Help to Grow scheme announced

Help to Grow scheme announced

The Prime Minister has announced the launch of a new £100 million Help to Grow pilot scheme that will enable fast-growing smaller firms to access finance and realise their growth potential. The scheme will provide 500 firms each year with financial support in the form of loans to help them grow from small to medium-size. According to the British Business Bank, most lenders target larger corporate firms seeking finance in excess of £10 million. This results in few opportunities for smaller high-growth firms to raise the funds they require, which typically range from £0.5 to £2 million. The British Business Bank will seek proposals in March from finance providers to deliver the pilot scheme.

Read more about the pilot scheme at:


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THERE are a great many ‘Top 10’ lists available on every conceivable subject, for work, for leisure, for health and many more besides.  However, here is one more for you to consider which generates enormous change for the better wherever it is used.

When we think about the meaning of professionalism, we need to consider not just our own work and relationships but also need to think about our expectations of professionalism from those around us.  Have you perhaps been disappointed by someone recently?  It may be that they did not quite deliver what you needed on time, perhaps their attitude on the phone left something to be desired, or you just got the overwhelming impression that they didn’t really care?  Unfortunately, it doesn’t take very long for the cumulative result of these small failures in professionalism to become quite damaging to the one thing which has the power to scupper all of our best laid plans – our reputations.  We know that people often choose to work with people they like and are more prone to making recommendations to others based on their positive experiences.  Building and maintaining our reputations for excellence is, therefore, the surest way to make steady progress in any role.

Just before we get to the Professionalism Top Ten, it is important to mention one more magic extra ingredient.  It is the one personal trait which has the potential to do most good in the workplace or in our home lives.  It is Empathy – the ability to understand how it might feel to be in someone else’s shoes, to experience how they might be feeling when on the receiving end of our services, our moods, our everyday personas.  We cannot know precisely how someone feels but we can see for ourselves the results of our interactions with people.  If we take the time to look, we may see a little more than we expected.

So here they are, The Golden Rules, which ensure that we think, behave and act in way which make us stand out from the crowd and, wherever possible, be a positive influence on those around us.  Professionalism makes a difference and makes the working world a better place to be!






  • always striving for excellence
  • being trustworthy
  • being accountable and taking responsibility for your actions
  • being courteous and reliable
  • being honest, open and transparent
  • being competent and continually learning
  • always acting ethically
  • always acting honourably and with integrity
  • always treating others with respect
  • always respecting confidentiality
  • setting a good example


A copy of The Golden Rules is available to download to put on your wall or share with colleagues.  Just go to


Adapted from “Professionalism: the ABC for Success”  by Susie Kay
Published by Professionalism Books at £10.99;  ISBN: 978-0-9565401-0-2 (Available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon)


“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it” – Pearl S. Buck, American Novelist

“Excellence is not a single event, but a habit”  – Aristotle

“Excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way” – African American educator, Booker T. Washington

Umbrella companies’ Charter launched

Umbrella companies' Charter launched

A Best Practice Charter for umbrella companies that handle payments of tax and National Insurance on a PAYE basis for freelance contractors has been launched. So far, nearly 30 firms have signed up to the Charter, which guarantees that the working practices of umbrella companies are HMRC compliant, and requires them to commit to operating their services in an open and transparent way.

Currently, umbrella companies are unregulated, which has reportedly led to freelance contractors being held liable for alleged tax avoidance schemes by some umbrella companies, despite being unaware of any such practices.

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Government accepts business growth report

Government accepts business growth report

Recommendations included in Lord Young’s ‘Growing Your Business’ report published in May 2013, such as lifting the age limit on Start-Up Loan applications and making tendering for public sector contracts simpler, have been accepted in full by the Government. The recommendations will also be used as the basis for a new policy for smaller businesses to be published in the autumn, to improve Government communication with small firms and make it easier for them to access business advice and support.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “Half of all jobs in this country come from small and medium-sized business. So if we’re to get our economy going again, we must do all we can to support them.”

