Lockdown. Is there a silver lining for business?

These are strange times.

Everything, including the world of business, has been thrown up into the air. As they land, things have changed – or have they?

Yes, we are being asked to work from home if at all possible and always ‘socially separate’ but the vast majority are healthy, and the measures in place are designed to keep us that way, hopefully avoiding unbearable pressure on the NHS, keeping resources available for those who are in need.

Running a business has challenges all the time, COVID-19 is just another one that happens to be affecting most people all at once. If I have learnt one thing from over 30 years in business it is that challenges encourage adaption and adaption can deliver real benefit.

So how can you adapt to see the real benefit for your business when the dust settles? Here are my thoughts….

1. Don’t panic

Suddenly being told you can’t go out to business and finding clients cancelling or postponing the projects you rely on is a real shock. It is easy to be like a startled rabbit in headlights and just freeze. Perhaps this is a natural reaction but take a deep breath and count to 10. Business is a long term proposition and any successful business should plan for knock-backs. The unexpected can happen at any time. It is good to have a ‘rainy-day’ fund. The rainy day is here but there is no need to panic. Better to plan.

The essence of business is cashflow. So perhaps the first step is to address cashflow concerns. The government has already stated that they want to protect businesses from the impact of Covid-19 and have announced extensive measures to provide direct financial support through a mixture of Grants and Loans. Details are still sketchy but probably the best source of information is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

This page is being updated pretty regularly.

For the self-employed it has just been announced (in the past few minutes!) that support will be broadly in line with that already announced for emplioyees on PAYE. Implemetation will inevitably more complex.

Beyond direct government support, you may also be able to make arrangements with customers and suppliers to ease you own financial path. Banks, lenders, mortgage companies etc. are all offering support.

Naturally, some businesses are more vulnerable than others but as the adage goes: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Don’t panic. Don’t be the rabbit in the headlights. Take control and make a plan (where have I said that before!). Your plan can be your salvation.

2. Work on your business

It is often quoted by SME owners that they are too busy working in their business to work on their business – not any more!

The optimists can see the current situation as a real opportunity. Your business fundamentals haven’t changed. If you had a good business on 1st March, you can still have a good business when the crisis abates. OK nobody knows the full timescales but taking a 3-6month view seems reasonable in the light of the available evidence.

Once you have your plan to ride out the storm, you can look ahead and work to make your business a better business, ready and stronger for when the economy reopens.

3. Tap into your expertise/experience

We all try to  run our business in the best way possible but inevitably you sometimes have great ideas but never find the time to implement them. Now you can!

Also so you may see ways that others operate and think ‘That’s a good idea, I could learn something from this‘. They may be customers, suppliers, competitors, or others. There can often be ways you see others operate that could work in your business and make your business better.

Now you have the time to tap in to this knowledge/expertise and do something about it! Have confidence that your successful business in February is still sound – and now you have time to make it better. The work that isn’t being done now will need to be done later so make sure you are ready for it – and ahead of the pack.

4. Stay engaged with your customers and markets

When things get difficult, inevitably, business owners tend to focus on their own needs but, as I have talked about above, it is great if you can get your head around accepting the short-term situation and return to thinking longer term. Don’t forget the infinite game that we are still playing. Many people may be focused on their own needs but it is still good to talk.

Stay engaged with your contacts. There are lots of ways to do this and technology offers some great opportunities. We look at some in this post.

Remember though that engagement doesn’t mean selling. Many businesses blur the lime between marketing and selling, seeing any communication as sales promotion. I don’t belive that now is the time for the hard sell. It is about us all trying to work together to get through. Better to focus on help and support. Make sure people know where you are if they need you.

Try to be helpful. Many business owners are understandably anxious. A bit of altruism in challenging times can pay real dividends in the long term. We all know we are in business. Our business is our livelihood and we don’t suddenly have to do everything for nothing. It is about mutual support and balance.

5. The way ahead

Things have changed – there is no going back.

The current pandemic was previously only in books and Hollywood – now it is real and affecting everyone.

We should be thankful that it isn’t worse than it is. SARS and Ebola are significantly more deadly even if they proved easier to contain.

We are being forced to think differently. Some things will be harder/slower/more challenging but others will be easier/faster/better. By first addressing the immediate adversities and clarifying your strategy for the coming months (essentially a cash-flow plan) you can then start to look ahead to prepare to your business, ready to make the most of the opportunities when the world re opens to what will be the new normal.

