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First things to consider when launching an online business

September 08, 2015 by Guest contributor

First things to consider when launching an online business{{}}The world of ecommerce is extremely lucrative and its growth is showing no sign of slowing. In fact, online shopping is set to double in value over the next three years alone. And it's not just the large retailers that can cash in on its popularity, there's huge potential for small businesses, too.

However, there are still many small firms that are yet to venture online, finding the prospect of entering a new space too daunting, or lacking the resources to launch their own ecommerce enterprise. But with competition rife in the retail market, sitting back is no longer an option and small businesses must start taking their first steps or risk losing further revenue as more consumers go digital.

Proper planning

There are many aspects to launching an ecommerce business – it's not just a case of setting up a website, adding some products and going live. If SMEs want to better secure the success of their online efforts, a clear business plan must be in place right from the start.

Creating this solid structure will enable you to refine your strategy for launching to a digital audience – many of whom will be very different to typical in-store shoppers. For example, online customers are not limited to the local area, they can come from anywhere in the country (or even overseas). Once this is finalised, you can then get started on the exciting bit – producing the website.

Launching a website

The great thing about launching a website is the almost unlimited number of features and functions that can be added. However, be warned. Experimenting with too much too soon could mean you can't maintain a high level of customer service.

Start simple, to get it right. Outline what your website needs to do right now and implement that to begin with, you can always add more features later.

Don't forget to think how the site will look on a mobile device. This is extremely important to today's consumer, so consider a mobile optimised or responsive design.

Agency or DIY?

It can be very tempting to take a do-it-yourself approach to building a website. It can be cheaper and offers total control. However, it's important to consider how time-consuming it will be, along with the extra strain it can put on resources.

Partnering with a professional design agency will likely provide a slicker look and finish, while allowing small firms to draw on external expertise and have ongoing support when required.

So, just as consumer behaviour changes, so must small retailers, as they seek to provide shoppers with the means to browse and buy however they choose.

Copyright © 2015 Gareth Poppleton, managing director of Retail Merchant Services (which you can follow on Twitter @RMSCardPayments).

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How to pick the winner from your business name shortlist

May 12, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to pick the winner from your business name shortlistYears of experience in coming up with business names has led me to develop these 12 questions I use to filter my shortlist. It's rare that more than one potential name makes it past each one, but when it does, I'm pretty confident it's a winner...

1. Is it short and sweet?

Short is good, but remember, brevity isn't just about character count, it's more to do with syllables. So, a five or six letter name is great, but an eight-letter name with just two syllables is nearly as good.

Pass: Eight letters or fewer; two or three syllables.

Fail: More than eight letters; four or more syllables.

2. Does it pass the phone test?

Is the name easy to pronounce? If the pronunciation isn't obvious, people will struggle to remember it or pass it on. And if it's awkward, you'll soon get fed-up repeating it 20 times a day when you answer the phone.

Pass: Sounds great, looks great.

Fail: Looks better than it sounds.

3. Is it too weird?

There's a fine line between weird and wonderful. We're all pretty comfortable with a name that breaks a spelling rule, so using a K instead of a C can work. But if potential customers can't spell your name, they can't search for it online. And if your brand name is too strange, it becomes distracting.

Pass: You won't find it in the dictionary.

Fail: It combines letters as never before.

4. Is it 'puntastic' or wittily irreverent?

Not everyone shares your sense of humour, so if you want to be taken seriously, avoid puns.

Pass: It's a credible name.

Fail: It only makes you laugh.

5. Is it a phrase, initials, a number or an acronym?

Many businesses are just initials, right? And your business name could even be a phrase or sentence, acronym or combination of numbers and letters. Resist the temptation. Such names might seem good idea at the time, but the attraction can fade in time.

Pass: It's one word.

Fail: It's never b33n done b4.

6. If it's synthetic, is it safe?

Coining entirely new words is full of branding potential, but make sure you check for ambiguity and translation risks (the internet is full of names that seemed a good idea in English, but were hilariously obscene in Spanish or French).

Pass: It's unique (or unique-ish).

Fail: It sounds rude in German.

7. Is it suggestive?

You can't build a brand out of a purely descriptive name, but hinting at the nature of your business is a good idea. Does your potential name give your target customers an idea about what your business does, its strengths or its benefits?

Pass: It feels right for your type of business.

Fail: It's totally random or blandly descriptive.

8. Is it yours?

Do some basic online checks to see if the name is taken. Don't mistake this for uniqueness: even if you've coined the name yourself, you're unlikely to find a pronounceable word that's not used somewhere in the world. But you need to make sure it's not used by a competitor, that it won't confuse your customers – and you won't be sued next year. Check for registered trademarks in your country or region.

Pass: It's pretty unique – Google reveals nothing of concern.

Fail: 200 pages of search results. Some very similar registered trademarks.

9. Can you own the .com?

Most people will assume your web address is www.[your business name].com. Despite growing alternative suffixes (eg .ly or .io or the newer not-com domains like .pizza and .food), a .com address confers authority and avoids confusions. Don't use hyphens to create a domain name that's available to register. Don't compromise.

Pass: The .com is available to register or buy.

Fail: You can only get a compromise domain suffix.

10. Are you limiting your potential?

Is it a business name or product name? Does it refer to a location or service? Even if you're fully focused on the here and now, you may regret being overly specific when you want to develop later one. And if your business name is your own name, will it still feel right when you grow into a larger business? Think about the future.

