Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Christmas - a lovely nuisance!

I like Christmas, but from a business point of view, it's a bit of a pain in the neck!

It's not just a couple of days (Christmas Day, Boxing Day), or even three (add New Year's Day); it's at least a lost week (add the three days between Boxing Day and New Year's Day), and realistically, it's two lost weeks (finally add the week leading up to Christmas!).

A lovely period of festive fun! A fortnight of lost work opportunities - if you're in anything but retail. I wish retailers all the best, but as I'm not in retail the Christmas period is a nuisance.

People's availability to work is reduced (I use sub-contractors regularly), and companies wanting work often "shut down" partially, or even completely, during the two weeks.

I wish everyone a Happy Christmas (just missed it - I was busy having fun!), and a Prosperous New Year - and I can't wait to get to next Monday (first working day of 2010)!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Steal from big business, priest advises

Parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda near York, Tim Jones, has told his parishioners: “My advice, as a Christian, is to shoplift.”

As reported in his local newspaper, The Press, Jones said: “I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing, or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses, but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices."

He told ITN on Monday that he was directing his advice to those with nothing and who had run out of other options. He said it was an acceptable alternative for those in desperate need, and was better than burglary or prostitution, for example.

"I would say to those people that are outraged: Compare how much you are spending on yourself this Christmas compared to how much you have given to people in desperate situations," he added.

He advised those who would now be planning to steal to only take what they needed for as long as they had a need.

He also said that his advocacy of shoplifting was a "grim indictment" of society and was a plea for assistance for the most vulnerable.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

2010 will see slow economic recovery

Steve Pateman, head of UK corporate and commercial banking at Santander, was asked by the Daily Telegraph Business Club for his forecasts for 2010.

He replied that the economic environment would probably be more stable in 2010 than in the last 18 months, but expects the economic recovery to be slow and steady.

The pound will continue to be weak against the euro, he forecast, partly because of the high level of the UK's public sector deficit.

Interest rates, Pateman thinks, will stay low through the year. "It is a difficult balancing act in terms of managing inflation, but it is unlikely they will increase much in 2010 because such a move would kncok confidence in the economy, damage recovery and raise concerns among businesses looking to borrow to invest."

Pateman thinks that now is a good time for businesses to expand, and that banks will be looking to lend, as they wish to help small businesses, but it depends on having a viable business plan and a unique selling point.

However, banks are still reluctant to lend as much as they used to, and businesses are being held back by this. It would serve businesses well to find other capital sources if possible.

Monday, 21 December 2009

"Fragile" recovery for UK economy forecast by CBI

The CBI has predicted that the UK economy will show a gradual improvement in 2010, but the economic recovery will be “fragile”.

The group believes that the end of the UK recession will end in the fourth quarter of 2009, with a boost to consumer spending coming in December, prior to VAT going back up to 17.5 per cent in January. Despite that, however, the forecast is the economy will have reached pre-recession levels even by the end of 2011. Its latest forecast for the peak of unemployment is 2.8 million – lower than its original prediction.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director general, said: “Although the first few months of 2010 will be difficult, growth will gradually pick up and increasing confidence and demand will lead the UK into a more positive 2011.

“Consumer spending looks to be slightly more resilient than we first thought, and a weaker pound will help to support export growth.

“However, the economy will be on a fragile path of very slow growth, as we continue to feel the lasting effects of the financial crisis.”

Some of the CBI’s forecasts:
  • Annual growth of 1.2% in 2010, followed by growth of 2.5% in 2011.
  • Wage growth will be constrained during 2009 and 2010, then average earnings will rise by 3.9% in 2011.
  • UK interest rates to start rising in spring 2010, reaching 2% by the end of the year.
  • Inflation (CPI) to rise sharply following the rise in VAT in January, before easing back and falling below the Bank of England's target rate of 2% in 2011.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Fall in November retail sales should not be a surprise

It may be busy at the shops just a week before Christmas, but retail figures for November show a fall rather than the expected rise.

Retail sales were down 0.3 per cent in November, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The fall followed a 0.6 per cent rise in October.

The ONS said the fall was the result of a sharp fall in sales at non-specialist retailers, which would include department stores.

Economists may be surprised at these figures, but they were announced a few days after a rise in inflation to 1.9 per cent was announced.

Let’s face it, with fuel prices rising again, consumers are finding it tough out there. Figures for December will be interesting, but all the talk about huge public debt, rises in taxes, National Insurance, and the lack of certainty about jobs and wages will, I feel, result in guarded spending this Christmas.

This country’s not out of the recession yet.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Jobless claimant numbers down in the UK

There was a fall in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit in November for the first time in almost two years. It seems to be a clear indication that the peak of the jobless count will be lower than that forecast when the recession was at its worst.

Those claiming Jobseeker's allowance numbered 1.63m, a fall of 6,300, the first drop since February 2008, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Despite that fall, the number of unemployed people was up by 21,000 in the three months to the end of October, reaching 2.49m, but the rise was smaller than expected. Nevertheless, it is the biggest unemployment count for over 14 years, and the unemployment rate is 7.9%.

The good news is that the climb in unemployment figures is lower than expected. One of the reasons the numbers have been kept down is that employers have frozen pay and cut working hours in a bid to limit redundancies.

Chancellor Alistair Darling was surprisingly cautious about the figures. He said that the figures werer "very encouraging", but it would be "a mistake to believe that the corner has been turned. We still think unemployment will rise next year."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Inflation set to take off again

Inflation (the consumer prices index (CPI)) went up to 1.9% in November, from 1.5% the previous month. It stands at its highest since May when it was 2.2%.

Although 1.9% is as close as CPI has been to the government target of 2% since it was 2.1% in November 2007, there are fears that it is about lurch upwards, possibly to 3% in January.

The rise was mainly caused by higher petrol prices, which we have all suffered in recent weeks. Last November petrol prices were down by 8.3% on October; this time prices are up by 2.3% on the previous month.

Simon Ward, chief economist at Henderson, commented: "There is a risk that sharply higher headline rates will destabilise inflationary expectations in the absence of any policy response. With fiscal plans widely judged to lack credibility, the UK can ill afford any loss of confidence in the Bank's inflation-fighting determination."

It's a worrying trend.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

If you get bad service ... tweet it!

There is a sign that many businesses use - particularly those with close connection to their customers, such as restaurants, or car servicers - which they hope will promote their business to others, and at the same time give them notice of any problems.

It runs along the lines of:

"If you're happy with our service, tell your friends; if you're not, tell us."

The trouble is that the modern world is a very different beast. Apparently, dissatisfied customers are now tweeting their feelings via Twitter and other online social networks straight away, rather than complaining to the service provider.

Robert King, professor of consumer behaviour at Kingston Business School, who analysed the change in consumer behaviour, says that such instant exposure means that companies have to act fast to repair their reputations with customers.

It is to be hoped that improved service all round will be the result.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Great Yarmouth's fishing industry is finished

Great Yarmouth’s last full-time fisherman is to quit the industry. The once-great Norfolk fishing centre has seen the industry decline over the years thanks to European union rules and environmental concerns over fishing stocks.

Jason Clarke, 39, is the fourth generation of his family in the fishing industry, but he will be the last. He said he was “bitter” and blamed the EU quota system for destroying the town’s fishing industry in the last ten years.

With a meeting sue to start in Brussels tomorrow to discuss fishing quotas for 2010, fisheries minister Huw Irranca-Davies has warned that negotiations will be “tougher than ever”.

Mr Clarke decided not to wait any longer. “It is an absolute farce and I've had enough of it,” he said. ”I don't want to give up but there is only so much you can take. I will miss the fishing but it has been ruined by bureaucracy. The boat needs to make £2,000 a week minimum to make it pay and you can't get anywhere near that any more because of the restrictions. It is really sad for me and the family, after four generations of fishing. But I have been forced out by Brussels. It is sad for the town too.”

I find it sad that a town’s whole fishing industry has been sapped and destroyed. No one can stand in the way of progress and changing times, but sometimes you can’t help but feel suspicious about the motives of the EU (and I am no anti-European).

Mr Clarke went on to say: “There is so much fish in the sea, despite what you hear,” he said. “If I was leaving because there were no fish out there, it would be easier – but is just isn't so.”

“This fallacy about no fish in North Sea makes my blood boil. This last year, we could have made a very good living, but the system doesn't allow you to catch anything,” he added.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Pre-budget report aims all environmental issues at vehicles

It would be nice if your business could support environmental measures to help reduce carbon emissions in the UK.

