Friday, 23 December 2011

Develop a Winning Social Media Strategy in 6 Easy Steps

So you have set up a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and you’ve also created your business blog.

Great. What next? What’s the plan of action? What are your marketing strategies?

Hopefully you’ve decided to get into social media for a valid reason – and not just because every business acquaintance you speak to appears to be doing it. So how do you go about reaching new potential clients, whilst establishing your credibility online?

Follow these 6 easy steps and you’ll soon be using social media like a pro:

Identify Your Target Audience.

Take a long hard look at your brand and who you want to appeal to. Write a one-line statement about your ideal target customer. What is his age? Where does he live? What is his favourite media? What are his hobbies? What is unique about the product or service you are offering him? In other words, why should he buy from you?

What Language Does Your Ideal Customer Use?

To engage on a social level with your customers, you need to be speaking their language. That means using the right words and the right ‘conversational’ tone. The essence of social media is that conversations are informal – it’s certainly no place for the hard sell!

What is Your Reader’s Most Pressing Problem?

When thinking about content for your blog, focus on the questions your target customer would most like answers to. Make a list of their most burning questions. Of course you won’t have to have immediate answers to these problems, just some idea where you can find the answers!

As chief blogger, you’ll be acting as a researcher and editor – and in this role making sure you only provide links to the most interesting and timely content for each topic. In doing this on a regular basis, your readers will come to recognise you as an authority on your subject – and importantly – someone who doesn’t waste their valuable time. Like any great editor, you’ll only be using information from the most trusted and reliable sources!

Create Your Action Plan

Okay, so you’ve got some great ideas for potential topics in mind, it’s time to get them into some kind of logical order. One of the best ways of doing this is by using a Mind Mapping tool. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. If you don’t want to use a computer programme, a sheet of paper works fine. If you start with yourself/ your brand in the middle of the page, you can start extending ‘branches’ to your ideal type of customer, their problems ; possible topics and sources of content . . . you get the idea. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole load of possibilities worth exploring further. Just type ‘Mind Mapping’ into your search engine and you’ll find a whole host of resources, some of which are free to use.

Schedule Your Content

Using an editorial calendar to plan your blog content will make the process a whole lot easier. Also check out applications like HootSuite, TweetDeck and SocialOomph, which allow you to post simultaneously to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. You will also have the option of scheduling posts for a later date, which is really handy if you’re not around to do it yourself.

Put Quality Above Quantity

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of posting at regular intervals to your blog. Some people do this daily, but once every three days, or even once a week is fine. The quality of the content is more important than quantity, although don’t leave it too long between posts, otherwise you may find your loyal following dropping off.

Remember that, as an editor, your primary task is to source fresh concepts and topics and turn that information into valuable content that keeps your readers looking forward to the next instalment.

Why Video Conferencing is Beneficial to Businesses

In order to conduct business on a global scale, it pays to invest in the right types of communication technology. These days, many companies have satellite offices scattered around the world. Important clients and suppliers are often scattered across several different continents. Staying connected is critical, but the need to hop in a plane is increasingly diminishing. While the Internet has played a huge role in this development, video conferencing is making one of the biggest differences of all. Today's successful businesses rely on technology such as 3 way video conferencing to hold meetings, compare notes and to stay in touch when it matters the most.

Save on Transportation Costs

Fuel prices are at all-time highs. It's more expensive to travel by plane than ever, which means that the costs of holding in-person meetings and conferences can be prohibitive. In many cases, there's no pressing need to have every key player in the same room. With video conferencing, a company can still get together on a face-to-face basis without having to spend vast amounts of money to get everyone in the same place. Video conferencing happens in real time, so meetings can be scheduled when they are needed.

Last-Minute Meetings on a Whim

Emergencies crop up from time to time. Discussing such matters by phone can be quite inefficient. With video conferencing technology on hand, a company can hold an emergency meeting on a last-minute basis. Notifying the people who need to attend is easy, and getting the conference started is too. Using video conferencing in this way is akin to calling everyone to the boardroom. In this case, however, the participants can be located in far-flung corners of the earth. It is well worth it for a business to invest in this type of technology because it can keep business moving along no matter where various employees are.

Brilliant Presentations

From keynote addresses to presentations about new products and services, big announcements call for special features. The nice thing about video conferencing is that it allows businesses to hold presentations that include a wide range of cutting-edge features. These presentations can be shared with people across the world, and those people can interact and provide feedback at the same time. New ideas and exciting new strategies can be developed between participants who are located in several different time zones. The possibilities are endless.

Spend Less on Travel Accommodations

Hotel accommodations can be quite costly. In lieu of sending an employee out to participate in a conference, video conferencing is an affordable alternative. More and more companies are turning to this type of technology for this exact reason. Even if video conferencing is only used on special occasions, the amount of money that it saves a business can be considerable. Reducing overhead is an obvious way to enhance profitability, and 3-way video conferencing and related technologies can go a long way towards achieving that goal. In addition to that, it enhances employee productivity by eliminating a lot of wasted travel time.

There's no doubt that video conferencing is one form of technology that isn't going away any time soon. If anything, it will only become more ubiquitous in the months and years to come. By getting on board with it now, today's businesses can start enjoying all of its benefits as early as possible.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Four simple marketing tips for small businesses

As everyone knows, marketing is a key part of any company’s arsenal if it is to succeed in today’s world of instant communication and fierce competition. But whilst it is certainly essential to have a business marketing strategy in place, you don’t have to overcomplicate things – particularly if you are a small or fledgling business with a limited budget for promotion. 

Here are five simple and relatively low-cost tips to get you started:

  • Strategic advertising: Big corporations will often have huge advertising budgets for both television and national newspapers or magazines, not to mention online. But if you are a small company you won’t have the capital for this so you have to think a little more creatively. Place adverts in local papers or on local website and remember that it is more effective to place smaller, cheaper adverts more frequently than to splash out on a big advert that you can only afford to place once a month. Also, design your advertising to help bring in more sales by including some kind of special offer to draw in the customers.

