A guide to Morzine, France

At the center of Portes du Soleil area, there’s Morzine. It’s a busy town with 194 lifts and a 650km of piste with an altitude of 1000m, while the top lift is 2466m high. With a large number of lifts and pistes available, we just hope that it’s higher by a thousand metres.

Even before World War I, Morzine was already a winter sports resort and has a reputable reputation being an international holiday centre in the mid 1920s. Morzine has a life outside tourism, in fact, it continued to be centre for regional agriculture and it’s linked across Pleney and the town of Les Gets.

A lot of the après-ski venues and bars in Morzine are along Taille de Mas du Pleney, also known as Bar Street, and it’s between tourist office and Pleney. Morzine is a mecca for British chalet companies and the catered ski chalets in Montriond are a great option.

Morzine is not usually reliable and cannot guarantee that the village will be always covered with snow, this is because of its low altitude. Christmas time and Easter doesn’t include Morzine to be the best spot for the Alps. Within the area, Avoriaz is the best for skiing, but its top station of 2466m is still low. If mountains in Portes du Soleil were higher, then it’s gonna be easy for it to get a title of being one with the greatest circuits in the whole world.

There are a lot hotels for every price bracket in Morzine, but a reporter said that you need to choose your hotel wisely because many of the accommodations in the area claims to be within the centre ville but the truth is they are miles away from the slopes.

Average skiers will like exploring Morzine as they can pass across numbers of valleys and also the border of Franco-Swiss. There are also variety of slopes like open slopes combination, lower down tree-lined runs, and higher up. It’s not just for beginners to average as advanced skiers can also enjoy the magnificent Swiss Wall and the steepness of piste from Les Haut Forts going to Les Prodains, as well as Combe d’Angolon. There’s also a remarkable powder bowl from the uppermost of Chamossiere. So what does Morzine has for beginners? It offers decent nursery slopes as well as ski schools. Aside from freestylers that can be better in Avoriaz, Morzine can cater Beginners up to advanced skiers.

Timing is a big key to ensure that you’ll enjoy your stay in Les Gets and Morzine. Easter and Christmas is a risky time. Mid-term of February is more advisable and last minute skiing like a short break or weekend would be better too because you’ll already know if the condition in the area is not risky.

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Taking your insight to market

Anyone with any business or market insight is entitled to leverage that to their own advantage; that is capitalism’s basic principle. However, there are, for the best of reasons, rules and regulations concerning the trading of stocks and shares that cut against that free-market ethos. What is more, the barriers to trading in those stocks are often so high that for most of us the option to make the most of our intelligence is simply not an option anyway.

Ordinarily, stock brokers’ commissions, trading fees, the complexities of the tax system and the necessity to trade in sufficient volume to mitigate those costs put the stock market out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

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Access to markets

If you are attuned to the market conditions in a particular sector or even a specific business, it is now possible to take advantage of that information in a way that is free of fees, free of tax and immediately accessible. Financial Spread Betting (FSB) is a derivative-based betting medium that allows private individuals to stake a position on the movement of individual stocks, shares and currencies.

Capitalising on volatility

The description ‘derivative based’ means the stocks, shares, currencies or commodities involved are not actually traded. Instead, based on the financial system of contracts for difference (CFDs), an investor takes a position on a stock, declaring their belief that it will either rise or fall. FSB treats both in identical fashion. If their assessment proves correct, they win to the tune of their declared stake multiplied by however many market points the stock has moved. It is a mechanism that offers the possibility of fast and substantial profits. Thus, an initial £10 commitment will translate into £100 if the market rises by ten points during the period of the bet – players decide for themselves when to stop or close their positions. This ability to capitalise on market volatility is enacted directly by means of either a downloaded trading suite or directly via Tradefair online, who are just one of many specialist betting firms who offer the service.

A balanced risk

If this sounds too good to be true, a word of caution is required. The same open-ended potential for gain applies if the market moves in the wrong direction. If that £10 commitment was made on the basis that the market might rise but it falls, losses will be calculated on the same basis. In other words, that initial £10 will translate to a £100 deficit.

The risks are evident but that should not bar anyone from entering the market if they have a measure of knowledge, insight and confidence in their reading of the market. It is possible to use FSB as a form of play. The majority of trades are enacted over a matter of minutes as traders dip in and out of volatile markets. It was not originally designed as a long-term investment vehicle. The provision of a smartphone app in addition to a desktop trading suite indicates the potential for precisely this more casual adoption.

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International access

But, at the same time, there are serious-minded private traders who invest millions via FSB as a full-time practice. Anyone prepared to chart the movement of a particular stock over time and to make themselves familiar with the immediate conditions affecting its market value is putting themselves in the ideal position to be able to trade confidently and profitably. What is more, because no actual purchases are made, FSB trades can be enacted 24/7 irrespective of the schedules of the world’s individual stock markets. This is particularly of relevance if your insight extends to Foreign Exchange or commodity markets.

FSB is not for the faint hearted. The risks are real but they apply most pertinently to those who lack the market intelligence, the discipline and the research base that are the mark of a serious player. For the serious-minded player, the potential for profit makes FSB a mechanism worth investigating. Risk is always the corollary to profit – that’s how capitalism works.

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7 Amazing Ideas to Decorate Living Rooms

If you had to list out all the spaces of your home in their order of importance, your Living Room would probably top the list since this is a high traffic area of your home. Keeping your living room warm and welcoming becomes a priority as you will be entertaining your friends and guests in this place. This is a common place of gathering for the entire family making it an all the more important place of your home.

Play Paired Patterns 

Patterns like floral, check, geometric, stripe, polka-dot, paisley, toile or plaid are a great way to add personality to your living room. Mixing two or three patterns could accentuate your style statement. With proper planning while choosing patterns & colour themes, one can make sure the living room is not looking like a pile of colorful laundry!

Flower Power 

Bring spring into your living room with occasional flower prints and balanced plain colours to keep oversized flower patterns from dominating the room. A modern rug with floral prints or a Multi-colored Oriental Patchwork Rug best complements the burst of cheers flowers have to offer.

Feature Walls with Jumbo Prints 

Framed wall prints go very well with large sofa and furniture. These wall prints add life to plain walls at the same time avoids large furniture from taking over the room. Choose a print that suits the color scheme or theme of the living room and the furniture in it. 

Consider the Array of Options Wallpapers Offer

Adorn your living room walls with textures, designs or faux brick wallpapers. Designs add elegance and faux brick wallpapers that imitate real bricks will add a rustic look for your living room. There is a wallpaper to suit every interior be it a wallpaper border or full wallpapering.

Load on Layers 

Kindle your living room atmosphere by adding plenty of textures; layered rug, jute underfoot carpet, tweedy wallpaper, a luxurious throw blanket for the sofa and lavish cashmere for the couch. Add in every detail that you would love to live with! Needless to say, layers add more physical comfort and interest to your living room.

Flaunt Your Green Thumb

Add plants to your living room to add a refreshing look to your living room. According to Feng Shui, green indoor plants generate positive vibes and facilitate positive energy to circulate around the space. Having plants not only add charm to your living room but also creates an open and airy atmosphere.

Brighten Up the Space

Choose bright summer colours to decorate your living room. Pick up a multi-color area rug or a colorful Tribal Rug to complement the colours used for the furniture, drapes and wallpaper or framed wall prints. A bright interior will energize everyone into a good mood and makes a bold statement about your taste.

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Creating An Attractive Home With Stunning Furniture

If you are a type of person who enjoys having people over your house, then having a beautiful home is an essential. Here are some guidelines to keep your home eye-catching.

Lighting

It is crucial that your house is well lit to set a warm atmosphere. Use natural light if possible by using curtains that don’t conceal too much of your windows. Another trick to enhance the natural light is through mirrors and having light colours in your home.

If enough lighting through natural light is unobtainable, using artificial light such as lamps are recommended to brighten dark corners.

Choosing the right colours

Colour is necessary to make a home feel welcoming. Choosing the right colour palette to use in your home is very tricky. A monochrome scheme looks sophisticated but can sometimes look bland and uninviting. Improve this by using  a touch of colour. You can add brightly coloured modern furnitures, cushions, or even the paint on your walls.

Making your seats comfy

We’re talking about your sofa. Cushions that look like they’re asking to be sunk into can magnet people into your living room. Try to mix and match different prints and colour to create an attractive seat.

Setting up a talking point

You should set up interesting piece in every room in your house. This could be anything that fascinates you. You can place an unusual piece of décor, your personal collection, or even a framed poster of your favourite band. These items don’t necessarily need to be costly. This will instantly spark a conversation whenever you throw parties.

Keeping a warm atmosphere

It is recommended to keep your home in correct temperature. If you just used to pile jumpers on cold weathers, your guests probably don’t want to do the same. If it is too chilly, you might want to put the heating on to make everyone feel comfortable.

One reason why people gather around heat storage cookers during parties is because the warmth feels comforting.

Placing amusing stuff

Some particular items can draw people into your home. It can be as simple as your 3D TV or a fire pit. The trick is placing entertaining stuff in your home to keep everyone interested and that will keep them coming back to every party you’ll throw in the future.

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Productizing Services Turns Consultants Into Business Owners

I recently published the post ‘productized services as a service’ on richardpatey.com about how freelancers, consultants and creative agency owners can benefit from standardizing their offering in terms of ability to scale.

A productized services business packages up a service into a product with a fixed list of features and price and delivered by a set date: the best example if as WP Curve.

Read the full post here or take a look at the done-for-you productize service.

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Get Trendy Furniture To Add Ambience To Your Home

Ever since the UK the housing market came into revival mode in since 2013 the home furnishing market is in good times.  In the UK, hundreds of custom made Home Décor and Furnishing accessory markets and shops are providing contemporary furniture suiting every home and decor

Get ideas

Grand ideas on trendy furniture and home renovation can be had from furniture exhibitions, stores, galleries and interior designers. To reassure the quality of materials and fittings it is advisable to see the quality certification for proving its origin and safety.

Prepare an essential list of necessary furniture such as Couch, Sofa, Table, and Bed etc. While approaching the furniture stores in London, make sure the store is up to the mark and has the capacity to fulfill the requirements. While decorating a house always use innovative ideas than choosing the beaten path.

From a Retail Furniture Store try furniture with unique designs and colors. But make sure the choice of furniture suits your room in all respects. Also search widely to choose the right retailer, who can deliver furniture with the best quality, responsibility and rates that are affordable. 

People wanting to buy good furniture must update about the market trends and new options. For example, there are pre fab models and furniture including moving walls and sliding wardrobes. 

Life Style Statement

Choose the furniture as a life style statement. So the selection must be done with some hard work. You can compare the prices with other retailers and also get price details online. 

Harmony from Home Furniture

For an apartment, the furniture must usher in some harmony. 

Hire a specialized designer and rely on him for advice in matters of color and tone.

The outcome that can be achieved by the proper selection of furniture include

Order: When there is proper allocation for belongings in cupboards, shelves, closets and other storage space, order comes in, ending chaos. There will be space for every single item to take its place. Consider this principle before purchasing any furniture.

Storage:  There is a thought and planning going into all space management. The storage space created in the apartment by built-in wardrobe and other elements help to de-clutter.  

Space Management: By sourcing built-in wardrobe there will be no reduction in visible space. Have a detailed plan of your house, apartment to furnish them with dimensions indicated on it. 

Well-being: Adherence to basic rules of interior decor and layout as in Feng Shui.

Health: Ecological cleanliness and excellence of decor emits positive vibes. 

Taking the DIY route to solve furnishing problems will demand more time in execution and the amateur approach can show up here and there. But the benefit is that it allows more time and a complete carte blanche to set one’s own rules and following them.

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Luxury hotels or adventure? You don’t have to choose

If you’re into both steep chutes and top luxury ski hotels you may think you need to compromise. These big hitting Canadian resorts have some of the best terrain but also top luxury accommodation.

Big White 

Big White is Canada’s fourth-largest ski area and has a consistent supply of dry snow at 750cm a year. It’s TELUS terrain park is one of the best in the world with a 450ft half pipe and all the resort’s accommodation is ski-in-ski-out with the premier Chateau Big White being our top pick.

Pistes

Easy                                         18%

Intermediate                          56%

Advanced                                26%

Total Pistes:                             118

Longest Piste:   4.5miles (7.2km)

Whistler 

Whistler has incredible free riding split across two huge mountains, with open bowls on the Blackcomb glacier to long, thigh-burning glades down to Creekside. This vast resort has luxury accommodation to fit all tastes such as the Four Seasons on Blackcomb Way, our top pick.

Pistes

Easy                                          20%

Intermediate                           55%

Advanced                                 25%

Total Pistes:                             200

Longest Piste:        7miles (11km)

Revelstoke

Revelstoke is a huge, raw resort and a great base for heli-skiing. The resort claims over 3000 acres of terrain (more than Fernie) with huge tree runs – experts are truly in their element. Our luxury pick is the Sutton Place Hotel with a great pool and hot tubs.

Pistes

Easy                                                7%

Intermediate                              45%

Advanced                                    48%

Total Pistes:                                   56

Longest Piste:   9.44miles (15.2km)

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Finding ski season jobs

I did a ski season in Whistler Blackcomb back in 05/06 with my buddy and Snowbistro.com content editor Gav and so have first hand experience of what it’s like to turn up to a resort with no connections and no ski season job. We even arrived late December after the main recruitment events held in late October / early November every year there so really had our work cut out.

Our job seeking process was a combination of walking around Whistler Village looking for job adverts, asking businesses if they needed anyone and keeping an eye on the local magazine jobs page. It took two to three weeks of constant hustle but finally I secured a job in retail at the Whistler Clearance Centre and Gav became a liftie for the mountain which had a ton more perks such as huge discounts of meals and the fact that he got to ride first every day. But being a liftie is tough and you really have to do it for the love rather than the money.

If you’re looking for ski season jobs this coming winter you should check out the specialist ski recruitment company Silver Swan

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Alternatives to Amazon Create Space for self-publishers

When I was looking to self-publish my book Coffee Shop Entrepreneurs I looked at the entire market from the likes of Amazon Create Space, Lulu, Kobo and Vook who offer print on demand. I knew I wanted to own both the marketing and sales channel which you just don’t get access to if you go with Create Space, however I was forced into that option due to a complete lack of independent UK suppliers who were anywhere near as cost effective, even though you have to pay shipping from America for your own books which can take up to a month.

