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Posts for June 2013

How to use Facebook events to boost your profile

June 27, 2013 by Lucy Harper

How to use Facebook events to boost your profile/thumbs up{{}}By now, many small businesses use social media as an integral part of their marketing – and that of course includes Facebook. With approximately 937m users around the world, Facebook can help start-ups and other businesses to expand their reach and boost sales.

Yet one of the most overlooked features of Facebook is its event page. It’s common to think that an event page is only useful if you’re going to hold an actual, face-to-face event. But holding on to this misconception can cost you further chances to build your following. These tips can help you effectively incorporate Facebook events into your marketing plan.

1 Decide on Your Event

No matter what business you’re in, you’re likely to have upcoming sales, product introductions or service discounts. Turn one of these occasions into an event and attract a great deal more attention than you would with a banner on your website or a sign in your shop display. As long as you use the default settings on your Facebook event, it will be visible to your Facebook friends and their friends, as well. 

2 Establish interest from the start

Attract interest with a catchy title and concise event description. Use keywords to bring potential customers to you. For example, rather than calling your event “Spring Furniture Sale”, you’ll create more interest and draw consumers who are more likely to convert to customers with an event title such as “Exclusive Easter Weekend Sale on Custom-Made Wooden Farmhouse Furniture”. A title such as this one will attract people looking for Easter weekend sales, custom-made furniture, wooden furniture and farmhouse furniture.

3 Cater to the visually oriented

As you create your Facebook event page, include photos and videos. While you don’t want to overload your page with uploads, a few well-chosen photos can increase interest. Choose photos of you or a staff member with your product or service. Create a short video to introduce yourself and talk about your event. This increases the human factor in your event and also serves to establish a connection between you and your event attendees.

4 Include a website link for registration and mailing list

Anyone invited to your Facebook event can RSVP on the event page, but you’ll also want to include a link back to your business website for event registration. Encourage people to take this extra step by entering all registrants into a raffle for a free or discounted product or service. Likewise, allow event registrants to opt into your email subscriber list, so you can contact them about future events and other things.

5 Invite everyone

Don’t limit your Facebook event invitations to the people you’re connected with there. Invite people on your email list, as well as friends, family and in-store customers to attend the event. Ask them to share the event invitation to further multiply your potential attendees and exposure. If you have a business blog, promote the event there, as well as on Twitter and Pinterest.

6 Approach Facebook events as any other type of social media marketing

Learn as much as you can from each experience, so you can refine your steps and actions for the next event. Additionally, it’s important not to overdo it with Facebook events. More than likely, you know at least one other small-business person who sends out event invitations weekly. After a while, you and everyone else begin to ignore those invitations. Avoid becoming invisible by planning and scheduling noteworthy Facebook events when they’re warranted. This will help you build and maintain interest with current as well as new followers and customers.

By Lucy Harper of specialist digital marketing and social media campaigns agency Touchpoint Digital

More information

You’ll find a wealth of great information about using social media for business over on the Marketing Donut

Make the most of online registrations

June 26, 2013 by Neil Cavanagh

Make the most of online registrations/sign up{{}}If you’ve just launched a new website, you may have a form that requires users to register to become a member so they can interact with your site, access premium content or undertake a free trial.

Why would I want users to register?

Registration helps you identify serious users who have shown interest in your site, because they have taken the time to complete the registration process.

Getting to the registration form

You should ensure that there is a link to your registration form on almost every page on your site. Using a service such as Google’s analytics will provide you with some wonderful information such as:

  • How the user arrived at your site – through a search engine, link from another site or link within an email.
  • Which pages the user viewed on your site.

Considering your registration form

A registration form should always be as simple as possible, and collect just the bare information needed to fulfil the process. The more fields you include, the more likely you’ll put users off finishing the registration.

Verifying that the user exists

There are many organisations and individuals who target legitimate sites for spamming on forums and posts. A piece of software called a ‘bot’ may try to register for your site so spam links can be posted.

You can help reduce the likelihood of a ‘bot attack’ by making a user confirm their email address through a unique link or by a ‘captchta’ phrase, which displays an image of usually two distorted words that (usually) only humans can read.

What should I do once the user has signed up?

The simple answer is just to wait and see what the user does on your website.

This information can give you a valuable intelligence for future marketing campaigns such as:

  • Which words to target for a pay-per-click campaign.
  • Areas of your website that require more refinement or promotion.

Contacting users

Your routes of communication should be clearly outlined in your terms of use, to which the visitor should agree before they register.

