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Small businesses waiting for the upturn

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The ten small businesses which are being followed by the BBC month-by-month throughout 2009 are remaining defiantly optimistic, with most of them reporting confidence ‘marks out of ten’ at the same level as May, and three of them more optimistic this month. Many seem to benefit from being in a niche market with very specialised products meaning they can really focus on their customers. They talk of expanding sales and taking on more staff, and some increased interest in UK products and producers. The hotel on the Isle of Wight is benefitting from sterling’s weakness this year causing an increase in holidays in the UK.

Several have changed their cost structures and looked for ways to strengthen their cash flow, for example by reducing reliance on credit for payments, and are hanging on and managing to break even while they hope for increased business in the near future, and there are concerns about how they will cope when interest rates rise again. There is still difficulty for those businesses which are related to the housing market, as solicitors or suppliers of joinery, and the most consistent worries remain those related to finance – lack of credit from the banks, lack of mortgages available to potential buyers, and poor credit ratings given to any relatively new small business regardless of their history.

Recession Bites - new food shopping habits


Tonight’s edition of the Money Programme looks worth watching, or recording – on at 22.00 on BBC2 (unless Wimbledon overruns by two and a half hours again, presumably!).

‘Recession bites into our eating habits’ looks at the changes in supermarket and food spending over the last year, as food prices have risen by 8% and consumers seems to be cutting back on luxuries and shifting to inferior goods – a good illustration of income elasticity of demand, and the effects of falling consumer confidence.

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A Mars A Day The Original Recipe Way

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Six thousand complaints within a week has forced Masterfoods to do a U-turn on its decision to use ingredients which contain traces of animal enzymes.

Is this a business responding to the wishes consumers?

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The Biz Quiz - 29 June 2009

The latest edition of The Biz Quiz, our weekly quiz on the business news, is now available.

Launch interactive version of The Biz Quiz - 29 June 2009

Download printable (pdf) version with answers at the back

Exchange Rates Quiz

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Do you know your dongs from your ringgits?  And what currency do they use in Belarus?  Try this starter quiz to test your knowledge on foreign currencies.

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Deliberate Creativity

Friday, June 26, 2009

Deliberate Creativity is one of the topics on Edexcel’s new GCSE Business Specifications (Unit 1 Section 2) that many of us won’t have taught before.  However, I think it’s one of the most exciting topics because it can be used to engage the students in thinking, which is why I intend to start the course by delivering that section.

Professor Dennis Sherwood believes that people can be taught to be creative by using the technique of deliberate creativity.  The idea is quite simple - look at what you know, and think about how it could be changed.

TV quizzes are an excellent example of how this has led to the development of new quiz shows.  When ITV launched “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” how did the BBC respond to it’s success?

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Enterprise Activity - The Apprentice Meets Beachcomber

Many thanks to Patrick Neill at Bideford College for providing an example of a terrific enterprise activity that has worked really well with his students…

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The Shape of Things to Come - V, W U or L?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Many thanks to Alison Elmes for sharing this experience in the classroom last week…

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Planning for a winning team

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Times ‘Ideas at Work’ section has a feature today about how to build a winning team in business. The first point questions whether you actually need a team, or simply a group of individuals working on separate tasks but reporting to the same supervisor. On the assumption that the business needs something a bit more than that, much of the advice centres on long term strategic planning, which should be a central part of human resource management – allowing time for team dynamics and bonding to evolve, having a team which is small enough to be co-ordinated and setting clearly defined roles with a decisive leader. There are two vital aspects of recruitment that reflect points made by Mike Southon, the Beermat Entrepreneur, at last week’s Business Studies National Teacher Conference; getting a mix of people and talents rather than several matching talents, and bringing in a ‘deviant’ – someone who is prepared to take a different view and question the normal status quo, but without acting as a ‘team destroyer’. To quote Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, “You want people to challenge each other, but you don’t want winners and losers — people stop talking to each other.”

Top Class Customer Service in Action - Yorkshire Airlines

A big hat tip to Mark Mitchell for showcasing this classic Hale & Pace clip as a way of introducing the topic of customer service…

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Trouble keeping track of changes in the car industry


This business remains one of the biggest in the world and you could (if you really wanted) do a whole Business course just looking at the automotive industry.  The problem for me is keeping up with the current rate of change – I still can’t quite believe that General Motors (GM) has gone bankrupt.

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Shavings Bonds

Will King, the CEO of King of Shaves who spoke about his battle to break into the shaving products market at the Economics conference last week, was on BBC Radio 5’s Wake up to Money yesterday – you can listen to the programme or download the podcast from here. King of Shaves is raising a further £5m capital to fund its growth plans – as Geoff reported on the Economics blog last week, King of Shaves is launching successfully in Japan and now looking towards the United States. However at this time when all the news is full of stories of businesses which cannot raise money from the banking system, Will King has come up with a different approach which follows his hugely successful strategy of using the web and viral marketing.

