After the EU referendum, we have entered a period of extreme uncertainty. What is certain though is that the decisions made by small and medium-sized businesses (that make up about half of the economy according to BIS) over the next few months will determine more than ever their success in this new environment.
The likely pressure for entrepreneurs will, to varying degrees, include the depreciating currency, possible inflation, adverse movements of asset prices and labour market pressures.
I'm convinced, however, that the primary pressure on the UK's SMEs is going to come from negotiations with the bigger players in the market. For better or for worse, big businesses have been handed a powerful negotiation gambit to use against the small business owner.
SMEs generally have a low bandwidth when it comes to market information, cash flow and talent pool - all factors likely to be disrupted over the next few years. The pressure here can also quickly affect performance - and profit margins. For SMEs with little cash reserves and balance sheet strength, this could threaten the very survival of some.
However, the confusion in the market will mean the best of times for those who are entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word - those who know how to make the most of new opportunities.
In time, commercial prudence will prevail over instinctive reaction. There are SME owners who are going to thrive under Brexit. These are the business owners who have the financial literacy to understand the numbers, those who are watching their margins closely, who are already planning how to cast a wider net to draw in better talent and who are constantly looking for ways to increase opportunities in their pipeline.
These SME owners will be learning how to protect their business well, strike when they have opportunities and develop their own skills and competencies to negotiate effectively with the big players in the market.
There may be many reasons to lament the UK's exit from the EU, but the SME owners who to come to terms with the reality of Brexit the quickest are the ones who are going to thrive and create the best of times for their business.
To be successful, start-ups need to know the ins and outs of the market they're operating in. Market research is a vital tool to help you launch and grow your business; it gives you valuable market intelligence that you can use to plan and develop your strategy.
By conducting market research you get insights into how your target audience thinks and acts - including their buying patterns. It can also provide information on current market trends as well as shifts in the economy and changes in your demographics.
Market research allows you to identify new business opportunities. The information you obtain by carrying out market research will help you to build engaging marketing campaigns that reach your niche audience. This is because you can target the specific interests of your current and potential clientele - the information you gather from research will help you better decide who to target and when. It will also provide you with more lucrative opportunities to help you expand your business.
Market research is not just a great tool to get to know your audience; it can also give you a useful insight into your competitors' strategies. You can compare your business with others, enabling you to track your own progress and growth as well as theirs. Keeping ahead of competitors can be challenging at times, so through understanding the market you can create more concise and focused business strategies.
When you know your market, your audience, your competitors and your products, you can make decisions with a greater degree of confidence and precision. This allows you to minimise the risk of failure. Market research should always be part of your growth plan, since it can help optimise your brand strategy and, by focusing your efforts where they matter, you will maximise your return on investment.
By researching your market you can create a powerful brand personality, enabling you to generate promotions and messages that resonate best with your target audience. You want your words to ring true to them, whether that's through your website, social media, advertising or promotions.
With market research you can also test ideas and messages, streamlining your marketing by selecting those that best address the needs, attitudes and aspirations of your customer base.
Every entrepreneur wants their start-up to be successful; the safest way to achieve this is through knowing your market.
Copyright © 2016 Graeme Donnelly of Quality Formations, part of the Rapid Formations Group, offering a specialist company formation service for a diverse range of company structures.
How strong is your network? What return do you get for your networking effort?
Successful networking is about your ability to forge mutually beneficial, integrated alliances with the right partners.
This is especially true for SMEs, where one-on-one relationships and personal contacts continue to drive the bulk of word of mouth business. For some SMEs, it is also important to go beyond industry contacts and focus on regional partnerships. For example, tech firms in the West Midlands, where analysts are expecting strong growth well into 2016, will want to build stronger cross-industry relationships with partners locally to fuel their expansion.
Networking with a plan in place is essential if you are to make a positive first impression, connect with the right cross-industry experts and master the post-event follow up. Here is my advice on what to do before, during and after your next networking event.
When it comes to high-priced industry conferences, do a bit of advance work. Talk to participants from previous years. Ask whether they feel the conference was worth the time and financial investment. How many new contacts did they make and how beneficial have these proved to be over the past year?
For local events, such as networking lunches and happy hours, aim for a balanced mix of sector events and those for the wider business community. SMEs need to balance industry contacts with a strong, diverse geographic network for maximum exposure and relationship building.
Master a one- or two-line proposition in advance that summarises who you are, your experience and what you currently do (or would like to do) as it relates to potential contacts you'll meet at the event.
Remember, you don't 'help' people; you 'work' with them (because the latter implies a fee). It's good to have something the clients will want (eg money, time, happiness, etc) and something they want to avoid (eg efforts, mistakes, pain, etc) embedded in what you say. For example: "I work with family businesses to help them unlock sustainable profits and avoid costly mistakes."
Practice responses for other typical icebreaker questions, such as "What brings you to this event?" and "How's business?" Ask questions, listen and be willing to move on if it's the right thing to do.
While there's value in meeting a wide variety of people at an event, too many brief contacts can mean you fail to make a memorable impression on anyone. Instead, identify whom you want to meet in advance and make it your mission to speak with these people.
The better you get at asking questions, the better you'll get at making connections between the people you're speaking to and other contacts already in your network. Consider why the person you're speaking to should care about you, your business and this conversation. By asking great questions, you may even learn something surprising or unexpected (eg a new business challenge or need) and can tailor your conversation accordingly.
Aim to walk away from every conversation having allowed the other person to speak more than you did. They feel great about the interaction and you'll gain valuable insight into what they do, who they know and how they could best work with you in future business endeavours. One question that can support building a larger network is: "Knowing what you know about me now - who else should I meet?"
At the event, jot down a few notes about your conversation on the back of your contact's business card. Within 48 hours, follow up with a short, personalised email referencing one or more of these points. If you can make an introduction for them do so, and follow up on "You mentioned I should meet […], could you make an introduction for me?"
