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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.


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

August 2015

28 August 2015

Employers tend to recruit New research into the psychology of recruitment has found that many managers are influenced by unconscious biases and often recruit candidates that they can directly relate to.

According to a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, employers' initial perceptions of whether a person will be a good fit can be determined by factors which have no real impact on performance, including visual, cultural, demographic and situational factors.

In particular, managers tend to favour candidates that they can relate to - what the report calls "mini-me's"; people that share the interviewer's hobbies and experiences or who present themselves in a similar way at interview.

The report found that:

  • Both male and female managers favour men over women in hiring decisions;
  • Managers tend to spend more time with the first few candidates; those interviewed later may come up against managers that exhibit "confirmation bias" or "selective hearing";
  • Identical CVs seem to get more call-backs when the applicant is typically deemed to have a "white" name as opposed to one associated with an ethnic minority group;
  • Open-ended interviews can lead to different participants being asked different questions to unconsciously re-affirm initial impressions.

The CIPD is urging those with hiring responsibilities to overlook their first instincts about a person and instead gain a more accurate picture of a candidate's suitability for the job before they make their selection.

Jonny Gifford, CIPD research adviser, said: "So many recruitment decisions are based on a 'gut instinct' or what feels intuitively right, and this is a real problem. We like to think we can spot talent, but insights from behavioural science show that our decision-making is actually highly prone to 'sloppy thinking' and bias."

He said: "Regardless of the level of resources and techniques one has to work with, there are steps that employers and recruiters can take to ensure that candidates get a fair recruitment experience and that employers find the person that best fits the role and can drive business performance."

The CIPD's report makes a number of recommendations to ensure that employers make better hiring decisions. These include "anonymising" CVs during initial assessment and committing to a pre-agreed set of questions for each candidate.

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28 August 2015

New research into the psychology of recruitment has found that many managers are influenced by unconscious biases and often recruit candidates that they can directly relate to.

28 August 2015

Gender pay gap: women earn 22% less than menWomen working in equivalent full-time roles earn 22% less than men according to new research.

It means they are effectively unpaid for one hour and 40 minutes a day - a total of 57 working days every year. These are the findings of an annual survey of 72,000 UK managers published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and salary specialist XpertHR.

The 2015 National Management Salary Survey has found that the pay gap has only slightly improved since 2014. For men and women of all ages and in all professional roles the gender pay gap now stands at £8,524, with men earning an average of £39,136 and women earning £30,612. In 2014, the pay gap stood at £9,069.

However, the pay gap rises to £14,943 for senior or director-level staff, with men earning an average of £138,699 compared to the average for women of £123,756. Women managers are also missing out when it comes to bonuses, with the average man's bonus almost twice that of the average woman's bonus.

The survey data also shows that the pay gap becomes wider as women grow older. Women aged 26-35 are paid 6% less than their male colleagues, rising to 20% for women aged 36-45. The gap increases to 35% for women aged 46-60.

Not only are women earning less, but there are also fewer of them in executive positions. Even though women comprise 67% of the workforce in entry-level roles, and continue to outnumber men in junior management roles, female representation drops to 43% at senior management levels. Just 29% of director-level posts are held by women.

The pay gap is largest in big firms, according to the report. New legislation coming into force in 2016 will require organisations with 250+ employees to report publicly on what they pay male and female staff.

Mark Crail, content director of XpertHR, said: "An entire generation has now worked its way through from school leaver to retirement since the first equal pay legislation came into effect in 1970, yet the gender pay gap persists, and many employers still prefer not to know just how bad it is in their organisation."

Ann Francke, CMI chief executive, said: "Transparency is a powerful driver for closing the gender pay gap. The Government's new reporting legislation is a welcome step forward and will be good news for business."

Peter Burgess, director at Retail Human Resources (which has an open salary policy) agrees: "It is clear more companies need to adopt open salary policies to help close the gender pay gap."

He added: "I say to managers, if you had someone who's earning a lower salary than someone else for the same job, could you look them in the eye and tell them why that's the case? [As] long as salaries are kept secret, ancient discrepancies in what people are paid are carried forward, even unwittingly, by employers."

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28 August 2015

Self-employed people not motivated by moneyIndependence, improved job satisfaction and a better work-life balance - these are the key drivers for self-employed people according to new research.

A survey conducted by PeoplePerHour found that the most important reason for working for yourself was the freedom of "being your own boss" cited by 22% of respondents.

One in five (20%) also cited the need for a greater challenge, creativity, success and job satisfaction. Other important factors included: being able to work from home (13%); flexible hours (12%); and being able to balance work and family life (11%).

Tax advantages were of little importance, according to the research. When asked if the possibility of tax deductions was a motivating factor, not a single respondent agreed.

Instead, a big factor for many freelancers is childcare - 56% said childcare was a financial burden and 24% said it was a factor in their decision to work for themselves.

The survey highlights that fact that self-employment is a lifestyle decision for most people. Only 1% of those surveyed said they had to be self-employed due to the nature of their job; while 3% joined or took over the family business. Only 7% of those interviewed disliked the solitary nature of their work.

