The Power of Partnership

It’s is often stated that in business, you should look to surround yourself with people who have knowledge and talents in areas where you might not be so well versed. This is a great philosophy, and one that people running small businesses would be well advised follow.

We all have a skillset, and the combined skillset of those you employ creates the skillset for the business. Using the above philosophy internally should create a strong offering. But what about those times when you are asked to do things peripheral to that core offering?  Whether you are bringing in experts like accounting, marketing or legal to help you run your business, or , accessing complementary skills that allow you to offer broader services to your clients, partnerships become a powerful tool.

But I can do that!

Sometimes an opportunity arises that requires a skill that is not central to your offering. When it does, thinking “I can do that” and looking to fulfil your clients request directly is tempting. However that can be a dangerous approach. It’s dangerous because it is likely to:

  1. Lead to your delivering a sub optimal solution to your client
  2. Create additional stress and take a disproportionate level of resource to deliver

Combine these, and whilst generating extra income, you risk negatively impacting both your reputation and your profitability.

Focus on what you are good at

I am sure I have said this before, but I make no apology for repeating myself. You should focus on your core strengths and not aim to be all things to everyone. That way you can avoid the issues outlined above.

But in focusing on your strengths, you are likely to expose gaps in your offering. Reducing your ability to offer a joined up approach for your clients. This is where partnerships are powerful. By identifying other individuals or organisations who’s core strengths plug theses gaps, you can provide a full service to clients without getting bogged down in areas where you are not so strong.

Partnerships can deliver revenue too

Its true, moving to the use of partners rather than direct delivery for these peripheral services, can impact revenues as some of the revenue that you would have earned is now going to your partners. However, it is also likely that their clients will have need for services which are at your core, and peripheral to theirs. I these instances, it would make sense for them to pass these over to you. Whilst this should never be the main reason for working with a partner (That should be their ability to deliver for your clients). It is a great bonus when it happens. And its surprising how often it does.

Three Steps to Good Partnerships

I would just like to finish with 3 steps that will point you in the right direction to working with partners

  1. Identify your core strengths and more importantly, the things you are asked for that are outside of this.
  2. On the back of this identify areas where partnerships could be valuable
  3. Create a process to find and develop relationships with others who are better than you in these areas

If you are into networking, this last step can really breath life into networking sessions, as it moves the focus away from Sales – Who in the room can I sell to? and onto building relationships – Who in the room could I work with to enhance my business offering and help me deliver benefit to my clients?

But that’s another post!



Social Distancing Threat or Opportunity?

Keeping your customers and clients and arms length is likely to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. As is providing an environment where your customers stay apart. But should you see this as a threat or an opportunity? And more importantly, how can you adapt your business model to the new trading environment?

Whilst the obvious impact will be felt by the leisure &hospitality industries, where social interaction is central to their offering, it is going to change the environment for most businesses. With this in mind, I would like to look at how the ability to adapt to new scenarios can really deliver opportunities.

Adapt Adapt Adapt..

Adapting to new environments is critical for survival across pretty much every ecosystem. This is no different in the business world. There has undoubtedly been a seismic shift in the trading environment and the successful businesses will be the ones that are able to adapt their models to this new environment. The good news is – We are already seeing this happening:

  • Conferences and events are going virtual
  • Restaurants and pubs are moving to high quality take-away delivery model
  • Craft food & beverage producers are moving from wholesale to online retail models serving local markets

And those are just in our local area, and are all doing OK.

Opportunity or Threat

Assessing opportunities & threats is a classic part of business planning – I am sure most people will be familiar with the SWOT analysis.

Taking this approach to the current situation its easy to focus on the threats, as they tend to be stating you in the face, but in most cases there will be opportunities too.

Take craft F&B who have relied on wholesale markets, those markets may have shut down, but new retail markets have emerged. Conference & event organisers are seeing the demand for online events is growing rapidly. The key is to identify these opportunists and adapt quickly to deliver.

Being Small and independent can be an advantage.

In this rapidly changing environment agility is key. As such small independent businesses who have a short decision making process and who can react quickly to changes will have a distinct advantage over larger business with more complex decision making processes.

Take the current 2m rule. Businesses have had time to develop and adapt their business models to cope with this new regulation, but now they are open. If this changes and for example moves from 2m to 1m then that will deliver opportunities. Big businesses will take time to adapt and communicate these changes through their organisation. Small independent businesses on the other had can quickly adapt and reap the benefits.

