The ‘It’s not easy being green’ myth

A belief, held by many, that ‘It’s not easy being green’, still seems to prevail for many small-to-medium sized businesses. Upheaval, cost, disruption, unfeasibility or simply a belief that such changes are the responsibility of the multinationals are just a few of the reasons that some managers have previously cited for their inactivity in this particular area. Today, things are changing, but more still needs to be done, and the current business climate is structured to allow SMEs to actually lead by example, showing the way for big businesses to follow rather than hoping that a lack of action will pass under the radar unnoticed.
Corporate social responsibility is so named for a reason – it’s a responsibility, no matter what size the organisation – and it’s one that the Government is willing to encourage with financial incentives. Not to take advantage of attractive options – before they become uniform legislation anyway – seems foolish, especially as it’s almost guaranteed that for every stubborn manager that resists and continues to swim against the sea, there is probably any number of competitors taking advantage of the many cost-saving sustainable options that are available.

The end of the office affair?

Office affairs are classic television comedy fodder. Think of any office-based 1970s sit-com and you will undoubtedly recall a male boss incessantly flirting with his pretty, young secretary.
Things have moved on a little since then, but, according to a recent poll, office romances are still rife. In fact, the survey showed that 59 per cent of the respondents freely admitted to having had romantic encounters in the workplace.
While this is often viewed as a bit of harmless fun and no business of bosses, the reality is much harsher. Many people have no idea that a fling could actually cost them their job. It’s only that bosses turn a blind eye to many affairs that the professional risks are kept to a minimum.

Round the table

The emergence of the latest generation of internet applications, dubbed Web 2.0, has meant a renaissance for many technologies that never quite made it. Social networking, with sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and the huge rise of instant messaging and the near cult status of the Blackberry, have all meant we now consider online communication as the norm.
One industry that has been quietly but effectively growing in this area has been video-conferencing – a technique that was once a bit of a black art, with kit that was complex to set up and dodgy video quality, something even industry experts have been forced to admit.
"The legacy of the first wave of video-conferencing is that many firms invested in expensive end-point video equipment and due to various reasons the investment failed to deliver the expected returns," admits Steve Frost of networking company Cisco. "The systems used to be far too complex. People used to step into a room and be given a remote control and told ‘set it up, then’ – it was never going to work."

Computing on the move

It used to be a simple equation – on the road you had an underpowered but light machine to take notes, while back in the office was a powerful desktop for most of your day-to-day work. Today, however, things are blurred, to say the least. When you’re out and about there’s a choice of mobile phone, Blackberry, ultra-light portable or laptop, while in the office, it seems you really don’t need a desktop at all, with some laptops now sporting 17-inch screens and enough processing power to handle anything you can throw at them.
There are, however, a few things to bear in mind. The biggest issue is battery life – in a highly powerful machine, don’t expect longevity. These are really designed to be used at a desk, next to a power supply. If   battery life is an issue, then it’s well worth looking for something with a slightly lower spec – it may not be as quick, but at least you’ll be able to get your work done without the horror of the "low battery" warnings. For processors, look out for Intel’s Core™ 2 Duo processor – it’s the best around at the moment, and will give you desktop-like performance without almost instantly draining the battery.
Here are a few of the best of the new breed of dual-purpose portables.

Reading’s new Novotel

WHAT’S IT LIKE?  First impressions were good – the hotel felt bright, fresh and spotlessly clean, and the reception staff were welcoming and happy to help with queries such as searching the internet for directions to a shopping centre.

WHERE IS IT? Around five minutes’ walk from Reading mainline station. The hotel has a few parking spaces (£7 per day), and an agreement with the NCP car park for half-price parking for guests. Drivers should plan their route before they arrive though as the centre of Reading is a one-way maze – I pulled up at the front of the hotel, only to be directed on a ten-minute round-Reading trip to the car park entrance, about 50 yards from where I’d started.