I already work from home so my carbon footprint starts out low without the need to travel to work.

But did the Chancellor announce any support for businesses to improve their carbon footprint in his pre-budget report?

Any support seemed to be mainly in the area of vehicle use.

• support for electric vehicles. From April 2010:

  - all electric cars will be exempt from Company Car Tax for a period of 5 years

  - all electric vans will be exempt from Van Benefit Charge for 5 years

  - a 100 per cent first-year allowance will be provided for the purchase of electric vans, subject to confirming compatibility with State aid rules

That’s an incentive for company car fleets to switch to electric cars.

• from 2012, the CO2 emissions thresholds for Company Car Tax (CCT) bands will be shifted down by 5g CO2 per km, and the graduated table of CCT bands will be extended downwards to a new 10 per cent band for cars emitting up to 99g CO2 per km, in place of the existing 10 per cent band.

That’s a punitive incentive, aimed at getting more money out of companies with cars emitting more carbon.

• changes to the company fuel tax regime. From 6th April 2010, the figure used as the basis for calculating the benefit of private fuel received for a company car will rise from £16,900 to £18,000; and for a company van from £500 to £550.

Again, this is a punitive incentive with less fuel benefits than before.

• subject to clearance under the state aid rules, businesses will be able to claim 100 per cent first-year allowances for expenditure on new and unused electric vans incurred on or after 1 April 2010 (Corporation Tax) or 6 April 2010 (Income Tax).

This is also a positive incentive for companies to switch to electric vans.

I couldn’t see anything else in the business arena on environmental topics. It would be nice to have seen more positive incentives and other incentives than based on vehicle use. It all seems a bit narrow-minded somehow.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Chancellor moves to reduce youth unemployment

The Government says that unemployment was 2.46m in Quarter 3 of this year. It will come as no surprise that many parites expect it to continue to rise into 2010.

The CBI forecast unemployment will peak at 2.99m in Q2 2010. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) suggests it will reach 2.95m in Q1 2011. The British Chambers of Commerce's (BCC) prediction is a peak of 2.7m in Q2 2010, and the Ernst & Young Item Club predict the same level at about the same time - mid-2010.

In the pre-budget report yesterday Alistair Darling said that the Government will halve the length of time 18-24 year-olds will have to spend of Jobseeker's Allowance befor being offered training or a job. Previously a year, the new six-month timescale came into force yesterday.

In addition, the Chancellor announced plans to support 10,000 graduates from low-income families with internships, which will be short, unpaid jobs in professions with "historically poor access". This may start next summer.

Director of The Work Foundation, David Coats, said: "Mr Darling is moving in step with the other G20 economies by putting the highest priority on the reduction of unemployment."

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Darling's pre-budget report delays some rises for 'next government'

Alistair Darling has delivered his pre-budget report. He said he wanted to promote growth without "wrecking" recovery.

He was forced to admit that the recession in the UK had been worse than he predicted last year, and that the economy would shrink by 4.75 per cent in 2009 compared with his Budget estimate in April of 3.5 per cent. The public finances were deeper in the red with a deficit of £178bn this year compared with the £175bn he had predicted.

Although Mr Darling has been under pressure to show how Labour would halve the UK's budget deficit in four years, he said could not give details where the spending axe might fall because the spending review has been delayed until after a general election. However, he did say that frontline public services would be protected.

There will be a one-off tax on bank bonuses over £25,000, which he claimed would raise £0.5bn.

The National Insurance is to go up by another 0.5 per cent, on top of plans unveiled in last year's pre-Budget report to increase the tax by 0.5 per cent in April 2011. However, the National Insurance threshold will be raised so that noone earning less than £20,000 will pay it. Mr Darling claimed the changes would raise £3bn a year.

The CBI attacked the move as an "extra tax on jobs" which would harm the UK's recovery.

Mr Darling said that unemployment would continue to rise for some time, but said that tackling it would remain the government's top priority.

He also announced that a 1p increase in Corporation Tax for smaller companies is to be deferred, leaving the 2010 tax rate unchanged.

It looks like he’s holding back on several things for “the next government” to put in place. I wonder if he’ll regret that if Labour gets back in!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Vanishing searches will not help Google

An article in today's Daily Telegraph talks about how a business's website disappeared from Google's searche engines.

The business - Onenewspage.com - saw its visitor traffic dive after it had disappeared from Google's results. Google accounts for 70 per cent of all internet searches. Visitors to websites these are critical to the success of many businesses, and they take a great deal of trouble to work on the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) of their sites. It is hard work to get near the top of a keyword search. Google, it seems, can negate that overnight.

Google's standard response is not very helpful. It says: "We've processed your reconsideration request for X. We've now reviewed your site. When we review a site,we check to see if it's in violation of our guidelines. If we don't find any problems, we'll reconsider our indexing of your site. If your site still doesn't appear in our search results, check our Help Centre for steps you can take."

A Google spokesman said: "We don't comment on individual cases..." blah, blah, blah.

This is not good PR by Google. I have noticed this myself with my own sites and others. They sometimes seem to vanish in the Google world. Unless Google sorts this 'problem' (for it must be so) out, it will not retain its mighty position for very long.

Be warned, Google. Nothing stays on top for ever. As you know.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Sick notes vary wildly in time given off

It appears that there is a wide variation in the time patients are signed off for by different GPs across the country for the same condition.

There is government guidance on how long should be given off, but research found GPs generally ignore the advice.

The study, carried out by the University of Manchester and published in Occupational Medicine asked GPs how long should be given off for hernia repair, hysterectomy and heart attack. Responses were very different, for example, ranging from two to 13 weeks for a hysterectomy, and a third of respondents suggested four to six weeks more time to recover from a heart attack than recommended by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Further questions revealed that only a third of GPs knew that the government gave guidelines for sick leave.

The government is working on replacing sick notes with ‘fit notes’ in which a GP would outline what work a patient could carry out.

Leader of the study, Dr Richard Roope, said: "There is good evidence to show that work is generally good for health. We need to get across to GPs and patients alike that 'being signed off' may actually be bad for the health of the patient, their employer and the country as a whole."

Dr Tony Stevens, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine, said: "There needs to be culture shift amongst employers and patients and more support for GPs so that we can offer a more flexible approach that facilitates early rehabilitation to work."

Friday, 4 December 2009

Bailed-out banks fail to meet business lending targets

A National Audit Office (NAO) report has revealed that the state-owned banks in Britain will miss their targets for lending to small businesses for the year.

RBS and HBOS were given massive taxpayer support in the autumn of 2008, and at the time they promised to lend an additional £27bn to businesses, plus another £12bn to households. The NAO report says that "lending to businesses is not on track to meet targets". Indeed RBS has actually reduced its net lending to businesses by £9.1bn.

At the time of the bail-out Chancellor Alistair Darling said: "In return of this we have made it clear that we expect the banks to enter into legally binding, specific and quantifiable agreements to increase the amount of
credit in the economy."

If small businesses are unable to borrow as much as they would like, the wider economy is hit further, with failing businesses and rising unemployment.

A source from the Treasury said that the failure to meet the lending target does not necessarily mean that avilability of lending has gone down, but demand from businesses for loans has fallen as they re-assess their requirements.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

UK services sector grows to boost hopes of end to recession

Figures from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) released today show that the services sector in Britain grew again in November, as it did in October.

The continuing growth is good news for the economy as a whole as the services sector accounts for nearly three-quarters of the total economy. For this reason the services sector is often called the “engine room of the economy”.

The business activity index of CIPS was at 56.6, slightly down from the October peak of 56.9, and companies reported that new work coming in was at its fastest rate for over two years. British businesses are reporting confidence levels at their highest for two years as well.

CIPS’s chief executive David Noble said: “The services sector is continuing to grow but at a steady rather than spectacular rate.

“In contrast to the more fragile construction and manufacturing sectors, the UK services industry has shown growth for seven months now, which looked very unlikely in the dark days at the start of the year.”

The figures will be welcomed by Chancellor Alistair Darling who will deliver his Pre-Budget Report next Wednesday.

Although Britain is the only major economy still in recession, it is fairly clear that it will emerge from that status come the next quarterly figures in January. Nevertheless, it has been the longest recession since 1945.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Giving to charity is a side-pleasure of owning a business

One of the most surprising pleasures of running a business is ... giving money away!

Yes, incredible as it may sound, giving money away is a side-pleasure of being the owner of a business. But, of course, you want to give it away to deserving causes, by which, of course, I mean charity.

