Fair Vote

November 1st, 2013

Fair Vote.Org

Fair Vote Lowell would like to make it clear that we are in no way connected with the Fair Vote organisation of the United States of America.

The Fair Vote organisation advocates for fair voting systems and other electoral reforms, and can be found at http://www.fairvote.org

It’s About Time

February 10th, 2016

When it comes to small businesses staying afloat and thriving, it’s all about time – good time management skills are essential and can mean the difference between a business just getting by or enjoying success.

David Hardisty is a business growth expert in Horsham, Sussex, and he knows how important it is for small businesses to be able to prioritise tasks and use the available hours in a working day efficiently and effectively.

“Just because a small business is good at what it does, doesn’t mean that the owner and employees are good at managing their business!” David says with a smile.

David Hardisty Business Growth Expert Horsham

Managing Time is Crucial: David Hardisty Business Growth Expert Tells How You Can Do It

Change-resistant

“And this doesn’t just apply to small businesses as large organisations can be just as guilty of bad time management practices. I know from my many years’ experience as a business growth consultant. Employees – and managers – are mostly resistant to change and tend to stick with the same old ways of doing things, even if it’s wasteful, time-consuming and non-productive.”

“So David,” I ask, “why should small businesses come to you for direction on how to use their time better?”

Changing Behaviour Patterns

David nods and says, “As I was saying, we’re mostly creatures of habit and stick to what we know, which applies to business processes and systems as well as most other issues. But if someone we don’t know, say an outsider, comes along and asks, why you do things in a certain way, often we’re not even aware that we are choosing a pattern of behaviour, let alone recognising that there may be a better more efficient way of doing it.”

He smiles. “An example might be that before leaving the house in the morning, a person might put their shoes on leaving the laces untied, and then walk around the house tripping over them, because they’re used to only tying their laces when they go out the front door!”

He shrugs. “OK that might be a poor similie! But the order in which you choose to achieve a task can save you valuable time, and even just gaining an extra half hour or hour each day back can boost productivity substantially. After all, time is money, as the old adage says! And if you have a workforce of, say, six people and they all gain an hour back a day, that’s almost a whole working day extra gained at the end of a week.”

Small Business Pitfalls

So what are the common pitfalls that a small business tends to fall into when not using time properly?

“We all tend to put off unpleasant tasks  – a bit like avoiding doing your tax return for weeks!” David says. “But this kind of procrastination is bad for many reasons – for example, we have the nagging guilt hanging over us that the unpleasant thing needs to be seen to for all those weeks we delay. And sometimes we can avoid the task until it’s harmful – like getting a fine for submitting a tax return too late. Or in the case of a business, if you’re too inefficient at some things, customers could turn to more efficient competitors, or the undone task leaves complications of its own if left to fall into a critical state.”

Small business owners, David explains, usually enjoy what they do, so they focus on what they like, rather than tedious administrative or documentation tasks that have nothing to do with why the owner went into business by themselves in the first place.

Fulfilling Work

“I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes people don’t see it, until an outsider points it out and holds up a mirror to what’s going on. The most important tasks should be done at the beginning of a day or week, so you get them out of the way, and enjoy the rest of the day or week to concentrate on what fulfills you the most.”

Also time spent doing a simple activity like recording a number of sales leads from the week before, may take half an hour or so out of a day, but this time spend will help your sales team enormously in the future, and will give you a much better chance of chasing the leads and turning them into concrete sales.

Tracking Sales Leads

“You won’t believe the number of companies, even more medium-sized outfits,” David confides, “that don’t have a reliable way to record potentially interested customers or sales leads. Details scribbled on to a piece of paper can be lost so easily, whereas a system to record and retrieve information like this at the right time can improve your profits massively!”

Time management is just one way that David can help businesses become more successful. For more information on how business growth expert David Hardisty can help grow small businesses including yours, go to http://davidhardisty.com. You can also find David on Facebook HERE.

