Extreme Weather & Your Business  

As David Brinkley once said; “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him”, however sometimes the bricks thrown are not from other people but from forces beyond our control. For those who operate a business in areas of high weather risk such as around the Pacific Ring of Fire or East Coast USA, business continuity is a high priority as the financial damage is far greater. Here are a few things to consider if you operate from an area with potentially extreme weather;
Customers - Depending on the nature of your clients and your business, how this is considered will vary. If you own a shop and a blizzard is in action, naturally there will be less people on the streets and visiting your store (unless you stock snow supplies, in which case, you are probably in luck!). If your clients are more internal, then your continuity depends on their ability to travel to the office. If your clientele are internet based, then continuity depends on both their and your own ability to access the internet, which relies on a successful internet connection and of course a functioning source of electricity.
Travel - if your staff have to travel to and from your business then obviously their safety is a priority. The problem here is that if you spend too much of your efforts protecting your staff from potential accidents then you might not have anybody to continue productivity, and to find the balance that weighs slightly on the side of caution towards staff safety is difficult. As with staff illnesses, try not to rely too heavily on one or two particular members of your team and make sure that everybody's work can be picked up and completed by a different member of staff in the circumstance that they can't travel to the office.
Importing and Exporting - Depending on what your product is and what resources you require to produce it, if the delivery companies are not operating then it can have serious ramifications on your work. If you are stuck in a stalemate and are physically unable to provide your product to your market, a little bit of communication, where possible, to your customers goes a long way. Again, if your product is internet based, this can still be a problem in bad weather due to power shortages and connectivity issues.
Money - The Polar Vortex that hit in 2014 cost the US economy over $5bn with most flight companies reporting losses of between $50m and $100m due to cancellations. It goes without saying that a decrease in productivity has a negative impact on your revenue. If bad weather is uncommon where you set up your business, you may just have to sit out the storm, but if it's a yearly expectation make sure you are prepared and financially ready for the occasional dip in income.
Property - If your local weather can be seriously destructive then spending a little more on a suitable building for your business could potentially save you a lot of money in the long term. If you set up a business in an area of seismic activity, make sure to have an earthquake resistant building. If your business is located near a river that frequently bursts its banks, ensure both your business and your property is safe against flooding.
It pays to have a strong continuity plan based on the local conditions and to have this clearly communicated to your staff. Always keep an eye on weather forecasts and, in the circumstance that strong weather is approaching, be sure to have a short term plan specifically tailored to the circumstances to make sure that you come out still standing strong on the other side.

 

Foreign Languages in the Work Place  

Nelson Mandela once said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart”. The world is becoming smaller as business becomes more international, flights become cheaper, and more people decide to emigrate to a new location. The demand in the UK for knowledge in a second language is quickly increasing despite English being the international language of business, but the interest in learning second languages in school is slumping as children are not educated from a young age about the benefits of learning them. In 2014 an educational and skills survey conducted by CBI and Pearson concluded that out of 291 companies surveyed, 41% believed knowledge of a foreign language was beneficial to their business.
The languages most in demand by companies in the UK are mostly European, with Spanish being the most desired (where only a few years before, French was in the top spot). There has been a large rise in demand for speakers of Spanish and Chinese Mandarin as the Chinese and South American markets are increasing in size. There has also been a rise in demand for Arabic with the booming industry sector in the United Arab Emirates, and it is now rated the second most important language for the future of Britain. These have been rated on a number of factors including current UK export trade, the language needs of the UK business, UK government trade priorities and emerging high growth in markets as well as many others.
Because of this slump in interest in studying a new language, employers are often having difficulties trying to fill vacancies dependent on these skills. Fewer than 1 in 26 students in the UK learn a second language beyond a basic level. Furthermore, according to an article published by The British Council, the achievement of pupils in England in the European Survey on Language Competences was poorer that that of the pupils from any other country taking part. The inability for the British to trade in languages other than English is potentially damaging to the UK export markets.
Learning a second language also comes with a lot of hidden benefits in the work place. The more you learn about a second language, the more you discover about your own, and the easier it is for you to communicate clearly and effectively in your mother tongue. You learn about the difficulties that people translating into your language are facing, and how to convey your message in a way that they will also understand clearly.
The language of a country is its cultural foundation from which its heritage is built upon. Every language opens up an insight into a different mindset which can provide alternative solutions to problems by looking at them from a different perspective that you have only gained through learning a different way of expressing yourself.
Learning a second language not only helps to delay brain related diseases such as dementia and alzheimers, it opens up a plethora of opportunities in the work place, not only for importing, exporting and international trade, but also in communication, improved decision making and multitasking abilities, and there is no doubt that the demand for languages in the work place will only to continue to rise.
The true cost of going green  