  • Email marketing: Using the internet is a perfect form of business marketing for small companies because it is cheap and you can use it as often as you like. The crucial thing here is to compile a detailed database on your customers so you really know which products will be suited to them. Then you can work on sending out targeted marketing emails which are specifically tailored to their needs. Send out regular e-newsletters as well as this serves both as a reminder that your company is still out there, and as a way of keeping customers informed of new products or offers.

  • Professional website: This is so crucial: your website is your biggest marketing tool and yet so many companies neglect it or allow it so look amateurish. It is worth it to hire a really good web designer to put together an eye-catching and simple-to-use site. Yes, it will cost more but every customer visiting your site will be impressed by its professional look. Once you have your website, update it regularly with new content to keep it fresh and current – another thing many companies fail to do.

  • Joint promotions: Another useful marketing strategy if your budget is small is to team up with other small companies who are not in direct competition with you, but complement your business in some way further up the chain. For example, if you are a catering company, perhaps you might want to contact an events organiser or wedding planner and offer to publicise their services in exchange for them recommending yours. This is a simple and, more importantly, completely free way of generating new business.
If you are a small or medium sized business you may not have the budget or time to spend a great deal of money on your marketing strategy. However, every company needs a marketing strategy of some kind and luckily there are many simple and low-cost methods you can use to get you started.

Time to bring in the marketing experts?

Every company, whether small and local or large and multinational, will find itself going through peaks and troughs. Depending on where the problem lies – whether it is the result of external market forces or problems within the company itself – there are certain times when it may behove you to call in the services of a professional marketing company

These exist to help businesses develop methods to keep bringing in new clients and present their goods and services to the world in the best possible way. But how do you know when your company might benefit from a little help in this department? 

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Behind the competition?: If your biggest competitors seem to be everywhere you turn, it may well be because they’ve devised a more effective marketing strategy than you have. You don’t want to lose out to them, so this is the time to hire an expert in before you begin to lose customers to them. If you’re less visible than your competitors, who are clients going to choose?

  • Not enough time: If you’re constantly putting things off, or you and your employees never have enough time in the day, it may well be that you have overextended yourself. If this is the case then there is no way you are going to be able to devote the necessary amount of time to promotion. Hiring in a marketing company will pay two-fold in this situation: Firstly, they will re-invigorate your marketing strategy; and secondly, they should be able to suggest practical ways for you to make better use of your time.

  • Lack of leads: This is one of the clearest signs that your marketing strategy is failing somewhere. Rather than sitting back and waiting for the customers to come to you, you should be using all means at your disposal – print media, billboards, the internet, word-of-mouth or whatever else you can think of – to get your message out there. If you aren’t getting the leads then you clearly aren’t doing this in the most effective way, or often enough. Time, then, to seek outside advice.

  • High employee turnover: This can be for many reasons, but employees will often be dissatisfied if they feel there is a lack of direction or structure to their role. A clear marketing strategy gives employees something to focus on, and also creates a more dynamic, positive working atmosphere are the new business begins to come in. Bringing in the services of a marketing company for a limited period of time will set you on the right track and hopefully ensure your staff feel motivated enough to stick around.

Choosing the right consultant for your business

Once you’ve made the decision to hire a business consultant to boost flagging sales or help set your company on a new path, you may think it’s just a simple matter of picking up the phone and calling one in. However, be aware that there are many companies today offering business consulting services and not all of them are what they seem. 

It’s crucial that you take your time when choosing the right person for you, or you could just be throwing good money after bad. Here is how to go about making your selection:

  • Get references: Look on internet forums or speak to other local companies to listen to the experiences of others who have recently hired consultants. What kinds of problems did they encounter, and what did they wish they had done differently? Find out which consultants have helped achieve good results on more than one occasion and which ones have been less than effective. This will give you a good initial idea of who to consider and who to avoid at all possible costs.
  • Thorough vetting: It may seem tedious, but when you have selected a short list of consultants you think may work for you, you need to set up meetings to talk to them about what they might offer you. These conversations should be able to tell you a lot: Did they listen to what you wanted, or did they just fire off some ‘quick’ solutions right away? Did they seem to understand the issues you presented them with and ask thoughtful questions, or did they just ramble on with stories of past clients? If the former in both cases, they may be legitimate, if the latter – hire them at your peril.
  • Billing: Find out how you will be charged for these business consulting services. Don’t automatically go for the cheapest service, as there may well be a reason why they need to charge so little. Instead, look at the payment structure. Are you able to agree a fixed amount upfront, or are they proposing to leave things open for additional costs later on? If the latter, beware, as many less reputable consultants will attempt to maximise their profits by bringing other ‘advisers’ into the project, for which they will charge extra, or charging for unspecified additional services. Generally, I would say it’s always best to agree from the outset exactly how much you are going in for.
Above all, don’t be put off by the potential pitfalls as a good consultant really can bring enormous benefits. As long as you are careful and follow recommendations from trustworthy sources, you should soon see your business change for the better.

Internet Marketing Companies – Not All Are Created Equal

If you’ve had experience with online Internet marketing companies you’ll know that some are quite excellent in that they deliver a great service that produces first class results . . . while others can be unreliable.
The best Internet marketing companies will use ethical Search Engine Optimisation techniques to drive targeted traffic to your website. By using ‘White Hat’ processes, you are assured of getting more relevant visitors to your website and not just any old body – relevant or not!

There are literally hundreds of Internet marketing companies vying for your business online, and new ones seem to be springing up every week. When choosing a marketing consultancy, it’s vital to check out their credentials to ensure you are making a wise investment.

