15 Ways to Give your Business an Unfair Advantage – Part Two

 Here are some great tips I read recently in Real Business Magazine. Click here to read part one; part three to follow soon!

6. Put social media at the heart of your business

“Social media isn’t just about marketing – you have to try and develop your entire business culture around it, “Explains Andrew Gerrard, a social and digital media consultant at Exeter-based Like Minds. Social media should become a part of everything that you do: your business strategy, objectives, customers, growth plan. “Develop yourself as a social business rather than an organisation that does ‘a bit of social media marketing’. This will leave you in a better position to engage with your customers, and it will drive your business forward and the profits up.”

7. Get ready for the cloud revolution

“In the future, all of your devices will exist in the cloud,” predicts Dan Dobley, marketing director at Google. “If you lose your notebook computer, you’ll just be able to pick up a new one and start where you left off, instantly.” The cloud computing market is still in its infancy, and opportunities for entrepreneurs are vast in this space. IDC predicts that spending on public IT cloud services will hit £46bn in 2015 (up from £13.4bn in 2010). Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple – they’re all at it. Make sure you’re there too.

8. Don’t hid away in your ivory tower

“Every year, Specsavers holds 95 retail communication meetings to update our partners on the latest strategies and to hear what’s happening in the stores,” says Dame Mary Perkins, founder of Specsavers. If things aren’t as they should be, she makes sure they’re dealt with as a priority. Keeping lines of communication open with all 1,600 stores has had remarkable results: Specsavers has never had to close a single shop and the company is entirely debt free.

9. When exporting, ask for your money upfront

“If you have a good enough product, someone will pay for it upfront – just make sure they do,” says Lara Morgan, the founder of Pacific Direct, the toiletries business she sold for £20m in 2008 . Getting your money upfront will make it easier for you to grow your international business. “There’s no excuse not to export. People put up unnecessary barriers, and that’s a waste of time. Just get on a plane!”

10. Future-proof your business plan

When starting a business or launching a project, remember to factor in how long it will take to get there. “Technology will move on significantly, and users will move with it,” explains Google’s Dobley. “Design your business plan for the future that will exist when you launch it. It will leave you in a much better position to delight your users and win.” Google believes the future is mobile, so it now builds all of its apps on mobile first, before porting them to other platforms afterwards.

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15 Ways to Give your Business an Unfair Advantage – Part one

 Here are some great tips I read recently in Real Business Magazine. Parts two and three to follow soon!

1. Keep your customers happy – at all cost

“Start with the customer. What makes your proposition better than anyone else’s?” asks Simon Calver, chief executive of LoveFilm. He says LoveFilm’s brand is built around three core principles – range, value and convenience – which is hard-wired into every LoveFilm employee’s brain. It seems to work: today the movie rental firm has 1.6 million subscribers across the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. “Make your customers love you by offering them the best customer service you possibly can. The customer is always king.”

2. Go into partnership

Sometimes being an entrepreneur isn’t about doing it all yourself – it’s about finding the right partners to grow your business. Take Specsavers, which has a 42 per cent market share in the UK. The company operates a franchise model, where the stores are split in a 50/50 joint venture basis between Specsavers and the individual optician: “All of our optometrists have a guaranteed salary and the loans they put into the business are usually paid back by the company within three years. “ explains founder Dame May Perkins. “The structure of these partnerships hasn’t changed in the past 27 years.” Share the profits, share the risk.

3. Measure everything

“There’s always talk about how entrepreneurs are big risk takers. But, in fact, when you’re running your own business, you make sure the way you roll the dice is in your favour,” explains LoveFilm’s Calver. “Every move is calculated. Entrepreneurs are actually far more analytical and focussed than many big corporates.” For example, with more than 500 marketing campaigns on at any moment, LoveFilm measures “absolutely everything” it can, to keep on top of its spend.

4. Encourage reviews and recommendations

“Reviews are becoming huge – 73 per cent of all shoppers check with other consumers or friends before purchasing from an unknown brand,” says Andy Phillipps, Reevoo’s chairman. “Business owners consistently underestimate just how willing consumers are to write reviews. If asked, 15% will review products and services without any incentive at all.” Just look at LoveFilm: its customers have generated 80 million film ratings and written 843,000 member reviews, helping LoveFilm to promote the most relevant titles.

