The Northern Affinity Partner Meeting – 29th January 2021

We were thrilled to have so many of our partners together for the first time since November (virtually of course). Thank you to everyone who came along; brilliant to see so many faces in what is a really exciting time for all of us at The Northern Affinity. 

The latest from The Northern Affinity. 

A lot has changed for us in the last couple of months. We’re so excited to be expanding The Northern Affinity community into Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire in the coming months. Spaces are limited on these launch events so if you haven’t already, please make sure you’ve booked a place. There will be a number of webinars courtesy of our partners as well as plenty of opportunities to connect with others throughout the day. 

A huge thank you to Anna Short and Andy Hogg who will be taking charge of these new areas. We can’t wait to see new partners connecting and growing their businesses. 

As well as our community, our team is expanding too! Sarah Small will be on board to help us with the operational side of things as we move into this new period of growth. The Northern Affinity was also approved to take part in the government’s Kickstarter scheme; an opportunity to help a young person access work. We look forward to introducing the successful candidate when the time comes. 

Our partner platform has now migrated from Workplace to Mighty Networks. We hope by now you’ve managed to log in and get to know the platform. We’d love any feedback and ideas on how to get the most out of the new system. 

Finally, a quick thank you to all the partners that took part in The Northern Affinity Podcast. Lots of great conversations and insights. We’re excited to get cracking creating more content for you. 

But enough about us!

Thank you Rachel Mather who spoke to us about successful bids and accessing funding. In the current climate, this was useful information for everyone. Rachel is a relatively new partner to The Northern Affinity. Her business, &mather was born in 2020. Rachel wanted to push boundaries, reach new audiences and help more businesses succeed through secured grants, funding and contracts. Welcome Rachel!

With so many of us currently balancing working from home, home schooling and other responsibilities, hearing from our next speaker was very timely indeed. Anyone who has worked with Sarah Small knows she is a process wizard. Sarah showed us what to think about when outsourcing to a VA or another service provider and some useful techniques for juggling the current pandemic work-life balance. It’s safe to say we’re very happy to have Sarah as part of The Northern Affinity team going forward! 

We’re looking forward to having you along for the ride. 

Over the past year, when in so many instances it’s felt difficult to connect, we’re immensely proud of the community within The Northern Affinity. It’s more than networking. It’s a supportive group of people who have found genuine connection over shared passions for business and making things happen. 

Our next steps are incredibly exciting. We can’t wait to see how our community grows and the people we’ll meet along the way. Make sure you don’t miss the next partner’s meeting on Friday 26th February. If you have any questions in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to drop us a message.

Wellbeing tips for lockdown 3.0

As we approach February, it’s been nearly four weeks of lockdown 3.0. We know many of our partners are juggling their businesses, home schooling and other responsibilities. So we thought we’d pull together a few tips for taking care of yourself as we approach the next few weeks. One size doesn’t fit all here. We’d love to hear any of your experiences. Every little helps. 

Find the routine that works for you. 

Dolly’s method isn’t necessarily the way to make a living at the moment. We can all be forgiven for ditching the traditional 9-5 and finding the routine that works best around schooling, partner work habits and other responsibilities. 

You might find that getting a few hours in early in the morning is what does it for you. It might be late into the evening once everything else has settled down. Whatever way works for you, make sure you cut yourself some slack. You’re doing your very best. You never know, you might find that your creativity actually thrives outside the traditional working day. This might illuminate you to a new way of working you hadn’t considered before. 

Make time for yourself. 

We know our partners and we know how dedicated you are to what you do. But in the middle of a lot of chaos, it’s so important to remember to carve out some time for yourself in the day. You might get an hour, you might get ten minutes. But remembering to stop, step back and smell the roses (no matter how long for) is so important for maintaining your wellbeing. 

Whether you watch your favourite show, work out, play your favourite video game or simply sit in silence away from a screen for a short time, doing something for yourself in the day will help you to slow down from work. Working from home, especially when you’re a business owner, can make it feel almost impossible to step away from the desk. Remember the importance of a work-life balance. 

Stay connected to others. 

Never has a situation affected so many people around the globe. So the chances are, there will always be someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. Part of carving that time out for yourself will include staying connected to your friends and family. It’s easy to start feeling isolated when not leaving the four walls of your house (and the other people in it). 

