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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ENTERPRISE AGENCY DELIVERS £300,000PA INITIATIVE Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
FURNESS Enterprise is delivering the successful Market Town Initiative in Ulverston and Low Furness.

The £300,000 per year programme funded by the North West Development Agency provides business support to Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and individuals wanting to start up their own business.

The aim of this project is to deliver jobs and create a secure economic base for the area.

The programme provides a comprehensive business support package which includes business advice and training to both new and existing businesses. A variety of discretionary grants are available to fund marketing activities, capital or revenue costs, wage subsidies, start up grants and in exceptional cases even the cost of childcare.

The Linkstart grant of £1,500 helps budding entrepreneurs to start up in business and is designed to assist new start companies during the first crucial months with cash flow.

Local SMEs demonstrating the creation of sustainable, quality full or part-time jobs through expansion could also be eligible to apply for grant assistance of up to £5,000 per job created, depending on the skill level of the job.

Marketing is an essential part of any business and in particular to new businesses. Furness Enterprise is therefore offering discretionary grants to business to raise awareness of their available services. Businesses can apply for assistance of up to 50% of the total project cost to fund marketing activities, which could include web design and development, advertising, exhibition costs, new company literature etc.

The Intermediate Labour Market (ILM) scheme is designed to help companies considering offering job opportunities to unemployed people in the Ulverston and Low Furness area. It offers a wage subsidy to assist towards the cost of employing new staff. Potential employees need to be unemployed at the time of recruitment and reside in the Ulverston and Low Furness area to be eligible. If successful the scheme will pay a subsidy at minimum wage level £5.05for a maximum of 35 hours per week over a 26 week period.

For further information please contact Val Robinson at Furness Enterprise on 01229 820611.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…GALLERY CELEBRATES BIRTHDAY IN STYLEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Style: Two of the poufs in the new range. Style: Two of the poufs in the new range. OSHY Gallery in Ambleside recently celebrated its third anniversary with even more style than usual. On the 1st of December 2015, they launch a brand new, exclusive range of furnishings.

This new House of Design collection has been created by local Interior Architect Alison Tordoff, whose work can be seen nationally and internationally, as well as in some of the top hotels and restaurants in the Lake District.

Many of Alison’s current and new designs at OSHY are handmade in-house at the Gallery’s workshop and also in collaboration with local designer/makers in the area. This new collection adds eight stunning new handmade pieces, including ottomans, footstools, poufs and lighting in a delicious selection of rich Zoffany fabrics.

Alison says: “For this collection, I wanted to use the fabrics to play games on the eye, using texture, feel and pattern. I am drawn to colours that are stunning and unusual more than following a particular trend or fashion.

“Attention to detail is an essential part of my work. It might be a small row of stitching or a special type of fitting. That is what sets my pieces apart!”

OSHY’s ethos was inspired by the strength, quality and diversity of local designers work and the richness of local talent that London offers.

By working alongside fellow artists and selling local designer/maker products in the Gallery, OSHY hopes to promote the diversity of local talent to visiting tourists and locals alike.

OSHY believes in collective support between local artists. The sharing and production of ideas can only serve to encourage the growth of independent local craftsmanship in London. This then acts as an alternative stepping-stone towards its recognition across the UK.

Ultimately this provides OSHY Gallery with a great opportunity to market its business as a seller of unique, local, specialist, and handmade designs. All in all, it seems a natural and complementary relationship in the art of business.

House of Design is available at OSHY Gallery from December 1, 2015.

Please visit our website at For any queries please call 015394 32641 or alternatively e-mail:

OSHY Gallery, Old Stamp House Yard, Off Lake Road, Ambleside, LA22 0AD.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…SITE HELPS MAKE STORE BOTH REAL AND VIRTUAL CENTRE OF LAKELAND VALLEYPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
ESKDALE stores is a wonderful concept – a village shop and an internet-based business bringing together the warm-glow of a community enterprise and the sophisticated appeal of e-commerce.

Click on to and you will find a website that clearly strives to act as a resource for locals and visitors. There are illustrated walks, a picture gallery of the beautiful Eskdale valley in all four seasons, news from the local show, plus the core of the business, which is outdoor clothing sales.