GDPCIC who we reported hosted an overseas social enterprise visit is now offering perfect bound book printing and brochure printing for self-publishers and I’m in the process of untangling from the Amazon ecosystem to actually own my books as well as the relationship with my customers.

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What’s your ski niche?

How can your ski business succeed online when the big players such as Crystal Ski dominate in the search engines?

You have to niche down.

It would be a waste of money (and likely not possible) trying to out rank major tour operators for keywords such as “ski holidays”. Instead you need to go after what’s known as the long-tail keywords such as “ski instructor courses canada” for a ski course company such as Basecamp or get ahead of the game with ski holidays 2016!

I launched snowbistro.com last December as a modern ski news site as well as offering internet marketing services to the ski trade so that smaller businesses could effectively compete online.

In time for next season I’ve re-launched these services as products that have a fixed price, are delivered by a set date and have no lock-in period for complete transparency, accountability and piece of mind.

Snowbistro offers:

Search Engine Optimisation – getting your ski site to the top of Google from £499/m
Content Marketing – keyword targeted content for your blog from £149/m
Google Adwords Management – making you more money from paid advertising from £199/m

So what’s your ski niche?

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grand-depart

Selling a City: Leeds’ Grand Départ highlights big ambitions

The Tour de France’s much trumpeted Grand Départ from Leeds gave Yorkshire’s largest city a rare moment in the international sporting limelight. Well that was the plan. The weather may have played its part, but there’s no getting away from the efforts that those involved went to in a bid to promote their city and its surrounding region.

Publicity and the Tour go back a long way – all the way to 1903 in fact. That was when the great race was created as a way to boost the sales of the French sports newspaper L’Auto. But these days with a TV audience claimed to be in the billions, such exposure doesn’t come cheap.

Leeds City Council put up £3.6 million to stage the event, and it also underwrote a further £11 million in amalgamated grants from Government and other public sources. That’s a lot of tax-payers’ money!

And that level of investment begs the question, apart from a big bike race and a wild and occasionally wet weekend of partying, what has Leeds actually got for its money?

The answer is not entirely straightforward. The strategic thinking was that those funds would prime a more lasting wave of private-sector investment extending beyond a short-term rash of hotel bookings, extended bar tabs and hangover cures. But, for now at least, that bigger picture remains blurred. The record of legacy investments in the wake of events like this – the Olympics is an even more lavish example – is mixed to say the least.

Olympic Researcher Michael Duignan of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge admits the spin-offs from such mega events are not always what everyone imagines. Duignan insists, “The odds are often stacked against embattled local businesses, and seldom deliver economic return on investment”. Leeds is still waiting to see what the breakdown of their ROI might be.

What we can be sure of is that, even before the Tour hit town, Leeds had plenty to be positive about. And staging the event has put those plus points squarely in the international shop window.

The city certainly looks the part: there’s the shiny new First Direct Arena, an inspiring city centre Shopping development, and, more to the point, there are plenty of state-of-the-art new office complexes and business parks springing up all around what was once Northern England’s grim industrial heartland.

But Leeds it seems is grim no more. The award winning Leeds Valley Business Park, boasting technologically advanced, ecologically sound and employee-friendly facilities like the Goodman Offices in Leeds is just one example of the way the place has cleaned, greened and preened up its act.

Leeds does look ready for business. The city is a hub of hi tech and commercial activity and it is amongst the fastest growing cities in the UK. It is also ideally placed to make the most of current drives to move economic activity away from London. Clearly, Leeds is a place that is not afraid to put its money down in order to create a buzz about what it has to offer.

When you combine that sort of commitment with Leeds’ energetically pro-business civic leadership, the Grand Départ looks perfectly timed to signal the start of something far more substantial than simply the start of a bike race.

The takeaway message is loud, clear and lasting – Leeds means business.

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Racing profits?

Have you ever tried out a system for horse racing betting? Many of us have and most of us have tried and failed. But many have succeeded – particularly since the advent of the exchanges which have, to a certain extent anyway, levelled the playing field for gamblers.

One way of taking whatever system you have developed to a higher level is via the Betfair racing app. This is a fully-automated gambling tool which has been developed from the ground up. It’s been created in compliance with the needs of Betfair gamblers and normal everyday punters have shaped the software with their feedback.

This has been an evolutionary process of constant improvement for over a decade which now means this is a peerless tool for racing gamblers.

The main focus of the Bot is one of automation. The tool gives gamblers full control over the app’s actions in a number of different ways.

There are, for example, five different methods of controlling what the software does with the Betfair bank. There is a stop at profit or loss feature, and you can work out potential betting gains with different combinations. What’s more – the software has been set up in such a way to enable you to leave the system on a fully automated basis for when you aren’t there. This makes it particularly useful for those of us with jobs which preclude us from keeping a close eye on the racing all afternoon.

All in all, this is a system you have to try before you buy – and to use in simulation mode to make sure you know how to use it and, perhaps more to the point, to make sure you can make a profit over and above the exchange’s five per cent commission on all winning bets.

The UK horse racing industry is enormous – and so are the potential profits if your system is good enough. But only you’ll be able to decide that for yourself – so good luck.

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How to jump on the content marketing bandwagon

The phrase content marketing is everywhere right now, but what is it, why is it relevant to you and how can you get involved? This article, by Martin Harrison of online copywriting supplier Copify delves into the subject in detail and tells you everything you need to know.

First of all – what is content marketing?

Broadly speaking, content marketing refers to the process of creating and promoting content that will raise awareness of your brand, your products and your services. This usually comes in the guise of useful, funny, shareable and interesting articles, videos or interactive pieces such as infographics.

Why do I need to do this?

It is universally accepted that content marketing is becoming increasingly important for several reasons. People are blind to advertising and bored of direct marketing, while SEO is becoming increasingly driven by the kind of links that money just can’t buy.

Content marketing is a way of promoting your business covertly and setting your stall out as an authority in your vertical.

Hang on, I don’t have any budget for this…

Don’t panic, just because you don’t have any cash, doesn’t mean you can’t take part. Most companies will already have some form of content that they can promote.

First of all, do an audit of all of the existing content you have produced, either on your own site, or for other sites. You may be surprised at the amount of content you have amassed over the years.

There are 2 free tools for doing this – Screaming Frog will help you find all of the pages on your site Open Site Explorer for sites that link back to yours.

Once you have all of these assets, set up an automated social media tool like Hootsuite to share this content with your followers. There is more information on how to set all of this up in an article I wrote.

Moving forward, you can create new content by encouraging staff members to contribute pieces that discuss their daily work activity and you will find that colleagues/friends/family will often be happy to contribute in exchange for an SEO-friendly link.

How to win at content marketing

1) Think about genuinely interesting, useful or funny content ideas.

2) Spend time on your copy/design to make sure it is perfect – don’t be too overt with your branding, subtly is the name of the game and more people will be inclined to share content that is not blatantly promotional.

3) Regularly promote your content on social media to get maximum exposure – mentioning key influencers in your posts and including them in tweets is a great way to increase the chances of them sharing on your behalf.

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The benefits of contract furniture

There are so many benefits to contract furniture, from the support you get to the reduced costs. Contract furniture can work well for businesses of all sizes in all sorts of industries. Here are some of the main benefits:

Reduced start up costs

If you’re looking to start a bar or restaurant, a huge portion of your start up costs could be tied up in buying tables, chairs and other furniture. This is where contract furniture comes in handy. Instead of shelling out thousands, you can lease the furniture for smaller monthly payments.

This could mean you need to apply for la much smaller loan at the bank or, of course, you could spend that money elsewhere

Reduced maintenance costs

New, good quality furniture is less likely to break than any second hand or budget furniture that you might buy to save costs. If something does go wrong then you can speak to us and we’ll try to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

You can get the furniture you want

With so much to choose from, you can still get the furniture you want. Perhaps you want a retro setting for your new café, this can easily be done. Or maybe you’d like a very traditional style in your new a la carte restaurant, this can also be done.

With such a wide range on offer, you can still achieve the look you dreamed of.

At the end of the term you can choose to keep your furniture

At the end of the term (usually 36 months) you can choose to pay a little extra to keep the furniture you’ve been using during that time. This makes contract furniture a really great way to spread the cost of those items and still get to keep them at the end.

Having the furniture on contract for this time allows you to establish your business and perhaps use the money you’ve saved to help market your new establishment. If after this time you’re doing well, it can be a simple decision to pay that little extra to make the furniture yours.

Spread the cost of new furniture

Even if you’re an established business, new furniture can really change the way your bar, restaurant, or hotel looks. If you’re looking to rebrand or redecorate but don’t have the cash to buy things outright, contract furniture is the way forward.

Paying monthly for new furniture will allow you revamp your business and hopefully bring in more customers.

Keep cash in your business

Having money in the bank looks good to the tax man and to any lenders you might want to go to for loans in the future. Spreading the cost of your furniture means that a much smaller amount is paid per month. The money you save by not buying your own furniture doesn’t have to be used. It could be a buffer ‘just in case’ or it could be saved for the next stage of your business’ development.

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How poker affiliates make money

I’ve been aware for some time that I should get more into niche site as, to coin the popular phrase, ‘the riches are in the niches’.

Niche site selection is as much about personal expertise and interest as it is keyword research and after my first failed Four Hour Work Week muse attempt in the panorama printing space due to a lack of margin I’m now focussed on affiliate products with the highest commissions for the traffic I’ll be sending to convert.

As a reformed online poker player – see my post on Choose Your Passions Wisely – who used a ton of online poker software from the poker rooms to hand tracking databases and EV calculators it’s great to use that inside knowledge to build a niche site in an industry that I feel super qualified to be in. I’ve just launched Thin Value which is about helping to educate the UK poker player about making correct plays as well as offering the best software for their ability.

I’ll be making money by taking a commission for every visitor the poker software site converts into a customer. These sites use top converting landing pages so it’s just a case of me reaching out and sending the right kind of traffic. I’ll be promoting free no deposit poker room deals as a way to encourage people to sign up through my affiliate links. I’ve started off by listing poker sites that offer free poker bankrolls to get people started without having to risk actual money.

Making money as a poker affiliate in 2014 is not easy but through a combination of online marketing channels such as search and social it’s possible to make a better living than grinding it out as a small stakes player, which from personal experience is not fun and certainly not the passive income I wanted.

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New UK online store for contemporary furniture

The team behind Norfolk based Warings Furniture have launched an online version of their Norwich city centre retail store offering some of the best classical, designer and contemporary furniture in the UK as well as hand picked home accessories, gifts and home décor.

Warings Store has a ‘Furniture from the Shop Floor’ collection with one off designer items at often reduced prices such as the ‘Zulu Side Chair’ at over 70% off at just £70 which compares favourably to John Lewis furniture prices.

warings-store-comtemporary-furniture-uk

Visit http://www.waringstore.co.uk/ to view their high end collection at accessible prices.

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Soderica – buy your american food online

I’m a big fan of America and American food from my trips to the states. Last summer when in Boulder, CO I got addicted to Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and have been having withdrawal symptoms since but that’s about to change.

Soderica is a brand new UK startup that offers an easy solution to buying your favourite American food online.

soderica-american-food-online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Built on the awesome platform Shopify, Soderica offers the top level shopping experience and security you need to buy your favourite American food online. Finding a genuine ecommerce store online is tough nowadays and putting your trust into a company that uses cheap paypal buy now buttons or just sends you through to  Amazon to cut an affiliate percentage is rough. Soderica is building the go-to brand for American food. Check it out and grab a Hershey’s for us :)

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Relay Spray – innovative disinfectant table spray

Norfolk based hotel products supplier Eves has launched a new antibacterial spray to allow hospitality businesses to disinfect without damaging their table tops.

Relay Spray is a new antibacterial multi surface spray created for the re-laying of table tops during service. The cleaning spray comes ready to use in 1ltr trigger spray bottles and is formulated to be gentle on the lacquer used on contract wooden table tops. As such this new table spray does not cause tables to become tacky like other disinfectants on the market.

RELAY-SPRAY-TABLE-SPRAY

Furniture is one of the biggest spends when refurbishing a venue so it’s important to look after it to reduce long-term running costs and this is what makes choosing Relay Spray an investment rather than an expense. 

Eves states that “The surface spray solution can be used on all front of house surfaces and is recommended by contract furniture manufacturers as the best antibacterial spray to be kind to wood, whilst ensuring that your table tops remain in tip top condition.”

The product can be purchase online at relayspray.com

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Profit changes for social enterprise partnership models

Limited liability partnerships (LLP) – salaried partners

Currently, if an LLP carries on a trade or profession with a view to profit, then its members are treated as partners. However, finance bill 2014 will ensure that a salaried member of an LLP will be treated as an employee where the following conditions are met:

  • There are arrangements in place, where the member performs services for the LLP and it is reasonable to expect the amounts paid to the member are either fixed, or if variable are unaffected by the overall profit or loss of the LLP (“the disguised salary”).
  • That member does not have significant influence over the affairs of the LLP
  • That member’s contribution is less than 25% of the disguised salary which is reasonably expected to be paid in respect of the services.

These rules will also apply if the individual is not a member of the LLP but performs services for the LLP under arrangements involving a non-individual and the main purpose of this arrangement is to avoid the salaried member rules.

This could have a big impact on both the partnership and individual. If caught under the new rules, the partnership will be liable to pay class 1 (secondary) national insurance in respect of the disguised salary. The individual partner will then be subject to class 1 (primary) national insurance instead of the previous class 2 and class 4 national insurance.

Mixed membership partnerships

Mixed membership partnerships involve both an individual partner and a non-individual partner such as a limited company. Previously it has been possible to minimise/defer any income tax liability on the individual partner through the use of such a structure.

If the partnership has a high level of profits during an accounting period, the partnership share ratio can be changed to allocate a higher portion of the profits to the corporate member. Therefore the profits will be taxable at the lower corporation tax rates, rather than at the higher or additional rate on the individual. Then, provided the individual partner is also a shareholder in the company, the profit can be distributed by the company via a dividend during a period of lower profit. Depending on the individual’s other income, this could be taxed at an effective rate of 0%.

Anti-avoidance legislation is to be introduced by finance bill 2014, to reallocate excess profits allocated to a non-individual to an individual partner where the following conditions are met:

  • A non-individual partner has a share of the firm’s profit;
  • The non-individual’s share is ’excessive’
  • An individual partner has the power to enjoy the non-individual’s share or there are deferred profit arrangements in place; and
  • It is reasonable to suppose that the whole or part of the non-individual’s share is attributable to that power or arrangement.

