Tag Archives: Marketing

What Businesses can do while isolated

what businesses can doCoronavirus has impacted businesses in a way that was unthinkable just weeks ago. No business will have planned for this and the smaller ones will be more vulnerable.

I believe though that when we get through this crisis it will be those that have used this period of forced isolation and closure to prepared themselves that will rise fastest and even make gains on competition that have not been proactive.

What you can do:

Secure the business:

  1. Keep safe and don’t be tempted to find ways to get around isolating, Sports Direct have already suffered public condemnation for needlessly trying to stay open.
  2. Ensure any workers are reassured and supported.
  3. Contact your customers to explain your position and what you are doing to support them at this time.
  4. Suspend all costs that it is possible to do so and look carefully at cash-flow for the next few months. Talk to your bank about how they can help you.
  5. The government are bringing in measures seemingly every day that may assist small businesses and hopefully sole traders. Get on top of what assistance you are able to claim. If you have an Accountant, now is the time for them to earn their fee, talk to them.

Plan for the future:

  1. If you could provide goods or services on-line, but haven’t yet explored that option – start looking. Those that already do, see how it can be expanded or made better.
  2. Use this chance to re-examine your business, think about your goals and how you will put in place actions to reach them. Dare I say, now you have time, do a Business Plan.
  3. Some restrictions are likely to be in place for a while, how can your business best operate once the immediate lock-down is lifted.
  4. Consider how the public mind-set may be altered over the next year and find ways of communicating in future marketing a reassurance of working practices and care for your customers. Good PR can come from your good intentions, helping both you and your customers. It’s not cynical, it’s understanding what now is important to potential customers.
  5. Keep positive. Every crisis eventually passes, position yourself for growth when it does.

 

 

Finding business opportunities from market changes

Opportunity from market changeBusinesses are often wary of change. It creates uncertainty and development projects get stalled. Instead of seeing change as an opportunity, business leaders start to plan for worse case scenarios that may result from the change.

The businesses adversely affected are normally large organisations with a vested interest in the status quo, however for smaller more flexible businesses and certainly start-ups, these market changes can be a fantastic opportunity to grow.

There is always change, in reality nothing stays still, as the bones of once giant corporations will testify. In the past many have been caught out by technological or fashion trends, but now we also have global changes such as Brexit, migration and the fall out of Mr. Trump’s policies that will add to the melee.

So how do we go about spotting those changes that are likely to produce great opportunities?

1. One way is using Brainstorming -  Here are a few guidelines that should be useful, you can amend these as you wish, but it gives the method:

  • Basic technique – Using colleagues, or friends (5 to 12 is ideal, but if you are a one man start-up finding even just a couple of friends to help will get you going), jot down thoughts on a flipchart or post-it pad, no idea is initially too crazy and no one should be dominant.
  • However give it structure (see below), address a specific question and having a team leader will facilitate the process.
  • Firstly ask what changes are going on in the world / your market place
  • Have your brainstorming session on that question and then collate the results into groups that comprise similar changes
  • Looking at those groups of changes, rank the groups in order of possible interest, taking into account your market, business and ability/expertise to address
  • Now starting with the first change have a brainstorming session on the question “what will be the consequence or impact of that change to people, or the market”
  • Again collate and rank the results
  • Then ask the question “What opportunities will there be to these consequences of the change”

You will see that we are identifying changes and then delving deeper into the impact of change to discover opportunities that we can address.

2. You can also look at recent entries to your market, are these businesses addressing new opportunities that have arisen from change that you can expand on, or that may inspire you to think of similar opportunities.

3. Another way is to think about those established companies that are going through tough times – why – what is taking their custom?

In all of the identified changes, think about the basic strengths of your own business (or yourself if an entrepreneur looking for a potential business). What is your core knowledge / expertise? How can that be applied to creating an opportunity from the changes?

In every change there are going to be people that spot the opportunities and make a lot of money, think of when financial regulation of the stock market changed in London and the fortunes that were made, or how Russian entrepreneurs embraced new market conditions after communism fell.

You can be one of the people that do very well out of the changes happening today, but only if you take the time to spot the opportunities and then most importantly – act on it.

The Future of Retail: Your 5-Step Ecommerce Start-Up Plan

ecommerce-240So you’ve made the decision to launch an ecommerce business? Congratulations – you’ve chosen a great path for your new business.