The Northern Affinity is full of people who share a passion for what they do. Make the most of your community. A number of our partners are in the same boat – juggling managing their business on top of young families at home. When things get tough, reach out. We use several platforms to stay in touch and there is always someone to chat to. While our circumstances aren’t all identical, we’re all in the same wider situation. 

We hope you’re all doing well. While the lockdowns have meant we’ve been unable to do a lot of the things we normally love, they’ve also presented a number of really positive opportunities we may never have had before. 

If you’d like more information about connecting with The Northern Affinity, we’ll soon be expanding across Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire. To find out how to get involved, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

Your business new year’s resolutions

The time for writing new year’s resolutions has come around again. Have you decided on any for your business for 2021? We thought we’d take a look at some of the most popular business resolutions and how you can implement them this year to help your business grow and flourish. 

Firstly, let’s start by saying that small changes can often amount to big change in the long run. Often when we set ourselves a number of enormous targets and challenges all at once, our success rate isn’t that great. Best to break it down into small (and most importantly) achievable chunks. 


Most of our partners are small business owners and it’s not uncommon for small business owners to feel like they need to do everything and do it well. Realistically, few of us are true Jack of all trades. Is there room for you to delegate or outsource something that’s taking up too much of your time or that you feel could be done better by someone else? Knowing the point at which to start sharing the load could be the turning point for the growth of your business. 

If you’re feeling nervous about letting go of the reins, like we said, start small. You might only give one job over this year but it’s one job less for you to worry about. 

Attend more networking events. 

Well, this one is obviously going to be slightly strange at the moment. By now, most of us have gotten used to the idea of virtual networking. In fact, we know many of you actually prefer it as it saves you valuable time in travel. 

Why not explore your virtual networking opportunities? And don’t feel like you need to attend every single available one out there. Attending several before you find the right one that’s a good fit and actually brings you business can take time. It’s a real quality over quantity situation. There’s no point spreading yourself too thin for things that aren’t actually going to help you grow. 

At The Northern Affinity, we have several networking events available. Come and get to know other like minded northern business owners. We’d love to see you there. 

Make more time for personal development. 

The old saying goes, ‘everyday’s a school day’. There’s always something to learn. How often do we find ourselves shelving our personal development plans because something else gets in the way. 

Remember what we said about starting small? Practise assigning specific time to your personal development. Even if that’s 15 minutes a day to read a quick chapter of the book you’ve been meaning to read, or starting the podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to.

When your 15 minutes becomes part of your routine, up it to 20. And so on and so on. When we’re busy making things happen, we forget to invest time in ourselves. 

Will you be trying to increase your personal development time in 2021? 

Get your name out there. 

During the first national lockdown, many of you turned your efforts to your marketing. And rightly so. In many cases, that’s something that gets forgotten about. 

Is one of your resolutions for your business to get your name out there more often? 

Whether it’s getting set up on the right channels, executing your dream campaign or growing your mailing list, there’s lots you can do. While we’re in the midst of a second national lockdown, your marketing is going to be one of your biggest assets.

And if you’re not sure where to begin, plenty of our partners are on hand to help

It might not have been the start of the year any of us were hoping for. But we’ve done it once and we’ll do it again. In the face of adversity, there are an awful lot of opportunities as well. The Northern Affinity will be doing everything we can to provide as many events and ways to stay connected as possible. Whether that’s through our podcast, live videos and online events. We’ve got you covered.

How to maximise your presence on LinkedIn

Because of the very nature of The Northern Affinity, we spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. This online networking platform allows users to build up their connections and curate a feed of like minded business people who might be the key to their next big opportunity. Many of our partners are very active on LinkedIn. You can find each of their profiles at the bottom of their partner pages. Today, we wanted to discuss just a few ways you can get yourself noticed on LinkedIn and maximise your results from the platform. 

Make sure your profile is complete.

Think about it. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview with half a CV would you? Consider your LinkedIn profile as your online CV. It’s other people’s first impression of you and as we all know, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. This is when it’s a great idea to make sure your brand assets are all aligned, a clear branded LinkedIn banner and profile photo will help you stand out from the crowd and let people know what you’re all about. 

LinkedIn will guide you through the process until your profile is complete. It looks great to have recommendations and endorsements from former or current colleagues on there for good measure. Who wouldn’t want their experience and references all in one place? 

Connect with the right people.