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Minimising the risk of sub-contracting a sole trader

When a client sub-contracts a research project they have to make decisions about who they want to work with and who they think will get the job done.  Imagine you could choose a university, or an agency with hundreds of staff, or a boutique firm with ten staff.  These are my competitors.  And then there’s me, a sole trader.

Well sometimes they pick me and sometimes they don’t.

And often when they don’t, they tell me it is because I’m a sole trader and that choosing a sole trader would be risky:


Consultancy Week- Sub-Contracting a Sole Trader

Sole Trader

Real example 1:  “Slight risk of non-completion as sole trader.”

 Real example 2:  “The only factor which scored lower was around contingency arrangements and project risk.  The panel had specific discussion around the small business model and in terms of the contractor being incapacitated the panel did have some concerns.”


For a client, the worry is that if something goes wrong with me there will be no-one there to pick up the pieces.  They worry that my personal life will intrude into my work and their project won’t get done.  They’ll be stuck with no outputs, and a mess to clear up.

Well they are right in the sense that things do happen and I do have to deal with them myself.  As a sole trader I can’t just call in sick, I can’t just forget about my responsibilities, I don’t have a colleague to take on my tasks.  I need to man up and rearrange my own appointments from my death bed, and the fallout of being away is all still there for me to deal with when I come back to my desk.

And I know, because I have had personal stuff that I’ve chosen to or been forced to fit around my work.  I’ve had a few days of sickness, I’ve had a few days when my computer was down.  Some of it has been unexpected, some of it has been quite awkward to rejig.  Some of it has been really really important to me personally but of no relevance to my working life.  I’ve been on holiday…  I’ve taken a degree…  My cat became sick, and required constant care for a time, then died…  I have had some time consuming and inconvenient medical issues to deal with…  I’ve received bad news…  This has all happened, and in the vast majority of cases my clients don’t know.  They generally don’t need to know.  They don’t need to know because I have excellent time management and prioritisation skills, I plan ahead for the unexpected, and I am 100% committed to presenting my clients with a professional service and delivering on my promises.

To start with, I only get involved with a project in the first place if I am as certain as I can be that I can complete the project on time.  I never over-promise.  If there is any doubt I don’t put the tender in, I don’t get involved in the conversation, or I decline the work.

When the project comes around, I make a plan which has plenty of contingency time built into it, particularly around risky areas.  Risky areas are large tasks, or times when I will need to get something from someone else, whether that is corresponding with members of the public or getting a sign off from a client.  If I find myself with a bit of unexpected time, I use it to get ahead.  Maybe I brainstorm some ideas, or start drafting a document, or set up a template or some charts for a report.  And I always give myself an internal deadline of completing tasks one day earlier than the official deadline.

This means it is really easy to accommodate short-term absence of up to a week or so, especially if I have a bit of notice.  If I’m sick, well yes I might have to rearrange things if I’ve got fixed points (meetings, appointments) but it would be very unusual for this to actually disrupt the critical path of the project.

If I was running uncomfortably close to a deadline (and I don’t recall this happening in two and a half years of self employment), I could work long hours or pull an all-nighter.  If I was sick I could take a meeting remotely and then go straight back to bed.  I’ve done that – I’ve pitched for work by Skype on a day that I was technically off sick with a dress over my PJs, and I won the work.  As a sole trader and a home worker it is relatively easy to do that sort of thing.  And you can always take the day off afterwards to recover.

Consequently, all Ruthless Research projects to date have been delivered on time.  Some have been delivered early, and many have been delivered on a tight turnaround.

I will concur that if I was run over by a bus or (god forbid) actually killed there would be a bit of a problem.

But even in that case, I have systems in place to ensure that the appropriate parties would be notified and that my immaculately maintained and backed up files would allow someone else to easily pick the project up and run with it.  I have expert colleagues who could do this on an Associate basis and I have made arrangements with my next of kin and a specific trusted Associate just in case.