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GCSE Business - New Specification Course Companions

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We’re hard at work on a new series of resources to support the new GCSE Business units.

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Have local newspapers entered the final decline phase of their product life cycle

Monday, June 22, 2009

An indepth video from BBC Newsnight (8mins) looks at the decline of the local newspaper.  Changing trends in media consumption, the recession and the growing dominance of the BBC are all highlighted as potential reasons why local newspapers may struggle to survive.  Packed full of excellent material for more experienced business students - how can the local newspapers respond?

View Newsnight video on the local newspaper industry

Introducing Teen-Trepreneur

Teen-Trepreneur is the new board game launched last week by Sabirul Islam - the young entrepreneur featured at our Business Teacher National Conference.  Sabirul told some of the story behind the new game, which has been designed with the help of young business and enterprise students.

Teen-Trepreneur retails for £24.99 (including VAT) looks terrific and you can now order the game directly from Sabirul via this online form:

Order Teen-Trepreneur

A player’s guide to Teen-Trepreneur can also be downloaded in pdf format here:


Biz Quiz Picture Quiz (incuding answers)

We just managed to squeeze in a Biz Quiz picture quiz at the Business Teacher National Conference today.  Here is the puzzle - can your students name the people featured?


Here are the answers:

From left to right:

Top row:  Dick Fuld (Lehman Bros)  |  Robert Peston (BBC)  |  Andy Hornsby (Halifax Bank)  | Declan Curry (BBC Working Lunch)

Bottom row:  Yasmina Siadatan (The Apprentice 2009)  |  Michelle Mone (Ultimo Bras)  |  Claire Robertson (Wellworths)  | Mary Portas (Queen of Shops)

Can Paid Staff Be Entrepreneurs?

Students often think of entrepreneurs as people who have set up their own successful business.  Perhaps that’s because many of us use well-known entrepreneurs, who happen to run their own business as examples.  This may be understandable, since it helps students to relate to what entrepreneurship is about, but is it accurate?

The new specifications are quite clear about the sort of skills and qualities that are usually found in entrepreneurs, and they don’t mention “business owner” as one of them.

This begs the question “can employed staff be entrepreneurs?”.

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Snap, crackle and ... crumbs? Are cereal boxes toast, now?


Sainsbury’s continue to seek ways to improve their green credentials, and to cut the amount of wasteful packaging on their goods. The Sunday Times reported that they introduced ‘milk-in-a-bag’ – polythene bags containing 2 litres of milk which can be transferred to a jug-style holder, and which have 75% less packaging than the rigid plastic bottles. Their next move has been to take some own-brand cereal out of cardboard boxes, and on Friday they introduced their own brand of Rice Pops in recyclable plastic packets similar to those used for crisps.

Kelloggs say they are considering doing the same, although Nestle have no plans to do so at present. A problem with the plastic bag for cereal is keeping it from being crushed either on the way to the supermarket or on the way home – but we manage to do this with packets of crisps, so presumably we can manage it for cereals as well. Reducing the volume of packaging is certainly to the advantage of the supermarkets, as it cuts the space used per pack in it’s delivery lorries so fewer lorries are needed, cutting both their costs and their carbon emissions.

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The Biz Quiz - 22 June 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fresh off the digital presses - the latest edition of the Biz Quiz

Launch interactive version

Download printable pdf version

Tracking the progress of three new start-ups

Rachel Bridge (Enterprise Editor of the Sunday Times) joined us at the Business Teacher conference on Friday and briefly described her new series which is tracking three new business start-ups…

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Flexible unemployment

Friday, June 19, 2009

BT is following the lead of several other employers in an attempt to find ways to keep staff on the books even though they are not needed during the downturn. Their creative solution is to ‘lend’ their staff to competitors rather than make them redundant. This is part of a much wider cost cutting scheme, and involves offering ‘placements’ outside the company, initially on a voluntary basis, but BT have not ruled out making them compulsory if too few people volunteer. While the new company would pay their salary, staff remain members of the BT pension scheme. The scheme seems to mirror the way that a Premiership football club will lend players to other clubs for all or part of the season as part if the player’s ‘career development’ – the new club pays the wage, but there is an understanding that the player is expected to return to the ‘parent’ club at the end of the period.

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Sabirul Islam

Last year it was Fraser Doherty.  This year, its Sabirul Islam.  Two young (very young) entrepreneurs who captivated and inspired our wonderful audience of Business teachers at the British Library.

