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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.
In my weekly round-up, I featured a picture of my very untidy desk, which prompted a rash of desk photos from our followers on Twitter. So here they are - and, embarrassingly every single one is a lot tidier than mine. In fact, some of them look as though they could have come from a catalogue. At least one person also has four computer screens. What do you do, @sunubaby??
1. The sports car @MotorsportPrint I like to keep my desk tidy :)
2. The animal sanctuary @bryonythomas Check it out, complete with sleeping cat.
3. The family estate @RoseGardenAcs Ok, here's my desk. The staff aren't up to much, though.
4. The guidebook @benparkatbjs My current desk.
5. The playroom @charliemoos Here's my office at a tidy moment.
6. The uptown runaround @runninginheels7 My desk..notice the emergency pair of heels! :)
7. The personal organiser @G1Creative My desk @G1Creative
8. The TV dinner @sunubaby 4 screens baby + a tasty falafel salad.
Thanks for your pictures, everyone!
I always say I’ve been busy this week. And I always am. But this week has been REALLY REALLY busy. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at my desk:
The coffee mug came from a trip to Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, by the way. Well, you’ve got to, haven’t you? Here’s a closer look. I do like my mug.
So, anyway, I’ve been busy. I’ve been busy because:
a) we started our general election push this week
b) we’ve been planning our first birthday celebrations
c) James, who usually looks after the Marketing Donut Twitter account, has been on leave. He came back briefly on Thursday, but we had to send him straight back home because he looked like death. Poor chap.
I’ve been holding the fort during James’s holiday and his subsequent malaise, tweeting, blogging and planning like a mad thing. Running our Twitter account has been great fun, even though it’s actually quite a big responsibility looking after a communications channel that has 10,000 followers. To be honest, I felt a bit like being a radio DJ on a phone-in programme, starting debates, inviting comments, throwing interesting nuggets your way and adding my two-penny’s-worth on what you’d thrown me.
We got some good things going. On Monday, I clean forgot that I was supposed to be tweeting and did other important things. On Tuesday, I read James's handover note in which he explicitly said: "Cover Marketing Donut Twitter activity Mon-Wed." So I started tweeting and we reminisced about the 1980s and discussed what should feature in a marketing campaign aimed at 80s children like me. We figured big hair, Wham and Footloose-style dancing would probably do the trick.
On Wednesday, I got serious. I wanted to know what people thought about the way the major political parties were conducting their election campaigns. You got stuck in, gave me loads of comments and I produced this blog: “Trust me, I’m a politician”.
On Thursday, I bowled in, confident that I could repeat the previous day’s activity. I figured you’d be tired of politics, so I kicked off with a fun game of “Hit, miss or maybe?” with the latest ideas from the Springwise e-newsletter.
I asked what you wanted to talk about and someone mentioned cheese, then sports sponsorship, so I tried to get something going on that.
I was starting to get worried. Had I lost my touch?
Shortly after a rather sad lunch, I happened to mention that I was writing my blog about politicians and looking for examples of brands that had made promises they couldn’t deliver. A trickle of responses started to come through. So there was life out there.
I finished the blog and tweeted it. A couple of nice comments. I started editing the news and picked up a couple of interesting facts – 75 per cent of small business owners didn’t know the name of the Business Secretary. There’s a website called comparethemanager.com. I tweeted them and got a few more responses.
Then, during a five-minute breather, I came across a story about a pornographic magazine for the blind. Of course, I tweeted it. Who wouldn’t?
You try. You really try to be serious and focus on your subject. You try to encourage people to talk intelligently about marketing and politics and what it all means for business. But what they really want to read about is pornographic magazines for the blind. Thank you, Twitter. Thank you very much.
EDIT 20.04.10 - unfortunately, due to travel delays caused by ash from the Icelandic volcano, the Have your say! event has been cancelled this week. We'll keep you posted on alternative dates, if the event should be rescheduled.
Next week our MD Rory MccGwire will be one of the key speakers at Have your say!, a panel discussion in London to talk about the points raised in Doug Richard’s Entrepreneurs’ Manifesto (pdf). Whether you agree with Doug or not, he certainly touches on some key concerns for small businesses.
