The UK has more than 5.4m active businesses, ranging from multi-billion pound heavyweights to sole traders. Some 60% of businesses with five employees or less still don't have a website of their own. When your business has little or no online presence, it becomes much harder to manage its reputation online. Reviews of your business may appear much more prominently, and negative reviews can be extremely harmful.
Smaller businesses that don't have a large advertising budget or search engine optimisation campaign find themselves competing against review and directory sites on the first page of Google. This sometimes means that reviews of your business outrank your own website, and it will certainly mean that those reviews share the front page with your own web content. If a bad review is posted, it might show up when your business name is searched. This could be very harmful to your reputation unless you manage the situation carefully and take steps to repair the damage.
If a bad review appears online, it can be devastating for a business. Customers look to the experiences of others when making a decision about where to spend their money, and reviews are hugely popular online. Search engines such as Google will return review sites and directories when you search a business name, presenting you with information about the business at the touch of a button. You need to know that the information about you is accurate, fair and positive.
Is there anything you can do to address a bad review? The first step should be to look into the reasons given by the person posting. Is the criticism fair? If it is possible that they have a valid complaint, you may want to contact that customer and see if you can do anything to resolve their issue. An apology or nice gesture could go a long way, and might even encourage them to revoke their original review and post about their positive experience.
If the customer is not open to removing the review themselves and if the issue has not been resolved after action was taken, you may need to accept that the bad review will stand - and concentrate on encouraging good reviews from future customers instead.
You can't please every customer and some will find fault with everything. Sometimes, people just like to complain - and others have too much time on their hands.
Whatever the reason behind them, bad reviews which are false or exaggerated are a big problem for businesses. There is nothing you can do to resolve the issue from the customer's point of view, but in some cases you can take some legal steps to remove the review.
First, you can contact the review site itself and ask for the review to be removed. This can take time, because they are likely get thousands of similar requests, and your request might not be granted. After all, to an extent, people have the right to say what they think. However, if a review is overly negative or clearly false, some websites remove them. If this fails, many websites give you the opportunity to post a response to give your side of the story. Another option is legal action against the person posting the review, but this can be costly and there is no guarantee of success.
The best way to handle negative reviews is to develop a positive online presence that outshines the bad content. Reputation management companies can help you with this.
Encouraging positive reviews from happy customers and going the extra mile with your service should see the good reviews outweigh the bad ones. Most of the online shopping customers are influenced by customer reviews/feedback.
You should also consider growing your web presence. You don't need a huge budget to get web-savvy. Social media is a great way to network for free, so sign your business up to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Google should return your business pages when people look for your company. Get your website in order as well, and consider a paid advertising campaign. Push the negative content back and let yourself shine online.
Exactly a year ago, I took the plunge and decided to become an internet freelancer, helping people grow their business online. Going out into the big wide world was daunting at first and there were some ups and downs.
But now I've got to a point where I am an established freelancer, working with reputable companies such as Groupon, Xexec and Call Wiser. Here are my top tips based on what I have learned so far:
It's important that the people closest to you such as friends and family know what you do, because they are going to be the ones most likely to recommend you to potential clients.
Start by posting regularly about your expertise on Linkedin and Facebook. Share posts about your industry, write blog posts or get an interview with the local press and share it. Soon, people will start associating you with that particular skill, such as PPC or SEO, and they will recommend you to others looking for that service.
As a freelancer, you need to ensure that you are constantly getting work. Without a regular monthly salary, you need to keep busy. Making connections with others in your industry is key.
Initially, I got in touch with dozens of agencies and freelancers and arranged meetings with a few who were interested. Eventually, I had a strong relationship with a few companies who regularly referred me work and continue to do so.
Clients come in all shapes and sizes. Some will squeeze every penny out of you, have huge expectations and expect you to overwork. Other clients will treat you respectfully and value your expertise and these are the clients you want to keep.
There is nothing wrong with turning down work from demanding clients even though it pays the bills. It is better to focus on those clients that treat you well and pay you on time. Overall, you will be more motivated and happier with your work.
There is really no need to pay too much for office space as a freelancer. By avoiding commuting and office costs, you can simply keep more money for yourself.
If you don't have space at home, it's likely that friends or family have a spare room where you can work. Or perhaps someone you know has a spare desk in their office that you can use one day a week. And of course, every high street has cafes such as Starbucks that offer a place to work and free wi-fi.
Having a back-up plan as a freelancer is important because you never know if the work could dry up for a while. This is common during the summer months or the Christmas break where people take more time off work or don't want to commit until the busier season.
So having a plan B is essential, whether it's a side project that you are working on and can devote more time to during slower periods, or giving lessons to people on your expertise, either in person or through online portals like Udemy.
There are also freelancing platforms like Elance where you can potentially pick up work at short notice. Above all, being busy is key to being a successful freelancer.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Tannenbaum. Daniel works in London as a freelancer in SEO, PPC and digital marketing under Tudor Lodge Consultants.
There are a number of strategies you can employ to make your small business more productive.
