The buying revolution

There has been a quiet revolution going on. In the earlier days of my career, sales teams used to sell things. If you wanted to buy something that you didn’t know a whole lot about, you had to ask a salesperson who would then use your enquiry as an opportunity to try to get you to buy what they had to sell; ideally signing you up there and then. You pretty much had to rely on the information they gave you as they were the only real source of that information. The system tended to work but much of the power (the information) was in the hands of the seller. This approach still continues (or tries to!) in some major high-street retailers, but (IMHO) most of them are rubbish and, to be fair, the majority are now getting the message and starting to try to move to a more customer-focused style.

Knowledge is power – and Google is my friend!

The internet has levelled the playing field. Now if you want to buy something, a quick search on Google® can give you seemingly endless information:

  • Specifications
  • Professional reviews
  • Customer testimonials
  • User forums
  • Video reviews
  • Where to buy
  • Who has stock
  • Best prices

The internet has moved the power from the seller to the buyer. People don’t sell things anymore, people buy things, based on what they know. But here there lies a new problem.

I read it on the internet so it must be true!

Err no! Unfortunately, the internet has become so ubiquitous that it is used by some to promote inaccuracy. They take the view that if they shout loud enough and long enough, people will hear them – and believe them. You now need new skills to be able to read up on a subject (or product) of interest and learn how to filter what people are saying to almost ‘read between the lines‘ with the aim of getting somewhere close to the truth…a process which actually opens up new opportunities for the sales team. In 2017, the job of a seller is to inform and advise, to demonstrate knowledge and, most important build confidence in a potential customer that they can meet the customer’s need and solve their problem at an acceptable cost. If they do this then they become more a trusted advisor than a sales rep.

There is hope – maybe

The other week I was exploring the possibility of upgrading a wifi router. It was a bit special because I needed the facility to include a SIM card to access mobile data. I had bought one a few years ago but the performance was becoming less than I needed as it couldn’t keep up with the latest mobile data developments. Anyway, I called the specialist company that had supplied my existing router to be told one of their technical specialists would call me back – they didn’t!. Disappointed by the lack of response I went to explore other options but nothing quite matched what I was looking for. Eventually, I found myself back on the website of the original supplier. Despite the fact that they had let me down by not returning my call, their specialist products brought me back for another look- the advantage of having a Unique Selling Proposition! However, as this time I simply visited their website, I could see what products are available and which would best suit my need, and so I could make my decision. I now knew which router I needed so the purchase moved from technical to a commodity. I no longer needed information and expertise I just needed a good price. So did they get the sale? I’m afraid not. Selling is dead – Long live buying. The same product was available on Amazon at 35% less – but that’s another story! This shows the importance, even in a business selling quite specialist technology, of having competitive prices. The internet can be pretty brutal! Got any questions about marketing your business? Drop me a line

Good content needs good images – Where do I find them?

Images are a must-have resource for engaging marketing content. Inevitably, as the demand for interesting, relevant content rises, so the number of images needed also increases. Here is my take on some of the options for sourcing images…

Google images

Let’s be honest, this is probably the first place many people search when it comes to sourcing images for marketing content. Google Images is easy to access (http://images.google.com) and there are literally millions of apparently free images available through a simple Google search. However, whilst Google can be a good source of images, you do need to be careful when selecting which to use as many of the pictures you find are copyright and using them without authority can be risky – Take a look at this post from last year if you want to know more.

Royalty Free Image Libraries

If you don’t want to take the risks of simply using images downloaded from Google, one option is to use a commercial library offering Royalty Free images. Royalty Free does NOT mean free. It means that you pay a one-off cost (normally via a credit system) which allows you to then use the image as much as you like within the terms of the licence. In some cases the licence will place restrictions on where or how the image can be used though usually, if you are using it on the web in your own content, these should not cause an issue. There are many such libraries out there, but two that we use regularly are Shutterstock and iStock. Both of these libraries offer both subscription (pay a monthly fee for a set number of images per month) or pay as you go (buy credits & use these when you download images) models. Finding images on these libraries is also pretty straightforward with both having great search facilities but it can be a case of using the search then scrolling through the results looking for inspiration! In addition to still photos, these libraries also have some great graphics, illustrations, videos and even audio too.

