People can find your website in a variety of ways, but few are more important than being found ‘naturally’ via a search engine. Why? Because using a search engine is the most common way for people to find websites. Appearing in search results can cost nothing as opposed to paying to promote your website in print or through online adverts – and the higher you rank in the search engine results, the more traffic you get!
So, here are three tips to improve your website’s search engine optimisation (SEO) and boost your ranking…
It’s important to choose the right keywords for every page on your site. These are words that relate to your field or topic and are likely to be used in searches.
Focus on different keywords for each page. This way, each keyword has its own unique value to a particular page, rather than the same set of keywords on every page competing against each other to do the same job, resulting in your SEO being less effective.
Try to place your keywords in the URL, headings, in image tags, and in the content, but don’t overdo it. If you cram in too many keywords or repeat the same ones endlessly, it will impact negatively on your search engine ranking and won’t read as well, lessening the quality of your content.
A key part of effective SEO is adding new and original content. If a search engine spider checks your site, it will be looking for fresh content or changes to existing content, so it’s important to ensure that your site gets updated frequently.
A great way to add new content is via a blog because it’s so easy to update regularly and perfect for adding unique content.
And it’s not only search engines that find new content on a blog appealing. Visitors to your site will be craving new information – and the blog on your website is exactly where they’ll find it.
Amongst this new information there may be links to articles on other websites. And if your content is good enough, those websites might return the favour and link back to your site, improving SEO and generating traffic for you – see the results for yourself.
It’s not just the information on your web pages that will affect your search engine optimisation. You can improve SEO by giving the search engine spider a taste of your website before it has even got to your homepage, with a meta description tag…
This is the short paragraph that appears in the search engine’s listings and gives a brief overview of your site. It’s also your first opportunity to attract potential visitors, as well as the search engine spider, so it’s important to give an accurate representation of your business and relate to the information on your site.
As with your website’s content, don’t fill the description, which should only be around 30 words, with only keywords in the hope of boosting your SEO. Again, you’ve got to find the right balance between effective keywords and marketing yourself to potential customers.
And just like keywords, be sure to use a different meta description tag for each page of your site, so as not to lessen its impact.
There are lots of other ways to improve SEO. It’s one of the broadest topics when talking about websites, and the goal posts are changing all the time. You’ll see arguments for site maps, link building, analytics and more – they are all valid – but these three tips are a great place for you to start shooting up the rankings and generating traffic on your website!
Recently, I was “conference-tastic”. A morning at Performance in Fashion, where I spoke on powerful branding for small businesses followed by the fantastic Sheerluxe ecommerce conference left my head spinning and my notebook was chok-a-block by the end of the week. I’m positively buzzing with ideas and can’t wait to implement some of our plans on some of our ecommerce clients.
Sheerluxe put on a phenomenal line-up, including a keynote speech from retail analyst, Neil Saunders of Verdict Retail. Neil is an expert in retail trends and his speech made for both sobering and inspiring listening. Neil’s message was businesses need to find new ways to excite and engage the consumer and add value to their proposition. We’ve consumed a lot over the last ten years, we’re jaded and we want a more satisfying experience.
Businesses must find ways to empathise with how the customer is feeling and produce propositions that provide satisfaction and engage with the customer on an emotional level. It really isn’t just about sticking things on a shelf any more. It’s about adding value, creating an experience and really engaging the consumer.
What I find frustrating and thrilling in equal measure is that small businesses can do this – quickly, passionately and effectively. Small businesses can move much faster than retail giants. They can respond to consumer feeling and create a really powerful and compelling proposition. It’s exciting.
But what is frustrating is that small e-tailers often don’t invest in themselves enough to make that difference. It has never been easier or cheaper to set up an online shop. Anyone can do it. But the world is overrun with ecommerce sites that lack focus, inspiration and powerful communication.
It wasn’t so long that Mary Portas was vilified for letting rip at the UK handmade community. A bunch of very passionate craftspeople asked Mary to sympathise with their struggle to get consumers to take their crafts seriously and she gave them some very sensible advice: start creating experiences, create some excitement, create stories.
It’s great advice. Clunkily designed shops, poor photography and a difficult shopping experience don’t make for a great start to a business. Consumers have never had so much choice. They have never behaved so impatiently. They haven’t felt this pinched for a long time. If you want to gain a share of their hard-earned cash your challenge is to excite and engage them.
The light bulb went off for me when I read Marketing 3.0 by Kottler. For a brand to be authentic there needs to be full alignment with the culture in the organisation. HR is the new marketing.