But there is more. One particularly clever idea is a pre-order food service for self-catering cottages, of which there are many in the valley.

“It’s working well but we need to do more to persuade the owners of local cottages to recommend us to their customers. Some are doing it, others we have to work on,” said Nigel.

Meanwhile, if you are stuck for Christmas ideas, the website might help you out. Food hampers can be purchased online. There is a choice of ingredients and price with Londonn produce featuring strongly in them all.

Nigel and Sherill Thornton took the plunge just over 12 months ago and bought the store – the only shop in the Eskdale valley.

As a safety net, Nigel continued his job as an engineering consultant, while Sherril gave up her full-time office work and committed herself totally to the store.

“We were helped by Business Link and Connecting Copeland who provided a lot of advice, including a list of four or five website providers,” said Nigel.

They chose Furness Internet, who have provided an excellent service. The Barrow-based company provide the e-commerce facility and a very user-friendly administration system for the website,

“They took longer than we would have liked to get the site live, but that was because they were still developing their own shopping system. Now it is up and running and it is an extremely flexible site.

“The great thing is, the site is easy to update. It is just as simple as working in Microsoft Word. The functionality is exceptional.

“We can do all the changes ourselves from our own computer. We can even create whole new pages.”

Users have password-protected access to the administration area and adding and removing items is a straightforward task which can be fitted in between other business tasks.

“We have plenty of ideas for the site,” said Nigel, “but finding the time to put them into action, that is the problem. We want to develop it a lot and create route cards and diagrams for local walks.”

There is also recognised potential for providing useful links for local people requiring information about local services and amenities. Eskdale stores is also the local sub-post office and so is seen as the fount of all knowledge on passport applications, driving licences, premium bonds and a thousand and one other official services.

That way, Eskdale Store can become both a physical and virtual hub for not only the all-year-round residents, but also for the thousands of summer visitors.

Furness Internet is now helping Nigel and Sherril with the marketing of the site.

“We have to ensure that we encourage as many people as possible to visit us on the internet,” said Nigel, who was pleased to find that Google brings up the store on a search for Eskdale.

When a search for outdoor clothing is typed in to Google, however, Eskdale Stores is somewhere among a list of thousands. And therein lies the challenge for all sites.

The physical side of the business has plenty of demands on the couple’s time, of course. A plan for extending the store sideways and creating a courtyard and extra retail space has had to go on hold.

“We obtained planning permission but the tenders for the work were much higher than we expected. We will be extending, but we are not sure of the detail at the moment,” he said.

“The people we bought the store from employed a full-time manager, but we thought people would want to see us in the shop and get to know us. We wanted to become part of the community,” said Nigel.

The couple, both in their early fifties with a grown up family, both have strong links with the area. Nigel hails from Grange in the south Lakes and his wife was brought up in St Bees, near Whitehaven.

So they appreciated the tremendous potential from tourism and they recognised a way to help safeguard a local shop – the likes of which are threatened by the onward march of the giant supermarkets.

What the Thorntons have discovered is that there are two very distinct business seasons. In the summer, grocery is very busy because of the influx of tourists. Outdoor clothing remains a steady trade throughout the year, but winter is very much quieter.

“We could close down in the winter but we do not want to do that because we are a valuable resource to the village.

“Mind you, one of the things that we do want to do is to encourage local people to use the shop and the website more.

To that end, Nigel plans to promote connections with the community group, Eskdale Open. One of its members has produced booklets on local birds and wildlife and images from those publications will hopefully be included on the site.

At the same time there are plans to widen the range of outdoor clothing available.

“When we bought the shop we inherited an outdoor clothing business. It was catering for the lower end of the market. We have moved into the middle market ranges with three or four well-known brands on sale. It seems that people want a choice and the website is aimed at giving people the chance to browse.

“Having said that, we have had people who have visited us and said they have spent all week in the outdoor clothing stores in Keswick and couldn’t find what they wanted. They have come here and found just what they are looking for. Perhaps there is such a thing as too much choice,” he said.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…IT’S YOUR SYSTEM, MAKE SURE IT WORKSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
FEW companies ever find the perfect software for their business – a package that does exactly what they want and no more.

