Tag Archives: Sales

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.

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.

 

5 ways to be a success this year

5 actions for business success1. Work on your brand and image.

Success breeds success and perception is reality. The reason these truisms exist is that they are, well…. true.

What do people think when you communicate with them? Do they want to be a part (either as a customer or an Investor) of your successful and dynamic business? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet, but do all you can to give that image to people.

Branding is often just thought of as logos and letter-heads, a catchy tag-line and corporate colours. It’s easy to get bogged down in working on these and miss a couple quicker paybacks of having your own company email address (it’s not professional for a business to be using gmail/Hotmail) and a simple but high quality business card (the cheap ones are not worth having).

Most businesses now have a website, they’re inexpensive to produce and can instantly be a way of conveying your brand and image, so think about having one well designed. A local web designer can do a far better job than the free sites that come with purchasing a domain name.

For established companies, rethink how you are perceived. Ask customers and importantly potential customers what they think of when your name is mentioned. What do they like, what would they change? Get a pair of fresh eyes to look at you.

2. Give better customer service than your competitors.

Customer Service is now being seen as the number one differentiator in this era of everyone having very competitive pricing.

Good customer service needs to be built into the image of your company; it is a positive brand characteristic and will pay back with repeat business and recommendations.

It also needs to be built into the fabric of your business, from the attitude of yourself and your staff, to the systems that you put in place to support it.

Think of how John Lewis continues to do well, while others fail. Amazon has a great customer service for an on-line company. They’ve made good service a part of who they are.

3. Get help from your peers.

There are people who have already overcome the same problems you have, or may have contacts that you need, or insights into what works and what doesn’t. They can brainstorm ideas and help with strategies.

Where do you find them and isn’t it worrying to give potential competitors information on your business?

This is where you have to choose the make-up of your group wisely; there will be entrepreneurs and businesses that are not competitors but have the same issues as yourself. You can also sign an agreement where you keep each other’s information confidential.

As to where; Mastermind groups (look it up on Google), Network events, local Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Federation, and even banks run such activities for clients. There are also commercially run groups, often catering for executive level participants which provide well organised meetings and coaching, although they do tend to charge quite high membership fees. You could also set up your own group. If you do so, lay out some agreed upon rules.

4. 90% of success is turning up.

Do it. Yes stop prevaricating and do it. Dreaming of starting a business? Thinking that you should look at your costs? Wondering if you should do more PR or marketing? Just do it.

“I have never met the person who went out to do what they really dreamed of, and then regretted it, regardless of whether they later succeeded or failed.
“But I have met many people in later life who wished they had taken more risks to follow their dreams” – Simon Woodruffe (Yo! Sushi)

General George S. Patton: “a good plan violently executed now will be better than a perfect plan next week.”

5. Employ the best people that you can find.

This has constantly been the most given advice when successful entrepreneurs have been asked about lessons learnt.

Now if you are the sole owner of a young business, struggling to cope and having to do everything yourself, you may think that any warm body would be a plus.

However, even then it’s worth getting the best that you can afford at the time, which means investing some time in your choice.

“When picking your team, work with people you like, and give them massive respect.” – Simon Woodruffe. But I would be careful taking on friends, they may not be the best choice for skills and what will happen if goes wrong.

There are of course many more things that you can do to make this the year when your business takes off, but it’s better to focus on a few actions and make them happen, than a lot of possibilities that never get done.

 

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.

 

 

Joining the digital age – advice for bringing your business online

Shopping onlineThe way people shop has changed rapidly over the last few years. On-line shopping is booming and consumers are using the internet to research and shop for products more than ever before. But despite this massive shift in how consumers behave, many small retail businesses resist the move towards ecommerce.

This happens for a variety of reasons – for many people taking their business on-line means entering a realm they feel they know nothing about. People are afraid of the costs involved and that they won’t have the expertise to make it work. However, while traditional shops put off the challenge of learning about ecommerce, new SMEs are setting up on-line and taking a significant chunk of market share from long established businesses that used to dominate in their market.

