CSR Update for Appletree

Corporate Social Responsibility is something we hear more and more about in business. Instead of keeping our heads down and just working hard for our own ends, CSR is about looking into the wider community and environment. It’s about looking at the impact we have and about seeing where else we can all help.

In 2010 we published our first CSR Report, to set goals on what more we could do and to share our results with you. Click here to read our report – it’s on our website. I updated our progress in a blog post in January (click here to read it) and since then we’ve completed one more task on our list – we had double glazing fitted to the office windows! They had an almost instant effect and as well as keeping us warmer, will definitely help reduce our heating bill and oil consumption.

So then we started looking at what to put into a more up to date CSR report. We weren’t sure what to do, so recently I met up with Jo Sandford from Creating Synergy – a CSR consultant who helped us with the first report. On Jo’s advice, we’ve decided not to publish another report, but instead to up our game. There’s a new standard called the Responsible Business Standard and we’re going to go for it. There are three levels – bronze, silver and gold – and we’re aiming as high as we can! We started by completing a survey run by the Organisation for Responsible Business to find out our starting point and what needs to be worked on. You can do the survey at www.ORBuk.org.uk. Jo and I then went through the results, to see what we need to work on. As Jo is an assessor for the standard, she’s given me some great advice on what we need to do, to achieve the standard.

What do we need to do? Here are a few of the activities I’ll be carrying out this year, before Jo comes to assess us:

  • Write an environmental policy for Appletree
  • Document our waste and recycling policy, so that new recruits know what to do
  • Write to our suppliers telling them that we’re going for the standard. We can’t always buy ‘green’ (although we often buy local) but we can spread the word about it
  • Carry out a survey of our clients to get feedback from them and see where we can make improvements
  • Write up our complaints procedure and tell our clients about it.

So not much, then! I’ll let you know how we get on with this lot and then the level of standard we get, once we’re finally assessed.

If you’re interested in achieving the Responsible Business Standard, complete the survey on the ORB website and send me your results. I’ll send them on to Jo who can assess them for you, and give you advice on what to do next.

How WordPress.com can help businesses in the short-term

Alice

I read blogging blogs that exalt the virtues of WordPress and what a fantastic platform it is to create a blog. But what they are mainly talking about is WordPress.org, the sophisticated version that is independently hosted, and can perform in total synchrony with your website, or even become your whole website!

But its problem is its expense, it requires a webdeveloper who understands how the platform works, and it can take time to set up. Even so, once accomplished, the results are totally professional, collaborate extremely successfully with the search engines, and are very much worthwhile the expenditure.

This is all very commendable, but what about the blogging sceptics? There are plenty out there that are uncomfortable about starting a blog, are not sure of the expense, may be on tight budgets, or would like to find out more about WordPress before making a commitment.

Enter WordPress.com, the ‘free’ version hosted by WordPress that can be set up in minutes. Its minimal expenses are to activate Akismet, the ‘spam eater’, and if you want to convert the URL WordPress gives you to one of your own.

Here is a blogging platform ideally suited to enable you to ‘practice’ blogging before embarking into this section of social media properly. By creating a WordPress.com blog, you will be able to learn how to fully use the platform, discover all the tricks there are available, excel in the intricacies of blogging and enjoy producing a fully-operational blog with the minimum of fuss.

OK, there are some restrictions: you can’t put advertising or sell from a WordPress.com blog, as the blog police will close you down. Only certain forms of HTML are accepted (RSS, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc) so it is not a medium to make money, only to education, entertain and publicise your business.

But if you want to create a blog to practice blogging or to dip your toe into the blogging world before expanding into more elaborate and profitable realms, then WordPress.com is the platform to use.

And don’t forget, it is extremely easy to transfer the contents of your WordPress.com blog over to your new WordPress.org website without losing a thing! A perfect example of continuity to maintain consistency.

What’s the best marketing you’ve done this year?

Chantal

What marketing have you done that has really worked? What have you done that hasn’t been a great success? What was your best effort and what will you be doing more of less of next year?

2010 has been a busy year for Appletree so we’ve taken a look at the different marketing we’ve done, with different levels of success. Hopefully it will give you some ideas for different marketing to try out next year.

Have a party. In August 2010 Appletree turned 10. We celebrated by inviting our clients, friends and suppliers to a Birthday Party in September. We put a marquee on the lawn outside the office and arranged for some delicious food to be served. We caught up with people we’d not seen for ages and introduced people to potential clients. What can you celebrate next year?

Do something for someone else. Each year, everyone in our business can spend a week of their paid time with a project for a local community. Dianne helped organise a volunteers’ day in Newbury, persuading many local shops to take part – taking to strangers is not something she used to enjoy doing. I will be visiting a prison, to spend time with people who might not have anyone to listen to them, without passing judgement. Alice will be listening to people at the local elderly care centre and writing down some of their stories.