Over the coming months this ability to quickly adapt as the situation changes will give smaller businesses a real advantage. The key is to jump on the opportunities as they arise.

Think long term

I just want to finish by encouraging people to think long term. Rather than thinking “How do I adapt and cope until this is all over”, think about how adapting to the the new environment could improve your business into the long term. Some  things you are having to do now, could actually reap benefits to your business long into the future!


Are Webcasts a good marketing tool?

During the Lockdown, web meetings, and webinars have definitely come of age, and the number of people selling them as the next big marketing thing has also increased!

Talk to any of these people and they will tell you that they are a must have in your marketing kit bag. But are they?

The simple answer is, as with any marketing tool, “It Depends”. It depends on whether your marketing message would be enhanced by the webinar format and whether your market is likely to engage with the webinars.

Content is King

First lets look at content. The question here is do you have expertise, or access to expertise that people in your market would value. If you do then providing access to this expertise could be a great marketing tool, or in some cases a potential revenue earner via paid webcasts.

Most of the marketing strategies that we use with clients assume that they are experts in their fields, and the marketing is largely about communicating this expertise to the marketplace. So in our world, and in that of many businesses working in niche markets, this means that you can deliver value through your marketing messages. As such webinars may be relevant.

For many niche businesses, this “Expert in your Field” concept should be appropriate, and as such the the webcast as a marketing tool could well have merit. For other businesses, its about asking the question “what value would a webcast add to my marketing?”

What about your audience

So you have material that suits the webcast format. The next question is “What about your market? will they engage with a webcast?” I think that in most cases, if the content is interesting and relevant, then yes they will. The real question is will they believe you when you tell them you have something valuable to say!

I was speaking to a client last week, and this topic came up. He recounted a story about a webinar (yes this was a webinar) which on the face of it seemed valuable, but in fact it turned out simply to be a sales pitch for a paid course. The experience has led him to be wary of the marketing hype surrounding the format. The reality is that this is an issue. The use of webinars as a sales tool in this way has devalued them in many peoples eyes. One reason we talk about “webcasts” rather than “webinars” as this puts the focus on the content. Delivering great content, and getting a reputation for doing so has to be part of your strategy in this area.

Protect your Brand

The final thing I would like to cover is how the use of webcasts sits with your brand image & values.

There are many aspect to delivering a webcast:

  • The webcast itself, including technology, branding, and the quality/production values for the feed delivered
  • The sign up process, and how you manage access to the webcast
  • The interaction with attendees during the Webcast including how you handle things like Q&A and Chat
  • The lists goes on

All of these things will impact how the webcast reflects your brand, and all need to be considered. It might be a very easy solution to simply use a tool like Zoom for the whole process, but is that right for your brand?

To give an example; In a recent project for a client, we chose not to use Zoom to deliver the webcast as it was felt that the reported security issues for the system might reflect badly on them, and prevent some people from being able to take part. Whilst security may, in reality, not be much of an issue anymore for Zoom, the perception is there. This coupled with other factors around branding and the signup process led to us not using Zoom. As a result we used a number of technologies & platforms to deliver the webcast rather than a single platform end to end. Whilst more complex, the result was totally in line with their high quality brand. Something that could not necessarily be said of Zoom.

I am not saying that you should never use an out of the box solution. (In some cases it would be highly appropriate). What I am saying is that when selecting how to deliver your webcast, making sure it accurately reflects your brand should be a key factor.

So Are Webcasts a good marketing tool?

Consider all the factors above. If on balance they add value to your marketing, and can be done cost effectively in a way that fits your brand, then yes they are a good tool.

If on the other hand, the conclusion in that they don’t add significant value, or are not a cost effective part of the mix, then maybe they should be avoided. But at least you will have an answer for those trying to sell the concept!


Protect your Reputation

In this weeks podcast one of the things we talked about was the importance of reputation when sending emails. In this post I want to explore this a little more deeply. Looking at ways to maintain your reputation, and hence maximise the chances of your emails being delivered.

