Cloud in the real world

Over the past few years, there has been increasing talk about ‘cloud services’ and how they can help your business. So what are ‘cloud services’ and how can cloud in the real world help you? Essentially, they are services for tasks that traditionally you would do using software installed on your PC or laptop. With ‘Cloud’, the software (and often your documents and data) are stored on high-powered central servers. You access these over the internet. In some instances, there are options to store copies locally on your PC too. This allows you to work on them even when you aren’t online. As soon as you are connected again, your ‘local’ data automatically synchronises with the data held in the cloud – clever!

Beyond backup

One of the first cloud services to ‘go commercial‘ addressed a perennial IT issue – data backup. As someone who has lost data as a result of IT failure, I am only too aware of the value of keeping up to date backups. However, for many people, it seems the discipline of backups is too much. Either the cost of dedicated and automated onsite backup hardware is too high, or the routine of taking backups is allowed to slip. I find it remarkable how often I come across people who have no reliable backup of their critical data. If they found their core information stolen or corrupted beyond recovery, there’s a real risk to their entire business. Cloud backup seemed like the ideal solution. Virtually limitless online storage capacity and simple web-based systems to automate the backup process. All very well in theory but, in my experience, there is a problem – bandwidth. Most businesses these days have a LOT of data they want to back up. With modern hard disks running to several terabytes of capacity, many companies have hundreds or even thousands of Gigabytes they need to backup regularly. Even with fibre broadband running at 30-40Mb, data simply moves too slowly! It is one of those areas where people selling the services will focus on the ease of operation once the system is up and running (and only updating changes to data). The issue is the time taken to upload the data in the first place. Also, (perhaps more important) download it again after you find your office server has been stolen (for example!) Although I am increasingly a fan of cloud services, I still believe backup is an area where, in the real world, it is good to hold your own data if practical!

Run your business from the pub (or anywhere)!

These days, more and more businesses are using whole suites of cloud-based software for day to day operations. The 2 leading players are Google with its G-Suite and Microsoft with Office 365. Interestingly, although they started from very different positions, their offerings are coming together. Google started off as the realm of the home office. Its software (Word Processor, Spreadsheet etc.) were free to use and pretty well specced and integrated fully with other online storage and services. Microsoft on the other hand, came from the corporate world of Microsoft Office, Word and Excel etc. Where Google was free, Microsoft was quite pricey. These days Google has raised its game in the quality of its cloud software but now there is a cost. Microsoft, on the other hand, has developed a wide range of licencing options. These can be very affordable and some include the option to still have core office products (Word, Excel etc) downloaded and installed on your PC. Both offer extensive cloud storage included (up to 1TB in the case of Microsoft) so it is increasingly practical to work from anywhere you have a decent internet connection. The cloud storage syncs to your PC too so you can even work when you are offline as we talked about above. Just now, Microsoft is rolling out some interesting developments to their Office 365 platform making collaborative and team working even easier Another interesting area is the growth of cloud-based accounting systems. BSA moved our accounts to the cloud 2 years ago. I plan to look at how we are getting in in detail in an upcoming article.

Cloud in the real world

When cloud applications started to get noticed a few years ago, they were promoted as the NBIT (Next Big Internet Thing). Many people were sold on the fantastic opportunities they offered. In reality, they often proved difficult to use and even impractical as part of normal day to day business (unless you were in the software business!). These issues have now substantially been addressed and cloud software is a real alternative.

What about the backups?

Although both Google and Microsoft cloud data storage (and other specialists such as Dropbox) offer the option to sync your cloud data to your local PC, what happens if the cloud dies? Should you have a backup? My view is probably, yes, But, think of the impact on Microsoft or Google or Dropbox if they lose everyone’s data. It could put a billion dollar business at risk! Their problem is bigger than yours so maybe the cloud is safe enough? Personally, I look at it this way. If I lose access to my live business data, wherever it is stored, what am I going to do about it? If I know the answer and I am comfortable with that answer then I reckon I am covered!

Is cloud for you?

