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JULY 2013

Geco warrior

The journey of Fuel4 pioneer Lewis Bowen

Birmingham calling

Start-ups converge on the UK’s second city

Seal of approval

Standards can aid innovation in enterprise

Flushed with success Dismissed as a disruptive influence at school, Colin Stevens has proved the naysayers wrong by building Better Bathrooms, a business empire worth £32m – and counting... JULY 2013 £4.50

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Why Whythere therewill willalways alwaysbe be aaneed needfor forbusiness businesstravel travel 2012 2012 waswas yetyet another another year year of global of global economic economic uncertainty uncertainty andand so so far far 2013 2013 looks looks setset to continue to continue along along thethe same same path. path. TheThe UKUK hashas narrowly narrowly avoided avoided a triple a triple dipdip recession recession andand economic economic growth growth in the in the eurozone eurozone remains remains weak. weak. Even Even China China andand India, India, whilst whilst stillstill burgeoning burgeoning markets, markets, experienced experienced a slowdown a slowdown in growth in growth rates rates lastlast year. year. ButBut business business travel travel is aisbarometer a barometer for for economy economy andand company company executives executives areare continuing continuing to to travel travel despite despite tighter tighter budgets, budgets, despite despite developments developments in virtual in virtual meetings meetings technology, technology, andand despite despite growing growing environmental environmental concerns. concerns. Business Business travel travel is integral is integral to international to international trade. trade. These These journeys journeys create create thethe deals deals andand sustain sustain thethe relationships relationships thatthat enable enable ourour economy economy to grow. to grow. Research Research shows shows thatthat business business travel travel improves improves corporate corporate productivity productivity yielding yielding a return a return on on investment investment of 10:1. of 10:1. NoNo amount amount of video-conferencing of video-conferencing willwill ever ever replace replace face-to-face face-to-face meetings meetings entirely. entirely. Indeed Indeed business business travellers travellers reckon, reckon, around around 50 50 perper cent cent of prospective of prospective customers customers areare converted converted to to new new customers customers withwith an an in-person in-person meeting meeting against against 31 31 perper cent cent without without such such a meeting. a meeting. OurOur growing growing longevity longevity also also means means thatthat thethe number number of over of over 50s50s expecting expecting to work to work beyond beyond retirement retirement ageage hashas increased increased by by 43% 43% over over thethe lastlast twotwo years. years. While While thethe most most common common ageage of business of business travellers travellers currently currently is 25 is 25 to 34 to 34 years years old,old, there there is aissecond a second peak peak among among thethe older older generation. generation. Around Around 45% 45% of of business business travellers travellers aged aged 45 45 to 54 to 54 flewflew on on business business at some at some point point lastlast year. year. It’s It’s also also worth worth noting noting thatthat business business travel travel is not is not thethe biggest biggest culprit culprit when when it comes it comes to producing to producing carbon carbon emissions emissions – aviation – aviation produces produces around around 650650 million million tonnes tonnes perper annum, annum, compared compared withwith 30 30 billion billion tonnes tonnes emitted emitted globally globally each each year year by by burning burning fossil fossil fuels. fuels. All All of which of which means means thatthat company company executives executives areare notnot going going to cut to cut back back on on business business trips trips anyany time time soon. soon. If anything If anything their their travel travel willwill increase increase as as new new markets markets emerge emerge around around thethe world. world.

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Inside this month... VOLUME 02 ISSUE 07 JULY 2013

16 The Elite interview

Colin Stevens has gone from fairways to bathtubs

09 Editor’s letter 10 Contributors 12 News in brief 13 Talking point 14 Book reviews 34 The buying game

Acquiring another business can boost value and increase market reach

40 Danger zone

The tell-tale signs that your business may be heading for trouble

42 Pick up a pop-up

21 One to watch

Lewis Bowen has grand plans for Geco Industries

Pop-up shops are bringing brands back to Britain’s high streets

45 Standard practice

Standards don’t only communicate tried and tested methods; they also support innovation

50 Going continental

E-commerce design giant Fab has its sights set firmly on Europe


54 Catching consumers

Engagement marketing attracts customers when traditional techniques can’t

62 Family business

26 Moving on up

Birmingham is fast becoming a thriving business hub

Time off for dependents provides emergency leave for parents and carers

64 Happy holidays

Careful planning can take the headache out of the holiday season

67 Tech for start-ups

The latest must-have gadgets, hardware and apps for forward-thinking small businesses

71 Close communication

Social media is waiting in the wings to replace email as the king of internal comms


A Suit That Fits’ David Hathiramani is championing bring your own device

57 Multitude of riches

A commitment to diversity in business is a no-brainer

85 Franchise in the spotlight

In-toto is bringing a touch of the boutique to bespoke kitchens

91 Common enemy

Tackling fraud before it happens can be a lifeline for your enterprise

81 Franchise news 94 Classifieds 98 Start-up diary

July 2013

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Scan this QR Code to register for your free copy of Elite Business Magazine

VOLUME 02 ISSUE 07 JULY 2013 SALES Harrison Bloor – Account Manager E: T: 01206 266859 Adam Reynolds – Account Manager E: T: 01206 266843 Richard Smith – Account Manager E: T: 01206 266844 EDITORIAL Hannah Prevett – Editor E: Adam Pescod– Feature Writer E: Josh Russell – Feature Writer E: Jon Card – Feature Writer E: Lindsey McWhinnie – Chief Sub-editor E: DESIGN/PRODUCTION Leona Connor – Designer E: T: 01206 266845 Clare Bradbury – Designer E: T: 01206 266845 Dan Lecount – Web Development Manager E: T: 01245 905805 CIRCULATION Malcolm Coleman – Circulation Manager E: ACCOUNTS Sally Stoker – Finance Manager E: T: 01206 266846 ADMINISTRATION Charlotte James – Administrator E: T: 01206 266846 DIRECTOR Scott English – Managing Director E: Circulation/subscription UK £40, EUROPE £60, REST OF WORLD £95 Circulation enquiries: CE Media Limited T: 01206 266 842 Elite Business Magazine is published 12 times a year by CE Media Solutions Limited, Weston Business Centre, Hawkins Road, Colchester, Essex. CO2 8JX T: 01206 266 849 Copyright 2013. All rights reserved No part of Elite Business may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the editor Elite Business magazine will make every effort to return picture material, but is at owner’s risk.

When plan B becomes plan A When recruitment agency founder James Reed and academic pal Paul Stoltz conducted some research a couple of years ago, they discovered that one of the most attractive attributes of prospective employees is adaptability. Indeed, for entrepreneurs, being able to adapt to market changes, customer needs or even personal circumstance, is an absolute must. As a teenager, this month’s cover star, Colin Stevens, dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. He applied himself in a way he’d never been inclined to when it came to academic matters and became pretty good, competing in national championships. But, alas, his dreams of becoming the next Nick Faldo were never to be realised. For, in his pursuit of golfing success, he realised his potential as an entrepreneur. All of a sudden, his ‘plan B’ became ‘plan A’. Fast forward seven years and his company, Better Bathrooms, is the largest independent retailer of bathrooms in the UK – and his sights are set further afield with international expansion plans on the horizon. For others, such as July’s one to watch, Lewis Bowen, the ambition to start a business has been unfaltering, from playground to graduation day. Bowen spent a year working at one of the biggest companies in the world – GlaxoSmithKline – before setting up his own business. And whilst his company probably won’t make it to the same scale as the pharmaceutical giant, Bowen credits it with having taught him about the balance of business and ethics upon which he has been able to build Geco Industries. Adaptability, flexibility and the ability to tweak ideas are characteristics entrepreneurs often have in spades. And it’s not hard to see why. When plan B, or even plan C, suddenly becomes plan A, that must become the absolute focus. And that ability to adapt can be enough to sort the good from the great.


Due to the nature of the printing process, images can be subject to a variation of up to 15 per cent, therefore CE Media Limited cannot be held responsible for such variation.

July 2013



Contributors Leona Connor

As always, Connor has spent the last month making the magazine you hold in your hands glitter and sparkle, bringing her talents and design panache to every page. And before you ask, no, she hasn’t been sitting on a surprise revelation during the previous nine months; the wide-eyed little boy sat with her is her best friend’s baby Rían. Which is rather fortunate because we keep her much too busy for maternity leave.

Lindsey McWhinnie

Freelance sub-editor McWhinnie’s passion for the written word may lead her to be one of the few people on Earth who subs her text messages, but she doesn’t always have her head stuck in a book or magazine. More than a little inspired by last year’s Olympics, she has recently taken up running – even getting up at 6am some mornings to get a jog in before work. However, whether she has the willpower to continue that into the winter remains to be seen.


Adam Pescod

It’s certainly been a whirlwind three months for EB’s most recent addition to the editorial team. On top of churning out news stories and features for the magazine, Pescod has had some pretty significant developments in his personal life, namely becoming both a homeowner and husband-to-be. He also finds time to take advantage of any rare spot of sunshine by enjoying the odd lunchtime stroll. Needless to say, he always has his trusty pair of shades on hand for such occasions.

Martin Reed

In his column this month, Elite Business’s very own people expert looks at how to maintain an efficient and productive workforce during the summer holiday period. Reed will be ready for his own holiday this summer, having spent the last few months working on Thomas International’s new self-awareness training course aimed at managers, as well as establishing dedicated client support teams in London and Buckinghamshire to enable additional customer support. July 2013

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Tupungato /

choices may knock an average of 4.1 years off their lifespans. However, every crisis is an opportunity in disguise as these findings give us a chance to find a way of working that embraces good health from the off.


While the outgoing governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King is gradually winding up his duties, he’s still finding time to rattle some cages in the banking industry. In his final appearance before the Treasury Select Committee, King accused banks of lobbying Downing Street to intercede and encourage the new Prudential Regulation Authority to pull some of its punches. Rather refreshingly, it seems King intends to go down swinging and keep the banks on the back foot. In a rather bold step, Barclays has announced plans to sell data about 13 million customers’ purchasing habits, as well as admitting it may share the data with government departments and MPs. While these measures aren’t quite as severe as they sound – referring to anonymised, aggregated data and coming with an opt-out option for their customers – it’s still a rather risky move reputationally, particularly for a bank that’s received its fair share of negative press in recent years.

Given we’ve transitioned from the age of instant information to the age of distraction, it can hardly be a total surprise that this is having an effect on the way our brains work. But doctors in South Korea have identified a condition dubbed ‘digital dementia’, where over-development of the left side of the brain leaves the right side neglected, inhibiting the ability of frequent users to concentrate and form long-term memories, as well as impairing emotional development.

The drive to trim the fat at Direct Line continues unabated, with the insurance giant shedding more than a few pounds from its frame. Revealing that 2,000 jobs – representing 14% of its 14,400 strong workforce – are potentially at risk, the firm has doubled its initial commitment to cost savings, taking the new target to £200m. Whether that will leave the provider lean or just severely malnourished remains to be seen. George Osborne has announced his plans for 2015/2016 in the latest spending review, renewing his commitment to austerity and pledging to cut an additional £11.5bn from the budget – the first confirmation that cuts will extend past the next general election. Despite this, news that spending for intelligence agencies such as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ will be increasing by 3% seems destined to ruffle some feathers, especially in light of the recent international backlash over government snooping. It seems our employees are destined for early graves. Perhaps that’s a slightly stark way of looking at things but the first Britain’s Healthiest Company Report by health insurer PruHealth and global consultancy Mercer has revealed that for 85% of workers, lifestyle

EVENTs Business Junction, Networking lunch July 4 Brasserie Blanc, 8 Charlotte Street, London W1T 2LS Business Scene London Connections July 4 Regus, Lombard Street, London EC3V 9LJ The Supper Club, Structuring Your Business For Growth Dinner July 8 Searcys, St Pancras, London N1C 4QL Networking in East London and Essex July 9 Barking Enterprise Centre, 50 Cambridge Road, Barking, London IG11 8FG Prelude Group, Maximise Capital Value July 9 40 Portland Place, London W1B 1NB The Meetings Show UK July 9-11 Olympia, Hammersmith Road, London W14 8UX Engage in Networking July 10 The Grill on the Market, 2-3 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9JX Wrexham & Borderlands Business Fair July 10 Glyndwr University, Mold Road, Wrexham LL11 2AW The Supper Club, Dinner with The Financial Times July 15 Albannach, 66 Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DS Business Scene Birmingham Connections July 17 Regus, One Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BD

Cash is indisputably king. Therefore, it probably doesn’t come as too much of a shock that cashflow is still a major worry for small and private companies. Research from recruitment specialist Robert Half UK has revealed that 41% of the nation’s CFOs rated cashflow as one of their biggest concerns; however, for smaller firms this leapt up to 46%. The main factor pegged for causing this is slow-paying customers, with 61% of CFOs pointing the finger at clients not being quick enough with the cash.

SyncLunch July 18 Revolucion de Cuba, 7-9 Queen Street, Norwich NR2 4SG Business Junction Summer networking evening July 24 Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX A full event listing is available on our website: July 2013

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Talking Point

Bankers behind bars?

Should reckless behaviour by our bankers be punished with a jail sentence?


he banks have certainly borne the brunt of people’s anger during the financial crisis; whether from SMEs with lending frustrations, or public outrage at the PPI and interest rate swap scandals, the denizens of the City have copped a kicking. It would appear that the government hasn’t been particularly impressed with the behaviour of some of the banking sector’s top brass either, and the fruits of this frustration were unveiled last month. The long-awaited fifth report by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards put forward some rather explosive recommendations, not least that bankers should be jailed when their behaviour amounts to gross misconduct. The report proposes that this be measured against a set of clear personal responsibilities assigned to senior bankers, who should also adhere to a new range of banking standards set by regulators. In addition, it advocates deferring bankers’ bonuses by ten years in the event of misconduct – a measure that would probably garner support in many quarters – and suggests that banks should be legally obliged to prioritise financial safety over shareholder interests. Heavy stuff indeed, and at 571 words, we are only scratching the surface of the report here. Nevertheless, there is a little doubt about what proposal stands out above the rest in terms of controversy. Do people in the business world agree that bankers should be locked up for reckless behaviour?

“Recklessness is wilful blindness,” says Paul Moore HBOS whistleblower and non-executive chairman of Assetz Capital Group

Being reckless is worse than just being careless, it is wilful blindness. If you can go to prison for stealing a water bottle in a riot, why shouldn’t you go to prison if, through your recklessness, you drive 37,000 people out of a job, cost the taxpayer £20 billion, and incur loan losses of nearly £47 billion? The best example is what HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland did. That is absolutely failing to take account of what was completely obvious. Firing a chief risk officer when they raise a legitimate challenge is more than just reckless; it is deliberate and should be dealt with. In order for a bank to work properly, you have to have a separation and balance of power so that the engineers of the organisation can make it clear to the driver that if they carry on that way, they will blow the engine up “Firing a chief risk and run out of petrol. There is already a criminal offence in officer when they section 397 of the Financial Services and raise a legitimate Markets Act 2000 that should be applied challenge is more to the misselling of PPI, interest rate swaps and Libor manipulation. So there should than just reckless” have already been a criminal investigation.


“Prison terms are unlikely to solve all the problems,” says Richard Webber

director of the financial services practice at Twenty Recruitment Group While it’s clear that changes do need to be made to prevent scandals in the banks from happening again, threatening bankers with jail is unlikely to solve all the problems. There’s no doubt that a jail sentence for human error is likely to put off many individuals from working in the sector, meaning that top talent could be lost. The front office has always been the attraction with many very bright professionals accepting back and middle office positions in order to get there – few make it, which means you have some pretty good people in the middle office. However, if the promise of the golden goose is suddenly replaced with possible criminal charges, we may find the entry level supplyand-demand curve suddenly reverses. However, on the flip side, we are seeing positive impacts around the introduction of the new offence. There will inevitably be a rise in opportunities for compliance professionals, for instance in the client assets sector, which deals with the segregation of client money. Not only is there a great need to comply with the regulatory framework, but so few people have experience of it, meaning that there are rich pickings for specialists in this area.