Mortgage Advice After The Crash

December 8th, 2015

Hi Alex here again,

I hope you are well, although today I am going to talk on a subject guaranteed to make many people fell ill! Mortgages!

After the financial crash of 2008, you couldn’t get a mortgage for love nor money. The whole financial system ground to a halt as banks and institutions became horribly risk averse. The problem was that, after the sub-prime outrage in the U.S, no-one could be sure what was and wasn’t good debt.  Having worked supplying the Investment Banks, I knew something was coming. I remember sitting with a Project Manager in Canary Wharf and being told his bank had made close to $1 billion on derivatives in just one month. His comment scared the willies out of me…this is what he said.

The Flip Side

“Someone must be holding the other end of the stick”.

Now what actually happened was that the original sub-prime debt was wrapped up in derivatives and futures that became ever more complex. They were then prodictised a few more times until it was pretty uch impossible to tell what the actual basic underlying loan was. The banks got in to a buying frenzy thinking the market could only go up, then as manufacturing and services slowed down…all of a sudden, those borderline mortgages in the U.S started to default.

Slowly at first, then more rapidly, once people realised that a lot of this “bad debt” was wrapped up in the derivative and furtures products traders had paid top price for, the whole system began to unravel. The price of derivatives and furtures started to go south and banks profits went with them. The knock-on effect we all now know and understand, suffice to say it was bad.

Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS to name but a few. They were all holding the wrong end of the stick, had invested heavily in the products containing the sub-prime mortgages and the whole bubble went pop. Once this happened banks refused to even lend to each other, so what chance did a mere mortal who wanted a mortgage have.

Suddenly every person applying for a mortgage was labelled “sub-prime” and the financial system ground to a halt.

So, that’s today’s financial markets history lesson!

Global Impact

freshmortgages-uk-5-1024x379But, what about the impact it had on the home mortgage market across the world? Mortgage expert Russell Sanders explains.

“The market for new mortgages totally collapsed, no-one was prepared to lend. It was tough getting mortgages already agreed finally signed off. Every lending was deemed high risk and many had onerous extra clauses and charges imposed on them” he said. “However, if you looked at it from the Banks point of view, every single mortgage loan on their books looked exposed at that time”.

Why was that?

“Simple, no job in the world was secure, so everyone was a risk”, his visibly winces at the thought, remembering what were awfully hard times. “I had zero chance of getting a new mortgage application through for nearly two months. It crippled my business at the time. And, as an independent mortgage advisor, I was the person people turn  ed to when they had been cold shouldered by the Banks and Finance Houses”.

“I was getting two or three referrals every day”, he exclaims, “That was simply because people were desperate. They had house purchases in process and had seen mortgage offers withdrawn. There wasn’t a new mortgage offer to be got from anywhere, and, as I said, somewere even being withdrawn after most offers were re-assessed for risk”.

Were you able to help people?

Compliance

“Some, but the amount of hoops that had to be jumped through were many. Every “i” had to be dotted and “t” crosssed. Compliance became far, far tighter and lending could only be authorised when it was deemed risk was negligible. I would think that on most mortgage offers in normal times there is about a 90% chance that everything will run smoothly. In 2008, the odds were changed considerably. So, banks and lenders were ub er cautious”.

What’s it like today?

“Well, amazingly we are seven years past the crash, doesn’t seem like it, does it?”

No, it certainly doesn’t.

Recovery

“Risk assessment is far more relaxed now. The economy has recovered well and lending is much freer now. Obviously, money is cheap at the moment because interest rates remain very low. This means mortgages, generally are easy to pay. Rate rises would appear to be on then horizon, but I think they will be modest, which should keep the market moving freely. The only major issue now is that compliance is tighter. The sub prime debacle means banks have to properly means test and ensure affordability. Certainly when lending was very free in the 00’s affordability had become a secondary consideration. It was lend at all cost and rake in the profits. That lust though came to haunt many of the institutions”, he smiles.

Do you see a return to the bad times?