If you own a small or independent retail business and you’ve not made the move online, this piece aims to demystify the process and give you the knowledge you need to feel confident and, hopefully, excited about joining the internet revolution.

Why take your business on-line?

If you are only operating off-line right now, chances are you are missing out on a lot of potential sales and you may even have lost previously loyal customers to competitors in the on-line sphere. Although it may seem daunting, getting your head around moving on-line could be the difference between your business surviving in the long run or gradually becoming unsustainable.

Once you learn the ropes of ecommerce some of the benefits you’ll enjoy include more sales, the ability to serve customers from all over the world, the capacity to engage more regularly with customers and reach a much wider pool of consumers, and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve stayed at the forefront of the industry where you have built up your expertise.

What do you need to make an on-line business successful?

At its simplest, getting set up in ecommerce requires a website with a shop, the ability to store stock and post it securely to customers, and a good system to stay on top of orders and manage on-line customer service.

If you’ve been running a business off-line for some time you’ll be well aware of the importance of customer service. When you take the business on-line all the same principles apply – great customer service results in loyal customers. This means replying to emails or social media queries quickly, being reliable, offering secure payment and ensuring that customers receive their purchases in great condition and in the time frame you have promised.

One way to organise the running of an on-line business is to use a simple project management system like Trello. You can use this system to keep track of stock, orders and create to do lists.

Setting up a website is also much easier than you might think. There are lots of great services which allow you to build a website without any knowledge of coding. Generally you’ll pay a small fee each month which will allow you to host your website and run a shop from it with genuine ease. Examples include Wix and Big Cartel.

If you’d prefer, you can hire an expert to build a website from scratch for you. If you are going to do this, remember these two tips – choose someone who comes highly recommended to ensure that you’ll get exactly what you need from them, and make sure that you get a content management system (CMS) that will allow you to edit and update the website yourself once it’s finished. If you don’t have a good CMS you’ll have to pay the web developer every time you need to make a change on-site. That is a waste of money when you could be maintaining the website yourself very easily.

If you are having a website built from scratch you will still need to find a suitable payment solution for the shop. Choose a well-known provider such as Barclaycard who offer secure and reliable options for accepting payments which you can read about here.

Take it one step at a time

When you decide to take the plunge and open an online shop, set yourself a realistic time frame to get yourself up and running. Start by getting the website built and regularly updated before you add the shop. Don’t start taking orders until you know you can manage on-line sales in a timely and reliable way. The last thing you want is to mess up your first few orders and damage your reputation on-line.

Once you have the shop operational you can start working on marketing your online business through suitable channels including social media, SEO, paid search and display adverts.

Moving into ecommerce is an important step to keep up with the modern retail landscape, and although it may seem challenging it can be extremely rewarding and very worthwhile. Take as much advice as possible and do plenty of research about what your competitors are already doing on-line so you can learn from their mistakes and successes.

 

How to find more customers – the top 5

How to find customers1. Get free PR

If there was an unlimited amount of money to spend, advertising would be easy, but normally there isn’t. So what can you do? Well this is where free PR comes in. PR is of course short for Public Relations and was the remit of large corporations, but has now become a valuable tool for gaining public recognition of your business and products as well as building your image.

In many ways it’s the best form of advertising, because it doesn’t use sales techniques that customers are suspicious of, instead it promotes a positive message about your business that can develop customer loyalty and encourage new customers to find out more about your services or products.

You can hire a PR company to do all this for you, but that’s not cheap, so why not do it yourself. The media have to fill their papers and their broadcasts with content every day. The key is to make it interesting and have a human interest angle, not just the history of your company or latest product.

For our full members we have a comprehensive write-up on getting free PR (btw if you are a full member you also get access to business partners, mentors and business angels investors) – How to get free PR

2. Make marketing work

Marketing is the overall term for PR, advertising, branding, pricing and identifying the products that your customers want. It therefore looks at the big picture. Each business should have a marketing plan, which pulls all this together and makes sure that you have not missed an important step that will grow your business.