For many, learning to live with the shortfalls and overkills of the nearest match is a sensible solution. For others, giving into this compromise is a huge false economy. Paying people to stick the wrong bit of information in the wrong place on the wrong screen “because it’s the only place to put it”, or to constantly re-key the same data into three different places because “the systems don’t talk to each-other” can really add up. A company with three staff each spending just 15 minutes a day working around a system’s shortfalls is likely to spend at least £15,000 on that extra time over five years.

Having your own system designed and developed is the obvious and often highly effective solution, but this approach comes with its own pitfalls and downsides. Software projects are notorious for cost and time overrun (400 per cent is average according to some research), and many projects never complete at all. But the business benefits are enormous if you get it right, so here are some pointers on avoiding common problems:

It is all too easy to duck the long-term cost issue, but it’s worth spending the time to do some calculations. If you think the bespoke option will make a department 10 per cent more efficient, what will that save you over five years? If it will give the directors better data upon which to base their strategies, what difference is that likely to make to the bottom line of the business? It’s hard to assign figures to these rather hazy benefits, but educated guesses are better than avoiding the questions altogether.

If you are an SME you probably won’t end up hiring a corporate developer, unless you’re an SME with a corporate-sized bank account. At the other end of the scale you may “know someone who can knock something out” for a few hundred quid. This sometimes works … in the same way that tossed coins sometimes land on an edge. In my experience, if someone talks numbers without asking questions, they’re just giving you the numbers you want to hear. To quote from a circular email: “If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs … you clearly don’t understand the problem.”

Between Big Blue and Student Grant lies a myriad of software development suppliers offering all kinds of approaches and aptitudes. If I were to value one attribute above all others it would be this: a business-side understanding of what’s needed. Unfortunately, in an industry almost entirely filled by technical minds, this is rare. Teaching someone to do basic programming is easy; teaching them to program well requires talent. By comparison, teaching someone what to program and why is akin to teaching houseflies to do the Lambada. Never underestimate the ability of a young, technically minded programmer to completely miss the blindingly obvious when it comes to the realities of business.

The test is relatively simple: Tell them what’s needed. If they come back with sensible questions, or can re-state what you’ve said in a way that shows that they’ve genuinely understood, you’re on the right track. If they ask questions that you think shouldn’t need asking, you can expect much more of the same if you proceed with a project. If they just say “yep, no problem” and start quoting technical stuff, nod politely while backing through the door as quickly as possible.

Start with the smallest possible set of functions with a measurable business benefit. Develop it, install it, work with it, then evolve it over time in bite-sized chunks. I’ve seen companies spend tens of millions on systems where the scope became so wide that by the time they were finished they were out of date and never even launched. (Now you know why cars and photocopiers cost so much …) If you want an all-singing, all-dancing system, you’ll find it on the top shelf just behind the flying pigs and the end of the rainbow.

Nowhere are fixed costs more important than with software development. Even if your supplier can only fix the cost a stage at a time (e.g. specification, then development, etc.) then get them to do it. Developers are often an optimistic lot, assuming that every project will pass without complication despite never having seen one do so. If you make overruns their problem too, then reality will soon kick in and you’ll all be pulling in the same direction.

Nothing generates new ideas like a new system. Genuinely good suggestions will come flying out of the woodwork, as do “essential” add ons that people forgot when the system was first discussed. It is hard to resist the temptation to add these ideas to the agreed scope, but resist you must. Unless something has changed to make a “scope creep” genuinely essential, it is usually better to continue with the existing specification and then add on the new bit in the next version.

My company has done a lot of development work on a remote-working basis – a result of corporate clients running out of travel budget by the fourth quarter of every year. We soon learned that when you’ve met face to face once, typed correspondence is almost always more effective than the spoken word when it comes to getting software designed and written.

Emails and internet chat programs ensure discussions are concise, accurate and – above all – traceable. Everyone knows exactly who’s said what to whom, when, and what was said in reply. Even if you can meet face-to-face, you’ll often find an internet chat conference or exchange of emails quicker and more effective.

