Don’t build a new website – Evolve it

Over the course of my marketing career websites have become, and remain at the centre of any good marketing strategy. To work well they need to evolve and grow with the business. So why are so many website developments treated as a stand alone project, ending when the site goes live? A far better approach is to consider the development phase of the site akin to building a platform. Simply one step in the marketing process. There are three key elements of web development

1. Design

Your website is your shop window, and needs to look professional and properly reflect your brand image. The skills needed for this phase are graphic design. In our experience, the best way to approach this is to work with a designer rather than a web developer. The designer will need to have an understanding of what makes a good website.  They will also need to grasp the concept of designing for differing screen sizes. But they do not need to be a skilled coder. Here the objective is to use someone with a good eye for design, to create the look & layout for the site, rather than to build it.

2. Code

Once you have the designs, the next step is to build the website. This is the point to get someone involved who understands the technicalities of coding a website. Even when using a template, having someone who can “tweak the code” to get that last 10%. will pay dividends and will lead to fewer compromises. Also, it is during this phase that you can make life either easy or hard for yourself going forward. At the beginning of this post I set out that one objective when building a website. To create a platform for your future marketing activities. Ensuring that the site is well built and understood by those who are ultimately going to manage it will make updating & evolving it into the future much easier. It is here that templates, whilst delivering great looking & cost effective website, can cause issues. Because they try to be all things to all people, they are great if you are willing to stick within their capabilities, but adding additional functionality outside of that designed into the template can be tricky. However you approach the actual build phase, be sure to keep in mind, that once the site goes live, you will want to make changes to and develop it, and a well coded side will significantly ease this process.

3. Evolve

So your shiny new site goes live. But you can be sure that within a very short period, you will want to adapt it beyond adding new content. Furthermore, it is likely that this is going to involve something that you didn’t think of when building the site. It is at this point that you will be contacting the people looking after the site at ask “Can we just……” This is where thought put into the coding in phase 2 will pay off. Delivering the “can we just…” on a well built WordPress site should not be to much of a task. Whether through addition of a plugin or through some tweaks to the code, most requirements can be met with relative ease.

On to the Future

Looking at the sites that we manage for our clients, few of them are the same as the day they went live. In some cases having changed out of all recognition. But at no point have these changes involved a decision to start again and build a new site. The sites have evolved, and as their business’ and marketing requirements have changed, the site has changed to keep pace. Furthermore, being built in WordPress (did I mention that we build all our sites in WordPress) as well as evolving in look and functionality, the underlying code has stayed up to date, accommodating the inevitable technological changes without issue.

Don't Build a new website - Evolve it

Make the most of your competitors

You may feel this post has a strange title? Business life would be easier without competition – or would it? However, let’s face it, competition is a fact of life for most businesses so dreaming of a competition-free existence is unrealistic. If we accept that there is competition, how can we use it to our advantage in our own business? Let’s make the most of competitors.

Who is your competition?

If you are going to make the most of your competitors, you first need to know who they are. The key here is to focus. For the majority of businesses who may overlap a little with your own, the simplest thing is to forget them. You can waste a lot of time and effort concentrating on businesses that really don’t impact too much on yours. Better to look at the companies who target closely the same marketplace as you. There are 3 main considerations:

  1. Product/Service – Which are the businesses that offer the same or similar products and services as you do? Her it is also worth considering those that offer alternatives. Different products/service that deliver the same value to the customer.
  2. Location – Concentrate on businesses that operate in the same region as you do. If you work locally, don’t spend too much time investigating the big nationals. Sure, it is worth keeping an eye on what they are up to – you may learn something – but better to focus on other businesses closer to your own,
  3. Customer Type – As I looked at in this article, some companies target bigger customers while others look for smaller customers. There can be good reasons for both, but where is your focus? Match this in your competition investigation.

Use your competition

You can’t control what your competitors do, but you can watch and learn. If you are working in eth same markets, by talking with your own customers, you will inevitably hear comments about your competitors. While it is interesting to learn how well (or not so well) they are performing, what you hear may also give you ideas as to things you can do to promote and develop your own business. Whatever you do, I do not recommend bad-mouthing competitors to your customers. Don’t forget it works the other way too and what goes around, comes around! As a completely alternative, and for some, counter-intuitive approach, particularly in more localised markets, it can make a lot of sense to actively work with your competitors. Whatever the sales message, businesses have particular strengths in certain areas even though their offering may be much wider. You can find that your strengths fit neatly with an apparent competitor’s weaker areas and vice versa. Maybe you can refer work to one another.