There is a lot of pressure on businesses these days to show that they are supporting local communities, charities and the environment. In 2015, a study concluded the the global economic value of bees is €265billion, and in an age where people study the economic value of the environment as a university subject, the idea of being environmentally friendly, for most people, is very appealing, however it's not as easy as just buying the ecopaper instead of the regular paper. A great example of a successful environmentally and ethically aware business is Innocent Smoothies who not only use recycled materials to create the bottles for their products, but also donate 10% of all profits to charity and publicly support many environmental campaigns, and still manage to thrive at a time when people are often struggling to afford any luxuries. Here are a few things to consider about owning a green business.
What do your customers want? - Some businesses will benefit hugely from going environmentally friendly as it's appealing to their customers and target audience, and the bragging rights to this status will boost their flow of clientele and therefore, providing the increase in profit outweighs the additional cost of ecofriendly materials, the company will see a rise in revenue. However, just because you believe in a particular value, it does not mean the majority of your customers will. An example of this could be a travel company that focusses on a richer clientele, who may gain a certain level of respect from going green, however when their customers turn up at the airport they will always prefer to be welcomed with a bottle of water instead of a the greener alternative of a recyclable paper cup filled from a larger bottle as when it comes to the choice between luxury and what's best for the environment, they would tend to put their comfort first. Sometimes you may have to make sacrifices against the values you stand for to keep your customers happy and to keep revenue flowing smoothly.
The price of materials - This depends largely on the type of business you run and the lengths to which you are prepared to take this ideology. A lot of offices these days opt for a paperless system however this does not necessarily mean that they are a green business. Electricity is also a resource, and unless you can guarantee that it comes from an environmentally friendly source, you cannot claim you are completely green. If, for example, you run a coffee shop there's a lot more materials to consider; the takeaway cups, the bags, the takeaway trays for the coffee cups, posters and printouts, in fact everything down to stickers you may use as promotional material can be obtained from green and ethically responsible sources, however they tend to cost a lot more than your standard materials. It's worth comparing the difference between your potential additional profit and the additional cost of materials, and if it's a loss you will have to question how important having a green business is to you.
Certification - There are a number of ways to certify your business as green from Greenseal to GBB which gives you the right to display to your target audience that you are officially a “green business”, however most of these companies will charge either a one off or a membership fee for this. You can still partake in green practices and sponsor environmental programmes as a business without certification, you will just have to decide whether your clientele will still recognise and, more importantly, appreciate your efforts.
There is a general increase in the number of people turning to greener and more ethical alternatives so now could be a perfect time to consider what practices you follow that could be adapted to appeal to a quickly increasing market.
How to be a Better Communicator  

If you take a browse through the abundance of online articles that cover the traits that employers seek out the most, one that repeatedly and unsurprisingly makes an appearance is communication; both written and verbal. An employer can judge this prior to hiring somebody through exchanging emails, speaking on the phone, or in the interview room. Here are a few things you can focus on to improve your communication skills.

