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

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Member Blog: New Year Resolutions of a Business Owner

By Paul Tooth, CEO of BrightHR

As 2016 draws to a close, our minds start to turn to the acts of self-improvement we want to put in place for the coming year - be it to join the gym, travel more or learn a new language. As the CEO at BrightHR, now is also the time that I start to think about how both myself and our employees can do better in 2017 - how we can grow and be more productive, happy and successful.

As with any New Year resolution, its best not to be overly ambitious but to identify small changes that can be realistically made, and actually, make a big difference. Here Ill share some goals for 2017 and a few pieces of advice to hold in mind come January:

Make more time for face-to-face meetings
As we know, good relationships are hugely beneficial for business, but they rarely seem to be our highest priority. Relationships typically feel important rather than urgent and suffer accordingly in the time-poor environment of most working lives. There are always more pressing things standing in the way, whether they are HR, legal, administration or compliance issues.

Getting to know your clients is good, but actually enjoyingthe relationship is even better. For 2017, I plan to make more time for face-to-face meetings by continuing to expand our field sales team. We must be ready and willing to give our clients time and if we dont have it, then we need to start freeing it up and doing whatever it takes to build stronger relationships.
Spread the automation mantra
Leveraging technology to automate the mundane, daily tasks that sap your time and energy is what were all about as a business. Theres opportunity for any repetitive workflow in your business to be automated, and the benefits can be huge. Dedicate yourself to investigating technology that can move you toward automation, and youll be on your way.

One of my resolutions for 2017 is to spread the automation mantra to more start-ups and SMEs which may be struggling with productivity and time management.

BrightHRs research revealed that more than a third of business owners in the UK cite HR administration as one of the biggest drains on productivity. We also discovered that automating the holiday request process was at least 10x faster than using a manual process - and thats if nothing went wrong in the manual process!

And its not just HR, there are all sorts of repetitive processes that can be automated.

Measure productivity
Recent research by BrightHR revealed that only eight per cent of UK companies regularly monitor their productivity levels, and more than this, many are in the dark about the real business benefits of doing so.

In 2017 Ill continue to work with our team to identify our biggest time saps, be it needless admin or too many meetings. This isnt a one off fix, its an ongoing process, but one which stands to empower both yourself and your teams to make vital adjustments.

Productivity is key to the success of any business and the more engaged the workers are, the more productive they will be.

Be more balanced
As personal and professional lives are increasingly merging, its become more important to schedule breaks and holidays. This is time that you can spend seeing family, visiting somewhere youve always wanted to go.

Theres no doubt that regular breaks make staff more focused and productive, and productivity is key to the success of any business. BrightHR recently conducted a survey of UK business leaders which revealed, that 90 per cent recognise that having a good relationship with employees has a positive effect on productivity. Being understanding and generous with their time away from the office in crucial to this.

To help manage the process, a key piece of advice for small business owners would be to learn how to better cope with the challenge of holiday date-bagging by encouraging staff to spread their time off throughout the year - and start looking for that city break bargain to make the most of it yourself!

Think content
What happens when a prospective customer visits your company's website? Is there fresh content that is going to keep them engaged? Does it look like it represents a company that cares about the impression they want to make on the rest of the world?

Your company's website is your digital storefront. Often, it is the only source your customer might look at to determine if they want to spend money on your service or product. So your website needs to be the best.

Continuing to generate engaging content will be an ongoing our website will be a focus for our business next year, including content that demonstrates new technologies and advice for fledgling businesses.

Look after your people
There's a famous saying, that "culture eats strategy for breakfast". It's a lesson that a lot of businesses neglect, despite good intentions. No one sets out to create a lousy working environment; frustrating and unproductive work cultures develop when no one acts to deliberately create something better.
Employees who are engaged in a positive workplace culture are inherently more productive. And there are loads of things that business owners can do without huge budgets.
For 2017, I will continue to develop our trusting and inclusive environment, where everyone feels respected and motivated.

Did you know the first week back in the New Year has proven to be the busiest time for staff booking holidays? Why not starting automating this now and add a 30 day free trial of BrightHR to your resolution list? Go to

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Timely advice from Bacs – plan ahead or yule be sorry!

By Nizam Yusuf – Senior Content Creative and Social Media Manager

Christmas is almost upon us, but it’s not always a time of festive cheer between businesses and their customers – especially when it comes down to paying bills.

A Happy Christmas for all?
Customers have a different set of priorities around this time of the year. Many will be concentrating on buying presents and planning festivities, rather than paying a few troublesome bills that can surely wait until next year.
Meanwhile, businesses are hoping for timely payments from their customers, so that they can shut down for Christmas and relax for few days.
Getting paid on time at Christmas means that a business can return after the festive period and start planning for 2017 straight away, rather than wasting time chasing up late payments, resending invoices and casting a nervous glance over the state of their cash flow.
With most of the UK on holiday until 3rd January 2017, countless payments will be delayed – So what’s the answer?

Direct Debits – regular payments all year round
For many businesses, Direct Debits have made late Christmas and New Year payments a thing of the past.
Customers don’t have to remember to pay automated Direct Debits, so even if they’ve got a Christmas party to go to, the payment still gets made in good time! Allowing the Finance Director and CFO to take a well-earned Christmas break, safe in the knowledge that the business is getting paid on time, and in full.
Having said that, there are some points worth bearing in mind when it comes to Direct Debit payments around this time of the year.