You are unique

Whatever the competition, you are unique. Only your business has you and your team. Furthermore, only you have exactly your proposition. Use this uniqueness to differentiate your business. Don’t forget that if you are going to stand out from the crowd, it should be in ways that are relevant to your customer. If you say why you are different and your customer just says ‘So What?‘ You may need to have a rethink. By knowing and understanding your competitors you will find it easier to spot your uniqueness – the things that make you stand out and why customers should come to you.

Customer fit wins the day

You meet some people and you immediately take to them. You meet others and you don’t feel the same. It is the same in business. However carefully you craft your marketing and communicate your selling points, some customers will ‘get’ what you are on about while others just won’t! So long as you get enough falling into the former group don’t worry about the latter. You are never going to please everyone. Working to find the customers where you have a ‘fit’ is a great platform for success. Knowing your competitors helps in this process and hopefully, if they do the same, everyone wins including (most important) the customer!

Is competition a good thing?

You know the scenario – Insert name of a big chain here – announces they are moving into an area. All the local independent traders are immediately on the offence trying to stop the move. “we can’t compete. It will drive us out of business” they will cry. In other words for them, competition is a bad thing. It may seem harsh, but to them, I would say:

If you can't offer something that the market values over to the competition, you should not be in business!

Food retail is a good case study when we look at the competition. Over the last 40 years, large supermarkets have come to dominate the market. They have done this because they do the job of food distribution extremely well.  They offered the market price and convenience. That’s what the market wanted, and so they thrived. At the same time, small independents could not compete, they didn’t have the buying power so were more expensive, and because customers had to visit multiple shops, they could not offer the convenience of the big out of town supermarkets. Sadly resulting in the demise of many small independent retailers The big supermarkets raised the bar in these areas.

What about the present

Roll forward to 2018, and now convenience is taken for granted, and with online shopping now commonplace, smaller retailers can compete more readily. Furthermore, whilst price is still a factor, there is now a growing interest in quality & provenience where food is concerned. There is also a recognition that the high street needs to offer more than simply a place to buy your groceries, and are innovating new ways to do retail, focusing on the experience as much as the product. As a result, it is the high streets that now have the upper hand and big supermarkets that are having to adapt in order to compete. At the same time, improved choice and quality benefit the consumer. The fact is that competition drives innovation, and in the long term, raises the bar. Without healthy competition, markets stagnate and become open to businesses exploiting their customers.

But I’m not a supermarket

We are using the example of the big supermarkets to illustrate the point. However, the power of competition to drive innovation operates across all sectors, in all sizes and types of business.  Sure, it is a pain if another company muscles in on your patch and starts taking business away from you but if they are doing it in a way that is attractive to customers then you need to sit up and take notice. If they are simply undercutting you then remember, you know your marketplace (at least you should!) so if they can offer lower prices then either they are buying the business at a loss to try to get a foothold in the market, or they know something about the supply chain that you don’t! As an established local business you will hopefully be able to hang on through an aggressive price-cutting attack but if your market is changing, you need to know about it.

What makes a good customer?

Over the years, we have regularly asked ourselves:

What sort of customers do we want?

There are some who might say that any customer is a good customer. This is particularly true when you are starting out in a new business. With the qualification ‘So long as they pay!’ there may be some truth in this but as your business gets established, our question gets more relevant. Let’s have a look at some of the approaches BSA has taken…

Fewer, High-Value Customers

Customers, where there is potential to do a lot of business and earn significant revenue, sound great and sometimes they are. In the early years of BSA, we took this approach, focusing on big customers. For a while, the plan worked well, we were able to build good relationships with our key contacts as there weren’t too many of them. We agreed on clear plans and simply got on with the work. At the time, big companies were sometimes a bit slow to pay but they were good for the money so as long as we could cover the wait, the income was reliable.

The realities…

High-value customers are great – while everything is running smoothly. However, even delivering a great service, as time went on, the cracks in our plan started to show. The nature of BSA services meant that our key contacts in these bigger companies were typically departmental. Although they frequently had budget authority, they were normally working to deliver a particular element of a bigger plan so we had relatively little chance to explore opportunities outside of that plan. We were working to their brief. If (or more likely, when) the overall plan changed, there was a risk that our customer no longer needed us. There wasn’t a lot we could do about this, no matter how effective our work was. In addition, we found that our key contacts would change jobs meaning our relationship with them was no longer helpful in driving business. We found could lose a client just because our contact moved on. Often, their replacement had different ideas – or perhaps simply wanted to be a new broom. Perhaps the biggest issue with losing a high-value customer is ‘too many eggs in too few baskets‘. OK, not quite ‘all eggs…‘ but turnover (and bottom line) will take a significant hit. If you lost a customer who delivered say 25% (or more!) of your entire turnover, what would that do to your business.