Pass: The name is open to interpretation.

Fail: The name limits your options.

11. Is it sticky?

'Stickiness' is hard to define, but at its heart are differentiation and engagement. If your proposed name sets you apart, it will help you stand out. And if it's engaging, it will connect with people on a human level – it will be likeable and feel relevant, and be more memorable as a result.

Pass: It's a bit different, but feels right.

Fail: It's OK, but a little dull, descriptive or generic.

12. Are you feeling brave?

Trust yourself. If there's a name which you keep coming back to that sets your pulse running or makes you just a little bit nervous and it passes the above tests – go for it. Don't listen to friends and family - they're likely to tell you what they think you want to hear or go for the safe option. Successful brands take risks.

Pass: It's the bold choice.

Fail: It's the safe choice.

Copyright © 2015 Dave Clark, a creative branding consultant with 20 years' experience working with start-ups and large corporates. He is co-founder of (the "brand name store").

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10 reasons why you're dreadful at public speaking

April 20, 2015 by Guest contributor

10 reasons why you’re dreadful at public speaking {{}}Unfortunately, far too many people in business really don’t cut the mustard when it comes to public speaking. And yet, being able to present your business in a clear and engaging way is essential if you are to succeed. So, what should you do if you’re guilty of committing one of the common public speaking sins listed below?

  1. You become the invisible man or woman
  2. If you stand in front of your audience reading the content of densely packed slides you will become invisible.

    Solution: Use simple visual aids to support your points and make yourself visible.

  3. The audience is bothering you
  4. I watched as a speaker walked to the stage, looked at his audience and let out a huge sigh. He made the audience members feel they had caused him a big problem by turning up.

    Solution: Remind yourself why your audience needs to hear from you and stride up looking confident.

  5. You like to fly by the seat of your pants
  6. It’s a fact – powerful public speakers prepare and practise. Being adaptable is positive. However, lack of preparation means you’re most likely to ramble and confuse your listeners.

    Solution: Take time to prepare and practise.

  7. You want to share 100 fascinating facts
  8. If you pack in too much your audience simply won’t be able to take it all in.

    Solution: adopt a “less is more” approach. Focus on a few relevant facts and make them memorable.

  9. You love standing in front of an audience
  10. Perhaps you love speaking in public too much. You may be extrovert and charming, but if you overrun your allotted speaking time no one will thank you.

    Solution: Show your love by considering your audience’s needs and stick to time.

  11. Your utterances are mutterances
  12. If you run your words together, trail off at the end of sentences, speak too quietly or are monotonous you’re one of the speakers audiences dread. It’s time to start articulating clearly, bringing energy into your voice and remember that everyone in the room needs to hear you.

    Solution: Listen to recordings of your speeches, notice the patterns and take corrective action. If it’s really bad, consider voice coaching.

  13. You shout at your audience
  14. You can be too loud. In a small room this can make the audience feel as if they’re being shouted at or even pushed towards the back wall by the pressure of the sound. You can also come across as bullying or hectoring.

    Solution: Adapt and vary your volume to fit the size of the space and for the sake of your audience’s ears.

  15. You’re talking to the wrong audience
  16. You’ve forgotten to check who will be in the audience. You can talk about leadership to teens but should you use the examples and stories that you used at your local Rotary Club?

    Solution: Do your homework and focus on your audience.

  17. You haven’t done your research
  18. Do you know what the previous speaker’s subject is and what he/she has said? Words audiences fear include: “As Sara has already said...” “I was going to tell you about…. But, er… Um… You’ve heard it from John, so… I’ll just skip the next 10 slides.”

    Solution: Co-ordinate with other speakers.

  19. You forget you’re in front of an audience
  20. You talk to the slides forgetting the people behind you. You nervously claw at your neck, you absent-mindedly scratch (I’ll leave where to your imagination), you start to talk to someone in the front row and turn your presentation into a private conversation. You’ve forgotten that public speaking is a performance.

    Solution: Watch yourself on video to see how you perform and try to avoid bad habits.

Public speaking is a key business skill, so take steps to overcome the reasons that get in the way of good public speaking – and you’ll quickly go from dreadful to distinguished.

Copyright © 2015 Dorothea Stuart, member of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of locations. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland, find your nearest here. Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

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Why isn’t your business selling to overseas customers?

August 11, 2014 by Mark Williams

Why isn’t your business selling to overseas customers?18292504{{}}Sacré bleu. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages has asked all political parties to include a new “framework for national recovery in language learning” in their 2015 general election manifestos.

That framework should include pledges to “transform the reputation of UK citizens as poor linguists, reluctant to value languages other than English” and “actively encourage business and employers to get involved in tackling the crisis”. The good news for businesses is the group also suggested that employers might be offered tax incentives to “recruit or train homegrown linguists”.

Our less than impressive reputation for linguistic prowess is well earned it seems, with the UK lagging way behind other EU countries when it comes to speaking foreign languages. According to European Commission (EC) research, only 39% of UK adults can hold a conversation in a foreign language, compared to the EU average of 54%.

“So what?” you might say, after all, “English is the international language of business”, n’est pas?  Well, to an extent, oui, I mean, yes, but English isn’t always widely spoken in many markets and lack of foreign language skills is holding back many UK businesses – and that could include yours.

UK employers frequently bemoan the shortage of foreign language-speaking British workers. A UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey in 2013 found that where vacancies were not filled because of a lack of skills, in almost a fifth of cases that meant lack of foreign language skills. According to the CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey 2014, 65% of firms require foreign language skills.