July 2013

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The Elite read The Business of Creativity: An expert guide to starting and growing a business in the creative sector Michael Jacobsen

Having traded his way to success, cofounded the 13,000-seat Vector Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, lectured for the University of Westminster and UK Trade and Investment, mentored for creative start-ups and co-produced the hit musical Dirty Dancing, there are few who have the credentials that Michael Jacobsen has on the subject of founding a creative business. The Business of Creativity is a distillation of his years of expertise, providing an excellent guide for those looking to use their creative skills to power a commercial enterprise. Providing the perfect supporting framework for budding creative entrepreneurs, the text is cleanly structured


and clearly delineates everything a founder needs to think about when developing and growing their business. Whether it’s writing up a business plan, advising on where to turn for support dealing with the nitty gritty of finance – most creatives’ least favourite subject – The Business of Creativity helps turn the terra incognita of creative enterprise into a well-signposted landscape. Well worth it for anyone looking to grow and flourish in the creative space. JR The Business of Creativity: An expert guide to starting and growing a business in the creative sector, published by Enterprise Nation, is out now and retails at £16.99

Dream it, do it, live it! – 9 easy steps to making things happen for you

Richard Newton and Ciprian Rusen

Entrepreneurialism is sometimes perceived to be a quality that a person is born with. Everything he or she touches turn to gold, it seems. But, in fact, most business tycoons will tell you that anybody can be an entrepreneur with a sufficient amount of drive, passion and dedication. More than this, however, if one firmly believes in their dream and their ability to fulfil it, they will have a greater chance of making it come true. As corny as it may sound, this fundamental truth lies at the heart of Dream it, do it, live it!. Whether read in one go, or treated as a handy reference point, an aspiring entrepreneur can take as much from

Richard Newton and Ciprian Rusen’s book as your everyday dreamer. Each of its nine chapters covers a distinct step to dreamfulfilment, from identifying the dreams that matter most, to tackling the problems standing in your way, before being able to wallow in the glory and dare to dream bigger. Supported by three delightfully illustrated case studies of people who are living the dream – the book’s ‘heroes’ – Dream it, do it, live it! really makes the reader believe that anything is possible. AP Dream it, do it, live it! – 9 easy steps to making things happen for you, published by Capstone, is out now and retails at £9.99 July 2013

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the elite INTERVIEW

16 July 2013

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To say a young Colin Stevens had a short attention span is a bit of an understatement. But once he fixes his mind on something, no stone is left unturned in the pursuit of success

Embracing the underdog U

s Brits love an underdog. We continue to root for David even when Goliath’s already won the battle, packed up and gone home for lunch. Colin Stevens, who was an unruly and unpredictable child after ADHD went undiagnosed, was also an unlikely victor. But at the age of 32, his business Better Bathrooms turns over £32m and employs nearly 200 people. Take that, Goliath. It’s safe to say a seven-year-old Wigan-born Stevens couldn’t have imagined meteoric success was to follow a couple of decades later. “My attention span was terrible, not that I realised it at the time,” he says. “I definitely should have been tested because I would have been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.” Instead, Stevens was a little rebel and paid more attention to his money-making scams than to his schoolwork. In primary school, he got into trouble for selling sweets in the playground. His next moneyspinner was photocopying pictures of Star Wars characters drawn by one of his peers and flogging them to friends to make a few pounds for the tuck shop. “That’s my first memory of being entrepreneurial – not that I knew that’s what it was at the time.” He was easily distracted at Shevington High School, too, flirting with the girls in classes, and getting into trouble with older boys in the breaks. But Stevens says his lackadaisical approach to school would have been helped with more attention from the teachers. “I’m not sure if it was a case that there weren’t the resources to deal with it then, or whether they weren’t trained to deal with it,” he explains. He also attracted attention for other reasons, besides his disruptive behaviour. “We weren’t rich, my parents weren’t millionaires, but we did have a bit more money than other people,” Stevens says. “All my clothes would be new and clean, and other people would go to school in the same uniform for years. There were lots of people with struggling families in Wigan, there’s not a lot of opportunity in the area, so that meant I stood out as being a bit different.” He says he developed a thick skin and soon learned how to defend himself physically. “Yeah, I got involved in fights. But I never started them,” he insists. Aware that he was getting into a bit of trouble at school, Stevens’ parents sent him to stay with his uncle in Newcastle, where he learned how to play golf. A decade-long love affair with the sport was to follow. “For the rest of the summer, I went to a public golf course every day and I was there from 8 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night playing.”


“I’m thinking, ‘Taps? It’ll never work’”

With a new focus on becoming a professional golfer, Stevens’ already minimal desire to begin college in September began to wane. “My parents were happy that I’d found an interest as it meant I wasn’t going out and getting into trouble,” he smiles. “But they said I still needed to go to college in case the golf didn’t work out.” Stevens began college studying A-levels in business, geography, maths and sport but after a few weeks was adamant that attending lessons full-time was a waste of his golfing talent. “I just sat there in lessons looking outside and thinking that being at college wasn’t going to help me become a professional golfer.” He subsequently paid his tutor a visit to inform her he’d be dropping maths, geography and sport, and just attending college for his business classes. The rest of the time he could be found at the nearby golf course, he told her. “She warned me I might get thrown out, but somehow I got away with it. I just turned up for business studies, and then I went and played golf. I practiced and practiced and practiced, to the point where my hands used to bleed. That’s how much I wanted it,” he says, earnestly. Having completed his business studies A-level, Stevens’ golfing career began to gather pace as he amassed national junior trophies. But golf is an expensive sport, and at the age of 18, the coffers were empty. “I was trying to play in professional golf tournaments, but to go and play around the country costs a lot of money – which we couldn’t afford,” he recalls. Having been funded until this point by his parents, it was time he began generating his own income. He started selling things – anything he could get his hands on – to friends and family. “I was like Del Boy,” he laughs. “I was playing golf one day and I met this guy

July 2013


the elite INTERVIEW


who had a load of golf equipment from a liquidated golf business.” Having sold a couple of sets of golf clubs to friends at the club, Stevens decided to try selling the equipment on eBay – which in 1999 was very much in its infancy. “I told this guy that I needed some pictures for a brochure I was putting together to send to golf clubs, but I was actually putting them on eBay,” he smiles. “I couldn’t tell him the truth because then he’d have done it himself. So I put them on there and I was selling sets day after day, picking them up and taking them to the Post Office to ship to customers.” Selling golf-related paraphernalia – first clubs, then T-shirts and clothing – worked well for a couple of years. It allowed Stevens to fund his fledgling golf career and he was enjoying the fruits of his eBay-related labours. But, supplies began to dry up after the major golf brands tired of seeing their merchandise being sold for bargain basement prices. “If I was getting hold of any supplies, it really was the dregs and I was making no margin whatsoever.” At 21, Stevens started selling designer clothes on eBay. He had a contact in the distribution of such wares who provided him with some stock. But the venture fell flat. “It didn’t work as it was too high priced, and nobody really trusted the internet back them.” Again, he was left casting around for ideas, when his mum came to him with a suggestion. “She asked me if I’d consider selling taps,” says Stevens. At the time, both Stevens’ parents were working for a tap retailer in Yorkshire after the family manufacturing business had gone down the pan. At first, Stevens was scathing about his mum’s suggestion. “I’m thinking, ‘Taps? It’ll never work,’” he recalls. Rapidly coming to the conclusion that he didn’t have too many more appealing options, the aspiring entrepreneur decided to give his mum’s idea a shot. Having retrieved some snaps of the products from his mum’s workplace, he put a set of taps on eBay. “They sold the next day,” he recalls. The margin on taps was far better than that on clothes. Whereas golf merchandise had been producing a measly 10% margin, Stevens was doubling the money he spent on taps. “Within a few weeks I was going down to the Post Office with ten or 15 sets of taps. I always remember Reenie, the lady who worked in the Post Office, looking at me each time I walked in as if to say ‘Not you again.’” As his plans for an e-commerce empire began to take shape, his interest in playing golf began to abate – ironic, considering he’d only begun the business to fund his love for the sport. “I realised I’d been trying to hang on to my golf career, but, in reality, money was more interesting to me.” After his epiphany, Stevens decided if he were to build a reputable business he would need a website. “I realised that having an eBay shop was great but it was an expensive way of selling things, what with the seller fees. I figured if I had a shop, people would look on eBay, remember the name and then go to Google and find us that way. Also, I could put a link to the website on messages I sent to customers through eBay to drive traffic.” At 1.30am one night, he began his search for a suitable domain name and came across Over the next week he built a crude website, after having read some to-do pointers online. “It was just pictures and prices – there wasn’t even a shopping cart – and a message saying ‘ring this number’. And people were actually ringing up,” he laughs.

“I realised I’d been trying to hang on to my golf career, but, in reality, money was more interesting to me”

As his reach became broader, so too did the product range. He started speaking to suppliers and retailers about buying other bathroom products. As a result of being super cautious with cashflow, he had a reasonable sum of money in the bank. So when he was offered a container of basins and toilets at a bargain price, he couldn’t say no. The sticking point was storage. He was still living with his parents in Shevington, near Wigan, and they didn’t have enough room for a container-load of washbowls and loos. The day before the shipment landed, he secured a warehouse. A good job too: it took Stevens and three friends from 6 o’clock in the morning until 10 o’clock at night to unload the 40ft high cube. The toilet sets started to sell and the website was attracting an increasing amount of traffic. But after a drunken night with friends, Stevens was reflecting on the fact that there was a piece of the puzzle missing. “At 2 o’clock in the morning on my way home, I’d seen a to-let sign and thought what a good place it’d be for a showroom. I woke up with a fuzzy head and drove there the next day and within a few days I had signed the lease on it. That was to be the first Better Bathrooms showroom.” It’s safe to say that the first showroom was a bit of an amateur job. “Overnight I became a builder, painter and decorator,” he laughs. “We were pushing down walls and all sorts. Our way of getting glass out of a window was to throw hammers at it.” But Stevens and his pals managed to pull together a respectable-looking store, in an Ikea-style format. “We put the product on display at the front and then all of the stock behind it. We put a Better Bathrooms banner out the front and we were all set.” July 2013

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“We want to grow very fast. We’ve done really well so far: we’re the number one independent bathroom retailer” Stevens says having a presence both on- and offline has been crucial to the company’s success. “When people using our website realised we had a store, they wanted to come and have a look at it. Very early on I realised that having a showroom was quite important,” he explains. As the business grew, Stevens began recruiting aggressively. One of his first employees is now area manager for the original showroom, and the subsequent Warrington and Manchester stores, which opened in 2007 and 2010 respectively. “He’s now responsible for 24 people and about £15m of business,” says Stevens. “He learned on the job, just as I’ve learned on the job, and he’s exceptional.” One of the biggest departments within the business is IT, which has a team of 16 people. As 65% of the company’s revenues continues to be derived from online sales, it’s crucial that the web offering keeps apace with competitors and continues to scale with the business. It’s also said that every business needs a few grey hairs and in Stevens’ business that experience and wisdom comes in the form of his father, Peter, who joined four years ago. “He said, ‘I’m not working for you’, so I had to bring him on as a consultant,” says Stevens. “He agreed to do one day a week.” But the amount of time and energy Stevens Snr ploughed into the business gradually increased and he is now a key person of influence, overseeing operations and the supply chain. In fact, Better Bathrooms has become quite the family affair with mum Linda and sister Paula also working within the company. Ironic, considering Stevens’ absolute refusal to consider working in the family business his parents had owned in his youth. “I remember being asked, ‘Are you going to go and work for the family business if your golf doesn’t work out?’ I said no way,” he laughs.

That’s not to say that running his own business has always been a walk in the park. The financial crisis hit the bathroom manufacturing industry in the UK hard, Stevens says. “We saw all of our suppliers apart from one disappear. Also we went from 60 or 90 days credit to 30 days credit, to weekly credit. Our cashflow was really squeezed,” he admits. “It was only through luck and ignorance that we made it through.” He accredits the business’s survival to luck, but in truth, it’s due to more than a little business nous. The money he’d kept in the bank for a rainy day allowed him to continue trading in conditions that saw many of his rivals hit the runners. Though he admits the cash in the bank had been intended for a very different purpose. “It was always there to build the business. It wasn’t kept there in case something was to go wrong because I never envisaged that was possible.” Still, through a little bit of luck and a little bit of skill, Better Bathrooms pulled through and is now thriving, with a turnover of £32m. Stevens hasn’t dropped the ball when it comes to expansion plans, either. He has recently signed a deal to sell 30% of the business – a process that will allow him to invest a substantial amount of money into growing the company. He remains tight-lipped on exact plans, but it is understood he is looking at potential showroom properties in the

M25 region and even hinted at European expansion. Watch this space. Asked if he worries about selling a large chunk of his business, Stevens says it’s the right thing if he is to succeed in his lofty visions. “We want to grow very fast. We’ve done really well so far: we’re the number one independent bathroom retailer. But I’m seeing the bigger picture and how it can happen quite fast. We can be at £100m in three years and potentially £300m in seven years if the money’s there to be able to do that. We couldn’t do it with the existing money. We could get somewhere near but it’d take longer and be a bigger risk. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take.” Indeed, it’s likely that security has become more important to him of late. His fiancee gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl called Arabelle, four months ago. “At the moment, she sleeps, she eats, you change her nappy and then she sleeps again. So I try to plan my day around when she’s awake,” he says. The self-confessed workaholic admits that becoming a father has changed his attitude towards work slightly. “People said to me, ‘It’ll change everything when you have a baby,’ and I said ‘Nah, not me. I’ll still be work, work, work.’” And how does he feel now? “Obviously I’ve got a huge responsibility at work, but I am finding myself not wanting to leave her. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps I have changed a little bit,” he smiles.

July 2013

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Lewis Bowen, founder of the company behind life-saving bio-ethanol gel Fuel4, was always destined for stardom

he entrepreneurial spark was ignited fairly early for 25-yearold Lewis Bowen, founder of Geco Industries. “I have had a business of my own from a very young age,” he reflects. “As an entrepreneur you tend to pounce on opportunities pretty quickly. So at 12, I was selling canned drinks at 5p less than the canteen was selling them. I bought them buy-one-get-one-free in Somerfield once and everyone started buying single cans from me.” It was relatively clear then that Bowen had a knack and flair for business, and he was soon operating his own merchandising enterprise within the gates of his school, employing the service of seven fellow students in the process. At that point, he was 15. Indeed, Bowen’s small team was due to take part in the Young Enterprise scheme only for his teacher to forget to sign them up – not that it had too much of a detrimental impact.