Why reputation matters

Whether or not your email ends up in the recipients in box is controlled by filters in the sending infrastructure. These use many technical and content factors to determine the likelihood that the email might be spam. One key  factor today is sender reputation. An assessment as to whether the server sending the email is likely to be sending spam or not, and more importantly whether the sender is genuinely who they say they are.  This assessment builds up a picture of the reputation of that sender, and the better the reputation, the more likely it is that your emails will be delivered.

Here I want to look at 3 factors that impact this reputation:

  1. IP Address
  2. SPF/DKIM Records
  3. Your reputation as a content creator

IP address reputation

Let’s take the easy one first. Sending server throughput – The question here is “Is it unusual to be getting high volume emails from this server?” If the answer is yes, it flags up the possibility that the server has been compromised, and is unknowingly sending spam or malicious emails. It is in fact this second group where rather than simply selling something, the purpose of the email is to either deliver a malicious payload, or trick the recipient into revealing personal data & passwords (Phishing emails). Stopping his latter type of mail is the main focus of filters these days, and thus knowing the email is from a legitimate source rather than a hacked computer is important. This is the number one reason that using a dedicated email marketing system like Mailchimp, or mailing manager (The system used by BSA) is important. These systems will regularly be sending not high volumes of emails, and thus filtering algorithms will not see this activity as suspicious, or evidence of a compromised computer.

OK, so you are using a proper server to send your marketing email, but not all mass marketing mail servers are the same. After all, a phisher or spammer could simply set up a server and regularly send large volumes, so that activity in itself is not suspicious.  For this reasons, filters will also look at the identity of the server via its IP address. And in our experience this is one of the key deliverability factors.

List Quality

For this reason, professional email marketing providers will continually monitor the activity from their servers, to protect their reputation, and will block anyone from sending if they believe them to be acting irresponsibly. One of the key metrics in this analysis is list quality. Their preferred list development process is through double opt in where people add themselves to the list and then confirm the address by clicking a link. There is no doubt that this is the best way to build a list, and in consumer markets should be the core of your strategy. However it is not realistic to expect all lists to be generated this way, especially in many B2B markets where many contacts will be sources through offline mechanisms like networking and exhibitions. In these circumstances where you are adding  contacts manually to an email database, accuracy is essential, as is ensuring that any invalid addresses are removed before importing. For this reason we would recommend screening lists before adding them to an emailing system . Something we routinely do using the tool.

SPF Testing

This one is a little more technical, but I include it for you geeks out there who like to get technical! SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a system that uses a DNS record to authenticate mail servers to send mail for a given domain. An SPF pass tells the receiving email that the domain authorises the sending server to deliver mail mail on its behalf and thus is less likely to be spam. Increasingly big mail handlers like gmail, exchange and Office 365 use this test to help confirm whether an email is legitimate. Testing the SPF is fairly straight forward, but you will need 2 pieces of information (The address you are sending the mail from, and the IP address of the sending server). Once you have these, head along to an SPF testing tool and plug them in. If you get an SPF fail, you will need to speak to your email marketing provider to get this issue addressed, but doing so is usually pretty straight forward. If you would like to discuss how to improve the deliverability of your email campaigns please feel free to contact us, we are always happy to talk.

DKIM testing

Again, this is a technical tool for authenticating the validity of a message. When using DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), a digital signature is attached to each email, that can be checked against a public key held as a DNS record. Checking this key will allow email system to confirm that the parts of the email (including attachments) have not been modified since the signature was affixed.

Thus SPF ensures that the sender is who they say they are. DKIM validates the message has not been changed. Passing both these tests, whilst not guaranteeing deliverability, it will make it less likely that the message will be blocked by spam filters en route.

Whilst I am not going technical detail here, setting both SPF and DKIM is fairly straight forward through addition of a couple of DNS records.

Your Reputation

The final factor I want to cover here is the human factor. One element that most spam filters include in their algorithms is human feedback. Most email clients now will allow users to manually flag mail spam or not spam as appropriate. When users take this action, it is fed back to mail providers like Microsoft and Google. This feedback is then fed into their decisions as to what is or isn’t spam. For this reason, ensuring that your recipients welcome your mail is key. Ensure that you deliver high quality, well targeted content to recipients who want to receive it, and you are on the right track.

