Embrace change. Make things better

There’s nothing like a refreshing change.

A change is as good as a rest.

We’ve all experienced change this year though I reckon few would relate the change imposed by the pandemic as positive. Yet change can be positive.

In this post, Duncan looks at how the contrasting impact of Covid has been addressed by 2 local businesses.

Here, I want to look a bit more widely and consider the implications of significant change, and how even how change for the worse can open opportunity for better.

Change is often stressful, particularly when imposed. People normally focus on the downsides, how things are going to be harder than before. However, in my experience, if you can see past the immediate negatives,  change almost always also delivers the opportunity for positives too. Furthermore, while the negatives typically become less significant as time goes on, the positives can deliver more and more benefit – IF YOU GIVE THEM A CHANCE.

4 tips for maximising the benefit of change

1 Take some time

Often, change(particularly when imposed) creates more work for less return. You have to work harder and longer to keep your head above water. This tends to make people think only in eth short-term, where things are hardest. By taking a step back it is easier to get some perspective. If things beyond your control impact your business, future success will require you to embrace the change and incorporate it into your work. It’s not going away so you might as well make the most of it!

Tip 1: Take some time to stop and reflect on the bigger picture.

2. Think objectively about the strengths and weaknesses of your business

Look at how you operate. What works well? What is not so good? Every business has elements that the owner is less happy about. If you are facing change anyway, a bit of thought and planning allows you to focus your changes not only on dealing with the short-term impacts and requirements but also addressing weakness and making your business into a better business.

Tip 2: Use change as an opportunity to address weakness in your business

3. Take a holistic and joined-up approach

Don’t just focus on the immediate challenges. Think more widely about your business as a whole. Don’t think about things in isolation. Remember that everything is connected. If you change something, how will that change affect other areas of your work?

If your business was perfect, how would it look? How would it be different to now? Work on achieving your perfect business.

Tip 3: Be joined-up in your thinking

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It may be one thing to identify the weaker spots in your business but another to do something about them. You’ve probably been putting up with things and using workarounds for years. I know I have. (It’s a bit of a pain but not that bad). The problem might not be deciding what you would like to improve but more how to do it. Even in challenging times, it can make sense to get help. If you can see how a change will make things better for you, investing in the skills to make things happen makes business sense. The improvements can yield value and dividend long into the future.

Tip 4: Getting help from someone you trust and who knows what they are doing is the best way to make the right things happen.

Change is good – A BSA example (pre-Covid!)

Our accountant had been threatening to retire for years. Now he was really going to do it! He understands our business and procedures. Having to find someone new is going to be a right pain – and time-consuming – and probably expensive!

I had been using Sage for years. I was never entirely happy with it but I put up with it. I’d been aware of alternatives but it was a case of ‘Better the devil you know’. Now I was being forced into change. There was going to be extra work transferring to a new accountant but now I had no choice.

I took time to step back and think rationally. As a result, I used the change to think more widely about our whole accounting processes. We moved from Sage to Xero (with help from our new accountants who are Xero specialists)

Yes, there were short term costs and frustration but now I wouldn’t go back! I reckon that the accounts used to take up 4 or 5 hours each week. Now it is more like 4 or 5  hours each month. As an added bonus, rather than having to be at my desk, I can work from pretty much anywhere – and I do!

More time, less hassle – and all at a lower cost too! Maybe our accountant should’ve retired sooner.

A final word on Lockdown Opportunities 

Lockdown has affected every business to a greater or lesser extent. We are all having to do things differently and the regime is likely to persist fo at least several months yet.

Use the hiatus as the chance to make your business a better business. Your opportunity is there. Just take it.

As always, if this has resonated, I’m happy to chat.

Having the right tool for the job doesn’t half maker life easier!

If you haven’t got the right tools it makes doing the job a LOT harder – if not impossible.

I learnt my lesson many years ago. I was struggling for too long with a particular job when it dawned on me:

There must be a better way to do this!

