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

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Member Blog: The nature of “Marketing” in the internet age

By David Wright - BSA Marketing
The Marketing world is well and truly into the seasonal mayhem…

Why does every day leading up to Christmas need have a name? Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Mad Friday, Panic Saturday, Manic Monday etc. The list goes on!

Okay, okay, it’s marketing, but I thought that, amidst all the chaos, I’d use this article to bring things back to earth a bit.

I recently received a newsletter in which one of the articles was titled

"4 Reasons Marketing Shouldn’t Control Social Media"

You can read the article here

As I was reaching for my soapbox, I thought maybe I should read it first.

Whilst I do disagree with the core premise, it brings up some interesting issues; not least, the nature of “Marketing” in the internet age.

Here are the 4 reasons from the article title:

1. Marketers simply use social media to mix holiday messages and discounts with standard sales and marketing content and this is not what customers want.

2. Social media practitioners (marketers) try to be all things to all people in order to keep their audiences engaged – Rather than doing this, good brands must know their niche

3. Marketing departments adopt social campaigns that do little more than offer discounts and coupons, training consumers to wait until that next discount is offered before they make their next purchase.

4. Sales, Customer Service, Product Development, and nearly every other department bring something to bear in the corporate-consumer relationship that [this type of] marketing cannot.

I have to say that I pretty much agree with all of these statements but it suggests that, the author has narrowed the definition of Marketing to a point where it isn’t really anything more than Sales Promotion.

So what is good Marketing?

Marketing is about identifying the value that your business adds to its marketplace, and then creating and communicating that message in a manner that engages with your audience.

Encourage your customers and prospects to see you as the best supplier for their needs.

A significant part of this process is long term. It is about building a relationship with a customer.

However in the world of e-commerce, marketing has become a highly transactional process:

A      B      C      THE SALE!

Too often, “marketing” is about no more than facilitating and optimising this conversion process.

Whilst converting people from not being customers into customers is key, in most cases things are not that simple.

The “marketing” process outlined in the article suggests that it’s all about tinkering with A B and C to increase conversion rates.

Good marketing is about introducing D, E and F. These, in themselves, may not directly impact the conversion rates, they create an environment which makes conversion more likely.

To use an analogy from fishing:

Fishermen use ground bait to attract the fish, and get them into a feeding mode. Into that environment they then place their baited hook. Increasing the likelihood that they will get a bite.

The process outlined in the article suggests marketing is all about the hook, whereas good marketing is also about laying the ground bait!

Although maybe angling is not a good analogy for the process of building a relationship of trust with your marketplace, hopefully you get my point!

Ultimately marketing should be the custodian of the process by which a company:

1. Identifies the value that you and you business adds to your marketplace
2. Creates a message that communicates this value
3. Communicates this message in a manner that engages with your audience

Social Media is a key tool in this process. I suggest that good marketers are the perfect people to manage it!

I can’t completely forget that it is nearly Christmas (even as a marketer, I’d prefer Christmas to start no earlier than mid-December!).  I’d like to wish you a Happy Christmas.

I hope you have a great holiday and step into 2016 ready for a positive and successful year.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Member Blog: The One Secret You Need to Master Social Media

By Zahid Hussain - Creative Director, Script Social Media 
Social media is a minefield.

One company I know spent £5,000 each month on social media for over a year and failed to garner a single lead. Another company spends half a million pounds on Google Ads alone and tens of thousands more on social media ads and is making millions. Which company would you rather be? But more importantly, what separates companies that succeed in social media from those which don’t?

I have a theory; do you remember the line, “Build it and he will come?” It’s from the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner. Hollywood movies end happily, but when companies adopt the Build-It-And-They-Will-Come approach, they always fail.

Businesses spend thousands on websites, dazzling logos and on glowing social media covers, but when the prophesised customers do not materialise, they jump to buying likes and followers to lure customers their way. But customers still don’t come. Soon, companies discover that creating new material for the litany of social media platforms becomes a chore and inevitably the content dries up. Social media accounts turn into a no-man’s-land.

So, what do you need to succeed in the heady world of social media? You need one thing. The right mind-set.

I have crystallised the mind-set into 4 pillars. Social Media:

1. Echoes the real world.
2. Is not a soap box.
3. Is where the sale starts.
4. Isn’t really free.

Social Media Echoes the Real World

If you’re famous or successful in the real world, you’ll find you’re famous on social media. A well-known restaurant that springs up on Instagram will attract followers in buckets. If this doesn’t happen then it’s because they haven’t told anyone in the real world. One restaurant I know asks its regulars to post Trip-advisor reviews. So ask: it works!