Productivity apps – many free – can help you streamline processes, remember tasks and assign projects. Be careful though – while they can dramatically increase productivity, it can be easy to get distracted by the various options – trial a few and pick a favourite.
Never forget your existing customers in the pursuit of new business. A Kissmetrics survey discovered that 71% of consumers have cancelled due to poor customer service. Around 40% of businesses focus more on acquisition than retention. This is despite the fact that customer acquisition typically costs five times that of customer retention. Loyal clients can be your best source of referral leads and for many companies, repeat business. Particularly for service-based and independent contractors, reputation is currency, and devaluing that is a recipe for disaster.
A simple way to improve employee morale and increase productivity – simply reduce noise. The majority of offices now are open plan, which many employees find distracting and stressful. A recent Ipsos/Steelcase survey found that “office workers are losing 86 minutes a day due to distractions.” While collaboration is improved, and costs are reduced, the productivity lost may well cancel out the benefit of open office space. Consider letting staff who don’t need to answer the phone listen to their own music. For customer-facing staff, quality office headsets can reduce ambient noise, help keep staff focused and reduce the detrimental physical effects of traditional handset telephones.
Time management and efficiency guru Laura Vanderkam has extolled the virtues of outsourcing, from the personal to the professional. She believes that we all have core competencies we should focus on, and that everything else can and should be outsourced. Hiring skilled professionals helps you create a more efficient workplace. For example, an accountant is likely to complete your taxes more quickly and accurately than you would yourself. This frees up your time and enables you to focus on your core competencies - growing and developing your business.
Not every employee has the right temperament for flexible working. However, for those who do, it can be a way to reduce your costs and dramatically improve productivity. Employers who offer flexible working have reported higher engagement, output and loyalty from their staff. One company called CTrip found that flexible working increased productivity by 30%, and an RSA/Vodafone study found that it could contribute £8.1bn to the UK economy each year.
Flexible working, outsourcing, customer retention, productivity apps and noise reduction are all effective productivity boosters.
Do you have any tips for improving small business productivity?
Copyright © 2015, Darren Page, Co-Owner of Headsets4Business.
Over the years I've founded my own start-ups and as a former lawyer helped entrepreneurs wind up their businesses. And after watching the good, the bad and the ugly, I've realised that a key reason why many start-ups fail is co-founder conflict.
The view is echoed by Y Combinator, arguably the world's most famous accelerator. Former Y Combinator partner Harjeet Taggar described fights between founders as "certainly the most common reason for failure we see at YC."
And serial investor Jeremie Berrebi said that after 13 years investing in more 200 companies he'd "finally discovered one of the main reasons that start-ups fail – conflict between founders."
Types of conflict varies from equity splits to clashing egos. There's an inexhaustible list of ways a working relationship can turn sour, but over years we've identified the top seven rules co-founders should follow.
Co-founders come together most commonly through social circles. While working with people you know and trust has appeal, it's likely to cloud your judgement about the skills and competence required. Professional acquaintances, such as former work colleagues, work best. You know what they're good at and over the years you've seen how they operate in good times and bad.
Too many co-founders dive into business together without defining and sharing what success would look like on a personal level. Talk openly about through your priorities, ambitions, insecurities and family commitments – and agree on an exit strategy.
Go beyond job titles or merely splitting up roles. Dive into all the jobs that need doing and look for gaps that either no one wants to fill, or where the required skills are lacking. Decide who'll take on (or learn) what, then set a future date to assess how it's working out.
Or 2.09 to be exact, even if it's statistic drawn from a small, rather dated (but regularly cited) sample. While three can be handy for breaking deadlocks, it also allows two to gang up on one. There's also less chance for skills and responsibilities to overlap when there are two or even three co-founders.
Splitting shares equally between two or three co-founders makes intuitive sense, but the distribution should be based on the contributions or sacrifice each makes. Here's a handy tool to help you get to a number, drawing from a solid list of variables.
Once you've agreed the share split, instead of issuing shares upfront, the smarter way is to earn your shares over time using a 'vesting schedule'. A typical schedule works like this: after one year (the 'cliff') you'll each earn 25% of your shares, followed by a further 2% each month for the next four years. If someone leaves in the first year, they get zero. It's a great incentive.
And this means...
Don't rely on handshake deals. Get things down in writing, whether it's basic one-pager or a 40-page shareholders agreement (with vesting of course!). Signing up to commitments has a way of flushing out issues that otherwise might be left unsaid. And if you can't agree on the rules, perhaps it's time to rethink who you're about to do business with.
Running a start-up alone can be, for the most part, hard. Finding that special someone or forming a small team at least gives you a fighting chance of success. It's a relationship that will be tested many times and will (on occasion) need repair, but it should always be nurtured.
Copyright © 2015 David Bushby, COO at Lexoo ("a service that handpicks specialist lawyers to give businesses multiple, fixed-fee quotes based on your legal needs"). He tweets at @DavidBushby and connects on LinkedIn.
