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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WE ARE BEING SMOTHERED IN A DUVET FULL OF RED TAPEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
IT seems that now a bureaucrat doesn’t need a reason to object to your plan, they can increase your costs to such an extent that a proposed development is no longer viable.

So folks, let’s have a big hand for the Environmental Impact Assessment. I have seen two cases where it has come into play recently and land agents I have talked to have more examples. In one example, there exists a field that sticks out into an estuary. The sea wall runs around three sides of this four-acre field. Repairing the sea wall will cost more than the capital value of the field, the appropriate authorities discussed matters with the owner, and they agreed it would be more sensible to just put a wall across the fourth side and let the field slowly return to the sea. In steps the Environment Agency. There must be an EIA done before the sea wall can be abandoned. The cost of the EIA was higher than the cost of repairing the seawall!

In another case there is a new road built next to the sea on a new embankment. At the foot of the embankment next to the tidal channel is a footpath. The Highways authority want to widen the footpath to include a cycle path (an excellent idea really, the road above is lethal) but, guess what, someone has insisted that there be an EIA done first. Excuse me? An EIA on a modern road embankment? Has someone got a research project they want someone else to fund?

The EIA is now the weapon of choice for the bureaucrat who doesn’t like what you are doing but hasn’t got the power to stop you, or just wants to twist the knife during interdepartmental infighting. And it costs them nothing, absolutely nothing, and indeed might even fund work for their department.

One interesting suggestion, which has no chance at all of getting made into law, would be allow anyone who is ordered to do an EIA to go to a Judge, who would apportion the cost of the EIA between the body that served it and their victim, with a minimum of 33% having to be paid by the body doing the serving. To keep everyone honest, how about ensuring that the participants pay their own legal costs? This would stop government bodies using the threat of massive legal bills to deter people who might stand up to them.

This is a principle that I feel deserves wider consideration.

There is a serious problem developing here. Government wants us to be ‘enterprising’, to invest and develop our businesses.

But the minute you start you get a constant stream of inspectors and similar who will provide you will yet more expensive hoops to jump through. What must be remembered is that none of the money you spend in this manner is going to give a return. It isn’t an investment; it is a tax! You might as well flush it away down the toilet, although, unless you had the common sense to convert it into alcohol and drink it first, you would doubtless need an expensive disposal licence.

I talk to a lot of people in agriculture, or who were in agriculture. One common complaint is that ‘the joy’ has gone out of the job. Many of those still in the industry are digging in with grim determination. As one farmer, somewhat older than me, commented, ‘if I’d wanted a clerk’s job, I’d have worked harder at school’.

There are unnoticed effects of all this. I have to help a lot of people sort out problems they have got themselves into. An awful lot of problems are caused by people in their 70s and even older struggling to cope with the current systems. Honest people are being hounded and suffer immense stress, some will probably end up being criminalized, purely because they can no longer cope with the paperwork imposed on them from above.

We are being swiftly smothered by a duvet stuffed with red tape. If you don’t believe me join your local village hall committee, and get to grips with the latest food and beverage, Health and Safety, employment rights, noise restriction, and building regulations. Planning a bit of carol singing to raise money for charity? It seems that because of the Licensing Act 2017, you will have to apply for a licence 10 days in advance if you wish to ‘perform’ in a public place.

And remember, whatever you do, don’t wear a ‘hoodie’ while you serenade your fellow citizens, the way things are going, you’ll probably end up being slammed behind bars for 90 days as a terrorist suspect. I am wondering about making a formal protest. How on earth can anyone remain credible as a columnist when the unreal world of the civil service regularly creates situations more bizarre than I would dare to invent?

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HOW TO GET THE RIGHT IT SYSTEM FOR YOUR BUSINESSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, January 1st 2015
Joel Teague has worked in business computing for 18 years. As an analyst, project manager and consultant he has delivered projects for IBM, Ford and Xerox as well as many SME businesses. He is now a director of Teagus Limited, an IT advisory and software development company based in Cockermouth. Joel is an active member of the local Chambers of Commerce, Digital Affinity Group, and the London ProHelp professional volunteers scheme.