The more people you connect with, whether they’re in your industry or not, the more LinkedIn will start recommending your profile to others. Not only is this a brilliant way to connect with people you know and hear their professional updates, you can connect with those who inspire you. Fill your feed with educational, inspiring posts. There’s always something to learn from the people around us and filling your connections with a diverse group of people is an excellent way to achieve this.

Engagement gets you noticed.

Much like the real life working world, you get out of LinkedIn what you put in. If you’re someone who set up your profile and hasn’t looked at the platform since, chances are you won’t be getting much return. However, if you’re active and engaging on a variety of posts, whether that’s liking, sharing or leaving an encouraging comment, the chances of you then showing up on more people’s feeds is significantly increased. Who knows who may spot you down the line? 

This is when becoming part of a community like The Northern Affinity can be really beneficial. You have a ready made group of cheerleaders ready to sing your praises and help you get noticed by your future connections.

Did you see our LinkedIn live with Judy Parsons? We discussed general tips for improving your engagement and activity on LinkedIn as well as some tips and tricks to make your profile the best it can be. To hear more details or for more information on how to become part of The Northern Affinity, please get in touch with us today.

The Northern Affinity Partners Meeting – Friday 31st July 2020

Well, somehow we’ve arrived in August. It’s almost our first birthday! This latest virtual partner meeting was an opportunity to go through a number of changes ahead of September. All will be revealed soon. But it’s safe to say that The Northern Affinity is growing. We’re excited to have you along for the ride. 

One of these changes is the introduction of a series of ‘How To’ events. Thank you to all that have responded expressing your interest in running a session. It’ll be a great learning opportunity for everyone. Depending on the lockdown guidelines (we know these are currently affecting areas of West Yorkshire), our local meet ups will be happening throughout the next few months. These sessions are an excellent introduction to your local partners and an opportunity to catch up and discuss local ideas and initiatives. 

The Impact on SME businesses of Brexit

Amidst the grip of the pandemic, Brexit has been largely forgotten about. However, Craig and Julia of Stone King LLP  kindly walked us through the considerations we should be making as business owners hiring European nationals throughout the course of the Brexit transition. 

Stone King are one of the UK’s oldest established firms, dating back to 1785. With offices in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds and London, the firm has grown without losing their client focused ethos.  

Firstly, anyone employing EU nationals should be aware of their right to work in the UK. Come 2021, the process of having the right to work in the UK will be changing to coincide with freedom of movement laws and working laws. EU nationals coming to live and work in the UK will be required to get a visa beforehand. There will be the option to apply for a skilled worker visa but as a business owner, you will need to be an approved employer sponsor. This application costs £536 for small to medium businesses or charities. The sponsorship certificates themselves cost £199 per person being sponsored. 

If you’re not already approved, this is something you should consider over the next coming months. If you’re approved, make sure to check the validity of your license as they expire every four years. For an European national who is already in the UK, they will be able to stay provided they register for the settlement scheme. The deadline for this is July 2021. 

From a compliance perspective, it’s crucial employers and employees stay on top of things. Immigration laws change regularly and it’s important things don’t fall through the cracks. 

A huge thank you to Craig and Julia for a very informative session. If you have any questions going forward, you can find Craig’s details on his partner profile.

Once again, thank you to all that attended the meeting. We’re hoping that in the next coming months, we’ll be able to welcome you back to The Northern HQ for meetings face to face. However, we’ve decided to keep going with the virtual format as well. If all goes to plan, we will hopefully be able to stream the meeting to you live. In terms of our next meeting, we’re finalising a date in September so as not to interrupt anyone’s bank holiday plans. We’ll let you know as soon as this is confirmed. 

Wishing you all a fantastic August. Enjoy the remainder of the summer and we’ll see you again soon.

How the right technology can help you achieve your business goals.

We’ve all seen what a long way technology has come in the last 20 years. We now have the power of an entire computer sitting in our pockets all day, not to mention limitless software at our fingertips on a daily basis. Technology has really had it’s shining moment throughout the pandemic with more businesses than ever before adopting new processes and systems to allow their employees to work remotely and get the job done. 

In The Northern Affinity, a number of our partners are SMEs. We thought we’d highlight just a few ways that investing in technology can help you achieve your business goals. 