It’ll be well worth going to the event and listening to Rory (as well as Doug and a host of other business media bigwigs) speak. In the meantime, you might want to get a flavour of Rory’s thoughts on the manifesto issues over at the Start Up Donut blog.
Whenever there’s a general election, the political parties go into marketing overdrive. They bludgeon us with large full-mix marketing campaigns that incorporate market research, customer targeting, branding, straplines, press and PR, direct marketing through leaflets, doorstep selling, outdoor advertising and now, of course, online marketing and social media.
They leave no stone unturned to reach us, get us in their vice-like handshake and persuade us to “Vote for me!”. At the same time, there’s all sorts of underhand guerrilla campaigning going on, supported nowadays by an army of bloggers and viral marketeers.
What we’ve seen in the past few weeks is the political juggernauts firing up, heavy boots pressing down on the accelerator and the great unwieldy vehicles steadily building up speed. Soon, they will overwhelm us.
Some of these political campaigns are an object lesson in how to create and execute a corporate marketing campaign, driven by the zest and evangelical beliefs of thousands of volunteers - or as I like to call the party activists, “unpaid marketing interns”.
But does it work? Is it actually going to make us vote? At the last two general elections, just 59 per cent and 61 per cent respectively of the electorate turned out to put a cross next to their favoured candidate’s name. That’s pretty low.
As any fule no, no brand is worth diddleysquat unless we believe in it. Frequently we see an enormous “reality gap” between a claim made about a brand and our real experience of it. A big reality gap can be profoundly destructive to a company’s reputation. Some survive by tackling the issue head on. Others never really recover and slip out of our consumer consciousness.
In the case of the political parties, there’s a massive reality gap which presents a serious challenge to the people charged with marketing them. Politicians operate on the basis of trust, yet they have been hurt by a succession of scandals that undermine our trust in them. So how do deal with that as a marketer?
Our Twitter followers had plenty to say on the issue of political marketing campaigns and how we would run them. Below is just a representative selection. It’s interesting that not one person had something positive to say about our politicians:
@brightwomenare 1. Focus on positive messages. 2. Stop fudging and be clear - even if bad news. 3. Stop personalising.
@debutmarketing They should stop telling us what's wrong with the other lot and start telling us what they're going to do.
@debutmarketing Politicians should stop knocking the competition and start telling us the benefits of voting for them.
@Web_D Stop bickering like a bunch of kids when they get together. #actyourage #childish #notfittorunthecountry
@clairedowdall I’d make politicians sign something that binds them into delivering what they promise - or else! Plus easy manifesto comparison.
@jakepjohnson I’d make my campaign about my party’s positives and not just about the opposition's negatives.
It seems pretty clear to me. The big focus of any political marketing campaign should be the restoration of trust:
Is this a recipe for electoral success? Or just the start of a long, hard slog back to credibility? I suspect the politicians will have a lot more marketing to do before we’re comfortable about buying into their brands again.
What do you think?
Each of the three major political parties has now unveiled the election slogan that will underpin its campaign. This is a vital piece of their election toolkit – it’s the platform on which the rest of their messaging will be built. In marketing terms, it’s their USP. But do they work? And what makes a good election slogan anyway?
I’ve done some thinking of my own and I asked your opinions, too, via the Marketing Donut Twitter account.
The Labour Party slogan recalls its great founding principle, equality - presumably because they feel it’s the key distinction arch rivals, the Conservatives. The phrase itself has a poetic, but archaic quality. Rather than looking forward to a progressive future, it seems almost a requiem for an ideal that has never been achieved.
This is what you thought:
@the_shopkeeper Surely this should be “A fair future for all”? Rolls easier off the tongue, in my humble opinion.
@Web_D Sounds like there's going to be a rollercoaster and dodgems.
@JanMinihane Sounds like Labour are planning a fair, how wonderful.
The Conservative Party slogan has the virtues of directness, simplicity and it’s memorable – all key elements of a good slogan. On the other hand, it doesn’t tell you what they want to change or who will benefit from the change. Is it us? Or is it them? They seem to rely on a public appetite for something – anything – different.
@benparkatbjs Does anyone know the Tory election slogan? “Spare any change?” isn't it? Something like that.
@runninginheels7 Conservative could mean change in any sense or subject?
@dpoyser Would have to be the Conservatives; most descriptive with the least number of syllables and it makes the best soundbite.