Your appointed Internet marketing company should be working hard to ensure that your site ranks highly in all the major search engines’ organic listings. After all, the better targeted your traffic and the more relevant your visitors, the more likely those visitors are to want to do business with you.

Having only highly-targeted traffic improves your company’s profile and reputation which in turn means you get a better Return on Investment too. Using SEO tools to drive targeted visitors to your website can dramatically impact on your conversion rates, increasing sales revenues and boosting your customer base. 

And you know it’s around eight times easier to sell to someone you’ve previously sold to, over someone you haven’t, right?

An effective marketing campaign is vital to the success of any business that has an Internet presence. 

More than that, having a great marketing strategy in place can be the difference between realising your potential and going out of business due to lack of trade. It’s a sad fact that thousands of businesses every year go into liquidation or are declared bankrupt. And in some cases, there is only a miniscule difference between those businesses that make the grade and those that go under.

Taking action to improve the website experience for your visitors can make the difference between having a profitable business and one which is losing you money. Inertia is not an option here. If you do not have the skills to optimise your website so it attracts the right kind of visitors, then it’s really worth considering having an expert do this for you.

Utilising the services of a top Internet marketing company to help you define your keyword strategy and work towards a higher listing makes perfect business sense. 

How Web Marketing Companies Can Make Your Business Boom!

Web marketing is a time-consuming activity, particularly if you’re not entirely sure what you are doing. And it’s not something you can dabble in either, unfortunately. Effective web marketing requires know-how and commitment. That’s why many businesses are realising the substantial benefits of having someone else manage their web marketing for them, rather than doing it themselves.

Employing the services of a web marketing company means you can use your time more productively, focusing on the stuff you’re good at, rather than wasting hours churning out content that might or might not work for you.

Your web marketing company should be able to create a bespoke package according to your exact requirements, but here is a taster of some of the things they can help with:

Web Development
How clean is your website? Is it easy to navigate? Is the copy engaging? Does it convert? Is it ‘all bells and whistles’ but no substance?
The aesthetic appeal of your website should not be underestimated. Your appointed design expert will be able to create an attractive, yet functional, web space, that is simplicity itself for you to manage.

Pay Per Click
Having the right PPC campaign in place can generate amazing results for your business relatively quickly. Make sure your web marketing company is qualified to the highest industry standards and that they can produce a bespoke programme that meets your needs perfectly.

Search Engine Optimisation
The best web marketing companies will employ a range of SEO techniques to achieve positive search results organically. Check whether your consultancy has a portfolio of impressive results across the major search engines – for example, have they managed to get clients on to page one of Google? If so, over what period?

Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is pretty much an essential requirement for businesses these days. It’s a great way to communicate with your target audience and drive more traffic to your website. Your consultant or advisor will be able to create a social media presence or campaign for you across the major sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Copywriting & Content
The ability to create dynamic and engaging content is vital for increasing your online brand visibility and building your reputation. If writing persuasive and lead-converting copy isn’t your thing, it’s well worth employing someone to do it for you.

Mobile Users
Right now there is a fantastic opportunity for companies to promote their websites to users of mobile and remote devices. This is currently a huge, though largely untapped market, which savvy business owners would be wise to take advantage of.

Search Marketing Companies that Will Add Value to Your Business’s Bottom Line

Ever been tempted to stump up $99 to have your website submitted to 1000+ search engines?
If so, you probably don’t need me to point out what a waste of money it was. You’ve almost certainly discovered that for yourself already.

Seeing as the vast majority of traffic is derived from three well-known search engines, namely Google, Yahoo and Bing, plus a handful of other minor ones, there is little point submitting your website URL to the remaining thousand or so that will not bring you any relevant visitors whatsoever.

So, if buying your way into a thousand search engines isn’t generally a good idea, when might it be useful to hire the services of a search marketing company?

Quality search marketing companies can help your business grow exponentially in a relatively short period of time using three main channels:

Search Engine Optimisation, Social Media Optimisation and Online PR.
Let’s look at each of these key elements in turn:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Your chosen marketing specialists will use a combination of content writing, link building and metadata optimisation to ‘feed’ the search engines, which in turn, will send you a ton of high quality traffic for you to convert into profitable leads.

Social Media Optimisation
If you’re not currently using social media to engage with your target audience, you could be missing out big time. As well as attracting more potential customers to your site, social media is increasingly being used to build reputation and source joint venture partners, manufacturers and suppliers, and even investors.
It therefore makes sense to have your social media operations fully optimised by a social media marketing expert.

Online PR
If you’ve been in business a while, then you have almost certainly used press releases as a way of promoting your business. But have you used web-based press releases? They are the latest way to increase awareness of your brand and promote your products and services to a wider target audience.

Of course, you could submit online press releases yourself, but an experienced marketing professional will add value – not only by structuring your press release to industry standards – but by knowing precisely where to submit it, giving your business maximum exposure.

Using an experienced search marketing company to create and execute a well thought-out marketing campaign for you, means you will achieve optimum results in the shortest time possible.

There are many such experts and consultancies online and the top consultants will include case studies and testimonials on their website, so you can check out their credentials before hiring them.

What is Website Optimisation? and How Can It Help My Business?

You know there are still some people in business who think all they need to do is build a website and sit back and wait for hordes of visitors to appear – as if by magic.

If only it were that easy.

Building a website for your business is a sound investment. Yet if no-one knows you exist, it could be a huge waste of your time and money. No-one wants a ‘White Elephant’ website!

So what exactly is search engine optimisation? And how can it help you attract more customers or clients?
Quite simply, optimisation is a way of improving your website rankings organically. The other option is paid advertising – or Pay Per Click – for instance the Google AdWords programme.

When you enter your search term in the search engine you will get a split-screen of results. Listings found on the left-hand side of your screen are those that have achieved their ranking ‘organically’, while those on the right are paid for ads.

Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing will rank your website according to various criteria, including content and relevancy.

Not unsurprisingly, consumer surveys consistently show that more people trust those companies that rank highly in the organic listings, over those who rely on ‘sponsored’ results. Indeed, it is not unusual to find smaller companies ranking higher than their larger rivals for particular search terms. While there’s nothing wrong with using paid advertising to drive traffic to your website, ultimately better click through rates will be achieved through organic listings.

You will know from your own experience that if your website does not appear on the first few pages of a search listing, you will not be found. When you do searches yourself, how many pages do you view before you give up? All the ‘experts’ are on page one, aren’t they? Whether or not you believe that’s the case, this is how we tend to perceive things.

So how might your business’s website improve its current position?

Let’s start with keywords. Consider what keywords are relevant to your website and the products and services you offer and build or tweak your web pages accordingly, bearing in mind what each of the major search engines’ requirements are to obtain maximum visibility. Tune your pages to meet search engine requirements and watch your traffic and rankings grow.
Search Engine Optimisation is an increasingly competitive field, so it’s important to choose your keywords and key phrases well. And if your budget permits, ideally it’s advisable to use a combination of SEO and paid for advertising – that way you get the best of both worlds.
Optimisation is the key to effective online marketing – numerous studies consistently confirm that it’s the perfect vehicle for almost every type of business.

Why outsource your marketing?

To run a successful business in today’s increasingly technologically advanced and globalised marketplace it is essential to develop an effective marketing strategy. Recognising this, many companies are outsourcing their marketing to ensure this is carried out by professionals using the most efficient and up-to-date methods in a rapidly changing world.

But what does outsourced marketing involve? Basically, this is when you decide that the best way to present your company to the wider world and bring in new customers is to bring in a marketing expert for a certain period of time in order to define a strategy and set you off on the right path. So why is this a good option to take?

Less overheads: Outsourced marketing is particularly suited to small-to-medium sized businesses which may not as yet be able to afford a permanent marketing department. This way, you can get the best of both worlds by bringing in a highly experienced marketing expert to identify how you might best present your company to the world, whilst tightly budgeting for how much you are able to spend on this.

A new perspective: Sometimes an organisation’s employees can be so immersed in their own little niche and company culture that they forget to see the bigger picture. An independent marketing consultant can come in with a fresh outlook on how you can achieve your goals.
The latest know-how: When you are running a company there are so many things to consider and marketing is really just a part of this. It would, therefore, be almost impossible for you to keep up with all the latest trends as well as the newest software and the strategies your competitors are using. But with a marketing consultant, their entire job consists of staying abreast of these developments, so when you hire one in you will be benefitting from the very latest methodologies out there.

Defining objectives:  Particularly if your company is very young, you may be lacking clearly defined goals and objectives with which to develop your future direction. Many business owners opt for outsourced marketing for this reason alone, as one of the jobs of a good consultant is to help you work out what it is you want from your marketing strategy and how you will achieve this. They will also help you identify the needs of your customers, and once you have done this you are a long way towards working out what it is you need to do.

Time control: Lastly, if you have a dedicated in-house marketing department, some tasks can drag on and on as they are re-defined, honed or discussed. Meanwhile your competition is already out there winning customers. By outsourcing, you are bringing somebody in for a previously specified length of time who can act decisively and efficiently to bring your marketing efforts in line with the current market condition.

Want More Leads at No Cost Extra to You? Enter Google Places

It used to be that when we wanted to buy something from our friendly local shop owner or dealer we’d automatically reach for the Yellow Pages or Thomson Local.

Now we Google it!

In fact, a recent survey of business owners by print company Vistaprint, revealed that only 11% of respondents would consider future advertising with Yellow Pages. How times have changed. A decade ago local directories were the first port of call for call for ready-to-buy consumers, now they’ve practically dropped off the radar.
On the other hand, if you’re in business, why would you pay for a pricey directory ad, when you can advertise your business to your local community for FREE? Because that’s exactly what you get with Google Places.
But my business currently appears on page eight of Google. How can Google Places help me?

It’s a well known fact that when searching for a national or international service or product, 80 per cent of us rarely venture past page one of Google’s search listings. In which case, if you’re listed on page eight, all your competitors more highly ranked than you are liable to gobble the lion’s share of the business.

However, it’s an entirely different outlook when people are searching for a local business. These ‘hot prospects’ are likely to be a whole lot more specific about what they are looking for and where. Say for example you run an Italian deli in the centre of town. The sheer nature of your business: fresh, seasonal produce, means in all likelihood you’d prefer your customers to be local.

Google Places is where your local customer base will find you easily. And your Google Places listing will be so much more effective than any ‘dry ad,’ because you can upload graphics, photos, videos, even animations, to provide your potential customers with all the essential information they need to make an informed decision on whether to trade with you. You’ll be able to upload pictures of your products, details of price ranges, customer reviews and testimonials and so much more. You will be giving your visitors the experience of a virtual visit to your premises – or in the case of our deli – a flavour of your business if you like!

Just over 97 per cent of all people with Internet access regularly use search engines and Google is the most popular search engine by far. As well as uploading your promotional tools, Google Places encourages the use of keyword-friendly tags that drive more business to your website, thus increasing its ranking.  If you are unsure you can always ask the help of an internet marketing consultant.

The beauty of Google Places is that it’s for business customers only, therefore your business search listing doesn’t get tangled up with all the normal ‘junk’ delivered in standard search results.
Google Places is still relatively new, so why not jump aboard now and gain a competitive edge, before your local rivals find it for themselves!

Tips for Budding Marketing Consultants

If you want to be a marketing consultant, bear in mind that the competition for this kind of role is fierce. Marketing has always been a key part of any company’s business strategy, but this is even more the case today in a world where global communication is pretty well instant and we are constantly bombarded with advertising of every kind. To give yourself any chance of success, you should take certain steps from the very start of your career, whilst you are still training, to help differentiate you from the many others like you out there. 

