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
1. Focus on who your ideal customer is - those who are loyal and high spending - and make sure that everything you do is with your customer in mind.
2. Focus on cost cutting. Remember the old saying: "Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves." There are services to make this easier for you that don't cost a thing - check out Make It Cheaper for instance, which could enable you to make savings on your utilities.
3. Focus on your product, pricing and promotions - think about that ideal customer; make sure everything you present to them is aligned to their needs and wants and is clearly priced. Run engaging promotions that increase sales, don't drain margin and don't devalue the brand.
4. Make sure you are online. You don't need to be trading online (but it helps) but you do need to be findable. Spend some time to ensure you can be found for what you offer in your area. Make sure you add your business to Google places and as many free directories as you can. When people search for [category] in [Town] you want to be on page one! Add your business to www.independentshops.co.uk/.
5. Make sure you get social - retailers are using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and blogs to stay in contact with customers. If you're not yet familiar with using social media then chose just one and learn how to use it. You'll soon find your feet, but if you do need a bit of help getting started, there is a free downloadable 'how-to' guide available at www.independentretail.co.uk/resources
Clare replies: “Many people start retailing almost as a sideline and discover that it's consuming more and more of their time. Of course, if you're running a business alongside a full-time job you'll be getting income from both. Making the leap to being a full-time business owner - moving from employment to entrepreneurship - is never easy and only you will know when the time is right. Assess what income you need and how you'll achieve it and make sure you have the financial buffer to cover the transition. It's often valuable to join a local networking group to meet other local business people. You'll meet people who are in the position you'll be in when you make that leap and you may get a great deal of advice and support from the network as well.”
Clare replies: “One of my greatest frustrations is the amount of money that seems to be thrown at start-ups and schemes to support start-ups but how little there is to help established businesses to keep going. I work with a privately funded organisation, Enterprise Rockers, and their mission is to support micro businesses (ie those with fewer than ten employees) to keep going once the honeymoon phase of start-up has passed. There is almost no support for established businesses from the government, and their stance on business rates for retailers in particular (of any size) is crippling. Banks are getting better; the anecdotal feedback I've had is variable - it seems that the success rate with banks has more to do with the business owner's relationship with their local business banking manager than it has to do with any specific bank or banking policy.”
Clare replies: “I think the UK has huge entrepreneurial spirit and achieves an enormous amount. It's sad that much of the media focus is on super-star entrepreneurs like the BBC Dragons and not on the real-life entrepreneurs. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has a campaign called Real-Life Entrepreneurs, and I've agreed to champion that for them. This is all about recognising the micro businesses that work hard to support themselves and perhaps a couple of employees, who earn a reasonable living and enjoy a reasonable life.
“These real-life entrepreneurs won't make millions overnight; they won't be bought out by mega brands and they don't need investors to accelerate their growth. They're like the vast majority of entrepreneurs: people enjoying what they do and making a decent living. It's important to celebrate these people and recognise their achievements - the thousands of plumbers, decorators, designers and web developers who work freelance are probably more valuable to the UK economy than one of the celebrity entrepreneurs! It's important that we acknowledge that when talking about the mix of UK small businesses.”
Clare is well known by most independent retailers as a 'voice of the industry'. With years of experience creating awareness for our high street shops, retailers and traders she is one of the most trusted experts in the UK. To read more advice for her visit www.retailchampion.co.uk
This article first appeared on the Towergate Insurance website and was written by Jonathan Falgate.
When presenting to an audience, first impressions count. If you lose their attention in the first five minutes, you’ll lose it forever.
It’s human nature for us to judge a person based on their behaviour. In fact, it’s impossible not to form an opinion. People make up their minds within five seconds of hearing or seeing someone – whether or not they care about what is being said.
You will often hear advice on how you should dress to impress and control your posture so you appear assertive and approachable. While these are true, what comes out of your mouth in the first five seconds of presenting is crucial if you are to make a good first impression. It largely determines whether you will achieve the outcome you want. For example, if your goal is to educate, sell, entertain or influence your audience, your opening line must not only grab their attention but also go hand-in-hand with what you want to convey overall.
When planning for a presentation, you should carefully consider your opening line. The purpose of the first five seconds is to captivate. This means anything your audience was thinking or feeling before you started – whether it was based on how you dressed or walked onto the stage – has now been forgotten and they want to hear and see more of you.