@JanMinihane Conservative Slogan: "Time for change" - what, 20p, 50p, 5p?? Bit too snappy and short for my liking.
Of all the slogans, the Liberal Democrat one feels most designed by committee. It’s a mouthful, two slogans tacked together - two slogans we’ve already seen, in fact. The Lib Dems truly are finding a middle way with this one; they have the promise of change (Conservative) AND the promise of equality (Labour) all in one rather unwieldy mouthful.
It is, however, the only slogan that actually speaks directly to you, the reader. This alone was enough to help it find favour with our Twitter following:
@mathewhulbert In simplistic terms you might think the Tories is the best, but the Lib Dems speaks to two different groups.
@Web_D I like this actually. It’s the “for you” that wins me over.
@JanMinihane My fave, seems more personal somehow.
@twistandshoutuk That Lib Dem one seems a bit weird and wordy. The Labour one sounds like part of a poem. Conservatives is brief and snappy.
In a sense, each of the slogans does exactly what we might expect of each of the parties: the Labour slogan treats us a collective; the Conservative slogan commands us; the Liberal Democrat slogan tries very hard to appeal to everyone – but at least they are personable about it.
When I asked how you would rewrite the slogans, I should have known I was inviting trouble:
@benjamindyer How about “Write me a letter if you like, but I am too busy knocking back Martinis and attending garden parties to care.”
@Web_D I’d vote for any party that admitted the truth: “We're in the s**t... It will be tough, but we'll get through it in time.”
Despite this cynicism, I’ve had a go at adjusting the slogans to address the criticisms and this is what I came up with:
Labour: A fairer future for you
Conservative: Changing Britain for the better
Liberal Democrat: Your only REAL alternative
I reckon they might just work. What do you think?
When I was growing up in the 1980s there were few things I enjoyed more than a trip to the corner shop and those delicious words: “A quarter of lemon bonbons please.”
If I was feeling flush I might add: “Oh, and could I have four Blackjacks and a Fruit Salad, too, please?”
I have a very sweet tooth and miss being able to order sweets by the quarter pound. A sealed 125g packet just isn’t the same, is it? So I was delighted when I encountered an old-fashioned sweet shop in Broadstairs a few years ago. I was even more delighted when our Rachel emailed me our latest case study.
A Quarter Of is a fantastic business. What a great idea - to source and sell the treats of our youth to a web-savvy customer base. Brilliant. I love the Internet. Even better, owner Michael Parker has created a forum for people my age to list all the things they remember from the 1980s. You know you’re a child of the 80s when… In my case, the answer would be ‘when you were able to smoke on the top deck of the bus, in your school uniform’. But I’m not sure they’d put that up in this day and age…
This week we’ve also sent out the latest issue of the MyDonut e-newsletter. The profile of Ola Laniyan-Amoako on our sister website the Start Up Donut was very well-received and even prompted several requests from other business owners who would like to be profiled. Which saves me some work!
In addition to the newsletter (you can sign up for it here), we’re thinking about launching a weekly small business news headlines service for MyDonut subscribers. This would mean news headlines straight to your inbox, every Friday. We'd love to know what you thik about the idea. You can sign up for MyDonut here, by the way.
So what’s next? Two things: General Election coverage and our first birthday. With the Election, we’ve decided to stick to what we do best, which is provide useful advice and information for small businesses. We may be choosing a new government, but you’ve still got a business to run, right?
That’s not to say we’ll be ignoring the Election - quite the opposite. But we’ll be trying not to just regurgitate the kind of material you can get everywhere else. We prefer to keep the focus on you - your business, your concerns - in the weeks leading up to 6 May. By the way, if you’d like to contribute to our election diary, please email me and let me know.
We’re also getting ready to celebrate our first birthday. Unbelievably, 20 April will mark a full year since we launched the Donut websites (starting with this one). It’s been fascinating, fruitful and definitely fatiguing at times. But it’s also fantastic to edit a website like this. So, on 20 April, we’ll be marking our birthday with - a donut. Well, what do you expect?? We’ll also have blogs, articles and maybe one or two other surprises. Then it’s onwards and upwards for the Marketing Donut - the site that never rests.*
Have a good weekend,
* Except during the evenings and at weekends.