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How to commission a website designer

July 26, 2010 by Brian Copeland

The first thing a potential customer is likely to do after meeting you, or hearing about your business, is look at your website.

If it makes the right impression, hopefully, you can move onto making your first sale and build the relationship from there. If your website falls short of the mark, it’s likely to put them off and they will go elsewhere.

So where do you start? If this is the first time you’ve needed a website, it can seem overwhelming. But, if you get a good designer onboard, it shouldn’t cause you any problems. You can benefit from their knowledge and experience, providing you commission them effectively. But how?

Your website must reflect your brand. It should be a tool that enables you to achieve your marketing goals. So before you even think about commissioning a web designer, you must know what your brand stands for and how your website fits into your marketing strategy, otherwise, you’ll waste precious money.

What’s your brand?

So what’s your brand? Think of it as your business’s personality – how it speaks, looks and behaves. It’s something far greater than a logo, typeface or a few colours.

The essence of a brand is voice, look and behaviour. Often, these are defined by brand values, so take time to work out what these are. Before you ask a web designer to start work on your behalf, be clear in your mind about your brand values. Draw up a list of five or six brand values, if necessary, seek advice from those with knowledge of your professional or commercial values.

Now think about your marketing strategy – how you will sell your products or services. Your website will be part of this, even if you don’t intend to sell online. Your website must seamlessly complement your other sales efforts, whether that’s cold calling, distributing leaflets, direct mail, newspaper adverts, using online social media such as Twitter or quite possibly a mixture of these.

Be clear about the contribution your website needs to make. Do you need it to sell, generate sales leads/enquiries, capture information or simply tell people more about your business and its wares?

Choosing a web designer

Your choice of web designer will depend on several factors – and budget will be a key. Big agencies don’t work for small fees, while a self-employed web designer could create just as good a website for your business anyway.

Decide on your budget and stick to it. You could search online for web developers, but I’d recommend seeking recommendations from other businesses you trust. Give them a call and ask about how happy they are with the service and value for money they received. Ask whether they encountered any problems.

Shortlist at least three potential designers/agencies; check out their work and ask what solution they recommend for your business. One of the important questions, of course, is price. That’s not to say go with the cheapest – it’s more a question of value for money. Negotiate a set price before any work commences and get all work set out in black and white. There should be no unexpected additional charges. Most web designers often offer ready-made packages, so make sure your website will meet your individual needs.

Briefing your designer

Once you’ve decided on a supplier, you’ll need to brief them properly. A good brief is the cornerstone of any successful design project. They don’t have to be wordy, multi-page documents; aim for concise and clear guidance on the form, look and content of the site you want, totally in step with your brand and marketing strategy.

When it comes to key decisions (eg site structure, fonts, colours, images, etc), the designer should explain your options, which will enable you to make well-informed decisions. If you’ve picked the right one, you should have confidence in your designer’s ability and opinions, but that doesn’t meaning settling for something you don’t like. You should also be prepared to have your choices criticised where necessary, as long as this is accompanied by suggestions for better alternatives.

The process might involve having to make a few changes (hopefully minor) along the way, but soon enough, come launch you should end up with an important tool that enables you to start and grow your new business.

Brian Copeland, creative director of the multi award-winning agency, Graphic Clinic

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2020 Vision – Have you got it?

July 23, 2010 by Emma Wimhurst

Got an idea for a business? Great! What are you going to achieve with it? Let’s fast forward to 2020. Now tell me what you see....

  • Have you built a trusted brand?
  • Do you have a national, or perhaps, a global business?
  • ARE YOU A SUCCESS?

The vision of where you will be is all part of strategic planning. It’s something you must seriously consider before you take your business idea any further let alone launch it into the marketplace. BUT, what if you’re having trouble gazing into the future and planning your way? Where do you start?

Look at what you’ve done already. You should have carried out a little research, found a niche and run your idea by friends or family. Their enthusiastic reaction, combined with you ambition, will have turned it over and over in your mind, giving it an identity and inspiring you to create it.             

So let’s now look at something that will give your wonderful idea a tangible form.

  • Get a pen and notepaper and find somewhere to sit, relax and think. If you’re planning to set up in a partnership you must do this together, to make sure you share the same dream and want the same outcome. 
  • Scribble words, phrases, or short sentences that you feel sum up where you want your business to be and what success means to you.

STOP! I forgot to mention, be economical, it’s not a novel you’re writing but your vision statement and it must be wrapped up in no more than 50 words. It may only be one paragraph but it is so important and you must get it right. Within it you must encompass the essence of your business success, what you want to achieve and where you want to be in, let’s say, the year 2020. It should be exciting enough to motivate you and fire up others you want to involve in the venture.

I maintain that this single exercise – whether looking ahead for a year, five years or a decade – begins the planning you need to achieve success. This is something I believed when I set up Diva Cosmetics (as a new mother) back in 2000. I had a wealth of experience and expertise in the industry, I was focused on what I wanted, and knew exactly how I was going to get it. It was, in essence, written down in 45 words!

