As you might have gathered, it’s our first birthday. The Donut MD Rory MccGwire has already written about why we set up the Donut websites and what we’re planning to do next - so I won’t talk about that.
Instead, I’d like to thank you - our readers, experts, colleagues and friends - for your fantastic support over the last 12 months. It’s been challenging; it’s been a steep learning curve; but it’s been fun.
I’d also like to publicly thank my colleagues at BHP, who have been brilliant. From the moment the Donut project got under way, it’s involved a massive amount of work and the guys here have all done their bit to help make these the best sites they can be.
So thank you, readers. Thank you, UK small businesses. Thank you, experts. Thank you, colleagues. Here’s a cake we made ourselves (in the style of a donut, naturally) and some nice words from three of the businesses who have featured on the site over the past year. We don’t usually blow our own trumpet, but what the hell!
“Marketing Donut has proved to be a fabulous resource for businesses such as ours with its clear advice and inspirational case studies - including ours! Naked Wines launched in the midst of recession and has gone from strength to strength thanks to our ethos of championing small winemakers and working closely with our customers and partners.” Rowan Gormley, founder, NakedWines
“As the owner of a small business, you need to have a good understanding of many business disciplines. The Marketing Donut is a great help when you want ideas and inspiration about any areas of marketing. The articles are practical, to-the-point and well written. Half an hour spent on the site will pay great dividends.” Andrew Jardine, founder, Atlantic Trampolines
“I think the Marketing Donut is brilliant and it gives me lots of new ideas. I follow every day and would highly recommend.” Neil Westwood, managing director, Magic Whiteboard Limited
Why I started the Donut
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.
We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.
So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.
What we’ve achieved in a year
As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.
We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.
All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)
Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.
Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.
The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.
2010-2011: what’s in it for you?
As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.
We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.
We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.
An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.
The difference between businesses that survive and those that struggle in 2010 depends on whether or not you are online.
A number of 2010 forecasts, including our own, have pointed towards an increasing dependence in the small firm workplace on the internet. A small business in 2010 must be all things to everyone if it wants to secure customers. Consumer behaviour is driving the need for small businesses to adapt to an increasingly online world.
If you have a physical store you will also want to replicate it as best you can with an online e-commerce solution. Your customers are also likely to want a two-way experience with your online and physical store operation too. For example, if a customer buys a product from your website, they are also going to want the option of returning it in store should the need arise. Also, are you using social media tools to amplify your marketing message and listen to what your customers want?
What Small Business 2.0 can do for your firm, as an event, is bring likeminded and eager small businesses together to share their experiences of trading online. In addition, the line-up of speakers boasts representatives from small businesses that have now graduated to market leaders, as well as our humble MD.
The event takes place in London this Saturday and will consist of a range of workshops, discussions and presentations on how to run every aspect of your online operation.
You may already know, or at least think you know, everything there is about running your website but the day will take you across the spectrum of SEO, Google AdWords and social media to give you the confidence to turn your online operation into a strong profit-making venture.
One of the key features of this event is the low cost and relaxed format that it will take, making it a truly accessible event for small businesses. The Marketing Donut will be attending the event and shall bring all the pertinent thoughts from the day through Twitter and lengthier discussion pieces on the blog.
Social media is all the rage and no end of people are trumpeting what it is and why you are nothing without it. But the honeymoon period is over - what businesses need now is concrete information: how, actually, do you use social media as a marketing tool in your business? And what’s the return on investment?
In a couple of weeks, businesses and social media practitioners will gather in Exeter to discuss these very issues and by the sounds of it, we wont be let out of the room until we have the answers!
The Like Minds event in Exeter takes place on Friday, 16 October at Exeter’s Conference Centre, and not only does it have sponsorship from social media savvy big business boys, the organisers have also sourced small-business owners and managers to put forward their experiences and views on how these new tools can be used in smaller firms.
Event organiser, Scott Gould explains: "Every business owner knows that social media is providing plenty of new opportunities for new business, it’s enabling firms to engage more deeply with current clients, and it’s helping them become a stronger leader in their market.
