Small business marketing ideas

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 10:21

Marketing for small businessesSmall businesses can have great products and services but struggle to get sufficient customers to allow them to expand.

Often this is because the owners of the business are too busy dealing with day to day activities to have time to plan or initiate the marketing activity. Yet it need not be an overly arduous task and can fit the finance and resources available.

Here’s how:

  1. Firstly you need to establish some basics. You may think it’s obvious but just stop and jot these down on paper. Moving the information out of only being in your head on to paper (or to a PC), makes you have to think it through.
  2. Who are your customers? Describe them; gender, age, interests, were do they live, what do they read, what qualities are they looking for in a product / service.
    Are some types of customers more profitable, or even more enjoyable to work with than others?
  3. Write down who the competition is and what makes them good or bad.
  4. What is it about your offering that will excite your target customers and beat the competitors?
    I’ve already written on how to market smarter by using market segmentation. By understanding the above you’ll now be ready to do so.
  5. Look at your current branding, if any, and make sure it fits your identified customer. This is letterheads, logos, tag-lines (what you do in a nutshell) and the messages you want to convey.
  6. Now get those messages to the right customers. Marketing is a creative process and by doing some brainstorming with colleagues or even friends you may be able to think of many ways of doing so, here are some:
  • Team up with other businesses / organisations by offering their customers special deals.
  • Have you got a good web site? Do you sell on-line? Even if yours is not a product that can be sold on-line, ensure your web site shows you at your best, is found for your important keywords and has good marketing messages plus contact details.
  • Write a blog, put helpful videos on YouTube, become known as an expert, speak at suitable events, all the time getting your brand out there.
  • Engage your current customers. Seek, reward and use feedback. Start a loyalty club. Ask to be recommended. Get existing customers to return.
  • Use advertising wisely. This is where knowing your customer pays off. Only advertise where your target customers are looking. The more niche you are the easier it is to be precise, but even if you have a broad offering, think about the market segmentation mentioned earlier.

It is important finally to put together a plan to do the marketing, with dates against actions. If you don’t then the pressures of running the business will always make it something to do tomorrow.

 

Good reasons for the use of Business Angel investment

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 11:30

One of the key bits of information that Business Angels or Investors into a venture will want to see is how the funds are going to be used.

I’ve seen every possible use given, from the perfectly sensible – “product development”, to the unlikely to succeed – “no one will lend to me any more and I need money to pay my rent, then I can get a business going”.

For some time I communicated with a chap who needed funds to train as a commercial pilot, he would then pay back the funds with significant interest out of his subsequent earnings. Sounded risky, relying on his ability to pass the exams and training, but he was a pleasant and determined guy, I hope it worked out for him.

So what ticks the box for Investors? Generally this can be anything that helps to grow the business:

  • Additional market research
  • Product development
  • Manufacturing facilities or equipment
  • Marketing of the product or service
  • Recruitment of staff
  • Working capital

Within this you do need to explain why you feel this will expand the business and some explanations are more attractive than others. Throwing money at marketing a new business that has never been operational is risky, but bringing to market an exciting new product or service from an already established business could be a winner. Taking on more staff to meet a high demand is good, whereas taking on staff to simply start an unproven idea is not so attractive.

Note that Investors are not interested in reducing debts or to pay yourself a high salary.

Surprisingly, many of the business plans and requests for funding that we see have excellent write ups of the opportunity, but completely miss out describing how the Investment will be used. Not only should that be very clear, but it should be part of the financial spreadsheets, showing when tranches of investment come in to balance the operational costs.

If it isn’t clear how the investment will be used in your proposal, but you have been fortunate in securing a meeting with an Investor, be prepared – they will ask!

 

 

Business Partner pitfalls and how to avoid!

Monday, February 15, 2016 10:45

Business Partners TalkingHaving a Business Partner can be a great benefit. They bring additional skills and resources, you also have someone to bounce ideas off and to share the stress & risk.

But in some cases the partnership can go wrong. Occasionally it is because there was not enough due-diligence in checking the background of the potential partner. Simple Companies House checks will reveal past company directorships and you can ask for references.

However most times where a business partnership ends it is because the partners no longer get along. This can result from incompatible personalities, differences in the direction that the business should be taking, or conflicting work styles. In many cases this can be avoided by:

  1. At the beginning of a partnership you should establish that you share the same vision for the business.
  2. Talk about how you and your partners wish to work on the business. Is the way of working compatible? Can you foresee any issues; for example one partner may be happy working late, whereas the other may prefer to finish at regular times. Resentment or guilt can build up from such differences.
  3. Have clearly defined individual responsibilities. Ideally fitting complementary skills.
  4. Ensure that the partners have common values and ethics.
  5. Maintain respect for each other and trust that each is doing their best for the business.
  6. Communicate. Lack of communication can generate misunderstanding, relationship difficulties and concern. Rarely is it possible to over-communicate.