Is this enough?  No.  Some people will never pick a sole trader.

Which is a shame, because I think the benefits that I can provide in terms of flexibility and expertise and seniority and price and a guaranteed personal service may well be worth the risk.

BIS call for interest: IASME

  • Government Consultation on Information Security Standard
  • UKITA supports IASME standard as most appropriate to SME Sector
  • Make your voice heard

With March seeing the beginning of a consultancy period for the Governments Cyber Security Organisational Standards, and given the recent events at Evernote we understand that is will be an area of concern for our members and their customers- see our article here.

Here at the UK IT Association (UKITA) we want to support SME’s, particularly those in the IT sector, to get the most appropriate level of Cyber Security Standard certification. While we acknowledge that ISO 27001 is a great standard for a company to achieve in Information Security Management, we feel that it is unrealistic to expect the majority of SMEs to be able to afford and achieve this standard.

For that reason we are supporting the IASME standard as the most appropriate. It is specifically designed with SMEs in mind and offers a set of strategies which effectively reduce the risk of loss through cyber accidents or attacks. In addition the work you do towards the IASME standard can count as credit towards the ISO 27001 standard.

Here is what IASME have to say:

“BIS are calling for organisations and groups to submit evidence in support of their preferred organisational security standard. They will use this evidence to select the Government’s preferred organisational standard for cyber security. In the first instance, they are inviting industry stakeholders to express their interest in submitting evidence in support of their preferred standard by 8 April. Shortly afterwards they will publish guidance to help them prepare their evidence for submission.

Government will also be exploring what can be done to help stimulate the uptake of organisational standards for cyber security, for example Government is considering the relevance of this work to Government procurement. More details on the requirements and the background can be found at

IASME (Information Assurance for Small and Medium Business) is a cyber security standard developed especially for SMEs. Originally funded by the Technology Strategy Board, it offers a set of business practices which will reduce the risk of loss of business through cyber accident or attack. The business practices are derived from internationally recognised cyber standards, distilled into common-sense language applicable to even the smallest business.

IASME are also developing UK-wide information events for SMEs and a research-based advice centre for SMEs with a couple of top-flight universities similar to the WARP concept. IASME already has a link with an AIG-underwritten cyber insurance product brokered by Sutcliffe of Worcester – details on our site.

The likely alternative is certification to the full ISO 27001 Information Security Management Standard which has proved difficult and expensive to achieve for SMEs. We feel that IASME offers a more cost-effective solution for UKITA members and ask that UKITA contributes to the BIS consultation.”

If you wish to be part of the consultancy send your expression of interest to submit evidence in support of your preferred standard by Monday 8 April 2013. Give the name of your industry body or group of companies and the name of the standard against which you intend to submit evidence.

The BIS will then publish guidance for submitting bodies by Tuesday 30 April 2013.

The final date for submitting evidence will be Monday 14 October 2013.

And remember- the IASME standard will meet the needs of the majority of SME’s- ISO 27001 may well price some people out of business if it is made a requirement.

To keep up with the latest industry news visit the UK IT Association (UKITA).

New consultancy procurement framework launched

New consultancy procurement framework launched

A new way of sourcing consultancy services could help more small and medium-sized firms secure Government contracts, according to Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. Under the new ConsultancyONE framework consultancy contracts worth between £100,000 and £2 million will now be managed by a single buying team through the Government Procurement Service (GPS).

Mr Maude said the framework would help the Government save up to 20% on consultancy day rates and reduce the Government’s reliance on larger suppliers.

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Professionalism in Challenging Times

There probably aren’t many people who would disagree that we have had a difficult couple of years.  Even with a combined will to find new or better ways to make an impact on our current circumstances, it is likely that each of us will probably be required to do more with less, get used to having less resources available to us but still be expected to make a positive impact and provide services of high quality.