Increase productivity

Particularly when we start our businesses, we take on every job in the business. This can take us away from doing what we really love. If you’re finding yourself spending hours and hours on tedious admin, is there a more viable process that would be more efficient and give you your valuable time back? 

For those of you with large numbers of clients, are you using CRM technology to manage your database? Do you find certain enquiries falling through the cracks? Automating your client management will keep you on track and often have a direct result on your productivity and ultimately, your results. 

Reduce your overheads

It’s always difficult to know when the right time to make an investment is, especially when it comes to technology. However, after the initial investment, it’s common for your overheads to reduce. Take going paperless for example. It might be a big change in the short term but think how much you’ll save down the line when it comes to your printing, paper and filing costs. It all adds up. 

You may also find when you have the appropriate technology in place, it’ll give you a better picture of your capacity. If it turns out you have much more time than you thought now that the menial admin is automated, you may even save yourself larger expenses such as hiring additional staff. 

Scale up

Finally, all of us have dreams and aspirations for our businesses. Growth and evolution are a key part of development. Putting processes and systems in place early on will make scaling up a whole lot less painful. 

Getting to know how you like your business works will make it easier for you to train future staff or explain exactly what you need when you need to upgrade. 

It’s easy for technology to feel like smoke and mirrors. Knowing exactly what you need can be difficult. Thankfully, we have partners that can help. You can search our directory for the person you need here

At The Northern Affinity, we love hearing about the success of our partners. We’re also always here as a soundboard for new ideas or when things get tough. If you want to chat to other like minded business people and get some solid tips, advice and support, we’re here for you. 

To find out more about The Northern Affinity, come along to our next open monthly meeting and get to know us. We look forward to seeing you there soon.

Why you need to grow your team to achieve your goals

The old saying goes, ‘divide and conquer’ and this definitely comes into play in business. It’s hard to be a jack of all trades and therefore growing your team (even as a small business) can often help you towards achieving your goals. Whether you’re outsourcing or hiring new staff, always remember to seek out people who fit in line with your values; they’ll be the ones that help you reach your milestones. 

Outsource to the experts.

Try as we might, we can’t all be the expert in everything we do. Trying to be everything to your business can get tiring, particularly if you’re in a busy stage of growth. You don’t want anything falling through the cracks. It can be easy to become distracted trying to get through those tasks that you find challenging, rather than focusing on the things you love about your business. 

Is outsourcing the solution for you? There are many fantastic VAs, HR advisors, accountants and others who can take care of your business so you can put your energy where it matters. 

Find an accountability buddy.

If you’re working towards specific business goals, becoming part of an accountability group or peer group can be a really useful tool for keeping you on track.Often when you ask yourself the same question, you’ll get the same answers. This is when having an accountability buddy or group can add tremendous value. 

Particularly if you’re a small business, accountability groups or buddies can provide a brilliant platform for bouncing ideas off other people which can be really beneficial. You’ll find you get a different perspective on your challenges and you might come to a solution a lot faster. 

After the last couple of months of the national lockdown, there’s the added benefits of creating new social connections and someone you can rely on and chat to about your challenges or celebrating your wins. 

Remember, you’re the key. 

You have the power to make your business what you want. Delegation can be hard when you want to do everything yourself. However, you can’t give the best of yourself to your business if you’re trying to be everything to everyone. No one wants to have to deal with the dreaded burn out. Once your focus is taken away from your goal, it will take you much longer to get there. 

When you’re giving 100% to the thing you love, that’s when your business will really see the benefits. It’s always a good idea to work smarter, not harder. 

Growing can be daunting but it’s a key part of business. We believe that businesses can thrive through careful delegation and outsourcing. At Virtual Hand, we are a team of action-takers. We support business owners who want to grow and evolve and do that by taking care of the day to day so they can focus on the bigger picture. Ready to achieve your goals? Take action today.

Returning to work: managing employee mental health.

It’s safe to say that the last few months haven’t exactly gone to plan for most of us. Sadly, the pandemic out the brakes on a lot of great projects and at its worst, put jobs have sadly been lost. With an ever expanding conversation around mental health, how do we manage our wellbeing as we navigate through this next stage of either returning to work or going about applying for new positions? 

Communicate with your staff/employer.