Free Image Libraries

Whilst there is no doubt that paid libraries contain the largest number of images and offer the widest variety of content. There are also some great free image libraries out there. Like their paid cousins, they offer royalty free images but in this case there is no cost per image. Usually the sites simply ask for with donations via PayPal, or that you help them promote themselves through social sharing. One thing to bear in mind with these sites is that they will often require that the images are credited to the original photographer when they are used. I found this blog post listing a number of free image libraries and thought you might find it useful.

Professional Photography

Whilst the most expensive route to images for your content, getting a photographer in can sometimes be worthwhile, especially where you are looking for very specific shots of things like product, or shots of your team or offices. There is no doubt that shots of the real thing deliver more impact than using stock images. Investment in professional photos can pay dividends and create a resource that can be used again and again. When done well, using professional images can really give your site the “WOW” factor.  Here is a great example of just such a site – www.aardvarksafaris.co.uk

Take your own

Of course you can always take your own photos. Almost everyone now carries a high quality camera on their SmartPhone. With a bit of practice, your smartphone can produce excellent images, and video, Photos of events, showing your product in action, people in your team can all be great additions to your content. What’s more, by following a few simple rules, you will be amazed at the images you can achieve! Ideally, every piece of content you produce should include at least one image. Having a source for that perfect image is a must.

Editing your images

Most people don’t need the power of Photoshop to edit images. This said, the ability to crop and resize images is immensely valuable. Making images the right size and resolution for your website can really help your site loading speed. With this in mind I thought I would close with a bonus tip. Check out a free piece of software called IrfanView . Whilst it promotes itself as an image viewer, it also handles all the basic image editing stuff you might need. It also has a great batch processing facility for resizing, resampling and renaming images in bulk.

A framework for your next article

Writing good content is a great feeling
In a recent post I talked about how a planned approach can help maintain the flow of good quality articles and posts. But what about when you sit down to put pen to paper-or should that be fingers to keyboard these days? Your plan has got you to beginning to write your article but wouldn’t it be great if there was a framework you could apply to writing good quality content? Well, there is! In fact, there are several. Here are some ideas to help you structure your creativity.

Tell a story

Think from the point of view of your reader. Engage with them and make your story interesting Ensure you are saying something your reader will want to read rather than just something you want to say.

Beginning, Middle, End

Again this may seem obvious but it is amazing how often people forget this basic structure. By leading your readers through your content in a logical way, it is easier for them to follow your train of thought. My advice is to simply write notes in the first place. Words, ideas, bullet-points; anything you can think of about your subject, then start to lay them in a logical order that introduces your topic and develops your message while giving the information readers will want to see, then leading to a natural conclusion and sign-off.

Just because you know something doesn’t mean everyone does

Another common error is assuming that just because you know something your readers will too. Be careful not to use jargon and acronyms unless you are confident that everyone will know what you are talking about. Read through your work and make sure it has flow. Ideally, get someone else to read it too and ask for honest feedback. Constructive criticism can be immensely useful.

Let’s Get Marketing

Don’t forget though, you aren’t just story-telling to be entertaining. Your content should be promoting your business and encouraging readers to engage with you and ultimately do business with you. The ideas I introduce above are certainly useful but adding a promotional/business angle is the way to help your content to become commercially effective. There is a long-established model for writing marketing content which, I believe, has as much relevance today as it did decades ago. There are numerous variations on the theme but the most common is: AIDA

Attention – Interest – Desire – Action 

Although AIDA is perhaps the most widespread, personally, I favour a variation which moves from an operatic theme to family assistance: AID  PA

Attention – Interest – Desire – Proof – Action 

The words define clear elements for your content. Let’s take each in turn.

1. Attention

You probably have no more than a headline (and maybe a sentence) to grab your reader’s attention. Within the first glance, they need to see that what you are writing about is something they want to read. However you start, don’t forget to write for your audience. Even your style of words can affect whether you get people’s attention.

