The rise and rise of businesswomen

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting some of Surrey’s top businesswomen.

As co-chair of the Surrey Chambers Business Women in Surrey (BWiS) group, I was involved in their annual flagship event that takes place every March to celebrate International Women’s Day.

This year we welcomed four fabulous guest speakers, and revealed the top 50 ladies on our 2016 young (aged under 30) businesswomen list as voted for by their friends, family and colleagues.

It was a truly inspiring evening, with attendees picking up tips on how to carve a successful career path from the more experienced women, alongside recognising and rewarding up-and-coming talent.

Many thanks to all who came and huge congratulations to our winners!

Click here for further information on the BWiS Rising Stars Young Business Women in Surrey 2016 list.

Rewarding awards

This summer I’ve been working with a number of clients on awards. From helping them with their applications, to promoting well-deserved nominations and wins.

And that’s the thing with awards; they’re rewarding on so many levels.

Yes, knuckling down to pen a piece about how great a business is and why takes time (and patience!), but it’s worth it.

  • Focus – if you don’t have a business plan before writing, you will afterwards, as award applications are great for focusing the mind on past achievements and future aspirations.
  • Objectives – trying to determine these why running a thriving business can be tough and lost in an already overloaded to-do list. But if you have to commit them to paper for an award application, you’re then committed to them for the long-term.
  • Morale – just being named a finalist can boost team morale 100%, and then if you go on to win it’s stratospheric!
  • Recognition – fundamentally, this is what it’s all about, as third party endorsement what you’re doing is brilliant is all the recognition you need. And this in turn will bring fabulous public relations, media, marketing and business development opportunities to help further grow your business.

So, next time a batch of ‘last chance to enter’ award emails come your way, don’t reach for the delete button as the rewards could make it well worth your while.

Chancellor’s Budget: balanced and sensible

This week Chancellor George Osborne delivered his sixth and final Budget as part of the current coalition government.

And all in all, it was a relatively balanced and sensible offering.

As a local business owner, what was in it then for the small business community?

  • Abolition of the onerous annual tax return
  • Removing class 2 national insurance for the self-employed
  • Extending small business relief
  • Reviewing business rates
  • Ambitious ultra-broadband plans
  • Cancelling planned fuel duty rises
  • Changes to venture capital trusts and enterprise investment schemes

In his own words, Osborne was sending a clear message about future growth of the UK economy through the country’s many and growing entrepreneurs: “…if you back enterprise, you raise more revenue…”

But a note of caution, with the fast-approaching general election in May, not all of these ideas could become a reality.

As Guildford-based solicitors Barlow Robbins noted: “With polling day just over seven weeks away, Mr Osborne’s sixth Budget was always going to be heavily laced with politics.  Some of the proposals the Chancellor announced may not survive to become legislation depending on the result of the election.”

Indeed.  So while I welcome all of the above, forgive me if I don’t break out the champagne just yet, despite the fact wine duty has been frozen…

The power of PR

PR – public relations – means many things to many people.  But what does it really entail, and what is considered best practice to ensure the best results?

According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR): “PR is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.  PR is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour.”

In other words, every organisation depends on reputation for survival and success.  Reputation with everyone: customers, suppliers, employees, investors, journalists, regulators, etc.

Effective PR also gives a competitive edge and helps those organisations manage their reputation by communicating and building good relationships with their stakeholders.  Absent or ineffective PR does the exact opposite.

There are many rules for good PR.  Here are my top five:

  1. Define your aims and objectives from the start and make sure you have a PR plan aligned with your marcomms strategy which should mirror your business strategy: they all go hand-in-hand.
  2. Know your stakeholder audience and target them accordingly.
  3. Use all the tools at your disposal – including social media – but don’t go overboard: less is more.
  4. Be proactive and bold!  It’s good in PR to have opinions and thought-lead.
  5. Monitor and measure: return on investment (ROI) is key.

And don’t just take my word for it.  Some wise words from Microsoft’s Bill Gates: “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”

Now that’s the power of PR!

SMEs – the unsung heroes

According to the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), small businesses are the life-blood of the UK economy and account for 99.9% of private sector companies while providing 60% of private sector jobs.

Credible data in a crowded information-overloaded world.

I have the pleasure of working with companies large and small, global and local, and am continually impressed in particular with the SMEs (small and medium enterprises).

While they’re all individual, they also have several distinct characteristics in common:

  • Ambition – they know what they want, are already on the right path to achieve it, and have no intention of stopping until they do.
  • Bravery – it takes guts to set up on your own and go for it and they have this in spades.
  • Creativity – smart ideas come from smart people who think way outside the box and beyond.
  • Drive – determination and hard graft is what turns a small business into a medium enterprise and the potential for it to be snapped up by a multinational.  Think Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!
  • Energy – day in and day out they seem to have an insatiable appetite for what they do and maintain a consistent level of high energy.
  • Fun – and perhaps this is why all of the above is possible; they have fun!

It’s not all a breeze, however, with ever-increasing hurdles in the form of access to finance (or lack of), complex employment legislation, tax bureaucracy and red tape…  But as many SMEs prove, if you want to make a difference you will.

In the words of the late Apple founder and entrepreneur, Steve Jobs: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

So let’s hear it for our SMEs; the unsung heroes of the UK economy.

Women on boards: should it matter?

There seems to have been a surge of information about women in leadership just lately.  Either moving into – Lloyd’s new chief executive Inga Beale – or moving out of – Angela Ahrendt leaving Burberry for the top job at Apple.

But should this really still be such an issue in this day and age?

Yes.

The most notable figures came earlier this year in the form of an update from Lord Davies, whose ground-breaking Women on Boards Report published in 2011 called for a target of 25% female representation on FTSE 100 boards by 2015.  Back in 2011 this stood at 12.5%, and is now 20.7%.

Progress has been made, but in Lord Davies’ own words: “This clearly isn’t gender parity but it is a strong foundation and major milestone in a longer journey.”

However, some argue that quotas are not the answer.

EEF, the manufacturing organisation, suggests instead that we nurture young talent and rid the industry of its “dirty and unglamorous” image.

Whatever your viewpoint, boardroom diversity is on the increase, positive discrimination has played a leading role, helped in part by producing reports which feed the much-debated topic of women in leadership, which can only be a good thing.

After all, as Oscar Wilde so famously noted: “…there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Selfie – it’s official!

Oxford Dictionaries has announced ‘selfie’ as its word of 2013 on the basis its usage has increased by 17,000% over the past year – staggering!

For those not in the know, a selfie is a self-portrait photo usually taken with a phone for uploading onto social media sites.  Famous selfie advocates include pop stars, politicians, and even the Pope.

Personally, I think this news is great and further evidence of the flexibility of the English language.  I may be a stickler for good grammar and the correct use of our beautiful prose, but I also recognise (and regularly preach!) that it must evolve to survive.

Twenty years ago, it was a cardinal sin to begin a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’, and you would never dream of splitting an infinitive.  Now, all three (and so much more) are perfectly acceptable in the right context.

In the early 2000s, I remember first hearing the words ‘carbon footprint’ while working for PricewaterhouseCoopers in London.  Corporate social responsibility and being a good green employer was coming to the fore in a big way, and measuring your carbon footprint (impact on the environment) was the buzz phrase of the time.  Now, carbon footprint is well known and understood with its own place on the pages of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary; just as selfie will be very soon.

Other words on the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 shortlist include: binge-watch, bitcoin, showrooming, and twerk.  Visit www.oxforddictionaries.com for the full list.