It's easy to forget, but listening is just as important as responding, if not more so. If you focus entirely on your response, you can easily misinterpret the question or misunderstand a vital point being made. It is important to make the other person or people in the conversation aware that you are paying attention to them and making them the centre of your regard.
We spend a lot of time quickly writing messages to our friends and family on mobile phones and computers and pushing send without even thinking. In a work environment, it is important to proof read all your messages for spelling, grammar, formatting, the correct use of formal language, use of the correct signature and it's even worth checking that you are sending the email to the correct recipient.
It is also important to maintain a positive and assertive attitude while at work. Problems will inevitably occur, but you can either shout about them or work decisively to solve them. If you portray yourself as a positive person, people will find you more approachable and you will encourage a more positive environment for you and your colleagues.
It also pays to think before you speak, in every circumstance. If you take a moment before speaking you can effectively consider the best way to communicate your message which will make you come across as a more intelligent person. If you respond immediately you rely too heavily on your initial reaction which may not be appropriate or professional.
To make yourself clearer when you are speaking, particularly to a larger audience, make sure you are speaking at a reasonable rate. Slowing down allows others to understand you better. Also, accentuating your words and clearly pronouncing everything goes a long way. If you mumble a lot naturally, try to avoid this, and also try to avoid using filler words like “umm” or “err” or phrases such as “you know” at the end of sentences. Be clear and concise. Sometimes it also helps to accompany your speaking with simple hand gestures to help emphasise particular points.
Maintaining positive body language makes you come across as a more professional and approachable person. Try not to cross your arms as it does not depict you as an accessible person, and try to maintain eye contact with your audience to ensure them that you are paying attention to what they are saying.
And lastly, don't forget to smile. People who authentically smile are immediately likeable and if people like you they will pay closer attention to the words you are saying, and smiling will help you to build stronger relationships with your colleagues and clients.
Social Media & You  

These days, everybody has a Facebook page and an online presence of sorts. Most businesses also have a social media presence which comes with substantial advantages. Some businesses prosper a lot more with the internet than others, however, especially if you have a new business, it pays to have a positive representation online.
One of the most important benefits is connecting with your customers and shareholders. For a small and new businesses this is especially helpful as it makes more people aware of their existence and location, and allows friends and loyal customers to share information such as offers, events, promotions, business reviews and comments, although these can be both positive and negative, and can essentially allow the business to prosper and grow in ways that were not possible before. For larger and longer established companies, it allows their customers access to news and current progress which is not considerable enough to make it into news outlets.
Social Networking sites also allow your business to have an augmented voice that before their existences, would have been much quieter. It has become much easier to express the values of your company, to show people the projects that you support, to shine a new light on your business that before was unseen. You can promote articles that reinforce your principles and remind your audience why you are providing the right product for them. This can help to refine your target audience and to reach out to the people you believe will benefit the most from your product. You can connect with ease to other business within your community to expand your clientele through collaboration and support.
It takes a mere matter of seconds to make a post that conveys a message, which saves more time to focus on your business, providing you don't get distracted by the social media itself. If you have a gas leak and have had to close the cafe for the day, you can tell your customers before they've even left home. If you have a promotion on, it's free to tell your online audience.
Social networking for businesses does however also come with negatives. If you have an upset customer, they also have more of a voice and more power to express their dissatisfaction to your audience which can potentially damage your reputation or your business. Some review sites will not allow you to take down bad comments, even if unjustly and unfairly made against you. Customers can often rate you on a system and if a customer has a personal vendetta against your business it can have serious ramifications to your online presence and therefore have a knock on effect to your customers and overall income.
Also, tourists and new residents will often only judge a place based on it's online ratings which is an unfair and over simplified representation of everything you do, however people will still insist that the top rated attraction in an area is the only one worth seeing.
In the rare circumstance that there is any public scandal related to your business then absolutely anybody has the ability to anonymously vilify and slander you online. People tend to be more confrontational on the internet because they can hide behind their computer monitors.
Overall, a strong internet presence tends to be a positive thing and with a little bit of attention, it can provide a lot of extra benefits and income for your business.
Shorter Working Day Debate  