2. Interest

OK, you have got past first base and have the attention of your reader. This is where your content needs to deliver, building from the initial connection to develop real engagement by building a picture of how your business can deliver real value and benefit. This benefit can be quite subtle so long as it is clear, the important thing is that your reader’s engagement is growing. They want/need to know more…

3. Desire

The switch from interest to need is the point where your reader make a commitment to you, they now recognise they can be better-off with your ideas/propositions, but there can be a problem….what if you can’t do what you say you can do?

4. Proof

This is where the P-Proof comes in. These days, we are bombarded by tales of scams and dishonesty, fraud and disappointment. People are (not surprisingly) wary of someone who appears to offer a great proposition but who doesn’t back up their promises with any proof. Customer testimonials, endorsements, case studies, technical reports etc. are all great ways of reinforcing your message with third-party evidence. Even if you stick with the AIDA model, don’t be surprised if you are asked for proof down the line!

5. Action

I said it before but it is worth repeating, you are in business and want people to engage with you. Make it easy for them to take the next step by telling them what the next step is! Depending on what you are expecting, it may well be enough to give your contact details and invite interested readers to get in touch. At the other end of the scale, you can build urgency through ‘Limited-Time-Offers’ or ‘While-Stocks-Last’. It really does depend on your audience. Finally, don’t forget that marketing is a process, not an event. While AIDPA was (and is) a classic model for writing marketing letters and other one-hit methods, marketing these days is about engagement, relationships and customer choice. If you come on too heavy, too quickly you are as likely to lose an opportunity as to gain one. Hopefully, I have given you some ideas to help you develop your own structured content creation but if you would like some help, do get in touch.

Copywriting – a planned approach

Content is king – But watch out for surfing pigs

Content is tough
Much has been written (not least by me!) about the importance of content in today’s marketing. However, what exactly is content? At BSA, we have a phrase – Surfing Pigs – describing the sort of content that arises from this situation….

I need to get some marketing content out but I have no idea what. I know, I’ve  found this video of surfing pigs. That’ll make people laugh and get them engaged, I’ll post it…  

Just one problem; how does this promote your business? (OK, if you have a porcine surfing school I’ll let you off). Pointless content can be worse than no content at all. It can send wrong messages about your business. In my experience, good content ticks 3 boxes:

  1. Promoting and reinforcing your business proposition
  2. Relevant and accessible to your target audience
  3. Engaging and Interesting to read

Beware, even content talking about how great your business is can fail at least one of these tests! However, just magicking content ideas out of thin air is a challenge. Planning is the answer. Creating a strong content plan is a great way to really think through the messages you want to get out to your audience and make sure that not just each piece is doing its job but that the overall impression you give over time is joined-up and building your business marketing message. To find out more about planning and building a Content Calendar, check out this post.

Don’t let writing grind you down

A content calendar is only the beginning. The really clever bit is actually writing and publishing. Once you have content, the rest is a breeze! Many people find putting pen to paper and writing content is a real challenge. Consequently, it is often the reason why a content marketing withers and dies. Initial enthusiasm can get you through the first few articles but within a month or 2, things dry up. When I visit a website for the first time, I always head straight for the blog/news section. It can be very revealing. A good archive of articles coupled with up to date posts shows a business has embraced the power of content marketing. All too often, however, I am greeted with half a dozen posts (or fewer!), written over a 6 month period with the most recent at least a year ago. What does this say about commitment to even your own business, never mind customers?

How do you write ‘Content‘?

Being faced with a blank piece of paper and the expectation of coming up with 4-500 words of carefully created prose is challenging. This is where a plan starts to help. With a plan at least you know what you want to write about! I base my own approach to writing content on 3 things:

  1. Writing content is a process, not an event.
  2. No target word count
  3. Content writing should be a team game.

A process, not an event

Don’t just fire up your writing app of choice and expect to have a finished post in 30 minutes. A staged approach gives you more chance to think and develop ideas. I normally start with a working title and rough notes/bullet points. An initial stab at a structure for my article. Bullet points can become draft sub-headings to which I add a few more thoughts. By this stage, I will have the basis of a ‘brief’ for the article. I sometimes continue on from here but, at this point,  I also have the option of bringing in a copywriter to flesh out my structure. See below If I do carry on myself, I may stop and come back to my post 2 or 3 times over a day or so. Giving yourself time and not leaving things to the last minute is immensely valuable.

