Categories
Finance General

Good news to start the Easter break

Activity across the UK’s private sector has grown steadily this month, providing further signs that the economy has climbed out the brief recession experienced last year.

The S&P Global/CIPS flash UK purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reported a reading of 52.9 in March, down slightly from 53.0 in February.

The slump in UK manufacturing has reached its bottom and output is starting to recover, according to a survey by the CBI.

Hargreaves Lansdown says UK fund managers are seeing a “material boost” from bumper share buybacks.

Retail sales in Britain have started to stabilise after ten consecutive months of decline, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sales volumes rose by 2% in the year to March, from a weighted balance of -7% in the year to February.

Nevertheless, more than two thirds of British small business leaders believe that the Tories have lost the trust of the business community, according to a new poll by Opinium. The survey also found that 60% of small-scale entrepreneurs think that the last few years of chaotic government have damaged their businesses.

We’ll see how far the unrest has spread at the general election.

Enjoy your Easter break.

Categories
Finance General

A Budget for business?

Businesses were asked by Enterprise Nation what they wanted from today’s spring budget and of course they came up with a long wish list.

It included raising the VAT threshold from the current £85,000 turnover level, providing more access to financing options like grants and low-interest loans, encouraging technology adoption to boost productivity and creating affordable working spaces and small business hubs.

These were at the top of a long wish list and it was unlikely they would get everything they wanted.

A YouGov poll also found that two in five businesses expected that the budget would leave them worse off: “SMEs are a little more cynical – 36% anticipate that the Budget will make life more difficult for businesses.”

In addition, the poll found “Some 51% said it wasn’t doing enough to support micro businesses, with 61% saying the same of smaller enterprises and a further 34% saying the same of medium-sized businesses.”

So, did the budget deliver?

The VAT registration threshold will be increased from £85,000 to £90,000 from the start of April.

£120m was allocated for green industries to develop technologies including offshore windfarms and carbon capture and storage projects.

Fuel duty was frozen again, with the 5p cut in fuel duty on petrol and diesel, due to end later this month, kept for another year.

On the whole though, it was a low-key budget.

The FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) reaction was basically “some good news but there were still serious challenges”.

The FSB policy chair said: ““We welcome today’s increase in the VAT threshold as well as the cut to self-employed National Insurance Contributions (NICs). Elsewhere, we were pleased to see a package of small business support in the Budget documents, including commitments to make progress on the HMRC administrative burden and on the national roll-out of the Business Energy Advice Service, as well as extending the Recovery Loan Scheme under a new name – the Growth Guarantee Scheme. Small firms are crucial for economic growth, and we were glad the Chancellor said that clearly from the despatch box.

“That said, many of those running businesses face serious challenges – not least through rapid hikes in labour and input costs – and many will have understandably hoped that there would be more measures announced today that would help ease the tough decisions small employers are having to make day-in day-out to keep their businesses going.”

Categories
General

Slow progress for women on business boards

The numbers are up but could still be better.

Women hold 42% of board seats at big UK firms, but just 10 are FTSE 100 bosses.

Fewer than 10 per cent of CEOs at UK FTSE 350 companies are female and just 10 are FTSE 100 bosses.

The proportion of board positions held by women in the FTSE 350 rose to a record high of 42% this year, up from 24.5% in 2017 when the report was launched.

In the FTSE 100, 25% of finance directors were female, up from 23%, and 27% of chief information officers were women, up from 21%. Women make up 30% of executive committees.

The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) rules are that 40% of boards should be women and a woman should occupy at least one of the senior board positions.

Senior board positions are chair, chief executive, chief financial officer or senior independent director.

Despite the improvements, “the appointment rate continues to be in favour of men. In the FTSE 100, two-thirds of new appointments went to men in 2021 (1,604) compared to just one-third of women (945).”

According to money.co.uk “In 2020, 16% of SME employers were led by women, up from 15% in 2019.”

The presence of women in business varies by sector it says: “In 2020, just 6% of SME employers were led by women in the construction sector, compared to 37% in the health sector, 36% in the education sector, and 25% in the accommodation and food services”.

So while progress has been made, what continues to hold women back?

Women-led SMEs contribute around £85 billion to the annual economic output in the UK, which is 16% of the Gross Value Added by SMEs. 

According to the NatWest Rose review, “more women than ever are starting new companies, with 145,200 all-female-led incorporations in 2021, up from 56,200 in 2018, an average year-on-year growth of 37.3%”.

It calculates that £250 billion could be added to the UK economy if women in the UK matched men in starting and scaling businesses.

This is where access to finance is key.

Some High Street banks, such as Santander and Metro Bank, have been proactive but female access to finance is still challenging.

The 2023 Review found that 50 per cent of female business leaders and entrepreneurs reported finding access to funding and investment hard in the past 12 months.

Why?

It is argued that traditional money lending methods follow the conventional practices of favouring financing business owned by men and that most lending businesses are run by men, and the lending models created by bank lenders are also predominately male-led.

BFS’ (Bibby Financial Services) research reinforces this: 62 per cent of female SME leaders assert that securing a business loan is now more challenging compared to pre-pandemic, compared to 57 per cent of male business leaders.

Clearly, there is more work to be done to create a level playing field for women as entrepreneurs, CEOs and on boards.

Categories
Finance General

Mixed signals for UK businesses

No wonder we’re confused!

On the one hand we are being told that lower interest rates will ease inflation and lift the economy and house prices.

On the other, we have a dire prediction that approximately 47,000 UK companies are on the brink of collapse after a 25% jump in the number of businesses facing critical financial distress in the final three months of 2023.

At the same time a survey by jobs website Totaljobs, as revealed that almost half the firms they asked were intending to review pay and benefits and possibly improve them in order to retain staff.

Furthermore, more than twice as many British industries reported rising demand last month, according to the latest Lloyds Bank UK Sector Tracker.

But the benefits of any improvements are not evenly spread as the Resolution Foundation points out.

While it says the services sector is booming, “London is capturing an ever-bigger share of the UK’s service sector exports”.

Meanwhile there is also speculation that the UK may already be in a “technical” recession.

So what are businesses to make of all this?

It could be argued that it is the perfect storm.

And what do you do when it is stormy?

You take cover and take precautions.

That means keeping up to date records, tracking cash flow rigorously, being careful not to expand too quickly and if you are having cash flow and other problems talk to someone such as a restructuring advisor to get a handle on the position your business is really in.

If you are in need of an informal chat we’re here for you, You can call, message or email us to set up a date.

Categories
General

Reality Check: Balancing Hope and Caution in 2024

How are you feeling about the start of 2024?

How are you feeling about your business prospects?

According to multiple media sources “Britain’s business leaders are feeling more optimistic as they head into 2024, with a poll by JPMorgan finding that fewer decision-makers expect the UK to fall into recession.”

Backing this up, BDO reports that while vacancies are expected to fall, bosses remain more optimistic about 2024 than last year.

In addition, a poll by small business lender Iwoca suggests that for SMEs too the prospects are looking brighter with almost half of small businesses expecting their revenues to expand this year.

While we do not want to put a dampener on expectations, we would sound a note of caution.

We can’t pretend that trading conditions are not still difficult.

This is supported by an article in the law publication, The National Review, which warns that despite the improving conditions “Consumer confidence is low and economic growth during 2024 is projected to be weak.”

“With insolvencies expected to increase in 2024 to around 7,000 per quarter, restructuring professionals can expect to be busier,” it says.

However, it warns restructuring professionals that HMRC continues to dominate over other creditors when it comes to repayment plans and may make restructuring plans impossible for those companies where the ability to pay the secondary preferred element is not often possible.

We would advise businesses considering restructuring to ensure that all their records are up to date and accurate and to consult a professional restructuring adviser to help them in negotiations.

We are always available for an informal chat and you can contact us via LinkedIn, by email and by telephone for help.

Categories
General

Take time out and breathe

Surveys reveal that 57% of small-business owners say they work six or more days each week and 62% of small-business owners say they work 50 or more hours each week.

A high percentage of small-business owners work while on their holidays, with 81% saying they made or returned business calls, and 52% initiating or answering e-mail.

Ultimately this is not good for your mental and physical health nor is it good for the health of your business.

So it is a good idea over the Christmas break to take time out to reflect, catch up with loved ones and plan ahead for the next year.

If you know you should take time out here are some things you should do:

Make sure you get enough sleep. Take some exercise. Even a stroll in the park will help declutter your brain. Eating healthily is also a must.

You should also try to switch off completely from work as it will recharge your energy and focus.

Promise yourself you will take a break from emails and social media.

It is noticeable that when people take time out properly to switch off and do something else, they often find that when they return to work they have ideas for propelling their business forward,  not to mention the energy to do so.

So we would suggest you enjoy the coming Christmas break and take time out and breathe.

Categories
General

A couple more glimmers of hope for businesses?

The IoD (Institute of Directors) is reporting that “businesses are growing slightly less pessimistic about the economy”.

In addition, in November the manufacturing sector exceeded analyst expectations, recording a slowdown in decline.

But the IoD also said “overall sentiment remains firmly entrenched in negative territory, with optimism among business leaders rising from -25 to -21”.

Executives said the biggest problems they face are economic conditions and skills shortages. Costs of energy and taxes also remain big challenges.

On manufacturing, the S&P Global/CIPS UK PMI for November came in at 47.2 on an index where a reading above 50 represents growth.

At least things seem to be moving in the right direction, albeit at a snail’s pace.

Nevertheless, we will have to see how well small businesses fare over the festive season.

Michelle Ovens, director of Small Business Saturday UK, said the research shows how “uncertain” this time of year is becoming for smaller firms.

And the small business minister, Kevin Hollinrake, has called on people to support small businesses during the festive season.

We are clearly a long way from being out of the woods yet.

Categories
General

Some good news for small and micro businesses

New research by GoDaddy and Frontier Economics suggests that “each additional microbusiness – those with fewer than 10 employees – in regions across the UK raises the median income by around £1,400”.

It adds that “an additional microbusiness per 100 people can contribute £37,000 to local GDP”.

Given how challenging the economic climate has been for small businesses, the various measures announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement should be good news for them.

The measures include ending late payments to small suppliers, offering relief on business rates, and cutting taxes for the self-employed.

Companies bidding for public contracts worth more than £5m will have to show they pay all their suppliers within an average of 55 days from next April.

This is something many including the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have long been campaigning for.

There will also be business rate relief worth £4.3bn over the next five years, while some retail, hospitality, and leisure companies will benefit from an extension of a 75% rates relief scheme.

But, given that there will be an election in the earlier part of next year, will all these measures come to fruition?

We shall have to wait and see.

Categories
General

Everyone’s talking about AI

Three-fifths of businesses view generative artificial intelligence as a good opportunity but research has revealed many fear they are exposed to cyberattacks.

Businesses will “not progress” if they do not take risks, as the race to adopt new and emerging technologies heats up, according to PwC.

Around 37% of firms believe they are highly or extremely exposed to cyber risks, PwC’s survey of more than 3,900 firms around the world found.

More leaders who are responsible for managing a firm’s risk said they thought cyber-related threats were a bigger concern than inflation.

Meanwhile Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere has called AI a potential “’existential threat to democracy’.

As with any emerging technology there is potential for both good and bad in AI so what can businesses do to protect themselves?

Firstly, keep abreast of developments, if necessary designate someone tech literate to do this.

Secondly, make sure there are robust security measures in place to protect the business from cyber-attacks and improper use of technology.

This should include limiting access to sensitive information only to those who will need it. Regular password updates including two-factor authentication.

Cyber security training for all employees together with regular updates as new threats emerge.

While understandably businesses need to stay competitive to survive and that includes adopting new technology including AI they need to understand the technology they are using and perhaps limit it to those areas where automation and AI will improve productivity but not expose the business to the possible theft of sensitive information.

Categories
Employees General

Have you taken part in a trial for a four-day working week?

According to the results of a study into trials of a four-day week in the UK, USA, Canada and Ireland productivity was not affected by the reduction in working hours.

“Participants reported a better work-life balance and improved mental and physical health. Kickstarter, one of the companies involved in the trial, saw staff retention rise from 70% to over 90%”.

The World Economic Forum has also reported results from a similar trial and found that in the UK 49% of businesses reported a smooth transition to a four-day week and 29% said it was extremely smooth.

It also found that productivity improved significantly for 15% and improved slightly for 34%.

Of those that had tried it 86% said they were likely or extremely likely to implement the system.

The BBC reported that the numbers were even higher according to results of the UK’s four-day week trial with 92% of employers saying they would continue with the four-day week.

However, it does not work for all businesses, the BBC report continued.

A small proportion of businesses, particularly those in customer-facing enterprises, found that “creating enough slack in the schedule for a four-day week means extra hiring costs – making it prohibitive to move forward with a new model”.

And what about this finding from a survey of 500 SMEs by business insurer Superscript which found that 33% of SME bosses feel that there are not enough minutes in the day to get everything done?

It is all very well to advise people to “work smarter not harder” but that is a tall order for many SME owners.

Clearly the four-day week may work well for some but not for others.

What do you think?

Categories
General

Protect your data and your business!

Businesses are having a tough enough time without adding to their problems.

At least 87% of small businesses have reported cyber attacks that were successful in the past year according to new research.

Some of them had been attacked more than once.

Among the latest tactics is getting someone to click on an image.

The worst kinds of attacks are malware and ransomware.

In malware malicious software invades your system and can cause all sorts of problems from slowing down your operations to stealing your data. 

Ransomware is even more pernicious. It is exactly what it sounds like.

The attacker hijacks your IT equipment, encrypts your data, making it impossible for you to access it unless you pay a ransom fee.

Among the possible explanations for this increase is the number of IT appliances people now use, from mobile phones to laptops, notepads and the like.

It is also possible that more employees are using their personal devices to access company information.

The danger signs are unexpected emails from people the recipient does not know, offers that are too good to be true, spelling and grammar mistakes and “fake” branding.

However, you can protect your business by using strong passwords that are only available to those who absolutely need them, keeping software up to date, regularly training and updating staff on cyber security and what to look out for and most importantly what NOT to do.

Systems should be regularly backed up and protected by the most up to date antivirus software.

To protect your business be cyber attack aware and security conscious.

Categories
General Turnaround

Celebrate your failures

Yes, it is embarrassing for an entrepreneur when their business fails but there is a positive side to failure.

Firstly, analysis of what went wrong will ensure the mistake is never made again.

Secondly, sharing the mistakes will enable other entrepreneurs and start-ups to learn and help them to eliminate potential flaws in their own plans.

There is now a global movement, with more than 250 cities now participating which showcases how entrepreneurs and other business leaders have failed and then recovered.

That can only be positive news for other would-be entrepreneurs.

The idea is that it is cathartic to talk about such things, and everyone in attendance can learn from the mistakes, and ask questions.

It is not only useful for tech entrepreneurs, who tend to make up the majority of failures.

There are many reasons why a business might fail and the more willing people are to be open about their mistakes the less chance there is of others making the same mistakes.

You don’t have to re-invent the wheel to be a successful entrepreneur.

If you want to talk over an idea contact K2 Business Partners who have expertise in successful turnaround and business advice.

Categories
General

Is the age of the purpose-built office district dead?

It was recently reported that HSBC plans to move out of its global headquarters in Canary Wharf, London.

Research by property analytics provider CoStar has also revealed that vacant office space is at a record high, with an increase of 68% on the pre-pandemic level recorded in early 2020.

Reportedly Knight Frank and commercial real estate firm Cresa found that 50% the largest businesses they questioned expect to shrink their global workspaces.

Paradoxically the Cresa survey also found that this contrasts with the expectations of smaller firms surveyed – those with up to 10,000 employees – just over half (55%) of whom said they were expecting to increase their global office space.

Is this evidence of an increasing divide between businesses embracing hybrid working and smaller, greener, more flexible headquarters that is more convenient for employees and old command and control bosses mandating staff to be in the office the majority of the time?

Certainly, the move by HSBC and reportedly other large firms has given Canary Wharf some problems and an uncertain future.

Landlord Canary Wharf Group (CWG) has been trying to diversify to make the area more attractive by planning to build a life sciences hub, and courting technology and media companies as well as charities.

It has also added shops, bars and restaurants in recent years, landscaped the areas between its glass-and-steel towers and created a public art trail.

But with fewer workers travelling there and for fewer days and the ongoing problem that it is virtually deserted at night, how long can it last?

What do you think about the future of office work and purpose-built office districts? 

Categories
General Sustainability

Do you care about climate change?

Would you like a job that contributes to helping to improve the environment?

According to LinkedIn demand for so-called “green talent” has risen dramatically and now accounts for 33% of all job postings and demand may even be outstripping supply.

“The LinkedIn 2023 Global Green Skills Report shows that the share of green talent across 48 countries grew by an average of 12.3% between 2022 and 2023, but the proportion of job postings requiring at least one green skill was up by 22.4%. “

PWC (Price Waterhouse Cooper) has estimated that approximately 25% of UK workers are intending to move jobs in the next year.

But how do you gain experience needed for “green jobs” when it is a relatively new market?

According to PWC “solar consultant, energy auditor and waste management specialist are roles in the UK that are growing quickly and are less difficult to break into for those with no green experience”. 

However, you need to be clear where your interests and strengths would be most likely to be useful.

It is also a good idea to look for any funding for training and development relevant to what you hope to do.

If your current employer does not have a budget for career development in sustainability or green initiatives, perhaps you could suggest it, since ultimately it will only be beneficial to the company’s reputation.

Above all, starting conversations with colleagues and managers about the concepts of sustainability and highlighting your own areas of interest can only be good for your reputation.

Categories
General

K2 Turnaround Podcast 🎙️ – First Episode Released

We are very pleased to announce the release of the first episode of the K2 Turnaround Podcast 🎙️

In this first episode Tony Groom interviews K2 partner and fellow turnaround practitioner, Anton de Leeuw, with questions focused on his journey as a turnaround practitioner and what he has learnt along the way.

You can listen to the full episode on Spotify: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/laurence-groom/episodes/K2-Turnaround-Podcast-Ep-1—Anton-de-Leeuw-Interview-e25vdl4

Discussed in this episode:

  • How Anton first got into turnaround
  • Anton’s journey since joining K2
  • The challenges and successes faced whilst Anton was turning around his first company with K2
  • The 3 most important lessons Anton has learnt about turnaround
  • The 3 most important things that might impact a business (Spoilers: it’s 1. people, 2. people, 3. people)
  • How to build trust early on in the turnaround process
  • What should struggling companies be asking those offering to help them?

This was recorded in November 2022, just before the TRI Turnaround Awards, so if you’re wondering after listening to this, Anton did end up winning Turnaround Practitioner of the Year! K2 also won Turnaround firm of the year so 2022 was a fantastic year for us all around.

A huge thank you Anton de Leeuw for taking the time to be interviewed and for sharing your journey with us.

Hope you enjoy.

Categories
County Court, Legal & Litigation General

Directors: are you sure you’re obeying the rules?

There are strict rules governing the duties and responsibilities of directors when a company is insolvent.

But do you know what they are?

The Insolvency Service has reported that investigations into the alleged misconduct of directors of insolvent companies increased by 36% year-on-year last year.

The number of cases referred to the Insolvency Service compliance and targeting department jumped from an average of 528 per month to 1,077 in the same period.

This is not solely down to Covid-related fraud.

The service has reported that of the total 932 director disqualifications in 2022-23 – 459 were cases involving COVID-19 financial support scheme abuse.

In a Supreme Court ruling last year it was stated that “directors’ duties to creditors are triggered only when a company is either insolvent or on the brink of bankruptcy,”

It also said:

Directors must consider the interests of creditors when:
1.      The company is insolvent on a balance sheet basis or is unable to pay debts as and when they fall due and therefore insolvent on a cashflow basis
2.      The company is bordering on insolvency
3.      Insolvent liquidation or administration is probable

You can read the K2 Guide to Directors’ Duties for free here.

After that, why not talk over your situation with a restructuring adviser?

K2 Partners is here for you and happy to have an initial chat to understanding the issues involved in the next steps you may need to take.

Categories
General

Get the best from your marketing

At a time when business is facing considerable costs and difficulties it is more important than ever for marketing to pay its way.

It is not a time to cut back but it is essential to ensure business marketing connects with target customers and engages them.

The first step is to compile a customer profile, which defines exactly who the target audience is, everything from ages to income levels and of course their pain points.

Then, of course, businesses should avoid focussing firstly on what they can do and offer.

It is preferable to identify a customer need, or pain, and talk about that first to make a connection and engage potential customers.

Only then should the business outline what services or products it offers to meet that need.

Of course, it all needs to be well written, with no spelling mistakes or industry jargon.

If there are technical terms that are necessary, it is a good idea to also explain them in simple English.

Marketing, done correctly is an essential tool for a business, especially in hard times.

Categories
Employees General Turnaround

The most important lesson the army taught me about turnaround

By Tony Groom

When a turnaround professional arrives at a business, they’re arriving at a business in crisis.

Most people think it’s the big strategic shifts that are the critical piece of a turnaround, but during this initial phase the most important job to do is steady the ship and give everyone some confidence back.

This is best achieved not by barking out orders but by rolling up your sleeves and showing people you’re there to help.

This is something the army taught me at a young age. 

When I was a junior officer there was one senior sergeant who commanded more loyalty from his soldiers than anyone else. This loyalty stemmed from the respect he showed to each and every one of them. One might assume soldiers should salute their sergeant first, but he never missed an opportunity to salute the soldiers first.

One thing that made him such a brilliant leader was he never saw himself as a traditional leader. He wasn’t there to hand out orders to a team that needed guidance. He trusted that his soldiers knew what they needed to do and his job was simply to remove the roadblocks that would stop them getting on with their job.

This is a lesson I apply to every turnaround. 

Whilst the big strategy shift is obviously integral, bringing calm to the crisis usually happens in the smaller moments. It means the turnaround professional should get stuck in and remove the roadblocks that are standing in people’s way.

A road block could be the breakdown of a relationship with a key supplier. Or it could be as simple as not having the correct health and safety form to meet incoming regulations. 

