Category Archives: small business

How to Commission an E-commerce Website

Commissioning an E Commerce Website

Setting up an e commerce website is a significant commitment in terms of time and money.  If you are just starting out, proxy services such as Ebay and Shopify offer great test trading platforms.  Once your business has grown and you need to start keeping costs down and require your own dedicated site, this is the time to perhaps look to invest.

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The topic of commissioning websites is one of the most frequently asked questions from new businesses or established concerns looking for a refresh.  Or another common scenario is a service based business that start to diversify and wants to set up an online retail store to increase revenue.

Finding the right web developer for your business can be a bit daunting.  Firstly, look at other e commerce sites, or ask around locally to try and identify which sites have the look and functionality of what you envisage.  This could then lead you to a few potential companies.

Also attending networking events is advisable, most groups have a web developer in attendance and having the chance to speak with them and ask a couple of key questions may be all that is needed to get you on the right track

It is normal to feel apprehensive about making that call because you will be unsure of what is involved, what budget to set and what questions to ask.  Here is a rough guide

Basic generic considerations

Content management system – do you want autonomy over your own content?  Or do you want the developer to amend when changes are required?  Having a content management system has a larger up front cost, but as you are able to update it yourself, there generally are no ongoing fees for managing content.

The features that you may want to talk about:

  • Blog facility integral to main site – only if you intend to blog, but it is great for your optimisation
  • Mobile friendly interface – 40% of online traffic is from a mobile device and the trend is growing
  • Domain registration and hosting – do you want your developer to provide this, or will you source your own?
  • Are your business needs likely to change quickly in the first couple of years?  If so the site needs to be built in such a way that it can be added to with minimum outlay

Possible questions you can ask your developer

  • Do you support all major web browsers – i.e. are your designs compatible with Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer?
  • What SEO services do you offer?
  • Do you provide after sales support?
  • What other services do you offer i.e. email, social media

With regards to the possible functions you may want to include on an e-commerce site, here is a general list.

  1. Upload of own product images with option to enter descriptions
  2. Easy functionality to add new lines
  3. Plenty of space with host provider so that website loads quickly
  4. Integral search function
  5. Facility for customers to ask questions and to be able to capture emails
  6. Trustworthy merchant services
  7. Shopping cart that break down costings including VAT and shipping
  8. Customer personalisation such as favourite products, or recommendations
  9. Being able to return to shopping page from basket
  10. Inventory management
  11. Customer / order tracking or tracking customer behaviour
  12. Invoice function
  13. Capacity for as many products as you need and room for growth
  14. Creating customer accounts
  15. Filters e.g. best seller or cheapest first
  16. Service that backs up data regularly
  17. An unsubscribe option
  18. Copyright and privacy policies
  19. Terms and conditions

Please subscribe today to receive downloadable guides and to keep up to date with marketing news

Caroline

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Market Research – An Important Foundation for Success

Market Research – An important foundation for success

Most people, when starting or running a business, are so enamoured with their idea, product or service that they believe that naturally everyone will feel the same. This is a common mind-set, which to some extent is needed, to fuel the passion and determination that is critical to running a successful enterprise.

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However, the drawback of this, is that in the excitement of wanting to start-up quickly, the most ignored aspect of planning for business, is carrying out market research.  Quite often the mere phrase strikes terror in the hearts of many, as images of shivering in the local town centre with a clip board are conjured up.  This is understandable, as the idea of speaking to complete strangers is daunting enough, yet alone canvassing opinions about a business idea!  Be reassured that market research can be a completely natural process and even quite enjoyable – honest!

What is market research?

Market research is the act of collecting data through both primary and secondary means, to determine if there is sufficient demand, in your area, for the product or service you wish to sell.  Primary research involves speaking directly with individuals or companies that you have identified as potential customers.  Secondary research is information that has already been compiled by larger agencies and is on a larger scale, more about this later.

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The term market research is very commonly misinterpreted.  I can honestly say that 99% of the time, when I ask a client what market research they have carried out, they reel off a list of other businesses that are already operating in their chosen field, in other words, competitors.  This is in fact competitor analysis, which I will discuss in another blog post.

