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Grow your own brand - become a key person of influence

April 19, 2011 by Mike Southon

When it comes to turning a good idea into a great business, the key issues are the ability to generate revenue and then build a team, starting with a foil, someone with the opposite set of skills to yourself.

Then, it is only about doing simple things well, by understanding your target market and consistently delivering on your promises. If you do these two simple things word of mouth will spread, and you will then find yourself selling to people outside your immediate close circle of friends.

Early stage businesses are usually developed around the reputation and personal brand of the company founder, so the next stage is to see if you can turn yourself into a key person of influence.

This is the title of a new book by Daniel Priestley, a successful entrepreneur who has built several multi-million pound businesses in events marketing and public relations. He has identified five key elements that will help you to establish your reputation in your in your chosen industry.

The first and most important part of the process is to identify not just a niche, but ideally your own micro-niche. The more specialised you are, the easier it is to establish yourself quickly in that area. So, while being an accountant in London might be a good niche, an accountant specialising in small retail businesses in London would be even better.

The outcome of this first part of the process is to define your perfect pitch, and Priestley draws on the expertise of Mike Harris, who has developed several multi-billion brands from scratch, including Internet banks Egg and First Direct.

Once you have identified your niche, the next stage is to be published. This might eventually be a book, but in the early stages you should demonstrate your thought leadership in the specialist trade press of your chosen area, using weblogs and articles.

Priestley then advises you develop information products, including CDs, DVDs or internet downloads such as eBooks. This allows you to share your ideas with more people and even earn money directly from your expertise.

The next step is to raise your profile online to be near the top of the Google search rankings. Learning how to use key platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Ecademy and Facebook will enable you to grow your personal brand online and connect yourself to other thought leaders in your chosen field.

The final element is forming the right partnerships, which can provide significant leverage if managed correctly. Priestley himself provides this expertise, gained from many years’ spent developing affiliate programmes for his events business.

I was initially sceptical about this process, as my first impression was of the internet-based get-rich-quick schemes, which encourage people to leave their experience behind and pursue new and unfamiliar territory. These websites promise much but generally deliver little genuine value for most people.

But Priestley stresses that there are no short cuts; you should first carefully examine your experience in your chosen field and then take specific steps to establish your personal brand.

Priestley explains that influential people draw on the minimum of ten thousand hours that they have devoted to something they are genuinely passionate about, as recommended by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.

This gave me much more confidence in his process, as I remembered all the eager and ambitious people who have asked me for advice on starting a business over the years. All of them had great ideas, but only a select few had the willingness to put in all the hard work required to really learn their craft.


Key Person of Influence by Daniel Priestley can be found at


Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker. 

The importance of images in PR

April 18, 2011 by Ceri-Jane Hackling

The importance of images - pile of photos{{}}Many people think that PR is about press releases, text and words — which, to a certain extent it is. However, the importance of images cannot be underestimated.

Pick up a newspaper or magazine near you and have a flick through — what catches your eye? I would guess that the stories with accompanying images are the ones that get your attention, which should be telling you that good images are essential when trying to achieve press coverage.

As PR professionals, one of the biggest problems we face is clients who don’t understand the importance of images, so here some guidelines on images and how and why to use them.

  1. A picture says a thousand words — whether it’s a product image, an image of you and your team or images from an event. Including an image in your press release will grab a journalist’s attention and help you tell your story.
  2. Think about the different images you might need. It’s useful to have a variety of shots — from your product in action, to cut outs to your product on a plain white background. That way, your shots will be appropriate for most uses.
  3. It’s always a good idea to invest in a proper photo shoot. Never underestimate what a photographer can do for your brand. Outside of the business of actually taking the photos, a good photographer can advise on the kind of images you need to show your business to its best advantage, provide lighting and professional backdrops and develop creative ideas to really make you stand out from the crowd.
  4. Avoid amateur Photo-shopping – if you can’t afford a proper shoot, it’s best to avoid making the shots up. Badly Photo-shopped images are obvious and won’t do your brand any favours.
  5. Finally and most importantly, newspapers and magazines can only use high-res images, so it’s essential that any images you send have a resolution of over 300 dpi (dots per inch) and are at least 1MB.


Ceri-Jane Hackling is the managing director of Cerub PR.

Posted in PR | Tagged press releases, PR, photography | 7 comments

Dear shopping fairy...

April 15, 2011 by Lynn Allison

If there is a fairy godmother in charge of shopping I hope she is listening.

I hope she takes online and high street retailers to one side and says, “Look, your brain does something funny when you go to work, don't you realise what the world is like for customers?”.

I hope she sprinkles them with her fairy dust so they listen when we tell them about the hundreds of little opportunities to sell that they miss every single trading day.

