Friday 19th December

Top Christmas gifts could bring tech headache

Small businesses are being warned about the potential technology threats posed by wearable technology, which will be a top gift choice this Christmas....

Small businesses are being warned about the potential technology threats posed by wearable technology, which will be a top gift choice this Christmas.

Tipped to be one of the most popular gifts of 2014, wifi-enabled wearable technology is about to flood UK workplaces, but it could cause a headache for security experts.

Data security expert Walter Rossi at specialist business IT and telecoms provider Daisy Group said watches, jewellery and glasses could lead to problems through viruses and data leaks.

“Many organisations are already struggling to deal effectively with the issues raised by people bringing their own personal mobile devices to work, but there will be new problems to deal with when people receive wearable technology as Christmas presents,” he said.

Wearable gadgets might not have proper controls or anti-virus software installed, potentially spreading malware – malicious code used by criminals to steal sensitive data – across business networks.

Other more minor problems include the proliferation of internet-enabled devices slowing down business wifi connections for employees.

Rossi says the best way to deal with the problem is to lock out unknown devices from company wifi and to create a guest network that does not interfere with formal business communications.

He added: “Blocking access for personal devices may be counterproductive as staff will always try to find a way around this. Additionally, some personal devices may actually make business smoother in the case of time management and making staff easier to contact."

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Sales soar in critical Christmas run-in

The tills were ringing there loudest since 1998 in the early part of December, giving strong signals of a merry Christmas on the UK high street....

The tills were ringing their loudest since 1998 in the early part of December, giving strong signals of a merry Christmas on the UK high street.

The CBI latest distributive trades survey covered the two-week period leading up to 11 December.

It showed retail sales growth at its fastest pace for 26 years, spurred on by the magnifying effect of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as well as Small Business Saturday.

Sales are expected to grow less quickly in the year to January, but more swift business is anticipated and retailers are placing their biggest stock orders for a year.

Sectors who have seen the best figures were grocers, with sales at a two-and-a-half-year high, and furniture businesses, as well as the ‘other normal goods’ sector including jewellery, watches and flowers.

Barry Williams, CBI distributive trades survey chairman and Asda chief merchandising officer for food, said: “The strongest sales growth for a quarter of a century is a big boost for retailers as they head towards the climax of the crucial pre-Christmas trading period.

“Black Friday price-cuts, embraced more widely by more UK retailers than ever, and discounting played an important part in helping sales, encouraging more customers into stores and online to buy more widely.

"But shoppers may have caught the Christmas bug early and brought some of their spending forward. This has been a tough year for many retailers and parts of the sector are still struggling.

“Increasing disposable income from real wages growth, and falling fuel prices are giving retailers reasons for optimism but we’ll need to see in the New Year whether the upbeat mood takes hold.”

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UK is Europe’s most enterprising country

The UK ranks above its rivals in Europe for entrepreneurial activity, beating France, Italy and Germany in the self-employment stakes, according to the latest research....

The UK ranks above its rivals in Europe for entrepreneurial activity, beating France, Italy and Germany in the self-employment stakes, according to the latest research.

Private bank Societe Generale said 7.1% of the UK working age population was involved in entrepreneurial activity in 2013, compared to 5.2% in Spain, 5% in Germany and just 4.6% in France.

The figures covered 2013, but also revealed that in 2012 the UK reported its highest level of entrepreneurial activity in more than 10 years, with 9% of the working age population involved.

The UK also leads the pack on female entrepreneurship with the proportion of working-age women increasing from 3.6% in 2007 to 5.5% in 2013.

In Italy and Spain female entrepreneurship dropped by a third and a quarter respectively during that timeframe.

Christine Ross at Societe Generale said: “It is a fantastic achievement for the UK to rank number one for entrepreneurship and it is really positive that the proportion of females engaged in entrepreneurial activity is continuing to increase.

“There is definitely still ground to be won, but hopefully the next generation of female entrepreneurs will continue to gain inspiration from the growing number of women who have built their own businesses.”

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Tuesday 16th December

Bosses get free training to ‘grow their own’ tech staff

UK employers of all sizes are to receive funded training to help them develop top-level IT employees....