“Inevitably, the last crash melts into a faded memory and the greed takes over again and the derivatives get ever more complex and the rive for profits intensifies. It will happen again, even though regulation is tighter than ever”.

That is a sad thought.

“It’s cyclical, as are the economies of the world, but for now, it’s a good time to get a mortgage. There are some really good deals around on two year fixed rates so you are protected against the coming rise. Plus as an indpendent mortgage broker in hertfordshire I can offer you full access to the entire market – well…I had to get one plug in”, he laughs.

I was going to give you a plug anyway Russell :)

Russell Sanders is an Independent Mortgage Advisor based in Berkhamsted. He offers mortages for purchase, second home and buy to rent with access to all lending institutions. You can also find him on Facebook here.

Photography In Leafy Hertfordshire

April 9th, 2015

Hey Alex here, how are you?

There is no doubt I am an absolute sucker for a beautiful picture. I can sit there and marvel for hours at a brilliant bright image. I love bright light and bright colours and the way they contrast. So, it was with great anticipation that I went along to spend some time with Michelle Wiggett of Michelle Wiggett Photography in the beautiful suburbs of Hertfordshire, just North of London.

Michelle-Wiggett-Photography-ExampleMichelle lives and works around St Albans, the stunning Roman city 25 miles due North of the capital.

She makes a wonderful coffee and we sit down to chat.

I’d looked in some detail at Michelle’s work before I went along and I genuinely love her pictures. I first met her when she was the photographer at my friend Derek Armson’s wedding. Derek is an SEO in the same Town and was marrying long term partner Alison so I was in a psoition to see Michelle at work – close hand.

So, I ask her about her style.

“Well you saw me in action at Derek and Alison’s wedding”, she laughs, “what did you think?”

“Impressive”, I retort.

“That was a fabulous day”, she says, “the light was amazing and they were a great couple to photograph. They were so relaxed and obviously in love, they made it easy for me to look good to be fair”.

But your style was impressive nonetheless?

“Thank you,” she giggles an infectious little laugh, “you simply have to control what is going on otherwise it’s complete mayhem and you just don’t get the pictures you want or that the bride and groom want. I always have a second photograopher with me as well. I was very fortunate to have met a number of seriously good professionals over the years and we help each other out by being second lens. Paul, my hubby, was with me that day. But, my style, yes, I guess fun but firm”, she smiles again.

I can obviously see you love doing wedding photography, but what are your other favourite areas?

Michelle_Child_Photography“I’ve got to small children of my own and they provide so much joy in our lives, so I’d have to say children’s photography. Weddings are fun and I love to see the joy in people’s faces, but when you work with children, that joy and laughter is just so amazingly special. It’s a joy borne out of a carefree world, the emotions are so string in children and when they laugh you simply have to laugh along. And, it’s incredible what they find funny. It must be wonderful to be able to find such joy in life. Shame the system sort of drums it out of us as we get older isn’t it?”

I can’t disagree there Michelle.

“Just look at this happy little fellow, not a care in the world. It makes for such a truly fabulous picture. I defy anyone to look at that particular picture and not at least raise an eyebrow. It’s just wonderful and so full of happy emotions”.

Would say that emotion is the key to a great picture?

“Oh, absolutely,” she says admanatly, “there’s no doubt that capturing the emotion in the split second is the essence of what makes a good picture truly great. There was one picture I got at Alison and Derek’s, the one during the speeches. And something quite controversial was said, and the look between the two of them was pure gold. They now have that picture on their wall because as far as they’re concenred it sums up the real essence of what their relationship is all about. Being able to capture that and save it for all time is truly priceless”.

You can actually see that picture in Michelle’s promo video below!

Thanks Michelle it was brilliant chatting and looking at some of your amazing pictures.

If you’d like to see more of Michelle’s pictures you can find her website at www.MichelleWiggettPhotography.co.uk and if you’d like to check out her childrens photographer click this link.

