If, like me and many other startups, you don’t have a dedicated sales person then it will be you and you alone who has to find clients, win the work, do the work, and invoice for it. That’s not one, not two but three hats for you to wear.
If that’s the case, you need cost effective, quick and easy ways to reach out to possible clients and right now, the quickest and easiest option is almost certainly email.
Why? Because you can send an email right now without needing any other input from anyone. There’s no receptionist to halt it at the gate, no engaged tone, it can’t be diverted to voicemail, there’s no door to shut in its face, and it won’t be dismissed as an ad unless you make it sound like one. In short, it gets through. It will go to an inbox and be opened by someone and read — and that’s your opening to make your pitch.
What need can you meet? What problem can you solve? How can you say that as a tweet — in under 140 characters? You won’t send it as a tweet but if you start with that in mind you’ll cut out the waffle. You can use that faux tweet as part of your subject line because when someone is scanning down their list of emails, seeing a solution to their problem will jump out.
Then, in your email proper, tell them a very short story: start by describing the situation your customer is in and the problem they face. Then describe the consequences of their not solving the problem followed by a solution. Start your story with “If…”.
Starting with “if” leads to an automatic question in the reader’s mind: am I in this situation? Yes or no? If they say yes then they’re a potential customer and they are likely to read on.
Do not, whatever you do, start your email by saying things like: “I just wanted to tell you…” or “I’d like to introduce our services…”.
The best time to send a prospective email is at a time when you think the other person will be most likely to open it. If you use a programme like Mailchimp you will see when people opened your emails so you’ll be able to adapt your send out time to get better results.
To start with though, you won’t know when a good time is, so you have to take a best guess. For many of us the first email of the day we read is the one at the top of our inbox, which means it was probably sent after midnight. Avoid Monday and Friday because people are often busy catching up on tasks before or after the weekend so they won’t be paying much attention to emails from strangers.
If you didn’t get a reply, send a follow up asking if they got your first email and if they’ve had a chance to consider it — but always state you appreciate they are busy and may not have seen it.
The quality of the lead is important. You need to find out exactly who you should be emailing, look them up on their website, on LinkedIn or on industry news websites. You could even call the company and ask the receptionist: say that you need their help because you’d like to make sure your email gets to the right person.
Whatever strategy you use, you always need to make sure your email service is safe and secure. Your email system and the emails themselves are part of your sales pipeline so you need to make sure your emails aren’t being blocked because your recipient’s firewall thinks they look like spam or contain a virus or a phishing attack.
Making sure your email system is secure is part of keeping your wider IT system and your business healthy. The last thing you need is your email system going down or the content of your emails stopping you from using it to make contact with potential customers.
Lee Carnihan is a digital entrepreneur writing about small business IT security
You can read more about email best practice in our extensive resources.
Listen to this cry of anguish. It came from someone commenting at the end of a blog post about Penguin 2.0, which (as I will explain) was an update that Google made to its search ranking algorithm.
To paraphrase: "For eight years I have been trying to follow the twists and turns of what Google wants websites to do. Every time I finish making changes, Google changes the rules again. I am trying to make my ecommerce site successful, but I cannot. I have lost my life savings on this business. I am not going to bother changing after this. If Google moves the goalposts again after Penguin 2.0 they can go **** themselves."
That was in May. Later in the summer Google released the Hummingbird update, a change to the algorithm that was an absolute whopper.
While I completely sympathise with the person whose savings had run out, there is a positive aspect to the changes that Google endlessly makes.
Consider these changes over the last ten years, each one given a name rather like the way hurricanes are named:
2003: Florida update penalised websites that were stuffed with spammy key words.
2004: Brandy update penalised too many synonyms (eg wealthy is a synonym of rich).
2005: Bourbon update hit duplicate content; Big Daddy update hit low quality reciprocal links.
2009: Vince update rewarded news authorities and recognised brands.
