We’re here with practical marketing information for your business.

A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

September 2015

25 September 2015

Most employees never read their contractsOnly one worker in 166 has ever read their employment contract and understood its contents, according to new research.

Employment consultancy Protecting.co.uk asked 1,000 employees across the UK if they had ever read their contract in full. Only six said they had; while 93 respondents said they had read part of it or had skim-read it. But the vast majority - 909 out of the 1,000 people polled - said they had not read their work contract or had no memory of doing so.

In addition, more than half (56%) said they had no idea where their contract currently is. And yet many employment disputes arise because an employee has broken a clause that is specifically written into their contract, according to Protecting.co.uk.

And, although staff are protected by a raft of employment laws, claiming ignorance of an employment contract is no defence when it comes to a dispute with your boss.

"We're stunned," said Protecting spokesperson Mark Hall. "You would have thought that you would read through an important document before you put your name to it, but it appears that for most people that's simply not the case."

Key issues usually covered in contracts include:

  • "Moonlighting" (most contracts will stipulate whether you can work for competitors);
  • Inappropriate behaviour that could bring the company into disrepute such as ill-advised social media posts;
  • Timeliness and working hours;
  • Appropriate workplace dress;
  • The use of company cars during time off.

Another issue, says Hall, is when shop or factory workers take damaged or unwanted goods home. "In many cases, taking unwanted property is theft, even if it's in the bin - and that's a specific clause for many workers."

Hall says that disputes could be avoided if companies issued a bullet-point summary of contractual expectations. "While a summary sheet is not a legally binding document, it at least gives the worker some sort of clue as to acceptable behaviour and standards of work," Hall said.

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25 September 2015

UK SMEs split over whether to stay in EUIf we had a referendum on the EU right now, most small businesses owners would vote to stay in but it's a close result.

The latest poll by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that 47% of FSB members would vote "yes" if asked to vote on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU at the current time. However, 41% would vote "no" and 11% said they were undecided.

The FSB commissioned independent research agency Verve to conduct the study in a two-staged quantitative and qualitative approach. Over 6,000 FSB members completed an online survey and a representative sample of 123 members then took part in a 12-day online discussion forum.

Unsurprisingly, crucial differences have emerged between the "yes" camp and the "no" camp. The survey found that key groups of FSB members were more likely to vote "yes". These included: exporters (66% would vote "yes"), employers of non-UK EU nationals (61%); Scottish members (60%); and female business owners (51%).

Meanwhile, the groups that were more likely to vote "no" included 86% of those who voted "no" in the 1975 referendum. The results are closest in England where 45% would currently vote "yes" and 43% would vote "no".

When asked about the impact of leaving the EU, 41% of respondents said it would have a negative impact on their business, 34% said it would have no impact and 17% said it would have a positive effect.

Of those respondents that want the UK to stay in the EU, most wanted powers to be transferred back to the UK. Among FSB members who would vote for the UK to leave the EU, the most popular outcome was improving trade links with rest of the world.

Mike Cherry, FSB policy director, said: "This is only the beginning of our work to support our members throughout this complex debate. Our role will be to ensure the small business voice is heard in the discussion, and that our members have all the information they need to make a decision which is right for them and their business."

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25 September 2015

Regional devolution could boost economy by £80bnAt least £80 billion in economic growth could be unlocked if the Government shifts widespread powers and funding to local areas, council leaders have said.

A total of 34 devolution proposals - from cities, towns and counties in England - have been submitted to the Government this month ahead of its Spending Review. The bids include calls for new local infrastructure and economic development powers in order to close widening economic gaps across the country.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says that London and the South East accounted for more of the UK's economic output than the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber, South West and East of England combined in 2013.

The LGA says productivity will be lifted if the Government matches the ambitions of communities by devolving powers and budgets to the UK's regions. It is calling for at least £60 billion of central Government spending to be devolved to local areas in the Spending Review.

This, it says, would allow local leaders to improve transport links and business support and close skills gaps - all barriers currently holding businesses back. It would also meet the Government's aim to prioritise "promoting growth and productivity through the radical devolution of powers to local areas in England".

Key areas that would be improved under local control, according to the LGA, are: superfast broadband, transport, skills training and business support.

Gary Porter, LGA chairman, said: "Decades of centralised control over funding for local growth have failed to produce a more balanced economy. It is time to spend smarter on infrastructure to get maximum value from every public pound. This starts with a much more effective and efficient approach to investing in local growth."

