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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
You’ll find a wealth of great information about using social media for business over on the Marketing Donut.
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).
If you have a business website with Google Analytics enabled, it can be fascinating to see how your customers and potential customers interact with you online. But that’s just a drop in the ocean in terms of competitive intelligence analysis. It can be a complex and expensive endeavour, but if you’re running a start-up and need comprehensive but free tools, here are a few that can provide excellent analytics if you’re willing to put in the time to learn how to use them.
You don’t have to pay to view Companies House accounts if you can download them already for free online. In terms of company financials, Duedil (short for due diligence) is an excellent tool that provides free business intelligence such as insight into competitors, suppliers, investors, even clients – but you can also benchmark a business’s performance and growth over time, build sales leads and integrate social networks such as LinkedIn.
Google Analytics, Google Trends for Websites and Google Insights for Search are all good sources to use because they’re integrated with the most popular search engine in the world. But it’s a good idea to go beyond Google and mine your data to get deep insight into your website’s analytics. Comparing data sets can help you avoid sample biases that come about from opt-in panels or toolbars so that you can get a more accurate picture of how your audience is behaving in response to your marketing efforts. For example, have a look at free SEOmoz tools at SEOBook.
Every day search engines are learning more and more about how people categorise and search for information, it’s an ongoing process. A big part of it in recent years is social media, whose busy signals search engines now indirectly recognise and attribute authority to. In other words, it’s important to use and understand social media to reach your audience – and watch and learn from competitors too! Have a look at FeedCompare, HootSuite, SocialMention and Google Alerts to analyse how your social media are faring.
Competitive intelligence doesn’t need to be expensive and complicated, and if you’re willing to work at it, you can get valuable insight on your partners, suppliers, clients and customers and get a step ahead in your business.
Helen Major has been writing finance-related blogs and newspaper articles since graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 2007. She is currently writing on behalf of Duedil.
Ten years ago it was all about importing from China, but today businesses talk about China's market potential. However, few exporting start-ups know anything about how to get started, the various potential pitfalls or how to pitch a product for the demanding Chinese market.
You can forget about this even if you manufacture your products in China. Lower taxes, lower rent and Chinese businesses’ ability to “game the system” makes price competition a no-go for exporters. The good news is that Chinese consumers are ready to pay for quality – foreign quality in particular. Made in the UK is a quality mark and something that local suppliers cannot replicate. The only thing that really makes sense for exporting start-ups is to compete on quality instead of low prices.
You don’t need to set up a business in China to reach its market. Exporting directly from the UK is good enough for most start-ups. However, to get market exposure you will benefit greatly from having a local partner with an established logistics network and relationships with purchasing managers in the country. Relationships matter in China, they are generally considered to be more important than the product itself.
Chinese distributors can be found online or by visiting one of the various trade shows in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. When you have found a suitable distributor, it’s critical to sign a distribution agreement. Getting paid is not as simple as it might sound. There are commission-based distribution agreements, where the exporter gets paid based on monthly or quarterly sales. However, sales volumes are hard to verify and taking your distributor to a Chinese court is often too expensive and time-consuming for a start-up. The best option is simply to get paid upfront by the distributor and not settle for any complex commission-based agreement.
A local office and manufacturing in China, for China, makes sense when you’ve reached a high export volume. However, many exporters assume that the Chinese government requires foreign businesses to team up with a local partner to gain market access. This was true in the past, but many things have happened since then. Since 2004, foreigners can operate in China as Wholly Foreign Invested Enterprises (WFOE). Apart from a few industries, the market is free for all and no local partner is required.
Filing your trademark in China makes sense more than anywhere else in the world. It’s not uncommon that third parties file trademarks to block foreign companies from entering the market and then offering to “sell it back” for a hefty price. Your product should also have a Chinese name, thus a Chinese name trademark is also necessary.
Fredrik Groenkvist is founder of Chinaimportal, a membership service for start-ups and small businesses sourcing products in Asia.
Trade shows and conferences can be some of the most effective ways of drumming up business. Whether you’re there to meet potential affiliates, clients, employees or other businesses, you will want your exhibition stand to look as slick and professional as possible – so here are five tips for improving your chances at making a big impact:
A way of grabbing the attention of passers by, these posters make a statement and can help you to stand out from the crowd, literally, since they will be visible above heads. Two or three such posters can cover different aspects of your business or address different potential audiences. Plus, they are easy to store and transport because they are collapsible into a small space.
If you have a stand with a back or side walls, this is prime space for branding. You may choose a simple logo to draw focus to your brand; you might want specifically designed posters to communicate your products, message or ethos. Find out the dimensions of your booth so that you are not either left short or struggling to fit everything in.