IF you find yourself spending far too much time trying to make sense of mounds of conflicting information about computer systems, yet still find your systems ineffective, expensive and unreliable – you are far from alone.

The North West Development Agency (NWDA) recently completed the most comprehensive study of ICT the region has ever seen, and among the main conclusions was this:

“Businesses are not clear on where to go for robust advice on ICT exploitation.”

Many business owners find themselves with two stark choices when it comes to ICT advice: their suppliers – even the best of whom can rarely make detailed recommendations outside their particular offerings, and the suggestions of techies known to them and their colleagues – who are likely to enthuse more about what’s cool than what is appropriate.

The result is often that businesses fail to exploit ICT as well as they could. Bosses find themselves diverted from their jobs, spending countless frustrating hours wading through supplier proposals and industry magazines just so that they are not completely at the mercy of their suppliers’ recommendations.

In an ideal world, companies would analyse what they do and how they do it, then implement the systems best suited to supporting – and improving – those processes. In the real world, many businesses implement the systems that they are made aware of at the time, based on a limited knowledge of the market and which rarely address more than one part of the company’s need. Systems evolve sporadically over time without clear direction. ‘Band-aid’ fixes are implemented instead of long-term solutions – and suppliers still get blamed when they break. ICT strategies are rare, and computer systems loved by their users are rarer still.

In my opinion, this is largely because there are two mutually exclusive aptitudes necessary for successful ICT exploitation: business minds and technical minds. The ‘True Techies’ are essential when it comes to the detail, but what is needed before then is someone with a business mind, and a wide-ranging technical knowledge. A ‘business-side tech’, if you like. This is the person who can talk business to the businessmen and tech-speak to the techies. He or she can analyse the company – it’s strategies, objectives and processes – and work out how best to support it with technology.

The problem with this is simple: how many people like that do you know? The vast majority of those who choose a career in the ICT industry do so because they are fascinated by the ‘how’ and not the ‘why’ – the method and not the need.

The situation is similar to when computer graphics first took their place in the design industry: it was no good trying to get computer experts to be artistic – it was down to artists to learn how to use computers. What companies need now are business minds who have learned the principles of applying ICT in the commercial world.

The good news is that these people are out there – often entering the industry via other occupations such as management, business analysis, business services etc – but they are notoriously hard to find. I count myself among them, and I have spent my whole career painfully aware that I do not fit neatly into an industry where people are classified by the initials of their technical specialisations.

Last year I was discussing this problem with some people from Business Link. When they mentioned a new initiative called Technology Means Business, I have to admit that the cringe-worthy name alone limited my hopes somewhat. But my cynicism proved misplaced, and TMB is one initiative that I wholeheartedly applaud.

The basis of TMB is a business-orientated qualification for ICT advisers. What makes it effective is that a TMB Adviser is not expected to know which buttons to press, but to be able to work out – through proper business analysis – which set of buttons is appropriate. In other words, to get the TMB qualification you have to be able to think business first, technology second – and produce clear, sensible and effective advice at the end of it. Don’t expect to find any young, zitty programmers with it on their CVs.

I attended Durham University Business School to get my accreditation – and was pleasantly surprised when the course, methodologies and examinations showed so much more than the basic grasp of reality I had dared hope for. Where I expected to find the outdated, the technical, the corporate and the academic, I was impressed to find (mostly) the current, the practical, the independent and the realistic. Better still, behind it is an organisation that provides the tools – if, alas, not the publicity as yet – to pass on the full benefits to the UK’s businesses. Logging on to www.tmb.org.uk (or talking to Business Link, or – plug, plug – calling my company, Teagus) will let anyone easily find a local accredited ICT Adviser who should be able to give them the sensible, independent and understandable advice they need. The scheme is not perfect – but it’s an excellent start and one that I hope gains recognition and success.

The North West is far from being alone in having its ICT industry driven by supply instead of need, and TMB was created to help in solving this problem for the whole of the UK. What we can do as a region is to use such initiatives to greater effect – and more quickly – than the rest of the country, to get our businesses using the right computer systems in the right way. It is only one component of the economic picture, but it is a vital component if we are to get Londonn businesses competing effectively with the rest of the country and beyond.

