Category Archives: Business

Avoid Unfair Dismissal Claims

Unfair dismissal is the most common type of employment claim against employers in Ireland. Dealing with these claims can be extremely costly and time consuming. Employers are well advised to follow their own written procedures, to the letter, in employment contracts and handbooks, and to treat employees fairly and reasonably throughout any termination process, writes Claire McDermott from Flynn O’Driscoll.

In order for a dismissal to be deemed to be fair, the test is twofold: (1) there must be a substantial reason for the dismissal, and (2) the procedures used must be fair.

The Unfair Dismissals Acts set out a number of instances where dismissals will automatically be deemed to be unfair. These include trade union activities, strike action, dismissals relating to any protective leave (e.g. maternity), religious or political opinions, race, gender and sexual orientation.

Here are five things employers should NEVER do when considering terminating an employee’s employment.

 1.       Never act in the heat of the moment

At a very minimum, on dismissing an employee, employers must give the employee reasonable notice, which is dependent on their length of service with the company. This must be done in accordance with the Minimum Notice and Terms and Conditions of Employment Act or the notice provisions as set out in the employee’s contract. In circumstances where an employee offers their resignation in a heat of the moment scenario, it could be risky for an employer to rely on it. The best advice is that if a resignation is made during a heated exchange, it would be prudent for the employer to allow the dust to settle before issuing a P45. No matter how bad the employee has behaved, the employer should hold his breath and take immediate external advice on how to proceed.

 

2.       Never make an example of an individual employee

In circumstances where there are breaches of company policy within the workplace, such as practical jokes or bad time-keeping, and these practices are being carried out by a number of employees, be very careful not to make an example of any one individual employee.

In the recent case of RSA Insurance and Philip Smith, the former Chief Executive of RSA in Irelandwas awarded €1.25 million in a case where it was determined by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) that Mr. Smith had been constructively dismissed from his role. The case related to a report, which RSA Insurance had produced as a result of an investigation into the financial reserves of the insurance company. Mr Smith noted during the hearing that the later part of the report was a character assassination of him, which left him with no choice but to resign. There were also claims that the report had been drafted in such a way as to pre-determine that the decision would be taken by the Company to dismiss Mr Smith. These claims were upheld by the EAT who noted that the practices within RSA were known by more than a dozen employees.

 

3.       Never terminate by reason of redundancy without consultation

Redundancy is a highly regulated area. Where a genuine redundancy situation exists, employers will still need to exercise caution and ensure that they act in accordance with the legislation as well as following their own procedures. Fair procedures need to be followed at every step, and employers are advised to engage in at least a two-stage consultation process. The process should include an explanation as to why the company needs to restructure or make changes, any selection criteria to be used, and consultation on any suitable alternative positions that might be available within the company. Those selected for redundancy should be asked for their feedback and any alternatives to redundancy before any final decision is made. Where proposals are put forward by employees, the company should take time to consider same and revert to the employees as to whether they are viable alternatives.

Business for the First Time

One of the biggest challenges currently facing small business owners is dealing with the decrease in demand in their home market. Exporting is clearly one option, which can significantly help increase turnover and enhance business performance. For a first-time exporter, trading in Northern Ireland is the perfect place to begin, writes Thomas Hunter McGowan from InterTradeIreland.

Northern Ireland holds many advantages for businesses based in the Republic of Ireland (and vice-versa). It is geographically closer than our other European neighbours, and there are no language barriers. Cross-border trade is currently valued at €3.048bn – so substantial opportunities exist in both jurisdictions.