No target word count

Actually, no target word count that isn’t quite true. Most people will think of a target word count as a minimum, a goal that might be tough to reach. Actually, when you get in your stride, the issue can be the opposite – writing too much! If I find I’m getting up to 1000+ words I will start to see whether I can split my post into 2. Hey, 2 for the price of 1!. If you do find you are running out of steam with only a couple of hundred words written, don’t worry. Read what you have written and if you have said what you want to say, stop!  The quality of what you write is more important than length.

Content writing should be a team game.

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of using a copywriter. A good copywriter can be really helpful but remember, copywriters aren’t mind-readers! You will need to give a clear brief and work with them if you are to get the article you want in eth style you are looking for. Don’t feel that all content is entirely down to you. Get your colleagues involved. Even if someone can only get ideas to a ‘brief’ stage, believe me writing from a pre-prepared brief is normally much easier. If you work by yourself, get friends and family involved. They may not be in a position to write for you but they can come up with ideas and proof read your finished work. When it comes to writing content, have a plan and give yourself time.

Calling Copywriters

Talking of team game, we are currently looking for copywriters to work with BSA and our clients. If you’d like to find out more, drop me an email to davidw@bsamarketing.com

PIMMS – Our practical approach to planning

P.I.M.M.S – More than just refreshing!

All talk and no action?

Planning, planning…so much talk about planning and how important it is to the success of your business. But what are the practicalities? How do you actually do it? Business planning comes in many guises and there is no question that having a clear picture of what your business is and how it operates is very important but here I am talking about marketing communication planning. Some things in business never change and at the top of the pile is the importance of getting your message out to your market. If a business doesn’t engage and trade with customers, it isn’t a business.

Market Communication is vital.

The problem is that Market Communication is also speculative. You do it and run the risk of not getting the response you expect or hope for. This is one reason why so many small businesses (too often IMHO) call in someone who claims to be a specialist in marketing communication to take responsibility for marketing without having their own clear objectives and action plan to manage the marketing process.

Of course, external marketing support can be extremely beneficial (it is part of our business, after all!)  but a business should have its own, well-considered plan.

This can also raise another issue; all focus is put on developing a great plan but then no-one implements it! Why are planning and implementation so often separated when it comes to marketing?  You need both yet so often a business concentrates on only one or the other.

A practical approach

I have been in SME business marketing for a long time! Some things have changed while others are as valid today as they were 25 years ago – and longer (though I’m not that old!) Over the past few years, we have developed an approach to planning and implementation of marketing communication which I invite you to take a look at – The PIMMS Planning Model – We have talked about this before but we have recently reviewed and updated it. The approach is straightforward and practical:

  1. Plan
  2. Implement
  3. Monitor
  4. Manage
  5. Sustain

By setting objectives, implementing an action plan, reviewing and monitoring progress and sticking at it you have a well-rounded approach to marketing communications that will serve you well. The planning document (you can download a PDF here) walks you through key steps to develop implement and manage a marketing communications plan for your business. Please feel free to take a look and give it a go if you feel it would be useful. If you’d like to talk about how PIMMS can work for your business, do get in touch

Building a business: from Planning to Profit

It is amazing how sometimes a business takes a long time to get started. Even then, becoming established doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Alongside our marketing work at BSA, we have additional offices at Glossop Gasworks that we have been renting (well, strictly we are licencing but that’s another story!) for 10 years. It is just something we do to make use of the space but not a key business focus. Then, back in 2012, we were approached by someone looking for office space. We didn’t have any offices available but did have space in BSA’s own, open-plan space. We offered our enquirer desk space which he accepted. 5 years later, he is still here! At the time we didn’t think much of it. We were pleased to be able to provide what he needed but didn’t really see wider business opportunity.