Plan ahead with a little help from Bacs
Bacs Payment Schemes Ltd has sent out a timely reminder this year, asking businesses to plan in advance to avoid payment trouble over the Christmas period.
"During the busy festive season it’s easy for delaying payments, however, with a little careful pre-planning, there is no reason why salaries and suppliers cannot be paid on time even with the seasonal bank holidays." — Mike Hutchinson, Director of Scheme Support & Development at Bacs*

For example, if your business is looking to process accounts payable and payroll payments before the Christmas break, then the last date for submission of payments will be: 

Wednesday 21st December 2016.

Download the processing calendar from the Bacs website: Click Here

Get paid on time this Christmas…
Do you struggle with payments around Christmas?  If so, AccessPay may be able to help. Please feel free to give us a call.

If you already get paid by Direct Debits and Christmas payments have never been a problem for your business, we’d also like to hear from you. If you have any tips or advice on getting paid on time, feel free to share your thoughts with our followers on:

Twitter: @Access_Pay and mention #XmasPayments
LinkedIn: Follow us on LinkedIn
Facebook: Follow us on Facebook

Friday, 9 December 2016

Patron Blog: How Can Employers Manage Long-Term Sickness Absences?

Dealing with long-term absences in the workplace can be quite challenging for employers, who have to make sure that they are supporting their employees whilst managing the needs of the business. 

Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services at Simpson Millar, shares some tips on managing long-term absences and supporting your employee's return to work: 

Maintain contact with your employee whilst they're on sick leave – employers tend to be quite wary of keeping in touch with employees on long-term sick leave. But, keeping in touch about their progress/recovery and any important workplace changes can be beneficial for both parties, and might even help relieve some of the anxiety your employee might feel about their return to work.

Do you need to make workplace adjustments for your employee? Employers should explore what types of changes or adjustments need to be made to ensure their employee's return to work is as smooth and comfortable as possible.

Some employees might recover from their illness over a certain period of time and only need temporary adjustments, whereas others might have ongoing conditions or disabilities that require permanent changes.

For example, if your employee is unable to return to their normal working pattern straight away, a phased return to work might be the best option where they work flexible hours or part-time.

Offer managers training or guidance on managing an employee's return to work – some managers might not have experience in dealing with employees who have long-term illnesses, so employers need to ensure that they are aware of what steps they need to take to facilitate the employee's return to work.

It's a good idea to have regular meetings with the manager before and after your employee returns to work, as you can address any concerns or questions they have and identify whether they need help.

Look at patterns of behaviour – if employers notice that members of staff are repeatedly taking a lot of time off from work they need to establish why this is happening. This will help you separate those who are taking time off without valid reasons from those who have genuine reasons.

It will also help you identify whether there are more serious underlying issues that need to be addressed. For example, employees who are having problems at work – such as being bullied or harassed by other members of staff – might be afraid of coming forward and feel like they have no other option but to take time off sick as a way of escaping the issues. The sooner you can understand why your employees are taking time off, the quicker you can act and take the appropriate steps.
Whether you have an employee who has a serious illness or ongoing condition, long-term absences have to be handled delicately and on a case-by-case basis.

If you're concerned that your policy isn't comprehensive enough or you're not sure how to deal with a particular absence and need some legal assistance, our Employment Law solicitors are ready to lend a helping hand.

Member Blog: Asset finance can help SME manufacturers stuck with unsold stock

By Davenham Asset Finance Managing Director, Paul Burke 

Research carried out by The Asset Based Finance Association (ABFA) shows that the value of unsold stock held by SME manufacturing companies has risen to £4.94 billion, putting cash flow under greater strain.

With the value tied up in unsold stock remaining stubbornly high over the last five years, this inventory currently amounts to a shocking 16% of the £81 billion annual turnover of SME manufacturers. For companies requiring short term finance, issues are often caused through difficulty to quickly move stock. Of course, money tied up in unsold stock is what would likely have been used for business development, and therefore puts a halt on business growth.

Being in this situation, SME manufacturers still need to grow, but many are still unaware of the alternative methods of finance; by refinancing fixed assets the cashflow issues caused by unsold stock can be eased, and the pressure removed until the stock is sold.

It’s great to see that demand from businesses for alternative routes of finance is growing, with the value of funding secured against stock by ABFA Members standing at £584 million at the end of June, up by a staggering 56% over the last five years. Our team at Davenham is passionate about helping companies to access to vital funding through our bespoke asset finance and refinance services, giving them the opportunity to invest in their business and preventing growth from being stalled.

It is essential that we continue to raise awareness of asset finance and refinance as alternative forms of finance, particularly to sectors like the manufacturing industry who could greatly benefit from this route. If your cash flow has taken a hit due to unsold stock, and you would like to learn more about refinance and how it can benefit your business, call 0161 832 8484 and speak to a member of our experienced team.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Patron Blog: Why do employers need to have effective social media policies?

More than just a way of keeping up with friends and family, social media is a powerful tool that offers businesses a way of reaching out to new audiences. 