5. Make your idea actually happen

“Too many people walk away from a good idea and blame it on something like the recession. But to be successful, you have to stay really determined,” says Richard Harpin, the boss of  insurance and maintenance giant  Homeserve. “When people come to you and ask whether you’ve thought of ‘this’ or ‘that’, don’t get distracted. Have a single-minded focus.” He adds that while you can work on developing other parts of the business simultaneously, you have to keep true to your original goals – and never give up. “Develop other products, channels and markets but keep it true to your vision. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Don’t just walk away when things don’t go as planned.”

Don’t sell me X, sell me Y

Chantal Cornelius from AppletreeWhat do you really sell? If you’re a Marketing Consultant, do you really sell Marketing Consultancy? Is that what people actually buy from you?

Here’s an exercise you can use to get a fresh look on what you really sell. Ask people at a networking meeting, your clients or your staff for alternatives to what you actually provide. When I did this at a recent event, I said “Don’t sell me Marketing Consultancy, sell me …” and here are some of the suggestions I received:

… new clients

… introductions

… help with developing my community

… more business

… lovely customers.

Get the idea? So if you’re an Accountant, don’t sell me accountancy – sell me financial security. If you’re a catering company, don’t sell me catering – sell me an event that boosts my reputation. If you’re a career coach, don’t sell me career coaching – sell me my dream job!

If you need some suggestions for what you really sell, get in touch and I’ll send you some ideas.

Never be ashamed of making things easy

Alice

There is nothing more off-putting than being spouted at by a lot of jargon, especially if you’re not familiar with it. It can be very demoralizing to keep asking what ‘x’ means, and wearisome to retain the information and applying it to what you already know.

Therefore if you produce a new product or service to your public, make sure it is easy to understand. Making things simple is not a crime, it is a necessary requisite, if you are to get your prospective customers to comprehend and ultimately to buy it or hire you.

Making something simple is not as easy as it sounds. It does require a large amount of forethought, analysis of how a product really works, or how a service can be efficiently provided. It needs to have volunteers to demonstrate it on first, to watch its performance and recognise any glitches, ready to be amended or adapted where necessary. Only when the result glides by on silken runners will the product or service be ready to release on your unsuspecting public!

And even then you can’t rest on your laurels, as feedback and comments needs to be collected, instigated and prompted, as well as acted upon to make the required improvements. These things can always evolve into a better model as time goes by, so constant awareness and watchful motivation will alert you to concepts that are succesful, or even failures needing attention.

At the end of the day, it is the simplicity that has made the difference, provided the USP and proved its worth. Unless your customers can properly cope with what you have to offer, in a way that they can appreciate, absorb and act upon by themselves, presented in a way that totally relates to the way they think, act and react, all that hard work would have gone to waste.

The importance of interaction

Alice

When you’re dealing with social media, one of the most important things to consider is interaction.

Interaction is when your readers, audience, fans, friends or whatever are compelled to respond to your social networking activities. This will happen when you post up something that is worth commenting on, full of value, beneficial and helpful, entertaining or educational, or even controversial, just begging for a response to counteract it or confirm their approval or agreement with it.

Blogs thrive from comments. Spiders register a comment as new material, so it can enhance a post by making it more attractive to the search engines. It also adds to the conversation because the reader is presented with new ideas and concepts that contribute to the subject matter or interest factor. Ideally posts should be written to encourage a comment, or contain a call to action to remind readers to leave feedback or their point of view.

Facebook works on interaction, as every time you post on your profile, or ideally on someone else’s profile as a comment to their status update, Facebook sees this interaction and clocks it as a match. The more interaction you have with your Facebook friends, the more likely you are going to see your posts or blog feeds on their profiles. If you don’t partake in lots of interaction on social networking sites, it’s not only the search engines that deem you to be inactive, its the social networking robots as well, which can be detrimental if you want to create interaction to help promote yourself or your business.

Twitter is the master of interaction, of course! It is all about interacting with your fellow Twitterers, chatting, commenting, retweeting, sharing in real time – generally forming relationships with your followers as you interact and find out what they are doing. Really this is not a place to be doing business in the old sense of the word, it’s about communicating and making friends, networking by being sociable, asking after their health, family or latest event, having a giggle over a piece of news or notification from elsewhere, exchanging information about each other as if you were face to face and not separated by the web in between two computers. It is a place to find out information, learn from a blog feed, gain trust and credibility by giving and sharing, having a conversation with real people who respond readily – in other words, interacting.