Running a business is challenging, decisions have to be taken and if you’re not absolutely certain where you’re heading it’s possible to stumble, lose your way and ultimately miss out on the success that should have been yours. I often referred back to Diva Cosmetics’ Vision Statement when confronted by difficult decision making. If opportunities led me away from my original strategy, I refused to be sidetracked. Establishing my goals was a priority at Diva Cosmetics. I knew from day one where I wanted the business to be and achieving £1m in the first 12 months was, of course, all part of the plan.

I made use of a planning system I call my Seven Business Disciplines to ensure I don’t deviate from the path towards success. Having sold the company, I now use this proven system to guide start-ups. Of course, there are many facets to my first discipline, strategic planning, but having a clear and considered vision statement is a very positive start.

Once finished, put it aside for a week or two. When you go back to it, review it, edit it and leave it again. Repeat this process until those 50 words mean what they say. Now you have your vision for success. Success doesn’t just happen it takes enormous effort and hard work. It also takes thorough planning, specifically strategic planning as a foundation to build everything else on, so now you see just how vital it is.

A lack of research and planning is often blames for business failure, so do make sure your business planning is watertight. If you’re daunted by that then consider getting advice from someone who’s already got what it is you want. Planning is crucial to your success, so take advice.

At this early stage in your business planning, make sure you set out your vision statement and be true to it. Focus on where you want to be with the clearest of 20:20 vision and then set off but never lose sight of it. Who knows where you’ll be in 2020? You do...because you’ll have planned it!

Emma Wimhurst is a motivational business speaker, mentor and author

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What your bank will want to see when you apply for a loan

July 22, 2010 by Rob Warlow

To help banks assess whether you’re a good risk when you apply for a loan, they will give you a shopping list of required information. Failure to oblige with the right information can lead to months of delay in getting an answer. So what will your bank want to see?

1 Business plan

In the relatively short space of time you have with the representative of you bank, it’s impossible to effectively convey every aspect and nuance of your business. A business plan can do that. It’s is a ‘convincer’ for the bank and a control and check for you. A plan can highlight flaws in your business idea and potentially save you from making an expensive mistake.

2 Financial statements

Bankers love numbers. Your annual financial statements may not mean much to you, but to the bank they offer a wealth of important information. Don’t apply for finance if your financial statements are out of date. Going to the bank any time greater than three months after your financial year-end without your accounts will simply result in the bank telling you to get them done.

3 Management figures

You may have your financial statements produced within three months of your year-end, but it’s still three months of trading since you closed your books and a lot can happen in that time. The bank will want to see management figures.

The format doesn’t have to be complex; it can be as simple as an Excel spread sheet to accountant-prepared figures. You can also get accounting software that easily prepares monthly figures for you, so there’s no excuse for not having up-to-date figures on business performance.

4 Profit and loss and cashflow projections

Your projections are your view of where you think your business is going to be financially in one, two and three years’ time.

The bank will want to see to prove your business can afford to pay back the loan or overdraft facility. They can also be used as a tool to monitor future performance against your estimates. And by preparing forecasts, you will be forced to think through your numbers first.

Preparing financial forecasts can be daunting, especially if you have never done them before, so seek help, perhaps from an accountant, if necessary.

5 Personal financial statements

Increasingly, banks are taking a greater interest in business owners’ personal financial position. Banks have realised that many business owners have raided savings and ‘maxed out’ on personal overdrafts and credit cards to keep their businesses going.

Banks will ask you to complete a personal monthly income and expenditure report and an assets and liabilities statement, which will give them an immediate overview of your financial position.

6 The list could go on

Each lending request will be treated differently and may lead to your bank requesting more information than I’ve outlined above, but this provides a good introduction.

Rob Warlow helps business owner’s deal with their banks to obtain funding or assist in re-building damaged client-banker relationships. He has written a book called ‘Loan Sharp: Get the Business Finance You Deserve’ which is available via Amazon or on his website.

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Sales breakthrough and a huge dilemma

July 21, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

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

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5 tips for graduates going self-employed

July 15, 2010 by Emma Jones

A recent feature in The Guardian ran with the headline: ‘Graduates warned of record 70 applicants for every job’ The next line went: ‘Class of 2010 told to consider flipping burgers or shelf stacking to build skills’ Was I the only one thinking flipping burgers and shelf stacking is a flippin’ great way to earn part time income whilst building a business? For all graduates considering self-employment, here are five tips along with stories of those who’ve been there and done it.

1. Start now!

If you’re an undergraduate and looking at the job market with dread, start taking small steps now to earning an income. Is your degree in languages? Become a private tutor via sites like First Tutors or sell your skills to business through the likes of Lingo 24 and Language123.com. Are you good at making things? Make a few more and upload to sites such as Folksy.com and MyEhive.com so you can sell to a wider audience. Kane Towning started on the path to self-employment whilst at Leeds University and as soon as he graduated, became full time director of AIM Clubbing; an events company set up with two fellow students and friends.

