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.
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
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.
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.
Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Stinkyink.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
It is a really exciting time for Rico Mexican Kitchen at the moment. You might think I keep on saying this and that’s because business opportunities take twists and turns and there’s never a time to be bored! Having a strategy is fundamental to keep the opportunities and challenges in perspective, but there must be a great amount of flexibility and a desire to go with the flow and take any opportunity too.
The aim of my business is to introduce a new range of fresh, vibrant, genuine Mexican foods and now I’m looking for opportunities which bring volume.
We have achieved a listing with a prestigious supermarket chain, which is great news! What normally happens though is that they will list you in a limited number of stores and monitor the performance of the product and then, if it does well, they will offer to place your product in more branches. The problem here is that for some products, the minimum production runs are quite large and if they have a limited shelf life, the waste whilst in storage would be considerable.
So, if the shops are not enough to cover the minimum production run, we could end up running the production at a loss. I have identified other retailers which will stock the new products, but we still may find ourselves overproducing.
The really big question in whether we should go ahead with this listing and hope for the best, and in the meantime, work like mad to get more listings to give us the volume we need. Or is it best to delay the launch by a few months, get those extra listings first and THEN start producing?
I know that option two sounds safer but the real danger is that while we are working to get more listings, the original listing offer may disappear. This is not unheard of. It may be that a competitor may get the listing instead, or the buyer changes and their successor won’t choose our product. Difficult decision, isn’t it?
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
I’ve got to be honest, I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. You see the Horsley Network that three friends (Jonathan, Liz and Claire) and I set up was launched earlier this year and we had more than 30 guests on our first night.
Having been to plenty of more established groups that have struggled to break 15 guests, I think we can pat ourselves on the back for having marketed the event effectively.
So how did we do it?
We focused. I’m a huge believer in “niching” your offering, and this networking group was no different. We’ve set up the Horsley Business Network for business owners who live in Horsley, as well as people who run businesses in nearby villages in Surrey. By having that focus, there’s a stronger pull for people who actually engage with the group’s aims.
We created a plan. We thought carefully about the structure of the evenings and how much it would be fair to charge. And we were realistic about how much we needed to invest in marketing – which clearly paid off. Too many people try to start businesses up on pennies because they want to be earning money before they put anything in. Prudent perhaps, but I seriously believe we would not have received the response we did had I sent round some photocopied “Word Art” flyers.
We took design seriously. We got some great businesses at our first event. Why? Because our flyers and website didn’t look cobbled together, they looked like we meant business, like it was worth bothering to leave a warm house and set out on a cold night to share a beer or two with some interesting people. In fact, we took the design so seriously that a couple of people thought that this was a franchised operation (it’s not – it’s strictly not-for-profit).
We created some compelling copy that focused on the reader. We thought about what their aspirations might be and what objections we’d need to overcome. And we used testimonials to add conviction.
We promoted – hard! We arranged to distribute 5,000 flyers in the local area – a combination of asking local schools and shops and some serious pavement pounding. We also left flyers on notice boards and in village halls. And I set up an email distribution list that included some of my own contacts as well as asking others to forward it on so that it “went viral”.
We used online as well as offline media. We have a professional looking website and we Tweeted about it. Next time, we’ll probably use LinkedIn to also spread the word.
We thought about tipping points. It’s all about enticing the reader to get out of their armchair and into the pub. There’s one benefit right there. For others it was the beer, perhaps the promise of support from like-minded business owners or the fabulous speaker in the form of Karen Skidmore.
I had also set up an online survey in December to find out what people really wanted, which made it much easier to deliver what they wanted.
I can’t help thinking that if many small business owners marketed their own businesses as comprehensively as this, they would also find the outcome exceeded their expectations. But all too often it’s tempting to skimp on careful market research, professional design and effective copywriting in favour of saving money and channelling everything through social networking. What do you think?
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
I would like to look at an aspect of starting a business that isn’t often considered. Mostly discussions are about finance, marketing, recruiting a great team, VAT, legals and all of the other stuff of start ups. But most people need the support of family, friends, and partners. Start ups are hard, and you must be sure that everyone is with you, everyone is supporting you, and everyone understands what you are doing.