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Current Affairs Quiz – 19th June

Some current affairs questions from the last seven days for Business students around the world…

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Sickness And Sun

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

EU legislation can be a difficult topic to deliver to a GCSE Business class, but it remains an important element of the new Edexcel specifications.

I recently came across this useful BBC article which got a great discussion going about The Working Time Directive.

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Shedding light on the Hawthorne Effect


If you’ve been looking at motivation in the workplace this year, chances are you’ve talked about Elton Mayo, who is best remembered for writing about experiments done in a telephone parts factory in the 1920s and 30s.  The results of the Hawthorne study lead to an extremely influential idea: that the very act of being experimented upon changes subjects’ behaviour.  However, new analysis of the experimental data suggests this may be the wrong conclusion.

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Exam Boards for GSCE Business - All Change

Some interesting changes seem to be taking place in the “market” for GCSE Business courses…

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Budget Hotel Chain Now Feeling the Squeeze

There are some excellent examples of businesses that are significantly exposed to a downturn in demand from business travellers - British Airways is perhaps the best.  However, you can now add Whitbread to that list…

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MySpace Makes Space to Change

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This story is a must to use with A2 students looking for a relevant, topical strategy case…

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BUS6 - Method in Our Madness

Students who attended the BUS6 business strategy workshop in April spent an hour or so looking at the strategy of EMI, in the “Taking a Boardroom Approach” opening session.  We looked at the strategic rationale for Guy Hands and Terra Firma deciding to buy EMI and at some of the cultural and commercial issues he faced when trying to turn the business around.

When students turned their BUS6 papers over today the chosen case study was…

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Work For Free?  Or Pie In The Sky?

How many students would go to work for free?

Well bosses of British Airways will be hoping that non-financial motivation exists, as they have asked staff to volunteer to work for free (or take unpaid leave) for up to a month, in an attempt to ensure that the firm can win the fight for survival.

This BBC article could be tied in with two topics on the new Edexcel Specifications:

read more...»

Children’s parties defy the downturn

Monday, June 15, 2009


I don’t know.  In my day you were happy with a bit of fizzy pop, some charging about, a tantrum and being sent home with a piece of cake wrapped up in a tissue.  As with weddings, part of modern life is the raised expectations – and spending on - social get-togethers.  A BBC article explains how the children’s party business shows little sign of the impact of the recession.

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The Biz Quiz - 13 June 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A somewhat quiet week for business news…but the Biz Quiz features all the big stories (and a couple of minor ones too!)

Launch interactive version of The Biz Quiz - 13 June 2009

Download printable version (including answers at the back)

Building a tourist facility on the top of a mountain

Friday, June 12, 2009

A fascinating case study of how to invest in a popular tourist destination.  The new visitor centre at the summit of Snowdon has been built at a cost of £8.4m, but not without a huge effort by the people involved and despite opposition from some stakeholder groups…

read more...»

Battle Of The Bunnies

There’s a battle going on in the chocolate rabbit world which could provide an interesting example of how businesses try to protect their products and ideas.

The products in question are shown in the picture below which is on the Guardian website.

Could consumers be confused?

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Current Affairs Quiz - 11th June

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some current affairs questions from the last seven days for Business and/or Economics students around the world…

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A Razor Sharp Way To Add Value

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Realistic data to illustrate how firms add value is not always easy to come across.  After all many firms don’t want us to know how much mark-up they place on their products.

This data from the Daily Mail perhaps explains why manufacturers are so keen for us not to find out! 

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Advertising is Failure….

Jeff Jarvis provides an excellent insight into the new paradigm in promotion. The growth of user-generated content and viral marketing is overtaking more traditional promotional methods. Read his article here

Sponsorship – obviously works for some…

Manchester United Football Club has secured a new shirts sponsor for the 2010-2011 season.  Why would a sponsor pay £80 million over four years to have their name on MUFC football shirts?  Does sponsorship really work?

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A stunning example of how wage costs can differ for the same job

A very interesting and potentially explosive article in The Times today highlights the problems faced by British Airways as it seeks to reduce its operating costs…

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Post exam activity - Sixth Formers do The Apprentice

Many thanks to Phil Wheeler from Thomas Alleyne School for letting me know about his post-AS exam project for business students.

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Situations Vacant - Apprentice Supervisor

Margaret Mountford’s announcement that she will not be part of the next series of The Apprentice is getting a far higher profile than Siralan’s choice of Yasmina rather than Katie on Sunday night. Some of Margaret’s memorable lines from this series:
“Never before in the history of car washing have so few cars been washed by so many people in such a long time”
“Alex, you stepped so far back from it you were practically out of the room”
“One’s enough, thank you” on tasting one team’s chocolates

What would be the main features of a person specification and job description for her successor?