Why is market research so important?

Why is research important?  Because the success of any enterprise depends on several factors:

Is there a demand for your product or service?  If so, where – is it locally, more regionally or somewhere else altogether?  Are your potential customers already accessing similar services from competitors, if so what are there feelings, are they happy or ready for a change?  What is the average spend, what are the most popular products or services and how often are they likely to return for repeat purchases?

This is a brief overview, I will shortly be compiling sample market research questionnaires for you to download and adapt, with further support offered if required.

Market research can also help you determine what market share you will need in order for your business to remain viable and to earn a realistic income.

Myth – market research is just for start-ups

Market research is not just ‘homework for start-ups’.  It is a fundamental exercise that is the lifeblood of any business.  Yes, it is more prudent to get to know your market when you are in the early stages of setting up a business.  Yes, through being in business for any length of time you do get to know your customers better – BUT – do you actually listen, take time to reflect and adapt your business on a regular basis?  If the answer is no, then maybe it is time to go back to basics and use a more formal feedback exercise to make sure your business is still relevant and not in danger of slipping into a rut.  It can happen to anyone, think Woolworths, HMV!  Big companies that failed to respond to rapidly changing customer needs and when they did, it was too late, competitors had already jumped in and stolen the show.  I will compile a guide shortly for those who have been in business for a while and want to carry out formal feedback

What are the pitfalls of not carrying out market research?

Taking time to talk with people and getting valuable feedback on your business idea is a huge opportunity to save yourself time, money and heartache.  This is because it is important that when you start-up that you fully understand your customers, their needs and expectations and behaviours.  Without these insights, you do not know who you are talking to, what language to use, how much to charge, where to advertise or how to persuade them they can’t live without your product or service.  You may as well stand at the top of a mountain and shout into the wind!

This is why research is crucial.

How do I carry out market research?

I believe that there are three main reasons why people avoide carrying out primary market research:

  • Lack of confidence in approaching strangers
  • Fear of the likely response
  • Simply not understanding how to go about it

Once the mystery surrounding the above is removed, it all suddenly makes sense and many embrace the process and are inspired and motivated by what they learn.  I will compile a guide for this shortly that will be available for download to make your research clearer.

Secondary data

As I mentioned earlier, there is also information in the public domain around certain industries, sectors and consumer behaviour, which can provide great insights into the wider arena that you may be hoping to operate within.  Here are some examples:

Internet forums – particularly for niche businesses centred around a specific interest or past time, start discussions or read past posts.

Ebay completed listings offers great data on how well certain products are selling

Government statistics for the whole of the UK (www.statistics.gov.uk).  The Office for National statistics ONS provides Census data, population demographics, income levels and social and regional trends (www.sns.gov.uk)

To obtain more detailed data you may have to pay, particularly for information on particular market sectors.  Two common sources are: Mintel (www.mintel.com) and Datamonitor (www.datamonitor.co.uk).

Trade Journals and Magazines can also offer industry specific information.  Also is there an overarching institute or regulatory body for your sector?  For example, counsellors can join the BACP, which demonstrates that they voluntarily subscribe to ethical standards and in return they will receive resources, information and training to keep their knowledge up to date.  They would also be a great source of marketing information.

Finally, a word of caution

Try and avoid friends and family giving you feedback as potential customers, they may be either too positive or too negative!

Please subscribe to this blog for more postings on how to carry out market research and to receive downloadable guides.

You can also contact me via Facebook  or Twitter @kingfishermktg

I would love to hear from you, particularly if you wish to discuss any issues this post has raised for you

Caroline

Introduction to Confidentiality Agreements

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Image courtesy of NobMouse 

If you are considering seeking advice on a business idea or going into a joint venture, you may need to protect sensitive information or intellectual property.  The easiest way to do this is to enter into a confidentiality agreement with the other party.

The 2 main names attributed to such an arrangement are:

  • Confidentiality Agreement
  • Non-disclosure agreement

When to use a Confidentiality agreement

During business negotiations that mean you may have to reveal sensitive commercial information to another party such as:

  • Consultancy
  • Purchases, transfers and sales of intellectual property
  • Joint commercial ventures
  • Distribution agreements
  • Tenders
  • Buying or selling a business

To assist with some of these common business communications, there are proformas available online at Simply Docs.   However, it is strongly advisable to seek legal advice when drawing up an agreement.