My decision to start a new business was made jointly with my wife. Although she’s had limited involvement in the management, she was a full participant in the original decision. And as a result, she has supported me in every up and down since then, which has been a real help. Similarly, my sister and a friend both lent me money when we had an early cash flow crisis. They wouldn’t have done this if they hadn’t been taken on the journey beforehand.
And that’s the rub. If people close to you aren’t with you, they may be a source of discouragement. In the extreme, broken relationships can greatly increase the chance of business failure. I’ve actually seen this with a friend, where they ultimately ended up with nothing. On the other hand, constant encouragement and reassurance can be a real help – as can financial support.
If you start a business, it won’t only affect you, it will impact those close to you as well. They deserve to be told what that will involve and to be consulted for their opinions. Do this, and you will increase your chances of success significantly.
My business, Something Big, works with a large number of start-ups and established businesses. We help them to focus their marketing efforts with the aim of achieving growth. Often, I draw on my own experiences, of course, gained while running our business for ten years. I’m also able to draw upon seeing how other clients get over the hurdles they face. Here are the five key start-up lessons, marketing and otherwise, I’ve learnt.
1 Have a plan
It’s an obvious one and something everyone will advise, however, you’d be surprised at how many businesses have come to me in the past ten years with a list of marketing “ideas” yet no idea of budget or likely return on investment.
Your marketing plan doesn’t need to be ‘War and Peace’, but it should contain: a detailed description of the service/product you’re offering; a profile of your target customers; and a broad set of activities that will enable you to communicate with them.
2 Sweat before you spend
In the early stages it’s easy to get excited and run down to the local agency to brief the designers on your new flashy logo, business cards, website and launch campaign, but before you dash out the door, I urge you to sweat a bit first.
By this I mean make those uncomfortable cold calls; knock on a few doors; trawl the net signing up to every free online directory; make the most of social media and bring in some business before you spend your valuable start-up budget. All of the above will help you decide how to position your business better anyway, as well as pay the designers.
3 Don’t give up your day job too soon
Many people, as I did, leave their jobs in large companies to start new ventures, which is a good plan, but don’t resign too early. In those precious early stages of your business it’s great to know you can still afford to pay the mortgage. You may feel that doing a day job holds you back from getting on with your new business, so make use of your time, whether it’s getting up half an hour earlier to do some online research, making five targeted telephone calls during your lunch hour or banning yourself from TV a few nights a week. If you have the focus and determination, you can do a lot of business planning while holding down your day job.
4 Take good advice and listen to it
This has been one of the keys to unlocking the success of my business. I might be an expert at what I do, but that’s design, marketing and print, not being a financial director, HR manager, landlord, business strategist or any of the other hats I must wear everyday. I take the “ask an expert” option everywhere I can and 99 per cent of the time it gives me an approach I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. Seek advice from people with the necessary knowledge and experience and listen to them carefully.
5 Work “on” the business as well as “in” it
This is one of the golden rules that is usually hardest to achieve. It’s easy to get stuck into the day-to-day of running your business, because that’s what your job is, but in a small business, you’re also responsible for keeping an eye on the future and that means knowing what your competitors are doing, knowing what market trend is about to hit you where it hurts and being at the forefront of your sector, so stick your head out now and again. Good luck.
If you’ve set up a Facebook page, you’ll probably be wondering how to (a) attract fans and (b) keep the fans you already have interested. You need to focus on the fact that your fans are people like you and me, so this isn’t a ‘business to business’ transaction. You need to be fun and keep it light.
The idea behind a Facebook page is to create a public profile that enables you to share your business and products with Facebook users. They’re very easy to create by going to Facebook, clicking on “Advertising” at the bottom navigation, and then on “Pages”.
Here are some top tips on creating an interesting page with updates that people will want to read:
1. Make sure you add an eye-catching profile picture to your page that represents your business.
2. Add pictures, photographs or videos to your page as you would with your personal account. Images of your products, events, services, employees or even the office dog will add interest to your Facebook page and give it a personal feel. Remember to tag your friends!