National minimum wage: Employers beware

Is the national minimum wage (NMW) rises year on year this increases the importance of SMEs conducting a balancing exercise to ensure payment of sufficiently high salaries to enable recruitment and retention of quality staff, whilst at the same time seeking to minimise business costs as far as possible. Nonetheless, all SMEs/OMBs must comply with their remuneration obligations to pay the NMW and this is particularly important in light of the government’s proposal to introduce a stricter enforcement regime.
The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 entitles nearly all UK employees to receive the NMW, which was intended to protect from rogue employers those groups of vulnerable employees who are likely to be exploited.

Taking the leap of faith

Three years ago, while juggling a full-time job and bringing up a young family, Rachel Birch decided it was time to turn her hobby into a business and become her own boss.
“Spurred on by a burning desire to be my own boss and to give people a taste of what the countryside has to offer”, as she puts it, after years of planning, research, product testing and saving up, Melton Mowbray Drinks was born.
Although her sales projection for the business were 200 bottles in the first year, 500 in the second and 750 in the third, sales have now reached almost 4000 bottles a year.

Think big, stay local

It’s tough for would-be entrepreneurs carrying the tag “budding” in front of their career description. But it’s a stage they all go through – somewhere between having the idea to go it alone and taking delivery of the executive jet.
For most budding entrepreneurs it’s a familiar picture: you wake up at 6am to start your work day, only you aren’t heading into town to sit at some comfy corner corporate office suite. You might still put on a suit and tie, but you are in fact only headed as far away your home office, which is, in fact, a desk in the corner of the lounge. With the cat and dog as your only company, you begin to settle down to work for the day.

How will the new corporate manslaughter act affect your business?

The majority of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act will come into effect on 6 April 2008 but will not be retrospective.  So, you have plenty of time to prepare for this.
An organisation is defined in the Act as being: “a corporation (not including sole corporations); a partnership; a trade union; an employer’s association.”
An organisation will be guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter in England or corporate homicide in Scotland if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

Making up is hard to do

Are you ready for some bad news? Well, it’s inevitable – your business will never be able to keep all of the people it deals with happy all of the time. Darker forces are at work and they will lure customers away from your business to your competitors.
Issues around your customer service may arise and will leave your customers unhappy, whether these are down to computer or human errors. It’s naive to think everything will run smoothly all the time, even when you have the best intentions and provide the best staff training. Let’s face it, everyone, including you, can have an off day.

Why use an accountant?

When you’re starting up a new business an accountant may seem like an added expense that you could do without.  What do you need one for? After all you’ve got a calculator, it can’t be that hard!  Think again –    A good accountant isn’t just a number cruncher, it’s someone who understands how to run a business in today’s economic climate, an experienced professional who will get to know you and your business and will provide you with essential support.
Ultimately your accountant is someone you should regard as a trusted business advisor.  When you are starting out your accountant can help you evaluate your business idea, help you plan for a successful future and make sure you keep proper financial records.

Mobile communications

Wifi is taking over the world – or so it sometimes seems from a consumer standpoint. Venues from churches to coffee shops are offering internet access to customers as an added enticement, and many homes and offices have also installed hotspots as laptops slowly edge out desktop machines.
One of the biggest UK providers of wifi is BT’s Openzone, which has agreements with several hotel chains, including Thistle and Hilton hotels. It believes that many people now choose hotels based on the quality of their wifi. "Research shows that, for the business traveller, flexible, fast and reliable wifi access is a prerequisite when  choosing a hotel," says Chris Bruce of BT Openzone.

Breaking into the big city service

You might have thought car rental companies were just that: companies which offered you the chance to rent a car. They do that, of course, but in the 21st century they offer much more. With ever more demanding customers, the major rental companies could not sustain their infrastructures from simple car rental, so came up with the concept of "total mobility": cars, vans, trucks and even motorcyles if you need them, extended rental periods, full leasing, and contract hire to take care of long as well as short-term needs. They aim to offer a seamless system so integrated with the client that it is difficult to move to another rental company.
For larger companies this has enabled the replacement of the fleet department. Taking care of all transport, from a car to collect a visitor from the airport right up to providing executive saloons for the directors, as well as pre-contract vehicles, short-term leases for new recruits and even short-term high-performance cars as incentives for sales staff: all is well within the capability of the top car rental firms.