Apologies for absence and not keeping up with comments!

Sincere apologies folks but urgent family matters had take over my life for the past few months and maintaining the blog went to the very back of the burner. Fortunately the situation has now improved a lot -aged relatives re-settled and slightly less time-consuming so I’m hoping to resume the business advice elements as soon as possible.

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how well is my business doing?

http://www.scribd.com/doc/50699866/Company-Health-Check

Here’s a booklet written by David Buchler of Templewood, Ian Gray of Baronsmead Consulting and myself on the key indicators for the health of a business. If you’ve ever grappled with EBITDA, this should help to make it simpler… and the cartoons are fun!

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The comfort zone challenge

Poverty is a great motivator, and when I first started working for myself way back when people still used fountain pens, I found myself saying yes to virtually any job that came along. Everything was a challenge back then so I can’t say I ever had a comfort zone to live in at that time.

Recently however, for the first time in ages, I really had to think hard about agreeing to take on a project. It was out of my comfort zone, and in thinking it through, I found myself making all sorts of arguments about why it would be sensible to let this one go – too much work on, family commitments, too big a job and so on. But ultimately it came down to confidence, questioning my ability to do a good job on something a bit different.

In the end I decided to go ahead but it reminded me of how hard it can be to take on a challenge when your reputation is at stake. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t say yes to anything – I’d have to consider that I could do a good job for my client but even after all these years, I still have to give myself a swift motivational boot up the backside to remind me how important it is to keep on developing. When I’ve finished the project, who knows what it might lead on to but if I blew it out then there is no positive outcome.

So when you’re wondering about your next commission, explore your doubts, examine all the arguments against it and then say “yes” anyway!

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Give customers a sign!

Ways to promote your new business with next to no money.

 1. Use your car or van.

Red Bull

You don't need to go this far to get noticed

At the very least make sure you have your web site address and telephone number on your rear window but if you can – make your vehicle stand out with decals. It’s not too expensive in these days of computer graphics to make your vehicle into a mobile advert.

If you don’t want to permanently mark your car because you are thinking depreciation, you can always go for magnetic signage – not as effective but much better than nothing. And when you are in the supermarket car park – make sure you have a nice big advert to put into your windscreen while you are shopping! Tesco or whoever might not like it but there’s not much they can do about it!

What if you think your car doesn’t give off the right kind of image for your business? Unless you are in a sector where image is everything, provided your car is at least clean and tidy, you are probably better off using it to promote your business. Getting your name into the market place is vital and your vehicle can help you do that very cheaply. Remember the points of contact rule. People need to come across you about four times before they start to contact you – a leaflet, an advert, a shop window poster, your vehicle – for example. Your name starts to register – and the more they see it, the more likely they are to call you.

 I will be adding a link to this post for tips about designing signage very shortly.

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Google – the end is nigh?

Went to an interesting online marketing conference last week, run by the ebusinessclub team. The keynote presentation was given by internet psychologist Graham Jones. He suggested that social media will become our preferred way of searching for services -the premise being that we like to ask our friends for recommendations as in… “anyone know a good plumber?”… and now we are doing this on Facebook and Twitter.  

So does this mean that SEO for Google will become a waste of time for business? Graham seems to think so and that Google’s importance will decline. Personally I’m not so sure that Google will be disappearing anytime soon. But I would agree it makes good sense for business to make increasing use of social media and gain a greater understanding of its importance in buying decisions.

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Free training and advice

The ebusiness club – loads of excellent advice for free!

 If you are a small business based in the East Midlands then do check out http://www.ebusinessclub.biz These guys run some absolutely brilliant training and seminars on all internet based business topics – and their events are free. I’ve done several of their one day courses and I found them really helpful.

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What’s Your USP?

USP example

One of my favourite USPs... 'Polo -the mint with the hole"

Part 1 Adding value for your customer

 When you want to start a business, one of the most off-putting factors can be the sheer volume of competition. If your business is going to succeed then you have to come up with some pretty good reasons why customers should choose you and not one of your many competitors screaming “me too” at them!

 What we need is a unique selling point or ‘proposition’ – something that offers our customers a better deal.  “Eureka,” cries the budding entrepreneur. “We shall sell our products cheaper than our competitors.”

 Well that is one option but not a particularly great one. Personally, I’d rather have my customers choosing me for being more expensive than getting engaged in a downward price spiral with my competitiors. So I need to create reasons for that to happen.

 For example:-  I run a fish and chip shop –loads of competition, and of course not just other fish and chip shops. Here’s few possible differentiators…

All our takeaway orders are individually wrapped in a heat retaining bag so your meal is still piping hot when you get home.

 All our fish is guaranteed line caught only

 Choice of cider, wine and malt vinegars at our counter.

 Choice of batter or breadcrumb coating.

 Telephone order and free delivery service for orders over £15

 All of the above will add to my costs. The skill is in recognising which of these ideas are likely to add to profits – and that’s about understanding my customers. For example, make the breadcrumbs Matzo meal in an area with plenty of Jewish customers and I could be on a real winner.

 A little bit of research might show why fish and chips shops don’t get a better share of the home delivery food market. Perhaps individually wrapped portions in heat retaining packaging might be the answer.

 I know  that my favourite fish and chip shop is packed every day at lunch time and evenings because they began to offer an “eat in” service – just a few tables to begin with, got a licence to sell wine and made sure their food was always top quality. And the takeaway trade has boomed also because most times you turn up, it’s too full to get a table!

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How can I get a web-site or blog for free?

 
 
If you are a technophobic idiot like me, then I suggest using a professional to help you set up but if there is no budget, there are some free and relatively easy to use options to get your business on line. However I would always suggest if possible to have someone near at hand who has done it before.
 The key thing is to plan out your site before you start building it.   Think through
 
  • Who you want to visit your site
  • What they will expect to find at your site
  • What you are going to offer them
  • What you want visitors to do
  • Why these visitors should choose you
 
Create a diagram of your site pages and their headings and draft out your  ideas for page content. Get together the photos or illustrations you want to use and save them on your PC. Make sure you give the photos a good file name like “red sports bag.jpg” so that Google can recognised their content. Don’t forget to review your competitors in detail.
 
Next –do a bit of homework on the internet about search engine optimisation. There are lots of helpful sources of info such as www.problogger.net/…/search-engine-optimization-for-blogs/   Use Google’s keyword search tools to find out what key words and phrases you may need to put in your web copy to help Google direct relevant searches to you. Finally, consider whether a web-site or a blog format would help you most and look at various examples to see what styles you like.
 
Now you can start on the site itself. Here are two of the options. For a free website, including domain and hosting, check out Getting British Business Online, www.gbbo.co.uk  if you opt for a web-site approach. It’s free, fairly flexible and easy to use. If you have all your content to hand, you can be up and running in little time at all.
 
If you think you will want to add fresh content, news stories, case studies and so on, you may prefer a blog format. One of the simplest to set up is at www.typepad.com where you will find a range of free and inexpensive blog options.
 
So now it’s up to you. Good Luck. In my case, I manage to press a whole lot of wrong buttons before I get things the way I want them!
 
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Still putting off that business plan?

 

Free Guide to Business Planning

How good are your excuses?

If you are among the many people who want to start a business but haven’t done a business plan, heres a booklet about some of the excuses would-be entrepreneurs use for not putting their ideas down on paper. 39greatexcuses  It also contains a guide to help you do a plan but if it doesn’t convince you why a plan is a good idea, then please let us know your excuses – and we’ll add them to the next edition of the book! Credits to Dr Brian Dear who co-authored 39 Great Excuses for not writing a business plan with me.

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