What is the cost of work and life balance?

lifeThe pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture and fast paced digital economy is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the general population. The cumulative effect of increased working hours is having an important effect on the lifestyle of a huge number of people, which is likely to prove damaging to their well-being.

It is estimated that nearly three in every ten employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year. However the recent and dramatic rise in Britain’s working hours would suggest this is likely to increase. 13% of the UK working population work 49 hours or more per week.

Work related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year. The human costs of unmanaged work related stress extends far beyond this. A key way to protect your mental health against the potential detrimental effects of work related stress is to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance

When work/life demands increase, it’s all too easy for business leaders to go the extra mile. But it could also send the hormone cortisol soaring.

Flights to catch, meetings to prepare for, the relentless pressure of needing to boost revenue while bearing down on costs… the life of a company director is certainly no ride in the park. But while many leaders thrive on the disequilibrium often required in the workplace, they give little thought to the impact their ‘go hard or go home’ attitudes may have on their health – in particular, their cortisol levels.

Putting in an extra mile when needed might be what turns an average leader into a visionary, but it’s also what drives up levels of this potentially harmful hormone. And it can hinder both performance and wellbeing.

Chronic stress coupled with lack of sleep, excessive caffeine, poor diet and no relaxation also send the body’s adrenal glands into overdrive, meaning cortisol levels are permanently elevated. This can lead to a range of health issues, from a depressed immune system to insulin resistance and depression. It causes weight gain too – one reason many top executives suffer the dreaded ‘spare tyre’.

There was a time when the boundaries between work and home were fairly clear. Today, however, work is likely to invade your personal life — and maintaining work-life balance is no simple task.

This might be especially true if you are concerned about losing your job due to restructuring, layoffs or other factors. Technology that enables constant connection to work can eat into time at home. Work-life balance can be especially difficult for parents of young children; almost 60 percent of employed first-time mothers return to work within 12 weeks after childbirth.

Here are some tips to restoring life balance:

  • Fatigue. When you’re tired, your ability to work productively and think clearly might suffer — which could take a toll on your professional reputation or lead to dangerous or costly mistakes.
  • Poor health. Stress is associated with adverse effects on the immune system and can worsen the symptoms you experience from any medical condition. Stress also puts you at risk of substance abuse.
  • Lost time with friends and loved ones. If you’re working too much, you might miss important family events or milestones. This can leave you feeling left out and might harm relationships with your loved ones. It’s also difficult to nurture friendships if you’re always working.
  • Increased expectations. If you regularly work extra hours, you might be given more responsibility — which could lead to additional concerns and challenges.

Some of the above tips are things that you may be doing already to juggle life, family and work – but if it continually feels a strain, take a step back and consider whether an adjustment to the approach you are taking could help. You could focus attention for a few days or weeks on one tip, before moving on to another and it may trigger other ideas for you.

A great quote by Karen Lamb:

‘A year from now you will wish you had started today.’


Is your business secure from Cyber Crime?

Beware-online-pirates-014Cyber-crime is currently a hot topic and threatens the entire commercial and government landscape.

Perhaps the most dangerous types of malware creators are the hackers and group of hackers that create malicious software programs in an effort to meet their own criminal objectives.

Cyber crime is not just hogging the headlines: it’s posing a looming threat to the entire commercial landscape. Director asked the experts to provide essential pointers for UK business leaders

The rise of state-sponsored hacking is also putting top security researchers in an invidious position as state security organisations increasingly target them – while cyber-criminals will resort to threats and blackmail in a bid to silence them.

That is the claim of Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, who works for anti-virus software vendor Kaspersky Labs in the US.

According to a McAfee report of June 2014, cyber-crime costs the world economy more than $400bn (£260bn); to put that into perspective, the global aid budget comes to about $100bn a year.

You know you have a cyber crime problem when the national body in charge of fighting it – Britain’s National Crime Agency – is itself targeted by hackers, as happened in September. And yet, according to a new study from identity protection experts CSID, more than half (52 per cent) of the country’s smaller firms “are not taking any preventative measures to protect themselves against cyber-crime”.

Fraud is estimated to cost the UK economy £52bn annually and 44% of UK organisations reported fraud, compared to 37% globally. The impact of cyber-crime is significant; representing £27bn of the annual estimated cost.

Some 42 per cent of small and micro businesses in the UK report having experienced cybercrime, according to a study by the Association of Accounting Technicians.