That’s a big task so how can we make it happen?  How do we go about having that positive impact and how do we make the most of what we have at our disposal in both our personal and work lives?

Professionalism’s real importance is in the way that it helps us deal with the challenges we all face, bringing benefits to an individual’s day to day work and leading to increased satisfaction and success in the workplace.  The many attributes of professionalism fall into three categories – attitude, behaviour and character.  Although too many to be listed here, finding ways to make professionalism work for you is not difficult.  It can be incremental, implementing small differences or improvements each day and then, after a while, finding that you have been an agent for change, not just for yourself but also for those around you.

We are also all aware that in this climate we will be thinking about surviving but how to thrive is a much better question.  What will make the difference, how can we achieve the balance?  The answer lies in the relationships we develop with those around us, how we interact with the world and the impression of ourselves that we offer to those we meet.   Adopting and living by all the essential qualities of professionalism will deliver huge benefits for individuals and for organisations.  For those running businesses it will gain customers for us, keep those customers happy and ensure that they come back time and again.  For organisations it will ensure that staff are engaged and feel that there is good reason to come to work in the morning. For individuals, it can transform the way we see ourselves and are viewed by those around us.

Whether you are looking for a professional, a tradesman, or a particular service provider, the chances are that you will first ask friends and colleagues for recommendations.  The social network discussion pages are also full of requests for trusted advisors and ‘proven’ abilities on an endless range of subjects and specialisms.  Why does this work?  Because we all believe that anyone with a decent reputation, someone who has delivered excellent service before, will do so again for us.  This person is therefore to be relied upon and will turn up when expected and give us the service we need.  Reputations are hard won but oh so easily lost.  Our actions and behaviours are our constant marketing tool so we should be very aware of the way we portray ourselves at all times, not just when we think we are being scrutinised.

Since “Professionalism: the ABC for Success” was published I have received many requests suggesting that it would useful to have one section – “The Golden Rules” – available to put up on the wall or by the desk as a constant reminder.  So here they are as a download, just to give you the continuous edge you need to ensure that you maintain and build your hard won reputation, to ensure that you thrive in this difficult economic climate.

Professionalism is how to get ahead in any profession, in any sector.

An unavoidable truth is that people like to work with people they like so managing relationships is a critical aspect of your professionalism and, unsurprisingly, manners matter.  Thoughtfulness and a smile are incredibly powerful tools and make people want to work with you.   Small gestures also matter in our busy lives. Remembering personal details about those you work with; being responsive and returning calls and emails promptly even if it is only to say I will have to get back to you soon; acknowledging and thanking someone for a job well done; offering your support to colleagues, all make a huge difference.

If your belief in yourself and your abilities is underpinned by your competence and a commitment to CPD (continuing professional development) then you will always present yourself in an appropriate and professional way. You would also be ensuring that you build a level of respect for the professional services that you provide.  However, treating each other with respect is not just about deferring to their status.  It is also about arriving on time for a meeting, switching off your mobile phone during meetings or understanding if colleagues are under external pressures.  Earn respect for yourself by being known as someone with integrity, who is dependable, honest and trustworthy.

One of the magic ingredients of professionalism is empathy – although we can’t see what others see when they look at us, we can see the results of our interactions with them.  Before each and every interaction try to envisage how it might feel to be on the receiving end and plan your approach and response accordingly. You should also be prepared to amend those interactions if you perceive a negative result and can establish why it happened.

We are all aware that planning (in the short, medium and long term), managing your time and being well organised are critical tools for being as effective as possible.  We all have the same amount of time at our disposal each day so the trick is to make the best possible use of it and not allow it to slide away through trivia, inactivity or intrusions.  Maximizing our productivity can be as simple as starting each day with a concise ‘to-do’ list and being sure to consult it if intrusions occur.  Only you can know if the ‘new’ is important or urgent enough to replace something already on the list.  Mapping out your daily, weekly, monthly commitments will also ensure that you deliver on all your responsibilities.

