MMB Lunch Club Huddersfield – December 2019

Posted: Sunday December 29 2019

By: Katie Mallinson

For the final Huddersfield-based MMB Private Lunch Club of 2019, a selection of mid-senior level decision makers from across the town – and surrounding area – were invited to discuss and debate the past 12 months and future plans for 2020.

MMB Lunch Club Huddersfield Write Up December 2019

For the final Huddersfield-based MMB Private Lunch Club of 2019, a selection of mid-senior level decision makers from across the town – and surrounding area – were invited to discuss and debate the past 12 months and future plans for 2020.

Led by MD of Scriba PR, Katie Mallinson, the informal event – again located in the luxurious setting of Manor House in Lindley – welcomed like-minded businesspeople to talk openly about the theme, in depth. Here’s how the afternoon unfolded…

Katie opened the event, explaining how the lunch clubs work, and how the previous three have given attendees the opportunity to share ideas and challenges, learn new things and network in a relaxed setting.

She introduced the topic and explained how it was a reflection on the past year, considering some of the biggest challenges that businesspeople may have faced, how they have been addressed/turned into opportunities and then looking ahead to 2020 – and what’s in store.

Katie advised that people would be able to contribute in terms of how they were seeking to handle any challenges that they could foresee in 2020, and that throughout the lunch there would be a selection of questions posed to the group, opening up the chance to debate.

Following the introduction of all parties in the room, Katie got the ball rolling – exploring some of the issues encountered in 2019.

And, looking back at articles from 2018, which proposed what the 2019 challenges would be, the four biggest things that companies were set to encounter were Brexit, disruption, cash, and big data.

She asked whether any of these had shown up in peoples’ businesses this year, or if the challenges had been very different.

Rachel Engwell, partner at Grant Thornton said: “Most of the conversations with my clients are linked to the topic of disruption – the thing that has been very clear is that we are all living with uncertainty.”

Looking at the topic of Brexit – and also the General Election including new party manifestos – she explained how from a tax perspective there could be fundamental changes that will certainly affect owner-managed businesses. These include the changes to rates on entrepreneurs relief (which could even double).

Louise Woollard, owner of Louise Woollard Financial, said: “The whole year has given people the opportunity to sit on their hands, whether it’s the markets or Brexit – people won’t make a big decision unless they have to. And the fact that things are being pushed further back now – that’s the challenge.”

Katie agreed but pointed out: “Only one client of Scriba’s has actually paused working with us during 2019 – all the others have carried on and taken the opposite view.”

Diana Rowatt, client services director at Force24, agreed, saying: “We have witnessed another cracking year, with so many new clients coming on board – people want great tech!”

Andy McCaul, managing director at The Bigger Boat added: “The fact is that we all just have to crack on and keep going.”

Fiona Hale, MD of CoolCare commented that the social care sector had been uncertain for years, saying: “From my perspective, recruitment has been the hardest part – finding the right decent and available people for the work is proving tricky.”

Andy agreed, but did comment that it is a lot easier to recruit now than it was ten years ago, due to the increase of various courses on offer, alongside development of networks in a growing business.

Katie had read an article about how organisations have been required to adapt in 2019, commenting: “Remote working is one of the trends that has been witnessed, which many employers have really taken on – along with the hiring of workers from a wide range of different backgrounds.”

Abbie said that it is more about the persons ability than the existing knowledge, saying: “Look at who you think can pick things up and who you want to do the role. There are always bright, sparky people out there – put the time and effort into them and you get it back.

“Add in the topic of flexible working – and other benefits – and you can see that businesses are now starting to look at the whole lifecycle of an employee, not just the time they are sat at their desk. Offering guidance on debt or the purchase of a house, for example, motivates staff more as they feel they work in a supportive environment.”

Katie agreed that recruiting for the culture of a person, rather than skills, is an important part of the Scriba hiring process.

The topic then moved onto the subject of big data. Abbie commented that: “Understanding the tracking of data is where we can improve – we have had issues in recognising exactly what data can do and how our competitors track it. It is a big thing for us to look at next year.”

Katie said that it has been discussed that 2020 should be all about using data to personalise your offering and Steve Sykes, MD of Applied Digital Marketing agreed, saying: “It’s always been important to do so, but the collecting, analysing and acting on data is now vital – even if carried out on a small scale.”

Andy didn’t feel a data champion was necessarily needed, and Steve agreed adding: “If you build it into everyone’s roles, it becomes a part of each person’s job and is not all on one employee.”

Diana commented: “People should be segmenting the data that is gathered, and sending good emails to a smaller number of people – automated journeys that sit in the background are the best way of communicating with others and gathering the necessary data.”

Lesley Gulliver said: “I find it difficult to have a conversation about big data, as it feels like such a generic term which means different things to various organisations – what does it really mean?”

Agreeing that it is a bit of a buzzword at present, Steve said he believes it allows those that have obtained it to profile users and better understand online habits: “It is the processing and the targeting that can then be done with the information obtained. It is all about the application of it, and how small businesses can use it.”

