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How small business impacts on the local community

13th September 2018
13th September 2018

We often write about small businesses because that’s what our clients are, what we are, and what our local economy is dominated by.  We’ve just come across a Small Business Community Impact study which is so interesting, we have to share more of it with you!

5 themes come from the research:

  • Small businesses act as an agent to change communities and create significant social value
  • They create opportunities, not just for profitable gain but helping to stimulate further benefits to society
  • There is a lack of recognition of the work and contribution small businesses make
  • Because the business is small it is personal, leading to strong positive community outcomes driven by personal relationships
  • It only takes a small number of key individuals in a community to drive business connections and community outcomes

Some of the other interesting points the study makes include:

Staffing:  30% don’t recruit staff either online or through recruitment agencies, choosing local contacts in preference.  And 36% have kept a member of staff on when commercially they didn’t need them – because of a sense of responsibility.

Training:  78% create training opportunities for their staff – and 28% create training opportunities for the wider community as well!

Business Support:  external business support is not reaching small business.  74% turn to friends and family for help, 72% turn to other small businesses, and less than 2% – yes, that’s TWO per cent – turn to Government for support.

Connections:  in small towns, like around here, 76% of small businesses are part of a business group.  Just 14% work with local government, and 9% work with the Local Enterprise Partnership (possibly an overstatement for this area!)

The report identifies many opportunities for small business, central and local government.  Of course, whether these are taken up by central and local government is debateable and we shouldn’t be holding our breath.  But for us, as small business, we do have the power to take up these opportunities:

  • To engage more with local and national institutions to get better recognition for current social impact initiatives
  • To work with others to explore ways to deliver more social impact in the future
  • To share and promote where the business is creating opportunities in the media and with local institutions
  • Leverage the advantage of being small in attracting staff and customers
  • Get greater recognition for the good works done by business in local communities
  • Work with local organisations to develop better ways of gaining formal recognition
  • Leverage local relationships to drive customers and staff loyalty to the business, as against big business
  • To become a ‘local spark’, to help motivate, connect and inspire the local business community
  • Tap into ‘local sparks’ to engage in more community wide activity

 

Does any of this resonate with you?  We’d love to hear from you, do let us know what you think – find us on social media to share your thoughts…  Facebook here, and Twitter here.

Why bother with Keywords?

4th September 2018
4th September 2018

It’s a language thing:  the keywords on your website help people find your site through search engines like Google and Bing.  A website that is optimised for search engines effectively speaks the same language as the people searching for information.  Which is what SEO is – search engine optimisation.

As with much to do with the internet, the experts seek to make it complex, so we’re going to try and do the opposite!  Here is a quick and hopefully simple guide to how to develop your list of keywords which you can include on your website in order that you appear above your competitors in searches.

Core Keywords

First, and obviously, think what your customers will be searching for when they are googling.  Depending on your type of business, there may be several searches which will need to be covered by this.  This list then becomes the core element in your SEO keyword strategy.

What works now?

You can discover which keywords already bring traffic to your site using several different tools.  Here’s one with a free trial, which is all you need to get started.  Are these keywords featured on your site?  Could they be better used in your content?

What works for your competitors?

You’ll always need to keep a check on what your competition is doing.  If it works for them, then why shouldn’t it work for you?  Here are some apps to help you spy on your competition.

Finding new keywords

Google AdWords has a very useful tool called Keyword Planner.  Use your current list of keywords, enter that into the Planner tool and it will suggest other keywords for you to use.

 

 

Of course, there is more to it than just these first steps.  These will just help you get started and hopefully help you rise up those Google rankings.  It’s also important to keep doing this exercise as things do change, so you will need to change as well to keep up-to-date.  And don’t forget that creating new content is central to achieving success on Google.

Customer Relationship Management systems…

24th August 2018
24th August 2018

What is a CRM

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management system.  It helps manage data about your customers, supporting your sales and marketing efforts as well as potentially integrating with your other office systems.

Why you need one

Are all of your customer contact details up to date?  Can all of your staff who have contact with customers access details about your customers quickly, easily, accurately and reliably?  Are you able to keep track of every contact your business has with each customer so you know who said what to them and when?  Do you collect information about your customers in one place so you can make the customer feel valued when they contact you?