Fuelling success T

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“I realised I wanted my company to be a sustainable and ethical business, but at that point I didn’t have the idea”

“It worked out pretty well really, because it meant we didn’t get taxed on anything,” jokes Bowen. The merchandising business fizzled out during sixth form as Bowen decided to dedicate a bit of time to furthering his education. However, it was in the time Bowen took travelling around the world between school and university that he really started to formulate the idea for Geco Industries. “Going round seeing different cultures makes you start to appreciate that business is a lot bigger than you realise,” he says. “You have got to have a real purpose.” And the year Bowen spent working for global healthcare firm GlaxoSmithKline truly opened his eyes to the type of enterprise he wanted to build, even if he didn’t have the specifics in place quite

yet. “It was there that I realised I wanted my company to be a sustainable and ethical business, but at that point I didn’t have the idea,” he recounts. “Basically, I had a vision in place before I even had a product. I knew what I wanted the business to be and made sure that people knew that so if they saw any opportunities, we could have a look at them.” Fortunately for Bowen, his father had encountered a South African woman named Mariette Hopley while on a shark fishing trip in the Rainbow Nation. She had developed an ethanol gel to be used as fuel in African townships. It was smokeless, non-toxic, non-explosive and clean-burning, and as soon as Bowen saw it, he knew he had discovered a product that matched his business vision. Hopley was equally convinced by Bowen’s grand plans and on May 20, 2011 – the day of Bowen’s last exam at Sheffield Hallam University – Geco Industries was born. While the name of the new enterprise may not seem all that revolutionary – Geco being a blend of the words ‘green’ and ‘eco’ – Bowen admits that it took some time to nail down, not least because the decision would ultimately shape the company’s future. “It is crazy how much you start thinking about a name,” he recalls. Eventually though, Bowen was content that the brand name reflected what his venture was all about. “Our remit is to make alternative energy affordable as a business, which means we have to be green and eco, and eco means not just environmentally friendly but economically friendly.” The name of Geco’s flagship bio-ethanol gel product, Fuel4, was subject to an equally rigorous thought process. However, the brand name simply reflects the four attributes (smokeless, non-toxic, nonexplosive and clean-burning) that differentiate the product from other fuels that are causing the ill Bowen set out to cure. “The original problem was the two million deaths a year from indoor air pollution,” he says. “And that is very much within the third world, so things like paraffin and kerosene cause huge problems with fumes and with burns because of the liquid spilling, but also from people collecting wood. Women and children are going out for eight hours a day collecting wood to cook with, which doesn’t make any sense.” July 2013

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As with all start-up businesses, funding was an essential consideration for the newly established enterprise. And in an age when the banks are getting something of a battering from the small business community, it may come as some surprise to learn that Geco Industries is largely bank-funded. That said, Bowen still had to deal with numerous knock-backs in the early stages. “We had a lot of nos, but we didn’t take those nos and just go somewhere else,” explains Bowen. “We reshaped how we were doing things and eventually those nos became yeses. Plenty of people are quite scared by these big banks that are lending the money

“Going round seeing different cultures makes you start to appreciate that business is a lot bigger than you realise”

Company CV Name: Geco Industries Founded by: Lewis Bowen Founded in: 2011 Team: 9

but some of their doors are actually quite open and they want to lend.” Whatever turned the bank’s head, one could speculate that the relentless ambition of Bowen had some part to play, as well as the unquestionably admirable aims of his venture. The entrepreneur was offering an innovative and environmentally-friendly product in a high-growth market – outdoor cooking – which also had the potential to save countless lives in some of the world’s hardest-hit areas. Given the target market for Fuel4, it had struck Bowen in the early development stages that people would need an effective way to use it. An efficient stove was devised within which the gel could be heated, ultimately paving the way for the X-Series range of cooksets that Geco now sells alongside Fuel4. However, it was a conversation Bowen had in November 2011 with John Graham, founder and chief executive of outdoor retail chain Go Outdoors, that proved the catalyst Geco needed. “John was at a networking event and I said, ‘Look, can I borrow some of your time?’ and he said, ‘Yes, absolutely, you can come in and see my senior team and tell us about the idea’,” says Bowen. “At that point we just had a stove and some gel fuel so we thought we would package this up and sell it into retail. So after we’d taken on the factory and set everything up, he turned around and said, ‘Can we have a range?’ Considering at this point we hadn’t made a product, let alone a range of products, and had never manufactured properly, we just said ‘Yes, we can do it’, and in two months we had a range on the table of pots, pans and everything.”


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This was some undertaking but Bowen managed it, and did so while keeping the manufacturing process strictly British – yet another commendable string to Geco’s bow. And with all nine of its suppliers located within 30 miles of its Sheffield HQ, the venture is also a significant victory for the industrious North. Bowen adds: “One of the toss-ups for one part of our product was that it had to be done abroad, but we pay a UK supplier to do it. So we are trying to keep the money in the country, thus creating jobs, and this really comes back to the sustainability side of things.” There are nevertheless two distinct facets of the Geco business model. On the one hand, it is tapping successfully into the burgeoning European camping and festival markets, and offering a viable alternative to the competition. “We are changing the way the market operates,” claims Bowen. “So, whereas before people have been using really toxic and unsafe fuels, they are now starting to look at different alternatives. We have placed the product so it is affordable to buy and there is not the high price on it that you usually get with environmentally friendly products.” On the other hand, Geco’s focus is firmly fixed on humanitarian projects, and the imminent opening of a factory in Lesotho is a pretty clear sign of intent in this regard. It will provide a local manufacturing outlet for the African market, and a key point of contact for disasters occurring in the region. Moreover, it will be run on the basis of a franchise agreement, subsidised from the UK, representing the first such opening of what Bowen hopes will be a global Geco Industries franchise network. “Part of our plan is to have franchises across the world that can react to disaster situations and military or humanitarian requirements,” he explains. “It doesn’t make sense for us to make something here only for an event to occur on the other side of the world where we can’t really supply for them. It would take around two or three weeks on a boat, by which time it will be far too late.”


“Our plan is to have franchises around the world that can react to disaster situations or to military or humanitarian requirements” Such is the speed at which Bowen has managed to grow his venture, one can only wonder what else is on the agenda aside from international expansion. Well, the product range is set to be extended over the course of the next few years, with one item to be “aimed at the military”, according to Bowen. However, the ultimate goal centres on the product that is the business’s bread and butter. “We are looking to create our own fuel,” says Bowen. “We are creating our own gels at the moment but we buy in the ethanol so we want to actually create our own ethanol in innovative ways. But you are looking at two or three years down the line yet.” Given his progress thus far – and a projected turnover of £15m in five years – don’t be surprised if this becomes a reality sooner than expected.

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There’s a growing confidence in the UK’s second largest city as entrepreneurs take advantage of favourable conditions to use it as a launch pad for new ventures. Jon Card reveals why Birmingham is looking better than ever for business

Birmingham is on the move “Innovative, start-ups with great potential are getting backing and support”


o other city in the UK has seen as much change as Birmingham since the start of the 1990s. And crucially, the changes have been popular with businesses and investors alike. Just over 20 years ago it was make or break for Birmingham. The city that was once the industrial beating heart of Britain was in serious decline. Its manufacturing base had reduced, its infrastructure was worsening and the city centre was an

eyesore. Sir Albert Bore, now the city’s council leader, recalls its problems all too well. “If you had someone over for a meeting, there was nowhere to take them. You’d suggest you went to Stratford instead. There was nowhere in the city centre to go.” Bore brought an international team to Birmingham and with the Highbury Commission created a plan to revitalise the city. More than two decades later, its strategies are still being implemented. The city centre has been expanded; the vast flyovers or ‘concrete collars’ have been demolished along with many ugly and tired brutalist buildings. Major new developments, such as the Bullring shopping centre, have been built and more are on the way. Also, regeneration projects have focused on finding new uses for the city’s historic industrial architecture. July 2013

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Bullring Shopping Centre, Birmingham

Retail and restaurant establishments have boomed in the city; with the emergence of three Michelin-starred restaurants, Bore and others no longer have to travel to east London to find somewhere to dine. Fuelling these higher-end premises are the professional service workers and corporate executives working in the city. Professional services firms including PwC, KPMG, Wragge & Co and Grant Thornton have large lettings in the city centre. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank is reportedly planning to open a trading floor at its office. Business and professional services is now one of the city’s key sectors. But it’s not just large professional services firms that are flocking to Brum: entrepreneurs have also started coming to the city to start up, Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham taking advantage of low rents, proximity to

“We want to make Birmingham the most enterprising city in Europe”

several universities and a skilled workforce. Research from Marketing Birmingham shows that over 10,000 business were incorporated in the past year. Also, the West Midlands is holding on to a significant chunk of graduates with 56% finding employment in the region. But, most importantly, start-ups with great potential are getting backing and support. Simon Jenner is the chief executive officer of Oxygen Enterprise Partners, which supports technology businesses in Birmingham. The company runs one of the handful of business accelerator programmes in the country, which helps start-ups get investment ready. The Oxygen Accelerator programme takes applications from businesses in 35 countries that want to come to gain advice, investment and set up offices in the city. Jenner also regularly attends business meet-ups in Birmingham and says it’s apparent that the city’s tech scene is on the move. “Entrepreneurs, investors and skilled employees are finding it easier to take plans forward. We are reaching the tipping point for new businesses and we are seeing the groundwork that we’ve put in for new businesses take effect. We are going to see a real kick in the eco-system,” he explains. Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham, a body focused on bringing investment and visitors to the city is also very positive about the future. “We want to make Birmingham the most enterprising city in Europe,” he says. It seems a somewhat audacious ambition, but less so to foreign


Birmingham City Centre and the historic architecture July 2013

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Disruptive Brummies

Birmingham is home to a number of exciting tech companies aiming to shake up their respective sectors. Here are a few to keep your eye on…


Droplet makes payments free for retailers by enabling consumers to pay directly via their mobiles. Founders Will Grant and Stefan Aquarone say banking has yet to be really affected by the web. With Series A funding and FSA approval pending, Droplet aims to do just that.


The city is doing considerable business with China, selling everything from Jaguars to computer games

ears than to British ones, claims Rami. He points to statistics showing foreign direct investment in Birmingham has risen by 52% in the past year. The city is also doing considerable business with China, selling everything from Jaguars to computer games. Its diverse and multilingual population is well-placed to forge links with the emerging economies of the East and other destinations. “When I speak to people from overseas they have a much better perception of Birmingham than people living in the south east of England tend to,” he says. Entrepreneurs looking to move into Birmingham and the West Midlands would be advised to consider its strengths and to assess whether their businesses might fit into or interact with its key sectors. The city council and partners have created a plan to focus their energies on key sectors and create economic zones or hubs for them. Professional services, digital media, advanced manufacturing, life sciences, food and drink and IT, electronics and communications (ITEC) have been cited as the city’s key sectors. These are all areas where the city already has a significant foothold but the plan gives the city more focus and enables the creation of clusters, which benefit from sharing ideas, suppliers and personnel. “It’s about getting the right kind of investment,” says Rami. It certainly seems the next five years look promising for a city that, despite difficulties in the wider economy, is still pursuing big ambitions. The city’s main railway terminus New Street Station is now undergoing a total overhaul and Grand Central will open with a brand new John Lewis store, adding to Birmingham’s Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Meanwhile, Birmingham Airport, which previously couldn’t cater for larger aircraft, will complete its runway extension at the end of the year enabling flights to the Far East and the West Coast of the US. Its bullish chief executive Paul Kehoe is arguing the case for further regional airport expansion and recently published plans for an additional runway. This would give Birmingham the capacity to transport 70 million passengers, putting it on a par with Heathrow. Finally, there is the contentious yet increasingly likely prospect of rail link HS2. For Birmingham, this is far more than merely a fast line to London. Business leaders believe it has the potential to turn the city into a ‘transport hub’, boosting growth and jobs in the process. All in all, there’s much for businesses and investors to be taking into account when assessing the merits of investing or locating in the UK’s second largest city. And for naysayers, it may just warrant a second look.


Nick Holzherr’s idea was turned down on The Apprentice by Lord Sugar, but he has pushed on with development of this food/shopping app nonetheless. Whisk officially launched in January with financial backing, and has partnerships with Tesco, Waitrose and Ocado.


A graduate of the Oxygen Accelerator programme, this hobby-based social network has regularly impressed investors and pulled in £250,000 of funding in June 2012. User numbers are rapidly rising and with the launch of Hobzy Marketplace, co-founder Dan Rice and team are aiming to become a global hit.


It’s early days for this young start-up, which plans to become the TripAdvisor of car sales. Founders Lee Malcher, James Waddington and Dan Mullineux graduated from the Oxygen Accelerator last year and have amassed a major following since then.

Soshi Games

Soshi’s Music Festivals Game allows users to create their very own Glastonbury or Reading. Initially a Facebook game, the company now has the investment and partnerships to roll out globally on tablet computers. Founder Cliff Dennett aims to merge the virtual world with the music industry, creating many potential crossselling opportunities and partnerships. July 2013

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Acquire and aspire The M&A market in the UK is still experiencing significant slowdown. But, done right, it can be a vital way of generating some serious growth

I 34

t hasn’t been a great year for mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in the UK. News just last month that the number of UK firms making acquisitions – both domestic and international – had hit a record low hardly shows our M&A sector as being in the rudest health. Small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also took something of a knock this year when it was announced in April that M&As among the nation’s smaller firms had fallen by 18%. It’s understandable that confidence may still be somewhat shaken in the UK but, given the economy is gradually pulling out of recession, the low M&A activity within our borders is certainly unusual. Trying to point to a single concrete cause of the M&A slowdown isn’t all that straightforward but there are some definite factors influencing SMEs’ abilities to acquire assets in the current environment. First of all, as has already been mentioned, confidence is king in these areas. “That’s still thin on the ground,” comments Paul Maberly, general practice partner for chartered accountants Mercer & Hole. “I think, for people to go out and buy new assets, they have to believe their order book will grow; they need to think confidence has returned and it’s not quite there.”

“I think, for people to go out and buy new assets, they have to believe their order book will grow” Paul Maberly, general practice partner at chartered accountants Mercer & Hole July 2013

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“Unless people are generating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of more than 20% turnover, they can’t fund it through debt” Tim Walker, director at specialist IT service provider Taylor Made Computer Solutions

Another issue is the lack of capacity for debt-based lending by the banks. “There’s no bank debt for businesses to do acquisitions,” says Garret Turley, partner for Sustainable Growth Funds at venture capital (VC) firm Bridges Ventures. Regardless of the current economic picture, the large banks still have significant commercial property debts and are being forced to maintain higher capital buffers. He continues: “At the same time they’re being encouraged by the government to lend more money and these two things can’t go together: they simply don’t work.” This means that it’s very difficult for SMEs to secure funding on a debt basis unless they have particularly strong cashflows. “Unless people are generating earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation

(EBITDA) of more than 20% turnover, they can’t fund it through debt,” explains Tim Walker, director at specialist IT service provider Taylor Made Computer Solutions. With plenty of M&A experience of his own as a serial entrepreneur, Walker also thinks people may be misguided with regards to which benchmarks they use for healthy M&A figures. The period from the early 2000s up until 2007 was a particularly deal-hungry period and encouraged a lot of deals where the rewards didn’t match the prices people paid. “People’s valuation expectations are just not matched with what is fundable,” he says. “Unless you’ve got very strong recurring revenues – and by really strong I mean 80% plus recurring revenues – the valuations are very solidly in the four to six times EBITDA range. A lot of people think their businesses are worth ten times EBITDA, when they simply aren’t.” However, that’s not to say finding funding for acquisitions is unachievable. “It’s possible if you’ve got access to asset-backed finance and there is VC or venture capital trust (VCT) equity available for the right deals,” explains Maberly. “That’s been driven recently by the tax breaks that were announced last year; they’ve really come into play this year, now that VCs and enterprise investment scheme (EIS) funds have actually got substantially more cash than they had 12 months ago.” Also, as the underlying economic conditions start to ease, the freeze on UK acquisitions will almost certainly begin to thaw, a sign of which we are already beginning to see. News released at the close of June 2013 demonstrated that acquirers in Europe made some significant gains on the M&A market and it seems inevitable that this increased confidence and reward is replicated within our shores. “We’re probably at the start of the cycle and have returned to the start of an upward trend, albeit a slow one,” says Turley. “And, as that gathers pace and confidence returns, banks will lend more money, margins will improve and there will be more reasons to grow.” Just because an enterprise can afford to carry out an acquisition, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean it should rush out and do so. Turley feels that sometimes a deal can be driven by ego, boredom with the status quo or even trying to cover for a struggling balance sheet. He explains: “I have seen this in a couple of cases where the business looks at itself and goes, ‘Things aren’t looking so good; how do we make it look better? How do we obfuscate the message?’” July 2013

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Despite this, there are clear benefits in acquisition over organic growth. “You’ve got the synergy of savings, hopefully,” comments Maberly. “You’ve got potential bulk buying, increased market clout, increased credibility in the sector. You can diversify. You can grow at a faster pace.” But the real value comes when there is a mutual benefit for all the assets involved in the deal. “If it’s just a one-way street, it could be argued that an organic growth strategy is more appropriate,” says Turley. He recalls an acquisition he was involved in last year where the acquirer wanted access to new geographic regions, bringing in professionalised management, as well as better structures and sales practices. But, in return, it was able to reintegrate all of the knowledge and expertise its purchase had gathered and strengthen its own position in the process. He comments: “You’re definitely looking for integration rather than subsumption.” And this integration doesn’t come at 38

the close of a deal; it needs to be worked into your strategy from the off. “You’ve got to have a very clear plan from the outset about whether your cultures are going to match and, if not, what you’re going to do about it,” says Walker. One of the most vital areas of integration that needs to be meticulously planned is how you are going to make use of and retain key knowledge holders within the business. “You almost need to engage with and work with those key people, if you can, during the process prior to the business being acquired.” Sometimes it can be easy for senior management to spend so much time looking at the bigger picture that they miss some of the detail. “They are very much on the high level,” explains Turley. “They will say, ‘This is our strategic vision, this is what we’re going to achieve and this is how we’re going to do it; let’s do this acquisition’.” But this means a lot of the actual work delivering that will fall to middle management and time needs to be taken to work through the details with these key members of staff. Turley continues: “You need to have that planned, nailed down to a really granular level of detail running across all aspects of processing, IT, HR, marketing, sales, whatever it is, and that is such an important bit. Without that, you’re doomed, which is why so many acquisitions fail.” Maberly also strongly concurs with the idea that your focus needs to be as much on what happens after a purchase as anything that comes before it. “As a firm, we’ve done eight acquisitions over the last 15 years or so, and the key is actually the post-acquisition process,” he says. “Most of the celebrations happen on the day of the deal but that’s a bit premature. Really, they need to focus on what happens after the deal’s done.” So if M&As in the UK are going to pick up and really start adding value to our enterprises again, it’s essential that SMEs know where they’re heading in the months and years after a deal is struck.