I need to understand what you’re telling me

Show people where to go as soon as they start to shop. When they get to your products make the descriptions, sizes and prices easy to read. Remember that customers have criteria — if you understand how customers are deciding what to buy, then you have more chance of selling to them.

I need to find a product I want

Test out a customer's “journey” around your store — or ecommerce website — and look at how their needs and criteria change. Clearly signpost changing rooms and cash registers from different directions so that the customer knows where to go. If you use mannequins to highlight outfits, put the products right by them, clearly marked. Make sure packaging clearly and easily communicates what’s inside.

I need to buy at a time that suits me

If customers have a need now, why not satisfy it? If your processes are fixed to a strict schedule of seasonal buying, you’re at the mercy of the weather making your customers want to buy something that you don’t have. Don’t apply fashion season rules to non-fashion basics; if this happens in your store, ask your customers if it suits them — if it doesn’t, change it.

I need to avoid stuff I cannot buy

Don’t spend any time or money offering things to customers who cannot buy them. Don’t put any barriers in front of customers with money. Arrange sale clothing by size, not price — during a sale we always need to know what size a garment is and never how much it costs (it’s already in the sale).

I don’t want to repeat myself

If customers have given their contact details to you once, it should be possible to buy from you without having to give them again. When customers do make an enquiry, make it easy for them to progress this to a purchase. Follow up enquiries that haven’t led to a sale and find out why. Knowing why someone hasn’t bought from you is just as important as knowing why they have.

Don’t confuse information with knowledge — having broad market research to hand isn’t the same as understanding the people who buy from you. Think like a customer not a manager, you can't afford to ignore any incremental benefits to your bottom line.

Lynn Allison FCIM, Chartered Marketer is the author of Catching the Chameleon, published by Ecademy Press.

Competition winners

Thank you for all your great retail tips and comments on Lynn's blog. And congratulations to Craig Dearden, Tim Shapcott and Bronwyn Durand who all win a copy of Lynn's book, Catching the Chameleon.

Who are you?

April 14, 2011 by Mike Southon

I recently gave a training course to small business owners, and as part of my preparation I visited all the delegates’ websites to better understand their particular sales challenges. For at least half of them, the problem was self-evident: there were no human beings featured on their sites at all.

In a very few instances, this is the correct approach. If you already have a good brand and people want to buy a commodity, then you do not need a personal welcome from Jeff Bezos when you arrive at Amazon.

But if you run a service business similar to many others, such as a law firm, accounting practice or design consultancy, only two things differentiate you from your competition: the people who choose to work for you and the people who choose to buy from you.

It is very important that any potential customers see the profiles and expertise of the people you will be proposing to undertake the work, as well as detailed case studies from happy customers whose problems you solved.

On the workshop I heard two classic excuses for not having details of any people on their websites. The first was a concern that if they build up the personal brand of a specific consultant, they would take this as an incentive to leave the firm and start up their own company, in competition.

While this is an understandable concern, the solution is simple. If someone wants to leave your firm it is because they do not feel valued or are managed poorly. If you suspect this might be the case, then a swift salary and bonus review is probably in order, and perhaps even the offer of a partnership or equity might be considered if they are that important to your company.

If they are brilliant but disruptive and hence not a team player, then this is the perfect opportunity to raise their profile externally and wish them well as they ruin their own or someone else’s company.

The other and more mundane excuse I hear for not putting people’s pictures and biographies on the website is that they are essentially shy and hate having their photograph taken or beating their own drum in public.

This is completely understandable; most people hate photographic sessions, even professional extroverts such as salespeople or professional speakers. What makes the process easier and more effective is to not just hire a professional and likeable photographer, but also to employ the services of a stylist.

A good stylist is someone who can gain a shy person’s confidence quickly, and then find the right clothes to make them feel like a million dollars without actually spending that amount. Their clients can then approach the photographic session with much more confidence.

My final tip is not to choose the photographs for the website yourself. Most of us only remember the image of ourselves as we looked in the bathroom mirror in the morning. In real life we look different, which is why your spouse or life partner as well as work colleagues, rather than yourself, should choose the photograph.

If you feel really bold, you might even include this picture on your business card. Everyone find it much easier to remember someone’s face than a name.

If you are happy with your web image, featuring a good picture next to a summary of your expertise, then the final step is to include yourself in the customer case study. If you are indeed shy but effective, there is nobody more appropriate to sing your praises than a happy customer.


Originally published in The Financial Times. Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.


For more information, read Bryony Thomas’ guide to what to include in a personal profile.


Have you got an addiction to discounting?

