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  • Why buy, shop and work with small businesses Jan 4, 2021

    Small businesses are everywhere around us in our lives, yet when it comes to buying a product or selecting a service, many people choose to overlook them in favour of chain stores and large organisations. The internet has also made it very easy to buy almost anything from all over the globe, with the likes of Jeff Bezos amassing vast fortunes from the e-commerce market. Yet small and local businesses are at the heart of our communities and choosing to use them has many advantages over selecting large and commercial suppliers.

    In this time of crisis, it is more important for communities to show their support than ever, and here are 5 of the reasons why we should all do so.

    Boost your local economy

    Prospering local communities are created and sustained by prospering local businesses.Recent research (1) shows that for every £1 spent with a local supplier, this is worth £1.76 to the local economy, but if that £1 is spent outside that area, it is only worth 36p to that community. When you buy local, much of that revenue gets recycled in that economy as those businesses will themselves use neighbourhood shops, services and companies. When your local businesses are thriving, your community, with all its linked economic and social relationships, becomes more vibrant. Public services and amenities are improved as more tax revenues are raised, house prices increase and the general well-being of where you live goes up too. If you choose to use a chain store or a faceless organisation, all those benefits are lost.

    Keep and create local jobs

    When you buy from and use small businesses you create and sustain jobs in your community. Small, local operations are collectively the largest employers in the UK and are critical in making your area grow and thrive. When you go local, you not only help to keep a business open, but you are also helping them to employ people. Again, the employees will spend some of their wages locally too, so they’re also keeping people in jobs. So why you might be looking at a slightly cheaper option from a big store, supplier or something online, keep that firmly in mind – by choosing local, you’re helping make your community prosper.

    Building and sustaining communities

    Strong small businesses help to define a community and give it a unique character. These operations are owned by people living locally – your neighbours and your friends. They are invested in where they live and its future prospects, just as you are. When high streets are full of unique shops and businesses not only are they far more pleasant places to live near but they generate wealth and drive tourism, which also brings further revenue to your area. This vibrancy also acts as a catalyst for strong community spirit and identity. Thriving local businesses interact with the people where they are – they’re the companies sponsoring your neighbourhood charities and kids football teams among many other things!

    Environmental Sustainability

    While going local is better for your community, it is also better for the planet too. If you shop for food at independent grocers, bakers and butchers, it is likely that the produce is sourced near you – which means that as well as supporting local farmers, there will be less transport, less packaging and it is probably fresher too, with less use of preservatives. Small businesses are normally within walking distance or have easy access to public transport so using them means less air pollution and traffic. And while products and services can be cheaper abroad, consider the impact of shipping, packaging and the accompanying carbon footprint that is generated, and also that cheap products and services from overseas can sometimes be produced with less than ethical working conditions.

    Better Service

    Although there are always exceptions to the rule, it is extremely likely you will get a stronger and more bespoke customer service by using a small business. They are usually far more involved and hands-on with their customers, as they have a heavy personal stake in the business. They need to create and adapt their service or product to the varying needs of their local customers so are usually more flexible; national sales plans or rules are perhaps not so set in stone. They’ve normally more discretion to do deals and reward customers as they see fit rather than the templated “multi-buy” offers you might hear from larger organisations, normally involving selling you stuff you don’t want! Should something go wrong or if you are unhappy with something, then it will be far easier to speak to the person you dealt with when you bought your product or service, as opposed to forever waiting on the line to speak to a customer service department (often based abroad) who will likely have no idea who you are, while chances are they’ll read their responses off a pre-prepared corporate script. Get to know your local small business and they’ll always be ready to help and advise you while giving you a great deal.

    Ways to support your local small business

    Always think small and local first – sometimes you will need to use large companies or organisations but look for the neighbourhood angle if you can! Even when you don’t choose to buy from a local business, you can still support their work by following them on social media and share great offers, sales or news with your friends, colleagues and family. Choosing the local option will not only get you brilliant deals, wonderful product knowledge and excellent customer care, but you’ll be helping to make your community’s future bright too.