“You’ve got to have a very clear plan about whether your cultures are going to match and, if not, what you’re going to do about it” Tim Walker, director at specialist IT service provider Taylor Made Computer Solutions July 2013

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Five-minute money masterclass

How to tell if your business is struggling When orders are drying up and new customers are proving hard to come by, a business might be tempted to rely on its old friend faith to see it through the tunnel and out the other side. However, such wishful thinking is a dangerous game, as the lean spell could well be the beginning of the end for your enterprise. Therefore, identifying any signs that your business is struggling at the earliest possible stage – and acting quickly – could be the key to keeping your venture afloat. Needless to say, the first step is pinpointing exactly what these tell-tale signs are.



Cash shortfall It seems that any discussion about business survival would be redundant if the word ‘cashflow’ didn’t feature quite prominently. Indeed, regular readers will know that we covered the specific issue of effective cashflow management in depth last month, and for good reason. “At the risk of sounding trite, sales volume is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is the reality in every business,” says Bob Gorton, managing director of alcoholic spirits company Old St Andrews. “Usually, the first indication a business is getting into trouble is when the cash starts to run out, and the difficulty is that the things causing it were probably going on several months ago. This is what I call the ‘cash death-spiral’. You may not have quite enough cash to pay your suppliers one month, which means your suppliers won’t give you goods. This means you can’t get orders out of the door, which means you can’t get more cash in – and that is very dangerous.”

Management behaviour Often, the clues that an enterprise may be going through a sticky patch will be self-evident from the actions or, more pertinently, inaction of senior staff. “Your monthly management team meetings are there for a reason – you are there to discuss what the key issues are, have a debate and then come to a conclusion,” explains Mike Lander, co-founder and executive director of profit and cashflow solutions provider ProfitFlo. “When a problem gets big enough and scary enough, what people often do is talk “Usually, the about everything else but that problem and focus on opportunities, sales and first indication growth.” Nick Montague, founder a business is and CEO of online business funding service, adds: “Are getting into trouble your fellow directors disappearing is when the cash for too many corporate golf days? Are your colleagues losing focus? At the starts to run out” executive level, the communication and Bob Gorton motivation issues are just as prevalent.” July 2013

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Sales difficulties An ability to sell your product or service is bread and butter for any business. Indeed, before a venture can even start to think about making a profit, it needs to have a fairly sizeable and loyal customer base emptying their wallets into the company’s coffers on a regular basis. If people are no longer convinced by your product, part of it may be that your sales team is not meeting the minimum requirements. “Broadly speaking, if your conversion rate on new business proposals is falling, then there’s something not right,” says Montague. “It could be your proposition – maybe it’s out of date, or your competitors have introduced more attractive products. It could be your sales process overall, low levels of new prospects in your sales funnel, or a lack of direction and leadership in the sales team. But one thing is for sure: if you are not winning enough new business, you need to find out why and address it – quickly.”

Duncan Cheatle,

CEO of entrepreneur networking organisation Prelude Group

Customers going AWOL While struggling to attract new business is a sign in itself that something may be not all be roses, the sight of regular clientele deserting you for one of your competitors should aid in transforming your state of denial into stark realisation. “Every business has a number of anchor clients that you started with, or that you have gotten very close to and they are a reasonable size,” explains Lander. “If you start losing a few anchor clients and they are quite reluctant to tell you why, that is a really bad sign.” Meanwhile, founder and CEO of the entrepreneur networking organisation Prelude Group Duncan Cheatle speculates as to the reason this drop-off might occur. “Many businesses probably won’t seek out customer feedback but good businesses will have a mechanism for sounding out existing customers, as well as keeping a very good eye on the new ones,” he says.

Louise Beaumont,

co-founder and chief sales and marketing officer for invoice trading specialist Platform Black

Bob Gorton,

managing director of alcoholic spirits company Old St Andrews

Changes in your payment terms Should a loyal customer sense you are starting to hit the rails, they may become a bit more liberal with their commitments, safe in the knowledge that you may be willing to compromise if it means getting money in the bank. “Companies treat their clients with reverence; they treat their customers as their most important asset,” comments Louise Beaumont, co-founder and chief sales and marketing officer for invoice trading specialist Platform Black. “This means that you quite often accept things from your customers that aren’t the best possible solution for your company. They might still be placing orders with you but those orders are being placed with more problematic payment terms. So customers are becoming not only your biggest asset, but your biggest risk.”

Mike Lander, cofounder and executive director of profit and cashflow solutions provider ProfitFlo

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Nick Montague, founder and CEO of online business funding service

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Once you pop


A temporary pop-up space can achieve quick exposure and allow market research before entrepreneurs commit fully to their venture, suggests Clive Lewis, head of enterprise at the ICAEW


op-ups are rightly seen as a win-win: There is no one solution to the reinvigoration they utilise vacant high-street spaces and of the UK’s high streets, which have been under give high-profile exposure to new increasing threat from online and out-of-town businesses. They also provide a chance for those shopping. It has resulted in increased numbers businesses to test the water and see how their of vacant shops. And the mix of shops is product sells in a live situation as opposed to changing too. New shops that are opening are online. You can remove some of the risk by often charity shops, betting shops and taking out a temporary shop lease as it provides pawnbrokers. A large number of independent the flexibility to determine whether a concept stores have shut, leaving shops as a mix of the will work as a viable business. national chains and downmarket outlets. Don’t think that pop-up shops are Across the UK, shop vacancy rates just for retailers though. We all see Don’t just are around 15%, according to the Local some shops come and go but the type Company’s monthly barometer. think that Data of businesses utilising pop-up spaces However, vacancy rates in many town also includes PR and marketing centres in the north and Midlands pop-up firms, artists or community groups are now approaching 30%. shops and even restaurants. The government asked Mary Portas Following the government’s to undertake a review of the high are for removal of the restrictions on setting street and has accepted many of the up in vacant premises, landlords will retailers recommendations. The ideal is for be able to temporarily change a high streets to offer a good mix of shop’s use for up to two years before having different types of businesses but for that to to apply for permission. Previously landlords happen, town centres have to be affordable had to apply straight away for change of and attractive places to trade. The Department use, causing delays to the shop being made for Communities and Local Government has available and significant costs. a project to “re-imagine urban spaces to help Advances in technology mean setting up and revitalise our high streets”. This seeks to allow operating a pop-up is now much simpler and does the public places around the high street – the not require a high level of capital. Pop-up shops open spaces, streets, squares, green spaces are set to thrive as a new strategy for retailers and the network of pavements and pedestrian looking to innovate in uncertain times. Of course, thoroughfares – to turn local high streets it’s that same technological advancement that into a destination of choice. has contributed to a decline on the high street. And the private sector is contributing. StartUp

Britain has an initiative called ‘Popup Britain’, which has a temporary shop in Richmond that will be occupied by promising small enterprises for two weeks on a rolling basis. All of these start-up retailers already run online businesses, but none of them have the financial clout to take on a shop single-handed. That’s why StartUp Britain has stepped in to offer a co-working, co-funded space for brands to explore new ways of working – and a whole new audience. From Richmond, it hopes to take the concept to other high streets across Britain, throwing open empty shops throughout land for the benefit of local start-up retailers. If you are starting a business or want to try a retail outlet in a new location, pop-up shops can provide the means of doing this at a lower cost and with less commitment than signing a lease from day one. The novelty value of pop-up shops can help sales. But you still need to do the basic business preparation. This includes the following: • Research the footfall of the proposed location. Decide whether the area has potential to attract new customers • Check what other businesses operate in the area and whether they are potential competition. If there is competition, ask how you can differentiate your business. • Check the proximity of the premises to customer parking and how customers can collect items purchased • Think about deliveries of goods into the premises • Negotiate with the landlord about the terms and conditions of the tenancy – the term, the rent, etc. • Consider how much you need to spend on refurbishing the shop to appeal to customers • Get quotations for expenses such as insurance, rates, etc. • Prepare an advertising campaign – local media opportunities, leaflet drops, local newspaper inserts, etc. Consider developing a website and use of social media to drive traffic to the website and the shop • If you need to raise finance, prepare a business plan to demonstrate to finance providers that you are maximising the potential of the business Getting ready to start a business always takes longer than the owner thinks. So, in your planning, start from the scheduled opening date (such as September in time for the Christmas effect) and allow sufficient time for the above activities with a contingency for the unexpected. For free advice about setting up a pop-up shop, visit July 2013

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27/06/2013 18:55


The gold standard Standards aren’t only a good way of ensuring you’re using best practice, they also offer an excellent framework for innovation 45



ou can’t go far these days without hearing someone bemoaning the ‘decline in standards’. But, in business, standards are far from the preserve of fusty Edwardian types attempting to impose their will on other people or fill a few column inches. In fact, as a tool, they’re perhaps one of the best friends an SME can have. Not only can they offer the best method for carrying out tasks and producing materials and products but they also act as an enabler for innovation, offering a springboard to new ways of doing things. The first thing to note is what a standard isn’t. “An SME very commonly will think that standards are something to do with regulation, something that it has to do,” explains Dr Scott Steedman, director of standards at formal standards body the British Standards Institution (BSI). He uses an analogy of a speed limit sign; a speed limit is a legally binding requirement that tells you the maximum legal speed you can travel on a stretch of road. But there is plenty of skill in driving a car that isn’t bound up by a piece of legislation. He continues: “SMEs should move away from the prejudice that a standard is something to do with a regulation and realise that it’s actually a peer-reviewed best practice opportunity, which they can just pick up and use.” Put simply, a standard is an industry-agreed ‘best method’ of carrying out a specific task or manufacturing a given product. If a service or product is produced to a specific standard, it means that a consumer A standard is an is able to rely on what is being offered because they know the originator has been following industry-agreed certain pre-defined practices. And there are examples in almost every sector. ‘best method’ of Simon Bartley, president of World carrying out a Skills International – a not-for-profit specific task or membership association open to those promoting vocational education – began manufacturing his career as a civil engineer and later ran a given product his family’s building services business.

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Because of the cost and danger posed if it went wrong, the quality of cabling installed in buildings was always of a significant concern, so being able to count on a certain standard was invaluable. “I would want to ensure that my buying department was buying cable that was to the relevant British standard,” he recalls. “Likewise, if I wanted to use a subcontractor to do some cabling I would insist that they used cable of the relevant British standard.” When many enterprises are going to be relying on a common resource or service, it becomes essential to know that an element that is outsourced to another firm is delivered with the same quality. It can also help to communicate expected practices to new market entrants, preventing them from having to reinvent the wheel. “It paints a picture of the world an SME operates in and gives them some kind of road map with which they can navigate,” says David Williams, director of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine at Loughborough University. “They ought to not have to discover that road map by themselves.”

“I think it’s critical that an SME can be sure that what they are proposing, and the work they are undertaking, is done to a standard understood and recognised by their clients”

a compatible solution to their interrelated products. “How do we understand the shape of the value system and the interfaces and how do we get interoperability across interfaces?” he asks. “You do that by having a level of standardisation.” Particularly in the current environment, where compatibility is the order of the day and many services and products are required to work with multiple environments and software, being certain of the standards used in producing and testing the resources on which you rely is absolutely vital. “Imagine you’re a technological innovator,” says Steedman. “You need to quickly establish testing methods or verification methods – you’re going to need to have standard ways of doing that so that when you sell your product it can be tested.”

Simon Bartley, president of World Skills International

While standards are an important part of business for any enterprise, when it comes to SMEs they’re indispensable. Bartley is no stranger to the requirements of smaller companies, having spent a number of years on the CBI’s SMEs council as well as spending two as its chairperson. He comments: “I think it’s critical that an SME can be sure that what they are proposing, and the work they are undertaking, is done to a standard understood and recognised by their clients.” To really make sense of standards and the value they hold, it’s important to understand how they come into being. We’re so used to discourse that suggests standards are a case of monolithic institutions like the European Union foisting straightened bananas upon us, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth – even the BSI plays only a minute part in drafting standards. “We don’t write standards; the industry writes its own standards,” says Steedman. “As the industry committees – and we have 1,200 committees – write the standards that they want, our job is to facilitate that process and make sure that fair’s fair, that everything happens in an open way and that the right people are in the room.” Perhaps the most powerful element of standards, however, is how they help enterprises to more rapidly innovate and develop newer solutions. “The internet is an instance of a commercial-driven standard,” comments Williams. Huge technological steps forward have required, at their heart, a standard that allows many developers to build July 2013

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“It’s like having a passport, frankly; you see it as an enabler” Dr Scott Steedman, director of standards at formal standards body the British Standards Institution (BSI)

But innovation isn’t only a driver in consumer-facing tech. In the field of cell therapy, Williams maintains that standardisation is the scaffolding that helps to support every step forward. “One of the questions is, if you’ve got a cell, how do you measure its performance?” he says. “Do you measure it against the standard? Or do you have a standard material that you can use to validate your process?” Obviously without industry-wide standards, the efficacy of new solutions cannot be effectively gauged and benchmarked, making it nigh on impossible to rely on a therapy that is new to market. So far, so good. But when a lot of SMEs have an eye on exports or are relying on a supply chain that might stretch halfway round the globe, how do you know that the standards on which you rely in the UK are the same standards being adhered to in China? Obviously, in an increasingly globalised trade market, none of us are operating in a vacuum and it’s important to understand how standards interact with one another on an international level. And this is where the BSI’s real work comes in. Every country in the world has a national standards body and the BSI works with them to help ensure best practice is translated and replicated – within the EU they work to harmonise standards. “We withdraw conflicting national standards, so that wherever you are in Europe if you are compliant with a European standard, you can trade anywhere in Europe,” explains Steedman. There are also global standards that help enterprises replicate good practice no matter where they trade – the main standards are handled by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, for electrotechnical products, by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). When these standards are being formulated, representatives will be in attendance and discuss these with industry stakeholders in the UK to ensure the standards represent the best interests and practices of that industry. Afterwards, this is fed back on both a European and international level.


