In many ways, it’s easier than ever to start up your own business but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand apart from the crowd. But it’s not impossible. Here are four ways to help your business to gain valuable visibility.
Businesses that lose themselves within the crowd are often the ones that don’t have anything to stand for. I’m not saying you need to be prepared to fight crime Batman-style, but do agree on a clear message that you want to communicate and share this with your audience.
People will remember you for your message — just look at Volvo, with its “safety first” message. This is how we remember Volvo; this is what makes the brand stand apart from its competition. If you want a safe car, you know where to turn.
We can’t score the winning goal on our own — we need a team around us to help set it up, block the defence and pass the ball. The same applies to making your business stand out from the crowd; you have to create a trusted dream team — and that includes partners and customers as well as your own staff (if you have them).
Whether you have a marketing team or do that job yourself, you need a fearless brand leader, loyal staff and brand advocates (the customers). These are the people who will set your business apart. This dream team can be difficult to construct but get it right and you will be able to take on the world.
If your company isn’t online yet — it should be! A lot of businesses make the mistake of thinking what they do or sell won’t translate online. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s time to make what you do or sell visible online because this is where your audience is.
There are many ways to communicate with your target audience online — Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Tumblr and YouTube. This is where your message needs to be clear — it’s easy to confuse what you’re trying to communicate with the audience and your message can get lost in translation. Don’t spam your audience, choose the most appropriate media, have a clear message and communicate at the right time.
Going digital is perfect for small businesses as it cuts out the advertising middle man, saves thousands of pounds and provides you with greater control of your marketing message.
If you don’t know what the competition is doing, how can you set yourself apart? Take time out to research what those around you are doing; what worked and what didn’t.
If your competitors are doing something you like, think about how you can adapt the idea for your own ends and do it better. Or better yet, take on board everything those around you are doing and do something completely different.
Leah Jarratt is writing on behalf of Salt Recruitment.
As a small business, it’s always tough to manage what’s going on offline and online simultaneously.
As a starting point, have you ever checked what comes up when you search for your business online? It is likely you will find blogs and articles about your business, but also reviews and ratings. With over 42 million reviews submitted to Yelp alone, it is worth dedicating some time each week to the world of online reviews.
Here are four top tips for dealing with online reviews:
If you pride yourself on delivering great customer service in person, then you should be doing the same online. Make sure you are actively engaging with and reacting to reviews from customers online. Use the same considered approach as you would if the person were leaning across the counter talking to you.
Are your reviews showing any common threads? As an example, are they all mentioning that the toilet door is broken? Online reviews are a great way to hear honest, useful feedback from customers. Many business owners now look through their online reviews with employees during monthly staff meetings, and implement constructive feedback accordingly.
Online feedback and reviews are just the same. You can respond to reviews on Yelp personally, for instance, either privately or publicly. A private message is ideal for thanking patrons and also a good first step to find out more information from a dissatisfied customer.
The other option is a public message that is visible to everyone. A public message can be your best PR tool when used properly. Make sure when you post publicly, that you thank the reviewer for their feedback, state your policies and flag any inaccuracies in the review in a non-aggressive manner.
Getting a negative review can be disheartening for any small business. The first thing to consider is that you can never please 100% of your customers 100% of the time. That’s true of life offline as well as online. If you find yourself getting irate or emotional about a bad review, make sure you log out, and return to respond a day later, when you’ve had time to figure out what to write. This is a great technique when replying to difficult emails or voice messages too!
It has never been easier for small businesses to market their businesses for little more than their time. But if you are still unsure about social media, content marketing, online advertising and blogging, you are not alone. Many sole traders and small firms are only now starting to take full advantage of the possibilities that digital marketing offers. It’s not too late to start!
Landing pages are focused, customised digital sales pitches, designed to transform your website visitor into a valuable business lead. A good landing page targets a specific audience and allows you to capture a visitor’s information through a lead-capture form.
Social media is big, really big. In fact, it has been predicted that by 2016, Facebook may be the largest country on Earth. And with some 130,000 people signing up for a Twitter account each day, it’s easy to see why businesses are tackling social media head-on. To get started, create profiles on the places where your prospects hang out and start talking.
Content has been the marketing buzzword of the past two years. And alongside content marketing, techniques such as inbound marketing and lifecycle marketing have done away with the older, push marketing techniques and heralded new, more effective pull marketing.
Pull marketing uses intelligent, high quality content to encourage people to visit and seek out your website and products, rather than showering them with endless emails and phone calls.
To really crack online lead generation, you need to distribute lots of content, and not just any old content. Only high quality, fresh and relevant content will do. This is where blogging really comes into its own.
From fashion-forward teens to amateur chefs and even celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, bloggers are taking over the digital landscape. But you don’t have to be a celebrity to benefit from blogging. For good old fashioned B2B lead generation, blogging has become the reliable wingman that can help you gain prominence and boost your reputation in your target market.
Rhian Morgans is an online PR executive for Tomorrow People.
Content is the currency of the internet. People go on the internet to find answers to everyday questions like, “What's the weather like in London?” or even, “What are the health benefits of broccoli?”. And it's the duty of every business to provide content that answers the needs of their target audience.
However, there will come a time when all your ideas for relevant posts will be exhausted. Since search engines look into content freshness as a basis for ranking, what can you do to create a steady flow of new articles on your site? The answer lies in content curation.
Simply put, content curation is the finding, selecting and sharing of content related to a certain theme or topic. The practise of curating content has long existed in the publishing world to give readers a digested version of what they should know about. It's human nature to want to learn more about something you stumble across.
Putting that into a business perspective, don't you want people to access this information from your website? That's where the power of content curation lies.
What can curation do for your website?
Whatever the services you offer or products you sell, you can usually find interesting content to write about. But you hit a problem when you've seemingly exhausted everything useful you know about it.
