2015 seems to have flown by; we've certainly been busy here at Donut HQ covering small business news, publishing expert blogs and adding to our ever-expanding library of marketing resources for small business owners.
We know you've been busy too - when you run your own business it can feel as if there are never enough hours in the day. So if you are pushed for time but you want to read the best marketing advice and inspiration for small firms, check out our pick of the top ten blogs of 2016 (below).
We're planning lots more content in 2016, including a raft of new articles on ecommerce coming in the spring. So do come back in 2016 for more news, views and advice.
In the meantime, we'd like to thank all of you for supporting Marketing Donut - it's your insights, comments, blogs and tweets that make the Donuts such a fantastic resource for UK small businesses. We'd especially like to thank all our experts and bloggers that have generously shared their knowledge with us.
And, of course, thanks to you all for visiting, reading our content and sharing it. If there's anything you'd like to see in the future, please let us know.
We'll be back on 4 January with more news, articles, blogs, tweets, offers and advice - everything you need to help you run your business better.
Have a great Christmas and a fun new year!
The Marketing Donut team
Mike Southon: How to grow your business when you've hit a brick wall
Emma Pauw: Mastering the art of social listening
Shweta Jhajharia: How to qualify leads in just ten minutes
Eric Moeller: 18 ways to talk to your customers on social media
Ashley Carr: How to get journalists on side
Grant Leboff: How to make your customers the heroes on social media
My daughter was listening to the song Firework by Katy Perry the other day.
The first line says: "Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?"
And I thought: "No, I don't actually". So I stopped listening.
Then, I received a marketing email with the title: "Are you a new author living near Croydon?"
I said to myself: "No. But I'm a best-selling author living near Liverpool." (Sorry if that sounds a bit big-headed but it's true; my books have sold pretty well.)
And perhaps my favourite of all…
I once received an email called "Looking for a hair makeover for the weekend?". One quick glance at my photo will show why I didn't think this email was meant for me.
The fact is, many communications start like this - with something irrelevant, or dull or both. But, if you want people to engage with you immediately, you have to start well.
When you do, you both feel better. Your recipient knows why they should listen. So they do. And this improves your confidence as you deliver it.
Everyone knows the importance of first impressions. I guess that's why, when I share this idea with people, they normally say "but my first impressions are always good."
But are they? Or do you sometimes use:
Hardly riveting, are they?
Fortunately, it is pretty easy to do it better; and engage people better as a result.
In fact there are only two steps:
For example, let's re-write the above three, assuming you're talking to someone whose #1 thing is to improve their competitive advantage:
A great start doesn't guarantee a great outcome, of course. The rest of your communication must be good too. But start badly, and you might well never recover.
My tennis coach's says I should improve my serve because, when I get it right, it enables me to dictate the point more than any other shot. In his words: "your serve is the only shot where you aren't reacting to your opponent. So it's the only shot you have 100% control over. Do it well, and they have to react to you. So it sets the tone for everything that follows."
When you communicate, is your first serve - your title and intro - impressive enough? Or do you sometimes feel like you're a plastic bag?
Copyright © 2015 Andy Bounds is a communications expert, speaker and the author of The Snowball Effect: Communication Techniques to Make You Unstoppable. You can sign up for his free weekly tips.
TED talks and the independently organised TEDx talks are hugely popular with both speakers and their audiences. An opportunity to speak at such an event is on the bucket list for many people, so when I was invited to speak I jumped at the chance.
And yet ten years ago, I had a debilitating fear of speaking in front of groups. The turning point came for me one day in a team meeting. I was so nervous I couldn’t give a short five minute update and someone else had to step in whilst the entire room looked at me. I was mortified. That day I decided to do something about my situation.
Joining Toastmasters enabled me to improve both my confidence and my speaking performance. When you join you get a manual with ten speech projects that help you gradually build your confidence and skills as a speaker. The great thing about having a structure to follow is that you hone your speech writing style and understand the value of preparing your material well.
Here's how I prepared for my TEDx talk, which was entitled Why women need to speak up; a subject very close to my heart.
I wanted to share my message at TEDx without notes and be as conversational as possible. I also wanted to include facts and figures that supported my message. I spent many hours researching my material, writing and rewriting my speech and rehearsing so that I felt comfortable enough to speak in front of a live audience as well as a video camera. Preparation helps you feel comfortable enough to get out of your head and just be present in the moment to really connect with your audience.
All TED talks have a cut-off point of 18 minutes, and for good reason; people’s attention spans are limited so you have to get your ideas across quickly.
At Toastmasters, speeches are timed to ensure that the meeting finishes on time but also to help you learn how to keep to time.
Working through my speeches within the club helped me understand how to craft and deliver my message within a designated time slot. Also, when you’re really familiar with your material and know what it feels like to speak for five minutes or 30 minutes you can adapt when you get thrown a curve ball.
Quite often meetings or seminars go over time because other speakers haven’t prepared properly. This has a knock on effect. So, when the chair says “unfortunately now you only have half the time to get your message across” you can quickly adjust and deliver.
At Toastmasters every speech is evaluated. Practising in front of a live audience week after week and getting this feedback has been one of the most beneficial aspects of my development as a speaker.