As so often in the real world, whatever the hype, common sense normally prevails. Cloud software and storage offers some fantastic opportunities to businesses. However, make sure you really understand how it will work in YOUR business before you commit

The importance of consistency

Marketing is a process

We often talk about the fact that marketing is a process that needs to be viewed in the context of long term visions & goals. This means that to be effective, your approach to marketing needs to be consistent over the long term. That is:

  • Your Message must be consistent
  • The Style & look must be consistent
  • Timing must be consistent (Ie keep it going)

Consistency of your message

One should never underestimate how long it takes for a message to get through. You are likely to be  so immersed in your marketing that you live and breath your message. In this scenatio, its easy to assume that everyone else does too, but the fact is that most of your audience are likely to be less than focused on what you are trying to tell them, and as such will not immediately understand and absorb what you are trying to say to them. Some of the great advertising messages of “Breakfast of Champions”,”Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.” were used for decades (Say it again: Messages are more effective when repeated). So repetition is key, and when repeating your message, it needs to be consistent over time.

Same Message – Different words

But consistent does not mean the same. Its your core message that needs to be the same, not your copy. To achieve this, its important to clearly understand the value you add to your marketplace. By having a clear understanding of this, you can be sure that you consistently communicate this message whilst varying the words you use and the way you say it. The message will be consistent, but hopefully the delivery will not become tedious. You also need to be sure that your message is consistent across the various platforms/media that you use – But that is a whole other post.

Consistency of your style/look

Whilst a brand is much more than simply the logo/design/look you present, there is no doubt that these elements are key in the process of communicating your brand, and as such need to be consistent.

Consistant across platforms

When someone sees your message on different platforms & in different media it needs to be identifiable as coming form the same company. Whilst different platforms will require a slightly different approach to branding, the overall look needs to match.

CONSISTENT across time

Whilst design styles will evolve, and a design done 10 years ago will look very dated today, it’s important that you allow your look to evolve, rather than changing radically overnight. The Shell logo is a great example. Whilst the logo today looks totally different from that when the company started, it has got there by evolving though a series of much smaller changes. So by regularly making small teaks to your branding design, you can ensure it stays looking current without ever having to make the type of radical change that can cause issues.

Consistent of your timing

The final aspect when looking at consistency is timing. Again, there are 2 aspects to this:

Keeping things regular

When you are publishing content, keep it regular. Fir example:

  • We send the Marketing Matters email at 2pm on a Friday, and whilst we have no hard evidence that this is significant, anecdotally we do know that people expect it in their inbox every week.The second benefit is that by committing to this deadline, it creates the discipline to keep it going.
  • We publish BSA Marketing’s Mid Morning Matters (Yes this is our homage to Alan Partridge – The apprentice who stared it a couple of years ago was a big fan) at 11am every day. Again the commitment to this deadline gives the incentive to keep it going, and as with Marketing Matters, we know people come to expect our tweet each morning.
Keeping things going

Of all the aspects of keeping it consistent, this is the biggie. To be consistent, you need to view marketing as a long term process, and to keep it going. Our first post on the BSA Marketing blog was 6th October 2008. Since then, we have published over 600 posts, which have been viewed over 100,000 times. Our blog now is at the heart of our marketing activities. Either directly or indirectly, it is instrumental in much of our new business acquisition, Do we get a hot leads every week as a result of this activity? No we don’t.

 But is it instrumental in securing new clients and building relationships with the ones we are already supporting?  YES IT IS

And long may it continue

If this has got you thinking about consistent marketing. you may fine two of our other recent posts of interest:

The essence of consistent marketing

Is your marketing consistent? Answer 5 questions & find out!

 

Is your marketing consistent? Answer 5 questions & find out!

Marketing is a process, not an event. Too often, marketing gets confused with sales and becomes a series of (often) disconnected campaigns focussed on driving enquiries. This is sales promotion. Marketing is the process of building awareness of your business and proposition across your target markets and developing a solid understanding of the real value you deliver. The more your potential customers know and trust your business and appreciate how they can benefit from working with you, the easier it is to sell to them when the time is right To be effective your marketing needs to be consistent and sustained. How consistent is your marketing? These 5 simple questions will help you find out:

1. Do you have clear business objectives?

One of the biggest barriers to consistent marketing is the lack of defined objectives. Without clear goals as to what you want to achieve and a strategy as to how you are going to market your business to achieve these goals, it is very difficult to deliver consistent, sustained and joined-up marketing communications. Without clear objectives, marketing can become a series of disjointed activities driven by the Next Big Marketing Thing (Adwords, SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing etc. etc.).

2. Do you really understand your value proposition?

While your objectives help define your strategy – and even why you are in business at all, your value proposition is the essence of why people will want to do business with you. It sets out the benefit you deliver to solve people’s problems and/or make their lives easier and more enjoyable. Do you understand your value proposition and how it helps your business to stand out?