Don’t let the pressures of running day to day operations prevent talking regularly to your partners, not just on immediate activity. Take time each month to review progress against targets and discuss how each is doing, checking if support is needed by one partner. Is the vision and direction still being maintained and shared?

Finally build trust with each other by doing what you say you will do. If you can’t for some reason, let your partner know ahead of the deadline.

 

 

What Type of Business Partnership Should I have?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 11:59
Business Partners

Business Partners

Every enterprise that isn’t a sole trader will have people who are working together as partners to drive that business towards its goals.

This can be in a business that is registered as a legal partnership (see below), fellow directors of a company, or at its most simple just 2 people working together with no legal entity formed. Let’s look at the most common types of partnerships:

 

 

1. A General Partnership:

Where 2 or more people work together sharing responsibilities without a separate legal entity being formed. Profits and liabilities are shared. The least complicated, however it does mean each individual is personally liable for any debts that result from the business.

Although not a legally registered entity, HMRC must be told that you are working as a Partnership with someone and the income is included in your personal self-assessment.

2. Limited Partnership (LP):

At least one, or more, partners must take full responsibility and liability for the business and are known as a General Partner, similar to above. These must also be the only ones that take the management decisions.

Others can join as Limited Partners by putting capital into the business and their liability is limited to the amount they have put in. HMRC must be told and the partnership registered with Companies House. Each partner includes their portion of the profits within their own personal taxation.

This is a popular entity for Venture Capital companies, where there is a management team of General Partners, with other Limited Partners who invest funds into the portfolio.

3. Limited Liability Partnership (LLP):

For most partnership businesses this is a good choice, since it protects the individual partners against the business liabilities. You’ll need at least 2 “designated” members of the partnership who take on the HMRC and Companies House responsibility.

Other partners are termed “ordinary” members of the partnership. Again each is taxed on their income from the partnership as individuals.

Professional services such as solicitors sometimes prefer this legal entity for the flexibility it provides in bringing in new partners and altering profit sharing arrangements.

4. Directors of a Company:

Although not normally thought of as a ‘partnership’ in the legal sense, I include this because many companies will take on a new business partner and make them a director of the company. In this regard it is the most common “business partnership” and has the attraction of being well understood, protects personal liability and can give tax flexibility.

 

If starting a new business you have the opportunity to chose a format that works well for you. So it’s a good idea to check with your accountant on which legal entity is best for your personal circumstances.

 

Make your business scalable – the Investor holy grail

Thursday, November 12, 2015 12:09
Investors ideal business

Investors look for business growth

Firstly let me say what I mean by scalable. That each new customer produces additional revenue for very little addition cost.

Think of software for example, once the costs of developing and producing the first copy are met, each additional sale of the software has minimal costs.  Whereas a service orientated business such as consulting is limited by the number of consultants available and each one has a significant additional cost attached.

 

A scalable business can grow large and produce high profits, every Investors dream.

If you are starting from scratch and have a choice of the type of business to run, think about fixed cost Vs variable costs for that business.  Fixed cost will be that which you need regardless of the number of orders you receive – office or factory rent, insurance and basic salaries for example.

The variable costs are those associated with each order, such as the cost of making that product or supplying the service. It can be materials that you have to buy in for each order, assembling or manufacturing the item, or the cost of hiring and paying the wages of an additional service person to fulfil the order.

There is of course going to be some additional (variable) costs associated even with a scalable business. You’ll need more marketing or sales staff if you are growing and other additional expenses, but it’s not the main cost of each new order.

Tips for a scalable business

  1. Build it into your business model. Make being scalable an essential part of what you do and how you operate. Don’t undertake activity that can’t be scaled even if it seems like additional revenue, if you are not able to scale it, don’t do it.
  2. Decide what your core expertise is and outsource the rest as much as possible, that way you are not restricted on growth. You can also form partnerships with others to allow faster growth.
  3. Automate, automate, automate. Think through the whole sales/supply chain, cheap computing power now days can make business processes for each new order very little additional cost.
  4. Being scalable by itself is not of use unless you can take advantage of it by getting lots of new business. You will need to market yourself as heavily as you can afford. This is where Investor funds can help (if you have a compelling business model and show you know the market). Use indirect marketing to give scalability to your marketing. PR, news items, Facebook/Twitter and brand recognition all have far reaching effects.
  5. Use the web. The most obvious scalable companies are web based social media sites, but even if you are a product orientated business you can get very scalable using the internet. Amazon are a product company, but they outsource their products and sell and fulfil using the web.
  6. If the business is not easily transferred to the web, perhaps because it is a very hands-on service, look at franchising or licensing your product or business model. There are all kinds of businesses successful this way from fast food to grass cutting companies. The example chart on this page is for a Mexican restaurant!