We’re doing this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to improve our skills and to give something back to local community. Being able to tell people about the work we’ve been doing is an added bonus for our marketing. For your own CSR Review and Report, click here.

Do more networking. We bought another business this year – a networking company called Ladies That Lunch (and men too). Networking is one of the best ways to promote businesses and running the meetings allows us to share out networking experience, while bringing people together. We have big plans for next year, with new groups opening up. Take a look at http://www.ladiesthatlunch.co.uk/ to see when and where you can network with us.

Write a book. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time and this year, with the 10th birthday of the business, I got the idea to write a book about how to survive 10 years in business. Each chapter is divided into a number of sections and each one will be available to buy separately next year as a workbook and video.

Beginning to blog. In February we launched our blog. Clients had been asking about blogging – should they be doing it? What’s the best system to use? How does it work? So we started testing it. We now post three times a week, sharing advice and ideas with the world. We linked our blog to our Twitter account followers hear about new posts. Now we can set up blogs for clients and give them advice on how best to use a blog to market their business. Click here to find out how we do it.

So what has been our best marketing this year? We’ve done a lot of different things and there’s been no one thing that has brought the best results. What has worked best has been the integration of is all. Our CSR has been talked about in our blog; we talk about the book at networking meetings; we share marketing and networking tips on Twitter. Our marketing pulls in the same direction so in 2011, whatever marketing we decide to do, we’ll be making sure it’s all integrated and working together.

How would a blog work in the 19th century?

Alice

Blogging is definitely a 21st century phenomenon. So why am I thinking of it in Victorian terms?

Quite some time ago I posted a question on LinkedIn asking how would a Victorian gentleman view blogging. The responses were as varied as they were interesting, some even replying as if they were Victorian gentlemen themselves! Apart from the florid language and lengthy time taken to describe things, it was a good insight to break down blogging into its most basic format, to view it without all the bells and whistles that adorn this platform that could also confuse the true reason why to blog.

The internet was viewed as the telegraph, and therefore a blog is somewhere to publish your news through the telegraph system to reach a much wider gathering than through letter alone. Of course, sending a letter to The Times would certainly reach many readers, and the Victorians were compulsive letter writers (as well as reading them), but a blog could resemble an inclusive Gentleman’s Club through which you could submit your thoughts and musings, ideas and innovations, gripes and grumbles, retorts and responses, to both a private and public audience.

This opportunity to broadcast yourself as a source of authority, where readers will take your opinions as fact, would be much less expensive than writing and printing a series of pamphlets. These might be in danger of not reaching their intended audience, be wasted in their distribution, and be limited in their extent of circulation, and certainly could not enable their recipients to respond immediately through the same medium.

Your letters would reach their recipients much quicker than the usual method of postage, without the initial cost of paper, envelope and a stamp. And if you wanted to change your mind or add more to your message, this could be possible even after distribution. Replies may even be instantaneous, resulting in an immediate response of your own, thus adding to the conversation which could elaborate further on the subject matter.

And it would be worth while reading other gentlemen’s letters on their similar methods of communication, just to keep in the know, monitor what your competitors are doing, and steal a march on other exciting projects by acting first. Every time you reply to these letters, your signature will allow other readers of these missives to find out who you are and read what you have written, thus extending your expertise in the subject and your presence in the community.

And there is also somewhere where you can leave your visiting card for interested persons to access, find out more about you, and even take the opportunity to visit you, either at your Club or in person. You would only have to distribute one visiting card, as it would be able to be seen by a great many more persons than leaving it on the table in a Club or another social meeting place in the hope that it might get noticed.

What other elements of a Victorian business man’s life might be improved if he had this wonderful innovation they call a ‘blog’?

How consistent is your corporate image?

Alice

Some of the things I have accomplished since working at Appletree is to create this blog and maintain its social networking activities. I was very keen to make sure the corporate identity of Appletree was consistent, and Chantal and I focused on the big blue apple posing against the green ones, which signifies a business that stands out from the rest because it uses successful marketing strategies.

This consistency is a key factor regards recognition from our clients, followers, friends and potential customers. It is something I will be continuing to maintain over the coming months with our new ventures, including the redesign of the website! Nothing drastic, just better.

So what is consistent so far with the Appletree brand? Well, so far it is shown on this blog:

which was gleaned from the website:

and I also transposed this theme onto our Twitter background:

and our CSR Report:

This may seem obvious to many business owners, but you’ll be amazed how many do have inconsistencies in their marketing branding. Statistics show that businesses who are aware of their branding get more recognition from the public and their clients, and this reflects even on the avatar you use in social media, which should be the same as in your ‘about us’ page. If you change anything, you need to change everything! And even Appletree is not immune to this either – watch out for more blue apples in the future!