The top 16 articles on ThinkBusiness in 2016

What a year. How was 2016 for you? What interested you in the past year?

Below are the top 16 articles, features, guides and tools that drove the most engagement from readers (unique sessions and shares) on ThinkBusiness in 2016. It shows what people interested in business are interested in reading.


1: New ways of marketing

Ireland’s top bloggers and vloggers.

2: Business planning – starting and growing

The ThinkBusiness business plan template.

3: Human resources

How to pay people.

4: Ideation

Five small business ideas that beat goliaths.

5: Human resources

Job interview questions you may find useful.

Boyne Boats Game of Thrones boat tour

6: Innovative sectors

Off the beaten track – Ireland’s hidden tourism gems.

7: Management guides

Phrases you shouldn’t use at business meetings.

8: Marketing and sales

How to network successfully at events.

9: Ideation

Great business ideas and why they worked.

10: Innovation

Garry Broe – saving the HSE a fortune with one simple idea.

steve jobs with first iphone

11: Strategy

10 of the worst business predictions. Even the greats get it wrong.

12: Marketing

A free marketing plan template and guide.

13: Innovation

10 world-changing Irish inventions.

14: Starting

A guide to starting a business in Ireland.


15: Sectors

The resurrection and re-invention of the barber shop.

16: Tax advice

How to pay yourself if you are a sole trader.

What did we learn in 2016?

What can we learn from this list of articles, guides, interviews, and utilities? First, there is an appetite amongst our readers for innovative business ideas and insights into sectors that are doing well. Second, there is a real desire for useful advice and practical guides on how to start and grow a business. And third, we saw a keen interest in articles on how business owners deal with the practicalities of running a business, for example, tax advice, and HR guidance.

CONTACT US: If you have a query, or a suggestion for an article, case study, guide or useful tool, please contact us and we will research and get back to you.

Main image courtesy of Cian Twomey.

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Think business, think customer

Stephen Gallagher, head of business energy, SSE Airtricity on how to make your customers your key focus. 

What advice would you give to a business that is scaling, that is growing at a pace that may (at times) seem difficult to handle? What focus should they give to customers and staff?

The advice I would give to any growing business is that no matter your size or market your customers need to be your focus. This applies to startups and established businesses growing at pace.

All businesses need to consider the interaction from the customers’ perspective. 

Small mistakes, inaccuracies – even typos – can damage your credibility. It’s vital that businesses focus on getting it right, the first time. 

The first points of contact with your business, those who manage customer service for your company, must receive high levels of training and feel empowered to engage the consumer. 

Coaching and mentoring employees create a more positive work environment and boost employee engagement. 

Your customers’ needs will not always stay the same – be ready to adapt. Use data to inform your approach. 

“Embrace digital as a means of reaching a broader consumer base and to remain responsive to your customers”

Data is the lifeblood of organisations and is only effective if it’s gathered and analysed on a regular basis.

An omnichannel approach – in person, on the phone, through the website, on social media – allows for customers to have better access. We have found services such as webchat, to be a great way to be close to the customer. 

There is a huge opportunity for business in Ireland to embrace digital as a means of reaching a broader consumer base and remaining responsive to your customers.

For businesses of all sizes, to foster relationships and develop brand loyalty, the need to listen to and engage with customers and understand their needs is crucial. Make your customers your key focus.

READ MORE: User experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) may seem like buzzwords, but they are vital for any successful business. Find out why.

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Thinking Business – Ronan Murphy, Smarttech

‘We invested heavily in cybersecurity before it became a major issue facing business.’
What’s your pitch? 
Smarttech is one of the leading Cybersecurity managed service providers in Europe and the only company in Europe to implement cognitive computing (Artificial Intelligence) to run our European Cyber Security Operation Centre, which is powered by IBM Watson. 
How long have you been in business? 
We have been in business since 2004, but we reinvented the company in 2010 to focus purely on cyber security. This has been our core focus for the last six years, and in addition to service delivery, we have had a strategic focus on innovation of development of new security products and services. 
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’? 
A fireman. 
What’s your ambition now? 
My ambition is to become a global leader in the delivery of managed cyber security solutions. We are experiencing tremendous growth as a company and delivering immense value to our customers who range from some mid-size business to some of the largest businesses in the world. We deliver all of this from Cork.
“I would make coding a mandatory part of all school curriculum. This would help drive innovation and fill the skills pipeline for the future. ”
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business? 
I guess its patience. We invested heavily in cybersecurity before it became a major issue facing business. From a sales perspective, it often felt like we were knocking on closed doors but eventually the patience paid off. 
What has been your biggest ‘mistake’ in business so far? 
Biggest mistake has been diversifying from our core competencies. 
Who inspires you in the business world? 
I find Richard Branson inspiring. 
What historical figure would you choose to have dinner with? 
Albert Einstein  
If you were ‘ruler for a day’ what would you do to change the business or social climate