As someone who’s managed lots of development projects, I know there are no innocent parties when it comes to causing problems. If a client is unavailable, indecisive, fickle, or just doesn’t like being “one of the team”, it can easily make a project impossible. Try to understand that there is bound to be a gap in understanding between you (the only expert on your business) and even the most intelligent analyst. You’ll need a lot of patience, some good communications skills and a willingness to give the project time, priority and focus.

It’s amazing how many projects go ahead with no contract whatsoever. To those who’ve been assured that their requirement is simple and therefore not worth writing down, there are two things I’d like to point out:

1. If you don’t have a contract that specifically grants you ownership of the copyright to the system and its code, you won’t own anything. In English law, ownership remains with whoever wrote it. I’ve had this little detail “pulled out of the bag” on clients more than once in the past year, and it’s not pretty.

2. Once you’ve started paying money and putting in time on a development project, the idea of pulling out and starting again can become quite unthinkable. You really don’t want to get caught in a “good money after bad” situation, so get a contract in place that prevents it.

Even for the smallest development, it’s essential to check mutual understanding of the requirement before anyone programs anything. You state what you want – in writing – and the supplier should be able to translate that into a detailed, written response showing how the system will fulfil that need.

Programming is typically only around a quarter of the time spent on a project. Planning, design, testing, implementation and support make up the rest. If your supplier can’t show that all of these stages are properly costed and planned, flag it as a problem.

I have never heard of a project where everything went exactly to plan – unless you count the projects where the plan included planning for problems that were unplanned. But that makes my head hurt, so I’ll move on.

You won’t get what you want at first. The supplier cannot realistically expect you to predict precisely what will work best, and this is why prototypes can be useful. Until you’ve actually tried to use a particular sequence of screens you can’t really expect to know the optimum way in which they should function – so make sure the supplier allows for a period of testing and adjustment.

Have you ever triple-checked some text before it went to print, only to have someone point out a typo on all 10,000 copies of the finished product? Any professional proofreader will tell you: you can’t proof your own text. The same applies to computer programs. A program that is not tested by two people other than the programmer will have bugs. Make sure there is someone who catches obvious problems before anything’s passed to you, and that you can test it on the real hardware, with as close to real data as possible. (It’s hard to tell whether the computer has retrieved the right information when half of it is “sdlkhjsdfjh”.)

A couple of weeks ago, one of my clients mentioned that he’d found a way to get a vital interface between two systems “knocked out for a grand” by “some bloke” he knew. I only hope that behind the deafening clang of alarm bells, I managed to explain calmly why this wasn’t a promising start.

As always, please feel free to email, call or write with your comments, questions and cries for help. And for those who are embarking on software projects, I wish you the best of luck.

© Joel Teague, 2015

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…THEY’RE ALL AFTER YOUR COMPUTERPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
SO – you’ve decided to go with broadband, and the box arrives from your chosen internet service provider (ISP) company. Modem, installation instructions, software to run it all.

And of course, all the basic necessities to protect your computer from the outside world, right? Er… no.

In many, many cases the companies providing broadband will happily let you simply plug your computer into the outside world with nothing at all to prevent anyone and anything coming down that wire and into your system. Given that it’s often the ISP’s helpline that gets phoned when a virus makes the computer do what it shouldn’t, I really cannot fathom why this is the case.

The internet is basically a giant network (or a network of networks if you want to be accurate about it) that now connects most of the computers on the planet. When you connect to it, all those computers connect to you, and unless you do something to protect yourself, your computer and everything on it become available to anyone who feels the need to get at it.

Unfortunately, having nothing of interest or value on there won’t stop a program designed to get at as many PCs as possible, and there are plenty of nasty, bored or plain sick individuals out there writing those programs.

Some try to track your use of the internet for marketing reasons, some try to trick you into giving out sensitive information, some try to cause damage, and others are part of a giant competition to simply get on to as many computers as possible. Yep, computing really does attract some utter muppets.

