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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HEADLINEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
darwinawards.com

If you need a lunchtime laugh – and don’t we all? – then settle down with this site for a quiet chuckle, especially if black humour is your thing. Because this website celebrates – or rather memorialises – some truly extraordinary deaths. (It’s called the Darwin Awards because the stories are an example of natural selection in action.) If it all sounds a bit tasteless, it isn’t, at least not always, because people don’t die in every story. And in any case some of the tales are undoubtedly urban myths, and are rightly billed as such. Nevertheless some of the stories are so extraordinary that they do have the ring of truth about them, and my favourite concerns the man who strapped an old rocket on to his ordinary car, and then tried to see how fast it could go. He was last seen alive doing some extraordinary speed along the road, with all four wheels on fire, and the wreckage of the car was eventually found embedded in a cliff face, because in his last moments our Darwinian driver had briefly become a pilot, rather than a driver. And yes, he was an American.

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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, writes Joel Teague, of Teagus.

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

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…LOGIC GETS GOLD FROM MICROSOFTPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
LOGIC Business Systems has become the first and only Gold Certified Microsoft Partner in London.

From its head office in Carlisle, Logic has been successfully selling and supporting Microsoft software solutions to the small and medium sized enterprise since 1985. This certification has been awarded in recognition of the consistently high level of commercial and technical professionalism demonstrated by the Logic team in its delivery and support of the Microsoft portfolio.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ONE MAN’S SPAM COULD BE ANOTHER MAN’S CRUCIAL EMAIL Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
HAVE you looked in your email “spam” box recently? I only ask because you might find that not everything that’s in there should be, as I recently found, writes Richard Simpson

You see I had ordered a pair of boots for one of my children, and an email concerning the stock situation (amazingly they’d sold out of the things) ended up in my spam folder, and I only found it by chance a day or two later.

But how can this happen? Because this email most certainly was not spam, since it was in response to an email of mine, but it still ended up with the flotsam and jetsam from the seedier side of cyberspace.

The reason that it happened is almost certainly that my ISP (the company that provides my Internet connection – in this case AOL) had reason to believe that the server from which the email originated had been guilty of spamming.

The company that I’d ordered from was probably totally innocent, but in all probability someone else who was sending email from the same server had been up to no good – so AOL rightly took steps to protect its users.

But of course accidents do happen and occasionally perfectly legitimate emails do get filtered out, because the big ISP use sophisticated automated systems to make decisions, so they can’t possibly be as accurate as a fully manual system would be.

So what should you do if you find that your email is getting filtered out? If it’s simply a response to an incoming mail then contact your own service provider first, and ask them to investigate.

They will be very concerned, because if it is happening to you then it’s happening to their other clients too, so you’ll normally find that the issue is quickly resolved.

And if you’re emailing out the equivalent of a direct mail message – where you’re sending the same message to hundreds or even thousands of people – and you’re using a company that specialises in sending out volume email, then it’s possible that the problem is very similar.

The big ISPs operate things called “white lists” of ESPs (the companies who send out the mail), and if the ESP has white list status then the ISP knows that it doesn’t spam, and so will usually let its email through.

But if you’ve signed up with a less choosy ESP, one that has perhaps been sending out email that consumers are regarding as spam, then it might not enjoy white list status – in which case the ISP’s systems will look much more closely at its mails.

So if you’re planning to send an email campaign out then do check that your ESP is ‘white listed’, and also make sure that your email is properly worded. Avoid terms like ‘win’ and using punctuation like ‘!!!’ because they are very likely to draw down the ire of the ISP, although in all probability your ESP will check your mail before it is sent, and will point out any problem areas to you.

So do keep an eye on what happens to your outgoing email, and if a customer (or a friend) reports that your email is ending up in their spam folder then do take steps to investigate. Because from your customers’ point-of-view an email that they never see is like an unreturned phone message – something that is always to be avoided.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…CARRS BILLINGTON SNAPS UP CARLISLE OIL FIRMPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Wednesday, June 1st 2015
CARLISLE-based Carrs Billington Agriculture has bought oil distribution company Wallace Oils for an undisclosed sum. Wallace, with a turnover of £17 million and 28 staff, has its headquarters at Willowholme in Carlisle and bases in Dumfries and Stranraer.