Not every business will want Investment, or to grow large and that is fine, but even those can benefit from looking at the way that scalable businesses make life easier for themselves by automating and using the scalability techniques now available.

 

The difference between a Business Partner and an Investor

Friday, August 21, 2015 16:59
2 Business Partners

2 Business Partners – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard

Company Partners provide access to both Business Partners and Investors so what is the difference and when would you have one but not the other?

Certainly an Investor is a business partner of sorts and can bring many of the benefits of a business partner. A Business Partner could in some circumstances end up investing in the business, so here is my take on the similarities and difference:

 

 

Business Partner

  • Hands-on
  • Brings additional, complementary skills
  • Sometimes useful contacts
  • Will share in the profits of the business
  • Likely to own some share of the business, or be given the opportunity to buy or earn shares
  • More commitment and “skin in the game” than just an employee
  • Primarily brought in for their expertise and ability to add value when working in the company

Investor

  • May be hands-on, but often not.
  •  Skill set frequently is in business planning, finance and strategic direction
  • Normally valuable contacts are available
  • Will share in the profits of the business
  • Injection of funds (to be used to grow the business) in exchange for equity in that business
  • Doesn’t want to run the company, but will expect involvement in major decisions and report on progress
  • Primarily brought in to provide funds, advice and contacts

If you need another pair of hands with essential expertise go for a Business Partner, if you primarily require funds and contacts, go for a Investor. Both will provide a sounding board and be able to provide advice.

 

What is due-diligence and how do I do it?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015 10:53

due-diligenceDue-diligence needs thinking about for Investors when they are about to embark on an investment. However it’s just as applicable for those who are seeking investment to check out a potential Investor. In both cases you should verify that the person, business and facts as stated are correct.

That’s not being mistrustful it’s just being business-like and expected by all parties to a potential funding agreement.

There are several types of due-diligence, not all will necessarily be relevant and this list is not exhaustive, but does illustrate the common areas to consider:

 

Legal

  • Are there IP (Intellectual Property) rights involved?
  • Any pending litigation or disputes?
  • Legal structure and ownership including share holdings and any restrictions
  • Regulation or licences that may be necessary for doing business

Financial

  • Verify financial information provided
  • Obtain bank accounts and statements
  • Examination of accounts and underlying performance of business
  • Details of any property owned by the business, including mortgages

Commercial

  • The market that the business operates within and its market share
  • Customers:  list of major customers. Is the business dependant on just a few customers? Can you talk to some customers?
  • Suppliers: list of major suppliers. Is the business dependant on a few suppliers?
  • Competitors and the unique advantage that this business may have.
  • Assumptions that lie behind the business plan
  • Insurances held
  • Guarantees and terms & conditions of sale that the business gives

 Human Resources

  • Management background check
  • Key personnel staying / losing
  • Pension commitments

IT / Systems

  • Hardware and important software used within the business
  • State of the systems, are they up-to-date, using appropriate technology
  • Compatibility to any existing systems if merging businesses

For Investors, where possible always use professional legal and accounting firms who will have a VERY detailed question check list for carrying out due-diligence. For smaller or even start-up businesses it may be that a simple management check and time taken to understand the market and the advantages of the business is enough. That is for you to decide, but you must make sure you do all necessary to verify people and facts.

Both Investors and Business Owners should be aware that due-diligence takes time and can be detrimental for the business when the owner is distracted from normal operating duties by needing to find all the due-diligence documentation required and in answering the questions raised, but it is an essential part of selling or getting investment.

 

Ignoring the future – Should business owners have pensions?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 11:58
Posted in category Running a business

Saving for retirementI talk to a lot of owners of businesses each year who are putting all their time, energy and money into growing their business and have no plans to use any of that hard fought cash to pay into a pension.

Does it matter? Most recognise that trusting the government to provide for you in your old age is pointless, but most also believe that they will be all right when the time comes.

Because:

  1. Many consider that the business itself will be the pension. By either continuing to earn revenues from it well into retirement, or selling the business at the time to raise funds for a pension.
  2. Some say they will pay into a pension when the business is more established and can afford it.
  3. Others believe the time for retirement is so far away that it’s not worth worrying about at this stage.