Finally, don't let your newly forged relationship get stuck online. It's tempting to think once you've connected with someone on LinkedIn your work is done, but it's just beginning! A person-to-person meeting is key to nurturing a new connection. Personal discussion can lead to faster, more productive dialogue than online correspondence, especially if you're trying to close a new business deal.
Copyright © William Buist, a business strategist, speaker and founder of the exclusive xTEN Club, an annual programme of strategic activities for small, exclusive groups of business owners. xTEN helps accelerate growth, harness opportunity, build your business and develop ideas. William is also author of two books: At your fingertips and The little book of mentoring.
The UK has more than 5.4m active businesses, ranging from multi-billion pound heavyweights to sole traders. Some 60% of businesses with five employees or less still don't have a website of their own. When your business has little or no online presence, it becomes much harder to manage its reputation online. Reviews of your business may appear much more prominently, and negative reviews can be extremely harmful.
Smaller businesses that don't have a large advertising budget or search engine optimisation campaign find themselves competing against review and directory sites on the first page of Google. This sometimes means that reviews of your business outrank your own website, and it will certainly mean that those reviews share the front page with your own web content. If a bad review is posted, it might show up when your business name is searched. This could be very harmful to your reputation unless you manage the situation carefully and take steps to repair the damage.
If a bad review appears online, it can be devastating for a business. Customers look to the experiences of others when making a decision about where to spend their money, and reviews are hugely popular online. Search engines such as Google will return review sites and directories when you search a business name, presenting you with information about the business at the touch of a button. You need to know that the information about you is accurate, fair and positive.
Is there anything you can do to address a bad review? The first step should be to look into the reasons given by the person posting. Is the criticism fair? If it is possible that they have a valid complaint, you may want to contact that customer and see if you can do anything to resolve their issue. An apology or nice gesture could go a long way, and might even encourage them to revoke their original review and post about their positive experience.
If the customer is not open to removing the review themselves and if the issue has not been resolved after action was taken, you may need to accept that the bad review will stand - and concentrate on encouraging good reviews from future customers instead.
You can't please every customer and some will find fault with everything. Sometimes, people just like to complain - and others have too much time on their hands.
Whatever the reason behind them, bad reviews which are false or exaggerated are a big problem for businesses. There is nothing you can do to resolve the issue from the customer's point of view, but in some cases you can take some legal steps to remove the review.
First, you can contact the review site itself and ask for the review to be removed. This can take time, because they are likely get thousands of similar requests, and your request might not be granted. After all, to an extent, people have the right to say what they think. However, if a review is overly negative or clearly false, some websites remove them. If this fails, many websites give you the opportunity to post a response to give your side of the story. Another option is legal action against the person posting the review, but this can be costly and there is no guarantee of success.
The best way to handle negative reviews is to develop a positive online presence that outshines the bad content. Reputation management companies can help you with this.
Encouraging positive reviews from happy customers and going the extra mile with your service should see the good reviews outweigh the bad ones. Most of the online shopping customers are influenced by customer reviews/feedback.
You should also consider growing your web presence. You don't need a huge budget to get web-savvy. Social media is a great way to network for free, so sign your business up to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Google should return your business pages when people look for your company. Get your website in order as well, and consider a paid advertising campaign. Push the negative content back and let yourself shine online.
Unfortunately, far too many people in business really don’t cut the mustard when it comes to public speaking. And yet, being able to present your business in a clear and engaging way is essential if you are to succeed. So, what should you do if you’re guilty of committing one of the common public speaking sins listed below?
If you stand in front of your audience reading the content of densely packed slides you will become invisible.
Solution: Use simple visual aids to support your points and make yourself visible.
I watched as a speaker walked to the stage, looked at his audience and let out a huge sigh. He made the audience members feel they had caused him a big problem by turning up.
Solution: Remind yourself why your audience needs to hear from you and stride up looking confident.
It’s a fact – powerful public speakers prepare and practise. Being adaptable is positive. However, lack of preparation means you’re most likely to ramble and confuse your listeners.
Solution: Take time to prepare and practise.
If you pack in too much your audience simply won’t be able to take it all in.
Solution: adopt a “less is more” approach. Focus on a few relevant facts and make them memorable.
Perhaps you love speaking in public too much. You may be extrovert and charming, but if you overrun your allotted speaking time no one will thank you.
Solution: Show your love by considering your audience’s needs and stick to time.
If you run your words together, trail off at the end of sentences, speak too quietly or are monotonous you’re one of the speakers audiences dread. It’s time to start articulating clearly, bringing energy into your voice and remember that everyone in the room needs to hear you.
Solution: Listen to recordings of your speeches, notice the patterns and take corrective action. If it’s really bad, consider voice coaching.
You can be too loud. In a small room this can make the audience feel as if they’re being shouted at or even pushed towards the back wall by the pressure of the sound. You can also come across as bullying or hectoring.
Solution: Adapt and vary your volume to fit the size of the space and for the sake of your audience’s ears.
You’ve forgotten to check who will be in the audience. You can talk about leadership to teens but should you use the examples and stories that you used at your local Rotary Club?
Solution: Do your homework and focus on your audience.
Do you know what the previous speaker’s subject is and what he/she has said? Words audiences fear include: “As Sara has already said...” “I was going to tell you about…. But, er… Um… You’ve heard it from John, so… I’ll just skip the next 10 slides.”
Solution: Co-ordinate with other speakers.
You talk to the slides forgetting the people behind you. You nervously claw at your neck, you absent-mindedly scratch (I’ll leave where to your imagination), you start to talk to someone in the front row and turn your presentation into a private conversation. You’ve forgotten that public speaking is a performance.
Solution: Watch yourself on video to see how you perform and try to avoid bad habits.
Public speaking is a key business skill, so take steps to overcome the reasons that get in the way of good public speaking – and you’ll quickly go from dreadful to distinguished.
Copyright © 2015 Dorothea Stuart, member of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of locations. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland, find your nearest here. Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.