And for this reason, it’s vital for industry stakeholders to be leading the conversation in terms of standards. “There’s a constant surge or tide of interest around this because it’s so closely linked to international trade, barriers to trade, opportunities for trade, enablers for trade,” says Steedman. The more the UK’s SMEs get involved in the international discussion, the more they can ensure that their interests are best represented and there are as few blocks to international trade as possible. “It’s like having a passport, frankly; you see it as an enabler.” Fortunately, the UK has an excellent reputation on the global stage when it comes to standards. And this is an opportunity that SMEs can’t overlook. Given the potential benefits of standards, they are one of the best tools at our disposal to innovate and boost international trade. So next time you hear someone decrying our slipping standards, let them know that there’s never been a brighter time for British standards. July 2013

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Sir Chris Hoy

Nigel Botterill

Guest of Honour One of the UK’s most famous men

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27/06/2013 25/06/2013 18:55 15:29


E-commerce design giant Fab has proven how a foray into Europe can bring a multitude of riches

Grand Designs E

Maria Molland,

chief European officer at Fab

urope is usually the first port of call for a burgeoning business geared towards international expansion. Before even beginning to consider the challenge of cracking the astronomical American market, it pays to test the water – so to speak – by making waves on this side of the pond. However, there is a certain design company that doesn’t live by these rules. Based in New York, you would have thought that Fab already had enough on its plate seeking Stateside success from the offset. However, such was the ambition of its founders, Fab’s first European foray came after only six months and a year and a half later, it definitely isn’t looking back. Indeed, you would probably have to be a caveman not to comprehend that our planet has been shrinking over the course of the last two decades. Technology has brought people and enterprise closer together than ever before. Consumers from all corners of the globe have access to products and services that previously they wouldn’t, and they can access them whenever, wherever and however they

desire. Moreover, the consumer has the ability to make some significant noise – positive or negative – about their purchase, sharing their buying experience with millions through the magic of social media. E-commerce is undoubtedly here to stay. It’s safe to say that Fab has tapped into this trend rather successfully. Launched by lifelong friends Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer in June 2011, it has rapidly become the world’s leading e-commerce design destination, showcasing and selling bespoke products from a host of independent designers at accessible prices. Through a strong reliance on mobile and ‘social’ commerce, Fab has managed to amass a fervent fan base at quite an astonishing rate in the space of just two years. Putting things in perspective, Fab had accrued 1.5 million members by the end of 2011, and that figure had risen to six million seven months later. It took Facebook close to a year to accrue a mere one million members, whereas Twitter and Pinterest had to wait two years to hit that marker. Fab accomplished this in five months, and now has an impressive 13 million members spanning 28 countries. In order to understand this meteoric growth, two other statistics prove quite helpful. The first is that 50% of Fab members emerge from ‘social sharing’; it is said that on average, there is a tweet about Fab every 30 seconds. Secondly, 35% of sales on a typical working day come via a mobile device, and this can reach as high as 50% at weekends and on public holidays. It is thus little surprise that Fab claims to be leading the charge on mobile and social commerce, considering an average e-commerce firm will see 5-10% of sales arrive via mobile. Where then does Fab go from here? Well, there can be little doubt that it has its attention firmly fixed on Europe, where both design and e-commerce appear to enjoy equivalent levels of popularity, more so in fact than in Fab’s American homeland. While the USA was a natural starting-point for the design giant, Fab was eyeing global


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dominance from the offset and Europe was its primary target. The appointment of Maria Molland as chief European officer last September was certainly a signal of intent. It also acted as a wakeup call to those aspiring entrepreneurs who tend to pin all of their expansion dreams on an American adventure. Molland explains that Germany was of particular interest to Fab in the early days, and that this was in part driven by the emergence of Bamarang, a company with a strikingly similar appearance and business model to Fab. Bamarang was founded by the Samwer brothers, who have a history of ‘cloning’ successful websites and mobile apps that have originated in the USA. “They had done the same thing with Fab,” explains Molland. “They had created a company that looked almost exactly like us in terms of the font and the colours of the site.” Nevertheless, far from being a threat to Fab, Bamarang opened Fab’s eyes to the overwhelming opportunity that Germany, and Europe as a whole, presented. “Ikea is about a £30bn business and 15% of their sales are actually in Germany, which is a pretty amazing stat,” says Molland. “Germany is obviously a big design hub and consumers were increasingly opting to go online. So we met with a few companies and we found one we really liked called Casacanda – the people who had founded it were very much in line with the Fab culture. Several months later we also bought a company in London called Llustre, which had just launched, and we consolidated those two.” Forty per cent of Fab’s global revenue now comes from Europe compared to 10% last

September, and following the acquisition of Llustre, the German revenue share has dropped from 90% to 50% with the UK, at 30%, proving a very lucrative part of the business, and one which continues to grow. Nevertheless, Fab’s most recent acquisition – German custom furniture store Massivkonzept – is another significant move, showing Fab’s continued recognition of Germany’s value as a hub for innovative and sought-after design produce. In addition, with this acquisition came Fab’s first foray into the offline retail space. It has taken on Massivkonzept’s Hamburg store, which is acting as a showroom for the online furniture range. “We have re-disrupted and reinvented the mobile side of things and the web side of things, and we now believe we can reinvent the retail side of things,” claims Molland. It seems that discounting Europe could therefore be a costly oversight for any start-up hoping to make waves in the e-commerce domain. Perhaps it is the ‘language issue’ that sees many an entrepreneur gravitating Stateside for a sniff of success, but Molland believes this needn’t be an obstacle, especially if you have a product that can sell anywhere. “Serving Europe is much more challenging but it is a massive market and there is a ton of opportunity here,” she says. “As much as Europe is different to the US and the rest of the world, the way that the world is moving means you don’t necessarily need to have totally different products. That enables you to scale a lot faster and you definitely don’t need to have unique solutions for every country throughout Europe.”

“Fab has rapidly become the world’s leading ecommerce design destination”

Fab facts Fab now has members in



12m 10m 8m 6m


of global revenue now comes from Europe




2m 2011




Fab membership

Sales grew by

of members emerge from social sharing

500% from 2011 - 2012

of sales on a typical working day come via mobile device July 2013

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21/06/2013 16:37 28/06/2013 20:28


Getting engaged Engagement marketing has gained ground over interruptive techniques to become one of the key instruments in the marketeer’s toolkit


t’s hard to deny that marketing has been going through a pretty major transition. As far back as 2007, respected ad guru and co-founder of agency BBH John Hegarty was quoted within the pages of The Guardian saying that we had “moved from the age of interruption to the age of engagement”. Directly engaging the consumer instead of subjecting them to marketing monologues has gradually crept up the agenda, until few agencies worth their salt would put together a campaign without consideration of how they can use it to solicit consumer response. But why has there been such a shift away from interruptive techniques? Formerly, interruption was the bread and butter of advertising firms. Techniques largely involved interrupting consumers as they went about their lives, whether that was whilst they watched TV, read a magazine or even via out-of-home media in the form of billboards. Marketing agencies knew they could rely on the public seeing and absorbing their advertisements; interruptive marketing was a surefire solution for extending brand reach. And, in part, this came from the knowledge that they had an entirely captive audience. “Interruptive marketing was really effective because marketeers and media were in total control of what information was released when,” says Alice Driscoll, managing director of content marketing agency pd3. “When a TV ad was broadcast you knew you had X% of the total population. So you could hit a large number of people guaranteed during every episode of Coronation Street.” But, of course, over the last few decades the picture has shifted rapidly. We have jumped from four channels to hundreds and consumers’ primary information source has become the internet, putting the power of choice back in their hands. “People are more likely to go out and find out what other people think about a brand or look on the net,” comments Jason Suttie, principal and digital engagement specialist at Alice Driscoll, managing director of content marketing agency pd3 digital engagement agency Copper. “Things WORDS: JOSH RUSSELL


“Engagement marketing is the equivalent of a brand inviting you to have a conversation, rather than forcing a speech on you”

such as search have become a lot more useful because people drive their own searches, hunting things down themselves rather than getting all the information thrown at them in one go.” Driscoll agrees that it is this power shift that has really weakened the power of advertising to interrupt our daily experiences. “That’s put all of the power and control in the consumers’ hands because it’s a 24/7 culture,” she says. If a consumer wants to get away from an interruptive message, they only need to change channels or install an ad-blocker on their home computers, meaning the days of brands being able to insist themselves on the consumer is long gone. “We’re now able to choose when we interact with the brand – it’s not up to the brand to decide when they are choosing to interact with us. That has completely changed everything.” This has led to a change in consumer attitude toward advertising that’s overly invasive. “It might once have been that those who shout loudest get more voice, but now that is no longer the case,” explains Suttie. “If anything, when you shout louder, people wonder why you need to shout louder. What is wrong with your product and what is wrong with your approach to your market?” Gradually, the industry has responded to changing consumer expectations by giving them more involvement in the content they’re viewing; instead of pushing a piece of content or marketing on them, it focuses on creating content they will be interested in and allowing them to be more in charge of the relationship they hold with a brand. “Engagement marketing is the equivalent of a brand inviting you to have a conversation, rather than forcing a speech on you,” says Driscoll. “Sometimes, it might show you how a product can be used in a fun way, which is quite a direct form of marketing. Or sometimes it can just bring the brand value to life.” One of the main differences between traditional interruptive marketing and engagement marketing is the latter has much more staying power because it can connect to emotional experiences. By way of example, Driscoll says if you asked the average person on the street how they felt about advertising, they would almost certainly think of being bombarded with promotional slogans. July 2013

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“If you say to someone ‘what did you think about Felix Baumgartner jumping out of space?’, people don’t think of that as an ad, even though it is,” she says. “It’s not that they don’t get that there’s a brand involved; it’s just that they don’t mind.” Additionally, because engagement marketing techniques are consumer-driven, often a consumer will feel they’ve made decisions under their own steam and are more likely to put long-term faith behind that choice. “You’re involving someone to the point where it’s possibly a longer process but when they come to make that decision they’re more

informed,” comments Suttie. “They’ve made that decision and made it upfront for a valid reason; they don’t need to keep reinforcing why they’ve made that decision.” But does this mean the interruptive world of TV marketing or banner ads is coming to an end? Driscoll doesn’t think so. “It’s not true because there’s still a role for interruptive advertising at times,” she says. Suttie also feels that there is space in the marketeer’s portfolio for interruptive techniques, as long as they are using the right tool for the right purpose. “Things like TV advertising, for brand awareness, that works,”

he says. “It starts people’s thinking process, but then what follows on from that is different from what it used to be because people will go out and hunt for information.” However, it’s important to recognise the way we view brands has changed irrevocably. “There’s no going back from where we are, which is a place where consumers are in control,” states Driscoll. “They will choose to do what they are passionate about and what interests them, so as a brand your only starting point is, ‘How can we become associated with the things that they feel positive about?’ And that won’t change.”

July 2013

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28/06/2013 21/05/2013 20:28 08:55


Opportunities “I for all



A commitment to diversity is far more than just a legal obligation in the global age

could be wrong, but I believe diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.” While Will Ferrell’s fictional portrayal of eccentric news reporter Ron Burgundy in cult American comedy Anchorman is more entertaining than educational, this one line resonates quite strongly when it comes to contemporary debates about diversity. Of course, this is by no means to suggest that the modern business owner is oblivious to the importance of having a diverse workforce. However, Burgundy’s ignorant assumption does at least help frame a discussion about why an in-built ‘diversity culture’ is nigh-on essential for any forwardthinking company in this day and age. “Diversity is about the potential that organisations can tap into to add value to the way they do things,” says Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at HR and development professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Unless organisations are prepared to look at the ways in which they can access different views and ideas by having a more diverse workforce, they are going to miss the ways that they can connect better with diverse customer bases.”

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Indeed, with traditional international borders having been broken down to an unprecedented degree over the course of the last decade, it is little surprise that companies now comprise of people from a whole host of nations, religious groups and socio-economic backgrounds. Nevertheless, it seems there is still work to do, not least when it comes to convincing a firm’s top brass that a recruitment policy that is ‘inclusive of all’ is not merely a legal requirement that needs to be fulfilled. “It is important to continue to keep alert to this changing issue of diversity and not get sucked into that attitude of ‘gosh, I must make sure that I don’t break the law’,” comments Worman. “Obviously, you will be in a mess if you break the law, but the law is there because it makes a great deal of sense to have some provisions so that people have better access to jobs and training opportunities, as businesses may be pretty sloppy at accessing it themselves.” That said, there have been considerable signs of improvement, with many enterprises recognising the competitive advantage a diversity of talent can present. “There are certain industries where clearly organisations are doing a lot to market themselves to diverse talent pools,” says Kathryn Nawrockyi, acting director for Opportunity Now, the gender campaign at business charity Business In The Community. “There are lots of organisations out there, whether they are networks, movements, charities or consultancies really trying to move this agenda forward and I think that wave of consciousness has really helped things. That is really heartening and it is good to see the greater leadership on the issue more generally, and a real understanding of the business case for diversity.” There can be absolutely no doubt of course that employing from a multitude of backgrounds has its perks, given the globalised market within which business is generally conducted in the 21st century. “People from different backgrounds, different experiences and different cultures look at issues and challenges in a very different way,” says André Flemmings, manager of banking and finance programmes for specialist diversity recruitment firm Rare Recruitment. “The companies that have a whole range of ideas are much stronger because there is a richer pool to draw from in terms of what you do and what solutions you bring to clients.

André Flemmings, manager of banking and finance programmes for specialist diversity recruitment firm Rare Recruitment

Kathryn Nawrockyi, acting director for Opportunity Now, the gender campaign at business charity Business In The Community

Dianah Worman,

diversity adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

“People from different backgrounds, different experiences and different cultures look at issues and challenges in a very different way” André Flemmings

These ideas will obviously feed into the business goals of the company, and it might impair your growth eventually if you don’t have them.” Flemmings also raises another interesting point that is as relevant as ever to an internationally minded SME. “From a superficial point of view, people tend to like to buy things from people who look a bit like them,” he says. “It is a really small thing but there is that element of ‘I can relate to that person on some other level’, and having that really makes the world of difference, particularly if you are going abroad for the first time and you are an unknown quantity. There needs to be something almost tangible that somebody can relate to.” So far as there is an opportunity for an SME to tap into the diverse array of talent on offer, the difficulty lies in how precisely to go about this. Suffice to say, many start-ups bemoan the lack of resources at their disposal when it comes to marketing job opportunities through as many channels as possible. “For an SME, it is slightly more challenging because you don’t have that kind of money and you don’t have that kind of reach but I still think there is a lot that businesses of that size and nature can actually do,” suggests Flemmings. July 2013

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A people’s business A commitment to diversity is embedded in the business model of professional services firm KPMG. “Our vision is to transform our business and to dominate the professional services arena,” explains Nina Amin, tax partner and head of Asian Markets for the company. “To do that, we need a diversity of talent, as do our clients, and so what we are doing is working really hard to develop and promote diversity because if we want to recruit, develop and retain the most talented people then we have to create an environment where difference is valued.”


Nina Amin, tax partner and head of Asian Markets for KPMG

“Everyone needs to feel valued and needs to feel included”

KPMG delivers its diversity agenda first by fostering a culture of inclusion, and secondly through its recruitment policies. “We have a value-based charter and everyone at KPMG has to live and breathe these values,” says Amin. “Everyone needs to feel valued, and needs to feel included, and our partner group as well as our people management teams are absolutely committed to creating a culture of inclusion in KPMG.” The firm’s school leavers’ scheme allows young people from all backgrounds to benefit from a university education that they may not have otherwise been able to afford, while giving them the opportunity to work for a globally established company. A strong community focus also has a part to play, according to Amin. “We are a people’s business and we live in a country that is itself becoming increasingly diverse,” she says. “People buy from people, so, by matching the people within KPMG who are the best fit for the business community we want to do business with, we ensure that KPMG and our clients benefit.” And as a worthy footnote, Amin was recently awarded an MBE for her services to the Asian Business Community.

