Running a small business is a juggling act

A YouGov study has found that small business owners identified most strongly with the analogy of a juggling act when asked about running their businesses.

The analogy was strongest in the North West, in Yorkshire and Humberside, where 63 per cent in each region compared themselves to jugglers.

Bookkeeping was rated the biggest chore by 27% of the 1000 respondents, while 42 per cent of respondents believed central government added to the hassle for small businesses.

As an analogy it makes sense where dropping one ball can cause a knock on effect such as the consequences of not having contingency plans or missed payments or failure to file Tax Returns.

Among the issues identified in an article in The Economist on the same subject is knowing the right time to take certain steps in a business.   In that sense, it argues, the juggling act is a permanent exercise in balancing a variety of trade-offs. Such as holding high stock levels can help avoid the consequences of being let...

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Keep it simple – and polite – if you want a response to your email

sme smes Jan 21, 2020

It can be frustrating trying to get a response to your email but employing some behavioural psychology can help.

Catching and holding the attention of busy people with perpetually flooded in-boxes can be tricky, so the secret if you want someone to both read and respond to your email is to make it easy for them to read and engage.

Firstly, the email should have an appealing, short and clear subject line that captures the imagination and makes the recipient want to find out more b reading it. Indeed, most of us harvest or scan our email inbox and often only check who the sender is and read the subject header.

Once opened the email itself should be short and above all concise in clear simple language. Beware of information overload, the recipient can always come back for more. While you may have several things you want to communicate, the objective is to get a response so you can expand in a follow-up call or email.

Giving something of value to the recipient can also trigger a...

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What items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?

Inevitably many promises were made during pre-election campaigning but how many will be delivered and what items are top of businesses’ post-election wish list?

There is no question that there are many urgent domestic issues that need tackling and were “parked” during the on-going wrangling over Britain’s referendum to leave the EU.

However, now that the so-called “party of business” has been returned with a solid majority, perhaps businesses will see some action on the issues that have left them feeling that they were overburdened and struggling to carry a heavy weight with little support.

While many business groups have been calling for the closest possible trade alignment with the EU post-Brexit it will be a year – or more – before the shape of any deal is known.

In the meantime, there are plenty of items on the business post-election wish-list that can be progressed.

Perhaps the biggest and most pressing burden needing attention is...

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If you want more effective meetings don’t use PowerPoint or bullet points

leadership productivity Jan 14, 2020

Effective meetings depend on discussion that is constructive and to the point, and on wasting as little time as possible.

It has been calculated that the average executive spends around 50 percent of his or her time in meetings of which at least a third are useless.

This was the finding of a 3M study carried out by Annenberg school of communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1989.

Studying effective meetings has been ongoing for years and certainly since the 1960s and there has been a growing body of evidence to support the 1989 findings, which suggests that executive productivity could be much improved.

There is an assumption that using lists or PowerPoint presentations can result in more effective meetings, but in fact, this has proven to be incorrect, as Amazon CEO @Jeff Bezos and subsequently others have proved.

A couple of years ago Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint and bullet point slides in executive meetings requiring instead that...

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Sector blog – The north of England and the future of the construction industry

economy growth insolvency Jan 09, 2020

There is no doubt that the construction industry has been having a torrid time in the last couple of years, especially since the collapse of the contractor Carillion with debts of £1.5bn at the start of 2018.

The most recently published insolvency statistics, for the third quarter of 2019, showed a 55% increase in the number of companies falling into administration, continuing an upward trend that had been going on all year.

There is little doubt that the political uncertainty since the UK voted in June 2016 to leave the EU has been a contributory factor to the industry’s woes, which are compounded by a shortage of people with appropriate skills. The skills shortage in the construction industry and its reliance on labour, often as subcontractors, has for several years been mitigated by the use of EU labour, particularly from Poland, but this, too, has been disrupted in the aftermath of Brexit as attitudes to migrants have become less welcoming.