With German Christmas markets a festive draw in city centres throughout Europe, ‘tis the season to eat bratwurst and browse for gifts. For the sixteenth year, the much-loved German Christmas markets have returned to Manchester, boasting an array of wonderful stalls run by small businesses from the North West city and beyond.
With more than 300 stalls in such proximity, competition is rife. The pressure is on to win over consumers and market traders have learned many valuable business lessons over the years. We spoke to three traders to find out what they believed were the most important business lessons they’ve learned from trading in such a competitive environment.
Phil Fowler owns a small local business called Popsters, which transforms old records into clocks and coasters. A labour of love for Phil, Popsters only trades face to face at the Manchester Markets, selling online throughout the rest of the year.
Phil believes that to catch the eye of potential customers you must bring unique products to the market. But while Popsters’ vinyl gifts are one-of-a-kind, he knows that having a one-off product on its own is not necessarily enough to seal the deal. “It’s tempting to think that because I’ve got a unique product, that’s all I need,” he says. “You can’t get my product anywhere else, but actually I’m still competing with everybody else who’s got a gift item to sell in the same price bracket.”
Another key lesson we learned from the Manchester traders is the importance of getting to know your customers. Standing in a customer-facing environment, seven days a week for five weeks solid means that traders get plenty of face-time with their customers. All three interviewees were unanimous about the importance of building good customer relationships and listening to their feedback.
Ken Jackson, from handmade gift specialists Timber Treasures, comments: “I think having a good relationship with customers is vital. Having a nice chat with them, keeping them happy – even if they’re not buying – you still need to try to maintain a good rapport with them.”
Similarly, Graham Kirkham, from Garstang-based cheesemakers Mrs Kirkham’s, advises: “Listen to what your customers are telling you, time and time again. Even if it’s criticism – don’t take it in a bad way.”
Listening to the customer is only half the battle. Acting on their feedback is imperative to success. Graham adds: “As a result of feedback, we’ve introduced more blue cheeses and more soft cheeses. Refresh your stall, refresh what you’re doing, keep it interesting and keep your customers interested.”
These traders spend a great deal of time vying for public attention in a crowded marketplace and the lessons they can teach us are pertinent no matter how big or established your business. Keep these three basic business principles in mind if you want to maintain a competitive edge and thrive in 2015.
Copyright © 2014 Aldermore Bank. Visit the Aldermore Bank blog to watch a video of festive interviews with the Christmas market traders in Manchester.
According to American Express: “Godfather of Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake, one of Britain’s best-recognised supermodels, Daisy Lowe, and BAFTA-winning filmmaker Heidi Greensmith have come together to encourage the public to shop small on Small Business Saturday, 6 December 2014.”
Small Business Saturday is a campaign that encourages people to shop in local, small, independent businesses across the UK. American Express supports the initiative, together with small business organisations, trade bodies, local authorities and others.
American Express founded Small Business Saturday in the USA in 2010 and it arrived in the UK in December last year. The financial services heavyweight has commissioned the trio to “use their talents to shine the spotlight on the nation’s small businesses”.
Sir Peter Blake, world-famous pop artist who is responsible for the iconic Beatles LP cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, is “creating a bespoke piece of celebratory art featuring small businesses from across the UK”. He says: “Small shops and the Great British shopkeeper have been at the forefront of British culture for hundreds of years.
“The notion of a ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’ is embedded in our folklore and the wonderful variety of today’s independent shops, as well as the character that small businesses bring to a local area, make them an ideal subject matter for modern pop art. Having worked at a local butcher at the age of 13, I have also experienced the dedication and hard work that goes into running a small shop. It is for all these reasons that I am thrilled to be lending my support to a campaign that champions small businesses.”
Daisy Lowe “will lend her support at an independent shop on Small Business Saturday”, while Heidi Greensmith “has turned her camera onto three independent shops to give small businesses a share of the limelight in the lead up to the Christmas shopping rush”.
Her excellent film, Saturday, can be seen on YouTube. It “captures the passion and commitment of the business owners”, including 36-year-old Cardiff fishmonger, Nick Bryant, as he gets up early and prepares for the rigours of his day. Olivia Brewer and Nik Blake, owners of Bath clothes shop FOUND, then feature, “as they give their customers the personal stylist treatment”. Finally, we find out more about Babette Kulik, 47-year-old owner of London bookshop The Society Club. “She sources first-edition books and holds unique literary events for her eclectic mix of customers”.
“Small businesses are an essential part of the local community, not only providing a personally selected offering for their customers, but also as a place where local people can simply meet up, catch up and feel looked after,” comments Greensmith. “I set out to capture and celebrate the unique role small businesses play in our lives and hope the film inspires the public to shop small on Small Business Saturday."
According to American Express research carried out after last year’s campaign, “43% of shoppers on the day chose specifically to shop at local independently owned businesses because of Small Business Saturday”. They each spent an average of £33, generating £468m for small businesses throughout the UK. More of the same this year? That’ll do nicely…
Blog written by Start Up Donut editor and freelance SME content writer Mark Williams.
The Government’s Business is GREAT Britain campaign and BT Business have come together to launch the GREAT Faces of British Business competition, which seeks to recognise British “businesses with exciting innovation, growth and export stories”.
Winning entrants will be crowned champions of their region, before going forward to compete for national honours. The overall winner will win an exclusive package worth more than £30,000, including a bespoke advertising campaign, national and regional media coverage, an iPad Air and unlimited BT Wi-Fi for 12 months, as well as a package of export support from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
Entrants must be UK-based businesses with up to 250 staff. There are three categories – best exporter, most innovative small business and best growth story. Firms can enter one or all of the categories, depending on relevance to their business. “All eligible businesses must state why they deserve to be named one of the GREAT Faces of British Business,” say the organisers.
Business minister, Matthew Hancock, says: “Small businesses have been the driving force of our economic recovery. This is a top opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution they make to villages, towns and cities across Great Britain.”