Almost as an extension of that is the increasing belief that passion is the ‘X-factor’ in culture. My friend, colleague and business partner Yanky Fachler wrote about the need for “fire in the belly” ten years ago. Since then books such as Mavericks At Work, Poke the Box and The Thank You Economy all agree that passion can and should be the driving force for your business. Their argument is that in a world where everything is commoditised and similar, the only way to differentiate yourself is with your passion.
Since Marketing 3.0, Bookbuzz has covered a wide range of books in the HR and marketing space all touching on that subject. They include:
The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk really hit it home for me. He would go as far to say that the next battleground for business after e-commerce and technology will be culture. The book is about extreme customer care (similar to “delivering happiness” and how to use social media. What do you think he thinks is most important for businesses, customers or staff? Giving his obsession with customer care you would suspect he would maintain that the customers are most important. Nope, he is adamant that your focus should be on your staff.
And he takes a leaf out of Why work sucks and how to fix it and applies ROWE (the results only work environment) approach. No rules; treat staff as adults. He talks about the need for a Chief Culture Officer, which is not to be confused with the Chief Curiosity Office that Little Bets and Egonomics would suggest. What else does he say?
As a start-up and as a small business, “culture as the new battle ground” is good news. This is where you can compete with big business. They can’t beat you on culture. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you read Killing Giants.
Many small business owners are finding things tough in the current climate. Just this week, two of our customers cited rising overheads and a lack of consumer spending in key markets as reasons why they are finding it hard going.
At times like this many small business owners are thinking of diversifying, looking to market opportunities outside of their current ones. In the early 2000’s as the profits dried up in farming many UK farmers started to diversify; choosing to use their land for things like quad biking or adventure playgrounds.
The idea of seeing a new opportunity outside of an existing market place and moving into it, is very entrepreneurial. It’s rare to find a true entrepreneur who just sticks to one market; just look at Lord Alan Sugar, or Sir Richard Branson.
The advice I would give to anyone thinking of bringing a new product or service to a new market would be; really do your research. Without knowing who the customers are for this new project , you start with a major disadvantage.
Market and customer research is something very close to my heart. With the help of 3 others, I have spent the last few years conducting all of the research for a series of new services, Sage One. When we started, we had a clear purpose, to find out what very small business owners and their accountants wanted to allow them to manage their business finances online. The research undertaken was crucial to bringing our new product to market successfully.
When looking at developing a new product (and it’s similar whether it’s a completely new market as in diversification, or in an existing one) it’s important to gather as much information as possible. Use all available sources; trade shows, existing or potential customers, employees, local press, annual reports, press releases and of course the internet.
We focused on all of the above but found we got the most value from meeting hundreds of target customers and holding 1-2-1 interviews. The reason we did this? To get the answers to all of our market questions and really understand our potential customer’s needs. Engaging our target customers in this way also meant we had people who could help us test our product, answer our questions about pricing, and test the product before launch.
When developing a new product or service it’s important to know the answers to a number of key questions. The first and probably most important question is “what problem will this product or service solve for customers?” In our case the problem our customers faced was managing their books or finances when they had no experience of accounting.
If you can answer that key question then move onto looking at other key areas of product development, asking more key questions like:
Hopefully your research will tell you if there is a market for your new product or service. You can then move to the next stage of planning how to create your product. But if the research indicates your idea is not ‘a goer’, just think of the costs you have saved, and remember the next opportunity could be just around the corner.
If you are a successful company that has survived the recession with a healthy order book, there is some excellent news: there has rarely been a better time to raise private equity investment, as there is plenty of money available for the right opportunities.
Private equity is the term used for investments in private companies, so includes venture capital firms, which look for high-risk, high reward opportunities, the next Autonomy or eBay. It also includes more traditional private equity firms, which provide development or replacement capital to more established companies to enhance their product ranges and improve their management teams while facilitating growth and succession.
The relationship between entrepreneurs and their investors can be an unhappy one, due to mistrust on both sides. Entrepreneurs are convinced of their own rectitude and the industry-changing nature of their companies. They often view private equity companies as aloof and only focused on driving their “baby” towards a lucrative but morally suspect exit, such as a trade sale or public flotation.
When the going gets tough and the private equity company starts talking about replacing the original founders with professional managers, the early euphoria around mutually advantageous exit strategies is long forgotten.
Guy Rigby has seen the world of private equity from several different angles. He qualified as an accountant before building and selling his own practice. Later, he moved into sales and marketing for a professional services company, which itself had a successful trade sale.
He now runs the entrepreneur group at Smith & Williamson, a top ten accounting firm who provide all the usual finance, tax and wealth management services. Most of Rigby’s own time is spent with successful owner-managers, often helping them navigate the mysterious world of private equity investment.
He recently ran an event, “Investing for Success”, which was attended by entrepreneurs, private equity companies and the press. He was struck by the lack of community and deep suspicion in the room.
The entrepreneurs had heard the stories of unscrupulous private equity companies exiting with substantial personal gains from companies that collapsed soon thereafter. The press had understandably leapt on this as an example of capitalism at its worst, leaving the reputable private equity companies wondering how they had acquired such a bad reputation.
Rigby feels that there is a significant communications gap between entrepreneurs struggling to find the right private equity partner, and investors who seem distant and remote to those who will create the next round of wealth.
Much of this problem emanates from a lack of understanding. From the outside, private equity investors inhabit a rarefied and secretive world. They pop up and grab an opportunity from time to time, but few understand how they operate and what they really do.
But above all, Rigby believes that private equity is essential to help rebuild the UK economy. He feels strongly that private equity firms must work harder to improve their image in the marketplace; they should engage better with the media, particularly the entrepreneurial press, providing success stories of growth companies, not tales of woe and asset stripping.
Once entrepreneurs see examples of private equity backed companies grown successfully and ethically for the mutual benefit of employees, customers and shareholders, they will be more inclined to see this important form of funding as a way to realise their ambitions.
Rigby has scheduled an event, ‘Inside Private Equity’ in November for entrepreneurs and investors. Market recoveries are always fuelled by wise investors looking for the best opportunities, so now is the time to repair the image of private equity and start a sensible dialogue with the best entrepreneurs.
See Smith & Williamson’s Event “Inside Private Equity”.
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright © Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Britain’s High Streets are undergoing a major change – and many independent retailers are struggling to keep up.
According to a recent survey from business insurance broker Simply Business, a third of the UK High Street is now made up of cafes, pubs, restaurants and takeaways. Hospitality businesses are thriving but independent retailers appear to be lagging.
Newsagents, for example, now account for just 5 per cent of High Street premises, and they appear to be in a state of decline.
The increasingly difficult situation in which independent retailers find themselves is due, in part, to the continued and aggressive expansion of the chain supermarkets. The so-called ‘big four’ are spreading further into town centres across the country and many independent shops now find themselves faced with the prospect of a pile-‘em-high-sell-‘em-cheap megastore across the road.
But independent retailers are not powerless in the fight against the supermarkets. If you find yourself in competition with one of the big four, there are a range of ways that you can fight back.
You can make your independence work for you. You might not be able to compete on price, but many people are reticent about shopping in supermarkets, and are willing to spend a bit more in order to support independent retailers. Make sure that your customers know you remain under independent ownership, for example by putting an A-board outside your premises advertising this fact.
Service is notoriously bad in supermarkets – and this provides your business with a chance to shine. Make sure that all your customer-facing staff receive a ‘refresher’ in service standards, and consider drawing up a set of guidelines to ensure that all your employees understand how best to treat customers. Think about ways that you can put customer service at the heart of your business – because it is these personal touches that will encourage customers to return.
Great customer service is an important way to encourage loyalty. But you might also want to consider other, more adventurous tactics. For example, why not launch a loyalty scheme? These are increasingly common in hospitality businesses like coffee shops, but there is no reason why they shouldn’t work for a retailer. You might, for example, produce cards, which can be stamped with a discount offered on the tenth transaction. Schemes like this can be particularly useful if you find yourself in direct competition with another shop, as they can encourage customers to choose you over your competitor.
Finally, you should remember that flexibility and convenience are amongst the most common reasons that customers choose to shop in supermarkets. You should consider ways that you can make the shopping experience as easy as possible for them. For example, do you offer a comprehensive range of payment options? You should ensure that you accept the types of payment that your customers wish to make, in order to avoid losing them to your competitors.
Jason Stockwood, Simply Business
My recent column in the Financial Times about mentoring generated many responses from people wanting to learn more about how they can pass their knowledge onto the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is very encouraging; the single most important factor in increasing an entrepreneur’s chances of success is regular access to good mentors.
From the mentor’s point of view it is also a very rewarding process, but should only be embarked on for the right reasons. Mentoring should be provided for free; otherwise commercial considerations might intrude on the process.
Providing free mentoring also focuses your mind on whether you can really afford the time to offer this valuable service. You should already be financially secure or your business and customers doing well enough on their own, so you can provide mentoring without detriment to yourself or connections.
Last week I met with a perfect candidate for mentoring, a 60-year-old industry veteran with a successful consultancy. To explain how I run my one-hour mentoring sessions, I asked him to go through the same preparation I require from my mentees, to complete a simple psychometric profile and provide a one-page summary of where they are and where they want to get to.