2010: Mayday update rewarded specialised niche websites.
2011: Panda update tackled “content farm” websites full of SEO-based content. And as well as algorithms, Google used human testers to identify low quality content.
2012: Penguin update further penalised spammy links.
2013: Penguin 2.0 hit spammy links and other SEO deception activities even harder.
Yes, put simply, Google is trying to penalise the tricksters and reward those of us that provide good, honest, high quality content.
Now Hummingbird moves beyond looking at the mere words in a search; it attempts to understand the full meaning of the query, so it can then deliver search results to match. So you can expect websites that answer lots of questions to do well.
The poor guy who spent eight years losing his life savings on an ecommerce website will have known all along that Google would gradually improve its search techniques, but meanwhile he had to compete using the techniques that were delivering the best results that month. Alas there was no easy option for him, even with the benefit of hindsight.
We are now getting to a point where all of us can focus on content that meets the needs of the website user. The Donut websites have done this all along — because our revenue is not advertising-based and so we do not rely on high traffic figures. So ironically we have ended up with better traffic than sites that may have invested huge sums in SEO.
Rory MccGwire is the chief executive of Atom Content Publishing, publishers of the Donut websites.
Creating great content is a sure-fire way for small businesses to attract and keep customers. Research shows that businesses that blog 15 times or more each month get five times more traffic than those who don’t blog at all. So it’s clear that content is key to generating leads and driving traffic to your website.
Yet, according to Hubspot, only 10% of companies have a dedicated content creator. That means, the vast majority of small business owners have to do all the hard work, and the marketing, themselves.
However, Hubspot research also shows that businesses that create new content just once a month are still 49% more likely to have acquired a customer through their blog. So even if you can only create a little content, you’ll soon be reaping the benefits.
But where does a small business that’s new to blogging start? Or if you’re already blogging how do you keep the ideas flowing? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Who are my clients? If you already have your marketing personas carefully scripted out, go back to them. Think again, have their needs changed? What are their business pains? Can you still provide a solution? And importantly, have you really been considering your targets when creating your content?
2. Why will they listen to me? What do you offer that makes people want to listen and how will your content benefit them? The average prospect doesn't want to hear a sales pitch, so what can you provide that will break down those walls and grab their attention? Authentic, intelligent and educational content is a great way to attract new clients, and keep them.
3. What search terms are leading people to your website? Use these to create content that answers their questions, but keeps them coming back for more.
4. What has been popular in the past? Remember that blog that got 2,000 shares six months back? Is it still relevant? Or could you update it and share it again? Think about the lifespan of your content — are they all one hit wonders, or do they have a longer shelf-life? Why not consider writing new posts on topics that have proved popular? If they’re still getting hits then it makes sense to provide your prospects with the great content that they’re looking for.
5. What do I want them to do at the end? Do you want potential clients to leave your page, or do you want them to download an eGuide? A simple call to action, a comment asking people to get in touch with their views, and at the very least, social share buttons are the next step in the lead nurturing funnel of love.
It’s just the beginning. But while these tips won’t turn you into a modern day Shakespeare, what they will help you develop ideas and pull new customers to your website — and fundamentally, that’s what content marketing is all about.
Rhian Morgans is an online PR executive for Tomorrow People.
If you want a successful ecommerce website, then there is a formula you must apply. It is:
Traffic is the most powerful of the three items before the equals sign because the traffic influences both the AOV and the conversion rate. However, simply driving a lot of traffic will never be enough.
You also need to be driving the right kind of traffic. Here’s how:
1. Understand the traffic mix that’s hitting your website and how it is performing. Almost always this will show that one traffic source is performing particularly badly — so that’s the one you need to deal with.
2. When analysing your traffic, you need to consider what sort of marketing activity drove that traffic to your website in the first place. There are nine key marketing methods in ecommerce: content, email, social media, brand awareness, offline marketing, search, Pay Per Click (PPC), remarketing and partnerships.