Better than cold calling

You’ll immediately have a warm lead that you can follow up. Not only can you get valuable information about your site, but you may also have a good opportunity to sell your product or service and find out more about what the user is actually looking for and what other sites they have researched.

Tips

Depending on your type of site:

  • Make sure your registration form collects as little information as possible.
  • Ensure that your privacy and terms of use policies tell the user that their data is safe and the future communication channels you may open with them.
  • Ensure the form is validated before it’s submitted.
  • Keep a track of your follow-ups, to avoid pestering your customer.
  • Give them the facility to opt out of future marketing communications.
  • Seek feedback on your website and service, particularly during a new launch.


Neil Cavanagh is the owner of Xpress Data Systems Ltd and has recently launched CamisOnline, an online business administration and management tool.

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How to choose the right accountant for your business

June 24, 2013 by Carl Elsby

How to choose the right accountant for your business/businessman working in office{{}}Running a small business can be an isolating experience for owners. They often lack people to confide in who have a sufficient understanding of their business – which is why a good accountant is so vital.

The right accountant acts as a business mentor, helping with so much more than tax strategies, business structure and the usual compliance services. In my experience, growth is best achieved if an accountant applies their skills to identify strengths and weaknesses, using the figures as building blocks to drive the business forward, tasking the owner with addressing limitations and building on assets.

But with so many accountants advertising their services, how do you select the right one for your business? The following may help to guide you in the right direction.

  1. In the UK, anyone can call themselves an accountant – even if they aren’t qualified. So, ensure that the one you choose is suitably qualified and part of the relevant professional body (ie ACCA or ICAEW for chartered accountants).
  2. Recommendation is always a good sign: ask friends, colleagues, fellow business owners, etc if they are happy to recommend their accountant. If you are an active networker, this can be a great place to source an effective accountant.
  3. Beware accountants that make big promises. The first thing an accountant should do is listen so they can get to know your business, including its history, what is currently happening and its future goals.   
  4. Some accountants specialise in specific sectors such as retail or manufacturing and it may be that you want an accountant who is very familiar with yours.
  5. The connection between personal and professional finance can be very closely related within small businesses, particularly family companies and sole traders.  Your accountant should be able to help you make decisions that recognise this link and which are mutually beneficial.
  6. It makes sense to choose an accountant with experience of dealing with businesses of your size and type (eg one who specialises in family businesses, SMEs or start-ups). An accountancy practice with a high proportion of large clients on its books may not understand your needs as well – or value your business as they should.
  7. Finally, it’s important to appoint someone who you feel comfortable with, who understands you, is on the same wavelength and who you feel comfortable picking up the phone to speak to. A sense of humour is an added bonus!

SMEs rarely have the advantage of large management teams with a wide range of specialisms and expertise. So, having access to suitably qualified professionals in the form of a knowledgeable and proactive accountant is essential. Someone who will keep a professional confidence and who understands a company well enough to offer constructive advice can make the difference between getting by and running a thriving and growing business. 

By Carl Elsby, MD of chartered accountants Elsby & Co

BCC forecasts brighter future for the UK economy

June 20, 2013 by Guest Blogger

News that the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) has raised its forecast for the UK economy confirms the optimism I’ve seen amongst the managing director members of my organisation, MD2MD, for some time. And indeed a recent straw poll survey of our members gave the same 0.9% expectation. Eurozone fears apart, for a long time our members have seen the outlook as positive, though subdued, predicting growth for the foreseeable future. They see this as the ‘new normal’.

They are, though, much more positive about the situation than the BCC. Our members believe that slow, steady growth is not a disaster. It’s apparent that life is difficult for a significant majority, but a tough market actually improves the economy for the long term. 

If, to be successful, a business has to do a good job – indeed a great job – for its customers, then customers have choice. So, a tough economy tends to sort the good from the bad, with only the better businesses surviving and prospering. Tough though it is, business failure is a necessary part of the market economy that most people in this country believe in. Businesses that fail to deliver a decent product or service that delivers value to their consumers have to fail themselves for the market economy to work and society to benefit.

The unfortunate reality is that, during the boom times, the oversupply of cash as a result of poor lending meant it was possible to survive without really giving value and without really being efficient and effective. We should not be wishing ourselves back to this time or business ethos.

So, I welcome a proper competitive market – with winners and losers – that develops and supports well-run, efficient and effective businesses that deliver great value to their customers over the long term in return for their profit. 

Through MD2MD I meet many managing directors every month and most business leaders are, in my experience, passionate about their business and are trying to do a great job for their customers, while being good employers of their staff and good citizens in the community. They plan to be there for the long term. They understand that they are part of that community and can only prosper if the community prospers.