“If you are looking for people from particular demographics, you can do open days, you can have mentoring sessions with a small group, and you can maybe target a couple of universities, and then really develop the talent and abilities of people that you see as having potential.” Moreover, Flemmings naturally explains that organisations such as Rare are there for a reason. “When you are dealing with people and individuals who come from a different culture and you are seeking to get the best people, there is no harm in getting some advice on that,” he says. “Never drop standards or compromise on your values in order to bring these people in but actually work harder, as it were, to find those people and maybe understand them.” A rigorous and transparent application process can also help lay the groundwork for a strong ‘diversity culture’, not least because it has the potential to unearth the calibre of candidate that may have otherwise been missed. “I think that any application process, whether it is a large or small company, should be focused on recognising potential rather than just taking polish,” says Flemmings. “Looking at the achievements of the candidates, you want to look at ‘how have they got to this point?’. Take it a little bit deeper than face value and what is on a CV, because a CV isn’t what a person is.” This extends to the interview stage as well, but there has been solid progress in this area over the last few years. “We are seeing really positive trends among Opportunity Now members or organisations that are mandating unconscious bias training for their interviewer population and seeing vastly improved diversity entering the workforce, which is great,” says Nawrockyi. And Flemmings adds: “Having that unconscious bias training is really important because otherwise people may be inclined to somebody who has done the same things as them or is from the same town as them.” Obviously, the end goal for any business is to employ the person who is best for the job and, depending on the nature of a venture, the definition of this will vary greatly. However, it certainly pays to look beyond cultural stereotypes nowadays. Casper Craven, co-founder and director of customer intelligence consultancy Trovus, can certainly speak from experience, with his 11-strong team currently spanning nine different nationalities. He says, “I think, very simply, to grow a business rapidly, you need the very finest talent you can get, and you need to be very openminded about where that talent comes from, and I think our experience is that talent has come from outside the UK.” This Casper Craven, is no slight on Blighty, of course, but simply a sure-fire sign that co-founder and director times are a-changin’. Suffice to say, our start-ups are better of customer intelligence consultancy Trovus placed than anyone to take advantage of this transition. July 2013

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Taking care in business that is where there’s any sort of contractual agreement.” Obviously, if an organisation has any special leave policies that offer a wage in relevant circumstances – bereavement, for example, comes under the heading of time off for dependents – then it will be required to pay as per the terms of the contract. Obviously, it is against the law for a company to deny an employee time off to take care of an unexpected situation involving a dependent or family member. However, if they feel that an employee is using the legislation to a disproportionate degree, they are entitled to address the situation. “We’d suggest if it’s becoming an issue the employer and employee have an informal chat,” says Palmer. “You can say, ‘this situation is occurring quite a lot – are there other options so we can perhaps better forecast and accommodate your needs?’” As already mentioned, cases involving long-term predictable issues – such as regular doctors appointments or ongoing childcare problems – are not covered by the time off for dependents legislation. This means that if an employee is regularly having to make use of the regulation – for example, if regular bouts of illness in a family member turn out to be caused by something more severe – they might require a change in working habits. All employees are entitled by law to request a flexible working pattern. A major misconception about this piece of legislation, however, is that any request made for flexible working either has to be agreed upon or rejected out of hand. “This sort of legislation is what’s known as the ‘right to request’,” explains Palmer. “The employer doesn’t have the duty to accept that; they have the duty to give it serious consideration.” Instead, it’s intended to be an open process where both parties can find a mutually beneficial solution, and if a parent or carer is having longer term issues it can help an organisation find a more suitable way of supporting them. Assisting employees with dependents doesn’t require much from an employer but it can make the world of difference to someone who needs a little extra help. For this reason, taking care of your obligations can make a huge difference to the people who work for you.

Running a family home or caring for a sick relative while working full-time is hardly a walk in the park. So it’s worth knowing how to support employees while they’re supporting others

T 62

rying to balance being a carer with a full-time job is far from easy. Whether taking care of an elderly family member or raising young children, there are all manner of unseen incidents that can crop up and drag a person away from their desk. Fortunately there are legal provisions that offer a framework to deal with these unforeseen circumstances. “Time off for dependents essentially allows employees to take a reasonable amount of time off for unexpected emergencies,” comments John Palmer, senior guidance managing editor at employment relations and HR experts the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). If an employee finds out their child’s school has closed or that a dependent relative has had an accident, the legislation entitles them to take time to resolve the situation. He explains: “It might be that they need to sort out childcare, get their parents or take annual leave. But it’s about getting the time off to sort that situation out.” It’s worth emphasising that this differs radically from parental leave. “Parental leave usually involves a certain degree of planning and accommodation between an employer and an employee,” says Palmer. In contrast, time off for dependents is spur-of-the-moment leave to help deal with unforeseen circumstances that are entirely out of an employee’s control. Another manner in which time off for dependents differs from parental leave is that it doesn’t require employers to pay wages up to certain thresholds. “Under the statutory right, there is no obligation to pay someone for that time off,” comments Palmer. “The only time there would be payment for


“Time off for dependents allows employees to take a reasonable amount of time off for unexpected emergencies” July 2013

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Reed has been at the helm of psychometric testing company Thomas International since 2007, having been appointed chairman two years earlier. As well as penning this regular column for Elite Business, he is also a founding member of Buckingham Business First and a fellow of the Institute of Directors.

An employee holiday shouldn’t mean reaching for the panic button, especially if an action plan has been prepared in advance


Welcome break T

he summer months are approaching and for many of us this means the much needed respite of a holiday. For a staff member, leaving work for a couple of weeks is an exciting time and something to be savoured. However, for the business owner left to manage the staff shortages, it is a different story. Although covering staff holidays can be a challenge, any sensible business owner will understand how important it is for their employees to take time away from the pressures of their working environment. At Thomas International we understand the importance of employee wellbeing and morale, and how vital it is to maintain a successful business. Therefore, regular breaks – whether a lunch break, extended weekend or a summer holiday – are all integral to maintaining a happy and healthy workforce. That aside, however beneficial a holiday is for the individual, it can provide challenges for the team they leave behind in their absence – affecting efficiency, communication, team dynamic and, ultimately, the profit and success of your business. So, how exactly can you try to limit the disruption caused by staff shortages during the summer months? Managing staff absence begins with defining clearly and concisely job roles, duties and expectations, and deciding whether work will be spread across the team or handled by one individual.

Allocating duties to one, or multiple, team members should be approached as a shortterm recruitment process, but it’s worth remembering that covering a team member on annual leave is very different to replacing them in a more permanent sense, and therefore the skills you’re looking for aren’t necessarily going to be the same. A fortnight is a short period of time in the life of a business, and so, rather than sourcing the best candidate to occupy the role long-term, you must identify the candidate – or candidates – who will complete the work to the highest quality and with minimal disruption to their own workload, while still maintaining their own job satisfaction. In order to allocate the workload to the best suited employee, a manager must have an understanding of two key things: firstly, the specific duties involved with the role and the day-to-day tasks required, and secondly, how to manage the employee July 2013

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covering work in a way that is sensitive to their particular working style. To best understand the elements of the role in question, the manager must address if the position is contained or can be easily divided. The various aspects of the role may be intertwined, making the process of sharing the workload incredibly difficult, in which case, allocating the work to just one individual may be the best approach. Other roles may lend themselves to being easily picked apart,

“Any sensible business owner will understand how important it is for their employees to take time away from the pressures of their working environment”

allowing you to select specific areas for certain people. If this is the case, you will need to decide on the skill sets required for each of the duties, and treat them as ‘mini jobs’ that can be assigned to someone who is experienced and skilled in the same way as the full-time employee. For example, preparing to cover someone in marketing whose work requires them to manage budgets and also liaise with different members of the team to develop marketing campaigns could be shared between one candidate with good numeracy skills and another with the necessary social skills. Once you have decided who is best placed to cover a role, you will need to be sensitive to the replacement employee’s needs, adjusting your management style to support them in a way tailored to their individual working style. You may find that the best match in terms of ability and working behaviour is not the ideal candidate to cope with new

challenges and sudden change. In this instance you must be prepared to adopt an alternative management style more suited to this employee, being sure to communicate with them regularly and create a working environment in which they can thrive. Thomas International has assisted businesses in managing staff shortages using behavioural assessment tools. Our job-profiling tool allows business owners to pinpoint the behaviours needed to perform a specific role successfully. A behavioural assessment, such as the Thomas PPA, identifies an employee’s preferred working style. Employee profiles can then be matched against the job profile, helping employers identify the person best suited to cover additional tasks occurring as a result of holiday absence. Of course, it is not only the employee assigned as cover for the absent team member that must be considered – managing the worker preparing to take leave is also important as deadline commitments and handover preparation can lead to increased workload and pressure. An organised and well-considered strategy of whom the work will be assigned to and what processes need to be established prior to the employee taking leave will put both individuals and management at ease. It will make for a smoother transition as the employee leaves and returns from two weeks abroad feeling refreshed and ready to begin work again.

July 2013

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It’s fair to say the tech world is still reeling from Edward Snowden’s leaks. The National Security Agency’s forced seizure of the phone records of millions of US citizens from telecoms provider Verizon and alleged plans of datamining of some of the world’s biggest and most trusted tech firms has raised a real question mark over our ideas of privacy in the digital age. In the face of such shocking news, it may be hard to feel cheery but it’s worth noting that there’s still plenty going on in the tech world to smile about


Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, Sony has focused on making sure that every function the Xperia Tablet Z performs is carried out to the highest standard. It’s incredibly lightweight, the thinnest tablet on the market at 7mm, packs both a powerful processor and camera, and carries the same waterproofing that has already set the Xperia series apart. Will you be boring your grandchildren to tears extolling its virtues in generations to come? Probably not. Is it the best tablet on the market right now? Almost certainly yes.


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July 2013

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Given emails are the bane of most office workers’ lives, is it time to start looking to newer, more trackable methods of correspondence for your internal communications?




ocial media has completely changed the way we communicate in our personal lives, with the younger generation much more likely to post or tweet than pick up the phone. Having rapidly eclipsed many of its older cousins, you can be sure if there is a consumer conversation worth listening to it’ll be appearing on a social network. And while much attention is paid to engaging with the buzz on the outside “It’s more of an organisation, far fewer businesses seem to consider shifting their focus on a case of to conversations happening within their drawing own four walls. Making the switch over to use social like-minded media for your internal communications seem a big move but there certainly people may isn’t a lack of precedent. Luis Suarez, together” knowledge manager, community builder and social software evangelist Nicola Cull, director, for the multinational tech giant IBM, Towers Watson famously swore off using email over five years ago and has been a staunch advocate of finding more practical alternatives – the primary method being social media. The recent 2013 Change and Communication ROI Survey by global professional services firm Towers Watson revealed that 56% of medium-sized and blue chip enterprises across North America, Europe and Asia use social media tools as a part of their internal communication initiatives.

“I think it’s a ground swell; it’s organic,” comments Nicola Cull, director at Tower Watson. First of all, the trend is influenced by increasing feelings that email may no longer be fit for purpose. Cull recalls a conversation with a client who had been proactively seeking new communications solutions. They told her that email was no longer practical for what they were hoping to achieve – they needed a solution that was able to engage staff. “It’s more a case of drawing like-minded people together,” she says. “That’s easier to do with a social media type of approach than it is with traditional email where you have to create a distribution list.”

July 2013

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“Competitors can be listening in and finding probably quite a lot of corporate intelligence” Richard May, national sales director, Spotter

In part this is just a natural evolution; as technology has developed, the way we communicate in the workplace has gradually shifted. “It used to be that everybody was picking up a telephone,” says Richard May, national sales director of social media monitoring and analysis firm Spotter. “Email revolutionised that. And when it went mobile, that expanded it even further; you could answer anywhere you were.” In light of this, making use of social media to communicate between staff seems like an inevitable step for enterprises, especially taking into account the changing way we’re communicating in our personal lives. This is another important driver in changing attitudes toward social media’s role in the workplace. As increasing numbers of people find that social networking is the tool they are most comfortable with for communicating at home, it becomes increasingly likely that employees will want that same flexibility in the office. “People are much more comfortable with that kind of approach to sharing information, sharing what they’ve learned and even sharing pictures and interests as well,” comments Cull. “It’s becoming the norm.” However, for most businesses, the jury is still out when it comes to social media. According to Towers Watson’s research, despite the relatively high numbers of businesses making some use of social networking tools, just 29% of the companies using them felt they were effective.


One reason that organisations may be finding it difficult to make effective use of the tools on offer is a slightly confused picture of what solutions are most suitable for their requirements. Cull explains: “It’s very random why a company would go with one tool as opposed to another so I don’t necessarily think it’s that much of a conscious decision.” May agrees that it can be difficult to ascertain which networks are going to be best to support the needs of the enterprise. “What type of social media systems are companies choosing to use in order to encourage their staff to communicate?” he asks. Companies may be wary of using a tool like Facebook that might be seen as being a bit too social but other solutions may come with their own attendant issues. “If it’s an open platform like Twitter, that actually means their competitors can be listening in and finding probably quite a lot of corporate intelligence from that.” However, the reason why some SMEs may be unsure just how effective their social media strategies are might also just be down to how they’re approaching them. According to the Towers Watson findings, of the 40% of companies that felt social media was costeffective, the majority had only engaged in a sole trial strategy. “Companies are putting their toe in the water,” says Cull. “We found that they’re doing it in a sort of ‘let’s try it out’ way with pretty much no measurement of it.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, May also feels analytics and metrics aren’t only useful for keeping abreast of customer conversations. “It’s interesting for a company to be able to gain intelligence from conversations on both sides,” he says. Not only can analytics of internal social media act as a useful barometer of feeling within a company but it also opens up access to new ideas and potential innovations that may be sparked by the data generated. May explains: “That very well could be the next level that we start seeing: companies that are on the forefront of monitoring and analysing data for consumer insights being able to incorporate that alongside their internal data.” While we’re still a little way off social media being the norm for internal communications, it does seem like the change is inevitable as email loses currency among the general populace. However, whether a company be a diminutive micro-enterprise or a multinational behemoth, the important thing is to establish a clear and trackable strategy before diving right in. July 2013

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Cost-saving computing Allowing employees to bring their own devices to work has benefits, but it is not totally risk free, says David Hathiramani

The Techspert David Hathiramani

He may be co-founder of trendy suit retailer A Suit That Fits, but Hathiramani is also something of a closet geek. And the Imperial College computing graduate is here to impart some of his wisdom about setting up an internet business.


hen computers first came into the workplace, network technology was incredibly slow and computer power was very expensive. This made it difficult for more than a single person or department to have access to computer processing. If you wanted to share this computer power, it was only possible to do this by sharing the server (referred to as a mainframe) with lots of terminals. The terminals didn’t have much computer power – just enough to display the text on the screen and take keyboard inputs back to the server – so they were referred to as ‘dumb terminals’. However, in a way, this system was very secure as you only had to manage the data and security on a single server, and you didn’t have to worry about the outside world at all.

July 2013

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Even in bigger corporates, a ‘central server’ model is becoming more and more appealing because of faster and more reliable networks. A central server model for corporates has huge benefits in security and maintenance. The IT department can simply upgrade and protect a single server, rather than lots of PCs. PCs nowadays aren’t as ‘dumb’ as they used to be, but their job is still largely the same, which is to display the information of something central on a local screen, and take inputs from it back to a server. Spread of consumer devices

From central computing to personal computing

As computer power got cheaper, it became possible to have more than one computer per organisation. Therefore organisations went from being wholly reliant on central mainframes to being reliant on many computers that did lots of the computer processing, while still relying on a central database, email server or file server to pipe the computers the information they needed. The system of personal computers created several IT security and data management problems. For example, if a single computer was infected with a virus, it could bring down an entire network, or maybe lots of work had been done on a single computer that wasn’t backed up and broke – losing all of it. Although this system wasn’t perfect either, even the personal computers were under the control of central IT department, so it was still fairly easy to manage and secure.


“A central server model for corporates has huge benefits in security and maintenance”

From personal computing back to central computing

As networks became quicker, it became possible to pipe more information through them. Therefore, the terminals that we use are becoming more and more like dumb terminals again. In one of my previous articles, about cloud computing, I described how almost all of the applications that we use in A Suit That Fits are based on the internet. This means that any device with access to the internet is able to connect to our business applications.