The legislation will also include a provision so that excess profits can be allocated to an individual who is not a partner where it is reasonable to assume that they would be a partner if not for the new rules and at least part of the non-individual’s profit share is attributable to the individual’s power to enjoy the non-individual’s share or to deferred profit arrangements.

In the case of a partnership making a loss, the new legislation also contains restrictions on the use of a loss allocated to an individual partner. This applies where the individual is party to arrangements, where the one of the main purposes of which is to secure that at least some of the loss is allocated to the individual instead of a non-individual, with a view to the individual obtaining relief.

These changes will affect both standard partnerships and limited liability partnerships.

When will this take place?

The changes in relation to the profit allocation will take effect from 5 December 2013. All other changes will take effect from 6 April 2014, for further information about these upcoming changes, blogs like that on Perry’s can keep people abreast on some of the changes that will coming into place.

Those affected by the above legislation may wish to consider changing the business structure. Alternatively, firms with a corporate partner should consider gathering evidence to confirm that their profit allocations are made on a commercial basis.

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Creative Travel Industry SEO – Link-building Ideas and Strategies

In the world of SEO, inbound-links are still the primary ranking factor responsible for the visibility of websites and their content in organic search results. Without great links – your site won’t rank significantly well for anything – and you will have to rely on other channels (e.g. paid-search, social media and ad-networks) to acquire targeted traffic and conversions.

In this post, Niall Ó Gribin from travel SEO specialists Digital Destiny Marketing looks at a number of scalable and creative strategies to build great links to your travel website in order to improve your organic search-engine rankings, in addition to increasing your brand exposure and bringing in leads and conversions.

In terms of backlinks, all links are not equal. Search-engines are able to discern where on a page or post a link resides, often rendering links were effective in the past ineffective or less-effective today (e.g. those blogroll links, footer links and widget links which ‘used to work’). Search engines know if a link is relevant (coming from a semantically related website) or not.

So what makes a ‘good link’ for a travel website?

Truly good links for travel sites generally have a number of characteristics:

They come from a travel related website (relevance), or from a travel section.

  • Links are in content (not hanging off a sidebar or nestled in a footer – which looks ‘artificial’ or inorganic)
  • The link makes sense in the context in which it is placed.
  • The link comes from and authority site (i.e. a site with good domain-level metrics, such as a high number of referring domains, high toolbar PageRank and other metrics)
  • The link should be ‘do-follow’ as opposed to nofollow

1. Boost your site authority with links from powerful niche travel-directories & business-directories

Using Directories for Travel SEO
There are thousands of great business directories online, many with amazing domain-level metrics. Getting links from some of these directories can help to boost your site authority and PageRank (usually we don’t care about PageRank, however your crawl allowance is directly related to your domain’s PageRank, so the more you have, the better – especially if you have a site with a LOT of pages).

Ideally, you should aim to get links from the directories with the best domain-level metrics, and especially those with subsections dedicated to your own industry (e.g. if your site sells ski-holidays, you want to get a link from the ‘winter sports’ section for relevance).

A scrape of Google search-results for “business directory” “travel agents”, for example shows that there’s no shortage of candidate domains with really high PageRank (a good trust indicator) which you can get listed on – many of which will result in a do-follow link.  Similarly, searching on Google for something like ‘“travel directory” submit a site’ yields a large list of great candidate domains to get listed on too.

Harvesting Travel Business Directories via Scrapebox

Once you have a candidate list of domains you can use domain intelligence tools to help you to identify the great, the good and bad (based on metrics such as #of backlinks, # of referring root domains) or you just rely on PageRank. Once you have filtered your list of candidate directories submit to the best of the bunch.

Note – Getting links from spammy or FFA (free-for-all) directories is not advisable – in fact Google penalised a lot of these types of sites not so long ago. Quality and relevance is important.

The great part is that these listings and the resulting link are usually 100% free.

Directory Submission Tips:

  • Make sure that your business description is unique with each submission.
  • Use a tool such as PageRank plugin for chrome to check PageRank of domains before submission
  • Tools like Majestic SEO  display relevant metrics for any domain – look at the Majestic metric named ‘ACRank’ which is based on linking root-domains. Another great (and free) tool for this purpose is this SEOGadget tool.
  • Only submit to sites with a lot of indexed pages (use the “site operator” on Google to check # of indexed pages per domain e.g. site:domain.com)
  • Use a form-filler application (e.g. Roboform) to literally fill in the blanks (your address, phone number, location, URL etc) to save on time

2. Free links from Authority Showcase sites & CSS Galleries

Get your Travel Site Listed in CSS  Galleries

Site-showcase sites and CSS galleries are a great way to get free links to your site. Although they don’t provide relevance, they do offer a quick and easy way to get free links from high-authority domains. There’s no shortage of free-to-submit-to CSS galleries out there with PageRank of 6 and 7 for example.

Also, it’s not uncommon for these sites to feature the best submissions each month on their homepage with a direct link to the site too – so if you have a slick design and good code ‘under the hood’ why not cash in on these easy-to-get links. Chances are that your competitors will have missed this ‘trick’

Tips:

  • Identify sites via the search: “CSS Gallery” submit a site or “site showcase” submit a site
  • Submit to the sites with the best domain metrics

3. Become an Industry News Authority and Thought-Leader

Become a travel news authority

Publishing coverage of ski industry news and events breeds ‘linkability’. The pinnacle of which is getting and publishing an exclusive (‘the scoop’) which gives you carte blanche to post about breaking news/events in related forums and in other targeted places (e.g. relevant blogs and social media groups on LinkedIn & Facebook related to the subject) – which then often leads to more links to your site, as well as more awareness of your company and brand.

You can take things a bit further by interviewing key parties about the news, making your article the reference point for anyone following the subject you cover.

Examples of sites which leverage travel industry news and events and gain plenty of links to their site from niche forums, blogs and even newspaper sites include ski companies such as the Ski Club of Great Britain and Iglu Ski – both of which offer excellent coverage of every aspect of the winter sports/holidays industry.

  • Leads & Brand awareness - Writing about news and upcoming events in specific holiday destinations brings in valuable targeted traffic and leads
  • Get links from your competitors – Your coverage will sometimes get picked up and linked to from your competitors (priceless!)
  • Tactical Coverage fosters links, Shares & Relationships – People and organizations which get exposure via your news / specific vertical coverage will link to you, share your articles and even connect with you. When you feature a brand/company – make the effort to let them know. Connect with them on Twitter or LinkedIn, engage with them and make them a part of your own network, which can be extremely valuable.
  • Syndication benefits –  Getting your news-content accepted and syndicated on big aggregated news sites such as NewsNow (travel section), as well as via other distribution channels such as Google News can bring in huge volumes of traffic and eyeballs, which will inevitably turn into links and citations if the content is excellent, truly newsworthy and resonates with the target audience.
  • Opening the door to guest posting on third party sites – Once you have established yourself as a niche authority, you use your existing great content and coverage as a springboard towards becoming a contributor on relevant authority industry websites – giving you a great opportunity for linking back to your own site while sharing your domain knowledge and expertise.

4. Do something Newsworthy / innovative – get Coverage and links from industry watchers

Travel focused sites such as TNOOZ, and newspapers with travel sections are always happy to cover interesting and remarkable innovations, research and events in the travel vertical.

If you have done or are planning to do something remarkable – make sure to leverage this by ensuring that the gatekeepers and editors who need to know about it do indeed find out about it. You can issue press-releases, track down editors on LinkedIn, Twitter, or just pick up the phone to start the ball rolling in order to get some coverage (and links).

E.g. have you recently released a unique app for Android or iPhone users which does something that no other travel app does?  There are tens of thousands of technology sites out there which will gladly offer coverage of anything technology related which is new, different and noteworthy to write about (and link to!).

Get in touch with these websites and invite both tech and travel website owners and editors to review your app. You can also (legitimately) use press-releases to raise awareness of your project with relevant industry people too.

What types of links and exposure can you get?

The  Walkonomics site (which is about to also release an app) – was featured on high-profile travel and tech related sites such as TNOOZ, as well as The Independent and The Guardian. Innovation & creativity fosters great links – and the best links are often those cannot be purchased, and are not paid for!

4. Leverage Charity Tie-ins and Sponsorships for Links + PR

Charity Tie in for Travel Brand Visibility

Do something charitable and the links will follow. Everyone has a soft-spot for a good cause, and if your company decides to get involved in charity, there’s no problem getting coverage from the press, forums & blogs.

Creativity combined with good PR inevitably fosters links from related websites (which money simply cannot buy) in addition to boosting brand-awareness in appropriate consumer spaces online (links and citations which bring conversions are the best types of links/mentions!).

E.g. A plethora of winter travel companies have jumped to the support of Disability Snow Sport UK,- offering the companies positive brand-association benefits, a cool story to tell, and of course a ‘just cause’ to garner some quality links from well-linked-to charity sites..

Running themed events with charity tie-ins is a smart way to garner even more links from the media, local news websites and blogs as well as for attracting customer participation and social interaction (tweets, shares, likes) to generate buzz around your brand.

E.g. One UK ski-company recently got involved with charity when they ran a Ski Fête in London resulting in lots of great links as a by-product of the event. The event offered family-friendly fun and games; loads of charity-tie-ins and a mystery world-record attempt. The event generated plenty of media coverage and links galore from  relevant and mainstream media sites such as  ski forumsski blogsski organisations tactical partnerships and local websites.

Use your imagination, get networking and anything is possible if you have a good hook or story to tell!

5. Use Celebrities in Your Content Marketing and the relevant links will follow

Tapping into the fan-bases of celebrities can be great for attracting site visitors, improving brand-awareness and credibility, and of course garnering links from relevant sites.  Hiring a sports celebrity to blog on your travel website may be a good idea, and it’s something which Monarch Airlines have dabbled with.

Monarch hired top British woman skier Chemmy Alcott as a brand-ambassador and blogger on their own site.

Travel companies using sports celebrities in their content-marketing

This opened the door to easy and natural link acquisition from numerous sources, including winter sports blogs and sports forums (relevance)!

6. Know Your Customer & Write Great Content for Them

Know your customer - use personas

Nothing is more linkable than fabulous content. The expression “content is king” is there for a reason. However, if you don’t truly know your customer, you cannot satisfy their information needs and also acquire great links.

It’s therefore very important to have a good model of different customer types so that you can satisfy their needs by publishing compelling content which answers their questions and creating offers and deals which appeal specifically to each specific visitor type in order to convert them into customers/bookings.

Enter Personas – which are fictitious user representations created in order to embody behaviours and motivations that a group of real users might express, which can be used to represent and understand their needs. These user representations can created in many ways: through surveys, directly addressing the user, by collecting demographic and behaviour data during, and by interviews with real users or their representatives.

According to Cooper and Cooper and Reimann, personas are a gathering of realistic representative information which can include fictitious details destined to a more accurate characterization. The persona composition can be based on imaginary information, demographic and biographical characteristics of the personality under modelling. Personas have names like real people and can be represented through an image, or even a picture, to add realism.

Personas are valuable for marketers in any field, and developing a comprehensive array of customer personas before content creation is a valuable exercise.

Once you know exactly who you are writing for, writing the page-copy and articles to answer their specific questions, and to attract those specific customers to your website becomes quite a straightforward task.

Think about the popularity of Q&A Sites like QuoraYahoo Answers and eHow.com, and the propensity for people to literally ask questions when performing a query on Search-engines – for example:

What is closest airport to [destination]?
What is the best restaurant in [City]?

If you truly know what questions your customers will ask, and why, then you can craft suitable content on your site to attract targeted visitors who are asking questions, giving you an opportunity to supply information and answers, and to make them aware of your services and brand as well as giving you the chance to ‘reel them in’ and convert a visitor to a lead / customer.

Tip: You should ensure that your travel website logs all user search queries entered into the ‘search’ box on your site (you can even log site search data via Google Analytics).  The questions /searches they perform may surprise you, and these queries are golden in terms of assisting with development of your on-site content strategy, helping you fill in the blanks which your existing content may not be covering.

If you don’t have a search facility on your site, you are missing out on valuable data from real users who may slip through your fingers, and leave your website to find the answers they are looking for elsewhere.

7. Leverage Local Event Listings & Microformats for Easy Traffic

Ranking for events and event names in search is relatively easy, as there is generally low-competition for event names and related keywords. Additionally, people who intend on attending these events generally required transport and accommodation for when they arrive.

Listing events on your site which take places in regions which your travel company serves, as well as pertinent information on the event (hint: places to stay, cheapest accommodation in the area) is a great way to get visitors on your travel site who are likely to need your services and convert into customers.

Pro tip: Semantically marking up your data using appropriate microformats such as hEvent to makes it even more understandable by bots + web-spiders.

an event using hEvent Microformat
Fig 7.0 – HTML markup for an event – specified using the hEvent Microformat specification

An example in the wild:  a travel site (mydestination.com) using Microformats ranking on page 1 (position #4) of Google for a live poker event in Malta.

Event Optimisation

Chances are high that if a searcher lands on a travel site when searching for an event, they may subsequently search the site for suitable accommodation.

Reasons for using event listings to garner traffic are numerous:

  • Search-engines can now understand (and love) structured data
  • Often whoever is running the event doesn’t specify the event data via suitable Microformats on their own website – giving you an edge if you do it correctly.
  • Ranking for event names will be relatively easy due to low-competition if your own site has good domain metrics (with ehough PR and authority it’s easy to rank for low-competition search-terms and phrases).

8. Launch an Affiliate Program and Make Affiliate Links look ‘Natural’

affiliate programs

An affiliate program is a system whereby your services and products are promoted by third parties (e.g. other websites), and they are paid a commission based on sales, revenues or leads. As well as bringing in new business, affiliate programs can be a smart way to build links too.

Search engines can usually identify affiliate links and discard them for ranking purposes (because they are not ‘organic’ and have been placed for commercial reasons as Matt Cutts discusses here),

By masking your affiliate links by giving your affiliates and partners non-dynamic clean hyperlinks to link to, and even their own bespoke landing pages, it is possible to gain link equity from these types of inbound links, as well as gaining citations and mentions of your brand on relevant sites too.