Clearing these issues helps lighten the load on the team and starts building the momentum needed to make the bigger operational changes.

Categories
General

Businesses should be selective in adopting AI for their processes

Almost 80% of UK companies report difficulty filling jobs according to analysis by the Manpower Group.

So is using AI (Artificial Intelligence) the answer to the skills shortage?

In some instances it may be.

Examples include automating CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, machine learning for data processing, and in cybersecurity in defending computer defences. AI is key to automating various routine processes in manufacturing.

Most of the above will be familiar to businesses and have already proven their worth but there is a new and much-hyped piece of AI which has been the focus of attention, and that is ChatGPT.

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot system released by OpenAI that answers any questions and can even compose poems.

It has been argued that it useful for generating creative ideas, providing summaries and writing first drafts. It can also produce large amounts of text with a quick response time, So, It can arguably automate routine tasks, provide personalised customer service and it’s particularly beneficial for those in creative roles who spend a lot of time researching and creating content.

But it must be remembered that it uses probability theory to compose its answers and it is not possible to identify all the sources from which it has derived them.

It has also been shown to make up factually inaccurate answers.

Therefore, if a piece of business writing depends on being accurate, factually correct and able to demonstrate its sources ChatGPT is not going to be useful and indeed its use may damage a business’ reputation.

Another problem that may be relevant in CRM situations that require a degree of empathy is that it doesn’t necessarily understand the nuances of conversation, which can lead to misunderstandings.

So while AI can be useful in helping a business to cope with large amounts of data, with routine operations and the like, in situations where integrity of information, trackable sources, and emotional intelligence are needed then AI such as ChatGPT is not necessarily the answer and only a human will do.

Categories
Employees General

Is CEO pay a fair reflection of what they do?

In the context of rising costs of living with more and more ordinary workers struggling to make ends meet this is a question many would be likely to ask.

FTSE 100 data shows CEO pay and bonus packages average £3.4m each which equates to 103 times the £33,000 average salary for full-time UK workers.

But according to a recent survey by the High Pay Centre, more than 60 per cent of people think that chief executives should be paid only 10 times the average salary.

So it is fair to ask what makes them worth such enormous sums when Britain’s productivity, judged by output per worker, is 20% to 30% lower than most other industrialised economies.

CEO remuneration packages are made up of a combination of salaries, bonuses, and stock option packages, according to Investopedia.

In theory the package is designed to align executives’ actions with company success, in other words to make it performance related.

However, this only works if the package is reduced when the company is doing less well.

Performance can be gauged by any number of things such as profit or revenue growth, return on equity, or share price appreciation. 

But, arguably, using financial metrics and annual share price gains is not always a fair measure of how well an executive is doing their job. 

Perceived fair pay depends on many factors, with an important one being company value. If value has increased due to CEO effort, directors and investors believe it is fair to reward the CEO for this increase. Arguably the converse should be true.

But this suggests that company value is entirely within the CEO’s control when in fact other factors such as interest rate rises for example may come into play.

According to the independent Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), however, “intrinsic motivation and personal reputation are the primary drivers of CEO effort. CEOs are intrinsically motivated to do a good job or to be seen by their colleagues, their peers, and wider society as having done a good job”.

CEO remuneration is a complex issue and the concept of fairness is likely to arouse considerable passion on all sides of the debate.

Categories
General Turnaround

Turnaround guru Anton de Leeuw scoops double honours in national awards

Turnaround expert Anton de Leeuw is celebrating scooping double honours in the prestigious TRI awards 2022. 

Anton beat dozens of entrants to become Turnaround Practitioner of the Year for his work with K2 Business Partners. One of his main projects involved spearheading the complex turnaround of a struggling kitchen worktop company, and returning it to profitability. 

K2 Business Partners, of which is he an associate, was named Turnaround Firm of the Year for its work with several companies which needed a range of support from marketing initiatives, financial advice and, occasionally, total restructuring. 

The national TRI Awards, sponsored by CAPA, seek to champion innovation, vision and excellence in the field of turnaround, restructure and insolvency.  

Anton has been an independent consultant in the field for more than 10 years. 

He missed the black-tie awards dinner in London due to family commitments at home in Gloucestershire. 

“My phone started pinging late at night to tell me we were double winners. I was speechless, especially as we beat international firms with unimaginable amounts of resources,” he said. 

“It’s great to receive the accreditation of our peers in a very specialist area of business. 

“With a possible recession ahead, the practice of turnaround is vital. Viable companies get into difficulties for all sorts of reasons and the pathway to turnaround is filled with denial and insecurities because no one wants to admit to failure. 

“But many struggling companies can become successful with the right support. It’s therefore encouraging to see the skills of good turnaround practitioners recognised.”

He added that K2 seeks direct investments in businesses where it can add value due to its years of experience in both operational and financial matters. “We run companies to achieve sustainable profitabilty and long-term value by doing things right and by managing our businesses in a financially judicious manner.” 

In his private life Anton is an extreme sport enthusiast and former Chair of Gloucester City Hockey Club. The grit and determination shown competing in the Adventure Racing World Championships is reflected in his attitude to business. 

“The skill is being able to set one’s fears aside and find the courage to seek help. A successful turnaround outcome starts by making that decision early enough to buy the time needed to make a difference.” 

Categories
Business Development & Marketing General

Can collaboration strengthen your business?

With trading conditions as difficult as they currently are anything that can help to safeguard your business would seem like a good idea.

One such suggestion is to collaborate with another business.

A successful collaboration will depend on several things, which can be summarised as doing the careful research before you go ahead:

  • Are the two businesses a good fit, in other words are they genuinely complementary
  • Do they share common values and ideals
  • How sound are the finances of those involved
  • How much will the set up costs be
  • Don’t overestimate the time and money saved and the potential profits

Individual businesses can face several limitations when trying to compete in global markets. This may include scale and expertise.

So there may be financial benefits to collaboration in enabling the partners to tender for larger contracts and to benefit from a wider range of skills among the companies involved.

Swapping skills can also be highly valuable and cost-effective for start-ups on a budget.

Joining forces to cross-promote each others’ products or services can be a powerful way to build awareness and break into new markets.

Here comes the note of caution: the false assumption that the more employees collaborate, the better off the company will be. In fact, collaboration can just as easily undermine performance.  The problem is not the collaboration itself but determining when it makes sense and, crucially, when it doesn’t.

In summary, be very clear about the costs and the projected return, when setting up the collaboration.

In other words, do the research carefully and then make sure there are formal documents of the details of the collaboration and the roles and duties of the businesses involved.

Categories
General

Director wellbeing: pay attention to your mental health

Welcome to the New Year.

We hope you all had a peaceful Christmas with time to refresh yourselves, restore a positive mindset and are now fully focused on your business after the first week in January.

It is particularly important that CEOs and directors pay attention to their mental health in times of economic stress such as are currently prevailing.

In fact, according to some experts the well-being of directors is a crucial indicator of corporate health.

How can they hope to motivate their workforce if all is not well with their own mental health?

Our recent post explores some of the issues greeting businesses in the New Year, why a motivated workforce will be essential to weathering the ongoing storms and why K2 is people-focused when we get involved in helping a business in difficulties. You can read it here.

Another post you might find useful, on the subject of mental health and the importance of having someone to talk to, is here.

We’d like to remind you that restructuring advisers, like K2 Business Partners, are very experienced in supporting, helping and understanding the worries and fears of those facing possible or potential insolvency.

The name says it all. We are your partners in times of difficulty.

It only takes one call or message to start the process.

Categories
General

We won! 🏆

A massive well done to everyone at K2 Business Partners after winning Turnaround Practitioner of the Year at the TRI Awards last night.

We are so proud of the company we have built together and of the work we’re doing. This award feels like a well-earned cherry on top.

Congratulations are also due to Anton de Leeuw for winning Turnaround Practitioner of the year. 

It has been a privilege to work with Anton since he joined us and we can think of no-one more deserving of this award right now. 

Categories
General

This is not the time to be worrying about imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is when a person doubts their skills, talents and accomplishments despite external evidence and lives in fear of being exposed as a fraud.

It affects both high achieving men and women, particularly in business and while we would not suggest that it is anything other than a very real condition, in the current circumstances we would argue that it is not a good time to be trying to assess it.

Why?

Because there are so many headwinds besetting businesses from supply chain issues and shortages, to escalating energy bills and the difficulty of recruiting sufficient staff that conditions are anything but “normal”. 

All this in a context where various sectors of the workforce are taking strike action.

Consequently, many businesses are struggling and it would be understandable if their CEOs and senior management were to doubt themselves.

However, many of these factors are outside of their control and it would be foolish to blame themselves for the current situation.

Even if people lack confidence that is a long way from believing that they are imposters or suffering from imposter syndrome.

As long as executives make sure they are aware of the current state of their business and where they can go for help if they need it that is all they can do.

We have a cash management tool that can help you keep track and it is free to download.

In the meantime with the festive season on the horizon perhaps it is a good time to take a step back, try to relax and refresh mentally, reconnect with loved ones and return to full business activity in the New Year. 

Categories
Finance General

Business responses to measures in fiscal statement are lukewarm

Before yesterday’s fiscal statement from the UK’s Chancellor, businesses via the CBI had been calling for the Government to reconsider the planned April 2023 rise and for ‘urgent reforms’ to the business rates system.

Business rates had been expected to go up in line with inflation from April 2023, when a rate revaluation would also be started.

The Chancellor announced that the business rates multiplier would be frozen for another year, meaning that rates will no longer be increased in line with inflation from April but the revaluation exercise would still go ahead.

He also said there would be an extension of a rates discount for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses worth £2.1bn.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) stated that freezing thresholds will ‘hit small businesses’, and that the Chancellor’s growth measures ‘will not be enough to spark the needed economic recovery’.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said that the Statement is ‘unlikely to boost business confidence’.

Categories
General

Will this Thursday’s Autumn Statement bring good or bad news for businesses?

The signs are not good as the Chancellor of the Exchequer warns of the dire state of the UK’s finances and the likelihood that taxes will have to rise to repair them.

One thing that will be of particular interest to businesses is what will happen to business rates.

The Government published the findings of its latest consultation on business rates in October 2021 and among the key announcements were that:

Business rates will go up in line with inflation from April 2023, which could mean a rise of 10%.

There will be a 50% discount for small retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in 2022-23 up to a maximum of £110,000. This is due to expire on April 1 2023.

Revaluations will now take place every three years, rather than every five years starting from the April 2023 revaluation.

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) has already called for the Government to reconsider the planned April 2023 rise and for ‘urgent reforms’ to the business rates system and to the ‘inflexible’ Apprenticeship Levy’.

Businesses in the retail sector, among them Greggs, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Iceland, have also called for rates to be frozen in view of escalating energy prices and inflation, which are hitting their customers, and therefore sales, hard.

According to Altus Group, British firms are facing a near £3bn annual hike in business rates in April if inflation stays above 10%.

It remains to be seen what Jeremy Hunt announces on Thursday, but it’s not looking good. Meanwhile to help you stay on top of your finances why not download K2’s free cash management tool here.

Categories
Employees General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

A disconnect in perceptions of productivity?

The results of a recent survey of more than 20,000 people in 11 different countries has identified two completely opposite views about productivity in relation to working from home.

While four out of five bosses surveyed felt their staff were less productive when working remotely, the majority of employees, around 87%, felt they were more productive.

There could be a number of explanations for this.

At a time when, according to the latest Begbies Traynor Red Flag report, more than 600,000 UK companies are in critical financial distress it is possible that anxious bosses are desperate to increase their firms’ productivity and this is distorting their perceptions.

There can be little doubt that less commuting and a better work/life balance as well as enabling employees to work for longer periods. Perhaps there is a little distortion of perception going on here too? 

However, for the findings to be a more accurate reflection of the reality, there are a number of questions that should be asked.

  1. How well have the bosses communicated their expectations to remote workers and do they give feedback on performance?
  2. Do employees have measurable goals?
  3. Do employees have the right tools and technology to allow them to get things done?
  4. Are their devices suitable for the job they are doing?

In assessing, and hopefully improving, productivity there needs to be an established baseline from which to measure.

Categories
General Insolvency

Supreme court gives clarity to directors in insolvency

The UK’s Supreme Court has clarified a duty for directors relating to business insolvency.

The ruling says, “directors’ duties to creditors are triggered only when a company is either insolvent or on the brink of bankruptcy, rather than when the first signs of insolvency risks appear.”.

The ruling followed a bid by a debt collection company to get the law changed to force company directors to start taking creditors into account at the first risk of insolvency.

It clarified that the test is not merely when there is a real and not remote risk of insolvency. The trigger is now later.

It also said:

Directors must consider the interests of creditors when: 

  1. the company is insolvent on a balance sheet basis or is unable to pay debts as and when they fall due and therefore insolvent on a cashflow basis.
  2. The company is bordering on insolvency
  3. insolvent liquidation or administration is probable

You can read the K2 Guide to Directors’ Duties for free here.

Categories
Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Will the UK mini budget kick start the stagnating business economy?

Against a backdrop of soaring company insolvencies, up by 72% in the last year according to the Insolvency Service, and plummeting business confidence the new UK Chancellor unveiled a package of measures to try to deal with the current cycle of stagnation and rising costs.

The focus, said Kwasi Kwarteng, would be on growth and the measures included reversing the rise in National Insurance payments, freezing corporation tax and cutting stamp duty.

The limit on bankers’ bonuses was scrapped and there will possibly be 38 new investment zones in England.

This hugely expensive package is generally called trickle down economics, whereby the hope is that with more disposable income, investors and businesses will pass on the gains to those lower down the economy.

However, it is not a new idea and dates back to at least 1972, when a similar package ushered in several years of boom and bust.

Will it work this time?

Who can tell. 

Certainly the stock markets and investors were not impressed and the value of the Pound Sterling against the Dollar continued to plummet.

Clearly businesses are a long way from being able to plan their futures with any confidence.

Download our free cash management tool to stay on top of your business finances.

Categories
General

How is your self confidence?

We have been talking for several weeks about mental health and how important it can be to business owners especially given the current perfect storm of financial pressures they are facing.

While over-confidence can be dangerous, so too can another condition, known as imposter syndrome.

Originally thought to affect mainly high-achieving professional women, psychiatrists now believe it is more widespread and can affect up to 30% of business decision makers.

Imposter syndrome is characterised by a feeling of being a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area.

It can be undermining liked as it is to a fear that someday the person affected will be found out and exposed as a fraud.

There are several characteristics from the perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius to the super person and they all lead to an inability to be realistic about the sufferer’s achievements, competence and skills.

It leads to constant anxiety and a lack of the ability to believe in oneself. It may also lead to a belief that if as a business owner your business is in difficulties or insolvent, you are solely to blame.

To combat imposter syndrome sufferers should avoid comparing themselves to other people and avoid a constant push to perfectionism. Accept that everyone makes mistakes.

It can help to have a mentor and to talk to someone.

We specialise in offering practical help to businesses in trouble to help them to restructure if that proves to be the best option.

The first step is to book a free strategy and viability review with us to talk through your situation.

You can find out more here.

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Agility, innovation and keeping your wits about you…

Agility, innovation and keeping your wits about you…

..will be needed to survive the current storm of financial and other crises.

There is no denying that the ongoing war in Ukraine and the consequent energy price rises have made the conditions for doing business even more challenging than they were before.

UK businesses desperately need help form the Government but have had to wait for weeks while a new leader is elected for the Conservative party.

So what can businesses do?

Passing escalating energy costs on to clients will be a tricky balancing act between remaining viable as a business and risking the loss of customers who are themselves under financial pressure.

Business leaders are going to need to be agile in order to respond to fast-moving changes in circumstances.

They will need to keep a firm grip on their finances and they will need to try to be innovative.

You can download our free cash management tool here to help stay on top of finances.

In terms of innovation, are there any systems you can automate to save money? Could you strengthen your business by collaborating with another, complementary business?

If you consider this, you will have to keep your wits about you and ensure that any agreements are legally crystal clear.

But also, keeping your wits about you means taking care of your mental health.  A stressed, worried business leader cannot hope to make sensible decisions so anything from taking regular breaks to walking in the country to recharge your batteries can help.

You could also find someone, like K2, to talk to about the situation your business is in. Book a free strategy and viability review here.

There is help and support available. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Categories
General Interim Management & Executive Support Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

One person doesn’t have all the answers

Being the boss of a business can be a lonely place especially when times are as troubled as they currently are.

The temptation is to present a positive front and mask the worries for the reassurance of colleagues and staff.

But the stress of this can take a huge mental toll.

Nevertheless, friends and family will notice signs that all is not well.

They include:

  • Snapping at people.
  • Losing concentration
  • Putting off decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Emotional volatility
  • Anxiety
  • Erratic behaviour

Being supportive, sympathetic and encouraging is obviously important but so is encouraging the person to get help.

Talking to someone can help to bring perspective and reduce a problem like potential insolvency to manageable proportions.

That’s where K2 comes in.

Tony Groom has a wide range of experience ranging from acting as CEO and CRO (Chief Restructuring Officer) of AIM listed companies including the turnaround of a regulated investment company; through to smaller SMEs with turnovers of below £1m

We specialise in offering practical help to businesses in trouble to help them to restructure if that proves to be the best option.

The first step is to book a free strategy and viability review with us to talk through your situation.

You can find out more here.

Categories
Finance General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

Mixed messages a sign of the times

Mixed messages are abundant right now. For example, when trying to ascertain the health of the construction sector, the following messages have all come out in news reports over the last couple of weeks: 

  1. That there’s an increase in construction firms seeking help from restructuring experts as builders struggle with the soaring cost of materials.
  2. That there’s an increase of companies in “critical financial distress”. Begbies Traynor’s latest Red Flag Alert report that this has increased by 37% in the past year, with construction groups among the hardest hit.
  3. That UK housebuilding activity has returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to industry body, the National House Building Council (NHBC).

Could all these reports be true simultaneously?

Of course they can, given the financial crisis currently affecting the UK economy.

Furthermore, it’s likely that many industries, not only construction, are being hit by this seeming paradox.

It is not looking as though things will get better any time soon, and the stress and strain this puts on the mental health of CEOs, business owners and boards is considerable.

Our message is: look after your mental health whether it is taking time out for a walk in nature or talking to someone about your worries.

That’s where K2 comes in.

Tony Groom has a wide range of experience ranging from acting as CEO and CRO (Chief Restructuring Officer) of AIM listed companies including the turnaround of a regulated investment company; through to smaller SMEs with turnovers of below £1m.

We specialise in offering practical help to businesses in trouble, among them in construction, to help them to restructure if that proves to be the best option.

The first step is to book a free strategy and viability review with us to talk through your situation.

You can find out more here.

Categories
General

Lessons for business leaders from the Platinum Jubilee

70 years is a long time to have remained head of an organisation and to be dedicated to the duties it requires.

Yet the Queen has achieved this and retained the respect of most people, regardless of whether they support the idea of a monarchy or not.

She has often referred to the royal family as “the firm”, so are there lessons for business leaders who want to see their businesses thrive and endure for a long time?

The world has changed dramatically over this period, not only in terms of technology but also in terms of people’s attitudes and behaviour.

So, mastering the skill of adaptability while retaining core values is a skill business leaders should aspire to.

There may be times when it is necessary to pivot a business in a different direction.

Of course, leadership requires both dedication and hard work, but another attribute recognised in the Queen is courtesy. 

No matter to whom she is talking this is an attribute that she shows and one that business leaders perhaps could emulate.

Being treated with fairness, courtesy and kindness is likely to be rewarded with loyalty from colleagues and employees and encourages them to go the extra mile.

Of course, there is a considerable difference between ensuring the longevity of the monarchy and that of a business and one of the crucial aspects is being aware of a company’s financial position alongside its competitors at all times.

We have a free, downloadable tool to help businesses to keep track of and manage their finances.

It is available here.

Categories
General Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery Turnaround

There are opportunities in even the grimmest situations

Research by the UK organisation Make UK has found that almost three quarters of UK manufacturers have reshored their supply chains as a result of the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic and more recently the war in Ukraine.

“Nearly half (42%) of manufacturers have increased the proportion of suppliers based in Great Britain, with further reshoring in the pipeline for over two-fifths of companies,” according to their report.

This, together with the change in consumer purchasing habits moving to more online shopping has dramatically increased the demand for warehouse space.

According to latest research by Colliers, industrial occupiers are in a race for space as the UK is experiencing the lowest level of supply ever recorded, with only 18.1 million sq ft left, due to demand for logistics units continuing to be driven by the structural change in consumer spending patterns. 

Colliers states that take-up in 2021 for industrial distribution warehouses of 100,000 sq ft+ reached 50.7 million sq ft, up 3.6 per cent year-on-year, a new record for the sector.

The Make UK research also found that “manufacturers are looking to increase or maintain their current investment into supply chain technologies over the next two years.”

Despite the almost-daily dire news on costs, recruitment, raw materials prices and so on it is clear that there are opportunities in adversity for some businesses.

Perhaps an existing business could pivot to meet these needs and at the same time strengthen its own future for growth?

Give us a call or message if you would like to talk to someone about restructuring possibilities for and investment in your business.

Categories
Employees General

Are there situations where process automation produces a worse result?

A shortage of candidates amid a high demand for staff has for some time been a complaint made by businesses.

The competition for suitable people has led to their offering higher starting salaries for new staff.

But the question has to be asked: how are they going about the recruitment process?

For several years now, candidates have been assessed using AI (Artificial Intelligence).

This method has become increasingly sophisticated as candidates are now being asked to answer standard interview questions in front of a camera while the software behind it notes thousands of barely perceptible changes to posture, facial expression, vocal tone and word choice.

Some companies selling AI recruitment tools even offer a reactive, AI-powered chatbot that will conduct the entire interview process.

But there have been examples of eminently qualified people being rejected at the first hurdle by these methods and in one recently-reported case and employee with a long track record of work with various high profile publications dis covered his application had been rejected because he had not reached the required score in a test that seemed to bear no relation to the skills needed for the position.