3. Do you have a communication plan?

What are you trying to communicate to the market? Do you measure your marketing content against this? When you put out a message through any media, you should be clear if and how that fits in with your value proposition and the brand that you are trying to build within your marketplace. Furthermore, your communications plan should look ahead to tell you:

  1. What you are going to say.
  2. When you are going to say it.
  3. What channels you are going to use.
  4. Who you are targeting.
  5. Why you are sending this message to these targets.

To be consistent the plan should look at least 6 months ahead. 12 months is better.

4. Do you stick at it?

When you commit to pro-active marketing communications (eg Email, Twitter, Social Media, Offline (don’t forget mailshot, telemarketing etc) do you then consistently feed this with great content? This reinforces your position as an expert delivering real benefit to your marketplace. It’s not so much about how often you communicate. Focus on consistently putting out great content.

5. Do you review and refine your activity?

A strategy and its associated communications plan are no good if they are written and then put on a shelf. They should be living, working documents. Are you doing what you said you’d do? Is this getting you where you want to go? So, your marketing activity should be continually reviewed as a core element of your management process and refined & tuned as you get feedback from the marketplace on your activities. Answer YES to all 5 of these questions then you are on the way to driving Consistent Marketing – Congratulations! If you think your marketing could benefit from being more consistent, give us a call on 01457 851111 or contact us here

The essence of consistent marketing

Consistent MarketingWe have regularly talked about content and, after all, Content is King!. However, if the content is king then undoubtedly, Consistency is Queen.  Good, sustainable business is driven by consistent marketing. Here are my thoughts on some key elements of a consistent marketing approach.  

Know your value proposition

Possibly the single most important element of your marketing is to know your value proposition – and I mean really know it! This may sound obvious but it is amazing how often when I am talking to business owners, they will say they know their value proposition but when I ask them to tell me, they struggle or alternatively come up with a proposition that could equally apply to their own business or their competitors. A good value proposition should differentiate your business giving a reason for customers/clients to deal with you rather than someone else. It is remarkable how many people actually see their business as a ‘me too’. Your value proposition should be logical and consistent; easy for your potential customers to see how they can benefit. If you thoroughly understand and embrace your proposition, it is easy to test all of your marketing ideas and ask yourself if they effectively communicate and promote your proposition. A clear and consistent proposition is also the essence of a consistent marketing approach.

Know your market(s)

The best proposition in the world won’t get you anywhere if you don’t tell anyone – or tell the wrong people. Whatever you do, don’t simply assume you want to target everyone. Some SME businesses are nervous about deliberately not targeting particular people or sectors (their argument: you never know …?). This passive approach tends to a very wide market where messages end up being quite generic and so, weak. An active and selective approach to defining your market gives you the control to focus on areas where your marketing will be strong and your proposition well received and understood.

TIP: Even with a carefully defined target market, don’t feel you need to target everyone and everything all at once. What is important is that the people you choose to target with your marketing are very relevant. It doesn’t matter if there are other relevant people elsewhere, you can always come back to them later. Focus on the people you are targeting rather than worrying about the people you aren’t.

It is no bad thing to target low hanging fruit as the first step in a planned and consistent marketing programme.  They can present an opportunity for some quick-wins but it is important your marketing messages and processes are right. You don’t want to waste good targets on a poor approach. Also, you must remember the low hanging fruit won’t last forever and may be easy targets for your competitors too! So, you know your proposition and your target market. What to say to them?

Define your messages

Typically, your marketing messages should be concise and clear. One of the real benefits of a consistent and sustained marketing approach is that you don’t need to try to tell a prospect everything all at once. If you try to do this, you risk overwhelming people so they lose sight of what they are hearing because there is so much of it! A clear message that addresses a specific aspect or benefit of your proposition can be much more engaging. If someone wants to know more now, they can contact you or visit your website – where your full offering is clearly set out and demonstrated – isn’t it!? A series of simple clear messages are typically more effective than a single hit.

Set a content calendar

Delivering your marketing messages over time is much more effective at building awareness and engagement with your market. However, there is also a risk. Typically SME marketing goes in phases of feast and famine. When things are quiet, the spotlight swings on to marketing and things happen. But effective marketing means that business levels grow so the spotlight leaves marketing and moves on to delivery – until the work dies down and the process marketing starts again – normally from scratch.

