Digital Manchester

Why 2011 should be a great year for north west entrepreneurs

Despite talk of economic doom and gloom, here are just 3 reasons why I think 2011 will be a great year for entrepreneurs and fast growth businesses across the north west:

  1. The North West Fund is here to provide £185m of equity and loan funding making investments of £50,000 to £2m into fast growth businesses across the North West. This includes specialist funding for local emerging sectors such as digital and creative, biomedical plus energy / environmental.  Just the spark that businesses have been looking for to help them achieve their ambitious growth plans – I look forward to working with my clients to make this happen in 2011.
  2. MediaCityUK finally launches. A £650m new city built to service creative and digital companies. Large parts of the BBC are on their way; ITV is also coming and, more excitingly, a hot-bed of exciting new talent and businesses should flourish to support these Goliaths of the creative sector. (I look forward to taking a trip around it to check on progress this Friday).
  3. Despite public sector cuts and the demise of the NWDA, local initiatives like Techcelerate, Manchester Digital, Sharp Project, Daresbury Innovation Campus plus many others will step up to the plate in delivering access to services and support for new businesses – and further new initiatives will no doubt emerge to plug gaps as they emerge.

This is an exciting time to be living and working in the north west. Make no bones about it, its going to be tough plus I am mindful that we need to continue to build solid links with London and internationally, but so long as we can get our own entrepreneurial infrastructure firing in the north west then we should be in good shape for 2011.

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How to get to grips with your business finances

It is easy to get caught up in ‘doing’ rather than ‘running’ your business.

So many business owners find themselves running simply to stand still – finding new customers, taking and fulfilling orders and addressing (hopefully not too many) customer complaints.

Sometimes its difficult to see the wood for the trees:

I’m really busy so I must be making money – right…?

Not necessarily.

Understanding your business finances

It is understandable that, at the end of a busy day working in your business, you would prefer not to review your business finances. But if you don’t understand the numbers that your business is producing then how will you know which bits are working (and profitable) and which bits of your daily work are simply a waste of time and effort?

I frequently recommend that owners of new businesses sit down (at least weekly) with a pencil and journal (yes, that technical!) and write out the week’s sales figures and costs by hand. I find that there is something more insightful about using a pencil and paper compared to an excel or similar spreadsheet – perhaps its the exercise of writing by hand that makes you think more deeply about the figures and how they connect (or not…).

At its most basic, to write out your sales income (ideally split across services or products) and associated costs, will give you a much clearer view of what is profitable work and what is unprofitable – the figures rarely lie. You would be astounded how few entrepreneurs do this simple exercise – and by the number of business owners whose jaws hit the desk when they realise why (or even that!) they are losing money you can tell they wish they’d done this far earlier!

Moving on from pencil and paper to the day-t0-day, I’m a big fan of online cloud accounting packages like Xero as they provide a live dashboard view of the health and performance of your business. Now with live feeds across the majority of UK banks, entrepreneurs can get a realtime view of the health (or otherwise!) of their business. The bank balance is clearly there to see plus debts receivable as are costs payable. Cashflow is absolutely king for all businesses so the ability to see how much cash is in the bank, how much is due in and how much is due out at any one time is crucially important if you are to be in the driving seat in running your business.

Don’t get put off by accountancy mumbo-jumbo, simply by taking the steps set out above on a daily or at least weekly basis, you will be streets ahead of many of your competitors who are ‘busy being busy’ with no clear focus or direction on what works for the future of their business. Try it. Let me know how you get on.

If you are a digital, tech or creative business and you would like some assistance in getting a better grip on your business finances then please drop me a line.

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Manchester – Next Generation Digital City

A packed auditorium at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on Friday 15 January 2010 was greeted by an enthusiastic launch by Insider of Manchester – Next Generation Digital City.

An initiative that aims to put Manchester at the forefront of UK business competitiveness by laying the foundations for exciting, innovative digital and technology-based businesses to flourish.  This will be achieved by leading the pack (well, a close second behind North Wales) in laying state-of-the-art fibre networks to deliver blistering broadband speed for businesses (and residential users).  To put things in perspective, the example was given by Geo, Chief Executive, Chris Smedley (the company that will lay the cables) of a residential user seeking to download a typical 4GB movie  – today this would practically take all day to download whereas this could be downloaded in just 46 seconds once the new networks are laid!

Dave Carter (Head of Manchester Digital Development Agency) in particular roused the audience with an impassioned plea for Manchester to lead the charge, citing frustration over push-backs and retorts such as:

  1. “There is no market for this otherwise the market would have invested in and built it themselves” – how about the importance of the Manchester Ship Canal to Manchester’s economic prominence in the early industrial age as a counter to this….?
  2. “This is too fast for most existing applications – why do we want this now?” – because businesses will find ways to utilise it to its full potential once it is there to be used – the burgeoning Manchester creative and film industry needs this now as explained by Dave Mousley of Red Vision
  3. “Let’s wait and see how other cities get on before we invest” – Dave Carter likened this to sitting out the next Olympics to see how other countries fared in the hope that we could steal a march next time – it just doesn’t work this way!

References to “iPhone to iManc” and the quest to follow the likes of Stockholm and Amsterdam to become Smart Cities were also crowd-pleasers.

I sensed that the excitement was mixed with a little frustration when the test-bed area was shown as a disappointingly small pocket of North Manchester – before being extended across Manchester in due course.  Equally, the innovative idea of using existing sewerage and tram line systems to lay the networks rather than causing the disruption of digging up roads etc was tinged with concern when a throw-away comment was made by Chris Smedley that they still needed to reach agreement with United Utilities plc who own the sewerage systems …. a point that was picked up by a member of the audience during the Q&A.

Brendan Dawes (Creative Director of Magnetic North) made the poigniant point that he looked forward to the day when he could move on from living in what sometimes appears to be a Victorian Age and enjoy the advancements of living in a digital 21st Century  e.g. he currently wakes up in a Victorian town to travel to work on a Victorian tramline to admire the Victorian Manchester architechture  – “if only the wireless 3G network would allow Spotify to work properly whilst sitting on the tram!”

Another discussion which sparked interest was the notion that truly opening up to the potential of the digital age could allow individuals (young and old) to make game-changing products and services.  Digital business is a leveller in providing a level playing field for both small and BIG corporate businesses.   Reference was made by Brendan to a young guy who he met at SXSW who said he was leaving Apple to set up a new business with Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter).  This business turns out to be the recently launched Square – a game-changing business that is set to blow credit card providers and potentially even cash into the dark ages:

“and this was created by a kid and NOT some corporate team in suits working for one of the major banking institutions.”

A great point well made.

If you’ve yet to see the potential of Square – here’s a taster:

I had to leave the event promptly for a client meeting so I was unable to hang around to chat, however, I couldn’t help but feel that this was the right sentiment and that things are going in the right direction but we need to see the test-bed site rolled out as soon as possible before a) there is the risk of loss of momentum and / or b) the nay-sayers sense weakness and put the brakes on.  There is also a potential change in government that could derail this ambitious project given public and fiscal tightening.

Let’s hope that the first fibre networks are laid as soon as possible as I believe that what might seem like a bold move now is likely to be viewed as one of the best things that Manchester ever did in years to come (like the Manchester Ship Canal).

Please share your views.

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