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.