Huddersfield MMB Lunch Club Round-up
Last Quarters MMB Private Lunch Club, Huddersfield – June 2019
Topic: Taking calculated risks – is there a secret formula?
In the second instalment of MMB’s recently-launched Huddersfield event, business leaders were invited to Lindley’s Manor House to discuss what risks they faced during unpredictable economic climate – and how they are overcoming them.
Heading up the table talk was Katie Mallinson, managing director of Scriba PR, who was able to draw on her own experience of risk – having set up the agency in 2013 – as well as seek crucial insight from some of the town’s key decision-makers…
Welcoming attendees, Katie opened up the floor to discuss the elements of risk and overwhelming external pressures SMEs faced during unpredictable times.
Referring to an article from Statista, which listed the top 10 key risks facing global organisations in 2019, Katie revealed how these included supply chain vulnerability, cyber-crime and economic difficulties, as well as competitive threats, the impact of tech and even natural disasters.
But which risks resonated with the business owners and leaders at the June lunch club?
Abbie Coleman, founder of MMB and magazine editor, said: “I think on a local level we can’t ignore business rates. After speaking with SMEs across the region, they’re becoming a real concern, particularly the sheer volume of what they’d have to pay out if they grew – it would be astronomical.”
Danielle Firth, Heritage Yorkshire’s general manager, added: “I do wonder how some independent business owners cope because some pay as much in rates, as they do in rent. I think it comes down to the industry, but these changes to business rates and relief – which came in a few years ago – have changed the game for so many people.”
Moving on to how small businesses were using alternative methods in order to minimise risk and reduce operational outgoings, Applied Digital Marketing’s managing director Steve Sykes and Annabelle Hill, director of Connection Furniture, discussed using flexible hours options, and tax partner Rachel Engwell underlined how her organisation, Grant Thornton, has been offering co-working spaces for start-ups to save on costs.
From that very topic, the debate led onto how managing a new kind of office culture – such as introducing flexi-time and remote working – could also help combat the skills shortage.
“This is definitely something businesses are concerned about,” said Tracey Hopkins, finance and operations director at Howarths. “We’ve found that talent tends to move to bigger companies – outside of their home town or city – which means SMEs are struggling to compete.
“However, by using their HR strategy more effectively, and concentrating on the things people care about, organisations can add value and retain talent.”
In agreement, Andy McCaul, director at The Bigger Boat, added: “Money is a problem to a point for people, but once you’re in a role other factors come into play. Our biggest challenge has been around how we compete with the likes of Leeds and the vacuum of a big city pull. However, we’ve found that by concentrating on getting the right in people and balancing what they want from their work, that provides a stable team.”
Speaking about her experience of adjusting Applegate Properties’ HR strategy, managing director Amy Wray explained: “We highlighted how autonomy and working differently provided for a nice place to work, and that made a huge difference to the calibre of staff we attracted. It took time, but it was such a worthwhile process.”
Having looked into different ways in order to manage the risk of a talent shortage, Katie asked the group if they felt they took many gambles in their businesses. Or were they averse to delving into the ‘unknown’?
“I don’t personally think it has to be one or the other,” said Katie. “On the spot, I’d say I was risk-averse but someone else might say I’m a risk-taker because I’ve set up my own business. It’s about how you interpret it.”
Michelle Crowther, marketing and business development director at Crowther Chartered Accountants, added: “Yes, it’s about understanding what you’re willing to lose. For me, I feel I’m a risk-taker because I go with my gut and make decisions.”
Meanwhile, Amy commented: “I believe the element of risk can change depending on your circumstances. Since having a baby and a mortgage, my commitments have altered slightly so I’m probably more likely to look at calculated risks over unpredictability.”
The group then questioned whether risk comes down to the industry. For example, Steve Sykes believes what others might feel are gambles, are everyday decisions in marketing because the profession has to continuously test things in order to innovate. Annabelle agreed, commenting on how they push new boundaries with product design all the time in order to have a standout market presence, so they too could be viewed as risk-seekers by some.
Emma Eastwood, Foremost Ltd’s managing director, explained further: “Particularly in HR, you have to take calculated risks. I always say to company bosses who have someone in their business they need to let go, that the bigger risk is keeping them or having to go to tribunal.