A CRM essentially takes customer data and turns it into useful management information to help you run your business more effectively and efficiently.

What a CRM does

A CRM can track every interaction you have with your customers.  Every phone call, email, meeting can be recorded.  You can add notes, schedule follow-up actions and organise any next steps you need to take.  By building up the profile of activity and information about your customers, you can ensure that every interaction with them is personal, relevant and up-to-date.

Basic Functionality

  • Contact management: recording every contact made with your customers
  • Lead management: track all your sales activities from first point of contact to conversion
  • Sales forecasting: how are sales going against your forecasts?  Where does additional resource need to be allocated in order to achieve your targets?
  • Email tracking: synchronising email and CRM helps manage activities and schedules

Types of systems

There are basically 3 types of CRM, dependent on the number of users you have and the amount of access the users will require:

  • Single computer systems for one user
  • Client/server systems, with central database, stored on a server
  • Cloud-based systems enabling remote access from any member of staff connecting via their device

Some key points

  • If you currently hold all your customer information in paper format or on spreadsheets, a CRM is worth exploring
  • The more customers you have, the more valuable a CRM can be to your business
  • It is worth investing time in setting the system up properly in the first place
  • Choose a system that can scale up as your business grows
  • Make sure your GDPR policies include any new systems you introduce

 

Why Buy Local?

20th August 2018
20th August 2018

The recent troubles at House of Fraser highlight once again the pressures faced by high street retailers.  But the pronouncement by their new owner Mike Ashley that he wants to turn HoF into the “Harrods of the High Street” makes us wonder – is that actually what we need?  Might it be better to encourage people to buy local, from smaller independent retailers?

Of course, it doesn’t mean much to us here in Fenland, with the nearest House of Fraser store being 120 miles round trip.  We don’t have large department stores in our market towns, with the retail sector being dominated by small independent shops.  There is evidence that more people are turning to these smaller independent stores.  2016 research from The Leadership Factor found that one in five people were shopping with independent retailers more than they had a year previously.  Interestingly, in the 18-24 year old bracket, this figure rose to 30%.

Spending money in a local shop has a dramatic impact on the local economy.  Research shows that if you spend £10 in a local shop, an additional £50 goes back into the local economy.  The local shop owner puts that money back by paying wages to a local person, spending money in local pubs and restaurants, developing locally owned supply chains and so on.

So whilst online and large retailers may offer benefits such as ease, breadth of choice and not having to move from the comfort of your sofa, there are also many advantages of shopping local.  Aside from the opportunity to buy more unique and innovative products than are available from large retail outlets, and the improved quality of customer service, buying local has a strong, positive impact on the local economy.  And if you’re needing any more reasons why you should shop with your local retailer instead of a chain, here’s 15 of the best reasons to buy local.

Why Write a Business Plan

10th August 2018
10th August 2018

We all know our own business, right?  So why on earth should anyone bother writing a business plan?

Starting Something New

One of the basic misconceptions about a Business Plan is about it’s fundamental purpose.  It is not purely a description of what you do now.  Rather, it is a description of how you plan to change your business, over the next year as a detailed plan and in outline for years 2 and 3.  Sure, you have to describe where you are now as a baseline, and then build in all the aspects of the changes you want to implement.

why write a business planSo starting something new is the perfect time to put together your Business Plan as you can assess the impact the new development will have on your existing resource usage.  How will it affect your cash-flow, staffing levels, marketing effort, use of capital, everything in your existing business.

And of course if you are a start-up, then a Business Plan is one of those essentials which enable you to fully comprehend the scale of your new venture.

Needing Help and Managing Growth

Any request for external help, and especially funding, will have to be supported by a comprehensive business plan which demonstrates to the potential funder that their investment is safe in your business.

Clarifying Objectives

Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back from the day-to-day management of your business and assess where you are and where you’re going.  A Business Plan helps you to focus on those strategic options which often get lost when you’re busy running your business.