Au contraire, you counter, as you sit there all smug, armed with your conversational French, Spanish or Italian. Yet many Brits who can speak a foreign language don’t put that key skill to good commercial use, and perhaps too many of us are guilty of not looking beyond our own shores as much as we should. According to the CBI, only a fifth of UK SMEs export, despite businesses being 11% more likely to survive if they do.

Readers of a Euro-sceptic disposition might want to look away now, but UK exports to EU countries alone support 4.2m UK jobs and are worth £211bn to the national economy (source:, while total UK exports to non-EU countries are worth almost £150bn a year (source: The US remains the most important single market to the UK economy, accounting for £41bn or 13.4% of all exports (source: Santander UK).

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) recently published its International Trade Survey for Q1 2014 and it found that while 90% of UK firms have ambitions to grow domestically, only 43% are looking beyond the UK for sales, despite 55% of current exporters reporting a positive impact on their bottom line within just 12 months of expanding into new markets abroad.

John Longworth, BCC director general, says: “We need to do more as a nation to take the fear out of exporting. I speak to businesses that have full order books here in the UK and don't see why they would need to take their goods and services overseas. To transform businesses’ mindset, we need to create an environment that makes it worthwhile for them to export.

“We must invest even more in supporting and promoting international trade. The UK should be matching the resourcing dedicated to export support provided by our major international competitors. And government intervention must be more focused in areas that can really make a difference, such as providing greater access to finance to growing firms – particularly when a quarter of non-exporters say that increased funding would encourage them to export. Only a concerted national campaign and sustained investment will get more UK firms to look beyond our shores for growth opportunities.”

Even simple steps, such as creating pages in select foreign languages could attract many more overseas visitors to your website and give your sales a serious boost. More of us finally committing to learning to speak a foreign language well would also greatly help, of course.

• Visit the BCC Export Britain website for more information about how to start selling to customers overseas.

Blog written by Mark Williams, freelance content writer and editor of Start Up Donut.

Further reading

What Steve Jobs taught us about not listening to his customers

August 04, 2014 by Guest contributor

What Steve Jobs taught us about not listening to his customers{{}}Steve Jobs famously said that he didn’t need to listen to his customers, because they don’t know what they wanted yet. Technology entrepreneur Alan Kay is also quoted as saying: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

In a 2012 report in the Harvard Business Review, Mario D’Amico, senior VP of marketing at Cirque du Soleil, said: “Customers don’t know what they want until they see it. You can’t rely on them to decide what your next product will be.”

Is this true? Should we listen to customers or is sticking to our guns the best way to succeed?

Market research

Studies have shown that most innovative ideas come when we work alone. It can be tempting to follow your market research and adapt your original ideas to better fit the market. However, this can be problematic, because you risk losing sense of your original product and take away that which sets it apart from other products.

Apple has been a market leader for decades and has put innovation and uniqueness at the forefront of its product releases. However, Apple has gained many loyal followers and is seen as a desirable luxury brand with stylish and ‘on-trend’ products, so there isn’t too much risk when releasing a product following little market research and trials.

Cirque du Soleil is a performance art company that has always been unlike anything else, known worldwide for its creativity. Therefore, it does not rely on customer feedback – its popularity is based on its uniqueness.

It is likely that your business is unlike either of these and therefore, although their advice is based on years of experience and success, it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

So, what we can learn from Steve Jobs is…

  • Listen to your customers, but in areas of customer satisfaction and feedback.
  • If you have a great idea, release it! Don’t be put off by market research if you believe it will sell.
  • Take in mind some reports, however, it needs to be saleable and profitable.
  • Retain the product’s original qualities and uniqueness – make it stand out.
  • Not every business is going to be like Apple or Cirque du Soleil. Innovative and unique products may not work for every business. Consider what kind of business you are and who you want to be.

Copyright © 2014 Natalie Naik for Miss Macaroon

Further reading

Creating your small business online

July 14, 2014 by Guest contributor

Creating your small business online{{}}There are many options for small businesses when setting up online. You need to work out exactly what you want from your web presence. Will it be generating sales or selling products or will it be a point of reference for customers?

Knowing what you want out of being online will help you narrow down the many choices you can take. If you are creating a website to be your online store you could consider getting a web design company to build you an ecommerce website. However, this is the most expensive route and options such as and offer a much cheaper online option.

Spread the word

A great way to get the word out about your business online is via social networks. Twitter and Facebook are the most obvious choices, however, also look at Pinterest and Google’s social network G+. By offering your social networks advice and content around your services or products, you can quickly start to grow your brand online. It can be a great way to get other people recommending your products or services.

Keep it updated

If you decide to set up a website rather than using an ecommerce platform, keep it updated with news and fresh content. Don’t build and forget. So many small businesses online spend lots of time (and money) setting up a website, but then just leave it to stagnate. If you keep your website active, you will have a website that users and search engines will love.

Get blogging

A blog must also be kept active and updated. Another great way to spread the word of your brand is having a popular blog attached to your website or social networks. If you don’t think you can keep an updated blog (posting once a week at least), don’t set one up.

Know your demographic

Who are your customers? If you already have an offline presence and know what works, carry that over to your online ventures. Target your customer base and be as courteous to customers and people as you would be in your offline customer interactions. 

© The Accountancy Partnership.