3. Before you start inviting your friends or business leads to become fans of the page and recommend you to others, try to pre-populate it with relevant and interesting updates. You could even ask friends and colleagues to start up a discussion or wall post that fans can get drawn into.
4. And this is intrinsic to point 3: Make sure your updates appeal to your fans. Bear in mind that your fans could be teenagers, pensioners, builders, bankers or bakers so it’s essential that your updates are inclusive, and friendly with a distinct tone of voice.
Let’s use a chocolate shop as an example.
BAD status updates:
10am: “Buy our chocolates! They’re delicious!”
2pm: “Have you tried our chocolates yet? They’re delicious!”
4pm: “Check out our website!”
6pm: “We love chocolate.” and so on…..
GOOD status updates:
10am: “If you could invent your very own chocolate, what would it be? The most inventive answer will win a bag of our delicious Pecan Pralines!”
2pm: “Did you know a piece of dark chocolate a day is good for your heart?” (link to a news story)
4pm: “Stop press: New shipment of Willie’s Chocolate now in! Get yours before they’re snapped up!” (link to relevant page on your website)
6pm: “Order anything in our shop between 1pm and 2pm GMT tomorrow and we’ll give you 20% off! Quote ref: FB03” (link to your website)
Hopefully you get the idea. Put yourself in your fans’ shoes – if they get inundated with mundane, corporate sales messages they’ll soon switch off. But make your updates varied, interesting and interactive, and your updates will be shared, commented on, and recommended to others.
5. Check in to your page regularly and respond to comments from your fans. It’ll reinforce your brand and personality as well as proving that you’re not just logging in to make updates now and then.
6. Don’t neglect your Facebook page. It’s all too easy to forget about it when you’re busy and you could end up leaving it sad and lonely for a few weeks. In the meantime your fans will have forgotten you exist or they might even “cull” your page if they don’t deem it interesting enough. Like a pet, keep your page fed and watered!
7. On the other hand, don’t over-do it either. If your fans are getting 30 updates a day clogging up their news feed, they’re not going to be impressed. It’s all about quality rather than quantity.
8. Have a go at “hacking” your profile picture. You can make so much more of the space available if you have the time to learn to do it. A simple Google search will find plenty of websites that can teach you how to do this.
9. Upload pictures or videos that you can tag your fans in. Unfortunately you can only tag your Facebook friends, but if you’re inventive you’ll find a way.
For example if our chocolate shop awarded a bag of Pecan Pralines to a fan they were also Facebook friends with, they could post a picture of the bag and tag it with the fan’s name and a caption “Congratulations Joe Bloggs! You’ve won!” Joe Bloggs’ various Facebook friends would receive the news in their feed and it could tempt them to also become a fan of your page.
10. Although you’ll ideally grow your page and fan base organically, if you want to kick start your Facebook fan attraction campaign, advertise your page by using this link. Make sure your advertisement is eye catching and unique or your investment could be wasted, and above all do some research on your target demographic before you start your ad campaign.
A few months ago, I got an Innovation Support Grant (ISG) from the Food and Drink iNet. The purpose of the grant was to help me improve my marketing and PR. Here are some things we did with the ISG grant:
This is a small mention but I hope we can build from here.
The best thing about this grant was its emphasis on working with experts so we learned the tools required so we could sustain the work they had funded. And yes, I learned lots about copywriting for the website and packaging. I also learned that if you want to be in magazines, this is a labour of love and perseverance: you need to contact each magazine, phone the right person, agree to send them samples, then the samples get lost, you follow up, and start again.
Imagine what I felt when I opened the magazine in the shop... and yes, there it was, the article “Olé for Mole” feature and a photo of our Mole (pronounced Moleh, a wonderfully rich Mexican cooking sauce). I got on the train and I wanted to show everyone the feature, but I resisted the temptation.
Now we are going to appear in some glossy magazines, the question is: How can we turn these articles into real, tangible outcomes, e.g. sales?
Well, as it happened, I was visiting our newest stockist, Partridges of Sloane Square in London. He said he would stock salsas, but not the Mole sauce because people wouldn’t know what to do with it. I showed him the Olive magazine and he suggested I laminate it and place the article by the chiller. Perfect. However, I won’t be able to do this everywhere, so the question comes again, how do we use these articles and turn them into sales?