I own a business that doesn't have a huge turnover, and I make enough money to get by, rather than get mega-rich. Yet still I find it a great pleasure to give around 10 per cent of my profits to charity. Although my business could be international it tends to provide a local service, so I have so far given to local charities (and it's my business so it's my decision!).

I would much prefer to give money to charity rather than the taxman, who'll use it for his own purposes, many of which I might not agree with (and don't even start me on MPs' expenses!).

When I first gave money to charity from the business I was amazed at the sense of pride I felt. Yes, I had managed to make a little bit of money for the company, and give some away to a worthwhile cause. Marvellous.

As long as the business continues to make a profit, I will continue to contribute to charity. If you're a business owner and you're not doing it already, I suggest you try it too.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Business start-ups are down in the UK

Official figures show that there were four per cent less new businesses starting up in the UK last year. The number was 270,000.

However, the rate of business closures was only two per cent worse, to 219,000, in spite of the credit crunch and then the recession.

Most new businesses were set up in professional, scientific and technical ventures, which saw 54,000 new businesses. The highest closure rate was in construction, which lost 33,000 businesses.

Late payments slow down

Meanwhile, the late payment of bills eased to 21 days in October, according to Experian, the business information company. This is two days better than the 23 days of October 2008, and the quickest rate since April 2008. The biggest improvement came from large companies, down to 23.4 days on average, and the area seeing the best improvement was the South West.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Beware banter in the office

It seems that bosses and their staff are poles apart when it comes to office banter.

Research by insurer Hiscox suggests that employees can be offended by swearing or staff being called 'love', whereas bosses are more relaxed about it.

Managers could be giving themselves a potential accusation of sexism or similar if they don't tackle these issues.

Seventy per cent of employees surveyed said bad behaviour was commonplace in the office; 59 per cent were bothered by bad language and 47 per cent disliked pet names like 'love' and 'babe'.

However, bosses apparently take a different view. Of those surveyed, 70 per cent were said to be 'unconcerned' about the possibility of legal action and 82 per cent believed there was nothing wrong with 'banter'.

Just over half (51 per cent) of workers felt that their bosses should do more to get rid of bad behaviour.

Hiscox's Callum Taylor said: "One employee's banter can esaily turn into another employee's lawsuit."

Friday, 27 November 2009

UK's top brands

Branding is crucial to the success of a business, especially a business that wants to make it big.

The Superbrands organisation in the UK promotes the discipline of branding has had three annual programmes (Superbrands, Business Superbrands and CoolBrands) which commissions indepdent researchers to judge the best in each category. As it says: "A Superbrand has established the finest repuation in its field. It offers customers significant emotional and tangible advantges over other brands, which (consciously or subconsciously) customers want to recognise."

Here are the top 10 in each category for 2009:

1. Microsoft
2. Rolex
3. Google
4. British Airways
5. BBC
6. Mercedes-Benz
7. Coca-Cola
8. Lego
9. Apple
10. Encycolpaedia Britannica

Business Superbrands
1. Google
2. Rolls Royce Group
3. Sony
4. Microsoft
5. Nokia
6. GlaxoSmithKline
7. London Stock Exchange
8. Michelin
9. BP
10. Bupa

1. iPhone
2. Aston Martin
3. Apple
4. iPod
5. Nintendo
6. YouTube
7. BlackBerry
8. Google
9. Bang & Olufsen
10. Playstation

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Pull marketing is the future

Marketing is a crucial aspect of any business.

Mark Thomson media director at Royal Mail, says that marketers must take on board modern methods of using information on clients.

Writing for Marketing Week, he said that current promotions tended to highlight the “modern transition from push to pull marketing”, as consumers nowadays telling companies what they want access to.

This is, he wrote, “ a key ingredient in boosting response rates.”

“Marketers must use their data wisely to understand what individuals want and tailor their direct communications to make sure the right message reaches the right person at the right time.”

A previous survey in Marketing Week had found that over 50 per cent of companies believed that direct mail had an influence on executives in top positions. The survey also said that the channel had continued to perform well during the recession.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Businesses look to sustainable future

Businesses are taking a more cautious approach to their banking arrangements according to a new report. There are also looking to reduce debt after the economic turmoil and recession of the past two years.

Figures from the CBI reveal that 68 per cent of business respondents say they don’t expect credit availability to improve in the next year, and are reviewing their company finances as a result. They are looking to have less debt with banks, and reduce reliance on business credit cards.

About a quarter are planning to increase bond issues, and 44 per cent will look to make increased us of equity finance.

In addition to these moves, businesses say they will look more at sustainability and ethics in their future business models, believing that accountability and corporate citizenship improvements will make them more attractive to both staff and customers alike.

Director Geneal of the CBI, Richard Lambert, said: “We may be at the start of a new era for businesses, in which attitudes to finance and to corporate leadership are changed for a generation by the shock of the past two years.”

Taking his words, a “more balanced, less risky pathway to growth” looks like a sensible path for the future.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Web makes business start-up easier

The web is making it easier than ever for would-be entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into real businesses. So says, Matt Brittin from Google. It's hard to disagree.

He said: "It is now easier than at any point in history for entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into a business reality. Start-up businesses can tap into a global market from the very day they're created. Incisive, dynamic entrepreneurs will be most successful during the first economic recovery in a truly digital world."

Many people will be delighted to hear this. Figures from YouGov showed that more than 6 million adults (17 per cent) would like to start their own business.

If only 10 per cent of those people actually made the move it would mean the creation of 647,000 new businesses, with employment for potentially 1.1 million people, claimed Enterprise UK, who commissioned the poll.

However, management company Intuit said their poll showed that many of those people intended to delay setting up a business. Intuit's small business specialist Catherine Harrell said: "It's completely understandable that British people are taking a more cautious approach. The good news is that the desire to become an entrepreneur is still alive and kicking for lots of Brits."

Monday, 23 November 2009

Happy National Freelancers Day!

Today, Monday 23 November, is National Freelancers Day, as declared by PCG - an independent not-for-profit professional association, whose mission is to represent, support and promote the freelance community, with specific attention to the needs of those freelancers who are members of PCG.

National Freelancers Day aims to:

• Highlights this flexible, agile and expert community to UK businesses, showing how to engage and work with freelancers effectively
• Celebrate freelancing as a valid career choice, highlighting the community and support network
• Emphasise that to unlock the full potential of freelancing, Government must recognise that freelancers are in business and entitled to clear and fair taxation laws

The underlying idea is to gain wider recognition that the workforce of freelancers, contractors and consultants make to the UK economy.

For more information about PCG, look at their website: http://www.pcg.org.uk/cms/index.php.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Britain's debt will continue to grow

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has said that Britain has a growing risk of public debt spiral unless the Government takes drastic action to cut the deficit.

For anyone who's been in debt or even simply understands how debt works, this was obvious. If you keep spending and borrowing when you're already in debt, guess what ... the debt gets worse.

What I don't understand is how an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, a man who claimed to have "saved the world", can fail to understand this.

Earlier this week in the Queen's Speech the Government said it would make it a law to halve the deficit in the next four years, and reduce debt every year for the next ten. Yet the OECD figures suggest that Britain's debt will be even higher next year than it is now - causing the Government to break its own law! (Maybe Mr Brown knows that a Conservative Prime Minister who will be in charge by then!)

Britain's deficit is likely to remain higher than any other major country, including the bankrupt Iceland.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne commented: "Today is a defining moment in the debate about Britain's debt ... Gordon Brown has not just lost control of the public finance, but lost the economic argument about the crisis."

Whether they like it or not, the first step to the solution is blindingly obvious: reduce spending now.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Is following simple instructions so hard?

I am always amazed at the number of people who find it hard, or even impossible, to follow the simplest instructions.

Is it because they don't read the instructions?
Maybe it's because the instructions are actually not clear enough.
Or is it because they think they know better, or have a different way of working?

Whatever it is, it is very frustrating and causes me (and therefore, I'm sure, many other bosses, project managers etc) a lot of wasted time, either repeating, rewriting instructions or covering for the errors.

And yet through all this you must remain calm and make sure that in the end things are done properly. Email helps in this respect. So long as you are not confronted with errors face to face, then you can count to ten, and send an email encouraging the recipient to do it as per the instructions this time...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Queen's Speech:key points

The Queen has delivered her speech to open a new session of Parliament, and of course, it was really Labour’s election manifesto.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg accused labour of using the speech for its own political ends, and called for the speech to be cancelled and emergency reforms to be put in its place, the implication being that little of the Speech would reach the statute books before next year’s election.

