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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency Turnaround

The EU Referendum – businesses want stability

worried businessmanWith just 23 days to go before the UK votes on whether to stay in or leave the EU there is a big question mark over the stability of the UK economy both in the run-up and after the votes are cast.
Certainly stability has been noticeably absent for businesses as the deadline approaches.  Investment and other business decisions have been deferred, UK growth appears to have stalled, particularly in construction, and manufacturing has entered recession.
All this has, of course, to be set in the context of sluggish growth both in the EU and China since the start of 2016, not to mention a volatile commodities market and political instability in many parts of the world.
The arguments from both the Brexit and Remain camps have been more in the nature of predictions than absolute fact, and neither side has put forward any concrete plans for what they will do after June 23.
It should be remembered that the UK at the moment is ranked number 1 as a soft power due to its cultural influence and is “hyperconnected” to the rest of the world given its demographics, where one in eight of its 64 million population was born overseas.

What of the future?

Undoubtedly there will be serious repercussions for the UK economy and for business if the vote is to leave, not least because a vote for Brexit will not resolve the certainty about the outcome whereas a vote for Remain will at least clarify the situation for business.
But it would be a mistake to assume all order will be restored, calm will return and the economy will stabilise even if the outcome is to remain in the EU, especially as it would seem that it will not resolve issue of a Government majority due to the anticipated fall out in the Tory party.
Furthermore, the decision to hold a referendum has itself altered relationships and the balance of power between politicians and arguably altered perceptions of the country with its trading partners and others across the world.
If there is a narrow majority for either leave or remain it is unlikely that the “losers” will accept defeat gracefully.
It is possible that now that the debate has been opened up there will be a push for renegotiation of some of the issues that the UK and other countries object to within the EU regardless of the outcome although it is believed that a vote to remain will weaken the UK’s hand in any future negotiations since we will have already played our only ‘nuclear’ card.
While the issues are played out, the Government is going to find it hard to focus on what needs to be done to restore the economy.
So it will be a while before businesses can expect a return to a level of stability that will give them the confidence to unlock investment and pursue the plans for growth that have been put on hold.
(Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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Business Development & Marketing General Interim Management & Executive Support Turnaround

Better know your weaknesses than be unaware of them!

eliminating weaknessesAs a business owner or manager it would be nice to think you have no weaknesses but how realistic is that?
It can be instructive to learn what others think about you and perhaps the first step in getting a realistic picture is to resolve to be honest with yourself.
It can be helpful to list the key characteristics you need for your role. As a business leader you need to show leadership, for example, to be able to stand back and concentrate on strategy and business growth and to not get bogged down in unnecessary detail.
However, as a leader you might prioritise accomplishing defined goals or you might prefer to set values and a vision. The fact is that no one style is right or wrong but you need to know what gaps need to be filled by yourself or others. You may need to work on your weaknesses.
As a manager you will need to be involved in getting the job done. You will need to be good at planning and scheduling, at organising and motivating staff and at all manner of tasks that you cannot delegate to others.
But personal strengths and weaknesses are not related only to how you approach business and management; they also include how you deal with others like investors, customers or suppliers, essentially how you communicate effectively ie in a way that gets results.
To find out about your strengths and weaknesses it can be helpful to consult one or two trusted colleagues or perhaps an objective business adviser and to map them using the SWOT analysis method.

Identify your most important weaknesses to work on

It helps to have a personal development plan with a timeline and goals to monitor progress.
Identify whether you need training, counselling or self discipline. Feedback is also important and again an objective mentor or business adviser will be useful, not only as someone to whom you are accountable but also who will provide you with positive feedback.
At the same time it can be useful to look at your strengths.  Are they essential to your role or an indication of you inability to let go, to trust or to delegate?
With issues like short temper or procrastination it may be helpful to enlist the help of a specialist counsellor to help work on behavioural skills.
Equally important to in-work skills is the ability to switch off, rest and recharge. This is something people in key positions often find difficult but it may be time to consider taking up a leisure pursuit that is sufficiently absorbing and interesting to encourage this.
To avoid being left behind, you need to be aware of your weaknesses and constantly work on them.

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

Why do visitors leave my website without buying?

the key elements of using online marketing tools successfullyIf a business relies on its website to make sales, as e-commerce websites in particular do, encouraging visitors to stay, look around and eventually to buy is crucial. Indeed whatever the purpose most websites need to know the desired outcome which some refer to as a ‘call to action’.
On many levels, research is essential to get this right.  The business plan should already have identified the business’ ideal customer and ensured that proposition, pricing, quality and delivery are viable and can all be maintained.
There are several factors that influence customer behaviour, such as their reason for visiting the site in the first place and the customer experience. The desired outcome from the ideal customer may be their making an online purchase without further contact, or it may be their requesting a sales visit but their experience will depend entirely on the way the website is designed.