Here are some tips to get you started:

 

1. Take stock of your performance in your home market

  • Identify the challenges and opportunities (SWOT analysis).
  • How do you perform at home?
  • How well have you the home market covered geographically?
  • How do you compare against your competitors?
  • Do you supply all the multiples – are any markets closed to you?
2. Discuss with your team the opportunities and challenges of entering a new market
  • Lead the exercise yourself unless you really believe someone else in the team is better equipped to do this.
  • Discuss why you want to extend and grow (have facts and figures to hand).
  • Identify your readiness.
  • Fix any blockages.
  • Identify all challenges.
  • Set ambitious but achievable targets.
  • Identify rewards that will arise from new markets.
3. Visit your target marketplace
  • Spend time in your target marketplace.
  • Meet and talk to as many relevant people as possible, even if they are unlikely to be immediate clients or customers. They are all sources of invaluable market information.
  • Understand the retail or distribution channels for your product.
  • Examine competitors closely.
  • Get as much detail on “price” as possible: End or retail price, wholesale price, discounts
  • Understand the marketing and promotional approach of suppliers and retailers.
  • Estimate volume.
  • Size the work (the scale of the task in hand).
  • Note any differences from your home market.
4. Engage an experienced market research consultant based in the target marketplace
  • You or your team are best placed to carry this out and will learn a lot from the research process.
  • However, a professional marketer based in the new market can assemble facts and figures and reach sources quicker than you may do yourself.
  • An independent professional can also provide realistic feedback on the opportunities and challenges.
  • InterTradeIreland’s Acumen programme offers a number of tailored supports to help you with this research.

The Irish eCommerce Market

The 2015 Global Retail eCommerce Index ranks markets from big to small and highlights the growth rate of eCommerce worldwide. While the US, UK and China are e-Commerce giants by virtue of their size, smaller countries like Ireland are holding their own albeit growing at a much smaller rate, writes Liz Fulham from SalesOptimize.

It is at times easy to forget that the while the internet may be 30 years old, it is only in the past 16 years that major brands have begun to utilise the opportunities that eCommerce presents.

Although the eCommerce market is growing at a phenomenal rate, over 94% of retail goods are still sold on the high street and just 37% of the European population are online shoppers. There is an incredible opportunity for expansion and continued growth, as is very evident in this infographic.

The big question for us: Is the “Irish Business Community” ready to take full advantage of these opportunities?

Where there are opportunities, there are also challenges. Successfully addressing these challenges will help enable business owners to leverage the opportunities.

  • Search Engine Challenge
    The single biggest challenge for all online retailers is how to attract customers to their website. Everyone is chasing the elusive first page search result, first entry position on Google, Bing etc. Harnessing the power of deep web analytics reveals that less than 500 Irish online retailers have turnover in excess of €5m a year. Using our own advanced research algorithms, we have established that 90% of Irish online retailers have an annual turnover of less than €1m a year, with 60%+ generating less than €250K annually. Cracking the search engine nut will be the key to success for many eCommerce businesses.
  • MarTech Challenge
    Marketing in this ecosystem is beyond any one solution, with over 3,000+ products available in this sector alone, each claiming to have some aspect of the secret formula to SEO, content management, mobile advertising etc. Choosing the correct technology to achieve your marketing goals and objectives is critical to driving your business forward.

The Outlook

Are we facing an eCommerce future of “the internet of giants” vs “the internet of the world”? Ireland needs to face the next big wave of innovation. And this wave is eCommerce and Big Data. We have to recognise the challenge posed by the current search engines and their advertising practices and search algorithms. With a natural entrepreneurial culture inherent in us and a thriving start-up nation, is it only a matter of time before we harness the power of our nation, own our intellectual property, and unleash the opportunity that is business online?

Enterprise Ireland does a great job, at home and abroad, supporting and helping start-ups, but we need a whole community approach. Banks are looking to help start-ups, while schools and colleges should prioritise science and computing so our knowledge capital keeps pace.

Establishing Your Online Presence

The face of the digital landscape in Ireland has changed dramatically over the past two decades. We’ve come a long way; our Grannies are now using iPads! Let’s put it simply: if your brand has no online presence, you’re doing at least one thing wrong, writes Danielle O’Connell and Lauren Higgs from Good as Gold.

“I’m stuck with a website that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, I’ve already spent a ton of money and am being told that I need to spend more to fix the situation. I’m totally trapped.” Recently a client called us for some advice regarding her business. She owns a medium-sized company and has spent over a year moving from creative houses to marketing agencies in the hope of finding someone who she can trust. False promises, a badly designed website and a lot of frustration led her to our door, and unfortunately she is not alone.