I have been a keen advocate of psychometric tests ever since I met Sir Philip Trousdell, a former commandant at Sandhurst who has also run the NATO Operation in Bosnia and the British operation in Northern Ireland. He explained that the British Army had been using psychometric since the 1940s, and considered them a vital first step in selecting potential leaders.
After studying a number of different psychometric tests, I concluded that they generally map onto each other, providing similar conclusions about peoples’ aptitudes for certain tasks.
Some are quite deep and intense, measuring how you interact with other people and behave under stress, but for a first meeting with an entrepreneur, my personal preference is for a profiling system called Wealth Dynamics.
I have used this as a mentoring tool for several hundred people in the past five years, and find it highly effective at providing a basic overview of people’s potential strengths and weaknesses.
This test was developed by Roger Hamilton and is available on-line for $100. It explains that there are eight different ways to be a successful entrepreneur and gives examples of highly successful people whose particular path to success you can follow, depending on your own personal profile.
For my aspiring mentor, his profile showed that he was strong in three areas: as a “creator” coming up with new business ideas, a “mechanic” working out exactly how to deliver these new products and services, and as a “star”, using his personal charm to persuade people to ultimately buy them. He would be less motivated to work on the company finances, negotiate complex deals or concentrate on delivering the same thing every day.
This commendable versatility also has its negative side. His creativity might result in overloading the mentee with too many new ideas, his desire to deliver may turn into excessive interference and his natural radiance might incline him to overshadow his protégée.
Understanding the potentially negative side of one’s own character is vital for being an effective mentor. My own “star” profile often tempts me to respond to any perceived slight or poor customer service with the sentence “don’t you know who I am?”
I now realise that deploying this tactic always backfires sooner or later. There are much better ways of reaching a desired outcome, rather than letting one’s ego take over. Once I realised this, my own effectiveness as a mentor was significantly enhanced.
The Wealth Dynamics profile test can be found at www.wdprofiletest.com
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
Enterprise zones in the UK are typically based in depressed urban areas hit by the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, places that most people aspire to finally escape from, one day. However, there is a different model that can potentially deliver even better long-term results.
The city of Kelowna is less than an hour’s flight east of Vancouver in the Central Okanagan region of Canada, an area of outstanding natural beauty next to a 72-mile lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Its fruit-growing industries were declining, so local entrepreneurs shrewdly switched their crops and the area now boasts several award-winning wineries.
The region might have remained a tourist and retirement destination but for local entrepreneurs Lance Priebe and Lane Merrifield who had the idea for Club Penguin, an on-line social network for children. Riding the first wave of Internet adoption, they soon had 3.9M users before being purchased by the Disney Corporation, who still maintain a 350-strong operation in Kelowna.
Once the city’s credentials as a new media hub had been established, the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission resolved to attract more hi-tech businesses. Since 1998, Robert Fine has been Executive Director, which involves constant local networking, the promotion of the area internationally and the essential ability to encourage funding and tax breaks from local and national politicians.
The result is a region that punches considerably above its weight. Entrepreneurs have low-cost access to Accelerate Okanagan, a purpose-built incubator that provides membership, networking and serviced office space, as well as practical training, consultancy and market research services.
Unlike the incubators that emerged in London during the dot-com boom, Accelerate Okanagan is not run by venture capitalists focused on generating deal-flow geared for a quick and lucrative exit. This incubator works more like a social enterprise, providing long-term mentor-focused nurturing on a not-for-profit basis.
Government funding meets the basic running costs of Accelerate Okanagan, but the incubator also has commercial targets, with profits recycled to improve and enhance the various programmes.
Ambitious entrepreneurs always crave worldwide fame and fortune, so Fine and successful technology entrepreneur Steve Wandler launched the Metabridge Conference, now in its third year. This attracted venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs who made their fortunes in successful hi-tech start-ups such as Google, Facebook and Electronic Arts.
These were the conference VIPs who delivered keynotes, appeared on panel sessions and acted as judges for the pitching competition. The conference numbers were deliberately kept small, with 14 companies pitching to twenty VIPs. This enabled all the aspiring entrepreneurs to have quality networking time with world-class business mentors in the relaxed atmosphere of a golf course or boat trip.
This year, two companies won a two-day facilitated tour of influential companies in Silicon Valley. These were Connection Point, whose product FundRazr is a next-generation fund-raising application, and Xomo, who develop mobile applications for live events, including the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Isle of Wight Festival.
