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

Friday, 31 July 2015

Member Blog: Return of the Prodigal Member

By Nancy Jaeger - Social Media Makes Sense


Once upon a time, in days so olden my mobile phone was the size of a shoebox and email didn’t exist, I was a member of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce when it was based at Churchgate House.

Unfortunately, after a couple of years I decided to leave for several reasons, amongst which were:  I felt like an ATM machine for the Chamber. Every activity seemed so expensive – networking events, training, etc, all had a (to me) big price tag attached.  It felt to me I was there to make the Chamber money, not that the Chamber was there to help me make money.

The other off-putting element – at least seen through my eyes as a small business (you old-timers will remember I was the Jaeger of Jaeger PR) was that it seemed to me that the old Chamber was all about the big boys and quite cliquey.  Anyway, whether or not my perspective was correct or not, I didn’t feel valued as a 3-man band. So I took my ball and left to play with someone else.

Well, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that all that has changed – new premises, new staff and old, and a new approach to members!  I don’t recognise the old Chamber of yore (though I do recognise old and talented staff – Hi Lisa!!).

To begin with, I discovered the Chamber had moved, so I called up to find out more and the very helpful Tom Fergusson invited us (my business partner Jo Booth and I) in.  He  told us about the very reasonable costs and joining process while we sat in the really cool new members’ area (free coffee, free wi-fi and really nice environment). So we dipped our toe in the water and decided we would try being members for a year and see if things were better at GMCC Mark II.

And aren’t they just! The lunch and breakfast Action for Business networking events are great; they are well organised with plenty of opportunities for businesses both small and large to promote themselves. The five minute 'Talkabouts' are fun and informative as are the 60-second slots where your business card gets pulled out of the hat and random people get up to speak.

I’ve been to the Gala dinner and had a great time and shared my table with businesses I would never have met otherwise, plus listened to some great speeches – though Alexander Armstrong, some of your jokes were rather tasteless considering the audience, FYI.

Finally, I’ve been really impressed by how the Chamber makes an effort to provide added value to its members especially with new technology – The weekly e-newsletter, The Brief, is a great vehicle to get current news out, 53 Degrees magazine provides a more traditional format, and @gmchamber is fantastic for getting your events, business news and other cool stuff re-tweeted, which as a social media training company I thoroughly approve of!

I even put my mouth where my money is and have urged all and sundry to join or re-join – fantastic value for money and a great team to work with, what’s not to like?

Nancy Jaeger
Social Media Makes Sense and so does the Chamber!
@smms_guru
www.socialmediamakessense.guru

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Member Blog: Is PR dead, or ready for the 21st Century?

By David Wright at BSA Marketing


Is PR dead? If you mean long lunches shmoozing with editors and journalists then I think the answer is yes….

But has the pendulum swung too far into the world of Digital, SEO, Pay Per Click and Social Media?
I read an article on the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) website recently asking if Marketers are focusing too much on digital?

My answer:

Good marketers are using digital to deliver real marketing benefit
- and that includes PR.

PR may have changed significantly over my years as a marketer, but it certainly isn’t dead and anyone who thinks it is might be missing an opportunity.

PR in the 21st Century

At its core, PR is still about getting your message out into the established media and maximising the number of people who see it. As ever, this involves engaging with the publishers who control that media, to convince them that your content has value and is worth including in their publication.

What has changed is the number of publishers and the ways you can engage with them. In our experience there are 6 things to consider when working on PR for your business:

1. Pick your media carefully. Anyone with a Smartphone can start an online publication, but that doesn’t mean it will get read! Do your research and focus your PR onto media (print or online) that has reputation and readership across your target audience.

2. Build a reputation for good content. You aren’t going to get everything published, but if you use your own blog to publish good, well written and relevant content, you can build a reputation for good writing. Publishers are more likely to take good, relevant writing seriously

3. Use social media to engage with publishers – Publishers use social media. They need  quality content and social media is a great way to find stories and content worth publishing. Make sure you identify and target content publishers as part of your social media strategy.

4. Don’t just push your own content – Look to engage with journalists and bloggers. Comment on their content. If your opinions and ideas resonate with them they are likely to remember you when they see your content.

5. Make your content easy to use – This particularly relates to using email to communicate with printed press. Make sure you give them all they need to publish your content (easy to use text, high-resolution images, byline information etc.). Generally, trade journals have few staff. If you give them content they recognise as interesting to their readers, and make it easy for them to publish, they are more likely to use it.