Thirteen bills were announced – some carried over the last session – and the much-discussed Fiscal Responsibility Bill will inevitably take centre stage in the coming weeks, and what will it do? Commit a future government to reducing the huge budget deficit in future. Surely obvious without the need for a Bill?

The Financial Services Bill aims to strengthen the control of pay for those in the financial services industry. Although this has been much discussed too, it is still rather incredible that Gordon Brown will oversee this Bill, yet here is the same man who, as Chancellor, reaped the rich dividends from a burgeoning financial service industry throughout most of the early years of the twenty-first century.

The Child Poverty Bill commits Government to abolish poverty among children by 2020. A noble cause, of course, but this government has already missed other poverty targets, and 2020 is over 10 years away! Is this a commitment, or a trap for a future (probably Conservative) government?

The Equality Bill aims to narrow the gap between rich and poor in the public sector; it bans age discrimination outside the workplace; and it will require businesses with more than 250 people to report on differences in pay between the genders. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

It will also be interesting to see how many Bills make it through before next May.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Freelancers keep unemployment down

Unemployment would have risen to a higher level than it already has if it weren't for the increasing number of freelancers and people running their own businesses.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that employers were wary of hiring full-time staff, and have turned to skilled freelancers in many cases.

There has been a long-term trend towards people moving into self-employment to give themselves power over their own work and taking advantage of more flexible working conditions.

The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) estimates that around 1.4 million people have chosen to work as contractors rather than taking temporary work.

This Friday the Government's Global Enterprise Week has a series of events focused on homeworking; and next Monday the PCG is organising a series of events to mark National Freelancers Day.

At last there seems to be some recognition for this increasing sector of the workforce which does a huge amount to keep Britain's economy pumping - in good times as well as bad.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Banks "should contribute to society" says Barclays chief

John Varley, the chief executive of Barclays Bank, has admitted that banks have 'much to be sorry for' and need to show gratitude to the British public for the taxpayer bail-out of the industry.

He said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph that banks needed to display responsible behaviour, support economic progress and contribute to society.

Mr Varley believes that banks are "important to the economies of the world" and therefore to society.

He acknowledged that without decisive actions to restore confidence around the world, the banking system would have collapsed. Although Barclays did not get a taxpayer hand-out,Mr Varley admitted that his bank had benefited from the actions taken to bail out other banks.

The problem is - as I see it - that as banks take action to shaw themselves up by keeping the money being pumped into them, they are taking action to make themselves more robust and "behaving reesponsibly", but they are not doing enough to benefit the economy and society.

Homeowners could benefit more from better mortgage deals; savers could benefit more from better savings rates; businesses could benefit more from better loan deals and reduced charges; and, no, we don't want charges on individual bank accounts.

If banks really wanted to contribute to the economy and society, this is what they would be aiming for. It doesn't make them irresponsible if done in reasonable measures. Just give something back.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The taxman asks for trust from businesses

Having a tax man call at your business premises is about the same as having a police car draw up on your home’s driveway.

What have I done wrong?
What have the kids (staff) done wrong?

It’s natural to feel guilty even if you haven’t done anything wrong, and we lack a certain trust for such figures of authority.

Well the HMRC is asking business people to trust them and to allow a tax man to join staff to work in their offices to get a better understanding of the commercial world.

Dave Hartnett of the HMRC is writing to major companies and firms of tax advisers to ask them to consider taking in tax officials on secondment. While delivering the Hardman lecture at the Institute of Chartered Accountants on Wednesday night, Mr Hartnett said: “I urge you to take many more of our people on secondment, to trust them and to work with us to improve the operation of tax administration.”

It seems there is some annoyance within the HMRC that they take business people in on secondment to understand the workings of the tax office, but there is little reciprocation.

Speaking to tax advisers, he said: “Some of you say that clients are just not happy to see tax officials working in your firms. I say be firm with the clients and trust our people as we trust yours.”

Mr Hartnett added: “It is not enough for tax advisers to say they want to make the UK a global centre for business while at the same time helping corporations and businesses to exit. Of course business needs the freedom to come and go, but there is a trust issue here which leads my colleagues to worry about some of the representations they receive.”

It will be interesting to see what understanding follows as a result of any such secondments.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Britain must learn to support success

Hossein Yassaie is chief executive of Imagination Technologies, a designer of microships used in 86 million gadgets, including Apple's iPhone. In an article in today's Telegraph, 53-year-old Iranian-born Mr Yassaie laments the "poverty of ambition" in Britain which has left us as a poor relation in the international technology industry.

"Britain should have a host of really big technology brands, like Apple, Microsoft and Google, but we don't," says Mr Yassaie. "Why don't we have Apple? If you go round big technology companies, like Apple, you will find a lot of the people are British." That includes Jonathan Ive, the designer of the the iPod and the iMac.

"We have some of the best brains in the industry, but we don't have the companies or the brands," said Mr Yassaie.

When challenged that Britain couldn't create a new Microsoft or Google, Mr Yassaie is indignant. "Why not? There are massive opportunities out there, but we are not taking them. Success is not celebrated in the UK. In the US the Google guys are adored and everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. It just doesn't happen here."

And therein lies the crux of the problem. Britain used to celebrate glorious failure. Nowadays delete "glorious". We revel in failure, and anyone who is successful (businesses, sportsmen and women, musicians, entertainers, even successful students) are lambasted.

Mr Yassaie has vowed to write a "very long letter" to winner of the general election next year, asking them to address a "long list of problems".

The Government, says Mr Yassaie, must look to give more support to entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

He is right. We must learn to support success, not failure.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

For motivation, catch someone doing something right

I received a newsletter from John Dashfield at http://www.dashfield.com/ this week. I'd like to quote one article in its entirety:

Most business people want to perform better. Organisations want their people to perform better. Enormous amounts of money are spent on coaching, training and ideas to increase performance.

In spite of this there's one simple truth that many people either ignore or are unaware of that, if it were followed, it would often transform results. That truth is:

You get more of what you reward.

Why do sales people often get paid on commission? Why do employers create bonus schemes?

I know from years of coaching business people that we can be very quick to criticise, whether that be ourselves or other people, and yet we find it far harder to reward something that's being done right or almost right.

The problem with this is that it results in confusion. This comes from there being criticism for doing something perceived as 'wrong' but no reward for doing something that's right. Consequently, the focus is often on avoiding doing something 'wrong', which, ironically, tends to lead to more of that behaviour rather than the right behaviour.

In one of my favourite business books 'How to win customers and keep them for life' by Michael LeBoeff it says "The single greatest obstacle to effective performance in most organisations is the giant mismatch between the behaviour needed and the behaviour rewarded."

In the best selling book 'The One Minute manager' by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, it says "The most important thing in training somebody to become a winner is to catch them doing something right - in the beginning approximately right."

This isn't just a business thing. It works everywhere. We can praise and reward anyone we believe deserves it. The way to improve at this is to begin with ourselves. When you do something right then acknowledge it and appropriately reward yourself. Your unconscious mind will then begin to 'get it' and you'll not only find yourself doing better you'll also find yourself feeling good more of the time. When you feel good you'll be far more inclined to encourage other people.

Find more about John Dashfield at http://www.dashfield.com/.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Sad indictment of UK management

A survey of 3,000 adults of the UK workforce conducted by OnePoll on behalf of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has revealed that half of them believe they could do a better job than their current boss.

Similar numbers (49 per cent) said they would actually take a pay cut to work for a better manager, and 47 per cent have left a job because of the poor management.

This is sad indictment of the perceived quality of management in UK’s businesses.

CMI chief executive Ruth Spellman commented: “The figures reveal the depth of the crisis of confidence in UK management and leadership and the enormous toll bad management is taking on the UK economy and people’s wellbeing.”

Tonight the CMI is launching a Better Managed Britain campaign, and is meeting with representatives from the three main political parties to demand action to transform management and leadership performance.

Further interesting results came from the survey. Just over two-thirds of managers surveyed confessed to being ‘accidental’ managers, not wanting a management position at the start of their careers. Forty per cent said they did not want the responsibility of managing people at all, and almost two-thirds of managers said they had not had management training. Only 28 per cent of managers hold any type of formal management qualification.

Ruth Spellman isn’t surprised that bad management is such an issue in the UK. She said: “We invest less in our managers than our global competitors and it shows.”