The main key though in making marketing work is to segment your market into bite size pieces. That way you can get your messages tailored exactly right for your potential customer. I wrote a blog on that which may help – How to market smarter

If you’re thinking of writing a marketing plan for your business, you may be interested in a deal we put together with Palo Alto to get a free copy of Marketing Plan Pro software with each copy of Business Plan Pro bought from them, you can see more here – Sales and marketing plan

3. Using a web site to generate new business

Nearly every business has a web site nowadays and if you haven’t you really must get one, it isn’t expensive and I can’t think of any business that can do without it. The first thing will be finding a domain name that meets your business needs.

Ideally the domain name would contain the key words that people will search to find your product or service, such as “bestsheds” or “berkshireaccountants”. It doesn’t have to be your company name.

Using your company name is also okay and allows you to keep your products and services unrestricted by the web site name, but the site will be harder to find on search engines for your products, so you will need to do more work on its visibility. If someone already knows your business name it will come up, but you want to be found by people who don’t know you and are searching for what you can provide.

There are plenty of very inexpensive web site packages around. Choose one that allows you to easily make changes to it, because the worst thing is seeing a site that hasn’t been updated for 2 years. Have several new items, testimonials or articles that show that it is up-to-date.

If possible get a local web designer to produce the site, again not too expensive an option. Pick one whose work is attractive to you. He can help you optimise it so it can be found on search engines like Google.

Don’t get sucked in though by all those emails from companies wanting to provide SEO (search engine optimisation). If you can afford it pick a well trusted digital marketing business, but it won’t be cheap. You can do it yourself, have a look at Perfecting a business web site .

4. Don’t use a free email address

Using gmail, hotmail or any of the free email addresses looks amateur if you are running a business. It’s okay for private use, but when you are trying to show that your business is worth buying from or investing in, then it looks shoddy.

If you already have a domain name, adding email on to it is cheap. If you haven’t a domain name for your business, get one. Then use that for email.

Put your name, contact details and a sentence saying what your business does at the bottom of your mails (as a “signature”).

5. Communicate and Network

If you have a website, offer a free incentive (such as a downloadable useful information sheet) and keep in touch with those people (make sure they have ticked a box to allow you to keep in touch).

Regularly contact existing and old customers, with special deals or just helpful information. It’s easier & cheaper than finding brand new customers.

Not everyone is comfortable with the concept of networking. It’s been over used as a term, but has been around for hundreds of years. It needn’t be hard or daunting. Just as computers talk to one another over a network and spread messages, so can us humans. The idea is that your message will pass from one person to another. A network should be more than just a list of people you talk to. It should work for you.

Thought of that way, find rememberable messages and sound-bites that you can give people you meet about your business that may cause them to mention it to someone else. On Company Partners for instance, I talk about it being like a “dating site”.

Depending on your industry and market, there will be opportunities to pass these messages on to either customers themselves, or to people who meet and influence your customers. There are thousands of organised events, choose one that best fits your market and give it a go.

Networking can also find you partners to collaborate with and ideas to try.

The old adage of invent a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door, doesn’t work any more. You’ve got to tell the world about your mousetrap and show them how to get to your door.

 

Get more customers – provide a better service than your competitors

customer serviceAfter writing the title of this piece I thought what more can I say? That’s it isn’t it? Provide a better service than your competitors and you will win business.

But maybe it’s worth thinking about this a bit deeper. No one actually sets out to deliberately provide a bad service and does it really matter that much?

Increasingly the difference between me choosing one supplier or another is their service. In today’s marketplace most prices are competitive. I can also easily compare prices on-line and I’m getting pretty good at negotiating discounts as well.

But you have to live with the product you buy a long time and if it’s a service you are buying, such as a telephone line, broadband ISP, or consultancy; the ease and quality of service can make your life pleasurable or absolute hell.

Two companies I enjoy dealing with are Amazon and John Lewis. I’ve never had any trouble returning goods with these companies and they have speedy delivery, so I continue to go back to them – even if sometimes their price is higher.