6. Don’t dismiss paid options and advertising – Although you should avoid publishers who will use anything from people willing to pay, we should accept that bloggers and publishers are running businesses and need to make a living! If you like a blog/journal, and believe that your target market will read it, then the idea of supporting them financially through sponsorship or advertising may well be worth considering.

Regular readers of our blog at www.bsamarketing.com will know how I stress the importance of marketing fundamentals and that even though marketing communication tools come and go, the essence of needing to communicate your messages to your target market doesn’t change.

PR and engaging with the press – both online and offline - definitely represents a valuable and effective marketing communication tool in the 21st century and any business who dismisses it does so to their detriment!

If you want to see how you can make more of PR in your business, drop me a line to davidw@bsamarketing.com

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Member Blog: The Importance of Contracts to a Business

By Shazda Ahmed - Principal Partner at Monarch Solicitors


Contract law lies at the heart of our system of laws and serves as the foundation of our entire society. This is not an exaggeration.  It is a simple observation – one that too often goes unobserved.

Most business owners know that a contract based on just a handshake and a promise is a recipe for disaster.  Therefore, the business environment is full of agreements between businesses and individuals.

To make sure your business is protected, here are my 10 top tips you should consider when closing the deal:-

1. Never start work without a contract
You finally landed that much sought-after client and are ready to get started on the project. It's tempting to move forward on a handshake, but it's worthwhile to take the time for your client to sign a written contract.  Have your lawyer draft or review the contract to make sure it is favorable to you. If things go wrong, you need to make sure that the relationship between you and the client is set in place in a contract.

2. Think Ahead and Mitigate Risk
Contracts are a strategic tool that companies use to safeguard their resources and manage risk. In business, you don’t want to trust that you will get paid, you want to make sure you will get paid. Most people enter business relationships good intentions, but sometimes things go wrong. If a matter ends up in court, your contract can help ensure a ruling is in your favour.

3. Define the Scope of Work
You are likely to discuss a variety of projects and the client's wish list can quickly grow. When performing the job, it helps to have a clearly defined scope of work.  During the course of the relationship, should there be a misunderstanding about results, or the time in which a project was completed, you can easily refer back to the written document and quickly resolve the issue.

4. Up-sale your Services
A written contract is not only a legal document, it can also be used as a marketing tool. It provides evidence to your client that you are in control and once the scope of works has been defined in writing, it could lead the client broadening the services to be provided.

5. Take Your Time and Negotiate
Decide what points are not negotiable, but don’t budge on the important stuff such as (a) the work you do remains your work until the client pays you for it, (b) the client pays a termination fee if he terminates the project without good reason, and (c) limitation of your liability if something goes wrong with the project. The negotiating process makes it fair to both parties.

6. Include Non-Compete Clauses
Businesses often use contracts to enforce non-compete agreements, such as agency or franchise agreements. Non-compete agreements prohibit individuals or other businesses from offering goods or services in the marketplace. These contracts create strategic relationships between two companies and allow them to provide unique goods or services to consumers.

7. Ensure Scope for Variations
If your business practices change, or the project becomes totally different from how it started out, or the market changes, after signing the contract, don’t be afraid to update the contract every now and then to reflect how you actually operate or to reflect the new direction of the project. This keeps everyone on the same page, and it keeps you protected.

8. Consider New Opportunities
Another up-sale opportunity occurs upon the expiration of the contract. Prior to a project being completed, or shortly before an agreement is to end, meet with the customer. Discuss opportunities for new projects, and review the potential for extending your services for the next phase of work, now that initial results have been realised.

9. Keep it Confidential
Every business has information that considers both integral and invaluable to its success. Your agreement should contain mutual promises that each party will keep strictly confidential any business information it learns of while performing the contract.

10. Obtain Expert Insight
Legal advice should be sought before entering into any binding contract. Small businesses may be susceptible to larger businesses taking advantage of the entrepreneur’s willingness to accommodate. Contracts often include difficult legal terms and solicitors can provide clear information on the terms and advise whether a business should agree to specific contractual terms.


Shazda Ahmed is the lead solicitor of the Business Services practice in Manchester. She represents business owners in a range of practice areas, including contract drafting and disputes, landlord tenant law, real estate, new business start-ups. 