Forward Planning

Predicting the future is always a risky exercise, but it is something that every business has to do.  No forward projection is going to be hard and fast, so a flexible business plan enables different scenarios to be scoped and plans developed, giving the business a head start.

 

And if you need any help developing a Business Plan for your business or planned venture, do get in touch.

How much do you know about Economics?

31st July 2018
31st July 2018

So we all know what the economy is, right?  But how much do we know about economics?  A survey in 2016 asked the UK public if they felt “politicians and the media talk about economics in an accessible way”.  12% answered yes.

What is economics?  The simple definition is ‘the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services’.  Which sounds pretty dull.  It gets more relevant when you look at the two scales of economics – small and big.  Microeconomics looks at the small end, individuals, households, small businesses.  Macroeconomics deals with the whole economy, looking at big issues such as growth of the economy, inflation, unemployment and such like.

The basic problem that economics seeks to deal with is that us human beings live in a world where we have unlimited wants – and limited means.  This is the basis of our standard of living.  If we (on the macro scale) can increase productivity, use limited resources more efficiently, we will (in our micro world) have a higher standard of living.

How to achieve this is the subject of a continuing debate around two conflicting theories.  Classical economic theory says that free markets are the best way to allocate those scarce resources.  Government becomes the referee in this, not a player.  On the other hand, Keynesian economics (named after John Maynard Keynes, a famous economist who died in 1946) argues that you can’t rely solely on markets alone and that government must step in from time to time and help allocate resources efficiently.

In looking at all of this, the basic building blocks are labour, and trade.  Because we can’t be experts in all things, we specialise – and then trade our skills to make use of other’s expertise.  This applies to both the micro and macro level.  If we have skills as, say an accountant, we will always need the skills of a plumber when the heating breaks down.  On a national scale, we can’t grow lettuces all year round so we import them, exporting our expertise in financial services – which achieves some sort of balance of payments, positive or negative.

Economics explains the way we live our lives.  We may not be experts in things like money flow or capacity utilisation but we all know how we can afford to live and how we spend our money.  You might not think you know what economics are, but actually – you do.  And to find out more, in a way which is clear, and real, using understandable words, check out the economy website site here.

Make the most of your holiday money

24th July 2018
24th July 2018

As the schools break up, it signals the start of the annual holiday season with many of us heading abroad in search of sun!  With the pound at a low level against foreign currencies such as the Euro, we will need to be careful to ensure our money goes as far as possible.  Here’s some top tips on how to make the most of your holiday money.

If you are taking cash – buy it before you get to the airport.  Exchange rates in airport money shops are notoriously bad and you will pay far more for your foreign currency there than on the High Street (real or virtual!)

When abroad, use your cards carefully.  If you can, find out what charges you will incur before you go.  For example, some debit cards have a fixed fee for purchases abroad.  You could be buying a couple of drinks for €5 and be landed a fixed fee of £1.50 on top.

Your credit card may be a better way to pay, as they tend to have a percentage fee rather than a fixed one.  Be careful, though – if you don’t pay the credit card off in full, you’ll still incur interest charges on the outstanding debt.  And if you take money out of a cash machine using your credit card, it’s likely that you’ll be charged interest from the time you take that cash out.

If you’re paying for items costing over £100 and under £30,000, by using your credit card you’ll have some protection under the Consumer Credit Act – which might be useful if you’re renting a car abroad this summer.

You will sometimes get a choice between paying for card purchases in pounds sterling or the local currency.  MoneySavingExpert Martin Lewis advice is to “always say the local currency”.  This is because if you pay in euros, say, the UK bank does the conversion.  Pay in pounds and the foreign bank does the calculation and that may well cost you several percentage points.

There are a number of new options available for spending money abroad.  Worth exploring are Monzo and Revolut – but always check the small print to make sure you know exactly what they will be charging you for.

How much of a business risk is cyber security?

12th July 2018
12th July 2018

Data breaches are big news now.  With the introduction of GDPR, the possibility of companies being hit with substantial fines has turned cyber security into a mainstream business risk issue – no longer is it a technology issue.