Here are five ways to captivate your audience in the first five seconds:
Shock your audience by making a very provocative statement. Everyone loves a bit of controversy, so what better way to see people’s reactions.
Example: “Your competitors care more about your customers than you do. They are watching your every move. If you don’t communicate with your customers enough, they will quickly lose interest and your competitor will snap them up.”
Bring a fascinating or ambiguous object that links to your talk and show it without explaining what it is until the end.
Example: If you are giving a presentation on financial performance, show a picture of three different people, someone positively in the media, someone neutral and someone really being nailed by the press, continue to hold it through your speech. At the end, ask them to reveal the connection with the numbers – they will always remember it.
Share a cliffhanger opening. The key is to set the scene for your audience, so that they can create their own picture in their heads.
Example: “Who the hell do you think you are to talk to me about developing my people?” Pause for five seconds. “These were the first words I heard when I met with…”
Solicit a compelling question. Everyone loves to talk about themselves at a networking event and the same is true during a presentation. Ask a question in the first five seconds and, if it’s a good one, they’ll continue to ponder a response beyond the end of your presentation.
Example: “So what if you fail? Who will care and what are the consequences anyway?”
We often switch off when we see a presenter walk on the stage and head straight into “Hello, I’m Mark and today I’ll talk to you about goal-setting”. Instead, before you even introduce yourself, surprise your audience with something delightful that they wouldn’t expect.
Example: As you begin presenting, remove more items of clothing than is usual. Take off your jumper (to reveal a RELAX t-shirt) and slip off your shoes (and socks if you dare!). Now, as if it’s nothing, begin your talk.
Barry Holmes of Zoom Creates is a regular keynote speaker on the theory and application of accelerated learning as well as a personal business coach to directors, CEOs and business leaders. He has worked with large international organisations including 3, Starbucks, Marks & Spencer, BP, British Airways, Virgin Holidays and Sapient.
Read information on the Marketing Donut about making sales presentations.
The internet has made it easier than ever before to find information. Hours, if not days, of going through newspapers, books and asking experts has been whittled down to a quick search on your favourite search engine.
With this increased level of trust in the internet, people are now becoming more accustomed to purchasing products online although there is still a significant proportion who prefer human interaction, as 45% of calls convert into sales at some point.
If you’re thinking of selling or marketing your business online, you should know it’s very competitive. But if done properly, the rewards can be great as well. Here are four quick tips to get you started
Become an expert in your field
As a new business with an online presence, gaining trust and customer loyalty can be difficult. The vast number of fraudulent websites means that users prefer to purchase products from sites they know of and/or feel they can trust. One way to gain this trust is to become known as an expert in your industry sector by creating a blog on your site and updating it regularly. Let your professionalism shine through by replying to comments on your blog and guest posting on other blogs relevant to your niche.
Use social media to promote your business
Social media promotion is easy and it’s free, which makes it a marketing portal that should not be overlooked. Sign up to a social media site that you think would best suit your interests and post information such as news about your business, developments within your industry, new products as well as any special promotions you’re offering.
Analyse your site’s performance
Use tools such as Google Analytics and visitor level call tracking software to determine which parts of your site are converting the best. Once a cookie has been placed on your site, Google Analytics can show you which pages were viewed by your customers. This information can be used to determine which pages on your site and which marketing activity is converting and which are not.
Create specific landing pages
Unlike your homepage, which is designed to be the central page allowing access to other areas of your site, a landing page is designed to achieve a certain goal. This could be signing up to a mailing list, purchasing a product or even downloading an information pack. Use a landing page to help you increase sales of your products or services. Linking marketing activity for a particular product, for example, to the product landing page has been shown to significantly increase sales or enquiries for that product.
Rashed Khan has written this article on behalf of call tracking experts ResponseTap
Negotiators tend to get stuck when it comes time to close a deal when they keep hearing "no". There are some simple tricks you can learn to help increase your closing rate. Here are three tips that will turn that "no" into a "yes".
Start with a Close, end with a Close
From the moment you meet your potential customer think about how you are going to close the deal. Always greet them with a smile and form a relationship. People will rarely sign a deal with someone they don't like or respect. Ask as many questions as possible about the problems they are having that your product or service may resolve. This is not when you start selling, it’s simply asking questions and listening to the answers. Gather as much information as possible so that during your presentation you can sell directly to the problems they’re experiencing.