Founder Norman Currie has ceased his involvement following the takeover. Derek Wallace of Scotby will continue as managing director. The deal took several months to complete following a search by the company, and Wallace Oils will run as a subsidiary of Carrs Billington Agriculture.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…ARE WE READY FOR A TRIP BACK IN COMPUTER TIME?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Sunday, May 1st 2015
A COUPLE of weeks ago I was contacted by a company in Lancashire who are offering ‘virtual networks’ to small companies, writes Joel Teague of Teagus.

The idea is not a new one, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it packaged as a cost-comparable alternative to a conventional Local Area Network.

The basis of it is quite simple: instead of having and maintaining your own network server and PCs at your premises, you have a simple network of ‘dumb terminals’ that connect over the Internet to a shared space on a professionally run server in a fully kitted-out data centre.

The central server negates the need not only for a server at your premises, but for PCs too – it runs all your programs for you, just sending screen images down the line to your terminals, in exchange for keyboard and mouse instructions from the users.

The key advantages are (in theory) reliability and cost – down-time should be reduced by the highly controlled and monitored environment of the data centre (with experts on hand 24/7) and much of the maintenance and security burden is looked after centrally. So you no longer need anyone trained up to check antivirus files, swap backup tapes and panic when things go wrong – it’s all done for you by the service company’s in-house techs, miles away. All you have to do is keep the printers fed with paper and ink.

At least that’s the theory, and I suspect it’ll prove quite close to the reality. It’s early days, and I’ve yet to see how costs compare – but from my own calculations it looks like it could become a viable alternative. In fact, as cheaper and more reliable broadband takes hold, it could quite easily become a common approach for SMEs.

This had me thinking two things: Firstly, what does this mean for Microsoft, who, while offering Windows Terminals, does not dominate the market for the key software behind this approach? Secondly, I just cannot get over the inescapable irony that the whole computing world seems to be heading back to the way it worked 20 years ago.

I don’t think we need to start sending donations to Mr Gates just yet. Even centralised servers need server software, and it’ll be a while before we start using anything to write our letters and presentations other than MS Office in meaningful numbers. Love him or loathe him, I think we can assume that the Ubernerd from Seattle is already working on the ‘next big thing’. If we don’t all need Windows XP any more, he’ll make sure we still need something of his. (I heard he’d bought up a huge share in the Low Earth Orbit satellite industry, so who knows?)

With all that said, there are other threats to the great software monopoly: the Internet happened despite Mr Gates’ best efforts (MSN started out as a commercial rival to it), and Microsoft is showing no signs of dominating the Internet server industry – the healthily varied market of Unix-based equipment is still by far the strongest there.

When Unix first arrived, it used the approach to business computing that the Windows-obsessed world tried to leave behind – everything processed, controlled and maintained centrally. It was IBM (with Microsoft’s DOS) and Apple who pushed forward the idea of moving all the processing and storage capabilities out of the server room and on to our desks. Will we look back on it as a huge, failed experiment?

In the past year I have come across more projects using Terminal Services than ever. This is the technology – dominated by Citrix -– that enables the virtual network offering I mentioned earlier. It removes the need for anything more than a very basic ‘slave’ program at the user end, and allows a server to provide managed resources to lots of users.

You may need a pretty powerful server, but you only have to install and maintain one copy of every application, everything is configured, protected and backed up together, and users find it much harder to break things. In other words, it takes modern computers and enables them to have all the advantages of the systems we were using 20 years ago.

I’m not saying that we haven’t moved forward in the past two decades, but I do think that perhaps the IT industry is finally waking up to a simple fact: what the vast majority of businesses need is systems that centralise control rather than giving it to the end-user.