Website basics

People, especially shoppers, are increasingly impatient and want to view the products as quickly and easily as possible.  Especially at the start of their buying decision-making they are likely to shop around and compare prices.
But price alone may not determine where they eventually choose to shop.
There is plenty of research to show that among website visitors’ pet hates are auto sound videos that cannot be switched off, pop ups, misspelling and typos that suggest the business does not pay enough attention to quality or to detail and complicated navigation.
A study by Statistia found that 25% of shoppers leave websites without buying because the website is too difficult to use.
Increasingly, as more people use mobile phones and tablets to browse, a design needs to render well to these devices. Slow loading pages can be a problem and it is important to check this using a speed tester such as Google Page Speed Insights.
Assuming that all these website basics are not the problem, why then might customers be leaving without making a purchase?

Making the buying process safe and easy to use

buying onlineThe first step to finding out is to look at the website’s analytics to pinpoint at what point visitors are leaving.
If the analysis reveals that visitors are staying on the website and looking at the products it may be that the online buying process itself  is too complicated or is not reassuring customers that their details will be secure.
It is important that the checkout process takes as few steps as possible and also that security certifications are prominently displayed.
Finally, shipping costs, if any, delivery times and returns policies should be clearly stated and, again, cause the minimum of inconvenience and cost to the buyer.
It’s a minefield but the rewards are considerable as Amazon has demonstrated.

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Business Development & Marketing General Turnaround

Managing remote workers – how to get it right

remote workingA business may have employees working remotely for a number of reasons.
They include parents of young children, people who need to care for a relative who is frail or ill, a sales force that is out on the road or key staff based away from the office. Whatever the reason, planning is necessary to make it work for both parties.
While communication is essential, it is important to decide whether remote workers are going to be closely monitored or whether they are going to be empowered to deliver results without too much scrutiny.
Of course, remote employees will need some management to ensure the company is fulfilling its obligations as employer. But it is not always necessary to know that they are doing. More important, both parties need to know what is expected of each other.
The key is to establish parameters so both parties can work together and in particular to ensure the right level of support is in place. Essentially the level of freedom will be based on the level of trust but however much they are trusted to get on with their job, remote staff should be valued and included so they feel part of a team.

The right tools and regular communication

mum with kids working from himeIt’s all about setting up the relationship and maintaining the right level of ongoing communication.
Remote workers will need the right tools to do their jobs, such as phones, online access and a PC or laptop, software, training and possibly a car.
Other considerations are whether they need to collaborate with colleagues, whether they can handle managing their own time and whether you expect them to work office hours or trust them to manage their own routines as long as they get the job done on time.
Are managers available if the need arises? Scheduled conference calls or meetings such as planning for the same time on the same day every week are a great way of ensuring a discipline is in place for regular reporting and communicating.
In many ways managing remote workers is no different from managing a sales team that is out on the road.
Essentially there need to be procedures and reporting systems in place for managers and remote workers to have access to relevant information, to be aware of each other and to spot problems early.
Getting it right can result in a loyal and dedicated workforce of people who feel valued. It is great for employee retention.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

Tools to help you get more from online marketing

Often businesses are disappointed by the lack of a return, in terms of measurable actions by viewers, resulting from their activities on social media, email marketing and other online promotion initiatives.
There are many tools to choose from to help a business stand out online but using them is both science and art requiring a lot of detailed experience to get your money’s worth.
Online tools include Google Adwords, Facebook Boost, Facebook Adverts or Twitter Adverts which can be used to promote messages on social media. Others might be using online databases to send out e-newsletters or posting blogs on a website or LinkedIn.
the key elements of using online marketing tools successfullyThe key challenge is to define objectives and know what is the required response to a specific campaign. These can then be measured.
It is therefore important to consider the target audience and their preferred platforms, behaviours and needs and this is where the analytics and insights available on the various platforms which are mainly Google, Facebook and Twitter as the ones being used by SMEs for promotion.
Arguably the most important element is to set the parameters for any campaign which is where social media and databases can be powerful. Like a database, most platforms all allow targeting such as using specific key words or phrases, or excluding certain words, or by defining the target audience for the message and by locating it geographically.
Targeting is particularly crucial when you pay for every click the ad gets. You don’t want someone in York looking at ads for a restaurant in Reading, or in my case job seekers or consultants clicking expensive ads when promoting turnaround services.
Imagine trying to use a keyword like “insurance”. It might get lots of people clicking on the ad and viewing it, but it is such a general word that it is a safe bet that a high percentage will then go elsewhere for something specific to their needs.  At prices between 10p and £10 per click it can be an expensive and useless investment if the targeting isn’t right.
It may be a better investment to get expert help to run a targeted ad campaign.

