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Has your business got the X Factor?

June 07, 2010 by Chris Barling

In business, as in the popular TV show X Factor, more people fail than succeed. If this can be attributed to luck, some people seem to have more luck than others. So it’s reasonable to ask if there is such a thing as the ‘business X Factor’ or is it all about being in the right place at the right time?

Make your own luck

I guess I should know all about luck. I co-founded ecommerce supplier SellerDeck and we managed to float our company on the London Stock Exchange during the dot com boom, raising £25m and valuing the company at £100m, despite at that point having never made a profit.

Looking back, it is all rather ludicrous, so we were definitively in the right place at the right time. Having said that, we didn’t get there by accident. I had carefully looked at technology trends for several years before starting the company, concluding that the internet in general – and ecommerce in particular – offered a tremendous opportunity. At the time, even Bill Gates wasn’t a believer.

Know where you are going

Simon and Amanda Walker sell specialist pens online. Their original target was people who are interested in unusual pens, so they knew that to interest these people, they would have to provide a massive range. That’s why their website states that they offer the “widest choice of pens on the planet” – more than 6,000 at They understood the customer requirement; they created a plan that would satisfy it; and now they have a highly successful business. Textbook stuff.

Be profitable to survive

There are a variety of reasons for starting a business. Some start because they want to get rich, others want to change the world, but no one wants to fail. Avoiding failure means making a profit. Profit is the oxygen of business. Even if the principle objective isn’t about money, you still must make a profit. There’s no need to worry about the X Factor if you don’t make a profit – you won’t be around long enough to find out whether you’ve got it or not.

Focus on customers

One of my company’s customer’s grew his business from a front room start up to a business with £23m sales. Chatting to founder Steve Hanbury recently, I was reminded of how important his total commitment to customer service and value was to his success. Customers pay the wages; if we forget this we’re in trouble. All successful businesses need to focus on their customers.

Avoid rigidity

The press delight in stories of hapless travellers whose satnavs took them up a track or to an impassable river. The drivers thought that they knew where they were going, but more attention was required. It’s no different in business; when disaster is imminent it’s critical to be flexible and not insist on sticking to the business plan.

The true X Factor

It’s worth asking yourself whether practising the business virtues mentioned above comes naturally. Focusing on customers, setting a plan yet remaining flexible to change and also enjoying yourself while doing it seems a big ask. Are these the key to success?

It’s unfashionable to admit to watching X Factor, but I hold my hand up and say that it’s interesting to note that many of the talented contestants are sometimes hesitant about their capabilities, while those with least talent are often convinced they have great ability. The best are generally humble and are looking to improve. The true X Factor might be a willingness to receive input, take it on board and strive to get better.

Chris Barling is Chairman of ecommerce software supplier SellerDeck


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Would you put this in your shopping basket?

June 07, 2010 by

In the latest of our weekly blog posts from Marcela of Rico Mexican Kitchen, she'd like to hear your feedback on her new packaging.

I’d like to ask for your thoughts on branding and what messages the packaging is communicating and their appeal to you as consumers.

On the left hand side of the label, there is a stamp which reads “2 of your 5-a-day”. On the back of the label there is information about ways to use the product. We really want to communicate our passion for authenticity, healthy food, provenance and ethically sourced ingredients. We work with local growers and co-operatives in Mexico, but we don’t want to saturate the packaging with loads of writing!

Do you have any thoughts to share with Marcela? Add them to the comments section below.

You can find out more about Marcela on the interactive business website


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Achieving your company's targets

June 04, 2010 by Heather Townsend

Every year it seems like the coaching and training world gets really excited about the importance of setting meaningful and achievable goals. Whilst I’m not going to disagree with the importance of goal-setting, I believe that it is more important to actually achieve your goals.

Take a moment to reflect on how many times you have set business or personal goals which you've lost interest or focus in after a couple of months. As a business owner, it is your role to keep your organisation focused and energised on working towards your vision.

My question is, how do you make sure your organisation actually achieves the goals you've set?

Firstly, you have to have some goals set to achieve. Is everyone within your business targeted to working towards the goals of the organisation? If I were to talk with your employees could they tell me what their personal goals are and how these will help achieve the company's goals?