    Muve Media & Marketing is a small media and marketing consultancy based in Dartford, Kent. We pride ourselves on adaptability and have worked with some amazing startups and local businesses as well as national and global businesses. If you need help with anything marketing or media related please do get in touch or connect for a chat if you think our businesses may be able to help each other.

    (1) LM3online | Calculate local economic impact and sustainability
  • Launching a business after lockdown - 5 big lessons in 5 short months Dec 9, 2020

    Tori Lancaster launched her business Book and Play, a children's book subscription service, 5 months ago from an idea that was sparked during the first lockdown.

    Here are 5 lessons she has learnt along the way.

    Back in the first lockdown, I painted my shed. I cleared it, cleaned it, popped a very old sofa in and it became a brand new play area for my little one. Our favourite thing to do was to snuggle up and read a new book together, this sparked plenty of play ideas and kept us busy for the rest of the week. I ended up spending a lot of time browsing for the best books online, and looking for a great value book subscription that we could join up to, one that would send a brilliant book and some simple play ideas each month – I couldn’t find one, so, Book and Play was born!

    Since then it’s been a huge but highly enjoyable learning curve to get a company to grow from an idea into a real living and breathing business, and there are 5 key things I’ve learned along the way.

    I hope these can help anyone else who has a brand new brand, or even just an idea for one!

    1) Read! All you can, from all sorts of authors. As a lifelong book lover, books were an obvious place to start and there are some brilliant ones out there that range from laugh out loud memoir style, to nuts and bolts business advice. In particular I really enjoyed ‘Lost and Founder’ by Rand Fishkin which is a fantastic mix of both.

    2) Ask for help! Not an easy one, but there are absolutely loads of really helpful people out there. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for their views or expertise, and join up to some social media groups for easy Q&A sessions and moral support too. It can be really useful to talk to someone facing the same choices or hurdles as you!

    3) Make sure it’s something you love, as that passion will make the late nights a lot easier! If there’s something that really drives you at the core of your idea, suddenly work doesn’t seem so much like work anymore. If you’re a Pinterest fan, creating a board can make it all seem more real, and help document goals and achievements on the way.

    4) Every day is a school day – but it’s not about sitting at a desk anymore! You can learn a lot through podcasts, radio shows, webinars, magazines, Youtube shows – there’s a whole host of ways to get information now, where and when it suits you. You can find a daily or weekly slot to gradually build up knowledge, whether it’s a podcast on the way back from the school run, or a magazine in the bath.

    5) Keep it simple, one small step at a time. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with ideas and information and the endless questions and thoughts in those first few weeks. It can make it easier to focus on just one platform, one product, one survey and then take it from there. Dedicate regular time slots and little and often really builds up.

    Starting a business in this very strange year has been a real roller coaster, and I’m very grateful to all those who have supported my small business, and I look forward to supporting other small businesses this Christmas. Now more than ever I appreciate all the effort that goes into them. I hope these tips are helpful in some small way to anyone out there thinking of doing the same, and beyond all this I would say ‘good luck’!

    Tori Lancaster
    Book and Play Ltd
  • The perfect winter project to help combat loneliness Dec 9, 2020

    The loneliness epidemic that people in the UK, particularly vulnerable older people, are facing, isn’t a new issue. But it is one that has been exacerbated and intensified by lockdown and the restrictions that have been put in place across the country for the majority of the year, giving thousands of us an insight into what real loneliness feels like.

    One of the positives to come out of the global crisis is that many of us have realised the true importance of friendship and of family. Living through Covid-19 has made us redefine our values and think about being more kind, more grateful and more supportive – to our communities, to our key workers, to strangers - but in particular, to the vulnerable, older people in our lives that have undoubtedly needed more support during this challenging time.