"But every business also has the query of how to implement it, coupled with the fear of making mistakes and getting it wrong. For the businesses that are doing it, and particularly agencies offering social media to their clients as a service, a roadblock they may be facing instead is providing return on investment.
"Like Minds is a gathering, bringing together some of the world's foremost social media and media experts who will be discussing, debating, and answering your questions."
Naturally, Marketing Donut will be there and we’re planning to provide a live blogging commentary of the highlights and report back to you the big ideas and how they can be implemented in small businesses.
The event promises to be a purposeful mix of speakers, panel discussions and networking. So, don’t forget to tune in!
In a downturn, it isn’t just small businesses that look to make their pennies stretch further or spend more time investing time resources into ‘free’ marketing opportunities but they certainly have a greater opportunity to do such things. If trade is down and money is tight, things might look bleak and the marketing resources cupboard somewhat bare.
One way that you may choose to keep on top of your marketing activities, even if the budget has run out, is to try out something that requires little or no money (beyond buying a computer and internet connection). Social Networking or online media resources are a great way to make use of your time in an inexpensive manner in order to drum up trade and to make sure your business is ‘out there.’
If you are unfortunate enough to have less footfall than you are accustomed to in headier times, you may be in a position to spend more time on Twitter, Facebook and any of the hundreds of online community sites where you can promote, network, converse or establish your brand and make real connections. If you do this well you may see that trade picks up again and so you have less time to commit to online activities as you are dealing with fantastic customers making purchases. When trade does pick up once again, does online marketing through social networking have to give?
I believe in the cliché that tough times make us stronger but beyond that I anticipate that this recession has rewritten the rules of small business marketing and the online marketing model of the future will see social networking as a standard practice in advertising for small firms. When the tills are ringing again and the ‘R’ word is but a distant memory, try and set aside short and frequent bursts of online marketing activity, be it Twitter, Blogging or Facebook, for great results long-term.
No one knows when it might happen again but one thing is certain, the first Twitter Conference hosted by Marketing Donut, under the #mydonut hashtag, was a fantastic event and great success on many levels. On Tuesday, 30 June at 0930 GMT the event kicked off with a flurry of activity. Overall it could be said that the conference was a piece of organised chaos where ideas were exchanged, views were shared and conversations were had. The event was organised with help from Twitter for business expert – Mark Shaw – who shares the Marketing Donut goal of helping small businesses get the best from their marketing activities. Early estimates made by expert Twitter analyser, Andrew Fielden, indicate that the conference saw over 1,800 tweets exchanged in the 90 minute marathon session. Andrew said: “Wow, it was manic wasn't it and just goes to show how popular something like that can be. Well done to you guys for the effort being put in.” The biggest result, in Twitter terms, was the 4th place positioning in the trending topics chart for a sustained period of time. The best part of the conference was the real reach that the event had and saw small business owners exchanging ideas, questions and views in one place with experts. As you can imagine, Marketing Donut site traffic was on the up and the overall reach of Twitter users who could have seen any one of the tweets was 67,562. The range of topics covered was vast and we hope that it was a gainful experience for all involved – as a trial event we did not know what might happen; but there is a definite working idea, which can be adapted for another time, in order to help small businesses maximise their marketing activity, and to get them connected with experts in one place for free! Thank you to everyone who took part. A selection of tweets by experts, small businesses and the Marketing Donut during the event:
yBCmels RT @simon_editor: Phew! Thanks for you question and comments, everyone. Good event! #mydonut// Solid effort! Tuesday 30th of June 2009 Signposter Great conference #mydonut people. Have a fantastic time. Now back to work ;-( Tuesday 30th of June 2009 MarkPocock Are you building your list on your web site? No, don't offer your damn newsletter.Offer something of value. #mydonut Tuesday 30th of June 2009 ThePodCompany RT @Firzzy: Do facebook pages really work? #mydonut Tuesday 30th of June 2009 MarketingDonut Today a twitter conference-tomorrow..some kind of Glastonbury for Twitter? #mydonut Tuesday 30th of June