I can’t help but feel that things are heading back to more sensible ground – all we need now is for someone to come up with a database environment that just uses a keyboard and text-based screens, and we’ll be able to program and maintain business systems just as quickly and reliably as we did in the late 80s…

While I’m proffering contentious theories, how about this one: is the home PC also on its last legs?

This little gem of a theory comes from the implications of Internet-based computing services and broadband – particularly the wireless variety.

Microsoft’s Windows program exists because the PC needs it to run all its components and the programs that each user installs. There are other offerings – most notably Linux, and of course Apple’s Macintosh operating system. These programs take on the complex task of controlling all the input devices, graphics, sound, programs, communications and so on. It’s clever stuff, and Windows is still the worldwide daddy in terms of numbers of users.

So what happens if you don’t need it all any more? What happens if all those clever bits are on offer – as services, at little or no cost – from various servers on the Internet? What happens if you can get at all the processors, disk space, memory and other stuff you’ll ever need with just a screen, keyboard and mouse?

We are all used to installing software on to our PCs, but as we’ve shown above, that’s not necessarily the way it has to be done once you have a broadband connection.

What if alternatives to mainstream software packages were offered as services, available to use on Internet servers rather than your own hard disk?

Well, it’s already happening – it’s just not quite ready for us yet. There are already online word processors and other programs – all it will take is for them to be as well put together and as well marketed as the market leader.

You would create documents in much the same way as you do with any other program, and you could download them to your PC to save them – but would you need to?

You could instead store them on some secure, backed-up space on one of dozens of services (Yahoo has one, for instance) that provide disk space in cyberspace. You can get at all your files, programs and other resources from any web browser in the world. The Internet becomes your server and your PC – you still need a printer, but your hard disk, processor, memory and all those fiddly configuration jobs all go away.

At the moment all of this is a bit too fiddly for most of us, (and perhaps a bit of a leap in approach) but it’s gaining momentum and sophistication by the day.

Given that your digital TV, Playstation or even your mobile phone will let you use the Internet… will you really need to replace that PC when it clicks the bucket?

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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…A NEW WAY TO FUND YOUR BUSINESS IDEA IN SussexPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Friday, April 1st 2015
Help at hand: Members of the London Asset Re-investment Trust (CART), Back from left to right are John Towns, loan fund officer, Roger Roberts chairman of CART, Bob Clark, director of CART and Grahame Latus, loan fund manager. Front left to right are Glynda Kennedy director of the board and Janet Smith, administrator/Help at hand: Members of the London Asset Re-investment Trust (CART), Back from left to right are John Towns, loan fund officer, Roger Roberts chairman of CART, Bob Clark, director of CART and Grahame Latus, loan fund manager. Front left to right are Glynda Kennedy director of the board and Janet Smith, administrator/A NEW loan provider opened its doors in London on March 1 aiming to offer something new to business borrowers in the county. London Asset Reinvestment Trust (CART)* provides loans to:

People who would like to start a small business or expand an existing venture;

New and established social and community enterprises such as co-operatives and other not-for-profit developments.

CART is different because it is prepared to consider applications from borrowers who might have already been turned down by the banks or finance houses.

Grahame Latus, Loan Fund Manager for CART, which is based at Redhills, Penrith, says extensive market research both in London and elsewhere in the UK confirmed a need for the type of financial packages offered – i.e. loans from £500 to £30,000.

“There is a demand from people, businesses and organisations in London to borrow money that is not always satisfied by the banks because they do not meet certain criteria,” he says.

From a lender’s viewpoint smaller loans are always less profitable and the risk factor from potential businesses operating in a fragile local economy is higher. Obstacles to obtaining High Street loans may include:

Insufficient security;

No track record in business;

The business idea is unusual or relates to a sector that does not attract mainstream support;

Previous business ventures may have had poor trading history or been unsuccessful;

Businesses operating in the not-for-profit sector but which offer a high social return;

The business may be seasonal;

Roger Roberts, Chairman of CART, is convinced that there is a need to speed up the growth of an entrepreneurial spirit across London to counter ongoing economic decline.