Trying to market your business without the correct tools is hard work. There is also the risk of losing focus from your marketing and business goals. Your objective shifts to trying to make the most of what you have.

Is it better to use what you have or make sure you have the right tool?

OK, sometimes you have no choice. you have to accept you must work with your existing resources. Even so, it’s important that you don’t forget what it is you are aiming for.  It is still about taking your business forward.

In business, and marketing in particular, things change rapidly. There are new opportunities to make your marketing easier, cheaper and more effective. One of the main areas where things are developing is online. Many digital marketing tools and techniques, previously the domain of costly specialists are now accessible to all. But there is a challenge…do you stick with the old ways where you accept it may cost more but you know the job will get done (and will continue to be more expensive when you want to do it again in future)? Alternatively, or do you explore the new opportunities which may allow you to do things more quickly and more cost-effectively? You may either to do more in-house or the better tools enable an external supplier to deliver more quickly and at a lower cost? There is a cost/risk in the learning curve of adopting new tools and approaches but perhaps this should be seen as an investment rather than a cost? Taking the step to adopt better tools in your business can pay dividends in efficiency and reduce cost long into the future.

You may have the right tool but do you have the knowledge and experience to use it effectively?

I touched on this in the last section. One of the biggest costs in marketing can be the fee charged by marketing professionals. As online marketing tools become easier and quicker to use, marketing professionals can see the risk of reducing fee income and so resist the shift to using better tools. At the same time, while these better tools may be easier and quicker to use, you may not want to go the whole step of doing everything in-house. Sometimes, calling in an experienced professional is the most cost-effective approach – so long as you can find the expert who will work with the better tools and charge correspondingly less!

I have raised the idea several times before and it is central to my business ethos; customers and suppliers should work together in a framework of mutual confidence and trust where everyone is focussed on delivering the best outcome where everyone benefits. These relationships can be challenging to build but they are immensely valuable to everyone.#

At BSA we are always keen to adopt the best new tools. Whether we are using these in-house, for our own needs or creating better opportunities for our clients. This has been our philosophy for over 20 years and it continues to pay dividends to everyone involved.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Talk to your customers – it’s important

I’ve been spending a lot of time dealing with suppliers recently and the experience set me thinking. Most of them didn’t seem to be very good at talking to me, their customer. Too often I found suppliers not delivering on what they said they would do. I had to chase.

We talk about the importance of engagement in marketing but this doesn’t end when your efforts succeed and you receive your enquiry which (hopefully) grows into a customer. My own recent experience was disappointing. Too often I got the feeling that a supplier wasn’t really bothered about me, they were focused on my business for the value they would gain. The fact that I (their customer) was trying to get some benefit from the relationship felt incidental.

I believe that a good and solid business should be built on developing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. These are relationships where the trust and confidence bridges between customer and supplier grow ever stronger. Effective communication is a vital part of this development process. Here are 5 tips/ideas that might strike a chord to help you build stronger, more valuable relationships with your customers/clients.

1. Be Responsive

First and foremost, just do what you say you are going to do! This may not sound much but it amazes me how often it doesn’t happen. Of course, sometimes events conspire against us and it may not be possible to do this. If this happens…

2. Be Proactive

If there is a problem, be ready to talk about it. Take the initiative to deal with a situation. Don’t just wait for your customer to call you. Even if you think that your customer will not be happy about what you have to tell them, having the gumption to speak to them and address the issue shows a real commitment to the relationship. It can actually be a great way of making your relationship stronger.

Often it isn't the problem that's the issue - it is how you deal with it!

You never know, you may find your fears of a dissatisfied client are unfounded. Problems happen. Objective, open discussion will resolve most.