As the winners were chosen by some of the most astute technical and funding experts in North America, their future looks bright as well as for the place where they got their big break.
As the Metabridge entrepreneurs and investors grow their companies, I am sure they will look to Central Okanagan not only for good staff, but also as somewhere they can enjoy the more enhanced and relaxed quality of life they will have earned after their own successful exits.
Perhaps this is a better definition of the perfect enterprise zone; not an industrial urban sprawl that most people aspire to escape from, but instead an attractive location to relocate to, once you have achieved success.
The Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission can be found at http://www.investkelowna.com
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
We were approached by Dragons’ Den researchers a few months ago. One of the guys read an article about us in the paper and got in touch.
We had an audition on camera that we aced first time without any practice and we were through to the filming stages.
It wasn’t a nerve-racking experience, more of an exciting one. We were always very confident in our company, the business model and the figures, and most importantly knew we were very good at selling it to business-owners. JogPost just makes perfect sense to people.
Most people go on Dragons’ Den with a crazy idea, whereas we went on with a fully established company. In fact, when we filmed the show we were already widely regarded as the UK’s number one leaflet distribution company.
We launched 18 months ago and already have more than 500 clients including – Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, Virgin Active, Esporta, Transport for London, the NHS and many other well-known names.
It’s amazing how something so simple as having joggers deliver our leaflets could have such an effect on the result we’re able to get for our clients. Essentially, it enables us to pay fair wages and in turn our workers do a great job.
Since Dragons’ Den aired our phones haven’t stopped ringing. We already have two million leaflets booked in to go out in September.
Dragons’ Den was all we needed to tell the world that we’re here, and now everyone knows, it’s never going to be the same. I feel like we have jumped forward a whole year in a few days. Sometimes in your life you cross over a bridge and as you cross it you know things are never going to be the same again. We’ve just crossed a bridge and it feels great. Dragons’ Den is quite definitely the best thing to happen to us. We’re over the moon.
Henry Buckley, Owner of JogPost
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about advertising in the past month it’s that it can be the fastest way to throw away money. It’s also one of the hardest things to quantify in terms of return on investment.
Let me give you some examples. In our first month we needed flyers printed to advertise our sales and we needed them immediately. If you read my first blog, you might recall my business partner and I run monthly good-as-new children’s clothes, toys and equipment sales in our local area.
We didn’t know how many flyers we’d get through (it being our first month of trading) so I printed out one colour version on my home printer and then paid £60 getting 400 colour photocopies produced at my local copy shop.
This month, being slightly better prepared, we ordered a print run of 1,000 flyers in advance. The turnaround was 10 days but it cost us £42 – so for twice the number of flyers it cost us a third less. Just by planning ahead we saved £18, which doesn’t sound like much, but when your end-of-month profit is £16.60, it is the difference between profit and loss.
Another example. In the week running up to our first sale we spent a couple of hours each morning handing out flyers to groups of mums with children in a local playground. This took up lots of our time, used up lots of flyers and we had no idea if the people we gave flyers to actually turned up to the sale.
This month we got a list of local childminders and nurseries from the council and did a targeted mailing with a few flyers to give to parents (having called first to make sure they didn’t mind).
Not only was this more cost-effective and less time-consuming, but it also had a much more quantifiable effect. Several of the childminders effectively did our advertising for us by mentioning the sale on their website/Facebook pages; word got out among the right people and we had a significantly higher number of enquires about the sale. The result? Double the number of people came to the last sale and more importantly we had double the takings.
So, my job for this week? Sorting out a business bank account (cue shock/horror from accountants – yes, I’m currently doing all the business banking through my personal bank account – welcome to the world of the start-up mumpreneur).
The plethora of information available in the online world has created the horrible scenario where there’s too much of a good thing. If you’re looking for helpful advice or guides, you’ll be able to find them in droves, all with contradicting views and opinions on best practices. When you’re looking for start-up business advice, where performance can hinge on the smallest make-or-break decisions, it becomes crucial to find a reliable, trustworthy source that you know is speaking from experience and not opinion.
Following on from my August post, below are three more personal recommendations of authors who actively blog helpful tips and guides online, coupled with a best-selling book that is a must-read. Each of these books covers a different field of business so, if you have a start-up website which you are looking to grow, you need these books.
Field: Website analytics
The ability to track data on the internet is second-to-none, allowing user-centric information for marketers and companies at a level that has never previously been available. Making this data actionable though, now that’s difficult.
Avinash is quite simply a legend in the website analytics field, and you should be worried if you hire a web analyst who is not familiar with his name and work. Responsible for the term “Analytics Ninja”, he is an advocate for better reporting, leading to conclusion-based analysis that is crucial for a successful website.