Steve Rathborne, director of sales, BT Business, says: “BT Business wants to help and support small businesses to succeed. The UK has a pedigree of producing innovative and successful businesses and leaders. That’s why we’re supporting the Business is GREAT Britain campaign, to discover and champion the entrepreneurial talent and to give businesses an opportunity to boost their fortunes further.”
Launched in 2013, the Business is GREAT Britain campaign aims to celebrate and inspire small businesses. It is run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and UKTI and “provides relevant advice and information for small and medium-sized enterprises looking to grow, hire, export, lead and access finance”.
Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?
It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.
It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.
Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.
If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”
It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.
When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.
Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.
Beliefs drive reality and they are intrinsically linked to our values – the things that are most important to us. What you believe to be true you make right by finding evidence to support it.
So, if you believe that your target market is struggling at the moment and has no money to spend on your product, you’ll easily be able to prove that to be correct. And yet if you were to say to yourself that your target market is making more focused buying decisions, you’ll take a different approach to your next sales or marketing conversation. Whatever is true doesn’t really matter. It’s the attitude and energy you take to it that will make the difference.
“If you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right” – Henry Ford
Thank heavens our brains are wired to filter information according to relevance. Without that filtering we’d have more than two billion bits of information flying at us at any given second. How paralysing would that be?
Because of this filtering, we’re wired to focus on what we decide is important – our values. This focus drives behaviour and therefore business results. So, what we believe – and then say to ourselves is the truth – can mean that we don’t see evidence to the contrary. This can act as a positive or a negative, depending on what your beliefs are.
To make sure you are doing all that you can in this area to create success, begin to notice whether your beliefs are acting as ‘cheerleaders’ or ‘critics’ by considering these questions:
“What are the beliefs that you are running in terms of your customers, your product, your team or the market in general?” Grab some paper, make a list and then ask yourself…
“Are these beliefs building strong foundations and motivating me and my team to grow the business or are they looking for flaws and reasons that things go wrong?”
Whatever your beliefs are you have choice. You can make a change. Change your thinking and change your reality.
Would you be interested in working harder and smarter on your business if you knew that it would be very easy to do better than 80% of the people in your sector?
Factually, right now, about 60% of the people in your sector are only doing OK and 20% are struggling. This means that by stepping up and standing out, you could be in the 15% that are doing very well and if you really excel, you could be in the 5% that are exceptionally successful.
So how can you achieve this?
Most people think small and therefore play small; there is less competition for bigger goals. You just have to act with courage. So whatever you’re thinking about doing right now, what would a goal that was ten-times larger look like?
Obvious and not news, but you need to recognise at the start that this is your business’s most useful asset, so spending some time at the start thinking about what information you need and how you plan to use it, will be time well spent once your business is up and running.
Instead, be a marketer of your business. The most successful business owners market their business in equal or greater measure to “doing” within the business. Every interaction you have going forward is an opportunity to market yourself. Use every opportunity.
Most new business owners are procrastinators who don’t spend the time doing the stuff they really to do to make their business successful (the frog!). Deal with the thing you need to do first thing in the morning, to make your business successful and then get on with your day. (Clue – if it isn’t generating sales or marketing related, you’re still doing the wrong thing!)
It is not your customers’ responsibility to remember to come back to you, it’s your job to remind them you exist. And don’t give up. Regular contact will bring you business, but in some cases it might take years to land a target client.
I once heard a brilliant marketer say he had a mantra – “If I had to do X by Y or else I would die, could I get it done?” I’ve never missed a deadline by using it.
Blog supplied by Anne Mulliner, author of Empowered! – How to change your life in your coffee break (RRP £12.99 Panoma Press). She is an award-winning executive coach and leadership development expert, who works with clients all over the world, sharing her passion for getting them to access their full potential. For more information visit http://www.jdicreativesolutions.co.uk/
It was refreshing to hear that boosting UK exports was top of Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget address this week. For any business serious about scale and accelerating growth, expanding into new markets and territories is key to success.
Recently, CBI reported that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are 11% more likely to survive if they export, yet only 1 in 5 are actually trading outside the UK. The Budget announcement that available export finance will be doubled to £3bn, with interest rates being reduced by a third, is a clear step in the right direction.
As the Chancellor put it, the UK economy is growing faster than any other advanced country right now. But to my mind, a large proportion of this is a direct result of the entrepreneurial growth we’ve seen in the UK across the past few years. The UK government and private sector have both done a great job of putting initiatives in place to stimulate entrepreneurship, but it’s time for us to extend the olive branch even further.
The private sector and large corporations are in a unique position to help in a way the government cannot, for example, by providing access to global business networks that high-growth firms would otherwise have a difficult time accessing.
The global Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, is a great example of how this can be done. It brings together a global group of entrepreneurs with the aim of breaking down some of the barriers to accessing new markets through an annual conference and online network – both aimed at helping to forge cross-border business connections. We need to continue to help businesses at every stage of their growth and by investing in exporting today, we’ll be priming our economy for future growth.
Blog supplied by Sarah Shields, executive director and general manager of consumer, small and medium enterprise, Dell UK
In the past 20 years, methods of communication have increased significantly. Technology is continually developing new ways of contacting friends, family, those we work with, suppliers, customers and others.
With the advent of email, Skype, Hangouts, IMing and Facetime, businesses are spoilt for choice when it comes to contacting customers and others, and often overlook the power of the humble phone call. So what advantages does using a telephone offer?
While email and instant messages are often sent while the sender is multi-tasking, telephoning someone requires taking time out of your day to stop and make the call. This shows more care, demonstrates more attention and better customer service.
Messages can be conveyed more quickly over the phone than exchanging numerous messages by other means over the course of a day. When an immediate answer is required, a phone call is the best way.
The meaning or urgency of a subject can get lost when conveyed by written words, because some things are just more effectively communicated by phone.
