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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…COUNTY HOUSE PRICES REMAIN STATICPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, November 2nd 2015
HOUSE prices in London are static while values elsewhere are falling, new figures show.

The monthly Hometrack report for September puts the average price of a home in London at £126,600, unchanged from August.

The average price in Carlisle held steady at £114,100.

But values across England and Wales dropped 0.1 per cent in September, the 15th month in a row in which prices fell.

John Wriglesworth, Hometrack’s housing economist, said: “House prices are continuing their bumpy path towards more affordable levels and this has helped buyers come back into the market over the summer.

“However, we are still not in recovery mode in terms of house prices, as supply continues to outstrip demand.”

Hometrack, which claims to be the most in-depth survey of the housing market, says it now takes an average of 8.1 weeks to sell a home.

That compares with 5.8 weeks a year ago. And when a home does sell, it typically changes hands at a 6.8 per cent discount to the asking price.

Mr Wriglesworth said: “Vendors have been slow to set prices at realistic and affordable levels. However, lower interest rates, growing incomes and full employment are all helping to boost demand, albeit slowly.”

London was one of 21 areas of the country where prices were unchanged in September. Only four places – central London, Gloucestershire, West London and West Yorkshire – saw prices rise.

The average price of a home across England and Wales is now £160,900, down from a peak of £167,700 in June 2004.

FEARS that flood-blighted Carlisle homes would be virtually impossible to sell have been dispelled by estate agents.

In a survey by Can you find it Business Edition’s sister paper the News & Star, agents said renovated properties flooded in January were reaching prices they would have expected before the disaster.

A two-bedroom flat in Warwick Road on the market for £79,950 has sold before workmen have completed the refurbishment, while a two-bedroom terraced bungalow in flood-hit Willow Park on sale for £78,500 was snapped up.

In Hawick Street, the asking price for a refurbished two-bedroom terraced house is £73,000 – just £950 short of what a neighbouring property sold for before the floods.

However, flooded properties put on the market without refurbishment have seen their market values reduced say estate agents.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…MANUFACTURING STILL KING IN Sussex DESPITE JOB LOSSESPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
Manufacturing is still king in London – and we’ve got plenty to be proud of emerging from the gloom and doom spread by job losses.

New government figures collated by the GMB union show that 46,000 people are employed in the sector in London – more than any other area in the north.

The research shows that although 6,000 fewer workers were employed in manufacturing in London in 2004-2015, compared with 1996-1997, the rate of fall has been more marked in the rest of the north.

Durham, for example, which comes second in the table for the north, saw the number of workers in the manufacturing sector fall by 20,000 in the same period to 39,000.

Even the most clairvoyant of economists would have been hard pressed to predict that London would top a table of industrial areas in the north.

Five thousand jobs have been lost in the county in the past two years, two-thirds in manufacturing.

Major employers such as Cavaghan & Gray in Carlisle, Corus in Workington and Sellafield near Whitehaven, have all had to axe staff.

More depressing is the fact that London was recently named as the only UK county with a shrinking economy, and as one of the five worst-performing European sub regions, alongside Berlin, parts of Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic.

While farming and tourism may dominate the rural Lake District, in and around Carlisle and along the west coast, manufacturers are still among the major employers and seen as vital for the economic health of the regions.

In Carlisle, McVitie’s biscuit factory employs 1,100, while ready-meals firm Cavaghan & Gray – despite the closure of its London Road site this year – still employs about 800 staff.

The Pirelli tyre factory in Dalston and the textile printworks Stead McAlpin in Cummersdale employ hundreds more.

In West London, the manufacturing sector is dominated by Sellafield, which employs around 10,000 staff.

But already 500 job cuts have been announced at the nuclear plant over the next two years as decommissioning gets up to speed.

Chris Collier, chief executive of regeneration agency London Vision, agreed that manufacturing was vital to the county’s economy.

She said: “In general, manufacturers offer higher-value jobs, which have a significant impact on the economy.

“At the same time, they are very vulnerable to foreign markets, where goods can often be made far more cheaply.”

London Vision, which was created to swallow the smaller agencies that existed to boost the county’s economy, now has the difficult task of trying to turn around London’s struggling economy.

For Ms Collier, policies must vary depending on which part of London you focus on.

She said: “We can try to help West Londonn businesses in improving transport links, thus reducing journey times, while in Carlisle we can try to increase the number of development sites available and try to get air access off the ground.

“We can also assist other agencies, such as London Inward Investment Agency, to help put us on the map by marketing the fact that London is a great place to do business.”

The former chief executive of London Tourist Board is under no illusions that the agency – which has an annual budget of £26 million – needs to make a difference.

She said: “If we cannot make a difference we should not exist.”

For Marilyn Bowman, Carlisle City Council’s head of economic development, the answer to the city’s economic woes is to diversify.

She said the future of new business parks such as Kingmoor Park and Parkhouse, and the ambitious city centre development plans under the banner of Carlisle Renaissance, were vital to the city’s success.