Putting the word out about TMB will only be part of the battle – providing some help in paying for the advice and ongoing help is just as important. I know that these issues are being addressed in the various groups and quangos around the region, so for those who really cannot afford to take on an adviser unassisted there may be some publicly funded light at the end of the tunnel. But for most businesses to wait would be a false economy. A good ICT review can cost well under £1,000 for a smallish business – not much for a properly approached ICT strategy to earn back in just a few months.

So once you have your recommendations – what next? If you’ve found someone who understands your business – and whose advice makes sense – don’t let them go! A knowledgeable ICT person in your corner can spot problems before they arise, keep your systems in line with your business as it evolves, keep your suppliers on their toes, help with implementations and upgrades, and – most importantly – keep you and your managers managing your businesses.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…GET THE RIGHT SIGNSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
WHEN it comes to meeting new laws on signage to help the disabled, little more than 10% of companies across the country are complying, according to top signmaking company Caliba.

Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force last October, but it seems that people are either unaware of the regulations, or unsure about the lengths they need to go to, to comply according to Phil Chester, Operations Director at Caliba.

He says: “The requirements of the Act can’t be ignored and courts won’t be cutting any slack if organisations in London are slow to comply. The focus is on how a service conducted from a business or cultural premises is made available to all members of the public.”

Legibility of text, positioning of signs and use of contrasting colours are key elements to ensuring signage is simple and straightforward for all learners to read. The benchmark for the type of text and positioning of signs to meet the needs of disabled people is BS 8300 2001.

Phil Chester concludes: “The best way is to carry out a total review of current signage in use.”

DDA compliant Braille and tactile signs are available which are especially designed to help disabled people find their way around buildings and sites as easily as the able bodied. Companies like Caliba can work with an organisation to ensure that they meet DDA requirements in the most flexible and cost-effective way.

For more information about how the Disability Discrimination Act may affect your organisation download a helpful guide at www.caliba.co.uk

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 Please click here, not forgetting to include your full contact details should we need to speak to you. THE FULL STORY…RESTAURANT SALE IN KESWICKPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
Rembrant Restaurant, one of the oldest eating-houses in the Lake District, consists of a 70-cover dining area with three upper floor apartments has been put on the market. Offers in the region of £800,000 are being invited for the established business with an annual turnover of £279,462 pa excluding VAT.

Julian Troup, director of Savills’ hotels in Manchester, said: “This is an excellent opportunity to walk into an established business.”

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WORKSHOPS ON TENDERINGPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
A SERIES of free workshops are being offered to Penrith businesses wishing to tender for public sector contracts.

Aimed at SMEs, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce put together the specialist three-event programme to equip companies for the unique challenge of winning orders and supplying the public sector.

For more details or to book places on the course, contact Barbara on 01254 356400 or visit www.chamberelancs.co.uk

Full programme:

November 29: 9am to 4pm – Meeting Your Public Sector Buyer

December 1: 9am to 1pm – Dos and Don’ts of Tendering

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…GETTING TOGETHER SUCCESSFULLYPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Sunday, May 1st 2015
Choice of venue: The new conference facility at The Abbey House Hotel, in Barrow (above) and, on opposite page, Castle Inn and Tullie House.  Choice of venue: The new conference facility at The Abbey House Hotel, in Barrow (above) and, on opposite page, Castle Inn and Tullie House. MANKIND has always sought to come together – whether to sell goods in markets or debate pressing matters of state in forums – and this latter urge is reflected in the modern parliaments and council chambers of today. At another level, conferences, seminars and workshops are excellent mediums for companies and other organisations to exchange ideas and information. Often, taking employees out of their actual places of work encourages free thinking and promotes new ways of working that benefits individuals and companies alike. However, the most successful conferences tend to follow established patterns that are proven to put delegates in the right frame of mind and create the right ambience for creative thinking, open discussion and learning.

Business conferences need three interlocking elements in place to deliver on the day:

An appropriate venue;

Complementary technology that reflects the hi-tech corporate experiences of delegates;

Articulate speakers and hosts.