The downsides of being self-employed include worries about income and the burden of red tape. The survey found that:

  • 57% said lack of stability in their work was of some concern to them;
  • 51% had either experienced cashflow problems or worried about income fluctuations;
  • 29% felt that they missed out on the benefits of employment;
  • 19% said that filing their own tax was a burden;
  • 18% felt the stress of having too much responsibility.

The average take-home earnings for UK respondents is £19,512.50. However, the majority of those polled (74%) admitted that they are not saving for their retirement.

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28 August 2015

Government pledges to spend more with SMEsMatt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office, has unveiled a new target to get more small businesses working on central Government contracts.

The aim is to ensure that £1 in every £3 that Government spends will be with small businesses by 2020.

In 2013-2014, central Government spent £11.4 billion with small and medium-sized businesses - those employing 250 employees or less. This is equivalent to 26% of central Government spend.

By 2020, the Government wants to increase this to a third. This would mean an extra £3 billion per year going to SMEs directly or through the supply chain.

Matt Hancock described the initiative as "an amazing opportunity for the country's diverse and innovative small businesses" and he urged them to "get stuck in".

He added: "From computers to uniforms - there are so many opportunities for small businesses to work with us, and I want to see more of them providing value for money for the taxpayer and benefiting from our spending."

Earlier this year, the Government announced improvements in the way it buys goods and services to help more small businesses bid for public sector contracts. These included:

  • Requiring the entire public sector supply chain to be paid within 30 days;
  • Abolishing pre-qualification questionnaires (PQQs) for low-value contracts;
  • Ensuring all public sector contracts are published in one place (Contracts Finder).

Each government department and the Crown Commercial Service will now make sure that it meets this target by setting out individual plans and targets for spending with SMEs over the next five years.

John Allan, national chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "The Government has much to gain from opening up public procurement to smaller businesses and we welcome [its] commitment to achieve this ambitious target. To meet it, the Government will need to focus on robust monitoring and challenge of poor practices wherever they are found. The FSB will play its part, and will work with ministers on this important goal."

John Manzoni, chief executive of the Civil Service, said: "Further opening up our marketplace to small businesses is good economic sense all round - making it easier for them to access and win Government business opportunities, whilst encouraging increased competition and market innovation to deliver best value for the taxpayer."

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28 August 2015

Are pension providers closing the door on SMEs?

Financial advisers are warning that growing numbers of pension providers are closing their doors to SMEs as they reach their auto-enrolment staging date. According to research conducted by Defaqto on behalf of NOW: Pensions, 77% of advisers anticipate that growing numbers of pension providers will not offer their auto-enrolment schemes to businesses with fewer than 30 employees. Of the 248 advisers questioned, 33% already believe there isn't enough pension provider choice for employers and 82% claim that providers have been cherry-picking auto-enrolment business.

Government warning to firms that employ illegal immigrants

The Government has threatened to close firms that employ illegal immigrants as part of what it describes as its "crack-down on unscrupulous employers". The new measures will make it easier for the Government to prosecute employers who hire workers who don't have permission to work in England and Wales, as well as increasing the maximum jail term for employers flouting the law from two years to five.

Cameron consults on apprenticeship levy

Prime minister David Cameron has outlined plans to increase the number of quality apprenticeships and give businesses a say on how they are run. The Government has pledged to create three million apprenticeships by 2020. It is also giving employers the chance to give their views on the introduction of an apprenticeship levy, set to be introduced in 2017 and designed to increase investment in training and apprenticeships. Under the proposals, employers who put in funds will have direct spending power over it. Levy systems already operate in over 50 countries, including the Netherlands and Denmark.

New support for budding entrepreneurs

Start & Grow is a new business start-up initiative aimed at supporting ambitious entrepreneurs. It is specifically targeting people who haven't yet launched their business but are looking to achieve high growth and create employment opportunities. Support includes: one-to-one advice, skills training, mentoring, access to finance support and business planning. Supported by the Regional Growth Fund (RGF), Start & Grow will be delivered across England by the Cavendish Consortium in areas where there are lower levels of business start-ups.

21 August 2015

IoD: jobs figures show The Institute of Directors (IoD) has described recent employment and wage statistics as a "new stage of the recovery", with the headline rate of unemployment steady at 5.6%, the number of people in work falling slightly and wages growing at a rate of 2.4%.

Michael Martins, IoD economic analyst, said: "Britain has entered a new stage in the recovery, with job security on the rise and wages continuing to grow ahead of inflation. After years when preserving – and then creating – jobs was the main priority, businesses are now rewarding employees, who cut down on hours or accepted pay freezes, with extra work and higher wages."

He described the slight decrease in the overall number of people in work as "a natural part of the transition from a fragile recovery to a strong, growing economy", saying it should not be a cause for alarm.

Martins added: "Business and consumer confidence is high, meaning more people are switching from part-time to full-time work, fewer people have to work on temporary contracts or take up second jobs, and the number of job-seekers is also down. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of people who left employment were over 65, showing they now feel confident and secure enough to retire.