He queried it unsuccessfully and after filing a claim with the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK was awarded £8000 in compensation. In his view the fault was in the software that was “weeding out good candidates”.

There have been reports of candidates who scored highly on most tests but found themselves excluded perhaps because of age, or an employment gap of longer than six months or because they were missing just a couple of skills from a very long list.

It must be remembered that software is written by human beings and human beings have inherent biases of which they may be unaware, not to mention that they can make mistakes.

At the moment there are no standards for checking whether an AI-based selection process is fair and unbiased although there are reportedly plans in both the UK and USA for bringing in national standards.

In the meantime, while the use of AI tools in the recruitment process may be useful at some stages potential employers should think carefully before applying them too widely.

Categories
General

Promises, promises but not much help right now

Hard-pressed businesses already facing a perfect storm will hardly have been cheered by the 5% reduction in fuel duty announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement.

There will also be business rates discounts of 50% for eligible retail, hospitality, and leisure properties from April 2022.

These were the only measure to be introduced immediately and, as has been pointed out, the cut in fuel duty is unlikely to make much of a dent in fuel costs given the price rises already seen in recent weeks.

Apart from these, everything else was promises for the future.

Among them were future possible tax cuts on business investment, uprating the employment allowance, adjustments to the Apprenticeship Levy and extensions to R&D tax credits. 

The director general of the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) said the announcement “falls short of the action businesses needed to see” and one local county Chamber director said: “it’s almost as if they [business owners] and the trading realities they face aren’t being fully comprehended in Whitehall and Westminster.

While it may be true that there is limited room for manoeuvre thanks to the effects of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that have added to the price and supply chain issues as a result of the Covid pandemic, businesses, upon whom the country’s economy and prosperity depend, needed to see much more decisive action to support them.

With insolvencies almost doubling year on year, many companies are on the brink right now and need urgent help.

K2 Business Partners are there for you as restructure and turnaround professionals. Contact us if you’d like to talk.

Categories
General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

Could your business handle a four-day week?

The UK is launching a four-day workweek trial from June to December 2022 (a six-month period where participating employees will see no loss of pay.

It has also been reported that 30 UK businesses had already started a trial of four-day weeks from January 2022.

But is it a practicable proposition for your business?

The results of the trials that have been carried out so far in other countries have shown that it improves workers’ quality of life, giving them more time for other priorities.

They have also, so far, shown that there was no loss of productivity and in some cases businesses have increased sales, reduced absences from illness and improved employee retention.

There is also an argument that the system could have environmental benefits from reduced commuting and traffic congestion.

However, it is questionable whether the four-day week can be applied in all businesses, not only because of the primary consideration of their customer’s needs but also because of the nature of the business.

According to the website Investopedia “it may not be possible to increase productivity enough in service or logistics jobs to achieve the same results in fewer hours just by working smarter. There’s a physical limit to how many items Amazon Warehouse employees can pick per hour or how many delivery locations a UPS driver can hit in a day.”

This is echoed in research carried out by the Henley Business School, which found that 82% of employers “believe ensuring employees are available to the customer outweighs the need for flexible working practices” and 73% felt it would be difficult to implement logistically.

Clearly, any business considering introducing a four-day working week will have to consider the implications carefully and be prepared to make radical changes to their business practices and ways of thinking.

Investopedia lists strategic changes businesses may have to make. These are just some of them.

They would have to prioritise and re-evaluate tasks, minimise interruptions and distractions, increase automation, limit work-based social events, reduce and shorten meetings, define clear goals that are achievable within a shorter workweek and measure outcomes, not hours.

It will be interesting to see how businesses react once the various proposed trials have been completed but it is already clear that there will be no “one size fits all” solution.

Categories
General

Do you really need all your employees to return to the office?

The guidance to work from home was one of the restrictions that was recently lifted along with several others that had been introduced to try to control the spread of Covid 19 infections.

The signs are that many have resumed the road or rail commute to the office as traffic numbers are steadily rising.

Was this a knee-jerk reaction by businesses desperate to return to normal? Or was it actually necessary?

Did they ask themselves whether they really needed all their employees to return to work in their centralised office locations?

Given that the economy of the country, and by extension of many businesses, is facing severe pressures as they seek to recover from the damage of the pandemic it will be crucial for businesses to keep a tight control on costs.

There are two factors in particular that are important to assessing whether a return to office-based working is actually necessary.

They are levels of productivity and business expenditure.

The LSE (London School of Economics) researched the effects of the pandemic work from home rule on productivity and found that not only can it actually improve productivity but can also reduce cases of burnout by as much as 26%.

But it stressed that businesses should take measures to ensure the model thrives including creating remote-work policies that detail expectations for employees, managers, and teams and training managers in managing remote teams inclusively.

Hitachi Capital was one of many organisations that researched the effects of working from home on business costs.

It identified five areas for potential costs savings during the period when employees were working remotely which included employee food and drink, employee travel, cleaning services, catering client meetings and rent and utilities.

Of the 250 SMEs surveyed it found “on average SME businesses (70%) saved up to an impressive £840 monthly. This is a cost that could total up to £10,000 annually for these companies”.

Such savings could make a significant difference to business survival in a time or rising costs.

When K2 Business Partners acquire a company or start working with directors to make improvements, one their early tasks is to take a fresh look at all the business systems and practices.

This is because every business falls into habitual ways of working that might have worked for years but if they are not updated, they become a costly burden.

The first step is to have an accurate picture of the business cash flow and this is where K2 can help. We have a free Cash Management tool that you can download here.

Take a look, apply it to your business and see where you could make savings and if you’d like to talk your ideas through message us on LinkedIn or give us a call.

Categories
Cash Flow & Forecasting General

How does your supply chain stack up?

Materials, parts, products; they have all been subject to delays and shortages over the last year thanks to a combination of factors from a shortage of lorry drivers to the effects of pandemic lockdowns.

It has all made running a business more stressful and expensive.

Is it time to rethink your supply chain?

Many businesses switched to buying from suppliers further afield because of the financial savings this brought them, but perhaps given the more recent difficulties it might be worth looking for sources closer to home.

It may end up costing a little more but if it improves your business’ continuity it may be worth it.

Reshoring is also becoming increasingly important for improving UK manufacturing resilience and ensuring that its manufacturing supply chains are fit for an uncertain future.

Perhaps you need a back-up plan?

It is also worth looking around for alternative suppliers and using more than one, again to ensure the continuity of your own business operations.

Giving orders to a back-up supplier as well as your main one could minimise disruption to your own business.

There have been some welcome indications that materials supply issues have eased a little in the construction sector with the November PMI data from IHS Markit and CIPS showing total activity for November at 55.5, compared with 54.6 in October. Fewer respondents were reporting longer than usual delivery times, down to 47% from the previous month’s 54%.

The end of the year is the time for reflection, recharging the batteries and a little planning ahead.

So once the Turkey has been eaten and the presents opened perhaps the run-up to the New Year is a good time to think ahead to make your business more resilient.

Categories
General

Are you really listening?

The difficulties businesses are having in recruiting staff at the moment have been widely publicised and two recent pieces of research may have some clues as to the reasons.

Firstly, the most recent quarterly survey run by Future Forum, a research group backed by the business communication platform Slack has found that management are keener to see staff return to their offices rather than to continue working from home.

While 44% of executives were anxious to get back to what they saw as “business as normal” more than three-quarters (76 percent) of employees said they wanted flexibility in whether they work from home or the office.

The second piece of research, carried out by the online magazine Wired in conjunction with orgvue, which analyses workforce and HR issues, found that attitudes to work and the behaviour of the workforce is rapidly changing, with many employees re-evaluating their careers post-pandemic and choosing to resign from their existing positions in search of more favourable conditions.

One theme that emerges from these pieces of research is that there is a disconnect between executives and their employees as the former’s working conditions, remuneration and freedom of manoeuvre are considerably greater than they are for employees.

Clearly, working from home during pandemic lockdowns has prompted the formerly office-based employees to look more closely at these issues for themselves and the result has been that many want a change, that there will be no return to pre-pandemic normal if they can help it.

Essentially, the message is that there needs to be a change in the attitudes and behaviour of the bosses to demonstrate that they are concerned for their employees’ welfare.

This is not only about money.

People need to feel valued, listened to and that their wider concerns and responsibilities are understood, that their knowledge and skills are important and incorporated into the company’s structure and organisation.

Businesses can expect there to be less certainty going forward and will need to incorporate more flexibility into their operations.

For this they will need to rely even more on the skills and adaptability of their employees.

While there is certainly a need for strong leadership, the best leaders are those who consult and really listen to what their employees, those “on the front line” of their businesses, can tell them.

There is a reason why we have two ears and one mouth.

Are you really listening and are you willing to adapt to changed conditions?If your organisation is struggling to cope with uncertainty and you would like to talk over your ideas with an experienced turnaround adviser please call us.

Categories
General

Are your directors up to speed with their duties?

As the Insolvency Service is quite rightly vigorously pursuing those who have made fraudulent claims for help during the Covid crisis, they are likely to be scrutinising all businesses more closely.

The number of company directors convicted of criminal activity during the pandemic has risen 205% to 122 in the year to 30 September, up from just 40 for the same period to 30 September of last year. The National Audit Office has also estimated that up to 60% of Covid BBL claims could be fraudulent or defaulted on.

There are plenty of other pressures on businesses and in particular their directors in trying to return to more normal activity in the face of a disrupted supply chain, rising energy prices and recruiting difficulties.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Times like these can also be seen as an opportunity to take a close look at what your business is offering and whether it can be tweaked to better meet the current conditions, not least the climate crisis.

It also seems a good time to remind directors of the statutory duties that they need to be mindful of.

Directors’ duties are defined by:

Common law, by specific legislation such as the codification contained within the Companies Act 2006 and by general statutory compliance to other laws, including, but not limited to Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and its subsequent Regulations, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, the Employment Act 2008 and its associated Regulations, the Competition Act 1998, the Supply and Sale of Goods Act 1994, the Data Protection Act 2018 and General Data Protection Regulations, the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, by Anti-discrimination legislation covered by Race and Framework Directives and many more.

You can find out more about the details governing directors’ behaviour here.

Categories
General Insolvency Rescue, Restructuring & Recovery

It’s good to talk

In tough and painful situations it can be tempting for business owners to struggle on, or live on hope, rather than acknowledging that it’s time to call in help.

It can lead to sleepless nights and a reduction in your ability to get a grip on the situation or make sensible decisions.

It will not solve the problems of mounting debt, the threat of County Court Judgements (CCJs) and insolvency.

K2 is here to take your calls if you’d like to talk to a real human being with experience of rescuing and turning around businesses.

Get a grip!

The first step to resolving business problems is to know exactly what the situation is.

We have a number of free tools for download that can help businesses to get a grip on their situation.

They include our Cash Management tool: https://lnkd.in/gr4bkxW

And if things have gone further there is our Guide to dealing with CCJs: https://lnkd.in/ghPgehx

So banish those sleepless nights and worries and get in touch.

Remember the old adage: “A problem shared is a problem halved”.

Categories
General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

Are you a good employer?

It may not be high on your list of priorities with Furlough ending and the struggle to survive and return to peak activity foremost in your mind.

Even if you have had to make some people redundant your reputation as an employer matters.

As your business hopefully returns to more normal levels of activity there may come a time when you will need to recruit more people, and that is going to be a challenge when there is a shortage of workers in many sectors.

While redundancy may feel like a brutal process to those on the receiving end, how it has been handled can make all the difference to your business reputation.  

Did you keep staff fully informed? Did you follow all the correct procedures? Did those affected feel that you cared about them and their concerns?

We explained how to do it properly in this article:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/planning-redundancies-after-furlough-discontinued-tony-groom/?trackingId=YDCO8nDCs6wYlCRNM2wlKw%3D%3D

But we were reminded that there is more to treating employees well when a CEO, as reported in the media, advised employers not to sack an employee for making a mistake.

Instead, he said, after his company had lost a large account, he started what he calls “the blameless post-mortem”, to see whether the company’s systems were at fault, rather than an individual. 

In that instance the findings were that there had not been enough people in the sales team to enable each employee to take proper care of the clients that were under their responsibility.

There will be many other instances of things that can be done better in your business and if approached in the right way, with the engagement of employees, they are more likely to see your business as one they would be happy to work for and to pass that message on to others.

It’s not about the perks you give them but about how well you convey that you value them and understand their concerns too.

Categories
General

Lessons and new opportunities from pandemic disruption

Business activity is starting to pick up after 18 months of disruption but what lessons have those that survived learned, what new opportunities has it brought and what new practices will businesses keep as a result?

Changes in customer and client needs?

A recently-reported development has been the numbers of staycation bookings for 2022 that are already being made after people decided to holiday in the UK in 2021 due to all the complex rules overseas travel and quarantine on return. 

This presents an opportunity for the tourism industry to develop their attractions and offers, notwithstanding some of the difficulties there are in recruiting enough workers.

There may well be opportunities in other businesses in the wider economy to respond with new products and services based on what clients have asked for during the various stages of the pandemic.

Changes in ways of working

While some businesses needed to furlough staff because of a drop in demand during the pandemic others changed to a working from home (WFH) model.

This had implications both for business overheads as well as for the future of employment as many employees have indicated that they liked the WFH way of working and would like it to continue.

It has reportedly had no effect on productivity so businesses may be able to continue with employees working in this way with some additional investment in remote IT support and monitoring.  This investment could be offset by businesses no longer renting or leasing large city centre office complexes and thereby saving on overheads.

In manufacturing and business processes IT is also likely to yield benefits.  The introduction of robotics and AI in manufacturing is an obvious benefit after the initial investment.

Similarly automating and/or outsourcing some business processes will help to reduce overheads and improve profit margins.

Slow and steady is the key to getting back to full production

While businesses may be keen to get back to their pre-pandemic levels of activity it should not be done too quickly.

Although restoring the balance sheet is a key issue, there is always a danger of overtrading, by accepting more orders than the business can realistically fulfil. Failure to fulfil those orders can lead to problems with key suppliers the business may end up unable to pay and to reputational damage with both them and unsatisfied customers.

If there is a need for more capital to invest in the business it should be wary of both predatory lenders imposing onerous interest rates on loans and demanding directors’ guarantees. Similarly venture capital can come with problems for a business if the investor is too focused on short term returns on the investment and not willing to give the business time to grow sustainably.

Mergers and acquisitions may be a solution to business development but again should be looked at carefully before committing.

Ultimately, a business wanting to grow sustainably needs to know exactly where it is financially at all times and our free cash management tool can help you to do this.

https://www.linkedin.com/smart-links/AQG7fCQTtXx4Zw/37139976-4f42-454f-aff5-75ae4be992c7

Categories
General

Why take time out for a walk in nature?

No matter how busy I am I try to take a walk in the countryside at regular intervals.

Why? Because it is refreshing, invigorating and most importantly good for my mental health.

It is something for stressed business leaders to try to build into their undoubtedly busy lives. 

The temptation to focus exclusively on the problems in a business to the exclusion of all else may be great but good leadership and making the right decisions depends on a leader having good mental health.

But actually, taking time out away from the office and allowing the mind to roam free during a walk could well result in new solutions emerging to the problems besetting you.

As the recent decision by US gymnast Simone Biles to pull out of the Olympics finals recently demonstrated she said she felt she could not perform at her best because of issues with her mental health.

It’s a lesson stressed business leaders could learn. 

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors General Insolvency

Director scrutiny over covid loans

Closing an insolvent business is a horrible experience but disqualification from being a director is even worse.

In a recent case in the North of England the director of a retail business was disqualified for 11 years after it was concluded that he had overstated his turnover when claiming a Covid Bounce Back loan.

The regulations state that eligibility for a loan was in doubt given that they should be for less than 25% of the previous year’s turnover.

It appeared that the business had already ceased trading the previous year but insolvency officials said he should have known that turnover had been insufficient to qualify for the loan, which was paid out in May 2020.

It also found that he had failed to provide sufficient records to establish what the funds were used for.

This situation emphasises the duties on directors to not only keep accurate and detailed financial records but also to ensure they comply with all their duties when applying for a Covid-related BBLS or CBILS loan or when a business is insolvent.

Any investigation of formal insolvencies will look closely at loan applications and the use of funds.

Disclosure and directors’ reports should cover the circumstances of any loan.

Our Board Briefing on inoculating your board during coronavirus is helpful for directors in understanding their legal duties.

You can view it here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/directors-need-understand-duties-liabilities-whatever-tony-groom/

It is distressing enough to have to deal with closing down a business into which you have put your time and energy – much worse is to be disqualified for regulatory failures and be prevented from starting afresh.

Categories
General

Leadership is about knowing when to ask for help

Businesses have faced a perfect storm of troubles during the Covid pandemic, leaving many of them perilously close to insolvency.

Now as the various support schemes come to an end they are also facing having to start paying back Covid loans and deferred VAT at the same time as trying to get their business activity back to full production in the face of supply chain shortages and potential recruitment difficulties.

It’s a tough and painful situation but it can be compounded if the leader(s) of the business try to struggle on, or live on hope, rather than acknowledging that it’s time to call in help.

Leadership is often assumed to be about knowing what to do in all circumstances.

But it is unrealistic to assume that any one person has all the answers, especially when faced with a situation unlike anything that has gone before. Whether it is from pride or fear, the outcome from soldiering on is not likely to be good.

Effective leadership is about knowing your limits and when to call in help from the experts.

So don’t despair. We have a number of free tools for download that can help businesses to get a grip on their situation.

They include our Cash Management tool: https://www.linkedin.com/smart-links/AQF0zn8hTCKbSw

And our Guide to dealing with CCJs: https://www.linkedin.com/smart-links/AQECtjYmuU4aNA?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_company_admin%3BT8pIrBPJRZacMnpp5QR9cA%3D%3D

And we are here to take your calls if you’d like to talk to a real human being with experience of rescuing and turning around businesses.

Categories
General

Pressure on construction businesses as materials are in short supply

Building materials are running short in the UK putting pressure on smaller construction businesses.

Supplies of timber, cement, steel, paints and some plastic products have been particularly affected leading to a prediction that materials prices could rise by as much as 7% this year.

More problematic is the effect the shortages may have on smaller construction companies to keep trading leading to cash flow problems, according to the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The Federation of Master Builders has said some building firms may have to delay projects while others could be forced to close.

The shortage is being attributed in part to a surge in DIY and building projects during lockdown as well as a surge in shipping costs.

The CLC has called on large construction companies to work with smaller builders to collaborate on bulk buying which the SMEs are unable to manage alone.

In the meantime we at K2 would urge SME builders to take advantage of our offer to download its free cash management tool to protect themselves against the ebbs and flows of income. 

Available here: https://www.linkedin.com/smart-links/AQG7fCQTtXx4Zw/0a02193a-12a8-432b-8b19-81bc4f8a8b74

Categories
General

Is a lack of people with suitable digital skills affecting your business future?

Fewer than half of British employers believe young people are leaving full-time education with sufficient advanced digital skills, and 76% of firms think a lack of digital skills will hit their profitability.

The Learning & Work Institute also calculated that the number of young people taking IT at GCSE has gone down by 40% since 2015.

It has been predicted that the future of successful business post pandemic will be in the increasing adoption of robotics, AI and remote digital solutions such as cloud storage and video conferencing.

But is it fair for employers to employers to place responsibility on the education sector? In a fast-changing landscape, how do schools and colleges judge exactly what practical digital knowledge will be needed, especially in such a diverse sector?

There is also an argument that at least some of those skills are best learned “on the job” rather than in an exclusively academic environment.

Should employers become more hands on in working with schools and in using all the various schemes such as apprenticeships and Kick Start to play a more active role in ensuring their employees, present and future can gain the digital skills needed for the future?

Categories
General

How will you change your business post-lockdown?

Business life has without a doubt been unremittingly more difficult during the Coronavirus pandemic, not least due to the restrictions imposed by several lockdowns.


However, arguably, this has also been a learning experience for many with lessons that may be useful when things eventually return to “normal”.


Take this example from a survey by Deloitte which has found that one in four British employees could end up working from home. long-term.


It found that 97% of CFOs predict this outcome as companies make changes introduced during the pandemic permanent.


“By and large, this massive, forced experiment in home-working has been very successful. Sectors have been able to maintain quite a high degree of effectiveness operating from home,” said Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte. 


However, this does not spell the end of the office, Mr Stewart continued, stating that people overwhelmingly want a combination of home and office work so they can continue to work with others. 

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

Will proposed relaxation of planning laws revitalise construction?

Last month the Government announced that it would enact legislation to relax planning laws so that full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings making it easy to convert commercial and retail properties into residential property. This could be the key to a swift revival of high streets and town centres by repurposing existing property.

If approved these new rules should come into effect in September.

The Government is also proposing to reform England’s planning system, it claims, “to deliver more high-quality, well-designed homes, and beautiful and greener communities for people to live in.” although the details have not yet been made public.

On the face of it, if the rule changes do become law this will be a significant boost to construction and building companies and suppliers, like us, of building materials.

Presumably, also, developers could benefit from a relaxation of the planning conditions that often accompany such projects, whereby local authorities can make planning consent conditional on the provision of a proportion of affordable housing or other community amenities via a Section 106 Agreement.

In answer to concerns raised by such bodies as the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the Local Government Association (LGA) that it will lead to a decline in standards, the Government has said that the measures are designed to cut out bureaucracy “to get Britain building” but will also protect high standards: “Developers will still need to adhere to building regulations.”

It has also pledged that pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities will not be covered by these new flexibilities. This will help avoid the decline of village and community life by preserving local amenities although most local libraries and many pubs have already closed.

Although a controversial initiative, we believe this would be a welcome boost for construction and associated industries and for employment through the jobs it will create. What do you think?

Has your business struggled as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic? Are you having to consider redundancies as the Furlough measures are scaled down?  