UK employers of all sizes are to receive funded training to help them develop top-level IT employees.

From September next year, businesses will be able to offer a full honours degree to staff while they continue to work. There are no student fees and employers continue to pay wages throughout the course duration.

The Degree Apprenticeship in Technology Solutions will be taught at eight business schools: Manchester Metropolitan, Aston, Exeter, Greenwich, Loughborough, University College London, Winchester and University of West of England.

A series of leading companies have already signed up to the scheme, such as Accenture, BT, Ford, John Lewis and IBM.

Liz Gorb, enterprise fellow at MMU Centre for Enterprise, said: "The aim is to integrate academic learning at degree level with work-based training.

“Students earn while they learn and come away with skills that are directly relevant to employers, who have an opportunity to instil their own business culture and working style from an early stage.

"The core content of the degree includes technological support, software development, database management, security and business organisation.

“But the integrated learning approach of workplace training and assessment makes the course highly flexible to employer demands – whatever the size or sector of the organisation."

For more information click the link below.

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UK makers in for ‘solid’ 2015

Manufacturing businesses in the UK can prepare for a solid 2015, results from a survey of confidence among 485 leading production firms suggest....

Manufacturing businesses in the UK can prepare for a solid 2015, results from a survey of confidence among 485 leading production firms suggest.

The CBI’s Industrial Trends Survey shows that production is expected to keep going up in the next three months. Sectors such as motor vehicles and transport equipment are particularly bullish with growth at a nine-month high.

Exports are “relatively weak” said the business group, although export orders have improved slightly and are at a four-month high. In general, order books are “strongly above average”, it added.

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI director of economics, said: “The manufacturing sector is ending 2014 on a more upbeat note, having lost a little momentum earlier in the year.

“Export orders have improved, and output is expected to continue growing as we head into the New Year.

“However, the otherwise solid outlook for UK manufacturers is tempered by a challenging global backdrop.

“With Eurozone growth disappointing and some emerging markets facing a tough time, firms need to look harder for opportunities to ramp up exports to high-growth sectors across the globe.”

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Monday 15th December

Infographic: What’s good about working in an SME?

Friendly colleagues and a good atmosphere are the chief reasons people like working in a small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs), new research suggests....

Friendly colleagues and a good atmosphere are the chief reasons people like working in a small or medium-sized businesses (SMEs), new research suggests.

Nescafe Alegria said 78% of SME employers and 82% of staff said friendly colleagues were a big advantage of working in this bracket of businesses.

Other reasons given were familiarity with colleagues and approachable bosses, as well as flexible working hours and having more say in the future of the business.

The research was put together by YouGov for Nescafe Alegria and involved responses from 1272 employees and 566 bosses. You can see all the results in the infographic below:

nescafe sme working

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Small businesses positive for 2015

More than six in 10 small businesses are expecting to grow in 2015, with firms planning to recruit more staff and increase export activity, according to new research....

More than six in 10 small businesses are expecting to grow in 2015, with firms planning to recruit more staff and increase export activity, according to new research.

A report by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows 62% expect to grow in the first quarter of 2015 and while confidence is slightly down on previous quarters, productivity rose 1.1% during the second half of 2014.

Productivity increases are important to the economy because they relate to pay rises for company employees. Loosely speaking, the more productive a workforce the better it gets paid.

In other findings from the report:

- Some 16% of small businesses took on new employees during the last quarter compared with one-in-10 who cut headcount.

- The number of bosses saying finance was a barrier to growth has risen to 22% from 10% one years ago.

- London, the West Midlands and Eastern England experienced the biggest increase in confidence year-on-year.

- IT businesses were the most confidence overall, although optimism is growing fastest in the health, social work and transport sectors.

John Allan, FSB national chairman, called on MPs to support small businesses in the New Year: "There are signs that more support could be needed,” he said.

“The perception of increasing cost of finance, and further warnings of a downturn on the continent, demonstrate that Ministers need to continue to do all they can to support small firms.

“Building on extensions to schemes like Funding for Lending, the Employment Allowance, and recently improved business support programmes are crucial to this."