But like every new venture, if you want to give yourself the greatest chance of success, you’re going to need a solid plan. Everything from the style and tone of your content, to your web design and even the products you sell will need to be carefully considered and worked into an overarching business strategy.

This might sound daunting, but if you know what you want to accomplish, then the planning phase will probably be easier than you expect. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the first five steps towards launching a successful online store, so you can be sure to get your ecommerce business off to a positive start.

Don’t forget to also read these top start-up tips to help propel you into business success in 2018.

1. Find That Niche

You may already have a product or service in mind for your ecommerce business. However, with so many online stores vying for the top spot in search results, you need to choose your niche carefully. To do this, you will need to find something that your business can excel at, and that sets it apart from the competition.

The trick to this is to find something for which there is demand, but not too much competition. A good place to start your search is Google Keyword Planner, as this will enable you to see how popular a particular search is, as well as the potential competition for that keyword or phrase.

Search isn’t the only place to look though – mine for data on forums like reddit and Quora, and scour social media for relevant posts and updates.

Once you have figured out your niche, you’re ready to construct the rest of your marketing strategy. Remember, having a niche does not mean you can’t sell or promote anything else; it simply serves as the focus for your business, and the main draw for your customers.

2. Set Your Budget

Having a clearly-defined budget is essential if you want the launch of your ecommerce store to go smoothly.

●    List your confirmed funding sources, and reach out to potential investors. Don’t rely on any funding source that isn’t definite.
●    Plan for setbacks. Figure out the cost of remedying potential problems, and budget accordingly. Tying up a portion of your capital in a recovery plan is far better than falling short in an emergency.
●    Take calculated risks. No business venture is a guaranteed success. However, you can greatly increase the security of your investments by weighing up the risks against the likely ROI.
●    Don’t cut corners. Careful budgeting means you can make savings and spend more efficiently as a result of planning and forethought. But remember that a greater initial outlay can sometimes mean lower long-term costs. Always consider your future costs when weighing up a purchase. Is it scalable? Is it future-proof? How much will it cost to maintain?

Knowing exactly what you have to work with is extremely useful when constructing your business plan and content schedule. Even matters such as selecting your ecommerce platform are heavily dependent on your budget, as different platforms and packages come with varying costs.

Keep in mind that your budget can always be adjusted if you secure additional funding. However, it is far better to base your plan on funds that you have confirmed, than to have to start from scratch if a planned source falls through.

3. Scope Out the Competition

Now you have the bare bones of your business, you need to bring yourself up to speed with the competition. Visit their websites, explore their target keywords, and consider signing up to their mailing lists.

These insights will help you to understand the sort of things customers in your industry have available to them. This enables you to create something that is new and different, while still catering to the same needs. It is important not to copy your competitors, as not only will you fail to stand out, but you will also have a much harder time ranking in searches.

While checking out your competitors, you may even find some that you could collaborate with. Perhaps you fall within the same industry, but are targeting different, yet complementary niches. This could be a great opportunity for guest posting in their blogs, or setting up a mutually beneficial partnership.

Another way to scope out the competition is to find similar websites that are listed for sale and delve into their sales figures and results. It will give you a good idea of what’s been working (and not working) for other retailers, and may alert you to a niche that’s become oversaturated. You may even find the perfect store and domain name already built – ready for a savvy buyer like you to snap up!

4. Design For Your Audience

Once you know who your audience is, you can decide on your marketing message, the aesthetic of your store, and even the social channels you will focus on. While it is important that your brand’s image reflects your aspirations for your business, it is also essential that you keep the needs of your audience in mind at all times.

Of course, it can be hard to define exactly what your audience will like the most, so this step can include quite a bit of trial and error. Split-testing is particularly helpful here, as it enables you to make complex design decisions, while gaining an insight into the preferences of your customers. This can be used for everything from your landing pages, to ads on social media, or even targeted promotions.

Depending on your chosen platform for your store, you may have access to a range of analytical insights based on the interactions of your customers with your website. This data will be invaluable for the growth and evolution of your business, as you will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing strategy, and optimise your approach accordingly.

5. Plan Your Website

The final stage of setting up your ecommerce store will be creating the store itself. A great option for many budding entrepreneurs is to use an ecommerce CMS. Platforms such as Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce offer a range of functionalities, and varying levels of customisation.

