Dangerous Marketing wants your opinion!

Our friends at Dangerous Marketing are seeking the opinion of business owners as part of the launch of their new Interim Marketing Manager service (latest blog article).  Anecdotal feedback from local business owners have highlighted their concern over how they can stimulate business growth having pared all their resources back during the recession. The biggest issue is that they know exactly what needs to be done, but cannot exploit an open market whilst their competitors are in the same predicament.

Dangerous Marketing is therefore asking for the opinions of business owners on the value of using an external marketing resource to grow their business.  The survey is brief and only take a couple of minutes to complete (only 6 questions in total, 4 of which only require a simple tick to answer). All answers are anonymous so respondents are encouraged to be completely frank and honest in their opinion.

Click here to take the survey

Thank you in advance for taking the time to help with this research – your opinion is very much appreciated!

If you want more information on the new Dangerous Marketing Interim Marketing Manager service, you can make contact via their  Twitter account or their Contact Us page.

The Real Value of Marketing Metrics

As I am sitting here preparing a presentation to go live on my Linked-In page, I was reviewing some of the external articles I like to read and came across this one from MyVenturePad.com about how we undervalue marketing we cannot measure. MVP’s Tim Berry posed the question of how much value is placed on the aspects of marketing that are immediately obvious in how they can be measured such as “…getting mentioned in a major publication. Or being included in somebody’s book. What if those marketing wins produce a value we can’t measure?…”

This is something close to my heart as I am often working with SMEs (Small & Medium sized Enterprises) who do not believe they either have the means or the resources to measure and analyse the outcomes of their marketing activities.  My starting point is that the measurement does not always have to be purely statistical – but that what is used as a measurement is consistent, so that the business will have a means of comparison across each operating period.

This is something I discuss – and give examples of what tools could be used – in the presentations I have delivered to audiences on Marketing Metrics earlier this year. And as several people suggested it would be useful to be able to see them on-line, hence my time now preparing the presentation. You can see the finished article by clicking on my Linked-In profile page. Alternatively you can see other videos (with commentaries) on the Dangerous Marketing You Tube Channel.


How Interim Managers can speed up Business Success

We are working in interesting times in the south west! The Coalition Government’s Emergency Budget last week revealed mixed omens for SMEs to add to the news that the SWRDA will be scrapped (to be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships). In the short term, we know that business support funding is highly likely to be reduced (Plymouth Herald’s article Cable repeats his budget cut threat).

Plus population estimate figures published on 24 June 2010 by the Office for National Statistics state that the South West region grew by only 0.4% in the year to mid-2009 (well below the UK average) with annual net migration for the country now in the negative (ie more people are leaving the UK than arriving). Here at Pragmatic Performance Group, we have been having lots of conversations with SMEs about how they can find the resource (human and financial!) to stand on their own two feet. As a business acceleration consultancy, we recognise that the key issue post-recession for successful and sustainable growth is operational capacity. To survive and thrive in a recession, businesses have cut back to the bone. Their frustration is that they know what needs to be done – but they simply don’t have the space capacity.

Which is why we are having a lot of conversations with businesses about our Specialists on Tap™ Interim Managers offering. So for businesses thinking about what support would be best for them, we thought it might be useful to explain what Interim Managers are – and how they differ from Management Consultants or Temp Employees.

How do Interim Managers differ from Consultants? They have a lot in common – up to date skills and knowledge that can be used at both strategic and operational levels, whilst maintaining an independent, objective view. But the Consultant’s focus tends to be more about guidance and support. Typically it is an intermittent intervention – mentoring, motivating and action planning before giving the business the time and space to implement before coming back in to evaluate success. Often when I am in consultant mode, I will complete the initial assignment (the short term activities that needed to be done) and then get asked by the client to maintain a strategic function only. This gives me permission (usually on a quarterly basis) to pull the business owner away from the day-to-day operations to review and evaluate progress against the strategy to see how the business is keeping on track against the long term objectives.

In contrast, Interim Managers roll up their sleeves and get on with the operational aspects as well as the strategic planning.  Typically they will be working at the client premises either full-time or regular part-time (eg 2 days a week) – their role is to provide the client with the additional resource needed to achieve quick results.  Unlike temporary managers who cover for a specific employee, Interim Managers are an ‘over qualified’ resource who integrate their additional consultancy, project & change management skills into their functional role. Interims can work for a business on short term assignments (eg 1-3 months) or for more major projects, their role can be fixed to a client business for 2-3 years.