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

The pros and cons of an infrastructure boost post pandemic

infrastructure boostThe UK Prime Minister has signalled a massive infrastructure boost to help the country’s economy to recover post pandemic.
The details and plans for allocation of money are likely to be fleshed out in the autumn but in a speech at the end of last month he indicated that more than £5 billion would be spent on infrastructure projects, many of them in northern and central England as part of his pledge to tackle the imbalance between London and the South and the more deprived regions.
The projects will include spending on hospitals, roads, railways and schools, including what are called “shovel-ready” projects to help businesses and individuals to recover and address the expected mass unemployment.
Business directors should be planning now to take advantage of the proposals, especially those in the construction and tech sectors that are likely to be recipients of the government money.
I know of at least one company, supplying a unique range of thermally efficient, environmentally-friendly products to house builders, which is already well-placed to grow post-Coronavirus to supply its Passivhaus compliant insulated foundation and walling systems.
The government initiative does however highlight some issues that are associated with ambitious plans that are announced without thinking them through.
In his speech, the Prime Minister promised to simplify the planning system and regulations to speed up the process.
Unless some thought and care is put into how the infrastructure boost is carried out there is a risk that the initiative will undo what little progress has been made to reaching promised environmental targets.
For example, while improving the road infrastructure is needed in some parts of the country, it is likely to increase the numbers of vehicles on the roads and in turn will contribute to an increase in CO2 emissions and global warming.
In fairness, the PM did also promise to “build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain” with a commitment to plant approximately 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025. He does like his promises.
It may also be the case that ambitious infrastructure plans fail to meet the objectives of creating a large numbers of jobs. It is likely that businesses will be looking to find ways of reducing their dependence on labour investing in and more automation and technology-driven ways of working.
These are points highlighted by the economist Joseph Stiglitz who argues that there are infrastructure spending risks but also acknowledges that “well-directed public spending, particularly investments in the green transition, can be timely, labour-intensive (helping to resolve the problem of soaring unemployment) and highly stimulative”.
It is clear, however, that directors will need to find innovative ways of delivering the proposed infrastructure while at the same time also promoting their “green” credentials.
#infrastructureboost #economicrecovery #construction #techinnovation

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

Is commercial property investment no longer a safe haven?

commercial property a safe investment?Commercial property pre-pandemic was considered one of the more secure options for money by investors, particularly by pension fund managers.
But the consequences of changing consumer behaviour, the aftermath of the pandemic lockdown and the retail High Street revolution would suggest a pause for thought and perhaps a rethink.
While the most obvious sector of business related property to be in trouble is retail it may prove not to be the only one.
Retail has been hit by a significant move to online shopping that has been building for several years, but it is also beset by what has been called an archaic rental collection system, whereby rents are payable quarterly.
The most recent Quarter Day was on 24th June (Midsummer Day) and it has been estimated that in the region of just 14% of retailers were paid their rent that day.
It was no surprise, therefore that Intu, owner of some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres, such as Lakeside and Manchester’s Trafford Centre called in the administrators the day after the Quarter Day.
Intu had been struggling even before the lockdown as a result of a list of store closures announced throughout the year so far, including well known names such as Warehouse, Oasis, Monsoon, Quiz, Pret A Manger and others. It has been estimated that in excess of 50,000 jobs have been lost in the sector so far.
The lifting of lockdown in retail is not likely to help to restore the High Street’s fortunes given the restrictions and limitations shops have had to impose to ensure customers are safe from infection.
But commercial property is not only about retail.
Lockdown meant that many businesses had to close their offices and again, they have only been able to re-open amid considerably changed circumstances for safety reasons.
Not only this, but many previously office-based businesses have discovered that their employees can work efficiently and often more productively from home and have therefore they have been reviewing their business models to enable employees to carry on working remotely.
Where they have a need for some employees to be in the office at least some of the time, they have introduced rigorous sanitisation measures, abandoned such practices as hot desking, installed safety screens at more widely-spaced desks and introduced flexible working so that employees no longer have to arrive or leave at the same time. Much of this is aimed at helping staff avoid travelling on crowded public transport but it is  also a recognition that flexibility is benefitting both employers and employees.
The trust issue assumed by management has also largely been allayed; indeed staff have tended to work harder at home than they did in the office with few companies experiencing any loss in productivity. I would argue that requiring staff to work in the office was never a trust issue but more one related to the egos, status and security of managers who need the reassurance of having staff on hand; nothing to do with employees’ ability to work.
Inevitably, the successful experiment will mean that many businesses no longer require such large commercial premises and will terminate leases as soon as possible to downsize the space needed.
Indeed I know of two large professional firms who were about to move into larger offices in the City when the lockdown hit, fortunately for them they hadn’t signed the lease and have since decided then no longer need larger premises since everyone has worked perfectly well from home.
Furthermore less space will be needed as the recovery to pre-lockdown levels is looking unlikely.
Earlier this year McKinsey produced a paper full of advice for private equity and investors in commercial property about the radical changes they would need to consider for the future.
“Many will centralize cash management to focus on efficiency and change how they make portfolio and capital expenditure decisions. Some players will feel an even greater sense of urgency than before to digitize and provide a better—and more distinctive—tenant and customer experience.”
And this was just the start!
It went on to suggest that commercial property owners, especially in B2B environments, will have to change their behaviour and “engage directly with tenants. They should follow up quickly on the actions they have discussed with tenants. Not only are such changes the right thing to do—they’re also good business: tenants and users of space will remember the effort, and the trust built throughout the crisis will go a long way toward protecting relationships and value.”
However, the report does suggest there will be some commercial property niches that could benefit from the pandemic upheaval, such as commercial storage, and in time there may be others.
There is no doubt that the nature of the commercial property market is changing, but it is perhaps premature to predict its demise.
#commercialproperty #safeinvestmnent #propertymanagement #commerciallease
 

Categories
Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Business triage involves allocating limited resources to achieving realistic outcomes

Business triage prioritises the most urgentBusiness triage refers to the process of prioritising work in a crisis when there is more work to do than resources available to do it. The aim of triage is to maximise the outcome and minimise the damage by being realistic about what can be achieved with limited resources.
It is more commonly understood in the medical context, usually in response to prioritising treatment of casualties following disasters or other emergencies.
According to Investopedia, in a business context, “Triage helps companies by enabling them to attend to emergencies quickly, but it also poses risks, as it tends to involve the elimination of certain time-consuming steps that are normally part of the workflow”.
While business triage is normally associated with decision-making and action a crisis, its principles can also be applied to all forms of transformational change.
In my last blog I advised directors that now is a good time to conduct a strategic review of businesses in order to prepare for a resumption of activity as the Coronavirus lockdown eases.
The review may well have revealed processes, and products or services that are no longer viable as well as potential future opportunities and you may be considering re-organising your business to reflect this.
For some of you this may be urgent and you will be embarking on the business triage process to determine the changes you need to make to reduce overheads, perhaps your workforce, and to re-organise the whole business process.
The warning about the risks involved is therefore timely.
If cash flow has plummeted and staff have been furloughed your business may have been relying on reserves, CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) and CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme), but reserves may be running down and furlough schemes are being phased out. And, sooner or later the loans will have to be repaid.
These are all important considerations for business triage as you prioritise cash flow by reducing overheads, perhaps by make some staff redundant much of which may be necessary to survive. Once survival is guaranteed then you can consider future plans but for the moment it is important to be mindful of the costs involved, particularly, but not only, of redundancy.
The aim of the business triage process is to emerge as a leaner and fitter organisation, more resilient and more efficient, with processes targeted on the most profitable parts of your business.
Many directors have some tough decisions to make and these will require judgement about priorities and affordability such that they may need to bring in others with the experience of making such decisions.
Both a failure to make decisions early and a failure to make the right decisions may mean that your business won’t survive.
#Triage #Businesstriage #Decisionmaking

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

As businesses resume operations it’s a good time to take stock with a strategic review

a strategic review helps your business move forwardI would normally be recommending a strategic review of your business at this time of year, when activity slows down for the holiday season.
This year, of course, things are very different because of the pandemic lockdown but as you resume business activity my advice remains the same because a strategic review will help you to identify the resources, costs, opportunities and capabilities that will help your business move forward.
It may be that carrying out a review will help you identify new products or directions in which you can take your business as in a changed economic landscape innovation is likely to be a key to future success.
A business needs to be sustainable and profitable so firstly you need to identify the resources that are already available to you and these can be divided into physical resources, human resources, intellectual resources and financial resources.
To use the example of a manufacturing business, physical resources would include equipment and inventory and manufacturing plant, but also the premises, if the business owns them. However, over time for all their longevity such assets as manufacturing plant can become obsolete or inefficient and it is important to plan for when their lifespan will run out and for updating them perhaps with automation to improve efficiency.
Human resources will include existing employees and their skills, perhaps suppliers with whom you have a long-standing relationship, the board of directors and shareholders if any. Do you have the right skills and capabilities in the organisation to help it move forward, perhaps even in a new direction?
Intellectual resources include any processes or products that are already protected by patents, anything emerging from research and development or perhaps potential demand for a new but related product identified via marketing activities or customer research. The talent within your business could also be potentially an intellectual resource.
If you have identified a new product or direction for the business it is important to establish as far as possible how much it is likely to cost and where you may need to invest to turn it into a reality so current costs are an essential element in the equation.
If reflections during lockdown or insights following a strategic review give you ideas for a new direction you will need to know your business’ financial position to fund working capital and afford any investment so forecasting your cash flow is imperative as your reserves may be have been depleted by the lockdown and you may need further finance.
Doing your homework now while business activity is still quiet could make all the difference to a successful business development.

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

Directors should be mindful of future investment and changing values post pandemic

future investment and changing valuesBusinesses planning their post-pandemic strategy are likely to be seeking future investment to shore up their balance sheets but directors will need to be mindful of the changing values of stakeholders and in particular those of their customers who in turn are influencing investors.
Before the immense disruption caused globally by the onset of the pandemic, climate change, global warming and the need for a more sustainable form of economics were a major preoccupation.
That preoccupation has not gone away.
While physical attendance at a second summit on ethical finance by international delegates from Government officials, financial institutions, consumer goods corporations, supply chain intermediaries and conservation organisations planned for Edinburgh this month has had to be cancelled, it has now been replaced by a virtual summit.
And this month, the UK’s Investors Association published a paper on the future of investment in which it, too, identified the importance going forward of ethical investment highlighting:
…“Increasing importance of sustainable investment. There is growing customer emphasis on the material impact of sustainability issues on financial returns, notably among institutional clients, as well as a more prominent focus on setting non-financial objectives (for example, to invest in companies and projects that have specific social or environmental benefit).”.
The focus and emphasis among investors is very much on CSR (corporate social responsibility), or its replacement ESG (environmental, social and governance) which is becoming the criteria for oversight of behaviour and values and holding companies to account.
Changing consumer values have been highlighted by others, including the retail “guru” Mary Portas, who has been promoting what she calls the “kindness economy” where, she argues, that shoppers may now be more alert to how businesses treat them, their workers and the planet.
Former BoE (Bank of England) governor Mark Carney also referred to this growing awareness in an article in the Economist last April, where he said that “fundamentally, the traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence” and where “public values help shape private value”.
These are issues that company directors will need to be mindful of when formulating their post-pandemic business plans, especially if the plans involve securing future investment.
Returning to pre-pandemic “normal” is not likely to be enough for business survival as the desire among both investors and consumers is for more ethical values and this has not been eroded by the pandemic.

Categories
Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

What lessons can be learned from the 1930s New Deal for post pandemic recovery?

New Deal and unamploymentThe New Deal was a series of measures introduced by President Franklin D Roosevelt to help the US economy recover from the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Great Depression.
It introduced a string of measures to better protect workers from ill-treatment and the consequences of unemployment and to better regulate banks and financial institutions.
As noted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica “Opposed to the traditional American political philosophy of laissez-faire, the New Deal generally embraced the concept of a government-regulated economy aimed at achieving a balance between conflicting economic interests”.
Perhaps one of the best-known Acts was the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933, which separated commercial from investment banking.
But the New Deal measures were also designed to stimulate and revive economic activity in agriculture and business, founded on the economic theory, as propounded by the UK economist John Maynard Keynes, that massive Government spending should be used to promote recovery and that spending cutbacks only hurt the economy.
Over the 20th Century the economic theory pendulum has swing back and forth between government regulation and a market driven laissez-faire economy with the later particularly being adopted by Margaret Thatcher.
The economic response to the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences have opened the taps to flood cash into the market in a way that even Keynes would be impressed. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s initiatives to protect businesses, employees and other vulnerable groups are similar to the measures introduced in the early days of the New Deal.
But as lockdown measures are eased what other measures might the Chancellor adopt to stimulate the economy?
Similar to that adopted in the 1930s, the Government is considering a spending spree on what are called “shovel-ready” projects, particularly the construction of infrastructure (roads, railways, internet, schools, hospitals and other projects) that will get some people back to work quickly.
Other ideas used then and being considered now are how to get consumers to resume spending, although this should be more than just re-opening retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.
With so many people losing their jobs or worried about their economic future, there is a real concern that consumers won’t spend. Perhaps despite other short-term initiatives that were not used in the 1930s such as a reduction in VAT (Value Added Tax) on consumer products, a reduction in NI (National Insurance) contributions for employers and employees, and training people for the future.
For businesses, particularly, some reduction in Business Rates, or even a revamp which has long been called for, and more flexible repayment of the Coronavirus loans (CBILS) may help but the landscape has changed and it would appear unlikely that we shall return to a pre-Coronavirus level of business. None the least due to the number of redundancies that are coming, and perhaps just as bad, the likely prospect that the purchasing power of fiat currencies will reduce significantly despite any artificial manipulation of inflation data.
While it is often said that a recession can be the best time to start a new business, as companies ranging from General Motors, Burger King, CNN, Uber and Airbnb did, it is arguable that the post-pandemic economic damage will be so severe that more even more radical New Deal-type of measures will be needed.

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General

Protecting your business from technology post-pandemic

technology comes with risks as well as rewardsLast week one of my blogs highlighted the growth opportunities to businesses of adopting new technology post-pandemic.
However, businesses, like consumers, can also be vulnerable if you do not take steps to understand and control the adoption and use of software and technology in your company.
Already, reports have emerged of new scams specifically related to Coronavirus. They have resulted in consumers being promised delivery of products for which they have paid but which subsequently discover do not to exist.
Then, there have been the scams to remote workers related to fake contacts from alleged payroll departments and internet service providers asking for personal information, according to TSB Bank.
But in a business context, while digital technology has been embraced to make it easy to continue to work during the pandemic lockdown, in the future how and what technology is used needs to be carefully considered and integrated with business processes going forward.
The temptation may be to “start to build resilience in their businesses by complementing product-focused models with scalable and stable digital alternatives” such the remote hosing of data and the use of third party software tools and AI as explored in an article in information age on potential business technology opportunities.
The article suggested that there will be an increase in B2B initiatives to adopt “smart and quick ways to slash costs and monetise existing assets”.
But the essence of business is competition and this suggests increased opportunities for industrial espionage and hackers unless you take considerable care to protect your business.
Those unfamiliar with the technology are likely to be vulnerable through their lack of knowledge or understanding. Tech is a highly specialised area where few directors are knowledgeable about its vulnerabilities and drawbacks.
Companies will need such specialists and ideally someone in-house to be sure their systems are robust and protected from such potential threats.
You should carry out due diligence on your digital service providers and protect yourself with robust legal contracts although for many online providers this may be impossible such that small businesses in some instances might be advised to avoid certain providers.
Using AI, “smart” cloud storage and other digital technologies to improve efficiency and cut cost has many benefits but only if such systems have back-ups and tight security controls as protection.
 

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Business Development & Marketing General

The future of global sea freight transport post lockdown

sea freight faces a difficult futureThe words “new normal” have become something of a cliché in predictions for a post pandemic world but there is little doubt that global sea freight transport is likely to be very different for some years to come.
Even before countries started closing their borders and taking other measures to protect citizens from Coronavirus the sea freight industry was facing pressures.
Much of the pressure relates to concern by the IMO (International Maritime Organisation) about the industry’s impact on the environment and specifically its use of sulphur oxides which is harmful and is considered to be the cause many premature deaths.
From January 2020 the IMO had imposed new emissions standards designed to significantly curb pollution produced by the world’s ships which will be no small feat given estimates that more than 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.
To achieve this target, it proposed to ban shipping vessels using fuel with a sulphur content higher than 0.5%, compared to the present upper limit level of 3.5%.
The challenge is immense since the commonly used marine fuel has a sulphur content of around 2.7%.
The move is generally predicted to be likely to add to shipping costs.
However, an even more significant factor has come into play with the advent of Coronavirus which has highlighted individual countries’ vulnerability to their dependence on global supply chains.
As a result, there have been calls for a revival in UK manufacturing and the onshoring of the manufacture and processing of critical products, such as medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, among others.
At the same time, there have been calls from more than 200 top UK firms and investors who demanding that government deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises environmental initiatives that tackle climate change and propel a “green” economy.
It has been argued, notably in an article in the Economist, that globalisation was “in trouble” even before the pandemic took hold.
Then, argues Prof Richard Portes, professor of economics at London Business School, “Once supply chains were disrupted [by coronavirus], people started looking for alternative suppliers at home, even if they were more expensive.
“If people find domestic suppliers, they will stick with them… because of those perceived risks.”
While inevitably there will be a need for global sea freight transport once things return to ”normal” it would seem likely that the volume of freight moved by sea will be considerably reduced.

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General Turnaround

Tech offers growth opportunities post lockdown

groth opportunities post pandemicIt is likely that there will be many growth opportunities for companies to embrace the use of technology after the Coronavirus lockdown.
Many organisations and businesses have had to switch to a remote way of continuing to provide their goods and services and this has affected everything from medical consultations to teaching, even more online shopping and whole offices now remote working.
Having discovered that it is possible to function in this way it is likely that many will carry on doing so when restrictions are eased and this will provide growth opportunities for tech companies.
Among the beneficiaries already have been providers of online tools including conferencing facilities, such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype, productivity and project management tools like Asana and Trello and online collaborative and co-creation tools like Miro and MURAL.
But for all their benefits there are also caveats in terms of speed and reliability of broadband, security and protection from intrusion or hacking.
Particularly in the area of providing public services such as health care or education there are also concerns about democracy and the uses to which authorities could put all the data that is gathered, as the writer and activist Naomi Klein has pointed out in a recent article
Security is also likely to be an issue for businesses, not only regarding online financial transactions but also in building resilience into their supply chains.
Ernst and Young has identified growth opportunities in a recent report that also advises directors on how to address some of the potential concerns.
It identifies opportunities for companies to embrace technology:

  • New and more efficient ways of working and living means growth opportunities for companies including the tech companies that provide improved and more secure infrastructure for customers;
  • Retrofitting by design for those organisations that have adapted during the pandemic but plan to continue using their new working processes in the future;
  • Reimagining the seemingly impossible, such as the provision of robotic support to the healthcare sector.

But for the most innovative companies there are likely to be growth opportunities for updating business processes in some instances in products using technology, some of which have yet to be imagined.
The EY advice to directors of all businesses when planning the way ahead is:

  • Challenge all legacy technology, frameworks, infrastructure and how things have been done in the past;
  • Encourage new ways of technology-driven work to drive flexibility, efficiency and productivity;
  • Invest in both personal and business research and development, innovation and learning about technology;
  • Hire people with technology skills, including software engineers, developers and data scientists;
  • Grow the organization’s ecosystem and establish alliances with innovative companies, entrepreneurs and start-ups;
  • Innovate and automate now for the future.

All of the above should provide growth opportunities for imaginative companies in the years ahead.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Business Development & Marketing Finance General

Is it time to stop propping up traditional so-called UK Key Industries?