3. Is your communication effective

Just because you have said something isn’t the whole story. You may feel you have explained things but has your customer understood what you mean? It can be useful to ‘put yourself in the other person’s shoes’.  Might you have been misunderstood? Likewise, if your customer says something you, could what they say have different meanings. A simple example:

“We will deliver on Friday”

Does this mean the customer will receive the goods on Friday? Or is the supplier actually saying we will ship on Friday. The goods will not actually arrive until the following week. Clarification of this sort of message can avoid a problem later on. In my experience, ignored issues are more likely to get worse than go away. On the other hand, clear effective communication is a great way to build confidence.

4. Be ready to hold your hands up

None of us is perfect. Sometimes, everyone gets things wrong. Yet why are so many people reluctant to admit their failings? Often too much time and energy are spent defending a position or excusing a mistake instead of trying to resolve the matter. This can distract from the business in hand. If you have made a mistake, hold your hands up. Equally, it is reasonable to expect your customer to do the same! The best way forward is to work to rectify the issue and focus on how you can avoid the same problem in the future. If your customer uses the situation as a stick to beat you with, maybe your relationship is fated anyway!

Whether in business or life, some relationships work, others don’t. If you find yourself in a bad one, better to get out.

5. Records are valuable

I don’t know about you but, when you lead a busy life, I find it can be easy to forget things. I have learnt (sometimes the hard way!) that unless I give myself some sort of reminder, tasks sometimes slip my mind, or details of a discussion get blurred. In Tip 3, above, I talk about effective communication. If there is no record then different views about what was said, or even what was intended, become entrenched – and potentially divisive. Sometimes written notes are very helpful. These don’t need to be formal. Just a few words of reminder can be valuable when you come back to a task.

Notes can either be personal, for yourself alone or something you might share by way of confirmation to your customer. There is no single ‘right way‘. It is about finding what works for you and your business. There are all sorts of task and time management tools available. None will work unless you are committed to using it effectively. Personally, I am a real fan of a ‘to-do’ list where I can add notes. Simple, but it works for me.

Build strong relationships – the value will follow.

Focus on your customer, your relationship and delivering real benefit. Make sure you take into account your own needs too. A good relationship is mutually beneficial. Build a good relationship and the value will flow to everyone. The beneficial relationship is the objective. The value is the consequence.

Is a short term cost focus stifling innovation?

If you’ve had a chance to listen to our latest Marketing Matters Podcast, you will have heard us talking about the value of innovation and how, according to management guru Peter Drucker,  innovation is key to building a successful business. However, there is a bit of a spanner in the works:

It’s unrealistic for a small business to be able to do everything in-house. Furthermore, many of the suppliers they may consider to support them in developing and implementing innovation are project-based. Even though the value of innovation is normally realised over time, companies helping to deliver that innovation are too often focussed on maximising the short-term project value. They are looking to their own needs rather than considering the benefit they should be delivering to their customer. For that customer, this can mean a significant, short-term investment cost with the benefit only being realised over a significant time frame. This can be a big risk, even to the point that it stifles the innovation from happening at all.

The problem is that innovative talent is increasingly expensive. Moreover, true talent is often truly expensive! This may be OK at the extremes (look at the earnings of Premiership footballers!), but the idea that talent is highly valuable filters down so that even mediocre talent often values itself beyond the reasonable means of most SME businesses.

The cost of implementation risks repressing business innovation.

A better way…

At BSA Marketing, we aren’t looking for a quick buck. We focus our business model on client-centred long-term relationships. Additionally, we recognise there can be a requirement for investment but we like to benefit alongside our client as they see the positive impact of our input over time.

Here are some examples of how we can deliver true innovation with the focus is on client business benefit

1: App Development.

Our client had an idea to develop an app to allow a wider market to access their products. They discussed their ideas with an App development company who quoted in excess of £10,000 for teh job. The figure was unrealistic for our client and the anticipated benefit they would gain.

We had been working with the client for several years so have a good understanding of their business. This long term relationship, coupled with our knowledge of their operation, allowed us to help them develop a more realistic specification.

By taking the time to truly understand the objectives we were able to go to the market and find an alternative supplier whose quote to develop an effective solution came in at 80% less! Now we have a realistic option!