Of all the elements covered in this post, this is the one that should be given most consideration. The SPF and DKIM are fit and forget. Once implemented they are there and you don’t need to worry about them too much. Making sure your emails are well targeted, relevant and interesting, should be at the heart of your marketing communications strategy. Doing this is the key to maintaining a good reputation. Thus minimising the likelihood that your mail will be blocked by filters.

Do Don’t Say

To run a sustainable business requires motivation. The best way to motivate yourself is to create a close connection between your life philosophy (what gets you up in the morning), and what you are trying to achieve from a business perspective. A topic that David explores in more depth this week.

In some cases, this is difficult to do directly, in which case your business motivation may be a “means to an end”.  Success in your business dealings allows you to further your wider life objectives. But the ideal is to ensure that your life objectives and your business objectives are aligned. It is this scenario that I would like to explore in this post.

The idea of marrying your philosophy for life with your business objectives is something we explored recently when we looked at Simon Sinek’sThe power of why“. Here he explores the idea that using the reason you do what you do as part of your marketing message can be very powerful.

Now, I want to dig deeper into this approach. How to build your philosophical ideas into your marketing, without preaching. The key is to use actions rather than just words to deliver your message.

The truth is…..?

It is said that the words “The truth is” are often followed by a statement that probably isn’t the whole truth.

In the same way, telling customers that your offering is:

  • Great Value
  • High Quality
  • The Best…

May not ring true. Clients should be able to see it for themselves in the product/service and their dealings with your organisation.

Your philosophy should be communicated by what you do, not what you say. In other words, you should be telling people how you can add value for them. Let them make up their own mind if you offer good value, quality etc.

When looking at brands in the past, I have always highlighted the importance of demonstrating your brand values in everything that you do, and in every interaction you have with clients, not just in your marketing communication.

This is just as true when considering your philosophy. Demonstrating your thinking and what drives you in everything you do and in every interaction you have with your market is a far more powerful way of communicating your values than trying to talk people into agreement. If you have to give chapter and verse, then that’s preaching and people will switch off. To be effective, your philosophy should be clear from your actions.

If your product is high quality, then everything you do, and all interactions with your market should be equally high quality. If your philosophy is to go the extra mile, to make sure you deliver for your clients, then this thinking should be central to all you do and say.

Nothing is new

This idea is not new. Back in the 12th century, Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words”. In fact, this is a paraphrase. His actual words were

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

A sound approach when looking to communicate your philosophy and your brand. It is one that certainly worked for St Francis!

3 ways marketing is like buying premium bonds

Recently Captain Tom’s 100 lap challenge has got me thinking about the whole question of marketing and social media marketing in particular. It made me realise, there are a lot of parallels between marketing and buying premium bonds. To illustrate this, and in tribute to Captain Tom’s efforts, I would like to take you through my 3 ways in which Social Media Marketing is like investing in the premium bonds

1. You have to be in it to win

Firstly, you have to be in it to win and how much you invest does matter. With premium bonds, investing £100 is a bit of a waste of time. On average, premium bonds deliver a return of around 1.4%. But the minimum prize is £25, so with a £100 investment, odds you will win nothing. In fact, only 1 in 20 people with a £100 investment will win anything. To be in with a better chance of getting your return, you need to make a minimum investment. Exactly what that is is not really relevant for this analogy, but if you want to know more, you might find this interesting – Premium Bonds – Are they worth it?.

Similarly, unless you are willing to invest time in social media marketing, you are unlikely to get significant returns. Social media is all about ongoing & continued engagement with your marketplace, and this needs continued investment in time and energy to deliver. Unless you are willing to commit this, you are probably wasting your time.

2. It’s not all about the big prize

Yes, if you invest in premium bonds, then you might win the jackpot, but you probably won’t. There is currently a 1 in 1 in 43,215,118,377 chance of any premium bond winning big. So even if you invest enough to stand a good chance of getting your 1.4% return, you probably won’t win a million, but that is not why most people buy them. The 1.4% that you are likely to get makes them a worthwhile investment. The fact that you might hit the jackpot is just a bonus!

It’s the same with social media. You probably won’t hit the jackpot like Captain Tom (Global coverage of his story, a number 1 single – and £28,310,754 pledged-at the last count). But I am sure that is not why he did it. He originally wanted to raise £1000 and would have been very happy if he had hit that target. The fact that it went viral, spread globally and raised such a large sum is a bonus. The fact is that even if your own post does not go viral, you can still get consistent, good returns from social media marketing.