Are there other, more affordable online options?

For a small business operating within a defined geographic area an example of a more effective and affordable option on Facebook is the post boost. For a defined amount of time, such as two weeks, and minimal cost, around £10, a post from the business page will be shown regularly in more viewers’ news feeds.
This can have a significant impact in terms of the numbers (reach) and on the actions then taken, such as visits to the business page or to its website, or comments or messages to the business. Again, it is important to choose the post to boost wisely.
For example, if there is a new blog or significant piece of news on the company website, it may help to attract more visitors to the site and once there, the business will have an opportunity to encourage viewers to stay if the website is enticing enough.
Another online marketing option is e-newsletters.
These work best if they engage with those receiving them, giving people up to date or extra information or latest news on a product or service.  Again, a snippet with a link to a blog post on a website can encourage visits. Using humour, fascinating facts or other short, extras that engage and amuse people is always helpful.
They can also be used to keep in touch with customers and ask for feedback, perhaps to run a survey.  What they should not do is to blatantly sell, nor blatantly promote the business – avoid “We can …” and above all they should be short and sweet – no more than 450 words – and visually appealing.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Would leaving the EU affect businesses’ access to capital?

EU referendum jugsaw pieces
To a large extent what will happen to access to capital should Britain vote to leave the EU will be determined by the perception and subsequent behaviour of three key players: the ratings agencies, such as Moody’s; the financial institutions, such as the banks; and investors.
In March Moody’s warned that the economic costs of leaving would outweigh the benefits and may put the UK’s Aa1 credit rating at risk. The agency believes that the value of debt would be likely to reduce because of a belief that debt would be less likely to be paid although it does not believe an exit would have much effect on the credit rating of banks.
It also suggested that it was “highly unlikely” the UK’s existing arrangements with the EU in areas such as trade would be “replicated in full”.

What might be the effects on lending and investing?

Business capital illustrationThe willingness of banks to lend is also likely to be affected by a Brexit, in my view.
I would argue that foreign banks would be less likely to lend in UK, a logical consequence of what Moody’s has been suggesting.  Given that UK banks are still not generally lending to small business this combination would suggest there will be much more reliance on alternative forms of funding, and that there will less funding available.
The third key set of players is investors. While it is rational for investors to wish to protect and increase their returns, for some time now they have focused on short term gains and “safe” or asset underwritten investments which accounts for the current high values of both gold and property. The question is whether the UK leaving the EU would increase their anxiety levels and push them further into safe investments. This would make it much harder for both UK manufacturing and service sectors to get access to capital.
A final consideration is that the EU treaty would continue for two years following a vote to leave and the Government would have to trigger a particular clause, Article 50, to push ahead with disengagement. I believe that the likely consequence of this would be a rise in the cost of capital and that both lenders and investors will become more cautious, certainly until they have more confidence about the future.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats – SWOT, So What?

business improvement working digitallyInvestors, banks and advisers often ask clients to carry out a SWOT analysis.
But a SWOT analysis is meaningless unless the business is clear about its purpose and intends to arrive at a series of actions to be taken as a result.
While it is perfectly acceptable to use a SWOT analysis as part of a business review, all too often it is an overview that doesn’t help anyone.
(image courtesy of Pixomar at
FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
More helpful are the insights that can be gained from a close look at different aspects of a business.

Here’s an example

SWOT analysis diagramA business might choose to analyse its process from production of a product through to delivery.  The SWOT analysis may reveal a Strength in producing consistently good quality products.
However, when it comes to delivery it may identify specific issues such as poor labelling or packaging that doesn’t reflect the quality of the goods, or failed deliveries because the customer isn’t in to sign for the goods which both might be classified as a Weakness due to poor service quality.
Delving deeper will produce actions that can be taken to improve these, such as changing the packaging and couriers.
It could also mean looking more closely at the customer service process or considering setting up a tracking system that customers can use to find out delivery date and time.
This example focuses on improving the customer experience and reinforcing the business’ reputation for quality:  great goods, in good packaging, and delivered on time. The analysis is used to reveal the Weaknesses but the key is to have an action to do something about them.
When looking at the SWOT items it helps to look at them through the customer’s eyes so that actions benefit the customer, as well as the bottom line.
Rather than wait to be asked for a SWOT analysis, they can be carried out regularly. It is useful to focus on one aspect of the business at a time but treat the review as part of normal business.
Great businesses do this all the time and simply call it Continuous Business Improvement.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Access to skilled workers and the EU referendum