Social Media is NOT a soap box

Social media is well, social. Engagement is the beating heart of social media. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Retweet and like other people’s posts. Connect with businesses; connect with customers. Tell your story, but listen to theirs too. In fact, customers often use social media to complain. Reputation management is therefore essential for those sorts of companies.

Social Media is where the Sale STARTS

A sale doesn’t take place on the social media platform, but it might start there. You need to funnel leads to a website, a phone number, a face-to-face meeting.

It isn’t free

Facebook limits how many people can see the posts on a Facebook page. Even if you have a million likes, less than 5% will ever see a post. And if you’ve bought fake Likes, there will be zero engagement. You must pay for social ads; it’s just the way it is. That goes for other platforms too.

You can successfully navigate through the social media minefield if you approach it with the right mind-set, and then, once you’ve built your social media platforms, I promise you that customers will come and they will keep returning.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Member Blog: What are your 'Scores on the Doors'?

If a 'Scores on the Doors' rating scheme was introduced in all businesses in the Stockport borough, what would the results be? How many would achieve a level  5 on the first audit? Michelle Hay of Michelle Hay Training Ltd is campaigning for the scheme to be introduced:

I believe that it should be compulsory for all businesses to sign up to the rating scheme.  But there are a large number of local businesses that have no systems or training in place to safeguard their employees and visitors.

I am keen to talk to all kinds of industries about this initiative and gain some support. As a glass half full kind of person, I hope that at the very least, those that do walk the talk and demonstrate health and safety in the workplace will get in touch, and put the system to the test.  I am looking for volunteers for a pilot.

After all, whenever we go out and about, we take it for granted that we will be protected by ‘elf and safety’. It seems that there are double standards and lip service going on in and around Stockport. Be careful you don’t trip over them!

After the success of the ‘Take the Health and Safety Challenge’ at the North West Expo, I was left horrified at the lack of knowledge and training that the majority of visitors to my stand had. Besides the questionnaire the I posed to people, many people admitted that they had never received any form of safety training at their place of work. Not even fire training.

The latest changes to the fines that can be imposed for failings are to be based on a company’s turnover and profitability. So the more financially successful the company is, there’s more reason to get your health and safety house in order.

At the very least all employees must be trained in fire safety including:

- What to do in the event of a fire
- What to do if they discover a fire
- How to avoid fire happening in the workplace

From someone who has been training staff in fire safety, and all the other compliance training for the last 25 years, it is almost inconceivable that people would not bother to train their employees in fire safety awareness. I’m not talking about fighting fires, (I wouldn’t encourage that), just basic what to do when the alarm sounds, where to go and who does what. Who wants their business to go up in flames?

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that employers must:

- Develop suitable and sufficient emergency procedures
- Provide health and safety information to their employees and others
- Provide employees with adequate and relevant health and safety training
- Undertake suitable and sufficient written risk assessments - identifying risks and controls

If you want to take part because you already have a good looking Health and Safety Management System in place, get in touch with Michelle on 0161 298 1040. If you don’t know what you should be doing, also get in touch. The safety courses that Michelle Hay provides are for the following sectors: 
Office – Retail – Manufacturing – Hospitality – Trades – Healthcare

Member Blog: Your guide to a hassle-free festive period

By Zee Hussain - Partner at Simpson Millar

During the festive period, it makes sense that employees embrace the celebrations with open arms; presents, the office party, and that bit of extra time off work to be with loved ones. And whilst this should be encouraged, an employer's preparation and communication is key.

This employers’ HR guide provides some useful information and tips on how best to avoid the embarrassing stories, HR-headaches, and any other potential pitfalls for employers during the festive period.

Annual Leave

In an ideal world, all employees could clock off ahead of Christmas Eve and not need to return until the New Year, but the truth of the matter is that many businesses don’t lock up shop over the festive period.

As such, employers should expect a higher than usual demand for annual leave as we approach the festive period.

The key to dealing with this effectively is to be prepared and remember that whilst the employee has the right to request annual leave (within their entitlement), the employer has the right to refuse it.

Likewise, employers can require employees to take annual leave at a certain time of the year and or cancel approved annual leave in line with the business needs.

The caveat here is that the employer must give sufficient notice under the Working Time Regulations 1998 and comply with any notice provision stated within the employee’s contract.

If you are intending to close between Christmas and New Year, it is good practice to have a clause within the holiday section of an employee’s contract to confirm that X number of days must be reserved for use between this period as the workplace will be closed.

Online Shopping

Many employees will turn to the internet to do their last minute Christmas shop as the number of available shopping days dwindles away the closer we get to Christmas Day.

The approach to using the internet for personal matters at work varies between employers; just make sure that you have a steadfast policy.