2. Collaborative website development

An SME Website should be at the heart of marketing for the business. It can constantly evolve.  Often the best approach is to start simple and develop over time

In my experience, with a website development project, the norm is for everyone to focus on the technical build and the cost of ‘coding’ a website. Too often, no-one thinks about content, yet without the content to communicate the business proposition, the website is nothing.  It may not even launch.

The ‘technical build’ approach focuses on a project to implement all functionality from the start.  In practice, the initial use of a site when it is launched tends to be more basic as people learn about it. This early experience may also suggest there would have been better alternatives to the functionality that has already been included, even if it isn’t yet being used! AS with much in business, the reality is a process, not an event. Taking this approach can have commercial benefits.

Using a modern platform such as WordPress, a website can be readily developed for under £1000. (though adding a commercial graphic designer top the project can double this!)

Step by step

To build and launch a website, there are 3 primary cost elements:

  • Design & Coding
  • Creating Content
  • Managing Data

These elements do not all have to be considered as one. Alternatively, a project can be split into separate elements, allowing a company commissioning a website to have input into eth project based on their own unique knowledge of their business. The website company will build the site then give guidance and support to help their customer draw on their own expertise to build content for the site. This collaboration can significantly reduce development costs, and produce a better end result.

Taking this idea further, we have recently we have built a website framework for under £500. This includes full CMS allowing our client to add and then manage the site content. In this way, our client will truly own their website.

Our key is understanding the objectives of our client. A website is nothing more than a tool. It must work for the business. The best way to achieve this is through a thorough discussion and planning of complete, end to end, project beforehand. Most important, this includes discussion of the ultimate business objectives. What ia the site going to deliver for the business and how will it do this?

3. Adapting to lockdown

We wrote about this case earlier in the year. It is a good example of how the long-term relationship-based approach delivers benefits in the most unlikely circumstances. Who would have thought a client who organises specialist conferences would have to quickly switch everything from live events to online webcasts as a consequence of the covid lockdown.

Our existing relationship with our client enabled us allows us to develop a fully online webcast booking and delegate management system that went live in less than 4 weeks.

After only 2 webcasts, the new system had seen a more than tenfold ROI. Additionally, with a highly automated system, ongoing system running costs are negligible. As more online events are held, the value of the investment grows and our benefit grows as we continue to support delivery of the programmes

Taking a longer-term, collaborative approach allows a process of investment over time as the value to the business is realised. A true win: win situation

You can read the full story here.

 

Working from Home – Opportunities Arising

On 18th March the Government told us to stay at home (well, most of us). It was OK to carry on working so long as we didn’t have to go out. Working From Home was born! OK, there were homeworkers before this but now working from home became normal for most. At first, it was novel, then it became more challenging but now, 6 months later when most of us are ‘back in the office‘ I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the experience, not just as a reaction to lockdown, but more widely.

Lockdown forced a new way of thinking and operating but I reckon it has shed light on opportunities that can have a profound and long-term impact.

Working from home. Not for everyone

For some people, the shift to working from home was pretty straightforward. For others, it was more difficult, even impossible. The split between theses 2 groups really depends on the nature of your work.

1. Dealing with Data

These days, data means computers, devices and the internet. I know people who still swear by paper files but the fact is that the days of paper files are numbered. If you work with data that means you work on a computer of some sort and with the steady march to Cloud storage, it’s all about internet connections.  If you work with data and you have a reasonable internet connection, you can work anywhere.

There are other considerations which I will look at below but in principle, if you work with data, you can work from home – or the beach!

2. Dealing with stuff

The story is quite different if your work involves ‘stuff’. You have to be where the ‘stuff’ is. This may be a factory or field, a warehouse or cafe. Unless you can get the stuff you need at home, you have to go out to work.

While working from home is not an option for everyone or even the majority, there are millions of people who can benefit from the opportunities that the ‘Working From Home’ experience has opened up.