As with any significant change. Some will benefit and some will struggle. A bit of objective thought and planning can help make sure there is a silver lining to this strange, locked-down world for you and your business.

As always, I am happy to talk.

Stay safe and stay positive.

Why WordPress?

I recently wrote how, in a ‘real-world’ business, I believe you should think about technology as the means, not the end. The ‘end’ being your business goals while technology is the tool to help you achieve them. (You can read more here)

I’d like to continue this theme looking specifically at websites and, even more specifically, why I am a fan of WordPress.

Why do you want a website?

A website is a business tool. So, what are the business goals that you want your website to help you achieve?

Most people answer this question quite generally (more sales, more leads, growth etc.) – but these goals aren’t very SMART. In fact, more often than not, the creation of the website becomes the goal itself – which brings us back to focusing on the wrong thing. Aaargh!

Having a website doesn’t make your business better. It is how you use your website to achieve business goals that can make your business better. However, if the focus is on building a website, it might only be after it is launched that you turn your attention to the business goals you want to achieve using it. This is where having a website you can ‘do stuff’ with yourself starts to be extremely valuable.

Why WordPress?

A traditional (coded) website needs a knowledgable webmaster to manage it. In a small business, this normally means outsourcing which tends to be either costly (if your supplier is good at their job, so ‘in demand’ and able to command higher fees), or frustrating (if you go down the ‘friend of a friend’ route but find your ‘web person’ ever more difficult to get hold of!)

Back in 2003, WordPress launched and started the trend of more accessible options for building websites and blogs. Since then, WordPress has developed into the single most popular website development platform in the world. Some estimates calculate that around 35% of the entire internet is powered by WordPress with over 50,000 new WordPress sites being launched every day!

At BSA we built our first WordPress website in 2011 and we haven’t looked back. I continue to be impressed with its flexibility and practicality. So what is so great about it? Why is WordPress ideal for most SME business websites?

Cost-Effectiveness

The core WordPress software is open source meaning it is free to use. This is a great starting point for building a cost-effective website. Of course, involving a professional supplier to design and build your website does bring in some cost but the nature of WordPress allows sites to be built relatively quickly and efficiently meaning a lower project cost. Furthermore, the accessibility and flexibility I discuss below bring additional cost benefits in relation to the ongoing use of your website as a dynamic business tool.

Flexibility

Because WordPress is so popular, there are LOTS of people out there who build ‘plugins‘ to add functionality to the core WordPress platform. OK, many of the popular and respected plugins do come with a fee (though there are often free versions with fewer options) but the fees are normally modest and great value for the additional functionality you get.  After all, you are using your website to make your business better and effective investment is at the heart of every successful business.

If you are looking to add bells and whistles to your website to make it work the way you want for your business, chances are that someone has written just the plugin you need!

Accessibility

WordPress is designed with Content Management in mind. Day to day management of your website content can be handled in-house (if you choose). Gone are the days when every change of a picture or text means tracking down your web developer and receiving their bill!

Bear in mind that making your website accessible and easy to use day to day should be part of the initial design and build project. Spending a bit more to get your site properly set up for you or your team to manage in-house is a valuable investment.

Great for Collaboration

I have no doubt that the best way to ensure your website really works for your business is to take ownership and manage the day to day updates and maintenance in-house. This way, your site will stay dynamic (good for SEO!) and relevant to your business (giving your visitors the right information and messages).  A good website shouldn’t be one that you change completely every few years. rather it should evolve steadily over time. However, as part of this evolution, it is likely that you will want to make some more significant changes to your site from time to time. This is where collaboration works well. You manage the day to day while you have specialists on hand ready to ‘get their hands dirty’ to make more significant (and less frequent) changes. It just isn’t worth having these capabilities in-house.

When working with clients on websites, a collaborative approach is our favourite.

Is WordPress Perfect?

I like to keep a real-world perspective and, in the real-world, WordPress is not perfect. There are plenty of gain-sayers across the internet who will point out the weaknesses. However, we have nearly 10 years of practical experience and in all that time, we have found any of these weaknesses can be addressed and negated with a bit of organisation and planning.

This article looks at the potential downsides of WordPress in some detail.