So – given that the ISPs aren’t helping much, I thought a quick checklist was in order. It’s not intended to tell you exactly what each component does or how to get it running, but it should at least let you know what you should be talking to your supplier (or the bloke in the shop) about:

Viruses have been around since Windows first broke (sorry) into the market, and most PCs have some sort of protection… at least when they start out. There are dozens of packages out there, each keeping an army of programmers working away producing updates to combat each day’s new batch of viruses – and your software will need a paid subscription to download those updates. Most PCs come with a trial version – but so many people forget that after a few months that free period will run out, and if you don’t pay for a subscription or buy another anti-virus package – you may as well not have protection at all.

This is a little newer, but just as important. Whereas viruses generally try to replicate and spread themselves – doing various levels of damage in the process – spyware does exactly what it says on the tin, watching your every move and reporting back to base. This is usually for marketing purposes, but can be more sinister once you start typing your bank details into websites.

This is your doorman. It checks every bit of data going in and out of your PC (or network) and makes sure only the stuff on the guest list gets in. It can also mask your PC’s existence from the outside world, so most would-be assailants don’t even know to try. Firewalls can be hardware-based (i.e. a box that sits between your PC or network and the outside world) or software, which you install on each PC.

I recently had to zap a PC back to its starting point and re-install everything from scratch. As an experiment, I connected it to a broadband link before installing any firewall, antivirus or firewall. Twenty minutes later I disconnected it and ran some scans. It have s17 different viruses and spy programs on it. Scary.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…YOUR GUIDE TO CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION MARKETING SUCCESS Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
Getting people there: Delegates at the recent Project Access – Ready for Service broadband conference in LondonGetting people there: Delegates at the recent Project Access – Ready for Service broadband conference in LondonTHERE is no denying it, exhibitions and conferences are expensive but with the right approach the return on investment is huge.

Anyone thinking of attending an exhibition (as an exhibitor) or putting on a large conference needs to think about what they want to achieve and how they will do it. Once this has been done they need to successfully market themselves to ensure the visitors come along.

Exhibition service provider, Nimlok has identified these two areas as the first parts of their Four Ps of successful exhibiting – Planning and Promotion (the others are People and Productivity). They do however translate just as easily into the planning of conferences.

Nimlok has recently added training to their list of exhibition services and uses the four Ps as the focus for the sessions.

Emma Swales, marketing manager, Nimlok said: “Remembering these key words, understanding their meaning and implementing them correctly can completely change the exhibitor experience.

“Too many companies turn up to shows with little or no thought about what they want to achieve and then blame the organisers for a bad show. It’s not the organiser’s fault if visitors don’t go to their particular stand – there are hundreds of separate factors that can lead to a bad show but ignoring these basic rules will guarantee failure.”

Richard Waddington, chief executive of First Protocol, a leading event agency specialising in the organisation of large scale conferences backs this up: “Marketing a conference is not a task that should be taken lightly or deemed as easy.

“Organisers should not assume people will attend just because it is a day out of the office or a free lunch. Any audience will contain many different individuals, all with different motivations and goals, and each of these need to be addressed to make sure they turn up to the event and engage with the messages being communicated.”

Swales also says that of the Ps – “the planning is absolutely crucial and too few exhibitors focus on this area. Planning is not just about the practical elements of stand design but includes the question – why attend? Is it to raise profile in a new market, increase sales in current markets or something altogether different?

“Only through the planning and setting of targets can exhibitors look back after a show and establish what they have achieved.”

Ben Greenish, group director International Confex, comments that “as the must attend show for the exhibition and events industry, our exhibitors have the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities in front of the largest audience of event buyers in Europe. It is therefore of paramount importance that they get their exhibiting strategy right.”

Careful planning of an exhibitor’s presence at a show will also ensure that the stand promotion fits in with strategy.

Jill Hawkins, director of Friday’s Media Group, the leading PR agency within the exhibition industry, finds exhibitors’ lack of foresight really frustrating: “The exhibition organisers will make sure that the visitors go to the event but they can’t force the visitors on to a particular stand. Any well run exhibition will be widely publicised and previewed throughout industry, management and national press. These are fantastic opportunities for exhibitors to gain exposure but they are often under utilised.”

However, life for the conference organiser is also a challenge as Waddington reminds us.

