Brexit: Keep calm and carry on

So, here we are, the frenzy after the storm.

Following months of mixed messages and Westminster wrangling, we have more of the same albeit on a global scale now.

Yes, it was a shock. Yes, it will have significant ramifications. And yes, 48% of British voters went with ‘Remain’. But 52% voted ‘Leave’ and as a democratic society we must respect the outcome and move on: without panicking.

As an entrepreneur running a small business, while I have some concerns about the immediate future, we survived the 2008 recession and everything it brought in between, so the same will apply now.

Yesterday (28 June), I attended the Hart Brown Economic Forum at the University of Surrey in Guildford. A staple in the local business calendar, it was well attended with interesting speakers.

Economist Vicky Pryce kicked off proceedings with a top line analysis of European GDP figures (no surprise there), supported by insightful comment albeit rather negative: “Europe has been weak for some time and is only just recovering. We’re now in for a long period of weak growth. Europe is a continent with serious problems. We will have to learn to live with it.”

On the flip side, however, Jonathan Lucas, business owner and managing director of Elstead Lighting (which he revolutionised from a £3 million flagging company to a £10 million export success), was more upbeat. Commenting that while Brexit would have some impact on how they trade, the European business relationships he has built up were solid and would survive.

Hear, hear.

Businesses – large and small – are built on relationships. They also have longevity (unlike political leaders who come and go). This makes them extremely resilient.

At Claire Dee Communications, it’s very much business as usual. We are where we are, and we will flex accordingly and continue to serve our clients.

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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.