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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WE’RE ALL GLAD TO SEE THE BACK OF THE SFP YEAR…Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
Not sparkling, but... Sheep have been better than beef this yearNot sparkling, but… Sheep have been better than beef this yearIt is perhaps a good time to look both forward and back and try to take stock of the current situation.

Looking at last year, it was one where the Single Farm Payment system rather overshadowed everything. With the recent agreement on the sugar regime (which might have broken down between the time I write this and you read it, but life is like that) it means that there are no more subsidies on food production in the UK.

If you want to produce something, you have to decide whether you can produce it at the world market price, and if not, why bother?

From early reports, it looks as if a proportion of cereal growers have decided, “why bother?” Cereal acreage is down, perhaps by 5 per cent – the estimates vary.

The general feeling is that if it had not been such a good “open” back end on the arable side of the country, the drop would have been larger.

Matters are harder to get a feel for in the world of livestock farming. Talking to knackers and similar, it looks as if unprecedented numbers of calves are being shot on farm.

It seems that no one wants black-and-white bull calves, at least not at a price that makes it worth putting in ear tags.

This is a state of mind I can agree with, as I must have more than 100 black-and-white bullocks of various ages, and under current conditions there is no profit in them at all.

Yes, it is possible if you take various advisers’ figures – and ignore family labour and similar – to show some sort of profit per animal, but more than one person pointed out to me that they could replace their beef enterprise by spending one evening a week shelf-stacking in a supermarket. They would make more money for far less work and no investment whatsoever.

Sheep have been better than beef this year. Not sparkling, but it is still possible to make a living of sorts. Will this continue?

Dairy is not looking good; the big, well-managed, businesslike units all seem to be getting out. The optimum dairy unit now seems to have about 200 cows – father and son, or two brothers working together, with lots of children, all keen to farm, to work as free labour.

So with 2015 written off, what about 2016? I would suggest that this winter you sit down with your nearest and dearest and take a careful look at the future. Do your best to get your accounts as up-to-date as possible, perhaps even get in a decent consultant or an accountant who understands agriculture. Sit down and honestly look at how your business is working.

Produce a budget for next year. Ignore any Single Farm Payment. Can you make the business pay? What are you doing that loses money? Why are you doing it?

Try and look at the business from a different perspective. I know one chap who almost by accident found himself earning nearly £100 a week just storing caravans outside in the yard. So, if you were in the habit of buying 30 store bullocks and fattening them in an open-fronted building, would you make more money if you didn’t buy the stores and instead just stored five caravans or boats in the same building?

The other option is Entry Level Stewardship; even one of the higher-level schemes. Look at them as you would any other business venture. How much will it cost to get into it? How much will it cost to run? Include in this income foregone, and how much a year it will earn. If it looks viable, fine, if it doesn’t then look at some other venture instead.

It is one thing asking your wife to go out to work so you can sell people food at less than the cost of production, but I don’t see why you should ask her to go out to work so you can subsidise people’s views.

Looking at New Zealand, where they lost all subsidies overnight, it is commonly held that many companies got through it by locking the cheque-book away.

This attitude, in moderation, is probably reasonable. I don’t think that it is going to be possible for most of us to invest our way out of this crisis. Yes, you have to speculate to accumulate, and paying your bills on time is always a positive move. Remember that we are at world market prices.

It is unlikely that we are going to be able to get prices up, so we have to keep costs down.

All in all, I suspect that the shake-up will do the industry good. A number of people will get a chance to take early or semi-retirement with their Single Farm Payment. Some will use it to make useful investments, while others will change the direction of their businesses.

As for those who just want to produce food, take heart from the nuclear industry. A few years ago it was doomed; now the politicians have realised that they cannot rely on imported energy.

Personally, I have every confidence that in the next 20 years governments will be so keen on increasing food production that they will be paying grants to rip out the hedges that they paid grants to have you plant.

Happy New Year!

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…OFF THE TREADMILLPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
ESPRIT is launching personal retreats to help busy executives take time out and reconnect with their inner values and beliefs.

International coach Zoë Dawes will run retreats at Linthwaite House Hotel in Bowness.

One-day retreats start on January 26 and the first two-day retreat will be on March 20-21.