Regardless of whether your business has a large or small social media presence, in the digital world, your employees act as representatives of your brand and how they behave can have a significant impact on the reputation of your business. 

Zee Hussain, Partner and Head of Corporate Services at Simpson Millar, discusses why it's important for employers to have effective social media policies in place:   

What Does A Good Social Media Policy Cover?

When writing or updating a social media policy, employers should aim to strike a balance between protecting their reputation and also encouraging employees to engage with the business.

Although employers might use social media for different purposes, a well-written policy should be clearly communicated to all staff and include the following:

Outline what is acceptable for employees to do when using social media – effective social media policies don't just tell employees what they shouldn't do – they can be really useful ways of getting employees to raise brand awareness outside of the workplace.

But, they need to be told that this should be done in an appropriate way that isn't to the detriment of the business.

It's useful to give examples of what would be acceptable for them to do, for example sharing tweets posted from your business' Twitter account or leaving constructive comments on posts on any other accounts you have.

Be clear about the consequences of your employees' actions online – whilst supporting your employees' use of social media can have its advantages, you should set clear boundaries about what employees cannot do online and define what consequences they will face if they breach the policy.

For example, if they engage in prohibited behaviour, will this lead to disciplinary action?

Encourage your employees to check their privacy settings – privacy settings tend to change quite frequently, so it's a good idea to remind your employees to check them on a regular basis.

Data protection and monitoring – if you believe that it's necessary to monitor how your employees are using social media then you must justify why in the policy.

Include guidelines for employees who are using the company's social media accounts – any employee who is sharing information and expressing views on behalf of your business should also be given some guidance on ensuring that their communication and actions online are in line with the brand's values.

Whether you're reviewing or developing your social media policy, Simpson Millar's legal experts are on hand to help you identify how well your existing policy is working and whether any improvements can be made.

Used correctly by your business and employees, you'll find that social media can prove to be a very effective marketing tool.

Member Blog: What does your business actually deliver?

By David Wright - BSA Marketing
I’m not looking for a description of the products you make or the services you offer. I’m asking from the point of view of your customers.

We all do business with other companies and people because we get something out of the relationship. Normally the people we buy from aren’t the only people we could buy from so why have we selected that particular supplier – or more pertinently, why do your customers choose your business ahead of one of your competitors?

Why do they have a relationship with you?
Why are they willing to hand over their hard earned cash to secure your products/services?

What you have to decide is:

“What is the real value I deliver to my customers?”

To illustrate the process, let me reflect on what we have been going through recently at BSA.
We have reviewed our core business before but I recommend a review at least every year or so.

What does BSA Marketing offer to our clients?

This question set us on an interesting journey of discovery!

Our first answer to the question was a lengthy description of the tasks that we undertake on behalf of clients (mainly focused around writing effective content and using it in websites and e-mail newsletters planned and implemented within a strategic marketing framework).

After this, the question was repeated:

“Yes, but why do clients deal with BSA and not someone else?”

After more discussion, we came up with the following:

1. We take the time to understand our clients’ businesses.
2. We give unbiased advice on marketing in a world where so much is focused on “The next big thing”.
3. We tend to under promise and over deliver.
4. We offer specialist marketing knowledge in the context of a digital age because we are marketers first and web techies second.
5. Our focus is on making things happen, not just on the strategic planning process.
6. Long term is important; we stick with clients and gently encourage them to stick with the marketing process. (Good marketing takes time).
7. We have a great track record of delivering value for our clients.
8. We understand the SME environment, the concept of budgets and the need to maximise the effectiveness of marketing spending.

…and what we didn’t say…

Interestingly, the words ‘Website’, ‘Content’ and ‘Email Marketing’ don’t appear anywhere in this list, even though we are specialists in all three.

What came out is our proposition that we work with our clients to deliver real, joined-up marketing communication programmes that are sustainable and effective.

In this context, content, copy-writing, websites, email, social media and data management etc. are important elements of our offering, and the ability to deliver these is vital, but they are simply tools in our core offer to our market:

BSA Marketing takes a practical, realistic approach to making marketing work.
and this, in a nutshell, is our key business proposition!

What do our clients say?

If you care to take a look at some of the testimonials and case studies on our website, you will see that our clients have been telling us this for years!

So take some time out to ask yourself:

What is my business proposition and why do my customers keep coming back?

The answer may surprise you!

If you’d like to talk to me about answering the question for your business (and then making the most of what you learn!); drop me an email to

…..if you’re a manufacturer, there might even be some grant support to help you grow. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Member Blog: Simplicity is the key to brilliance

By Nizam Yusuf, Senior Content Creative at AccessPay

Actor, producer, film director, screenwriter and a kick-ass martial artist – Bruce Lee was a man of many talents, who also had a way with words.

The San-Francisco born movie-star pretty much defined what we now know as the "Chinese Martial Arts" film genre, and in doing so gained many fans – one of them being me.

I may have been a tad young when I first came across those legendary action-packed movies, but as I grew older I came to appreciate that Bruce Lee was more than just an iconic martial artist. He was also a profound thinker, philosopher and a great writer.