The type of information that is deemed as sensitive are; client lists, suppliers, financial information.  intellectual property also falls into this category, details of designs, inventions, books etc.  If you have to discuss intellectual property then it would be advisable to issue a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) to relevant personnel for them to read and sign prior to any meeting taking place.

If someone breaks the terms of the agreement an application could be made to a court for an injunction to prevent the other party disclosing the information.

This would be  a matter for the civil courts.  If you or your business suffers a loss as a result you could be eligible to seek compensation.

For further information, contact your local commercial legal representative

There are also guidelines on Law Donut on disputes over intellectual property

Caroline

Marketing Your Small Business

Marketing Your Small Business

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The next few columns will focus on marketing.  This is because it is so overlooked by small businesses and undervalued.  It is also a major topic with many different facets, too many to cover in a short article.

What is Marketing?

Marketing is the way in which a business communicates with its existing and potential customers.  To concentrate all your efforts on just your existing customers, or just your potential ones is a mistake.  Existing customers should be looked after and their problems should be solved by your product or service.  New customers need to know, firstly that you exist and secondly, what you are offering and thirdly, what’s in it for them if they buy from you.

Here is a list of some common mistakes made by small businesses

  • Putting together a website that is not easy to read or navigate and with poor quality images
  • Poorly written copy on websites with spelling mistakes
  • Advertising only a mobile phone number on primary business stationery, such as business cards
  • Relying on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or Pay Per Click (PPC) only advertising and hoping that all potential customers will find the site and instantly become customers
  • Not having a realistic budget for promoting the business, or in some cases no budget
  • Using social media inappropriately
  • Carrying out no market research (this even applies to existing businesses)
  • Not recognising that much marketing and promotion has to be carried out before enquiries convert into regular paying customers
  • Preoccupation with what the business is selling and not what the customer is buying
  • Being too technical or using too much jargon in the copy
  • Using home produced marketing literature

Therefore if you are not using the right methods of communication, or are not communicating at all, or are using language that most people outside your industry do not understand, then straight away your message is not being heard.  The result will be, your business is not getting many customers, you get disheartened and eventually give up.

Marketing is simply reaching out to your customers in a language they can understand, through various channels, giving your business more time to build its brand. More importantly marketing has to be carried out regularly so your messages are consistent and hard to ignore!

Social Media in the Real World

Social Media Examiner have just released their annual report publishing results from a survey of businesses and their use of social media

Key findings

  • 59% marketers use social media for 6 hours or more per week, 33% for 11 or more hours per week
  • 94% of businesses employed social media for marketing
  • 83% state it is important to their business
  • Top two benefits of social media marketing are increasing exposure and increasing traffic
  • 65% said it was useful for gaining market intelligence
  • 58%  indicated generating leads and developing loyal fans were also benefits

It was acknowledged that it takes time to develop relationships that lead to sales.  They have been using social media for 3 years and spend 11 or more hours per week on it

Small business owners with 2 or more employees were more likely to see improved sales from social media 51%

Even with minimal time investment, 83% indicated their social media efforts increased exposure for their business, particularly those who have been employing it for a year or more

56% of those investing 6-10 hours per week in social media were able to build new partnerships, particularly in B2B

61% spending 6 hours per weeksee lead generation benefits

Financial Cost

The main financial cost of social media marketing is the time it takes to gain success.  Self employed were more likely than others to see reductions in costs when using social media marketing.  However a third of mid sized and large company respondents said it had not reduced their marketing expenses.

Marketplace Insight

65% of marketers found social media helped in understanding their marketplace

B2C companies 63% of them were more likely to develop a loyal fan base through social media with B2B at 54%

Commonly used social media tools

Facebook is the top platform at 92%, closely followed by Twitter at 82% and Linked In at 73%, blogs 61% and You Tube at 57%.  Google Plus is catching up slowly at 40%.