His best-selling book “Web Analytics 2.0” is tailored to an hour-a-day attitude of improving your understanding, implementation and analysis of data for your website. The depth and breadth of this book make it perfect for those just starting out in website analytics as well as experienced professionals. It is literally impossible to read this book and not become a better analyst (and all proceeds of this book go to charity, such is Avinash’s way), so if you buy any book, this must be it.
Field: Website optimisation
You are probably familiar with the term Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). An essential requirement for any website hoping to show-up in search engines like Google and Bing, SEO is both necessary and difficult.
The field of SEO is strewn with guides from literally thousands of sources and you can easily get caught up in terrible advice and ‘best practices’. Start off with Danny Dover’s guide and you won’t go wrong.
Similar to Avinash’s Web Analytics guide, Danny’s book is perfect for both SEO newbies and pros, and covers everything from basic on-page optimisation to more advanced SEO tactics, such as site architecture.
The SEO road is a long and frustrating one, but Search Engine Optimisation Secrets will relieve the pain of searching for answers.
Field: Online advertising
At some point in your website’s life, you will want to advertise it. Whether it is on Google’s content network, or search engine bidding in the sponsored ads, online advertising done right can be a revenue-winner, but done wrong can be a company-killer.
Craig Danuloff’s book focuses on a section of online advertising referred to as Pay-per-click (PPC), a self explanatory term highlighting the fact that you provide an advertisement and will be charged each time an individual clicks it.
The world of PPC is incredibly advanced, and so much deeper than an auction model of “he who spends most, wins”. One of the key factors of PPC is a Quality Score algorithm, a mystery figure calculated by the search engines which impacts when your ad is shown and how much you pay.
It would take a lifetime to find and read through the Quality Score essentials that you need to know for a successful campaign. This book brings all of this information together, with the expertise of Mr Danuloff breaking down the intricacies of paid search and Quality Score in a way you simply won’t find online.
I hope these recommendations lead your start-up to greater things. Have you read any books recently that are filled with start-up gold? Share the wealth by adding your own recommendations on our Forum http://www.startupdonut.co.uk/forum.
The government recently announced plans to create enterprise zones, featuring 100 per cent discount on rates capped at £275,000 spread over five years and access to superfast broadband.
The first eleven zones are in Birmingham and Solihull, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, London and Tees Valley. This will soon be extended to 21, mostly centred in the big conurbations.
There was criticism that those areas that had not formed Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) would miss out. My view is that this provides an excellent incentive for local councils, chambers of commerce and other stakeholders to show some entrepreneurial gumption and form their own LEPs, or something very much like them. If they deliver measurable results at minimal cost as the LEPs are trying to do, then government grants will inevitably follow.
Peter Deaves is Head of Policy at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, a research organisation focused on tackling disadvantage and promoting social justice. In the April edition of their journal Working Brief, he questioned the effectiveness of earlier enterprise zones, based on a study by The Work Foundation, which claimed that the cost for creating each job was £23,000 and that 80% of new jobs were displaced from somewhere else.
Deaves says that government has learnt useful lessons from the earlier enterprise zone success stories, such as Canary Wharf and Trafford Park, but argues that success should ultimately be measured by the number of new jobs that the zones creates, especially for unemployed young people.
Few could argue with this logic or the potential role of the enterprise zones in reducing the twin burdens of taxation and regulation that entrepreneurs cite as the two factors preventing them from growing their businesses.
The solution is to provide incentives rather than impose extra regulation. The key issue always identified by small business associations The Federation of Small Business, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors is employment law.
These organisations tell me that they want entrepreneurs to be able to be significantly incentivised when hiring unemployed people but still able to let them go easily if they do not work out or circumstances change, without the burden of costly employment tribunals.
A major concern is that lax government regulation might enable a whole new generation of Ebenezer Scrooges, but my experience of meeting entrepreneurs is that most of them are more like Titus Salt, the Bradford-based manufacturer, politician and philanthropist, who built the town of Saltaire to house his mill workers.
I feel strongly that government should give eye-watering incentives for today’s social entrepreneurs who behave in the same way. People who work with the long-term unemployed and ex-offenders tell me that a key success factor is to take disadvantaged people out of their current environment by the provision of social housing elsewhere.
This is a highly effective way of enabling social mobility, both for the first generation of a family leaving home to go to higher education and for former drug dealers leaving their old neighbourhoods where there is significant peer pressure to re-offend.
