I see it all the time. I even take advantage of it. Some businesses have too many discount sales and special offers — in fact it can seem like a permanent sale. I call this the DFS effect.
But what happens? No-one buys at full price.
Now it is, of course, very tempting to drop your prices when you have stock to move, and I am not suggesting that you don’t ever have sales, just don’t have them all the time.
If every email you’re sending out to your list is just what’s on sale, or that you’ve knocked so-and-so-many per cent off “this weekend only”, and if you send them often enough, it’s not going to take long to wipe out all your full price sales.
There is a certain children’s mail order company that I often use to buy things for my small people and I know that I only have to hang on for another week or so every time I want to buy something and sure enough a discount voucher will plop onto the doormat through the post. I am regular customer and so I know I don’t have to wait long. Now what’s silly about this is that yes I do buy when I get my discount voucher, but the business has lost my momentum, and also the cash I was ready to part with “on the spot”.
Now for a big mail order catalogue, or a large chain of furniture stores (ahem!) the continuous offers and discounting is part of a major marketing plan, but if you’re a small business you don’t always have the luxury of bigger margins and a constant flow of orders. If you’re a smaller business you value every sale, and all of those that are not at full price just mean you have to work harder or sell more (or both!). You also then set a precedent that your prices are not “real” but “inflated” (yes I know those DFS sofas were on sale somewhere for a week at £1500 but no-one was buying them, right?).
So stick by your guns and don’t be on sale all the time. Think about value-added offers instead, or extras you can include. Once you lower your prices (which is effectively what you do when you’re always on sale) it’s really hard to push them back up again to the same customers. Then you’re left with either finding new customers, or accepting that you’ll only ever be able to sell for less.
And don’t even think about offering five years interest free credit if you’re a small business either! Money up front thank you very much.
As more and more businesses buy social media services from agencies and consultants, there remains some grey area around exactly what you can outsource, what you can’t – or shouldn’t, and how the whole relationship is supposed to work
I’m a provider of social media consultancy and training, but not so long ago I was in the other side of the agency fence, in the corporate camp. So with dual hats on, here’s my guide to buying social media services for business.
Whether you want a full-blown strategy, campaigns, specific training or ongoing coaching in social media, this is a partnership with your provider. A great agency will have to really get under the skin of your organisation and understand what you need to achieve before translating it into social media goals, tactics and measurements.
If part of social media is to do with engaging your target audience and sharing relevant messages (and of course, there are other uses), you’ll need to be very clear first of all about who that audience is and what your messages are. Before you can start engaging, are you clear about the ‘who’ and ‘what’? A good agency can work that through with you. Clear and consistent messages make your social media efforts impactful and relevant.
The ultimate aim of any agency worth its salt has to be to educate, equip and organise their client brilliantly in their social media endeavours, to the point that the client is empowered to manage at least a good chunk of their social media activity in-house. To be authentic, responsive and to seize the social media initiative, an organisation needs to be actively engaging first-hand with their audiences.
A good agency or consultant will ensure that those involved in social media activity know how to use a whole range of tools for engaging, sharing, listening and monitoring. But more than that, they’ll ensure that those people also understand the bigger picture and the context in which social technologies are used.
Assessing an organisation’s scope for using social media can be hard to do from the inside. Internal pressures, barriers and preconceptions can fog the vision and opportunities can be missed. Without a doubt, an external and objective view is valuable. An outside view should bring vision, ideas, creativity and inspiration, but also should apply these to your company’s reality (which could include lack of resource or buy-in) and provide creative solutions.
A key activity that’s well-worth engaging an agency for is monitoring and listening. We all do that to some extent in any case, in our everyday social media use, through RSS feeds, alerts and Twitter search streams. But agencies can add value by monitoring and listening against some very specific terms, themes and audiences. And the genuine value is when they can take that information, analyse it, and provide you with insightful stats, trends and recommendations as a result.
Another area where agencies can add value is in providing on-going coaching, to ensure that you have a good grasp of what’s working, what isn’t and where there are additional opportunities to be leveraged. They should be concerned with helping you develop as a socially-engaged business and as individual users of social media. If they are not actively offering that, demand it!