My own experience

Perhaps the best way to look at the practicalities is to reflect on my own experience. I worked from home exclusively from late March to early June. I do admit that there were factors that made my experience easier:

  1. No children – the demands of children at home can make working from home challenging
  2. A separate workspace – having to work on the dining table can make it difficult to separate work life and home life
  3. Decent internet – to be effective, your home internet connection needs to compare well with your work-based internet speed

Risk of isolation

With grown-up family at home, I wasn’t isolated but it is easy to see how isolating working at home can be – particularly if you live alone. I feel that working from home should be an option rather than a necessity. Being able to work from home when it suits and at the office, or elsewhere, at other times, maybe gives the best balance.

Importance of breaks

With fewer distractions (daytime TV excepted!), I found it easy to get lost in what I was doing. My home office is in the cellar so I can’t even look out of the window! I did find the lack of daylight to be a difficulty. For these reasons, regular breaks are important. My solution was walking. I tried to get out for fresh air every day.

Zoom is just a tool

Zoom (or Teams/Skype/Google Meet) are just tools allowing 2 or more people to meet remotely. I find them really useful but online meetings can be intense and certainly not the same as a real face-to-face meeting. Personally. I don’t like remote meetings (as opposed to webcasts etc.) for more than 4 or 5 people. There can only be one conversation at once. You simply don’t get the opportunity for ‘side chats’. Just like Homeworking itself, online meetings are now a mainstream addition to the world of work. I would hate to think that every meeting I have from now was online but sometimes, the video meeting is ideal (for modest numbers of participants!).

A change is as good as a rest

I must be honest. By early June, working in a daylight-free cellar every day was beginning to pale somewhat. There was no-one else in the office at that time so it was no big deal to go back to work. I was as socially isolated at Glossop Gasworks as I was at home – if not more so.  Nevertheless, there were some of my lockdown working experiences that I didn’t want to lose.  I have continued to find time for an hour or 2 walking most days and I am now working fewer days in the office. I know I can work effectively from home and I love the flexibility.

The value of convenience

Commuting is a pain! I am lucky as my commute is now only 10 minutes in the fresh air by bike but I have experienced the daily slog into the city centre where it can take over an hour to travel 10 miles. Many people spend even longer commuting to and from their work every day.

One of the real benefits of homeworking is that it is so darned convenient! Every week, working from home can free up a whole extra day to use as you wish. Never mind the savings in fuel, fancy city-centre coffees and that luxury £10 sandwich at lunchtime.  Sure, the shift to homework presents challenges to the coffee bars and sandwich shops that thrive on daily commuters, but I suggest this is only a temporary problem. Coffee bars and sandwich shops are just businesses set up to serve a market. If that market shifts from the city centre to the suburbs then the businesses will follow.

A new approach

I now split my working hours between the office and home. As they are only 10 minutes apart this is easy. I get the benefit of an office environment when I choose and home-work at other times. It is convenient and flexible. I can see the potential for real growth in demand for flexible office space closer to where people live. (Quick plug – check out Glossop Gasworks Workspace) I have heard numerous anecdotal stories of large office-based businesses planning to significantly reduce their reliance on large, expensive, city-centre offices in favour of a more flexible approach based on efficiently interconnected, practical suburban workspaces with a smaller, prestige city-centre location for when it is needed.

People like convenience and flexibility to work the way they choose. Undoubtedly, the lockdown has forced change to be brought on quickly but as new working practices become more normal, there are many effective tools and more options for efficient working than many had appreciated.

We are still in the early days of the new working world and it will be a while yet before the ‘new normal‘ becomes normal. Even so, the opportunities for a more attractive way of working will be hard to ignore in the long term.

Interesting times ahead. If you’d like to talk, do get in touch

Never mind the traffic. What’s the message?

Just recently, we have been looking at Social Media and where/how it fits into the business marketing picture. Now I don’t know about you but I receive a LOT of offers promoting marketing services. These cover all platforms, including social media.