Your presentation is where the selling takes place and it should be the only time you’re in sales mode. Your presentation should be a little different every time, since you want it to be tailored to each individual client's problems. During your presentation, point out every resolution to the problems they explained earlier. The presentation should be enthusiastic and hold their attention. If there is more than one person in the room, talk to everyone as a group.
Once the presentation is done, your selling is done. This is where you sit back as calmly as possible and listen to reactions. You should become very consultative when answering any additional questions or concerns at this time.
The Mini Pre-Close
During your presentation, as you’re selling to the customer’s concerns, squeeze in as many mini pre-closes as possible. The more times they say yes to a small question the more likely they will say yes to the big question. This puts them in a habit of saying "yes" instead of that dreaded "no". The best way to do this is after you make a point about one of the problems that your product or service can resolve simply ask, "This solves your problem, right?" As you ask this question nod your head and chances are they will agree with you.
After completing your presentation repeat this process one more time before you sit back and listen to responses. Do this by simply asking all of the same questions again. This may seem repetitive, but this is just giving the customer time to realise how wonderful your product or service is.
Get them emotional
Once your presentation is complete and you’ve answered any additional questions or concerns now it is time to “ask” for the deal. This is the most common mistake ever made - people don't ask for the deal. Be assertive and ask as if you assume they will say "yes" (commonly known as an assumptive close).
You might have to do a little more work at this point. This is where you need to get them back into the emotional state of mind. People buy for emotional reasons, not logical reasons. Studies show that pictures help to put people into an emotional state. You can achieve this by drawing a simple picture, maybe a graph showing statistics or a picture of your product – it doesn't have to be fancy.
Another easy way to get someone in the emotional state of mind is to talk into their left ear. This triggers the right side of the brain, which is the emotional side. So be sure to be seated on the left hand side of the decision-maker in the room.
Supplied by negotiation experts The Gap Partnership US.
While many people like to think of themselves as good negotiators, many do not understand some of the simple rules, which can quickly label you as inexperienced, which of course is not a position you wish to be in, especially when pitting yourself against a skilled and seasoned negotiator. By steering clear of the following five pitfalls, you should be able to navigate your way through any negotiation with ease.
1. Don’t negotiate blindly
Before beginning any negotiation, you must determine two things: your desired outcome and your bottom-line tolerance level. If not, you will have no direction and will likely be dissatisfied with the outcome of the negotiation.
2. Don’t start the negotiations
If at all possible, have the other person put the first number on the table. The reason for this is simple, as illustrated through a hypothetical example. X is willing to sell his widget for £100. X asks Y what he is willing to pay for the widget and he says £150. By Y bidding first, X earned an extra £50 even before the negotiations were underway.
3. Don’t avoid the process
Negotiating is a back and forth process that takes time. Many people who are uncomfortable negotiating try to avoid the process by being upfront with their real bottom-line number. This causes negotiations to break down, because the other side simply will not believe you. The expectation is that your opening number will be high/low and move from there. In fact, if you are responding to an opening bid, it is assumed that your target number is the number exactly between the two currently on the table. If you step up to the negotiation table, be prepared to play the game.
4. Don’t bid against yourself
A skilled negotiator will try to get you to bid against yourself and a rookie negotiator will fall for it. This happens when the skilled negotiator gets the rookie negotiator to increase his bid without moving himself. To gain respect, say: “I’m not going to bid against myself. I’ve put a number on the table. It’s your move.”
5. Don’t be afraid to walk away
When people are negotiating, they can easily become caught up in the moment. When this happens, there is a very real possibility of committing to a position one later regrets. The way to avoid this trap is to be prepared to walk away when you reach your predetermined tolerance. It is important to do this for another reason. The other side may be bluffing. By walking away, you clearly indicate your position to the opposing party. Understand that many negotiations are completed after several sessions. This will allow you to walk away with the confidence of knowing that if the deal happens, it will be on your terms.
Having a website is only part of the marketing jigsaw. To make it purr you need to keep it updated with fresh, relevant content; optimise it for search engines; build a social presence, etc. A large part of the digital marketing puzzle is link-building, which increase the search engine equity of your website. One of the primary ways of doing this is by encouraging other relevant websites to link to it.
New websites and new businesses don’t need to invest thousands of pounds in SEO and link building campaigns. There’s a lot you can do yourself to get the ball rolling, which mostly involves a bit of hustle and some common sense.