    For concerned relatives, there are ways to make life changing differences to older people experiencing loneliness this winter. One way is to encourage our older loved ones to write their memoirs, providing a perfect project to help occupy their time and give them some company if they are feeling isolated.

    With time to think about life experiences and more time in which to document them, it’s a great way for them to look back and reflect, to take their mind off what is going on in the world and to give them a positive project on which to focus during these cold and long winter months.

    A LifeBook autobiography or memoir is an engaging, therapeutic project that captures the incredible stories of their life and their history. A permanent record of their life that is preserved forever for their family, in beautiful, handmade books, that are created from listening carefully to the recollections of their life, their memoirs.

    Since the start of May, LifeBook has seen triple digital growth with demand surging from those who seek to write their life stories. Perhaps not a surprise given that the first lockdown this year drove an 88% surge in calls to the Age UK advice line and a 300% rise to their befriending services (1). It shows that older people are searching for ways to meaningfully occupy their time and embarking on a LifeBook project has been a powerful tonic to the loneliness and isolation that many have and will continue to feel during the ongoing winter lockdowns and restrictions.

    “Following the dreadful year the country and indeed the world has gone through – lockdowns, restrictions of movement and disruption to normal family life, I consider now the ideal time for anyone to embark on a winter project with LifeBook. Everyone has a story to tell and I would say to anyone who has thought about putting their life stories into print, don’t think about it too much, just do it and do it with LifeBook, you will be well rewarded.”

    Alan Beckett, LifeBook author

    Each person that works with LifeBook to capture their stories will get to have regular conversations with an interviewer than is chosen just for them and will get to receive instalments of their book to review and amend as they see fit. For some, just the regular interviews and a quick read of the latest instalment of their book is enough. For others, it encourages them to pick up the phone and laugh with family and friends about memories and events, or to research major world events from their life, or to bring out the old family photo albums to jog some memories.

    Due to the many restrictions across the globe, most authors have written their life stories this year by interacting with the LifeBook team over video call. This is facilitated entirely by LifeBook from start to finish, which includes sending a paid SIM enabled tablet so the author doesn’t need access to Wi-Fi or routers, with the video calling app already installed, detailed instruction provided and a project manager allocated to help set up each video call. Making it a simple and easy process for even the most anxious of technophobes, with the added benefit of being able to keep the tablet and access video calling for the duration of the project. Meaning many authors have also improved their interactions and felt more connected with family and friends during that time too.

    This has been the best way to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, but as soon as its possible LifeBook will revert to arranging local interviewers for each author wherever they are in the world so they can enjoy face to face companionship with their interviewer.

    It’s not just new customers LifeBook are helping during this time either. To help tackle loneliness during lockdown and local restrictions, they are also calling all of their old customers to say hi, to make sure they are ok and to simply have a chat.

    As we approach Christmas, a hugely evocative time of year, more than 850,000 older people could be spending the festive period alone (2). Gifting an older family member or loved one a LifeBook project will give them the opportunity to reflect, to reminisce, to explore their memories, to record and celebrate their life stories while helping them to occupy their time and embrace those long, dark evenings by focusing on a positive project with happiness.

    LifeBook – the perfect winter project.
  • 4 practical ways to use Blockchain in your business Dec 7, 2020

    So, blockchain is going mainstream. The shared digital ledger technology, invented back in 2008 to underpin Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is no longer the preserve of crypto enthusiasts, cyber-geeks and economic libertarians. In an increasingly digitised and globalised world, business are faced with growing problems – long and complex supply chains, data storage, transactions, payments, fraud, security and privacy being just some of them. Blockchain could be the answer to all these issues, and the world’s biggest companies are now racing to adopt the tech in their operations. It seems to be no longer a matter of “if” blockchain will totally revolutionise business processes for everyone, but “when”.

    Here are 4 ways you can use blockchain in your business.

