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Coming in August: great IT advice for businesses

May 25, 2010 by John McGarvey

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I’m pleased to report that the wraps are off: The IT Donut, a new website for small businesses, will be launching the week of 23 August.

The IT Donut will be the fourth in a family of websites. You might already have seen the Marketing, Law and Start-Up Donuts. Its aim will be to demystify every aspect of business technology.

Expect heaps of advice about choosing, using and generally not getting totally frustrated with IT in your business.

I’ve taken on the role of editor (the next few months are looking to be very busy), but thankfully there’s a whole team of great people from BHP Information Solutions working hard on the site too. And because you can’t substitute for first-hand knowledge and experience, we’re on the hunt for experts who know all about IT at the sharp end of business.

You see, when businesses use IT, there’s an ideal world, and there’s what actually happens. The two often differ quite considerably.

The IT Donut isn’t going to live in the plain sailing, smooth running and largely theoretical ideal world. It will acknowledge the situations and challenges businesses face every day with their IT.

Although the team behind the website is packed with experience (I’ve been writing about small businesses and IT for years now), we need people who’ve been there and done it to help us cover every area. These IT experts are the people who’ll really bring the site to life.

So if you know a bit about IT in business, I want to hear from you. You might be an expert in web hosting, networking or accounting software. Or you might be a business that’s experimented with cloud computing, open source software – or gained some other knowledge that you’d like to share.

Whatever your expertise, give me a shout. It’s your chance to be involved in one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on – and to get some great PR while you’re at it.

John McGarvey is the editor of the forthcoming IT Donut and is happy to discuss ideas and opportunities with you.

What a show

May 24, 2010 by Anna Mullinder

MyDonut exhibition standI only found out that I was going to be on the Start Up Donut stand at The Business StartUp Show at Excel a couple of days beforehand so there wasn’t much time for the reality of what this meant to sink in.

People kept saying to me that it would be hard work, but I don’t think I realised just how hard! I’m not shy when it comes to speaking to people or striking up a conversation and I project manage the Start Up Donut so I felt confident about singing its praises to people running small businesses. But what I didn’t realise is that you’re talking constantly to a seemingly never-ending stream of people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we were so busy and I’m really pleased that I got to speak to so many people, but by the time I got on the coach home I was ready to fall asleep.

As a start-up or small business, I’d imagine attending an event like this is well worth the time and effort. With exhibitors ranging from those offering training and motivation to advice on intellectual property to business support there’s a huge range of information, resources and potential contacts in one room. Not to mention the array of the seminars and workshops.

The highlight for me, however, was meeting so many different characters. When you work on a project/website every day it is so nice to meet people who have heard of it or visit the website regularly and who have feedback for you, even if it's things you could change or ways to improve the site. I found it really interesting to explain the Start Up Donut (and also the Marketing Donut, Law Donut and the IT Donut which is due to launch at the end of the Summer) to people who’d never heard of them and to explain all of the features and gauge their reactions.

Next time you go to an exhibition, remember to say hello to the people you’ve heard of and let them know what you think of their product or service. You might just make their day.

Anna Kirby, Start Up Donut

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Sales leads and breaking even

May 24, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

Networking tips for mums in business

May 21, 2010 by Antonia Chitty

Antonia Chitty discusses the benefits of online and offline networking.

Antonia Chitty, Family Friendly Working

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How to make your website more SEO friendly

May 19, 2010 by Alex Astell

Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves taking steps to improve the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google via natural or unpaid search results.

The higher your website appears in the search results list, the better its chance of attracting visitors – and converting that interest into a sale, of course.

If you have recently paid an agency or freelance to create a website for your business, they should know all about SEO and it should have been a key deciding factor in the finer detail of the work they did for you.

If your website is many years old or if you are planning to create your own website, then you will need to get to grips with a few SEO basics, if your website is to be fully optimised for search engines.

Where to begin? Buy or (better still borrow) a good introductory guidebook. I recommend Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman. For more detail, try Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies by Peter Kent or When Search Meets Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica.

If someone else has designed or maintains your website, check with them that your site has been fully optimised for search engines. This applies to headings, alt tags, meta tags, page structure, page titles and meta descriptions/keywords. Each is essential to improving your SEO results.