Next Post

 

 

Doing Recruitment Properly

January 6th, 2015

Hello Again,

digital_recruitment_ipToday I want to talk about a recruitment company that is taking the market by storm and look at the reasons why. having spent much of my working life recruiting IT staff for the banking world, I think I know what it takes to be successful in this game. However, I was surprised by what I saw when I chatted to the Guys at Intelligent People in St Albans in the U.K. Here’s what I found!

I talked to Doug Bates who is one of the co-owners and Directors at IP. An interesting character who is “into” cycling big time. In his early 40’s he cuts a fit and dashing figure. The thing that stands out though, is his total enthusiasm for what he does.

Being The Best

“I love cycling and trying to beat my best times, I’m ultra competitive”, he enthuses. “I’m exactly the same with the business, I want to…no I have to be the best”!

So I asked Doug about the business, how it started and how it evolved. It’s an interesting story, so get a cup of tea and settle down!

“Chris Mason is the co-owner. He and I met working together at a coprporate recruitment company back in 1999. We were doing the sameas you as it happens, recruiting IT staff in to the City”.

Indeed, they were wild times. Huge bonuses and I was placing the “rocket scientist” programmers that builtthe derivatives trading systems that ended up getting us in to so much trouble. They were heady times. Indeed, I remember talking to a project manager at one major (and I mean major) Bank who told me they had made nearly $1 billion on derivatives in just one quarter. He said to me,

“If we made this much, someone else MUST be holding the other end of the stick”, and so it proved. That “stick” was full of useless sub prime mortgages and the crash duly happened.

Going Alone

Back to Doug,”So Chris and I were working away making all the money for someone else. One Friday after work, sitting in a pub in the West End, we decided, after a few pints, that we could do this for ourselves and keep all of the money”.

At breakfast on Monday, they decided that it wasn’t just beer talk and the concept of Intelligent People was born.

“We served our “gardening leave” and we got going. There wasn’t any pomp or ceremony. We rented a small office in St Albans (as we both lived there) and hit the phones. It took a little while to get stability but essentially we just worked really hard and built a business from the ground up”.

Having done this myself I know how viciously hard it is to build a recruitment agency from zero. At least when I started I had some investment Chris and Doug had nothing apart from some savings, so very little safety net. They had to bill from day one.

But after a couple of years, the gloss had gone a little.

City Doldrums

“So, like you, we got a bit fed up with the City”. Doug commented. “In all honesty they were so far up their own backsides it was untrue. We were only good to them as long as we could supply and we really just didn’t like the people much. There was also the added complicaion of many of the banks moving to the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) model which complicated our lives and made suplly so much more difficult”.

Another Friday night in the pub and a heart-to-heart that lasted until well past midnight resulted in a change of direction.

Doug takes up the story. “We wanted to enjoy our work again. There was no doubt we’d both fallen out of love with the City. So, we set out some parameters that we wanted in a new market and set about searching for it. We wanted to be able to deal directly with line management, we wanted nice people (as far as possible), we wanted something with a technical slant to it and finally something that would be a growth market”.

Digital Recruitment

After much soul searching and market research, they arroved at Digital Marketing. Now it is fair to say, ten or eleven years ago, this was very much a fledgling market. Areas such as search engine optimisation was in its infancy and online product management had really not developed. PPC (pay per click advertising) was new and few companies had yet to truly embrace online marketing.

“It was a gamble that’s for sure”, smiles Doug, “we took a big gamble. But we just had this feeling that the move to eCommerce was inexorable, even if people weren’t comfortable using credit cards online at the time. I guess we felt the technology that drives the online world had reached a tipping point and we were beyond the point of no return”.

Interesting.

Transition

“We didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though, we gradually transitted over to the new market. A year after making the decision we were stillplacing people with some of the Banks, so the full transition took about 18 months. And, during that time we saw incredible growth in the market which we knew then justfified our decision to change”.

