You have an awesome product, but now it's time to scale. Other than word of mouth, how are you planning on bringing users to your product? If your answer is 'I don't know' or 'the subscribers' list' you might be in trouble. But don't fret; these quick tips that many start-ups ignore will help boost your growth without taking too much time out of your busy day.
These may sound simple, but working at a company that lists web apps, you'd be surprised at how many of the start-ups we work with that fail to abide by these maxims. If you follow them, the customers will come.
Years 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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
'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.
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 Novanym.com (the "brand name store").
The UK's main political party leaders could be much less popular among the nation's small businesses than they'd like. According to a survey carried out by Crunch Accounting, based on responses from 500 freelancers and micro businesses, 27% "would not hire any of the political party leaders if they applied for a position".
More than a fifth (22%) would hire David Cameron, while only 13% would give a job to Ed Miliband. The SNP's Nicola Sturgeon came third (12%), ahead of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (11%).
Nigel Farage has said he'll stand down as UKIP leader if he loses the South Thanet election, but he's unlikely to try to find a job with a UK SME if he does. That's probably just as well, with only 9% of those polled saying they would give him a job. Far fewer (4%) would employ Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, fewer still (2%) Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.
The survey also asked respondents which party best understands the needs of small firms and the self-employed. Almost a third (32%) said the Conservatives, with Labour attracting a 25% share (Liberal Democrats 10%; UKIP 8%; Greens 4%; SNP 2%; Plaid Cymru 1%).
The UK's main political parties have been at pains to highlight their pro small-business credentials. The Daily Telegraph, of course, recently published a letter reported to be signed by 5,000 "business owners" warning that "a Labour government would be 'far too risky' for the economy". The stunt was organised by the Tories and their small business ambassador Karren Brady, and in truth many signatories were not business owners.
UKIP also claims to be the party of small businesses. In April, its deputy chairman Suzanne Evans commented: "The Conservatives are in the pockets of the multinational corporations and Labour has become the anti-business party. We have a fully funded £1.2bn plan to provide 20% rates relief on premises with a rateable value up to £50,000. That will potentially cover 90% of business premises."
Sadly, none of the UK's main political leaders has ever worked for a small business or been self-employed. After leaving Brasenose College, Oxford, Eton-educated David Cameron joined the Conservative Research Department and became a special adviser. After a seven-year stint as Carlton Communications director of corporate affairs, he became an MP in 2001.
Like Cameron, Ed Miliband studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford (Corpus Christi College). After graduating, he worked in TV as a political researcher before becoming a Labour Party researcher, soon rising to chair HM Treasury's Council of Economic Advisers. He became an MP in 2005. Nick Clegg studied social anthropology at Cambridge and before becoming an MP in 2005 he was a lobbyist, then FT journalist and then MEP. Nicola Sturgeon studied law at Glasgow University and worked as a solicitor at Drumchapel Law Centre. She was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
Grammar schoolboy Nigel Farage didn’t go to university, but nonetheless enjoyed a successful career in the City as a commodities trader before becoming an MEP in 1999. Natalie Bennett was formerly editor of Guardian Weekly and wrote for The Independent and The Times, while Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood was a probation officer before becoming a political assistant and lecturer in social policy at Cardiff University.
• If you still haven’t decided which party you’ll vote for tomorrow, Real Business Rescue (the "Company Recovery & Closure Experts") has created a clever online questionnaire, so you can find out which party best represents your opinions on key issues. Why not take the test?
Blog written by freelance editor, copywriter and Start Up Donut editor Mark Williams.
Global office broker Instant Offices has created a graphic that gives a comparative summary of what the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens say they will do if elected on key issues that directly affect SMEs. These issues include corporation tax, business rates, minimum wage, zero hours contracts, energy bills and broadband and the information is taken from the parties’ manifestos.
Click on image for full graphic and click again to enlarge.
Every business manager will know what a struggle money can be and one of the most difficult decisions can be how to get the funding needed to help your business grow. The banks aren't always an option and many people don't want to give up control of something they've worked hard for, but being the most obvious choices – what else is left?
When it came to starting Taxicode, co-founder Nigel and I decided the best option would be to fund it ourselves. This meant control of the business was not split between investors; big loans were not hanging over our heads; and while growth has been slower compared to our externally funded competitors, it has all felt much more ours and we've been able to act out our vision as we intended. This is not for everyone, of course, but as we had finances built up from previous business ventures, it worked for us. Several years on and we're generating decent turnover and achieved £2m in bookings last year.
Many of us will be familiar with the concept of crowdfunding by now. It allows members of the public to put money towards a project, usually receiving something back in return depending on the amount they've put forward. Technology, video games, community projects, events and films have all found funding this way. Crowdfunding also helps build audience engagement with your brand early on, something not necessarily true of other options.
Peer-to-peer and peer-to-business lending work in a similar way to crowdfunding, but for a loan rather than to raise equity. This means that larger sums of money can be raised in one go, instead of waiting for individuals to put the money forward.
Business managers can also make the most of the resources they already have. Invoice finance allows business to raise finance against any invoices they have waiting, drawing down the balance when customers pay, whilst pension-backed lending allows business owners to unlock the value of their own personal pension to finance the company.
These options can help to create a steadier cashflow for the business – while pension-backed lending is more suited to those that have already spent several years building up their finances, these options can be used throughout the business's life cycle to combat any financial struggles encountered.
Whatever route you chose, there will inevitably always be risk, but business managers should not feel deterred just because traditional options don't appeal. There's something out there to suit everyone's needs.
Copyright © 2015 Jonathan Kettle, co-founder and director of nationwide online taxi-booking service Taxicode.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.