Personal retreats will also be run at Lattendales, a Quaker centre in Greystoke, near Penrith.

For more information, visit www.chartwellcoaching.co.uk

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HEADLINEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
successunlimited.co.uk/humour/jokes.htm

On the basis that “laughter is a force for democracy” and that sentiment applies to the workplace as well as to government, take a break from your daily toil and chuckle along with these jokes. They are a little subversive, so if your boss catches you reading them and wonders why you are smirking behind your computer monitor – you had just better hope he has a good sense of humour. Then there is this simple chart that gives you all the “clever answers” you could ever hope to spout when you are on a training course. The procedure is simple. Think of any three-digit number; then select the corresponding buzzword from each column. For instance, number 257 produces “systematised logistical projection” Drop that phrase into any conversation with a training consultant and they will be impressed.Try it for yourself, it could work wonders, but don’t blame me if you get sacked. There are also some wonderfully politically incorrect management mottos which you could drop into the company’s suggestion box such as “TEAMWORK…means never having to take all the blame yourself”.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HILL FARMS DELAY IS ‘WORRYING’Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
A DELAY in the public consultation on the hill farming allowance has been labelled as “worrying” by a Londonn MP.

During an All-Party Parliamentary Group on hill farming, Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, revealed that the consultation would start in mid-January, several weeks later than expected.

Mr Farron discovered the delay after a letter he sent requesting a start date for the consultation remained unanswered for a month.

“When the group met Lord Bach in 2015 we felt that he shared our view that farming in the uplands is only possible with a stable financial framework,” said Mr Farron. “However, the delay of the consultation process is worrying considering that the last payment of the Hill Farm Allowance will be made early this year.

“Many companies will be disappointed by this news and rightly so, but I, along with the rest of the group, will continue to press the Government to keep to their revised timetable.”

NFU hill-farming spokes-man Will Cockbain said upland farming had to remain viable if the landscape that underpinned the national tourism industry was to be maintained.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…BEWARE, BARBECUE SYNDROMEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Monday, August 1st 2015
I’ve noticed something odd, and I have to ask your indulgence for having a little dig at some of you – and myself – in explaining it, writes Joel Teague. Please bear with me and hopefully it’ll generate some productive introspection that in turn leads to some improved balance sheets.

Much of the business community is as yet unaware that my job exists, and the marketing people have been having quite a time working out the best ways to explain our services to the business community. The message is indeed getting out, but we’ve noticed a weird tendency in some businessmen (notice the “men” bit specifically) to resist a particular part of the message, even when it’s patently obvious.

When you think through the purpose of any service – and marketing people are paid to do just that – you realise that part of the sales job is making the customer realise, without taking offence, that they are better off having you carry out the task in question than them doing it themselves. You either need to do the job cheaper, better, quicker – or preferably all three. But I think there’s another factor, just as important but rarely mentioned: the customer must want to be rid of the task.

Accounting is a good comparison. Most of us are all too happy to hire a professional accountant in the knowledge that it’ll pay back over time. It’s skilled work, and to do it ourselves would involve countless hours of learning, research, trial and error, serious problems when we got things wrong, and the likelihood of higher bills at the end of it.

Now read that last sentence but apply it to computing. Exactly the same applies on all counts. So why is it that so many company directors doggedly hang on to the task (and no offence, gentlemen – but I’ve yet to find one who’s not losing money as a result) when all of them hired an accountant before they’d even chosen the office furniture?

I have a theory for this, and I call it “Barbecue Syndrome”: The fact is: you don’t boast about getting your accounts sorted at the pub. The accounts getting the better of you won’t dent your pride. But computers? That involves gadgets, and therefore it’s man’s work. When our marketing people suggest that we take that huge pile of technobabble and stress off a director’s desk, we are doing the equivalent of trying to take the tongs from him at the Sunday barbecue – and anyone who’s tried that will remember the reaction. And a bit like dealing with computers, most men like to think they’re pretty good at cooking over coals – partly due to polite comments from the guests trying to crunch their way through a combination of frozen sausage meat and carbon isotope.