Contact the team for a FREE trial of their Legal Helpline for SMEs on 0161 464 8033 

http://www.monarchsolicitors.co.uk/

Friday, 10 July 2015

Member Blog: Is your telemarketing joined-up?

By David Wright - BSA Marketing


Let me start my saying, BSA Marketing is NOT a telemarketing company! We used to be, many years ago so have a wealth of experience of B2B telemarketing. I regularly talk to SME business owners who are using telemarketing today but see it as no more than a source of sales leads. This is often how it is sold by the telemarketing company, but it can be so much more. By making sure your telemarketing is joined-up you can open up many more opportunities.

First a statement:

Telemarketing is a communication tool.

Note: A tool, not THE tool.

It can be expensive to implement and, in my view, should only really be considered and used as part of a joined-up marketing approach.

Good telemarketing is based on a pre-qualified target list then monitored and managed while the calls are being made. All as part of a joined-up plan - yet too often it isn't quite like this in practice....

Pre-qualified list

A client using a telemarketing company can be faced with a fundamental difference of position:

The telemarketing company has a team of telemarketers who are earning revenue while they are making calls. Switching clients and briefing on new projects all takes time, and costs the company money while the telemarketers aren't active. To this end it is preferable to have a large list for the telemarketers to work on. Better this (for the agency!) than a smaller, albeit well qualified, list that the telemarketers can work through more quickly and then be looking for a new project!

The client is after results. A pre-qualified list will be smaller but the outcomes will be more frequent and the list will take less telemarketer time to work through - so less cost! More leads at lower cost - can't be bad!

The solution: Because BSA has a team of experienced, specialist freelancers, we don't have a hungry telemarketing machine that we need to keep fed, we can work with our clients to use telemarketing selectively and efficiently

List pre-qualification - an example:

We recently worked on a project where we were targeting a range of specific industrial product manufacturers. Initial research directories and list brokers resulted in a list of some 500 records. Not a bad business to business targeted telemarketing list, but could we improve it? We then:

Limited the list to companies within around 100 miles of our client (we could go back to the others later)

Scanned through the list to exclude obvious wholesalers, retailers, service providers and other non-manufacturers

OK, this process took a bit of time but the end result was that the list reduced from around 500 to just under 200 - reducing the potential telemarketing cost/time by up to 60%

Also, because the listings we excluded were less relevant to our client, we excluded few, if any, targets that might have resulted in a positive outcome - and we could still go back to them in future - nothing lost.

Getting the most from the calls

Telemarketing is easy to monitor. You are normally paying a day rate for your telemarketing staff. Telephone costs are consistent (and really quite modest these days) so your return on investment depends entirely on what you get out of this applied effort.

No matter what many telemarketers tell you, it really isn't all about how many calls they make! It isn't just about working hard, it's about working clever. I have touched on this before but it is important:

If the telemarketer is looking to make appointments, that's fine, but get them to qualify the list while they are at it. Someone who is not ready for an appointment today may be a good prospect for the future so check out just how much authority/influence they have and how relevant your product/service is to them. Check their contact details and email address.

If the telemarketer is checking and updating a database, make sure they are asking 'qualifying questions' where possible and if they happen to be talking with a key influencer, ask if they have any current interest - what is there to lose?

In either case, use the information from the calls to build a qualified database of YOUR market. You can then use this database to keep in touch with people by mail, email, social media etc - all less costly than more telemarketing and any of which can be great sources of enquiries.

Keeping in touch
Email - With email you can track who is opening your emails and clicking on links - suggesting possible interest - which could be a great basis for some more, targeted phone calls to generate enquiries and opportunities - like I said, joined-up.

LinkedIn - Once qualified, tracking a contact down on LinkedIn is fairly straight forward, and you would be surprised how many people actually use it in their day to day working lives. Once you have that connection, they will be kept updated by everything you post on the platform, continually re-enforcing your message, making it more likely that you will be on the list of people to call when they nave a requirement.

Other Social Media - Dependent on your market, other social media may also have a role to play in the process of keeping in touch. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook (or Pinterest & instagram if you have a visual product) are also great ways of engaging with target markets, further re-enforcing your brand and message.

Website - In ALL cases don't forget, one of the first things that anyone interested in what you offer will do is visit your website - so make sure it says what you want it to say. Make sure you are proud of it.

Your sales team (OK, maybe that is just you!) does the selling. Marketing is about looking for people to sell to; communicating your proposition to your target market and qualifying opportunities. It is a step by step process. Different communications using different media (both online and offline) have different impact and by using them in a joined-up marketing process you will have maximum control and the best opportunity to get most benefit from each step of the way.