Keywords must appear with sufficient frequency in main copy on each page. For example, if you are offering plumbing services in Wiltshire, then the words ‘plumbing’ and ‘Wiltshire’ should make up about 5-10 per cent of all words used. The trick is to be natural in use of language, as (apart from reading badly and so putting people off) deliberate/ham-fisted repetition of the same words (or deliberately hiding keywords) will make search engines ignore your site.

Submit your site to the major search engines. Make sure you register your website with Google Analytics, so that you can measure your traffic. Check out Google AdWords if you want to pay to advertise, they have a starter package that is very easy to use.

Try also to source appropriate websites that can link to yours, but avoid those that promise to put your link on 600 other sites (most of which are often totally irrelevant), it will just look as though you’re spamming.

Google your keywords and check which sites come up in the results. If there are directories on the list or websites open to having relevant links (sometimes linking from yours back to theirs in return), contact them.

Analyse your results carefully and learn from them. Check Google Analytics, search on the major search engines at regular intervals to check your position in the results and keep your content fresh and up to date.

By following this simple advice, you should be able to make your website more likely to appear in search engine listings. If reading this has left you none the wiser about SEO, then you should probably seek the services of a specialist, otherwise you could be left counting the cost in disappointingly low visitor numbers to your website.

Alex Astell, Manage My Website

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How to keep in touch with customers in the startup stage

May 17, 2010 by Tim Fouracre

Starting a business for the first time is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things you can do (if you enjoy business!). However there comes a point where customer demands can weigh on your ability to progress. Here are five tips on how to keep your customers happy during the start up stages.

1. Be honest
Some business owners feel that they have to present their company as bigger than it is, which can lead to customers placing greater expectations in terms of support and business development. It would be better to be honest with your customers and for you to tell them exactly how big your business is, if not understate your size. This is not suggesting that you slack on customer service. As a customer, if you know the size of the business you would rather be told that your problem will be dealt with tomorrow and then have the issue dealt with well, rather than the issue being sorted today and receiving a half hearted response. Having a set policy (see point number two) to customer support will make customers used to what to expect, it could be argued reliability is more important than punctuality and if done right it can buy you time.

2. Have customer service processes in place
Having a process (between yourself and however many employees) in place allows you to know what to do when an issue is raised. An example could be a customer calls and has a problem, the query is logged and then the customer is told how long it will be before they receive an answer based on number of problems in front. If the issue is an emergency/urgent (this can be difficult to distinguish as some customers may claim it is urgent, but in the grand scheme of things their query can wait) being able to fast track it will be important. It can be hard when customers get angry at you, however as long as you communicate why their query is taking a while to resolve then at least they will not feel left out in the cold.

3. Get your hands dirty
Despite point number one, it is important that you get involved in sorting out customer queries, even if you happen to have raised enough money to employ someone to handle customer support. Following this rule will also allow you to have a feel for your customers' needs plus it will allow you to identify your earliest customers. That sort of recognition towards a customer from a CEO or MD is greatly appreciated. How can you make sure that you keep your original customers close? Consider having a separate email address for them (even if it is not you responding to their queries). A phone line could be going a step too far as you don't want to be held back from the day to day running of the business.

4. Have a time to shut off
Have a time to shut off from customer problems so you can focus on another area of the business each day. It all comes back to the principle of focus, if you can break your day up into focused segments you will get each segment done better than if you try to multi task by doing a little bit of everything. Read this post on how to become a better mono tasker.

5. Listen, don't ignore
Always listen and never ignore the customer. Even if you do not feel that the customer is right or cannot act on what they have said this instant, by listening to them you will be aware of the issues that your customers are raising. If you simply shut out your customers in pursuit of growth you could end up with a backlash that brings about your downfall. Little and often should prevent customer enquires becoming overwhelming in the start up stages, it's a better approach than letting them mothball and ultimately build into an uglier beast. If you have been abiding by point three you will be able to prioritise your customers and keep the major ones happy.

Nick Braithwaite, Clear Books Small Business Accounting Software

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