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Porter’s Five Forces hits the fish counter

Sustainability, ethics and corporate social responsibility all feature heavily in the news about bluefin tuna this week, as does the theory of Porter’s Five Forces in shaping business strategy. The bluefin is the victim of consumer trends – the explosion in the demand for sushi and for fresh tuna steaks to barbecue, as well as successful campaigns to persuade us to eat a more omega 3-rich diet to protect us from heart disease (and even to prevent eye disease, according to this report on Monday). But it is being over-fished to a critical point at which stocks are becoming completely unsustainable. A film which premiered in the UK on Monday makes the point very clearly - The End of the Line, a documentary based on a book by journalist Charles Clover, examines the mismanagement of bluefin fisheries as a microcosm of how we are hoovering the seas of their fish to the point at which species cannot be sustained and risk dying out altogether. It is generating much publicity for the issue, such as this article from the Times, in order to give it a higher profile.

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Mary Queen of Charity Shops

A big hat tip to Keir Williams (Wrotham School) for highlighting the excellent new series featuring retail guru Mary Portas.  In her new programme, Mary attempts to bring the charity shop sector kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  Some superb materals in each episode on retailing skills, and plenty of stimulus material on management styles and motivation too:

The series is available to download using BBC iPlayer

Setanta football gamble turns into spectacular own-goal.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Setanta have failed to attract enough customers to justify their huge outlay on securing the rights to broadcast a number of Premier League games over the course of the past two seasons and the forthcoming one. Their experience allows us to consider concepts such as break-even analysis, income elasticity of demand and the impact of the recession.

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Green Shoots in Garden Centres


According to figures in The Economist, from a high point of £5 billion in 2001, spending on plants, tools and garden furniture has fallen every year since then, to around £3 billion in 2008. The arrival of recession only deepened the gloom, yet the latest figures from the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) suggest a bumper year for garden-related expenditure is in the making.

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Thinking Outside The Smaller Box

It can be a challenge to think of examples for the topic of “Thinking in Opposites”, or “What if…?” once the obvious ones of Marmite, Muller and Yorkie have been used.

However, Kleenex’s decision to rebrand it’s “Kleenex For Men” to “Kleenex Mansize” was coupled with a decision to change the size of the box.  What motivated this move?

read more...»

10 Million Page Views and Counting…

Friday, June 05, 2009

Some time later tonight or early tomorrow morning (Saturday 6 June), we’ll hit the 10 million page visit mark on the new tutor2u subject blogs.  That’s a testament to the tremendous support that tutor2u has from the teaching community, and to our ever-increasing group of blog authors.  I’d like to record a big thanks to everyone who has supported the subject blogs - either by writing, reading or recommending these pages to colleagues.

You will notice some further developments on the subject blogs over the next few days and weeks. Six new blog authors have kindly agreed to get involved today alone.  We’re launching a dedicated blog for Cambridge Pre-U to sit alongside the excellent new blogs recently launched for IB Diploma, Sociology, RS, Law and GCSE Economics.  Over 12,000 colleagues now get the regular resource updates from the subject blogs.  Fingers crossed that we can continue to build these resources and make our contribution to the teaching community in our featured subjects.

Sir Alan hired by Gordon Brown


April 2007: Gordon Brown offers ‘new seriousness’ and an end of celebrity culture in politics
June 2009: Gordon Brown appoints Alan Sugar as ‘enterprise czar’

What do you make of it all?!  Multimillionaire businessman Sir Alan Sugar has been made ‘enterprise czar’ in Gordon Brown’s cabinet reshuffle.  According to the BBC, Sir Alan is set to be nominated for a seat in the House of Lords in order for him to join the government. Having made his fortune through television set-top box maker Amstrad, his profile has rocketed through his starring role in BBC’s The Apprentice.

Expect to read more on the blog about his performance in this new role!

Football’s Finances


A great BBC article and videoclip for those following the finances of English football. The Premier League saw its revenues soar by 26% in the 2007/08 season to nearly £2bn with the revenues of Premier league English sides were £1.93bn.  Despite the downturn, 11 of the 20 top league clubs made an operating profit in 2007/08, from eight a year before.  Astonishingly, salary costs topped £1bn for the first time, and the clubs’ total net debt was £3.1bn.

read more...»

The Biz Quiz - 4 June 2009

The Biz Quiz returns from its exam-break with the first of six more weekly quizzes until the end of the summer term!

Launch interactive version of The Biz Quiz

Download printable version (including answers)

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