Let’s welcome a return to a market economy where the ethic of “I succeed and earn a good living by delivering real long-term value to you and to society” is prized over the selfish “I can get rich quick without working hard and giving value back” ethic that emerged in both private and public sectors around the millennium.

Written by Bob Bradley, chairman of SME membership organisation MD2MD

Posted in Financing a business | Tagged Economy | 0 comments

Give your business the best chance of surviving when times are tough

June 19, 2013 by Chris Kenber

Give your business the best chance of surviving when times are tough/survival items{{}}Having walked past a shop called Recession this morning, I was reminded yet again about the tough times that small firms continue to face. All the small-business owners I meet through my work as a coach are really busy. They tend to work much harder than their counterparts in the corporate world and are frequently more motivated, too. There’s so much involved in running your own business – and not many people to help.

Here are my top six tips on how to give your small business the best chance of surviving when times are tough.

1. Spend 30 minutes each day thinking

It seemed to work for Bill Gates. He’s reported to have spent one month every year thinking up ideas for his business. Yet in a survey of 4,000 UK businesses, 95% of small-business owners didn’t even have a business plan. Owners spend all their time working in the business, leaving no time to work on the business. But failure to plan, as time-management guru Alan Lakein said, is indeed planning to fail. It’s like setting off on a journey without knowing the eventual destination – fun, perhaps, but unlikely to be effective. Just half an hour a day spent thinking and making plans will enable you to focus on what’s really crucial to the business. Urgent isn’t necessarily the most important.

2. Actively manage your cashflow

Failure to manage cashflow kills more businesses than anything else. Cash is king when it comes to the financial management of a business. The lag between the time you have to pay your suppliers and employees and the time you collect from your customers is the problem – and the solution is effective cashflow management. This means delaying outflows of cash for as long as you can, while encouraging anyone who owes you money to pay it as soon as possible.

3. Know who your best customers are

A simple analysis of your customers can be enlightening. Who are most profitable/most rewarding to work with/have the most potential? It’s said to be five-times more profitable to spend time and money on retaining existing customers than it is to acquire new ones. Michael LeBoeuf’s book, How To Win Customers and Keep Them for Life, highlights the reasons why customers leave - 68% of them because of an attitude of indifference shown by the owner, manager or an employee. Given this, how valuable it is to fold your customers in a warm embrace and love them to death.

4. Use social media

Social media is no longer the preserve of teenagers.  Indeed, it’s hard to think of a business that cannot benefit from using social media. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are now essential tools to connect with customers, prospects and suppliers. Your competitors are already using social media to boost awareness, enhance reputation and win business. If (like me) you didn’t know where to start, make it your business to find out more about using social media for business. It could bring you many more sales.

5. Keep calm and carry on marketing

It’s no coincidence that businesses that increase and hone their marketing spend in a recession are those that emerge strongest when recovery comes. Bill Gates (yep, him again) famously said that if he was down to his last dollar, he would spend it on marketing. Research has shown that companies that increase their marketing spend in a recession recover three-times faster when economic conditions normalise.

People don’t stop buying in a downturn, they just focus on value and “out of sight, out of mind” still holds true. Customers will notice if your brand falls silent and will smell failure. So set objectives, be clear about what you want your marketing to achieve, and measure the results. The more you know about your customers, the better you will be able to target them successfully by understanding their problems and presenting appropriate solutions.

The internet – and Google in particular – represent cost-effective platforms. Used properly, marketing has the power to stop a business being caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

6. Outsource

Many small-business owners try to do everything themselves, which is plainly daft.  Even decathletes who train for years have events in which they perform better than others. No one can be a jack-of-all-trades.

How much better is it to defer to a bookkeeper or PR specialist than to attempt to muddle through yourself?  It can be immensely liberating to free yourself up to do the parts of the job that are most rewarding or to which you are best suited. Leave the rest to people better qualified than you. Smart business-owners know when to outsource, delegate or automate. You will more than make up the money it costs you through focusing instead on getting more sales or developing product or service enhancements.

By Bristol-based business coach Chris Kenber.

Further reading

 

How Cloud computing could help your business

June 18, 2013 by Emma Williams

How Cloud computing could help your business/drowing of cloud computing{{}}Businesses should always be on the lookout for new, innovative technologies that save them time – and cloud servers can certainly do just that. However, the amount of companies currently using cloud technology is still relatively low, compared to those using traditional servers and software. If your business hasn't got on board the cloud yet, here are a few of the benefits that you could be missing out on... 