Nowadays Intelligent People are still in St Albans and work as one of the U.K’s leading digital headhunter as well as specialising in head of product recruitment and many other digital recruitment disciplines.

“We preach to our staff that excellence of service is what stood us apart in those early days and that we should provide outstanding and outrageous service to both clients and candidates. Indeed, we have managed some of our candidate’s careers for over ten years now. Our customers like what they get from us so they keep coming back…and that is very gratifying”.

You can also find Intelligent People on Facebook

Here’s Doug talking about motivating your staff, a good watch.

Domestic Heating

 

Something New In Domestic Heating

November 20th, 2014

Here at FVL we like to champion things that are new and have a genuine benefit for the good people of the United Kingdom. And, I think it’s fair to say, that over the last five years or so, we have really got it “in the neck” when it comes to heating our homes.

The Cost Of Heating

domestic heatingIt’s also fair to say we’ve had some pretty nasty winters in the last few years and…as the cost of gas and fuel generally has risen out of all proportion, keeping warm in winter has become an expensive business. Even as crude prices fall on world markets, gas prices have remained high. I mean, what are industry regulators for? O.K, I won’t get started, that’s another subject for another day!

Anyway, I was intrigued to be chatting to a friend of mine who has started a new job with a company called Hassle Free Boilers. They are part of the Ecovision group and their mantra is to provide renewables heating energy for the consumer. They do this via the provision of Biomass energy and specific new heat pump technology.

Hassle Free Boilers

That’s all well and good, but what about this new division called Hassle Free Boilers, what’s that all about?

Well, it’s a simple idea and one I believe they have “nicked” from the Canadians. I’m not sure what the population of Canada will think about this, but I visist Canada quite a lot and I think they’re quite benign. I’m sure they would see this as Canada helping the world reduce its carbon footprint!

But let’s be serious for a second because the energy conundrum is one that does genuinely threaten our home. And, with the current state of technology, if we totally mess up Planet Earth, we have nowhere else to go, despite what Interstellar might have to say about it.

So, what is this new business model?

Well, like most good ideas, it’s incredibly simple.

A New Gas Boiler?

Normally, when you finally have to buy a new gas boiler (yes, you wait for it to break down completely), you would ring a plumber or British Gas or a heating company and get quotes for a new boiler. That’s when the first shock hits home. How much? Oh, and then there is installation on top of that, yes….oh and a complete systems check and radiator system drain and check…and valve check. O.K, how much is all that?

How many thousands of pounds? Let’s face it, to replace your boiler, get a new one installed and a complete heating system health check is going to cost at least £5,000….at the very least.

Then you have your gas supply and annual maintenance agreement to pay on top. The cost is frightening.

So, what HFB have done is to firstly get an agreement with advanced boiler supplier Vaillant. They have then used their purchasing power to source gas at prices chaper than the mainstream suppliers can source in the U.K. Then, and this is really novel, they pass those savings on to their customers. Jeepers, a heating company giving value for money!!! Whatever next?

A New Way Of Doing Things

And, now comes the magic!

Having got those deals in place they offer an unbeatable package to their ever growing customer base.

What do you get?

All of the above, so new Vaillant combi boiler (system or heat only), full installation and system check for the princely sum of….nothing. Nada, Zilch, Zip. That’s right, nothing to pay up front.

All the costs are included in your monthly service agreement. So, you get a new boiler and a service agreement for just £36 per month. Amazing, no wonder the Canadians were happy. Add to this gas supplied at a discount of 40% versus British Gas, EDF Mann, Scottish Power et al and you have one incredibly cost effective deal.

In all honesty, it’s no wonder Hassle Free Boilers are gaining so much ground in the U.K heating and power supply market. And, there’s something else as well. And this is quite remarkable, their customers are happy! When was the last time you heard happy customers crow about their gas supplier? I can’t remember!

You can find Hassle Free Boilers by clicking the following link:- www.HassleFreeBoilers.Com or you can find them on Facebook here

And…here’s a video of what it’s all about!

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