For example:

Networking: Let’s face it, if you’re not the kind of person who is happy working a room full of people then marketing may not be the job for you. Marketing consultants have to be prepared to attend conferences, participate in web forums, go to industry-specific meet-ups and generally do everything they can to constantly renew their contacts and get their name out there. You’re aiming to become a go-to person for anybody in need of a marketing expert, so start making those important connections right away.

Specialise: If there is one sector in which you have particular interest or expertise, it may be a good idea to focus on winning clients there. Marketing consultants are far more effective if they have a deep knowledge of the kind of product or service they are helping to promote, and if you are more effective you will have satisfied clients who will be more likely to recommend you to others. Before you plunge in head-first, then, have a think about where you might like to specialise.

Personal SEO: Marketing consultants need to become adept at the various methods of using SEO to boost their clients’ website ranking, so why not start with your own name? This will hone your expertise in this area as well as getting your name out there as a consultant early on.

Get experience: Whilst some like to strike out on their own right away, most find it is better to begin their career by getting experience at a respected marketing firm. This way, if you do come to set up your own company you will already know which methods work and will be aware of the potential pitfalls to avoid. It will also give you the opportunity to gain valuable insight and industry advice from the managers or senior partners of the company.

Stay at the cutting edge: Technology and communication trends change so fast these days, so you should get into the habit early on of keeping informed of any new methodologies or tools. Ideally, you want to be in the know before your competitors, so read the trade press, subscribe to newsletters or read relevant blogs to keep you updated.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

How To Make a Success Of a Small Business

Small businesses are in many ways more vulnerable to market fluctuations than the larger players. Sadly, it is the case today that less than 45 per cent of small businesses stay open after four years of operating, and with the current global financial situation these numbers are not likely to improve anytime soon.

Because of this, if you are thinking about establishing a small business yourself you really need to be aware of the best measures to take to give you a fighting chance. There is no reason why you can’t be one of the group who succeeds, but it takes organisation, a strong sense of the realities of the marketplace and a great deal of dedication. Here are some steps you can take to maximise your chances of staying afloat:

Don’t over-extend yourself: From the outset, many small business owners make the fundamental mistake of fondly imagining they can do everything themselves in order to cut their costs as much as possible. All I can say is: don’t! Nobody can be an expert in every area, and there are certain aspects of a business, such as sales or marketing, that need to be run by someone with experience if you are to have any chance in this competitive marketplace.

Get advice: If you really can’t afford to bring in many full-time staff to begin with, you might at least consider bringing in the temporary services of a small business consultant. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but a consultant specialising in this area can be invaluable for setting new companies on the right path and advising on how to avoid those common early mistakes. They will also help you to set up a realistic and effective business plan – something without which no new company can function. Consider hiring a small business consultant as a necessary start-up cost, or a wise investment in your future.

Know your competition: Before you enter a certain market, take the time to thoroughly research your key competitors. Small, local businesses will often be up against a lot of similar companies in the area so you have to know what products and services they offer so you can find a way to differentiate yourself as a brand to give you the edge. Once you have identified your competition, keep a constant eye on them and be prepared to make changes and update according to the latest trends.

Offers and promotions: Small companies need to keep customers interested with promotions or special offers. You probably won’t have a large advertising budget to begin with so doing this is one way of ensuring your company name is out there. Email marketing, for example, is an effective way of getting special offers out there, or if you are a very small local business it can be something as simple as having an eye-catching billboard outside your shop.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Make online marketing work for you

With the rise and rise of the Internet, many traditional forms of business marketing and advertising are falling by the wayside as companies are opening up their eyes to the opportunities available to them from email and online marketing. 

By using the Internet to advertise your products you are able to tap into a potentially global market faster than we ever would have thought possible just a few years ago.
However, whilst this is undoubtedly a very effective form of marketing, you have to be aware of the pitfalls in order to get the best possible results from your hard work. Here are just a few things to bear in mind:
  • Targeted email marketing: It is a good idea to send out carefully crafted emails with information on your latest products or special offers. However, before you do this you really need to have taken the time to build up a detailed database of clients, cross-referenced according to their specific priorities. This way you will only send out relevant emails and won’t risk putting people off. For example, there is not point sending out emails about female beauty products to men.
  • Send newsletters:  Rather than bombarding all the people on your mailing list with junk mail every time you have any news, save it for a regular newsletter. This way all the important information is encapsulated in one single message and you won’t annoy your clients. At the same time, you will be issuing them with a regular reminder that you are out there and continuing to work to keep up with their needs.
  • E-commerce: Make sure your website is optimised for mobile devices. The use of Smartphones is increasing fast, and indeed it is highly likely that the future of business marketing may lie to a large extent in handheld devices. With more and more people downloading information to their phones, make sure you are tapping into this lucrative market.
  • Invest in SEO: Many businesses are still not recognising the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) in order to keep their website at the top of search engine results. It is all very well having a striking and professional website, but if you have not maximised your online presence by using the relevant keywords or using social media then this will count for nothing. Doing this properly is necessary but can be time consuming, so it is worth hiring in a specialist to do the job for you.

Shouldn’t You Be Using Google+ Hangouts to Connect With More Customers?

What do the Black Eyed Peas, The Muppets and the technology giant Dell have in common?

They are all using Google+ Hangouts to connect with their fan bases.

Before you protest, not another social media site! I’m currently on Facebook and Twitter and they take up too much of my time already, let me explain . . .

At the moment, Google+ has an estimated 40 million users compared with Facebook’s 800 million. But please don’t think of it as “a smaller Facebook,” because it isn’t.

First of all, Google+ Business Pages are easy to create and edit – easier than Facebook in fact. Google+ allows you to interact with your fan base through a mixture of comments, tags, sharing and the soon-to-be legendary, Hangouts.