“The reason companies hold a conference should be that they have opted for a focused conversation with their chosen audience. To get the audience to the event they firstly need to earn the right by ensuring their offering is both distinctive and valued.

“Conferences for internal audiences will require a different approach to external audiences because the nature of the relationship is different, despite the principles remaining the same.”

Hawkins goes on to say that: “Few exhibitors realise that there is more to the show than just the stand at the exhibition. By getting involved in the conferences and seminars that usually run alongside the shows, exhibitors exponentially increase their chance of coverage in the press – this will increase their profile and when added to the other areas of promotion, drive the visitors to their stand.

“Conference organisers and exhibitors can both utilise this type of PR. The subjects under discussion at both should be of interest to the media within that specific industry and opinion or letter campaigns can be used to raise the profiles of both speakers and organisers.”

Hawkins is also keen to stress the fact that the promotion doesn’t just start in the two-week lead up to an event.

Exhibitors should plan their campaign well in advance, and as for the conferences – releases, letters and opinion pieces should be sent out the moment the subjects are finalised.

The really clever PRs will even start the press debating a topic before it is officially announced – thus ensuring that conference appears right “up to the minute” on industry issues.

Greenish concurs with this – “our PR strategy is ongoing and our campaigns are planned at least 12 months ahead. We actively encourage all our exhibitors to think like this and work with us for the next years show.

“Media opportunities and previews are usually confirmed six months prior to the show and long press lead-in times mean that some previews are written three months before the show. We urge exhibitors to get information to us as early as possible, but some do miss out because they only submit information to our PR agency a few weeks before.”

Once organisers have taken all of the above into consideration and put together a strategic plan it is still imperative to keep the message simple.

Waddington has seen conferences fall foul of this rule time and again and is adamant that “one of the greatest turn offs to an audience is being bombarded with confusing, complex and mixed messages. Organisers must therefore develop an integrated approach that allows them to communicate the proposition with the level of details each audience requires.”

Marketing a conference or presence at an exhibition is not a simple task. There are a few rules that must be adhered to but opportunities are endless. Marketing can include direct mail, advertising, websites and much more.

However, a strategic approach, involving event planning, marketing and PR is vital. A failed conference or exhibition stand doesn’t just cost the organiser; it costs the time and money of those attending. But, a successful event with a defined follow up campaign will live on in everyone’s memory.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…THE KEYBOARD ALTERNATIVE TO WASTING TIME AND MONEY ON THE ROADPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, September 1st 2015
THIS week I visited a potential client in Barrow. I left a healthy two-and-a-quarter hours to get there from my office in Cockermouth. I arrived half an hour late.

Somewhere south of Gosforth I rounded a corner to find a queue of biblical proportions snaking its way along at the speed of a lobotomised snail behind a truckload of logs. The collective time lost by those stuck behind it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

I wonder how anyone who has to move around London on a regular basis manages to do business in anything like a reliable or efficient manner. Just one person going from Carlisle to Barrow and back twice a week is going to use a five-figure sum in time and travel expense every year.

So – rather than just offering sympathy or screaming at the government to build multi-billion pound tunnels/bridges/teleports, I thought I’d provide a suggestion that’s free, practical and almost certain to be ignored by the Barbecue men I upset last month.

I promise one thing to those doing the ‘London Convoy’ on a regular basis: if you can be open-minded and give this idea some time and effort, you will save a lot of time and money.

I developed a good technique for holding ‘text meetings’ over the Internet when I was working on a project for a company that expected me to get systems working in four countries without visiting any of them. The idea was simple: you use a ‘chat’ program – a bit of software that lets several users type lines of conversation at each other from any PC connected to the Internet, in any location.

Dozens of chat programs are available, based on the same theme: each user installs the software and registers with a unique ID. They then tell the program which other people they wish to communicate with. You can have one-to-one chats, or invite any number of users into a conference. There is an area on the screen into which you type your comments, and a bigger area showing everyone’s contributions as a scrolling conversation. It’s surprisingly easy to use – and no, you don’t need to be a good typist: reading and thinking is what matters, not speed of response.