Andy said: “It is a word that gets bandied about a lot but essentially, it is just data.”

Steve commented that the danger of Google is all the data they now obtain, via Fitbit, for example, adding: “How long before they use this insight to affect health insurance, for instance?”

Abbie said that tech has moved so quickly and mentioned: “So many people think that Facebook is a free tool but it is not – the platform would have to pay millions for the information it has received from each of us!”

Rachel said: “It is how comfortable people are becoming with automation that has surprised me – clients are wanting automated things much more often – negating the need for a human in many cases!”

Katie asked whether tech will replace the human touch and asked for thoughts, adding that “Scriba uses tech on many levels across the business, but not where it affects the building of relationships – with the media, for example. It is about plugging tech into the right places.”

Diana said how this is appearing in personal lives too: “People are walking around the countryside glued to their phones!” Everyone agreed that many just do not have telephone calls any more.

Fiona said concerns like this stop care homes using tech: “They are afraid of losing the human touch. They won’t use computers and instead are manually writing reports – if they did automate certain areas, they would have more time to spend with patients.”

The social media application Slack was discussed, with some feeling that it took away the normal conversations in the office but others thinking that it was a great tool.

Andy, for instance, agreed that it works brilliantly when people are working from home but there were instances where a simple conversation would be quicker and better: “Eventually, face-to-face contact will decline as other methods become more popular – and more efficient ways – of speaking to people quickly.”

Helen Thewlis, head of family law at Ramsdens, said it was all about people for her, adding: “Divorce clients want to see you and have a relationship with you, on a face-to face-basis.”

Lesley said that it requires a combination of both: “Clearly there has been an explosion of tech, but there has to be convergence at some points – automated requests can be input into websites, for example, to gain advice. However, sometimes nothing can help you better than sitting in a room and talking with a person to find out their problems, regardless of how much data is available out there.”

Katie agreed, saying: “Results obtained in a staff survey – compared to those gained when meeting and asking people to their face – will be very different indeed.”

Lesley said: “You simply cannot argue with some data, but that kind of qualitative data is extremely different – and it comes down to the observation of people.”

Abbie then queried whether if everything becomes automated, where is the desire and motivation for staff to stay?

And Lesley agreed, saying: “If we carry on this trajectory it could certainly go that way – people may not have to speak to each other again!”

Katie said that someone had once told her that she was not going to succeed in business just by smiling, and added: “I know very well that this isn’t just about being nice, but you also do not have to be an awful person – this is why Scriba has maintained long-lasting client relationships.

“When we first start working with a technical company, we do not profess to know everything about them – but we learn it. That’s why we are now representing global brands – prove that you do care about them, not just the invoice.”

Andy referred to an American study carried out that showed that people who had the most friends at college went on to be the most successful in life: “Smile more and engage with others – and your are doing something right.”

Fiona said: “It is not just about sending out great tech, it is about improving customer relationships and the service offered.”

Diana added to this point, saying: “I introduce the Force24 platform as a piece of amazing tech – but I also stress that the service offered alongside it is just as important.”

Andy commented that he has recently introduced a business coach to carry out emotional intelligence testing with all staff, and has noticed a huge difference since. “We realised that we had been struggling with the people in the business, not the tech – it is all about understanding someone else’s point of view. We have worked with the team on different things to ensure they know how to speak to clients – and each other – in the best way, and maintain strong customer relationships.”

The last topic to discuss was social purpose, with Katie quoting from an article which stated that organisations without a strong social purpose will get left behind. It suggested that people are expecting personalised relationships and an organisation with a bit of soul.

Katie kicked off this section by saying: “People don’t always believe it when they attend for an informal interview and we discuss our culture, including flexible working – so many companies say that they offer this but they don’t. It is not about feeding people ‘a line’ or what is ‘trendy’.”

Lesley said: “Purpose is not the same as your vision or mission – what are you really in business for? It can be hard to answer that question but it is important not to create a purpose for the sake of it – it will not wash for very long if it is not true. Authenticity is the most important thing, this builds trust.”

And Fiona agreed: “Everything you do is about being sincere, even if it does not lead to a good outcome – make the right decision.”

Steve added: “Honesty can pay off well. Pointing others in the right direction means people will talk about you and your great service – and may even come back to you!”

Louise admits that she almost interviews clients: “They have to want to work with me and if they are not ready to have the in-depth conversations needed, it will not work. It is so important to get the facts and emotion right – be open and upfront about the way you operate.”

Helen does the same. “People who come to see me are often not ready to engage in the legal process – they may have only just split up from a partner. I will send them for counselling first but your face does not always fit with everyone – that’s human nature.”

Katie ended the debate by saying: “At Scriba, if we no longer feel that we can support a client then we have to make the right decision, not keep them for the sake of it. Always go with your gut feel to protect your reputation too – even if that is scary.”

Katie then thanked everyone for their input to what had been a great afternoon and gave attendees the chance to network.

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