So what is a “Hangout”?

A Hangout is a video connection between your business and your customers and followers. You can host your own networking sessions, showcase your latest products and services, organize a focus group or a Q&A session – the possibilities are endless.

Many business owners use Hangouts as video conferencing tools, scheduling meetings with suppliers, partners, affiliates or resellers. You can use the Hangout facility to interact with a maximum of 9 other people at any one sitting (10 including yourself). Each Hangout you host will have a specific URL you can use to invite Google+ users to your video session.

Before you host your first official Hangout, I would suggest organizing a ‘dry run’, to ensure you are well prepared and that the sound quality is fully optimized. You might also want to start with fewer people until you get some experience of the facility, as 10 people sharing a conversation is likely to become somewhat chaotic!

I mentioned Dell in the opening of this piece. Dell is the latest big company to announce it plans to use Google+ in its customer service division. It’s quite surprising that many of the larger concerns haven’t yet picked up on the business potential of Hangouts. To be able to connect with your customers face-to-face is a fantastic innovation. Even better – you can then upload videos of those interactions to YouTube. There are huge possibilities for viral marketing here . . .

If you want to ‘hang out’ with more fans of your brand, Google+ Hangouts is well worth a look. You’ll be able to create and share content-rich video productions that spark exciting conversations. Getting more people talking about your brand is what it’s all about. Plus you’ll be in great company.

More people are catching on to the benefits of using Google+ for business. It’s worth signing up to Google+ for the potential of its Hangouts facility alone.

The unwavering popularity of YouTube is testament to the fact that people find the medium of video as a ‘create and share’ tool irresistible. Household names like the Black Eyed Peas, The Muppets and Dell have already come alive to the potential of Google+ as a means of gaining greater visibility and expanding their fan base. Just think what it could do for your brand. If you aren't sure on how this could work for you ask a marketing consultant to give you some ideas.

Use Social Media to Make an ‘Emotional Connection’ that Increases Brand Loyalty

Take a peek in your wallet. How many brand loyalty cards are you currently carrying?

It’s reckoned that the average UK household is signed up to 12 store/ retail loyalty schemes – everything from collecting points to save money on your supermarket shopping and cash-back on credit card spends, to getting a free cappuccino for every 10 purchases made at your favourite high street coffee shop.
It seems all our favourite brands are leveraging the power of brand loyalty – encouraging customers to shop with them more often.

Many of the top brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola have long recognized the increasingly important part that social media plays in their customers’ lives and are using it to their competitive advantage.

Using established interactive social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to bring together fans of your brand makes perfect sense, because you will be harnessing the ‘share’ potential of the Internet.

But how do we define brand loyalty? And is it necessary to make the distinction between someone who will buy that 10th coffee from you just to get the freebie, and those who love your Java recipe so much, as well as the ambiance of your cafĂ© bar, they’d never go anywhere else regardless?

If you belong to a Frequent Flier Programme, ask yourself whether you would still fly with that same airline if a competitor launched a significantly cheaper, but similar service in terms of standard and quality. And if you’re someone who checks price comparison sites regularly, as an increasing number of us do these days, then brand loyalty may not be something you’re driven by, as much as value for money.

As creatures of habit, many of us shop at the same places, at pretty much the same times, week on week, whether the retailers concerned have a loyalty scheme in place or not. These shopping ‘repurchases’ are justified through considerations such as convenience, price, service, or quality. You see, ‘repurchasing’ is not the same as loyalty.

True brand loyalty is achieved when our brand makes an emotional connection with its audience: We love it that Innocent smoothies are 100 per cent fresh fruit and no junk; that Apple computers are cool; that Lego has built a great online community we can be a part of; that Harley-Davidson represents the “adventure of a lifetime.”

And, as fans of brands, we love connecting with those brands via social media, because they reward us with something extra for our loyalty. There’s newsletters, competitions, giveaways, online interaction with fellow enthusiasts – all the extra stuff we get for free, just for signing up to their sites. And here’s the thing, we’re getting an exclusive deal other people are missing out on because they choose not to be a part of that community.

These socially-connected brands have established an emotional rapport with their followers that that goes way beyond ‘repurchasing’ and creates ‘fans for life’.

By using social media to engage and communicate with your target audience – and by offering exclusive deals to those who follow you – your brand could do the same. A recent study found that 37 per cent of Facebook users who have ‘friended’ a brand, cited ‘product discounts and special promotions’ as their main reason for doing so.

Consider how your brand might use Facebook Pages and other forms of social media to connect with more like-minded people who could become valued customers. What emotional message might your brand build its fan base around? And how will you reward your followers for their loyalty and thus create fans for life?

Creating exclusive offers for your online community is a proven way to establish a fan base and encourage more sign-ups. As well as making more sales, you will have a ready-made focus group that will help you with research into your current business, as well as ideas for developing and marketing new products and services.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

What does a marketing consultant do? And why would I need one?

In broad terms, a marketing consultant will analyse the market potential for what your business does and help you develop products and services that satisfy the needs of the end consumer.

They will also work alongside other members of your team within the various departments: sales, operations, marketing, finance, and so on, to determine sales strategies, communications and promotions that will complement the business.

To do this effectively, your marketing consultant will need to fully understand the way your business works and also the buying behaviours of your target customer.

They can also help you launch new products and services and help organize marketing promotions. As well as delivering these ‘hands on’ services, a marketing consultant will track, report on, and review your marketing events and advertising initiatives.

Your marketing expert can also create and deliver professional marketing presentations on behalf of your business, specifically tailored to your target audience. This can be a huge asset to your business, as gaining a reputation for great presentations can do wonders for your image.