Furthermore, research has found that 60% of small businesses suffered a malicious breach in the past year and half of them had a serious incident. The worst breaches disrupted operations for small businesses for an average of seven to 10 days.

A group of experts, convened from government and industry to create an easy to understand action plan in order to help SMEs combat cybercrime, recommended that all small and medium-sized businesses should:

  • Train staff to understand cyber threats;
  • Keep software secure by always installing updates;
  • Install and use anti-virus software and
  • Use complex passwords which include a minimum of three words and a symbol.

Common problems faced by businesses include staff exposing IT systems to malware by plugging in external devices or storage such as USB sticks, opening infected emails or using unsafe websites with malicious code. Poor device passwords and out of date software also leave firms vulnerable. The Fraud Advisory Panel (FAP), an independent voice of the anti-fraud community in the UK which was established in 1998 as part of ICAEW’s public interest agenda, published guidance earlier this year to help firms considering introducing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy ensure that they have considered the associated security issues.

In summary, security is a frame of mind that leads to technology deployments, never the other way around.

The worst thing a company can do is buy an anti-virus suite and then consider the job done. Not only does every piece of software need to be constantly updated and patched, but to protect the most valuable data additional layers of security must be added and access given only to those who truly need it.

As a small business you need to take responsibility to ensure your systems are safe, as a business can you afford to lose all your data or have your business shut down for several weeks because of lack of IT security?



The Shared Business Economy

Sharing-Economy_360_253_90There has been much debate over the last year around exactly what is The Sharing Economy. A clear definition is needed not only for purposes of clarity and to enable meaningful discussion, but also to provide a precise aim and direction to those working to enable, foster and create a better and more collaborative Sharing Economy.

The Sharing economy, also known as ‘shareconomy’ or ‘collaborative consumption’, refers to peer-to-peer-based sharing of access to goods and services coordinated through community-based online services. The Sharing economy can take a variety of forms, including using information technology to provide individuals, corporations, non-profits and governments with information that enables the optimisation of resources through the redistribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services. A common premise is that when information about goods is shared typically via an online marketplace, the value of those goods may increase for the business, for individuals, for the community and for society in general.

Collaborative consumption as a phenomenon is a class of economic arrangements in which participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.The consumer peer-to-peer rental market is valued at $26bn (£15bn), with new services and platforms popping up all the time.

Whilst the Sharing Economy is currently in its infancy, known most notably as a series of services and start-ups which enable P2P exchanges through technology, this is only the beginning: in its entirety and potential it is a new and alternative socio-economic system which embeds sharing and collaboration at its heart – across all aspects of social and economic life.

The collaborative consumption model is used in online marketplaces such as eBay as well as emerging sectors such as social lending, peer-to-peer accommodation, peer-to-peer travel experiences, peer-to-peer task assignments or travel advising, car-sharing or commute-bus sharing.


The Sharing Economy encompasses the following aspects: swapping, exchanging, collective purchasing, collaborative consumption, shared ownership, shared value, co-operatives, co-creation, recycling, up-cycling, re-distribution, trading used goods, renting, borrowing, lending, subscription based models, peer-to-peer, collaborative economy, circular economy, pay-as-you-use economy, wiki-nomics, peer-to-peer lending, micro financing, micro-entrepreneurship, social media, the Mesh, social enterprise, futurology, crowdfunding, crowd-sourcing, cradle-to-cradle, open source, open data, user generated content (UGC).

In one sense, it has been with us forever, but over the last decade, it has grown from a means of transaction between friends and family, to become a global movement of businesses which are increasingly being valued in the billions.


As the mega-trends evolve and collide, the sharing economy is becoming an increasingly accepted feature of the business landscape. PwC estimate that the five main sharing sectors (peer-to-peer finance, online staffing, peer-to-peer accommodation, car sharing and music video streaming) have the potential to increase global revenues from around $15 billion now to $335 billion by 2025.

The decisions that organisations make today will decide how far the sharing economy can live up to its potential. We have spoken to a range of influencers in this space to find out where they think this trend is heading.

However you define it, the sharing economy is a disruptive force in a slew of industries, particularly travel, consumer goods, services, taxis, bicycles and car rental, finance, music, employment and waste. And the disruption may be long-term if the new businesses permanently change consumers’ attitudes towards ownership. In the PwC study, 81% of people familiar with the sharing economy agreed that “it is less expensive to share goods than to own them individually” and 57% agreed, “Access is the new ownership. Twitter ”

Whether attitudes towards ownership change for good remains to be seen. Another supposed aspect of disruption seems far less likely to endure. While 78% of the people surveyed by PwC said that the new sharing companies helped build a stronger community and 86% agreed that it was more fun doing business with these “upstarts” than with traditional companies, research published in the Journal of Consumer Research takes issue with this “romanticised view on access.”