There are many articles online regarding a trend in Sweden to shorten the standard working day. The results have been somewhat ambiguous with some substantial benefits and also some substantial problems emerging as a result of this. Initially, the concept was introduced in an attempt to increase productivity and to improve the general quality of life by making people happier. The idea is that if people are in a better mood, they will get more done in a shorter amount of time.
Some companies have claimed that staying focussed on one particular task for eight hours is a difficult task, and that by shortening the time that their staff have to endure their concentration they have increased their productivity as well as reducing staff turnover and improving the happiness of the employees. An app developer - Filimundus, has reduced the working hours but also reduced meetings and distractions to allow their staff to concentrate more without interruption and has reported an increase in productivity because of this. The CEO also stated that staff had a greater control over their private lives with the additional time to spend doing what they enjoyed.
Some experts also claim that by shortening working hours it will improve staff health and, with a long term perspective, will make working until retirement age an easier task to accomplish as employees, particularly in labour intensive professions, would be less fatigued and maintain more energy for a longer time. These people argue that shorter working days creates a more sustainable labour market.
However, there has also been an experiment where the working hours of 68 nurses in an old people's home were reduced to the new working day in an attempt to improve staff satisfaction, health and patient care, and while initially this seemed successful, in the longer term it ended up costing the city considerably as they had to employ an additional 17 staff to cover the reduced hours of the original team, which, when looked at on a larger perspective, can potentially lower the costs of unemployment for the government, but not enough to cover the difference.
Dr Aram Seddigh, who recently completed his doctorate at Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute believes that the model can work for some businesses but not for others. He stated that the “sixhour work day would be most effective in organisations - such as hospitals - where you work for six hours and then you just leave [the workplace] and go home. It might be less effective for organisations where the borders between work and private life are not so clear” and suggests that employees with a set amount of work to complete each week might experience higher levels of stress as they try to fit in the same amount of productivity into a shorter time frame.
It seems that this the cost of improving staff welfare and productivity is too high for people with an economic mindset, but in the long term, the benefits could have a substantial positive effect on the work force.

 

The Stock Exchange for Beginners  

The Stock Market is a phrase we all know and use but many of us, when put on the spot, know absolutely nothing about. We all picture men in suits waving paper in the air and shouting at other men in suits in front of screens, when actually in reality the vast majority of stock trading on the market floor has been replaced by trading over a computer network. As a first time investor it often feels like walking into a casino and throwing your money on the nearest roulette table. Obviously people who immerse themselves into this world for years haven't perfected the art of trading stocks, and it takes a lot of time and wit to fall into flow, but here is a simplified explanation for those wishing to understand a little more.
Essentially, The Stock Market is the buying and selling, or trading, of stocks bonds. The Stock Market itself is the location that buyers and investors trade stocks and bonds, whether electronically or on the market floor, and it allows people to instantly make transactions. Stocks are units of ownership of a company, and a bond is a debt investment, or money borrowed for a defined period of time.
When you buy stocks in a company, you basically “own” part of the company, and so if the value of the company increases, as does the value of the stock that you possess. The goal of stock and bond trading is to make a profit, and this is achieved by selling the stocks and bonds for a higher price than you purchased them for. The general practice is to buy them when they are worth less and to sell them when they are worth more, however judging this is the “gambling” element as stock prices can both increase and decrease.
Companies sell stock to the public to create money for the company which they can then invest in trying to turn around a profit. The benefit of selling stock as opposed to taking out a loan is that the company would have to repay the loan with interest, and selling stock allows the company more freedom. The people who invest in these stocks have to believe that it will be beneficial to them and that the stocks will bring them a positive return. The more shares that the company offers, the lower the value of each share.
If a company provides bad results for the quarter then their value and the value of their stocks will fall. If a company is performing well or the market for their product is quickly increasing then their shares are likely to rise. Naturally, it's far more complex than this and a company's value fluctuates depending on a multitude of different factors, from politics and the news, the company's earnings, growth expectations and also general activity in the banks and other companies and much more. Because this is so unpredictable, short term investment is very high risk. Understanding how these factors effect a company's value is the key to making a profit out of intelligence instead of luck.
Owners of company stock get paid a percentage of the company profits on an annual basis. They also become part of the corporation and have some say on how the company is run, so most company owners will buy a percentage of the stocks to make sure they maintain majority control and can continue to run the business as they wish.
This is a very short and simple explanation of a very complicated and ever changing force, however understanding the basics is vital for both professionals and beginners in the field.
Time Management  