April 13, 2011 by Drayton Bird

I am one of the most disorganised jokers you'll ever meet but a book by one of the world's best organised people influenced me hugely ... even if it didn't do much good.

It was "My years with General Motors" by Alfred P. Sloan.

Sloan led General Motors to become the world's largest motor manufacturer. It was so important to the US economy that they used to say "What's good for General Motors is good for the USA."

But General Motors — and Ford and Chrysler — got into terrible trouble and had to be bailed out, barely surviving.

There were many reasons why, but one was their marketing. Besides the fact that their ads all tended to be boastful and dull, they fell into a habit I see as the marketing equivalent of crack addiction: heavy discounting.

This gives an immediate boost to sales, but you become addicted to it. And you get nasty after-effects — as with crack.

  • The people who buy most from a promotion are your best customers, who would have bought anyway
  • People bring forward their buying so there is a slump afterwards
  • You are training your customers to expect bribes

 To explain more why this is so dangerous, I must take you back 25 years.

Ogilvy and Mather had a unit called the Ogilvy Centre for Research in San Francisco. The Director, Alex Biehl, worked on a project called PIMS - which stood (I think) for Profit Impact of Marketing Strategies.

The aim: to discover how different marketing weapons affect profits.

Over 200 firms took part. One thing the project revealed was very simple, very important — yet is news to almost all marketers.

Firms that spend more money on discounting than advertising are far less profitable than those that spend more on advertising than discounting.

The project divided firms into four quartiles. Those in the top quartile spent most on advertising and least on discounting. Those in the bottom quartile did it the other way round.

The ones in the top quartile were on average twice as profitable as those in the bottom one.

Think about it. When you spend more on offering deals than explaining why people should want to buy your stuff, you are perilously close to saying, "Our stuff is not good enough to sell on its merits at full price."

To go back to where I started, today General Motors is no longer the world's biggest automotive firm. Toyota is.

Another brand once led its market but no longer does. It is Dell.

And guess what? Every single email Dell sends me offers a deal.

They have been overtaken by Hewlett Packard and Acer.

I am not saying never discount. I offer discounts all the time.

Nor am I saying traditional advertising is the answer to your problems.

What I am saying is that messages that give people reasons, emotional or rational, for buying are the key to building your business and brand.

By the way, never forget: one person can be a brand, as I reflected last night when I passed Jamie's Italian in Bristol — which was, as always, packed out.

It has done so well so fast that I believe it's going to be floated on the stock market.


Drayton Bird is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut. He runs Drayton Bird Associates and is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author.


For more information, read our guide to how to price your service.

Multinational SEO: A minefield or a piece of cake?

April 12, 2011 by Thomas Schonenberger

For a long time we adhered to the policy of hosting a website in the country that you want to rank for. This indeed seemed to work best, but what happens when your website needs to target several different countries. The old tedious way would have been to host a subdomain in each relevant country. A huge amount of work and maintenance involved, but a necessary evil if you wanted to do well in those individual countries.

I know there must be many of you right now shouting "Webmaster tools allows you to do that!", and indeed it does. It allows you to host a site targeting multiple countries and indicate to Google which sub folder is relevant to which territory (This is presuming you have your information architecture set up with individual folders for countries for example /de/ for the German site and so forth.). There was always the worry though that if I set a folder to target Spain then what about all the traffic from South America? Am I now excluding those visitors because I have directly indicated that my website is for Spain?

The good news is we have run some trials and some sizeable customer implementations (96 sub domains!) where we have proven to ourselves that regionally targeting a site in webmaster tools does not exclude that site from featuring in other countries! A prime example of this is that we have targeted a client site of ours to America, and even though it is hosted in America, a search for "Shoe hangers" in the UK in brings them up top. This is on strength of SEO alone. What does play a major role in this ranking is the geo location of the linkgraph. This company happens to have a UK base and as such has a lot of UK links to the .com site.

We have won another implementation recently that will be somewhat tricky. The problem here is we have a website that spans 3 countries, The UK, France and Italy and will be listing properties in all countries. Where this gets tricky is that the inventory is most often captured in the local language. So how then do I list a property in Rome, written up in Italian on the English version of the website? The bottom line is that I cannot. If I do I will run the risk of duplicate content and poor SEO. The answer is simple. Google is all about user experience. If you are English speaking and on an English website, even though you are searching for property in Rome, you don't want to be presented with Italian results, and Google's standpoint from a User experience point is the same. They want quality results so your only real option is to translate the listing :)

Have you experienced problems with Multinational SEO? Do you face a dilemma as to site architecture and what will work best in the search engines? We are happy to chat and let you know our thoughts.


Thomas Shonenberger is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and company director of MediaVision Interactive.

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