He added: "Local leaders know their local economies best and hold the key to removing the obstacles limiting the productivity of businesses and holding back local growth. We need the Spending Review to hand us the fairer funding and powers to unleash the full potential of local businesses and economies."

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25 September 2015

Why bad management is causing small firms to failNearly half of businesses founded in the UK in 2011 had failed by 2014 - and incompetence and bad management was to blame for 56% of these business failures.

These are the findings of a new report, Growing Your Small Business, which has been produced by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), Chartered Association of Business Schools and The Supper Club using data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UKCES Employer Skills Survey.

With 44% of businesses in the UK failing within three years, the report concludes that British start-ups must improve management skills to increase their chances of survival.

It says that a lack of professional management skills is also holding back UK productivity and employment growth, with only 16% of all new SMEs found to be fast-growing.

The research reveals that just 42% of small businesses had provided management training in the previous 12 months, compared to 89% of businesses with 250+ staff. The position is worse for businesses with fewer than 24 staff where only 36% receive any management training.

The report also highlights a complex picture of business support practices across the UK with more than 600 initiatives available to small businesses.

A new CMI campaign has been launched to help small business owners access management support provided by business schools and provide better sign-posting to management best practice and professional support.

The CMI has also published a "heatmap" that provides employers with key information on the qualifications, networks, placements, business support and professional management qualifications being provided by local business schools.

Anne Kiem, chief executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools, said: "The UK's business schools are full of world-class business expertise and knowledge, and with a business school conveniently located in every region they are perfectly placed to support the growth of small businesses."

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25 September 2015

The loneliness of the long-distance home worker

A third of home workers get lonely and 65% miss mixing with fellow professionals according to new research by Regus. The results of its latest poll also show that 52% of respondents say they get cabin fever working from home. In addition, home-working causes problems with family members for some - 39% said that they feel their family take their work less seriously when they work from home. According to Regus, 45% of UK workers are now based outside of their main office for more than half the week.

How quickly do freelancers get paid?

New research into the UK's self employed workforce has found that IT consultants are the best at chasing late payments, taking just nine days to get paid. The study, by Crunch Accounting, has found that writers and publishers were second best at chasing late payments, taking 20 days. At the other end of the scale, it took an average of 31 days for freelance videographers to be paid in 2015; followed by graphic designers (30 days) and marketers (29 days).

UK surges ahead on superfast broadband

The UK is already ahead of its European peers on superfast broadband coverage, take-up and average speeds and it is set to become one of the best performing countries worldwide by 2020, according a new study by Analysys Mason commissioned by BT. By 2018, more than 95% of UK premises will have access to superfast broadband according to the report. Matt Yardley, partner at Analysys Mason, said: "When it comes to superfast broadband coverage, the UK is around three years ahead of the Western European average, and by 2020 we expect the UK will be ahead of the USA and similar to Japan."

Manufacturing stalls for first time since 2013

Manufacturing output growth stalled in September - for the first time in two and a half years, according to the latest CBI Monthly Industrial Trends Survey. Export orders also deteriorated, falling back to the lowest level in six months. And manufacturers' expectations for growth over the coming three months are the weakest since October 2013. Rain Newton-Smith, CBI director of economics, said: "Exports are the missing link in the UK recovery at the moment, with the strong pound squeezing manufacturers' margins, even though lower commodity prices are helping to ease cost pressures."

18 September 2015

SMEs face Business costs have continued to rise during 2015, driven in part by increased staff costs, according to the latest research from the Forum of Private Business.

The Forum's 2015 Cost of Doing Business survey, carried out among its members, has found that firms are facing an "uphill battle" to make ends meet, despite positive signs of an economic recovery. It says that business costs are rising 5.7% ahead of inflation.

The findings show that 86% of businesses have seen an overall increase in their business costs over the past 12 months. The majority of the costs faced by businesses were regulatory, says the FPB.

However, staff was cited as the most costly area for 77% of SME polled. This was followed by insurance (60%), marketing (60%), support (54%) and energy (50%).

Worryingly, the report also identified that 37% of small business owners admitted to being unable to pass any rising costs on to customers, forcing them to cut their own costs to keep prices static. Just 1% were able to pass on costs in full.