And finally…

Want to know a bit more about WordPress? Here are some links you may find useful/interesting:

  1. The BSA Showcase – some of the WordPress sites we have built
  2. WordPress Stats – some amazing stats showing just how big WordPress is
  3. Get WordPress – Download your own copy

If you have any questions or want to talk WordPress – do get in touch

Technology – Focus on the end NOT the means

The Problem

Running your own business means you need to wear a lot of different hats. Some times you are CEO, sometimes you are the filing clerk!  This diversity can help to make life interesting but sometimes it can conspire against you.

Our client, Helen Burgess, runs On Point Coaching, a professional practice helping clients address both personal and business challenges. When working with individuals, making appointments for coaching sessions tends to be straightforward. Normally it was an integrated element of the coach/coachee relationship. A fairly ‘laissez-faire‘ approach worked well.

Helen secured a contract, working with senior members of staff in a large organisation. She quickly recognised that her normal approach to appointments was not appropriate. It blurred the boundary between professional coach and administrator. Equally important was the danger that setting (and changing) appointments would take up a lot of time for Helen and her clients.

Through her professional network, a contact introduced Helene to 10to8. This is a web-based appointment and diary management system. It looked like it might offer a solution. However, she needed to be sure that the system could address her needs. Furthermore, it had to be implemented in a way that was both timely and effective.

We were already hosting the On Point Coaching website and had done some marketing consultancy with Helen. She contacted us to see if we might be able to assist with her current needs.

Our Approach

Although the core objective was to implement a technology solution to deliver a more appropriate approach to appointment setting and management for her practice, we recognised that it wasn’t sufficient to only know how to install and configure the software. The software is the means, not the end. We needed to be confident that we could help Helen and deliver a better way of managing appointments. To this end, our first goal was to make sure we understood her business and objectives. Our existing relationship meant this was relatively straightforward. The work we had done with her previously meant we had a good understanding of her business methodology, while our supporting and hosting her website meant we also understood the technical structure of her website.

Using these 2 channels of knowledge, we were in a good position to investigate different options and advise, not only on the technical aspects of the appointment system but also to deliver the installation and use our understanding of her business to help ensure it was configured to meet her practical business needs.

The Solution

We agreed that the 10to8 service would deliver the functionality the Helen was looking for and we installed and set up the system. A key part of the set up was not just to ‘make sure that it worked’ but also to configure things so that Helen could maintain flexible availability. It wasn’t sufficient that clients were given the opportunity to book any slot that wasn’t already booked. Helen wanted to only have certain appointment slots available and to be able to easily change these from week to week.

The Benefit

Our approach to this project was to deliver a solution to a business need that happened to be technical, rather than to simply install technical functionality. The technology was the means, not the end.

Consequently, Helen has additional functionality available to her that allows her to run her business more effectively. Where appropriate, she can now differentiate between the professional and the administrative with clients experiencing a more defined service offering which enhances the proposition offered by On Point Coaching.

Key to this is that throughout the implementation, the focus has been on delivering an effective solution that isn’t just technically efficient, more important, it makes the business easier and better!

After all, isn’t that what it should be all about?

Let Helen have the last word…..

“I am delighted with the results achieved by adding the appointment booking function to my website.  It is professional looking and efficient, and has saved a huge amount of time both for me and my clients.  It stores client details, past and future appointments and automatically send reminders, this has resulted in a reduction in the number of late changes.

Overall, a great investment that ensures I can focus on coaching rather than the administration of appointments.”

Visit Helen’s website here

BSA Marketing: What is it all about?

Since the start of the year, we have been exploring Simon Sinek’s ideas around how business (and consequently marketing) can be viewed as an ‘Infinite Game‘. His ideas came out of earlier work he did exploring the value of having a clear vision about WHY you are in business and how this knowledge can help drive your communication and engagement with your customers and target markets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this line of thought has led me to reflect on BSA. Why are we in business? What is our vision?

I have said many times that despite running the business successfully for over 30 years, I have never felt I have a good ‘elevator pitch’ for those networking moments ‘So what do you do then?‘ This has been an abiding issue – not least as a marketer who is supposed to have this stuff off-pat!

Maybe considering ‘WHY ‘ I am in business, and how this defines my vision for BSA,  would help solve my conundrum?

The BSA Philosophy

I started by reflecting on our philosophy. I am comfortable with the ideas of Peter Drucker that marketing is one of the key elements representing the essence of a business. Furthermore, I recognise how many business owners can struggle with trying to integrate sustained marketing as part of their own business.