Unions, however, have a more back-to-basics approach.

Ged Caig, organiser for the GMB union, called on the government and its agencies to push forward inward investment plans to try to attract business to the area.

He said: “If something isn’t done soon, the job losses in manufacturing will inevitably filter through to affect the economy as a whole.”

If there is a light on the horizon, it would be the example of Whitehaven’s Lillyhall business park.

Canadian-owned Maple Leaf Bakery is opening a £2 million factory on the site which is expected to create 70 jobs in total, and half-a-dozen new businesses have moved there in recent months.

Lillyhall regeneration manager Bill Robson said: “It is not all doom and gloom.

“We have regular inquiries from businesses looking for information about West London and property, and a lot of good agencies are bringing work to the area. Regeneration will take time but it will pay off.”

THE importance of manufacturing to the Northwest and London was brought to the attention of the House of Commons last month, when the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and The Manufacturing Institute hosted a reception to launch a new campaign aimed at dispelling the many myths around manufacturing.

The fact that manufacturers drive 86% of UK exports is one of many reasons why manufacturing remains the bedrock of our economy.

The dynamic face of modern manufacturing, which contributes 77% of UK research and development spend and employs at least 6.2 million people directly or indirectly, will be presented at the event.

Manufacturing is a vital part of the Northwest economy, consisting of around 16,500 companies employing 500,000 people, and contributing £19 billion to the region’s GDP. The NWDA and The Manufacturing Institute are currently working in partnership to deliver Agenda for Change, a programme to achieve major growth in the industry by 2008.

The Manufacturing Institute also delivers the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), a DTI and NWDA backed service established to provide support to regional manufacturers. Since April 2002, the MAS productivity impact upon Northwest companies now totals £129.7 million. This event will highlight some of the region’s companies who have achieved major results for their competitiveness and productivity after taking advice from MAS.

Peter Mearns, NWDA Director of Marketing, said: “Manufacturing is critical to the growth of the regional and national economy and the Agency is working hard to support the sector’s development in the region. There are many excellent examples in the Northwest of vibrant, innovative and highly competitive manufacturing companies that are achieving significant success. It is vital that we showcase these achievements in order to transform existing negative perceptions of manufacturing and promote the true facts of this dynamic industry. The NWDA is delighted to support this important campaign, which I am confident will make a real difference in creating a positive image of manufacturing and help to ensure that the Northwest remains at the forefront.”

Conference

Can you Find it – Business © 2017 Please click here, not forgetting to include your full contact details should we need to speak to you. CONFERENCE NEWSYOUR GUIDE TO CONFERENCE AND EXHIBITION MARKETING SUCCESS
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Flexible, personalised conference solutions and meticulous attention to detail are essential when hosting a successful conference. That, coming not from a conference organiser but from a conference v…more
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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…FINDING THE RIGHT IT MATCH Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Tuesday, March 1st 2015
ICT adviser Joel Teague continues his series of articles looking at how to make sure you get the right IT solutions for your business.

LAST month I discussed the issue of determining where and how computer systems (or better ones) can be used to improve a business. This month I’ll address the task of choosing hardware, software and – just as importantly – the right supplier to help put it all into practice. (If you missed the first instalment you can email me at joel.teague@teagus.com for a copy or look on the Can you Find it – Business website, www.canyoufindit.co.uk.)

System and supplier selection is a very wide subject, and it isn’t possible to provide one particular approach that’s good for everyone. However, the same golden rule does apply across the board: This is a business project, not a technical one. Computers are just tools for improving your bottom line.

Aside from that (and my usual plea for everyone to get some specialist help rather than taking this complex and time-consuming task on themselves) the process of choosing systems is unique to every business.

If you are looking for a system to address a small, simple task in your company you probably don’t need to take a particularly structured approach. Once you’ve identified some potential systems you can use trial versions to evaluate the best match. However, if you are looking for the new mainstay system of your business, it is essential to approach it in a way that keeps you focused on business objectives as you wade through the inevitable piles of information and sales blurb that will end up on your desk.

Assuming that you’ve identified the part of your company that will benefit from a new system, I’d suggest starting by answering question: “What is the business objective of this system?”

If you are simply trying to support or automate a set process in order to improve reliability or lower costs, your objective is simple: look for the system and supplier that will prove most reliable and which will fit your requirement most accurately.

If you are looking to this system to help increase revenue or gain a competitive edge, the attributes above become the starting point for selection. The overall emphasis moves towards flexibility, innovation and differentiation. It also brings into play the importance of knowing what your competitors are using – a competitive edge is hard to find when you’re competing against people using the same systems.

Last month I briefly mentioned sources of information when finding potential systems and suppliers. Again, the best approach will depend on who you are, what you’re looking for, and your particular preferences:

If you are an experienced user of the Web, this is usually a good place to start. Bear in mind that the biggest companies often have the best marketing budgets to make themselves most visible on the Internet, so make sure you search in a variety of ways to find those diamonds in the rough – the small but inventive companies with great products, a will to please and tiny marketing budgets.