Everyone’s personal circumstances are different. It’s therefore nearly impossible to expect everyone to have the same reaction to returning to work. While some will be excited and ready, other employees may be vulnerable, or living with someone considered vulnerable or at risk. They therefore may have a lot more reservations, particularly if they’re public facing or returning to a crowded office. 

It’s critical to have an open dialogue and find the best possible solution that will benefit both your business and your employees, not sacrificing one for the other. Are there some simple adaptations that can be made to accommodate those feeling confident? 

None of us have ever had to find our way through a situation like this before and it’s only by working together that we can move forward with everyone feeling safe, confident and listened to. 

Lean on your network. 

In The Northern Affinity, we’re so proud to have brought together such a community of partners. Throughout the entire lockdown period, communication has been strong and there has been a real sense of support and purpose. 

If you are feeling apprehensive or want to talk through some concerns, lean on your network. The chances are you’ll find a number of people with the same thoughts and also people who can offer advice or solutions to the challenges you face. Fundamentally, it’s about remembering to talk to others about what you’re going through. As business owners, we face so many challenges and responsibilities and it’s important to share and learn from others; it’s how we grow and evolve. 

Remember to take a break. 

Finally, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re all bound to hit a bump in the road and other obstacles but it’s important to take things day by day. If lockdown taught us all anything, it’s to remember to take a step back and to not sweat the small stuff quite as much. 

Hopefully, we all found the thing that brings us some calm in the weeks at home (even between juggling work and childcare in many cases). Now, with the country reopening it’s doors and encouraging us to go out and enjoy it, we can now start doing the things we enjoy again away from work. If you’ve been finding it hard to switch off, try to find the thing that makes it easier to shut the laptop at the end of the day. Without breaks, we can’t hope to give our all to our beloved businesses so finding that balance is crucial

None of us can know what’s to come in the next six months. All we can do is continue to follow the government guidelines to the best of our ability, support our peers and our local businesses. Communication will continue to be a key player. If you’d like to find out more about becoming a partner of The Northern Affinity, we’d love to hear from you. Join a group of like minded business owners as we all find our way towards a new and better normal.

Adapting your business model – Brenda Etchells

Understanding your business model is the first step if you want to grow your business.   When we start, we’ll write a business plan but often we never revisit it. Like most things in life, our businesses evolve over time and that often means your model will need revisiting and updating to reflect the new direction and goals of your business. I’m going to share a simple technique that will help you to map out your business model.

The Business Model Canvas was developed by and since attending one of their  two-day workshops 10 year ago I have used the model in my own business and have also adapted it  for my clients to use.    

The model follows nine main principles. Breaking down your model into these categories will give you a clear focus and a thorough picture of what actions you need to take going forward. 

  1. Customer segments – Who are your customers 
  2. Value proposition – Why do your customers use/buy your product? 
  3. Channels – How do you reach your customers? 
  4. Relationships – How do you interact? 
  5. Revenue – What are the main income streams for your business? 
  6. Key activities – What must you do to meet your customer needs? 
  7. Key resources – What assets must your business use/have to compete? 
  8. Key Partnerships – What can you outsource? 
  9. Costs – What are the biggest costs in your business?

 I have simplified the approach to asking Why, Who, Where, What and How: 

How do I use this information going forward? 

Once you have completed the model,  there are several ways you can use the information you’ve gathered. 

Target Business Models 

Use the model to explore various future states. How do these differ to your current business model? Once you have agreed your target business model, this becomes the blue-print on which your planning and actions must align behind.


Now is a good time to research your competitors in your market. What do their business models look like? This is a useful exercise to help you highlight your strengths and weaknesses and identify your place within your market. 


While it might feel a little uncomfortable, now is the time to put yourself in the shoes of a disruptor. Pick apart your model from top to bottom and start again from the beginning. If you were targeted for acquisition, what parts of your current business model would be stripped out?  Where are the inefficiencies? Would you target different customers? Is there an untapped market/need? 

Creative Thinking

This may be challenging but think about what the total opposite of your business model would look like. Thinking about this will push the boundaries and you might find you come up with some ways to improve your model. Get the creative juices flowing by turning your business model on its head. 

Being clear on your business model can only help you in the future. Sometimes it’s worth going back to basics. Whether you’re a company of 3 or 300, the principles remain the same. I’m passionate about helping businesses maximise the impact of their planning, driving then towards a positive and successful future. 

For help with your strategic planning, you can contact Brenda via her partner profile.

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