The social entrepreneurs will be rewarded by not only doing good while making money, but also by adding a property business to their business portfolio. You only have to look at the successful companies building affordable student accommodation or the next generation of care homes to find an excellent business model to follow.
If entrepreneurs are as successful as Salt and the other Victorian philanthropists, then they will get other benefits that many of them secretly crave and which a grateful government could provide at minimal cost: a public statue and a knighthood.
The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion can be found at http://www.cesi.org.uk
Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.
It’s easy to be daunted by your accounts when you start-up. Many new businesses opt to bring in an accountant, rather than do it themselves. But can those with limited financial knowledge manage their own books?
Winner of a recent Start Up Donut giveaway of Sage’s new Instant Payroll software, Chalk says that neither he nor his co-founders had any experience of accounting when they started the business in 2009.
“We were four students at UWE and the University of Bristol organising student events and that developed into a business called Clix Entertainment. We now provide marketing and PR for local businesses and organise weekly student events.
“None of us had any real experience of doing accounts. One of my partners did business and strategy at university, but the rest of us didn’t do anything that was linked to what we are doing now.
“My dad has run a few businesses and he gave me some basic accountancy knowledge of cashflow, profit and loss, balance sheets — nothing too in-depth. When we started, we would get paid and then figure out how to account for it afterwards. But once you start growing that’s not possible, you need to have proper bookkeeping systems.
“We brought in an accountant from the start to do our quarterly and annual accounts. However, at the end of last year we bought Sage Instant Accounts and I’ve been learning it for the last eight months — how it works and how to do your own books.
“I’m quite good with computers anyway and I thought I must be able to learn Sage — and I have. You don’t have to have a great financial knowledge to get to grips with it.
“We’re still using an accountant at the moment, but our intention is that from this September ― the end of our current financial year ― we will take all our books in-house. So our accountant will just do the end-of-year accounts. We will do our own VAT returns and payroll.
“The Sage software gives you the ability to go ‘I want a profit-and-loss account for a management meeting this morning’ — you click a button and you’ve got one. You can see how much you’ve made from a customer in an instant.
“Our accountant is still doing our payroll at the moment, but we plan on using the Sage software from next month. Our payroll fee per month is about £70 so if we can save that by using Sage, it’s a good saving. It’s also the flexibility of not having to rely on the accountant to do stuff all the time. It’s cheaper and quicker to do it ourselves.”
Finding funding for your business is difficult in these post credit-crunch times. At BusinessFunding.co.uk, we recently discovered that the number of public sector-backed funding sources available to UK businesses has shrunk by at least a quarter in the past year alone, while the number of grant schemes has shrunk by a similarly large amount.
Bank lending has also been a cause for concern recently. The Government keeps putting pressure on the banks to lend more to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but many businesses are still finding themselves unable to secure finance.
Businesses in the regions may be finding it particularly hard to find funding and finance at the moment, with the North West and the Midlands faring particularly badly as a result of recent fund closures. And with spending cuts progressing apace across a wide variety of UK business funding sources, this trend looks set to continue.
However, all is not lost. The good news is that a wide variety of less-well-known funding sources do exist, from specialists such as asset-backed lenders and business cash advancers to crowd funding websites. Plus, it is reasonable to expect that further sources of funding will emerge as the recently established Local Enterprise Partnerships and Enterprise Zones begin to take shape.
For those seeking loans, the Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) may be a good alternative to the banks. CDFIs lend money to businesses, social enterprises and individuals who struggle to get finance from high street banks and loan companies. Some are even approved to lend under the Enterprise Finance Guarantee, a scheme in which the Government provides a guarantee to the lender, enabling SMEs with insufficient or no security to secure a business loan.
Of course, the more traditional equity investors will continue to play an important role. Indeed, equity investors are particularly active and have provided funding of more than £500m into UK businesses so far this year. From venture capital funds to angel investors, there are plenty of options for those seeking equity investment for their business.
Applying for equity investment can seem daunting and businesses must ensure their proposal genuinely has the potential to offer a good return to investors. However, provided it ticks this box and is presented well, investors will be interested and equity investors are often willing to support the business through its growth stages in order to ensure a good return.
However, it is worth keeping in mind other sources of funding, particularly in these troubled times when the competition for equity funding is high. Looking beyond traditional sources of grants and government-backed funds towards more novel sources could increase your chances of receiving funding.
BusinessFunding.co.uk is a central resource for UK businesses seeking business funding or finance to start up, expand or fund working capital. Find more than 1,000 sources of business funding and finance, including investors, loans, invoice factoring and discounting, asset finance and more.