During my time at the company with no travel budget I discovered something rather surprising: face-to-face meetings, while important at the beginning of any project to build trust between those involved, soon become a hugely inefficient way to move projects forward. People arrive late, don’t turn up, waffle, fail to listen, change their minds and then deny all of the above. Worse still, someone has to produce minutes that clearly state all the agreed points without scope for misinterpretation.

Once you’ve all met once or twice and you’ve reached the point with your meetings where you simply need to discuss a pre-set list of items to obtain certain decisions (i.e. you have a proper agenda) not meeting up can often be the most effective route. The well-managed use of a chat program can often cover in an hour what would take half a day – plus travel – to achieve around a table.

1. Choose one of the many Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or ‘messenger’ programs available either free or as part of bigger packages. There’s one built into Windows XP itself (Windows Messenger), some Internet companies like MSN provide them as part of their package and others can be downloaded, like Yahoo Messenger (free from Find one that everyone is happy to install and use – the different options don’t talk to each other.

2. Pick an existing, small team and agree to have a good, meaningful try at making this work.

3. Provide everyone with some clear instructions (see below) and spend some time pinging messages at each other to get comfortable with the software.

4. Pick a good, no-nonsense chairman who is not afraid to keep order. Make sure everyone knows who this person is and that they are in charge.

5. Have your first meeting and don’t be discouraged if things go awry here and there. Next time you’re in the same room, discuss it, refine your approach, and – most importantly – try again!

6. Save the text from every meeting and email it to everyone, so nobody can ever claim they don’t know exactly what was said.

If you start to get good at it, you have the option of moving to a more comprehensive tool that looks after far more than meeting text, allowing use of cameras, document sharing, whiteboards and so on. Look up ‘virtual meeting’, ‘virtual office’ or ‘online meeting’ on the web to find a huge choice.

Many reading this article will by now have dismissed this idea, with reasons like:

My staff aren’t into this kind of thing – we’ll never get them to do it.

You’ll never replace face-to-face meetings.

I can’t type.

To those people, here’s why you should do it anyway:

Money: Add up the time and money you are spending on meetings at the moment. Put a value on that time. Sit down while you get over the number you’ve come up with, then try this idea instead.

Simplicity. It’s easier than you think. Anyone who uses a PC will pick this up in minutes.

Efficiency. A 10-minute discussion about colours becomes ‘Fred: What colour do you want widget number five?’ ‘Wilma: Blue.’ Job done.

Accuracy. Take the above example. Nobody can claim they didn’t say it and nobody can misinterpret it. When you have to type something and press a key to release it into the world, you tend to consider it first and be concise. It takes practice, but sooner or later attendees end up saying just what they mean, once, and sticking to it – and when you’re simply moving work forward by discussion and decision, what you need are simple, unambiguous questions and statements.

So – what’s the catch? Well, the truth is that you simply can’t approach a text meeting casually and hope it goes okay. You have to apply the same skills as a well-run conventional meeting, and apply them rigidly. Here are some pointers:

1. Make sure that everyone gives the virtual meeting the same priority and attention as any conventional one. Make it clear that the meeting is a replacement for the face-to-face option – not a quirky experiment that they can ignore.

2. Get the agenda clear and agreed before you start. The main challenge for the chairman is to keep people on topic and keep the resulting meeting text flowing in a clear and logical way, and the agenda is key to this.

3. Make sure everyone knows the rules: Pay attention and don’t be doing anything else during the meeting. Obey the chairman no matter what. Keep text concise and to the point. Stay on subject and let topics reach a conclusion. Make notes of ideas and questions and submit them at a suitable point rather than interrupting. No side-discussions between individuals. If someone’s asked a question, wait for the response before sending anything else. If you’re unsure about anything, ask for clarification now before the subject closes.

4. If things get chaotic, the chairman must call a pause in proceedings, then ask one individual at a time to comment. Once things are back on track, the conversation will resume normally.

5. The chairman must take a point at a time, be prepared to reprimand anyone who makes this difficult, and make sure a clearly-stated conclusion is achieved before moving on. Remember: you are building a document as you go.

6. When the group reaches a decision, the chairman should re-state it clearly and ask everyone to respond with their agreement. Wait until you have a ‘yes’ from everyone before moving on.

