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Mediation for employment issues, you may have heard of it, but what is mediation in the context of employment? What can it be used for and what does the process look like?  Many people believe that mediation is only for when an employee brings a grievance against their employer, and while this is a common use for mediation, there are many other ways that mediation can be a useful tool for both employer and employee for a range of issues in the employment relationship.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a service for employers and employees which is run through Employment New Zealand who operate under MBIE; the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It is free and confidential, and generally a quick process to engage in, with some mediations lasting only a couple of hours before being resolved, which means less stress and lost productivity for all parties involved.  Mediation is a fantastic first step in resolving employment issues without having to go to the ERA (Employment Relations Authority) which is more costly, largely due to legal fees, more time consuming and usually more stressful.

Mediation is a collaborative approach; finding an outcome that both parties are happy with and avoids the win-lose approach that court can have.  Mediation is voluntary however mediation is your friend and if matters can be resolved in mediation then this is the best outcome for all involved as whatever settlement is reached remains confidential, keeping both employer and employee reputation intact.

When can I use Mediation?

Mediation can be used after employment ends and for employment problems while the employee is still working for the employer.  Issues such as bullying and harassment claims, issues between teams, collective bargaining with unions, strikes, lockouts and of course personal grievances like unjustified disadvantage or unjustified dismissal.

I Want to go to Mediation but What is the Process?

You have an employment problem that is not being resolved by speaking to the other party involved.  You’re starting to get a bit frustrated and have decided that mediation could help resolve the issue. So what do you do?

Mediation applications are found online. There is a Mediation Pre-application form above the Request Mediation button and this is a useful tool to use before you Request Mediation.  It gets you thinking of the issues and what supporting documentation you should attach.  Giving the mediator lots of information while sticking to the facts will give them a good sense of what the issue is about.

How do I apply for mediation online?

  1. Go to Employment.govt.nz and click on Resolving Problems, then Steps to Resolve, Mediation and Request Mediation
  2. Both parties are then contacted by Employment Mediation Services Staff and a suitable time and place for mediation to take place is arranged. (During Alert Levels 2, 3 and 4 COVID-19 Restrictions, all mediation will be done via phone or zoom video calls).
  3. Once it is convened (whether at a physical venue or via phone or zoom), the Mediator will speak to each party separately before group discussions take place.
  4. Discussion and negotiations take place.
  5. Settlement is reached, and a section 149 Record of Settlement will record the settlement details with both parties signing it and the mediator will sign this off, ensuring the settlement is full, final and confidential. The matter is now settled, usually within hours of entering Mediation.
  6. If settlement cannot be reached at mediation, you can either choose to adjourn the process and come back to mediation after a period of time, you can keep negotiating after Mediation and perhaps leave an offer on the table for a set time (seven days perhaps for thinking time) or the matter can be taken further to the Employment Relations Authority.

The Dos and Don’ts of Mediation

DO:

  • Stick to the facts. Try to keep emotions out of it even though emotions can be running high.
  • Remain calm, focused, and open minded.
  • Be collaborative and conciliatory. You should have the problem-solving mindset of working together to find a satisfactory outcome of both parties.
  • Put yourself in the other parties’ position to help give you perspective.
  • Focus on the issues, not the person. Try to keep personality out of it, stick to the issues involved not the person involved.
  • Listen for understanding. This will help you identify the other parties ’underlying need and concern.  If you can understand for example that what they really want is an apology as opposed to money, then negotiations may reach settlement quicker with this in mind.  Alternatively, perhaps they just need enough money from the mediation process to pay their rent while they look for another job and will accept the termination of their employment if the figure will satisfy their rent requirements to reach settlement.

DON’T:

  • Be aggressive and have an opponent mentality.
  • Make personal attacks or use accusatory language, such as “you always singled me out in front of others” or “you are the worst manager I have ever had.”
  • Act like you are in a courtroom. The other party is not on trial.
  • Refuse to compromise. If the matter escalates to the Employment Relations Authority you may end up worse off than if you had of compromised and reached a mutually agreeable settlement at Mediation.
  • Get caught up on small details, look at the big picture instead. There are worse alternatives to a negotiated agreement such as lost time and productivity, huge legal fees, and loss of confidentiality if it escalates to the ERA and this can be damaging to the reputation of both employer and employee.

