This year's Small Business Week kicked off with the results of the latest Business Pulse Survey conducted by BT and their associated partners. Over 7,000 small businesses took part and the findings indicate a level of optimism to the tune of 75 per cent expecting to see an end to the recession by the close of 2010. The remaining 35 per cent are even more upbeat and state we will be clear of it at the start of next year.
One of the reasons for such optimism is the availability and vast improvements in technology for business. The bigger technology picture that we can draw from the survey findings detail that 61 per cent said that faster broadband speeds had had a positive impact on their business. 40 per cent said that better websites and ecommerce were benefiting them.
But for me, that isn't the best bit, oh no.
As a keen advocate of social media, it is encouraging to see this relatively recent addition to the marketing toolbox appear in the survey results as something which has registered on the radar of small businesses and is seen to be having a positive effect on their performance.
The stat that vindicates the banging of the social media drum reads as follows: '19 per cent of those questioned for the Business Pulse Survey said that social media, forums, Twitter, Facebook, etc, were having a positive effect.' The significance of this is that the need for such a statistic did not exist 12 months previously. Social media as a means of small business practice is on the up.
Having recently attended the Like Minds conference in Exeter, which examined the return on investment from social media, the support and need for social media business practices to be part of the small business agenda is ever increasing and it will be the innovative small firms which will capitalise on making the most of available technologies and be the wealth creators of the country.
Freelancers can extend the reach of your business. A one-man business can be transformed into a full service agency with a liberal dose of freelance goodness. Let's take a quick look at how you can get the most from your freelancers and avoid problems.
Here are eight tips for making your interactions with freelancers profitable, fruitful and happy:
Tell them what you LIKE about their work more than you tell them what you don't like about their work. However confident and assured your freelancer is, they'll still love to hear what you like about their work.
It's better to guide people with praise than with criticism. Lead them towards what you love by telling them what you like. Quietly make it clear what you don't like, but tread carefully over their ego. The fastest way to demotivate your freelancer is with unmitigated criticism. And creative people don't create very well when their ego is struggling to recover from your hard knocks.
If you pay them substandard rates, they'll do substandard work. If they're too expensive, find another freelancer. You might think that haggling over the cost of work is a clever trick, but you inevitably reduce the quality of the work you receive. Not so clever after all.
If you want perfect work from your freelancer, make sure their understanding of your needs is as solid as yours. Without a clear brief, how can you complain if they get it wrong?
Freelancers are poor. Send them money. If you delay payments to freelancers their children will starve, their partners will go naked and their pets will die in agony.
Don't hire a designer and then tell them how to design stuff. You are not a designer. And if you are a designer, do the work yourself and stop wasting freelancers' time. Resist the urge to meddle in your freelancer's output. Have faith in their expertise. After all, it's what they do every day, for many varied clients.
Be considerate of your freelancer's time. A freelancer's time is their only product. Wasting their time is like stealing. Would you steal a CD? No. Would you rob a bank? No. So don't waste a freelancer's time.
As much as you should listen to your freelancer and heed their advice, remember that you know more about your industry and your business than they do. So teach them. Share your knowledge and help them produce better work.
Interesting story of artistic rebellion on the BBC today - in this case, not against the machinery of the state, but against people who are against the machinery of the state and insist on sharing music - for free - via the Internet.
Our poor, destitute pop stars have stamped their collective feet and said, “Enough! No more depriving us of another few quid for our swollen coffers by sharing our music with your mates.” Poor loves.
Does anyone really care whether Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason, Lily Allen or whoever, misses out on a few grand here and there? How bad can file-sharing really be? Well, plenty of lesser-known artists are living on the breadline and depend on every penny they can earn to maintain their career - and they’re the ones who are hit the hardest. So this isn’t really about the big names at all.
I’m not even sure it’s a simple point of legal principle either. Technically, the musicians are right, of course. Intellectual property (IP) law is clear about these things - artists have an established right to be paid for the sale and distribution of the works they have created.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the performers or writers actually own the IP (in the case of musicians, often it’s the label or distributors), but, through custom, practice and performance contracts, they have a right to benefit from it. For people who already have millions, the impact of file-sharing is probably relatively marginal - certainly less than the impact of the contracts the labels impose on them, if Prince and George Michael are to be believed.
For up-and-coming artists, however, it could make the difference between being able to continue an artistic career or giving it up to work full-time in Sainsbury’s. Worst case scenario: our culture is deprived of great works that would have thrilled or inspired millions, because no-one’s prepared to pay for them.
The issue of ownership of artistic works is not one that can be easily defined by law, in my opinion. Who owns Penny Lane, for example? The Beatles, who wrote it? The estate of Michael Jackson, who bought the publishing rights? The old-timers’ band in Frinton who bash out a cover on the Hammond organ? The millions of people who have bought it, listened to it, been inspired to explore more of the Beatles’ work and from there delve into the music of other artists influenced by them - in other words, people whose lives have been culturally enriched by the song?