So instead of having affiliate links that look like http://example.com?aid=12345 a ‘natural’ affiliate link could look like http://example.com/partner-landing-page

9. Use Infographics & Novel Data Visualization to Share Data

Novel Data Visualisations

Use your own internal data or research to create beautiful presentable shareable information. In an industry obsessed with data, statistics and case-studies, why not, why not analyse and publish some of your data on your site, making it look pretty by packaging it using data visualisation tools to transform it to an infographic or an interactive chart/infographic.

People love to link to and share interesting, insightful and well-presented data, and there’s no shortage of tools to jazz up your data:

iCharts – Give your charts interactive elements – you even extract the data from Google Docs to populate your charts

Google Charts – The most common way to use Google Charts is with simple JavaScript that you embed in your web page. You load some Google Chart libraries, list the data to be charted, select options to customize your chart, and finally create a chart object with an id that you choose. Then, later in the web page, you create a div with that id to display the Google Chart. See the Google Chart Gallery for some examples of how you can transform and style your data

cool charts

Exhibit –Fully open-source, and developed by the smart people at MIT, Exhibit lets you easily create web pages with advanced text search and filtering functionalities, with interactive maps, timelines and data-based visualisations.

Leaflet – Used by online powerhouses such as Flickr, Foursquare, Wikimedia and more, Leaflet is a modern JavaScript library for mobile-friendly interactive maps. It has all the features most developers ever need for online maps, and is 100% open source.

You can find a bunch more cool data-visualization tools for inspiration here and here.

10. Capitalise on Universal Search with Videos

Video is one of the most under-used mediums by travel companies to acquire clicks from search engines and links from websites/blogs/forums. A huge percentage of results pages contain at least one video – for example over 70% of UK search-engine results pages containing at least one video.

According to Google’s 2013 Travel research which shows that online travel video usage is increasing consistently year after year:

  • 51% of leisure travellers checking out videos before booking (up from 45% in 2012)
  • 69% of business travellers watch online travel videos (up from 64% in 2012)
  • 55% of affluent travellers watch online travel videos (compared to 50% in 2012)

Videos for SEO cannot and should not be ignored for many reasons:

  • Currently, video results are integrated into organic results, and can appear at any position in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
  • Video results are shown on over 70% of UK SERPs.
  • The chances of getting a page one listing on Google increase 53 times with video because there is still much less competition for video pages (source: Wordtracker, 2011).
  • Videos breed links: people like to embed videos, offering a great opportunity to get a backlink to your site if it is included in the embed code.
  • Search-engines look at many factors when ranking a page – one of them is ‘bounce rate’ (how long a visitor stays on a particular page). Videos which engage users, keeping them on a particular page for a reasonable duration of time may assist that page with ranking well.
  • You can avoid the third-party-hosting v self-hosting dilemma by using trailers or teasers on YouTube to drive traffic to your own site.

Other Video SEO considerations:

  • You should always provide a text-transcription of your video for accessibility and to ensure indexation (based on the assumption that search-engines cannot yet decipher human voices with 100% accuracy)
  • Self-hosting is a better idea than using third-party hosting as it will bring visitors directly to your own site vs Youtube, Vimeo or a third party site (also if embedding is available, you want the embed link to direct link equity towards your own video page / domain, although you can still get links to your own domain via YouTube videos).

With some creativity and a clear strategy you can bring in a lot of traffic to your travel websites via SEO.

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The ski chalet website scam

I’m currently living in a ski chalet in St Martin de Belleville which is a small, unspoilt ski village where very few of the big ski companies operate. What’s been surprising is the large number of independent chalet operators managing just one or two chalets – at least 10 at last count – and even more surprising is the greater number of ‘agency’ websites that advertise these properties ‘on behalf’ of the owners.

As these agencies are not offering package holidays, simply accommodation, they do not have to be part of ATOL, a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) scheme to protect people who have purchased package holidays, ABTA UK’s leading travel association, or a member of ABTOT, the Association of Bonded Travel Organisers Trust.

And very few of these ski agencies, which take payments from the customer to pass to the chalet operators, are registered with the Travel Trust Association; the vast majority offer no financial protection at all.

Then there are the fraudulent sites that are search engine optimised to appear for the types of search phrases people are using when researching and booking their ski holidays. These sites list existing chalets by legitimate operators, often simply lifting the text and photos, on their own site and then ask the customer to book by making an online bank transfer.

This destroys value on both sides of the equation as customers have their money stolen but also chalet operators can find themselves with multiple groups of people turning up each thinking they have booked the chalet as outlined in a report by This Is Money.

The thing is it’s very hard to tell which is the legitimate chalet owner site and which is a scam. The majority of the smaller operators do not have booking engines on their site where payments can be made by credit cards (where the customer is protected against fraud) and therefore they themselves often ask for a bank transfer.

So what can you do to avoid being scammed online?

We would recommend doing as much research as you can, asking the ‘owner’ numerous technical questions and seeing if the website blog and social channels are being updated in a natural way.

ABTA has more information how to avoid holiday booking fraud here.

 

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Turning a ski passion into a business

What better way to find purpose in life through profit in business than to turn an existing passion into an income. Become a ski instructor or snowboard instructor with companies such as Basecamp effectively converts people from being employees trapped in an office job (been there!) into self-employed agents who can then move over to the other quadrant of the Rich Dad Poor Dad diagram into potential business owners running their own ski school and employing others. And don’t think you need snow buddies to make this dream a reality as the norm is to go solo with sites such as soloskiholidays.co.uk – there’s an increasing rise in search volume by single people looking to go away on the ski trip of the lifetime.

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Innovative Geneva Ski Transfers startup

FluidCar is an innovate ski transfer startup founded by lifelong British skier Mike Rosam after experiencing a pain-point in the ski transfer market. Whilst planning for a ski trip with his wife in February 2012, Mike became frustrated by the lack of options to transfer from Vancouver to Whistler.

ski-transfer-geneva-fluidcar

The options were:
1) Use a shared coach transfer, disadvantages: departure 3 hours after landing, 3 hours journey time, $155.00 price per person
2) Take a private taxi at a cost of $600.00
3) Take a hire car, disadvantages; both costly at $500.00 (plus fuel and parking charges) and wasteful as the vehicle sits idle in the car park all week whilst we skied.

None of the options were ideal and so he decided to go with the cheapest option, not a particularly cheap option at that.

Mike explained that “after a long flight, the last thing you need is a 6 hour transfer, especially when you know the journey is only 100 miles. We were tired and frustrated and I flippantly said to my wife why can’t we just hire a car, drive to our hotel and get rid of it!”

And so the concept of FluidCar was born. Starting this season in Europe, FluidCar is offering Geneva ski transfers where guests can pick up a Land Rover Discovery 4 (pictured below – the perfect vehicle for a ski transfer) from Geneva airport, drive to their accomodation at a Three Valleys resort such as Geneva to Meribel and then drop the car off for a FluidCar rep to take it away. Then at the end of your holiday they deliver it back to you.

Mike adds, “We’re a self drive transfer: the simplest, quickest, safest and most suitable way to ski transfer. We deliver premium services; concierge at the airport and your resort, luxury vehicles and all inclusive prices. No more counter queues, inadequate vehicles and hidden charges!”

It’s interesting to see on the pricing page of their site that this premium option actually works out cheaper than both a regular shared transfer (which is priced per person) and a private taxi. Which means there’s no longer any reason to have to sit through a cramped, lengthy transfer with 20 stops at neighbouring resorts and accommodations before you reach your destination! It also means no more car parking charges, having to dig a rental car out of a meter of snow at the end of a week or dealing with freezing fuel! Unless you’re doing a ski tour, there’s just no reason to have a car in resort, public transport when there is far easier and more economical.

The all inclusive price comes with all fuel,a pre-programmed satnav, winter tyres, roof racks and baby seats.

If you’re looking for Geneva Ski Transfers check out Fluid Car this winter who is also disrupting the Geneva airport care hire market by offering customers car rental without the responsibility of having to park and the hassle of having to dig the vehicle out of 1 metre of snow at the end of a holiday! Simply drive to your resort, drop off for a Fluid Car rep to pick up and relax.

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Running a business that doesn’t cost the earth

In the current economic crisis, running a business can be an incredibly costly affair. Just last week, energy company SSE announced their energy prices were to rise a staggering 8.2%, with others poised to follow suit. Team this with the price of equipment, maintenance and other bills and you can see why business owners everywhere are keen to cut costs wherever possible.

If you run your own business, here are some top tips to help keep costs down and profits up… 

Switch off

With energy prices on the rise, now more than ever is the time to reduce your energy usage in the office.

Leaving computers and other electrical equipment on overnight will waste energy, causing your utility bills to soar. At the end of every day, check that everything is switched off before you head home. You’ll be surprised at how much of a difference this makes.

With winter firmly upon us, you will find your office using the heating more and more as temperatures start to drop. Leaving your heating on all day and night will land you with a huge energy bill, so be sure to use a timer. Set this to go off once a certain temperature has been reached, to avoid using energy unnecessarily.

Buy in bulk

Heading to the local stationery store on the high street is not a cost-effective way of stocking up on all your office supplies. You can find yourself paying over the odds for essential items, so try to avoid this.

Specialist office supplies companies, like The Green Office, give you a discounted price when you buy in bulk. With everything from packs of pens to multiple reams of paper, stock up on the essentials so you never run out.

Refillable ink cartridges

As all business owners will know, ink cartridges are expensive to buy and any busy office will go through them quickly.

Refillable ink cartridges are a great alternative that can help minimise your printing costs. Once your cartridge is empty, simply arrange for it to be refilled. A range of companies offer this service, using high quality ink to ensure that your print quality level is maintained.

The average ink cartridge takes around 1000 years to fully biodegrade in a landfill site, so not only are refillable cartridges more cost-effective, they are also more environmentally friendly too.

Follow these simple tips and you are sure to see a big difference in your company’s outgoings.

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Why I’m learning to love Google+

It depends upon the nature of your business, but Twitter and Facebook are more often than not the go to applications when it comes to social media engagement strategies; perhaps backed up with Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon or some other directory as part of a content marketing strategy.

So where exactly does Google+ fit in?

The world’s second-largest social networking site has been open to all for almost two years now (it’ll celebrate its second birthday on September 20, 2013) but, to me, it still feels like something of an afterthought – upon publishing an article, I’ll immediately Tweet it out and share it on Facebook, and then a little later I’ll remember to G+ it.

And it almost feels like the only reason I’m doing this is to keep the overlords at Google happy, like I’m making some sacrifice for the SERPs.

So what is it with Google+? Or is it just me?
Do I have room for another social network?
When social networking kicked off I was signing up everywhere, I had a Friends Reunited account, a MySpace, a Facebook, a LinkedIn and, finally, a Twitter (or three) – but before long I was down to just Facebook and Twitter (and very occasionally LinkedIn), the strongest had survived.

And then Google+ came along. Looking just like Facebook.

Except, of course, it had ‘circles’, which meant you could share all those embarrassing pictures of you setting fire to your trousers in a ‘gentleman’s club’ with like minded numbskulls and not your potential/current employer.

And then Facebook lists came along. Looking just like Google circles.

However, although very similar, both do have subtle but important differences, for instance, Google+ has a more professional feel to it than Facebook, hence it has contacts where Facebook has friends,  Google+ has the +1 button, Facebook has the ‘Like’ button.

Another difference is Google+ also comes equipped with ‘Hangouts’, its own video conference calling service.

So they’re a little different, but the question still persists, do I really have room for another social network?

The answer is no, not really – but I’m learning how to, and here’s why…

Why Google+ is pretty important

The primary reason Google+ is important is because it’s owned by Google, which means any endorsements, such as an article share or +1 will be reflected in the SERPs. In fact, a study by Moz has just found that: “After Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor. In fact, the correlation of Google +1s beat out other well known metrics including linking root domains, Facebook shares, and even keyword usage.”

Furthermore, any links posted to Google+ are crawled instantly and even accumulate Page Rank and pass on link equity – making it an essential in the world of link building, not that anyone link builds anymore, obviously.

So basically Google has made its social network more relevant than the others, at least in terms of search anyway –  and that’s the reason why I’m learning to love Google+, it’s not a happy marriage, nor is it an unhappy one, more a marriage of convenience.

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Square Social on WordPress SEO For Beginners

SEO Guide: Headers, Search Engine Basics and Link Building

 

WordPress is one of my favourite pieces of software for several reasons. One of these is that it allows you to really get to grips with all aspects of running a website. What’s more is that it allows you to do your own SEO.

 

This SEO guide will outline the basics of good SEO for a WordPress website with regards to headers, search engine basics and link building. There are several SEO plugins available to help with this. It also never hurts to employ the services of an expert SEO Agency, as top-notch SEO can be a hugely involved process.

 

SEO Guide: Post Titles & Headers

 

First and foremost it is important to understand how Google treats titles, headers and tags. Your post title is likely to be an <h1> tag and will be given top priority by Google bots and crawlers. If your article is about SEO Companies for example, this meta keyword should appear in both your post title and subsequent <header> tags. Create sub-headings and switch to HTML view to make them into <h2> or <h3> headers.

 

For example, your post title could be “Top SEO Companies in South Africa” with sub-headings such as “Top SEO Companies in Johannesburg”, “Top SEO Companies in Cape Town” and so on.

 

SEO Guide: Search Engine Basics

 

Imagine what people would actually type into Google to find your content. In the example above, searchers are likely to type something like “top seo companies south africa”. It is also a good idea to search for such content yourself before publishing. This will allow you to assess what exists already (who your competition is) and re-consider how to tailor your content or article.

 

When people do a keyword search, Google will crawl relevant articles with a high number of occurrences of that keyword or keyphrase and rank them accordingly. It is therefore important to ensure that your chosen keyword(s) appears in your post title, in subheadings, in your actual copy and at the beginning and end of your article. But don’t overdo it! No more than 5% of your article should be comprised of your chosen keyword or keyphrase.

 

SEO Guide: Link Building Basics

 

The golden carrot with link building is having other high-ranking and related websites link to your article or content. However, it is also important that you include at least one external link yourself to good, related content. Google will consider this as an additional resource to further information and reward you for it.

 

When you link to another WordPress website you have the option of sending them a ping-back. This will notify the website author that you have linked to them. And, if you’re lucky, they will link back to you within their content! Share the link-love.