So, when I was looking for a way to explain why Direct Debit is an ideal customer retention tool, all I could think of was this famous Bruce Lee quote;

BRUCE LEE, 1940 – 1973

Why is SIMPLICITY the key?

Direct Debit is all about simplifying the payments and collections process for both businesses and their customers.

For consumers:
• Direct Debit is a simple, safe and convenient way for consumers to make regular or occasional payments from their bank accounts.
• Once the customer has been notified of the date and amount to be collected, payments are simply deducted from their account.
• The entire process makes it easier to consume products and services.
• Other than making sure sufficient funds are available in their account, consumers don’t need to do anything else after the Direct Debit instruction is signed.

For businesses:

• Direct Debit empowers you to simplify the ongoing payments process for your customers - ideal for things like buying goods, subscribing to services and making charitable donations.
• Chasing customers for card payment failures becomes a thing of the past, as Direct Debit gives you complete flexibility to collect money straight from the customer’s bank account.
• If you decide to amend the payment amount, cancelling standing orders and agreed monthly card payments can lead to customers leaving and going elsewhere. With Direct Debit, other than notifying your customer of the change, no further authorisation is required.
• Collecting payments by cheque, cash and standing order can be an administrative burden for any business. By switching to Direct Debit, you can remove these barriers through automation and ensure your business never suffers from late or missing payments again.
• By reducing your own costs of collecting payments through Direct Debit, you could pass on the savings you make back to the customer in the form of discounts – further cementing your relationship with a valued customer.

I’m happy, you’re happy – we’re all happy

Both consumers and business alike benefit from the simplicity of Direct Debit. They each benefit from being able pay and collect through Direct Debit, but for a business this also means longer term benefits such as customer retention.

Consequently, businesses need to see Direct Debit not only as a payments and collections service but as a fundamental part of the customer experience - it couldn’t be more simple.

What next?

As the master martial artist Bruce Lee said; Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. 

Now that you understand why Direct Debit is ideal for building customer loyalty, perhaps it time you took control of your payments and collections process and started maximising those existing customer relationships.

Find out more about Direct Debit: What is Direct Debit?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Member Blog: JAM today or JAM tomorrow? Anticipating the Autumn Statement

By Simon Collingwood - Director, Quatro PR

As ever, the Autumn Statement will be keenly watched.  But perhaps more so this year than previously given continued uncertainty about the implications of Brexit.  Expectations are high and it is unlikely that it will deliver the sizzle some hope for.

Philip Hammond has said he will revert to a low key Autumn Statement, with greater emphasis placed on the spring budget. But the nation’s finances alone don’t tell the whole story. There is a lot of expectation on the Chancellor to deliver a boost for the JAM (just about managing) demographic.  What this means for infrastructure and business remains to be seen, but it will be a balancing act between measures to help raise living standards (JAM today) and taking a long-term view to secure economic improvement (JAM tomorrow).

Building on the messaging at the Conservative Party Conference, the Autumn Statement is a set piece opportunity for Theresa May’s Government to show that they mean business and what that actually means.  Her comments at the CBI this morning will give some succour to business agitating for investment in shovel ready and long term strategic needs as will Mr Hammond on Peston’s sofa over the weekend.

We’re anticipating a few key themes:

- Seeking short-term help for consumers and home-owners
- Showcasing the UK as open for business
- A focus on industrial strategy and investing in the productivity of the UK economy
- Corporate responsibility and the next steps in Theresa May’s commitment to deal with boardroom issues like the gender pay gap, board pay levels and employee involvement

We do not expect to see any overt discussion of their approach to the Brexit negotiations, though it will be important to listen for signals and emphasis.  It does of course set the context in which the Autumn Statement is taking place. The aftershock of the EU referendum is still raw. MPs from all sides of the House are keen to keep up pressure on the Government over Brexit, international trade and, now, the UK’s prospects in a President Trump world.

The Chancellor has already indicated the plan to drop his predecessor’s objective for a balanced budget by 2020, though that is less to do with its desirability as the practicalities of delivering it. Expect a longer timetable. We’ve also already seen some big announcements on Heathrow and High Speed 2.

That doesn’t mean to say that there won’t be any big ticket spending commitments, but rather ensuring the flexibility to support these in the future. As ever with the Treasury, the devil will be in the details.

Is being disorganised costing you more than you realise?

By Sarah Brennan at Evolving Edge
It’s my mum’s birthday this week, and despite the date being firmly etched in my mind since I was about 10 years old, for some reason I (yet again) failed to organise buying a gift early enough. Don’t get me wrong, thanks to online shopping and next day delivery she will have something nice to open on the day, but getting her something she’ll love came at a cost. A cost that would have been far less should I have just been a bit more organised and not been forced to buy from the only website that could guarantee super fast delivery. This got me thinking about how many other times I’d paid over-the-odds for something due to being on the last minute, or spent far too much time searching for something suitable because I’d missed the boat on the perfect item. I can’t be the only person to have experienced this, surely? Which got me wondering about the financial impact being disorganised has in business.