So, who owns the cultural artefacts that help shape our sensibilities and our feelings about the world? And who benefits from them the most? There’s a strong argument to say that we, the public, do. It’s a liberal, idealistic vision of art and its place in society. Many people think that art should be free. But if we subscribe entirely to this view, how does the artist live?
Until the 19th century, since when the commercial model of art has really taken hold, artists were often dependent on family wealth or a rich patron in order to live and write, paint or play. This model just doesn’t exist as much nowadays - and neither should it. Art is at least as much commerce as it is creativity these days - and we have, to some extent, our own collusion with the artists to thank for this. Think of the rapacious commercialism of Andy Warhol, for example: sure, he was making an interesting comment about the mass production methods of modern society; he was also absolutely raking it in. And we’ve lapped it up.
The point is that artists need money as much as the rest of us (let’s not get into the issue of greed). Whether we like it or not, art is commerce and probably always has been, because people have to live and eat - and we’ve all bought into this idea. This means artists are entitled to the same protection as any other producer. You wouldn’t steal a chair, would you? You may think your emotional response to a piece of art is unique and special and it probably is; but does that give you the right to steal a song?
Small Business Week is coming up – a week of events, talks, seminars, advice clinics and the like intended to help small-business owners, throw the spotlight on the issues that are affecting them and maybe even influence people to get something done about them.
This year, the organisers, to their credit, are taking an ‘inclusive’ approach to the week-long campaign. They’re conducting a survey of small firms which aims to “measure the current health, drivers and inhibitors to successful business in the UK and create a better understanding of what's needed to enable the UK to recover faster”. I think they mean they want to know what helps or prevents you from thriving at the moment.
I’m urging you, shamelessly, to fill out the survey, which closes on Monday, 28 September. Do it now. It’ll take five minutes and someone (though, in all honesty, probably not you) will win a holiday to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics.
Now I’m going to declare an interest: we’re going to be reporting on Small Business Week and maybe even taking part in seminars, advice clinics and the like. We’d love to build up some sort of picture of what marketing issues matter to small firms at the moment so we can introduce these to discussions or behave like proper journalists and ask pointed questions about them.
So please tell us (using the comment box below):
We CAN’T give you a holiday in Vancouver. We CAN give you our heartfelt thanks and a virtual bag of Donuts. Cheers!
I am building up a portfolio of corporate myopia stories. The standard story goes as follows:
Robert Craven (RC): “Why do people buy your product?”
Corporate Client (CC): “Because we are the best.”
CC: “Well, we are better than the competition.”
CC: “Um and we are the only people to offer XYZ features”
RC: “And is that why people buy your product?”
CC: “Well we are competitive on price.”
RC: “And is that why people buy from you?”
CC: “Um, it could be our brilliant marketing campaign…?
CC: “OK, why do they buy our product?”
What I find so scary is how fragile the arguments seem to be.
And how can you create a marketing campaign or a sales activity or design a better service/product if you aren’t clear on what it is that the customer wants, needs and deserves to get?
So, my friend,
“Why do people buy your product?”
Your answer here: “___________________________________”
Anyone that follows me on Twitter will know that I'm quite a keen gardener. Last summer, I pretty much managed to grow all our vegetables throughout the summer, and I was looking forward to this year being no different. To add to that I've recently been very interested in growing my own cut flowers, and had enthusiastically gone out and dug up a few new bits of lawn to create a cutting garden. I had big dreams of trugs full of vegetables and armfuls of cut flowers to give to friends as presents.
I started out the year enthusiastically, but to be honest, with a new baby, a business to run, a book to write and everything else us working mums have to contend with, I haven't been out there as much as I should. My little gems have bolted, the beets aren't doing well and the whole garden looks a bit of a mess. And it suddenly dawned on me today that gardening is a lot like marketing.
Every week I just need to do a little bit to my garden to keep the whole thing looking beautiful and becoming productive. I need to keep on top of the weeds, but I also need to thin out, harvest and plant new seed.
As Stephen Covey states, nature is a perpetual cycle that you can't cheat. You've got to do little bits in stages or you get this feast and famine effect. So it seems ludicrous that although we recognise that in gardening you need to do little and often, we expect quick fixes when it comes to our marketing.
Marketing, just as with your garden, has a process that takes time to make work. You've got to generate leads, build relationships, look after the clients you have and make sure you harvest – i.e. close the deal as well. It's really not rocket science, you just need to put in a small amount of effort on a regular basis and you really will reap the rewards.
Visit Fiona Humberstone’s Marvellous Monthly Marketing Tips blog for marketing and branding tips.