Did you also realize that hiring a marketing professional to train your staff can be a really effective way to fire up your employees’ motivation levels and boost productivity. Even if you know a bit about marketing yourself, the consultant will bring a wealth of fresh ideas to the party and ensure that your team is performing as well as it possibly can.

If you’ve ever been on one of those team building weekends (usually somewhere wet, windy and remote, I might add!) you’ll remember that even the most reserved or reluctant participant usually returned with a newly-found sense of enthusiasm and purpose. That’s generally how it works anyhow . . .

A marketing consultant will have exactly the same effect on your team – without the dodgy weather conditions. He or she will instil self-belief into your marketing team and help them perform to the optimum level – both as individuals – and as a unit.

One of the most important attributes of the personnel of a sales and marketing team must surely be passion. It’s easy to become stale when you’re using the same old scripts to sell products in the same old way . . . with the same predictable results. The only way to change that is to inject some new life into your methods and procedures.

If you’ve never considered the benefits of outsourcing your marketing activities to a dedicated professional, now might be a good time to find out how having a consultant on board, could boost your business in so many ways.
A marketing consultant can add real value to your business on a day to day basis. They can work alongside you seamlessly, in conjunction with your team or departments for optimum results. If your marketing efforts aren’t reaping the rewards you’d like, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how the services of a marketing consultant can really help your business take off.

Big Ideas for Small Business Marketing

In the EU, a small business is generally defined as one having fewer than 50 employees. Small businesses offer so much potential for offering a truly personal service to your customers, often at very little extra cost.

Here are some simple ways to improve your small business marketing:

Make Your Customers Feel Special

Good customer service is essential in these ultra-competitive times. Even something as simple as a hand-written ‘thank you’ note tells your customers you appreciate them. Added extras need cost no more than a few pence extra on top of your service costs, but they can add goodwill to the transaction resulting in repeat business and recommendations.

What Does Your Business Card Say About You?

Does it have a high-remembrance ‘must-keep’ factor? Most business cards are tossed away within a day or so of collecting them. What can you do to make yours stand out? What about a business card with a notepad attached? Or a card with a money-off coupon, or a discount off the next order?

Review Your Core Customer Base

It’s almost certainly a fact that 80 per cent of your business will come from 20 per cent of your customer base. But can you weed out those customers who are not making you money? Do you know what your break-even point is? Continuing to service customers who are unprofitable to your business prevents you utilizing your efforts on finding customers who are and will continue to be in the future.

You Do Have A Mailing List Don’t You?

If you have a web presence you should consider producing a newsletter and encourage your customers to sign up. Don’t think you have to produce an eight-page booklet every two weeks – when more than likely, a one or two-page document will suffice. The key is to start small. The most important thing is that you create your newsletter at regular intervals and tell your prospects when they can expect to hear from you.

Position Yourself As An Expert

The Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for business owners to connect with prospects and like-minded people through online forums and groups. For example LinkedIn currently allows you to sign up to a maximum of 50 groups. It’s not unheard of for business consultants to use these introductions for their prime source of income. Think of ways you might be able to assist others without focusing on the payback and you could be pleasantly surprised at where it leads you.

Befriend Local Media

Editorial coverage in your local newspaper or a trade publication is perceived as more credible than paid for advertising or advertorial features. It is said that the best press releases need to be ‘new-sy’ or ‘now-sy’, so if you have a fresh, interesting story to pitch to the media, either compile a press release yourself, or employ a PR expert to do it for you. If you decide to do it yourself, then split your content into paragraphs for readability and make sure your press release is no longer than one side of A4 paper (double-spaced). And make sure you include your contact details so the journalist can follow up.

There are many simple ideas you can utilize to encourage new and repeat business. Small business marketing can be both creative and cost effective and often you can bring an element of truly personal service to your communications and transactions that the ‘big boys’ struggle to do well.

Marketing Companies – Not All Are Created Equal

Googling “marketing companies” will yield you 8,910,000 results (as at the time of writing this piece). These range from the one-man or one-woman bands, to those with a dozen or more staff. Some of these companies will have been around for a decade or more, while others will have been operating five minutes.

So how do you know you’re hiring the right people to market your business effectively?

What do you look for in a competent marketing outfit?

You might decide you prefer to deal with a local marketing agency for the added convenience of having them on your doorstep. However in practice, you can rarely nip in and check up on their progress without making an appointment. Plus technological advances such as Skype means you can still conduct meetings whenever and wherever suits.

Initially, it’s a good idea to spend a couple of hours or so researching on the Internet. Most marketing companies’ websites will include case studies of the companies they have worked with and will frequently include testimonials.

From your research, draw up a shortlist of 3-5 agencies to meet with. If you’re requesting that they pitch their services to you, bear in mind some agencies will charge a fee for this. Also establish whether the team pitching will be the same people working on your account should you appoint them. Rapport is all important and you don’t want to appoint an agency only to find someone you haven’t been introduced to is in charge of your account.

When inviting agencies to pitch, it is helpful to give them some background to your business, the key objectives you want to achieve and an idea of your budget. You should also provide them with an outline of the sort of contractual agreement you are seeking.

During the meeting/ pitch you will need to consider:

• Is the agency right for you in terms of size? Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

• Which fields are they expert in? Is this compatible with your needs?

• How do they charge? By the hour? Based on results? Are their fees negotiable?

• With regard to fees, how do they measure effectiveness?

• Are they a full-service agency? Or are they limited to traditional advertising elements?

• First impressions (most important) . . . do you like them?

At the end of the pitches, it may become quite apparent who the most suitable marketing company is for you. Either one agency will be obviously better in terms of ‘fit’, or you will have to choose solely on grounds of the likeability factor.

Appointing the right marketing company for your business can be a daunting task. By following the above process you should have a good indication of the agency that would be a good partner for you. Don’t underestimate the power of gut reaction – it has frequently been proven a reliable indicator when determining winning partnerships.