Other Points to Note About Mediation

Yes, you can have a legal representative with you, or an employee advocate, an HR consultant or a Union Rep.  You could bring a friend or family member as support or a community leader. Other people in the room could be an interpreter if required.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Keen to settle but want to informally discuss what the other party will settle for so an offer can be made? “Fireside chats” (without prejudice discussions) can take place in negotiations prior or after mediation.  These are discussions around what you might settle but can’t be used against you in court. Be careful to ensure all communications are clearly noted “without prejudice” otherwise they are admissible. It is wise to use a legal representative for without prejudice discussions as these are normally only used for serious employment problems.

It’s Not All About Money

Maybe their bottom line is a “Sorry.” Apologies can speed up resolution processes. Sometimes an aggrieved party just wants to hear the words and be assured that they won’t repeat the behavior again. Hearing the other party say sorry and be genuinely apologetic can ensure parties can heal and move on.  Mediation can be a cathartic experience for those seeking a humble apology.

Make Sure You Know What a Settlement is For

If there is a settlement that includes a payment for hurt and humiliation, remember that Hurt and Humiliation payments are non-taxable but payment for lost wages are. The employee may settle for a figure that comprises both hurt and humiliation and a payment for any lost wages so be careful about knowing the difference and taxing these payments accordingly.

Be Mindful of Timelines

Mediators can set time limits for mediation with the agreement of parties involved.  Parties may agree that if the matter is not resolved for example within 5 hours, the Mediator can then make a recommendation in writing about the solution and the date it will become binding.  You can accept or decline the recommendation before the date it becomes binding and if it is not rejected it becomes fill, final and enforceable.

If you are an employer and have employer insurance, you will need to follow the advice of the Insurer who will likely take the matter over and recommend you attend mediation and advise what you should settle for.

Final Thoughts

Mediation is a fantastic way to collaboratively and openly nip employment problems in the bud. Settling by way of mutual agreement which means buy-in of both parties and a salvageable employment relationship in some cases.  Mediation is a quick and easy dispute resolution service that is cost effective for everyone involved. So if you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to resolve an employment issue yourself by talking to the other party involved, apply online for mediation to get it resolved and get back to doing the things you’d rather be doing.

An eco-friendly business offers plenty of advantages: lower costs, increased profitability, marketing opportunities and the biggest one of all, a better environment for everyone.

Long gone are the days when businesses who actively chose recycled photocopy paper were ‘different.’ Today’s businesses are striving to become greener, and they are proud to show it. We take a look at some of the ways you can do to also become an eco-friendly business.

What is an Eco-Friendly Business?

An environmentally sustainable or eco-friendly business is one which focuses on using resources more efficiently and reduces waste. Often a business is seen as being green if it sells products made from recycled materials. But there’s more too it that simply the products they sell. Every business can improve their level of eco-friendliness regardless of what they sell or where they are located.

Like with everything, going green is something best done from a place where you know where everything stands. This requires you to identify what your business’ current environmental practices are, such as:

  • waste – what is recycled, reused, composted or sent to the landfill?
  • consumables – how many do you use, can you reduce their usage, is there a better viable option?
  • workplace – what strategies are in place to reduce waste, electricity and water usage?
  • promotion – how are eco-friendly practices encouraged by your team members? Does this work? Where are the areas for improvement?
  • policies – are there any workplace or business policies in place regarding being a green business? Do they need revision?

Once you’ve identified areas for improvement, you can begin making real changes.