Using social networking sites, and also social bookmarking sites, needs commitment to fine-tune your interaction with your followers and friends. It’s no good having a fantastic blast one day, and then forgetting to continue for the next few days. Even if your followers forgive you, the search engines and social networking sites won’t. Robots don’t understand like humans do, and they see inactivity as exactly as what it is, and immediately your ratings go down, you loose those slots on your friends’ profiles, your stats take a plunge and your Twitter streams are dark and empty.

I know it’s hard to keep it up indefinitely, so it’s worth working out a social media diary to help you keep the momentum going. Plan in advance what you are going to say that month, or week if you think short-term, so that there is always information available to use when your inspiration dries up. It’s much easier to provide content, leading onto to some beneficial interaction, if you have a focus, goal or objective towards your social networking activities – get more leads, raise your profile, extend your expertise, collect more fans or ‘likes’, increase your subscription rates, develop your visibility on the net – need I go on?

And above all – it’s so important to have fun!

What is the difference between Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0?

Alice

For those who are still confused by my title, Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 are the various stages the internet has evolved, and how it has affected electronic, email, online or digital marketing (the various terms for marketing on the internet also suggests how technology and its concepts have rapidly changed).

Web 1.0 deals with static websites. These were originally set up to be online brochures, a representative of your business on the internet where people could go to find information.

A space was provided on the web which was filled with an attractive (if applicable) website that hardly changed since its conception, except for a few additional alterations and updates, sparsely accomplished due to cost and reliance on webmasters. The concept was simple, and at first confined to those who could afford it or had access to it.

Web 2.0 deals with interaction. Now there are all sorts of websites that allow their visitors to add their own contributions, that are regularly updated with new information, encourage participation, call to action and regular methods of following or subscribing.

This concept of interaction has been spread to social networking and sharing sites, a phenomenon that has expanded hugely to become almost a part of our daily lives, a requirement to be constantly up-to-dated with what’s going on, become a trend setter or act as an innovator to start off the next big thing.

Then there is the ability to update your website through CMS (content management systems), in whatever format it is in (website, blog, blogsite, forum, status update or whatever), by yourself whenever and wherever you like (on any suitable hardware, software or media), and also by others through leaving comments, feedback, contributions and advice.

Web 3.0 is no longer a concept of the future, it is already here. The use of smart and android phones have commanded a change in internet use. It’s not just that websites have to adapt to be effectively seen on people’s mobiles, but the technology behind them as regards data gathering, customer segmentation and promotional targeting.

Data about consumers are gathered from a myriad of sources: mobile use, payment cards, loyalty cards, telephone voting systems for popular television participation shows, the list is endless. Today’s technology allows marketers much easier access to all sorts of information that would have taken ages and with much higher costs than before.

This is mostly permission based (a requisite much more heavily policed in the States), but unfortunately subjected to technically advanced fraudsters and spammers. Even so, marketers have to find new ways of promoting their products to overcome apathy and avoidance of regular advertising, and technology provides constant answers to beat the increasingly rapid changes of today’s society as it adapts to whatever is thrown at it!

How to avoid a boring blog

Alice

Blogs are hard work. They require consistent updating to make them successful, and unless you love or excel in writing skills, the effort required can be daunting.

Perhaps you feel you run out of things to say, you wonder if what you write is good enough, you don’t think anybody is reading it, or you feel your style is too stilted and boring.

So consider this: people don’t necessary react to a company, they usually buy into the person that represents it. In Appletree, Chantal is the business, and people respond to her and her ideas. If they like what they hear, they tune in and continue attentively because they want to know more.

So why not make your blog posts the same? A blog is a prime example of where you can express your thoughts and personality. You could take a subject that everybody is talking about (a good thing, as popular topics command excellent reactions on the internet) and turn it around to your point of view, making sure it is relevant to your blog’s niche and what your audience expects.

Putting your particular slant into these issues will make them more interesting, as I’m sure your readers will value good opinions with well-reasoned commentary, rather than the usual boring recantations so usually found in the blogging media.

And don’t forget personal points put across will evoke comments, which are also very good for your blog, as the search engines consider them as new material to index, as well as extending the interest factor of your posts. Controversial posts with relevant and poignant comments will also extend the subject matter into new avenues that could stimulate future posts.