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.

Business Development & Marketing Cash Flow & Forecasting General Turnaround

SME tendering opportunities amid the doom and gloom

There are tendering opportunities despit the storm cloudsIt can seem, amid the uncertainty over the future of UK business as the shape of Brexit remains shrouded in mystery, that there is nothing but relentlessly dire news for SMEs.
Here’s a selection of snippets from the last week or so:
A major bank (Santander) announces that its loans to corporate clients during the first quarter of 2018 were down by 4% amid a slowing demand for business finance.
There is a dramatic fall of 48% in the numbers of new French, Dutch and Belgian businesses registering in the UK (Companies House).
UK GDP growth comes in at just 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in Q1, with factory order growth in April 2018 slowing to its weakest level in two years and yet more “big name” retail casualties and announcements of shop closures, this time M & S.
On top of this it has been estimated that there has been just a minuscule 10% opt-in rate to all those marketing emails attempting to comply with tomorrow’s GDPR deadline and issued by SMEs, sometimes when they did not actually need to, and potentially decimating their marketing plans.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that there is some anecdotal evidence that some SMEs are finding business life just too difficult and deciding to throw in the towel. The recent growth in self-employment and those setting up in business for themselves may be coming to an end.
Despite the changing marketplace there are always opportunities for SMEs, especially nimble ones.

SMEs should explore tendering opportunities

There is undoubtedly a great deal of work outstanding on unfinished projects around the UK as a result of the collapse of Carillion. Sooner or later there will have to be invitations to businesses to tender for them, and hopefully lessons will have been learned about breaking these down into smaller contracts that could encourage SMEs to bid for them.
There are public-sector tendering opportunities at local, regional and national level and while the process can be lengthy, detailed and sometimes costly, wise SMEs can start exploring the options and preparing the material they might need to submit. It gets easier the more you do.
Firstly, if, as I often advise, you regularly review monthly management accounts, have a solid business plan and control over cash flow and overheads, you should be able to identify the services your business can realistically offer, and this should help you to find the right projects for which to consider tendering.
Secondly, you can find regular updates on contracts worth over £10,000 coming up on the Government’s Contracts Finder website and search for more details.  There are other opportunities and more guidance on tendering on this Government website – follow the links as appropriate. For more local projects you can also contact your local authority or LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).
The advantage of tendering for public sector partnerships is in the quality of the contract and the likelihood that payment terms and dates are more favourable.
Once you identify tendering opportunities that fit the capabilities of your business you will need to factor in the time it takes to gather the information needed and go through the process. It helps to have someone within the company who has responsibility for managing the bid, from doing the research to writing and checking drafts.
During the bidding process your application will first be “scored” by the government department or agency, to create a shortlist of those who will be invited for interview by a panel of experts.
While the tendency has been to look for the lowest price bids, with much less attention paid to other criteria such as SME preference, quality and service based on the applicants’ track record for delivery and their financial stability, it is to be hoped that lessons will have been learned from the Carillion failure and a more comprehensive and realistic appraisal of SME applicants will result.
Hopefully this will help to level the playing field for SME applicants.

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

Brexit musings

keep calm and stay positiveThe first Markit/PMI (Purchase Managers Index) post-referendum composite results have now been published, showing a downturn in both business confidence and activity to below the 50 benchmark in Services, Construction and Manufacturing to 47.3 from 51.0 before the vote.
Despite the doom-laden reactions from commentators it is important to prevent sentiment falling off a cliff and making recession a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So it cannot be said too often that it is early days yet and growth is still being predicted for the UK economy, albeit at slightly lower levels, as this example illustrates.
Building supplies company Travis Perkins is due to publish its half year results this week and has issued a profit warning. Nevertheless, its pre-publication statement said: “In our view it is too early to precisely predict end-market demand and we will continue to monitor the lead indicators we track and will react accordingly.”
The holiday season ebb in business activity is a good time to pause and clarify where we are now, as individual businesses and more widely.

What was really at stake in the referendum?

Arguably this should have been properly highlighted and debated before the vote.
The three variables a nation can have are Sovereignty, Democracy and Globalisation and essentially, whether people realised it or not, the referendum involved a decision between the benefits of Sovereignty versus Globalisation given that we have ballot box Democracy in UK.
The most difficult to assess is Globalisation and its benefits. Essentially it involves the free movement of goods, services and people, which reduce costs, improve wealth and promote security through interdependency. These are difficult elements to quantify but most obviously benefit commercial enterprise and the metropolitan ‘elites’. After years of war and protectionism, this was the underlying philosophy behind the EU.
However, while Globalisation may have broadly improved people’s living standards in the EU, protected their employment and improved their citizenship rights, a majority of voters did not feel they had been beneficiaries. They would also seem to resent the uneven distribution of its benefits.
In the UK this has affected not only the low paid and low skilled but also the middle classes, many of whom believe they are paying for the excesses of the decision makers through the various austerity measures that have been implemented by government.
So when it came to the vote, Sovereignty became the priority and clearly the Brexit majority wanted to see not only a different form of “Globalisation” within the EU but also greater security and prosperity for those who felt left behind.
Where does all this leave the UK and particularly businesses?
We have said it before but it bears repeating in the light of the Travis Perkins statement above that Brexit presents plenty of opportunities to negotiate and create different ways of operating in a global market such that the benefits are more widely distributed. Indeed, the EU has been becoming more protectionist so that UK will be able to do its own trade deals with non-EU countries.
But it will not happen if the UK and other countries go down the road of pessimism, isolationism and protectionism. The opportunity now is to truly embrace Globalisation, to embrace its benefits and trade with the whole world, not just the EU.