2. Seek out help

There is plenty of help on offer whilst you’re studying – and still when you leave. Whilst studying, check to see if your College or Uni hosts an enterprise society; NACUE is a good source for this. Make the most of events, competitions and Awards hosted by National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship and Shell LiveWIRE and why not take on work experience with entrepreneurial upstarts so you can learn on the job via sites including Enternships and Gumtree.

3. Club together

Does starting a business seem a bit too daunting when you haven’t even left learning? Then pool your talent, join with friends and start that way. This is what the three amigos Oliver Sidwell, Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson did when they came up with the idea for RateMyPlacement whilst studying at Loughborough University. After graduating, they all secured jobs and worked collectively on the business at nights and weekends. That was three years ago and the company is now a startling success.

4. Go global

To be sure of a wide market for your products and services, go global from the start. Technology enables you to do this with sites such as Odesk and elance.com allowing you to be found by customers around the world if you’re selling time and knowledge and having your own website (with good search engine optimisation) increases your chances of picking up overseas trade. In business, the world truly is your oyster and think of all the places you’ll get to travel to meet clients, and taste local culture!   

5. Thanks be to folks

I hear from many students who are running a business and getting much-needed help from parents whether it be rent-free accommodation or having a bookkeeper/mentor/telephone receptionist on tap who won’t expect a salary in return! Arthur Guy started a star solutions when he was 17, after working at an electronics store. He’s now completing a PhD at Sussex University so his Mum takes care of the day to day running of the business. Thanks, Mum!

Even if you don’t turn your business into a full time venture, the experience of being your own boss and showing you have the attitude and skills to make a living will look good on your CV and set you apart from those other 69 applicants.

Emma Jones is founder of Enterprise Nation, a business expert, and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up’ and ‘Working 5 to 9’

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Greener printing – tips on lightening your footprint

July 13, 2010 by Matt Bird

Environmental printing is no longer an oxymoron and there are steps you can take to be greener in your office. Simply couple these additional pointers with my cost saving tips and enjoy these additional benefits for both the environment and your wallet.

1 Page formatting

Getting rid of bold headers or text will cut down on ink usage for each page, especially in often-printed documents. You would be surprised how much ink and toner you can save by shrinking your letterhead by 20% or switching to black and white formatting! Further formatting such as reduced margins can really get the most out of every page you print and limit your paper consumption.

2 Content formatting

Efficiently presenting all the information on your pages is a great way to limit any paper and ink waste. Consider cutting down your font size and looking at physically thinner fonts (such as Century Gothic) to make the initial size of your prints smaller. Go even deeper and look at the actual content bring printed, is it presentational work or general office documentation? Can it be reworded or broken into short bullet points to be condensed on the page? This small amount of time instead of just hitting Ctrl+P will help you save paper.

3 High capacity cartridges

Quite a few machines now provide both standard and high capacity cartridges. In a significant number of cases, the XL capacity cartridges are no physically larger than their standard capacity counterparts; they have simply been filled completely. Purchasing these cartridges will give you cheaper running costs and fewer waste cartridges being generated.

4 Standby modes

Whether in your existing machine or finding it as a feature when browsing for a new printer, standby modes for laser printers are an amazing way to limit your energy consumption. Keeping the machine active and ready-to-print drains energy throughout the day, and finding a printer which limits power needed to maintain this state is inherently important for any green-aspiring office. With some machines using a little as one watt in standby, yet going from standby to print-ready within five seconds, you can save energy without experiencing delays in your office printing.

5 Turn it off!

Leaving the office overnight or for a weekend? Turn your machine off when you know it is not in demand and fully rid yourself of wasted electricity.

6 Finally, recycle!

6.1 Paper and packaging

Don’t just bin the draft documents you have printed, get an office recycling box and encourage the recycling of all your non-confidential paper, either for re-use on the blank side, or for pulping. Plus manufacturers now produce environmentally friendly packaging which can be thrown into recycling with the minimum of fuss.

6.2 Cartridges

Continue to your cartridges. Binning them after a single use should be a crime within the industry. Keep that plastic casing away from the landfill as long as possible by recycling. There are huge numbers of recycling companies in operation, and many will often pick up your cartridges free of charge and get them back in circulation after cleaning and reconditioning. If you have one of the few cartridges not valid for recycling then it probably means it has literally no technology within it, and is just a plastic casing. Just take it to your closest plastic recycling bin and do your part for the environment.

6.3 Your machines

Under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) direction manufacturers have to take responsibility for printers at the end of their life cycle. Make sure you get your machine collected when replacing your office workhorse and ensuring minimum material ends up in landfill.

Got any great green tips to add to this list? Leave your comment and help us all be better for the environment.

Matt Bird of printer cartridge supplier, StinkyInk

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