Managing impressions, managing yourself and your relationships will ensure that you are noticed for all the right reasons and thereby enhance your reputation – and that’s a great place to start!
“If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves”        – Thomas Edison

**  Adapted from “Professionalism: the ABC for Success”  by Susie Kay
Published by Professionalism Books at £10.99;  ISBN: 978-0-9565401-0-2 (Amazon, bookshops and

Broadband networks plan in tatters due to EU budget – SMEs disappointed

Last week the European Council has reached political agreement on the expenditure for EU 28 for the period 2014-2020. Thus, the maximum total figure is €959,988 million in appropriations for commitments and € 908,400 million in appropriations for payments. This means a cut by €34 billion compared to what had been originally proposed. To the implementation of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) 29,3 billion was allocated, which includes €10 billion that would be transferred from the Cohesion Fund. The amount previously earmarked for CEF was €50 billion. The agreed €29,3 billion would be distributed among the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications so that telecommunications would receive €1 billion, instead of the planned €9.2 billion.

The European Union’s Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes expressed her disappointment about the decision on 9 February in a blog post.

She noted that the agreed sum “still leaves room to invest in service infrastructure, in fields like eProcurement and eInvoicing, that can support a digital single market and ensure top-quality, 21st century public services for Europeans”.

“But this funding will have to be exclusively for digital services: because such a smaller sum does not leave room for investing in broadband networks. I regret that: because broadband is essential for a digital single market, the rails on which all tomorrow’s digital services will run; and this could have been an innovative and highly-market oriented way to deliver it, almost budget-neutral in the long run.”

Kroes warned that the cut would also make it more difficult to reach the broadband targets for Europe such as ensuring fast broadband for all citizens by 2020. Still, she added it was important to stay focused on that goal and that she would continue with the cooperation with the European Investment Bank so that they would be actively involved in lending for broadband projects: “the recent capital increase of the Bank of €10 billion brings the promise of fresh broadband funding, and we should make the most of that”.

“The EU decision is a missed opportunity for Europe. Broadband is an indispensable infrastructure, which the ICT sector needs in order to deliver growth and jobs.” – Mr Charles Huthwaite, President of PIN-SME.

Who does PI Insurance protect?

PI cover is bad for the client – something that only the insurance industry and lawyers understand (and me). Here’s how it actually works in practice:

1. Client insists on consultant paying for PI cover as a condition of engagement
2. Client becomes unhappy with consultant’s work and complains
3. Consultant endeavours to correct it but client remains unhappy
4. Client claims on consultant for return of fees or compensation for loss or damage to his business
5. Consultant rejects claim
6. Client’s lawyer threatens consultant with legal action to obtain repayment or compensation
7. Consultant passes claim to his PI insurer without comment to client (those are the rules)
8. Insurer passes it to his lawyer
9. Lawyer scrutinises the small print and either advises insurer that:
a) The specific claim topic isn’t covered and the consultant is on his own
b) The claim has less than 50% chance of succeeding in court and should be repudiated
c) The claim may succeed but should be rejected all the way to court as a matter of policy
d) (Admissions of liability are unknown)
10. Insurer advises consultant that either:
a) He is on his own but the lawyer will advise him on how to word the rejection letter to the client and how to answer any that come back to minimise the chances of any pay-out by the consultant and the good chance that after a while the client will get fed up
b) Stop all communication with the client and the lawyer will now fight the client – to the death
11. The client is now obliged in either event to spend a lot of money pursuing the claim either against the consultant who is receiving clever professional advice or directly against skilled lawyers who are probably better than his

So PI cover is bad for the client but very helpful to the consultant who keeps his nerve!

Clients should insist on consultants being self insured – they’d be much better off and the consultant would have to take good care

So strike a blow against pointless premium costs for the insurance industry and lawyers and advise against PI cover!