While I can agree with the financial pressures on a growing business could justify points 1 or 2, those who refuse to think further ahead could rue the missed opportunity to have a game plan for when they get older.

Although I’ve not seen the statistics for business owners, it is thought that half of all self-employed men and two-thirds of self-employed women have no pension arrangements. That is a bit scary.

 

What your business premises say about you

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 9:43
Harley-Davidson startup in shed

Original Harley Davidson Headquarters

Unless you are running a business that must have a high street store, many Start-ups begin in a bedroom or garage and as they grow expand into larger more business specific accommodation.

However can you really engage with customers if you are working from home?

It depends on the type of business, much can be done on-line, by telephone and if you need to meet up face to face, there are hotel lobbies. These can be extremely helpful to a young business and are used to business meetings taking place, with coffee and tea easily available.

Yet there is a feeling that being taken seriously requires “real” offices. Certainly there is a hierarchy of premises that come with a business’ success.  When I worked for various large computer companies they grew from small beginnings to marble stair-cased headquarters:

How businesses grow

Is it absolutely needed to take on the expense of a rented office when you are just starting out, or are still relatively small? No, sometimes money can be used better to grow the business and some home businesses may never need a separate office.

But there’s the rub, you get categorised as a small, perhaps part-time business.

Taking the plunge as a young business in moving into dedicated office space can have significant advantages, instantly a foot-up on image perception, room for assistants/colleagues to work with you, a place to invite customers or business partners and an ability to concentrate on only work while there.

We all make value judgements every day and when thinking about joining, working with or buying from a business it is natural to look at the trappings of success that surround that business.

Ideally, get your own dedicated office space as soon as possible, but only you can judge when the time is right, or if it is appropriate to expand into more lavish surroundings.

 

Don’t make this mistake in your first conversation with a potential business partner or Investor

Sunday, March 1, 2015 10:52

Investor listeningYou don’t know when you might bump into or be talking to a useful contact, business partner or even potential Investor. This first conversation is your best chance to impress and could determine whether you get a second more detailed conversation or meeting.

So grab the chance to explain your business, or idea, in a way that is clear and compelling.

Sounds easy, yet this is where otherwise excellent entrepreneurs make a big mistake. They are not prepared and simply ramble on in every direction. Think about it, can you tell me about your concept in a way that I will really understand and allow me to be excited about joining you as a business partner or Investor?

Some entrepreneurs are very good at this and you may be one of them, but the majority of people I talk to make a terrible hash of it. When they finish I am none the wiser and couldn’t honestly recommend them to the business partners and Investors I meet.

You’ve heard of the now clichéd Elevator Pitch where you describe your business in the time it takes to travel up in an elevator to a prospective customer/Investor. Well that concept came about because it was a useful way of visualising what was needed. So don’t be too quick in dismissing it as old hat.

Here are my top tips for engaging interest in your business when you first talk to a potential business partner or Investor. This is not an investment pitch or a presentation, but simply an opportunity for a quick conversation with a potential ally in growing your business.

1. Think about the situation and how much detail you need to go into. Is it a chance encounter with someone at an event, or a telephone call with a business angel where you have time to prepare?

2. Don’t start spouting words at machine gun pace, never giving pause for questions, or even noticing that you’re on entirely the wrong track of what was asked. Use your empathy and listen. Use the feedback you are getting, visually or by asking “is that what you meant”, “does that make sense” (if on the telephone).

3. Prepare an explanation of your business. Write it down and then practice saying it out loud. Writing the explanation down forces you to think about it and ensures it flows logically. After you have talked to someone about your business, reflect on how that went and make adjustments. You’d be surprised how many people don’t.

4. Have 2 versions – one that may take just 30 seconds which gives the whole concept in a nutshell and a second version that allows a bit more detail taking a few minutes.

5. This is what potential business partners and Investors want to hear:

  • Who you are, your experience and your knowledge relevant to making the business a success.
  • The market area that you are in and the size & potential of that market.
  • What your company/business/project/idea does. Clearly – so that there is no misunderstanding or confusion. This needs trying out on people who have never heard of your activity.
  • What problem does your business solve for clients/customers? What advantage does it give them? What desire or aspiration does it allow?
  • What is your uniqueness, how do you compare to your competition?

The listener should now have a initial understanding of you, your business potential and the market, if it is appropriate you should also add what you are looking for in order to grow that business. A Partner, a Mentor, an Investor, contacts, sales help or whichever you need.

Remember, experienced business people and especially Investors have heard it all before, don’t boast, don’t over-hype, be professional and have a couple statistics in mind to throw in that supports your claims – it will impress.

With good planning and thought you can make a favourable impression with whoever you meet – you never know where it may lead.