How Marketing Companies Can Boost Your Web Presence

Marketing companies that specialize in building and maintaining first class websites can be brilliant news for your business. Having a great website that is easy to navigate – and easy on the eye – is an absolute must for every organization or business. Any business without a web presence will not be taken seriously and will probably be viewed with suspicion.

A really effective website can bring so many positives to your business. Having a website that works for you can improve your reputation by telling more people what you do and how well you do it.

Here’s how you can help your chosen website designer create the perfect business website for you:

1. Using your business goals, clearly define what results you want your new website to deliver.

2. Identify which audiences your website will cater for (customers, prospects, researchers, investors) and define what needs and expectations each type of visitor will have when they come to your site.

3. Make sure your website is built from your customers’ point of view. Too much of the ‘what we do’ approach can be a turn off.

4. Flash introductions may have a reputation for being cool, but the majority of your customers hate them (sorry.) I read recently that the second most clicked on words on the Web are ‘Skip Intro.’

5. The same goes for music or audio introductions. Some people will be at work when they land on your site and could be embarrassed by a sudden blast of Katy Perry, or whatever you have as your musical welcome.

6. Include prices where you can. People are automatically wary of sites which don’t include prices. They might be led to think you’re too expensive for them and try one of your competitors instead. If you can’t provide exact prices, aimed at least to offer a ballpark figure.

7. Avoid pop-up windows. Does anyone like them?

8. Make your website easy to navigate and include a call to action on every page. Make sure your website copy is easy to read. Use bite-sized chunks of text or short sentences.

9. Review the success of your website at regular intervals. At worst the content should be revised monthly, at best, daily. Providing fresh, engaging content at regular intervals will keep your visitors coming back for more of the same.

10. Advertise your website (and email address) on all your marketing and promotional materials. Also use it on all online and offline communications such as direct mail, ecommerce and news releases. Now you’ve got a great website, be sure to spread the word!

A successful website requires time and commitment. It’s not enough simply to build a website and leave it to its only devices. It’s like planting a tree and expecting that tree to grow and bear fruit without having any care and attention lavished on it.

So once you have your great website up and running, don’t forget to plan your content, plan your marketing and watch your business grow and ‘bear fruit’.

The Essentials Of A Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is usually part of your overall business plan, though it can be produced as a stand-alone document.

Effective marketing is crucial to the success of every business venture. Your marketing plan is the road map you will follow to achieve your goals. It lists your objectives and the actions you will take to achieve them.

Your marketing plan should not be a ‘static’ document – rather one you refer to and review on a regular basis.

In order for your marketing plan to be workable, it’s vital that everyone on your team knows what is required of them and when.

You should:

1. Set realistic, clear and measurable targets.

2. Set deadlines for achieving each target.

3. Determine a budget for each marketing activity.

4. Decide who in your team is responsible for each activity.

5. Brief your team/ colleagues on the details of your plan.

6. Set reporting guidelines, so that each member of your team can provide feedback at regular intervals.

It is generally helpful to include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis in your marketing plan. Most likely you will already have completed one for your business plan, in which case you won’t need to start from scratch. A simple review/ update will normally suffice. A PEST analysis is also helpful for identifying and acting on opportunities and threats within your industry. PEST stands for:

Political and legal changes such as new regulations.

Economic factors such as interest rates, exchange rates and consumer confidence.

Social factors such as changing attitudes and lifestyles, and the ageing population.

Technological factors such as new materials and growing use of the internet.

Every marketing plan begins with an Executive Summary – an overview of the plan – though in practice it’s better to write this last to ensure you don’t leave anything vital out.

Your Business Strategy is also a vital part of your plan. It outlines:

Your Mission Statement.

What your business does/ is about.

Key business objectives.

Strategy for achieving objectives (overview).

Use the SMART acronym for each of your key business objectives and you won’t go far wrong:

Specific: We need to attract 10 new clients this quarter.

Measurable: How will you know when you have achieved your objective?

Achievable: Do you have the right resources in place to reasonably enable you to attain the objective? This usually comes down to people and money.

Realistic: Having a target which is considered unreasonable will only demotivate you and your staff. Great targets will stretch you and your resources and serve as a means of motivation.

Time-constrained: There must be a deadline for achieving each objective and this should be clearly stated in your plan.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Every Business is Potentially a Magnificent Rose Waiting to Bloom

It’s pretty easy to forget that even the largest companies and organisations operating around the world today, started life as tiny enterprises, the result of the enthusiasm and dedication of a few. At the time they would have had little if any inclination of what the future held.

Take the famous Golden Arches of multinational fast food chain McDonald’s, for instance. The company was founded in 1955 when local entrepreneur Ray Kroc purchased the rights to a small hamburger chain. Nearly 60 years on and spurred on in no small part by the clever concept of franchising, McDonald’s now boasts 33,000 restaurants worldwide and a global staff compliment of an incredible 1.7 million. It is estimated that these numbers help McDonald’s serve some 64 million people every day.

Then there’s computer software and hardware company Microsoft. Paul Allen and Bill Gates officially founded Microsoft in 1975, in the intervening years the firm has grown into one of the pre-eminent lights in IT, becoming a global monster worth some $224 billion (£144 billion). Now, Microsoft’s popular operating system, windows, boasts around 88 per cent of the market place and Bill Gates is one of the richest men on the planet. Mightily impressive stuff indeed.

Now, we’re not saying that working a certain way is a guaranteed route to success for a small company to reach Microsoft-style heights but, it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of even the biggest names and what patience and hard work can potentially achieve.

Solid, small business marketing, backed-up with comprehensive market research of competitors and consumers, which in turn leads to a clear strategy, really is priceless.

It’s definitely a good idea to personally enquire face-to-face or over the phone, or search online, for an agency you feel not only offers the best service for the best price, but one that you can work with as well. The perfect vision for your company will be implemented before you know it.