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Friday 12th December

Small business owners pledge to work through Christmas festivities

Spare a thought for small business owners this Christmas, three in four of who will be working through the festive break, with around half spending three hours a day behind desks, a shop counters and on project sites....

Spare a thought for small business owners this Christmas, three in four of who will be working through the festive break, with around half spending three hours a day behind desks, at shop counters and on project sites.

That’s according to new research published by accountancy software business Xero, which also revealed that 17% of small business bosses will take no time off at all.

“These results highlight that even during a time like the festive season, it isn’t possible for most of them to switch off altogether,” said Xero managing director Gary Turner.

The results of the survey also revealed marked demographic differences in the attitudes of older and younger business owners.

More than seven in 10 respondents aged between 45 and 54 said their priority was to boost profits, while, conflictingly, nearly 40% also said they needed to work on giving themselves more free time.

Meanwhile, in the 18to-24 age bracket just 35% were obsessing about the bottom line and only 17% thought a work-life balance boost was in order.

Turner added: “Annual leave is one of the many employee benefits that small business owners sacrifice, because it could have a detrimental impact on the bottom line.

“Getting a good work-life balance is very tricky, but it’s really important that we all switch off occasionally. It’s a question of balance.”

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Thursday 11th December

Predictions for digital media trends in 2015

MPs online, ‘choose your own content’ and a tidal wave of fitness software will all be part of the digital media landscape in 2015, says Hotwire’s Digital trends Report....

MPs online, ‘choose your own content’ and a tidal wave of fitness software will all be part of the digital media landscape in 2015, says Hotwire’s latest Digital Trends Report.

The UK-based PR outfit launched its sixth annual report today. It outlined 10 trends that could be big next year and beyond.

Consumer choice will influence how media owners create content, with the range of connected devices broadening as tablets and wearable technology become more widely adopted.

It could mean brands will have to create multiple versions of the same content to suit each type of device. Consumers will also want more say in the format of the content, be it written, audio or video, said Hotwire.

Connected devices are becoming important selling points for motor vehicles and 2014 saw the emergence of the connected vehicle. Despite some concerns for road safety this trend is likely to redouble over the next 12 months.

Healthcare is another area highlighted in the report, with Apple’s HealthKit and Google Fit giving customers the chance to share body data with healthcare professionals. However, the report authors warned that healthcare systems will need to upgrade to cope with all the extra information.

Hotwire said the latest digital trends report would be its last, with digital being rolled into offline media reporting next year.

“Referring to digital as a separate proposition in the context of the communications industry feels dated,” said John Brown, head of engagement at Hotwire. “It’s part and parcel of every communications or marketing professional’s life, whether they like it or not."

The report also pointed out that, with the general election looming, more MPs and candidates will be taking to digital media to sell their credentials to followers.

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Small suppliers being bullied by big customers – FSB

One in five small businesses suffer from “bullying” at the hands of the companies they supply, according to a study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)....

One in five small businesses suffer from “bullying” at the hands of the companies they supply, according to a study by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).

The revelation comes hot on the heels of news that Premier Foods has charged suppliers for the right to stay with the business. The FSB is calling for new rules to combat discriminatory practices by big firms such as retrospective discounting and “pay to stay”.

Other practices outlined in the report include excessively long payment terms of 120 days or more, which essentially becomes an interest-free loan from the supplier to the client business.

Late payment remains a perennial problem for small businesses and some companies have even awarded themselves arbitrary discounts of 3% if they pay on time – even if this is 120 days after the delivery of goods.

Retrospective discounting involves companies changing the terms of signed contracts after suppliers have delivered. The FSB says tactics include threatening to withhold payment, de-listing from supplier agreements and un-agreed ‘marketing contributions’.

John Allan, chairman of the FSB, said: "When the public think of their favourite brands, they are unlikely to connect them with the sort of immoral payment practices which are becoming all too common across an increasing number of industries.

“However, it is clear that whenever these examples come to light, the public shares the same sense of moral outrage as the small firms that have to put up with them on a daily basis.”

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