It’s often difficult to keep up to date with all new communication methods and ‘who is familiar with what’. Instead of having the difficult conversation about ‘who’s using what’, you can make life simpler by picking up the phone.
Using technology can often involve technical difficulties. Effective internet communication, using programmes such as Skype and Facetime, require a reliable internet connection, non-faulty equipment and technological know-how. Things can and do go wrong.
Similar to how letters carry more authority, because of the traditional nature of a phone call, it generally holds more weight than an email or an instant message. If you want to communicate an official message, deliver it with your voice.
Sometimes being able to see the person to whom you’re speaking is useful, but more often it’s a hindrance and one extra thing to worry about. Facial expressions can give things away and it can make working from home a little more difficult.
Not long ago, making landline calls to overseas numbers was extremely expensive. However, that no longer needs to be the case, you can make cheap calls to hundreds of other countries for a reasonable price.
Blog supplied by Ruth Barton on behalf of Call Happy, provider of cheap calls to Uganda and worldwide.
When you’re starting a business from scratch, there’s so much to learn. As the owner, you’re the person who ultimately needs to make a call on your investments, whether that’s product, people, technology, finance, sales, marketing or many other things. So, when it comes to marketing, what are the fundamentals you need to know to make sound decisions to support your growth?
Marketing helps you sell your products or services. Really effective marketing does this in a sustainable way. Businesses that nail this early on almost without exception outperform those who take a more tactical approach. If you lack basic knowledge of marketing, the following six pointers should keep you on track strategically.
Effective marketing is about taking someone on a journey from hearing about you to buying from you, and from there, to buying more and telling the world about you. As the business owner, taking the time to understand how your buyers do this will always be a good investment.
Looking at the buying decision from their perspective, ask what they want and need to know, how much time they devote to finding out and whom they ask along the way. If you’re able to picture this, you’re much better equipped to assess whether your marketing tools and techniques will help these people decide to buy from you.
The ‘sales funnel’ image is meant to show the decreasing number of people at each stage in the buying decision, which makes it funnel-shaped. It does not actually behave like a funnel; pouring more into the top is rarely the best sustainable approach for your business.
It can be enormously helpful to replace this picture with one of a bucket (your products and services and how they are delivered), your funnels (those things that support turning interest into sales), and taps (things that grab people’s attention and get them interested in what you do). When you have this picture in mind, you have a much better handle on what a marketing operation really looks like… Yes, it’s a bit messy – and it leaks!
With this new mental image, you can quickly see why it makes more sense to start at the bottom and work up, because each element builds on the last. So many businesses, particularly start-ups, find themselves running expensive marketing taps into a leaky bucket. You don’t have money to waste – so don’t.
If you can think about each marketing tool or technique in broad terms as related to the bucket, funnels or taps, you’ll be able to quickly assess whether you need it and what function it serves. So, when an ad sales guy, SEO guru or whoever else calls you with an ‘unbeatable deal on awareness-driving activity’, you can ask yourself if you need another tap, and if there are funnels and a bucket for each tap you switch on.
With all this in mind, the next piece of mental gymnastics is to flip the image horizontally… over time. Over what time frame does the buyer move from hearing about you to becoming a loyal customer? This becomes the shortest possible timeframe in which to see profitable payback on marketing investment, and if you’re measuring things sooner, you might end up stopping an activity that would have paid off handsomely in the long term.
Once you have these fundamentals firmly in mind and you can map your market and your business against it in broad terms, you’ll be much better placed to get the experts you need to put in place an end-to-end marketing operation for your business. But you’ll have enough knowledge to be able to follow and be an integral part of what they are doing.
Many SMEs are currently looking to upgrade their point of sale (PoS) systems. They were probably obsolete three or more years ago, but in the downturn, many had no choice but to keep them working, regardless of the high cost of maintenance and support. Now, it is clear that old PoS systems can no longer operate in a multi-channel world.
They can't identify the customer (other than through an old-style loyalty card), take delayed orders, process click-and-collect orders, book online orders, give access to online catalogues or process returns for goods bought online.
The replacement options are often very expensive if the business is looking to replace like with like – big hardware and proprietary software with more of the same. A cheaper and just as effective option, particularly for smaller business, is to use a mobile device such as an iPad and power it using relatively inexpensive applications that only charge for what is actually used.
Already in the US, major retailers say they will never build another fixed-till point, choosing to go mobile on a network in every store.
The joy of a mobile solution is that because all the apps and data are in the cloud, the business owner can access them through their smart phone and effectively run all sorts of regular tasks without ever having to be on site.
These mobile solutions also enable the retailer to connect directly to their customers through their own smart devices, to share data, orders, messages, voucher redemption, video – a host of content that both parties need to share.
Blog supplied by Oscar Heron, digital manager at apphardware.com, a one-stop webstore for business apps and hardware specifically aimed at SMEs.
It's around this time of year that UK retailers embrace the big build-up to Christmas. The annually anticipated ‘Mega Monday’, traditionally the first Monday in December after payday, is upon us. This is the day when consumers gear up to put their credit cards to good use and stock up on stocking-fillers ahead of Christmas.
This year, Mega Monday falls on the 2nd of December and with virtual retail becoming an exponentially more favourable means of shopping for many consumers, this year it is predicted to be the busiest online shopping day of the whole year.
To set the scene, UK high-street bank Barclays has produced a survey showing how two thirds of high street retailers anticipate their website traffic to rise by 11% on Mega Monday – a percentage worth taking into consideration by shops and stockists of every kind. Visa reported that last year saw sales of £320m made on its credit and debit card services, and this year’s festive season is set to continue its upward trajectory.
Equally relevant is how consumers are using mobile devices and tablets to shop. This means websites need to look immaculate, inviting and adaptable to mobile interfaces; the same way they would in the physical premises, or from their computer screens.