Nature abhors a vacuum

Over the past 5 years, there has been a significant growth in self-employment and freelancing. With this growth, there has been a shift in the needs of many of these businesses. While they may have been born in back bedrooms and lounges, as they became established there was a requirement for something more. Maybe not the responsibilities and cost of a full office but a professional workspace where there is the opportunity to work in a commercial environment and meet with like minded individuals. Sometimes, staring at the bedroom wall while you try to write a proposal can be challenging! Inevitably, this need started to be met with managed workspace. Here individuals could rent desk and meeting space, permanently, by the day, or even by the hour, within a fully managed and serviced facility which gave them a professional business address and presence for meetings with clients etc, as and when they need it. Initially in major international cities and increasingly more widely. In Manchester, there are now several managed workspace facilities meeting needs at all levels. Business Centres had been established for quite some years but managed workspace takes the flexibility to the next level,

The Glossop Opportunity

OK, Glossop is Glossop! Not quite a major international city or even a bustling metropolis yet it most certainly has its own charm and function. Many self-employed and freelancers live in and around our town and while most may want to escape staring at the bedroom wall sooner or later, will they all want the inconvenience and expense of a commute into Manchester or over to Sheffield to their workspace desk? We thought not! In early 2016 we saw the opportunity. There was a growing demand and we had space that we had ‘expanded into’ but weren’t really using very well. The seeds for the Glossop Gasworks Business Hub were sown.

The Plan

Naturally, we knew we needed a plan. Our approach was simple: Research the offerings in Manchester and then combine this knowledge with our experience of living and working in Glossop.

  1. Play to our strengths,
  2. Be practical and pragmatic, making the most of what we have.
  3. Don’t try and copy the competition, take the good bits then add more.
  4. Keep it simple and assume things will take longer than we expect!

My mantra is that plans are essential, but pointless if you don’t do something with them; so…..

The Implementation

Most important, we were offering to provide a facility where people could be spending a great deal of their work time. They don’t want to see pictures in a brochure, they want to see the real thing!

Create the facility.

We are lucky that we already had space but we didn’t have anything else! We had to invest but did this to our plan. It was important we achieved a certain level of professional quality without going mad. We funded the investment sensibly in a way we could readily afford. We invested confidently, recognising the risk but keeping it manageable.

Make it visible

Inevitably, the internet is key to our promotional activity. We set up a straightforward but effective website (using WordPress, of course!) which is essentially based around images of our workspace facility. Having something ‘real’ to take pictures of is essential. Potential customers will see us on line and then when they visit, they see the same thing, the story continues. It amazes me that this isn’t the way it always happens….

I met a guy who was telling me about his new online business. It sounded interesting and he gave me his (high quality) business card. I was looking forward to learning more. The next day I visited his company website. What a disappointment. It was only half finished all the links seemed to go to nothing more than an enquiry page. Needless to say, my interest waned and I have not been in touch!  

Get the message out there

We had our shop window (www.glossopgasworks.co.uk) now we needed people to start looking at it. It is marketing and promotion where it is so easy for budgets to get busted. We were not going to fall into that trap. Because we had managed our investment carefully we weren’t under pressure to grow revenue quickly. We could afford to take our time. It gave us teh opportunity to pick and choose our promotional opportunities to get the best value. We have combined Advertising, Social Media, Networking and Word of Mouth. A six-month campaign started in April 2017. I must say that, initially, things stayed quiet. We weren’t expecting a mad rush but more than 1 enquiry would’ve been nice! This is where our combination of carefully planned and costed investment plus belief in our proposition were so important. It wasn’t a problem to hang in there. Our advertising was running and we were posting on Social Media regularly. We were also spreading the word through local networking. All the feedback we were hearing was positive. We just needed things to move on to the next stage.

Slowly, slowly

I regularly tell clients that things take longer than you expect or hope. Guess what, this is our experience. I also say that by planning and not over committing, you have a platform to allow some flexibility. Inevitably things took longer than we had hoped but they did start to happen. Expressions of interest started to become visits to look around. In turn, these visits are now converting to paying customers! At no point have we ‘sold’ anything to anyone. We set up our facility, promoted the proposition and gave people the freedom to see for themselves and make their own mind up. We don’t ‘sell‘, our customers and clients choose to ‘buy’. This is the modern way, and (in my humble opinion) creates a much more sustainable business. Twelve months ago, we had an idea for a business offer. It was nothing more. Today we have a business with real, paying customers that is delivering real value and generating real income. This is the beauty of running your own business. You can have an idea and make it happen. By using your expertise, experience and a dose of common sense you too can see a plan turn into a profit. Find out more about Glossop Gasworks Business Hub or contact me