Smaller businesses are more likely to use Linked In  and larger businesses more likely to use You Tube

Those new to social media ranked Facebook as their number one choice by a long shot, followed by Twitter and Linked In, but this stays the same for those who have been using for up to 3 years.

You Tube was cited as a key growth area for the future for many businesses, particularly larger organisations.

Businesses also aim to increase their activity generally across all the platforms

Google Plus is the least understood and a key area identified that they would like to know more about

Other Marketing Activity

The top 3 areas of other activity that marketers participated in were email, SEO and event marketing which included networking.

The main points gleaned from this report are

  • Social media works significantly, but it takes time, 12 months plus and needs an investment of around 11 hours per week
  • It is here to stay and is still very much a part of businesses’ future strategy
  • It is taking precedent over other forms of marketing, but not replacing them

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about social media please contact me

Caroline

Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

Social Media and Marketing Strategy

Social media is still very much misunderstood.

Large organisations are still failing to capture the essence of what social media can achieve, so if you are a small business struggling to get to grips with it, then hopefully that fact offers some consolation

Previously I published a blog on an Introduction to Social Media, which gives an overview of how to get started.  This blog, however, addresses the principles of introducing a marketing strategy that includes social media.

I can offer training on how to set up the various accounts, but I felt it was more important to provide the context for which these platforms are relevant to your business.

Social media CANNOT be used in isolation. However, it has the potential to:

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Educate your audience
  • Provide Information
  • Position your product or service
  • Build trust and break down barriers
  • Drive traffic to your website
  • Generate Leads
  • Provide after sales care
  • Keep customers loyal

Some of you may be familiar with the Sales Funnel.  There are many variations of this, but essentially it is a matrix that demonstrates the process customers go through before they make an actual purchase.

A simplistic model is

  • Awareness
  • Education
  • Research
  • Enquiry
  • Engagement
  • Action – purchase
  • Repeat Engagement

This shows that purchase decisions are rarely impulsive, particularly in the business to business world (B2B)

So to send your prospects further down the funnel using social media requires strategic planning.

Social Media is about CONTENT.  It is about RELATIONSHIP BUILDING, fostering TRUST, and becoming the VOICE OF AUTHORITY in your field.

It has to sit within your overall marketing plan.  How do you currently generate sales?  How do you currently follow up enquiries and how long does it take to close the sale?

I ask this because what you have to recognise is that social media adds layers to this funnel and will perform at a different rate.

Whether this is faster or slower is dependent on where in the sales process the leads are when they engage with you socially.

On its own, social media reaches buyers earlier in the sales process, which means they take longer to permeate the funnel.  THIS IS WHERE WE GO WRONG because the expectation is that social media will generate instant sales.  This is apparent by the language used in tweets and on Facebook.  Some businesses are guilty of the hard sell, whereby no attempt to engage with the audience is made, nor is there any effort to educate about products, services and how they can benefit their prospects, nor any opportunity taken to demonstrate industry knowledge.

We are consumers ourselves.  Think about how you make a purchase, the process you go through. Would you be on Twitter reading tweets and respond to something that said, ‘we do great websites call us now’?  I very much doubt it.  How do you know they really are great, who are these people, do you know them, like them, trust them?  No, so why would you respond instantly to that?  You don’t.  That is the point.

There are some general tips that you need to consider when using Social Media

Four cornerstones

  • Connect with your customers
  • Engage through regular content – blogs, whitepapers, ebooks, photos, videos
  • Reach through advertising – pay per click, or sponsored stories on Facebook, case studies and testimonials
  • Influence – encourage current customers to become advocates to persuade prospects to buy

Make sure that you have strong calls to action on your platforms, particularly on Facebook.  Linked In is more about participating in discussion, Twitter is a mixture of information sharing and dialogue.

Make sure it is easy for consumers to buy from you.  Where possible use a ‘buy now’ button, and have a great landing page that captures information from clients who are warm leads.  This is relevant for your website and your social platforms.

Facebook is still a mainly business to consumer platform, with the average B2C business having twice as many Likes as B2B.  But given the great interactive nature of Facebook and its multimedia portal, it is essential for all businesses to use it to engage with their audiences.