Do you have any suggestions for Marcela? Add them to the comments section below.
You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
First impressions are everything. Get it right, and everything becomes easy. Get it wrong and you are pushing water uphill with a sieve.
Many people will warble on about you have to be your authentic self when meeting people. Get that right and you will make the right impression. They are sort of right but what happens if your authentic self doesn’t make a great first impression.
So, what do I mean by a great first impression? People respond well to warm, positive and confident folk. Very simply, that means offer your handshake first, give them a warm smile and be positive and enthusiastic.
As a slight aside, when I talk about handshakes, there is nothing worse than a wet fish handshake OR a bone-crushing handshake which leaves you gasping for breath. If you don’t know how your handshake is perceived, test it out on friends and get their feedback.
How do I put this delicately? Appearances do count and stereotypes do exist. If you think of a lawyer, you expect to see a well-tailored suit and a neat appearance. Lawyers take note; however much you want to break out of the mould, a well-fitting suit is probably necessary for your credibility. As many image consultants will tell you, details are important. Chipped nail polish or dirty nails is a no-no, as is missing buttons from a coat, or messy hair. If you have young children, do carefully check your appearance in the mirror before you go out, baby sick down the back is a ‘no-no’!
If you look good, and have a confident handshake, then the battle for the right first impression is nearly won. The last piece of the jigsaw is how you introduce yourself. For many professionals, a big trap is waiting for them, when asked (the almost standard question at a networking event), ‘so what do you do?’ Do you confess and say, I’m an accountant... lawyer... coach... and fall into the trap. Or do you describe what you do by the value you bring to your clients?
The right answer is to have the one sentence sound bite prepared, which succinctly (yes, succinctly) talks about the value you bring to your clients. It wouldn’t surprise you to know that my sound bite is “I help professional advisors gain better business results for less effort”. Many people worry that if they use this type of opening, people wouldn’t know what they do. I can see that this is a genuine concern, however, in my experience, whenever this type of opening is used, the next question is ‘oh, that sounds interesting, how do you do that?’. And then you are off, the conversation is started, and you have moved straight into a business conversation.
I think that marketing is a really important key to opening up the sales door for my yummy sauces. I regularly do food tasting sessions at the shops where they sell my products.
It's time, however, to up my game and analyse the return on investment of all of my marketing activities. This is another tricky task for a novice like me: do I know how to measure the effectiveness of a marketing event and the get figures to quantify? Er, I think you know the answer.
Take last Saturday, for example. I had discussed the idea of having a Mariachi band at the Food Halls with Selfridges . It turned into reality on Sat 31 January and we had such a good time, which is clearly a good thing. These are some benefits from this tasting session:
Two videos taken were particularly interesting:
This is where I reach my limits as I don't know how to quantify whether the event was good ROI. How do I measure this? It's not straightforward. On the day, we saw 300+ people and I will get the sales figures next week.
This is what we spent:
To summarise, I think that the event was worthwhile: we sold, created awareness, and have been/will be on other websites. However, this is only my gut feeling and I need to take the guesswork out of investing on marketing to focus my very limited resources wisely. Do leave me a comment if you have any suggestions.
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.
When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.
Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk
Working as a life coach and business mentor for the last three years, I have come across many challenges and issues mums face in trying to run their own business; time management, dealing with guilt etc. However, one of the major obstacles mums seem to come up against time and again is that they have difficulty selling their product or service. They aren't 'sales people'.
Ask any businessmum to describe her business and its benefits and she could probably explain to you in glowing and passionate terms what she does and why she does it. Ask her to sell you her business and she clams up. Why? Although I've asked for the same thing simply using different wording, many people assume that use of the word 'sell' implies pushiness or forcing a product or service onto someone who isn't interested. For example, when you think of a salesperson, how do you picture them? A bored girl in a shop, a car salesman? Or something different?
It makes sense that when starting out with an opinion of sales like this, it is always going to be difficult to sell yourself or your business. So, why not challenge those long-held beliefs? Think about all the people who have to sell in their line of work and how many of them actually fall into this category. Can a different picture of a salesperson be developed?