The question often asked by business owners is: “How can I increase my conversions?” and although this is ultimately the goal for every business, it opens the digital Pandora’s Box of hefty retainers for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), content management and Google AdWords campaigns – all of which are detracting from the more fundamental issue of: Your Brand.

The digital bandwagon has been jumped on by so many at this stage that it’s hard to know what advice you should follow. If, like us, you’ve just started your own company, there are a number of points to be aware of to avoid getting lost in the digital abyss. Setting up a Facebook page because you “probably should” or publishing a website that no one can find is just going to waste both your time and money.

 

1. Don’t rush: “I need a website quick!”

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, working on establishing your business. It’s your baby. The biggest mistake you can make now is to rush. You may think that the most important thing is to be live on the World Wide Web, but remember, as soon as you hit “Publish” you’re exposing your brand and company to a global audience. Your brand is your public face and you need to be sure it’s ready to entertain. It shouldn’t take forever though, so we suggest you focus on finding out as much as possible about your audience, and then make a plan. This will make the most out of your schedule, save embarrassment and ultimately increase sales – both now and for years to come. The same applies to your social media accounts. If you have paid a graphic designer to create a brand for you that eloquently represents your business, it is a travesty then to upload a stretched or blurry version of your logo, not to mention a total waste of billed design hours.

Don’t mistake speed for precocity: the world doesn’t need wrong answers in record time.” – Cennydd Bowles, digital product designer and writer

 

2. Don’t just tick the boxes:  “That’s me done then!”

The check-list when setting up a business is quite a long one, particularly when it comes to the digital world. There are social media accounts to be set up, a website to build and populate, SEO and –  if you thought there was light at the end of the tunnel – there’s digital marketing to consider. If you have these items neatly ticked off though and are still no closer to creating a loyal fan base or generating interest, what’s going on?

Often we see businesses with beautiful websites that click through to social accounts that are anything but. It is vital that you have a clear and consistent voice across all relevant digital channels, not just one. If a potential customer’s first interaction with your brand is through a Facebook page that poorly represents who you are and what you do, why would they hang around?

Specialising in digital design, we’re regularly asked to provide graphics for various platforms and to add links on websites that bring users to sad and empty social media accounts. The mistake here for business owners is completing a task without really asking the question, “Why?” Is it better to have a page that has not been updated in months or to have none at all? For example, a blog is a clever way of giving a personal touch to your brand, and a healthy, relevant blog will contribute to both website traffic and SEO. However, if you dislike writing and are burdened by a blog section you know won’t be updated, don’t have one!

Boost Your Sales and Marketing Results

The economy is recovering. Now is the time to get your sales and marketing plans in tip-top shape to take advantage. Small to mid-sized businesses are the ones that fuel our economic growth. So, as you plan your campaigns for 2016, here are some tips to help you optimise your results.

1. “You don’t have to role play or be an actor.”

Make sure every message that your customer sees from you is focused on how your product or service benefits them. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, “What’s in this for me?” Make sure that the message is communicated clearly and consistently in your promotional materials, in your sales presentations, in your email campaigns, and on your website.

 

2. “Process makes perfect.”

That is certainly true when it comes to sales. To achieve success, you need to have a good selling process in place in your business. A sales plan – by media channel, by product line or by service – is essential to insuring your sales operation will function smoothly and be successful.

3. “I can see clearly now.”

How much do you know about your customers? If you don’t have a clear picture, then a customer profile analysis is what you need. By matching your customer file against a national consumer or business data warehouse, you can develop a profile of your customers that is a powerful tool for more targeted marketing and sales campaigns.

 

4. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

And neither was your customer list. Your customer list is your gold, but it takes planning and attention to detail to create a really powerful customer list. Be sure you have a good CRM system to store data on customer contact information, purchase history, marketing preferences, and personal attributes. Put someone in charge who will make sure all the input is accurate and thorough. Clean your list regularly with the help of a marketing services provider.

 

5. “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

But you can get a lot of mileage out of good publicity. Every business has a story, and every media outlet is looking for one. Send newsworthy press releases to your local media, your VIP list, your trade journals, and even the national media if the news is big.