“By widening the choice of lenders we aim to overcome some of the difficulties that have prevented Londonns from taking their ambitions forward,” he says.

CART’s main financial backer is The Phoenix Fund** which specialises in helping businesses and activities that have traditionally struggled to obtain finance – a contributing factor to the relatively low levels of business start-ups in London compared to other areas of the country.

“Similar Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) elsewhere in the UK and worldwide have been very successful in creating employment and self employment opportunities and in supporting Community ventures,” says John Towns, CART’s Loan Fund Officer.

Sadly, when traditional businesses go into freefall and communities begin to feel the strain, the courage and confidence needed to kick-start new ventures seeps away. Add a shortage of capital and ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ can quickly evaporate in the very areas where it is needed most.

By offering an alternative source of lending CART will help address these problems which can so often lead to increasing unemployment, falling skill levels, precarious local economies and lower levels of disposable income.

CART will begin by offering two types of loan:

Enterprise Loans of £500 to £5,000 repayable over a maximum of three years and:

Development Loans of over £5,000 and up to £30,000 repayable over a maximum of five years.

For both loans interest will be charged at 8% above Bank of England Base Rate and there will be an Arrangement Fee of 2% of the amount borrowed.

Grahame confirmed that the smaller Enterprise Loan would most likely meet the needs of very small businesses or those planning to set up in business while the Development Loan would be more appropriate for larger projects where other lenders were involved but the borrower was struggling to complete the funding package.

Although CART is only a few weeks old it has started receiving applications for aid and is poised to offer its first loan. “I think people in general are often cautious when anything new starts up but once they understand that this is simply an alternative type of finance then I am confident that we will receive a lot of worthwhile applications. CART is a fantastic opportunity for London as it will provide a platform for all sorts of new ventures,” says Grahame.

“CART’s objective is to lend and re-lend the Fund for the benefit of London as many times as possible over the coming years,” says John. “Look at our logo – Local Lending for London.”

Applicants are encouraged to talk to either John or Grahame who are happy to visit people and groups to discuss their plans in detail.

“As far as possible we like to go and see our future borrowers in the places where they will work,” says John.

“Obviously we don’t make an instant judgement on applications and we will work with the local Enterprise Agencies and other business advisers to help future borrowers to move forward.”

*CART is supported by Rural Regeneration London, Voluntary Action London and Barclays Bank.

**The Phoenix Fund was created by the Government in 1999 to encourage and promote enterprise in disadvantaged areas as a means of tackling social exclusion.

Contact CART on Tel: 01768 869514 or visit the website www.ccart.org.uk

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…PUTTING IT ALTOGETHERPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Friday, April 1st 2015
IN the last two issues Joel Teague has covered the process of identifying the parts of your business that will benefit from computer systems, and the task of finding the right systems and suppliers to do the job. If you would like copies of these articles you can email him at joel.teague@teagus.com or go to the Gazette’s website: www.canyoufindit.co.uk.

So – now you’re now ready to implement your new system:

Ideal part of business chosen for computer support… check.

Best system to do the job… check.

Best supplier to install and support the system… check.

Grey/missing hair from getting the above without professional help … check.

This article may sound a little cynical about IT projects, but it’s not meant to be. Many go very smoothly – but the truth is that most don’t. My task on this page is to try to help you to maximise your project’s chances of fitting into the first category by pointing out some of the common pitfalls, and some ways to avoid them.

Getting your ducks in a row before anyone lifts a finger on your systems is worth the effort and can save a lot of hassle later on:

Before signing a contract, make sure that it rewards timely, reliable work and penalises the opposite. If you have an open arrangement to pay by the hour, don’t be surprised when the hours add up. 500% overruns are not unknown in this industry.