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‘We want one billion euros in savings for our customers’

UrbanVolt supplies lighting as a service. Founder Kevin Maughan is on a global mission.

What’s your elevator pitch?
UrbanVolt is an award-winning Irish company that provides ‘Light as a Service’ to industrial and commercial clients. We invest all the money to install and maintain new LED lighting fixtures, generating an immediate 75% savings on energy costs for our customers. We then share those cash savings with our clients for five years.
How long have you been in business?
We started in September 2015 and went to market in Jan 2016. Since our market launch, we have helped our Irish clients save over 20 million euros, without anyone ever asking a customer for a penny upfront.
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
I don’t want to grow up, ask me in 20 years.
What’s your ambition now?
Our innovative business model can save billions of euros for businesses around the world, and we are determined to deliver on that potential. By 2020, we aim to provide one billion euros in savings for our customers and help to make the world’s transition to sustainability easier.
“We never received support from any of the government-sponsored programmes, as they showed no interest and a total lack of understanding of our business model.”
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?
Surround yourself with great people and then give them the confidence and the belief that they can achieve anything. Most businesses look for people who have reached their potential and are ‘proven players’ in their respective careers. We believe in the opposite – find people before they reach their potential and help them to get there.
What was your biggest ‘mistake’ been, in business so far?
This is a tough question as I’ve made many errors in business over the years. However, upon reflection, I can say that there has

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The bike business – Michael Fearon, Cycle SuperStore

Cycle SuperStore began its story in business, over 30 years ago, in 1982. Ray Fearon, having completed a B.Sc. in business management, started trading as Ray’s Bike Shop in Rathgar, Dublin.
Shortly after this, he was joined by his brother Michael and over the next 30 years, together with their dedicated staff, they built the business into Ireland’s biggest cycle store.
What’s your elevator pitch? 
In short, The Cycle Superstore, from humble beginnings, is now the largest bicycle retailer in the country.
How long have you been in business?
Established in a shed in Rathgar in 1982 we’ve had many moves since then to our new superstore on the Airton Road in Tallaght. It’s been a very fast 30 years. 
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
Believe it or not a Garda. I think it was a power thing and as soon as I got sense, that ambition ended. 
What’s your ambition now?
To continue building on what we have achieved so far and build a center for cycling excellence on par with any place in the world. Our motto is “We can do it better.”
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?
Every day is different, take a deep breath and never think you have it cracked. 
What was your biggest ‘mistake’ been, in business so far?
Negotiating and entering into commercial leases. We have had many over the years, and none were a good experience. My advice to anybody starting out? Don’t rush in, seek good professional advice and adhere to it.
“Armed with a business plan and a personal guarantee from our father, we went round the houses with no joy.”
Who inspires you in the business world?
What can I say? A great friend to the cycle industry and cyclists in general, Michael O’Leary. You can’t fault what he has achieved.
What historical figure would you choose

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170 small business grants and supports

Does your business qualify for grant money? There are over 170 different Government supports for startups and SMEs in Ireland.
Did you know there are over 170 different Irish Government supports for small businesses, including grant money?  
There’s a Government website set up to tell you, the business owner, what supports are available. You can find out what you may be entitled to by answering eight simple questions.
The site is called Supporting SMEs.
READ MORE: If you are starting a business, test your idea and start with our free lean Business Model Canvas.

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What’s the best business insurance for you?

There are many different types of business insurance. What are the best options for you, your business and your staff?

Risk is an inevitable part of life. We can’t predict what’s going to happen with complete certainty but we do try to prepare for consequences. We routinely wear a coat, in anticipation of a sudden turn in the weather, while wearing our seatbelts when driving or as a passenger is standard practice.

Running a business is no different. We cannot be sure of everything that will happen, but we can take steps to offset some of the consequences of events outside our control, such as the damage caused by a flood or an injury at work sustained by an employee.

Whatever the cause, it is important to have an understanding of the different types of insurance that a business can take out to reduce the financial and business impact of something going wrong.

Your insurance company or broker will also give you advice on how to manage your business risks better, from suggestions on how to improve premises security to highlighting hidden risks for you to manage by improving your business processes.

Type of insurance

There are many different types of insurance available for businesses. The question is which ones are right for you.

It is useful to think of insurance covering three different types of eventuality:

  • Property insurance: This covers damage caused to buildings or equipment from hazards such as fire or flooding. You can also protect against the disruption that such an event could have on the business. Imagine if the premises had to shut down totally or if valuable equipment had to be replaced. Business interruption insurance would cover the cost of operating from a temporary location while your own building is under repair.
  • Liabilities: Your business faces a range of potential liabilities to members of the public, employees and customers. For example, a visitor to your premises falling over a cable, an employee being electrocuted by a faulty piece of equipment or a customer being seriously injured by a defective product. While insurance won’t protect against these events happening, liability insurance can meet the cost of compensation and the legal fees involved. Legal expenses insurance can pay for the legal costs involved in defending or pursuing a claim. If you are a professional, like an engineer or accountant, professional indemnity can cover the cost of compensation to your clients if they lose money as a result of the advice you gave them.
  • Financial risks: Your business also runs financial risks, and it is important to consider how to best protect against them. We have all read newspaper stories about trusted employees stealing large amounts of money from their employer or about small businesses that were forced to close when large customers went into liquidation unexpectedly. Fidelity insurance and credit insurance, respectively, can deal with these risks.

Compulsory insurance

In Ireland, the only legally required form of insurance that a business is obliged to take out is if your business uses a motor vehicle. In this case, like other road users, you are required to have third party motor insurance in place to cover someone getting injured, or if their property is damaged as a result of your (or an employee’s) use of a motor vehicle.

Additional cover often taken out by motorists includes third party fire and theft insurance, which covers third party motor liabilities, as well as loss or damage to your vehicle caused by fire or theft.

Comprehensive insurance, which covers third party fire and theft, as well as accidental damage to your vehicle, can also be taken out. Some comprehensive policies provide useful personal accident benefits, or cover against theft of personal belongings from the vehicle.

Make sure that if you are using a car or other vehicles in connection with your business, you have the right cover in place. Most insurers will offer policies specifically designed to meet the requirements of your type of business, be it a taxi, farm, distributor, building firm etc.

What to buy

As you can see, there are many different types of insurance. It can be difficult to work out exactly what to buy, given your business’s particular needs, not to mention your budget. Like any other purchase, it really pays to shop around and understand the different products offered by insurers, the risks covered by their policies, and the risks that are excluded.

It is important to to understand the fine print. Some policies will require you to bear more of any loss that occurs than a competing policy, so that may be one reason why the first policy looks so cheap.

Many insurance companies have put together special package policies, which contain the different types of insurance usually needed by a particular type of business. For example, insurance companies will offer a shopkeeper’s ‘combined’ policy, which covers the usual risks that retailers will wish to insure against.

Thankfully, plenty of advice is at hand to guide you through the insurance maze. This comes from the insurance companies themselves, many of whom will deal directly with businesses, by phone or via their website, or from insurance brokers, who are independent insurance professionals who advise their clients on the most suitable insurance cover for their needs.

You can check that the insurer or insurance broker that you are thinking of using is authorised, by checking the Central Bank of Ireland register.


4 Action Points


Work out what risks you most need to cover against.


Work out your sums insured accurately. Don’t waste money by over-insuring and remember that “cheapest” does not necessarily mean “best”. Be careful about what is covered and what is excluded.


Describe your business fully and accurately, including full details of any claims. You are obliged to answer any questions from an insurer honestly and to the best of your knowledge. If you don’t, your insurance company may refuse to pay a claim under the policy.


Take steps to fix any known risks e.g. defective safety guards, and to manage other risks e.g. additional security precautions for your premises. Consider how much of any claim you would be willing to bear, as a higher claims “excess” could help reduce your insurance premium.


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How to write a great business strategy

All businesses need a strategy. Here’s how to write a great one.
The word ‘strategy’ is much used and abused. It has its origins in ancient Greek military terminology, which provides clues about its true meaning – leading and guiding. In a business context, it can be taken to mean how best a business can fulfil its purpose, and achieve its vision and objectives. 
Strategy is about determining a destination and how best to get to there. It’s also about being able to switch course because of changing economic, competitive or other circumstances. Strategy is about the long term, how you may or may not effect changes, and your appetite for risk. It’s not about day-to-day operational tasks, although they may be driven, sometimes unconsciously, by your strategy.

Well-performing small businesses have a clear sense of purpose. They put the focus on their customers and are often first to market with new offers and services. These are good indicators of a strong strategy.
Increasingly, small businesses are being required to commit their strategy to paper, for a variety of purposes, such as raising finance or securing a grant. That’s a good move as it often gives a busy entrepreneur, with a strategy that is sophisticated yet not written down, the incentive to create a long-term game plan.
DOWLOAD: A Business Model Canvas for simple business planning.

Strategy types

It’s important to realise that there are different types of strategies and different processes for strategy development which are adopted by different types of businesses, large and small. Renowned academic and strategy guru Henry Mintzberg is credited with coming up with these six broad definitions:

Planned: strategies that are formulated centrally (usually by ‘head office’)
Imposed: strategies either dictated by a parent company, or by economic or other circumstances
Opportunistic: deliberate strategies to respond to opportunities as they arise

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Thinking business – Liam Holland, Colourtrend

Liam Holland, sales and marketing director, Colourtrend is on a mission.

What’s your business pitch? 
Colourtrend is Ireland’s largest independent paint manufacturer with 90 people employed at our facility in Celbridge, Co. Kildare. We create technically superior paints in colour palettes inspired by the Irish landscape.
How long have you been in business?
We are a family business founded by the current managing director’s father in an old 1841 famine workhouse in May 1953.
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
Still working on that – haven’t grown up yet.
What’s your ambition now?
To build the Colourtrend brand into an iconic Irish brand.
What’s the most important thing you have learned so far in business?
Surround yourself with good people, listen to them and empower them. Do less but do it better.
“When you are growing as fast as we are you need good cash flow and good business systems.”
What was your biggest ‘mistake’ been, in business so far?
No show stoppers. But from a previous industry like so many others – putting content on the Internet for free.
Who inspires you in the business world?
Anyone that follows their dreams, irrespective of whether they succeed or not.
What historical figure would you choose to have dinner with? 
Well, being a golfer, Jack Nicklaus. I think he’d have some great tales to tell.
If you were ‘ruler for a day’ what would you do to change the business or social climate in this country?
Introduce a regulation to promote the production of water-based paint products. Lower VOC (volatile organic compounds), low odour and much kinder to the environment. Colourtrend has been manufacturing these type of goods for the past 12 years.
Did you receive any supports to start your business and what do you need most at this stage of your business? 
Well, we are 63 years in business, and I am only here five years,

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Thinking business – Paul Jacob, Smart Storage

Paul Jacob of Smart Storage secured Dragon’s Den investment in 2012. He has grown the business dramatically since then.

What’s your elevator pitch?
We supply modular under stairs storage units that fit under 11.5 million suburban homes across the UK and Ireland. Our units are designed to use the un-used space under your stairs by providing a modular system that slides out giving you storage for everything from shoes, school bags, and the vacuum cleaner. Simple clean and affordable storage solutions fitted in a matter of hours.
How long have you been in business?
Smart Storage is in business since 2011. I, on the other hand, have had various business ventures since 2004 (12 years).
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’?
I wanted to be an archaeologist. I ended up as an engineer on motorway construction. The only similarity was I got to dig holes with bigger cooler machines instead of a small hand trowel.
“You need to listen to your customer and provide the service and sales route the customer wants. Otherwise, it’s like trying to turn an oil tanker in a bathtub.”
What’s your ambition now?
Professionally for Smart Storage I wan to see it as a global brand & business with sales across the EU and North America.
Personally – I love the opportunity to try different things. I would love to go back to college in the future and study law.
I also want to continue to travel with my family, and try new challenges each year. Something we all enjoy.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in business?
It’s hard work! So make sure you enjoy what you are doing otherwise it could be a long day. I love my job. I don’t see work as a chore. I see work as just one of the parts of my day.
What was your

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