"Confidence should remain high for the foreseeable future, with 'lowflation', strong growth and a tightening labour market on the horizon. As wages continue to grow and interest rates look likely to rise before long, the next crucial test for the UK economy will be to translate growth and confidence into productivity gains. The signs are encouraging here, too, as figures suggest output per hour could be growing at its fastest rate for a number of years."

Recently, the CBI responded to Office for National Statistics labour market data for the three months to June 2015, which showed that unemployment rose by 25,000 and employment fell by 63,000 to 31m.

John Cridland, CBI director-general, said: "It's disappointing to see employment falling, caused by a drop in the number of people working part-time. And while the overall pace of pay growth has remained steady, it has reduced slightly in the private sector, where growth in regular pay has slowed and bonus payments have fallen.

"With the new National Living Wage forcing pay rises from early next year, the government will need to keep a close eye on employment figures, to ensure it minimises the negative effect of locking some people out of work."

Further reading:

21 August 2015

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has described recent employment and wage statistics as a "new stage of the recovery", with the headline rate of unemployment steady at 5.6%, the number of people in work falling slightly and wages growing at a rate of 2.4%.

21 August 2015

Sectors still blighted by skills shortagesAlthough the latest Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG Report on Jobs shows permanent placements rose again in July (albeit at a slower pace), skills shortages continue to blight many UK sectors.

REC chief executive Kevin Green, said: "While demand for staff remains strong, the labour market is tightening. Alongside long-term problem areas such as technology and engineering, we're now seeing vacancies such as bricklayers and drivers being flagged as hard to fill."

Green believes business and government must both ensure that employees and people entering the jobs market are skilled, but businesses, he said, must be prepared to hire staff with potential and invest in their development.

"We need the government to provide more effective careers advice and encourage people to study the right subjects," Green argued. "And while these changes are feeding through into the jobs market, we need a sensible and balanced approach to immigration, so employers have access to the workers they need."

Bernard Brown, KPMG partner, added: "It's clear that we're in the grip of an industry-wide skills shortage, which shows no signs of abating. Businesses are struggling to find the talent they need and this will have long-term implications for their growth and potentially impact the wider performance of the UK economy.

"The construction industry in particular is struggling to keep pace with demand, with businesses heavily recruiting both permanent and temporary workers. The risk is that a shortage of skilled labour in this sector could impede Britain's major building projects and put the brakes on the country's real estate market."

Green had similar concerns about the skills shortage's impact on UK wealth creation and productivity, particularly in construction. He said: "If construction companies don't have the people they need, both infrastructure projects and house building will be constrained, and this will have an impact on wider economic growth."

The REC/KPMG Report on Jobs also found that:

  • The availability of staff for permanent roles fell in July, the sharpest fall since November 2014, with temporary/contract staff availability also decreasing.
  • Salaries were higher, particularly for temporary and contract staff.
  • Starting salaries for permanent hires continued to rise in July, although it fell to an 18-month low.
  • All four English regions posted increased permanent placements, but the Midlands showed the strongest growth for both permanent and temporary roles, while the South saw the slowest increase.
  • Engineering staff were the most sought-after hires in July, followed by construction workers.

Further reading:

21 August 2015

Employment laws could be damaging UK SMEs and jobsNew market research by consultants Citrus HR suggests UK employment laws could be damaging small business and preventing them from taking on more staff.

Three-quarters of respondents said keeping abreast of legislation was a "significant drain on their time". When asked whether current employment law affected their decision to hire, 39% of small business respondents said they would take on more people if employment law was less complex. Only a quarter thought employment law was acceptable as is.

The research also suggests a marked lack of understanding of UK employment law among respondents. Less than a third knew the current National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates – despite the risk of a fine of up to £20,000 for employers who do not pay at least NMW rates.

Respondents said calculating holiday for part-time staff and those working "casual hours contracts" was particularly difficult. Changes to flexible working rules was a common answer when respondents were asked for examples of a recent legislative change that had made small business employment law compliance more difficult.

Almost a fifth (18%) of respondents didn't know which countries are in the EU, which, according to Citrus, means there is a risk of sanction for not carrying out checks to find out if workers are allowed to work in the UK legally.

Among the employment laws respondents most wanted to change included not being able to pay employees for unused holiday unless they leave (37%), followed by removing the compulsory retirement age (29%), employees being able to claim sick leave when unwell while on holiday (21%) and women on maternity leave continuing to accrue paid holiday (14%).

More than half (60%) of respondents used HR support, although much of the support aimed at small businesses was viewed as "expensive and cumbersome", which is a key reason why 36% of respondents did not use HR support.

In July, the government unveiled plans to launch "ambitious reviews into burdensome red tape" in key sectors (energy, waste, agriculture, care homes and mineral extraction) – its first step to working with British businesses to "axe unnecessary regulation and its poor implementation" by a further £10bn over the course of this parliament.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid commented: "I'm determined to take the brakes off British businesses and set them free from heavy-handed regulators. The government's pledge to cut £10bn in red tape over the course of this parliament will help create more jobs for working people, boost productivity and keep our economy growing. For the first time, these reviews will look not only at the rules themselves, but [how] they're enforced. We want firms to tell us where red tape is holding them back."

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