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:

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 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

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

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.