She added: “If we’re going to stay competitive internationally, the Government and employers need to address this worrying skills gap. In what other profession would it be acceptable for only a quarter of practitioners to hold a professional qualification? The sad truth is that UK managers are no longer regarded as professional, competent or accountable. By signing up to the Manifesto, policy makers, managers and leaders can demonstrate their commitment to raising UK plc’s game.”

More than 1,500 leaders and managers have already pledged their commitment to CMI’s Manifesto, from organisations including PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Interbrand. If you wish to join and pledge your support for a Better Managed Britain, you can do so at www.managers.org.uk/manifesto.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lloyds to improve its support to SMEs

Lloyds Banking Group has come up with a new promise to help new businesses in the next few years. It is called "2012 SME charter".

Its dual aim is to meet complaints from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) about raising finance and fulfil pledges to make greater efforts to ease constraints on businesses and provide more support to support recovery from the recession.

The charter, says Lloyds, will give a boost to enterprise, improve access to finance and give clearer and fairer pricing for all customers with a turnover of up to £15 million.

Lloyds Banking Group has an 18 per cent share of the SME market in England and Wales - less than Barclays and RBS. The charter will cover all customers of Lloyds, TSB and Bank of Scotland.

The new charter aims to provide stronger support and backup to around 300,000 start-ups in the three-year period. It will run 200 seminars a year for new businesses and provide personal and online guidance covering start-up, employment, export, sustainability and finance.

Lloyds says it will meet "every reasonable request" from "viable customers" for finance.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Banks benefit from quantitative easing

The Bank of England is going to print another £25 billion in its quantitative easing programme - and it should be the final amount of extra cash pumped into the economy; the total has reached £200 billion since QE began in March.

Have you felt it? Have you had your share? If you own a business, have you found it easier to get credit?

Like the innocent child asked when we 'lost' all that money in the days of the credit crunch: where has it all gone?

Quantitative easing and low interest rates should make it easier for businesses to get credit. The fact that as taxpayers we own most of the banks now should also make it easier to get credit.

It hasn't. The banks are stockpiling cash (apart from their chunky bonuses once again), and would claim that they are doing what they were told to do: making a banking crisis less likely in the future and only lending 'responsibly'.

Here's you cake; have a hefty bite from it.

Just as businesses and individuals will abandon Royal Mail because of the foolish strikes that have been perpetrated in recent weeks, it would be nice if we could find an alternative to these banks.

Suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Calls for Sir Alan Sugar to be "Fired"!

It would be hard not follow up yesterday’s post when Enterprise Champion Sir Alan Sugar is squarely in the news again today.

Following his harsh comments about small businesses (see yesterday’s post) on Tuesday night, many business owners were called for him to be “Fired” yesterday.

Although a wave of complaints by business owners might be a nuisance to Gordon Brown, who appointed him as the Government’s Enterprise Champion, the PM is likely to remain unembarrassed, as he has appears to have come through many other potential embarrassments with an enviable display of thick skin.

The Federation of Small Businesses said a number of firms had complained to them about Lord Sugar’s outburst. Chairman John Wright said: “Despite being appointed by the Government to champion business in the UK, Lord Sugar seems to have no grasp of the hard work small businesses do and the role they play in employing six in ten of the country’s private sector work force.

“We urge the Prime Minister to appoint someone with a great understanding of the small business sector.”

Lord Sugar rebutted the argument by saying: “It is unfortunate that my words have been taken out of context.”

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sir Alan Sugar bemoans "bust" businesses

Sir Alan Sugar, boss of Amstrad, star of BBC’s The Apprentice and the Government’s Enterprise Champion, has launched an attacked on Britain’s struggling small business bosses.

Speaking to 300 business owners in Manchester Sir Alan said that 85 per cent of small business who had been refused loans weren’t worth lending to anyway, and that many firms needed a bankruptcy adviser rather than a bank.

The eight-minute rant was delivered after one business owner told him four banks had refused to lend him £20,000 because of “cash-flow” difficulties.

Sir Alan said: "Banks are there to do business. Anyone who says they are not are wrong.

"Regretfully, when we delve into some examples of the companies that have gone to the banks saying 'lend me some money', I wouldn't lend them a penny.

"They are bust and don't need the bank - they need an insolvency practitioner.

"I would look you right in the eye and tell you out of 100 complaints, on investigation, I would say 15 of them had something to moan about."

He went on to say: "The problem is that some younger people who have lived through the last 10 years or so of business think the irresponsible manner in which the banks dealt is the norm.

"Let me tell you, you have lived in the unrealistic Disneyworld in the way banks dished out money."

Lord Sugar’s comments were not taken very well by the business owners. One delegate said: "There could have been a bit more enthusiasm here. There's been lot of negativity."

So much for being the Enterprise Champion for the Government (who have borrowed billions of pounds!).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Business confidence on the up in the UK

Recent research by the Telegraph Business Club for Santander Corporate Banking shows an improvement in confidence among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Now 75 per cent of a thousand companies surveyed say they are confident about short-term business prospects.

Around 17 per cent say they are planning to take on more staff in the run up to Christmas. Conversely, around ten per cent say they will be making cutbacks.

Slightly larger companies (turnover £1m - £4m) show 25 per cent increasing staff and 17 per cent reducing staff.

Another good sign of business confidence is the reduction in turnaround time for bill payments. Information services group Experian says that on average bills were paid two days faster in September than they were in August.

An interesting effect of the recession has been an increase in the number of women starting up their own businesses. Future Laboratory, who did the research, forecast that the number of women-run businesses will double to 2 million in the next ten years.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Small shops demand action from Government

Small shopkeepers are rightly worried about their futures, and tomorrow the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) will present a 10-point action plan to the Government to safeguard the future of thousands of stores.

The ACS, representing 33,500 small shops, will present its proposals to MPs, including the minister for regional economic development and co-ordination, Rosie Winterton, at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Actions include an abolition of minimum wage increases, a reduction in business rates, and a re-think of the ban on tobacco displays.

It has been estimated that, since the start of 2008, 12,000 independent shops have closed, and ACS chief executive James Lowman described the numbers of shops closing in the last two years as "a massive spike".

The convenience store sector generates £30 billion a year to the economy, and employs 500,000 people.

A survey by ACS showed that 82 per cent of people feel that their local community would negatively impacted by the closure of local shops.

Friday, 30 October 2009

What's in a business name?

I was discussing my friend's start-up business with him earlier on today. He is closing in on a business plan and thinking about pricing for his new service.

But he hasn't got a name for the business yet.

The questions are:
  • Should the name reflect what the business does (e.g. Carpets 4 U)?
  • Should the business be named after him (e.g. Sainsbury's)?
  • Should the name be a brand (e.g. Virgin)?
I think the last one is out. Whether Richard Branson got lucky or not, I don't know, but I think it's the hardest thing to build up a brand name, especially when my friend has ONE particular service in mind.

Similary, businesses given the name of the founder give no indication of what they're about.

I think these days it is best to have a name that indicates what the business does in some way. The name should also be able to double up as a website address if at all possible. Then the name will also become a brand.

There are further questions. Should the name steer away from plurals as this gives rise to apostrophe abuse? In the same way Sainsbury's would be a no-no because it uses an apostrophe. Let's keep away from obvious trip hazards.

My advise is to keep it simple, keep it singular, let the name do the talking and double it up as a web address.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Give me back my old Facebook!

Facebook made a change to the way it displays news to users the other day. As far as I'm aware there was no announcement - it just changed. Within hours there was a Facebook "group" decrying the move. A day or two later, a solution spread across the social media site istelf, enabling people to change their view to the way it used to be.

Microsoft is probably the most famous software provider of them all. With each new version of Windows it "upgrades" its software, as it does in new releases of Word, Excel etc. The trouble is that what it thinks of as an "upgrade" many of us users think of as "a pain in the ****" and we want to continue to do things the way we used to do them!

Do they ever ask us if we want these changes?

I'll bet if they asked us, we'd say we want more reliable software that doesn't crash or lose our files or cost so much.

In the name of progress - "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Call for tax system to encourage enterprise

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) says that private businesses want a tax regime that does more to encourage business enterprise. Only a third of private business owners surveyed believe that the current tax rules promote enterprise.

Mary Monfries, head of UK private business at PwC siad that a certain, stable tax environment would help. "Reducing tax rates would be a challenge in the current economic climate, but a reduction in the rate of change and certainty should be easier to deliver," she said.