Go on, admit it, have you started thinking about your marketing plan for next year yet? Every December, I take a day or two out to write my marketing plan for the new year. Well to be honest, I do a little more than that, I write my business plan for the year.
Last year, my plan looked pretty exciting: launch our design and marketing agency, Flourish, grow the turnover and profit, and cement our position in the marketplace. And you know what? We’ve done it! All of it and then some…
For me, one of the key differentials has been getting Suzanne, our fabulous book-keeper to get involved in the financial plan from the outset. You don’t often think of a book-keeper as being someone that has much to do with a marketing plan – but surely the role of the marketing plan is to help you achieve your business goals? And if your goals are financial, well then you need to write down a proper model.
Last December, for the first year ever, I told Suzanne how much profit I wanted the business to generate, and she went away and created a realistic model for me. I know it sounds obvious, but to me it was a revelation! And it made such a difference. It has focused my mind and we’ve achieved our goals.
In the past, I’ve hoped that we might achieve a certain profit level, but I’ve always been a little unsure about exactly what we needed to do — month on month, to achieve that.
A couple of years ago my goals were very different — I was pregnant and I simply wanted to get the business to a “safe place” where we could continue to deliver the level of service we were known for, whilst I enjoyed five months of maternity leave following the birth of my son.
We all have goals for our businesses, and I find it really helps to sit down and focus on them. It doesn’t matter what your goals are: financial, personal, intellectual — but you do need to work out what they are.
My next job of planning my marketing is to re-examine the market, what our customers value about our offering, where our strengths lie and whether our niche is still as relevant today as it was last year. The launch of Flourish in February was all about putting a name and a brand to a service and an expertise we were already delivering, and it really has paid off. But markets change, companies grow and customer needs shift — is your offering today as compelling as it was last year? Last month?
Once you have a space in the market that you’re confident that you can deliver and that your clients want, you need to own that space. Build a marketing plan that communicates what you do, that helps you own your space. Mix up the low cost and no cost marketing activities with a few things that you’ll need to invest some more in, but will pay off.
Write yourself out a calendar of events — what are you doing when? I often write myself Macro Marketing Plans (xyz in February, abc in March etc) as well as Micro Marketing Plans with very detailed lists of jobs for each campaign. Sounds like hard work? It is, but it’ll pay off in the long run, I promise.
The face of small business will change dramatically over the next twelve months.
The small business and sole trader community will be closely watching what’s happening in the economy as we either move out of recession or we double-dip. Either way, we’ll be ready to change because we’ve had to already over the past two difficult years.
Firstly, we believe that there will be an increase in the size of the small business marketplace as there will be many new small businesses, consultants and sole trader start-ups coming through. This is because the large corporate and medium businesses won’t grow — they will plateau — and without a doubt they will shed employees. More businesses will go into administration. The public sector will also shrink — and again — shed employees. With the shortage of jobs for teenagers, young adults and graduates they will have no option but to start a small business or become a sole trader.
Career coaching will grow. People with redundancy funds will have to invest with small career coaching companies who run transition courses teaching how to start a small business. The small business creative economy will grow because small business marketing advisers and creatives will be in demand to create the new businesses and market them. The small business financial community will grow because small business independent financial and business advisers will be in demand, not the banks.
The new start-ups will increase the numbers of small business and sole traders in the UK. This may create a busier and more competitive marketplace but will also encourage businesses joining together to work on bigger client projects together.
Successful ways of marketing and selling services through face-to-face networking means that networking organisations such as Athena, The Best of and 4Networking will grow and new networks will be founded.
Secondly, innovation. Existing small businesses and sole traders will have an opportunity to grow by taking on more business.
This will take the shape of:
With the arrival of younger entrepreneurs in the small business marketplace, many more innovative products and services will come to market – and quicker
Traditional ways of purchasing traditional goods and services from the multiples will be challenged and changed by the hands of the small business community.
Small business and sole traders will continue to embrace the use of social media and blog sites to promote themselves. Promotion through social media optimisation (SMO) suits the speed of the small business marketplace. SMEs can deliver useful and regular new content into our potential customers’ smartphones and into the search engines at the drop of a hat.