You should base your choice on your budget, as well as your specific aspirations for your business. Shopify, for example, has an app store with over 1000 applications to choose from to help you customise your store. Others, such as Symphony Commerce offer pay-as-you-go pricing structures, which can be fantastic for a fast-growing business with limited startup capital.

Before settling on a platform, make sure it has all the features you require, and that you are comfortable working with it. Don’t be afraid to contact support services for your preferred platforms if you have in-depth questions about their functionality. It is far better to make an informed decision than simply hope for the best.

Of course, you do not have to rely on any of these platforms. If you are a confident web designer, or you have a team in place to handle this for you, then the greatest flexibility can come from setting up your store from scratch. Keep in mind that there are important features that you will need to include, such as a secure payment system, and a legally compliant means of collecting and processing customer data.

Once you’ve achieved all that, you’re well on your way to ecommerce success. Of course, the work has only just begun, so don’t relax just yet. To ensure that you maintain this success, and give your business the opportunity to grow, you will need to keep improving on your work so far.

Start with your onsite analytics, to gain insights into how well your content performs, and how your customers interact with your website. From this you can learn which products are your most popular, and which might need a little more promotion. You can also see who makes up your audience, which will ultimately help you to make better decisions about future marketing campaigns.

The more you learn about your customers, the better you can cater to their needs. And, of course, happy customers are more likely to buy more, recommend your store to others, and come back to make purchases in the future.

 

Victoria-Greene-100Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how entrepreneurs can develop their businesses. She is passionate about using her experience to help fellow entrepreneurs do better.

Once you have a business idea how quickly should you start it?

Business ideas need actionBusiness ideas are like freshly buttered warm toast, they look wonderful. But if put to one side for long enough they get cold, stale and uninviting.

The first surge of excitement at discovering an opportunity needs to then have action to build a momentum, which in turn drives further action.

If the initial process of research and getting products or services to market takes too long, it may never happen.

There is the real chance also that if the idea is topical and takes advantage of events or trends that are happening right now, others will go ahead and do it while you are dithering.

If you have a good business idea, check out that it is commercially viable and do it. Right now.

 

Small business marketing ideas

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.

 

What your business premises say about you

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

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.

 

Sales and Marketing Plans

 Marketing PlanWhether you’re writing a business plan, or simply want to make sure that your business has customers, you are going to need a sales plan and a marketing plan.

Yes need. Not optional, not nice to have – need.

First let’s get over the instinctive dread of the word plan. It doesn’t have to mean a formal document, but it does need to be written down. Writing forces you to think and you can’t get away with the woolly thoughts that are there when this is only in your head.

Notice also that I separated the two. People use the phrase sales & marketing, but they are two complementary areas of your business activity. You can write them separately or joined together in one overall plan.

When I talk to entrepreneurs they can chat for hours about the features of their product, but ask how they will sell it, or how people will find out about it and a there is a vague response of “oh that’s what I need money for, to advertise and stuff”.

It’s far more interesting to think about the product or service than about the practicalities of how you will sell them. Until the business fails because you don’t have customers. Or you don’t attract investment.

So what is in a sales and a marketing plan? Which do you do first?

Start with the marketing plan, because part of that is defining who and where your target market is. You’ll need to know that in order to sell to them. I wrote an article about this: How-to-Market-Smarter

The contents and emphasis will vary depending on the type of business, it’s complexity and of course the market it operates in, but in general a marketing plan will have:

  • A description of the market you are operating within, think about the geography and demographics. You can include how the economy affects this market. A cut-rate supermarket does better in a difficult economy for instance.
  • Who are your competitors, their pros and cons. What is your strategy for competing against them?
  • Who you are selling to, your ideal customer. As mentioned in my article above, it should be broken down into segments.
  • Branding, values, colours, logo – the message you want to communicate. Cheap and functional or premium and exclusive, this is where you decide what people think when they hear your company’s name.
  • Products and services with pricing strategy – no need here to go into depth on every product functionality. Rather the strategy of what type of products and services.
  • Lead generation – this includes PR, advertising, web sites, referrals, direct mail, attending exhibitions, giving local talks, networking…  Be specific, don’t just say for instance you will advertise, give a list of publications and the dates you’ll appear.
  • Marketing costs – put together a spreadsheet showing the costs of each of these marketing activities.

Once the marketing activity is generating leads, how will you turn those into sales? This is the sales plan.