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Square Social on The Top 10 SEO Mistakes To Avoid

 

Website Owner Beware

There will always be people out there trying to game the system. And to a point, some of them will succeed. Every day there are individuals and companies doing their best to trick and evade Google’s algorithm and penalties in search of high rankings for their websites. For a short amount of time many of the tactics utilized by these people do succeed in raising the ranking of a website; Google is always on the lookout for shady and unsavory things, and many of the questionable techniques are already on their radar. Once there is enough data and evidence to take action, Google will surely apply its might towards correcting the issues it sees tipping rankings in favor of websites that are not earning them in a proper fashion. This is something SEO Companies should take note of but lets not forget that social media companies can bring in a huge ROI compared to other marketing channels.

Video: What are the top 3-5 SEO areas where webmasters make the most mistakes?

What Not To Do

 

Despite the big-name updates the Google has made and the policy changes that have been put in effect over the last few years, many people are still working with techniques that are not only outdated, but are also on the watch list kept by Google. If you want to avoid earning a penalty for your website, here are 10 things that you need to steer clear of at all costs:

– Creating multiple websites for your business

– Creating over-optimized micro-sites

– Placing too many ads on your website, especially above the ‘fold’

– Creating fake business listings

– Cloaking or hiding text

– Spinning content

– Stealing or duplicating content

– Selling links

– Keyword stuffing

– Creating spammy or low-quality links

By avoiding these and other unsavory tactics you can ensure that your website is that much more insulated from the kinds of ranking reductions that almost always follow a new algorithm update or policy change. If you stick to more positive practices while avoiding the negative tactics we’ve mentioned in this post you will have little cause to worry about your website’s performance in the major search engines because you will already be working towards achieving a state of harmony with Google’s policies and Webmaster Guidelines.

SEO has evolved into something that focuses on real marketing.  Visibility boost by RankPop focuses on the key factors, brand awareness, social outreach and content promotion.  Its no longer a race for links rather getting in front of your target audience

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Social enterprise – it’s all around you

According to a report by Melanie Mills, the chief executive of Social Enterprise West Midlands CIC, for the Guardian, there are at least 62,000 social enterprises based around the UK.
What you might not realise is that these firms are based in just about every industry you can think of. Change your way of life today by seeing what these not-for-profit organisations can offer you.

Begin a new chapter with an independent bookshop

Instead of hopping online and choosing your next book from the selection on offer at Amazon, consider dropping by an independent bookshop.
There is likely to be a store within a short drive of your address, with the Arnolfini a highlight if you are based in the south-west of England. As well as stocking an intriguing range of publications, the arts centre also plays host to intriguing eco festivals from time to time.

Wash away those old habits

Did you know that there are an estimated 14 million people in the UK who use the services of Thames Water? How about that this same company did not pay any corporation tax in the past financial year?
Customers do have an alternative – Welsh Water. A not-for-profit organisation, the company is also free from the demands of shareholders and the money they receive from bills are pumped into environmental projects.

Get on the right track

Public transport also has an excellent social enterprising company in the shape of the HCT Group. An organisation which runs services in London, Bristol, Humberside, Yorkshire and the Channel Islands, the firm passes all of its profits into training and providing even more services.
As if that was not enough, the HCT Group tries to focus these projects on the UK’s most deprived areas.

Say no to that bitter taste

The drinks industry is a great example when it comes to showing the best of the country’s social economy. Fair trade coffee company Cafedirect, for example, uses its profits to help coffee producers keep on top with their work.
Then there is Belu. Plastic bottles may not be environmental in their general design, but this bottled-water company claims that its products are 100 per cent carbon neutral. On top of this, the firm refuses to export and delivers every penny of its profits to WaterAid.

A comfier fit

Pants to Poverty has created a social enterprise that is more a cycle of heart-warming gestures. For starters, it only sells clothing that has been created using cotton that is grown and manufactured in India.
Once it has sold these clothes, the firm uses its profits to support farmers, seed banks and fund schools in the Asian country. Then the acquisition of more clothes from India takes place once more.

This article was provided on behalf of Viking UK, which stocks all the stationery you need to create an efficient workplace or a home office to be proud of.

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GUEST POST: The 3 P’s of social value?

People, Planet, Profit? Well those 3 P are very much at the heart of social value.  The balancing act where we aim to ensure a profit or purchasing initiative does not undermine people or planet. After all is a saving really a saving, if we then have to invest more in our communities or the environment as a result of our poor purchasing? At Aster we say “we make a difference by investing in people and communities.” Therefore part of that investment is about recognising the significant power of our supply chains to deliver social value to our customers and the communities which we work in.

Social value is as much about an organisations mind set at it is about its procurement practices. However changing a mind-set is never an easy task, I will share with you my diet analogy. Crash buying is much like crash dieting , In the short term many congratulate  you on your results, however as time passes what often seemed to be a big weight loss, converts into a smaller or worst still a gain and often a return to unhealthy lifestyle . Contrast this with following a healthy lifestyle and while it may take people a little longer to notice your changes you can be sure the impact will go beyond the new jean size. Since I am not qualified to offer healthy life style advice, I will share instead My 3 P’s of learning regarding social value.

Persuasion, since to some social value sound like one of those “fluffy concepts” you’re going to need to enlighten a few people. You can have the best procurement manager(s) in the world but there is a lot of buying that goes on below strategic procurement. Everyone needs to understand the impact of their purchasing not just those with it in their job title.

Persistence, Increasing the social value we deliver through our supply chains is not some thing that will happen over night. People have their own priorities and prejudices.  Just because something becomes part of the process does not mean your job of championing social value is done.

Patience, apparently good things come to those who wait (well I am not advocating you sit back and wait for social value to appear. However after base lining current social value in the supply chain, implementing processes to support social value, and working with staff on social value. A certain amount of patience is required to examine the differences you have made in your organisation over time.  So while we wait I will leave you with some of my Aster social value highlights of the last year.

Over the past year Aster has:

  • Ensured social value is firmly embedded in it value for money strategy
  • Provided briefings to staff on the social value act and offered advice and guidance to staff who may be tendering for work on how to demonstrate social value. As well as how to include social value in the procurement process
  • added questions re social value in large procurements
  • examined its supply chains to look at the number of social purpose organisations we are buying from
  • Required each department in Aster companies to report on social value through Asters service review statements.
  • Designed and deliver social value training to staff
  • Invested in the housing charity HACT to develop a national model and understanding of social value which looks at the whole organisation rather than just individual projects

This is a guest post by Charlotte Weedon, Social Enterprise Development Manager, www.aster.co.uk

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The Rocky Road To Choosing The Right Hosting Provider 
For Your Social Enterprise

Social enterprises and private business, although being fundamentally different, share a common problem – they both depend on your ability to reach out to people. With almost daily breakthroughs in technology and price drops in most of the accompanying services, presenting yourself publicly has become easier than ever before. I’m talking about internet businesses, of course. The concept of having enough private contacts to keep a business going is slowly becoming obsolete. However, careful planning and organization still are the keys to success. So let’s dig in on how and where to set up your online enterprise.

As a social enterprise (or a small business) owner with the desire to fully utilize the possibilities of the Internet, it’s imperative to understand the importance of your web hosting provider, for your website can make or break you. To further stress the importance of this decision, try to imagine what it would look like if the site you depend on crashed due to an increase in traffic just at the moment you started to be happy about the success of your marketing campaign, or if the security (and your buyers’ privacy) was compromised. Is that something you can afford to expose the people you depend on to?

The most horrifying thing you can experience is downtime. Apart from the direct drop in sales due to the site’s inaccessibility, your money invested in marketing would be wasted and your customers’ loyalty brought into question. With the amount of money lost rising surprisingly fast over time, having a poor choice in hosting providers will hit your wallet hard. If the worst comes to the worst, and your site is lost due to a crash, trust me, you’ll be dancing around your office and feeling like the smartest person in the world if you have a recent backup as the site will be up and running again in a matter of hours.

I admit we don’t see these scenarios frequently, but the chances of something like that happening greatly increases if you’re hasty in making your decision. In order to see your plan of creating an online enterprise executed to perfection, both thorough research of the hosting company you plan to use combined with understanding your needs and long – term requirements is necessary. So, let’s get technical!

Server space, the actual hardware that contains everything regarding your site, from content to financial transactions, is provided in a multitude of ways with the cheapest and most tempting being shared hosting (often <10$/month).  Sharing a server with other users does wanders in terms of price cutting, but beware! If, for whatever reason, one of the people you share the server with runs a script which results in a server crash or performs a similar not-so-clever action, you can kiss your website goodbye until the problem is fixed. Furthermore, the whole “one machine for more users” concept seriously hinders any opportunity to get it customized for your needs.

As we slowly progress to more expensive options,  VPS (virtual private server) comes to mind. While still running on the same machine, virtual separation into a few separate systems gives you root access, enabling the installation of software and way more control over the operating system itself. If you think this sounds like exactly what you need, you’re, unfortunately, only half-right.

Getting a VPS might be a good solution for a small e-commerce oriented organization or if you’re expecting light traffic and not too frequent sales, but as far as anything else (like a larger portal or forum section) is concerned, you’ll find out a VPS just doesn’t have enough “juice” to ensure a smooth performance. The main reason is due to the fact that your system shares CPU and memory resources with a few other users, and if somebody starts a processing-heavy job, you’ll feel it through a drop in your own site’s performance.

The most “professional” solution lies in renting a dedicated server. The fully-customizable machine, used exclusively by you allows your hosting provider to fully cater to your specific needs, while protecting you from any harm caused by another user’s careless action. If you try to imagine a server as an online equivalent of your office space, it’s not hard to understand the benefits of being a sole user. They manifest through better traffic spike handling, having a more convenient interface and the potential to implement a better security system. Not to mention, most hosting service providers guarantee hardware replacement and upgrading in a matter of hours.

However, there are two things that could (and if a dedicated server offers more than you can use, should) deter you from considering this option, the first being the price. Starting at 50 –  $60 a month, it might not be a good choice for a small business. Second, using a dedicated server to its full potential requires a decent amount of server administrating knowledge. This can be solved by a so called “managed server” service, where your hosting provider will (for a significant increase in the total cost, mind you) take this task upon themselves, leaving you more time to focus on your work.

If you feel this short overview gave you too rigid a categorization, I must agree. That’s why I left cloud hosting for last. It differs from the traditional idea of hosting, due to being based on the idea of cloud computing. With your data being stored across an array of servers, it has the benefit of almost zero downtime, while being easily accessible from anywhere in the world (think of how Dropbox and Google documents work to get the idea). What makes it appealing for a small business is the concept of “software as a service”.

The basic idea is this: the provider has large hosting capabilities manifested as numerous interconnected servers, and you pay for only the amount of resources you use while the third-party host takes care of software and hardware. With high flexibility and easy (and instant!) this type of hosting provides the best of both worlds: reliability and capacity anywhere between VPS and a dedicated server, with a sliding price based on your needs.

Now that you’ve have an idea about what you’ll need, the next step is to find a good hosting provider. The quality of customer service, although very important in every business, is crucial when it comes to picking a hosting provider. After all these are people who you’ll be contacting on a regular basis. Every delay, miscommunication, or step down from the  promised quality of service can and will reflect negatively on your site.

There are however certain steps you can take to ensure you’re getting a good deal. Since hosting business has become highly competitive in the last few years, most of the companies will give you a free trial ranging from 30 to 90 days in order to convince you to pick them. With almost every hosting provider swearing their customer service is the best, Erik Wolf, the president of Zero-G Creative, suggests using their helpdesk at least once during this finding process while paying great attention to both how much you’re on hold and what the total response time is.

When you’re convinced you can really rely on their staff in case it becomes necessary (and it will), the next thing you should worry about is the interface and compatibility. Is it user – friendly? Will your employees adopt to it quickly? Running an online organization is challenging enough on its own. If you’re not sure every application you plan on using is compatible with the server OS, or if you’re feeling insecure about your ability to efficiently use the interface, you’ll end up either wasting a lot of time with customer service, while banging your head against a brick wall because you can’t use the applications you intended. A few bucks more spent on an easy to use interface will pay for itself in terms of not hindering your productivity.

But here comes the tricky part, bandwidth and disk space. Driven by desire to cut costs as much as possible, the unlimited-everything-for-everybody promised by the hosting company usually translates into unlimited storage space and bandwidth for a handful of users who grab it first and poor service for others due to disproportion between their infrastructure capabilities and aggressive marketing. Unfortunately, the only way to verify the truth behind these claims is to do in-depth research which, as tedious as it might be, is necessary unless you’re willing to risk paying for something you might not get. Also, don’t forget to plan ahead and know your options  about upgrading or downgrading.

Careful selection of your hosting solution will ensure minimal time spent on setting it up (which means your income will start flowing in sooner), while providing enough raw power to support the estimated traffic you expect on your site so that things can run smoothly. Slower response time negatively affects customer satisfaction, as demonstrated by the Akamai study (the complimentary copy of the full study can be obtained after a free registration). The average user usually expects a loading time of 2 seconds, while a stunning 60% decides to leave the site if forced to wait more than 4 seconds.

Before you start exploiting online marketing possibilities, make sure your website can handle the traffic, because if it can’t, you’ll be digging your own grave. Another great benefit of having a fast-loading site is the fact that the search engines rank them higher (free marketing boost, anyone?), while the slow ones are penalized, so it’s safe to say your site loading speed can attract users all on its own. With that in mind, creators of Webpagetest provide you with a way to test it (for free), so be sure to utilize it.

If you’re starting a small online business, or a social enterprise it’s important to be highly economical with the money but it’s much easier said than done, considering there’s a vast sea of packages, services and hidden fees. Lahle Wolfe, the president of LA Wolfe Web Marketing Services, recommends a “What’s not included?” approach rather than the usual “What do I get?” . Aside from the cost of renting a server, a lot of companies will charge you extra for pretty much everything, ranging from a backup recovery to an increase in your website traffic. If you ignore the old “The devil’s in the details.” saying, that fine print in the contract might bring quite a few unpleasant surprises your way.

So for example there are numerous minor components you’ll be glad you considered when the time comes. None of them are of great importance by themselves, but cumulatively they make a big difference. These are factors such as:

  • How many e-mail accounts do you get?
  • Are any site building tools included in your plan? Are they free?
  • Does the site provide static IP addresses?
  • Do you need ssh access? Is it available?
  • Do they have hosted ecommerce software?

However they might not be included in the standard plan so you really do have to make sure you understand what you are getting for the money before commiting to any hosting plan.