Back in the day (pre-internet if you can remember that long ago!) marketing services tended to be offering lead generation. A business enquiry (lead) normally meant an opportunity to talk to your prospect. Hopefully, you knew your stuff so, in the dialogue with your prospective customer, you could read them and adapt your message to match their interest/need. This process often leads to a decent conversion rate. I regularly met with business owners who claimed 20%, 30% or even more, conversion from enquiry to customer.

These days, most marketing services have gone online. Let’s face it, the internet has hugely driven down communication costs so marketing online is a no-brainer, however, whether it is Social Media, SEO, Banner advertising, Pay-per-click, or whatever, virtually all of today’s marketing services are offering to generate more web traffic.

Interestingly, all this means is that they will deliver more visitors to your website. You are left to join the dots and equate More Traffic => More Opportunities => More Revenue.

…but do these necessarily follow? I suggest not.

Undoubtedly, a website is a must for most businesses these days. Maybe you operate your business face to face or based on close, professional relationships, as we do? Even so, potential customers and clients still expect a website as a way of checking you out.

Even if your marketing approach delivers prospective clients to your website, what do they see when they get there?

Does your website really tell your story?

Often, creating a new website is a project. You create a design, add some content and launch your website, then move on to something else. If you have got it right, on the day of launch, your website should do a good job of reflecting the reality of what you and your business stand for. However, in my experience, this is (disappointingly) often not the case.

Businesses are inevitably dynamic and changing while too often, a website is static. As your business evolves, don’t forget your website? As time moves on, your website disconnects from your business. It doesn’t tell your story. Even if you are getting good quality, relevant visitors to your website from your target market, there is a growing risk that they won’t see the right message. They need to see the true business proposition and opportunity that you can offer them.

The more this happens, the greater the risk that the link between site visitors and business enquiries is broken.  Effective marketing is joined-up and consistent.

Your website should be dynamic

A modern business website should no longer be the exclusive domain of the techies and designers. It is a key business communication tool so should be at the heart of your business.

Yes, the site should maintain a consistent and logical style and layout, but the content should be dynamic so that, no matter how long ago you launched your website, it reflects your business as it is today. A dynamic website, regularly refreshed will stay relevant to your business and make sure your website visitors are seeing the right message at all times.

Traditionally, you create a website and it then lives for a few years (often in splendid isolation) until the time came for a new site and the process started again. This should not happen now. A dynamic website, joined-up with your business marketing, will evolve along with the rest of your company

Are your site visitors getting the right message?

Don't guess. Measure

At the top of this post, I talked about the connection between website visitors and business opportunities. One of the beauties of the internet is that you can see what happens when people visit your website.

Analytics can have a bit of a learning curve but they are worth the effort.  Using website analytics allows you to join up between site visitors, their engagement with your content and their actions. You can see where they enter your site, how long they stay on a particular page and what content interests them most. Analytics can pretty much tell you what you need to do to make your site interesting and relevant to your visitors. Then all you need to do is make sure that, at the same time, it stays true to your business message.

Deliver your message in a way that engages your visitors. New customers are the natural next step.

Effective results – efficiently

Achieving effective results should be at the heart of every business – whatever this means!

We have been looking at ‘achieving results‘ from two different viewpoints which, taken together, present an interesting dichotomy….

  • In this post, Duncan looks at the value of getting input from all members of a team
  • In the Marketing Matters Podcast, we talk about the challenges of getting your project ‘over the line’

Each of the above makes sense on its own merits. However, taken together they present a conflict. The more people involved in setting and achieving a goal, the more chance of inconsistency and slippage. Either of these can threaten a successful outcome.

As a consequence, many SME business owners find themselves backed into a corner where ultimately, all responsibility comes back to them. Hard work! The team may be willing but they do what they are told!

Give real responsibility to the team – but keep the focus on getting the job done. This can be challenging!