What’s more, where social media is concerned, going viral has consequences other than marketing returns. For Captain Tom, it was having to deal with 40,000 birthday cards from wellwishers – but that’s another post!

3. You can always move your investment

With premium bonds, whilst you are invested, your capital is tied up. The only return you will get is from that investment. But if at any time a better opportunity comes along, you can move your investment – withdrawing your funds and using them elsewhere. At that point, any benefits you were getting from your premium bonds investment will stop, but hopefully, you will get new benefits elsewhere.

It’s the same with social media. Whilst you are investing your time and other resources in social media, you can not use them elsewhere. But if at any time a new, better opportunity comes along, you are free to switch your resource to the new activity. At this point you the benefit you get from investing it in social media will diminish, but new opportunities will arise from your new activity.

That’s why part of your process should always be monitoring and reviewing the returns on your activity. Keeping your eye out for new/better opportunities for marketing your business. Just because you are doing something now, does not necessarily mean you should keep doing it or that it’s the only thing you should be doing.

It’s actually not just social media!

As I mentioned at the top of the post. My premium bonds analogy is not just about social media marketing. It actually holds true for marketing as a whole.

  1. Good marketing is about managed, sustainable results, based on a planned investment of resources
  2. If you get the big win, that can be great, but also can give its own challenges, but in fact, you do marketing for the managed, sustainable results rather than just hoping for the big win
  3. Monitoring and analysis of your activities should be central to your planning. You should always be asking – Could I be doing other things to better market my business?

Finally, remember that like investments, marketing is about having a balanced portfolio. It’s not just about one activity, it is about having a balanced marketing mix that develops your brand and effectively tells your marketing story.

Adapting to the Lockdown

We are now three weeks into the new world that is lockdown. A lockdown that will likely continue at least for the next 3 to 4 weeks. I, therefore, thought it a good time to look at how businesses are adapting to this “New Normal”.

Whilst some businesses can continue pretty much as normal, for those that can’t, there seem to be two ways to approach the situation:

  • Keep your head down, cut costs and see you on the other side
  • Adapt your business model to the “New Normal”

But as this situation develops and the time in lockdown extends, it will take increasingly deep pockets to adopt the”see you on the other side” approach. Increasingly business will need to adapt, in the short term at least. With this in mind, I thought it would be worth looking at some ways we have seen this happening.

Focus on the online model


Many retailers have been forced to close their bricks and mortar operations. And those who have not, have had to change the way they operate. In many of these cases, online ordering for click and collect or delivery is the new order of the day. Whilst in food and beverage this has been central in the news, there is actually nothing to stop any retail business shifting its operations online. Especially if, as is likely for a bricks and mortar retail operation, they are servicing a local market.

Locally, I have seen a number of businesses do this. In some cases their new operations becoming a lifeline to the local community.  But I am not suggesting this is an easy route. To succeed, it will need some different thinking to address new business issues that it throws up. Ramping up and managing delivery capacity. Switching process from serving over the counter to a pick pack and ship model. Taking and managing online payments – to name a few. It does however, allow businesses to maintain at least some revenue streams and in the long term. It can also enhance the businesses profile and standing within its market, delivering potential benefits into the future as well.


Another sector where I have seen this happening is restaurants. Here, the lockdown has most definitely cut off normal on-site revenue streams. But by switching to a delivery model, businesses can again create new revenues to help them through.

Whilst this will present similar challenges to the retail offering discussed above, many of the core competencies that make a successful restaurant under normal circumstances (Access to great produce, skilled cheffing (I think that’s a word!) and food prep) are still very relevant.  So assuming the demand is still there, and in many cases it is, safely generating revenue should still be possible.

I have seen a number of local restaurants follow this route over the last couple of weeks and Judging by how difficult it is to get a delivery slot, the demand is there. Whilst serving this demand may be less profitable than normal, it can deliver valuable revenue in the short term. It will also raise the businesses profile and offer marketing opportunities once things start to go back to normal.


Other sectors we have seen moving online are the likes of Consultancy, Training, Therapy and Events. Whilst delivering these online may not be a direct substitution for face to face,  developing a remote offering can help maintain your presence in the market, and your relationship with clients. Furthermore, as the current situation extends, these on-line models too will become increasingly vital tools in maintaining and developing businesses.

