Whether it be meeting end-of-year deadlines, assessing next year’s strategy or purchasing last-minute presents, seasonal stress can arrive at any time.

BCU Advantage has five helpful tips on how nurturing your emotional intelligence can ensure you get to enjoy the holiday season – without the high stress levels.

With Christmas coming, these top five tips will help you reassess your business strategy and improve your communications. Whether or not you’ll be able to work just one day a year, though, remains to be seen…

For more information on how you and your business can get involved in this exciting New Year opportunity, contact Frankie Galati via email at mentoring@bcu.ac.uk

Santa Claus has created a global brand that has endured centuries of opposition, overcome a host of competitors and garnered legions of loyal fans. But how has St. Nick built his business?

  1. Be exceptionally reliable…

    If you think about it, Santa is the most reliable brand in the world. Through freezing temperatures and economic instability, kids can sleep easy knowing that Santa always delivers. Your clients are similar to those expectant children on Christmas morning – they have high expectations and will lose trust if they are let down. As a business, it is your job to deliver a service that is reliable in order to build a committed customer base.

  2. But don’t be afraid to surprise

    Santa has a positive image that always makes his customers smile, but it’s not just from consistent service. He also isn’t afraid to surprise them with gifts that people were not expecting. Can you say the same about your organisation? Create ideas, offers and concepts that no one else in your industry has tried. Finding that extra something to add to your product offering will surprise and delight your customers.

  3. Reward good and loyal behaviour

    Santa has a simple but effective strategy for his business – the naughty or nice list. Your behaviour throughout the year could result in you either receiving a luxury holiday or a lump of coal. Though you shouldn’t punish errant clients, you can certainly reward the good ones. If a customer has purchased a larger amount than usual, or recommended you to a client or through a website review, consider rewarding them for their loyalty.

  4. Be open to communication

    Santa isn’t afraid of a little feedback. As Christmas draws nearer, children around the world pen letters to Father Christmas with a list of wants and needs. Santa not only reads every single letter, he asks for nothing in return. Do your customers feel comfortable enough to communicate to you their wants and needs? Perhaps it’s time to encourage them to offer you feedback so you can understand and serve them better.

  5. Teamwork makes the dream work

    Santa may take centre stage, but he has a number of loyal departments working from him, from logistics (reindeer) to operations (the elves). Santa isn’t afraid to delegate and understands the importance of teamwork. If you find your business is getting too busy, perhaps it’s time to expand the workforce in order to get more done. Even Santa couldn’t build an empire all on his own. You could seek out graduate talent from Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM), injecting your business with fresh impetus, or gain new skills and support

With Christmas coming, these top five tips will help you reassess your business strategy and improve your communications. Whether or not you’ll be able to work just one day a year, though, remains to be seen…

Does your business need extra support from some designated helpers?


It is all explored in The Middle, a fascinating new podcast series that invites leaders from diverse sectors to discuss their insights into getting the most from middle management.

Unique insight into established organisations

The Middle is hosted by Stephen Willson, an Associate Professor at Birmingham City University. Stephen boasts over 20 years of experience in freelance management training, specialising in strategy, finance and marketing. He has worked with a range of leading organisations, including Greene King, Premier Inn, Michelin, Siemens and Balfour-Beatty.

His experiences led to the creation of the podcast, which includes revealing contributions from a number of eminent professionals. David Thompson, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, discusses the pros and cons of digitisation and reorganising middle management. Chief Executive of the Stonegate Pub Company, Simon Longbottom, explores the challenges of keeping a small company dynamic. Other guests include Paul Anderson, a Managing Director at Deutsche Bank, and Selah Saeed, the Chief Executive of the Disaster Emergency Committee.

Revealing contributions from senior leaders

Working so closely with businesses, especially their middle managers, has given Stephen unique insight into the challenges they come up against. “I had privileged access to the frustrations senior middle managers face,” Stephen explains. “Long ago it was impressed upon me that the biggest gains of organisational performance are through improving the contribution of middle management. There were a number of themes and areas I wanted to evidence with contemporary executives from a range of sectors, in order to illuminate a crucial but under-researched topic area.”

This led to Stephen creating The Middle, with each episode featuring an interview with a prominent executive. “I wanted to cast the net wide enough to encompass charitable organisations, publically and privately-held businesses, professional services and fast-evolving product industries,” he says.