Electronics have become increasingly accessible and popular over the years. Corporates used to have access to far superior technology than consumers could afford. Therefore, your business would usually provide you with the tools you needed to do the job. When a new salesman joined and was given a laptop and Blackberry, it felt like Christmas had come early. However, that’s all changed. In fact, consumers are now usually getting the latest technology much earlier than corporates. Each one of us has a mobile (probably a smartphone) and much of the population now owns a tablet and/or a laptop. Perfect storm for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

The fact that business networks are all centralising again and most people now own the technology to access this central information has really made it possible for BYOD to become possible and, in many cases, preferable. At A Suit That Fits, many of our style advisors prefer to use their own personal laptops or iPads to guide customers through the tailoring process. The spread of consumer electronics has really helped us save on computer infrastructure spend. Even our phone networks are based on standard VOIP technology, so any Android or iPhone device can become part of our business telephone network. We love the fact that our staff often own technology that we are yet to (or maybe will never have to) invest in. It makes sense for everyone to be open to utilising this. We are well-suited to BYOD as all of our applications are based on the internet and there is very limited critical or sensitive information stored locally on devices. However, BYOD does have risks: 1. Special access – lots of corporates have to grant special privileges or

access to devices to have them operate their network. If nasty stuff is installed on a personal laptop – outside the corporate control – this could cause trouble behind the corporate firewall. 2. Mobile phone use – if you allow your staff to use their personal mobile for work reasons, then the question of who owns the phone number will cause problems when they leave. This is especially true for sales people who could well use the incoming enquiries for another business in the future. 3. Wandering data – employees who leave may also have sensitive data or business applications on their device. Unfortunately, once the employee has left with their device, it will be very difficult to get this back. Even with the risks, allowing BYOD in a workplace can save costs and introduce cutting-edge technology earlier into enterprising businesses. At A Suit That Fits, we have found it to be incredibly helpful in trialling new ways of doing things and we will continue with this open-minded policy. July 2013

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Franchise F hi owners say: JOANNE Previously Project manager at Bank of Scotland Starting turnover: £50k Current turnover £73k

“We found Dublcheck during our research into the franchise industry and immediately liked its concept of guaranteed turnover*, with Dublcheck finding your clients and guaranteeing the level of turnover you desire.” - Peter


Previously Greengrocers Starting turnover: £12k Current turnover £77k

Previously MD of Colouroll Starting turnover: £48k Selling turnover £400k

“Facing redundancy in my 50’s was unsettling. A management franchise was ideal because it enabled me to utilize my previous management experience. I love the fact that the harder my team and I work the higher the rewards.” - Graham

LEN DONNELLY “A big thank you to the Dublcheck team, and o receive an award was brilliant” - Len

Carol Stewart-Gill and the Dublcheck Support Team

“Once I met the Dublcheck team I found the concept of commercial cleaning very appealing” - Joanne




Previously Retail Manager Purchased resale Current turnover £300k


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Further Details: 0800 317236 SONAL & MITESH Previously Quantity Surveyor Starting turnover: £14k Current turnover £118k

“Sonal and I can’t belive a year has past since we decided to join this wonderful franchise. We both wish we had done this years ago.” - Mitesh

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Dublcheck, The 20th Fastest Growing Company in the UK - Official Source, Sunday Times 28/06/2013 09:29


Franchise news Asian adventure for TM Lewin 81

Youth coaching franchise teams up with sport charity Fast-growing children’s sports franchise A-Star Sports has entered a partnership with UK charity Support Through Sport UK. The charity’s founder Helen Keeling will join A-Star Sport’s team as part of the deal, and the two enterprises will work together towards promoting positive sporting experiences and accessibility. Support Through Sport UK was established last year, alongside the London Olympics, to raise awareness of sporting opportunities for everyone, and particularly low participation groups. A-Star Sports was recently invited to join the Accelerate 250 group, a new business community championed by Sir Terry Leahy and Lord Young and made up of some of the fastestgrowing companies in the UK. It currently boasts 13 franchises across the UK with a further two to open in September. Its programme offers children ten different core sports – basketball, cricket, dodgeball, football, handball, hockey, rounders, rugby, tennis and volleyball – and is designed to make sport fun and accessible for children. A fab franchise if ever there was one.

British business clothing firm TM Lewin has signed an exclusive franchise agreement with Brand Marketing India (BMI). The deal is expected to lead to the opening of 50 outlets across the Indian Subcontinent over the next five years, but other details of the deal are being kept under wraps. It’s safe to say that BMI has some significant experience in the clothing arena, having already worked with Calvin Klein and French Connection in India. TM Lewin CEO Geoff Quinn said: “I am thrilled that TM Lewin will be entering into the Indian market. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to establish and grow a substantial business in the years ahead.” Established in London in 1898, the company designs and manufactures snappy business dress for men and women. It currently has almost 100 retail stores across the UK with new outlets on the cards in Europe, Singapore and Australia.

July 2013

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Recruiter A stronger estate takes the franchise route The award-winning owners of letting and estate agency franchise Martin & Co Gloucester are celebrating after acquiring a local independent lettings business. The acquisition of more than 200 managed properties from Cox & Company marks a successful expansion for franchise owners Peter and Rani Grieve. The couple opened the business in 2010 as their second Martin & Co office, joining their first office, Martin & Co Worcester, which was launched in 2008. “It has always been our long-term


plan to grow the business both organically and through strategic acquisitions,” said Peter Grieve. “As business owners, we think this is down to our determination to deliver on promises and provide excellent customer service to landlords and tenants alike.” The Worcester office won the Estate & Letting Agents Awards (ESTAS) Gold Award in 2009 for the entire central region before Peter and Rani were named Best Small Lettings Agency of the Year in the Midlands for both offices at the Sunday Times Awards 2011.

Card Connection on hunt for franchisees UK-based recruitment agency 2B Interface has launched a nationwide franchise scheme, and is looking to snap up 25 franchisees across the country. Established in 2005, 2B Interface provides companies with cost-effective temporary and permanent staff, and has rapidly established itself as one of the market’s top dogs. Managing director Beatrice Bartlay explained that the decision to franchise the business was a response to growing demand for 2B Interface’s services. She said: “We offer franchisees a successful proven business model with a healthy revenue option right from the outset boosting early cash flow.” The new franchise territories identified are based on the number of potential clients, their size, turnover, targets, postcodes, radius from the office and other factors. That’s a checklist to chomp on.

Not long after striking a new partnership agreement with holiday home operator Haven, greeting card publisher Card Connection has announced that one of its largest franchise territories is for sale. The Exeter and Dorchester region has become available for purchase for the first time in seven years after the incumbent franchisee declared its intention to sell. It is anticipated the area will be divided into two and sold as two separate franchise businesses. Currently, the Exeter and Dorchester franchisee delivers to more than 200 retail outlets with the help of one full-time and one part-time person and will continue to trade until the sale is complete. “The region has been well managed by the outgoing franchisee and is for sale with the goodwill of an existing retail client base,” said Michael Johnson, managing director of Card Connection. Other territories currently available include: Southend-on-Sea, Plymouth, Nottingham/Grantham, Leicester, Cardiff, Manchester, Southport/ Wigan, Macclesfield/Buxton, Dundee/Kirkcaldy and some areas in London. We assume applications are welcomed by greeting card (although the Card Connection website may be a safer bet). July 2013

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Jonathon Wagstaff, managing director of ALNO UK with In-toto Leicester’s Bekki Coates


Bespoke kitchens are always desirable, particularly when they have the rich heritage of a brand like In-toto


Franchise in the spotlight:

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here is more than a grain of truth to the expression ‘a kitchen is the heart of the home’. Given that so much of British family life is conducted around it, it’s not surprising the room holds a special place in our hearts. A bespoke kitchen has to feature pretty high up the list for people’s most desired furnishings, which is what makes customised kitchen franchise In-toto such an interesting proposition. As British franchises go, there aren’t many that have a richer heritage than In-toto. It’s parent company, the ALNO Group, was first founded 85 years ago as the Wellman Kitchen Company by Hans-Dieter Wellmann in Pfullendorf, southern Germany. Currently, ALNO turns over around €450m under its own brand, of which 65% is domestic and 35% is exports to adjoining countries such as Belgium, France and Austria. ALNO is part-owned by Whirlpool, with 30% of its publicly listed shares being owned by the American home appliances giant. ALNO has built up an impressive profile on the international stage but the British wing – and In-toto – appeared on the scene much more recently. “We have traded in the United Kingdom as ALNO since 1974,” explains Jonathon Wagstaff, managing director of ALNO UK. “The In-toto piece of the jigsaw started in 1980.” Essentially, ALNO has three principle routes to market in the UK. “The largest for us in terms of revenue share is what we call the ‘direct-to-developer’, where we as the manufacturer are dealing with Barclays, Barrett, Taylor Wimpy, Redrow – the major house-builders in the UK,” says Wagstaff. Second comes selling their products to independent stockists, whether they be in the DIY marketplace or kitchen specialists. And finally comes the branded In-toto franchises, which have formed the core of a very solid model that has thrived through its fair share of tough times.


July 2013

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their product range. “The product that we “We rode the recessions like a lot of other deliver to the consumer will be designed businesses,” comments Wagstaff. “We differently – it will look, feel and operate prevailed in terms of the recession of the late differently,” he continues. “And the 80s, which was a challenge to those in home individual franchisee has the opportunity improvements.” They saw off two further lulls, to influence all of those things.” both in the mid-90s and once more during the In-toto’s franchises are built around recent recession, building up to their current three core skill sets: structured portfolio of 48 locations and 42 franchisees. administration, effective project In part, Wagstaff credits this to the strength management and a panache for design. of their franchise model. “One of the key However, the company doesn’t just expect things about franchising as a business is a lot its franchisees to hit the ground running. of potential franchisees are looking to change “None of us are born with this their lifestyle,” he explains. The enterprise’s knowledge,” says Wagstaff. “We’ve all got to learn bits at some point.” To franchisees come from a wide variety of this end, prior to signing a deal with a new franchisee, backgrounds; among the company will interview the potential franchise In-toto’s franchise owners “The product we owner, assess their skills and carry out psychometric there are former merchant testing. “We want to understand who they are,” he says. bankers, police officers, deliver to the After this, the enterprise will put them through a teachers and telecoms consumer will be comprehensive three-month training process. “What experts. “They clearly didn’t come into it to make more designed differently we do is we take them through the whole process from the enquiry is first received from the consumer, money,” he laughs. “They’re – it will look, feel and when to how you interpret their needs and aspirations into coming out of, in a lot of cases, a corporate operate differently” what they want,” Wagstaff explains. When interpreting this design, one of the most important things is background or some sort of Jonathon Wagstaff, understanding how the required function must dictate government-funded managing director of ALNO UK the form. “We make sure people understand workflow institution background and practices, what the storage requirements are going to be,” he says. “It has they want some autonomy.” to look good, it has to do a lot of other things. But it has to work first.” And this is something In-toto definitely has The bespoke kitchen business has plenty of big plans for the future but over many other franchises. Wagstaff explains: that doesn’t mean everything is plain sailing. One of the biggest barriers “With the greatest of respect, you don’t go into to growth is securing new properties in a timely enough fashion. McDonalds – which I think is a fantastic “Franchisees have a set timeframe,” comments Wagstaff. “What we’ve business model – to be autonomous.” found was that we were missing opportunities because we didn’t have Essentially, a business-minded individual available property.” doesn’t purchase a franchise like McDonalds For this reason, In-toto has embarked on a bold new expansion plan to do their own marketing or experiment with – it has identified ten key locations in which it wants to expand and is actively securing appropriate spaces ahead of time so it can be ready for franchisees that want to secure a new franchise. Wagstaff explains: “We will open the locations and, if we can’t find the right proxy in the right town, we will run them ourselves until we can find the right franchisee for them.” In-toto’s goal is to have reached a benchmark of 50 stores by the close of the year, with an end aim of eventually totalling 75 stores around the UK. But it doesn’t intend to pursue excessive expansion at the expense of losing its brand focus. “For our business model, we don’t really think that we want many more than that,” Wagstaff comments. “We don’t want to be a mass-market franchise. We’re bespoke and designer.” In that sense, it is very much a case of quality over quantity for In-toto, an approach which will surely stand it in Mayoress with In-toto Leicester’s Bekki Coates good stead for years to come. July 2013

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The ZipYard – A Recession Proof High Street Franchise The Zip Yard is the fastest growing garment alteration franchise in the UK.

E 88

stablished in 2005 in Belfast The ZipYard was officially launched in Britain by The Bardon Group in early 2011. Since then eight centres have opened with eight in the pipeline for 2012 and a further dozen planned for 2013. The ZipYard offers a wide range of alteration and tailoring services, all done on site by trained professionals in purpose-built, beautifully refurbished centres, branded in the ZipYard’s signature eye-catching yellow and black colours. From dress re-styling and taking in or letting out to bridal-wear fitting or formal wear alterations, the ZipYard provides convenient, speedy and cost effective clothing alterations and repairs. The ZipYard franchise package is a total turnkey operation, comprising a complete shop fit, state of the art machinery, computer systems and a comprehensive marketing package. The package includes industrial sewing machines, specialist alteration and repair machinery, a computer, software, EPOS system, signage, fixtures and fittings, various consumables, starting stock, plus training and ongoing support from the franchisor, and a marketing and PR campaign to launch each centre.

Basingstoke in May 2012 after being made redundant 8 months previously: “The whole team has been fantastic. From the training, which was very hands-on, to the huge level of support I’ve had, it’s all been great. Although it’s my business and the buck stops with me, I’ve never felt alone or out on a limb. It’s been teamwork from day one.” “I would definitely recommend the ZipYard to other potential franchisees. I’m learning all the time and it’s such a sociable business. I really enjoy talking to the customers and I get such a feeling of satisfaction from seeing how happy they are when their clothes fit properly.” Training & Support

All Franchise Owners have a two-week comprehensive induction programme that covers business practices, computer systems, running a centre, marketing and promotions, and recruitment. Part of the training takes place in an existing centre that is up and running to provide proper handson experience. Every aspect of the set-up from finding premises to launching and promoting the centre is fully supported by the franchisor. Once up and running the support continues with additional training, business and product development work, on-going business advice and planning, and marketing.

“I would definitely recommend the ZipYard to other potential franchisees. I’m learning all the time and it’s such a sociable business”

Why choose The ZipYard?

Some existing franchise owners explain why they chose the ZipYard over and above other franchises. Jill Phillips, 46, set up the ZipYard in

Contact Janet Matthews t: 01530 513307 e: Total Cost: Approx. £33,000 + VAT plus shop fit July 2013

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“Being your own boss is hard work but very gratifying. Having the opportunity to make your own decisions is very satisfying but knowing you can rely on the franchise group gives you the confidence to approach situations with ease and a shared experience� Kevin Old, Franchise Owner of Bournemouth

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Ever present


danger With the recession linked to more instances of fraud, having good checks in place has rarely been more important



egardless of the size or success of a business, there is always something lurking in the shadows that has the potential to damage it irrevocably. Whether from within or without, becoming a victim of a particularly nasty fraud can take an enterprise to the point of no return. “Fraud can bring a business to its knees,” says Richard Mumford, partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton. “If you are an SME with quite fragile cashflow for example, you might be using all of your money to invest and grow the business, and have relatively small margins for error. Fraud can take away that cash or that margin and be the difference between a business succeeding or failing. Simply from a cash impact point of view, it can be devastating.”

Of course, the financial impact is merely one side of the coin when it comes to fraud. In many instances, the monetary loss will pale into insignificance compared to the harm caused to a venture’s reputation. Mumford says this is particularly relevant for businesses in the financial sector, which rely on high levels of trust between themselves and their customers. “There is often a feeling that, although the business has only been a victim of fraud rather than in any other way involved in it, it somehow diminishes trust in that business in terms of its integrity and in terms of its ability to deliver on its contracts,” he explains. “There is a sort of stigma attached to it sometimes depending in particular on the markets and the particular fraud involved.”