Research by the Interim Management Association suggests that in the first quarter of 2010, the most popular reason for assignments was Programme/Project Management (37% of all interim executives hired), followed by Gap Management (26%), Business Improvement (16%), Change/Transition Management (13%), Turnaround (3%), Crisis Management (2%), Rapid Growth (2%), Non-specified (1%). But if you know what you want them for, what are the key attributes that mark out a good interim?  BIE who provide interims for senior- level roles suggest that businesses should look for the following to get the right interim:

  • Have Board Level experience that has been gained with a range of companies, either as the CEO/MD or with a functional expertise (Marketing Director, Technical Director etc)
  • Can demonstrate hands-on Project expertise, eg turnarounds, restructurings, acquisition integration, heavily backed start-ups etc
  • Be Results orientated, preferring the hands-on approach to make things happen
  • Be Flexible and Pragmatic, comfortable operating at both strategic and operational levels

PPG’s Interim Managers (our Specialists on Tap™) typically work on-site at the client’s business so they are available ‘on tap’ immediately to provide the additional functional capacity exactly where it is needed most. Every specialist has a great depth of practical experience combined with up to date knowledge, so they can also use their expertise to coach/train/advise individuals within the business as part of their role, ensuring the company absorbs the operational effectiveness it needs to continue once the interim moves on.

Interim Managers are not just for the large corporates – our Specialists on Tap™ are well versed in working with and in SMEs so they understand the wide range of functions that typically need to be covered.  Another major advantage of interims over consultants is their lower day rate! As they are much more closely aligned to the client business, the retainer style of assignment will have a lower day-rate than the short/sharp intervention of a consultant.

Interims are certainly on the increase as businesses look to accelerate themselves out of the recession’s survival focus.  If you want to know more about the differences between consultants and interims, or are interested in hearing what our Specialists on Tap™ could do for your business, contact us for an informal conversation.

IoD believes Emergency Budget is “right medicine for the economy”

The Institute of Director’s Chief Economist Graeme Leach presents his views on today’s Coalition Government’s emergency Budget on the IoD’s You Tube Channel.

Although the IoD did not get all that it hoped, he said it “ticked a lot of boxes” and was a “welcome dose of common sense” to solve the issues at the macro level. He congratulated the chancellor for presenting a “bold and decisive” Budget. Whilst there is always a concern about risking a double dip recession, the IoD knows that getting to grips with public finance is key to increase the prospects of recovery sooner rather than later.

Full details on the Emergency Budget available from Direct.gov site. Summary of changes follow:

  • VAT standard rate to increase to 20% 04/01/11 (Zero rated & 5% reduced rate items not affected and no changes to Cash/Annual Accounting schemes. Flat Rate Scheme will be recalculated to reflect the increase in standard rate)
  • Insurance Premium Tax – standard rate will go up to 6% per cent & higher rate to 20% on 04/01/11
  • Corporation Tax rates to decrease by 1% each year, starting 01/04/22 dropping to 27% then aiming for 24% in year 2014/15. Small profits rate for 2011/12 to be 20%
  • Capital Gains Tax – Rates and Entrepreneurs’ Relief stays at 18% per cent (where total taxable gains & income are less than the upper limit of the income tax basic rate band. The 28 per cent rate applies to gains (or any parts of gains) above that limit.
  • Entrepreneurs’ Relief will be taxed at 10% with lifetime limit of qualifying gains increasd from £2m to £5m.
  • Bank Levy on banks’ balance sheets from 1 January 2011
  • Landline Duty – 50p duty on local loops announced in the Pre-Budget Report 2009 will not proceed.
  • Capital Allowances – Plant and Machinery Rates reduced from 20% to 18% pa for expenditure in the main rate pool; 10% to 8% pa for special rate pool from April 2012
  • Annual Investment Allowance – maximum to be reduced from £100k to to £25k pa from April 2012
  • Furnished Holiday Lettings – Government publishing public consultation later in the year on the tax treatment
  • Income Tax personal allowance – increased by £1,000 to £7,475 for basic rate tax payers
  • National Insurance Contributions – threshold for employers NIC to be raised by £21 pw above indexation from April 2011; new businesses in targeted areas of the UK will have NICs reduced & all will be exempt from first £5k of Class 1 employer NIC for each of their first 10 employees hired for first 12 months of employment
  • PAYE – Government to consult employers/payroll providers later in the year on PAYE data
  • Enterprise Finance Guarantee – to be increased by £200m to support £700m additional lending until 31/03/11
  • Enterprise Capital Fund to support small businesses with high growth potential – extra £37.5m in equity finance funded through £25m Government contribution & £12.5m private co-investment
  • Regional Growth Fund announced for 2010/11 & 2012/13 to support increases in business employment & growth (England only)
  • Compliance Measures – HMRC Review of Powers: legislation later in 2010 to bring VAT, Insurance Premium Tax, Aggregates Levy, Climate Change Levy, Landfill Tax and Excise Duties within the late filing and late payment penalty regimes; HMRC to consult on proposed powers to require a financial security from employers with history of serious non-compliance eg late/non-payment of PAYE Income Tax & NIC).