One of the commonest mistakes made by organisations and companies is in the choice of key speaker to discharge the main message of the event.

The best manager on the ground may lack effective presentational or vocal skills so employing a professional speaker may be a wise investment.

Without doubt, there is an art to public speaking and whilst basic rules can be taught to prospective speakers it is fair to say that not everyone is either comfortable or effective in the role. If delegates are not engaged in the first few seconds of a speech – because of a dull or nervous presentational style – they may never be won over.

An effective public speaker usually knows the tricks of the trade inside out. However, engaging a so-called ‘personality’(whether from the showbusiness or entertainment spheres) does not necessarily mean that a conference’s core objectives will be met. Different conferences have different audiences and a lightweight comedian may not have the depth or understanding of a complex corporate message to promote it correctly.

SELECTING a suitable venue is crucial. A conference room that is difficult to access, badly decorated, poorly laid out in terms of seating, or has a badly designed platform with an uninspiring backdrop immediately sends out negative messages to delegates.

The actual location of a venue can also work against its success, such as an outdated hall next to a noisy main road or works depot.

Fortunately, London as a county has a superb natural backdrop so good venues located here have a distinct scenic advantage over their inner city counterparts.

WHILST style over substance will not win over hearts and minds, it is important to take advantage of modern technology. Used correctly, it enhances the message and it is essential if the conference is interactive. We are all exposed to slick imagery and sophisticated technology – in modern offices, in city centres and in our own homes – so ignoring the latest available gadgetry at a conference is self-defeating.

The excellent news for Londonn businesses is that the county is home to many finely-equipped business conference venues ranging from hotels to modern university campuses and even historical buildings. It is worth asking specialist companies to advise on the right equipment.

Modern technology, if used in a complementary manner, can enhance the actual conference ‘experience’ for delegates. Ideally, there needs to be a smooth transition between projected imagery and sound and the guest speakers themselves but the days of draughty village halls as backdrops to passion-fuelled oratories are long gone.

Some media commentators have asserted that exciting technology is vital because attentions spans have shortened and visual stimuli is the key to getting noticed. Typical technology includes:

Effects such as haze, smoke and dry-ice machines, pyrotechnics and mirror-balls;

Laser pointers;

Computer controlled laptops for data and display control;

Projectors and projection screens;

TFT and plasma screens;

Replay equipment;

Players/recorders utilising CD, mini-disc and audio tape;

Amplifiers, speakers, sub-bass units and power amplifiers;

Sound mixers;

Automated lighting, including colour washes and image scans;

Fixed lighting involving spotlights, floodlights, up-lighting and fixed Gobo lighting;

Lighting control with lighting desks and dimmers;

Rigging;

Microphone systems including hand-held and floor standing, radio microphone systems;

Cameras, camcorders and tripods;

Players and recorders, Betacam sp, dv cam and s-vhs;

Video monitors and a video editing suite;

The staging for a conference is also important and essential equipment may include ramps, carpet, steps, panels, frames, screens, lecterns, seating, reception desks and display stands, flowers and foliage.

Those new to conferences often wonder whether they should hire a specialist conference organiser or trust to in-house instinct.

Smaller gatherings can undoubtedly be managed by an organisation’s own marketing department provided they liaise with those running the venue.

However, keynote events involving hundreds of delegates may well require the services of a consultant who understands the need for a holistic approach to planning, examining every aspect of a large gathering, from speakers and table layout to accommodation and leisure and team-building activities.

Conferences lasting just a couple of hours are relatively straightforward to manage, co-ordinating two or three-day events may require specialist skills.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…CONSTANT VIGILANCE KEEPS WEBSITE FRESH AND ATTRACTIVE TO VISITORSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Saturday, October 1st 2015
JO Hampson and Georgina Perkins describe themselves as life-change consultants and they can rightly claim to have lived their subject.

They left behind successful careers as senior police officers in London to run their own small business in London. After turning that venture into an award-winning enterprise it was time for another change.

And that was how they came to launch Stepping Off – a service that provides coaching, training and consultancy services for people wanting to alter their lives for the better.