This is the golden goose for online retailers, but it needs a little consideration: businesses must improve the experience for web users to boost ecommerce success and capitalise on this time of the year. Given that every retail business is jostling for position during the festive period, it is crucial for businesses to have their websites looking as inviting and attractive to consumers as possible. This is also a great opportunity for companies to invest in repeat business and establish a wider customer base. Retailers should look toward optimising their websites so that users will click through and begin to establish a relationship with the site and its products.
In light of these points, we’ve provided a few top tips to help you optimise your website for the big day:
Simple enough; make sure you run A/B tests on your key pages in order to optimise your website. This is an easy enough solution that in-house staff can run to save you time and money you might have spent outsourcing, without sacrificing the best results. In terms of top priorities to consider when testing, read on:
Don’t overcrowd your pages so that site-visitors don't tire of the visual complexity. Keep language simple, rather than using “flat rate shipping”, why not try “free shipping” to clarify what the offer really means. Consider your colour-coding; blue font might imply hyperlinks, so avoid confusing font colours with click-through links. Make sure you don’t distract visitors with reviews taking prominence over product features – make it clear where reviews can be found, but keep product details clear and available as first port of call.
Try not to over emphasise security features as this can create anxiety. Security should be something users can check if they’re concerned, but don’t add in potentially alarming icons of the security measures your site has in place. We have seen example tests where such imagery has actually made browsers more cautious and less likely to click through. Let them feel that your site has everything under control: overly-reassuring visitors of your security measures could, paradoxically, have the reverse effect.
Rather than asking whether test A will outperform test B, ask instead “How does the imagery in test B compare to that in test A?” Think first about the results you’re aiming for. If you want people to click through on ‘view complete range’, ask yourself how you can optimise the layout of the site to achieve this. In general, rather than asking “What are the variations we are testing?” consider asking “What question are we trying to answer?” as a means to get more effective and relevant results. Are you trying to see if a visitor will respond better to bolder colours/fonts or to clearer language? Consider first what you want the answers to be, then design tests around those enquiries.
Be sure to define the broad question trying to be answered on your website, and determine the simplest and easiest way to validate that concept. Don’t be too abstract. Thematic approaches to pages aren't as effective as specific pages. Be clear rather than conceptual. Product images will outperform lifestyle images. For instance, if your aim is to sell clothes, then display the items clearly and vividly, rather than setting a ‘lifestyle’ scene – which has often been proven to be less effective than the former.
Blog by Matt Althauser, European GM, Optimizely
Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy. Figures from the Federation of Small Businesses indicate that they account for 99% of private businesses in the UK and that they employ 14.4 million people.
Consumers in the UK are being urged to support small businessses with the UK's first ever Small Business Saturday
The event is being held on Saturday 7th December - traditionally one of the busiest shopping days of the year - in town centres across the UK. Small Business Saturday is an established event in the US. Last year, Small Business Saturday US led to $5.5 (£3.5) billion in sales to small businesses, and led to a increase in long-term trade.
Organisers are hoping that all kinds of small businesses in the UK - whether they be family run, small shop, online or small manufacturer - will get involved. The aim is to get consumers to support small businesses, shop locally and to boost trade.
Research from Groupon and retail analysts Kantar shows that 71% of shoppers would visit their High Streets more often if it contained more independant retailers. With the High Street in decline, the report hints at a possible solution that could reverse this decline. More small, independent traders on the High Street = a more vibrant and thriving High Street.
With this wave of momentum, small businesses should take this opportunity to stand up and shout about what they can offer.
Billed by its organisers as “Europe's most important business event” and “the UK’s biggest exhibition for anyone starting or expanding a business”, Business Startup (which is being run alongside The Business Show 2013) will take place on 28 and 29 November in London at Olympia.
The good news is, if you live close to London or are able to travel there, free tickets are still available. Over the two days, when more than 25,000 people are expected to attend, there will be 10 workshops, more than 250 free seminars and 350-plus exhibitors gathered.
Speakers at the event include Sir Tom Shebbeare (chairman of Virgin StartUp), Doug Richard (ex-Dragon and founder of School for Startups) and David Gold (joint chairman of West Ham United and chair/owner of Gold Group, which owns Ann Summers and many other successful businesses), among many others.
According to the organisers: “Business experts will cover everything you need to know to get your business started and offer you their invaluable experiences, tips and secrets.”
As well as access to some excellent free information and advice, the event potentially also offers fantastic networking opportunities.
Order your free tickets while you can.
Could your business successfully sell overseas? Taking this strategic step is certainly daunting. You’ll have to investigate new markets, meet the needs of fresh new customer bases and invest in the infrastructure to deliver overseas.
But, according to Experian, there are some 900,000 businesses in the UK that have real potential to start exporting and yet they are still only serving the UK market at the moment.
To identify these businesses, Experian analysed over 40,000 UK companies that are currently exporting and it has built up a profile of these firms in order to better understand what an exporting business actually looks like.
The key characteristics identified by Experian include:
Experian took this model and mapped it across the entire UK business population to uncover which companies have many of the identified characteristics — and, therefore, the potential to export — but are not reporting any export turnover.
Almost 900,000 businesses fitted this description. Your business could be one of them.
Max Firth, UK managing director for Experian’s Business Information Services division, said: “When you consider that of the known exporting population, the average amount of turnover attributed to exporting is approximately 50%, the companies identified could potentially double their income capacity by exporting.”
The Experian analysis revealed that six of the top ten locations with a large population of potential exporters are in Scotland. Three more are in London.
The location with the most potential is Aberdeen — this high-tech city has the highest proportion of businesses in the UK (26.7%) that could fit the profile of an exporter and yet don’t currently sell overseas.
Manufacturers and wholesalers were found to export more than others. However, Experian’s research found that many more firms in these sectors could successfully export. This includes firms that manufacture electrical equipment, manufacturers of household and office equipment and those in food and textiles.
One thing’s for sure, if you want to export you need robust business analysis and market data. This latest research could help many firms that are undecided about exporting to finally take the plunge.
Rachel Miller is the editor of Marketing Donut.