You may have an outright ban on any type of personal use, or perhaps a more relaxed approach - the key is to check that your IT policy clearly states your intentions as the employer.

In the event that an employee is spending more time using the internet for personal matters, as an employer, you can turn to your policy.

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is now much more commonplace, and usually, it is a chance to exchange thoughtful gifts with colleagues. Though the roots of Secret Santa are in a jovial place, some may see it as an opportunity to embarrass another employee in disguise; it is not without risk for the employer.

It is quite often the case that employees taking part in such a tradition purchase an offensive gift with the intent of embarrassing a fellow colleague. Whilst the ‘Secret Santa’ may find this amusing, the recipient may not.

You should have an up to date policy on equal opportunities, bullying, and harassment. It should confirm that purchasing gifts to cause (or which are likely to cause) offence will lead to disciplinary action under the company policy.

Whether or not something is deemed offensive, will be judged with reference to the impact on the recipient - and not to others, this is the approach taken in the Equality Act 2010.

Christmas Parties

Your Christmas party should be an opportunity to thank employees for their work throughout the year. The party should be a place to celebrate, enjoy and relax in the company of colleagues.

That said: employees should be made explicitly aware in advance that the Christmas Party is an extension of the workplace. Any inappropriate conduct at the event will be treated in the same way as it would be had it occurred in the office.

Send out a simple reminder by email ahead of the party reiterating the company policy explaining any inappropriate conduct such as sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and acts of physical violence will be dealt with under the company’s disciplinary policy.

Your disciplinary policies must also make reference to Christmas/workplace parties.

Ensure that all employees are invited to the Christmas party, including those away from the business, for example, or those on maternity/paternity/adoption leave, and sick leave.

Post Party Sick Day  

Whilst it may be unavoidable that embarrassed or even still intoxicated employees call in sick the morning after the work party, employers should remind employees in advance that the usual procedures and penalties apply.

5 Tips For A HR Headache-Free Festive Period:

1. Review your HR policies to ensure they are fit for purpose, the key ones relating to this issue being disciplinary, grievance, equal opportunities, anti-bullying, harassment, and sickness absence.
2. Implement policies to assist the business in dealing with the issues mentioned in this guide if they are not already in place.
3. Remind/inform employees where the policies can be found.
4. Offer refresher training to managers on the key issues and how to handle them.
5. Adhere to your policies should the issues mentioned in this guide or indeed any others arise.

The festive period should be one that everyone can enjoy and celebrate. However, issues during the festive period can result in the employer being liable for costly claims such as; discrimination, unfair dismissal and sexual harassment.

This guide is not intended to remove the fun and festivity of Christmas. However, by taking some simple steps, being pro-active and communicating well with employees, employers can reduce risk to the business and ensure a smoother ride for the management team.

Preparation Is Key

If you need practical advice on any aspect of HR or employment law ahead of the festivities, Simpson Millar is offering a fixed fee service to review your policies. This will ensure that your gifts will be the only costly thing for you and your business this Christmas.

If you would like to discuss any of the matters mentioned in this guide or further ways to protect your business ahead of the festive period, please call the Employment Law Team on: 0808 129 3320

Alternatively, you can visit our new HR Support Service for Business: HR ORACLE

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Member Blog: Why Networking is Not Working for You

By Jane Schofield, Director at WorkPlace

With countless events taking place every night of the week in cities across the UK, the business community could easily spend their life networking.

Despite the value in making business contacts, not everyone enjoys networking and many dread going to these types of events.

However, as one of the founders of the newest co-working office space in Manchester, WorkPlace, I believe networking is still a key part of today’s business world and I want to encourage people to look at events from a different perspective.

Since we launched WorkPlace, we have been to every kind of networking event imaginable.

We want to talk to as many people as possible about our new business and invite them to come and check out WorkPlace.  But, although we think we have a great concept we know that people won’t just believe us after a five minute chat – time needs to be taken to develop the relationship.

So many people say that they hate networking, which is why we want to share our top tips for approaching this invaluable business tool:

1. Forget business event – think relationship 

Think of it more like a social event and the opportunity to make new and lasting friendships. Go and seek out these new friends, and plant the seed for what could develop into a beautiful new (business) relationship.

2. Be interested and interesting

Don’t focus on what they can do for you and what you can do for them - friendships don’t work like this. You have to invest time in getting to know people – make them want to find out more about you and stay in touch. Give before you receive.

3. Arrive early

If you don’t like networking, arriving late seems like a good idea but by then the party has already started and it can be daunting to break into groups that are already in discussion. I have a friend who always arrives early and then stands and greets as many people as he can. It’s a nice trick and people, especially those flying solo, are often so pleased to see a friendly face, that it can reap great dividends.