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How to become a skilled networker

June 18, 2014 by Guest contributor

How to become a skilled networker/Business people shaking hands{{}}Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for ​some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?

1 Think of networking as free marketing

It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.

2 Networking is just social communication

It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.

3 Break the uncomfortable first contact by asking a question

Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.

4 Don’t be shy about moving on

If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”

5 Be bold – ask for connections or introductions and make them in return

It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.

6 Do your follow-up quickly

When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.

Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.

Further reading

The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups

March 13, 2014 by Bryony Thomas

The fundamentals of marketing explained for start-ups{{}}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?

Six key strategic pointers

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.

1 Understand how real people really buy things

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.

2 Delete the mental image of a ‘sales funnel’

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!

3 Start at the bottom and work up

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.

4 Broadly map tools and techniques to each stage of the buying decision

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.

5 Visualise cause and effect of marketing to sales, and the timeframe to results

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.

6 Knowing when you don’t know, and when expert skills are needed.

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.

  • Blog supplied by Bryony Thomas, creator of the Watertight Marketing methodology, explained in her book of the same name.

Breaking into new industry sectors

October 30, 2013 by Guest contributor

Breaking into new industry sectors/new{{}}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.

Exploring new markets

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.

Taking a chance

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:

  • Take it slow. Do your homework. Observe the market you’re interested in, and watch its ebbs and flows. Don’t be afraid to explore it from the sidelines before choosing an opportunity. 
  • Make a stable choice. Ensure that the market you’re entering shows a few years of growth, has a relatively steady outlook, and can offer enough of a return to make your effort worthwhile. 
  • Be careful but not too careful. When you’re developing a new business, you should always be cautious. Remember that expansion always comes with a risk, but as long as your finances are in order, any time can be the right time to get started.

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.

Stronger with synergy

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.

A successful connection

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.

Blog supplied by Josh Wood, founder and CEO of Ruckus and principal of Ruckus Brewing Co. Connect with Josh on Twitter.

Further reading

Use the Big Three to ensure marketing success

August 19, 2013 by Guest contributor

Use the Big Three to ensure marketing success/human hand with 3 fingers pointing up  {{}}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.

The power of three

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.

Get the most out of the tools

As simple as these three marketing tools are, you have to find unique ways to utilise them. Here are a few ideas:

  • Email campaigns: Create useful, pertinent and timely content for your industry, company or product. Develop high-quality graphics to showcase your credibility and authority. Measure the effectiveness of your subject lines, and continue to analyze engagement and click-through rates.
  • Social media: Play with fun ideas. The content that engages people isn’t always what you think, so experiment with off-the-wall tactics, such as using memes.
  • Design: A well-designed, easy-to-navigate site should be your main goal. Showcase the benefits of your product or service, instead of its features, to really make this piece of the puzzle invaluable. Consistently create new content for your blog and work to get backlinks from other sites.

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.

Marketing expert John R. Stokka is the CEO of DomiKnow, which helps businesses to grow by using marketing solutions powered by a database of over 350 million US consumers.

Further reading

Five smart ways to start a business on a budget

August 06, 2013 by Guest contributor

Five smart ways to start a business on a budget/bankruptcy {{}}When setting up a business it pays to limit your start-up costs. It’s reassuring to know there are affordable options for start-ups. Here are five ways you might be able to minimise your start-up costs, while still hitting the ground running…

1 Home from home

If your business is new, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to splash out on premium office space. Setting up a business from home has been made easier thanks to smart technology, super-fast broadband and the flexibility to work when you want. But when your four-year-old picks up the phone to your new client, it can end up costing you.

Entrepreneurs are now combining the flexibility of home working with the use of a local, managed workspace. This way they can benefit from a fully equipped office and meeting space as and when they need it.

2 Coffee shop temptation

When you first start out, you’re keen to follow any lead, and research we carried out suggests entrepreneurs would meet almost anywhere to secure a deal. When asked where the strangest places they’ve ever held a business meeting some of the weird and wonderful answers included the back of an ambulance, a navy warship and a cave! Coffee shops are a tempting meeting place, but negotiating while surrounded by talkative shoppers could prove tricky. Our research suggests 64% of business people would choose business centres over coffee shops when they need to be professional and productive.

3 First impressions last

When a prospective client contacts you, you must seize the opportunity. But important calls can come through to you when you’re queuing at the bank or boarding a plane. A ‘virtual’ receptionist is an independent contractor and more affordable than a member of staff. The receptionist, who’s often multilingual, will answer with your business name and can extend hours of availability so you never miss a business call again.

4 Be sociable

“Social media is to marketing as eye contact is to a handshake,” says social media guru Meg Fowler Tripp. Around 1.1bn people use Facebook every day and 200m go on Twitter, according to BuzzFeed. No new business owner would turn their nose up at free marketing, that’s why so many businesses now use social media channels to promote their products or services. But don’t ignore channels such Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, particularly if your business has a visual aspect.

5 Secure your place in the den

Even some of today’s most successful entrepreneurs, such James Caan (formerly of Dragons’ Den), didn’t start out in their own office space. He, like many other new business owners, opted for a virtual office, complete with a virtual address.

This affordable solution is increasingly popular among start-ups, home-based businesses and companies expanding into new regions. It eliminates the expense of renting while offering a business presence. Providing you with a local business address and phone number, it’s a convenient stepping-stone to a physical office.