We believe marketing should be at the heart of every business and our role is to work with clients to help make this happen.  We also appreciate that technology is a key feature of SME marketing yet too often, this technology is seen as a solution, in itself, rather than simply a tool to help drive marketing. Consequently, a lack of understanding of the technology ends up as a barrier to – your marketing.

This barrier can be reinforced where a company’s marketing is managed or supported by people/suppliers who are technologists first and marketers second.

Our aim is to help address this lack of understanding, appreciate technology as simply a tool, a means to achieving a goal. Then refocus onto that core goal of effective marketing.

All businesses have a ‘sweet spot’ target audience and primary marketing focus should be to engage with this audience.

Getting practical

This philosophising is all very well but there is no question that practicality is at the heart of what we do. We acknowledge that trusting someone with your marketing is a journey and that every journey starts with the first step. We have found that the best approach is to start with something specific. What this might be will depend on where you are at with your business. Over the years, there have been three ‘projects’ that stand out at starting points:

  1. A ‘Direct Marketing Project’ – target your message to a key audience – back in the day, this was often by telephone. More recently, email has become the preferred medium. In either case, this recognises that, as it has always been, marketing is about talking to people.
  2. Website (Re)Development –  your website is probably your single most important marketing tool. It is where you can set out your business propositions for people to explore. Sure, skill in building websites is important (we have this) but actually, getting the marketing messages right is THE MOST IMPORTANT. It’s about marketing, NOT JUST technology!
  3. Website Hosting – if your website is your most important marketing tool, you should have control of it. At BSA, we don’t think of ourselves as a hosting company. We are marketers. Yet, we host the websites for most of our clients. Hosting a site makes it easy to access and use the site effectively – for MARKETING – with no technical barriers.

In each of the above, something happens. As a client, you see improvement. More contact with your market. A new website (built with marketing in mind). Access to your website easily and quickly to make it work for you as a marketing tool.

It’s about the marketing

In all cases, we apply our knowledge and understanding of the technology tools to drive a marketing objective.

Furthermore, the finite experience of an initial project gives us a defined platform to get to know one another. We can build a relationship – on your terms.

We have clients where all we do is host their website, but when they need us, we are there, responsive and ready to support. Alternatively, where appropriate, our relationship can develop into making marketing happen using our extensive marketing expertise and technical know-how. We help make business marketing work as a sustainable, controlled process.

Getting to why?

I started this article posing the question (to myself) of why I am in business. On reflection, I think the answer is simple. It might seem a bit cheesy, but I am confident it is true:

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Why? : To make your business better & easier

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Software tools to make your business life easier

In the face of the day to day challenges of getting your ‘business-brain’ back into gear after the Christmas and New Year hiatus.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some ideas that can help make your business life easier.

Regular readers will know of my admiration of Peter Drucker and his pithy quotes encapsulating so many truisms of business. Possibly my favourite is this:

 "The two most valuable functions of a business: Innovation & Marketing. 
These are the only two functions that contribute to profit.
All others are costs."

Given that a key objective is (normally!) to sustain and develop your business, I think Drucker’s quote gives some insight into ways it may be a little easier to do this. If it is the marketing and innovation functions that are the primary drivers to sustaining and growing your business, then maybe this is where you should focus? If you can reduce the demands of the rest of your business, maybe this can make things easier?

Cost: more than just money

When we think of cost, it is only natural that we think of cash, yet money is not the only consideration.

Businesses are based on 2 fundamental resources. money and TIME. I come across many businesses where the owner concentrates on saving money with no thought to the potential time cost.

The danger of this approach is that any financial savings are swallowed up by the time cost of having to work less efficiently. Savings are only real if you reduce the combined demands for money and time.

Technology – we just want it to work!

Over the past 20 years or so, technology has hugely changed the way we run our businesses. The internet and new software applications have brought opportunities that were inconceivable in the 1980s and ’90s. But these opportunities can come with an Achilles heel – particularly if you focus too much on saving money.

A common marketing approach with many web-based apps is the ‘Free Version’.  You get to use the software at no cost. This may be fine to start with but the more you use it – and the more you come to rely on it, the greater the problem.