The impact of disorganisation in businesses may not be quite as black and white as having to pay too much for a birthday gift, nor be as immediately evident, but it is certainly costly. See if you have ever been guilty of any of the following whilst at work:

Searching for information
Whether it be stats for a report, an email address, your company registration number or even receipts for your expenses claim, searching for missing information takes time, and time comes at a cost. Research has shown that professionals can spend up to 35% of their time searching for information or items needed to perform in their roles. As well as the alarming amount of time lost in this way, losing information and items can also mean costly replacements and missed sales opportunities.
Yet the initial investment of time required to get filing systems in order and to store important information electronically, often puts us off doing anything about it, and we continue to turn cupboards upside down and overuse the search function on our computers. Each time we do this, we aren’t doing something productive that adds value. So block some time out to get those folders in will thank yourself the next time you’re pulling a report together or submitting that expenses claim!

Missed meetings and failing to diarise events
Having a messy diary or, worse still, a completely empty one can be a huge contributor to disorganisation. Being late for or missing meetings wastes the time of others, costing them in both prep and travel time to get to the meeting, as well as any time spent waiting for it to actually happen. Using your diary effectively will not only prevent double booking yourself, forgetting about meetings and leaving insufficient travel time in between them, it will also allow you to block out chunks of time to actually get organised! Blocking out half an hour in your calendar at the start of every day to set out 3 things you must achieve that day (yes, I know 3 things doesn’t sound like many, but trust me you will find you get so much more done) will help you enormously in staying on track, retaining focus and, well, being more organised.

Not planning far enough ahead
Like the situation with my mum’s birthday gift, we often know that we have events on the horizon that require us to act, yet we fail to work out when it is that we need to start acting in order to deliver on time. Darren Hardy’s book ‘The Compound Effect’ demonstrates the principle of how small acts each day lead to much bigger things. For example, if someone asked you to read 36 books in a year and you left it until the 364th day to start, you’re never going to be able to do it in time. Yet if you just read for 15 minutes each day (we all have 15 minutes!), then you would read 36 books over the course of a year.

Project planners can be great way of working out what needs to happen and when, for a particular event or project, and will give you regular indications as to whether you’re on target or not. But if this feels like going from 0-60 on the organisation front, an initial first step can be utilising your calendar even further. By following the above step and ensuring important events are in there, simply figuring out what needs to be done for each and diarising sufficient time before then, you will effectively practice the compound effect and avoid last minute panics (or paying too much for birthday presents!).

Being perceived as disorganised
If you come across as disorganised, you will soon get a reputation amongst colleagues and customers for being so. Whilst this may be something you joke about with friends, perception is reality, meaning you could lose customers and find that colleagues are reluctant to go to you for support. By getting yourself more organised, you’ll find that people far more readily trust that you’ll do what you say you will, meaning you’ll gain more buy-in from those around you.
Ultimately, we’ve probably all been guilty of one or more of the above on occasion, and have tolerated that residual stress that often comes it. However, disorganisation breeds disorganisation, and the more we experience it, the more we will continue to. So be kind to yourself; alleviate some stress by nipping disorganisation in the bud.

You’ve diarised that, right?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Independent Fostering Agencies: A Partnership with Government

When you Google ‘fostering’, the top results you see are from councils and local authorities. Government fostering services do vital work helping children and young people in their area grow up in safe, nurturing environments.

As an independent fostering agency (IFA), we’re proud to work in partnership with local authorities to support this important mission.

Local authorities work hard to find the best placements for children in care
Back in May, charity The Fostering Network calculated that 1,008 children came into care in just 2 weeks.

This means there’s immense demand for foster carers across the UK.
Local authorities train and recruit their own foster carers but struggle to keep up with the number of children who need placements. And it’s not just a numbers game – children have unique requirements and need specific foster carer skill sets to help them thrive.
That’s where independent fostering agencies like Perpetual come in. If the local authority doesn’t have the right carer available, it turns to specialists to find the best match for the child or young person.

Agencies have different specialities when it comes to recruiting and training foster carers. This means carers get the support and professional development best suited to them, and local authorities have trained carers they draw on to provide the best match.

The partnership approach promotes positive outcomes
Communication and collaboration are key to successful outcomes in foster care. From the moment the local authority asks for help placing a child, everyone in the team surrounding the care of the child is in constant contact.

Before placement, the local authority social worker meets with us and our foster carer to discuss the child’s needs. Together we determine how to provide the best support. After the child moves in, we’re in regular contact with the foster carer and the local authority so we can all work together to refine and develop the child’s care plan.
This approach allows the local authority to provide children with the best possible living situations while knowing we’re giving foster carers the shoulder-to-shoulder support they need.

And this partnership approach yields impressive results.

Here’s an example, in the words of a local authority social worker:
‘I have had a child placed with [a foster carer with Perpetual] since May 2016. Shortly after being placed, I noticed a significant change in the child’s behaviour, which was extremely challenging in the family home, and his engagement with myself.
‘I firmly believe this is through the positive and proactive approach of the foster carer. I feel that the child has responded well to her calm and therapeutic approach to fostering, which allows the child to feel safe and secure no matter his behaviour, and this has allowed him to flourish.’

Outcomes like these make everyone involved in foster care proud of our valuable work.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Clarity in Payment Applications - What you need to know

By Darren Cayton,  Director at Knowles Ltd 

People of a certain age will remember the darker days of contracting when ‘pay-when-paid’ and ‘back-to-back’ payment provisions were rife. It is hard to imagine that not so long ago an employer/contractor (payers) could strike its red pen through a contractor/subcontractor’s (payees) application without producing a payment certificate.