  • Creating content calendar helps address this problem by setting out a plan – ideally looking 6-12 months ahead – showing:
  • What message(s) you are sending
  • When and to whom
  • What content needs to be written/created and by whom

Planning ahead gives time for people to do what they need to do. Also, the plan gives a context that puts everything in one place where you can easily check that your overall message is both comprehensive and consistent.

Keep on top of things

Don’t just create your plan then file it. Refer to it regularly (ideally weekly) to check nothing is slipping. It’s much simpler to address a small slippage while you still have time! Also, make life easier with technology. Cloud applications and storage allow you to check plans and work on your marketing messages and content pretty much anywhere and anytime. Cloud technology is also a great way to collaborate. We plan to look at some practical applications for the latest cloud-based apps in the near future.

New Year – Polish your business plan 2018

Happy New Year! Along with Easter and the Summer, Christmas/New Year is one of the three times each year when most people take some time off then come back to work inspired to take their business forward. However, despite best intentions, it is very easy to find things quickly slipping back into the same old routines as day-to-day demands start to impinge. Here are my thoughts for progress and success in 2018:

1. Plan 2018

Regular readers will know that planning is one of my recurring themes, but planning is vital. If you don’t have a plan and just make things up as you go along, you are not in control of your business. I’m not saying you won’t succeed but if you do, it will be luck. Plan 2018 doesn’t need to be complicated. There are lots of business planning tools online but here is my suggestion of key questions to ask yourself:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to get to?
  • How are we going to get there?

I’m thinking strategy here; should you be doing more of the same or are there changes that need to be made? What is the best way of using what you have to move your business and to make the changes? Perhaps the most fundamental need for a business is to have a value proposition that delivers real benefit to your customers. This article explores the idea in more detail

2. Action 2018

Making plans and setting objectives is all very well but a bit of a waste of time if you don’t actually do something about it! I suggest you take your planning ideas and then ask yourself what specific actions you can take towards achieving your objectives. This is about what are you going to do TODAY, TOMORROW, THIS WEEK, not what you might do over the next month or 2! You already know that running a business requires discipline and drive. Having an action plan puts focus on actually doing stuff towards achieving your goals. It’s a cliché but you do need to find time to work ON your business rather than IN your business.

3. Focus on specifics

One problem with planning is that it can be easy to stay with a ‘big picture’ where objectives look great on paper but it can prove difficult to take realistic steps to achieve them. This is where having a meaningful action plan is so important so let’s have a look at 5 specific areas of your business where you can make a big impact:

  • Keeping in touch: Review everyone you have done business with / had enquiries from over the last year – are you still in contact?

Keeping in touch with contacts is my top tip. Email and social media make it easy and inexpensive (or free!) to keep in touch and building relationships with contacts who know you and can give you more work is the best way to grow business.

  • Focus on Good Customers: Sort your customers in order of billed revenue. Now sort in order of the effort you put in – Do they match? Should you be looking to lose some of your ‘hard work’ clients?

Recognising that not every customer is a good customer was a big lesson for me.

4. Less can be more

If you are confident in your processes to bring on new business, it can be easier to let some customers go if they don’t really fit your requirements. Even if you aren’t so confident, losing one or two smaller clients who take up a disproportionate amount of your time can free up a surprising number of hours to focus on building more ‘good’ clients

  • Build on your success: List your 3 big successes from 2017 – what can you learn and apply in 2018

Sometimes, good things happen and you don’t even notice! Therefore, have a think about your high points from the past year. How did they happen? Was there something you can take into 2018 and repeat the success?

  • Learn from mistakes: Recognise your key disappointment from 2017 – what can you learn and apply in 2018

Hopefully, this will be harder because you’ve had more success than disappointment, but sometimes you can learn more from a negative than a positive. By staying confident and recognising the lesson learnt you can avoid repeating the experience.

  • New ideas: Are there products or services that you could add to your business in 2018? Do customers ask you for things you don’t offer at the moment?

Good businesses constantly review and refresh their offering in line with market demands. As well as coming up with your own ideas, or using suggestions from customers, check out what your competitors are up to. Market research can be a powerful ally.

5. And finally…

Running your own business can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Many SME business owners spend up to 70% of their waking hours focussed on their business, so don’t forget to try to enjoy yourself! Whatever you do, I hope you have a productive and prosperous 2018.