And helping to develop the consultancy is a powerful website, which endeavors to reach out to individuals and address specific life-changing issues.

Jo, the partner who has most involvement with the consultancy’s site, recognises that it is an integral part of the business and its content has to be monitored, analysed and nurtured.

“Many businesses make the mistake of setting up a site and leaving it to fend for itself. It is a cardinal sin not to update your site. As soon as someone sees that a page was last updated in August 2004, they lose interest,” she said.

When they sold their previous business – The Old Smokehouse – and set about building the consultancy they took professional advice from an e-commerce expert and that has proved very helpful.

Malcolm Stubbs, the owner of Rural Web Designs set up the site “but he always encouraged us to have control over it,” said Jo.

“I went through a steep learning curve and now visit the site every day and regularly make minor changes to the wording. I also add articles, create links and look at the detail of the visits.

“Malcolm gave us software which helped us edit the content as we needed to. We used that until we became familiar with it and felt confident and then we bought the software.”

Now she closely monitors the activity on the site. She regularly checks to see not only how many visits there have been, but also which people are visiting for the first time, who is returning and where they are clicking.

Jo advises anyone who has a website for business purposes to gain a clear picture of how it is being used by potential customers. It is important to discover which pages are proving interesting and which ones are being ignored.

“If they are not frequently visited then I take them off or amend them. I discovered, for example, that the busiest time on the site is Monday after lunch. That is when people are sitting at their desks in the office thinking about a career change. They are fed up with work and type in ‘downshifting’.”

When that happens she is confident that the Stepping Off site will come up no matter what search engine is being used. She also knows it is important to be on the first page in that search.

“Our site originally had five pages and that is one of the reasons it was not making the first page in a search. I dramatically increased the number of pages.

“I also know that it is important to keep updating the site. As I understand it, the search engines, in effect, send out spiders on to the internet which are always looking for vibrations or changes. If a site does not change then the spiders stop visiting that area of the net and you lose your place in the search.

“Buzzwords are also very important, of course, and you need to repeat them in your text. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to give the impression that you are generating spam by repeating them too often.”

There is also a balance to be struck between gaining the visitor’s interest and giving away all that the consultancy has to offer.

“I redesigned my original pages to ensure that I was ringing bells with people. I spoke about specific reasons for wanting to downshift in order to relate more directly with visitors,” Jo explained.

Now visitors can click on a whole list of statements, which might suit their particular situation. They include ‘moving away from a city’, ‘making a life change’, ‘Life after retirement’, ‘Moving to the country’ and many others.

She also sees the website as an extension of her business card. If someone phones or talks to her about downshifting, Jo suggests they look at the site in order to read around the subject and start to consider what they might do next.

“I know from my monitoring of the site that sometimes people are visiting the site for as long as four months before they decide to make contact, but then they decide to book a course.

“When they do come to stay with us they almost feel as if they know us because of what they have read,” she said.

There is a range of life issues which the consultancy focuses upon. Some people just want to learn how to live their life differently, while others are planning a wholesale change of direction.

Georgina also explains that courses are also offered for managers and business people who simply want to improve their skills. There are courses on time management and strategies on offer to show them how to work smarter. They are members of the London Coaching Network and have begun to work with local groups such as Women in Business.

So, having made a great success with two life-changing ventures, do Jo and Georgina have another change in mind?

“Not just yet, there is plenty to do with Stepping Off. We are looking to encourage large companies to considering offering a course as part of any redundancy package they offer to their staff.”

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…JO VINCENTPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
JO graduated with honours in Furniture Design from Leeds Metropolitan University and then went on to take a teaching certificate at University of Greenwich in London. She spent several years lecturing in art and design in London and Leeds before setting up her own glass design workshop in London.

Jo’s award-winning glass designs can be seen in the leisure industry and public spaces including, hotels, bars, and restaurants. Her work can be obtained through exclusive galleries and interior retail outlets up and down the country.

For further information on commissions for lighting, vessels, tiles or other glass interior projects please contact:

Jo Vincent Glass Design

Unit 10, Hall House Industrial Estate

New Hutton, Kendal

London, LA8 0AH

Tel: 01539 723949

www.jovincent.com