Nowadays, the strict payment regime imposed by Part II of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (as amended) and assisted by the Scheme for Construction Contracts as the fall-back position, has gone a long way to redress the balance.

Indeed the main requirement’s imposed by the Construction Act mean construction contracts must contain ‘due dates for payment’ and ‘final dates for payment’, whilst it prohibits ‘pay-when-paid’ or ‘pay-when-certified’. Additionally the Act imposes a regime for providing payment notices (s.110A(1)), default payment notices (s.111B) and payless notices (s.111).
Despite this, over the past year or so there have been several cases which have caught unsuspecting parties out, particularly with the payment application process.

Be clear what you agree to
It is important that you understand, particularly with specific payment arrangements, what you are agreeing to. In Grove Developments Ltd v Balfour Beatty Regional Construction Ltd [2016] the parties had agreed to incorporate in their contract a schedule dealing with the making of 23nr interim applications and payments, but failed to provide a default provision for what would happen should the project overrun.

In court, the judge held that Balfour Beatty had no contractual right to make or be paid in respect of their interim application nr. 24 (or any subsequent application), and no contractual right to apply for further payments until the contracts final payment mechanism kicked in after practical completion.
It is therefore vital for payees (receiving payment) to ensure that there is a continuing right to payment if a schedule of dates is included in the contract.

Payment Applications: Don’t be too early or too late
Although there is no mechanism in the Construction Act, many contracts require the contractor/subcontractor to submit applications for payment. It is important that they are submitted within the time frame stipulated within the contract.
In Caledonian Modular Ltd v Mar City Developments Ltd [2015] the court held that an application issued half-way though a payment period and outside of the agreed contractual payment mechanism was not a valid application as its status was not clear.

The judge helpfully suggested that contractors should ensure their payment claims were clear and that they give the employer reasonable notice that the payment period has been triggered.
Similarly, in Henia Investments Inc v Beck Interiors Ltd [2015] the judge stated that the due date should be stated on the application for payment.

Make it clear
The importance of clarity is equally important when it comes to the applications themselves.
In Jawaby Property Investment Ltd v The Interiors Group Ltd and another [2016] Carr J considered the validity of The Interiors Group’s [TIG] purported interim application. The issue concerned TIG’s seventh application for payment made in January 2016. The procedure which had been followed for the first six applications was that TIG would send a valuation by email, complete with a spreadsheet and back up sheets, and a statement of the sum applied for. Each valuation was up to the 8th of the month (as required under the contract) and would state that the valuation was for ‘approval’ or ‘consideration’.
This time though, Jawaby started the ball rolling with an email on the 5 January 2016 requesting a valuation for the next day. TIG responded on 7 January 2016 saying ‘[p]lease see our initial assessment for Valuation 007’. On 15 January 2016 following a site visit Jawaby issued a Certificate for Payment. The valuation was low and a dispute arose.

As to the validity of TIG’s application for payment, the court agreed with Jawaby in particular that TIG had described its valuation as an ‘Initial Assessment’, the court found that it could not be construed as a statement by TIG of what it considered it was due. The impression of provisionality was also supported by the incorrect labelling of the summary sheet, and the fact that the valuation went up to the 7 January, and not the 8 January 2016.

The court held that TIG’s interim application was invalid because it differed from previous applications in several respects; most notably it was named ‘initial assessment’.
Such applications must be an application in ‘substance, form and intent’ and must be clear and unambiguous in their terms.

Although the Construction Act (as amended) and the Scheme provide a mechanism to enable a clear payment regime, Contractors and Subcontractors must ensure that they adhere to the strict requirements of the contract when making applications for payment.
You must ensure that you have a contractual entitlement to submit an application for payment.
The checklist below will assist Contractors and Subcontractors in making sure applications are submitted in the correct manner:
  • State the sum due at the relevant due date and include all back-up information
  • Submit applications at the correct intervals/dates as set out in the contract
  • Make sure that they are issued in the right manner (post/email etc and sent to the nominated person) as stated in the contract
  • Ensure they are clearly identified as an interim application for payment

Please note that this information provided is for general knowledge only and therefore specific advice should be sought for individual cases. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Member Blog: If you can think it, you can automate it

Automation isn't coming for your job. It's coming to make it better. Here, Howard Williams, marketing director of business process automation provider Parker Software, explains how to automate office efficiencies to better support both customers and employees.

As robotic technology becomes increasingly sophisticated — and increasingly affordable — fear is growing that humans will soon meet with mass unemployment. Every day, the business world hears fresh warnings that automation is claiming jobs across the board. With so much fuel added to the fire, automation anxiety is sweeping the professional landscape.
In truth, automation should be welcomed rather than feared. It won’t replace human roles – it will better support them. A McKinsey study highlighted that less than 5% of jobs could be fully automated — meaning that supporting employees, not swapping them with machines, is what’s needed. In offering this level of support, automation can actually open opportunities.