By Anna Smith of serviced office provider Regus

More reading

How to use Facebook events to boost your profile

June 27, 2013 by Lucy Harper

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

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

1 Decide on Your Event

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

2 Establish interest from the start

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

3 Cater to the visually oriented

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

4 Include a website link for registration and mailing list

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

5 Invite everyone

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

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

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

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

More information

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

Make the most of online registrations

June 26, 2013 by Neil Cavanagh

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

Why would I want users to register?

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

Getting to the registration form

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

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

Considering your registration form

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

Verifying that the user exists

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

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

What should I do once the user has signed up?

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

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

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

Contacting users

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

Better than cold calling

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


Depending on your type of site:

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

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

More reading

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

June 19, 2013 by Chris Kenber

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

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

1. Spend 30 minutes each day thinking

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

2. Actively manage your cashflow

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

3. Know who your best customers are

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

4. Use social media

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

5. Keep calm and carry on marketing

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

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

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

6. Outsource

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

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

By Bristol-based business coach Chris Kenber.

Further reading


How to make the most of trade shows and exhibitions

May 01, 2013 by Vivienne Egan

How to make the most of trade shows and exhibitions/las vegas Crowd{{}}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:

Pull up posters

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.

Posters for the walls

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.

Business cards

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. 

Table covering

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.

Three types of digital media that can benefit your start up

April 05, 2013 by Guest contributor

Three types of digital media that can benefit your start up/screen with LIKE and hand{{}}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:

1 Video production and distribution

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.

2 Social media and networking

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.

3 Press releases and link building

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

Marketing your start up with your tablet

October 24, 2012 by Ella Mason

Marketing your start up with your tablet/man with tablet{{}}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

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.


  • Freelance writer Ella Mason specialises in providing information on how businesses can improve their marketing through the use of Lenovo entry-level android tablets.


Are postal prices making businesses feel second class?

April 30, 2012 by James Harris

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.

Going second class?

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.

Stamp out any panic

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.”

Tweak your postage habits

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, where Pitney Bowes has published advice.

The Apprentice: snap and snappier

June 29, 2011 by Simon Wicks

Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here

The task

Zoe hates Melody. Melody hates Zoe. Actually, I suspect Melody hates everyone, but this week was all about the battle between two strong personalities. It was like Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks all over again (Zoe is Giant Haystacks, naturally – hair all over the place). And, like those theatrical tussles, there was only going to be one winner: Melody, bloated by ambition, won’t allow anything to knock her down.

The task should have been fun – invent an original idea for a biscuit, make it, brand it and flog it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. Sweet. Lord Sugar divvies up the seven survivors: serial winner Helen is on Venture, along with Jim and Natasha. Zoe and Melody find themselves side by side on Logic; the seeds are sown. Oh, Tom and ‘little’ Susan are in there somewhere, too.

Zoe instantly mows down Susan in her pitch for leadership, citing her experience in the food and drink industry. She delivers the first blow to Melody by packing her off to Wales with inventor Tom to make biscuits. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Zoe drawls contemptuously, “but I’m probably happier working with Susie.”

They have only the fuzziest of ideas about their biscuit and none at all about their target market. But they do have a name (BixMix), a strapline (“Snap and share”) and an inventor on their team (Tom). It’s the inventor I’d worry about.

Logic, led by Helen (also from the food industry) and capably supported by Jim (ingratiating) and Natasha (anonymous) is harmonious by comparison. Helen is oppressively efficient and seems more like an android by the week. They go for “Special Stars” – a biscuity treat for kids when they get home from school. Mmm, special. The tagline is contradictory: “The after school treat for any time”. Errmmm.

The best bit

Tom making biscuits. In his element, the inventor showers his team with one crazy idea after another: first there’s the “Mermunchie” (“The emergency biscuit to be eaten in emergencies”), then the “biscuit-within-a-biscuit”. He tinkers and fiddles happily as Melody twitters girlishly about hearts and sharing.

But Melody, whose intellect is hardly her strong suit, suddenly lets slip a shard of wisdom: “I think big and then try to work out the details,” she smirks. “He works out the little, little details and then tries to fit them into the bigger picture.” She quickly kills her insight with the idea of biscuits as popcorn – “Popscuits”, obviously. That “big picture” thing – it’s tougher than it looks.

In the end, they compromise on a biscuit-within-a-biscuit that you can “snap and share” with your loved ones, family, friends, the bus driver, whatever. “Why didn’t you make it snap that way?” demands Sugar. If you have to ask a technical question about a biscuit, it’s not a good biscuit.

The worst bits

The sniping and general bitchiness between Zoe and Melody is actually the best bit. Only it’s the worst bit. But it’s the best bit. It’s riveting. They even argue in the middle of a supermarket as a team of buyers waits for them to start their pitch.

“Melody is a nightmare to work with,” spits Zoe. Melody is sniffily superior. “I’m not used to that sort of behaviour in a public place,” she exclaims. “Oh please!” cries Zoe, in chorus with several million Brits.

The winners and losers

Melody wins the battle, but is scarred – Sugar and his management team noting that, despite her “sense” (eh? She did a roleplay as a sales pitch), she seems to generate a lot of ill-feeling. Zoe’s gone; she may be assertive, but she can’t make a good decision for toffee. It’s a farrago – decent name, decent strapline, terrible product and no idea who to sell it to.