Ian Cass, the FPB's managing director, said: "Small firms continue to absorb these price increases. We cannot see how this can continue as 37% of our members feel that the constant high cost of doing business is a greater detriment to their cash flow than late payment (21%) or unexpected price rises (20%)."

The cost of complying with regulation is having a detrimental affect on small firms, added Cass. "Most of the costs are based on regulatory issues and the biggest problem for our members is that the costs cited this year have an impact on the bottom line and they are unavoidable."

He said: "27% of business owners reported that reducing red tape was the solution, but there has been no noticeable change over the last decade; when policy-makers have prioritised deregulation - it has, if anything, got worse. We do not feel that rail prices or energy costs will reduce significantly in the short term and insurance is likely to go up in November as insurance premiums are taxed at the new 9.5% rate."

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18 September 2015

Business costs have continued to rise during 2015, driven in part by increased staff costs, according to the latest research from the Forum of Private Business.

18 September 2015

UK SMEs take the lead in cloud adoptionThe UK's small-and-medium-sized enterprises are taking a global lead when it comes to embracing new software technology - and they are benefiting as a result.

These are some of the findings of a research study commissioned by Exact that compares how SMEs in different countries stack up against each other when it comes to technology adoption.

The Exact 2015 SME Cloud Barometer polled almost 3,000 SME leaders across the UK, the USA, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. It found that those who are "heavy" users of cloud software (defined as having three or more different cloud products in place) achieved far higher revenue growth and more than double the profit of those using fewer cloud products.

The study also found that the UK has the second highest number of "heavy" cloud software users (27%), just marginally behind the USA (29%). This compares to 25% of SMEs in the Netherlands, 24% in Belgium and France, and 10% in Germany. Overall, just under half of UK SMEs (47%) are now using at least one cloud business software tool.

Those who have embraced the cloud and are using multiple software products as part of their business processes showed on average 26% growth in revenue in 2015, compared to 14% among those using one or two online solutions, and 10% among those who don't use any cloud solutions at all.

However, the study also found that UK firms only tend to use new software when they have to, such as when old solutions need replacing. Only 10% of UK firms said they "actively look for new solutions that help us grow" - the lowest number among any of the comparison countries.

Cost saving is the primary reason for investing in cloud software for UK SMEs (32%); SMEs in the other countries studied cited better security as the main driver, particularly in Germany (36%). Across the board, easy access to information was cited as the third biggest benefit for moving processes online.

"Few business leaders would argue with the fact that having the right software tools in place can be vital to success," said Erik van der Meijden, ceo of Exact. "In fact, 63% of the SMEs who took part said they felt that technology is going to have a strong impact on the competitive landscape in their market over the next three years."

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18 September 2015

Small firms face Small business owners are facing "problems of success", such as staff shortages, but remain optimistic according to new research.

The annual Albion Growth Report published by Albion Ventures has revealed that 61% of SMEs plan to grow "dramatically" or "moderately" in the next two years. Only 4% think they will shrink or wind down.

On a regional basis, SMEs in Yorkshire and the South East are the most confident about the future, with 66% anticipating growth over the next two years, closely followed by those in the North East (65%) and London (64%). The transport and distribution sector is the most buoyant, with 79% expecting growth.

The research also revealed that:

  • 39% of small firms are looking to increase their headcount over the following year compared to just 8% who plan to cut jobs;
  • Finding skilled staff is now the second biggest challenge, up from fifth place in 2014;
  • 62% of firms have taken steps to improve productivity in the past year - rising to 86% among medium-sized firms;
  • 50% expect to increase productivity over the next 12 months and 36% expect levels to stagnate.

The proportion of companies that have secured finance to develop their businesses has risen to 44% this year, up from 26% in 2013. However, bank loans and overdrafts as a source of external finance have continued to fall in popularity, down to 49% this year from 76% in 2013.

The popularity of using third party equity or other long-term finance has soared from 6% in 2013 to 34% in 2015; and a third of firms would now consider raising external equity finance.

Patrick Reeve, managing partner at Albion Ventures, said: "This year's report is particularly encouraging as it shows that many of the current barriers to growth are problems of success rather than failure. Concerns about access to finance have given way to shortages of skilled staff and insufficient management expertise. While red tape remains, as ever, the biggest concern, what has emerged very clearly is a trend towards long-term financing horizons and the growth of the equity culture."

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18 September 2015

Small business owners are facing "problems of success", such as staff shortages, but remain optimistic according to new research.