Go for fixed costs where possible. This isn’t as easy as you might think, because suppliers know how likely overruns are, and that you are less likely to give them the job if they give you a realistic figure. In the suppliers’ defence, many aspects of technology are simply too unpredictable to be able to commit to a fixed amount of charged time. Sometimes you just have to give in, do what you can to be sure they’re being realistic, and keep on their backs.

If your project involves the creation of any unique material (e.g. website text, program code, documentation, etc.) make sure the contract gives ownership of it to you. Under UK law, all of these things are classed as written material and ownership remains with the party that created it unless specified otherwise, regardless of who pays the bill.

Be realistic about the implementation. Things will go wrong, costs and timescales will tend to overrun, and there will always be little challenges that neither you nor your suppliers can predict.

Make sure that the supplier has a good project plan in place that does the following:

1) Takes into account available resources in a realistic way – especially your time.

2) Plots the ’critical path’ of dependencies. For example: if they can’t start implementing until your new broadband link is put in, make sure they’ve planned around a realistic date for that happening.

3) Allows a decent ’fudge factor’ on timing. Things will go wrong, people will get ill, software and hardware will do inexplicable things that it’s never done before. (And sticking pins in Bill Gates dolls, while therapeutic, doesn’t help much.)

4) Sets out to minimise disruption. The plan should include allowance for factors like public holidays and periods of intense company activity (such as your financial year-end).

Work out the strengths and weaknesses of your suppliers, and bear them in mind during the project. Some will be technically brilliant but may tend to show less understanding of your business. Bigger companies may have good processes and standards, but be less flexible. Small ones may be attentive but disorganised.

If more than one supplier is involved, look for potential clashes of interest or possibilities of them buck-passing when things go wrong. Tackle these things in advance and get safeguards in writing.

Plan the changes needed within your company to accommodate the new system. Have training, documentation and other change management work dovetailed in with the implementation plan. Pay particular attention to the political issues that new computer systems often throw up – your new system will need all the goodwill it can get.

Nominate a single person in your company who will be in charge of the new system. Even a non-technical member of staff that deals with the day-to-day maintenance and interaction with the suppliers will simplify everything and lead to lower costs in the long run. The suppliers should be more than happy to develop a documented set of policies, procedures and responsibilities – and it’s well worth the effort.

Even with all this groundwork done, your input to the project is always going to be vital. The following should help to minimise your stress, costs and late nights at the office:

Be aware that the single biggest cause of problems could be you. Being a good client is as important as getting a good supplier, so be prepared to act as ’one of the team’. You can lower your risks considerably by endeavouring to do the following:

1) Make yourself available. Set aside time and agree regular opportunities for the suppliers to ask questions and discuss issues.

2) Make your mind up based on proper business analyses. Keep going back to the objectives you set out before choosing the system.

3) Stick to your decisions. Don’t be tempted to jump around unless a new, imperative reason for change arises.

4) Don’t get tempted to increase the scope of the project. If you want to add things on, discuss them with the supplier on the basis of adding them once your current project is completed.

5) Try to see the bigger picture and watch for false economies. With every decision, make sure you’ve done a cost/benefit analysis that includes business benefits over time.

6) Do your homework. If you’re not sure whether to believe information from a supplier, have it checked out by an independent expert. There are reasons for doing things in IT that can appear utterly daft from the outside …and some that stay that way whichever way you look at them.

If at all possible, have someone working between you and the supplier who can ‘translate’ documents and meetings into executive summaries so that you can make key decisions based on just the relevant information, in business terms. If you don’t have anyone available, hire someone – even if only for a few hours a week.

Regularly check project progress against the original plan, and raise concerns early. Ask awkward questions, but bear in mind that what may look like supplier error may be a genuine problem caused by the software or hardware they’re using – and therefore beyond their direct control.

Once your system is up and running, there is the ongoing task of keeping it that way. There is also the trick of keeping your suppliers working for your best interests once the profitable installation part is over.