I suspect that some of you reading this will know this applies to you, and I also suspect that those who are currently most peeved at me for saying it are among the most guilty. For what it’s worth, I’m guilty of it too – in fact the expression “cobblers’ children worst shod” is very apt in my case. My purpose in life is to help companies identify what they need from their computers and find and manage the best specialists to make it happen for them. So what did I do when our network needed reconfiguring in our new offices? Once I’d worked out what was needed, did I take my own advice and get a trusted specialist to do the button-pushing? Of course not; I went into gladiator mode and tried to do it myself.

OK, I’ve got the excuse of needing to keep up to date on subjects like network configuration, but after several battles into the small hours I eventually gave in and called a network specialist.

I cringe when I think of the sum I must have spent in terms of my own time and lost productivity before forking out the comparative peanuts it cost to get things done properly and quickly.

But I did learn something about configuring computer networks: I learned to put pride aside and get an expert, because to do otherwise is plain bad business.

If there is a “right way” to approach these things, it must be in the ability to be honest with yourself about your capabilities, and in analysing whether your company’s bottom line will be better off if you take a task on or hire a specialist.

My abilities lie in the business analysis end of computing – understanding what a business needs, and keeping up to date with the computing industry well enough to be able to point my clients at the right products, services and suppliers to meet that need.

I’ve been a programmer, I’ve even done some network configuration – but in both cases there was a specialist calling the shots, and I now know the point at which my knowledge and aptitudes end and that specialist becomes necessary. My mistake was letting my urge to take up a challenge override basic economic sense, and I know I’m not alone in doing it.

I quite often work with clients to produce simple cost-benefit analyses that help to decide which jobs are passed to me and which are managed internally.

If we aren’t confident of a net gain from our involvement, I stay out of it – it’s that simple.

I’m sure computing can’t be the only aspect of business that suffers from Barbecue Syndrome, and I’m just as sure that it’s a contributory factor in the most frustrating situation I encounter: sitting with an intelligent businessman who’s looking at the cost-benefit analysis he helped to prepare, staring at the huge cost of not changing the way they have been doing for years … and doggedly sticking to the old way because it’s “their way”.

It’s frustrating and alarming to watch, and it’s worse when a company from outside the region puts them out of business simply through being open to change. London has one of the only shrinking economies in Europe, and I can’t help but think Barbecue Syndrome is something to do with it.

Joel Teague is a TMB accredited ICT adviser. He can be contacted at Teagus Ltd, a Londonn company providing IT advisory and development services for business: Tel. 0870 1417014, Website: www.teagus.com, Email: joel.teague@teagus.com

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…MAKE SURE YOUR BUSINESS MESSAGE STANDS OUT IN THE CROWDPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
IMAGE may not be everything but in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace it is essential that companies stand out from the crowd. Ast Signs of Penrith – London’s premier signmaking company – prides itself in helping businesses to get their corporate messages across to the wider world.

Established three years ago by managing director Mark Aston, Ast Signs incorporates a state-of-the-art in-house design studio that enables it to create everything a business needs to sell itself – from original corporate logos and branding to exhibition materials, banners, adverts, traditional signage, stationery, brochures, shop facades and vinyl vehicle wraps.

“We offer a fully integrated service, are totally customer focussed, manufacture everything in-house and our 11 staff are all highly skilled across a range of disciplines,” says Mr Aston.

Full colour, wide format printing facilities enables Ast Signs to design and print a comprehensive range of exhibition materials to get any business noticed – whether at prestigious events in London’s Earls Court or Manchester’s G-Mex.

As an Avery-accredited converter, its expertise in total vinyl wrapping for vehicles is unrivalled in the UK. Ast Signs specialist applicators are even invited to travel to Europe on key contracts – such is their reputation in this field. “Our applicators are so adept at vehicle wrapping that we have opened a training school for other companies involved in this type of work,” says Mr Aston.

The sheer impact of vehicle wrapping has to be seen to be believed – Ast Signs has the capability to wrap an entire articulated lorry and trailer with bespoke imagery and branding.

Whilst one-off traditional corporate signage remains an important element of their business, large-scale contracts for national concerns cement their nationwide reputation for quality and cost-effective service.

“We are currently rebranding 46 stores across the country for a major High Street retailer,” says Mr Aston.