Opportunities Amongst the Challenges

Amid all the noise about Brexit, it’s worth looking at exactly what businesses can do about it. Not much, you’d think, because only the people of the United Kingdom can decide their fate. When they vote in the referendum on 23rd June, they’ll determine the fortunes of many others, around them and after them, for years to come, writes John McGrane from British Irish Chamber of Commerce and Dublin Chamber of Commerce.

The EU is such a good idea that if we didn’t have one, we’d have to make one – for peace, security, fairness and achieving the ambitions of our parents, ourselves and our children.

The EU certainly needs fixing and it would be far better for Britain to lead than leave so we can fix it together.  But it’s their choice.

For business, life will go on, either way. Every day, business owners and their staff get on with buying, selling, hiring and taking care of customers, come what may.

In an island economy, we’re natural traders across our borders – we make too much of some things locally and we don’t have enough of some others. So the rules about trade are actually important: when a tariff or a levy is imposed on our exports, they’re less competitive and we sell less. When a tax is put on an import we need, our costs go up. So we do less business and we face increased unemployment. Clearly not a good idea. Which is why it’s good for everybody to have the UK remain in the EU and complete the job of building the largest open market network in the world. Because open markets grow trade and that grows investment and jobs, and that grows wellbeing and security for all our citizens. That’s an ambition worth standing for. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Plan Ahead

But, don’t let an unambitious Brexit put you off your ambitions. Larger firms face barriers in many parts of the world and may have the resources to cope. But smaller businesses, often family-owned, can be pragmatic and adaptable. A little forward thinking may prove useful now. Change may be opportunity as well as threat. Trading between Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is filled with potential (which is to say we do a lot, but still not nearly as much as we could). Manchester is five times the size of Dublin and there are still thousands of firms in both cities that haven’t yet connected, let alone traded. And the time it takes between Cork and Liverpool is as fast as between Cork and Dublin.

Trading in your next country is as easy as trading in your next county. The only difference is the currency and you’ve plenty of ways to manage that. Most of the trading rules today are the same and we get on pretty well together. You should also be looking at exporting further afield and technology makes that easier too, but not as easy as trading next door.

No doubt, Brexit messes things up – it immediately creates uncertainty so businesses can’t plan clearly. Some, indeed, will do more business from Ireland and that creates more opportunities for their suppliers. Becoming Norway or Switzerland or Canada (or even Albania) is not an answer: most of the so called Free Trade Agreements aren’t. They restrict important things like Food trade, they require free movement and payment to the EU and full compliance but no say in the rules, so that’s not what the UK will leave for. And there will be no quick Special Deal with Ireland – why would the rest of the EU states, most of which don’t have big trade surpluses with the UK, give a concession to a leaver and one small country that remains?

Entrepreneurs Must Be Incentivised

Budget 2016 will mark a significant departure from previous years. In its Spring Statement earlier this year, the Government announced that Budget 2016 (which will be announced on Tuesday 13th October) will be the first expansionary Budget since December 2007. With this in mind, Budget 2016 must be used to support sustainable economic development and insulate our economy from external shocks, writes Mark O’Mahoney of Chambers Ireland.

Recent Exchequer tax receipts have evidenced how our economic performance thus far this year has exceeded all expectations. By the end of August, tax revenues stood at just over €27.3bn – more than €1.4bn ahead of forecast. Since early 2014, we have seen increasingly strong performance in GDP growth and export levels but, crucially, we have witnessed an increase in domestic demand, which finally has translated into increased employment rates.

The forecasts for 2016 again show a strong growth trajectory for GDP, increased tax buoyancy and further employment growth. There is a general perception that Ireland has come through the worst of the recession and that we are entering a new phase of economic growth.

The improving performance of the Irish economy means the Government will have choices to make as to how best to utilise Exchequer resources in Budget 2016. It is important that we get these choices right.

At Chambers Ireland, we believe that the Budget must serve two key objectives: First, it must instil a new dynamism to the national economy and reinforce economic growth; second, it must seek to insulate the national economy in so far as possible from internal and external risks that have the potential to undermine our future economic and social growth.