The importance of middle managers

There are over two million middle managers currently working in the UK, but Stephen believes their role is still misunderstood. “The conventional view is that middle managers are the layers between the ‘doers’ in the organisation and the owner/executive in charge,” he explains.

“Furthermore, there’s a perception that middle management are blockers and resistors of change wishing to maintain their empires. In reality, middle managers make a key contribution – they mobilise resources, reduce risk and build working relationships. They are managers of managers, constantly influencing and liaising.”

Stephen believes that The Middle sheds light on a wide variety of issues faced by modern organisations. “Common themes that have arisen on the podcast include reporting relationships – which department reports to which director. Another challenge is the greater complexity of demands that increases the ambiguity inside organisations,” he reveals.

Stephen also feels the podcast will be enlightening for SMEs, particularly those looking to expand. “Those looking to grow should be aware of the challenges they’ll face when they look to hire or promote into roles as managers of managers,” he says. “This should help them configure their organisations, so they can get the most contribution from those positions.”

Episodes of The Middle are available to stream now via Apple, Google, Buzzsprout and Spotify. Subscribe to the podcast to ensure you are notified of future episodes.

According to Staffbase, effective internal communication can lead to a 40 percent increase in customer satisfaction, a 30 percent increase in profitability and a 36 percent increase in company performance. Sound good? Here are five tips to help you.

  1. Make it a habit

    Habitual communication boosts efficiency and morale. Whether it be weekly meetings or conference calls, monthly online newsletters or the utilisation of online management tools (such as Wrike or Asana), regular employee engagement is key. “As the CEO of a company, I write a monthly update that is transparent and communicates what was accomplished and what’s upcoming. Crucially, we offer employees the chance to ask questions and propose ideas,” says Korey McMahon of McMahon Marketing. “Since doing this, my team have provided amazing ideas and feedback.”

  2. Engage with and encourage your employees

    It’s important to allow your employees and colleagues to voice their opinions. Encourage questions and comments, as an open forum will foster stronger working relationships. “Many companies tout an ‘open-door philosophy’, but are often unavailable or uninterested when employees pass through the threshold,” explains Matthew Jonas, Managing Partner of TopFire Media. “Managers must truly care and act upon that feeling. Caring managers encourage employees to share issues and actively pursue solutions.”

  3. Provide a place for information sharing

    Your employees will often keep up to date with the latest industry trends and ideas, so why not give them a place to share what they’re reading about? By providing them with a platform to contribute new insights, your employees will feel more energised and eager to communicate. There are a host of applications that you could use, such as Slack. “For internal communication, we use Slack and never use emails,” says Vinny La Barbera of imFORZA. “Slack allows for topic grouping, controlled notifications and the ability to make conversations public when needed.”

  4. Plan get-togethers outside of work

    Nothing hinders communication more than employees who have never truly met one another. “Developing better out-of-office relationships will help fuel the in-office communication,” says Coltrane Curtis, Founder of Team Epiphany. “If you can create a personal bond between the employees, then the conversation goes beyond emails between the people sitting next to you.” Try and plan events outside of the workplace, helping to foster a strong team spirit.

  5. Be creative, be clear

    Don’t rely on mass emails or the occasional away day to get your messages across. Different people have different ways of absorbing information, so be adaptable. Craft engaging content for your employees as you would for your clients. However, whatever the format you deliver your communications in, ensure the company’s values and mission are articulated clearly.

With Christmas coming, these top five tips will help you reassess your business strategy and improve your communications. Whether or not you’ll be able to work just one day a year, though, remains to be seen…

Poor internal communication can become a real barrier to growth. If you want specialised assistance on improving your communication – among other important things – our Business Support Workshops are delivered by business growth experts with considerable experience in the field. The workshops are free of charge and will see you work closely to create a winning strategy for your business.

Do you require further assistance on improving your company’s internal communications?


Sustainability is becoming increasingly important across the globe, particularly within business environments. Creating a sustainable workplace will not only benefit the planet, but also your business. With three-quarters of SME staff stating sustainability is important to them, going green can do wonders for your brand’s reputation, and in attracting new customers and staff. Here are five top tips to help. 

  1. Be smart with office supplies

    In the US alone, over $17 billion is wasted on office furniture each year. Consider using upcycled or second-hand furniture to kit out your office, as it will be both cheaper and have long-term benefits to the environment.

    Furthermore, though we are living in a continually digitised environment, the use of paper is still frequent. However, half of SME employees are now trying to reduce the amount of paper they use. From making documents that can be shared, edited and stored digitally, to investing in eco-friendly envelopes, there are many small but significant ways to reduce paper usage.