    Payments & Money Transfers

    Facilitating these was a major reason why blockchain was invented and it has got enormous potential for business processes. Firstly, with all transactions are transparent on the virtual ledger, all parties have shared access to the same records with no concealment of data. There is no longer any need to reconcile separately held documents and records (such as invoices and billing statements), so payments can be made almost instantly with no paperwork delays. The tech is not based in a single country, so payments can be made across borders just as quickly. Not only is it faster, but it will save you money too. Using blockchain means transactions go directly from buyer to seller (and vice versa), so you don’t need to go through a third-party middleman financial institution. The numerous fees – origination fees, transfer fees, receiving fees (and if your business is international, banks will usually take a percentage on foreign exchange fees too) you currently have to pay don’t apply when you use blockchain.

    Security & Data Storage

    Blockchain tech has excellent applications for the security and data storage aspect of your business. Over the last decade many companies have opted to solve their storage issues with organisations like Google and Microsoft Azure, but these can be costly options and their highly-centralised nature have also led to security concerns. There have been some high-profile incidents where hackers have compromised systems and stolen data. It is a massive concern for companies all over the world, with the extent of the issue being revealed in a 2020 report from Sophos (1) - 70% of respondents had experienced a security issue in the year before the report was published and 96% were worried about their cloud security. Blockchain can store data far more cheaply than these centralised platforms and the highly decentralised nature of the tech means hackers need to break through all parts of the chain simultaneously to gain access, an incredibly difficult task. The deep cryptography of blockchain also means the sensitive financial and personal data of the parties involved is protected to a higher degree than with traditional systems. You, your clients and partners can feel safe with blockchain.

    Supply Chain Management

    This is one of the biggest day to day challenges facing every business – your organisation might rely on a long string of suppliers or providers and you may not know who they all are. In some instances that makes it very hard for companies to know where exactly their products originate from, which can open the door to unethical or fraudulent practices. Similarly, should issues with product quality, lost components, poor paperwork or old-fashioned human error occur, it can be a difficult and time-consuming process to identity the problems and eliminate them. Blockchain’s shared digital ledger tech means everything is chronologically documented, transparent and time-stamped. You can track anything you need and locate and rectify issues very quickly. Quality assurance will leap and you’ll save money too, both with speedier admin processes and as payments directly transfer you can stop paying sundry admin fees to banks. Supply chain disputes will be a thing of the past as every supplier and provider can view the same details on the same ledger. Easy provenance tracking also helps to eliminate fraud and forgery.

    Smart Contracts

    Practically all business will need to contend with contracts at some stage – making them and abiding by them is part and parcel of the workings of any organisation. Doing so is a major burden on everyone’s time and all the normal accounting and verification processes can delay actually doing your business significantly. They can also be costly, as you normally need extensive paperwork, and the necessity of using the correct legal terminology and following legislative requirements means a lawyer is usually essential. Blockchain allows self-executing contracts (known as “smart contracts) to be created. These are fully automated; specific agreed terms and conditions between buyers and sellers are inputted on blockchain codes at the outset. When those conditions are met, services are given, products provided or payments are triggered. This means that two or more parties can enter into a binding agreement without needing to involve a lawyer. All agreements and conditions are traceable and completely accountable. Should any changes to the contract be required or desired, these can only be made with the consent of all parties. Everything is documented chronologically and is time-stamped, and once information is recorded, it cannot be retrospectively altered or deleted. Blockchain makes the contract process infinitely less complex, faster and cheaper too – helping to streamline your business operations.

    Final Thoughts

    Blockchain is one of the most promising new technology trends to follow. It may have been invented to facilitate Bitcoin but it has evolved into so much more, and there will no doubt be further revolutionary applications uncovered as the technology is developed further. With numerous industries including tech (obviously!), telecoms, pharmaceuticals, finance, banking, forex and manufacturing driving more widespread adoption of the tech. Have a close look at the challenges your business faces, it may well be there’s a way you can use blockchain to overcome them.

    (1) Sophos Report: The State of Cloud Security 2020 - NSS