Following the success of Export Week in May, UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) will be running regional events from 11-15 November encouraging businesses to increase their export activity, with the ExploreExport road show visiting eight English regions.
In support of the week, we’ve gathered together free resources — including guides, articles, checklists, blogs, tools and case studies, all aimed at businesses that want to sell more to customers overseas.
In a global economy, no industry stands alone. Each one is tied together through a network of energies, influences and economies, no matter what or where they are. Today, even wildly different industries aren’t quite as far removed as people might think.
This interconnection of markets and industries can create complementary strategies and synergies across business sectors, even if people don’t see them at first glance. That’s why expanding your business into another industry — especially one that seems distant from the one you’re in now — can create unexpected combinations that result in new, untapped potential.
The world might seem big, but it’s getting smaller every day thanks to the rapid exchange of knowledge and information. And that means that you can master the intricacies and obscurities of any industry on the globe faster than ever before — even if it’s one that you’ve never touched before.
Even so, when you’re preparing to forge into a completely new industry, it might feel like you’re trekking into unknown territory without a map. Remember the multitude of things you already do know: how to market effectively, strategically deliver goods or ensure top-level service. When we started a brewing company, we had no idea how to actually make beer, but we did know how to market and sell it. We knew we could make a profit because of our work with challenger brands. Applying your knowledge and business experience to a new industry can allow you to see things differently than your competitors do.
You’re not alone in this strategy, either. Larger companies are always on the prowl for acquisitions, mergers, and expansion opportunities. (That’s why Microsoft moved into electronics and game consoles and why IBM expanded from software, hardware, and personal computers into consulting.) But for a small business without big resources, it’s a little tougher. Start simple: Watch market trends in an industry that you’re interested in. Then, if it’s the right time and the right opportunity, seize it.
So, when is the right time to begin your journey? Simply put: If you’re trying to eliminate risk entirely, there’s no such thing as a “right” time. But there are several precautions you can take before leaping into a foreign market. Here are a few:
There’s another important factor to consider, too. If you’re expanding into a market that’s new to you, choose one that you’re passionate about. You’ll be devoting a large amount of time and energy into this new venture, and expanding into a new industry is an even bigger risk if you’re doing it half-heartedly. Make sure it’s something you love — and something that complements your current employees’ interests and talents, too.
Now that you’ve got two businesses working in tandem, you can begin to see how they influence each other and make each other stronger. Part of this flow of energy and power begins with your employees: Start by using the talent in both your businesses to help each other. This way, you can maximize your talent pool and resources and give your employees a chance at fresh, new work for an exciting project.
You’ll also begin to see your leadership team growing stronger, too. Why? Working in two industries at once makes it easy to see connections between trends and best practices in every company.
Running two businesses doesn’t mean that you have to personally take on every facet of responsibility. It’s smart to have an overarching management team for both ventures, but it’s also smart to have separate leadership for each business. Having someone to lead day-to-day operations and guide future growth ensures you won’t overlook that industry’s individual nuances and quirks.
Making your mark on a new, fast-growing industry can infuse new life into your business, but you have to make sure that you, your leadership team and your employees are all fully devoted to your new endeavor. Often, you’ll find that an insightful approach and a fresh perspective is the secret to success — and the secret to building synergy between two businesses that might not be so different after all.
Think of all the prints the average start-up produces... Flyers to advertise, letterheads, invoices, signs, the list goes on. You may think nothing of it when you phone up your local printer and order hundreds of letterheads, but in reality, it’s another big cost that you could cut.
If you have a printer, why not print it yourself? Most people would never consider purchasing a laser jet printer, but the truth is good mono laser jets are now available from about £70, with full colour versions starting at slightly more than the £100 mark.
With a great range of compatible cartridges available, there’s no need to over-spend on consumables either. Very quickly you can have a great quality setup for small money – and start looking at how to produce the collateral without breaking the bank…
You’ve got the hardware, you just need the designs and you’re ready to print. Maybe you already have the designs from a previous batch? If so, the job will be pretty straightforward. If not, then here are a few tips to get you started
If you know somebody, friend or family member, who’s good with design, ask them to do you a favour or at least a ‘mate’s rate’ discount. They should be willing to knock off a few pounds.
You may discover secret talents or previous experience among your employees, so as long as you’re not sacrificing other workloads, ask those you work with whether they have any design experience or ability.
Why not have a play around with some designs yourself? These days, internet forums and tutorials can teach you the basics in almost anything. Remember, there’s always time for re-design later, so just go for it and enjoy the experience!
As soon as you take this approach to costs, you will soon find yourself saving much more than you thought. But not only that, you’ll find yourself making smarter business decisions – looking for the cost-effective, easily attainable quality solutions.
Blog by Gary Flynn, managing director of TonerGiant.co.uk, supplier of toner cartridges and ink cartridges.
If you’re setting up a new business, you will have a lot on your plate and certain things will naturally fall down your list of priorities simply because there isn’t enough time to do everything. It’s easy to consider your social media strategy non-essential, but actually, in this day and age, it can and perhaps should be a central aspect of your business.
It doesn’t much matter whether your business centres on selling to other firms or the general public, because social media can be vital in both spheres. It just needs to be approached in a different way.
A 2012 study carried out by Business Network International (BNI) found that about three-quarters of business owners had been put off dealing with another business as a result of their use of social media. You might therefore think that the solution is to avoid it altogether, but that would be spurning opportunity through fear, which isn’t really what starting a business is all about.
BNI national director, Charlie Lawson, outlined some common problems seen in small firms’ social media output: “There are businesses that have the various social media profiles and accounts, yet no content; others that bombard with promotional messages; and a large proportion that don’t engage at all. These three strands are a combination of why SMEs are failing in their social media usage.”
You can see that while aggressive social media marketing tactics are considered a major problem, the other two criticisms in fact revolve around lack of social media engagement.
The key with social media is that it is about building relationships. This is why a solely sales-focused approach will prove unproductive. You need to interact with people and provide something of value, otherwise they will have no reason to pay attention to anything you say.