Richard Mumford, partner at law firm Stevens & Bolton

July 2013

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It would be safe to assume then that the more clued-up entrepreneur would have a fairly solid system in place to counter any fraudulent activity. Nevertheless, in a time of economic austerity when instances of fraud are on the rise, it probably pays to revisit one’s anti-fraud policy. Indeed, this is further necessitated by the new types of fraud that have sprung up over the last few years. “The biggest profile issue at the moment is the various types of cybercrime, so things like phishing and people cloning your website, for example,” explains Mumford. “The way you police it in a sense is by looking at your own website and if you do start to see complaints arising, think quite literally about how that might be happening. It might just have been somebody in your own company who didn’t log a sale properly or something went wrong with the IT system, but just be aware that these problems are out there.” Naturally, there is a plethora of other frauds that a business can be exposed to but in general there is a similar set of steps to be followed in order to limit the possibility of an attack by an employee, customer, supplier or other third-party. However, the first and most important step, according to Mumford, is the introduction and maintenance of a firm anti-fraud culture at every level. “It is important that employees understand the impact on the business of fraud, and the importance of making sure fraud does not occur within the business,” he says. And while accepting that the reporting of fraud isn’t something an employee would do lightly, Mumford explains that keeping confidentiality at the heart of an anti-fraud policy should ensure the process doesn’t generate a climate of fear among workers. “It is important to have a proper reporting line, even

for a small business, so people who have concerns can voice them in a confidential way, not to their line manager but to someone in the business who is slightly detached from what they are doing.” Equally, though, an employer should also ensure his or her own management style doesn’t lead their workers down the path of temptation. “You have to be careful to balance keeping staff happy and incentivised and not over-incentivising them to perform,” Mumford comments. An anti-fraud stance essentially needs to reverberate with external parties too and, as with most third-party contact, an appropriate level of due diligence is advisable. “It is important that a business sends out the message to its clients and suppliers that it is an anti-fraud business,” says Mumford. He adds: “It just helps to sometimes have a second pair of eyes on things, especially if the company is going through winning important contracts.” At the end of the day though, no policy is totally fool-proof and even the most conscientious business owner could have to deal with an instance, or allegation, of fraud. Needless to say, a pre-planned response strategy can go a long way to easing the pain and ensuring that the correct conclusion is reached and any financial and reputational loss is recovered or, at the very least, limited to an acceptable level. “What you do – sometimes in the first couple of minutes, or even seconds – after somebody comes to you and says, ‘I think there’s been a fraud’ can massively impact the back-end of the process,” says Mumford. “You can’t make any assumptions about whether the fraud has actually occurred or not; you can’t make any assumptions about who is involved; and you can’t make any assumptions about how big it is. What you need to do is grab the evidence you have immediately.” Fraud is clearly a very emotive issue then, and should therefore be approached with care in the workplace. “The stigma of an allegation of fraud being made against an individual is pretty serious stuff and once someone has been tainted by it, it is very hard to undo it,” comments Mumford. “So you just need to treat it with a degree of caution and a degree of tact and subtlety, frankly, until you are certain.”

In a time of economic austerity when instances of fraud are on the rise, it probably pays to revisit one’s anti-fraud policy

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How comfortable are you that your business is protected? Need a helping hand? We understand what it’s like to run a small business. You hit the ground running and before you know it your business takes a life of its own. Who has time to think about the contractual relationships? We help businesses through our virtual legal support service get the right contracts in place for their business and give owners peace of mind.

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ICAEW’s Business Advice Service offers a free, straightforward discussion with an ICAEW Chartered Accountant. There’s no obligation after your first free session, just practical thinking to help your business succeed.

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Established in 1995 and with over 200 franchisees across the UK & Ireland, TaxAssist Accountants provides a full range of professional tax and accountancy services to small businesses. As your role would be business development and practice management you do not need to be an accountant to join.


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We have everything you need to get ahead and stay out front in business. Our toolkit (available online or in a presentation binder) provides you access to all the tools advice and information you need to improve your business. It’s like a 6 month training course and business consultancy combined into a series of modules, workbooks and practical tools you can work through at your own pace for less than the cost of a half day seminar. Find out more and Get Started Now at:

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IBCN provides practical jargon free value for money assistance, with minimal paperwork, which is tailored to individual business requirements, resulting in real business benefits. Our objective is to provide experienced practitioners, facilitators, troubleshooters, designers and implementers to assist in the introduction of practical Business Management Systems.

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The Web Tailor Group are passionate about delivering bespoke websites and web applications for all types of businesses, large and small. Specialists in bespoke website projects we have worked on some exceptionally creative and specialised tasks over the last few years which has made our ability to provide the perfect solution for businesses, second to none. For a full list of our work please visit our website at or call us now on 01454 809 808.

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Camelot Credit Solutions Ltd is a proven provider of Debt Collection and Credit Management services that can help you improve your procedures, collect your outstanding debt, help safeguard your profit and give you peace of mind. Specialising in the following: • Debt Recovery • Credit management system reviews • Outsourcing • Tracing • Online litigation We achieve the best results for you by providing FAST, EFFICIENT AND COST EFFECTIVE services which in turn delivers a direct result to your bottom line.

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Directory Services is the premier hyperlocal publishing franchise in the UK. Becoming an AboutMyArea Editor gives you the opportunity to take control of your destiny, to work when it suits you, either from your home, office or even mobile providing a respected and engaging news service to your local area and community. Making money from local news.

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classifieds Energy Efficiency

Energy is a controllable cost that has a direct impact on your profits. We are dedicated to helping you make your business more profitable by reviewing your existing expenditure, recommending techniques and technologies to reduce waste and increase efficiency. We will oversee implementation, monitor and report on improved performance.

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New franchise opportunity from IFG 3 great features of the IFG 50/50 franchise • Leverage your capital • We handle the paperwork • Earn referral commissions on new business This is your opportunity to be in control of • Your income •Your capital • Your work schedule And, earn an ROI that is well-above average!

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First Aid Training

DW First Aid Training provide cost effective, informative, enjoyable courses delivered in a relaxed atmosphere using a mixture of theory and practical sessions to ensure all delegates complete the course with not only the skills but also the confidence to act in an emergency. Our trainers are all experienced first aiders and are able to relate each subject to real life situations. All our courses are competativley priced so that learning these skills will not cost a fortune. We are able to run courses at your location at a time that is convenient for you even if this is at the weekend or at night.

Nothing is more important to you than your health and the health of your family. If you or your loved ones were to experience worrying symptoms, private health insurance from General & Medical can give you some control over the situation. With private medical insurance, diagnosis and treatment can be dealt with almost immediately so you can concentrate on getting well sooner. As well as Private Health Insurance, we also have a comprehensive range of Sports cover available. To obtain a completely free no-obligation quote, for either Health or Sports insurance, please click on the following link;

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Sweet Treat Donations are seeking franchises across all of the UK and Wales Boxes of sweets and snacks are left in places of work, requiring no commitment or obligation. Because funds are being raised for Your Local Air Ambulance Trust or The Children’s Society, people are only too pleased to offer their support and take a box. Customers choose their sweets and snacks from the 40 or so different varieties and the cash is placed in the honesty box incorporated within the display unit. Every two weeks, the money box is emptied and the display unit is re-stocked with more sweets and snacks – it couldn’t be easier.

A franchise opportunity in an ethical, established yet expanding market. A new take on a traditional business. Wilkins Chimney Sweep Franchisees experience excellent cash flow, good profits and are building sustainable, ethical businesses. They revel in the quirky yet grubby nature of being a chimney sweep. We’re seeking a select few individuals who will receive great training and use best practice to develop a business in an established yet expanding market. Full details on application.

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Employment issues are challenging, time consuming and keeping up to date with ever changing legislation almost impossible creating significant challenges for employers without the expertise, time or money to manage them properly. We help you to manage employment issues - from recruitment to termination, keeping you compliant and minimising risk, at an affordable price. To our clients, we are their HR Department.

Invicta Insurance Services Limited are independent general insurance brokers who are authorised and regulated by the FCA. We combine personal service with modern technology to provide tailored insurance solutions to our commercial and private customers.

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Managed Networks provides proactive IT support and cloud and hosted desktop services, exclusively for small and medium-sized enterprises in central London, Birmingham and Manchester. Our unique support offering is based on routine scheduled site visits “Rotation Days”, which combine preventative maintenance with an opportunity for face-to-face support of users. We’ve been providing better IT to SMEs for nearly 20 years and our service is backed by our unique proactive service warranty, so that if something goes wrong, we fix it; no fuss, no charge.

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Timely, effective advice in a language that won’t confuse. With over 12 years experience advising owners, directors, and shareholders, Legal Services for Business offers companies a fresh approach to law. • There when you need me - communicative and responsive • Free one hour consultation • Fixed cost where possible, and transparency on fees • Value for money expertise

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Practical and flexible legal support for your business needs We can help you with setting up corporate arrangements and agreements; reviewing and drafting commercial contracts; providing assistance with employment and HR related matters. We offer: •Fixed fees (where possible) •10% off first instruction (new clients) •Free complimentary support for general legal queries by phone and email (following first instruction)

Cargocall provides one-stop B2B logistics solutions for both large and small companies along with free consulting for supply chain management and international trade. Whether you are a company just taking your fist steps into exporting or importing, or if your business is a seasoned international company, Cargocall can manage your end-to-end shipping requirements and deliver efficiencies into the process. Everything from small components to large machinery, Cargocall offers international transport to the world. Contact us to access delivery systems and advice to your advantage.

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We are a UK–based business who can provide your company with as much or as little office support as you need. ✓ Book-keeping and payroll ✓ Virtual PA ✓ Travel & accommodation arrangements ✓ Visa applications ✓ UK company registration ✓ Assistance with IOM & BVI registration

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Into Somerset is the inward investment organisation for Somerset. We offer a bespoke service, providing unbiased advice and support for entrepreneurs and companies that are considering moving all or part of their business to Somerset. Through our strong links with public and private sector partners, we will identify the best opportunities for your business, find you the ideal commercial property, support you through regulatory processes, connect you with important business contacts and networks, signpost you to appropriate housing and education for your family – in fact, Into Somerset ensure that your transition into Somerset is as smooth as possible.

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DMS Exhibition Specialists We ensure that the continuity of the customers corporate branding is followed through every stage of the print process, whether it is a business card or an exterior sign to an exhibition banner. Our services include stand build/graphics and systems, roller banners, pop ups, bespoke modular systems, shell scheme panels, posters and banners including all your printed literature requirements.

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We have a full range of Business Tablet Mounting solutions, for any environment. Our Cutting Edge Car Telematic Driver Recorder Systems can help you protect your company vehicle insurance premiums. • Tablets • Protective Tablet & Phone Cases • Portable Audio • Tablet Mounting Solutions • Charging Stations • Car Telematics Driver Recorder Systems Discounts available for larger orders please contact us directly.


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Access Fulfilment is a leading provider of fulfilment, logistics and shipping services for the UK, Europe and International community. With our fully integrated location and stock management system we can track any order from receipt to dispatch. We can meet any volume/product type or requirement through our wide range of experience in diverse clients from commercial and educational to printed and medical products. Essential additional services include pack make up, after-sales customer service, collection and replacement, labelling, hand finishing and client returns.

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37 million UK customers viewed video online in March 2013* It’s simple: video is the most powerful way to boost traffic and conversion rates. Wagon Media creates original, targeted video for web and TV. Broadcast expertise for your online budget. commercials | corporate | explainer | training | exhibitions Contact Rebecca on

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*comScore, May 2013

Web Design

We are a web design agency who specialize in bespoke web design projects and start up packages for small businesses. Our web design, and on-line marketing services include E-commerce, Logo Design, Web Site Re-Design & Web Hosting. Specialists in CMS systems such as Joomla, Drupal and WordPress we can design, support, upgrade, and expand all these great open-source solutions.

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We offer a huge range of design solutions from start-up businesses to SME’s. We cover all aspects of web, design and marketing solutions ranging from: • Corporate Identity/Logo Design • Business Stationery Design • Brochure & Leaflet Design • Website Design • Search Engine Optimisation • Email Marketing• Social Media Presence PLUS MUCH MORE t: 01359 240408 e: w: July 2013

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Taking stock, three years on With Homemade London celebrating its third birthday, Nicola Barron offers some advice to those about to start their own business Nicola Barron Founder of Homemade London



ast month, Homemade London was officially three. At the same time, we also happened to have a few unexpected visitors pop by wanting to pick my brains about the pros and cons of starting a business. I’m not sure whether I’m ever massively helpful when put on the spot – luckily, I’ve got the Elite Business columns to refer them to. Nonetheless, I figured it was a good time to take stock of the things I’ve learned in the last few years and my advice to anyone about to embark on the journey.

Get your pricing right

This is fundamental. If you don’t get your prices right, your business will fail. Too high, the customers will stay away, but too low and no matter how many you attract, you will never make money. In theory, pricing your products or services should be the simplest thing in the world: work out your costs and add your profit margin. But it’s always easy to forget (or ignore) costs that accrue over time (such as accountants’ fees or utility bills) or to price for revenue, rather than profit. Our prices helped to position us at the quality end of the market, both in terms of the signal they sent to customers and the budgets they allowed us to spend on the materials, teaching and environment we offer. Many craft businesses are perceived to be ‘lifestyle’ businesses and aren’t taken seriously as enterprises. Given the importance of the corporate clients to our business, it’s important to be seen as professional. A corporate client recently told me they couldn’t have confidence in a business that didn’t charge properly for its work – they knew they’d get a good deal but they’d worry about whether they’d deliver the right results.

Buzz fades. Quality is key to longevity

Sadly, I’ve discovered there’s no special ‘on switch’ that suddenly means your business is successful. It takes hard work and consistency. Several ‘celebrity’ lifestyle businesses with well-known owners and patrons opened around the same time as Homemade London and I remember being insanely envious of all the press they were getting – the maxim ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ seemed all too true. I used to wish that Kate Moss or Alexa Chung would suddenly pop in for a spot of afternoon tea and perfume-making and it would be the turning point for our business. Thankfully, we’ve built our reputation over time by trying our best to keep our customers happy. Gradually, I noticed that those celebrity businesses I used to hear so much about had gone quiet; so I googled them to find out what they were up to. Not much it seems; they’d each closed within the first two years.

ever sat on an essay deadline, playing Solitaire or Minesweeper until the last minute. It states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. This means that giving yourself too comfortable a deadline can be dangerous. If you set yourself tighter deadlines, you’ll focus and get the job done, and then you can move on to the next thing. It also means that everyone in your team needs to have clear roles and responsibilities, otherwise we’re all capable of getting busy doing nothing very productive.

“Don’t change direction purely based on what your competitors are saying”

Keep calm and carry on

We all have bad days, when no-one seems interested, projects you’ve spent weeks working on don’t come into fruition or your VAT bill is higher than you anticipated. In my first year of business, whenever something like this happened, I felt I was teetering on the edge. A few years down the line, I’ve learned to take it in my stride. New opportunities are always around the corner. Respect Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s Law will be familiar to anyone who’s

Everybody lies

If you’ve ever watched an episode of House, you’ll know that Hugh Laurie’s character’s main credo is that everybody lies. Well, it’s the same in business. When you first start out, you can’t help but compare yourself to other companies. If you’re writing your business plan, it’s essential you examine the market and work out your position in relation to any potential competitors, but don’t take what they say about themselves or how they present themselves at face value. Businesses have a duty to tell the world how successful they are (how else would you attract customers?); they will always put a positive spin on their activity. Don’t be downhearted if your business isn’t doing as well as how you perceive others are doing – definitely don’t change direction purely based on what your competitors are saying. Do your research and trust your own instincts. Good luck if you’re about to embark on your own journey. And of course, when I say everybody lies, I mean everybody except me. July 2013

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where it’s not their primary business, very wealthy individuals usually We learned - from bitter and costly personal experience, and by speaking with our clients and fellow investors - that there were a great many people who had tried most of the best known ‘solutions’ to creating financial security through property investment and they simply didn’t work - at least not half as well or returning anywhere near as much as they had expected or been promised. Realising that there were thousands of other like-minded, hardworking and honest individuals searching for tried, tested, proven challenge – to develop an investment strategy that would genuinely live up to their billing and actually deliver proven results.

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and trust. At the end of the day, there is no hard sell, just a clear process.

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I thought it was a very worthwhile and useful day – and I do not often have cause to say that, especially about property seminars and presentations! One of the most powerful messages was the illustration of what PPP can do, through the impressive testimonials and commentary from your Franchise Partners. A big thank you for inviting me. Jeremy Priestley FRICS Managing Director, YOUhome Ltd, Bournemouth

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members of PPP’s ‘Power Team’ in a one-to-one round-robin session

The people I have met who are the most successful in property are those that are following the advice that Platinum Property Partners are giving.

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In order to qualify for a place on a Discovery Day, you must: Have access to a minimum of £300,000 investment capital, currently either in cash, equity, or other investments that can be released Embrace our vision, mission and ethos Initial phone consultation with our Franchise Recruitment team

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Elite Business Magazine July 2013  
Elite Business Magazine July 2013  

Flushed with Success: Dismissed as a disruptive influence at school, Colin Stevens has proved the naysayers wrong by building Better Bathroo...