Easy Ways to Operate an Eco-Friendly Business

Keeping in mind the areas you’ve identified where you can improve your business’ eco-friendly practices, consider which ones of these suggestions would fit:

  • use natural light where possible – not only does is save electricity usage, and therefore save you money, but natural light is also kinder on our eyes. Position desks and workstations near windows.
  • go paperless – invest in some cloud storage to keep your documents in rather than printing out and putting in a filing cabinet. This also refers to invoices, where Xero for instance, can invoice digitally.
  • work from home – thanks to COVID-19, many businesses had their employees working from home where possible. Why not continue this trend at least part time, cutting down on commutes and resources used to get to work.
  • meet digitally – virtual meetings have been around for a while but are on the increase. Instead of driving to meet at someone’s office, meet digitally instead.
  • choose reusable products – single use products are costly in resources and price. Invest in reusable products such as mugs, refillable hand sanitiser containers and printer inks.
  • buy sustainable – this means identifying suppliers which are committed to practicing sustainability and using their products or services.

Here at MBP Advisors + Accountants, we strongly believe we are an eco-friendly business, we even won the ICNZB Award for Most Sustainable Bookkeeping Business in New Zealand. . That’s because we are dedicated to being paperless, efficient and environmentally conscious. We plant a tree for every single ream of paper we use and we actively fund environmental initiatives in our local communities. However, we’re always looking for ways we can do better. We’d be keen on learning what your business does too, so let us know in the comments below.

Having a desk job suits many of us down to a tee, but can come at the expense of our health and well-being. A sedentary desk job and lifestyle can lead to increases in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and a decline in mental well-being.

Before you pull out the old ‘but people have had desk jobs for hundreds of years’ excuse, remember that our lives have changed greatly since then. We are on the whole less active at home, drive almost everywhere and eat a lot of high calorie and processed foods. These things are only making it more important for those of us with a desk job to keep active during the working day. At MBP, we’re all about looking after the financial health and well-being of our clients, but also their physical too. So, here are a few suggestions on how you can increase your activity levels in the office like we do.

5 Ideas for Keeping Active at Your Desk Job

It’s time to stand up and get active while in the office. Five activities you could choose to try and implement into your daily desk job routine include:

  1. Using a standing desk or desk raiser – alternate between sitting and standing at your desk throughout the day. If you don’t have a standing desk available, add a desk raiser for your laptop to sit upon, or make one using materials you have around the office or home.
  2. Sit on an exercise ball – a chair may be super comfy, but it lets your body relax into a position without effort. When you sit on an exercise ball, your core muscles are forced to work. You sit up straighter with improved posture, and you can also move your backside around too.
  3. Walk around the office – instead of sending emails to others in the office, get up and walk to them if you can instead. Walk the long way to the coffee machine and even take your coffee outside to stretch your legs.
  4. Stretch breaks – set your time to stand up and do some stretches every hour. Arm swinging, leg lunges, squats, walking on the spot and shoulder shrugs are great active activities.
  5. Take the stairs – where you can, skip the elevator and take the stairs instead. You could even get off the bus a stop earlier or park the car further away and walk to the office.

If you have any additional staying active at work ideas, drop your suggestions in the comments below. As always, the team here at MBP are here to help, so if you have any questions about the running of your business (not your running program), please get in touch as we’re happy to help.

You’ve most likely heard of the term niche market before. Often business owners are asked specifically what theirs is by business advisors, accountants, financiers and other owners. What we’ve found though, is that there is a reasonable amount of owners who still haven’t identified their own, or have little understanding of what the term means.

Let’s give you an example. Jess runs her own business selling handmade baby clothing. From merino baby coats through to cloth nappies and baby bibs, it is certain she is working within the baby clothing market However, this is a wide market with many variables, and what she should be focusing on is one specific aspect of that niche market. This will narrow her focus within the baby market, but allow her to specifically tailor her marketing, manufacturing and messages specifically to her target audience.

To help you find and dominate within your niche market, we’ve put together this handy article.

What is a Niche Market?

A niche market is a small specific part of a larger market. It is a gap in the competition, something that no one else is targeting or can target as you can. Your USP or unique selling point targets a highly refined customer audience, and this forms a big part of how you find your niche market. For instance, your target audience will need to have either a large potential for growth as well as a significant amount of market potential.