Here are my three DIY link building tips for small businesses:
1 Who do you know?
One of the best places to start is by utilising existing business relationships. Chances are your suppliers, customers and other contacts will be more than happy to link to your website, it’s just a case of asking the right person.
List everyone in your existing business network. Ask them to link to you. Don’t discount those who don’t have resources pages. Ask to write a testimonial about their services or even contribute a case study about your experience. This way you’ll create value for them, as opposed to simply requesting a link.
2 Niche and local directories
‘Directory submissions’ have become dirty words in digital marketing, predominately because of the swathes that have been created solely for those looking to build links. Most will advise you to avoid them, because they tend to be flagged as spam by search engines. By submitting to them you risk wasting your time or worse – being penalised for overtly trying to manipulate the rankings. This doesn’t mean that all directories should be avoided – far from it.
Chances are they’ll be a few directories curated by people that are specific to your industry. These represent a relatively straightforward means of listing your business and getting a link. Try simple queries related to your niche and see what comes up. For example, if you manufacture pumps, just try ‘pumps directory’. Once you’ve mined that, search for something more general, but still relevant (eg‘process industry directory’ or ‘British manufacturers’ directory’).
3 Organisations and associations
Once you’ve cleaned up the directories in your niche, start thinking about industry bodies and associations. Check that any associations you’re a member of link to you from their website. If not, ask them to. Again, it might be useful to think beyond just asking for a link. How can you add more value to that community? Perhaps you could get involved more by sharing your business experiences on their websites. Are there any organisations relevant to your business that you’re not a member of that it might be worth joining?
Once you’ve boxed off your connections, niche directories and organisations, you’ll have built strong linking foundations for your website. You might even have whetted your appetite to try a few more advanced tactics. If you’re ever unsure about whether it’s a good linking opportunity, just follow link building expert Eric Ward’s Litmus test: ‘Would you pursue the link if there were no search engine at all?’ In other words, would you want a connection between yours website and someone else’s, even if you weren’t doing it simply to build the value perceived by search engines? Follow this rule and you won’t go far wrong.
Michael Smith is a marketer at Leeds-based SEO agency 9xb.
Visit the Marketing Donut for more advice about optimising your website for search engines.
Lucy Cohen, co-owner of Mazuma (a national service specialising in providing monthly bookkeeping and accountancy services to small businesses and the self-employed), shares her advice on using social media for business.
1. 10 heads are better than one
“Ensure all staff have a vested interest in (or are aware of) your social media activities - making it part of regular business. You’ll be able to generate more content and ‘buy in’ from your staff when everyone is informed and involved.”
2. Be creative
“If you can’t be creative within the realm of digital media, where can you be creative? Use social media for fun yet professional communication with your audience/clients. Why not create an alternate personality for your business that your audience can speak to?”
3. Give what you get
“Use your social media channels for two-way communication. Some audiences, particularly younger people, prefer to communicate via this medium. Don’t be afraid to respond in the location where the conversation began.”
4. Be strategic
Have a strategy in place; know your objectives. You must know what you want your business to get out of your social media and online activities.”
5. Keep it open and honest
“There is always a risk that your online community will be exposed to negative comments about your organisation. Don’t ‘jump to delete’. Use criticisms as an opportunity to be open, transparent and honest with your audience.”
6. Get involved – whatever your business
Most, if not all, customers are engaging on these platforms online, they offer real potential to retain clients and meet new clients, whatever your business, get involved – or you may be left behind as technology advances.
So, you had a great idea, you turned it into a business and now you are well on your way. Brilliant! But wouldn’t you like to make running your new business even easier? Your tablet device could provide the answer.
A mere few years ago we didn’t have access to handy tech devices such as tablets, but now there is an app for pretty much anything you can think of – including time management and marketing.
Marketing is an integral part of any business, as you’ve probably already found out, but often it’s something that can fall by the wayside because of a lack of time. Thanks to tablet devices, your start up doesn’t have to suffer. You can give your marketing strategies some attention, even while you’re on the move, thanks to these fantastic tablet apps:
Raven Tools boasts an array of tools and add-ons that allow you to manage your marketing campaigns, as well as some impressive features that work well with industry profession API’s [application programming interface], including SEOmoz and WordTracker.
Raven Tools is brilliant for allowing you to tailor exportable PDFs and custom reports to your brand, handy for adding a professional touch to your reporting. Offering two different price packages, as well as optional add-ons, Raven Tools is the app that allows you to tailor absolutely everything. No wonder it’s so popular.