There are 24 hours in each day, each filled with 60 minutes of sixty seconds. This is the physical reality of the world we live in and it cannot be denied, but there never seems to be enough time when we need it and there's always too much when we don't. They key to time management is not about finding out how much you can accomplish within a set amount of time, it is more about finding out how you can utilise those 24 hours to maximum effect, because we all know that time is money. Here are some ideas to making the most of your time.
Sometimes we have to spend time to make time. It helps considerably to spend a little time planning how you intend to spend your time. This is most effective when done on a weekly and on a daily basis. Before you start your working week, know what you want to achieve on each day. At the start of each day, know what you want to achieve and what is possible to be completed by particular times. An appointment book is far more effective and clear than a todo list.
Prioritisation is obviously an important factor in time management. When you are creating your daily plan, make sure to define which are the most important tasks and ensure these are completed first. This will relieve a lot of stress when you are trying to complete the less important tasks later on in the day.
Building in time for interruptions and urgent matters ensures that you will not end up with an overwhelming amount of work because of a pressing email that turns up in your inbox. Not everything can be predicted, but we can predict that something is likely to turn up that requires our attention or that something is going to go wrong, and for the sake of your sanity as well as effectively managing your time, this should be considered when planning your work day.
By avoiding distractions, you can complete your work in a quicker time frame. Tools such as Facebook and other social networking sites may be excellent marketing tools, but they also offer and endless supply of wasted hours. Switch off your mobile when possible, close your social accounts and focus your energy on your work to ensure you are achieving your goals at a reasonable rate.
Maintaining a positive attitude and discipline towards your appointment book is vital to preserving motivation. Make sure you have a clear goal in mind, both short term and long term, to ensure you have the energy to power through your work, even when it feels like the seconds are stretching out.
By focussing on one task at a time, you can cut down on useless productivity. If you're constantly switching between your emails and your calls and chasing after everything you will waste a lot of time despite feeling productive. Again, this comes down to discipline and maintaining an effective appointment book.
If you can simplify your work by refining down a process or even eliminating it altogether you will be saving both time and money. Sometimes it pays to spend a few minutes considering what really needs to be done and what can be shortened to save more time in the long run.
Always remember to build in time for yourself. Ensure you are eating a healthy diet, try to get a decent 8 hours of sleep to ensure your body and your mind is functioning properly, and spend enough time doing what you love to help maintain a positive attitude, even while you are at work.
Environmental Social Governance  

The acronym ESG stands for ‘Environmental, Social and Governance' which refers to three factors measuring the sustainability and the ethical impact of investing in a company by evaluating corporate behaviour. Financial assets tend to be placed where the largest return is predicted, however there are a number of different criteria that can affect your decision. There seems to be a positive trend in ESG based decisions and the necessity of sustainability conscious investments have become a practicality in long term investments.