Saving you money

Switching to cloud computing can be extremely cost-effective. Most cloud server companies operate on a pay-as-you-use basis, so you only have to pay for the storage, backup and applications you require, rather than paying outright for various computer packages and software upgrades.   

Reliable and up to date

Cloud servers are generally more responsive to developments in the ever-changing IT industry and it is quicker and easier to get hold of updates, because you don’t have to go out and buy hardware, it’s done online. It also means that if you have employees working remotely from other locations using multiple devices, you can ensure they are working on the most up-to-date documents.

If your business currently operates using hardware that is ageing and getting close to capacity, it's likely that a cloud server will be more reliable and quicker to operate. And if you do have any issues, with most cloud computing companies, help and advice is available round the clock.

Secure back-up

Ensuring your work is backed up is one of the most important things a business can do. Financial details and customer information are some of your most valuable assets, and losing them could cost you a lot of time and money. With a cloud-based service, you can set it to automatically save your data frequently to a safe online location. 

Allows for flexibility

If your business is just starting and you don't have years’ worth of data to store, you should be able to just pay for the capacity you need. And, as your business expands, you can easily increase the capacity and functionality of your cloud server as you need.

Time-efficient

Perhaps the most important thing a cloud server can provide you with is more time. You and your employees will no longer have the hassle of buying, installing and maintaining your software, your Ccoud provider handles all this. That means you and your employees can get on with on things that more directly contribute towards your profitability.

Written by Emma Williams of Creare Communications.

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Posted in Business IT | Tagged IT, Cloud | 0 comments

Five ways to get your team working more effectively

June 10, 2013 by Sarah Lewis

Five ways to get your team working more effectively/skulls rowing{{}}Teams are the building blocks of many new businesses and keeping your team working effectively will reap many benefits. So how can you help your team to get the most out of working together?

1. Create a positive working culture

A good working atmosphere makes a huge difference to a team’s productivity. The key to the difference between high-performing and low-performing teams is the ratio of positive to negative comments. Interestingly, this doesn’t need to be balanced; it needs to be weighted in favour of positive comments, at least by a ratio of 3:1.

2. Help people play to their strengths

Forget weaknesses – play to strengths. This will reap greater benefit in terms of performance improvement. This is because when we are using our strengths work feels effortless, we are energised and confident, we are engaged and probably experience moments of flow. Feeling like this we are more able to be generous and patient with others, so the benefits flow onward. 

3. Bring team members together

Teams are often made up of people with different skills and areas of expertise that tend to see the world and the priorities for action within it differently. This can lead to a great awareness of difference, which can come to be seen as insurmountable. A productive way to overcome this is through sharing of personal stories about their moments of pride at work. In this way, they are expressing their values and sense of purpose in an engaging, passionate and easy-to-hear form. The listener will undoubtedly find that the story resonates with them, creating an emotional connection at the same time as they begin to see the person in a different light.

4. Move from the ‘habitual’ to the ‘generative’

Groups can get stuck in repeating dynamic patterns. When this happens, listening declines, because everyone believes they’ve heard it all before, and so does the possibility of anything new happening. To break the patterns we need to ask questions that require people to think before they speak. This brings information into the common domain that hasn’t been heard before.

5. Create future aspirations

When teams suffer a crisis of motivation or morale it is often associated with a lack of hope. In ‘hopeless’ situations we need to engender hopefulness. Appreciative, positive questioning can help people imagine future scenarios based on what is possible. As people project themselves into optimistic futures clearly connected to the present, they begin to experience some hopefulness. By using the techniques described above it's possible to get a team moving again or move a working team from good to great.

By Sarah Lewis, chartered psychologist and author of Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management and Positive Psychology at Work.

You might also want to read:

Posted in Employees | Tagged HR, Employment, employees | 0 comments

How to promote your local business nationwide

June 06, 2013 by Guest Blogger

How to promote your local business nationwide/UK map{{}}For many small businesses, being ‘local’ is their USP, but some have also come to realise the value of promoting themselves further afield.

By staying local, you can build your business in a community setting, helping you to have strong links with your immediate catchment area of customers. When you throw growing amounts of competition and the economy into the mix, the idea of staying local becomes harder to maintain. Competition from larger companies makes being a small fish in a big pond seem like a bad thing, so somehow SMEs have to find a way to compete without losing their local USP.

One key way to ensure you keep up with the competition is to create the impression that you are bigger than you are. You may be operating out of your home or possibly small premises, with only a handful of employees, based within a small area, but by creating the right impression you can quickly promote a much bigger presence. What’s more, consumer trends show that customer trust runs hand in hand with the size of the company (ie the bigger you seem, the more trust you’ll gain).