Wildfire By Google
A social marketing app, Wildfire offers solutions for all of your social marketing needs. Boasting a recently upgraded marketing suite, this app allows you to mix and match your products until you find the best solution for your business.
Using the app you can promote single or multiple campaigns, including sweepstakes, ads and promotions to your customers via the main social networking sites – this allows you to get your message across to large audience, quickly. Comprehensive analytics are also offered with this app.
A clever app that will help you to grow your online and social presence, thanks to good old ‘word-of-mouth’. Much like Wildfire, Payvment allows you to easily create a virtual storefront on their Facebook fan page that allows customers to buy directly from Facebook, using PayPal to complete their transaction. There have been mixed reviews from businesses for this app, but it is a free tool, so give it a go.
This free app allows people to connect with their favourite venues, brands, and stores, as well as rewarding shoppers when they make a purchase via the app. Small businesses can create a virtual shop window, upload photos and provide information and updates, as well as invite customers to rate them.
The Elephanti app allows you, as a business, to have a direct point of contact with your customers, enabling you to find out what they like and want. The app is brilliant for letting potential customers know about your business and when a customer ‘checks in’ to your store you can communicate with them about every aspect of your business.
Love or loathe them, if you don’t consider using exhibitions to promote your business, you may be missing a trick. Since I was a young salesman, I’ve dreaded stand duty, with its attendant aching feet and seemingly very little return for the time spent there.
As you get older, the pain in the feet and back is still there; the exhaustion from the drive there and back, combined with the physical exertion of manning the stand can take a couple of days to get over. However, I am a firm believer in the power of exhibitions if you follow certain golden rules. So, what are they, I hear you ask…
The six golden rules of exhibiting
1 Make an effort
Don’t be a cheapskate. Do your best to represent yourself and your business as competent, considerate and professional. With a name like Stinkyink.com we are on a winning streak from the start as it draws attention and makes even the grumpiest attendee smile (sometimes). If you present yourself well, people will respond positively.
2 Inform your customers
Let any existing customers who are in the exhibition’s vicinity know you will be there. You are much better off having a busy stand than a quiet one, and exhibitions are a great place at which to be able to put a face to a customer’s name. Offer them a drink and a cake (for instance) and explore what extra business you can do for them.
3 Be positive
There’s nothing worse than a stand where the people manning it are sitting behind their laptops or checking their Blackberries, refusing to make eye contact with the punters milling past. It is nearly as bad as visitors attending the exhibition and refusing to make eye contact with the exhibitors.
4 Set goals
We approach every exhibition with a target of generating 10 -15% of attendee numbers as ‘hot leads’ (we are told the number of pre-registered delegates). Over 25% and we are over the moon! It is an expensive proposition attending exhibitions, so make sure that the cost is recovered (and more).
5 Involve your team
And make sure you are all “singing from the same song sheet”. All team members need to know your objectives and targets for the exhibition and share in the successes from it.
6 Follow up
If you don’t have a strategy for following up leads you generate, save your money and shoe leather and stay at home. To me it’s the most critical part of the whole process. We try to convert at least 50% of the ‘hot leads’ into customers within a six-month period. The first salvo is an email to all attendees we have details of, then my sales team hit the telephones. They contact people while they still remember what they said at the exhibition. Don’t leave it longer than a couple of days before making contact.
If you approach them in the right way, exhibitions are a great shop window for your business, and here at Stinkyink.com we embrace them enthusiastically. I may be driving all over the country, but the excitement of finding the next new big customer always inspires me. Don’t forget... tomorrow, the moon!
By John Sollars of Stinkyink.com
Feedback is important to us all. Constructive feedback helps to motivate people, but poorly delivered feedback can have the opposite effect. So it’s essential to get it right every time. If you’re running a small business or or start-up, resources are likely to be tight and you need everyone working efficiently, so it’s even more important to ensure your feedback generates the necessary results.
We’ve developed these seven top tips to help get it right every time…
Thank the person for their contribution and make them feel great about themselves. Praise them for their efforts and let them know you understand how much work was involved.
This is your opportunity to empathise and encourage the person to develop and improve their skills. Take an interest in the person’s goals. It is not about perfection every time; it’s about progress towards a goal. Encourage them to never give up.