“It also depends on the processes and regulations each organisation has in place. For example, legal practices will have different legislation to other industries, and – with GDPR now introduced – there are some risks organisations simply can’t afford to take.”
As business owners too, the group agreed how those who employ staff have to understand the importance of delegating roles and therefore relinquishing control. But can that also be a gamble?
“I think you need staff buy-in because they’re the people who are on the frontline,” said Andy McCaul. “It could be more detrimental if management are the ones making the decisions but aren’t carrying out the work. Having others involved means they own it and, yes, it’s a different process but decision-makers across the board can actually help your business and make employees feel valued.”
Tracey Hopkins continued: “Leading on from that, it’s also important to have a strategy in place in order to structure decision-making – such as an annual budget meeting. Such processes can really set the tone and control risk.”
Returning to the top 10 list, the group moved onto how cyber-security was a huge concern for most businesses regardless of size.
“It can cause so many issues, especially with people giving away personal information via social media,” said Emma Eastwood. “There are savvier ways to steal data now and it’s a minefield to navigate. If you’re a small business that doesn’t have the capacity to implement the best security, it could be costly.”
Rachel Engwell said: “I agree, cyber-security is such a high risk in the present day and affects everyone. Leaked data and data breaches can be catastrophic for businesses.”
Andy McCaul added: “You can give yourself peace of mind with data protection if you have the right processes because there’s so much to think about now. If you have the correct tech in place, employees can work from anywhere and business owners can be safe in the knowledge that everyone understands the internal policies, and keeps information secure. We have the phrase of: ‘loose lips, sink ships!’”
Having spoken to a number of other business owners ahead of the lunch club, Katie revealed how another prevalent risk was the fear of the legislative repercussions of non-compliance, commenting: “Given the nature of a pressured environment, businesses are becoming more stretched and, as a result, being more over-cautious to the detriment of their own growth and their staff’s development.
“Some end up taking no risks at all because they’re so afraid of what might happen but the danger here is that they stop making commercially-savvy decisions or thinking about the bigger picture.”
Rachel Engwell further added: “Employers worry and become more risk-averse when external, economic and market factors impact – Brexit being a big example. When people are more relaxed, it seems easier to make decisions or take risks.”
Abbie Coleman added: “I’ve certainly found this on a personal level around franchise growth. It’s fantastic to be able to expand because the demand is there, but in the same breath it’s hard to pass on something that’s your baby, to someone else. You don’t see franchisees every day but you have to let them do it their way – there’s a fear factor there.”
And, when likening these factors to how people work – many owners in the room found they had a mixture of people who stayed with the firm for several years because they like that security and steady income, whereas others were keen to fly the nest. However, are long-term employees viewed as being too cautious also?
“I don’t think so at all. If people want to stay in their roles for a long time, work set hours and clock-off should that be a problem? If they are reliable, there is room for people like that in an organisation,” added Rachel Roberts, managing partner of Stowe Family Law.
Michelle Crowther commented: “Thank god for people who want security too, we need more of them in our industries. It’d be unfair to label them as lacking in ambition or risk because it comes down to their perception of happiness, and that differs from person to person.”
Moving on the conversation, Amy Wray commented on how there can often be greater risks for staff that don’t have any time away from their jobs. Louise Woollard, owner of Louise Woollard Financial, agreed, saying: “That’s been a big thing for me. I’ve made a point of making sure that at certain times I don’t check emails and that’s had a massive impact upon my happiness and business growth.”
Danielle Firth went on: “I’ve worked with people who take their jobs home with them and they constantly worry about things. I would hate to know that – as a manager – my staff were unhappy and I wasn’t doing anything about it.”
Bringing the two-hour discussion to a close, Katie concluded how people can often put themselves into categories – whether that’s risk-taker, risk-averse or risk-tolerant – but what’s equally, if not more important, is how a person deals with those situations. And, if they employ staff, how they can involve the team to help make key decisions in order to define how a business grows and survives during an unpredictable economic climate.
Following a fantastic afternoon and first-class food at the Manor House, MMB Private Lunch Club will return on 4 September at the same venue. The topic of resilience will be next on the agenda click here for more information. Attendance – costing £50 and including a two-course a la carte lunch – is by invitation only. To register your interest, email firstname.lastname@example.org.