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Starting the day right helps effective leaders to stand out

productivity success Jan 07, 2020

Starting the day right can take as little as two minutes and will make a difference to the rest of your day.

Thought leader @Guy Kawasaki recently highlighted one approach on Facebook, the two-minute routine, based on writing down just three simple statements with which you identify: 

  1. I will let go of ….
  2. I am grateful for ….
  3. I will focus on ….

The idea is that we all wake up with thoughts swimming round in our heads that crop up to distract us, even if they are only in the background, as the day progresses and that to function at our most effective we need to settle and let go of these thoughts.

There are always massive demands on the time of busy executives and so starting the day with a clear mind and focus is important as is scheduling the day and being able to stick to tasks without distraction.

This simple technique also allows you to acknowledge concerns that are on your mind by considering them and then put them in a box so you don’t obsess...

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Key Indicator – Stock Market behaviour predictable or not?

brexit economy profit Jan 02, 2020

At the start of the new decade predicting stock market behaviour is anything but an easy task.

A year ago, the pundits variously predicted that the year-end valuation of the FTSE 100 would be anywhere between 7200 and 8400 points. In the end, at close of business on 31st December it was in the mid-7000s at 7542 below most predictions but it was still a stonking year.

Over the last year, stock market values, including the UK’s FTSE 100 and 250, have risen an astonishing amount to make 2019 one of the strongest years ever, despite a sluggish global and EU economy, US and China trade wars and Brexit uncertainty.

According to the business news two days ago the Dow Jones industrial average has seen  a rise of almost 25% having reached record highs day after day, the broader S&P500 is up 30% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq has grown 40% in value. The FTSE100 in London is also close to its record high, as is the Dax30 in Germany.

In so-called “normal” times the stock...

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Addressing the UK skills shortage must be high on the new Government’s to do list

Businesses’ difficulties due to the UK’s skills shortage were high on their list for prompt Government action in the run-up to last week’s General Election.

The skills shortage was said to be inhibiting SMEs’ efforts to compete in global markets, particularly in areas related to digital and new technology.

A quarterly study by the BCC (British Chambers of Commerce) published in November found that 73% of firms that attempted to take on extra workers faced recruitment difficulties in Q3, up from the 64% recorded in Q2.

The skills shortage was compounded, according to Grant Thornton, by a low take-up of the cash available to businesses from the apprenticeship levy with almost half of eligible businesses having not yet spent the money available to them for workplace training.

This week, the Evening Standard carried a letter from Andrew Harding, chief executive – management accounting, at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, urging the new...

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Purpose oriented leadership gives employees a reason to be engaged

employees productivity Dec 17, 2019

Performing tasks to order is not enough to motivate 21st Century employees and instead they need purpose oriented leadership to understand the “why” of their organisation.

The purpose needs to be defined and made meaningful in a way that simply stating “making a profit” or “increasing sales” do not.

Generally, workers will perform more effectively if they believe in what their company is doing and how it is contributing to the common social good. This has been described as having a higher-oriented purpose. 

But this means that the most successful leaders need to be able to communicate their vision and to have good narrative skills in order to do so.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, has banned PowerPoint in executive meetings. Instead, he believes that “narrative structure” is more effective because human brains are wired to respond to storytelling.

good example of effective purpose oriented...

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VUCA – protecting your business when nothing is predictable

VUCA is an acronym devised by the US military to describe an environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

But it doesn’t only apply to conflict zones. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, it could equally well describe the climate in which business is operating.

For UK businesses the predominant uncertainty has been the situation, arguably since June 2016, when the country voted by a narrow margin to leave the EU. Since then, there have been three years of VUCA which won’t end tomorrow when we know the outcome of today’s General Election.

In the meantime, the UK economy has been sluggish, with the latest data from the ONS this week indicating that there had been almost no growth, a derisory 0.7%, in the third quarter of the year.

However, there are other influences that have combined to make uncertainty the new business norm, including a rise in nationalistic sentiment and population, trade wars between the US and China and also...

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