For example, research has shown that the average office employee only spends 45% of their time on primary job duties. The other 55% of the time, they’re tied up with secondary tasks like emails, meetings, admin and general ‘interruptions.’  The plain truth is that we’re all wasting our working days on lesser chores, without any other alternatives.
That’s where automation software becomes invaluable. Where once office workers would spend extended periods of time occupied by administrative processes, such as updating central databases or answering customer queries, these time-consuming activities can now be automated with software to streamline the working day.

By removing the need for business professionals to perform repetitive, frustrating tasks, business process automation software can support the workforce – freeing up time to focus on the bigger picture. In doing so, company, customer, and employee alike benefit.
To demonstrate this, we’ve created the infographic below. Highlighting various ways to automate office efficiencies, the infographic demonstrates the cost benefits of staying close to customers via smarter technology applications.

In a world where the average business wastes a total of four weeks a year on slow technology costing around £2,100 per employee — these cost benefits cannot be emphasised enough.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Member Blog: Should Banks Remove Their Headphone Jack?

By Nizam Yusuf, Senior Content Creative and Social Media Manager, AccessPay

Just like Apple has brushed the headphone jack under the carpet in its latest iPhone 7 release, should banks look to eliminate old-fashioned cheques from their dusty shelves?

In 2008, when the CD drive-less MacBook Air was pulled out of a brown paper envelope, Steve Jobs accurately predicted that software delivered over the internet would soon replace the faithful disc.

In the same style, when Phil Schiller, Apple’s Marketing Chief, took to the stage in San Francisco for the iPhone 7 release, he described the 3.5mm headphone jack as a 19th century component that was standing in the way of 21st century technology.

So here’s a question for you:

Should banks eliminate Cheques as a payments service?

They nearly did…

In 2009, UK Payments Council set a target date of 31st October 2018 for the closure of the central cheque clearing system, which would have effectively abolished payments by cheque.

However, in 2011, following a public outcry and intervention by MPs and ministers, the plan was abandoned – with the UK Payments Council announcing on 12 July 2011 that cheques would continue “for as long as customers need them”.

Okay so they’re here to stay – but for how long?

Appealing to people with traditional payment preferences, cheques continue to be used as a form of payment – with over 500m cheques written in 2015. While this figure seems astronomical, the use of cheque payments decreased by 13% in 2015.

To bring cheques into the 21st century, some banks, such as Barclays have introduced a cheque imaging service, which allows people to pay in by taking a photo of the cheque on their smartphone.

Is “Cheque Imaging” satisfying a stopgap?

Did You Know? Following the passing of The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill on 26th March 2015, all banks will be expected to process cheques as images from October 2017.

Just as the Apple Lightning to Headphone Jack Adapter is filling a much needed gap for those reluctant to let go of their headphones, it seems like Cheque Imaging will fill this opening in the banking industry until such a point that cheques are no longer deemed a viable method of payment.

Tell us what you think?

We would like to know your opinions on Cheques and their place in the UK Payments sector. Complete this short survey and enter your details at the end to download a FREE comprehensive Beginners Guide to Payments – Tell us what you think?

Friday, 21 October 2016

Disruptive Marketing: The New Way to Shake up any Market

By Sammy Blindell of How to Build a Brand

If you’ve been involved in marketing for more than two minutes, you’ve learnt one thing: Consumers are not only driving the way we shape our brand, they are driving the shape of markets.
Today’s consumer has more power than any consumer in history, and we are having to find ways to really know what they want in order to meet those needs and be noticed. One marketing innovation that has evolved from this condition is Disruptive Marketing. This practice involves two main principles:

  • Predicting the needs of emerging markets and creating a brand to fill a need
  • Reworking an existing brand to meet an emerging need in the market
  • No matter the motive, disruptive marketing will surely do one thing: It will challenge the status quo of current marketing messages, in order to disrupt the market and gain attention for the brand it’s representing. 

If you’ve been involved in marketing for more than two minutes, you’ve learnt one thing: Consumers are not only driving the way we shape our brand, they are driving the shape of markets.
Today’s consumer has more power than any consumer in history, and we are having to find ways to really know what they want in order to meet those needs and be noticed. One marketing innovation that has evolved from this condition is Disruptive Marketing. 

This practice involves two main principles:

The result? Massive visibility for that brand.

This is the reverse of what most of you have grown accustomed to. In the past, a brand was built and then creative ways were designed for getting its message to the right people. Now, essentially, we are being asked to find the audience, generate the message…and then produce the brand.
Is this the best way to create your Passion Project (that thing that comes straight from your heart)? Probably not. However, if you’re careful about how you handle this approach, you could end up experiencing the best of all worlds.
If Disruptive Marketing sounds like something you’re prepared to shoulder, then you’ll need some guidance. 

Here are a few directive principles, to take you into the fray of this reactive, attention-getting type of marketing:

·         Adopt an evolutionary mindset. As you dig deeply into the needs and emotions of consumers, you will likely discover that what you’ve been saying, doing, creating or providing is off the mark. You may have to go back to the drawing board, to adjust your message or entirely revamp your brand. This will be painful. After all, your brand is your passion, right? However, after you recover from the initial shock, you will come to see that making necessary changes will bring positive results.