I admit, this sounds like a tremendous amount of work, but the marketing potential of social networks combined with the rising popularity of online shopping and reduced operation costs pretty much puts you in an “adapt or perish” situation. In order for this transition to be as painless as possible, hosting review sites like Whoishostingthis and forums (with Webhostingtalk having the reputation of the most influential one) can provide valuable information to help you in your decision making.

Remember that web hosting is a long-term service, and the right choice of provider and service package will reflect positively on the quality of your work on a daily basis. Through flexibility, good customer support and technical expertise, they will make the job of reaching out to people much easier, while allowing you to provide the best possible experience for your customers. Every issue with your website hinders all aspects of your business, so a bit more time and money invested in getting a quality web hosting service can go a long way.

Author Biography

Tim Pat Dufficy is the managing director and founder of ServerSpace Limited, which provides hosting and connectivity services and help clients with DDoS protection. Clients include NBC Universal, Recipero LTD and Jurys Inns Hotel Group.

In 2012, Deloitte positioned ServerSpace as the tenth fastest growing tech company in the UK.

Since 2006, its services have allowed IT managers to sleep at night knowing their servers are located in a secure, custom-built data centre with 24/7 monitoring. Companies can take advantage of these bespoke cloud services to suit their unique business needs.

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Taking your social business online: Top Tips for Success

The online economy is now bigger than the healthcare, construction or education sectors, according to reports from the BBC.  And the UK online economy is growing at almost twice the rate of China. So how can you make sure that your social business is at the forefront of this new economy?

Deliver Quality

Good information, presented well, has become so important to the online world that the experts have found a new name for it: “inbound marketing”. According to Hubspot, delighting users by providing them with what they want (inbound marketing) is more than 60% cheaper (measured in cost-per-lead) than broadcast-style outbound marketing tactics.

Be Relevant

The internet is like any other type of communication. You must make sure that your audience cares about what you are saying. In deciding on the messages your web site and social media will carry, ask yourself, who is your audience? What do they value? Who are your competitors and industry influencers, and what are they talking about? Finally, what can you tell this audience that is useful to them and they didn’t know before?

Your web site must be dynamic

Many social businesses created web sites that were effectively their old business brochures published online. Who is going to look at that other than people who have forgotten your phone number or who want to check who is in your team?

If you want to get full value from a web site, it needs to be one element in an online conversation. You need a web site host that supports easy-to-use publishing platforms such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla. There are some excellent one-stop-shops that will host your domain, provide you with advice and support, while enabling you to publish with ease. Have a look at www.1and1.co.uk for instance.

It’s all about social engagement. You need to be responsive and reactive. Butt that doesn’t mean that you can’t take advantage of social media automation tools such as Twuffer. They can be real time-savers.

Be welcoming and generous

You need to encourage readers to engage, whether they encounter your social business on the web or on social media, at their desks or on a mobile on the move. Publish open-ended posts, create polls, reply to comments, retweet, ‘like’ or ‘share’ content created by others. It’s not just a numbers game. Don’t be blinded by follower or fan numbers. Social community is rooted in quality, not quantity. Active and engaged communities are more important than large communities.

The big three social media platforms perform different and complementary roles:

Twitter is particularly powerful for network-building your industry, your local area, or your customer groups. Facebook is great for dialogue, reaction and getting to know those you have connected with. LinkedIn can help you build credibility. It’s the place where you set out your credentials and make your business case.

Look beyond the obvious

But don’t stop there. If your products are visually appealing, you should definitely be making use of Pinterest, Flickr or Youtube. You can get your ideas out there with Slideshare or Visual.ly. While GooglePlus is nowhere near as popular as facebook, GooglePlus punches above its weight on the Google search engines. It’s really a question of getting the social media mix that best serves your business.

Build trust

People will listen to you and start to trust you if you can provide solutions to their needs. When you help someone on social media you don’t just win the gratitude of the person you helped. You also gain trust among all those who saw you provide help. Take a broad view of ‘benefit to your business’ in deciding whether to devote resource to a task.

Don’t be afraid of criticism

Don’t ignore negative online comments and criticism of your business. Your reaction to setbacks can create growth opportunities. Admit faults and show that you will do all you can to mitigate damage. But, if the criticism is proving destructive rather than constructive, try to take the conversation offline by moving to direct email and sort the problem out from there.

Be tempting

Social media is a great place to tempt consumers with discounts and promotions. But ensure your promotions are relevant to your brand. If you are an after-school club, you could provide session discounts. If you run public events you might offer reduced entrance fees, for instance.

Experiment, Measure and Monitor

While you want brand consistency across the range of media, try different messaging techniques and formats. Don’t be afraid to fail. If a method doesn’t work, learn from it and try something different.

Building a web site audience is all about the detail. Unless you study your web site stats regularly, you won’t pick up on the subtle signs that help you grow audience. What stories are most popular? Why? Are there popular stories that are slipping off search engine rankings because they are aging? How could you refresh the story and move it back up? Are there major stories that are setting the trends where you have something to say? Your web analytics can help you understand how mobile visitors are using your site.

Never forget that the ultimate aim of all this activity is ongoing relationships and ongoing sales. Make good use of lead-capture forms and landing pages. Ensure that there are effective calls to action with easy and direct routes to your sales pages, no matter how the user engages with your online material.

Older tools still work

Email may feel a little old fashioned, but it is a proven tool for social businesses. Getting a user to hand over an email is an important measure of their commitment to your products or business.

Remain search engine savvy

Search engine optimisation may be becoming more difficult, but that does not mean that you can ignore it. You still need to pay attention to keywords in your headline and body content. You still want links through to your site from authoritative sites on the web. You need to pay attention to tags and categories, etc.

One tactic that may be particularly useful to social businesses is “Alliance Marketing.” Social businesses that target the same customers but aren’t direct competitors, can create a formal alliance to help one another by cross-promoting each other’s products and services, but also their social media messages. As a result, you build your ‘authority’ rating with the search engines, get more exposure and attract new customers. Unlike affiliate marketing, there’s no direct cash benefit — this is about taking offline business relationships online in an organized way.

Make sure that your domain name is right for your audience. If your audience is UK-only, a co.uk domain will be ranked higher in the UK. If you want your business to be found by local customers, make sure you have registered your location with the search engines.

Ensure your domain name is memorable and not too difficult to spell or type. (It can be an idea to acquire web domains that are regular mis-spellings of your site’s name and redirecting them to your site.)

There are few social businesses that can or should ignore the power of the internet and social media. And the days of static web sites are long-gone. If anything our online communications are likely to become more dynamic and more social as we move forward.

 

 

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Opportunities And Challenges When Expanding Into Europe

One of the greatest joys of running a business is watching it grow and adapt to the world around it, especially when it takes a brave leap across the ocean to try and set up shop in a foreign land.
While the potential rewards of a successful international business expansion can be huge, glittering and glorious, there are a whole host of legal, administrative, technological and cultural obstacles that need to be vaulted.
Just like when moving to another country to live or study, you cannot expect to just turn up and fit right in. Your business needs to have an appreciation of how things are done in its new home, while retaining a clear grasp of its own identity and purpose.
So what do you and your business need to consider and plan for when you have set the European market in your sites? Also, what extra challenges will social enterprises face?

Why expand into Europe?

The simple answer is that the EU taken as a whole is one of the largest markets in the world, one that accounted for 25.8% of the global GDP in 2010. The EU is also the largest exporter of goods and services in the world and since 2008 has also been one of the largest importers of these crucial trade fundamentals as well.

Taken altogether, it should be pretty clear that Europe is a hive of business activity where companies from all over the world clamour to buy and sell, and that any company with international ambitions would be foolish not to get involved.
As a company that originates from a country that is already an EU member, UK businesses already have a number of potential structural advantages when it comes to doing business in Europe. The Single Market is based upon the free movement of people and goods between member states, making your business’s life potentially much easier.
But these benefits are not immediate and guaranteed, and despite the Single Market there are still a number of possible pitfalls.

Cloud Computing and European expansion

In recent years the move towards cloud computing has emerged as a possible way of dramatically lowering the costs and logistical complexity of internal business expansion.  The key features of cloud computing that international businesses are beginning to really grab hold of are the pay for what you use model, the ability for rapid scalability and the short-term savings in hardware and software costs.
Cloud computing makes it a much less tricky proposition for you to support and collaborate with remote workers connected through remote servers and the internet, which is of particular value to social enterprises – dependent as they are upon co-operation and maintaining close ties and close collaboration.
If you’re operating across multiple countries, another potential advantage is availability, which, with cloud computing, can comfortably reach the magical “five nines” threshold. On tight deadlines, five nines of reliability can be vital.

Potential challenges of European expansion

Setting yourself up in Europe requires some serious planning. Where are you going to go and why? How is that choice likely to be affected by the following factors which are all definitely capable of bringing your whole European adventure grinding to an unprofitable and expensive halt.

Different legal and administrative environments

It is a long term goal of the EU to create a homogenised legal environment for business from member states, but at the moment each individual country has its own distinct legal and administrative environment for you to consider.
You are going to need to work out which aspects (if any) are governed or protected by international treaties (such as those of the WTO) and which are purely governed by the domestic legal system. An example of this would be Germany’s very strict personal privacy laws which have lead it to clash repeatedly with Google and Facebook.
The diverse tax regimes that you are going to be facing in different countries also need to be considered, especially when it comes to corporation tax. To give some idea of the potential discrepancy between different member states, Malta’s current rate of corporation tax is 35% while Irelands is 12.5%.

Different cultural environments

The 500 million inhabitants of the EU speak a huge range of different languages, with 23 official ones and a huge array of regional dialects. While this is obviously going to be an important factor if you are planning on setting up offices in particular European countries, but you are also going to need to think about this when considering your website, promotional and sales materials, instruction literature, legal documents etc.

Skill levels

Another important variable, and one that can be difficult to judge accurately, is the skills makeup of the EU. In exactly the same as each individual domestic economy will have a geographically uneven distribution of skills, the EU does not have a uniform level of ability or labour resources that you can just plug into. While the current financial malaise has created a certain degree of uncertainty, it is generally thought that the number of workers with medium to high level qualifications and that young people will tend towards having better qualifications then their retired parents.

Special challenges for Social Enterprise expansion

Social enterprises face two main challenges when expanding to any other country, technical and cultural.
The technical challenges arise due to the loose definition of a social enterprise in most parts of the world. This holds especially true for Europe, where the ‘main’ definition is descriptive rather than prescriptive. This results in huge variation in whether the term is even legally protected or recognised from country to country, even ignoring the specific rights and responsibilities a social enterprise must uphold.
Generally, you should expect to research the status of social enterprise in your target country thoroughly and carefully, liaising with helpful local authority figures wherever possible.
The cultural challenge is obvious. Different ethical standards, a different culture, and a community which may be hostile to outside help – you absolutely need at least a small team of people who are actively involved with the roots of your community.
Of course, any good social enterprise should be doing this in any case, but once any business is large enough to expand it can become rigid, centralised, and inflexible. If you allow this attitude to persist, it could prove to be poisonous.

Only innovation and good business can save Europe

This whole conversation has up until this point to a large extent avoided the elephant in the room that is the on-going ‘Eurozone crisis.’ While this unfolding drama may be putting off some businesses from taking the leap across the pond, the truth is that many are still investing and doing very well from having a place in the largest market place on the planet. Throughout all of the recent turbulence the EU has retained its status as the premier exporter of goods and services.
But what is good business?
It is a key tenet of the social enterprise ‘movement’ that good business is more than turning a profit. Good business is turning a profit while helping the community to grow and develop – and it is in taking such a long-term view that social enterprise avoids the short-term money-grabs which caused the current recession in the first place. Good business is good in both senses of the word; well-crafted, and ethical.
Ultimately it is impossible that any other factor other than businesses like yours providing products, services and innovation is going to be the thing that gives Europe the spring back in its step.
What do you think about the possible benefits versus possible pitfalls of trying to expanding your business into Europe?

Bio:
James Duval is the business, finance and technology editor for GKBC, an online magazine dedicated to celebrating and encouraging great online writing and design.

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popshop

Students turn social enterprise market traders for the day

The battle is on to find the best student entrepreneurs in an Apprentice style selling task.

Organised by the University of Bath, UniPopShop will give students a taste for social enterprise and give them great experience to take into a crowded job market.

Eighteen teams from 15 universities across the country are taking part and each team of five students has been given a £300 start-up loan, a business mentor and the use of a stall in London’s historic Spitalfields Market to sell their social enterprise products.

The big selling day is on Tuesday 25 June when the teams have just eight hours to sell as much as they can, with money going to the social enterprise of their choice to support its work. And winning teams will be presented with an array of exclusive money-can’t-buy prizes from UnLtd, digital agency The Eleven and Ernst & Young.

The event has been organised by the university in partnership with the foundation for social entrepreneurs UnLtd and HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

“Nowadays students need more than a good degree when they leave university. We’re giving teams a unique opportunity to test out how entrepreneurial they really are,” explained Siobain Hone, Enterprise Education Manager at the University of Bath’s Student Union.

“This contest shows the true entrepreneurial spirit of today’s students and gives them a great opportunity to test out and develop their leadership, marketing, creativity, financial and problem solving skills – all vital in enhancing their employability. Whatever they want to do when they graduate – whether or not they are interested in being social entrepreneurs – they will learn how to build and run successful businesses. It’s a real chance to put theory into practice.”

UnLtd Lead Partnership and Support Manager, Lauren Croll said: “UnLtd is delighted to be University of Bath’s partner to bring social enterprise student start-ups into the spotlight. Our work is all about helping passionate, entrepreneurial individuals for whom positive social and environmental change is as important as financial profit, and we’re seeing many of the next generation of social entrepreneurs coming from UK Universities.”

As well as selling for a day, the students also have to come up with a digital marketing plan in advance to create some buzz around their products. And they have to present these plans and their approach to the task to bosses from Ernst & Young, which is sponsoring the event, and The Eleven.

Offering inspiration and advice after the event will also be the former winner of BBC1 series The Apprentice, and Bath alumnus, Tom Pellereau, who will share his entrepreneurial journey with the students.

So if you’re in London – and anywhere near Spitalfields on Tuesday 25 June – then why not drop in and support these entrepreneurs of the future.

Find out more about UniPopShop at www.unipopshop.com

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SELL-A-BUSINESS

Factors to consider when deciding to sell your business

After years of hard work, sacrifices, stress and worry you’ve managed to build a strong and profitable social business. And you now decide that the time is right to sell your business and move onto another chapter in your life.