Do we really need to travel for business?

After all the disruption caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud (see our 19 April blog article Could your business cope with a volcano?), air travel is again interrupted as Gatwick and Heathrow were required to close yesterday.  A NATS press release earlier this month stated that the ash cloud had reduced air traffic by 20% and this decline in usage is borne out by the Office for National Statistics releasing figures showing UK business travel in March had fallen sharply compared to March 2009 (it will be interesting to compare the April figures when they are published in June).  As this disruption continues, with no definite idea of when the volcano will die down, how will it affect businesses’ decisions to travel in the longer term? Do we really need to travel for business?

Last week I attended the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce‘s ‘Up in the Air’ networking event at Newquay Airport hosted by Air Southwest. Peter Davies, MD of Air Southwest presented the airline’s view on the NATS‘ reaction to the ash cloud and the likely cost to their business (26/5/10 additional news that the Sutton Harbour Group intends to sell Air South West).  On top of this, Peter explained their decision to close their London City Airport link was due to insufficient passenger numbers.

So are we not travelling as much because of anticipated disruption, or is it that we simply do not need to?  Commenting on the ONS statistics above, Caroline Strachan, past chair of the Institute of Travel and Meetings, said the UK has “a massive travelling population who were very used to turning up, getting on their flight, getting on their train, it was just a part of daily life and all of a sudden that was taken away”. Added to which, the recession has obviously made business owners more cautious about where they spend their money. The speed of modern communications and the social media tools available mean that we should be able to conduct business virtually, yet most of the business people I speak to still have a serious preference for face-to-face meetings, stressing the value of looking a supplier or new customer ‘in the eye’.

But is this preference viable in the long term? Apart from the environmental impact (for which the debate continues), we now understand the effect of disruption much better having seen it for real so how will your business planning include alternatives to travel? If you have not yet had the opportunity to see the benefits (and downsides!) of ‘virtual communications’, do you know where to start? As a business acceleration consultancy, PPG helps SMEs incorporate the changes that the modern world imposes on resource allocation into their business strategies. If you want to know where to start, simplycontact us for an initial consultation free of charge.

Could Your Business Cope With A Volcano?

Nature has once again reminded us that even with all our technological advances, we are still at the mercy of the planet’s power. As I write this (5 days in to the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland), stories are coming in of the “heroic efforts” of people returning from their travels whilst the European wide debate continues on whether the no fly zone is really necessary. No doubt there will be plenty of inquiries (to apportion blame somewhere!) after this all dies down (whenever that may be with an expectation of this volcano continuing to erupt for 2 years).

The reality is that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this. I understand the frustrations of travellers desperate to get home (having been stuck for 11 hours at Buenos Aires airport myself!) but would you really run the risk of getting on a plane that is not designed to suck volcanic ash into its engines. In the western world, we have all got so used to the “convenience” factor of quick travel and easy access to information that we have forgotten how to cope when things do not go right. Whilst most of the media concentrates on holiday makers being stuck abroad, the bigger picture is the economic impact of just-in-time manufacturers not being able to get parts when they need them or food that is rotting because of its critical timing in getting it from field to a foreign plate.

If you are running a small business, is all this fuss relevant to you? I am able to write this blog today as I was meant to be working with a client, but they are stuck overseas unable to get home. Whilst a couple of days’ delay may be inconvenient, any longer and there is a real risk that the business will suffer as they are the key component in not only getting new business but also ensuring the delivery of existing contracts.

