in a way that is relevant and attractive to their target market, people see the benefit they can get so do business with them and, assuming their business model is sound, sales and profitability tend to follow. Within this context the elements described above become tools in the process of building a brand in a planned and measured way. But the ultimate goal is the development of the brand, not the optimisation of individual metrics.

“That’s great in the resource rich corporate world” I hear you say, “But how does that relate to me?”

I would suggest that through digital marketing, every micro and SME business now has the potential to build a brand and to deliver the successes associated with this that used to be only accessible to large, rich corporations. But by focusing on the short rather than long term they are missing out on this opportunity.

Let’s look at the process of building a brand. I see it as a simple four step process:

1. Understand what your business is about, and the value that you offer

2. Understand your market and how they will perceive this value

3. Use this to build your brand story

4. Engage with your market to tell your story using the tools offered by the digital age

I accept this is easy to say, but slightly more difficult to bring to reality!

Even so, developing a strong brand is well within the capacity of most business owners, and ultimately can deliver! However it does require a shift in mindset and the willingness and resources to commit to investing (and yes, it is an investment) in marketing communication.

The digital marketing tools now available mean that your investment need not be substantial, is not always purely financial, and is well within the reach of most micro and SME businesses.

BSA Marketing specialises in supporting businesses through this process, and helping clients to build their brand using digital marketing. Furthermore, we can access financial support to assist SME businesses who would like to explore the process of brand building as a route to profitable growth.

If this has inspired you to rethink you marketing and want to explore the possibilities, for your business, we would love to talk to you. Email 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Member Blog: How can an apprentice benefit your business?

By Adrian Bird - The Apprentice Finder

Next week is National Apprenticeship Week in the UK, so now is a good time to take a look at apprenticeships and how they could benefit your business in time for the summer influx of candidates seeking apprenticeship positions.

First of all, let's get the basics out of the way. The Oxford Dictionary definition of an apprentice is: A person who is learning a trade from a skilled employer, having agreed to work for a fixed period at low wages.

Breaking the definition down, the wage needs to be at least £2.73 per hour, the work needs to be for at least 30 hours per week (therefore classified as full-time) for a minimum of 12 months. Most industries have a form of structured apprenticeship scheme to offer these days so it is a viable way for businesses to introduce entry-level employees into their workforce and should see apprenticeships as part of a structured long-term succession plan to ensure that they have the skills needed within their organisation. Apprenticeships shouldn't be seen either as a short-term fix or a low-cost solution. To be effective, you need to ensure you have the resource to support, mentor and train your apprentice(s) so they go on to be successful for your business.

Apprenticeships were often seen as a second-class option for many educators, offered only to those who didn't have the capability to enter higher education. This is no longer the case. Professional organisations such as accountants, schools and solicitors are now turning to apprenticeships because many able young people are being put off by the high cost of attending University (the average debt a graduate can expect currently stands at £44,000). The benefit for the young person is clear, but what about the employer? Well, it gives the employer the chance to recruit someone with graduate potential before they want to command the graduate salary. They can mould the apprentice into the type of employee they're looking for at an age when people are at their most impressionable. Many employers will then subsidise and support their apprentice through higher levels of learning when it's appropriate because by that stage they know that they have a staff member worth investing in.

In some instances, apprenticeships can offer the same learning as a degree can. Take Digital Media for instance. I was recently discussing and comparing what apprentices learned on the Level 3 apprenticeship as opposed to a degree in the subject with a University lecturer. His response to me was: “If they learn how to update web pages, optimise them, write blog articles and manage social media accounts there's not much point in sending them to us as that's what we teach them.”

In order to recruit an apprentice, there are several paths an employer can take. Local further education colleges are one option, as are the wide range of private training providers that deliver the training. You might find that the ideal candidate makes a personal introduction or you could also use a specialist apprentice broker/ recruitment service such as ourselves to help you. Typically there won't be a recruitment fee to pay as the Skills Funding Agency factor recruitment costs into the funding amounts issued to the providers.

In order to give yourself the opportunity to find the most suitable candidate, as an employer you should expect the process to take a couple of months from start to finish. It might be that the agency you work with already has the talent you're looking for on their books. If so, the time frame will be shorter. At this time of year candidates that are still at school or college start making enquiries. Often these are the strongest candidates as they are working pro-actively to ensure they have their next step arranged before they tackle their exams in May and June.

If you think that apprenticeships could benefit your business, why not book an initial consultation with The Apprentice Finder? They work with a range of providers in the area to make apprenticeships happen. You can contact them on 08001444022 or by sending an email to: