Our clients, and most people we've met and talks and events recently, have asked the same question: Is social media appropriate for business-to-business marketing? Unequivocally, the answer is YES. In the last year, 40% of Clear Thought's revenue can be tracked back to a social media source, and 100% has been enhanced or aided by it in some way. In the last six weeks alone, here are some things that Clear Thinkers have achieved through social media:
From a new business perspective, social media has critical impact in the first three stages of the sales funnel. That is, Awareness, Interest and Evaluation. From a social media perspective, you need to do the following: To generate awareness: 'Be There' find out where your prospects hang out online and have a presence there. To convert awareness in the interest: 'Be Relevant ' provide information that is useful or controversial to pull people into your content. To make it through evaluation: 'Be Proven' provide case study and testimonials at every turn online, ideally with other people talking on your behalf. To really make the most of the channel, it makes sense to get some expert support - particularly in measuring and enhancing your activity. But, here are some really simple things to get you started. 10 FREE things you can do to generate awareness online:
10 FREE things you can do to generate interest online:
10 (nearly) FREE ways to prove your credentials online:
Note: In this blog, we're focusing specifically on lead generation. It is worth noting (and blogging in the future) that social media can be powerfully used in market research, recruitment, lead nurturing and much more. You might also be interested in:
Nasty Nick Griffin’s much-publicised appearance on Question Time raised a lot of questions, namely about democracy and freedom of speech, and about how much freedom is too much when your views just happen to be fascist.
Pay attention employers, because these uncomfortable questions may be closer to home than you think.
The media has started its own debate over the BBC’s invitation to Griffin to join other, mainstream politicians on its flagship current affairs programme; The Guardian claims the BNP is losing the support of even its own loyalists over Griffin’s performance, while The Telegraph insists the programme has given the party a platform from which to ensnare new supporters.
Either way, the BNP has upset and enraged a lot of people in the last few days alone, with its anti-almost-everybody viewpoints. Democracy is democracy, and you can’t ignore that more than a handful of people are putting their crosses in the BNP box, but it is a challenge for every one of us to decide how to deal with this.
Look a little deeper and there are parallels here with the workplace. How far should you allow your employees to discuss their religious, social or political views in the workplace, if there is a risk that they could seriously upset other people with them?
Luckily, as a business owner, there is a more clearly defined line for you to draw, partly because your employees have not been elected or recruited on their personal policies, although healthy debate can benefit your business in many ways.
While your staff obviously have a human right to manifest their beliefs and express their opinions, you must keep a beady eye out to ensure that what they express does not discriminate against or undermine other employees. It may be unlikely that you have a BNP activist in your midst, but any viewpoint that undermines someone based on their gender, age, race or religion, or simply makes them feel uncomfortable, can have serious consequences.
Aside from a dent in your team’s morale, constant controversial comments or an over-zealous employee trying to convert people to their religion or cause can lead to staff absence or legal claims of discrimination or harassment, both of which can be expensive and damaging.
Speaking to Acas equality specialist, Steve Williams, recently, I found out that employers can protect their business from these perils by including some pointers in their HR policy, and by having a quiet word with anyone that breaches them.
“Emphasise that discussion is welcome but that it must not be used to oppress or discriminate against other staff,” he adds. “Spell it out — for example, it is acceptable for an employee to mention that they go to church or campaign for the Green Party, but if they start pressurising other people, that isn’t.”
On the bright side, Williams told me that most employees have an “innate sense” of where the line should be drawn with regard to other people’s feelings, and would soon apologise if they realised they had overstepped it. If we are to take his word for it, there’s a good chance you will never be faced with this complex problem. Nevertheless, in the face of an increasingly re-politicised population, you should be well-prepared.
I love the internet; in the last 50 years has there been a more important development in the history of business? People compare the net to other important media developments, such as the printing press, the TV or radio. Wrong. The internet is bigger than all of those put together.
For business the internet is the ultimate leveller. For the first time we have a platform that allows the small guys, the spare room businesses and entrepreneurial spirits to compete with the big goliaths. And competition generally has intensified. As a software and services provider I can tell you it has forced the entire industry to up our game radically.
The internet makes it much easier to find all of the products and services you need to start a business. Much of your business can be run online and you can even access cheap but talented resources from across the world. When your product or service is ready, you can let the world know too.
Ten years ago I recall working for a mammoth international TV and media company that invested millions of both time and money into its billing and subscription platform. All it wanted to do was ensure no matter how or where you subscribed, it all came into a single system. This wasn’t rocket science, but at the time it was complex to stitch disparate software and web systems together, and it came with a suitably horrible price tag.
The internet has turned this problem on its head; you don’t need a million bucks any more. There are hundreds of free or low cost solutions available to help you run a startup professionally.
My own company, SellerDeck provides functionality out of the box for controlling multiple retail channels (e.g. web, shop, phone, mail). Ten years ago this concept wasn’t even around. Today you can buy standard applications and services at a commodity price.
So, this is a very exciting time to be starting a business. The tools are out there for you to create both great products and services. For once you don’t need an IPO to afford them.
What are you waiting for?
Card payments, either directly or via eWallet services like PayPal, make up the vast majority of payments for goods online. Consumers are well protected against fraud, however, merchants do not enjoy the same blanket level of protection and need to be careful when accepting online payments.Card payments, either directly or via eWallet services like PayPal, make up the vast majority of payments for goods online. Consumers are well protected against fraud, however, merchants do not enjoy the same blanket level of protection and need to be careful when accepting online payments. Online payments funded by a card can be subject to charge backs, where the card holder disputes the transaction up to six months after the sale. Charge backs can either be because the card holder disputes that they made the transaction (i.e. it was a fraudulent transaction), or because they believe that the item they received was not as described.
It is easy to assume that funds arriving in an account are cleared and legitimate payments. However, for any online payments where the 3D secure test is not passed (see below), the merchant carries the ultimate risk of a fraud as the transaction is ‘card holder not present’. To understand the risks associated with any transaction, merchants should understand the available security checks and other factors which can be used to filter out the good from the bad.
Most payment gateways make little effort to educate their customers as to the best security settings for their business and leave the merchant to create their own security rules. However, it pays to spend some time working out the best settings for your business. For example, if your products are all low value, you may wish to have a low security threshold as fraud is unlikely or a risk you are willing to take. Conversely, if your products are desirable, high ticket items, then fraud settings should be high. 3D Secure 3D secure, also know as Verified by Visa or Mastercard SecureCode creates a virtual “card present” environment during internet transactions by asking the buyer to enter a password. 3D secure is only available for Visa and Mastercard transactions and as yet there are no similar initiatives for American Express, JCB or Diner's Club. The major benefit of this system is that a transaction that has been fully 3D Secure validated, cannot be charged-back to the merchant if subsequently found to be fraudulent. The merchant is protected by the card issuer against such charge backs because the bank themselves assume the liability. However, charge backs are still possible as a 3D secure validated transaction will not protect in the event of the customer denying receipt of goods. 3D secure is not universally popular, with some merchants complaining of reduced conversions. Some consumers also find the extra step in the checkout process annoying.
AVS checks the numeric values in a card holder’s address (i.e. flat or house number and numbers in the post code) given at checkout against the billing address on file for the card. Checking that the buyer knows the right billing address is an important extra check, but by no means foolproof. For example, a card owner can enter their address incorrectly, or a fraudster can have access to the card holder’s address. The AVS result can be either match, partial match or mismatch.
These are the three numbers which are on the back of the card for Visa and Mastercard, or four on the front (American Express). Their purpose is to provide some confidence that the buyer has the card in their possession as the numbers are not stored on the magnetic strip. The system is by no means infallible as the there are scripts available on the internet for generating the codes.
With experience humans can get a feeling for whether or not a transaction poses a risk. However, as transaction volumes grow, it is not possible to check each purchase individually. Fraud screening services such as Third Man (www.the3rdman.co.uk) automate the analysis of each transaction by looking at various elements including name, card numbers, frequency of use, delivery address, value and IP address to produce a risk score for the transaction. Fraud services are integrated into many payment gateways such as SagePay. As well as using automated services, be aware of the following warning factors:
A good list of fraud signs can be found here:
PayPal PayPal’s website payments standard product only provides seller protection for purchases which go to verified addresses. All purchases which are made using the Website Payments Pro service are ineligible for seller protection. AVS and CV2 and recently 3D secure checking are available through PayPal but 3D but no additional fraud screening information is available to merchants. Google Checkout Google provides merchants with details of whether a transaction has passed CV2 and AVS tests. It does not support 3D secure, but does provide its own chargeback protection for eligible transactions. SagePay SagePay allows merchants to set their own security rules for AVS, CV2 and 3D secure. It also provides a risk score for each transaction in conjunction with Third Man.
"So, what do you do then?"
If someone asks you to describe what your new business does, what do you say?
For many, this is not as easy as it sounds. Whether it's for your business plan, on your website or in person, you need a clear, compelling description. You need to get your idea across in a way that will really get the attention of potential clients.
Here are 5 crucial questions to help you communicate what you do in a way that people understand, and act on:
Whether you’re writing your business plan, web content or describing what you do in person, remember to answer these five questions. Don’t just talk about your products and services. Tell your customers how you solve problems for people just like them.
When they ask you what you do, this is what they really want to hear.
Monday morning saw an early start for your intrepid blogger and a trip to the BT Tower in London for the Small Business Week launch event. The Business Pulse survey results were revealed and were duly followed by a series of talks from the likes of Lord Digby Jones and Peter Jones.
The recurring theme of the talks was that of adaptability and innovation. During the recession, innovative small businesses have adapted to survive; they had to, and will continue to do so as and when we climb out of it. But what of innovation? What does innovation mean to those at the forefront of helping start-ups come to fruition?
Peter Jones was the most outspoken on such matters. “Not a lot of people know what innovation is. If people with a small business want to innovate, hear this; innovation is basically doing things better than your competition”. Television's highest profile Dragon spoke of the lack of skills training in the UK and how this is inhibiting innovation. To highlight the sorry state of affairs, Peter Jones explained how the first ever academy for training entrepreneurs with the required skills was set up by himself a year ago. Not so much filling a gap in the market but plugging a gaping hole in the country's skill-set.
“The skills necessary to start a business–we don't teach them in this country. I started the first National Enterprise Academy and boy was I shocked–the first–only a year ago. We never had one. We don't have any academy that teaches enterprise in Britain apart from mine. I think that sums up where we are.”
“We need more practical skills resonating down to seven and eight year-old children. That's where we need to start. We need to be reading them books, not about Jack and Jill. We need to be reading books about Jack who starts up his flower shop. I read to my kids and I make them up.”
So the education system is holding back the skills and stifling innovative entrepreneurial growth and we need a reappraisal of how we stoke the fires of inspiration for our innovative entrepreneurs of the future. Now if you excuse me, I am just perfecting my Dragon's Den pitch for a children's television programme, 'Little Bo Peep and the impending tax return deadline.'
This week I wanted to talk about and touch upon data cleansing as, in a recession, it is perhaps even more important to keep your data up to date. After all, many of us are trying to cut costs wherever we can but we also know when to make the right investments in order to continue to speak to our current clients, and on the flipside of that acquire meaningful and deeply researched data that will enable you to be speaking to the right companies for the products and/or services that you deliver.
Over time, companies collect a significant amount of existing client and new client data. They can have entire databases of lapsed, current and potential client data but it is not necessarily all accurate and actionable data.
Data cleansing is something that should be done at least twice a year (business data often decays at the rate of up to 40% per year). If you want to make the most of your existing client data so you can keep running effective campaigns, it could be time to take a second look at your existing database.
Removing incorrect details can save you time and money when prospecting potential clients, speaking to existing clients or speaking to lapsed clients.
If client data is entered incorrectly, it can cause data headaches at a later date. If that same piece of data is entered differently more than once then the two opposing records can result in an inefficient process, confused and untrusting potential clients and confused sales staff.
If you store data such as physical addresses, phone numbers or email addresses you need to make sure that the rate of duplication kept to an absolute minimum – hence my recommendation to cleanse your data at least twice a year –more if it is in consistent use. Precise data is essential business incorrect data can very easily impede on your otherwise successful sales and marketing campaigns.
So is this the sort of exercise you would like to do in-house?
Some companies do this in-house and we have seen some businesses are very good at this, but it is hard to keep up motivation and salespeople often feel their time could be better spent making money for the company (and themselves!) than cleansing data.
Outsourcing the cleansing of your data is a much more efficient, easy and less costly exercise and you can get your be sales and marketing data in great shape without the headaches of doing it in-house.
Employ a professional organisation to give you a full data audit and you’ll be left with valid, de-duplicated data on prospects that are ready to be engaged. The data cleansing exercise will systematically go through your data and ensure that the records your teams use remain accurate. At the same time, you can unleash a two-pronged attack on your data, cleansing it one on hand and using that data to provide new sales and marketing leads for your staff to close on the other.
Matthew Baker, Resonata Data Consultancy
Fifteen per cent of hiring managers in the UK said they either currently use social networking sites to recruit potential candidates or plan to do so by the end of the year. Using social networking is an effective and economical way to source new talent, especially for startups. They are a great way to communicate to a targeted group of people, who are linked to your industry or interested in your business or to reach out to a wider audience. For startups who don't have a big brand, sourcing candidates is sometimes difficult. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all rich in talent and can give your company a presence.
Here's how to leverage them to your advantage:
Search for potential employees by past or current employer, such as a possible direct or indirect competitor who may have employed people with the skills and experience you need. Use the recommendation feature to ask people for recommendations and provide recommendations to others. Your name will appear on the profile page of the person you have recommended and more people will connect to you as a result. Ask your employees to activate their networks to reach out to passive candidates. You could offer staff incentives to source successful candidates through social networks.
It is worth it – because it's free! You can create a recruitment-oriented home page on Facebook. It should give facts about your company, the jobs available, the company culture and how to apply. Pictures and videos can go a long way toward selling your company. You can use competitions to get candidates' contact information. You can also search for candidates by skills or by company or by job title and it will take you straight to the candidate. I have found Facebook works best as a place to set up groups and advertise them.
Send a tweet that says you have current opportunities and link it to your web site. If the person reading the tweet isn’t a fit, they may know of just the right person! Twitter is a great place to broadcast jobs and build talent networks. You can 're-tweet' which gets your followers to spread the word to their followers. Offer your opinion on news, industry happenings and seminars. Share news, industry tips or links to interesting websites and blogs. Oh yeah, also great for recruiting great candidates.
Guest post by Nikki, founder of CV writing company www.mycvandme.co.uk
I once interviewed a highly successful and experienced business owner from Northern Ireland. He was a lovely, intelligent man, senior in years, who swore by his “Five Per Cent Plan” – something he said could make a tremendous difference to the profitability of any business. It goes something like this…
Look closely at all of your business expenses and try hard to reduce each one by just five per cent – a reasonably small and achievable figure. That might involve cutting out more waste, using less or driving a harder bargain with your suppliers (many will gladly say yes, if it means hanging on to your custom).
A five per cent saving can be achieved in many areas quite easily, he reckoned, especially when you’ve been in business for a number of years, by which time many inefficiencies can build up. You never know, you might even be able to make greater savings. If a cost makes no tangible contribution to your business, you should eliminate it altogether, of course.
If a five per cent saving isn’t possible, you should aim for four, he advised. If not four, then aim for three. If not three, aim for two. If not two, then just one, but never settle for no saving unless there genuinely is no alternative.
Our friend from Northern Ireland was a plain speaker and a realist. He smiled and conceded that reducing costs, even by just one per cent, would not be possible in every instance. But at least the exercise forces you to seriously consider what you spend your money on, what contribution it makes to your business and whether you’re getting maximum value for money. Continually monitoring expenditure and cutting unnecessary costs are both excellent habits to get into.
Time to focus on your prices. Good knowledge of your customers and competitors is vital, of course, but consider whether at least a five per cent increase is possible on some or all of your prices. Many businesses unnecessarily leave their prices set for many years for fear of losing customers, but this can mean needlessly throwing away profit. If you can enhance your product or service, you might even be able to achieve a greater price increase, providing you can explain how this gives your customers greater value.
Our friend from Northern Ireland recommended employing the “Five Per Cent Plan” at least every six months. Even a seemingly measly five per cent reduction or price increases here and there can seriously improve the profitability and well-being of all businesses, he said. That seems especially important in times like these. I’m sure he’d tell you that.
Start-ups, are you looking into angel investment as a finance option? You need to ensure you’re EIS compliant...
If you are raising capital for a start-up business and you plan to use angel investment, the investors will probably want to know whether the business will be EIS compliant.
The EIS is a government backed scheme that gives tax breaks to investors.
The benefits of investing in an EIS compliant business are principally two-fold:
There are a number of rules about the trade you will carry out and the investors who can make the claim. You accountant will be able to explain in more detail or take a look at the HMRC website for further information http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/eis.
If your planned start-up business ticks the boxes for EIS, make sure that you sell this to potential investors. The investors will feel more secure in the fact that it limits their downside risk and that they won’t have to pay capital gains tax when the business succeeds.
If I can help you further, I will - do get in touch.
Business planning is very important for all businesses, and franchise businesses are no different. The business planning process helps ensure that sufficient thought is put into all aspects of the franchise. While it is tempting to assume that because a franchise is based on a successful, proven business model, it is guaranteed to deliver results once you are up and running, the reality is very different. All businesses need a business plan, developed to reflect their unique circumstances and to help them succeed, regardless of whether they are a franchise business or not. A business needs to have a plan with specific objectives, milestones, responsibilities and the like.
All business plans are different
The content of a business plan is shaped by its purpose. So if the intention is to use a business plan to raise finance, then the plan’s composition will vary from one being used predominantly to decide internal priorities, to allocate resources effectively, or to manage cash flow. Typical uses of business plans in the franchise context include:
So depending on which of the above three business planning events is of most relevance, the content will vary slightly.
What are the key elements of a franchise business plan?
One of the benefits of franchising is that some of the challenges associated with a conventional new business are removed such as decisions regarding product, pricing, branding, marketing collateral, signage, etc. In essence you are acquiring a number of intangible elements which, in theory, should serve to help you reduce your business risk.
However, having these several elements optimised in advance in no way guarantees success. While these elements will help you in terms of brand awareness and will help ensure you have a compelling marketing mix, they still only represent a part of the overall picture.
If you are looking to raise finance, prospective investors will be keen to understand more about the management team, their investment, and also the cash generation prospects. Those franchisees using a business plan to manage their business will be more interested in the creation of a strong marketing plan as well as sales forecasts.
Ultimately it’s about an ability to generate cash
A business relies on its ability to generate cash flow at a satisfactory level so as to prosper. Hence the emphasis many franchise owners place on cash flow generation, sales forecasting, and marketing plans when writing a business plan. The bottom line is that you will need to run a successful business, and this means attracting paying customers in sufficient numbers to generate a return on your investment. Naturally you will be able to receive some support from the franchisor as part of the franchise package. They should also be able to provide access to demographic information to help you with your analysis.
Many franchises are allocated on a territorial basis so you’ll need to have a clear feel for some of the following:
It will be important to set financial goals and forecast the sales levels necessary to successfully manage your franchise. Franchising has become very popular in recent years, and many franchisors will have access to data which can help determine if there is a profitable market within a proposed territory. It will then be up to you to capitalise on this market opportunity by successfully targeting customers.
You will also need to be aware of local nuances as these can play a role in the success or failure of the operation. For example, when Starbucks® initially launched in Japan it was very keen to cater to local tastes and sensitivities. Recognition of these local factors such as menu make up, local branding, consumer tastes and cup sizes helped shape a unique Starbucks® proposition in Japan. Japan, along with the UK, are now key countries in the Starbucks® worldwide operation.
In summary, business planning is good business practise regardless of whether or not the business is a franchise. Even if the franchisor does not insist on a business plan it is recommended that you apply the key elements of business planning to your franchise to help you ensure its success.
This article was originally published on BPlans.co.uk
Enterprise Nation, the home business website, has been on a roadtrip. Starting in Scotland, the touring team travelled south to meet and film home-based businesses in what will become a mini documentary charting the rise of this modern way of working. While out and about, a few trends became apparent.
Now is a great time to start
The mood throughout the week was incredibly upbeat. One moment that will stick in my mind is when Patrick Elliott, CEO of Business Link in London, opened an event with one key question to the audience: ‘Do you think this is a good time to start a business?’ A ripple from the 200 people gathered quickly turned into a resounding ‘Yes’.
Throughout the week, we met people who are starting up while holding down a day job, as well as others who have come out of redundancy to realise their business ambitions. We met a wide cross-section of businesses and there was nothing but positive chat from them all.
Technology means trade
All of the businesses we filmed are making the most of technology, whether it be Stuart Mills, who is applying the web to the pub world, or Malcolm Gallagher, who is communicating his business message through online videos, produced cost-effectively from a home studio.
Many of the craft businesses are using sites such as Etsy.com to sell their products to a national – and international – audience. Technology is clearly broadening the trade and partnering horizons of many a small business.
Freedom and control are key motivators
We stopped counting the number of times these words were used in interviews. Having started up, home-based business owners are finding greater freedom and flexibility in their working lives and they are relishing being in control of their creativity, working environment and earnings.
The importance of being ethical
Every business owner we interviewed is doing something ‘good’ by being in business, whether it be: Clare Nicolson, who believes in giving work to the people in her neighbourhood; Emma Henderson, who sources fair trade fabrics from India; or Emma Warren, who offers time and business experience to a charity. They would not refer to themselves as ‘ethical entrepreneurs’ as such, but these business owners are having a positive impact in many a varied way.
Growth through outsourcing
The old adage – ‘Do what you do best and outsource the rest’ – is being taken seriously by the home businesses we met. Companies are partnering up and work is being outsourced to professionals. In the case of BodieandFou, Karine Kong outsourced the design and build of her website to an expert she has yet to meet. Technology tools such as Skype, email and project-management software means there’s no need to be in the same place, but for others, physical networks are important places to meet business partners – as well as just to have a social chat.
It was a crammed and fascinating week that showed just how bright and vibrant the start up sector is. The documentary will be aired for the first time on Home Enterprise Day – Friday 20th November – when home business owners will be travelling to us.