On the other hand who hasn’t been kept waiting ages on a telephone line while trying to get technical support from your Internet Service Provider?

Or had to deal with a call centre where you get passed from one automated menu to another, before talking to someone who clearly didn’t want to be there talking to you.

Large businesses can fall into this trap, because someone has done an efficiency study and calculated that the odd drop-out of customer is compensated by the lower cost of delivering service. Many large faceless organisations, such as Utility companies, and big corporations, just see such service as normal. The stock answer is “there are always complaining customers, but when you think that we deal with millions of people a year the number of complaints are very small”. Does that reassure you?

Smaller businesses may just have lost sight of the importance of service. Running around fire-fighting issues, having to do everything yourself, it can be hard to provide the level of service that you would like to. Whist understandable, it’s a road to disaster. Reputation is hard won and easily lost.

So what should you do?

  • Build ease of doing business, friendliness and going beyond the call of duty into your sales strategy and branding.
  • Design your systems for ease of customer interaction; IT systems, telephone handling, paperwork, bills, quotes – anything the customer has to deal with.
  • Own the problem. If a customer contacts someone at your company with an issue, that person should own the problem – even if the customer has rung the wrong department.
  • Make speedy delivery, speedy response, speedy interaction with your company an important factor in how your company operates. Customers are all busy people, the issue that they contacted you about is important to them and so they are impressed when you reply to an email or query within an hour, but not after days of waiting.
  • Forget the clichés “the customer is king”, “the customer is always right”, these are meaningless and are a fob to the whole concept, your staff will not respond to such trite. Instead make sure that your staff knows that how the customer perceives you is key to their success and the company’s business.
  • Get an attitude in place that one of the things which your company and the staff are proud of is the way they are viewed by customers, suppliers and others as being friendly and efficient.
  • Give staff the respect and trust to make judgement calls on what is needed to “do the right thing” for the customer, rather than “more than my jobs worth” to do anything out of the ordinary.
  • Once you have the right procedures in place and have built excellence of service into the core of the business, capitalise on it by using good testimonials in your literature and web site.

One of the reasons I like using Amazon is that apart from their service, I can read reviews of products and companies before buying. Checking reviews on-line is now an important shopping behaviour, so encourage your customers to leave good reviews anywhere they can. There are many opportunities to do so on-line, look for these and build your reputation.

I’ve worked in many corporations that have put measurements in place for customer satisfaction and even made that as part of the pay mechanism, but such measurements can always be massaged. None have worked as well as in companies where the ethos and self-image is all about quality.

Start with your own and your staffs perception of your brand as being one of excellence, ensure the systems allow you to deliver that quality and then customers will go out of their way to choose you rather than your competitors.

Why SEO means sales for your business website

Search Engine OptimisationAlmost all businesses now days have to have a web site. Even if you don’t sell over the web, your customers will expect to be able to find you on it.

If they know your name and it’s fairly unique then you are likely to be found. That’s good, you can give your customers contact details, support information and reassure them that you have a web presence.

But what if you not only want to be found by people that know you, but also by new customers? Then you have to be found by the type of product or service that you sell. These in web terms are keywords.

Given that all of your competitors also want to be found for those terms, it’s not easy to get to the first page of Google (hardly anyone looks beyond the first page).

If, like me, you get continued spam from people claiming that they can get you on that first page, you’ll be pretty jaded by now. There are some good SEO (search engine optimisation) companies out there but they are difficult to identify from the poor ones and do tend to charge quite a bit.

Also, the good companies do not send out spam, I’d never respond to unsolicited SEO mails, but actually SEO is something that you can take control of yourself.

We used a tool that we down-loaded, it looked at the top ten websites for our keywords and worked out what it was that made those particular sites rank higher than others. We then altered our site to match the recommendations.

All the recent spam I’ve had on SEO reminded me that we’ve had questions on this before and have written a resource on the subject (along with a plug for the tool we used – well worth getting !). Have a look at How to get people to your business web site