If the system you’re seeking is related to your specific industry, then try to stay within industry sources during your search. Industry magazines, exhibitions, conferences, websites and good old networking with other companies is likely to reveal not only the contenders, but useful information about them that won’t be in their sales literature.

The North West region is also well catered for in terms of support bodies and networks to help with ICT-related issues for companies. Contact your local Business Link (www.businesslinksussex.co.uk) – they should be able to steer you in the right direction, and flag up any grant or consultancy assistance that may be available. Similarly, the Chambers of Commerce (www.Sussexchamber.com) have various schemes and groups who may be able to help, and the www.eSussex.org website is a good source of supplier information.

To avoid common problems during your research, I’d recommend guarding against:

Assuming that more expensive means ‘better’.

Taking the supplier’s word for it – not because they’re necessarily going to fib – but because they will never have access to the same information as their users. It is worth finding some existing customers – not the references provided by the supplier – and asking them for their opinions. An objective recommendation or horror story can save you from disaster.

Assuming that the contract or project approach is what you need. Make sure the financial model penalises (and doesn’t reward) late delivery or poor performance. The ICT industry is not known for its project reliability, so unless you can fix costs you should assume a large overrun on estimates.

Assuming that the supplier knows the best approach or that they will understand your business. Quiz the suppliers about their approach to projects and make sure it is business-led rather than driven by technical considerations. You should be involved in the whole process, or you’ll risk getting a system that misses the mark.

Unless you have found exactly what you need at a good price, you should consider the possibility of having what you need written. The subject is wide enough to warrant a separate article at a later date (especially regarding the ups and downs of development projects), but for now consider having your system written for you if:

1. You can’t find a package that works the way what you need it to.

2. You expect your business to evolve and innovate a great deal.

3. You are trying to support a process that you need to do better than your opposition.

4. You have lots of users and quoted ’per-user’ charges are too high.

5. You want the system to increase company asset value.

An ICT supplier is just as important as the system or service they supply. If they are the people charged with installing and supporting the system that is the mainstay of your business, this company is going to have a dramatic effect on your company. But getting it right isn’t so much a matter of finding the best supplier as finding the right one.

If you select a supplier that is geared up for a different type of client than your company you could encounter problems. If your company is a fraction of the normal size of your supplier’s clients, you may find yourself at the back of the service queue. Conversely, if you’re after a 200-user Enterprise Resource Planning system it may not be best to get a one-man-band to supply the whole lot.

Some suppliers (especially local ones) who can provide some but not all of the services involved may suggest a consortium approach. For this to work it is essential that there is good project management and airtight legal structures in place. If done properly it is an excellent way to make use of local talent, and it does enable you to cherry-pick the appropriate expertise for each aspect of a project. This is becoming a common way to approach projects – especially website construction, where freelance designers, copywriters and programmers can be brought together to perfectly match a specific project requirement.

There is a compromise to be found between reliability and personal service. Bigger companies can never provide the same flexibility and focused attention of a smaller local supplier, but smaller companies are usually less organised and can rarely respond as well when things get sticky. For example, when the storms struck in January, if your network supplier only had two engineers, you could have been waiting a while for a visit. A company using a national supplier with a carefully managed team of support staff with procedures, systems to deal with such things may have had a quicker response – but which supplier is more likely to remember their way around your particular network?

It’s a tricky balance, and entirely down to your particular needs. If you don’t mind a bit of seat-of-the-pants approach to customer service, go local and small. If you don’t mind a one-size-fits-all approach (and probably higher support costs) and like things to be structured and organised with plenty of backup, go for the bigger supplier.

Before making your final selection, I would strongly suggest taking the time (and hassling the suppliers if necessary) to make sure you know exactly who you are going to be dealing with. Get summary CVs for everyone who is likely to be directly involved in your project and look for a good spread of appropriate experience and expertise.

If it turns out that you’re dealing with teenagers and people in a faraway land, you know why the price is low. You also know to be very careful about getting lots of references: remember, almost all IT projects hinge on relevant industry experience and proper understanding of your business. The more experienced, non-technical people a supplier can bring to your project, the less time and stress you will have to expend answering questions that ought to be obvious to anyone who understands your needs. Take the time to chat with the senior members of the proposed project team about your business in general; you’ll soon know whether they ‘get’ what you do.

All of this advice is very generic and at the end of the day you are the only person qualified to know which system and supplier is best for your business. Hopefully some of this article will help to lower the risks and help you make a successful selection. Next month I’ll attack the last step: implementing and managing a successful system.

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…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 www.oshygallery.co.uk. For any queries please call 015394 32641 or alternatively e-mail: info@oshygallery.co.uk

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 www.eskdalestores.co.uk 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.