We have seen a number of organisations successfully open up on-line capabilities, and the “Virtual gig” has become a mainstay for musicians worldwide.

Shift from Wholesale to Retail

Another shift I have seen is in businesses that were set up to service the retail leisure markets like pubs and resteraunts. A great example of this is one of our local breweries, who saw their normal order book dry up overnight as these businesses were forced to close.

However, they quickly discovered that the demand for their product was still there! People who would normally head to the pub for a beer were now wanting a supply at home. By shifting their business from supplying 50l barrels to pubs and restaurants, to supplying smaller quantities (Bottles & 5/10/20l barrels) direct to consumers, they have been able to maintain a revenue stream and again enhance their standing in the local area.

Like the retail examples above this shift will create its own issues, but it will also allow the business to enjoy retail rather than wholesale prices, thus mitigating some of the potential drop in capacity and increased costs, through higher margins.

What about the longer term?

I am sure that all of these businesses will be happy to come through the other side of this situation and return to their normal way of operating. But in many cases I suspect that the new skills and processes that they have developed during the lockdown will enhance their businesses once things start to return to normal.

Furthermore, as the lockdown extends, it will allow businesses to continue to operate without needing solely to rely on limited cash reserves.

Someone asked me this week “Are you surviving or thriving in the lockdown?“. Whilst it may be a big ask to expect most businesses to thrive, by adapting to the new environment, rather than simply keeping your head down, will allow a business to do more than survive. And some may even thrive!

4 Tools we could no longer live without

As we discussed in this week’s Marketing Matters podcast, one or two things have changed over the last couple of weeks!

One of the biggest changes for many is the need to WFH (work from home), remote from the normal office environment. For us, it’s no different, and I am now writing this post from home.

Up to now, the ability to work remotely was something we did occasionally and if we could not, it wasn’t a big deal! Now it is a necessity. A number of systems, which we had seen as peripheral to our operation, are now key. I thought this would be an opportunity to talk about our experiences with cloud applications and to highlight the four that we cannot live without right now:

1. Office 365

Through Office 365, Microsoft delivers a suite of office programmes as software as a service. Most people’s introduction to Office 365 will be Exchange email + Outlook. This in itself is a great tool, and gives you full access to your email from anywhere with a web connection. Anything you do being synced across all devices. But beyond Outlook, O365 delivers a full suite of programmes that allow you to be location agnostic (functional from wherever you are, as long as you have a connection to the net). Yes, this includes the staple office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc), but it also gives access to tools like One Drive, which gives you cloud access to files, Teams, for on-line collaboration, and many more.

With an Office 365 subscription and an internet connection, you can turn any PC (or Mac) into a fully functional office tool in a matter of minutes, with full access to all your contacts and files.

2. Zoom Video Meeting

2 months ago I had pretty much never used Zoom. Now video meetings are a key part of my working day. We have looked at and tried out a number of video meeting systems (Skype, Zoho Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Facetime etc.) but at the end of the day, is our favourite, and here is why:

  1. It just works – It’s my experience that the technology just works, and does not get in the way of what I am trying to do. In my book this is the number one requirement. If you have to think too hard using a piece of technology, you are probably not going to use it. Whilst there may be a learning curve, once you are used to it, it should just work and in my experience, in this area Zoom delivers.
  2. It is platform agnostic – Unlike options such as Facetime and Skype, where generally all parties involved must sign up to a proprietary system (Microsoft for Skype, Apple/IOS for Facetime) – With Zoom, only the person initiating the meeting needs an account. Whilst other people do need to download a small app (which happens pretty seemlessly) there is no need for all participants to create an account, and it works on pretty much any device, desktop or mobile.
  3.  It has a free option, and some useful paid add ons – With the free option, the only real limitation is meeting length, capped at 40 mins – This will probably be fine for most, but the paid version at £12 per month, is great value if you need longer meetings. What’s more, only the person initiating the meeting needs a paid account to gain this benefit.


As so often with technology, nothing is perfect. There are downsides, and in the case of Zoom, the downside is their privacy policy, which allows them to collect data from your calls, including videos, screen shares, chat transcripts etc. and to use this data for various purposes. Zoom do say they will not sell your data. Whilst privacy is a concern, it does very much depend on how and why you are using Zoom. For us, and the types of conversations we have, right  now we see it as a good tool with the benefits outweighing the negatives.