worried businessmanA key issue for business in the June referendum on whether the UK should remain in or leave Europe is to consider the consequences that a “leave” vote could have on the free movement of labour.
Restricted access to skilled workers in the absence of suitably qualified UK candidates could have a big impact on small business’ ability to prosper and grow.
The two main issues are availability of skilled people and the cost of wages.
At the moment UK businesses have access to skilled people from across the EU and this has been crucial to many firms, in particular engineering firms and metal fabricators, where a UK shortage has meant having to recruit experienced engineers and welders from former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe.
There have been limited Government initiatives to boost apprenticeship numbers – the latest being to impose a 0.5% apprenticeship levy from 2017 on the payrolls of all businesses with a wage bill of more than £3 million. Others include offering small grants to smaller businesses to encourage them to take on apprentices.
However, after years of a lack of investment in training and skills, reducing the shortage of suitably qualified UK staff will take years and that assumes a serious commitment to training a future work force.
In an extremely turbulent and competitive global economic market businesses cannot wait that long.

Regulations, visas and a restricted labour market?

A second consideration is what would happen if, in the event of a majority vote for Brexit, recruitment were to be somehow restricted to UK natives in such a way that companies would have to provide evidence of a lack of suitable candidates before being permitted to recruit overseas.
Again agile and responsive 21st businesses may not be able to wait that long.
The scarcity of skilled candidates in UK means that businesses will find themselves competing for them which in turn will drive up wages putting further pressure on already tight margins.
The UK is still not investing anywhere near enough in training and skills for its own people. There is no denying that we have centres of excellence in universities and enterprise areas that can currently access capabilities from Europe, but these are not enough to support a dynamic and efficient economy.
Brexit would most likely result in businesses being constrained by having limited access to trained and skilled staff which in turn will push up wages for those with the skills and the necessary gap will not be filled fast enough to prevent a decline in capacity. Essentially the skilled work will move outside UK, to where the skilled workers are.
(Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net) 

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General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

New article published

My first article for the international publication, the Journal for Corporate Renewal (JCR), has just been published.
It discusses the rise of consensual restructure in the UK and Europe.
You can read it here:

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Cash Flow & Forecasting General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

Negotiating on prices – what's your business model?

Business processes word cloudHere’s an amusing, but remarkably effective, tool that graphically demonstrates the choices that have to be made in negotiations over the supply of goods or services.
When a potential customer meets this businessman they will see a wooden block and two wooden pegs on his desk. The block has three holes in it labelled quality, cost and speed.
The purpose of the pegs becomes clear as negotiations proceed.
Suppose the customer emphasises really high quality, but also wants the lowest possible price.  The pegs go in the cost and quality holes. The customer’s needs can be met, but only within the current capacity of the company’s production schedule.
If the customer wants their order delivered fast, however, the pegs would go in the speed and quality holes. The businessman knows that to produce high quality goods at speed will mean rearranging his company’s existing schedules or increasing working hours, so speed + quality would increase the production costs.

There is always a trade-off between quality, cost and speed of delivery

While customers inevitably want all three, the fact is that generally there is a trade-off. Indeed everyone knows that overnight delivery is more expensive than second class post, but customers often need to decide what their priorities really are.
If a business is well known for the quality of its goods and services it is likely to be not only successful but also working to full or near-full capacity.
It will not want to compromise this reputation so the businessman’s little wooden block is a very effective way of demonstrating the compromises that may have to be made to satisfy a customer’s requirements.
In Europe, for example, many factories will not change their production timetable but sell their capacity. Customers know what quality they will get, what price they will pay but must wait for the next available slot on the production line. This is in fact a very efficient way of producing high quality output at a reasonable price since it allows for planned production and avoids the mistakes that can be made by disruption.
Businesses need to consider their business model and decide whether they will sell their capacity, i.e. goods at a fixed price, and to have a system for providing quality goods and services. The alternative is to offer speed but recognised that they will need to be flexible to meet customers’ demands.
The one area we believe should never be compromised is quality since this relates closely to the values of the business.
(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)