To demonstrate you really understand how the person’s contribution added value to your business, give specific examples. Collect your comments into meaningful sets to make them easier to digest. Start each set with praise for what they did well and then make constructive suggestions as appropriate.
Explain to the person how their work contributes to the running of the organisation. This is very inspirational and will often help them to understand how to do the job better.
If you want the person to change their behaviour, give an example of the behaviour you want to change. Point out ways their behaviour has affected other people within your business. Allow the person to tell their side of the story. There may have been genuine reasons for their behaviour. The request to change should be made in a non-aggressive manner and take their comments into consideration. Both the giver and receiver of the feedback should walk away feeling that a fair resolution was achieved.
Ask yourself if the person's performance was adequate for the purpose, rather than comparing it with how you would have done it.
A successful model for feedback is to start with positive comments about the person’s strengths and successes. Follow this with constructive suggestions about how to perform even better, allowing them to comment and ask questions. Finally bring in some additional positive points and encourage them to feel motivated to introduce the changes you have suggested.
Many people find delivering “negative feedback” difficult, but by following these suggestions giving feedback can be a constructive and rewarding process for both parties.
Mairead Dillon and Jane Penson are members of Toastmasters International, a worldwide not-for-profit organisation focused on developing communication and leadership skills
For certain industries, it’s worth considering advertising solely on mobile phones using an AdWords campaign. Examples where we have seen a lot of success for mobile phone advertising include:
However we’ve also seen success for many other services where you wouldn’t traditionally expect mobile phone advertising to be so successful including:
And many others!
The trend looks set to continue and people are traditionally carrying out more and more searches then converting using their mobile phone (either calling directly or filling in a form online), so it makes sense to make the most of this potential market.
On new generation mobile phones such as an iPhone, the AdWords adverts take up over ½ half of the screen for the top 2 ads, so it makes sense to make sure your ads appear in this top spot.
Another advantage is that traditionally clicks are cheaper from mobile phones as there are fewer advertisers – great news!
When creating a campaign in Google AdWords open the settings tab and look for the column marked Devices. Click the word All and the settings screen will open.
Now select Let me Choose and make sure that only Mobile Devices with full Browsers is selected. This will ensure your campaign runs ONLY on mobile phones, not on PCs, Ipads etc.
Click the Save button.
Now make sure you enter a telephone number by clicking the Ad Extensions tab (if you can’t see it click the Drop down arrow next to the tabs and select Ad Extensions)
Now click the Ad Extensions tab, click New Extension and enter the telephone number you wish people to use. Ideally track this number (we use Infinity call Tracking, or there are plenty of other services available) to ensure you can measure ROI.
It’s not unusual to see extremely high Click Through Rates resulting from mobile only campaigns, our locksmith campaign regularly exceeds 20% for example.
So, why not give it a try and come back and let us know how you get on?
Claire Jarrett is Managing Director of Marketing By Web.
Mobile commerce – or m-commerce – has been touted as the next big evolution in consumer shopping for many years. It does look like it has finally become a reality, though not necessarily as a standalone technology, but as a further channel for online shopping.
The opportunity exists primarily due to the sheer numbers of smartphone users. Here are some recent findings:
Price comparison activity represents a great opportunity for online retailers to get in front of consumers when they’re actively seeking products in a traditional high street environment. Consumers can check pricing with comparison sites such as Twenga and Price Grabber either via a mobile browser or by using a dedicated app while shopping.
Therefore, online retailers that have a mobile-optimised ecommerce store and list their products on price comparison sites have a real opportunity to capture the interest of shoppers. But it’s important to view mobile as a complementary technology for engaging with customers, rather than the only method retailers and e-tailers should use for attracting sales.
Make sure you choose an ecommerce solution that can create a mobile store easily and integrate your regular ecommerce site with price-comparison sites. The key to success is to ensure all your orders are processed from one central location so that managing orders and stock does not become a logistical burden.
Simon Armstrong of SellerDeck.
"How can I increase my following in Twitter?" or "How can I get more likes on my Facebook page?" are questions that many start-ups ask when they think about joining the social media world. People are obsessed with growing their following so that they can be seen to have tens of thousands of people following them, hoping that one or two percent may just buy when they ask. In my opinion, you should focus on the quality of your social media following rather the size of it.
However you choose to use social media, you must first have a way to measure your success in it. The first question is: Why do you want more followers?