UK Key industries of the futureThe main UK Key Industries are often still considered to be aviation, aerospace, steel and car production.
As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown the UK Government is working on a plan, called Project Birch, to provide short term bail-outs to those companies “considered strategically important” to the national economy.
However, how to define strategically important? Is it in terms of their contribution to UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product), or to the number of jobs they account for, or to their ability to be viable and profitable businesses that can operate in more normal times without state aid?
It would be reasonable for a Government to consider a business to be strategically important in terms of employment during a crisis, such as now, especially given that some of the above-mentioned Key Industries are in parts of the UK where there is traditionally high unemployment with few alternative job sources, especially when whole communities are dependent on a major manufacturer.
This would apply to the car industry in the North East and to the Steel Industry in South Wales.
However, given that many are foreign-owned, there is little certainty that their owners will invest in them for the future benefit of UK, and often their commitment to keeping them open is in doubt, as previous negotiations for Government help have already demonstrated. It is therefore questionable whether they should be regarded as UK Key Industries in the medium and longer term.
According to the ONS (Office of National Statistics) the UK Key Industries today are in the services sector, including banking and finance, steel, transport equipment, oil and gas, and tourism: “the services sector is the largest sector in the U.K., accounting for more than three-quarters of the GDP”.
So, as former Treasury minister and architect of the Northern Powerhouse project Jim O’Neill has warned, any short-term bail-out of the UK Key industries identified in Project Birch as strategically important must be linked to strict conditions: “If the lion’s share of the equity is simply going to preserve jobs at any cost, that’ll ultimately just add to our weak productivity problem,” he said, in an article in CityAM.
It is a point echoed in an article in the Financial Times about the UK’s “age-old” problem of identifying winners and losers. In my view there are still far too many zombie and borderline insolvent businesses in the UK; most of them have been propped up by lenders not wanting to write off their debt, not because they will contribute to the future of UK PLC.
My blog on Tuesday focused on the opportunities for business innovation that are likely to come post-Coronavirus as a result of changed priorities for consumers and investors towards a greener and more sustainable economy rather than a largely consumer-oriented one.
Perhaps in orchestrating an economic recovery it would be wiser to focus on stimulating and investing in new and innovative businesses and in re-educating and training the workforce for the future and not leaving them untrained and propping up the past.
Identifying new potential UK Key industries, such as pharmaceuticals, innovative technology and the manufacture of sustainable new products is imperative for our future prosperity instead of propping up ailing industries simply because they employ large numbers of voters.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Turnaround

Directors should plan for innovative UK manufacturing to revive their businesses post-Coronavirus

UK manufacturing innovation UK manufacturing was in dire straits even at the onset of the Coronavirus lockdown, with the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) reporting output dropping at its fastest pace since 1975 in the first quarter of 2020.
As it progressed the pandemic and lockdown revealed many weaknesses in the global supply chain, most notably in the availability of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for frontline health and care workers.
However, it is often said that in disaster there are also opportunities and many businesses demonstrated their agility in switching their usual production to manufacturing both PPE and sanitising equipment, for example.
But, as attitudes change, so the opportunities for innovation increase and it is a good time for directors to start planning strategies for not only producing essential supply chain elements within the UK but also for devising new products to fit the new agendas.
The UK Government has announced two initiatives aimed to protect UK business and promote innovation, Project Defend and Project Birch.
Project Defend aims to identify and protect vulnerabilities in business supply chains, with project leader Liz Truss recently describing three aims: reducing the use of suppliers from countries seen as “unreliable partners”; encouraging UK manufacturing; and, stockpiling key items such as medicines and components.
Project Birch is a short term initiative whereby the Government will “temporarily guarantee business-to-business transactions currently supported by Trade Credit Insurance, ensuring the majority of insurance coverage will be maintained across the market” potentially until the end of the year.
Meanwhile support for a recovery plan with projects that support the environment has been given added impetus with a letter to the Government from 200 businesses urging it, among other things, to drive investment in low carbon innovation, infrastructure and those industries that support sectors covering the environment, increase job creation and recovery.
All this should encourage UK manufacturers to think in terms of innovation rather than striving to recover their existing operations.
A report by McKinsey in 2019 in the context of post-Brexit UK business and supply chains identifies several key issues directors should consider when planning their strategy for the future. Their findings are relevant in the current post-Coronavirus recovery context.
The key issues for directors, it says, will be to: redefine their sourcing strategy; revisit their footprint; review inventory build-up; and, crucially adjust their product portfolio to exploit their capabilities and experience.
I know of at least one company, supplying a unique range of insulated, environmentally-friendly products to the construction industry, which is already well-placed to grow post-Coronavirus as the Government seeks to stimulate the economy, jobs and housebuilding. Build Homes Better proposes to use its technologically advanced products to build environmentally and energy efficient housing based on its rapid building system. Check them out at https://buildhomesbetter.co.uk/
The time has never been better for a revival in UK manufacturing with innovative solutions for both new products, developing a greener economy and for strengthening the in-country supply chain.

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

A complex jigsaw puzzle for directors in planning a post-coronavirus retail strategy

the retail strategy jigsaw puzzle As more restrictions are relaxed, allowing increasing numbers of retailers to re-open, directors have many issues to consider when planning their retail strategy for recovery.
Given that High Street retail was already in serious trouble, directors need to address a number of complex questions to assess their chances of survival and develop their retail strategy for reopening, short-term survival and growth.
This will include understanding and meeting the interests of many stakeholders including customers, staff, suppliers, landlords, investors and regulators.
Reducing overheads is likely to be key, given the need to include social distancing measures that will inevitably limit numbers in-store at any one time, thus reducing the number of transactions that can be achieved in any working day. This raises the question of whether or not the business is viable as it needs sufficient revenue to cover the cost of staffing, utilities, rent and related premises expenses while also generating profits.
Customer behaviour and changing attitudes are also likely to be a key factor that will determine retail strategy.
Even before the lockdown there was clear evidence that shopping online was increasing dramatically where those retailers that had introduced online with delivery or click and collect were generally surviving rather better than those that had not. Research by the accountancy and business advisory firm BDO has indicated that online sales rocketed in April by 109.6% compared to last year, although this did not factor in the loss of high street sales caused by the lockdown.
However, there has been much talk of a “new normal” post-Coronavirus and Mary Portas, the retail guru, has highlighted this in her suggestion that post lockdown will bring a “new era of shopping and living” which she calls the kindness economy in which shoppers will search for brands that reflect their values. Environmental and ethical concerns were already becoming increasingly important before the coronavirus pandemic and they will almost certainly continue to be a growing factor.
In addition, consumers will have less disposable income given the likely job losses although it is not yet clear how disposable income will be deployed if restrictions remain for mass events, leisure, travel and holidays. Certainly, being confined to home has encouraged a shift in consumption and again it is not clear if these will be permanent such as surviving without spending on disposable fashion, for example.
Accessibility to high streets may also change now that people are being encouraged to walk and cycle more and drive or use public transport less. Will this impact on shopping habits with shoppers making fewer, and more considered, purchases, not least because they will have to be carried home if not bought online?
All these considerations will weigh heavily on directors planning their future retail strategy and will likely mean convincing shareholders, lenders and suppliers to think long-term for a return on their investment.
The question is, can directors fashion all these competing interests into a retail strategy to ensure survival and growth in the future?

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Are you prepared for the next crisis?

crisis preparationFinance may be a primary consideration but it is not the only cost to a business in preparation for a crisis.
Being ill-prepared can damage the relationship with customers and employees, and ultimately, if the crisis is badly handled, it can damage the business’ reputation.
Complex, fast-moving threats to organizations can happen at any time, so being prepared for a crisis is about having the right people having been trained with communication tools and strategy in place ahead of an inevitable yet unforeseen event.
Business management consultants Mossadams produced a useful cost management guide to dealing with a crisis in April 2020, which sets out six elements to pay attention to. These are strategy (covering a customer analysis, product mix, recovery plan and financial forecast), assessing operating models, the trade-off between risks and opportunities, a situation analysis and a financial analysis.
According to the Harvard Business Review “When companies seem ill-prepared in the face of a crisis, the first question people ask typically is, “Where was top management?”
Ideally, it advises, boards should dedicate a block of time each year to better understand and prepare for major threats to the business.
It advises that boards should have both a strategy and a core team at board level trained and ready to deal with the crisis itself, as exemplified by the UK Government’s Cobra (Cabinet Office Briefing Room) group.
Of course, for a business facing a crisis the key is to take control of the messages and immediately review finance. While directors might worry about a hit to profits, in fact they should first and foremost have a plan in place for controlling expenses and for protecting and managing cash flow. Of course, ahead of the event it is wise to build up some financial reserves and to avoid taking on debt wherever possible. The less outside funding a business has to sustain when dealing with a crisis, the better.
Part of preparation for a crisis, however, and arguably as important, is the way it handles its messaging and nurtures the relationships crucial to its continued existence.
Stakeholders, customers and employees are likely to be panicked and worried about their future so communication is essential, not only to keep people informed and reassured in the present but also to protect the business’ future once the crisis is over. Indeed, critical to any crisis is to plan for emerging from the crisis so that the business does not remain in crisis mode.
In a crisis, everyone becomes acutely aware of the behaviour of others. This is therefore a key factor for reassuring stakeholders.
In this context, it really is a case of leading by example, so, perhaps it would be unwise for a business to pay out dividends to its CEO, when others are having their working hours cut or suppliers are receiving fewer orders because a business is scaling back activity..
The lesson is that preparation for a crisis is infinitely preferable to being faced with reaction without it.

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Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Uncategorized

What is the difference between a Depression and a Recession?

recession and depressionBoth a recession and a depression are characterised by an economic decline but the difference between them is down to the length of their duration with depressions lasting years.
An economy is defined as being in recession when there have been two consecutive quarters in which growth as measured by GDP (Growth Domestic Product) has contracted.
This is usually caused by a reduction in business activity and consumer confidence, such that businesses may start laying off employees and cutting back on production and on investment as their focus shifts almost entirely to their cash flow and balance sheet.
In the most recent recession, in 2008, the precipitating factor was a liquidity crisis that began in the USA where banks had lent what was perceived to be too much money on what came to be seen as risky mortgages on which borrowers then defaulted. This resulted in a loss of confidence in banks, which declined to lend to each other which in turn led to a liquidity crisis.
Recessions are much more frequent than are depressions, indeed, according to an article in Business Leader in March this year: “In the past 100 years, there have been dozens of recorded recessions (both national and international) – compared to just one depression in the same time period.”
The last depression was in the USA beginning in 1929 and lasting for a whole decade. While not strictly defined, a depression is characterised by very high levels of unemployment such as 25%, a dramatic fall in international trade such as by as much as two-thirds, and prices falling by more than 25%. They are also characterised by significant declines in stock market values and a large numbers of bankruptcies.
There has been some speculation that the Coronavirus pandemic could precipitate a depression given how much economic activity has ceased as a result of the lockdown rules imposed by many countries. However this is simply speculation and the short term nature of its impact is unlikely to be the sort of once in a one hundred years event that causes dramatic and long term economic collapse.
The IMF (International Monetary Fund) has warned that the situation could provoke a recession as severe as in 2008 but none of the serious pundits are predicting a depression.
In fact, some economists argue that a repeat of 1929 could not happen because Central banks around the world, including the USA’s Federal Reserve, are more aware of the importance of monetary policy in regulating the economy and will therefore step in with support and stimulus packages to forestall this.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

The Phases for dealing with a pandemic involving Zoonotic diseases

In 1999 the WHO (World Health Organisation) devised a blueprint based on Phases for dealing with a pandemic, subsequently updated in 2005.
It set out six Phases, to provide a global framework to aid countries to prepare for a pandemic and plan their response.
The first three Phases cover animal transmission escalating to domesticated animals and eventually germs spreading to humans defined as a Zoonotic disease. These initial phases also deal with the preparation, capacity development and response planning activities, while the last three Phases deal with the response and mitigation efforts when a disease transmits from human to human.
Phase 4 deals with verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal virus and its ability to cause “community-level outbreaks”.  Phase 5 deals with the human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region and the sixth Phase is the Pandemic Phase where virus transmits from human-to-human in at least one other country outside the region identified in Phase 5.
These are relatively straightforward definitions, but how different governments, businesses and people react to them is another matter altogether.
As has been clear during the current Coronavirus Pandemic state-level reactions for dealing with a pandemic have varied widely both in the state measures adopted and how stringently they have been implemented, with countries like South Korea at one extreme imposing a strict lockdown and restriction on movement from fairly early on when there were just a few cases, to Sweden, which has imposed relatively few restrictions and no lockdown.
However, the disparity in various state reactions to dealing with a pandemic has arguably informed the way both citizens and businesses have reacted. In the UK much of the initial focus was on the economic impact with the Chancellor introducing a wide range of financial support measures for both businesses and employees. However, some argue that the initial infection control was not as stringent as it might have been.
Scientists at Harvard university have mapped the behaviour of people in response to a Pandemic and also identified similar Phases of reaction to those set out by the WHO.
Initially, their research found that in the case of a severe Pandemic, the initial reaction by people when they become aware of a risk is to overreact. They become hypervigilant, pause “normal” behaviour, and “take precautions that may be excessive, may be inappropriate, and are certainly premature” – such as panic-buying toilet roll and other supplies as happened in the early stages in the UK. This, they say, is not the same as panic.
The scientists argue that this is entirely appropriate early in such a crisis because it means people then become able to cope with the crisis.
However, the alternative reaction is denial or even anger and in the early Phases inaction as a response is counter-productive since people don’t take precautions. Examples include those, such as in Michigan, USA, who protested against lockdown measures.
Michigan epidemiologist Sandro Gales has identified five Stages of reaction to a major disaster: starting with self-preservation, moving through group preservation to blame setting, justice seeking and finally “renormalizing” which can mean adaptation to the threat.
These are similar to the five Stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who also found that a lot of people get stuck in one phase or another and some take a long time to reach acceptance of the situation.
How well a country copes with a crisis, therefore, depends on how its leaders manage both individual perceptions as well as vested interests such as those of business. This is improved by radical transparency when they don’t know the answers but their honesty about what they do and don’t know and what they are doing will help reassure everyone that they are doing their best.
The fact is they will make mistakes but so long as they make the best possible decisions based on expert advice and the information available then they will convey confidence that they will eventually find a way through the crisis. There is no doubt that many with the benefit of hindsight will seek to hold them to account but there are lots of armchair warriors and very few leaders who stand up and take difficult decisions.
Understanding and managing the different Phases of a Pandemic and the different stages of reaction to a crisis are particularly important as they inform what messages to convey, where people may misunderstand messages such as when restrictions, as now, are being eased while at the same time there is a need for maintain a level of vigilance.
Perhaps we shall know the Pandemic is over in UK when we see the House of Commons packed with MPs given that so many are classified as vulnerable being over 70.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Potential Coronavirus pandemic business winners and losers

winners and losers in business after lockdownGiven the slight easing of Coronavirus-related restrictions a week ago, some businesses are in the very early stages of preparing to return to “normal” but which businesses are likely to emerge as the winners and losers in the future?
The Insolvency Service is now publishing its figures monthly and the April figures were released last week. They reported that “numbers of companies and individuals entering insolvency in April 2020 broadly returned to pre-lockdown March levels for most insolvency types” and their figures showed that total company insolvencies in April 2020 had decreased by 17% when compared to April 2019, with a total of 1,196 company insolvencies of which the majority were CVLs (Company Voluntary Liquidations). These numbers suggest no influence in insolvency from Coronavirus yet.
The figures come with a warning, however, that the operation of courts and tribunals had been much reduced, HMRC had reduced enforcement activity and there were likely to have been delays in documents being provided to Companies House by insolvency practitioners.
There is some illuminating data from Cebr (Centre for Economics and Business Research) which showed lost output figures, which include 50% in construction, 58% in wholesale and retail, 79% in accommodation and food services, and 81% in arts, entertainment and education. Communication and information, however, is down just 7% and professional and scientific activities are down just 10%.
Perhaps worse are the UK Composite PMI figures which are an indicator of health for manufacturing and service sectors and reported 13.8 in April, down from 36 in March which in turn were down from 53.3 in January. A reading of above 50 represents expansion and below 50 represents contraction where the lowest figure in the last three years was 49.2 in July last year when industry was gloomy about Brexit.
Of course, there is a long way to go before the picture becomes any clearer and the above is just a snapshot at a specific point in time.
Nevertheless, there are some clues to possible future businesses winners and losers and some of this depends on how deep-rooted the changes are in people’s behaviour as we emerge from the crisis.
Clearly, the lockdown has particularly affected the travel, holiday, retail and hospitality sectors as well as theatres, cinemas and the like. The question is whether these will be able to survive for much longer despite the various financial support packages, especially when they still have rents and other overheads to pay.
Similarly, commercial landlords may be affected as it has become clear that many businesses can operate with employees working remotely. According to the BBC last week “Many companies are struggling to pay the rent with 63% collected within 10 days in March and early April compared with 94% a year ago.” It also reported “Office and retail landlord Land Securities has said less than 10% of its office sites are being used as people work from home. This is unlikely to lead to a closure of 90% of offices but it highlights scope for huge cost reduction by businesses
In the meantime, such a rent burden is a major factor for the survival on many businesses and most likely will result in many companies going bust.
Another potential longer-term loser may be the cruise industry. Will people feel comfortable taking holidays on a large ship in a confined space in close proximity to hundreds of others?
While there may eventually be some recovery in the travel and holiday sectors once countries open their facilities and airlines are permitted to resume operations, the question is whether they will ever return to their pre-pandemic volumes since this will dependent on consumer confidence as well as affordability given the likely increase in travel costs and the fact that many people will lose their jobs.
To an extent, also, there is a question mark over the viability of airlines if they have to introduce some social distancing measures and cannot cram their cabins to maximum capacity.
The weaknesses that have been exposed in the global supply chain may also have a negative impact on freight transport.
But this last gives a clue to potential future winners among the business winners and losers.
It is possible that manufacturing may be brought back to UK and more stock will be stored here as a result of the exposed supply chain issues, which may well boost various types of local production and by extension the construction industry which will have to build the greater capacity that will be needed. Indeed, this in turn may benefit those parts of the country that were devasted by the closing down of industry during the Thatcher years.
Similarly, the UK’s pharmaceutical industry and research may become a winner as the search for a Coronavirus vaccine continues, not to mention worries about its availability if one is ever devised, and the Government has already announced £93m to help speed up the construction of a not-for-profit Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire.
The lockdown has also exposed the amount of pollution that had been generated previously and may bring an upsurge in greener energy production.
According to the Guardian last week, “Britain’s biggest green energy companies are on track to deliver multibillion-pound windfarm investments across the north-east of England and Scotland to help power a cleaner economic recovery.”
Another loser is likely to be the car industry as I cannot see as many cars being needed in a future if more people work from home and unemployment rises.
Finally, given the exhortations for people to find alternative ways of getting to work, such as cycling or walking, as lockdown is eased it is possible that another winner could be bicycle manufacture and the retail outlets that provide both bikes, accessories and aftercare.
There will undoubtedly be business winners and losers but the scale of fallout will only emerge when the future becomes clearer. The above are just some preliminary suggestions.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

How will work patterns change once Coronavirus restrictions have eased?

work patterns changingWhen working life resumes properly once Coronavirus restrictions have eased people may find that their work patterns are substantially different from previously.
While, sadly, some SMEs will not have survived others may find that their agility and perhaps new innovations introduced during lockdown will have given their businesses a new lease of life for the future.
Those who have shown consideration for their employees, suppliers and customers will have built up a level of goodwill that will stand them in good stead for the future.
I shall examine in another blog those businesses, sectors and processes that may benefit from the changed landscape but in this blog I am focusing on the likely changes to business work patterns and the relationships between employers and their stakeholders.
Because, of course, employers are also people, they will have discovered that they and their families are no more immune to the health risks of the pandemic than any of their employees.
This may well result in an increase in empathy between people at all levels and result in closer and more considerate working relations.
Indeed, an article in Forbes highlights this among the many beneficial changes in work patterns likely to be the result.
It identifies key positives that could result including increased support from businesses for employees: “Companies have been forced to consider employee wellbeing more holistically—in terms of not only the physical, but also mental and emotional wellbeing.”
Employees may find that their employers are much more aware of their different family responsibilities and more understanding of the ways family and friends are critical to life and happiness.
At a more basic level, if employees are to return to their workplaces, their health and workplace safety will be a high priority, suggesting an end to hot-desking, for example, leading to safer workspaces.
Desks could become spaced out, partitions could go up, cleaning stations stocked with hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes will become the norm, and workers may seek out new places for focused work.
At a more basic level, safe travel to work may mean more people cycling or walking and less use of public transport, which is something that employers may have to take into account.
Dealing with the crisis, Forbes argues, could result in more effective leaders, especially those who “communicate clearly, stay calm and strong, demonstrate empathy, think long-term and take appropriate decisive action.”
Arguably, it says, relationships with teammates will also be stronger and closer after people have faced a common enemy.
New work patterns will also allow for more diversity and flexibility where businesses have discovered that it is perfectly possible to run effectively with employees working remotely, perhaps also having discovered new skills and strengths among their employees as a result.
Similarly, the new “normal” may have made it clear how few physical meetings are actually needed compared to pre-pandemic working life. This may well lead to employees’ work patterns involving far less bureaucracy and offering more opportunities for them to innovate and suggest ideas for future development.
It may also lead to greater use of new technology based on the new skills learnt while in isolation lockdown at home.
Savvy SME owners will be those who assess the good things that have come out of the crisis and incorporate them into more flexible work patterns for those valued employees who have stuck by them in difficult times, to the benefit of both the business and all those who work in it.
 

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

Is it likely that there will be a permanent change in people’s behaviour post lockdown?

post lockdown behaviourHow people’s behaviour might change post lockdown is something that may be crucial for SMEs in planning ahead.
While it may be a long time yet before the Covid-19 lockdown is removed completely, following the Prime Minister’s briefing at the weekend, the process of relaxing the lockdown restrictions is now underway.
Despite the financial support that has been provided to businesses and workers it is becoming clear that we shall not return swiftly to a pre coronavirus level of business for some time and before we do many businesses will not survive, especially if the recovery takes a long time and the post lockdown landscape is substantially different.
Much depends on businesses’ ability to recover, on how long it will take them to recover and on how much people will change their behaviour as a result of the crisis.
A key to business survival is communication by leaders to deliver the information and direction everyone needs when a large scale crisis hits. While they are unlikely to know the answers, leaders reassure everyone by sharing facts and the rationale for decisions in a way that allows them to change direction as the crisis unfolds and more information is available. Essentially they need to be agile.
A PwC investigation of leadership behaviour during a crisis suggests “When disaster hits, an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-to-the-rescue reaction is understandable — but such good intentions will most likely lead to a chaotic response.”
The website emergency cdc emphasises the importance of clear, simple messaging from the start: “Because of the ways we process information while under stress, when communicating with someone facing a crisis or disaster, messages should be simple, credible, and consistent.”
Messages should be repeated, be supported by a credible source and be specific, it says, and should offer a positive course of action.
To this extent, this is exactly what the UK Government has done with its repetition of the simple message “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” and its daily briefings reiterating the message as well as giving updates on the numbers of cases that justify the advice.
That it has been doing its job, perhaps almost too well, is indicated by the findings of an Ipsos Mori poll in early May that “two-thirds (67%) of Britons say they will feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events, compared to how they felt before the virus.”
However, things become more difficult as the messaging changes, especially when it becomes more nuanced as we are seeing with the change of message to allow for a partial relaxing of the lockdown rules.
The proposed new message “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” has already been rejected by the UK’s devolved governments (in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) as being too vague as well as being perhaps premature given the continued high numbers of positive diagnoses being reported. Indeed, the Evening Standard last night reported confusion over the “back to work for some” message that led to commuters being packed on the London Underground.
The packed tubes may be linked to other reports that the country’s transport infrastructure is operating at only 10% of its former capacity post-lockdown. The biggest four trades unions have united to warn that people should not be going back to work without adequate safety measures in place and despite the troubles in the High Street retail sector, the British Retail Consortium has also warned against allowing shops to open without clear and adequate safety and social distancing rules.
In addition to any return to work message, different age groups are interpreting the message differently with many young adults going out to meet each other while older age groups remain at home.
The longer that the return to post lockdown normality takes then the more likely it is that people will change their behaviour permanently.
It is becoming clear that it will take quite a long time before everyone will do all those things that they did before Covid-19 appeared so a return to normal is a long way off.
Therefore, it is highly likely that there will be a permanent change in many people’s behaviour post lockdown.