Small firms can control multiple business communications with a preferred social media dashboard such as ping, tweetdeck or hootsuite and they will be demanding technological enhancements.
Any reliance on email will change as it is an increasingly slow and outdated mode of communication as opposed to Twitter and Facebook.
Customers will increasingly buy from small businesses because of their values and social responsibility. Small businesses will change to return the favour and buy small business products and services and also buy local too to support the local marketplace.
Social media has been big news for a while now. You can’t read a trade mag, newspaper, business blog or pretty much anything else connected with business without tripping over some evangelical social media bod ushering you onto the social media train (and I do realise I’m one of them). Yes social media is one of the most effective communications tools we’ve had at our disposal for a long time. Yes it’s a huge shift in how we engage with people. And yes, it can deliver great results. However, it’s not necessarily right for every business.
There are a number of considerations to think about before you jump aboard. Here’s a checklist that will help you to understand a little more about what’s involved and whether it’s right for you.
Are your customers, clients and the people you want to connect with using social media? Are your competitors active in this space? Have you searched to see if people are already having conversations about your business, your industry niche or even your brand? If the answer is yes, then it could be a very useful tool for you.
There are some great free tools you can use to find what conversations are happening now. Social Mention is a tool that searches for brand names or keywords mentioned across the web. Twitter search is a nifty little tool that offers a variety of ways to search for brand names or keywords on Twitter. Google Blog Search does as the name suggests, let’s you search across the blogosphere. And of course, don’t forget good old Google Alerts, which allows you to set up alerts that are emailed to you when a keyword is mentioned.
Do you have someone that can dedicate on-going time to social media? Are you able to restructure a member of staff’s job description to allow for it? Can you commit to this time and not take this person away from their social media activities when it gets busy? Remember, you can’t open the door to social media and close it when workloads increase.
Social media is a marathon not a sprint, so don’t expect results overnight. Are you prepared to invest the time with little output at the beginning? Are you prepared to put in the groundwork even when you won’t see the return on your investment straight away? Do you have the patience for it?
Do you have a quality, fully optimised website you can direct people to from your social media profiles or blog? Make sure your house is in order so that it will be easier to integrate social media with your other activities.
Do you know, and understand, what you want to achieve with social media? Are you clear what it can achieve and what it can’t? Have you tied this into your business plan? You need to be certain of your goals before you start, otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time and effort on something that isn’t targeted to your specific needs.
As government spending continues to come under scrutiny and the axe begins to fall in the public sector, the ripple effect on consumer confidence is already being seen. In early November, research by Nielsen for the British Retail Consortium found a six per cent increase in people who thought the outlook for their personal finances was “not so good”, and in people who thought job prospects would be “bad”.
As household budgets come under more pressure and consumers become more careful about their spending, businesses will need to apply exactly the same scrutiny.
It was John Wanamaker who famously said some years ago, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”. The great thing about online marketing is that you can find out fairly easily where money is being wasted; the data is available. But how well do we use it?
Most companies will have some kind of web analytics in place – Google Analytics is particularly popular with SMEs because it’s free, yet relatively powerful. Some ecommerce applications such as SellerDeck, from the company I work for, provide deep integrations that can be set up in a few mouse clicks, yet provide a tremendously rich set of data. For example, it’s possible to see how much revenue is generated from individual phrases via search engines.
Often, though, there is a flurry of effort in setting up the analytics; but examination of the data becomes more cursory over time, under pressure from other things. Now is the time to revisit those stats and look in more detail at which investments are generating the best return. Here are a few things that are specifically worth checking.
Do you include tracking codes in every clickable link, whether it be on your website, on social media sites, or in emails or other campaigns?
Do you regularly check the results from each online marketing medium?
Do you have a monthly report on your key stats, and do you study it in depth?
Do you check your website for the worst performing pages? E.g. the top exit pages, the least visited pages, and pages with the shortest average visits.
Do you look at revenues and not just visitor numbers?
Do you have the courage to invest more where you are seeing the best return, as well as cutting activities that don’t justify themselves economically?
The businesses that invest their marketing spend most wisely will gain a significant competitive advantage as economic pressures continue to bite. For some, pruning out ineffective spending could mean the difference between life and death.