Followers just for numbers' sake is not going to give you any value in social media. Any business should aim to build a list of really engaged followers rather than just looking to increase followers.
If you really want to grow your following in sites such as Twitter and Facebook, think about these four main activities below. Following this strategy will increase your followers organically and build you an audience of people that are interested, who want to engage and maybe even buy from you:
Not just sales messages and 'client wins this month' type of posts, but real insight into what you do and how your knowledge can really make a difference in people's lives and businesses.
If you focus on this and deliver real value, then people will see you as an expert and want to come back for more, tell others about it and you will build huge credibility with your audience for what you do.
Using tools such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck allow you to connect your various social media accounts to desktop or mobile versions of these tools. They are social media management tools - giving you one place to use all your social media accounts at the same time, so that you don't have to log in to all of them, one after another.
Within both of these tools you can create columns with search criteria that will show you all the tweets or updates related to the terms you want to find.
For example, if you are a graphic designer you may want to set up search columns around the 10 most frequently asked questions about graphic design. If people ask questions such as "can anyone recommend a logo designer?" you would see this and be able to respond.
Avoid buying likes and followers from sites that offer this. This will just fill your accounts with lots of SPAM and they will be of no use. Instead focus on building a following or community of people that will listen and engage with what you have to say.
Drawing people back to your hub (your website or blog) will get them away from social media. Social media is where conversations happen. People don’t go into social media to be sold to. Encourage people to read more about what you have to offer on your blog around which you can display your products and services that you have to offer. Then they can choose to engage with you after they see you are an expert in what you do.
Ant Hodges is the owner and managing director of HodgeNest, an SEO and Internet marketing company, and also mentors start-up business owners.
If there were queues at your local Post Office last week, this is why: Royal Mail’s much-talked-about prices increases came into force today. The price of a first class stamp is up 30%, from 46p to 60p. Second class stamps have rocketed by an inflation-busting 38% - from 36p to 50p.
The most obvious and immediate effect of the price rise has been stamp stockpiling. But perhaps more worryingly, research conducted by Pitney Bowes suggest that 81% of small and medium-sized companies think today’s postal rate change will have a negative impact on their business. Of these, 7% say that they fear their business may not survive the threat.
The research, conducted amongst 1,000 businesses, found that 15 per cent of companies would consider moving to a franking machine to avoid the price hike. However, almost half claimed they will be sending less post, or swapping postal communications for email. And 25% reckoned they’d switch to second class more often in an effort to save cash.
Given the widespread news coverage and controversy over the new prices, it’s perhaps surprising to see the research reveal that many businesses were entirely unaware of the changes. Almost three quarters (69%) of those polled said that advance information provided to them was ‘poor and confusing’, and they were not aware that the changes would be so significant.
So, how prepared are you for the new postal rates? Well, it doesn’t spell disaster just because you’re not sitting pretty on thousands of stamps. “It’s important that businesses don’t panic and abandon physical mail in a bid to avoid high postage rates,” reckons Phil Hutchison, marketing director of Pitney Bowes UK.
He says that while email has a part to play, an envelope sent through the post is still a compelling proposition: “Successful customer communications depend on a delicate balance of message, medium and timing. Although digital communications undoubtedly have their place, traditional print campaigns are still critical for most businesses and are likely to remain so for many years to come.”
You may be able to reduce the impact the rate change has on your company by making small changes to how you use the mail. Shifting to a franking machine can save you a significant amount of cash – in some cases, bulk discounts can be more than enough to offset the increased price of stamps.
There are other benefits to using a franking machine too. You can add your logo to the top right of every envelope you send, reinforcing your company identity and perhaps increasing the number of people who open your mailings.
If you’d rather stick with stamps, take a close look at how Royal Mail charges for different envelope sizes. If you fold your documents into letter format, you can cut the cost of first class postage from 90p to 60p.
For more help dealing with the postage increase, you can check www.ratechange.co.uk, where Pitney Bowes has published advice.
Recently I wrote about understanding and calculating your own customer retention and customer churn figures. These figures are crucial performance indicators and if you have no idea how many customers buy from you more than once, forecasting growth and future performance of your business becomes unfathomable.
This follow-up covers some of the best ways to maximise customer satisfaction levels – and increase the likelihood that they’ll reorder.
Customer service... for the customer
How clearly can you remember businesses with amazing customer service? What about terrible customer service? Run-of-the-mill service? Odds on you’ll remember the amazing and terrible businesses, but will struggle over those offering so-so customer service.