  2. Aim for zero waste to landfill

    It may be a high target, but with careful planning, your business could ensure zero percent of your wastage goes to landfill. “There are lots of simple steps business can take to meet this goal,” explains Phil Jones, Managing Director of Brother UK. “Examples include engaging expert waste treatment contractors, issuing staff with reusable water bottles and replacing fluorescent tubes with LED lighting.”

  3. Become a B Corp

    Rather than Birmingham, the ‘B’ in ‘B Corp’ stands for ‘benefit’. B Corps are businesses that are voluntarily certified every couple of years for their social and environmental performance. This allows your business to help meet the environmental needs of the planet and grants you access to a wide-ranging network of other businesses.

    “Becoming a B Corp gives you the opportunity to make a very public declaration that you care about more than profit,” says Karim Abouelnaga, the owner of successful company Practice Makes Perfect. “This is a signal to your investors, your customers and your employees (both current and future) that you are about more than just your numbers – you’re committed to something bigger.”

  4. Embrace remote working

    It has been regularly reported that allowing employees to work from home could have a huge impact on a business’ environmental footprint. Even as far back as 2014, the Carbon Trust advocated such an endeavour, claiming remote working could save more than three million tonnes of carbon a year. The benefits of remote working for your business could be considerable – less electricity will be used, carbon footprints will be reduced and fewer office supplies will be wasted.

  5. Review your procurement policies

    One universal rule for SMEs is to know your suppliers, and it’s perfectly applicable when considering your environmental impact. Reassess your procurement policies when it comes to your choice of suppliers, and look to source goods and services that have been produced sustainably. Ensure your supplies don’t contain substances that are toxic and harmful to the environment, and look to source items made from renewable materials.

If you are interested in finding out more about making your workplace more sustainable, STEAMhouse is hosting an innovative STEAMlab with leading fuel cell company Adelan in order to unlock new cleantech solutions. The two-day conference will aim to provide solutions to the West Midlands’ air pollution and environmental challenges.

Want to help create a more sustainable environment for your business? Visit our STEAMlab event page to find out more.


Professor Javed Hussain from Birmingham City University hosted a groundbreaking conference examining the financing of green innovative SMEs in Birmingham and the West Midlands.

The conference highlighted the need to support innovative small businesses to tackle the climate emergency and revealed that access to finance is a key barrier to early-stage green SMEs who have the potential to develop low-carbon innovations across a wide range of sectors. The event, which took place on the 29 September at Birmingham City University, gathered over 60 policymakers, practitioners, enterprises and academics to tackle the issue of green SME financing.

Meeting the demands of UK green initiatives 

The conference follows the recent UK Government Green Finance Strategy (July 2019), promoting a ‘sustainable and resilient economy’ through investment in green technologies, services and related infrastructure. SMEs are a key ingredient in realising this strategy, given that small to medium size enterprises make up 99.3% of all private sector business in the UK (2018). One of the main recommendations of the conference was to address public policy regarding finance to empower these SMEs to make a considerable contribution to climate change

Birmingham is one of the first UK cities to declare a City Centre clean air zone by 2020. Delivering such a rapid transition has massive repercussions for SMEs and requires not only financial support but also a comprehensive planning strategy to enable change.

Recommendations for a greener future

The conference presentations and debate aimed to produce recommendations on how to support SMEs to combat the climate emergency. Among these recommendations, conference delegates pointed out that clear strategic policy needs to be in place at local, regional and national levels, which prioritises the support of innovative green SMEs and their market needs. To achieve this, delegates stated that researcher and professional services have a key role to play in informing policy changes to create an effective ecosystem for green SMEs.

The conference led to exchange of ideas around green SMEs financing and provided some insight into the next steps to help support these innovative businesses. Our next conference hopes to expand on these ideas and will be held in collaboration with a university in Ghana in 2020.” 

-Professor Javed Hussain

The conference was organised in collaboration with Middlesex University and the Institute for Small Business Entrepreneurship, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Interested in finding out what other modes of funding are available for your business? View our funding page to find out more.


Do you ever consider how efficient your business is when it comes to resource? Do you assess how sustainable your processes are?  Whether it be human resource or physical materials, building a plan for resource efficiency can not only help your bottom line, but also make your business more financially competitive and environmentally friendly.

In this piece, we draw on insights from the Government’s Skills for a Green Economy report to assess the key skills your business may need to improve its resource efficiency.