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

Is it time to introduce more resilient business systems for post-lockdown?

business systems need to become more resilientJust in time (JIT) business systems of supply for everything from supermarket stocks to manufacturing components and raw materials have been the dominant model for some years.
While it offers huge benefits, including less storage space needed and less capital tied up in stocks, the disruption caused by measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic has revealed some major flaws in the model.
When such an integrated global supply chain breaks down as has happened recently the impact on business is considerable where shortages of stock have arisen due to road, sea and air freight grinding to a near-halt.
Indeed, JIT relies on many different components arriving on time often from myriad sources such that any one item can bring all production to a halt. The current situation has magnified the vulnerability since all the different supply chains will need to be fixed before production can resume..
Systems resilience describes a system’s ability to operate during a major disruption or crisis, with minimal impact on critical business and operational processes and the pandemic has revealed that in many cases it has been sadly lacking.
While many businesses have ceased to operate as a result of the pandemic, thus reducing demand for some categories of stock, there will come a time when those that survive will need to resume, and where different business systems may need to be developed to make the production more resilient and perhaps protect it from future similar shocks.
So now is the perfect opportunity for businesses to consider how to make their business systems and models less vulnerable in the future.
Firstly, this will take a change of mindset away from profit at all costs towards sustainable profits that factor in risks and resilience rather than simply focusing on cost reduction. The profit at all costs mindset has many short comings, not just vulnerability but safety also and was a causal factor behind the Piper Alpha Disaster that led to 167 oil rig workers dying.
It is also interesting that the US investor Warren Buffet, of Berkshire Hathaway, has sold his firm’s entire holdings in the four major US airlines in the belief that the post-pandemic world is likely to be very different, saying “We will not fund a company … where we think that it is going to chew up money in the future.”
Buffet is widely respected for his investment skill over the decades, so it is worth paying heed to his decisions.
As part of the longer-term thinking about business systems, companies will also need to improve their balance sheets to help withstand future shocks like the banks have been forced to do since the Global Financial Crisis of over ten years ago.
However, business should also, in my view, consider the benefits to be gained from nurturing relationships with reserve suppliers as well as perhaps maintaining larger reserve stocks of those materials or parts they need to sustain productivity during interruptions to supplies.
It may be that this will mean larger onshore storage facilities than they have been used to, but while this might mean lower profits and lower dividends for investors in the shorter term, it will provide greater security for the business and its owners in the medium and longer term.
The so-called “new normal” is likely to be very different for businesses and economies as the restrictions on movement are gradually lifted and it is likely to be a considerable time before we get there, but arguably this is an ideal time for businesses to rethink their business systems and prepare for a more sustainable future on many levels.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Has the Coronavirus lockdown exposed the weaknesses of many business models?

business models weaknesses exposedRobust business models should be based on a clear proposition with a plan for profitable activity.
Each model is essentially a road map of how money will flow from activity.
Business models are a financial expression of the company’s business plan in a way that summarises the strategy, funding, organisation and processes used to achieve objectives.
Given that unforeseen roadblocks and successes will occur, business models should be reviewed regularly and adapted depending on new circumstances and new information.
Tools for refining the model are also useful, such as a SWOT analysis to identify Strengths, and Opportunities to be exploited and Threats and Weaknesses to be avoided.
While arguably, few businesses and especially SMEs, will have had plans to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, it has affected most businesses in ways that were not foreseen. The lockdown has also exposed how little resilience they may have built into their business models to protect from such a crisis.
To a large extent, the situation has exposed a lack of financial resilience but it has also highlighted a lack of character among leaders. The behaviour of leaders in particular will be remembered by those who deal with them, whether employees or other stakeholders.
It is alarming how many directors have been paralysed by the situation and not taken calls or failed to answer with awkward questions, often hiding from the fact that their problems will not go away.
While leaders may not know the answers, they should be visible, they should be looking for the answers and telling everyone what they are doing to find them.
The government is a good example of leaders trying to communicate, I leave it you to decide whether or not their messages are believable or they are doing a good job of leading in a crisis.
James Ball, writing in the Guardian, provides an excellent illustration of two examples of flawed business models, Uber and Deliveroo. At a time when it might be expected that their services would be more in demand than ever as people are required to stay at home and preserve social distancing, he points out that they are not structured to make a profit, but instead rely heavily on growing rapidly, not growing sustainably.
“This is the entire venture capital model,” he says. “….This is a whole business model based on optimism. Without that optimism, and the accompanying free-flowing money to power through astronomical losses, the entire system breaks down.” Indeed, this reinforces my view that the Silicon Valley approach to venture capital has parallels with a giant Ponzi scheme by using new investors’ money to provide returns to early backers.
Will Hutton also looks at business models and considers how the economy might recover from the lockdown in a more sustainable way: “equity investment: the venture capital and private equity industries must transmute themselves from their default role as predators and asset-sweaters to long-term, patient investors”.
I believe the short-term, profit-driven motives of early investors looking for a return before their investment makes a profit is a flaw in most companies’ business models and has contributed to the weaknesses that have been exposed by the measures that have been needed to contain the pandemic.
Some might say ‘buyer beware’ in a world where animal spirits and greed drive behaviour but this argument exposes a lack of character among leaders who should show courage and moral fibre.
Perhaps it is time for a bit more moderation and longer-term thinking in the construction of business models for the future.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Time for a rethink? The global supply chain and short-term thinking

global supply chain rethinkA time of crisis, such as the current Coronavirus pandemic, exposes the weaknesses of inter-dependency and systems and in this case, the global supply chain.
There is perhaps also no better time to review things and perhaps change from the short term thinking that seems to have dominated economics and businesses, especially in those economies like the USA and UK that rely heavily on the purchase of foreign goods.
It is clear that it will be a long time before life returns to normal and it is not yet clear what that “normal” will look like.
In the previous “normal” it was possible to rely on adequate supplies of raw materials for the production of various types of goods, such as food stocks on supermarket shelves.
But one of the first signs of the disruption to come was the rapid emptying of supermarket shelves as people panicked and bought large supplies of various items, for example toilet paper, hand sanitiser and pasta, in anticipation of the coming lockdown.
Another sign of disruption is the price of oil which has plummeted leaving tankers around the world mooring off-shore waiting for prices to rise before offloading their oil.
There has also been the saga of medical equipment such as ventilators to treat those hospitalised seriously affected by the virus and of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers treating them.
Similarly, as various crops were ripening, it became clear that there might not be enough seasonal workers available to pick them, as many farmers had been relying on seasonal workers coming into the country from Eastern Europe.
All these examples provide lessons in the inter dependence of supply chains that support a “just in time” model of global business.
As Larry Elliot wrote in a Guardian opinion piece in mid-April: “The past 30 years have seen global markets – especially global financial markets – increase in both size and scope. Long and complicated supply chains have been constructed: goods moving backwards and forwards across borders in the pursuit of efficiency gains”, meaning that capital flowed in and out of countries equally quickly and there was no thought of building any capital reserves.
In an era of weak growth since the 2008 global financial crisis, he says, “What this amounts to is a world clinging on by its fingertips, even in what passes for the “good times”.
The global supply chain, just in time model effectively did away with large, local warehousing attached to manufacturing units as much as to food stores. It relies heavily on a continuous supply of materials and ingredients being delivered by a well-functioning international and national transport system.
In the UK, particularly, the manufacturing sector has been shrinking for years as the economy has pivoted to rely more heavily on the tech and financial services industries.
The reasons for the decline in manufacturing are myriad but largely down to the long-term investment needed and short-term expectations of investors of a swift return on their investment.
The lack of planning for a rainy day has also been highlighted. This observation is not just of the UK government that has failed to invest in the storage of equipment supplies but it also applies to businesses that have not built up capital reserves and consumers who do not have any savings.
In fairness, it has also brought out the best of those many businesses that have adapted to survive through agility by quickly re-designing their business models and production lines such as those who are now producing hand gel or selling goods outside their shops, restaurants or pubs.
While a short blog cannot hope to analyse all the flaws of a global supply chain model in detail, it has become clear that there are vulnerabilities both to businesses and to national economies that rely on international suppliers and the short term thinking that has driven it.
The return to ‘business as usual’ that is increasingly being demanded may not be possible given how long social distancing may have to continue. How many businesses will cease trading altogether as a result and how many people will lose their jobs will be major factors when we get round to reviewing our trading relationships.
This could therefore be a good time for businesses, economists and politicians to give some thought to creating more robust, longer-term, and perhaps more locally-based systems for the future.

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General

Five top tips for working at home efficiently and maintaining your mental health

remote working and mental health Many companies have adapted to the Coronavirus lockdown measures by asking staff to work remotely from home, but how do you do this efficiently and also protect your mental health?
Much as we love them, a prolonged period stuck in one place with our families can sometimes be stressful, especially if remote workers are combining working with home schooling their children.
Of course, another complication can be the facilities and space available at home, where cramped conditions can add to the stress of trying to work efficiently while staying healthy.
Here are some tips to help you maintain you mental health and efficiency:

  1. Discipline and routine are important: Creating and following a timetable of tasks and activities gives structure to the day, and on that note it is much easier to get into “work” mode if you can work at a desk or table and if you don’t do it in your pyjamas!

Lists are also useful, not least because if you break down your day’s work into tasks and complete them, there is a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of achievement to be gained by ticking items off when completed.

  1. Variety: You should include other activities and what psychologists call micro-lifts into the structure of your timetable. In the normal working day when you are going into work in an office, you may be in the habit of picking up a coffee on the way in, or maybe have a regular break for a few minutes at the coffee machine at work for a chat with friends. Don’t underestimate the importance of giving your brain a few minutes’ rest.

It is also important to take regular breaks from a screen if your work is mostly being done on a computer/laptop.

  1. A healthy diet: It is tempting to snack more when you are working from home, but this may mean that your diet is less healthy and that is not good for either your physical or mental health.  This relates also to the importance of having discipline and a routine that builds meal breaks based on a healthy diet into your timetable.
  2. Exercise and fresh air: These are also important for physical and mental health albeit they are restricted to the social isolation rules that allow for one hour of outdoors exercise per day. You would be likely to get that during a day at the office, by walking from transport to the office building or going out during your lunch hour. If you are working from home and have children with you, involving them is a great way of treating exercise as a family activity while at the same giving children the opportunity to burn off excess energy.
  3. Try to get at least seven hours’ sleep: Sleep is a major component of mental health and of working efficiently especially when in a time of crisis.

The secret of working at home efficiently is in many ways intimately connected with your mental health.
For many people this will be a new way of working and you may find that it takes a good deal of self-discipline and organisation to maintain your productivity, but if you follow the guidelines in this blog you will find that you can settle into a routine that enables you to carry out your work tasks as well as the other demands on your time that come from being in your home with family around you.

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General

How to manage an efficient online conference

online conference efficiencyAs we all adjust to the new realities of working remotely while we self-isolate during the Coronavirus pandemic, we still need to maintain contact with staff, clients, suppliers and others where online conference calls and video meetings are proving much better than the phone.
But how do you avoid an online conference descending into anarchy with people talking over each other?
There are some simple rules that are not so different from those we adopt during face-to-face meetings.
One of the meeting platforms that is becoming increasingly popular during the pandemic has been Zoom, but there are plenty of others such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and even WhatsApp. Security is an issue and all are constantly improving their security measures following concerns about uninvited intruders, in particular for Zoom which seems to have become the most popular platform.
It is important that the chair should host (convene) and be familiar with the technology since each platform has tools to manage the meeting. Like all other meetings, they need an agenda and discipline over time keeping so it is best that those invited know in advance what topics are to be discussed and for how long. It also helps to ensure key contributors are prepared with any presentation material they need to share.
Confirmation of availability is no different to face to face meetings such that once the attendees are confirmed a notice of the meeting in the form of a Zoom or other invite, which for most will request confirmation of attendance and automatically update everyone’s calendar. The invite also includes a URL for automating the login to the meeting but it makes sense to practice setting up meetings so you are familiar with the technology and invitation settings such as the need or not for passwords and waiting rooms which are all features set by the host as part of setting up the meeting. Once mastered this is straightforward.
The notice should include an agenda, with notes and login details.
It makes sense that the organiser as host opens the meeting shortly beforehand monitors participants’ arrival in the waiting area so they can approve attendance although for large meetings I would recommend you don’t use the waiting feature since it will distract you.
Participants can normally attend meetings using any device they wish including via landline phones so organisers should specify if video is necessary with the notice. For team meetings and internal ones of fewer that about 40 participants I suggest everyone should be able to see each other as this reinforces involvement.
Everyone speaking over each other is a problem so the chair may need to manage this as a discipline to master. To help their is a Participant feature allowing each Participant to raise an electronic hand which the chair can see in the Participant’s video feed and invite them to speak.
Again, learning to switch your microphone on and off  or in the case of the host, switching off everyone’s microphones centrally is another discipline we need to learn and is particularly useful for those at home with a noisy background or children in the house.
Taking notes is another discipline which can be done traditionally although most platforms offer a record feature and in some cases the host can allow or not Participants to make their own recording. It makes sense to cover this at the beginning of the meeting.
The chair essentially manages the online meeting or conference like they would do normally but everyone is logged in remotely.
While not being in the same room makes it harder to pick up the non-verbal signals that we take for granted in face-to-face meetings, video meetings are much better than phone calls because you do see everyone’s reactions.
In many ways, an online conference or meeting is no different from any formal workplace meeting, but it does highlight the importance of a strong chair and the need for courtesy, which, of course, should be features of all meetings.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

How will consumer spending change as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic?

consumer spendingConsumer spending has become much more restricted during the Covid-19 pandemic safety measures, but will it lead to a permanent change?
From March 21, all non-essential businesses in the UK were forced to close, from hospitality, restaurants and fashion retail to car dealerships and holiday travel companies.
At the same time, many businesses have had to furlough staff and a substantial number of people have sadly lost their jobs altogether.
Inevitably the reduction in income through furlough and loss of jobs and restrictions on going out due to most of us being confined at home are having a huge impact on consumer spending.
It is no surprise, therefore that in March, demand for new cars from private buyers fell by 40.4%, while fleet registrations dropped by 47.4%.
According to Essential Retail the food retailers have clearly benefited both in-store and online to the point where they have had to limit supplies of some products and sign-ups of new online shoppers, however the picture for non-essential retail spending is significantly different, even for those retailers with considerable online and delivery capabilities. Purchases have plummeted.
It says: “People are scared to spend money that’s not essential,”
But as the situation continues, it argues, there is likely to be a greater need for certain non-essential items. Examples include exercise and hobby equipment, gardening products and home improvement materials.
The question is whether all this will lead to a more permanent change in consumer spending once the crisis is over.
According to Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, Covid-19 will precipitate a rapid increase in e-commerce activity that may persist long after the event, not that this has happened yet.
No-one knows yet how many of the currently closed SMEs will survive the current limitations and much will depend on whether such consumer and business activity will return to normal once the restrictions are lifted. But those of you that do survive will be well-advised to develop an e-commerce proposition if you don’t already have one. The rapid growth in our use of online conference facilities for video meetings that in the past were physical meetings could be an indicator of one change to our normal behaviour where the number of daily meeting participants using Zoom has risen from 10 million to 200 million in a month.
A major factor is the possibility that unemployment rates may rise substantially which will be down to two factors: staff reduction by surviving businesses; and job losses due to insolvency, both of which are likely if there is a delayed or slow return to normal activity.
Another unknown quantity is whether consumers will be more selective about what they purchase having discovered how much they can do without while they have been forced to stay home.
Once the pandemic is over, it is also likely that environmental concerns will rise up the agenda again, making people more wary of re-joining the previous “throw-away” culture.
It will be a while yet before the situation becomes clearer but it is likely that the current crisis will have a significant impact on both the mechanisms and the volume of consumer spending.
 
 
 

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

Nurture your key relationships if you want to have a future after current crisis

key relationships are important for business survivalIt may seem premature to talk about what happens when the Coronavirus pandemic is over but SMEs need to think ahead and nurture those key relationships needed to ensure their business has a future.
Many of you have had to temporarily close your business and furlough staff due to Government restrictions introduced to try to slow the spread of the virus and many or you have seen your income plummet or cease altogether, with a devastating impact on your cash flow.
According to behavioural scientists it is natural to behave cautiously, even timidly, in the face of a threat, in direct proportion to its magnitude and to what is known about it. But amid the daily deluge of media updates, it is important to remember that we will tend to exaggerate the risk so the threat looms large in our minds.
So, it is perhaps natural to invoke a so-called “bunker” mentality in which self-protection overrides all else.
But as a business owner, no matter how dire the current situation, it is important you try to maintain a sense of perspective and remind yourselves that eventually some form of “normality” will return at which point you will want to be able to return to business profitability.
An essential element of this is what you do now, and key to it will be your relationship with employees, customers and suppliers.
In previous pandemic-related blogs I have talked about maintaining regular communication with staff, somewhat like the government’s daily briefings from No 10 to keep us all informed. This communication is key whether you have been fortunate enough to be able to carry on with staff working remotely, or whether you have had to take advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme for the time being.
Similarly, it is critical to maintain a level of marketing to stay in contact with customers and clients.  They may not be placing orders now, but staying in close touch with them, demonstrating concern for their interests and wellbeing, and discussing the future will help prepare for it.
In the same way, understanding the changing needs of customers may have helped you pivot, as those like some restaurants who now provide a take-away service and offer meal deliveries. This engagement will ensure your business pick up quickly when restrictions are eased.
Another of the key relationships that you will need to nurture is that with your suppliers. You will need them if you are to remain in business where non-payment during the lock down may have been necessary if you yourself haven’t been paid but ignoring them won’t be easily forgiven.
There is a salutary lesson in the action recently taken by New Look, whose CEO last week wrote to all suppliers suspending payments to suppliers for existing stock “indefinitely, cancelling orders for its Spring and Summer clothing lines and saying it won’t pay costs towards them.
In fairness, the company had been in difficulties as a High Street retailer due to the changing nature of customer shopping habits in the previous two years and had closed many of its branches.
However, the news was devastating to its suppliers who received such a brutal message, one of whom is reported as saying the action would “devastate smaller companies down the supply chain at a time when they need help the most”. There appears to have been no recognition or understanding in the letter that suppliers would be facing cash flow issues of their own.
A little empathy would not have gone amiss when communicating such a non-payment message to suppliers who will need a level of understanding to show how important they really are despite being unable to pay them and especially when wanting to do business with them again in the future.
Perhaps you could engage with them by discussing ways to limit the damage, either by offering staged payments, if you as a business can afford it, or by reassuring existing suppliers that you value them and will continue to work with them as the restrictions ease and life gets back to normal.
No matter how focused you are on your own concerns and worries at the moment, and I am by no means seeking to minimise their significance, you should also remember that if you don’t nurture your key relationships now you could put your eventual business recovery in jeopardy.
Help is available for SMEs dealing with the pandemic at:
https://www.onlineturnaroundguru.com/coronavirus-sme-support

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Why you shouldn’t suspend your marketing during the Coronavirus pandemic

marketingSMEs have had to close, suspend or reduce their activities due to the Coronavirus pandemic and most are looking for ways to minimise their cash out flow however despite the temptation they should be wary of cutting their marketing budgets.
But if your business disappears from the market and in doing so is no longer top of mind for your customers and clients will you be able to regain your position or will others who continued marketing replace you?
Withdrawing from the market may suggest you have gone out of business, as indeed will be the case for many as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
While it is understandable that SMEs in dire financial straits will want to preserve cash by cutting back on expenditure, some newly-published research from Opinium, released on March 26 has found that people do still want to hear from businesses of many kinds.
The research revealed that “a very large majority of people in the UK would like to hear either the same amount, or even more, from brands” across a range of categories including the essentials such as healthcare and pharmaceuticals, supermarkets, food and drink and household goods but also from healthcare to fashion and beauty to entertainment.
Of course, many of you have reacted quickly, communicating your actions and in many cases pivoted your business model as a response to the crisis.
One example is a small bakery that has closed its shop and set up an outside market stall so customers don’t need to go inside and a drive-by collection service for other customers who order by phone and don’t want to get out of their car. Another bakery does deliveries to hospitals and essential worker sites.
There are examples of SMEs in the hospitality and restaurant businesses that have been forced to close their doors to the public and have responded in different ways, in the case of some hotels, by offering accommodation to such people as health care workers or the homeless and restaurants that have quickly established food takeaway and delivery services as well as special deals for key workers such as those in the NHS.
Some in fitness, health and beauty have moved online to offer their services remotely to help people in lockdown stay not only fit and healthy but also to be able to look after their appearance.
Of course, all of these will be remembered positively when the crisis comes to an end and it is likely that their business will recover more quickly that those that shut down. Plus, if your business has a website you need to protect its place in the search engine rankings with regular blog posts and ongoing marketing activity.
Perhaps more surprisingly the research found that many people want “brands to talk about something other than the pandemic”.
“This desire for something different is symptomatic of a consumer who is struggling to find their place in a drastically different world”, it says. So, any marketing that can convey some sense of normality is good for your business.
Opinium also asked people what were their preferred forms of marketing communication and top of the list came TV advertising (31%) and e-mails (40%).
While the desire to cut the marketing budget may be understandable when margins are tight, clearly it is far from the right thing to do if you want your business to return after the crisis.
 