There is no doubt that, used correctly, telemarketing can play a vital role in the process, but by focusing on the long term potential as well as the short term opportunities can significantly improve its effectiveness.

...and finally, back to our example:

The Results

Because the list was pre-qualified, there was typically a good 'fit' between the target contacts and our clients' services. This made it easier to speak with relevant individuals and have meaningful conversations.

Key numbers:

Over 70% of the companies on the target list were contacted.
Over 10% of contacts interested in a short term follow-up
74% of contacts happy to 'keep in touch' going forward.

A very positive outcome all round!

So all that's required now is to keep in touch, build relationships & awareness and make the most of the opportunities as they arise.....but that's another story...

www.bsamarketing.com

Monday, 6 July 2015

Member Blog: 53° in the office?

By Craig Robinson - Director, Cloud 53

So it seems we are approaching the time of year when things warm up which is great news if you’re not at work or maybe work in state of the art offices with air-con (that works), however it’s not necessarily good news for servers, network kit and the like in areas without dedicated air conditioning.

Typically once we hit real summer there is a rise in server and network failures as this kit is still in the small room or cupboard that it is all year round but with an added 10°C or 15°C to work in. The kit still produces the same heat itself, but the heat isn’t dispelled as well as it is in the cooler months. Often this means that a router or some other network kit fails first as often this is situated above the servers and of course heat rises. Without am ambient temperature being maintained then due to any additional heat, the servers have to work harder, spinning the cooling fans more to try and combat the heat being produced by the disks and the CPUs. It’s a vicious circle until either the room cools or a component fails unfortunately.

Remember in the summer months to keep an eye on temperatures in these areas and allow extra ventilation / aircon if you can. 

An average server generates 1360btu/hour which is about the same as a small radiator.
It is recommended that server rooms maintain a temperature of between 18°C and 24°C.
Typically the server CPUs will run at around 45°C however anything past 60°C for long periods can be dangerous and result in failures.
Disks are more likely to fail the older they are and as such temperature changes may contribute to these disks failing sooner.
Humidity is just as important to IT kit as temperature.

The obvious solution is to look at hosting your servers externally – why not get in touch with Cloud53 to discuss? Apart from taking the worry away it should also reduce your on-going costs!
10% discount for all Chamber members on Cloud53 services.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Member Blog - Chamber of Commerce Action for Business: An Alternative Viewpoint

By Sam Forshaw - Head of Selective Invoice Finance at Creative Capital

Recently I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak at a Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce event called Action For Business which focused on alternative finance for SMEs.

Around seventy attendees descended upon Emirates Old Trafford and I was invited to take part in a panel discussion around ‘options for non-bank finance’.

Creative Capital provides a number of facilities for SMEs including selective invoice finance, trade finance and cash flow loans. These are perfectly suited to those suffering growing pains due to restricted access to finance.

We provide short term solutions that bridge the funding gap and can provide tailored facilities with a minimum value of £5,000 all the way up to £200,000 if required.  

I was joined on the panel by Gareth Edwards from United Kapital, who provide unsecured loans and merchant cash advances, as well as Andy Thomas from Maven Capital Partners, who have a £20million fund to provide businesses in Greater Manchester with loans of between £100,000 and £750,000.

The mix of alternative lending options that the three of us represented was hopefully enlightening to the audience.

It was good to sit amongst passionate peers who appreciate that we need to work together in order to give SMEs access to a wider range of finance options than are currently available via traditional providers.

One of the questions posed to me whilst on the panel was: “Are SMEs too bank-centric?”

It is a good question and of particular relevance at a time when there’s still uncertainty around where’s best to turn for support.

Many businesses are still adjusting to the fact that the banks aren’t the only source of funding – alternative lending is still a relatively new concept.  

Whilst consumers have very quickly adopted online tools and non-institutional lenders, SMEs seem somewhat wedded to traditional channels of finance.

In the case of small business owners, many are simply not aware of the full range of finance options or providers that are willing to help businesses the banks can’t or won’t assist.

As an industry, it is our responsibility to change this and we need to make sure SMEs are informed and engaged around the alternatives that are available.

Events such as those with the Chamber of Commerce are a great platform to achieve this and we look forward to participating in many more.

http://www.creativecapitaluk.com/