Most ‘Free’ software has limited functionality at some level. If you find you use an application regularly but run up against the ‘Free’ limitations, you can end up spending more and more time trying to work around the restriction. Any benefit you gained in the first place gets wasted by your distraction in trying to keep it free. The problem is exacerbated when it comes to technical support. Understandably, Free software has little or no technical support – maybe a few online blog posts but rarely more. If you have technical problems with your free software you can find yourself completely stuck with no place to turn.

When it comes down to it, the best software tools are the ones we don’t really notice. We just want them to work!

Business needs investment

Whatever you may think, you cannot run your business for nothing. Every business, however small, needs some level of investment.  Rather than fixating on keeping software free, sometimes, moving to the paid-for version is a sensible move. This said, I would always advise using apps that have a wide user base and extensive, positive reviews. If you are committing to some software, you want it to stick around and be developed.

Often the cost is only modest – less than a sandwich a week. You will remove restrictions meaning you can use the software as much as you need to for the benefit of your business rather than spending time struggling to stay within arbitrary limits. You will normally also open the door to professional technical support. Fixing issues becomes s0omebody else’s problem while you concentrate on your business.

A word on Open Source software

There is some fantastically successful open source software out there, developed by a community of coders for altruistic rather than commercial motives. Surely this is ideal if you are looking for a free solution? In theory, yes, but in practice, most really successful open source software has been commercialised, at least to an extent. Also, by its very nature, open-source tends to be the realm of techies. If you want to use it you need to know what you are talking about. Not ideal for the average small business.

Focus on what is important

By embracing good, professional software tools, you can get on with the regular tasks in your business more quickly and easily. You are safe in the knowledge that when things break (they inevitably do!) it is in the interests of the developers to make sure they are fixed quickly while you carry on with your own business.

By streamlining routine tasks, investing in effective systems to free up your time, you gain the freedom to get on with the innovation and marketing that are the things to really drive your business forward.

You know what is important in your business. You also know which are the time-consuming tasks that distract you from focusing on the important tasks. Maybe a modest investment can help you redress the balance? Perhaps it is worth taking a look?

Get your business off to a great start in 2020

Happy New Year!

Along with Easter and the Summer, 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 top tips for progress and success in 2020:

1. Have a plan

Regular readers will know that planning is one of my recurring themes. It’s also one of the recurring themes in our podcasts (hear more at https://podcast.bsamarketing.com) 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.

Planning 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?

Also, remember that your plans should be developed in the context of your business vision. This is the big picture, the WHY you are in business (do you actually know?!). Your business vision is about the long term rather than short term finite targets.

2. Take Action

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 you 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 balancing short term actions with the ‘big picture’ vision where objectives look great on paper but it can prove difficult to take realistic steps to achieve them.

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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

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 vision. 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

3. Build on your success: List your 3 big successes from 2019 – what can you learn and apply in 2020.

Sometimes, good things happen and you don’t even notice! Have a think about your high points from the past year. How did they happen? Was there something you can take into 2020 and repeat or build on the success?

4. Learn from mistakes: Recognise your key disappointment from 2019 – what can you learn and apply in 2020.

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.

5. New ideas: Are there products or services that you could add to your business in 2020? 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.

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 2020.

What makes a good client?

When you first start in business perhaps any client is a good client – so long as they pay! While this approach certainly has a focused simplicity, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I have been asking myself what makes a good client for BSA for more than 30 years. I still don’t have the perfect answer. The problem, I now realise, is that my priorities shift. With every change in outlook, so what constitutes my ‘ideal client‘ changes. Talking with others, it would appear that I am not alone in my quest for client perfection! Maybe some objectivity, based on real-world experience, might be helpful.

Client or Customer?

Do you have clients or customers? The way I look at it is that if your business sells products, you sell to customers while if you are more service-based (even if products are part of your proposition) then you sell to clients.  This is a bit of a simplified view but it holds true for most companies. Consequently, it is helpful in this discussion where I am primarily talking about clients – i.e. where the service you deliver is at least a significant part of what you do. Big retailers wax lyrical about the shopping experience  – look at John Lewis’s latest push to develop ‘experience playgrounds‘ – but, in my book,  this is very different to a typical SME service business where having a good relationship ‘fit’ with your clients is pretty much essential.