·         Get your head out of your brand.  You think your brand is great, and you’ve been fashioning your marketing messages around those attributes. But what if that’s not how consumers view your brand? Well, guess what? What you say doesn’t matter. What they think is the only thing that matters. If you’re going to move forward with making your brand great, and disrupting the market to your advantage, you’re going to have to view every move you make (and everything you create) from your ideal customer’s viewpoint. If they don’t like it, need it, respect it…it will not exist in any market—disrupted or otherwise.

·         Put emotion and psychology ahead of technology and common sense.  Read it again if you need to, because this one may take a minute to digest. Consumers are not making buying decisions based on reason. They’re also not subscribing to emotionless propositions. They want to feel. They want to connect. They want to be necessary. Make this happen, by advancing the market in a way that creates something that will be ready when they arrive, and you will win.
Are you feeling a bit rebellious? Are you ready to take a risk? Well, this is a risk that has massive potential for a lucrative pay-out…if you fully commit to being disruptive, for the sake of your ideal customers.

Intrigued? Then you are the kind of entrepreneur or business owner with the drive to build a fast-growth, revolutionary brand. Click here to learn more about the B.R.A.N.D. Building Bootcamp, a one-day fully immersive branding and marketing experience in which you will learn the three strategies I used to take my business from £0 to £18,000 per month in just 12 weeks. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Member Blog: Missed opportunity – A cautionary tale

By David Wright, BSA Marketing
It is a common feature of some SME businesses that they focus almost exclusively on the short term when planning marketing – often confusing marketing and brand communication with lead generation and sales development.
When it comes down to it, if you are only going to focus on either marketing/communication or lead generation/sales then it really should be the latter. A business can survive without dedicated, focused marketing but sales and profitable revenue generation is a must!
Marketing is a catalyst.
A business with an effective marketing process will better understand its customers and markets who will, in turn, have a better understanding of the company, it’s proposition and the value benefit it can deliver.
In short effective marketing makes lead generation and sales easier.
However, if you fall into the trap of thinking you are marketing when actually you are selling can be dangerous and lead to missed opportunity – potentially with terminal results.

A Case Study

Some time ago, a friend of mine set up an e-commerce retail business. The business was initially an expansion of a hobby where he stored goods in his garage and visited craft fairs as a sales outlet.
The business was low turnover but with virtually no overheads. It was profitable. He then took the business online and the growth (albeit modest) continued.
As those of you who run retail businesses will be only too aware, it can be relatively easy to grow turnover but with inventory costs taking up the majority of the revenue, delivering sustainable profit can be more challenging. It is easy to let overhead creep up and eat into margin.
This is what happened in this case. As the business turnover grew online, the garage wasn’t big enough so they moved into a small warehouse unit – with rent and rates! This step-change in overhead needed a quick boost in turnover and Google Adwords was an obvious choice – and it worked!
Pay-per-click had an almost immediate impact generating turnover to meet the increased overhead. Revenues soared through £100,000 and on towards £300,000 – all was looking positive. Adwords became the key to growth.

Misdirected Focus

Rapid growth brought its own issues with more and more stock to manage and customer orders to fulfil. The process of maximising orders through Pay-per-click meant the management got sucked into dealing with the short term.
The problems that were looming over the horizon were just not on the radar.

Reality Sets In

Retail e-commerce is a cash positive business model. Customers pay up front while suppliers are paid on credit terms of 30 days – or more.
While turnover is growing, this puts short term cash in the bank which can hide a critical factor. There is no profit!
As the initial burst of growth started to level off, reality set in. Turnover was still strong but cashflow suffered. The business started to run out of cash. What was going on?
Products were being sold at good margin and staff and premises costs were under control. The issue was Adwords.
Company focus was on driving turnover through Adwords which meant that the majority of orders received by the company incurred additional cost of the Adwords fees. The margin was going to Google!
However, there was a critical factor that was being ignored.

Missed Opportunity

Clearly a business that isn’t making a profit isn’t sustainable but as the turnover rose, a potentially valuable asset was being created.
Driving sales through Adwords meant that most orders were from new customers. By the time the reality was setting in, there was a database of around 18000 live, paying customers – and nothing was being done with it!
Open any marketing primer and you will read that it is easier to get sales from an existing customer who knows you than someone who doesn’t. In our case here, this huge opportunity was being almost completely ignored.
If there had been a consistent process of communication and relationship building (i.e. Marketing) with these existing customers using lower cost media such as e-mail and social media, profitable repeat business could have been developed where the margin stayed with the company.
The problem was that marketing is a medium to long term process and by the time they realised, it was too late.
A potentially strong and effective business closed down.
I believe a lack of longer term marketing planning was a significant factor in this demise.

The Moral of the Story

Any business that only plans and operates in the short term will only ever have short term certainty.
While short term security is clearly critical, it is only by taking time to also plan and act for the medium and longer term that a business can grow stronger and through this growing strength, make success ever more sustainable.
This might be easy to say but the fact is that longer term marketing planning is easy to forget or ignore.
BSA’s focus is working with our clients to make sure that marketing doesn’t get forgotten and that plans are agreed, and, most important, implemented.
We strive to make sure your marketing works for you.
Is your marketing working? If not, give us a call.