So do you have a contingency plan for your business?

Do you have a plan of action for when something happens that you will have absolutely no control over, yet will stop your business in its tracks? We immediately think of business disaster planning but in reality, it is rarely disasters that kill businesses. It is far more likely to be something relatively insignificant that catches us unawares. For example, we all know about backing-up our IT systems and data (be honest, how frequently do you ACTUALLY do it!) but what about if you and your staff were denied access to your business premises (a frightening frequent occurrence thanks to burst mains, traffic accidents, gas leaks etc) – how could you ensure continuity of delivery to keep customers happy? Sure, they will understand if it’s only a couple of days’ interruption but as witnessed in the current crisis, 5 days in and there are a lot of angry businesses demanding answers from the Met Office and NATS if the closure of the skies is really necessary. Five days! Could you get your business back up and running in that time after a complete close-down?

Whilst flexibility and adaptability is often a major advantage for small businesses, this can be a key weakness when things go wrong and there is no plan of action to compensate. So make sure you have a Business Continuity Plan that every employee knows about (and understands the role they would play in case of a shut-down). I have been fortunate to work with and experience training sessions on Business Continuity Management delivered by MSD International Ltd – which is why my business has regular data back-ups and a plan of action for when things go wrong!  We also recommend MSD International to our clients as we know that as our clients’ businesses grow, they have far more to protect. Hopefully one positive from the Icelandic volcano is that more businesses will have set up new or updated old continuity plans.

And don’t forget to let your customers, suppliers and stakeholders know that your business has a continuity plan – it’s a major competitive advantage that will benefit from a bit of positive promotion, especially in the current crisis!!

If you want to know more about how to get started on a business continuity plan for small businesses, have a look at MSD’s website page which has outline guides to get you started, orcontact us or MSD for further information.

Late Payments Still a Problem for SMEs

Research by the Royal Bank of Scotland & Natwest has been widely reported today that 71% of SMEs had to cope with late payments in the last year, totalling over £60bn in unpaid bills (of which c. £15bn was overdue by more than 120 days). In parallel, the FSB stated that nearly 4000 businesses closed in 2008 due to invoices not getting paid on time.

Peter Ibbetson (Head of Small Business Banking at RBS) commented in the BBC website article “Bad debts and late payment of invoices are endemic problems for UK businesses. What’s concerning is that so few are making use of services from their bank to help alleviate the problem.”. He recognised that a key problem for small businesses is that they simply do not have the resources to focus on debt collection.

However Stephen Alambritis of the FSB countered in the same article that the banks are helping the problem at the moment: “It’s a huge problem for small businesses. When a small firm is paid late, it’s forced to go to the bank and with the banks being a bit tetchy at the moment, it’s a difficult position. Banks are not loaning and giving overdrafts which means small firms feel like banks themselves. Large firms are improving their cash flow on the back of smaller suppliers.”

In earlier research in February 2010, the FSB had also pointed the finger at the public sector for being the worst offenders, with one in three payments being made late.  In the FSB/ICM research, businesses were asked whether they received payment from different types of organisations early, late or on time. Broken down by sector, whilst the figures for ‘late payment’ for the Private Sector were 34% and the Education Sector 22%, the Public Sector made up the rest (listed in ascending order: Police/fire 18%; Devolved Government 23%; Olympics 2012 25%; Local authorities 25%; NHS 29%; Government agencies 30%; EU institutions 30% and UK Central Government 31%).

This reluctance to pay on time caused 41% of small businesses to resort to using personal savings; 43% being reliant on overdrafts and 21% using a personal credit card to stay afloat. The feedback implied that this self-reliance was forced on them as they met with more refusal than support from the banks.

In their rbs_liquidity_magazine_issue5 the RBS offers a number of ways for businesses to look after their cash flow and keep their liquidity safe.  As business owners we all know that cash-flow is king, and as we all work through the recovered from the recession, there is still a lot to do to sort out payment processes to smaller businesses. At PPG Ltd, we always recommend to our clients that they pay on time (or even early!) to encourage a good relationship with suppliers that can provide a life-saver is tough times. When was the last time you reviewed your payment processes to your suppliers? If you would like an objective view on how you can get yourself into a more secure cash-flow position, contact us for a free of charge review.