Alternately, why not classify the action of selling as something other than sales. For example, informing or enthusing (choose a word that suits you and your personality). If the burden is simply to inform a possible client about a product rather then sell, does this lift the pressure? Is the process approached with a lighter heart?
The second thing a lot of mums assume about selling is that it implies concluding with a sale, often by 'coaxing' or 'pressuring' a client into it. It doesn't need to be this way. If you truly understand your market and what they want and can present a product or service in such a way that it appeals, sales will be created simply by making people aware of what is on offer. Assuming the demand is there, of course.
Some other great ways to combat the no sale are:
Selling needn't be stressful or pressured. Approached positively, it can simply be a celebration of what you do and who you are and, in the end, aren't people more likely to buy from someone who's enthusiastic about their business than someone trying to force it down their throat?
Alli Price, Motivating Mum
At one of my PR seminars a while ago, I asked how many people had used or were using a PR agency. Half the audience put their hand up.
When I asked them to keep their hand up if they were satisfied with the results, I wasn’t surprised when most people lowered them again.
Some PR agencies are their own worst enemies. They fail to set clear expectations for their clients, they don’t keep them fully up-to-date with developments or provide regular written reports on actions and outcomes.
There is a perception that buying PR is a risk, but it doesn’t have to be that way, if you pick the right agency. Here are five signs that you might be better advised to find a new PR agency.
1 It’s staffed by PR ‘luvvies’ rather than former journalists. I may be a PR person now, but I was a journalist for 13 years. I get really annoyed when I meet PRs who don’t understand what it’s really like to run a business or what stories appeal to journalists. Effective PRs are results driven, they’re focused people. They understand what your business needs to achieve and what role they need play to aid your success. That’s why I prefer PRs who are former journalists. They understand what journalists really want and cut through the waffle that PR luvvies frequently add in.
2 It charges lots of expensive add-ons. If you ask for something unusual that costs your agency money, then fair enough, but doing day-to-day PR for your business shouldn’t create exceptional costs, certainly not without prior agreement. Basics such as media monitoring should be included in a pre-agreed fixed fee, not charged for as expensive extras.
3 It doesn’t understand there must a direct link between your PR and revenue – or how to put it in place: The most effective PR is direct response PR. That’s where you have a system to turn media attention into leads and those leads into sales. Without a system like this, you’re wasting your time. Most PR agencies claim there’s no direct link between PR and revenue. They’re so wrong it hurts.
4 It claims it’s all about contacts and press releases. Total nonsense. You don’t necessarily need a book full of media contacts or expertly crafted press releases to get coverage. Often you just need a good story and some basic knowledge about how best to bring it to the attention of the right editor.
5 It’s stuck in the past. I interviewed a potential employee recently who said the PR agency at which he worked focused only on getting clients into the newspapers. Still a powerful way for many businesses to get good publicity, agreed, but if you’re going to do direct response PR, you must also secure online coverage. In the modern world, for many businesses, it’s crucial. Many PR agencies talk about online PR, but don’t really understand what it is or how to do it effectively.
Paul Green, Publicity Heaven
USP is much beloved on the Dragon’s Den. Often you’ll hear Peter Jones saying: “I like that, that’s your USP.” USP, of course, stands for unique selling point (or proposition).
To explain USPs, I’ll tell you a personal story. When I started my first business more than 20 years ago, I went on a high-growth, business start-up programme. The guy who was teaching us about marketing was obsessed with USPs.
Problem was, he was trying to apply multi-national corporate thinking to my small start-up. His approach was totally inappropriate. I was going to be doing the selling myself and he wanted to construct a fake sales pitch for me that followed a big business template.
If you’ve been to one of these start-up seminars, you’ll know there’s always some bloke or woman standing there telling you how important your USP is. So how do you identify your USP?
Well, today, you’re going to get the Glasgow guide to USPs. In other words, straight forward, no messing around.
Basically, a USP is something that makes your product or service different. It enables you to charge more or sell more because it separates you from the competition. A USP allows you to you make more money as a result of the competitive edge it gives you.