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Accounting & Bookkeeping Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

To Pay or Not to Pay Quarter Day Rent & Business Rates – the latest

Quarter Day RentAs if the pressure and worries SMEs are facing due to the Coronavirus pandemic were not enough, yesterday (Wednesday) was when Quarter Day Rent was due to be paid.
For many, it was also a payment date for business rates although the government has suspended these for a year.
While SMEs may be eligible for suspending the payment of business rates as announced by the Chancellor in his first set of measures to help businesses survive the pandemic, little had so far been said about rent.
However, yesterday, the Government published details of three months’ protection for businesses from eviction for failure to pay rent. While is included in the emergency powers legislation that is due to be given Royal Assent today but we are still awaiting confirmation. There more details here.
Some businesses had already declared their intention to miss paying their Quarter Day Rent, like, for example Burger King, whose CEO Alasdair Murdoch announced on Tuesday that the company would not be paying the rent due on its UK restaurants this week.
According to the BBC, it seems that “Banks have been told [by the government] to be supportive as long as landlords act responsibly.”
It also reported that the government has said shops will not forfeit leases if they do not pay but will have to pay arrears in the future.
This may be the case, but many smaller SMEs have been unsure about what they are supposed to do given the latest set of restrictions enforcing the closure of non-essential businesses and the virtual lockdown of the population. Presumably more details will emerge once the emergency powers legislation has been published.
For many withholding rent may be necessary but there are consequences and you should speak with your landlord since the pain needs to be shared between both of you if you are both to survive. If however you are being pressurised by your landlord, there are a number of surveyors who specialise in negotiating rent reductions. It is wort remembering that your landlord won’t be finding a new tenant in the near future.
Meanwhile, the suspension of business rates is helpful as will be the grants to smaller SMEs.
On top of this bank branches are closing, there are two hour waits on hold in telephone queues and most systems seem to be overloaded.
It is admittedly a massive task to roll out so many measures to help and support SMEs but if you are a business worrying about protecting its future it is very hard to be told to be patient.
To provide more information about business rates and grants, I am maintaining an update on the support available for SMEs in my guide at onlineturnaroundguru.com.
At the current moment on business rates this is the situation:
A one-off grant of £10,000 is available to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs and applies to those businesses that occupy property that is eligible for small business rate relief or rural rate relief.
There will be cash grants to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, based on the rateable value of your business property. Those with a rateable value of under £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000. Those with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000 will receive a grant of £25,000.
All retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England including covers shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues and premises used for assembly and leisure. It also covers hotels, guest & boarding houses and self-catering accommodation. Will be given a one-year business rate holiday.
Administering all these will be the responsibility of your local authority and while you do not need to do anything to claim them it may be wise to register your business as paying by direct debit so that your bank details are registered with the local authority  and you should keep an eye on the situation with your relevant authority.
Please be assured that as more details on the various Government measures to support businesses emerge or if anything changes I will update the information as soon as possible.
For more business help please go to onlineturnaroundguru.com.
Above all, if you need help and support I am here for you.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Using the Pareto 80/20 Rule as a guide in your business

Pareto 80?20 RuleMany people in business are familiar with the Pareto 80/20 Rule, particularly the idea that 80% of their business comes from just 20% of customers or clients, or that 80% of their profits comes from 20% of orders, or that 80% of their profits come from 20% of products, or even that 80% of their sales are generated by 20% of their sales staff.
Understanding this can influence behaviour such as protecting the 20% that contribute the most or looking at how to improve the lower performing 80%.
Essentially the Pareto 80/20 Rule is simply a way of demonstrating that most things in life are not distributed evenly.
This can apply to everything but focuses on considering productivity as an output of time spent or as a return on investment. It looks at resources, in terms of people, time and cost with a view to optimising the output. Analysis of turnover and profits by customer, market segment and products to produce a pie chart is likely to highlight aspects of the Rule.
The 80/20 Rule is a guide that can be misused, While 20% workers may be measured as doing 80% of the work this rarely means that the work of remaining 80% is irrelevant. Indeed, it may be that 20% contribute to profitable work while 80% are necessary for the 20% to be productive. It does however show where to focus on improvements.
So how can businesses use the Pareto 80/20 Rule to improve their businesses?
To a large extent this is about identifying the processes, systems or activities on which to focus because they have the best potential for a return on the effort.
You might focus attention on customers perhaps with view to selling more to your best customers or to improving sales to the 80% with view to generating the same level of return as the 20%. This might be putting prices up or selling different products or even turning away unprofitable business or customers who are hard work.
You might focus on staff perhaps with a view to measuring and improving their working practices that in turn improve productivity. Can one person be trained to do several jobs? Or should teams be reorganised or shift patterns altered? Sales and delivery may benefit from reorganising those geographical or market segments for which they are responsible.
You might focus on your products and production. Do you reduce the number of suppliers or the stock held or number of products sold. Can one product replace several existing products? Should you outsource the manufacture of components?
The Pareto 80/20 Rule is, in short, a handy guide to where you might focus your attention for improvement, it should not be regarded as a fixed and immutable rule.

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Insolvency

Something for everyone in the Spring budget – but will it be delivered?

Spring budgetWho could envy a Chancellor having to deliver a Spring budget just one month into the job and in the midst of a global pandemic?
The Spring budget came after the early morning announcement of by the BoE (Bank of England) of an interest rate cut from 0.75% to 0.25%. Was this an outgoing Governor stealing an incoming Chancellor’s thunder?
With short term measures to help businesses deal with the Covid-19 consequences and others dealing with the environment, infrastructure, business taxes and addressing regional inequality the Spring budget covered them all.
The headline was a commitment to invest in infrastructure in support of the government’s commitment to ‘level up’ the economy by focusing investment on the Midlands and North: “over the next five years, we will invest more than £600bn pounds in our future prosperity”.
Many worries of SMEs were addressed by the £30bn package of short term measures to deal with the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic.
They included abolishing business rates altogether for a year for small retailers with a rateable value below £51,000 extended to include museums, art galleries, and theatres, caravan parks and gyms, small hotels and B&Bs, sports clubs, night clubs, club houses and guest houses.
There was also a promise that business rates as a whole would be reviewed later in the year.
Any firm that is currently eligible for the small business rates relief will also be able to claim a £3,000 cash grant.
The Government will also cover up to 80% of a coronavirus loan scheme to cover the cost of salaries and bills and will offer loans of up to £1.2m to support small and medium sized businesses.
£2bn will be allocated to cover firms employing fewer than 250 people that lose out because staff are off sick with the cost of a business having to have someone off work for up to 14 days refunded.
The benefits rules will be relaxed to enable those who currently do not qualify for sick pay, such as the self-employed and gig economy workers, to claim benefits, which will also now be paid from day one of sickness.
Fuel duty was also frozen for a further year, but tax relief on red diesel will be removed over two years albeit with an exemption for farmers, rail and fishing.
In the longer term and over the five years of the parliament, the much-anticipated £170bn spending on improving the transport infrastructure and addressing the regional imbalance was also confirmed.
This will benefit the construction industry and is no doubt part of another statement: “Today, I’m announcing the biggest ever investment in strategic roads and motorway – over £27bn of tarmac. That will pay for work on over 20 connections to ports and airports, over 100 junctions, 4,000 miles of road.”
Similarly, the Chancellor confirmed that more than 750 staff from the Treasury and other departments will move to a campus in the north of England, as well as significant investment on R & D and that at least £800m will be invested in a new blue skies research agency, modelled on ARPA in the US.
Among a host of environmental initiatives, a new tax on plastic packaging is to be introduced, as well as freezing the levy on electricity and raising it on gas from April 2022.
Given the uncertain prospects for the UK’s economy, how many of the longer-term promises will be realised is likely to depend on the Government’s ability to borrow at unprecedentedly low rates so that it remains to be seen how much of the longer-term spending will actually happen.
It also remains to be seen how difficult the processes by which SMEs can claim help for Covid-19 related losses will be and whether the promise to review business rates as a whole will materialise.
The PR spin is already in place such as RBS’s claim today that it will provide £5bn of support for SMEs when in practice the small print refers to this as an extension to existing loan and overdraft facilities.
Notwithstanding any cynicism the Chancellor’s rhetoric was optimistic claiming his budget was aimed at “Creating jobs. Cutting taxes. Keeping the cost of living low. Investing in our NHS. Investing in our public services. Investing in ideas. Backing business. Protecting our environment. Building roads. Building railways. Building colleges. Building houses. Building our Union.”

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

Sector – business in UK’s North and Midlands

UK's North and MidlandsThe UK’s North and Midlands were once the powerhouse for the country’s economy, with its manufacturing and engineering industries driving the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th Century.
Cities such as Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham were the industrial heartland of UK when national economies depended heavily on what they could make and sell, from textiles to steel and heavy engineering machinery.
But as industry in UK declined, the UK economy shifted its focus to services and in particular to the professional and financial services with a lot manufacturing being transferred to countries such as India and China, where production costs were much lower. This was also associated with a shift in the UK economic centre of gravity from the Midlands and the North to London leaving much of the country behind.
Vestiges of industry have survived in places like Sunderland, where the Japanese car manufacture Nissan has thrived and recently increased its commitment by investing more than £50m in its plant that builds the Qashqai model.
According to a “State of the North” research by the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) and reported in the Yorkshire Post  in November 2019, “only countries like Romania and South Korea are more divided” than the UK.
It found that “in Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham, disposable income per person is £48,000 higher than in Blackburn with Darwen, Nottingham and Leicester”.
In December 2019 various reports by the Centre for Cities highlighted the issues. According to the Financial Times it had found that the economic divide between London and the rest of the UK widened last year.
The FT also quoted ONS (Office for National Statistics) figures that showed that “The UK capital recorded a 1.1 per cent annual rise in output per person to £54,700 in 2018, increasing the per capita gap with the poorest region — the North East — where growth was only 0.4 per cent to £23,600 per head”.
The Centre for Cities research analyses business and employment opportunities across the UK, finding that many northern cities are underperforming, hampered by a need for growth and by being at different economic stages in terms of availability of skilled workers and of infrastructure.
But there have been some signs of hope for the UK’s North and Midlands amid the gloom with the Centre for Entrepreneurs think-tank reporting that Birmingham is now the UK’s start-up capital outside London. The British Business Bank has also revealed that entrepreneurs in the north of England received more loans than those in London.
Business Live recently reported that figures from UK Powerhouse have shown that Stoke-on Trent has the fastest employment growth in the UK.
During the recent General Election much was made of pledges to level up the economy with heavy investment promised for the UK’s North and Midlands.
Among the promises made by the Government is a pledge to get on with the proposed HS2 railway to connect northern cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to London. It argues in support of this plan that “The Midlands already has the highest concentration of businesses outside London, including international firms such as Jaguar Land Rover, MG Motors, Deutsche Bank, JCB and the 150 year old, West Midlands-founded FTSE 250 engineering firm IMI”.
It has also promised “massive investment” in a new institute of technology to be based in Leeds, and to be modelled on MIT in the US (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and there are suggestions that parts of the Treasury will be relocated to the North of England.
Whether these promises will be delivered remains to be seen, especially given the more immediate and pressing problems of the NHS demands due to the worldwide pandemic of Covid-19 now playing havoc with the global supply chain and countries’ economies.
Perhaps this week’s budget will provide some clues.

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Business Development & Marketing General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

Employing millennials should not be a problem

employing millennialsEmploying millennials should not be seen as a problem but according to some reports in the business press many employers would prefer not to.
The reasons given range from this generation having a poorer grasp of language to being less loyal than older workers, and allegedly having higher absence rates.
Quite apart from the fact that age discrimination is outlawed under equal opportunities legislation, millennials (the generation born between 1980 and 2000) now make up the bulk of the workforce.
While it would be fair to say that employing millennials means bosses need to understand that this age group may view their careers rather differently from previous generations, it is also true that each generation comes with skills and attitudes that are a benefit to their employers. It is also true for many employers that they are customers who need to be understood.
Approximately 10 years ago PwC produced a report that focused on the millennial generation, examining their career aspirations, attitudes about work and level of comfort with new technologies. It predicted that they would make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020.
It also examined the key features that employers would need to understand about this generation: “Millennials’ use of technology clearly sets them apart. This generation has grown up with broadband, smartphones, laptops and social media being the norm, and expect instant access to information”.
This is clearly a benefit for 21st Century businesses.
However, the report continues that employers need to understand that it is a generation whose “behaviour is coloured by their experience of the global economic crisis and this generation places much more emphasis on their personal needs than on those of the organisation for which they work”.
This should be no surprise given that it has been a long time since employees of any age have been able to rely on the “one job for life” career model.
Couple this with having had to make compromises due to the 2008 global financial crisis, such as having to do work that is beneath their skill and education level. Indeed, they are often better educated than previous generations who tend to be more senior people in organisations and they are living with high levels of rent and living costs while at the same time they have been burdened with university debts that were not imposed on those who complain about them. It is hardly surprising therefore that many of them consider their income as derisory when compared to the income of others. Loyalty works both ways.
In addition, they are aware of other factors such as quality of life, environmental concerns, diversity, ethical business and equal opportunities which are becoming more important factors when deciding who to work for.
As older employees reach retirement and the likely restrictions on immigration, employing millennials is not going to be a choice and indeed employers should be looking for the best available skills for their businesses – or the potential to develop them.
It may mean that employers will need to re-think their rigid, hierarchical structures and use a more cohesive, mentoring approach to their management style.
They will need to pay more attention to employees’ training needs and careers aspirations, and to accommodate their increasing focus on environmental and social concerns.
Good workers know when they are being treated well and young people tend to be well able to adapt to a fast-changing world, accordingly employers should focus on helping young people to become good workers as a demonstration that they valued. Employees should no longer be regarded as a burden or treated as being lucky to have a job. It is now the other way round.
Survival in the 21st Century will involve businesses having to adapt rather than expecting their people to adapt.
While most businesses claim that their people are their greatest asset, the reality is only true when their people claim their business is the greatest employer.

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Business Development & Marketing General Turnaround

Learning to really listen can benefit your business

really listenHow many of us really listen to what is being said to us?
Listening is not the same as hearing and often we can tune out what is being said to us, either because it triggers an assumption or a prejudice, causing us to miss the real point of what is being said.
Being able to really listen, however, is crucial to both personal success and also that for a business particularly, but not only, for those in a customer services role, where it is crucial to really listen and respond appropriately to a customer’s concerns rather than parroting from a pre-prepared script.
How often are we frustrated by the tele salesperson who launches into their script without even pausing for breath.
Indeed, failure to really listen can have a serious impact on the reputation of a business with its clients or customers.
But the ability to listen well is equally important for a boss or manager wanting to communicate a change or an innovation, or to HR when dealing with issues with an employee. Both situations will invite feedback and this is where it is important that the person giving it is actively listened to.
Language can be a very imprecise tool. Every word is loaded with background information which to the listener can mean something quite different to how someone else would interpret the same sentence or word.
Arguably hearing is a passive activity whereas when you really listen to what is being said you are actively engaged in paying attention, considering and seeking to understand what is being communicated, both verbally and non-verbally.
It is possible to improve listening skills by doing some very simple things.
The first is to leave the ego at the door and demonstrate an open and welcoming approach, perhaps by using eye contact if possible and show that you are concentrating on what you are being told.
The second is to remind yourself to keep an open mind and allow other people to finish what they are saying rather than jumping in with a comment before they have finished. Not doing so will convey that you are making an assumption, perhaps based on something in their choice of words that triggers a reaction in you, that may be well wide of the mark and in so doing you are missing something that could be beneficial.
It helps to give feedback, especially if the conversation is on the phone, to ensure that you are clear about what they are saying. It can also help to make notes of key points so that you remember what was said, especially for your feedback and any future action.
Listening is an art that we are increasingly losing in a cacophonous age of social media and sound bites, where the emphasis seems to be on having one’s say and competing rather than really engaging with each other.

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General Turnaround

Sector focus on the UK newspaper industry, regional, national and online

UK newspaper industryThe UK newspaper industry has faced multiple challenges for many years but somehow it manages to survive.
In many ways it is a good example of how agile a business needs to be in the 21st century if it wants to continue, to prosper and to grow.
But arguably the UK newspaper industry is more than simply a business albeit, like all businesses it needs to cover its costs and make a profit.
Relevance is critical to having and retaining readers as consumers of content in what might be assumed to be a traditional supply and demand business. At its most basic, news is about informing readers about what is happening in the world, and in the country and region in which they live and aspiring journalists in training were often told that their purpose was “to entertain, to educate and to inform”.
Nevertheless, to the accountants, newsroom journalists have increasingly been seen as a cost, a drain rather than a contributor to the business’ profits.
Indeed, relevance is often more than simply news or indeed information.
So, costs started to escalate in the early 1990s largely due to the increasing price of the paper, much of which is imported from Canada and to falling circulation.
The development of web offset printing had already eliminated the need for type setters and proof readers and increasingly the focus turned to how to get more from fewer journalists and a near-epidemic of redundancies began, with a shift in the news-gathering model from in-house employed journalists to a mix of less expensive, young trainee journalists in house and freelance columnists.
At the same time, in attempts to retain readership, many papers, particularly the regional and local ones, started to include a great deal more content that could be described as lifestyle, celebrity and entertainment-related, reflecting a perceived change in readership interests.
But it is a tough and competitive business and by March 2018 the UK Press Gazette was reporting a net loss of at least 30 local newspapers in the previous year, while many of the nationals were struggling to make a profit. It said that Trinity Mirror closed more titles than any other publisher, with 12 shut down in total over the year and the collapse of family-owned Observer newspapers had led to the closure of all of its 11 titles.
In the local market, it reported, “Trinity Mirror remains the biggest regional publisher, with a total circulation of 1,598,285 across its 129 local publications.
“Newsquest was the second largest publisher with a total circulation of 1,344,379 across its 118 publications.”
Arguably, the digital revolution has had the biggest impact on the UK newspaper industry.
The majority of a newspaper’s profits come from advertising, and as more and more advertisers shift to online promotion the print and distribution costs of newspapers are significantly impacting profits. Like retailers, the switch to online distribution is taking a long time and the rate of online growth in profits is not sufficient to offset the rate of print related decline.
Nowadays, we take it for granted that our daily, or weekly, paper whether it is local, regional or national, publishes an online edition, which can be updated frequently throughout the day given the intense competition to be first with news developments in an increasingly fast-paced world.
Many national UK newspapers, with the notable exception of The Guardian which relies on appeals for contributions from readers, have introduced a paywall, forcing readers to pay a subscription to read many of their online articles.
The Independent, launched in 1986, and sold to the Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev in 2010 went online-only in March 2016.
According to an article in PR week last year “the Financial Times hit its target of a million paying subscribers a year ahead of schedule … and The Times and Sunday Times have around half a million paying customers, with the majority now digital-only. After years of making substantial losses, the Guardian announced a small operating profit for 2018-19.”
By contrast, over the last 13 years, it said, there had been a net closure of 245 local and regional titles.
There is no doubt that the explosion of social media, has led to arguably shorter attention spans and more impatience generally, not to mention a greater dislocation between where people live and their attachment to the locality and changed attitudes to local and regional papers.
However, the rise in concern about “fake news” on social media and subsequent fact checking services offered by some papers, may well improve readers’ trust in what they read in reputable publications rather than on social media.
In my view it is too early to predict the total demise of the UK newspaper industry, certainly at national level, but I hope also at regional and local level, not least as an antidote to the early-morning commute or as a pause in the daily office pressure for a mid-morning coffee and a quick flick through the paper.

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

Key Indicator – the state of UK business activity

UK business activityUK business activity is either in a woeful state, or slowly picking up speed following December’s general election, depending on who you are listening to.
Given the dire insolvency figures for 2019, which I covered in Tuesday’s blog, there is clearly plenty wrong in specific sectors of the economy.
The construction industry, High Street retail and the accommodation and food services were the worst-affected last year but it would be foolish to pretend that any business, from SME to large corporations had an easy time given the global economic slowdown and, more recently, figures revealing that the EU economy is near-stagnant.
Nevertheless, now that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU has passed its first hurdle and that the government has a clear mandate with a huge majority to implement its decisions for the next five years, there are signs of optimism.
The first Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking Business Barometer in 2020 showed a 13-point increase in business confidence, taking it up to 23% in January, the highest it has been for 14 months. The Lloyds barometer calculates overall business confidence by averaging the views of 1,200 companies on their business prospects and optimism about the UK economy.
The most recent IHS Markit/Cips manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI), for January, showed that the sector has enjoyed its best performance for nine months. Another survey by the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) was also positive in suggesting “the biggest wave of optimism among smaller manufacturers for six years” with 45% of these SMEs reporting that they were more optimistic following the election.
In addition, the Bank of England has kept interest rates at the same level, despite expectations that they would be cut. The outgoing BoE Governor Mark Carney said: “the most recent signs are that global growth has stabilised”.
But much of this is about sentiment where the proof of the pudding will be in increased orders on business’ books and improved cash flow.
On the positive side, productivity (output per hour) increased in January, by 0.1% in the services sector and by 5.7% in construction, according to official figures from the ONS (Office for National Statistics). The results of another survey by the finance firm Together concluded that British SMEs plan to invest £1.7bn over the next two years.
It has to be said that much of this “improvement” is from a pretty low base given that the economy ended 2019 at near-stagnation point, so this is not yet really any indication of a growing economy, although it is a positive shift.
There have also been some encouraging government noises about increasing spending to address the economic inequalities between the North and Midlands and the South which could be good news for Northern businesses. Other government initiatives in the pipeline are likely to benefit the house building and construction industries.
Despite the optimism there is a long way to go before most businesses and especially those involved in farming, fishing and food export, will know the shape of any proposed trade deals, with the EU and with the USA so the short-term for them is not especially encouraging.
The Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have all in the last few days signalled a very hard line negotiating position with the EU over the shape of any agreements which the Government hopes to achieve by the end of 2020. Whether this is a negotiation tactic or a ‘die in the ditch’ strategy we shall find out quite soon.
Concerning input to the outcome there have been some reports that the Government has been ignoring requests from business bodies, such as the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) and the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) to include their representatives in the forthcoming trade negotiations with the EU.
There are also still the unresolved issues of how the current skills shortage and migrant labour issues will be addressed.
No doubt a level of certainty for some businesses will emerge during the budget, which is due to be announced on March 11. Well at least we shall learn more about the Government’s priorities.
In summary, while it is encouraging that there has been a return to more positive sentiments from UK business leaders, there is a long way to go before we can be confident that they are matched by revitalised UK business activity at home and abroad.

