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  • BBC Business News: Swiss interest rate to turn negative
    Switzerland's National Bank has brought in a negative interest rate cutting the value of any money left on deposit in the country.
  • BBC Business News: North Sea oil sector near 'collapse'
    The director of Premier Oil says no new North Sea projects are profitable with oil below $60 a barrel and the industry is "close to collapse".
  • BBC Business News: Retail sales boosted by Black Friday
    UK retail sales rose at their fastest annual rate in more than 10 years in November, thanks to the effects of Black Friday.
  • BBC Business News: Fed decision lifts Asia stocks
    Markets in Asia were mostly higher after the Federal Reserve pledged to be "patient" when it came to making a decision on raising interest rates.
  • BBC Business News: Putin insists rouble will stabilise
    President Vladimir Putin insists Russia's under-fire currency will stabilise, but warns the country's economic crisis could last two years.
  • Business Cornwall: Eden launches degree courses
    The Eden Project has announced that it will offer degree courses for the first time. The degrees will be delivered in partnership with the Cornwall College Group and awarded by Plymouth University.
  • BBC Business News: Mortgage lending dip 'continues'
    UK mortgage lending in November returned to the level seen a year earlier, lenders say, offering more evidence of a post-summer slowdown.
  • Business Matters: The jobs SME owners love to hate… and how to outsource them

    If you have the right systems in place, outsourcing work to freelancers can be incredibly financially efficient: the costs of office space, computers, annual leave or sick days are out of the equation, and delegating the tasks you don’t have the time or inclination to do enables you to focus on the important things.

    And the most hated jobs are…

    It’s probable I don’t need to tell you which jobs are always bottom of your pile, but a straw poll of Time Etc’s army of virtual assistants reveals all. In spite of it being critical to cash flow, chasing late payments is top of the most-hated list among their clients, followed closely by processing expenses. Other tasks that are frequently outsourced include formatting documents, booking travel tickets, and email inbox management.

    Such tasks can easily tag two hours on to the end of the typical 12-hour working day of a small business owner, who may not be in a position to take on administrative staff.

    Figuring out what to outsource relies on asking a simple question: what are your key strengths that help drive the business? If you find time that could be spend on growing your client base, for example, is being eroded by tasks that don’t, it’s probably wise to outsource them.

    This is why it’s often the simple, repetitive tasks that are most easily outsourced – but it might very well be something that requires specialist knowledge. You might already outsource to web developers or graphic designers. If you’re not a particularly good writer, why not outsource blog writing or social media content too?

    To avoid seeing your inner control freak, follow this rough guide

    Small business owners can find it hard to relinquish control, especially with client-facing tasks like chasing payments. If you’ve never met your freelancer, and you can’t see or hear them doing the job because they’re based remotely, it’s hard to put your faith in them.

    There are two solutions to that. First, dedicate time and effort into finding the right freelancer for the job. This might be through a recommendation from another business owner, or through a freelancer platform that carefully handpicks and vets its network. Secondly, assign a dedicated project manager to oversee their work. This could be an employee you already have, although Time Etc offers project management to all clients as part of the hourly rate.

    Be clear about what role they need to play and make sure this is properly communicated. Perhaps you or your clients work overseas and you’d prefer a virtual assistant who could work early mornings or evenings due to the time difference. Or maybe you want a freelancer to update your twitter feed at regular intervals within your specific guidelines. Much the same as taking on a new employee in-house, business owners have to devote a little extra time at the beginning in order to properly train freelance staff.

    Just your freelancer needs to understand the nature of their role to be effective, they also need to know the nature of your company. A video conference call can help here. Talk them through how your business works, your customer base, and where you operate. If they are picking up phone calls for you, or taking messages, they should know every member of your team and your client base, and be able to identify important callers. They are an integral part of your business operations, and they need to understand and care about what the business does.

    There is no such thing as too much communication. Ask them for regular updates, which could be as simple as a bullet point email at the end of the week or day. Manage targets continually but – and this is crucial ­– don’t micro-manage. If you fall into this trap, the timesaving benefits of outsourcing are actually counter-balanced, and the whole point is lost. If you’ve found yourself a good freelancer, given them proper training, and articulated your expectations, this shouldn’t be an issue.

    Finally, get to know the people you outsource to. Just because they aren’t a physical presence in the office doesn’t mean they aren’t an invaluable asset to your team. Indeed, when properly embraced and trained, a virtual workforce may the best investment you make for your SME.

    Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual workforce platform Time Etc

    Barnaby is the founder of virtual workforce platform, Time Etc, which was founded in 2007. The company provides remote help and assistance to busy business owners, entrepreneurs, and high-flying professionals. Any task can be outsourced – from the mundane – including credit control and virtual filing – to the outright bizarre (including a PowerPoint presentation for Madonna).

  • Business Cornwall: Cornwall flood fund extended
    Home and business owners in Cornwall who were affected by flooding between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 can still apply for a grant of up to £5k to protect them from future flood risks.
  • Business Matters: Quality of UK management has failed to improve in more than a decade

    The report ‘Are UK organisations getting better at managing their people?’ is the latest chapter in the CIPD’s Megatrends project which explores the economic and social trends that are shaping the world of work now and in the future. This latest report reviews the available evidence on people management practices and how these have changed since the 2003 Government-commissioned report by Michael Porter and Christian Ketels that identified quality of management as an important determinant of economic performance.

    While people management practices do change with the times, the CIPD’s report found little evidence of underlying improvement over the last decade. There appears to be room for improvement in the amount of time that managers are spending with their direct reports and the quality of coaching and career development advice they provide. Management processes are also not always applied consistently or fairly and this is one reason why there is a lack of trust in senior leadership. These are deep-rooted problems and the solutions are largely down to organisations, but the CIPD is urging the Government to consider ways in which it can raise awareness of the challenges and potential approaches to tackling them, not least in its capacity as an employer.

    Mark Beatson, chief economist for the CIPD, comments: “Over the years we’ve seen successive governments put a lot of effort into changing the regulations that help to determine how organisations work – sometimes more regulation, sometimes less regulation – but they’ve typically shied away from getting involved in how well businesses are managed, filing the issue in the ‘too difficult’ drawer. With UK productivity falling even further behind our competitors since 2008, it’s essential that we move the debate on from talking about low-pay and low-quality jobs and look at the root problem of poor productivity. Government needs to get behind innovation in workplace practices with as much vigour as it, quite rightly, does for technological innovation.”

    “Most businesses say they want to make innovation, quality or customer service their competitive advantage but not all of them will have the resources, capability or knowledge to achieve this. We think that Government, business and employee representatives all need to be engaged in a collective effort to find ways of making this journey easier.”

    The report identified a number of challenges in the area of management practice:
    • Management practices in the last decade have only served to keep pace with the international competition, rather than making up ground. The UK continues to lag behind other economies such as the USA and Germany
    • High-performance working practices* designed to utilise workforce skills are spreading amongst organisations but are still not the norm
    • While 65 per cent of employees are generally satisfied with their line manager, and largely trust them and value their honesty, only 33 per cent say they trust their senior management
    • Less than 5 per cent of a manager’s time is spent in formal or informal discussions with the individuals they are managing about work issues and just half of employees are satisfied with the amount of time their manager spends with them
    • 1 in 5 employees say they have never had a formal meeting with their manager
    • Organisations where trust between employees and managers was low were more likely to have been weakened by the recession
    • Private sector firms pursuing high-quality and innovation-based strategies were more likely to invest in their workforce through training and the implementation of high-performance working practices

    Beatson continues: “Our research shows that anywhere between 30 and 45 per cent of employees have some type of managerial responsibility, so small improvements in the performance of each manager can make a big difference. There are small steps that businesses can take to address this, by putting high-performance policies and practices in place and by ensuring that individuals get the training they need to be effective managers. Employers should also consider providing alternative routes to higher status and more pay that don’t necessarily involve management responsibility, as some employees may be more valuable in a position making full use of their technical skills than they are in a management role. This would reinforce the message that management is a skill in its own right, not something that comes with a promotion. There is also evidence that managers themselves don’t always spend enough time on their own development. Given its importance for both our productivity and well-being, we need to raise the performance of our managers across the board.”

  • Business Cornwall: Double joy at TRAC
    A pharmaceutical regulations expert from Townshend has enjoyed a double celebration after being recognised by her industry body and giving birth to her second daughter.
  • BBC Business News: VIDEO: Has the high street got worse?
    Three years ago retails expert, Mary Portas, carried out a review of the high street for the government and the BBC takes her back to one of those towns, Stockport, to find out if anything has changed.
  • BBC Business News: FTSE 100 higher on Fed statement
    UK shares jump in early trade as investors react to the latest comments from the US Federal Reserve.
  • Money Saving Expert: Yodel again voted among the worst delivery firms, despite improvement
    DX, iPost Parcels and Yodel have been named the worst delivery firms in the UK, according to our latest annual poll
  • BBC Business News: Mobile deal to reduce 'not-spots'
    Agreement is reached between the government and the country's biggest mobile networks to improve coverage across the UK.

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