As a member of the British Signs and Graphics Association, and with ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management System accreditation, potential customers can be confident that Ast Signs will deliver – time and time again.

“We always work to a customer’s timeframe if at all possible,” says Mr Aston, “and if hitting a deadline means putting staff on a 24-hour shift rota then we will do it.”

A highly-motivated business, Ast Signs is dedicated to keeping its customers – that include Eddie Stobart Haulage, Londonn Industrials and Centre Parcs – very satisfied indeed. Frequent repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations are testament to the dynamic young company’s flair and efficiency.

Contact Mark Aston of Ast Signs, Unit 2, Gilwilly Road, East Lakes Business Park, Penrith, on Tel: 01768 892292 or visit the website at www.astsigns.com

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…£1.9M BUSINESS CENTRE PLANNED FOR BARROWPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
A major initiative to encourage enterprise in Barrow-in-Furness is set to be kick-started with the creation of a new £1.8 million Business Centre.

The redundant Waterside House on Bridge Approach has been bought by Barrow Borough Council and, as part of the first phase of the project, will be transformed for use as managed workspace for new enterprise.

A former training school for BAe Systems Marine, the new Centre will help to improve the profile of the enterprise culture in the community by providing in-house business support to new start and expanding businesses that will occupy the larger part of Waterside House. With an extension to be designed and built on the west (channel) side of the building, the facility will also provide a permanent venue and exhibition area for entrepreneurial activity, as well as deliver a range of business support projects borough-wide.

The adjoining two hectare vacant site is already in borough council ownership and is earmarked for development.

The project was funded jointly by the Northwest Regional Development Agency (£1,125,889) and European Regional Development Fund (£696,554).

Stewart Swift, NWDA Area Manager for London, said: “Barrow and the Furness Peninsula has suffered some devastating employment blows over recent years which is why there is a real need for local initiatives to stimulate job creation through the encouragement of enterprise. This new Centre will play a vital role in providing the right kind of support to both start-up and established businesses in the area, ensuring their future growth and development.”

The existing architectural style and specification of the building means that it lends itself to adaptation as a new Business Centre. For this reason the Heart of Barrow Board preferred the option of purchasing and extending this building above the more costly option of building a new centre at Channelside. The extension and refurbishment designed by local Architects Craig and Green will provide an innovative, environmentally sustainable building. Planning permission has already been granted.

The facility will continue to be known as Waterside House.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…DOMAIN NAME SCAM?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Q Our company’s website has been running for several years on the same web address – one ending with ’.co.uk’. We recently received a call from a company claiming that another company was trying to buy the ’.com’ equivalent to our address. They said they had decided to call us before ‘letting it go’ and asked that we should get back to them in 20 minutes to let them know whether we would like to buy the address – at over £200 for 10 years – rather than lose it to another company. In my absence the colleague who took the call agreed to the terms and sent payment, but I concerned that the whole thing has been a scam. Is this company doing anything illegal?

AThis does sound like a common scam that is causing problems at the moment – a client of mine had precisely the same call a few weeks ago from a company in Bristol. What this company may be doing (and there are many doing it) is calling the owners of existing websites where one version of the name is registered and another is not – in your case the .co.uk and not the .com. They then make the claim that you have described (usually with a short time limit for a decision) as a means to get you to buy an address you may otherwise not have bought, or to get you to pay for the registration through them rather than any other company – including your current website host. The ‘other company’ probably doesn’t exist, and if the other address is registered, it is likely to have been registered by the company that called you.

The price you have mentioned isn’t necessarily inflated – it depends on the other services they include in the package – but if they are doing what I have described, they are lying to make a sale and are therefore breaking the law. There are various versions of the scam around – including fake ‘renewal invoices’ for existing website addresses, and claims that ‘other companies’ are trying to buy your address when it comes up for renewal.

My advice is to contact the company and demand the details of the company that wanted to buy your address. If they cannot produce them, I would demand a refund and report the company to your local Trading Standards office. You can buy the address in question through your existing hosting company or shop around for other reputable suppliers, but depending on how far the renewal process has progressed through the company you have paid, you may have to jump through some hoops to get the registration transferred.