Far too many presenters don’t understand that the audience experience is key. Rehearsing and testing your material is crucial to ensure you engage your audience and create a good experience for them. Getting feedback helps you understand what the audience sees and hears.
I used to be terrified of speaking in public, but with focus and effort I got to a stage where I felt confident and competent - and now I really enjoy it.
Whether you are as terrified as I used to be, or you simply want to ensure your talk is the best it can be - follow my advice and you’ll ensure your moment in the TEDx spotlight is a success.
Copyright © 2015 Jay Surti is a member of Toastmasters International.
One of the tried and tested ways to establish your business in your sector is to win an award. An industry accolade is an independent evaluation of your firm and a public recognition of your worth - and it's something that your customers are more likely to trust than your own marketing material.
Most business owners already know this - and yet many fail to take full advantage of a win and leverage it for the massive authority building that it provides.
Here are five ways to get more mileage out of an award:
Writing a press release can be one of the best ways to leverage an award. Not only does it increase your media exposure, but it also provides core content that you can adapt and use in a wide range of marketing materials – such as on your blog, on social media channels and to send in emails.
Potential clients often visit your website to look for proof of what you do, and the quality of what you do. An awards section will help this tremendously.
Convert your press release into a blog. Details of your win will persuade anyone that is sitting on the fence that you are credible and it will further reassure those who already believe in what you do.
Share links on your social media channels to your press release, any media coverage and your blog post. Share a snippet from your press release; something short, sweet and compelling, in line with the tone of your business.
Include a picture from the awards night. Social shares with photos tend to capture attention better than those without. Sharing to your social media is essential as many consumers look to social channels to find out more about you and gauge your quality.
Using your press release as a starting point, write a short announcement to those who have opted in to receive your emails. Upload any relevant photos to your Facebook or other social media platforms. Then place a link to the album within your email. This helps encourage readers to share via their own channels.
Gaining social shares contributes not only to your authority but to your "social signals" which is great for search engine optimisation (SEO).
Towards the end of the email mention how to get in touch, or flag up one of your latest offers, to encourage prospects to convert.
Take a break in your day-to-day activities and really celebrate this achievement.
This is an opportunity to build authority with the public and to foster a sense of achievement amongst your employees. It is their win as well and they need to see that you appreciate their contribution to the business.
This will allow you to get to know your team better and have a good time with them. Plus, it will contribute to motivating your team to keep your business on a trajectory of greatness.
Putting into action these five steps whenever you win an award may take some time out of your schedule. However, the time taken to leverage something like this is worth it for the authority building that has far reaching effects with your customers and with your team.
Copyright © 2015 Shweta Jhajharia, principal coach and founder of The London Coaching Group.
Chloe Thomas, ecommerce expert, has been turning her mind to good reads for the Christmas break. She shares her top picks here.
One of the biggest challenges in ecommerce is finding the right materials to learn from. And Christmas/the New Year is a great time to revisit our plans and goals for the coming year.
I put together this podcast to let you know the top five ecommerce books I would recommend you read, and how to pick which one of them will make the biggest difference to your business success in 2016.
The books I've selected are a real mix - some biography, some very practical, and others to just get you thinking!
The books are:
I hope you find the podcast helps you pick the one for you, and you enjoy reading your chosen book as much I did!
And what's interesting is that the pop-up shop in particular is providing a significant boost to the UK economy, contributing £2.3bn a year and with revenues growing by 12.3% last year in this sector.
The UK is currently home to more than 10,000 pop-ups and the report reveals that it's not just start-ups that are interested in the pop-up concept; many established businesses are also keen to open up a pop-up extension of their current business.
Pop-up stores are a flexible add-on to a fixed retail space. They can serve as an extra outlet for your best-selling products or a short-term retail space allowing you to connect with new audiences and test out new products in new areas.
For a growing business, this is a prime opportunity and, as this latest research shows, there's no need to miss out on the pop-up trend just because you already have an established business.
If you want to grow your small business, testing the market with a pop-up extension is a great way to start. But there are two key things to consider before doing so:
Pop-up businesses cannot rely on a cash point machine being nearby. Consumers now pay by card more than they have ever done before; they will expect to be able to pay by card, so don't lose business by only accepting cash
All retail businesses, pop-ups included, need to invest in an electronic point of sale terminal (ePOS) and card machine. Not only is this more convenient to your customer but this will also limit the liability that comes with storing cash at your temporary premises or in a vehicle overnight.
It's important to manage a pop-up with the same proficiency and standard of customer service as you would with a permanent, established business. Aim to capture as much data as possible and analyse it; learn what works and what doesn't and tweak your business strategy accordingly.
Wherever you are selling your goods, you should be able to ascertain when to offer discounts and how to target them and be able to track inventory to make sure you always have the right stock. This doesn't have to be difficult; you'll find plenty of low-cost business apps available via the cloud that you can access from anywhere.
Running a pop-up on a short or long-term business will no doubt be a valuable learning experience. We recently ran a survey across 1,000 UK small business owners and found that that one third of respondents set up their own business because they wanted something more "exciting" than a normal day job - the pop-up phenomenon offers just that.
Copyright © 2015 Raj Sond, general manager of First Data Merchant Solutions.