4. Ditch the sales pitch

If you expect to go to a networking event and sell, then you are at the wrong event – it’s all about relationship building. I always try to find a way we can help the people we are talking to – either recommending a contact or a website that might be of interest.

5. Share your passion

In order for people to want to work with you, your passion needs to come across. If you work for Mercedes, make me want to buy a Mercedes car. There is nothing more off-putting than someone who is bored talking about what they do.

6. Don’t hijack the conversation

Nerves can make us talk too much and we forget to listen. Nobody likes someone who holds court and doesn’t let people get a word in – listen more than you talk.

7. Always follow up 

Never go to an event and forget to take note of the people who have attended. If someone interested me, I will do a little more research and make an effort to stay in touch from time to time.

For more information on WorkPlace, visit or follow @WorkPlace2015 on Twitter.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Member Blog: Do you really need social media?

By Zahid Hussain - Creative Director, Script Social Media
Recently, I was introduced to a dentist at a networking event. When he found out that I work in Digital PR, he narrowed his eyes and asked, “Everyone tells me I need to be on social media. What do you think?”

He was astonished when I said, “No. You don’t.”

Let me qualify what I am saying. The wealthiest business person I know has no presence on social media whatsoever and his company’s website is out of date. All the business he does is through word-of-mouth, through trusted contacts he amassed over decades. His focus on what converts has driven this individual to startling success.

Often, I hear prospective clients say that such-and-such a company has thousands of Facebook likes and is doing really well as a result. So, why can’t they? To add fuel to the fire, digital marketers will claim that you can reach billions of people through social media, potential customers who’ve never heard of your company. Wonderful new markets to behold, new niches to find. Treasure, treasure everywhere.

Sounds too good be true, right? It is.

The clients who approach my company are usually interested in social media; unfortunately, many have been stung by it. Companies will pay digital marketing agencies tens of thousands of pounds to rebrand themselves, and to upgrade their website. The agency will also set up multiple social media platforms each with a glossy cover harmonised with the deliciously expensive branding scheme. The digital marketer finishes the magic show with a flourish by buying likes and followers and then hands over the key to the new house and trundles off into the horizon.

It doesn’t take long for companies to realise that customers aren’t flocking to buy their service or product. In fact, how many business Facebook pages have you visited that are bursting with likes, but which have no engagement, no conversation, no buzz?

It is no consolation to have a trophy website and trophy social media accounts and zero customers.
On the other hand, I work with companies and know of others who spend hundreds of thousands a year on social media ads and on PPC (Pay Per Click) and are making millions. Their websites aren’t necessarily spectacular. Importantly, they have understood why they are on social media and invested for the long-term. They have clinically calculated what their ROI (Return on Investment) is. The question is, do you know yours?

If you are determined to wade into the world of social media, then you must commit to it. Be warned though. If you enter the fray with the wrong mind-set you will squander resources and weaken your brand. Maintaining a social media presence is incredibly hard, which is why so many social media accounts fall silent.

Remember, joining a social media platform is free, but it always costs to convert a passer-by into a customer. As long you earn more money than it costs your company to convert it will always be worth it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Member Blog: A Record High for SME Confidence

By Vince Tovey - Davenham Trade Finance
Small businesses across the UK are set to continue to grow and thrive, as the latest Small Business Index revealed an all-time high in confidence. With everything from improved productivity and revenue to an increase in wages and aspirations to grow, all statistics found in the latest quarter have shown a positive incline across the majority of fields – all in all, a great outcome for SMEs.

This latest research has shown that a huge 65.3% of UK businesses aspire to grow moderately or rapidly over the coming months, therefore viewing their prospects for the future very positively. Not only this, but small businesses’ profits and revenue are also on the rise, with 24.1% reporting increased revenues and 17.4% seeing higher profits. Overall, confidence levels are sitting at +37.9, up from +28.7 in the previous quarter, a result of which is caused by an increase in productivity – a domino effect perhaps?

When it comes to trade finance, it was interesting to see a rise in SMEs who are exporting to 28.6%, in addition to one third of businesses planning to increase capital investment within the next year.

With this positive increase in mind, it is essential that the government provides and develops an effective support system for the ever-rising amount of small businesses planning to grow and invest in the coming years. This will ensure that these record levels of confidence continue to increase, and in turn the growth of the UK economy will hopefully benefit highly.

Are you experiencing growth and increased confidence, or is this something you are yet to see within your small business? Join in the conversation and tweet us @SMETradeFinance – we want to hear what real, local businesses have to say on this topic.