But is cyber security a wide-spread problem?  If you’ve not been affected, you may well think it’s a bit of a storm in a teacup.  In fact, if your business has not been affected by a data security breach in the past year, you are in the minority.  52% of businesses in the UK had some form of cyber security breach in the past year.

It’s no wonder.  Cyber criminals use a bit of kit called an exploit kit to attack vulnerabilities in systems, to distribute malware and other dodgy dangerous things.  Yet a staggering 99% of computers are vulnerable to exploit kit attacks.

If the amount of cash invested in cyber security is an indicator, then businesses still don’t see this as a high priority.  In 2017, small businesses in the UK invested £2,600 each in their cyber security.  Yet the total cost to UK business of cyber security breaches in 2016 amounted to approximately £30 billion.   Despite the size of the risk, only 25% of small firms gave their staff training in cyber security in 2017.

This is particularly relevant when you look at the causes of data security incidents.  Malware caused just 14% of incidents, with theft responsible for 22%.  Top of the league with 37% are employees, generally down to their own negligence.

This points to the importance of creating the right culture in your business, where education and awareness are critical aspects in helping protect the integrity of your cyber security.  You’ll also need to look carefully at how your staff work, as much as what they do.  If you have tight security protocols at work, yet staff work from home or remotely, then they may well be bypassing the very procedures you have put in place.

Changes to Public Sector contracts could benefit SMEs

29th June 2018
29th June 2018

The collapse of Carillion is going to have wide-reaching implications for public sector contracts – which could be good news for smaller and medium sized businesses.

The Social Value Act was introduced in 2012 and required public authorities – including local government and health bodies – to have regard to economic, social and environmental well-being when they gave contracts for public sector works.  It was designed to help public sector commissioners get better value for money.  This is now the case for any public sector contracts with a total value above about £170,000.

The crash of Carillion earlier this year left many contracts on hold, cost many thousands of jobs, and shook confidence in large scale public contracts.  As a direct result, the Government are announcing changes to the Social Value Act which require businesses bidding for public sector contracts to positively demonstrate the ‘social value’ of their business.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, said “We want to see public services delivered with values at their heart, where the wider social benefits matter and are recognised. That means government doing more to create and nurture vibrant, healthy, innovative, competitive and diverse marketplaces of suppliers that include and encourage small businesses, mutuals, charities, co-operatives and social enterprises – and therefore harness the finest talent from across the public, private and voluntary sectors.”

In practice, this should mean businesses with a progressive approach to issues such as the gender pay gap, equality and discrimination should be in a stronger position to compete for valuable large contracts.

David Lidington said that the Government aims to “ensure that contracts are awarded on the basis of more than just value for money – but a company’s values too, so that their actions in society are rightly recognised and rewarded.”

One month on from GDPR…

21st June 2018
21st June 2018

After the scramble for businesses to be ready for the implementation of GDPR on May 25th, one month on and there’s still a lot of activity happening.

Fortunately, our email inboxes are no longer filled up with desperate requests from organisations wanting to never lose touch with us.  We’ve managed to dramatically reduce the amount of un-read emails we are getting, which is one of the most positive outcomes of GDPR!

Whilst the focus has been very much on large firms, there are serious on-going implications for small and medium sized businesses.   Many are  “still struggling to get everything done. They’re being tactical, looking at the priorities, for example, making sure public-facing policies are rolled out, breach-management procedures are sorted out,” says Luther Teng, risk advisory senior manager at accountants EY.

One of the most important points to emerge over the past month is that GDPR compliance is about a lot more than just making sure everything was ready for May 25th.  It is an on-going process, requiring constant review and amendments.  As practises and technologies change, so businesses will need to ensure they continue to be acting within the law.

Whilst some companies are still needing to act to ensure they are within the law, there are concerns that other businesses will adopt a risk-averse approach, and over-compensate.  Date breaches need to be reported to the Information Commissioners Office, and there are concerns that events will be reported which don’t need to be.

Many businesses are seeing the introduction of GDPR in a positive light, viewing the changes as an opportunity for their brand to inform customers about what they do with information, to become much more transparent, and to build meaningful communication with customers.  By building trust and integrity, companies can derive substantial benefits in the long run.

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