In our Pre-Budget Submission launched earlier this year, we made a number of recommendations, which we believe will support these two objectives. Overall, our proposed actions can be grouped into four categories:

 

1. Supporting Entrepreneurship and Business Growth

We must incentivise a new generation of entrepreneurs to establish businesses and generate indigenous growth and employment. Through a series of targeted tax adjustments that will have a limited impact on the Exchequer, we believe entrepreneurs and small businesses can begin to thrive. Key to this is to ensure equity in tax and USC treatment of owner-directors and self-employed, and to reduce the marginal tax rate to below 50%.

 

2. Supporting Local Economic Development

There has been a pronounced disparity in how some towns and counties in Ireland have experienced the recovery. Output and employment remain low in numerous areas, and many of our Chambers outside of large urban centres report that their members are still struggling. There has been a renewed focus nationally on local economic development. We have outlined measures identified by our Chamber Network as best practice that can be implemented nationally to support this process. One such example is to incentivise Local Authorities to ring fence a portion of commercial rates for local economic development, with the Exchequer matching the funding.

 

3. Investing in Physical and Social Infrastructure

Ireland needs the right social and physical infrastructure if it is to maintain its international competitiveness. We are competing against the top countries in the OECD for investment and for market share. Letting our national infrastructure depreciate is not an option, and we have consequently called for prioritised investment in infrastructure to ensure we can support our future economic growth. Equally, if we are to position ourselves as a knowledge economy, our human capital must be developed to its fullest. We have highlighted areas where we believe investment and reform are required urgently to maintain our capital stock. Among these is to make childcare affordable by introducing direct public subvention and reforming the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme.

Brexit Could Affect Irish Tourism

As one of Ireland’s largest indigenous industries, tourism is vital for the country’s economic well-being. If the UK votes to leave the EU, there could be far-reaching consequences for the sector in Ireland, writes Tim Fenn from the Irish Hotels Federation.

The tourism sector employs over 205,000 people throughout Ireland, equivalent to 11% of total employment. It accounts for 4% of GNP and provides €7.3 billion in annual revenues, supporting the local economies of every village, town and county.

Strong Sector Growth Must be Sustained

In recent years, Irish tourism has benefited from a number of important developments that have supported growth in overseas visitors to our shores, including economic upturns in our major overseas markets such as the United Kingdom and North America. Domestic tourism is also recovering, largely on foot of a strong uplift in Irish consumer sentiment, which is of particular importance to tourism businesses outside the main urban destinations and traditional visitor hotspots.

Having created over 33,000 jobs during the last five years, tourism is now a major source of new employment generation. Given the right economic conditions, the Irish Hotels Federation estimates that tourism has the potential to create a further 40,000 additional new jobs by 2021. Continued growth in the sector cannot be taken for granted, however, and anything that would jeopardise visitor numbers from our key overseas markets, such as the UK, would be a cause for concern.

 

Potential Fallout of Brexit

The importance of the UK market cannot be over-stated. The UK is Ireland’s largest source market for inbound tourism, accounting for approximately 40% of overseas visitors. Since 2012, visitor numbers from Great Britain have increased by an impressive 28%, reaching 3.55 million in 2015. This rebound has played a vital role in Irish tourism’s recovery, underpinned by an upturn in the British economy and an increase in Ireland’s competitiveness as a tourism destination.

A decision by the UK to leave the European Union could have potentially far-reaching consequences for Ireland given our nearest neighbour is also our largest trading partner. From a tourism industry perspective, the implications of such a decision would very much depend on the terms of engagement negotiated post-exit between the UK and remaining EU bloc. A critical factor would be the level of access to the EU single market secured by the UK, and this could have significant ramifications in the areas of transport, border controls, competitiveness, investment and currency stability.

The Irish Hotels Federation believes the most benign outcome for tourism would be for the UK to remain within the EU. This would remove the current uncertainty about the UK’s relationship with Europe and avoid potential negative impacts for the Irish economy, particularly in terms of trade, travel and competitiveness.