The importance of fit

A key lesson I learnt a few years ago is the importance of ‘fit’. Like every other company, we have a way of doing business. As a small SME, this way is substantially driven by the people in the business. Trying to work with clients who don’t relate to this approach is fraught with difficulty. Not necessarily impossible but almost always hard work! Conversely, dealing with clients who do connect with our approach gives a great platform from which to grow a solid, long-term business relationship.

The challenge is that I can’t dictate how others think or feel. I can’t make someone relate to our approach. This means that even if someone shows an initial interest in our services, if the fit isn’t there, there is a chance the interest won’t lead anywhere. I used to see this as a negative but now it is definitely a positive.

Of course, this idea only succeeds when sufficient people do connect! It might be a good thing if some potential clients don’t have the fit – but there must be enough others who do!

It’s not about the money

I said at the start of this piece that maybe any client who pays is a good client but, as BSA has evolved, I am increasingly of the opinion that this is the wrong way to look at relationships with clients.

Actually the important thing is that you have a strong relationship with your client based on mutual benefit and respect.  Clearly, a business is a commercial entity so must have a fee structure that works. However, if your focus is on delivering real benefit, this will mean you are directed at delivering value to your clients. They will then be more than willing to pay for your input.

Focus on delivering benefit and the money will follow.

Nothing is forever…

At BSA, we are proud that most of our clients have worked with us for many years. Some for 10 years or more. It is a strong sign that we are doing something right!  Even so, nothing lasts forever. Circumstances change, personnel move on. Just because you stop working with a client doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong, it is just a natural progression. If a good client relationship is based on a good fit, then if things change for either you or your client, it may be that the fit is no longer so strong and it is time to evolve.  This is part of running your own company. What is important is that if business with a particular client does wind down, it shouldn’t impact on your relationship. Even a past-client can be a great advocate of your business for referral to new prospects.

…but try to keep the door open

Even with the natural ebb and flow of good business relationships, we have found it immensely valuable to keep the door open with past clients. Even if there is only a very small, low-cost service you can continue to deliver after the main work has concluded, this keeps the door open and a flame under the relationship. You still have a basis for keeping in touch. Just as the pendulum can swing away from a good fit, so it can swing back again!

At the end of the day, whether at home or at work, good relationships take time to develop and it is in everyone’s interest if they are respectfully nurtured.

Do you believe in your business?

Why do we do what we do?

I don’t know about you but I kind of fell into running my own business. I didn’t make some bold decision one day to set up BSA Marketing, I grew into it.

If I am honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing to start with. I had been working with my father and then, following his sudden death, I found myself holding the reins, and the debts, and the responsibility to our staff. I was almost too busy every day to stop and ask myself what I was doing and why! This went on for about 3 years and I really believe that if I had carried on down this path, the business wouldn’t have survived – and it nearly didn’t.

That was 30 years ago and recently I have been thinking about back then and how things evolved. From being on the brink of bankruptcy, how did BSA survive? What changed?

Believe in your business

I am convinced that there was one decision I made, above all the others, that put me on the track to success. I must stop trying to run my father’s business and start to run my own business. This meant moving away from just doing what we did and shifting to think about what we were delivering to our clients. Do I really believe in it?

This shift is fundamental to the essence of running a business. If you aren’t 100% committed to your own proposition, it is hard to build a sustainable company.

Marketing is a real belle-weather of this commitment. Marketing is about communicating your proposition and brand values, rather than just selling your products/services. You do marketing because you really believe that what you offer is beneficial. If you are committed to your business, you want to tell people about it. You know that they will appreciate the outcome of doing business with you. At a fundamental level, you aren’t trying to sell your products or services because you don’t need to. You know that if your customer understands your proposition they will want to buy from you!

This may sound a bit arrogant but actually, you are laying your business on the line. Deliver on your proposition, and your customers will come back for more. Fail to deliver and your customers will go elsewhere in future. Your business will fail.

Listen to your market

While belief in what you are doing might be core to building a strong business, blind faith is a step too far. If marketing is about communicating your proposition to your target market, part of this process is generating a response – and it is important to listen to that response. A common theme amongst successful business owners is the time it takes to create a successful company. In the words of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos:

Overnight success took 10 years

It is while you are growing your business through the early years that your belief in what you are doing is particularly important. You must have the confidence to stick to your guns. However, you must also be ready to listen to your market. It is customer feedback that helps you refine and improve your proposition, but if there is ever uncertainty about what your market is saying, you should always be ready to stand by your own intuition. Use the feedback you get but don’t be dictated by it.