Stability was essential so that businesses could make informed commercial decisions, Ms Monfries said.

Other results in the survey showed that business owners would like a more effective voice in Government to help future enterprise, with 45 per cent saying that privately-owned businesses were not heard by Government.

A third of business owners felt that business plans had been compromised by a lack of financial support in the last year. The figure was nearly half in Scotland.

The survey also revealed that most business owners are not fully aware of different tax reliefs available in the UK.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Starting a new business - is it right for you?

Many people reach a point in their working lives where working for someone else no longer gives them what they want - whether that's in terms of money, position, self-esteem, or simple working flexibility.

At that time, their feet get very itchy, and it can often result in them deciding to look for an opportunity to start up a business of their own.

It is, however, a big step and one not to be taken lightly.

Instead of that steady monthly income, your income will now be patchy, unpredictable and, at first, probably zero! If you have a mortgage, a family or debts, you need to think about it very carefully.

Of course, many people take the decision to strike out on their own after a key event, such as being made redundant. Backed with redundancy money, starting your own business can seem a good option.

There are risks, but if you want to get really rich, then owning and running your own business has better possibilities than working for someone else (and making them rich!).

Back to those risks. They are unavoidable when you set up your own business. There's a risk you won't succeed, and lose any investment you make; there's a risk you'll fall out with any business partners; there's a risk that it will take you long enough to fail that getting back into employment will be next to impossible.

So, think carefully before you take the step. But if you do, go onward with your eyes open. Know what you're getting in, and grab the opportunity with both hands.

More in future.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The best investor of them all: Warren Buffet

Legendary investor Warren Buffet is coming through one of the most perfect financial storms ever by putting his own tenets into practice.

He has said in the past: “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy”.

There was hardly a more fearful time than last September when banks, such as Lehman Brothers, were collapsing, yet Mr Buffet invested £3 billion into Goldman Sachs on favourable terms.

As in most cases for Mr Buffet, it looks like being a good deal, with potential profits in the billions.

Over the years since 1965 his company Berkshire Hathaway has achieved an incredible 20.3 per cent annual growth in value, which has resulted in a raise in value of 336,000 per cent – 84 times better than the standard US index fund, the S&P 500.

Mr Buffet has made his money – not from inventing anything, or coming up with a great business idea, but from sound investments into solid companies with little risk. (I doubt he would have fared too well on Dragons’ Den!). As well as shares in companies, Mr Buffet buys the companies themselves. Today Berkshire Hathaway owns around 70 businesses. Crucially, he has always bought shares for the long-term and, as a shareholder, thought of himself as buying a part of a business.

Mr Buffett looks for investment in profitable businesses with good prospects rather than undervalued shares. He says that focusing on share prices makes you a speculator. A real investor, he says: "looks to the asset itself to produce the return".

With such success to back him up, his are investment lessons that we should all follow.

The World's Greatest Money Maker: Evan Davis meets Warren Buffett, broadcast 2100 Monday 26 October and 1120PM Tuesday 27 October on BBC Two.

Friday, 23 October 2009

UK economy stays in recession

So, whereas the French and German economies have come out of the recession, the UK economy stayed firmly in recession in the third quarter with a contraction of 0.4 per cent.

This is particularly bad, because most experts had forecast that we would come out of recession, with perhaps a 0.2 per cent growth.

It is now six quarters of consecutive negative GDP growth – the first time this has happened since records began to be collected by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 1955.

The fact that other major European economies, plus Japan, have come out of the recession while the UK remains firmly in it, makes you wonder about PM Gordon Brown’s comments in September 2008: “…at root our economy is better placed to weather the global storm than it was in the seventies, the eighties and the nineties".

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister said: “We are now coming out of recession as a result of the actions that we have taken. I think you will see figures pretty soon that show the action that Britain has taken yielding effect.” Expect him to take a battering in the Commons in the next few days.

Upon release of the figures the pound fell more than a cent against the US dollar, as traders displayed concern that the UK may be left as the only major economy still in recession.

Despite stimulus measures taken by the government and the Bank of England, the economic decline has continued.

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Continued intervention - including help for businesses to access finance, and incentives to promote investment - is still needed. Above all else, business confidence must be nurtured, to ensure that recovery is not further delayed."

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Small businesses can save the UK economy

According to a former head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the struggling UK economy will be saved by small businesses.

Speaking at the opening of BT’s Small Business Week on Tuesday, Lord Digby Jones said: “They are the only ones which create the wealth that can pay the taxes which can repay the public debt.”

He encouraged small businesses to “move up the supply chain by providing value-added, innovative goods and services” that could then be sold around the world. While the UK economy was still in the doldrums, Lord Jones noted that China and India were still managing 9 and 6 per cent growth respectively.

“The only way to get out of the economic mess we’re in is to trade our way out of it,” he said.

Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Peter Jones agreed: “We need to think about how to make smaller businesses compete, not just on a national, but on a global scale.”

The trouble is that Britain suffers from an underlying envy of successful businesses, thinking that business owners will become ‘fat cats’. Instead, we need to nurture a culture, not of envy, but of aspiration, where business owners are encouraged to be successful, thereby creating wealth – yes, for themselves, but also for those that they employ.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bank of England Governor calls for banking reform

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has attacked the banking system, saying that retail banks should be separated from investment banks.

He said that the financial support banks had received from the Government had “created possibly the biggest moral hazard in history”.

His comments cut against the views of both UK and US governments who have privately ruled out any banking split.

Mr King said: “It is in our collective interest to reduce the dependency of so many households and businesses on so few institutions that engage in so many risky activities. The case for a serious review of how the banking industry is structured and regulated is strong.”

Mr King is concerned that not enough efforts have been made to ensure that banks won’t fail rather than be bailed out by the state if they have problems.

In the current circumstances, banks can take risks, and pocket the money if things go well; shrug their shoulders and know they’ll be handed a rescue package if things go belly up.

As a business owner and an individual I have a big problem with the banks screwing things up, getting a hand-out from Government, then refusing to lend to us, and threatening to put charges up.

We continue to pay for others’ mistakes.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

SuccessTrack could set you on your way

A few days ago I spotted a "stock clearout" offer from SuccessTrack on Ecademy, and quickly filled in the form to receive a bunch of goodies. Delivered by our flakey postal system, they actually arrived this morning. Thank you!

It's a great bundle: DVDs, newsletters, reports, books. They will keep me going for many weeks.

SuccessTrack's strapline is "Success Strategies for Business Owners" and they are particularly aimed at small businesses who "want to take their business to the next level of success and profitability". It sounds great.

SuccessTrack runs webinars and seminars and has an "Introductory Meeting" on 7/8 November. To be held at a conference centre in Amersham, Bucks, it's free to attend, but lunch is charged at £29 + VAT (this enables the event to use the conference facilities for free) to Ecademy members (it's £197 + VAT otherwise).

This is great for UK business owners because SuccessTrack is based in the UK, and Founder Jonathan Jay is English.

See http://www.successtrackonline.com/ and see this online video http://openchannel.multichanneltv.com/successtrack/.

They haven't paid me to do this, but I thought they were well worth the plug!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Google encouraged by business use of its apps

Google is delighted to be spreading the word that businesses are benefiting from its technology, and it has announced an advertising push to highlight the increasing number of businesses that now use its services.

The new campaign, entitled ‘Gone Google’ is going live in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Singapore, with the aim of promoting Google Apps, now being used by over two million businesses worldwide.

Rentokil Initial is the latest addition to the Google user family, announcing last week that it is to deploy Google’s hosted, cloud-based system, rolling it out eventually to 35,000 users.

Google Enterprise Team members Tom Oliveri and Vivian Leung said in a blog post that they had seen thousands of tweets and comments about business use of Google Apps and products, such as Google Postini Services and Google Search Appliance.

From simple search engine beginnings, Google is out to conquer the world!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Patience running out with excessive government control

Here is a letter in today's Daily Telegraph which I have decided to reprint in full. It's from Martin Moyes of Holt, Wiltshire.

"There has to be a rational explanation for the electorate being so angry about MPs' expenses and, at the same time, the MPS not 'getting it' at all.

It is not really how extravagant they have been - the sum of all their expenses is less than a drop in the ocean of Government spending.

No, the outrage is a measure of how boxed in - Shakespeare would have said 'cabined, cribbed, confined' - the rest of us are.

The comparison between them and us is extraordinary in the matter of personal taxation. Correspondents have given numerous examples of the lawmakers exempting themselves from their own strictures on the rest of us.