For goals to be achieved, they need to be visible for everyone within your company. Do you have visual reminders for staff about the organisation’s goals? Are your line managers regularly sitting down with their team and talking about the individual, team, departmental and company progress against these goals? In your regular updates to your staff are you talking about company progress against these goals? More often than not, team and individual goals and objectives get written on a piece of paper and stuck in a drawer getting dusty until the next annual performance review. (And that’s if your organisation actually does them!)

The only thing you can rely on in the business world is uncertainty. Far too many companies go through an annual goal-setting process and then tenaciously stick to these goals for the next twelve months, regardless of market or trading conditions. Goals are made to be reset and reassessed as you go through the year. Whilst I’m not advocating resetting your goals every week, it’s worth looking at your company’s goals quarterly and when your results and evidence suggests it, readjusting these goals. Many a company has gone under by spending to a sales forecast level which they are never going to meet.

You have more chance of achieving your company’s goals if your staff feel some attachment or ownership of these goals. To get this feeling of attachment, how about involving them in the decision making process of how the company is going to achieve its goals? Or, and this is the slightly controversial part, how about setting up a bonus pot to be distributed amongst all staff if the company achieves it’s goals?

Many individuals and companies are forever looking and driving forward. Whilst this is a very positive attitude, it is worth looking back to learn and taking time out to celebrate successes. Reflecting and reviewing is vital to help your company achieve its next set of goals.

What are you going to do slightly different this financial year to increase your odds of achieving both your personal and business goals?

Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach

This post was first published for Clear Thought Consulting Ltd


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10 ways to attract and retain Facebook fans

June 02, 2010 by Alex Astell

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.

Alex Astell of Manage My Website


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Olé for Mole!: Turning PR and marketing activities into sales

June 01, 2010 by

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:

  • we engaged a web designer to develop our website (with sections still under construction, but almost there);
  • we improved our packaging and included suggestions on how to use the products we make;
  • we worked with a PR agency to hopefully help us get some editorial coverage in magazines and newspapers...and yes, we were in the Editor’s feature section of my favourite magazine, BBC Olive.

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


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Taking exhibition space to promote the Donut sites? Now there's an intriguing idea

May 27, 2010 by Martin Read

The Donuts are lively little blighters with plenty of reader-on-editor action, but until now our relationship with you, the audience, has been conducted entirely from eyeball to screen. Communicating face to face, and convincing new readers to pay the sites a visit, was always going to give us a fresh perspective on Project Donut. So it was at last week's Business Start Up Show in London's Docklands.

As a form of marketing, exhibitions can be a bit hit and miss. You have to choose the right event, but when you do you're pretty certain to meet useful new contacts and kick start a few potentially lucrative projects. Why? Because exhibitions afford the opportunity for business folk to do what comes naturally - talk. For all our tweeting and texting, technology can never replace the power of a face to face meeting. Get it right, and the contacts you make at an exhibition can lop weeks off your marketing schedule.

Be warned, though - exhibitions require a lot of organisational skill. It pays to use a checklist and work through it before you go. Lights, stand graphics, power supplies, presentations, sales collateral - get them all organised well in advance. I've been to plenty of shows and I don't think I've ever been 100% happy with how things turned out. This time, we suffered from a lack of napkins (we gave away donuts, natch) and blue tack (for the wall-mounted screenshots). Something will always crop up, but at the very least you should download this indispensable checklist and work through it.

And don't forget to take care of an exhibition stand's most important apparatus - your people. Organising a roster which gives everyone a break has the dual effect of ensuring the stand is properly manned for the duration of the show. Also, don't forget to drink as much water as possible. Exhibitions can leave you dehydrated and the air is made thin by all that constant chatter - to which you'll be contributing.

Finally, don't scrimp on stand graphics. The man who designed ours, and the people who designed our pop-up stand, are nothing short of geniuses. The stand fits in a wheelie-bin, and the wheelie bin doubles as a plinth. Add our rather colourful graphics and it's an awesome combination - as you can see here.

Martin Read, BHP Information Solutions

  • You can read Anna Kirby's thoughts on the Business Start Up Show here



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