Like most businesses, the chosen niche tends to be a passion of the owner of the business. They often have an interest in a specific industry or experience within it. For instance, a person has always enjoyed gardening. A sudden redundancy has allowed them the opportunity to start up their own business and they’ve chosen to focus upon the plant industry. They are tending to lean towards the growing of plants from seeds rather than opening up a nursery, on-selling to retailers and not the general public.

How to Find Your Niche Market

You’ll already have identified the broad market you want to target, be it women’s shoes or gift baskets. What you need to do is narrow this down further using five key points:

  • Price – will the product be low or high priced? Does it need to be regularly discounted?
  • Quality – will it be a handmade product, mass-produced, premium or economical?
  • Location – will the product be marketed in a certain country or city?
  • Demographics – what is the age, income level, education and gender of the target market?
  • Values – what morals, values, attitudes and interests does the target audience have?

In the case of Jess and her handmade baby clothing, she used the five key considerations above and further narrowed down her niche to merino baby booties. She will now have the clarification she needs regarding her niche to be successful:

  • Price – mid to high priced booties, no discounts.
  • Quality – handmade in small batches.
  • Location – New Zealand wide, mainly in large cities
  • Demographics – tertiary educated, double-income families, female
  • Values – like artisan products, limited editions and one of a kind products

From here, Jess can take this information to adapt the content on her website, where she advertises, the social media platforms she targets, as well as the manufacturing and pricing of her products.

Then next comes the creation of a business niche or niche strategy to help your business take over the world or your specific target market that is. As well as identifying your target market and the unique selling proposition you can provide, you’ll need to research and understand your target audience intimately, create a business plan and start marketing to them. This moves us on to the world, or rather niche domination.

How to Be Successful Within Your Niche Market

Having identified your niche market, then now is the time to put all of your hard work into play. Of course, if you have not been thorough enough, now is also the time you’ll find out and may need to head back to the niche identification stage.

Assuming everything is all good with your work though, you’ll be able to start marketing within your identified niche. You’ll already have an advantage that the big players don’t have, and that is a highly targeted audience. It is to them that you will consider when making every decision you now come to. This means you’ll need to:

  • Identify the best ways to communicate with your market. Do they want face to face contact, or would they prefer using social media or emails?
  • Instigate a solid communication strategy with your target audience. Trial and error, surveys, questions and asking for feedback will help you identify what works best. Then once you’ve nailed it, it is important to set a regular schedule for communication with them and let them know what it is.
  • Offer products which you know your target market will want. Remember you want to be highly specific here. You can’t provide the enormous selection the big players can, but you can be very narrow in your offerings to your great advantage. Customers who want exactly what it is you are selling will want to deal with you because they can get what they want when they want it.
  • Keep growing and seeking advice. No business is an island onto itself. Asking for support from a business advisor can help keep you on the right path, solve issues as they arise or help hold you accountable for following your business plan.
  • Be a real person. This means making a personal connection with your audience, moving away from being a faceless name and instead be someone they can relate to.
  • Be accessible. Provide exceptional customer service, tailoring the ways you do things to meet the needs of your audience. Take the time to ask for and respond to feedback, as well as utilising the optimal communication channels.
  • Market your business. Having an excellent understanding of your target market, you’ll be able to run the most effective advertisements in the right locations for best uptake. Make sure you can keep an ROI for all marketing promotions you undertake, as these will ensure your money is always well spent.

Finally, being successful within your niche means sticking to it! It can be tempting to add another product or advertise to a different audience because of hearsay or a special offer being promoted. That’s why it is vital you have an in-depth business plan in place which clearly identifies what you are selling, who you are targeting and where you will be selling.

For advice on finding and succeeding within your market niche, we can help. Get in touch and make a time to chat with one of our business advisory team and let’s get busy.

Before you go down the path of seeking capital from outside your business or borrowing funds, identify any other ways of raising capital. If you need funds then sometimes it’s not a loan that you need.

Identify areas in the business to make savings

There’s a good chance that you can generate at least some of the capital you need by using business savings. If you can generate the cash internally, it’s often a better option that increasing your debt or taking investors on board. Look at how much you’ve got available in cash reserves or what contracts or payments are due.