These methods are either free or paid-for and what they achieve is either brand building or conversion driving.
3. Think about each of your marketing activities and consider how they should be performing:
When you start looking at your marketing this way, you’ll quickly find some activity you really want to stop, some you want to do more of and some you need to test.
4. Once you have your existing traffic sources optimised, you will be ready to start looking for more traffic.
An ecommerce business can’t afford to rely on one traffic source — you never know when it’s going to dry up or change, or when the Return on Investment (ROI) is going to deteriorate too much for it to be useful. As a minimum you should be using four at any one time and test others.
Recent changes to Google Adwords means “simple” PPC has become a labyrinth of different testing opportunities which, when combined together in the right way, could bring you some very cost effective traffic.
Looking at and reviewing the performance of your traffic, and making sure you’re using the right marketing methods, and enough marketing methods really is essential for your success.
British Airways, Cineworld and Nestle — whether it’s posting sarcastic replies or not replying at all, they’ve all been caught up in a customer complaint saga on social media over the past year or so.
And if brands like that can get caught out, there’s a chance your small business could too.
Here are five quick tips to help you deal with customer complaints on social media:
The whole point of social media is that it’s always connected and 24-7. Whether it’s within working hours or out of them, you should always try and respond to customer complaints on social media quickly and professionally — the longer you leave it, the more damaging it could be.
Yes, the customer might be making a stupid complaint or one which they have no right to make, but they’re still a customer at the end of the day so you need to treat them with respect and professionalism — fail to do so and you risk losing them and everyone they know as customers. Remember, you’re representing your brand in a public arena so ensure your replies are polite, courteous and tie in with brand values.
Just because the complaint is being made on social media, there’s no reason why you should treat it any differently to an in-store complaint. Think about what you’d say to a customer if they made the complaint to you in person and then communicate this via the relevant platform.
When a customer questioned Cineworld’s sky-high cinema prices, the company’s social media manager replied with a series of downright sarcastic and rude comments. OK, so they might have thought they were funny — but when a customer is making a serious complaint, humour definitely isn’t the way to go.
If you’ve got an employee handling your social media accounts, there’s a strong chance you already have lots of trust in them — but would you feel confident if they had to handle a complaint? At the end of the day, it’s your brand they’re representing, so you need to make sure they’re on board. Be sure to give them proper training on your brand’s policy regarding complaints — or alternatively, ask them to pass complaints on to another member of staff who is familiar with your policy.
Amy Edwards is the SEO manager for Bubble Jobs.
What’s wrong with this website?
This self-orientated list is offputting for anyone searching for answers to their problems. Read it closely — OUR services, OUR products, about US. There’s nothing here that shows that you care about your clients and their challenges.
Say no to jigsaw pieces, hand shakes and random smiley women answering phones if you want your business to look authentic. Invest in decent original photography or illustration that reflects your brand.
It’s all about how great the company is, and says nothing about the kind of people they help, in language they understand.
It’s neat to be niche — promising to do anything for anyone won’t win you much business.
A brochure is only handy if your visitor is just about to buy, but what if they’re “just looking”? There’s nothing here to engage or interest anyone earlier in the buying cycle.
Not only is it out of date, but again it’s very inward looking. It’s all about the company, with nothing about the customer. And there’s no offer to stay in touch now they’ve found you — no newsletter, no Twitter. Your website visitors could soon be gone without a trace.
I am sure you’ll have seen many websites like this from businesses both big and small. Little more than an online brochure, a site like this can work as a credibility-building tool but doesn’t do much to engage or build trust in what you do. Businesses with a website like this are missing a trick.
Remember: your website is not a sales proposal. Not all visitors will be ready to buy straight away. If you want to engage and generate leads from your website — a regular stream of warm, inbound leads — you need to do more than present basic information on your company. Answer their questions, make the content valuable to your audience and you can turn your website into a fully-fledged member of your sales team.