This is where curating content comes to the rescue. It’s the not-so-secret reason behind the success of sites such as Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Mashable. They've all found ways to present a wide variety of information to readers in interesting ways.
Getting information from different sources and posting them on your website makes it:
People have a constant need to be informed, and with the multitude of information published each day, they only need to know about content that is useful for them. This is where you come in. Rather than having them scour the web for information, bring it straight to them.
Constantly putting out curated content makes people come back for more. This helps establish your brand as an authority on topics concerning the niche your business is in.
Publishing curated content on your website also helps drive traffic, which is what any business wants. This is best accomplished by creating a catchy title to accompany the equally entertaining content.
There are lots of content curation tools you can make use of.
Mining Facebook, Twitter or Google+ allows you discover content before it gets indexed by Google. For example, you can embed tweets of interesting things Twitter users are saying about a particular topic into a single post.
Using question and answer sites gives you access to some really interesting content you can use on your site. You can list some interesting questions and answers you found and compile them in one article.
Take cue from a Huffington Post article that used Reddit answers to create content about embarrassing text messages sent to the wrong person. You can scour Reddit threads for relevant questions and feature the answers in a blog post.
With Digg, you can gather a list of articles and publish this in your own article. Better yet, create a list post along the lines of “Five must-read posts about pencils”, for example.
Stay up to date by looking at the news. Simply filtering Google search results to “News” gives you a list of sources that talk about subjects related to your own market.
You can also do something similar to what MSN Now is doing and write a short summary, then link to the original source.
With Flipboard, you can search for articles and creatre curated content for your website. Unlike Flipboard, Zite is a mobile-only application — so far — where you can get a list of articles based on a particular topic. You can create list posts out of the results you receive.
Articles are not the only form of content at your disposal. You can search for relevant pictures and videos and feature them in an article. Instead of just embedding a photo or video in a post, take time to write something short about it.
Sure, curating content is a lot easier than creating content. However, this doesn't mean you should feature curated content all the time. It's also important to publish articles of your own because this demonstrates your expertise in your field. Use content curation to supplement content creation — a good mix of both provides a steady stream of articles for your website.
Social media can lull us into a false sense of security — we are more relaxed in our customer communications when online and that's not always a bad thing.
Many new and small business owners rightly use social media to promote a friendly, personal brand; they recognise that being aloof and corporate are traits more often reserved for large companies and that these can turn off buyers.
The public appreciate working with businesses that show they value their customers, and where the personalities of real people are visible behind the professional business front.
Correctly managed, social media makes it easier to interact with and grow a customer base. It can be a blessing for small business owners looking to penetrate their markets and develop long-standing customer relationships. By offering free marketing platforms and cheap advertising options, it is an open door for businesses that want to encourage direct customer contact.
But social media carries with it risk. Perhaps because most of us are used to using social media for personal use, or perhaps because consensus on the rules of social media is never really reached, we can easily overstep the mark, going beyond the boundaries of business etiquette.
While the mistakes of big business tend to gain the most publicity, these companies have the financial means to weather negative publicity; small businesses with less financial security may not fare so well.
In 2009, Habitat made the huge error of promoting its brand by using unrelated and inappropriate hashtags. The public’s annoyance turned to anger when the company embroiled itself in politics by using the Iranian election to promote its stores.
The lesson? Only use relevant hashtags: tastelessly riding on the coat-tails of big news and sticking your nose into other people’s conversation will only set your brand up for a major social media faux pas.
Similar stories are abundant online. Take, for example, the business owner caught complaining about a charity rep who visited his business looking for a donation. After finding that the rep had never personally purchased anything from his company he moaned to his company’s thousands of Facebook followers. This attracted a stream of negative comments and portrayed the owner in a very negative light.
There are things that should be shared through your business's social media channels and other things that most certainly should not. You must consider what your followers want to hear from you and then think about the best way to communicate this — if, and only if, it's suitable for broadcast.
These examples show what can happen when etiquette is forgotten. Done well, social media can give your brand character and boost your customer engagement; done badly, and it's a very public platform for a PR disaster.
Large organisations can employ social media managers to guide and monitor social media marketing, but for most small companies limited resources prevent such hires. In these cases there are some simple rules to remember:
If you are concerned that a post might breach social media etiquette, don’t take the risk.
Charlotte Ward is a senior account manager at TopLine Communications.
Appealing to new markets is essential to growth. We’re constantly looking for ways to attract new consumers. So we’ve compiled our top five tips in the hope we can share our experience to date.
Firstly you don’t need to entice new customers through money off vouchers and special prices. If you already offer great value for money, this strategy will only serve to threaten your already precarious bottom line. Just make it easy for them to do business with you.
We identified organisations managed by the local authority as a great niche market — they consume cartridge after cartridge of ink. However these institutions don’t always have access to credit cards. So we amended our credit system to allow us to approve credit accounts for them specifically within 30 minutes. That way, from day one, it’s very easy for them to do business with us — and we have given them every reason to return.
In all likelihood, if you’re an online business, you’re probably already servicing a market by virtue of being accessible to all. You’re just not focusing on them. We recently launched a 3D competition aimed at the creative industries for that reason. We knew that designers use our products but we wanted to make ourselves their supplier of choice. We created a challenge that gave them access to 3D printing technology — currently a medium out of their price range. As a result we got lots of new business from the design community.
Talk to your customer base. You can survey them unobtrusively and mine them for information that could help you service their needs more successfully.
When you’re online, moving into Europe is often seen as an easy step. The fact is, if you have a niche product that benefits from little competition and low customer service levels, it is. Especially when Google makes it so easy to advertise. But there are potential obstacles — including the logistics of delivery and language barriers.
Ian Cowley is the managing director of Cartridge Save.