It’s quite a sight – a double-decker bus brashly urging us to “Start a business” parked in the midst of one of London’s secretive centres of power and wealth. The Start Up Britain bus is flanked by shiny red, white and blue minis – getting this breezy convoy into the heart of St James may be an inspired piece of guerrilla marketing. I imagine diners in the anonymous clubs surrounding Waterloo Place coughing into their lobster bisque.
It’s all smiles in the melee beneath the bus’s rain canopy. It’s quite a vehicle. There are sofas inside, a bar (not serving booze, sadly), tables and chairs where you can sit with an expert to discuss how to get your business up and running. There are advisors, corporate sponsors and plenty of prospective, new and established business-owners.
Everyone is chatting away. There’s a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’. We probably are – state-funded business support is being transformed and there’s concern in some quarters that start-ups are being overlooked in favour of the high-growth businesses the Government believes will drive the UK economy in the future.
You may not think this the best time to be starting a business in the UK. But plenty of people are – the annual number of start-ups went up by 10 per cent between March 2010 and March 2011 and is gradually clawing its way back to pre-recession levels. Their owners have many different reasons for launching their venture – though the economy seems to be a common theme.
There’s Fiona Dallimore, for example, who is launching Up Urs Betty to sell her ‘thought shirts’ and other creations. Fiona tells me that her full-time job is coming to an end. But she’s wanted to do something of her own for ages. So why not now? She’s enthusiastic and hungry for knowledge.
Robert Welch, co-founder of Small Car Big City, the London tour company that provided the minis for the day, tells me that his business wouldn’t have been started at all had he not graduated in the middle of a recession. Robert wanted to work in finance, but found employment impossible to find.
“I always thought I was going to run my own business one day, but I didn’t plan to do it immediately,” he reveals. “It’s been a colossal challenge. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. I had no idea how to write a business plan.”
Marcus Simpson started Direct Sitters because, by his own admission, “I’m not a good employee.” The idea for a service for householders who can’t wait in for tradespeople came to him from an episode of The Wright Stuff. “They said a good thing to do if you have time on your hands is house-sitting. A couple of days later my mum asked me to stay in for the plumber. I just put the two ideas together,” he says modestly. “If I spot a problem I want to provide a solution.”
There are many different reasons for starting a business and business-owners themselves come in all shapes and sizes. What they all need in the early stages, though, is practical knowledge and support – preferably delivered face-to-face. With the closure of regional Business Links, there’s a definite gap in the market that will take time to fill.
The idea of taking support to the people on board a bus is energising and fun – and the Start Up Britain bus tour is also drawing attention to quite an enormous need. New business-owners can’t wait for things to bed in. They need support now.
Rebecca Granshaw has travelled all the way from Albury in Surrey to sound out an expert about her business idea, which is so hush-hush she won’t tell me what it is. Has today been worthwhile? I ask her. “Life-changing,” she beams.
The Start Up Britain summer bus tour begins again on 19 September and finishes on 23 September in York.
Simon Wicks is a freelance writer and editor of Enterprise Nation.
Or, to put it another way, outsource or die! Either way, the message is still the same: starting or running a business is tough, trying to stay focused on what it was you wanted to create, sell, service or make is core.
Everything else is fluff! Admittedly, important fluff – but fluff none the less.
A couple of years ago I was in Canada starting up a retail gift card company for a major Canadian retailer. The concept was sound, the partners were solid, the customer was signed, awesome!
Then it started to go a bit wonky, then it went really Pete Tong!
One of my biggest suppliers was sliding into administration and I worked with their board, their stakeholders and investors to try and rescue the company because I thought it was important for my company.
Big mistake : I should have moved on and fast. Instead I tried to salvage something that didn’t want to be saved and in doing so sank my own ship. Whole exercise as one of my buddies pointed out at the time was basically a real live fire MBA exercise: I lost some cash (quite a bit), I lost some sleep (also, quite a bit) but I gained valuable experience.
This is what I learned and how I now practise what I preach:
With so much bad news flying around about austerity, security and economy it’s easy to join in with moaning about things we really can’t change or influence. Ignore this ‘white noise’ and instead focus on your business and move forward with purpose. There are very few billion dollar contracts from China floating around but there are millions of small business leaders and we can get the economy back off the ground!
Start Up Britain is a new campaign by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It was launched in March 2011 with the backing of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
One of the organisation’s key figures is our very own Start Up Donut home-business expert Emma Jones, founder of small-business support company Enterprise Nation, who explains: “Start Up Britain is a campaign run by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. It’s a response from the private sector to the Government’s call for an ‘enterprise-led’ recovery.”
Start Up Britain has released a short video clip charting its first three months. You can view it here.