To date, the uncertainty has contributed to a significant fall in the value of sterling against the euro and there is a risk that sterling could fall further if the UK voted to leave the EU, reducing the spending power of visitors from Britain and Northern Ireland. On the other hand, a vote to remain in the EU could result in a strengthening of sterling, which would benefit Irish tourism.

Academy Place Decided by Public Vote

The final place on the 2016 AIB Start-up Academy programme has been decided by public vote via a “Wildcard” competition hosted by Joe.ie and Her.ie.

Thousands of voters took to Twitter over five days, with Topper Technologies receiving over 30,000 votes to emerge as the winner. The company provides a one-stop shop for CRM, events, appointments, and payments online.

Jenny Reynolds, founder of Topper Technologies, was delighted with the win: “I am so happy, there are no words! When you’re a start-up, it feels like you’re running up a steep hill. It was such an emotional journey; the support was unbelievable.”

Jenny has already taken her well-deserved place on the intensive training and mentoring programme with Irish Times Training, which commenced on 29th February. The programme will cover topics such as business and marketing strategy, social media training, eCommerce and design thinking.

The full list of finalists are:

  • Blackwater Distillery  – Ireland’s first craft whisky and gin distillery
  • Brendan Joseph  – Working with gorgeous natural fibres to distil precious moments into woven wearable art
  • Buska Ltd – Renting, delivering and collecting heavy duty, stackable, closable, recycled plastic Buska moving boxes for people on the move
  • Cool Bean Company – A healthy (beany) meal in a pot
  • Dropchef  – The smartest way to cook a healthy dinner
  • Leaves – Pasta full meal solution that cooks in just five minutes
  • Nasal Medical Ltd – Nose implants that prevent snoring and sleep apnea, as well as 98% of airbourne allergies
  • Popertee – Find the perfect retail space for your business
  • Queezybags – The compact, clean and convenient way to ensure nausea and sickness don’t get in the way of life
  • Rebel Chilli  – The home of award-winning chilli sauce
  • Topper Technologies Ltd – A one-stop shop for CRM, events, appointments and payments

 

How to Protect Your Business

The UK Government has set 23rd June 2016 as the date for its “In-Out” referendum vote on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. Opinion polls are pointing to a very close outcome, and an “Out” result would undoubtedly change the landscape for business owners in Ireland, writes Oliver Mangan, Chief Economist at AIB.

The UK EU referendum issue has now moved centre stage in the UK. We view it as the primary event risk for the UK and Ireland in 2016, as a vote to leave the EU would have profound economic and political consequences for both countries. It is now a 50/50 call, in our view, on whether the UK votes to leave or remain in the EU.

Impact on the UK Economy – Uncertainty About Trade Agreements

Most studies show that leaving the EU would have a negative impact on the UK economy. It could take up to a decade for the full economic impact to be felt in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI), trade flows, migration etc. There would obviously be negative knock-on effects for Ireland given its close ties with the UK.

 

The critical question centres around what type of trade arrangements would be put in place between the UK and EU post a Brexit. The more the UK seeks to regain control over policy and regulations, the more difficult it will be for it to negotiate a worthwhile trade deal with the EU. In order to secure a preferential trade deal, the UK is likely to have to adhere to EU rules and regulations.
It would be a major drawback for the UK if it had to fall back on World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, which is likely to involve the imposition of trade tariffs. Some 45% of UK exports go to the EU, so it is a vital market. On the other hand, the UK takes just 10% of EU exports. Thus, the UK is not as vital to the EU for trade as the EU is to the UK.
Trade Impact on Ireland

Ireland has very close trade and economic links with the UK and so would be greatly impacted by Brexit. Those trading with the UK, at a minimum, would face increased administrative and regulatory costs and possibly tariffs. A recent ESRI report suggests that there could also be a significant decline in bilateral trade. Sectors such as agriculture, retailing, energy and financial services are likely to be most impacted by Brexit.
The main Irish exports to the UK are food, pharma, ICT and a broad range of services, while on the import side, energy, manufactured goods and services are all important. Ireland is the UK’s fifth largest export market. Some 33% of Ireland’s imported goods come from the UK. It is worth noting that more goods are imported into Ireland from the UK than the rest of the EU combined.