A good supply of high quality business cards will be essential while networking at a conference. Ensure that they are up-to-date with all details and appropriately branded. Be sure all delegates carry a wad wherever they go – especially to talks and social events.
For a more comprehensive overview of your business and products, you might want to opt for a brochure that potential associates can take away with them. Try an unusual design or format to make it memorable and interesting.
One of the best ways to draw attention to your brand is exciting branded giveaways. A good giveaway should be memorable, useful, interesting and clearly branded. USB sticks, notepads, business card holders, phone covers can all be branded and used. Another avenue to try is a fun game or a good novelty item.
You never know what the tables provided at conferences will look like – they might be quite old and run down, so you will want to make sure you have a good quality cloth to cover up any old scratches and stains. It’s also a good opportunity to continue your branding – you might choose an on-brand colour or get your logo printed directly onto the cloth.
This guest post was provided by Nexus Design and Print.
Twitter celebrated its seventh birthday on 21 March and, with an estimated 1.2 billion Twitter accounts now registered, 200 million active users and 400 million tweets sent each day, it is more important than ever that businesses have stringent social media policies in place.
With the majority of businesses using social media regularly as a tool for self-promotion, interaction with clients and even recruitment, it is easy to forget that potentially millions could read the message you are composing.
The law of defamation concerns the publishing of statements that harm the reputation or character of someone resulting from the false statements or actions of another, and it is crucial to remember that the law treats the online world much as it does the real world.
In other words, every tweet is potentially a fresh publication for defamation purposes, and anyone who tweets a defamatory statement could be held liable for damages. Businesses must be aware because every tweet sent from a work-linked account could attract vicarious liability.
Unfortunately, it does not stop there and even comments on personal accounts might bring a business into disrepute if they can be linked back, which also demonstrates how vital it is for employers to have clear policies and training in place to deal with social media activity.
The misuse of social media has also led to numerous publicised dismissals. A report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that 11 civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been sacked for misusing Facebook or Twitter since January 2009, while a further 105 employees have faced disciplinary action.
A social media policy should ideally include detailed information on what staff should and shouldn’t say and do on social media, privacy settings that need to be enacted, how to react to requests for references and what to do if an adverse comment is published.
Because of the nature of social media, it is very difficult to abolish the use of it altogether and this may well be counterproductive anyhow because it offers an abundance of benefits.
However, it has to be used correctly and appropriately if these benefits are to be seen. Therefore, when employees are encouraged to use social media as part of their job, employers are advised to have a ‘best practice’ guide available. Appointing a ‘social media’ officer or champion as a point of contact for those in doubt is also highly advised.
Crucially, once a social media policy is drawn up it is important that it is not simply locked away in the store cupboard and out of employees’ sight. It must be easily accessible and well publicised to ensure that all staff members are fully aware of their responsibilities when it comes to using social media.
Even if your resources are limited and social media isn’t a primary tool for your business, the costs of not being in control of it within your company are too big to be ignored.
By Lee Calver of employment law specialists Workplace Law
Big businesses often bemoan their own lack of essential vitality and wonder what they could take away from smaller, more entrepreneurial business and incorporate into their own culture.
At first thought, the shopping list is negligible. After all, who would want all the hassle and grief of being an inconsequential price-taker without all the trappings of the corporate world? However, on second thoughts, there are a number of attributes that the bigger business is positively jealous of.
The reason that small businesses exist is to satisfy a dream or fill a gap or an opportunity that others cannot see.
Most of these attributes should also exist in the larger organisation. They just seem to get beaten out of people as control, stability, safety and security become more important in what can only be described as the corporate mindset.
Here’s something to think about if you hire somebody to look after your start-up’s PR: is it just plain boring?
In many cases, PR agencies will write any old story to tick boxes for their clients and generate arbitrary press coverage. And while general publicity doesn’t do any harm, it often doesn’t have a measurable impact on a start-up’s business performance.
PR activity that’s exciting, opinionated and valuable to other people will always yield future success and new business leads.
Before we discuss the type of PR activity start-ups should undertake, it’s worth going over a few classic PR activities start-ups should avoid:
Start-ups need their PR to have personality and value to put their name on the map and win new business. Here are three examples of PR activity that deliver fantastic results:
Lucas Coe is founder of PR99, a PR service for start-ups and small businesses.
If you've been looking for ways to take your daily website traffic levels to the next level, consider utilising the following three types of digital media:
Video marketing is a strategy that is often overlooked by small-business owners, probably because they feel it is beyond their budget. However, having a video advertisement produced that contains all of the key selling points of your business can be a very cost-effective way to promote your business. Once you've paid for the production/distribution, it could remain usable for many years, bringing ongoing benefits that far outweigh initial investment.