Stick at it – with a plan

If your overnight success is going to take 10 years to come good, you need to be ready to stick at it! Confident persistence in following your belief is at the heart of most successful businesses. The biggest risk you face is running out of cash and this is why having a clear plan is so important. While you can’t predict the future, a plan helps you manage what the future throws at you. Your plan is also the statement of your belief in your business. You aren’t just making it up as you go along. Your plan is your framework against which you can make new decisions as you are presented with new opportunities – or challenges!

In my experience, it is a real privilege to run your own business. It can be hard work and challenging but the opportunities it presents can be difficult to achieve in any other way. However, unless you truly believe in your business, you are unlikely to see what it can offer to you.

Joined-up marketing with PIMMS – A practical approach

In most SME businesses, marketing is either focused on planning or doing.

Rarely is it focused on both. Why is this?

I think it is because the marketing services offered to SME business owners are either focused on planning (i.e. consultants) or doing (i.e. design, web, search, pr, social, direct, e-mail etc.)

SME marketing is rarely truly joined-up marketing, focused on both…. But it should be!

Good marketing is joined-up marketing!

PIMMS is the BSA planning model which not only helps you plan your marketing but also creates a coherent, joined-up marketing process for making things happen – sustainably. Let’s take a look at the key elements of PIMMS – Plan, Implement, Monitor, Manage, Sustain

PLAN

Your Goals

Planning is not about having a plan! It is about thinking through your goals and defining the processes you want to operate in your business to help you achieve your goals.

These processes must be practical and logical. Things you can and will do.

It is particularly important that you write down your decisions. If you don’t, it is easy to use the benefit of hindsight to massage your memory!

If you quietly forget the actual decisions you took and choices you made, it is impossible to reflect on them and consistently adapt to reflect the reality you find.

Never forget, it is impossible to foretell the future. Planning is about defining your best guess based on the information you have and using this to decide what actions you will take to help you achieve your goals. As you move forward, you are always learning. Used properly, your new knowledge can help you make better decisions.

Goals

Why are you in business? How do you want your business to operate? What do you want to achieve, for yourself, your family, your employees, the wider world?

Your goals are the endgame of the PIMMS process. Once you have defined them, you can then set out the path you choose to take to achieve them.

Remember to make sure your goals are SMART – SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed

Your Proposition

A famous quote from Peter Drucker:

“The purpose of a business is to create a customer”

To achieve this, you need to give your customer a reason to do business with you. This is your proposition.

Remember, customers don’t trade with you out of the goodness of their hearts, they do so because they get value from you.  You might solve a problem for them, or make them feel better? Maybe both?

By defining (and writing down!) your proposition, you crystalise it. This allows you to objectively test it in the real world.

Never mind what you think, do you really solve problems and/or make people feel better?

Unless you are lucky, you will also have competitors. Other businesses who are trying to solve the same problems, deliver the same benefits as you. How can you differentiate your business to show how you deliver benefit more effectively?

Try not to think in terms of what you do. Instead, put yourself in eth position of your customer. What do they receive from you? Your perception of what you do and your customer’s perception may be quite different.

Remember what Peter Drucker says; the business goal is to create a customer.

It is the customer’s perception of your proposition that is most important.

Your Target Market

Creating a customer is central to your business. Where are you going to find your customer?

Having a clear idea as to who is likely to be your customer makes it easier to find them and to make sure you are targeting your marketing in the right direction.

In practice, defining a target market can prove challenging as there is a flip side. By specifying who is your target market, you are, by default, also defining who isn’t!

By excluding some people or businesses, you are saying here is a group of people who could (at least in theory) do business with me. However, I am consciously not planning to market to them as I believe they do not represent a significant opportunity to create the sort of customer I am looking for!

What if you are wrong? Actually it doesn’t matter. You know enough about your business that you shouldn’t completely miss your target audience, and anyway, if you do miss some opportunities, you can target them later.

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

Also, remember that your target market will always split between ‘People who know you’ and ‘People who don’t know you’. A good customer will trust you and that means they will know you. Building trust can take time.

It can be helpful to accept that creating a customer is a process. To this end, building a database of ‘People who know you’ and using this as a CRM* tool to grow relationships can be a great way to create customers.