You must focus on the customer first, and put your business second. It sounds simple, but in reality you’ll discover it’s a struggle – but worth fighting for. (However, be aware that suppliers of essential services, such as banking or utilities, are not required to do this as there are numerous barriers for switching to a competitor.)
Unite employee goals
To improve your customer’s experience as a browser, purchaser and/or when using after-sales support, every team member must work towards the same goals and give consistent messages.
If you make promises or claims that aren’t matched by you customer service, the odds are you’ll be waving goodbye to customers after their first purchase, especially if your product is readily available from other suppliers. Every employee must know the benefits your business offers and how far they can go with a customer.
Do “a Ronseal”
It’s hard to overestimate the value of a clear message, and wood stain and preservative manufacturer Ronseal nailed this with their famed slogan – “Does exactly what it says on the tin”.
If you make promises to your customers you must deliver. Whether it’s product quality, speed of service or simply after-sales support, customers expect clarity and honesty.
Things such as hidden terms and conditions don’t go hand-in-hand with happy, loyal customers, so look into every customer touch point and consider whether you’re misleading them.
Have a clear communication plan
Even happy customers may not return if they forget about you, so how do you deal with customers once they’ve finalised a purchase – what is your “post purchase plan”? Do you send a confirmation email once it’s despatched and that’s it or do you follow this up with a “we hope everything's okay” email? How about a special deal around the time you’d expect them to need the product/service again?
What about when they contacted your support team? Do you hope no reply means the issue has been resolved or do you follow up to check and give them a clear point of contact if not? Treat customers like they’re the most important thing to you – at any and every stage of their experience.
You may hear these referred to as “nagging plans”, that almost hassle customers into submission with repeated “come back to us” messages, but these are the bad ones. A well structured “care campaign” can maximise customer satisfaction and create amazing long-term loyalty.
If you don’t know... ask
Even with your best efforts you may not pick up on all the reasons why customers don’t come back to you. I’d suggest creating an element in your post-purchase plan where you can see the customers you have lost.
Getting in touch with these customers via unobtrusive means, such as a simple “goodbye” email or phone call, provides a nice human touch and can be used to find out why they left. Though you’ll probably have a low response rate, you’d be amazed at people’s honesty when you’re not trying to sell to them.
Noticing themes and trends in this feedback is crucial. Are they all linked to customer service or perhaps delivery times? If you see these growing after you introduce new measures or features in your business, it is a fantastic indicator of something being missed, and will have a noticeable effect on your bottom line if fixed early.
Some issues may just be incurable
Sometimes you just have to accept that some customers go elsewhere – no matter what. It’s inevitable you can’t win ‘em all and it can happen for reasons beyond your control, such as postal delays.
Ultimately, what I’m saying is common sense, yet it’s amazing how many businesses don’t apply it. Have you had any success stories about changing how you approach your customers or wish to add any points to this list?
Pinterest now has an estimated 11 million users, with statistics showing that it’s already driving more traffic than Twitter, which is an astounding feat considering it’s only been around for two years as an invite-only service.
It’s already home to thousands of leading companies and organisations – including Coca Cola and the US Army – and many more are looking at how they can benefit from using this photo-sharing platform.
If you’ve never come across Pintertest until know, it’s a photo sharing service with a social twist. It allows you to “Pin” images to boards of your choice, whether from another person’s board, a website you’re browsing or photos from your computer. Basically, it’s the ultimate photo-sharing hub.
Okay, you might be wondering how your startup business can benefit from using an image-sharing social network. The answer is quite simple: every sector has imagery associated with it. Whether it’s pictures of a new product or staff member, almost every organisation has unused pictures. You can share these with your customers.
Pinterest is especially good for businesses operating in sectors such as fashion and clothing, photography, architecture, even the likes of tatoo artists.
If your startup is involved in women’s fashion, for example, you can create a specific board where you could share images of your latest clothing collection, with a handy description and link pointing back to your website. This would create great opportunities to share and interact with potential customers, not to mention keep them up to date with all the latest trends and clothes you offer.
Pinterest also features a handy “Pin it” toolbar that enables you to save images of interest that you have found while browsing other websites. These pinned images are automatically saved to a board of your choice and can then be looked back on for inspiration, ideas and further viewing at a later date.
Matthew Lobas, Account Manager at Pressat