How do you find your USP? There’s only one way – get people to sample your product or service and listen to what they say. In the words of Gary Vaynerchuk – you “conversate”. You talk and you listen. Listen, listen, listen.
Matter of taste
Making cakes was my first business and the guy who was running the start-up course I went on asked me what my USP was. I simply stuck a slice of cake in front of him, he had a bite and replied: “Ooh - that’s delicious”.
My chocolate cake was vastly rich. It was made of pure chocolate, raw cane sugar, good chocolate shavings on the top, no preservatives, no additives and extremely high quality. That tells you that my cake was special, aimed at the top end of the market. It didn’t look perfect, so I stressed its homemade qualities, giving it a sense of authenticity and wholesomeness, both powerful USPs.
When you’re trying to find your USP, you need to identify something that makes your product, service or business distinctive. How do you do it? As I did with my cake, you should take your product or service and shove it in front of people as much and as often as you can. Ask people what they like best about your offer. You might find that certain phrases and words will be repeated. In the case of my chocolate cake, it was, “My God, very rich!” and “Wow – really chocolaty”.
Ever heard of Kobi beef? It’s the world’s most expensive beef – I think it’s looked after by nuns or whatever. Actually, I’m kidding, it comes from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, which is raised strictly by traditional methods. It’s renowned for its flavour, tenderness and fatty, well-marbled texture. Its rarity and great care taken in its rearing are powerful USPs, as well as its flavour and succulence. Its price is another USP (“The world’s most expensive meat”).
Does your business/product/service need a USP? Absolutely. Whether it’s chocolate cake or Japanese beef that you’re selling, if you can come up with something that marks your product and business out as different – as special – you’ve already got an important head start.
Iain Scott, Enterprise Café
If your well-crafted and targeted press release hits the spot, soon you can expect journalists to contact you for more information or an interview. Usually, for newspapers and magazines, these take place over the phone in a few minutes.
Don’t panic – tough questioning by journalists is usually reserved for politicians. Instead, journalists will simply be seeking to add a little colour to the story by way of a few well-chosen quotes or sound bites.
Here are a few basic tips to ensure you come across well.
Be prepared. Re-read your press release (or story suggestion) and make sure you have swotted up on the subject. If you have a couple of updated or additional interesting facts to throw into the conversation – all well and good – but don’t go over the top, because the journalists will only be able to write about so much.
Anticipate likely additional questions and have your responses prepared in advance. Practice your responses with someone you trust.
When doing the actual interview, use notes as a prompt. Don’t read verbatim from a script because it could be interpreted as lacking confidence or knowledge (or worse still – having something to hide). Be warm, human and friendly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest enough to say so. If necessary, offer to find out the information and forward it on to the journalist as soon as you can.
Knowing what you are talking about will help you to sound more confident, which will make you come across as more credible. Avoid jargon at all times – it only confuses people. Use simple language to explain key points.
Ross (manager): “Welcome everyone, I trust you’re well. Item one: whether to invest in a company branded doormat.”
Ruth (marketing): “A company-branded mat will create a more welcoming entrance and make us look more professional.”
David (finance director; deep, gruff voice): “Make us look more professional? How exactly will a mat make us look more professional? Unless, of course, you intend the staff to wear it?”
Ruth (slightly squeakier now): “Professionalism is about the whole package, David.”
David: “How professional are we going to look when we go bust because you keep buying all this frivolous rubbish?”
Ruth (really squeaky): “If you don’t stop thinking like that, we’ll never go anywhere.”
Ross (calm, obviously): “Ok, David, can we actually afford the mat?”
David: “...........................(long pause)....................................... Er, yes”
Ross: “Ruth, do we need the extra gold tassels or will it still be fit for purpose if it’s bright pink and hardwearing?”
Ruth: “.......................(Not squeaky at all).................. Mmm… We don’t really need the tassels, no....”
Ross: “Right then, got there in the end, didn’t we? Let’s buy the mat.”
Of course, my company has but 10 staff, including me. We don’t have a boardroom or a marketing expert called Ruth or a finance director called David. I don’t know how other business owners make decisions, but when it comes to cost-benefit analysis, this type of things usually works for me.
Ross Campbell, The Exercise Club