Strategic business management

To enable your business to be truly resource efficient, big changes have to be made to the way your business is managed. Strategic business management skills and knowledge around developing resource-efficient business models will play a huge part, leading to bottom line benefits. You’ll also need to ensure your business model takes into account new government regulations and changes on the horizon, so you remain proactive rather than reactive.

Business/financial accounting services

When it comes to your finances, have you considered investing in learning about environmental accounting or getting some support? Environmental accounting can really help your resource efficiency, helping to identify your resource use, as well as measuring and communicating the cost of a company’s economic impact on the environment. Environmental accounting can provide many benefits to your business, including addressing long-term environmental consequences.

Technology design and adoption

Having an open mind set to new technologies and practices around resource efficiency – as well as understanding how to adopt them in your business – is key. The type of technology and processes you decide to integrate into your business will change the new skills your business will need. For example, if your business looks to introduce lean manufacturing into your workplace – a process for minimising waste with a manufacturing system – you may require someone with a good deal of knowledge and skills around manufacturing supply chain management.

Project management skills

Being aware of your business’ resource and capacity is vital when it comes to ensuring efficiency. Having a clear understanding of your resource requirements, as well as your environmentally friendly resource options, is vital if you want to get the most out of your projects.

How can your business access the skills it needs?

So you’ve identified potential skills and knowledge needed to make your business more resource-efficient and sustainable, but how can you access them? Businesses of all sizes can get support to upskill their business, whether it be through grants to take on apprentices, training workshops or access to student interns. Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM) is an account managed skills solution that offers regional SMEs the support they need to uncover the skills your business needs.

Find out more about how HLSM can help your business find the skills it needs. 


With exciting new technologies available to most businesses, the very idea of innovation is only hindered by how fast businesses are adopting it. However, not all companies are sure how to start or how to embed structures and practices in their businesses that will allow for digital transformation and the embracing of new ideas. In this blog, we outline clear steps that will help businesses lay the foundations to make the most of new digital technologies to drive their objectives.

Recruit people with experience

Employing people with previous experience in implementing digital transformation will really help to give you vital knowledge and a successful framework to work from. This person or people could act as role models and mentors for others in your organisation that are looking to get to grips with new software or exploring new ideas on how to use benefits of a new cloud-based infrastructure.

Also, if you’re bringing young talented graduates direct from university into your business, look for courses and experience that reflect new modern work environments and the latest thoughts and theories. Even though they might not have been involved in implementation, they may have the knowledge of the latest software and services – and be able to advise on where you should invest in the future.

Train and upskill people

The digital skills gap is upon us, and only by training and upskilling your existing staff to understand and embrace digital technologies will innovation truly happen. If you need support to understand your skills needs, you can gain external support to do this. Higher Level Skills Match is a local skills programme, part-funded by the European Skills Fund, that helps small business access the skills and support they need through a local university partnership.

Plan in time for experimentation

In small businesses especially, it is difficult to find the time, resource and headspace to plan ways to innovate and develop new ideas. William McKnight’s ’15 percent’ time rule operates on the idea that you should give your employees 15 percent of their time to experiment and develop innovative practices. Without allowing time to experiment and grow, your business is not encouraging or celebrating the search for new innovative ideas.

Encourage research and collaborations

Encouraging your employees to do their own research or collaborate with other experts to bring know-how into the business will not only expand your own knowledge set but allow you to become up-to-date in new thinking very quickly. Such services as Knowledge Transfer Partnerships help your business access academic thinking and funding to drive through your innovations.

Looking for more help?

For more advice and one-on-one support in driving through innovation in your business, check out the latest innovation workshops being run by Birmingham City University’s business growth experts – these provide direct support from Birmingham City University’s Business School academics in helping your small business innovate.

Ready to drive innovation in your business? Visit the Higher Level Skills Match page to find out more.


The digital skills gap continues to be a concern for UK business, but it’s not all gloominess ahead. By investing in solid recruitment solutions and training for your staff that meets the needs of developing technologies, you and your business could benefit dramatically. In this blog, we outline the advantages that preparing for the digital skills gap could have on your business and your individual employees.

Advantages for your business:

For your employees:

*All stats can be found in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s June 2019 report – Employer Demand for Digital Skills.

Need support deciding how to start? Birmingham City University’s service Higher Level Skills Match can help you identify your skills needs and develop an appropriate strategy for the development of new skills.