A way to do this is to use a non-geographic telephone number. Large companies have used non-geographic numbers as their contact numbers for years, attracting customers from all over the country.

Research has shown that consumers are more likely to contact a business if they have an appealing geographic location. For example, it is unlikely that a customer living in London will call a Leeds-based company with a local area code. So, if you are advertised as nationwide, you are immediately more appealing. Just by taking the geographic tie away from a business’ contact number you can attract more customers, making this a great tool for SMEs.

With cost restraints, it’s not always possible to hire new staff or pay for new equipment to deal with increased sales enquiries, but something as simple as a professional voicemail and highly efficient customer service will help. Quick response times and personalised service will not only bring you new custom, it will build long and happy relationships with your customers.

Written by Katherine Evans of 08Direct (supplier of non-geographic 08 and 03 telephone numbers).

Your business idea is virtually possible

June 05, 2013 by Matthew Pink

Your business idea is virtually possible/cloud on sky{{}}So you’ve got your idea. You’ve found the problem you want to solve. The niche you want to fill.

Now you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it happen. Where your HQ is going to be. Who you are going to get onboard. What your branding is going to look like. Everything.

But before you start making rash decisions regarding your expenditure at the outset on things like hardware and premises, take stock a moment.

Is it all going to be really necessary?

More and more, start-ups and small firms are making use of remote working possibilities afforded by WiFi, the Cloud and telecommuting.

Apart from being a way to cut your overheads pretty drastically, releasing some pressure on your cashflow, it also enables your employees to manage the demands on their lives more effectively - meaning that they are better placed to channel their full energies into your business, where they are needed.

By operating flexibly and remotely, you make your working processes more agile and can free up the cash that would be spent on things like heating, business rates and rent. On top of this, your employees save commuting costs and are more equipped to avoid any associated stress.

IT and software providers are wise to this shift within the start-up landscape and have created product suites for agile start-ups to manage the transferral and storage of data and communications more effectively and securely.

As the business-scape shifts and new markets open up, being more flexibly set up will put you in a good position to trade more effectively across borders. It might well be that your key market is not in the territory you originally thought. Were you to work inflexibly at the outset, you may not even ever come to that realisation and that market would go untapped.

Similarly, if you are in full-time employment and, as recent research suggests, are in the good number of employees who are dissatisfied with their current role, you might wish to be more like the sudden bloom of entrepreneurs springing up around the UK and start up your own project while still gainfully employed.

Remote working and Cloud technologies offer up ample possibilities to allow you to do just that and there is a multiplicity of advantages involved, your personal exposure to risk is lowered and you can adopt a trial and error approach until you have a more rounded and attractive proposition to your target market.

So, if you think your current career is not progressing in the way that you wanted or that you think you are ready to make your first entrepreneurial step, there has arguably never been a richer time to take your future into your own hands.

Matthew Pink works in digital publishing and covers topics including entrepreneurship and start-ups.

Posted in Start up business ideas | Tagged IT | 0 comments

Revealed: SMEs' biggest mistakes

June 03, 2013 by Guest Blogger

Revealed: SMEs' biggest mistakes/oops {{}}According to the However Big Your Ambition Report, which was commissioned by Volkswagen and surveyed 1,000 small-business owners, employing a friend or relative who wasn’t up to the job is one of the most common and most regretted mistakes that small-business owners make.

One-in-three respondents admitted to recruiting someone who turned out to be totally unsuitable for the position, the survey’s highest-ranking business blunder, while setting prices that were either too high or too low was the second and not taking advantage of an opportunity was third.

Other errors included offering too many discounts, trusting the wrong person or business partner, investing in the wrong equipment, ignoring good advice, allowing a junior to have more responsibility than they could handle and losing a good member of staff because they were refused a pay rise.

According to the report, on average, bad decisions cost the typical small business £2,340 a year. A third of respondents described themselves as “ambitious risk-takers” and 35% admitted to “letting their heart rule their heads at some point while running their business”, with 61% of those reporting that the decision had proved detrimental.

And the outlook for many remains rather gloomy. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents now feel “less optimistic about 2013 then they did at any point in 2012”; 90% don’t expect to achieve their annual financial targets and just one in five says their business is ‘busy’. Almost two-thirds of respondents say they are reluctant to make long-term investments at this point.

The report was conducted to mark Volkswagen launching its new online SME mentoring service on its Facebook page. Mentors include Allegra McEvedy (co-founder of restaurant chain Leon) and Andrew Denham, founder of The Bicycle Academy.

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