It provides a complimentary tool to your website.  Your website is static, formal and a provider of information on what you do.  Facebook can be used to provide pre and after-sales service, share good news stories, display pictures, highlight events and so on.  Facebook is easy to customise so you can add Apps for functionality, such as Payvment which enables you to sell through Facebook, or Branch Out that makes it into a mini Linked In.  Facebook have introduced over 60 Apps with the launch of its Timeline feature so the possibilities are ever expanding.

Across all your media as said earlier, it is critical that you capture details of your prospects via an email newsletter sign up page.  This data can then be used for email campaigns that provide a mix of content that help push prospects further down the sales funnel.  E newsletters should have a mix of content that helps drive the decision making process such as answering key questions or overcoming objections

After this process has been established, those that reach this stage will then be ready to enter the more traditional sales process and you will be nearer to closing a sale.

It is not possible to cover individual strategies for each platform in this Blog.  Linked In and Twitter are quite streamlined and easy to get to grips with.  So if you are new, start with Twitter and if you are B2B get a Linked In account.  I can guide you through how to use these quite quickly

For Facebook, this is a lot more complex because it has more functionality.  Contact me for assistance if you need to develop in this area.

If you want to contact me privately or ask any questions then please visit my North West Marketing Hub.

Caroline

Are you Content With Your Content? Copywriting for Your Business

Writing Great Content

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Copywriting not to be confused with Copyright.  Copywritng is associated with the media, it describes the role of the person who prepares the articles for publication. Copyright is the exclusive legal right given to the originator for a fixed number of years.

Copywriting however is relevant to everyone in business, because having to write content for your marketing is part of everyday life.

So how do you come up with content for your fliers, websites, brochures, blogs?  I guess you sit for hours staring at a blank screen slowly thinning your hair-line.

I know that there is also a dark underworld of those who like the copy, paste and tweak function.  Apart from being illegal, there is no point in doing this. Yes you solve a short-term time and creativity problem, but in the process create other barriers.

Think about it for a minute, what exactly does this gain?

Does it tell the world about your business, what you do, how you do it.  Does your personality shine through, is your USP immediately clear?  Well if you have copied it then NO.

Writing copy is a skill.  You have to be concise yet still get the message across.  You have to use the correct tone of voice i.e. formal, informal, friendly, professional.  It has to represent your brand and what it means.  It has to scream out what your USP is.

Most of my work is writing content for other businesses.  I spend time getting to know them and ask lots of questions, so that I understand what they want to achieve, who their target audiences are and what is different about their business compared to their competitors.

Getting someone to do this for you is not going to bust your budgets.  I have two ways of working.  Either I can carry out an audit across the business and suggest strategies and quick wins and write copy off the back of this.  Or with a specific project in mind, you can write your thoughts and ideas of what you roughly want to say.  I can then polish it up so that it flows and has the right tone of voice and your customers can understand it.

This last point is quite salient, because when you work within the company, it is difficult to take a step back and think about what your customers need to know and what information they want to come away with. A good copywriter is able to write from the customer’s perspective yet still know what you are trying to do.  On the face of it, you can look the same as your competitors, but there is always something unusual that can be teased out.

Another tripping point is jargon.  Using endless techno speak and acronyms alienates you straight away, but because this is how you talk all the time, you forget that to the layperson, it is a foreign language.  The worst culprits are holistic therapists, IT companies, accountants, solicitors and education.

Writing for the Web is even harder, because as well as communicating with your clients, you have to bear in mind indexing – so that the site registers with the search engines, also known as Search Engine Optimisation.  There are many schools of thought on this, but in summary, write naturally with the customer in mind and then build in the optimisation organically.

Luckily I work with a range of associates that can provide web design and search engine optimisation techniques.  The latter is best described as getting known locally, which after all is more important than being No 1 on Google.   SEO is a mysterious dark art to the masses, but boiled down, packing your copy with keywords is not the way to go.  So when I am advising my own clients, I will offer to write their copy and incorporate the keywords and phrases naturally.  So next time you find yourself stressing about what to write.  Think about your audience, what problems are you solving and what information will they be looking for?

Or outsource it to a good, local Copywriter.

Caroline