If you are primarily dealing with other businesses, it is probably best to focus your efforts on sites such as LinkedIn, which are geared towards professional networking. It’s not that Twitter and Facebook will necessarily prove unproductive for you. It is more that you are likely to get a better return on your time investment with something more business-oriented.
Conversely, LinkedIn will be of less relevance if your main aim is to build your profile with the public. Using social media is about working out where your target market spends time online and then communicating with them there. As such, Twitter and Facebook are likely to be far better promotional outlets if you are primarily selling to the general public.
However, this is not the only way to speak to people. As mentioned previously, a successful social media strategy centres on building relationships and this means providing something of value. If you are providing a service of some kind, it is advisable to try and showcase your expertise.
Nothing builds your profile more quickly and effectively than coming to be considered an authority. Providing free advice online doesn’t mean undermining the need for your own business, it means building trust and raising your profile. You can provide advice via a blog or another very effective approach is to upload videos to YouTube dealing with common problems related to your industry. This is a particularly good option if your writing isn’t good enough or you feel you would come across well on camera.
Social media is not a faddy add-on to conventional approaches to building a business. It can sit right at the heart of your overall strategy and allow greater returns for the same amount of effort. The key is to actively engage with people to build genuine relationships. This has always been central to successful business and will remain so, even if the methodology has changed.
Blog supplied by Lee Jones of Sedulo, a Manchester-based firm of chartered accountants
Visit the Marketing Donut for a wealth of practical advice about using social media for business.
There are countless tools available to help entrepreneurs market to their target audience. The truth is that you only need a few — three, to be exact — to get the job done and do it well.
Your company can market to a targeted audience successfully with just email, social media and design. As long as you know how to use these to suit your needs, your marketing efforts will go far.
Email marketing, social media, and design are three of the most common forms of marketing, however, they’re common because they’re the most effective. The added benefit is that they require a smaller investment than more traditional forms of advertising.
These three have the power to drive almost all of your marketing efforts. By designing a great blog on your website and creating content, you can comment on issues related to your industry and post exciting information and updates about your company’s growth. Once you’ve created a strong email list of active customers, you can drive traffic to your blog by sending email marketing messages.
You can also use this channel to send special offers or encourage people to upgrade. The valuable and insightful content produced for your blog and email marketing campaigns can also be used on social media outlets. Engage current and prospective customers with updates that showcase your expertise or entice them to buy.
Basically, your emails will attract customers, social media will influence them, and design will keep them coming back.
As simple as these three marketing tools are, you have to find unique ways to utilise them. Here are a few ideas:
Marketing your company and attracting new audiences doesn’t always require huge investment. Email, social and design are essential to the long-term success of your marketing and sales efforts. Make an investment in these three and build upon them for future marketing growth.
Market research and competitor analysis can be a start-up’s Achilles’ heel. Incorrect conclusions pulled from incomplete or inaccurate research often lead to dire consequences for start-ups that pursue a market segment that was inappropriately analysed.
So why do so many start-ups continue to get caught in this trap? Well, the answer is actually pretty obvious.
Thorough market research drains the two resources that are most precious to start-ups – time and money. Therefore, if you aren’t a research guru but still need thorough research, you can choose either to spend substantial cash on expensive services and tools to perform the research or to spend hours using conventional methods if you are trying to bootstrap.
So how do you produce compelling market research, but preserve your precious time and money? Well, the answer is pretty simple, just maybe not as obvious.
Primary research can be accomplished by using a variety of free online surveys such as SurveyMonkey. Another great option is to embed user polls directly onto your website. Fair warning, though, the majority of people who participate in these polls are usually the ones who are most dissatisfied.
For secondary research, you can use tools such as FindTheCompany. The database recently became available to the public for free and provides information on more than 30 million private and public companies.
For industry research, a great (and often overlooked) resource is public companies’ annual reports, which are often filled with hidden gems. They provide insight on an industry’s size and growth rate, as well as predictions on where the industry is heading in the near future. Public companies pay expert consultants lots of money to research and develop these reports. Essentially, they are paying for the data you need. And the best part – you don’t even need to be an investor to get these reports.
Finally, be a customer of your competitors. Look at their advertisements. From this, you can infer who their target market is, and which demographics they are trying to expand into. If your competition has stores in your area, pay them a visit. This sounds obvious, but many people don’t realize how much information they can gather simply by getting in their car and driving around town. This doesn’t mean you need to be deceptive, just be inquisitive.
Nowadays, start-ups cannot perform efficient and effective market research by sticking to outdated methods. They must innovate and make use of the new methods and free tools that emerge every day. Be smart about your research, it might save you more than just time and money – it might save your start-up.
Blog by David Schmidt, head of audience development at FindTheCompany.com
Happy people sell, according to Neville Wilshire, star of The Call Centre, BBC 3’s new fly-on-the-wall documentary. Wilshire may be a little unorthodox in the way he handles his staff, but he makes a very valid point. Happy staff are more productive. Practical jokes, X-Factor style competitions and in-office speed-dating are not necessarily right for every business, but fully engaging staff is the best way to ensure they generate results.
There are many ways to engage employees and boost productivity. These do not have to be outlandish and neither do they have to be a financial burden on the business. Offering rewards or benefits schemes, such as high street discounts, reduced-cost gym membership or free cinema tickets are a surprisingly cost-effective way to make a real difference to your employees’ attitude and your bottom line.
Consulting with staff about what sort of rewards would suit them is the ideal way to get them working at their best. There is no need to get as personal as Big Nev, but (providing your business can afford it) it’s worth finding out what incentives will help to bring the best out of your employees.
Once the most appropriate incentives have been decided, rewards and benefits can be easily and effectively put into place that will really make staff feel appreciated and give them something to strive for.
Enthusiastic and energised staff will have a better attitude to work, a greater sense of achievement and produce better results for their employers.