According to the researchers, Giana M. Eckhardt (Royal Holloway University of London) and Fleura Bardhi (City University London), users of Zipcar “don’t feel any of the reciprocal obligations that arise when sharing with one another. They experience Zipcar in the anonymous way one experiences a hotel; they know others have used the cars, but have no desire to interact with them. They do not view other Zipsters as co-sharers of the cars, but rather are mistrustful of them, and rely on the company to police the sharing system so it’s equitable for everyone.”

In fact, companies take the trust issue very seriously. Some go so far as to carefully vet those they do business with. DogVacay has a five-step screening process that certifies only 15% of applicants to offer dog sitting services. TaskRabbit runs identity and criminal record checks as well as in-person interviews. And many companies provide some level of insurance.

Virtually all the sharing companies establish trust through crowd-sourcing. Online reviews are at the heart of the sharing economy. Before anyone agrees to use an Uber driver, rent an Airbnb room, sleep on a Couchsurfing couch or hire a TaskRabbit handyman, they check out what others who they have used the particular service have to say. And companies facilitate this through easy-to-use technology and easy–to-understand rating systems.

If community and trust are not key variables in the value proposition for the sharing economy, what is important is what has always been of most value to consumers: convenience and cost. In the PwC survey, 86% and 83% respectively agreed that sharing companies make life more affordable and more convenient and efficient. According to Eckhardt and Bardhi.

Whatever your opinion on The Shared Economy, it is clear that the sharing economy is set to expand rapidly. If you look deeply enough, you will more likely than not find that you have already had a first-hand encounter with it.

10 ways to start 2016 on a positive note


The recent Forbes report certainly shows that the bubble hasn’t popped yet.

That’s the easy conclusion of Forbes’ latest Hottest Start-ups list, which ranks Silicon Valley’s most successful companies in 2015 by one simple metric: the fastest growing valuations over time between funding rounds. That means their list captures the most in-demand start-ups, the ones for which investors had the highest hopes–and wrote the biggest checks.

Combined, the top 50 hottest start-ups raised over $7 billion this year and have a total valuation close to $120 billion.

Interestingly enough, Forbes took an end-of-year look at companies leading the way as valuations get extra frothy, ranking the Hottest Start-ups of 2014 by fastest growing valuation over time between funding rounds. These aren’t necessarily the most successful (or most hyped) start-ups — but they are the ones that investors are betting the biggest bucks on for the future.

The list is headlined by a who’s who of unicorns grabbing huge sums of cash. Ride-hailing juggernaut Uber (#16) is raising $2.1 billion to add to the $1 billion it raised in July. Workplace communication tool Slack (#2) raised $160 million, shared workplace landlord WeWork (#31) raised $433 million, and cyber-security start-up Tanium (#21) raised $120 million.

However, many start-ups at the top of the list are slightly off the beaten track. Secretive Uptake Technologies ranks first over all, coming out of nowhere to raise $45 million at a valuation of $1.1 billion. Uptake, run by former Groupon co-founder Brad Keywell, promises to provide the data analytics back end for the Internet of things revolution coming to major traditional industries like construction and aviation.

It is a fact that no business is guaranteed to succeed. But with the right level of energy, passion, determination to a belief in yourself and your product/service you can progress independently with your dream idea and business.

The beginning of the year has arrived and while it’s important to take some time to assess the positives and negatives of 2015, it is also worthwhile ensuring everything is ready for the year ahead so that 2016 does not start with unnecessary stress.

Many entrepreneurs are passionate about their chosen trade but aren’t always strong when it comes to the financial side of business.

It is the little things that people often forget about. Simple things, like cash flow and budget that can make all the difference.

The following 10 tips would make sure business owners cover all their bases and have a successful 2016.

1)      Budget for the year ahead

2)      Understand your business and its customers

3)      Analyse your monthly management accounts

4)      Keep your accounts and taxes up to date

5)      Secure your IP/IPR

6)      Know your limitations

7)      Invest in good legal and accountancy experts

8)      Build revenue streams with trusted relationships – no matter how small

9)      Invest in cash recovery experts

10)   Take a holiday and exercise every now and then

If you follow the tips you will see the benefits returned ten-fold.