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Business Development & Marketing General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions Turnaround

Emotional Honesty at work – mutual respect turns a negative into a positive

emotional honesty and conflict resolution There are many situations in our working life that have the potential to damage relationships with colleagues and managers and it takes emotional honesty to confront them.
Disagreements are inevitable especially where individuals are ambitious and want the best for the business and its goals. There are often many solutions to problems and teams need to learn how to share differing ideas without disagreements being seen as confrontation and in particular avoiding individuals being afraid of others in such a way that they don’t contribute.
Team decision making doesn’t necessarily mean agreement but is should be positive, especially when the team is needed to implement the decision. Sophisticated teams may explore decision making as a form of idea meritocracy by considering the knowledge and expertise of each contributor rather than team democracy where everyone is equal, or worse, where overconfident individuals, bullies or HiPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) make the decisions.
Conflicts at work are often rooted in a lack of respect among colleagues. Conflicts are different to disagreements and can make the atmosphere toxic leading ultimately to bullying and other serious issues that damage a team’s ability to work together.
Another area of discomfort is giving feedback on someone’s behaviour or during an appraisal when the appraisee is under-performing. The intention is normally to invite a change in behaviour that leads to a positive outcome. But receiving such messages can promote rejection of the message or even anger hence the need to deliver such messages with both honesty and with emotional understanding.
Dealing with disagreements, a loss of respect and giving feedback all require a level of emotional honesty to confront the issue in a sympathetic way. In addition to individuals learning how to deal with difficult messages the culture of the company is also important. Culture can help avoid individuals being defensive and feeling victimised by removing blame and promoting honest engagement such that everyone moves on after the decision has been made or after a matter has been dealt with.
In an ideal world everyone at work respects each other and values the contributions of others. However, we all have quirks of character and mannerisms that can grate, which is why we need a level of emotional honesty to both acknowledge this to ourselves and to others. This acknowledgement allows us to be constructive when confronting issues. The key is to actively listen and seek to understand others and avoid letting our own emotion get in the way.
If it is necessary to resolve a problem with a colleague or manager, the first step is to remind ourselves and them of their good points and qualities and to start with these at the opening of any discussion.
Emotion should be firmly kept out of the discussion. Expressing anger or frustration makes it hard to really hear the feedback being given. So, an essential element when dealing with disagreement or a loss of respect is to maintain courtesy.
Equally, aggression, both active and passive, during a confrontation gets in the way by becoming a form of bullying; even disengaging from a difficult situation can be done in a way that is construed as emotional bullying when one party gives in or walks away without resolving the underlying issue. This is often how family members deal with conflict and is seen at work when people don’t know how to deal with issues.
It can be effective to establish a connection by sharing a situation where you may have made a similar mistake and not talking down to the person on the receiving end.
Humour and displacement topics can be useful tools for lightening the mood or changing the topic when dealing with awkward situations but it is often necessary to get back to resolving serious issues as burying them tends to fuel resentment.
It is important to remember, too, that people have personal lives outside of work and their circumstances may be a contributing factor where they may be concealing a personal or family situation that is affecting their behaviour or performance at work.
It is not unusual for people to keep outside problems to themselves, believing they have to conform, to be “professional” or to fit in with a so-called “macho” culture.
Whatever the situation or problem, time should be allowed for the person on the receiving end to digest and think about what has been said.
When on the receiving end we need to listen, take notes if necessary and may need time to consider the points made before responding.
Emotional honesty rather than confrontation is the best way to resolve workplace problems. Feedback should be constructive and dealing with disagreements and conflicts should be done in a way that looks for a positive outcomes.
Respect for others is key and if maintained then everyone can benefit from the experience.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General

Retrain to do what? The jobs of the future

the jobs of the futureA national government retraining scheme was proposed in July last year to help those workers whose jobs will become obsolete because of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation.
Whether it will materialise following the Brexit mayhem and subsequent election remains to be seen.
Research by Oxford Economics has found that 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots worldwide since 2000, including 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US, and 550,000 in China and that a further 20 million manufacturing jobs will be obsolete by 2030 although most of these will be abroad.
There is no doubt that the future world of work, especially, but not only, in the manufacturing sector will look very different.
The drive towards aver more automation may conflict with concerns for the future of the planet and the environment but both will doubtless mean a radical rethink of economies, especially those that are dependent on consumer activity.
Demographics too will play their part as many of the populations of the developed world age and live longer and birth rates decline.
All this has led to an apocalyptic vision of the future by some, such as Aaron Benanav, a researcher in the social sciences at the University of Chicago, who argues that economies have, since the 1970s, been based largely on industrial production, expansion and exporting as their major economic growth engine and that such opportunities for growth are dwindling as more economies mature.
He argues that no other sector than manufacturing has been identified that can replace this out of date growth engine and that “restoring previously prevailing rates of economic growth will prove difficult if not impossible. Unless we find some way to share the work that remains, beggar-thy-neighbour politics really will tear our societies apart”.
Others, however, are more optimistic arguing that we have not even begun to imagine the jobs of the future.
Business Insider is one publication that has had a stab at imagining the jobs that will be needed in the future. Their list includes GPs, Dentists, Plumbers pipefitters & steamfitters, vocational nurses, construction managers, physician assistants, sales reps, secondary school teachers, tractor-trailer truck drivers, computer systems analysts, construction trades supervisors, service sales reps, software developers, and physical therapists to name just a few.
But these are all existing jobs in the world as it currently is. A global digital company, Cognizant, has gone even further and imagined jobs of the future that may be needed. A small sample from their suggestions includes:
Ethical Sourcing Officers for when corporations want to root their decisions on what is ethical and not what is profitable. The ESO will be in charge of production to ensure that every step of the process is in accordance with the ethical values of the shareholders.
Personal Data Brokers, who will make sure their customers are paid by those companies who use their data. This assumes that consumers will have full control over their personal data
Virtual Store Sherpas, will be the online equivalent of the in-store personal shopper, who will guide consumers through the process of selecting the most appropriate and affordable items and organise delivery.
Man-Machine Teaming Managers, whose job will be to “figure out and combine the strengths of man (cognition, judgment, empathy, versatility, etc.) and machine (accuracy, endurance, computation, speed, etc.) to create the most productive worker team possible”.
A brave new world or an apocalypse? Who knows? But there is no doubt that the future is out there!
 

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General

Running a small business is a juggling act

businessj juggling actA YouGov study has found that small business owners identified most strongly with the analogy of a juggling act when asked about running their businesses.
The analogy was strongest in the North West, in Yorkshire and Humberside, where 63 percent in each region compared themselves to jugglers.
Bookkeeping was rated the biggest chore by 27% of the 1000 respondents, while 42 percent of respondents believed central government added to the hassle for small businesses.
As an analogy it makes sense where dropping one ball can cause a knock on effect such as the consequences of not having contingency plans or missed payments or failure to file Tax Returns.
Among the issues identified in an article in The Economist on the same subject is knowing the right time to take certain steps in a business.   In that sense, it argues, the juggling act is a permanent exercise in balancing a variety of trade-offs. Such as holding high stock levels can help avoid the consequences of being let down by suppliers but it ties up working capital.
Knowing the right time to expand is a major issue: “by expanding too fast, companies risk losing control of product quality and messing up their management structure”.
Another is the tension between centralisation and delegation. A hierarchical structure can lead to a rigid and inflexible business structure and a loss of agility, while delegation of roles can only work if staff are well trained and the business has a clearly-defined set of goals with which everyone is familiar and on which they act in harmony.
Another juggling act is created by the tension between sticking with the core products or services and how much you can diversify away from the core.
“Choosing the right time to expand and diversify, and the right organisational structure to do it, is a matter of judgment. That judgment, and the flexibility to change plans, is what makes a good manager.” is the Economist writer’s view.

So how can an effective CEO handle the juggling act?

Firstly, they should learn to delegate effectively. They should not be trying to do everything themselves. However, this means that those to whom tasks are delegated must be well-trained and know the company’s goals and be suitably motivated and trustworthy when left to carry them out.
The effective CEO will always be juggling priorities but there are ways of managing them although this involves being well organised.
It helps to see a business as a system of systems by breaking it down into discrete and manageable sub-systems or processes with delegation and clear lines of communication to keep track of all the various activities.
Planning and managing time have been covered in previous blogs and are essential to ensure balls are not dropped. It is easy to put off tasks which can turn out to bite you on the backside if ignored. Examples of activities that are often put off are: the collection in book debts, paying suppliers, VAT and PAYE, boring things like compliance, insurance, allocating time for staff reviews, and even speaking with customers; indeed there is much to oversee the trick is not to do it all but have systems and processes in place to ensure each necessary activity is done.
Check lists and using management systems can make juggling easier. This might mean having KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), check lists such as one listing all the month-end accounting tasks, a monthly management report that consolidates information from departments including management accounts, an order management system to track the fulfilment and invoicing orders, a way of monitoring sales & marketing activities and their results. There are myriad sub-systems and processes that can make the juggling easier but they all need to be optimised and integrated as part of the overall business.
It is possible to make the juggling act manageable and efficient in a way that frees up the time of the CEO so they can focus on the future of the business giving them time to develop strategy. To work on the business, rather than be bogged down in the business.

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Business Development & Marketing General

Keep it simple – and polite – if you want a response to your email

response to your emailIt can be frustrating trying to get a response to your email but employing some behavioural psychology can help.
Catching and holding the attention of busy people with perpetually flooded in-boxes can be tricky, so the secret if you want someone to both read and respond to your email is to make it easy for them to read and engage.
Firstly, the email should have an appealing, short and clear subject line that captures the imagination and makes the recipient want to find out more b reading it. Indeed, most of us harvest or scan our email inbox and often only check who the sender is and read the subject header.
Once opened the email itself should be short and above all concise in clear simple language. Beware of information overload, the recipient can always come back for more. While you may have several things you want to communicate, the objective is to get a response so you can expand in a follow-up call or email.
Giving something of value to the recipient can also trigger a response. Perhaps by offering an idea, or suggestion relevant to them or their company. Relevance is also key by demonstrating you’ve done some research as we can all spot the ‘bollocks’ of most marketing messages.
Courtesy is also crucial. Research has shown that polite emails with correct spelling generate a better response rate. The sign-off is also important, for example “Thanks in advance” has been found to generate a much higher response rate then “Best wishes”.
Keeping your message short and simple also signals courtesy, that you understand the recipient is a busy person.
Your last paragraph should make it clear what you are asking for and it may be that you can set up further communication even if your recipient doesn’t respond by using phrasing such as “If I don’t hear anything, I’ll assume you’re happy to ….”.
Finally, the time when you send an email may be crucial. If you schedule your email to land in their inbox at the start of the working day, for example, there is a greater likelihood of its being read and of your getting a response.
Using automated scheduling software can also help, so that if you don’t get a response to your email a reminder email a couple of days later can nudge the recipient’s memory.
To summarise, remember the acronym EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely) no matter if your recipient has the brain of an Einstein. In this context, another acronym also applies, KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid).

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

What items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?

post-election wish listInevitably many promises were made during pre-election campaigning but how many will be delivered and what items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?
There is no question that there are many urgent domestic issues that need tackling and were “parked” during the on-going wrangling over Britain’s referendum to leave the EU.
However, now that the so-called “party of business” has been returned with a solid majority, perhaps businesses will see some action on the issues that have left them feeling that they were overburdened and struggling to carry a heavy weight with little support.
While many business groups have been calling for the closest possible trade alignment with the EU post-Brexit it will be a year – or more – before the shape of any deal is known.
In the meantime, there are plenty of items on the business post-election wish-list that can be progressed.
Perhaps the biggest and most pressing burden needing attention is a thorough reform of Business Rates.  Of course, the loudest cries for this have come from the retail sector, particularly from High Street retailers, but there is no question that the current levels, and the slow pace with which appeals are addressed, is a heavy burden for many SMEs.
However, the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) leader Mike Cherry, has warned that it could take up to five years to complete a rates review and reform
Arguably of equal importance is the difficulty many businesses have in finding people with the appropriate skills and this has been impeding growth plans.
While the new Prime Minister has promised an overhaul of immigration policy, this will affect how and who firms can recruit. It remains to be seen how the proposed three-tier points-based system will work.
The idea is to fast track so-called Tier One entrants such as entrepreneurs, investors and people who have won awards in certain fields, and Tier Two people, skilled workers, such as doctors, nurses and other health professionals, who have a confirmed job offer leaving the need for less skilled, people such as for as agriculture and manufacturing as a problem. Essentially Tier Three employers will most likely have to show that they cannot recruit enough people from within the UK before other entrants are allowed into the country which may take some time and leave them with short and medium term staffing shortages.
Indeed business organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have said that the current immigration proposals are vague and impeding businesses’ ability to plan for growing staffing levels.
The final and most pressing issue, on which the Government has promised action and investment is the country’s neglected and in some cases crumbling infrastructure, particularly in areas like the North and Midlands.
Whether improving communications such as road and rail links, or broadband connectivity, it is going to require significant financial investment and given the lack of growth and current weak economy it remains to be seen how much money is in the Chancellor’s pot come the first budget in March.
 

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Business Development & Marketing General

If you want more effective meetings don’t use PowerPoint or bullet points

effective meetingsEffective meetings depend on discussion that is constructive and to the point, and on wasting as little time as possible.
It has been calculated that the average executive spends around 50 percent of his or her time in meetings of which at least a third are useless.
This was the finding of a 3M study carried out by Annenberg school of communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1989.
Studying effective meetings has been ongoing for years and certainly since the 1960s and there has been a growing body of evidence to support the 1989 findings, which suggests that executive productivity could be much improved.
There is an assumption that using lists or PowerPoint presentations can result in more effective meetings, but in fact, this has proven to be incorrect, as Amazon CEO @Jeff Bezos and subsequently others have proved.
A couple of years ago Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint and bullet point slides in executive meetings requiring instead that everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.
Once everyone has finished reading the meeting memo then the topic is discussed. It has proved to be so effective that is has since been adopted by other CEOs.

Why does a narrative structure produce more effective meetings that use of PowerPoint?

Storytelling has been a part of human culture since we first discovered the use of fire. Anthropologists and historians argue that fire encouraged people to congregate by sitting around the campfire swapping stories as a way of teaching, warning, and inspiring others in pre-literate societies.
But there is more to it than that.
To be persuasive, an argument has to appeal to logic and reason, and also to emotion, which neuroscientists have found is the fastest path to the brain.
Bezos is quoted as saying: “”I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” arguing that often there is greater insight to be gained from customer emails than from data.
Basically, the scientific evidence is that our brains do not respond well to, or retain, lists. Our brains respond much better to text and even more so when the text is accompanied by pictures.
So, it should be no surprise that effective meetings are more likely to result from getting everyone to read a well-constructed narrative memo at the start, which gives everyone attending the same, essential information before any discussion begins.
The result is a much more informed discussion in which more people feel able to participate, rather than those “usual suspects” with the loudest voices.
Not only this, but the narrative memo provides an essential historical record of background and context for those who are not attending the meeting.
Ultimately using narrative rather than bullet point lists and PowerPoint slides will cut down on the time it takes to reach collective decisions, thus saving executive time and improving efficiency.
We should restrict PowerPoint for use as a tool for making a sales pitch and recognise those who use it in a meeting as trying to sell an outcome rather than seek to discuss the topic.

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General Interim Management & Executive Support

Starting the day right helps effective leaders to stand out

starting the day Starting the day right can take as little as two minutes and will make a difference to the rest of your day.
Thought leader @Guy Kawasaki recently highlighted one approach on Facebook, the two-minute routine, based on writing down just three simple statements with which you identify:
 

  1. I will let go of ….
  2. I am grateful for ….
  3. I will focus on ….

The idea is that we all wake up with thoughts swimming round in our heads that crop up to distract us, even if they are only in the background, as the day progresses and that to function at our most effective we need to settle and let go of these thoughts.
There are always massive demands on the time of busy executives and so starting the day with a clear mind and focus is important as is scheduling the day and being able to stick to tasks without distraction.
This simple technique also allows you to acknowledge concerns that are on your mind by considering them and then put them in a box so you don’t obsess over them and they don’t intrude when dealing with other matters. This is also a great tactic for dealing with anxiety albeit the subject of previous blogs.
There is no one way to set up your day, it is simply a matter of finding a routine that prepares you for being productive. Indeed writer John Rampton advocates using productivity tips and creating and sticking to an efficient daily schedule. He says, it is more than just simply making lists. It starts with understanding your “Why”, setting priorities and estimating how long the tasks will take.
The result will be that you work smarter, not harder and ultimately accomplish much more.
Rampton quotes the example of Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, who argues ““How you wake up each day and your morning routine (or lack thereof) dramatically affects your levels of success in every single area of your life. Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days.”
For Elrod starting the day right meant waking at 5am each morning to spend time in silence, meditating, reading and exercising.
For others, as in the two-minute example above, the routine for starting the day may be different, but what they all have in common is that they are quiet times alone to focus and help to declutter the mind before the demands of the day begin.
When I was in the army we had something similar referred to as the 6Ps: Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Yes it was still called the 6Ps.
 

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Banks, Lenders & Investors Cash Flow & Forecasting Finance General

Key Indicator – Stock Market behaviour predictable or not?

stock market predictionsAt the start of the new decade predicting stock market behaviour is anything but an easy task.
A year ago, the pundits variously predicted that the year-end valuation of the FTSE 100 would be anywhere between 7200 and 8400 points. In the end, at close of business on 31st December it was in the mid-7000s at 7542 below most predictions but it was still a stonking year.
Over the last year, stock market values, including the UK’s FTSE 100 and 250, have risen an astonishing amount to make 2019 one of the strongest years ever, despite a sluggish global and EU economy, US and China trade wars and Brexit uncertainty.
According to the business news two days ago the Dow Jones industrial average has seen  a rise of almost 25% having reached record highs day after day, the broader S&P500 is up 30% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq has grown 40% in value. The FTSE100 in London is also close to its record high, as is the Dax30 in Germany.
In so-called “normal” times the stock markets traditionally go down when the interest rates go up which may explain the stock market values given the unprecedented period of low interest rates set by Central Banks that have done everything they could to support their countries’ weakening economies in their attempt at stimulating growth or more accurately avoiding recession.
But what is “normal” given that some Central Banks including European Central Bank, Japan, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland have set negative interest rates?
To make predictions more difficult, this has been going on now for more than 10 years, since the 2008 Financial Crisis, and growth/recovery is still pretty sluggish despite the stimulus.
Usually, over a 10-year period there is a natural economic cycle from “boom” to “bust”, but the “bust” has yet to come, and nor is it being predicted. More of the same seems to be the view of most economists.
However a few pundits, notably the economist Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, argue that the stock markets are far too optimistic, while the business writer Rana Foroohar, author of Don’t Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech and associate editor at the Financial Times, predicts that the next crash will be brought about by the concentration of power in the hands of big tech companies like Apple, which have built up huge amounts of debt in their quest for power. She says: “Rapid growth in debt levels is historically the best predictor of a crisis.”

So, why have stock market valuations continued to climb?

In my view, two things have driven the value of companies listed on the stock market.
Firstly, businesses have broadly maintained their profitability by reducing overheads through slimming down management and not reinvesting. This has hidden their decline in productivity because profitability has been maintained. I believe that the cutting out of swathes of management has made many businesses extremely lean but left them without scope for responding to growth, with little experience for investing in new technology and for implementing the changes necessary to remain competitive.
Secondly, the numbers of listed companies have declined leaving fewer in which to invest money. Given that investors want to invest in profitable businesses this has meant that the pool of investable companies has also shrunk driving up the value of those that should be part of an investment portfolio. This distortion is likely to encourage a shift from the growth investment strategy preferred by long-term investors to one of value investment preferred by those with a higher appetite for risk. Indeed, picking winners is difficult as those who backed Neil Woodford will attest.
You could argue that UK based companies exporting abroad with foreign investors have benefited from exchange rates problems due to Brexit to make more locally focussed companies more attractive but this should only be part of a value investment strategy and still leaves the long-term investors looking for fundamentally sound businesses.
It’s possible that once Brexit is under way after January 31, there will be a re-rating because the companies that import from abroad have suffered disproportionately.
It will only take the Central Banks raising interest rates to more normal levels for a major stock market crash to become inevitable.
 

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Business Development & Marketing Finance General HR, Redundancy & Trade Unions

The Good Business Charter may be the dawn of a new era

Good Business Charter for new decadeA new form of accreditation launched at the CBI conference in November, the Good Business Charter aims to promote a more responsible way forward for capitalism, business and the economy as the new decade begins.
Businesses can sign up to the new voluntary code, but they will have to provide evidence that they are following the ten principles enshrined in the Good Business Charter.
The Good Business Charter, which is supported by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and managed by an independent not for profit organisation, has been funded by Julian Richer, the founder of retail chain Richer Sounds.
Early last year Mr Richer handed over control of his company, Richer Sounds, to his employees, transferring 60% of his shares into a trust.
Launching the initiative at the CBI conference, the current Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, said: “Without successful, responsible, passionate business, creating wealth and opportunity across the country and working in close partnership with government.
“… Business has always been about profit but it’s also been about so much more. It’s about making a difference. Creating jobs, services, products, ideas, opportunities.
“This is a time to talk about and even more importantly — demonstrate – that profit comes with purpose.”
To become accredited, participants in the Good Business Charter Scheme will have to undertake to pay employees the real living wage, give workers a voice in the boardroom, commit to prompt payment of suppliers, treat their customers fairly, agree not to engage in tax avoidance and show efforts to reduce their environmental impact including sourcing materials ethically.
The full list of ten principles can be found on the organisation’s website.
There has been mounting evidence for some time that both customers and investors, not to mention employees, want to see businesses behaving more ethically and in particular paying far greater attention to their environmental impact.
There is no better time for businesses to change their practices than the start of a new decade.
The Good Business Charter offers businesses a way of demonstrating their social responsibility and may be the dawn of a new era.
I wish you a happy new year and good fortune for the coming decade.

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General

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