But the disparity is there throughout our daily lives, where the innocent are watched, measured, recorded, classified, threatened, fined, nannied and generally oppressed.

The expenses debacle is the first symptom of a desperate underlying malaise which will only be cured when the whole purpose of government changes from 'control' to 'enable'.

Sherlock Holmes put it neatly with typical understatement: 'The Englishman is a patient creature, but at present his temper is a little inflamed and it would be wise not to push him too far.'"

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Social networking: no excuses for small businesses

While it might be tricky for large companies to figure out the best way to use social networking tools - such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging like this - there is really no such excuse for a small business.

The reasons are all there, but the underlying one is - marketing.

It's about getting your name out there, being heard, becoming known, earning a reputation.

For a small business, this is essential, and without the tools and resources of a big company, online marketing represents a glorious opportunity.

The problem for a small business is that social networking means doing it ... relentlessly. Because, if you stop, you're off the map. Like a Twitter or Facebook comment, you literally drop off the bottom of the screen.

"Not having the time" is no excuse, because if you don't market, you'll get no business. Social networking marketing is free, except for your time.

The way you use your time is up to you, but using it to market your business is an excellent way to use it.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

BlackBerry Curve 8900 reviewed

In this blog on 29 September, I praised T-Mobile for their quick response in replacing my broken old BlackBerry with a new Curve 8900 Smartphone. It duly arrived by post on the date as expected.

I was asked to review the phone, and having now used it for a couple of weeks, I can give a short review.

Probably like most business users, I mainly use the phone for email and phone calls, backed up by some texting and Internet use. I don't tend to use the music or games facilities, though I have tested the camera.

Let's start with the camera. It has 3.2 megapixels - not large by today's camera (or many phone) standards, but I have found pictures taken in the daylight to be perfectly adequate for my needs so far.

The Curve is wider than my old BlackBerry 8110, but this has not been an issue to date. It still slips easily into a trouser pocket, or even a shirt pocket, and is not heavy enough to be a problem.

The width of the Curve has the advantage of giving it a wider screen, but, presumably, the reason the phone is wider is to make room for a full QWERTY keyboard. This is certainly better for typing (no more of that old predictive text or multi-presses), but the keys are mighty small!

One feature I particularly like is the single press (top left of the unit) to release the phone from keyboard lock as opposed to the double key press of the 8110. Small thing, but significant.

The screen gives a clear presentation and although website text can be miniscule (reach for the glasses!), it is still clear and readable.

All in all, I am very pleased with the phone to date.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

BCC says recovery is "fraught with danger"

Another day, and another assessment of the state of health of the British economy.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says that the economic recovery is "fraught with danger". Its quarterly survey indicates that both manufacturing and services companies are predicting improving turnover and profits, but the overall picture is still negative - businesses still expect things to get worse before they get better.

The BCC said that any signs of Britain emerging from the recession were "fraught with danger" as highlighted by the fragile figures.

Although David Kern, BCC chief economist, is confident Britain will technically come out of recession in the fourth quarter, he is more concerned about next year.

"When the stock cycle finishes and starts to turn towards the middle of next year, the crucial question is whether at that time we get demand sustaining the economy or we fall into a double dip," he said.

The BCC called upon Government to avoid placing additional taxes on business, and recommended scrapping the increase in National Insurance contributions planned for 2011.

Monday, 12 October 2009

UK business climate improving, says turnaround survey

A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) suggests that the business climate is improving in the UK.

The survey was conducted for turnaround specialists, currently engaged in turnaround projects. Two-thirds believed their current projects would be successful.

Most of the respondents felt that the economy would recover in the next six to 12 months, and 85 per cent noted that their key indicators for trading had flattened out or were on the upturn.

However, the very optimism portrayed by some businesses is standing in the way of some turnarounds succeeding, the specialists said.

It is my belief that desite all the bad news of the past two years - and especially the last 12 months - it is the optimism and pride in our own businesses that have kept many of us going.

And we will continue to battle through to make things come good again.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Royal Mail will lose customers if strike goes ahead

The postal service is not as important as it used to be to businesses, as many things are sent by email, and many physical items are already sent by courier.

Nevertheless, the threatened strikes by postal workers will come as a pain to British businesses, and many more are likely to abandon the Royal Mail, not just for the duration of the strike, but permanently.

A survey carried out by the British Chambers of Commerce and Sky News discovered that 75 per cent of British businesses will look for a more viable postal service if the strike threatened by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) goes ahead.

Businesses feel they are being held to ransom and that the national strike will hit the economic recovery and harm trading as Christmas approaches.

The union is encouraging its members to strike in a dispute about working conditions. The CWU claims that the management has broken the terms of its 2007 agreement about modernising Royal Mail. It also has concerns about funding the Royal Mail pension scheme in the future.

The future may turn out to be a whole lot bleaker if customers move elsewhere and don't come back.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Fairtrade: what's it all about?

Fairtrade products are apparently becoming increasingly popular, according to the organisation itself, the Fairtrade Foundation. But, though you may have seen Fairtrade on various products, do you know what it is?

According to its own website: “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.”

Martine Julseth from the Fairtrade Foundation told researchers that the launch of the Fairtrade at Work campaign (which includes encouraging cycling to work and recycling waste products in the workplace) had helped raise awareness.

Surveys by YouGov and Faritrade showed that the 30-50 age group were most enthusiastic about Fairtrade, and that 38 per cent of all workers thought that Fairtrade products should be available at work.

Ms Julseth added: “It is the right thing to do, to think about where your products are coming from.”

Also see boss-to-boss.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Bankers must learn their lessons

It is with interest that I read that the chairman of HSBC says that the entire banking industry “owes the real world an apology”.

It is, of course, the only interest we will get out of the banks these days, as interest rates on savings are so low!

Stephen Green said to BBC World Business Report that a cultural change was needed to improve bankers’ standing with the public. He admitted that the global banking industry owed the real world an apology for the financial crisis and said: “It also owes the real world a commitment to learn the lessons. Some of them are about governance and ethics and culture within the industry.”

“The lessons” could turn out to be the most expensive ever given. Let’s hope they are learned.

If small businesses made the mistakes the banks did, they would go under – no question, no comeback, no rescue.

In the main the banks have been protected by various government bail-outs around the world.

That the Americans let Lehman Brothers go under could be the most salutary lesson of them all.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Perception is everything

At my two businesses the number one value is "Honesty and Integrity". I pride myself on this and wouldn't have it any other way.

Nevertheless, despite all good intentions, the integrity of one of our methods of passing work on to sub-contractors was questioned recently. In fact, it was a mis-understanding and I was able to explain fully to the sub-contractor how we do things and how he mis-understood.

However, it is at that point that you have to look at the way you do things and the way you are perceived.

Because perception is everything.

If you are perceived to lack integrity, then you lack integrity. It's as simple as that

We will be doing our utmost to ensure that the perception matches the way we do things: honestly and with integrity. The explanation of mis-conception to the sub-contractor will be used to construct an explanation to all our sub-contractors of the way we pass on work .

Keep an eye and an ear out for how both your customers and your workforce perceive you. Try and avoid any trouble ahead.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Your business must invoice!

I once read somewhere that the most important thing a business does is to invoice!

It was alluded to in a John Grisham novel. A high-flying lawyer told a junior: "The most important thing you do is to rack up billing hours" or something very similar.

Without invoices you're not charging any clients. And without that you'll get no money in, and your business will soon collapse.

You can advertise, market, you can even get the work done, but without invoices, you're dead.

Keep on top of your invoices to make sure your business stays viable.

See this article too: Why Invoicing is Critical to Your Business by Chad R Fisher.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Business people create work for others

There has been a lot of talk of overpaid bankers in the last year or so, and unfortunately everyone who works in a bank has become tarred with the same brush.

"Oh, you work in bank, do you? You've lost all our money and get a bonus for doing so!"

Totally unfair on the poor cashier and 95 per cent of people in the banking industry who are victims of others' excesses like most of us are.

In a similar way business owners have become tainted. As the economy falters and unemployment grows there is a tendency to blame it all on "money-grabbing" business owners.

Yet most business owners - and I include myself in this - are desperately struggling to make their small business a success, and, critically, create work for other people. That's because to make a business really work, it has to be scaleable and cannot remain a one-man band.

At WriteItClearly.com we three partners do everything we can to get more work than we can handle so that we can pass it on to our sub-contractors. In this way we expand our business AND create work for other people (yes, it was worth saying again).