Many Smaller Customers

To avoid the too many eggs… scenario, maybe the answer is to avoid the big customers and focus on smaller companies. We turned to this approach. While the revenue potential from each customer is less but there are other advantages. Typically we find ourselves working with the business owner. Certainly, they will have their own plans and ideas as to where they want to take their business. However, we are better placed to make suggestions and hopefully develop our role within our client. To maintain and develop our own business levels it meant a wider portfolio of customers. Having said this, the demands of each tended to be lower – normally! This is where a ‘small company’ customer can start raising their own issues. Just because a company is small doesn’t mean the aspirations of the owner are small. They may be working 18 hour days 7 days a week and there is a danger they can expect something the same from their staff – and their suppliers! This may be OK if they are willing to pay your hourly rate for all those hours but trust me, they won’t. Presuming that you can build a good portfolio of smaller customers, the financial risk to your business may be reduced but you may find yourself working harder than you would wish.

So what makes a good customer?

So, both bigger/higher value companies and smaller lower value companies have pros and cons as customers so what makes the best customer? In BSA’s experience, a good customer comes down to one thing:

Our best customers have a good fit with our own objectives and ideals.

In hindsight, it might seem obvious but it isn’t about size, it is about how well you work together. Some say that in business you have to work with or for people you don’t like. In my view, it is MUCH better if you don’t! You don’t need to be best mates with all your customers but working with people you do get on with pays dividends. If they really value and benefit from your input and, in turn, they appreciate your advice, ideas and what you do, you have a great platform from which to grow. Repeat this across your customer base and you are on to a winner.

What’s Your Story? 4 steps to creating a brand

A couple of years ago, a there was an internet meme entitled “Who are you and why should I care?” Whist the meme may have faded, this is still a very relevant question when it comes to marketing. Look at any brand, and basically it is trying to answer this question in the eyes of their target market. So how do you go about telling your Story, and answering this question for your business? Here are 4 questions to help you on your way:

1. How do you add Value?

To be successful, your business needs to add value. Why else would people hand over their hard earned cash for your products & services. So the first question you need to answer is

How do you add value to your customers?

At its most basic, this will be directly through the product or service that you supply, but a good brand goes way beyond this. Simply delivering a good service is rarely enough in today’s world. Take Apple as an example. Whilst they haven’t produced a truly innovative “must have” product for years, they still they have a fiercely loyal customer base. Why because they tell a great story that people can relate to and engage with. The key is to try to understand what it is about you business that makes people come to you. Quite often, this can be a challenging question to answer. Within BSA it has taken us many years to come to an answer we are even half happy with.

What value do BSA Add to their clients?  We understand technology, we understand marketing & we understand running an SME business. We combine these pieces of knowledge to help clients engage with their marketplaces more effectively.

and even now it is still a work in progress and a regular a topic of conversation in the office.

2. Who is best placed to benefit from your services?

The next step is to understand which sector of the market is best placed to gain benefit from your services. And here, “we can sell to anyone!” is not an acceptable answer. Whilst you may technically be in a position to sell to anyone. There will be a subset who will value your services more highly.. Again, taking ourselves as an example. We do marketing, so technically any business who requires marketing support could be a customer – As I say – Not an acceptable answer! We need to narrow it down. Looking at our value statement we can immediately start this process by accepting “We understand SMEs”, so we are not targeting the corporate world, more specifically we are targeting Small/Meduim sized, businesses . Furthermore, our experience is in niche marketing where clients markets are highly focused, so again this narrows down our target market. Extending this process will allow you to build a picture of your target market.

3. What Drives your organisation?

Often the main focus in the process of understanding your position in the marketplace will be external. Whilst this is sound approach, for a brand to be believable, looking internally, and understanding what drives your organisation is crucial. If you are trying to tell the full story of your business, then what drives the people in your organisation to come to work everyday must be part of that story.

4. How do you communicate this to the world?

Once you have a clear understanding of points 1-3 above, you can start to look at how to pull this together into the story that communicates your brand. There will be many elements to this:

  1. Design, Colours, Typography
  2. The words you use
  3. The partnerships you create
  4. The channels you use for marketing
  5. The way you train your organisation
  6. How your think about new product/Service development
  7. …….

In reality, every aspect of your business & the way you interact with your market will form part of your brand, and help to tell your story. Whilst this is the most visible step in the process, it is only by having answered questions 1-3 that you are in a position to answer question 4. If you do not clearly understand:

  1. How do you add value?
  2. Who is best placed to benefit from your services?
  3. What drives your organisation?

Then you will end up with a brand that is weak, confused and difficult to communicate, Get it Right, with a clear understanding of these things your story will tell itself!