IMPLEMENT

Knocking on doors

Sooner or later, if you are going to create a customer, you have to communicate with your market. OK, maybe not actually knocking on doors  (though why not?) but you have to get out there and take your proposition to your market.

Deciding what to say and how to say it can be overwhelming. There are so many different options – and so many people trying to tell you how their way is the best!

The key is to make a clear, written action plan that you are comfortable with – and then make sure the actions happen.

Remember….

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

It doesn’t matter if your action plan isn’t perfect. What does matter is that you get out and do something. By having a written action plan it is much easier to manage your joined-up marketing process and when it comes to reviewing how things are going, a written plan is extremely valuable.

Here are some ideas you may find helpful.

  • Different approaches will be more suited to different types of customer. If you are offering personal/professional services, a more individual/one-to-one approach makes sense.
  • Have different approaches depending on whether it is someone who knows you, or not.
  • Don’t do too much
  • It is better to use one or two communication tools well than to try to do everything

MONITOR

Measuring the Process

By measuring response to your marketing communication, you can see what is working and what isn’t.

Remember though that it isn’t just about signing up customers straight away.   Good customers may take their time to decide to work with you. In fact, a customer who takes their time in the first place can often be a more loyal and long-term source of business. It is worth the wait.

Most digital marketing communication tools such as e-mail, search, social etc. have extensive analytics tools allowing you to measure how people are engaging with your marketing.

Using these tools can help you find opportunities to build conversations on a one to one basis.

MANAGE

Refining the Process

A joined-up marketing process does not just happen. It needs to be driven. This can be challenging because marketing is also the easy thing not to do.

Doing no marketing has no impact today or tomorrow. Not responding to customers or dealing with enquiries does!

It can be difficult to allocate regular time to managing your marketing, particularly if you don’t have a marketing process. You find yourself working from scratch – and this takes up more time. Another reason why it can be easy not to even start!

Having a planned process that delivers meaningful measurement of how things are going makes it much more likely that you will put time to marketing. Even a 10-20 minute weekly review of an established process can point to opportunities that drive real progress.

SUSTAIN

Stick at it

I have said it several times:

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

Don’t expect instant success. You might get it, and if you do, count yourself lucky. However, normally you need to work at it.

As someone once said, ‘…the harder I work the luckier I get…’

Actually, when it comes to joined-up marketing, I think it is important not to have to work too hard. If you do, you are more likely to stop.

It is worth making the time in the short-term to build your plan and getting your marketing process up and running. This will pay dividends later. A good process is much easier to manage!

Download the PIMMS PDF and create your own joined-up plan

Want to know more? Get in touch

Where does marketing fit in your business?

Regular readers will know I am a fan of Peter Drucker. As the master of modern business consultancy, he has the advantage that previously there had been few, if any, quotable business quotes so he could simply say what he thought without having to put his words in the perspective of those who went before. He didn’t have to come up with a new angle on something. He just said it as he saw it – and I reckon he was one bright guy.

Consequently, Peter Drucker is immensely quotable on core aspects of business and marketing. He gets right to the nub of things and gives real food for thought.

Take this one:

 "The purpose of a business is to create a customer."

He goes on…

"Marketing is the whole business seen from the customer's point of view.

Taking these 2 together, I actually think it is wrong to ask the question: Where does marketing fit in your business?

The reality is that marketing IS your business!

Is it that simple?

Hang on a minute!, I hear you cry, my business is to provide this service or that product, and part of my business is to market and sell my service/product.

From your position, inside your business, it may certainly feel like this. You know how busy you are with all the tasks you do to keep your business thriving.

However, just take a minute and think about the first of Drucker’s quotes:  The purpose of a business is to create a customer. This makes sense. Without customers, your business is nothing but cost – in both time and money. It is the margin generated through profitable customer revenue that is the fuel to drive everything in your business. Whether you are a sole trader working alone, or a big corporation, this same basic rule applies. If you don’t have sufficient revenue from your customers, you run out of money and your business fails.

So, if we accept that a customer (or customers!) is the most fundamental requirement and purpose of your business, it makes sense that how your (potential) customers view your business is critical to your success. The process of getting your business messages out and therefore managing how your customers view your business is….Marketing!

So when it comes down to it, marketing is not a function of your business. Marketing doesn’t fit into your business. It is your whole business – as seen from the customer’s point of view. Ultimately, it is the customer’s point of view that is essential!

Some food for thought….