Running a small business with cloud services and a smartphone is easier than ever, and many services have truly stepped up in ambition and quality. With these five popular apps, you’ll have some of the tools you need to succeed in a cost-efficient and lean manner.
Evernote – collect, connect, share and present
With Evernote, you can sync all your notes, keep track of your ideas and collaborate with your colleagues on many different projects. The premium version allows you to turn notes into presentations with just one click, as well as scan and digitize all the business cards that are lying around your office.
Xero – do the books on the go
With Xero, you can do bookkeeping, accounting, send out invoices, manage payroll and produce inventory reports. And you don’t have to be stuck with Excel or ugly interface ERP systems or accounting software. With Xero’s simple and clever design features you can save a lot of precious time.
iZettle − a complete point of sale in your pocket
Originally an easy way to accept credit cards on a street market or vintage sale, iZettle has become a real one-stop-shop for small businesses when it comes to payment solutions. The real beauty of iZettle lies in the point-of-sale system, which allows you to digitize receipts, collect valuable customer information and gather sales data into helpful reports.
Hootsuite − all your social media channels in one place
If you manage more than one social media account, you know it can be a hassle. With Hootsuite you can add three accounts, and if you upgrade to premium, you get a hundred. You can schedule your posts to optimize the impact. Now you can even include Instagram in your Hootsuite streams, to monitor and comment from multiple accounts.
Yelp − put your business on the map
Encouraging digital reviews of your business and engaging with your customers may be the single most cost-efficient way of strengthening your market presence. Just make sure you put some effort into updating your Yelp profile with all the possible information and contact details. Engage with customers – especially the disatisfied.
Now you have light versions of the many different systems that large organizations pay millions for − systems that often are old, messy and difficult to use. Use the small start-up size to your advantage and keep your business truly scalable. And remember: all these apps are developed for multiple platforms, so you can use iPads and laptops as well. You have to put your phone down once in a while.
Copyright © 2015 Erwan Derlyn of iZettle (@iZettleUK)
If you met some of the latest bunch of candidates on the new series of The Apprentice – say at a networking event or a job interview – you’d be forgiven for running a mile.
"I'm disgustingly ambitious" says Elle with a sneer. "I'm the captain at the front of a cavalry," says Richard. Joseph says he wants the cars, the girls and the power. And, to the sound of deafening alarm bells, Dan says he has made every mistake in the book with his business, including almost losing his parents' pension.
But this is classic Apprentice. Nothing much has changed. And, anyway, Lord Sugar and his henchfolk, Claude Littner and Baroness "call me Karren" Brady, don’t give two hoots about this kind of talk. Actions speak louder than words, as Lord Sugar says himself.
And so we have the first task. It is, as one of the candidates astutely says in the boardroom, a "margins" task. Not that you’d know it from the way the two teams run at it like bulls in a china shop.
The day starts bright and early at Billingsgate market where the candidates have to buy fish to make two dishes and then sell them to the lunch crowd in London's Camden Lock and the City.
Both teams look pretty incompetent but Connexus (Latin for unite apparently) just keeps making one mistake after another. Dishes are selected with no apparent regard for potential profit. Team leader April won’t even discuss it — they’re making tuna nicoise and fishcakes and that's that. There's no discussion, no number-crunching, no analysis of what people actually want to eat.
And, for a food blog writer, April really doesn’t have her finger on the culinary pulse. What about a fish taco or an asian fish curry? Something that's cheap to make and which will sell all day long.
But this is just the start of their problems. At the market, April completely fails to negotiate; she just buys from the very first person she meets. Mind you, team Versatile's approach to shopping around results in their stocking up on some seriously iffy squid. When it comes to food, there is such a thing as a false economy.
April's team, which includes the hapless Dan, then proceeds to stuff up the preparation. Instead of making 300 fishcakes - upon which their profits projections are undoubtedly based – they only manage to knock up 89. But April is not deterred. She plans to charge crazy prices; that is if they ever get to their destination. Missing the lunch-hour rush is yet another rookie mistake.
Out in the field, Dan sells precisely nothing. April, meanwhile, is still insisting on charging astronomic prices. The rest of the team only sell anything by totally ignoring her price points.
Back in the boardroom, the results speak for themselves. Team Versatile, with its calamari and fish finger sandwiches, has made a not-too-shabby £200 profit. Team Connexus has made £1.87. Yikes…
April selects "desperate Dan" and sous-chef Brett to face the firing line with her. Lord Sugar clearly wants to sack April and tells her so but Dan's performance is just so bad - he says he can’t sell to the public as if that's just a small detail - and so it's goodbye Dan as he mutters "thanks for the opportunity" less than graciously.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Claude this week. He is the man for whom the phrase "if looks could kill" was invented. And yet even he appears to looks proud when it emerges that his team did something right. It's almost a Bake Off moment.
And so begins another series of the show that buries its business lessons fairly deeply as a shower of wannabe's run around making fools of themselves. That said, I'll probably be watching next week.
Copyright © 2015 Rachel Miller, editor of Marketing Donut.
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