Over time, it has become apparent that fossil fuel dependant companies have become less attractive as people deinvest in them and look for more environmentally friendly alternatives to effectively participate in the battle against climate change. Also, as the planet has a diminishing source of fossil fuels and raw materials, with the knowledge that these will one day run out, investing long term in a company that relies upon them is could be problematic in the future when they struggle to continue their business because of a shortage of material. Investors are even beginning to look at how a company deals with waste products and pollution. Your choice of investment can be a source of activism upon your own values; by investing in a more environmentally friendly company you will be supporting sustainable business and creating a greener portfolio.
The social factor deals with issues such as diversity, human rights and animal welfare. From the perspective of making a profit on an investment, there is a general belief that the more diversity inclusive a company is when employing new staff, the greater chance there is that they will find the perfect person to fill that position, and therefore can push towards a greater financial return. More from an ethics point of view, this also battles social problems such as racism and sexism. The consumer's growing concern of how animals are treated in business, from animal testing to the quality of life for animals bred for consumption, has had an effect on where investments are being placed and companies with more ethical treatment towards animals are often seen as more favourable as those with less morals in this area. Some investors will also look at the suppliers and partners for the company to see if they are operating with the same social values.
The corporate governance covers more internal issues such as the structure of management, employee relations, and how staff are generally treated. Also, as there is an increasing demand for people in high positions of large companies to be publicly listing their bonus payments and incentives as investors want to see that everybody in the company is being treated fairly. Transparency and accuracy are becoming increasingly valuable in today's market.
By following these criteria an investor is practicing responsible investment, and by keeping these factors in mind you can start to develop your portfolio far beyond merely making a monetary profit. By protecting these factors we can make a positive change to our planet, both environmentally and socially, and protect sustainable business by ensuring its ability to continue in the rapidly developing conditions that we live in.
7 Unusual Businesses  

Business doesn't always means suits and ties, stocks and offices. It sometimes seems that people will do just about anything to accumulate money. Here are seven examples of unusual businesses which are, surprisingly, turning a profit.
There is a website where you can reserve yourself a spot in Heaven, just in case you are scared that you might not make the cut. The company sends you a certificate in the mail to prove that you have your place, and offers a money back guarantee if you don't get in (whether or not it is possible to prove this is a different question entirely). A place in Heaven costs $15USD and there are discounts for large group bookings.
Two people from Boulder, CO, have decided to lend a hand to their fellow partygoers by assisting them in their hungover states. The idea is that after the party you call them up and they will arrive with a burrito and some Gatorade to help cure the hangover. They will then proceed to clean every room in the house that requires it, including scrubbing the plates and recycling all the empty bottles. They're so successful they have been featured in Forbes Magazine and on CBS.
This service effectively allows you to send an anonymous message to your friend containing a fresh cologne wipe and a note stating that somebody thinks they smell bad. The company assures their customers that all packages are untraceable so if your friend really does take offence, there is no way to find out that it came from you.
The concept here is that animals have been proven to reduce stress and to provide companionship, however some people are just too busy to look after and care for a pet. A rock doesn't require feeding, walking, grooming or neutering, so it is effectively the ultimate pet. The rock came with an instructional manual that informed owners how to teach it commands like “sit”, “fetch”, and even “attack”. The original product was discontinued in 1976, however the owner had sold over 1.5million rocks at $4 each.
This is a website which will charge you $10 and then deliver a product to your house with a value of equal to or more than what you initially paid. The catch is that you have no idea what the “something” might be. This seems like a strange concept, however the company has sold over 200,000 somethings since opening in 2007.
This service allows you to send a message of fifteen words or less written on the side of a potato. Once requested, the potato with the message will be delivered to your chosen recipient. You can even print photos and postcards on the side of your potato. The company also filters all requests with hateful and threatening messages.
In Switzerland it is possible to rent the services of a cow without actually owning one. This entitles the renter to all of the milk and cheese that the cow produces and allows them to visit and milk the cow if they so desire. They can also watch their designated cow over a webcam.
It just goes to show that although people may laugh at your crazy ideas, they still has the potential to become a profitable and functioning business. The absurdity of your business can even become a selling point, particularly now with platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to spread the message.

 

  
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