Helen wins. Again. That’s nine weeks in a row. How does she do it? The marketing strategy is confused and Jim makes an astonishing pitch to Asda in which he promises a movie tie-in with Harry Potter. Amazingly, Asda places an order for 800,000 units. “It’s a mega-product” stutters a stunned Sugar.

The ones to watch

Helen. And, yes ok, Melody. Despite her lack of irony, self-awareness, relationship-building skills, sound ideas, accountability and maturity, Sugar seems to like her. There's no accounting for taste.

Helen evades scrutiny once again. She’s smart, efficient, quick on her feet. But at some point, somebody is going to notice that she makes decisions too quickly in the name of efficiency and ends up backing undeveloped ideas.

Business lessons

Just the one, from Lord Sugar himself. “At the end of the day, marketing is all superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish. The most important thing is to make sure that what you’ve got in the box is good value for money.” I’d second that.

Quote of the week

The Welsh biscuit-maker: “You can do anything you want. Never say never in the biscuit industry.” I love this show.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Lord Sugar’s Profitometer

Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.

How to deal with negative comments on your blog

December 15, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

Many things hold people back from blogging: fear of writing; fear of weaknesses being exposed; fear of peoples’ reactions to your beliefs. At the top of the list is fear of being ridiculed. How many times have you hit the “publish” button terrified of what people will think or say?

Negative blog comments can destroy the confidence of all but the most experienced blogger – and they can knock the wind out of the sails of the best of us. In all the time I’ve been blogging, I’ve received two of what I would describe as negative comments. That’s out of almost 1,000 comments. I can’t say I’m plagued by negative comments then, but I hope I’ve learnt from my own experiences and that these thoughts are helpful. Here’s my own checklist:

1 What’s the spirit of the comment? Do you sense the commenter is being constructive or are they being downright negative and unconstructive? If unconstructive, hindsight tells me now to simply not publish the comment. Remember: it’s your blog, you are in control! If you don’t want to publish that comment, well – don’t do it.

2 How does the comment sit with you? OK, so they might not be singing your praises, but if it’s said constructively, is likely to spark some debate and you’re happy with it, publish and come back with your own response.

3 Take time to construct an objective, balanced response that addresses the points the commenter has made. Avoid getting personal or emotive!

Most of all, remember that most of us are blogging to win more business. If the comment is untrue and likely to undermine your professionalism – don’t publish it. Let me give you an example.

Some months ago I published a post about a website we’d created for a client. I was pretty excited about it and was enthusing in the post. Reading back I can see that I was probably a bit too excited, which could have been perceived as being cocky. Perhaps I wound the commenter up…

Anyway, he commented to tell me that the site was dreadfully coded for mobiles and a couple of other points. At the time I thought – constructive comments. Let’s publish them and look into them and come back with a measured response. The fact was that on investigation, all of his points were utterly without substance and untrue. We responded and never heard from him again. At the time I felt I was doing the right thing showing that we could take the criticism.

But was it the right thing to do? I’m not sure. The negative commenter had undermined a small part of our credibility, however credible our response. And at the end of the day, this was our blog! A few days later, with the comment still praying on my mind, I unpublished the comment along with my responses to him. And I felt that the world was a better place.

Now I’m not suggesting that there’s not a place for constructive criticism – we actively encourage feedback. But there’s a difference between constructive criticism and unconstructive criticism. Sometimes you need a little time to spot the difference.

Have you heard of ‘trolls’? It’s when someone deliberately leaves an inflammatory comment to cause mayhem. They’re not always easy to spot but when deciding what comment to publish on your blog, remember, not all comments are left in the constructive spirit you might hope.

Finally, remember – you reap what you sow. If you drift around other peoples’ blogs peppering them with negative and unconstructive comments, you can expect the same in return. Take the time to sow some constructive and positive comments and you’ll see the benefits in return.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing


Why passion is not enough

November 10, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

We often start our businesses because of a deep-seated passion for what we do. Perhaps we have a flair for something and we want to spend all of our time doing it. Maybe we want to turn a hobby into a business – perhaps we just want to do what we do best.

I have a lot of respect for people who follow their passions. When you bring a passion for what you do together with a flair for business, you have a winning formula.

The challenge is getting that flair for business into the mix.

I’ve spoken to two brand new clients recently. Both have more than 20 years’ experience in their respective fields and have a real passion for what they do, but they haven’t thought clearly about how customers fall into the mix.

Business owner number two – let’s call him Jeff – is an expert in his field. He works in a niche, scientific market but his service could be sold to anyone – domestic or commercial. He called my company for help with designing an advert for a school magazine. The trouble was, he hadn’t thought through how the parents at school would benefit from his service. He certainly hadn’t thought through why they should care about his business.

Jeff was blinded by his passion. So passionate was he that everyone should use his service, he’d failed to see it from his customers’ point of view.

You may believe in your product or service, you may have scientific evidence to back it up. But unless you can convince your customers they need or want you, you’re on a hiding to nothing. You’ve got to sell your business in a way that your customers can feel it in their gut. They need to understand exactly why they need you (ask yourself – so what? why should my customers care?) and what the cost of doing nothing is.

It’s hardly surprising that Jeff’s business is struggling. He needs to define a clear brand strategy for his business; he needs to work out who his most profitable clients are; and he needs to create a structured marketing plan that enables him to communicate effectively to them and get them to start buying. His passion alone isn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been described as one of the most passionate business people in Surrey – on more than one occasion. I “get” the importance of running a business you’re passionate about. But passion alone isn’t enough. You’ve got to stay focused on your customers, because without them – you don’t have a business.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing


Set your business apart for less

November 03, 2010 by Dale Cook

Growing a business isn’t easy, but experience has taught me that one of the keys to success is to set yourself apart from the rest. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Firstly, you must understand your customer.

