Extreme Weather & Your Business

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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

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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

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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

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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.