But how do you actually go about selling a business? A question that an accountancy firm in West London, which works with a number of charities and social businesses, has been probed with on countless occasions over the past two years.

How can you be sure that you are getting the best price? Will the business itself be badly disrupted by the whole process? How much will it cost in fees and what about tax implications?

These and many other questions come tumbling forward as soon as any serious thought is given to the prospect of selling up. However, it is possible for all those questions to be answered positively if the sale is carefully planned and good housekeeping is performed beforehand.

Realistically you should be looking at a timescale of 3-5 years to get your business in a state ready for a sale. During this time you should consider the following:

Distance yourself from the business

The buyer wants the business, but probably does not want you.  You may be required to assist in the handover or there may be a need for you to stay on for a while after the purchase to ensure stabilisation, but the buyer needs to ensure that the business will function without you.

Monthly financials

It is likely that the purchaser is going to be a bigger business than yours.  They will not want to hear that you keep all the necessary figures in your head.  They will expect to see:

  • Management accounts:
  • Cash flow forecasts
  • Budgets
  • Sales order pipeline
  • Active credit control

To have these records and systems in place and easily accessible will make a big difference to the way your business is perceived.  Improve your corporate governance and you are likely to attract a greater interest from potential buyers.

Financial results

From the buyer’s perspective the value of your business is in its future earnings potential.  Probably the most efficient method of estimating future earnings is by reference to historical figures. Consequently, the more accurate your historical figures, the more credibility given to your projections.

Consider arranging for your end of year accounts to be audited if this is not done already.

Any long term, un-reconciled balances need to be cleared.

Carry out a stock take rather than estimating the value of stock held.

Any weaknesses in your financial records will be uncovered during the period of due diligence prior to the sale. The buyer could then use findings of this sort as a reason to negotiate a reduction in the sale price. By removing any such weaknesses now, the records in the 2 or 3 years leading up to the sale will be in a good state.

Your own expenditure

Have a think about costs that the business currently incurs that, while being legitimate, are largely incurred due to your own choice. For instance, do you drive a particularly high cost company car, do you have a very generous entertainment budget, do you really splash out for the staff at Christmas? These costs impact on the actual profitability of the business and it may be worth cutting back on these in order to demonstrate to potential buyers the true profit to be made from your business.

Clean up the balance sheet

Sell any surplus assets and scrap any obsolete stock.  Make realistic provisions for doubtful debts – buyers will want to not pay for assets that hold no value.

Properties

Do you own the freehold of your property(s) and if so, do you want to retain this? Are you looking to renew a lease?  If so, try to keep short, if possible.

Does the business own an investment property such as a holiday home or a buy-to-let? If so, it may be worth considering removing it from the business.

Tax advice

Include your accountant in the process at the earliest opportunity.  They will be able to provide advice on your tax position and give consideration to the actions necessary to mitigate any tax liability.

 

There are (of course) many other considerations, such as renewing contracts, involving other shareholders etc. but the better your planning, the greater the likelihood that you will achieve your goal.

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five-tough-questions

Will social enterprises adapt or will their director’s change jobs?

Matt Black of Pioneers Post gave his answers to ‘Five tough questions for social enterprise in 2013‘ in January followed by David Floyd on his Beanbags and Bullshit blog. David asked whether someone else could chip in with their thoughts in March so I thought I’d oblige:

Q1: Can social enterprises survive the economic gloom?

Social enterprises can, but whether they can afford to continue to pay previous salaries is unlikely. In a #socent world where most are ltd by guarantee (and where the director’s have no equity / skin in the game) the default response, in my experience, that director’s and CEOs adopt when running out of cash is the same as if they were running charities: to either jump ship (even if that’s to the public sector) or close in the case of RISE, rather than work more hours for less money (the default response in any mainstream small business). I believe there will be a lot more #socent folk having to change jobs in 2013.

Q2: Can Big Society Capital deliver?

It will continue to deliver additional funding to social investment intermediaries, whether those can deliver social and financial returns is the real question.

Q3: Can social enterprises, mutuals and the voluntary sector deliver where the state has receded?

Philanthropy increases when the state does less so I would expect more voluntary activity. Whether social enterprises (including mutuals) step in all depends on the business case – whether they can create paying customers.

Q4: Can brand ‘Social Enterprise’ keep clean?

It hasn’t so far.

Q5: Will the definition debate be settled once and for all?

There are too many opposing interests to make that a reality, plus it would be too much for #socent advisers / leaders to have to fill the void left behind in their lives :)

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Swedish_Visit

Sweden social enterprise visit

Last month we organised a visit for 25 people from the north of Sweden (some who live within the Arctic circle) involved in social enterprise to learn about how we do things in the UK in particular how we involve people who are disadvantaged in market-based activities.

So we took them to the best example that Norfolk has – Graphic Design and Print CIC – to meet with the founder, owner, Australian and super nice bloke Steve Mollison who explained to Mogens Amstrup Jacobsen (who led the trip from the Swedish side) and his delegation how you have to focus on the business in order to be able to help anyone. It was interesting to see just how far the UK is in leading the transition from day care to personal budgets in comparison to Sweden and the rest if Europe.

By building a successful business Steve with GDPCIC is able to offer training and work placements to disadvantaged people who contribute out of their personal budgets, alongside offering mainstream employment.

This enables true social inclusion and dignity by offering real world experiences that contribute to the business’ bottom line. We have partnered up with GDPCIC on our newest social venture iPanorama Prints where they print the A3 panoramic calendar. Check out a post ‘how to print your panorama iPhone photos‘ written by our founder Richard Patey on how he went from experiencing a pain point to starting up the venture.

We’re looking forward to closer collaboration with social enterprise leaders in Sweden and are positioning ourselves for innovative transational projects in the near future.

 

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SOCAIL-VENTURES

Social Venture incubators, equity and exits

Now really is an exciting time for social ventures. The decade long (2002-2012) social enterprise reality-distortion bubble has finally burst. Social ventures and social investment is the new game in town with an integrity and focus on actual business solutions for scaling social impact. It’s damn refreshing.

First came the Investment and Contract Readiness Fund managed by The Social Investment Business that offers financial support to ensure that social ventures are better equipped to take on new forms of investment, with a focus on high growth potential. It’s innovative as applicants need to work up their applications with approved providers such as Reasonance, which has experience in angel investment and collective investment schemes, which are then assessed by an investors panel of the biggest players in the social investment market such as Big Issue Invest.

And then recently announced is the groundbreaking Social Incubator Fund by the Big Lottery Fund which funds social venture incubators to support the start-up of new social ventures to feed into the social investment market. The Fund will also offer finance to social ventures (through the incubators) where the financial return is too low or risk too high for Government funded investment bodies such as Big Society Capital – yes the Big Lottery (through Cabinet Office funding and the new policy direction) are now in the risk capital game and their eligibility criteria has loosened to include social businesses (not just recognised social enterprise structures such as Community Interest Companies). This really is game-changing and will massively stimulate the UK social investment market and two recent excellent publications on this are Growing the Social Investment Market: Progress update by the Cabinet Office and Ten Reforms to Grow the Social Investment Market – by Stephen Lloyd and Luke Fletcher by Bates Wells & Braithwaite.

The double dividend cap (20% on paid up value per share and 35% aggregate  cap on distributable profits) is the biggest barrier to creating a thriving market in CIC shares and in attracting risk equity from investors as it takes a minimum of five years for them to simply recoup their investment (assuming the enterprise is profitable enough for the 35% profits to pay back the investment year on year). The CIC Association have created a discussion group on the Regulators review of Dividend caps 2012 – due this summer – where three competing recommendations are put forward. The first is to enable dividend payouts to be based on the current market value of the share rather than the initial paid up value but this still limits the maximum payout to 20% per share and as John Mulkerrin states ‘It fails the basic notion of what a share is on a technical level’ – that’s not a good situation for attracting entrepreneurs into the social space. The second recommendation is to remove the individual caps and just use the aggregate cap at 35% and the third is to do the same but place the aggregate cap at 20% (or 25%).

For us the solution is to simplify the whole process by removing the cap on the paid up value of share and increasing the aggregate cap to 49% to allow the social entrepreneurs to run their enterprise in the most tax efficient way. This is still in keeping with the standard definition of social enterprise of ‘principally reinvests its surpluses into the organisation’ and would be a simple and attractive value proposition to would be social entrepreneurs who would otherwise be hampered by their ability to be rewarded for sweat equity and scaling their enterprise’s social impact. At the moment social entrepreneurs that set up a CIC ltd by shares and have not put any money in (as they have worked 120 hour weeks for 6 months in setting the venture up) cannot receive any dividends whatsoever – this situation must change.

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SEhub

Nottingham Social Enterprise Hub adopts Social Enterprise Brand

It’s great to see the Nottingham Social Enterprise Hub created by Graham Gardiner of Aspiren (the social business that created the innovative Local Impact Measurement Tool that enables organisations to easily show their social impact without the need for a 200 page SROI report!) adopt the collaborative and open source Social Enterprise Brand we created last summer which they are calling ‘free and flexible':

We are getting asked often about whether social enterprises should go for the Social Enterprise Mark. For some this is the right way forward. For others it is costly. And limiting. Certain social enterprises have found that they do not qualify, yet others who are not that entrepreneurial seem to sail through the criteria.

We have discovered another way!!

The Social Enterprise Brand

Find out how your Social Enterprise can use this branding FREE, identifiying yourselves as a social enterprise. It is an open source branding, developed by Richard Patey (of Profit is Good Ltd), that is there to be used. No strict definitions. No percentages of trading. Just simple.

They are holding an event where they will be fittingly showcasing this revolutionary brand to their members on May 1st! For more information see there newsletter here.

 

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TEDXCCN

TEDxCCN – Social enterprise & philanthropy

It was great to be at the inaugural TEDxCCN talk for Norwich and for the theme to be about social enterprise. We got to hear the Barefoot Entrepreneur Robert Ashton talk about the need for people to care enough about their community to take action, alongside the urgency of doing so by using a prop from a local funeral service! This was reminiscent of a talk by the visionary behind another prop used on stage – the new iPad – Steve Jobs at his Stamford commencement speech:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

It was great to hear from JP Morgan Jr talk about the overriding importance of human connection and how we should not see every situation as a trade where we do something and receive something back, be that being liked or validation; rather we should be giving wholeheartedly and when we do so we become fear less (not fearless).

And to wrap up we were privileged to have Charley Johnson President of the Pay It Forward Foundation talk about the need for simplicity in understanding that if we truly want a better world it starts by being nicer to people – as Charley says doing a good deed for someone isn’t charity of philanthropy, it’s empowering others to do good back.

Thanks to Harry Greiner and Lou Chiu from the entrepreneurial Norwich City College for organising.

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Guardian-Better-Business

Social enterprise mission achieved, hello better business

With the launch of the new ‘Better Business‘ Guardian Professional Network discussing ‘Why successful businesses of the future will have clear social purpose at their heart‘ alongside Starbucks VP Ben Packard recently talking about social entrepreneurship it appears that the social enterprise movement over the last decade (since the 2002 DTI report ‘Strategy For Success‘) has now achieved its mission in getting social purpose mainstream.

More so it appears that the term ‘social enterprise’ – at least in the UK – is now problematic. There was recently an interesting discussion on a blog post by Rodney Schwartz, CEO of Clearly So, about how Salesforce has hijacked the term; however as can be seen in our previous posts we believe it is charities themselves who have hijacked the term from its cooperative and self-help roots. We commented:

It seems increasingly pointless to try to police the term social enterprise and actually it can be argued that the term – as something separate – has lost its meaning (or more positively has achieved its mission) as corporates such as Starbucks now talk about the importance of ‘purpose’ and ‘creating shared value. Indeed the Guardian Social Enterprise Network reported that the Belu water chief at the Social Enterprise Exchange stated that the company – touted as one of the best #socent in the UK – had not used the term for two years and to ask whether defining as a social enterprise actually limits thinking and growth.

We have been thinking the same recently especially as the UK social enterprise ‘sector’ redefines itself into smaller and smaller subsections with the new Senscot Voluntary Code of Conduct where no profit distribution to owners is allowed. So much for encouraging social entrepreneurship in the youth of Scotland by promoting that you don’t have to choose between ‘earning a living, pursuing your passions or devoting yourself to the causes that inspire you’ – from Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes and the one for one model that has nothing to do with legal structures, asset locks and profit distribution limits. Geof Cox has written a strong blog post about the inherent contradictions here in how the most successful enterprises raise equity and pay dividends.

It’s ironic that the UK social enterprise ‘sector’ is encouraging a silo mentality that pits it against the private sector – with rhetoric such as ‘anti-greed’ – at the exact point that mainstream business is now fully engaging with social purpose and social impact. And social enterprise is seen as offering a CSR solution rather than enabling mainstream businesses to move into the social purpose space.

We recently started defining ourselves as a ‘social venture intermediary’ in order to align ourselves with the language being used by progressive social entrepreneurs such as within the Social Edge community where the executive director Victor D’Allant was reported by Zoe Williams of the Guardian at the recent Skoll World Forum in Oxford saying “it’s all about social entrepreneurship versus charity. Nobody wants to do charity anymore. Charity doesn’t work”. Interestingly it also appears that Unltd and NESTA (with their Social Venture Intermediaries Fund) now favour the term social venture.

The Starbucks VP asked, “If the future domain of the corporate sector is creating shared value then what’s the role of the NGO?” We ask: If the future of the corporate sector is social purpose then what is the role of social enterprise?

 

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SE-definiton

What is a social enterprise?

So often in online discussions we hear the line ‘I don’t want to start / engage in the social enterprise definition debate’ yet we believe it is imperative to have this debate. As is so often the case, Tim Ferris in his phenomenal Four Hour Work Week puts this best when he says ‘If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it.’

For us, as we’ve said many times before, the Department of Trade & Industry definition in 2002 nailed it (pretty much based on the definition of The Guild which has been operating since 2000):

A social enterprise is a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.

However there are competing vested interests that have since tried to fit this description (i.e. the charity lobby arguing that primary purpose trade makes them a business) and those such as the Social Enterprise Mark that try to add an unwanted layer of screening to meet their definition in a way that does not auto-qualify Community Interest Companies and the soon to be created Social Enterprise Limited Liability Partnership by Bates Wells & Braithwaite.

We have recently been engaging in this debate on Civil Society, the Guardian Social Enterprise Network and on the CIC forum.