You want the product or service you sell to become a real hit among your target market, but do you really know who buys it? There are many factors to consider and these could change with emerging trends. It’s important you gain an understanding of who is buying and what the biggest driving forces are that make that someone choose you, your expertise, your brand, your product or service.

Next, get online.

The internet is a low-cost billboard for you to showcase your business and perhaps sell your products and services, but the prospect of hiring a web designer can be daunting. Why not take a DIY approach? The good news is that a modern range of software is demystifying web design. There are simple, drag-and-drop visual web design programmes not a million miles away from an office word processor. Some packages boast even more potential, producing feature-rich websites without using any HTML coding. A professional-looking site can be produced and online in a matter of hours, even if you have no prior experience – and without a hefty bill for design and build.

It pays to advertise.

Consider placing an advert in a targeted publication so you can be seen by the right people. Consider your budget – is radio or TV a possibility? How about adverts in mobile phone applications? If you need to keep your costs low, creating your own advert can still work wonders. Distil what you want to say and make it an attractive proposition. Decide what your brand values are and keep messages within brand guidelines. Focus on an easy-to-remember call to action.

Go direct and save a small fortune.

Cut out the middle men by producing designs yourself and sending them straight to a professional printer. Some flexible design and publishing programs are ultra user-friendly. Templates offer a quick way to make polished materials and your designs can be shared in a professional, compatible format (eg PDF) for accurate printing in any pro print shop.

Don’t rush out a poster, newsletter, brochure, flyer or other materials.

First, thoroughly check text for spelling and grammar mistakes. Use software to help, but remember to check for errors with the naked eye, too. There are proofing tools built into popular desktop publishing packages, design products and word processors, but they might not always pick up correctly-spelled words used in the wrong context.

Less really is more.

When you decide to produce your own poster, advert or other marketing materials, remember that a clear message will have more impact. Don’t use graphical effects for the sake of it or use too many different fonts, sizes and weights, otherwise the design will look unprofessional. If you have a coloured area or image as a background, you might want it to go right up to the edge of your page, but headlines, text, logos and other important information should be places well inside the edge of your design. What is it you or your customers like about other advertising you consider to be effective? Bear these points in mind when you work on your own materials, whether editing a design template or creating a design from scratch.

Dale Cook, Serif


How to promote your business with a killer case study

October 27, 2010 by Jane Lee

Case studies are stories describing how a customer’s business has benefitted from using a product (or service). They can be in written, podcast (audio file) or video format.

Aside from actually talking to potential customers, case studies are a great way of showing off what you do well and getting your business noticed. They can be used on your website, newsletter or brochures, but I want to focus on using written case studies for public or press relations (PR) because getting coverage in places like websites, magazines and newspapers is a fantastic way to generate leads and build brand awareness.

What makes a good story?

Marketing case studies are often too ‘hard sell’ for putting in the media. Editors like a subtle approach with only one or two direct references to the product and the story tightly focused on the customer’s experience.

A good case study needs three basic elements: a business challenge faced; the solution found; and, most important, the benefits gained.

But you must also engage your readers and tell a story with a strong angle. Find something topical, like Polished Bliss who has flourished in the recession, or who overcame online fraud problems. Maybe combine a business interest with a human element, such as fulfilling a lifetime dream, or how a company overcame a major obstacle as The Cake Store did when it beat off competition from local supermarkets.

Having decided on your ideal customer and storyline, ask if the company is happy to co-operate – explain the mutual benefits, such as free publicity.

Who should write the case study?

You can always hire a freelance copywriter, a PR specialist or journalist who knows your field. They may cost a few hundred pounds, but it’ll be money well spent. To find one, ask for recommendations at networking events or on social media sites – you’ll be inundated. Always ask for samples of a writer’s work, to check their style. Ensure that one rewrite is included in the fee. Not even an expert will get it right first time.

Once you’ve chosen a writer, give them a clear brief. Tell them the length/word count (typically 500-750 words); the product(s) you want promoted; and the benefits you want highlighted. Fix a deadline for the first draft and then introduce the writer to your customer personally. After that you can leave it to them to arrange the interview.

Of course, if you want to write it yourself, if you have the ability, it’s a great way to get to know your customers. Once written, get someone you trust to check it over, because we become blind to our own mistakes. Try not to be upset by any criticism; ask if the piece ‘reads well’ and makes your point.

DIY writing tips

  • Case studies can be in the first person (“I”) or the third (“he/she”), but if you use “he/she” pep it up with quotes from the customer, to make the story easier to read.
  • An alternative style to prose is using a question and answer format, as in this piece on Plain Lazy’s use of social media for marketing.
  • Give it a strong title that encapsulates the story, such as: “Acme Co grows customer base by 100 per cent using Nuclear Plastiwidgets”.
  • Use statistics to show the difference the product has made and the benefits gained. Ballpark figures are fine.
  • Avoid jargon and terms such as ‘market leading’ and ‘unique’ – no one believes them! Write out any acronyms in full the first time followed by the abbreviation in brackets, for example, Internet Service Provider (ISP).
  • Include your website and contact details for more information.
  • Show the case study to your customer before you send it off, both as a courtesy and to check the content is accurate. Maybe they could use it in their own marketing?
  • Many editors like to use ‘boxes’ highlighting the key facts, for example, industry sector, size, location, date of founding and the benefits covered in the story in condensed form.
  • You need good photography. Ask your customer if they have any “high-resolution” photos (ie 300 dots per inch). You need interesting angles and not just boring, front-on headshots. Look at photo libraries online for inspiration or (if you have enough budget) hire an experienced professional photographer. They’ll cost less than the writer and a good picture makes people want to read on. If possible, give the editor a choice of pictures.