For those who want to use a video chat for more sensitive purposes, maybe an alternative tool might be more appropriate. However, in our experience none of the other options deliver comparable performance, functionality or ease of use.

3. Xero Accounting

Historically, we have used Sage Line 50, and recently moved our accounts onto the cloud with Xero.  Sage is a good system, that worked well for us for many years, but it was predominently desk based, and relied on a data file that needed to be moved if you wanted to access it from a different location. Whilst Sage has moved on since we switched and now offer cloud options, Xero is again totally location agnostic, and allows you to manage your accounts from whereever you wish (so long as you are on line!).

Again a priceless facility in these times.

4. Cloud PBX IP Phone system – 3CX

The final one on my list is our phone system. Coincidentally, we switched from an office-hosted ISDN phone system to cloud-based 3cx just two months ago. Boy are we glad we did! 3CX works seamlessly when we are in the office, working as a traditional system with desktop extensions. When we were forced to work from home, switching the extensions to home was a doddle. Again, because everything is hosted in the cloud, all management of the system can be done online, anywhere with a connection to the web.

With the right tools, Working From Home need not be an issue

For us at least, these four tools have meant the switch to Working From Home has been bearable, even if it is taking a bit of getting used to! From the perspective of our clients, it has hopefully been fairly seamless. We are still able to pretty much operate “Business as usual”. In many cases, somewhat ironically, we find we are speaking to to people “face to face” more often than we have before!

I think that some of the changes arising out of necessity in the current lock-down climate will have positive repercussions for our business long into the future.

The Truth about WordPress Security

As you can read in David’s post this week, WordPress is a great tool for small businesses. and is a significant playing in the world of internet publishing. Here are few stats to illustrate my point:

WordPress currently powers:

  1. 60% of all CMS powered websites
  2. 14.7% of the world’s top websites
  3. 22% of the worlds top 1 million eCommerce sites

Finally, there have been over 1.25 billion plugin downloads on

Add to this the fact that the code is public domain so it can be analysed to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Add all this together and it is no surprise that it has a reputation of being susceptible to hacking.

But how valid is this reputation? Below, I look at the reality of WordPress security, and look at 4 top tips for keeping your site safe.

The reality of WordPress security

There is a flip side. It’s ubiquity on the web, and the open nature of its code, are also key to it remaining secure.

Because it is so widely used, there are a-lot of developers interested in keeping it secure, and thwarting hackers. As a result there is an army of people communicating about and fixing vulnerabilities as they are identified. there are also great tools for being kept up to date and alerted whenever a vulnerability is identified, and informing what fixes are available. The result of this is that usually the window for hackers between a vulnerability being identified & fixed is narrow.

Another consequence of the wide use of WordPress is that it mean the economics of creating world class security plugins for the system are attractive, and as a result, there are a number available at either no, or low cost. the plugin we use is Wordfence.  Wordfence is available as a free of  paid for premium plugin.  In our experience, the free version does an excellent job of protecting and monitoring the health of your WordPress site.

Keeping your site secure

With all of this in mind here are my 3 top tips for keeping your site secure:

Keep your site up to date

This is the number one way to keep your site secure. In our experience, security issues usually occur where sites are running out of date code. Experience that is backed up by the stats which suggest that over 60% of compromised sites are out of date.

One of the great features of WordPress is the easy of keeping it up to date. Updating plugins, themes and core can be done at the click of a button. Whats more, use a backup plugin like Updraft plus, you will be prompted to perform a backup before you do the update. As a result, if you experience any issue with the update, rolling back is again a click of a button. Just one footnote on plugins. The need for reliable updates means you should always consider the support available when you install a plugin. If you are installing a mission critical plugin, it is always worth considering the paid version, as this will usually come with enhanced support. Furthermore, the fact that developers are earning an income will incentive the update process for then

Use a good security plugin

We use Wordfence on all our WordPress sites. Wordfence performs 3 useful tasks:

    1. Brute force protection – Wordfence will monitor attempts to login to your site, and restrict or lock out visitors whose login activity is seen as suspicious. It will also monitor visitors generating a lot of “Page not found” errors as this can often be an indication of a hacker trying to find vulnerabilities on a site.
    2. It provides an Application Firewall. This is a set of rules. This monitors all attempts to run code on the site, and passes them trough an algorithm to identify suspicious activity. Again any activity deemed to be a threat to the site is blocked before it ius run. Furthermore, the algorithm is constantly updated by Wordfence based on what it learns from the 1000’s of sites running the plugin. The speed with which this is updated being one of the benefits of the paid version of WordPress. However in our experience the free version does a respectable job in this area.
    3. It will scan your site for anomalies. Most compromises to sites involve adding or changing the code running your website. To protect against this Wordfence will scan the site for suspicious files. It does this by comparing the code on your site to the original code published by WordPress & plugin developers. Where it identifies unexpected code, it will send you an alert. In circumstances where your site has in-fact been compromised. fixing it is usually simply a case of restoring a recent, clean, backup. This brings me to my third tip.

Implement a backup routine

Make sure your site files & database is regularly backed up. By doing this, you ensure that even if your site does get compromised, you can make repairs without too much disruption.

For this task we use the UpdraftPlus plugin. This will automatically take backups of your site as scheduled by you. It will also automatically copy backups to a cloud storage system like Google drive or Dropbox, so that even if your web server is irrecoverably compromised, you should still have the necessary data & file to get up and running on a different server. We recommend backing up the database daily, and the site files weekly, we then keep a minimum 30 days worth of backups, just in case you take a few days to identify an issue.

Harden your login

The final tip is around login credentials.  Be sure to use secure passwords on your site (WordPress will monitor these as you set up users). Its also a good idea not to use “admin” as your default username as this is the first one a hacker will use when trying to get in by brute force. You can select your admin username when you set up WordPress, and if you are using admin, Wordfence will help you to change it easily.  Wordfence also offers the  facility to implement 2 factor Authentication (2FA) should this be deemed to be appropriate.

Be vigilant, Stay Secure

In our experience, if you follow the tips above, then in the real world, WordPress is a great and  secure website development tool. Add this to the benefits outlined in David’s post, and you have a fantastic & flexible tool for promoting your business.




3 Tips to the keep case studies flowing

Case studies and testimonials are a staple of marketing communications, but they can be seen as being challenging and time-consuming to put together.

In my experience however they do not need to be. So I thought I would put together my top three tips for keeping those case studies flowing.

1. Remember they don’t need to be fully attributed

Whilst it is always best to be able to directly name the client you have helped in your case study, sometimes this can be a challenge. Especially working within the corporate world.

Rather than naming the client, you could use “A leading player in the …. industry” or simply a “client working in … ” to avoid directly naming them.

Remember though that whilst no-one else will know who they are, the client is likely to recognise themselves in the case study, and in rare cases, they may take issue.

For this reason, I would always recommend talking to clients about the fact that you would like to use them in a case study. Ultimately in these scenarios, it is your call as they are your client. But sometimes it is easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission! In all my career, I don’t think I have ever had a client take issue when referenced in this way.

2. Create a template for writing the case study

Case studies usually follow a set format:

  • What’s the issue?
  • How did you help?
  • What were the outcomes and the benefits to the client?

Putting together a simple template for your case studies means you don’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper when writing them.

If you are able to attribute your client when writing the case study, ideally you should try to include a quote from them, as this will add authenticity. With this in mind, adding some stock question ideas to the template can be useful.

On the subject of authenticity, don’t be afraid to include issues that may have arisen during the project, maybe asking “Did the project go smoothly?” knowing full well that it didn’t. People recognise that things rarely go totally without a hitch and including this, and the way you dealt with unforeseen situations, can speak volumes about the value you add to a situation.

3. Develop a “Case Study Radar”

Tip number three is all about keeping those case studies coming. When you start the process, it is normally possible to come up with a few good case studies, but websites & social media are hungry beasts when it comes to content, so you will need to come up with a sustainable method for regularly generating news cases.

We have talked in the past about the concept of a “content radar” – So constantly having the question “Will this make good case study” in your head is a good start. For custom manufacturers, we have always recommended taking pictures of everything that leaves the workshop, one reason for this is because it makes you ask the question “Would this make a good case study”.

Service businesses can take a similar approach in that every conversation with a client can beg the same question. You will find it surprising how often the answer will be “Yes it would!”