Social networking is a great way to share any type of content, whether it be a video advertisement or an informative article. With the assistance of specialists who use powerful software and expertise to promote web pages and advertising materials on social networks you'll be able to attract massive traffic levels before you've even begun ranking highly in the search engines. In fact, generating a viral effect through social networks is perhaps the best way to generate a significant traffic spike with minimal effort.
Having a professional press release developed and distributed can be a great way to improve your SEO (search engine optimisation) and attract more website visitors. A link to your website can be added and if it is posted on a news media site with a high PR, that link should have a positive effect on your website's SEO standings. A well-written press release can be syndicated by other journalists, spreading around the web on other online PR sites.
Provided by digital media agency Custard Media
Is social media the equaliser for small businesses?
Social media provides opportunities for small businesses to compete with global brands. Any business can choose to register a Facebook or Twitter account and promote their products and services. Social media enables customers to define a brand’s reputation by choosing to follow, publicise or interact with an organisation and ‘share’ their services.
No matter how large or small your business, the overall goal remains the same: to sell products and to publicise and expand the brand. To achieve this, engagement with your target audiences is essential. In today’s digital era, engagement relies upon a brand’s online presence. Depending on a business’s use of social media, a small business can easily get more exposure then a multi-billion dollar organisation.
Live marketing events (ie exhibitions and conferences) provide a great platform for engagement and digital media has transformed the event industry by allowing exhibitions to reach a larger target audience. According to Exhibitor Magazine, the number of companies integrating social media to their exhibits had risen by more than 80 per cent in 2012.
A web interface on your exhibition stand allows customers to experience and engage with your brand first hand, creating debates across the social media sphere and enhancing the brand’s online presence. Let’s examine the key social media tools an exhibitor can use.
LinkedIn is a business community that brings professionals together. It also provides the opportunity to follow other companies and participate in group discussions. Building genuine relationships and sharing knowledge is a great way to make new connections and nurture your relationships.
Companies attending exhibitions often use the group discussions feature to share their products and services, generating an interest in the product before, during and after the show. During the exhibition business cards are traded, and later connected on LinkedIn.
A large portion of any customer base are likely to be Twitter users, who could choose to follow your brand. Businesses can use the hashtag (#) to keep their products trending and create a buzz around their brands. Updates on your products or services will connect with your customers. Many exhibitors give out free samples in exchange for a follow or re-tweet. Outreaching new customers has to be a primary business objective, ensuring you leave the exhibition with more connections that could well lead to face-to-face meetings.
A Facebook fan page provides an opportunity for customers to interact with your business and comment on your news. At exhibitions, companies offer incentives for users to ‘Like’ the fan page, which stands out on their newsfeed. Creating a live brand experience at an exhibition can generate many hits very quickly, so businesses will often try to entice the public to their stand with a USP. This is a cost-effective method for large brand exposure.
Pinterest is growing in use in the social media field and there were some 27m active users on the site in 2012. Exhibitors have used the tool to pin stands and products. Inspiring technology is present at most commercial exhibitions and when shared, it entices online communities. This provides invaluable social exposure for brands products.
Blogging is the heart of a digital marketing strategy. Social media draws traffic to the page where a company is able to describe its services in more detail. Simultaneously blogging during live events provides excellent exposure for your brand and unique insights to your company. Search engines such as Google recognise high quality content as a key ranking factor and it is important to write on your company blog to increase your sites visible presence rankings and engage your existing readership.
Article contributed by James Barnett on behalf of Nimlok. James is a former consultant for the live events industry.
Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head. Went down stairs and drank a cup and looking up I noticed I was late and (diverging from the famous Beatles song) got in my car and drove 20 miles in the dark and rain to reach a networking breakfast…
Why? Because I want to win more business! But how?
Gone are the days of having the time and money to meet an endless stream of people in the hope they might decide they have an enormous contract that only your business can fulfil. Everyone now has to sell. Not hard sell, foot-in-the door type stuff. But by being sufficiently interesting so someone who may have a need for your product or service will want to know more.
There is little point in just being at an event to get your name on the delegate list. Thanks to the internet, it is now easy for purchasers to shortlist potential providers by picking the most appealing websites. However, there is one thing that a website cannot replicate and that is confidence in the people, the confidence created by meeting someone face to face – which is why we must network!
So there is no point in going to a networking event if you:
If you don’t do these things – enjoy your very expensive bacon and eggs!
Mimi Hughes is director of training at The Business Voice