Where to publish

Your target is the publication most relevant to your real audience: your customers and prospects.

Write a summary of your key points and email it to the editor. Only approach one publication at a time, to avoid being accepted in two places. You can try the story in more than one place, but only if you target titles in different sectors using different angles. Editors want “exclusive” stories. 

Once accepted, you may be asked to shorten the piece to suit the space available.

Now it’s over to you…

Don’t forget to put your case study on your own website and refer to it in your customer communications. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, post a link.

Now go out and find a satisfied customer – one who’s happy to talk about the benefits your product has given. Let me know how you get on.

Jane Lee from Dexterity is an independent PR consultant specialising in IT companies and small businesses.


The catalogue is back

October 11, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

After years of believing the holy grail of marketing was a flashy website with plenty of SEO activity, online retailers are getting back to basics and placing the catalogue at the heart of their marketing campaigns. It’s a clever strategy and something small businesses would do well to take heed of.

In our age of information overload – hundreds of emails a day, blogs, Twitter and other social media – the catalogue (to borrow an analogy from a famous beer brand) quite literally reaches parts other marketing media can’t reach.

A catalogue is intrusive. It lands on your doormat or desk just when you’re not expecting it, with its “oh so evocative” photography and asks you to sit down with a cup of tea and see what’s the latest must-have.

A catalogue will travel round the house with you: from kitchen table to sitting room, up to the bathroom and your bedside cabinet. A catalogue can be marked, written on and well thumbed. You interact with a catalogue physically in a way you simply can’t with a website. And you can dip in and out of it at your leisure. In fact, you’ll probably revisit a favourite catalogue much more than you will a website. A catalogue is a truly powerful medium.

To sell successfully online, you need an offline strategy, too. The big retailers know that. The White Company, Viking, White Stuff, Boden and Isabella Oliver have been doing it for years. Small businesses understandably see doing away with their catalogue as a way to save money in a tight marketplace – but it’s a shortsighted strategy.

A catalogue is your branding tool. It will underpin your web and retail propositions and help your business become memorable. According to The Catalogue Exchange, when you mail a catalogue, 45% of recipients will visit your website. You compare that to an email campaign where if you get a 17% click-through you’re doing well and you can see why the big companies haven’t given up on direct mail.

For every £1 spent on a catalogue, The Catalogue Exchange says you’ll get back between £2 and £5 in store or online. And if you run a luxury brand – or any brand come to that – you need to differentiate or die. A catalogue, with its evocative brand images, space to properly communicate and the way it intrudes on your customers, will help you do that.

I’m not for one moment saying you should ditch your online marketing methods, but what I am suggesting is you look at where your marketing spend is going, and invest it in the activities that are going to give you the greatest return. Put together a proper strategy that you believe will bring you a real return. If you’re spending anything on advertising, you can afford to create a catalogue. Advertising will build brand awareness if you’re lucky (and you chuck lots of money at it). A catalogue will bring you a return on your investment.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing


What difference does a good headshot make anyway?

August 20, 2010 by Fiona Humberstone

We’ve been creating a lot of blogs for people recently, and I often must sound like a broken record in briefing meetings due to my insistence that bloggers work with a good photographer to get a professional headshot.

I can’t tell you the difference it makes.

Let’s start with the presumption that a good headshot will make you look your most attractive, professional and approachable. By attractive I don’t mean sleazy or sexy or like you’ve just stepped off a boudoir shot. I’m talking about a photograph that strokes your ego and makes you proud. But it also needs to look like you.

Before I met Matt Pereira my headshot was a picture I’d had taken in a studio in Birmingham several years before. I was one of the female entrepreneurs invited to take part in a cover shoot for a franchise magazine. They had hired a make-up artist and after several hours (I kid you not) primping and preening, we were wheeled out into the studio where we were draped over a chaise longue . To get us used to the camera, the photographer initially took headshots of us on a bar stool. I looked attractive but nothing like myself. I limped on with this photograph for several years but I had to laugh when I met the lovely Shelley van Lit from the Elmbridge magazine at an Elmbridge Women in Business event I was speaking at. Shelley said to me “I’ve been looking at your website today, I wanted to meet you. You look nothing like your photo! I wouldn’t have recognised you if you hadn’t introduced yourself”. That was me told.

Fortunately a couple of weeks later, I had the most gorgeous shots taken by Matt and I’ve never looked back. Like I said, a good photographer will take photos of you that actually look like you. But they’ll be of your best self. He or she will capture the essence of you and present you as someone people want to get to know. A good social media photograph has got to be engaging and approachable. And so that means eyes to camera, smiling and saving those sexy pouts for the boudoir shoots.

And a good headshot isn’t just about helping you appear more engaging in your social media profile. It’ll also help your website and blog appear more attractive.

So next time you think you’ll just upload that holiday snap from two years ago, think again. Find a great photographer and get some professional headshots done. It will pay dividends.

Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing


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