Without business people and entrepreneurs doing this, what work would there be?

Stop slating business people. We need more support, not less.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Is stock market rise reflected in increased business?

If the stock market is an indicator of how well the economy is doing (and I realise it is only ONE indicator), then the last quarter's FTSE 100 index resurgence tells us that the economy is doing very well. Quarter 3 2009 saw the FTSE 100 rise by 21 per cent - a record quarterly rise.

The previous best was in quarter 4 of 2009, when a 15 per cent rise was fuelled by the dotcom boom. This time round, the stocks that have fared the best have come from financial and mining stocks. (Finance stocks undoubtedly recovering from terrible previous falls.)

The single best performer, however, was British Airways, which rose by 77.8 per cent.

Does the rise signify a bull market? Or is it done for now?

Allan Collins, of brokers Redmayne Bentley, said: "A correction is overdue, but this market deson't look as if it wants to go down. Looking forward to next year, we're not going to be raging bull."

For my own businesses, a 21 per cent stock market rise has not meant a similar increase in revenue, profit or enquiries.

However, the stock market usually reacts ahead of business market changes. I would hope it translates into increased business henceforth.

And I can report that enquiries have been up this week!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Cash flow is always king

I was talking to a colleague about setting up his own business this morning, and we were working through some numbers.

Looking at the amount of income per transaction compared with the outgoings per transaction, the business looked like it could work. There will be overheads, of course, but the start-up costs of this particular business are minimal. There are some costs per transaction.

The trouble is that he has really almost no money to put into the business. It really is starting from scratch. He might have to take out a loan from a bank, but it does increase the hoops you have to jump through. Best avoided.

It is the costs per transaction that could be the killer. It reminded me once again that "cash flow is king". If he can ensure that he gets payment in as soon as possible and delay payments to his supplier as long as possible then with positive cash flow he could make a go of it. But if he fails, without funds to fall back on, he could come crashing down as soon as the business starts.

A small investor might be the best answer. We'll discuss further...

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Good service is what we need

My BlackBerry started to fail on Saturday morning. The trackball - used like a mouse to navigate around the screen - stopped scrolling left/right, so I could only move up and down the left-most options on the menu! Slightly limiting!

I am on a business contract so I called into the T-Mobile shop in town and, although they tried to help, they couldn't fix the problem. "Dial 150," I was advised, "and follow the menu options. They'll send you a replacement within 24 hours."

The failure on the phone meant that I could not access any incoming texts, nor my address book. I mainly rely on the phone for emails, but two texts arrived ... and I had no idea who they were from. Frustrating.

To be fair to T-Mobile I waited until Monday to call them, and, just as I had been told, they quickly said they would send a new phone to arrive on Tuesday and, as I was nearing the end of my contract, I could choose a new phone for another contractual period. I thought that was good service.

The new phone should arrive any moment now - a BlackBerry Curve.

It's what you want when you're in business. Good service, and problems rectified quickly.

(Incidentally, although the trackball still doesn't work, I did find a way to access my texts. they weren't critical!)

Monday, 28 September 2009

Bonuses should only be paid for success

As the Government promises to introduce legislation to combat the excesses of bank bonuses, there is a counter-argument that suggests that if top people are not paid top bonuses, they will "go elsewhere".

If bankers paying themselves large bonuses were indeed to go elsewhere, would the country lose out? Surely the country has already lost out to these gamblers who have brought the country to its knees with a debt-ridden future. If they went elsewhere, one would be tempted to say "good riddance"! I'm all for payment by results, but surely bonuses should only be paid for successful outcomes. The ruination of the banking system hardly qualifies as success.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, voiced concerns that bankers were determined to return to "the bad old days".

Alistair Darling will take the opportunity at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton to lambast the bonus culture in banking. He will warn the banks that "there will be no return to business as usual for them." There will be "an end to automatic bonuses year after year".

Perhaps the bankers will flee the industry. Maybe they'll think about becoming an MP - with all those lovely expenses!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Is the Bank of England happy to see sterling fall?

With the pound falling once again against the dollar and euro, it would appear that the governor of the Bank of England is quite happy with the situation.

I'm guessing that most of us would prefer to see a strong pound, giving a boost to the general well-being of the country, and also making our money buy more when we're abroad.

Apparently Mervyn King doesn't see it that way.

He said: "The fall in the exchange rate that we have seen will be helpful to that process [he was referring to exports]. There's no doubt that what we need to see now is a shift of resources into net exports."

His comments caused the pound to fall further. If the Bank of England is seemingly unconcerned about the plight of the pound, why would investors put their faith in it?

The value of sterling also reacted badly to the news that the Bank will be holding a meeting with senior City economists to discuss the Bank's Quantitative Easing policy amid speculation that markets are losing faith in the strategy.

Currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon, Simon Derrick, said: "The perception in the market is starting to build up that Mervyn King is not averse to sterling continuing to weaken, as long as it is not at an overly fast pace.

"If you smile and are not seen to be frowning at the fall in sterling it's another way of weakening monetary policy."

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Green shoots or a false dawn?

Last night Gordon Brown told the BBC that Britain could look forward to "some economic growth" to be announced in the late October pre-budget report. A return to growth by Britain in the third quarter would be ahead of schedule.

However, the Daily Telegraph reported that the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee voiced concerns on the same day. MPC member Kate Barber said in a speech that the coming months would be a test of whether the recovery will be maintained or not.

"Although there has been quite a lot of positive data, both for the global economy and for the UK, in recent months, it remains unclear how far this represents a recovery," she said.

The MPC said that even if the economy did start growing again, the sustainability of that growth could be threatened by rising unemployment and weak consumer spending.

Weak bank lending, high levels of debt and damaged bank balance sheets could all send the economy downward again.

I think it sends the message to business owners to tread with caution over the coming months. It will important not to dive into anything with overconfidence only to find it rebounding on us.

Remember - as the banks stock pile cash again - cash flow is king.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Be wary of growing too fast

When new businesses start up it is often a dream to build very quickly into a "money-making machine".

However, reality can be very different and dreams can fall apart just as rapidly.

If your business is fairly new, be wary of taking on a "big deal" that would turn your start-up into a multi-million pound operation.


Because you're not ready!

Or at least, you're very unlikely to be.

The most successful, robust and long-lasting businesses are built on sound management and sound processes. Could you really handle a multiplication of your business by, say, a hundred times in just a few weeks?

The likelihood is that you will take the deal on, and despite all good intentions, fail to put in place processes or staff to handle the new work. The result could be a disaster, and it would not be stretching a point to say that it could mean the end of your business.

Don't go too fast. Grow steadily and always be sure you can manage what you take on.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Small businesses must look to save energy

I was asked to complete a business survey online yesterday. I was happy to do it because I know the company - Vanson Bourne - and they provide good incentives too.

One strand of the questioning was about small businesses and energy saving.

I am lucky in that I run my business operations from home, so my carbon footprint must be low (I've never worked it out!), with few car journeys, for example.

With the current recession, climate change and energy savings have taken a back seat, especially for small businesses, but I have little doubt that as we emerge from the recession, they will take on increasing importance.

There is, of course, the issue of "saving the world", so that any reduction of carbon emissions will be a good thing. It's a fundamental truth.

For small businesses, there will be two other key points.

The first is that any saving in energy will mean a saving in money, and as we struggle out of the recession, such savings will be important. Simple survival has been more critical in the last 12 months, but this will change henceforth.

The second is that as the really bad times are left behind, people's attention will turn once again to environmental issues. The businesses that can demonstrate that they are aware of and addressing these matters will get a "thumbs up" from customers and fare better than those who do not.

It's a good time to start looking at these issues right now.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Time to think anew?

A friend of mine has recently had a 10 per cent cut in his wages, along with everyone else in his company. It's a trend of the current recession. He's not very happy about it, and who can blame him.

Looking from the other side of the fence the company would argue that it's better that everyone takes a pay cut, rather than making people redundant. That may be true, but everyone who takes the cut will find it tough to bear in their own way, whatever their circumstances.

My friend works shifts - two days on, two days off - 12 hour shifts. I reckon he's in a great position to think about starting his own business. Given his shift pattern, he will have plenty of time on his days off to organise his business. Also, it is best to try out a new business of your own when you're still in employment.

Without much in the way of savings, and without the income (since the cut) to finance a loan comfortably, he will be starting from a standing position, without doubt.

However, it is a great opportunity to make a start, with some back-up (his current job) in place. I hope he gives it a shot.