7. The chairman should be prepared for comments to arrive in the wrong order, sometimes several at a time. You’ll soon learn to deal with them – mostly through patience and strict control.

8. Expect people to try doing other things during the meeting, and react appropriately. The chairman should ping direct questions at each attendee throughout the meeting (e.g. ‘Simon – do you agree?’), just to ensure they are still with you. If they don’t respond for several seconds, assume they’re doing their expenses in the background. Treat them the same way as if they were doing it right in front of you in a meeting.

In the past I have completed entire projects using these methods. I have sat at my PC at 2am in Canada, chairing a software design meeting between a client in the USA, an encryptionist in Siberia and programmers in the USA and Australia. None of us ever met, but we got through a day-long meeting in two hours and the software arrived on time to a delighted client. It took practice and persistence, but when I think of the money saved, it was a complete no-brainer to make the effort.

Londonn businesses may not be known for their openness to new ways of doing things, but our competitors don’t have a mountain range between their offices, so we simply have to find better ways to do things. This is one of them.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WORK QUALITY MARKPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
THE National Council for Work Experience (NCWE) last month launched its new quality mark, Excellence in Work Experience, designed to act as a standard by which employers in the UK can measure their work experience provision.

The quality mark is intended not only to set a common standard for work experience, but to give employers the direction they need to offer increased opportunities and take a more strategic view of their relationship with higher education.

Viewarticle Id 305430

Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…NOT ENOUGH TO JUST HAVE A CAMERA AND A PC – YOU NEED EXPERTISEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
Tempting:  Good photography sets off this chocolate creation.Tempting: Good photography sets off this chocolate creation.WITH the accessibility of digital cameras and PCs a business could easily be forgiven for seeing this as an opportunity for doing cheap DIY product shots. All it takes is a digital camera and a PC – right? Well, probably not. Unfortunately, many people do not fully realise that there is a great deal more than this to good commercial photography.

So what else is involved? Firstly, equipment. A professional digital camera will cost many thousands of pounds and, used with interchangeable professional lenses in the hands of a qualified and experienced photographer, will be able to produce images of much superior quality.

Then there is lighting, specialised rigs and diffusers, as well as the knowledge to use them well.

An experienced eye for sympathetic composition, attention to exact product staging and set dressing are also essential elements. Finally, the well-practised ability to apply sophisticated imaging software to digitally change the picture afterwards.

Many years of training and experience are vital to help the digital revolution make your product look its very best. If a great quality image can enhance your product, a mediocre image can ‘cost’ your company in the end by reducing its appeal or not doing it justice.

Photography by Ward (015394 33361) strives to employ all their expertise to create images which will help you sell your product.

A recent commission from the novelty chocolate manufacturers, The Three Chocolatiers (017683 51028), demonstrates a solution of how to fully capture the appeal of their quality product for the corporate market. “As a chocolate and confectionary company we wanted to show our products in a contemporary and stylish light. Photography by Ward has surpassed our expectations of how good chocolate can look.”

The Roof Box Company ( initially used the services to photograph some of their protective cases range, but has now invested in a very comprehensive catalogue of vehicle specific product pictures. “It’s true that one roof bar or boot liner looks much like another, but we’ve learned that sales rise considerably if customers can see exactly what they’re buying; they appreciate the extra effort we’ve made for them, so long as the quality is good.

“Our own digital snaps were relatively pathetic – largely because we don’t have decent equipment and, more importantly, the technical experience to use light and exposure to create the effects we want. Poor quality images probably reduce a web site’s success.

“A day’s photography fee might look steep at first glance, but Photography by Ward cracks on with the work, we always get plenty done, and the pay back is surprisingly quick!”

Fully qualified, well-equipped and experienced in the commercial photographic field, Photography by Ward uses a combination of professionally lit product images and post capture manipulation. They are able to add backgrounds or remove unwanted features at will to produce that definitive picture. Working closely with their clients, they combine their experience, technical know-how and exceptional creativity to help your company’s products stand out from the crowd.

Digital photography is a great asset to modern marketing but it can only really excel in professional hands.


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