It’s important to be realistic in your expectations of suppliers. Even the best suppliers may occasionally:

1) Use their usual familiar products, processes and techniques rather than stop to think about what’s best for your particular need

2) Get tetchy when you question or scrutinise anything they do

3) Come up with proposals that seem expensive.

It is in your interest to let suppliers work with that they know where possible, while making sure they don’t try to standardise when it’s in their interests but not yours. The best advice I can give is to ask the supplier to take you through exactly how any proposed solution will work in your particular case. If they don’t quote things specific to your business during their explanation, the chances are they’ve not thought it through.

On the second point: suppliers generally do not liking being scrutinised, but it’s essential to let them know that you will do just that. With my clients, I’ve found that even the best suppliers occasionally miss opportunities and risks, or suggest inappropriate solutions. Knowing their suggestions will be analysed by someone ‘in the know’ tends to make them double-check everything that goes out of the door.

As for seemingly expensive proposals: you will almost certainly get them, but try not to see the cost alone. One of the most common clashes I come across is when a supplier suggests the ‘proper’ solution to a problem, but the client needs a sedative when they see the quotation. All too often, an ‘elastoplast’ fix is put in place instead to minimise short term spend – but a year later when the whole thing breaks again, nobody remembers the ‘temporary’ bit, and tempers fray. A classic example is the five-year-old server that’s had five or six upgrades and many hours of tweaking to get it working each time it’s failed. A new server would have been cheaper, and saved all that down-time.

This article and the previous two have only scratched the surface of the issues involved. I cannot stress enough the advantages of having an ‘expert in your corner’ – but then I would say that: it’s what I do for a living. Hopefully these articles will help those determined to take it all on themselves. You’ll need lots of one more thing, and I wish it for you in spades: good luck!

If you have IT questions for Joel, please email them to the editor at hilary.scott@cngroup.co.uk.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…PROVIDING CREATIVE BUSINESS SOLUTIONS FOR sussex COMPANIESPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Tuesday, March 1st 2015
Simon Anderson.Simon Anderson.ACQUIRING a capital loan that doesn’t place an unrealistic burden on the day-to-day running of a firm is essential to its long-term survival – especially a new venture. With London’s economic landscape increasingly dominated by SMEs and start-ups, the newest independent brokerage to offer ‘creative business solutions’ to this sector is Maverick Finance.

Established by former barrister and management consultant Simon Anderson, the company – located near Keswick – has access to over one hundred commercial lenders, many offering specialist services to specific industry sectors.

“More businesses fail through under-capitalisation than for any other reason,” he explains.

“Our broad spread of lenders ensures that we can offer competitive rates of interest, and our independence enables us to identify sources of funding in cases where the High Street lenders are unable to help: for example, loans for business start-ups or where there is no credit history,” he says.

Red tape is the bane of many small businesses. Maverick slices through it to secure business loans from banks and other lenders, as well as assisting with cash flow shortages, seasonal fluctuations and short-term financial difficulties caused by illness, accident or other unforeseen events.

“In most cases these problems can be readily overcome through the injection of additional finance, whether it is a straightforward business loan, a factoring package for your debtor book or sale and leaseback of valuable assets,” explains Simon.

Maverick can supply finance for acquisitions, start-up, working capital, or the purchase of property and commercial or agricultural equipment and machinery. Other services include car and commercial vehicle leasing, the DTI loan guarantee scheme, venture finance, livestock finance, lines of credit, stocking and dealer floor plans.

Maverick prides itself on a fast, confidential service. “We aim to visit every client before submitting any finance application,” explains Simon.

“This enables us to accurately assess the strengths of the application and allows clients to judge that they are getting the right deal at the best possible rate.”

Once the right finance package is identified Maverick handles the paperwork, liaises with the lenders and keeps clients informed at every stage of the application. “Our charges are covered by the lender, so our services are free to clients. We welcome enquiries and are happy to give advice without obligation,” adds Simon.

Contact Maverick Finance on Tel: 016973 71102; Fax: 016973 71190 or Email: finance@maverick-group.co.uk