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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.
I’ll be honest, getting 20-30 people to put their hands in their pockets and book on your workshop isn’t easy. In addition to persuading people that it’s a good idea, and that it’ll be a good investment of their time and money, those people also have to be available on the day you’ve chosen to run your workshop. And it’s that third dimension that adds a certain extra pressure to marketing workshops.
You need to market to an even wider net of people than you might if you were selling a product or service (which could be enjoyed at any time), because a good proportion of people that think it’s a good idea, and are even willing to spend the money, will find that they can’t make the date you’ve picked (for whatever reason). So just how do you market your workshop or seminar in a way that will help it sell out without causing you an embolism in the lead up to the event?
Your database is your goldmine when it comes to booking workshops and seminars. If you’ve been marketing your business properly (you have been sending out emails and newsletters haven’t you?) then these people already know who you are, they know that you know what you’re talking about, and they probably know that they’d enjoy your workshop. You can then use this list of warm leads to market your workshops to. “Buying one in” by the way doesn’t count. They need to be warm leads. Don’t have one? Run a competition with some friendly people in your industry to give away a place on the next workshop and get building yourself one. There are still plenty of other things you can do in the absence of a database.
Buddy up with people in your industry who will help you market the event – either just for the love of it, or in return for some cold, hard cash. We recently worked with a wedding planner who didn’t have a database as her business was only a couple of months old. We recommended she ask wedding dress shops, wedding bloggers and her twitter friends to help her promote the event along with any friendly media.
Use your PR charms to get your event published – online blogs, forums and event sites are great; newspapers and magazines even better. And after the event try and get a write up – why not invite a journo along for free?
Tweet it, put it on LinkedIn as an event and invite your contacts, add it to social networking forums, your Facebook fan page and sites like Ecademy.
In June, I ran a Blogging Workshop with Tom Evans. Between us we managed to get 28 paying bums on seats. That’s much harder than it sounds. It was a huge help to have two of us promoting the same workshop but the other thing that really helped was my “blog campaign”. About six weeks before the event, I started blogging about blogging – how it benefits your business, how to generate comments, how to gain readers and so on. It raised peoples’ awareness and meant they were much more receptive to the workshop.
If I’m running a Marketing Planning Workshop in December (which I am, by the way, spot the shameless plug!) then I’ll start blogging marketing planning type stories now (ooops! note to self) and I’ll also ensure that this is the topic of my newsletter for November.
That’s in my experience anyway. So I email six weeks before, four weeks before and two weeks before. You might find it takes more or less time depending on the size of your database, the number of workshops you’re offering and the subject of the workshop.
Write to people, call them, invite them and tell people about it at networking events. Use the feedback from people to improve your copy and make sure you’ve answered all their worries and reservations.
Now there must be more tricks to it than that. What other tricks do you employ to get your workshops sold?
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has become increasingly popular in recent years and many businesses funnel large proportions of their expenditure into this discipline. CRM campaigns that specifically focus on customer interaction and consumer confidence have become an integral area of operation for many businesses.
But there is another discipline that many businesses overlook and it is one that can provide improved long-term profits if implemented correctly – Product Relationship Management (PRM).
PRM’s primary focus is the product and how it will provide continuous long-term profit. Yes, a business needs to persuade consumers to make that initial purchase, but once it makes a sale a business should not be chasing customers for further business — it should make the customer do the chasing. This is where PRM has an advantage over CRM.
CRM promotes the benefit of a healthy customer base and the importance of maintaining contact with these customers. Whether this is by email, post, or phone, the emphasis is on continuous promotion. After all, if a customer bought the last product they may well show interest in other products a business has to offer.
The problem with this system is the unpredictability of human behaviour. People move house, change their email address, and get a different phone number. So as efficient as a business’s CRM may be, there is no factoring for personal detail changes by customers.
So are businesses blowing their budgets hiring CRM experts, when they should be channeling their efforts towards supplying products that offer the potential of a continuous long-term revenue stream? CRM may not be the definitive answer to long-term financial profit, but PRM may well be.
One of the biggest advantages with adopting a PRM strategy is that is allows a product to encourage its own future sales. This could be from something as simple as new must-have product accessories. However, the most profitable and successful PRM techniques are based around products that:
If a business implements PRM into its marketing strategy, it should be looking to sell products that fit one or more of the examples above and ensure that it stocks and promotes any related products that consumers will require in the future.
For example, inkjet printers need ink. Many printer models will only accept replacement ink cartridges from their respective manufacturers and this means owners of a particular printer are forced to buy specific ink cartridges. The original printer sale may not have yielded a high profit margin but the continued sale of replacement ink encourages numerous profitable future transactions.
The same applies to replacement parts for products. Many products will use unique parts that can only be supplied via a manufacturer. These will be sold at premium cost. Customers are forced to buy these products when required, especially if they wish to ensure a warranty is not invalidated.
CRM drives businesses to chase customers and keep them informed through interaction and correspondence. PRM can force customers to return to a business because they need it. This is the main difference between PRM and CRM.
The simple answer is yes. A smart business will integrate the two principles into one plan, increasing efficiency and long-term profit generation.
CRM can be used to attract new customers and keep them satisfied. PRM will supplement this strategy by ensuring those customers keep returning for future purchases and transactions. Every time a customer returns, his or her contact details can be verified and updated.
Businesses may lose contact with customers through CRM alone, but PRM can help drag them back. Lost customers become contactable once again and a new CRM process can begin. It is almost a perpetual cycle: CRM encourages a purchase, PRM encourages continued transactions, customer contact details can be confirmed, and CRM continues unhindered by a loss of contact.
Daniel Offer is a partner in the Facebook messaging application Chit Chat for Facebook
There seems to be a lot of noise about social media just now but let’s not forget that it is just a tool to help you market your business.
It is your window to the world – a much bigger world than was available before. But caution. With increasing use of social media comes the increased risk of committing one of the seven deadly social media sins.
Too often I see posts on Twitter, blogs or forums that are antagonistic, overly opinionated, inaccurate and just plain rude! Many of these are from business owners who are using social media to attract new clients or customers and who seem to have forgotten that professional ethics still apply in the social media world. What these posters seem to forget is that most people will view such social media content with the contempt that it deserves!
Social media can be over-consumed. Whilst it is easy to get carried away and get drawn into a social media conversation or debate — don’t over indulge in it. You still have a job to do! Manage your time using the age-old time management techniques.
Having a high opinion of one's own importance via your social media streams is not recommended. However having pride in your social media content, behaviour and professionalism should be actively encouraged. Pride can be a double-edged sword — make sure that you pick the right side of that sword!
Over-promoting yourself or your services on social media can be very off-putting. In fact it could have the opposite effect of leading to a loss of interest rather than the desired effect of generating marketing interest. Keep your social media content relevant, topical, interesting, helpful and not self-promoting.
Being lazy with your social media content just will not do. New ideas are required all of the time. Keep up to date with the latest news items, forthcoming events or deadlines and write content that incorporates these. Never copy anyone else’s content unless as a reference and with their agreement.
Professional envy is often evident via social media. Expressing your envy of others via your social media stream is something to be avoided. Why not learn from what is making them successful and apply it to your business — a much better and more fulfilling use of your time.
Needless to say, as in any workplace conversations, your social media behaviour should be above reproach. However to show a healthy lust or hunger for your subject matter, by demonstrating your enthusiasm, is to be encouraged. Being positive and motivated will draw people to your content and help to get your marketing messages across via your social media content.
Hopefully you will manage to avoid these sins but if not, you will need to visit the Social Media Confessional!