Civil Society

In a news story on Civil Society we were pitted against the view of Peter Holbrook, CEO of Social Enterprise UK who, in responding to a BBC newsnight programme, warned that ‘the social enterprise term would be hijacked by businesses that aren’t social enterprises’. Ironically we too feel the same with these ‘businesses’ being charities. He goes on to say:

The story blurred the lines between the private sector and social enterprise, which is an important concern for our sector. Private companies exist to make a profit for their owners and shareholders, whereas social enterprises exist to make a profit in order to tackle social issues. The social purpose is enshrined in a social enterprise’s governing documents and takes precedence.

We argue that all social enterprises are private organisations owned by shareholders or (without share capital) controlled by their members and that there is no conflict for social enterpreneurs to do good, make profit and reward themselves from that profit. We also do not believe that writing resolutions into a governing document is necessary to embed social purpose within a business nor does it protect against immoral behaviour.

Peter goes on to state that ‘A private company simply reinvesting 50 per cent of its profits back into the business does not make it a social enterprise’. This again is ironic as we argue that a charity that trades 50% does not make it a business. Indeed we were quoted as saying:

Charity and business are completely different vehicles for creating social value and a charity cannot somehow evolve into a social enterprise when it hits an arbitrary percentage of its income from trade. We see the real danger being charities hijacking the movement.

Peter finishes with:

We need to be very clear about the difference between the private sector and social enterprise. Many charities and not-for-profits are now badging themselves as social enterprises and our sector is growing. It is a real asset to the UK. It would be dangerous for our sector if social enterprise was adopted by the private sector as a convenient badge to take advantage of current trends.

We believe that it is continually damaging for the social enterprise movement that charities and not-for-profits pass off as businesses. We commented:

For us social enterprise is not a separate sector, it is part of the private sector and needs to view itself as such to fully integrate social purpose and social value into mainstream business. For example, are Community Interest Companies Ltd by Shares not private organisations?

There was a great comment to the story by Peter Dodd on the need to clarify what we are talking about:

Why on earth are we using a term which nobody understands. If we can’t work out and agree what a ‘social enterprise’ is actually supposed to be, why use the term at all. It’s all just male bovine foeces so just get real. Charity is charity, profit is profit, and profit used to good purpose is great but nothing new.

Guardian Social Enterprise Network Q&A

There was a really great debate on the most recent Guardian Q&A about legal structures for social entrepreneurs which, by definition, leads into what is and what isn’t a social enterprise. Some panelists were arguing that only a set number of legal structures would qualify for social enterprise but this is only based on opinion and historical baggage. For us social enterprise is not about legal structures it’s about social purpose – our top tips to end the Q&A were:

1)  if someone / organisation says that a business isn’t a social enterprise due to its legal structure there is little value in engaging with them
2)  don’t get hung up about profit distribution – as Geof says it’s easy to eliminate it all together.
3)  in my experience the cheap and simple company ltd by shares structure is the best option for scaling social impact

CIC Association Forum

There is currently an interesting discussion on the CIC forum started by Geof Cox about how CICs share more than just a legal structure. Geof states, ‘The structure for most of us reflects an underlying set of values around enterprise for community benefit.  But we haven’t yet got a simple shared way of communicating this identity’ and that social enterprises such as CICs ‘have made a real commitment to a set of shared values, and not just to a convenient legal structure.’

John Mulkerrin, self-proclaimed ‘chief protagonist’ of the CIC Association adds that ‘The ‘only under my banner’ culture and differing definitions of SE may well have held SE back, I dont think we as CICs should be want on waiting for that issue to be solved before moving ahead with our own efforts to raise awareness.’ We completely agree.

Do you agree with our views on the definition of social enterprise and the ‘sector’?

How do you define social enterprise – is it to do with purpose, values, impact or all three?

(ps the pic was taken in Death Valley, the sign says ‘elevation 200ft below sea level’ – we feel a sea change is happening in accepting that social enterprises can use any legal structure)

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SOCENTGATE

Social Enterprise libel scandal

Friday 10th February may mark the social enterprise movement’s first Watergate-style scandal when Civil Society published the article ‘Social Enterprise Mark considers libel action against members of its former parent‘ outlining how the Social Enterprise Mark (SEM) Company used its resources (organisations operating the Mark have received almost £1m public funding since the 2007 pilot) to seek legal advice to deal with members of the now defunct regional social enterprise support organisation Rise who have publicly objected to closure of the organisation with assets transferring to SEMco.

Civil Society reports that the MD of SEMco (and ex CEO of Rise) – Lucy Findlay - is “considering further action in terms of libel” in respect to the members – such as MJ Ray from software.coop – who opposed the closure of RISE.

Lucy, as reported, states that the members who have spoken out against the closure have a “vested financial interest” however Dr Rory Ridley-Duff counters in the comments by stating:

Given that the issue of ‘vested interests’ has now been raised publicly, let get some relevant information into the public domain.

The following information was obtained from documents filed by RISE and SEMCO (The Social Enterprise Mark Company) at Companies House. RISE and SEMCO reported the following financial information in their most recently filed accounts (accounts up to 31-03-11):

RISE (Net Assets): £444,766
SEMCO (Net Liabilities): (-£98,103)

Even allowing for changes in trading circumstances, and the closure of the RDA in the South West, the following three questions have to be asked.

1. “Why would the directors/executives of RISE/SEMCO choose to dissolve a solvent company to save an insolvent, loss-making, company?”

(Surely the more sensible thing would be to dissolve the insolvent company and keep the solvent one).

2. Whose vested interests are served by the dissolution of RISE (and the transfer of its assets to insolvent, loss-making, SEMCO)?

3. Were the members of RISE told that SEMCO was insolvent (and had made a trading loss of nearly £100k) before being asked to vote for the dissolution of RISE and the transfer its assets to SEMCO?

These are serious questions because an impartial observer would probably regard such behaviour as the basis for removal (or even disqualification) of its directors.

Lastly, as other social enterprise agencies in the UK have maintained services to their regions following the closure of their RDA – even when they have far fewer assets than RISE – what business reason can be given for RISE’s closure beyond the SEMCO’s need for its assets?

These are questions that will surely be raised in any attempt to accuse former RISE members of libel. The above information was known to those members and they fought (unsuccessfully) for the RISE board to share it with members before a vote was taken at the AGM to close RISE and transfer its assets to SEMCO.

The old adage ‘when you point a finger at someone remember there are three pointing back at you’ still seems fit for purpose – follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #socentgate.

There is also a discussion going on the CIC Association Forum.

To date Social Enterprise UK - who pulled out as co-owners of SEMco in October 2011 before the closure of Rise in November 2011 – have not commented on the libel threat.

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SHINE-WALL

Thoughts from SHINE 2011

SHINE 2011 at the Hub Westminster certainly proved itself to be ‘the UK’s leading unconventional conference (or unconference) for socially-minded entrepreneurs’ which is due to the formidable Amanda Jones from the pioneering for-profit social enterprise Red Button Design and the great work by the team at Unltd with a special mention to the PR guru Francesca Carpanini who was kind enough to answer all my questions and point me to the right places and more importantly people. I finally got to have a chat with the super-nice and super-energetic Liam Black who I thanked for getting the crowd at the Social Enterprise Wales conference in Swansea to shout my company name!

It was also great to put a face to the name of Gines Haro Pastor from the Guardian Social Enterprise Network who runs the excellent Q&A’s for which I’m a regular contributor and panelist.

And it was great to bump into the entrepreneur & designer Marianne Bailey at the business card wall.

Marianne is an experienced product designer who is looking to move into the social purpose space with three new revolutionary products. We’ve since chatted on Skype about how best to start-up her social enterprise and it’s become even more apparent to me that the best structure to use for new social entrepreneurs is the good old regular ltd by share company which you can buy for less than £20 online and become a director the same day. Sure you won’t meet the criteria for the Social Enterprise Mark – but that exclusive party is coming to an end anyway – but what you will have is the flexibility to take your business in any direction. If you need to become a Community Interest Company (CIC) at a later stage to satisfy your social investors or lock in your social purpose then you’ve got that option. Plus what better way to influence mainstream business than by using the default structure? And rest assured you will be able to use the collaborative Social Enterprise Brand being adoted by social entrepreneurs such as Craig Dearden Phillips with Stepping Out and MJ Ray with the Software Coop to show that your motivation is to make profit and create shared value for all.

In the Hub were Typographical Manifestos by fantastic designers Kyra Choucroun and This Is Reed and I was very inspired by one they did on the The Generation M Manifesto by the visionary economist Umair Haque so subsequently created my own based on the Tedx talk by Christine Bader on a manifesto for the corporate idealist (click on the image below for a full A0 size PDF):

 

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Guardian

Guest post for Guardian Social Enterprise Network

Our Director wrote an article for the Guardian Social Enterprise Network, published on Tuesday 6 September 2011, about how in order to go mainstream, social enterprise needs a more inclusive definition and how the Social Enterprise Mark was preventing this from happening. The Mark responded with this statement. There are some great comments by David Floyd, Geof Cox and MJ Ray (much appreciated).

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Adopted-by

Collaborative Social Enterprise Brand

Inspired by the new COMMON community collaborative brand for rapidly prototyping social ventures, and by this epic thread on the Social Enterprise Mark group on Linked In that we started, we have kickstarted the first open source collaborative brand for social enterprise under the Creative Commons license (not a trade mark in sight).

More than just a logo, the brand identity represents a community of for-profit business which:

1) have an explicit social and/or environmental purpose and

2) are set up or reconfigured to create shared value for all.

Under the Creative Commons attribution license (CC BY) social enterprises can ‘distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon’ the brand. This is the most accommodating of licenses as we want to protect the meaning and integrity of the brand – which will be self-regulated by the community to ensure genuine use – but let licensees do what they like with it (just tweet us when start to use it).

Use of his brand includes the existing classification of social businesses so that we no longer need a social business / social enterprise distinction as previously used by ourselves and continuing to be used by the great guys at Clearly So. In America if you are a social entrepreneur you set up a social business – simple.

Progressive businesses that fit the above description can download the logo below for free by right clicking (it’s in a web-friendly PNG transparent format – just email for other formats, sizes, colours etc).

In the spirit of free and open-source software, the ‘source code’ of this brand in Adobe Illustrator format, to be tweaked and improved upon, is here.

All comments welcome and we now have our own Linked In Group here.

[Social Enterprise Brand by Profit Is Good Ltd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.profitisgood.co.uk. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.profitisgood.co.uk.]

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LIMtool – the quick and affordable way to measure and promote your impact

We at Profit Is Good believe that it is imperative for organisations in any sector to capture, understand and demonstrate their economic, social and environmental impact in order to successfully compete and thrive within their marketplace. This is why we created our sub-business Social Value – a social impact consultancy – that supports charities, social and private businesses and investors to put in place systems for quantifying the positive (and negative) value they create for  their stakeholders.

For charities we use outcome measurement systems such as the Outcomes Star and SOUL to record the scale of the changes experienced by clients and impact frameworks such as Social Return on Investment to place a value on these changes. But until now there has been a gap in the market for a quick and robust way of demonstrating the local impact of social and private businesses in terms of how they contribute to local economic and social development (i.e. their local Sustainable Communities Strategy).

Introducing the LIMtool from the social enterprise consultancy Aspiren.

LIMtool stands for Local Impact Measurement tool and is an online tool where organisations feed in the information they already collect such as revenue, employment data, environmental practices, community engagement etc and the tool does some number crunching and creates a PDF snapshot of their local impact plus a one page infographic such as the one below:

Subscriptions to LIMtool start from just £249. Click here to visit the site.

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Book Review – Do More Than Give

Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie R. Crutchfield, John V. Kania, Mark R. Kramer tells the story of how donors change the world through ‘catalytic philanthropy’. It provides a blueprint for investors to increase their impact based on the the six practices of high-impact nonprofits from the book Forces for Good.

The practice that particularly appealed to our thinking is ‘blend profit with purpose’ whereby businesses are understanding that they can achieve greater social impact through their core business activities and value chains than through CSR of philanthropic programmes:

‘Across both the non-profit and for-profit sectors, catalytic philanthropists are learning to tap into the power of business as an engine for advancing the greater good’.

This very much echoes the article in the Harvard Business Review ‘Creating Shared Value‘ that Mark R. Kramer co-wrote with Michael E. Porter.

Profit Is Good Ltd came into being precisely because we understand and have seen how business models can be used to scale social impact in ways that charitable giving can not achieve.

For more information visit www.domorethangivebook.com. For an excerpt from the book on ‘How GE is Changing Business through Shared Value’ visit here.

You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon using the widget on the right.

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Book Review – How to be a Social Entrepreneur by Robert Ashton

I both know and admire Robert from working within the 3rd sector in Norfolk together and view him as one of only a few people you can rely on to cut the bull and give it to you straight. And this is exactly what he does in his 12th and most recent book “How to be a Social Entrepreneur – Make money & change the world”.

Robert nails it for me in the intro when he states that “…tomorrow’s entrepreneur will be a social entrepreneur. More confident shaking hands than shaking a collection tin; more confident negotiating innovative, colaborative partnerships with those able to help them further the cause and more confident that profit is good, because of the freedom it gives you to do good.”

The realisation that profit is indeed good was the reason I started my social business consultancy. As Robert puts it on p10, “In today’s world, the only way to bring about sustainable change is through being enterprising and entrepreneurial.” And for both Robert and I that means focusing on creating a financial profit in order to create the positive social and environmental value which will result from this. Social entrepreneurship is about utilising profitable business models to enable positive change in the world.

I would recommend this book to all those who have the desire to change the world but may lack the business skills necessary to do so –  you can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon using the widget in the sidebar >>>

Visit www.robertashton.co.uk for more from Robert.

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Business vs charity = self-help vs philanthropy

When I give advice I try to seek out someone’s motivation for setting up or growing a mission-based organisation. There is often a pretty clear split between the mindsets of people setting up or running a social business and those setting up or running a charity. Both are completely valid vehicles to create social impact however both require different legal structures, different operating models and different types of people behind the helm.

As Muhammad Yunus puts it in his book ‘Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism':

‘A social business is not a charity. It is a business in every sense. It has to recover  its full costs while achieving its social objectives. When you are running a business you think differently and work differently than when you are running a charity. And this makes all the difference in defining social business and it’s impact on society.’ (2009 : 22)

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