It’s tempting to think that a website will solve all your marketing problems. Once that new site’s built, the customers will come flooding in. Or will they?
I speak to far too many business owners who have invested (usually not enough) money in having a website built for them. They’re struggling to make ends meet and genuinely can’t understand why their website isn’t generating the enquiries they need. So they chuck a bit more money (again, usually not enough) at someone else to try and fix the problem.
The thing is that I think the problems are usually much deeper. Take a contact I spoke to at the beginning of the week. He’d just had a site built by a company and was frustrated that his site wasn’t being found in the search engines. A quick look at the site told me the problems were greater than just being able to Google him.
The copy was weak. It didn’t show prospective clients how he could help them. Instead he talked first about himself and his business. Secondly, there were no “products” that people could easily “buy”. But crucially, his marketing plan started and ended with his website.
Your website is a piece of the marketing jigsaw. But it’s only a part of it. If you haven’t thought through your offering; if you haven’t created a process for managing and converting your enquiries into clients; if you haven’t identified other ways of spreading the word offline as well as online, then I think you’re going to struggle.
So before you invest all your time, energy and hopes into your website, just think for a minute: do I have a robust marketing plan that will help me win the clients I need? If not, then start looking there first and come to your website when you know what you want it to say.
Fiona Humberstone, Flourish design & marketing
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
Christmas underpins profitability for the whole year for most stores. When it comes to preparing for the Christmas season online, “the early bird catches the worm” as they say. Before you know it, the rush to service orders has replaced any consideration on how to optimise sales. Here are some seasonal tips from SellerDeck and some e-store owners to help you get ready.
Prepare marketing ideas early
Whatever your Christmas marketing plans, run some small-scale tests soon. Establish what works, and refine it. If search engines matter to you, optimise in plenty of time.
Keith Milsom at http://www.AnythingLeft-handed.co.uk advises, “We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as they take a while to prepare. We also boost PR with a press release in September.”
Can you handle the extra traffic?
If there is anything worse than having no orders, it's having more than you can handle. This just produces dissatisfied customers.
The average etailer gets 30% more orders in November/December. Make sure you can cope with the increase. This includes web hosting, and extra staff for packing.
Bill Stevenson of www.spicesofindia.co.uk advises ordering extra stock and advertising for temporary staff in September. “Last December visitors fell, but conversion rates tripled. We ran out of many Christmas gift sets and could not get new stock. This year we will order a lot more.”
Sort your logistics
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope. To avoid missed deliveries, let customers select delivery to their work address.
Robert Johnston of www.gentlemans-shop.com adds, “We email customers their parcel tracking details and confirmation of delivery date. This dramatically reduces calls about deliveries.”
“Don't be a bah-humbug! Decorate your site and get into the Christmas spirit,” says James Auckland at www.lunaspas.com.
Find creative ways to mark the season. Put gift ideas on your home page, and stock Christmas-themed items. Remember to change the pages on Boxing Day.
Last minute shoppers
Cite a final ordering date for Christmas delivery on every page - highlight when the deadline has passed. You’ll need different dates for home and overseas orders.
Drop customers a reminder email, e.g. must order by end of tomorrow for delivery outside Europe.
Customers in a rush
Most online shoppers are in a hurry, particularly at Christmas. Help them out with a search capability that can match by category and price. Text-based searching is no help when you want a gift for less than £10 for your eight-year-old niece.
Another aid for rushed buyers is a gift-wrapping service. It can also increase your margin.
Upsell to maximise the opportunity
Where gifts need additional items such as batteries, ensure they can be ordered together. Suggest similar gifts, and incentivise extra purchases with offers like 'buy two and get one free'.
James Auckland again: “Thank your suppliers, as well as your regular customers.” Good supplier relationships can help resolve problems. Consider offering discount during January to suppliers and good customers.
Keep a sense of humour!
Robert Johnston once had an irate customer repeatedly phoning on Christmas Eve, “about the delivery of his father’s missing present. He accused me of ’ruining his Christmas‘. Just as we closed, he called to apologise. His sister had signed for the parcel, and dad’s present was already wrapped and under the tree.”
Advertise January sales
Plan your January sale early. It gives ‘value shoppers’ a chance to clear all that dead stock for you.
Finally, book a well-earned rest for February. You will probably need it. Just beware of tour-operators trying to up-sell you to something more expensive!