  • Sales strategy – do you have your own sales force, will you have distributors, is your business web based only or perhaps a high street shop.
  • Sales process – how do you qualify the leads generated, how do you engage with them, key sales messages,
  • Service experience – how will you later follow them up, retaining customers and encouraging them to buy again.
  •  Sales forecast – compile a spreadsheet by month for the year (plus a year 2 and year 3 total if doing a business plan for investment). Broken down by product or service category.   Sometimes it’s hard to forecast for a new business but you must make a stab. Note down your assumptions of why you forecast those numbers, so when it proves wrong you know why and can adjust it.

It takes time and we are all busy, but there is no alternative, you can’t run a successful business without a sales plan or a marketing plan.

 

Use technology in your business or fail

technology in businessIn a previous work life, I used to give presentations on technology and as a way of lightening the tone of what could be a heavy session, I showed a cartoon. The caption read “In a moment of inspiration Dave the repairman connected the air-conditioner to the Internet”.

Now, what’s funny about that you may ask? These days everything from fridges to toasters (yes you can buy one) get the Internet treatment.

Well, at that time the only device connected to the Internet was a computer and then not every computer. The workhorse of computing was called a mini-computer and it looked exactly like an air conditioning unit. Connecting it to the Internet would be impossible; we used to laugh at the absurdity of the cartoon.

How times have changed. I’m older now and the latest trends in technology don’t automatically include me. I have to consciously make myself aware of what is happening and how that impacts what can be produced as a product, offered as a service, or affect the way a business operates.

Unless designing an iPhone app, or working on a new type of web site, many entrepreneurs that I talk to have not included technology in their plans for the business.

That would be a mistake, because undoubtedly your competitors will have built-in the latest technology and it may be the edge that differentiates your business from the others.

5 ways technology can give you an advantage:

  1. Build it into your sales plan. Either by selling on your own web site (eCommerce), or using Amazon or Ebay  who will help you set up a shop within their sites.
  2. Have a plan of using technology to help your marketing and PR. This is increasingly important. You can advertise using Google Ads, place “how to do” videos on YouTube and use social media web sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in.
  3. Buy a web domain name that describes your activity. It depends on your type of business but whilst “Johnston International” sounds good you’ll only be found on search engines if someone types that name, however have a web site called “handbags.com” or “cookbooks.co.uk” and you’ll be found more often.
  4. Once you have your own domain name use it to have your own email address. There is nothing less professional than using hotmail or gmail as your email address for a business, it screams small-time amateur.
  5. Automate your business processes as much as possible, all the way down the supply chain, from how you order goods or services yourself, to despatch of goods and customer service. Use modern accountancy packages. Communicate with your customers by email, again automated where practical. This is an area that will save you money, speed processes up and free your time.

Don’t use excuses such as I’m too old for all this, I’m more of a people person, I don’t understand and in any case I’m too busy. Your competitors will be eating your lunch.

 

 

Business Plans are worthless and a con

Simple business planIn talking to entrepreneurs the subject of business plans often comes up. While some have excellent plans, others haven’t and feel that business plans are a complete waste of time and just there to line the pockets of consultants.

I think the issue is that the phrase “business plan” has become over used and lost its meaning, conjuring up complicated and costly documents that have no real practical help. Just another form that has to be filled in.

However if you were to ask whether someone has a plan for their business, not a “business plan”, but simply do they have a plan for their business, then most will say yes of course.

Few would imply that they have no idea of what their business is selling, the market it is in and what its aspirations were, even if it’s not written down but just in their heads.

When communicating to potential Investors or applying for a loan however they will want it written down in order to decide whether it is something they are interested in and to filter all the many approaches they receive.

They can’t see or talk to everyone, they need to look at something to decide if the opportunity is in a suitable market area and has sufficient quality that they will then invest time in following up.

That has lead to the structure that we now call a Business Plan. But if you are not applying for funding is there any point in writing down the plan for your business?

Well yes. Because the discipline of having to write down your thoughts for the business is a great way to force you to put in place actions and ideas that will develop your business.

While it’s all in your head it is easy to be fooled that you have this grand plan. Start writing it down and get some detail into the woolly thoughts that you have.

If it is not for funding but only for you, it can be in any format and as long or short as you wish. An action list that goes beyond a few months is a business plan.

So is planning your business worthless? If applying for funding is it unreasonable for the potential Investor to ask for information about the business and its plans in writing so they can read it?

 

Other resources:
Writing business plans for business angels

Marketing plans