Then look at ways you can make savings and increase your cash flow, such as selling equipment you don’t use very often (and leasing it when you do need it), cutting down on travel expenses, moving some staff from full-time to part-time roles, re-negotiating deals with suppliers for better credit terms and reducing your own salary.

It’s also important to chase up any late payers. Make sure you have robust systems in place for handling debt and collecting what you’re owed.

You’ll be surprised at how much all these savings can add up, generating more cash in the business that can be used to reinvest in business growth.

Shorten Cash Cycles

Shortening your cash cycle will increase your cash reserves, keeping your business going and providing a buffer in times of financial uncertainty. The longer your business goes without cash, the longer it takes you to pay your creditors, and the riskier your business becomes. Encourage your customers to pay using online and mobile payment options – the cash is then in your account immediately. If you have to invoice, do it immediately and incentivise your customers to pay early, such as offering discounts. You can also shorten your credit terms.

Focus Your Attention on Sales

Increasing sales is one of the best ways to improve profitability and bring more cash into the business. There are a number of different ways you can improve your sales numbers, such as making sure you and your staff are all trained in how to cross-sell and up-sell, investigating new distribution channels like an online store, implementing a professional sales system so that you can track customer buying behaviour and predict their needs, or even look into franchising your business if demand warrants it.

It’s important to remember the 80/20 rule: 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your customers, so look into ways you can sell more to your existing customers while still trying to gain new customers through your marketing strategies.

It’s always worth considering a price increase too. There are ways to increase your prices without losing sales, and it’s something that should be done now and again, even if it’s just to keep up with inflation.

Alternatives to Capital

Before you jump into researching the different sources of capital that are available, first consider the alternatives. It could be that, depending on what your growth goals are, you don’t actually need extra capital, you just need to be thinking a bit more creatively.

Raising Capital to Grow Sales

If your main goal is to increase sales, you don’t always need extra cash to be able to do this. There are other options that can help your sales numbers and it’s worth looking into them before you go borrowing money.

Strategic alliances are often worth checking out. Business owners are increasingly discovering the advantages of joint ventures and strategic alliances and many experts see strategic alliances as one of the best paths to rapid growth. There are many ways in which you can work with other businesses or people, ranging from short-term joint ventures to more formal long-term commitments. You can form strategic alliances with suppliers, with customers or with complementary businesses or with non-profit organisations such as charities. Think of how often you see a Subway attached to a service station.

It might also be worth looking at updating your business model. A change in your business model might help you find new opportunities for growth to increase your business’s revenue. Direct selling is the shortest route between your business and its customers. It involves buying directly from you without any go-between. It’s probably the simplest and certainly the most direct business model.

Like many businesses, you might currently sell some items through the web but is it time to make a bigger investment in the online world? Global e-commerce is rising daily and the opportunities for growth are significant.

Whether you want your goods distributed widely through wholesalers or via carefully selected retailers, the tweaks you can make to your distribution channels are almost limitless. If you’re a retailer, you might consider also selling at the wholesale level, and vice versa.

Raising Capital to Expand

Your goals may be more focused on expanding your business and you’re considering how to increase your capital to do this. Before you borrow the funds you need, consider other ways of achieving expansion.

For example, look into leasing equipment instead of buying it. If you want to boost your capacity so you can handle more orders, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fork out for the additional equipment you’ll need – you can lease it. The monthly lease payments are often less than what loan repayments would be. You can also lease equipment only when you need it, rather than having it sitting around gathering dust and being unproductive when you don’t.

It’s also worth looking into contracting out some work, especially for large projects. Contractors will often have all the resources they need to handle work, and when you bring them on board you’re getting access to those resources.

You could also consider forming partnerships to jointly produce your goods. For example, if you manufacture coffee tables, you might align your business with one of your suppliers, making it cheaper to get the raw materials you need.

Talk Through Your Options for Raising Capital

There is a lot to consider when looking at raising capital. To talk through all your options, get in touch with an MBP Business Partner. You can book in a free 30 minute chat with us HERE.