Resolving the conflict…

It is a common mantra at BSA, but it undoubtedly, at the heart of every effective business process is an agreed plan with clear SMART* objectives

*SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed – more information here

If you want to get the benefit of input to your business drawing on the experience of your team members but not risk your plans slipping and failing, a clear plan is the best way to communicate your ideas to others and give them the context in which to add their own suggestions.

Ownership, review and leadership

Having a plan is a great starting point but every member of the team must take ownership of the plan and acknowledge/accept the responsibility for their part in delivering the results. It is important that every element of the plan is ‘owned’ by a member of the team.

The best way to avoid slippage is regular review. These can be formal or informal though at least some more formal review is sensible. Any issues can be picked up, discussed and resolved before they get to big. Reviews can also make sure that actions and target dates are clear and acknowledged by everyone.

As a business owner, aiming for effective results, it may be that your most effcicient approach is to drive the overall process while team members take ownership and responsibility for the elements of the plan that suit their individual experience and skillset.

It isn’t necessary that, as a business owner, you have to do everything.  It is much better to effectively involve your team. Your one essential  contribution to achieving effective results is Leadership.

Analytics – the key to an effective marketing process

Recently we have been focussing on the value of partnership as a platform for an effective marketing process.

A challenge with partnerships is that many SME business owners like to do their own thing – indeed this can be one of the real freedoms of self-employment

Doing your own thing is great – but this isn’t the same as making it up as you go along. An effective, sustainable marketing process needs a plan. You can share a plan with others who can then support you to achieve your goals.

Sure, plans can be (indeed should be) reviewed and evolved but this process needs to have some structure (particularly if more than one person is involved in delivering on the plan.) No one can mind-read. It isn’t reasonable for one person, even a business owner, to simply change her mind and expect everyone to follow. There needs to be a process.

Why does a plan need to change?

Actually, I think it is better to say that a plan evolves rather than changes because the change comes about through growing experience.

Typically a plan will evolve for one of 2 reasons:

  1. It becomes clear that the plan is going to fall short of delivering on the goals we have set.
  2. A better option comes up, either a better way to achieve our set goals or a way to achieve better goals.

In both of these cases, you need to have some idea of where you are up to. Are you making progress? To know this, you need to be measuring.

It is nearly a year since I last took a look at analytics (not just in terms of Google Analytics but the whole process of measuring where your business is up to) but over recent months we have seen stark evidence of the power (and danger!) of data as much government policy through the pandemic has been driven by very clear goals (reduce transmission, minimise infection, minimise mortality while protecting both the NHS and the economy). All of these goals have been managed by data. the challenge is that, in a world where people are looking for certainty, the data is incomplete, yet decisions still must be made and acted upon.

This is the same as in business. With the (possible) exception of e-commerce order data, analytics aren’t definitive, they are indicative. Analytics suggest trends. They don’t deliver certainty. Even with e-commerce, just because it happened last week/last month doesn’t mean to say it will happen next week/next month. Instead, you should use the indications of the data in conjunction with your own knowledge and experience to make definitive decisions. The data will not normally give you the answer but it can improve your decision making by narrowing meaningful choice. By making decisions from a narrower field of realistic options, it is likely that those decisions will be better.

Using analytics to guide your decision-making process can make that process more effective. More effective decisions are more likely to improve your marketing process.

Analytics in the real world.

I’ll finish with 3 practical tips to help you use analytics in your business to drive a more effective marketing process:

  1. Keep it simple.Analytics systems generate unimaginable quantities of data every day. Don’t get caught into seeing your own data as the be-all and end-all of your business. Analytics is merely a tool (albeit a useful tool!) which should help you run your real business. Keep your analytics goals simple and relevant. It is better to focus on a handful of key metrics that really benefit your business over time, than to blind yourself with data overload in the hope that you might just uncover some ‘magic-wand‘ of information
  2. Use a dashboardThere are numerous dashboard tools out there that can really help keep you focussed on your key metrics. They can take a bit of effort to set up correctly but it is worth it as you can end up with a valuable and practical business management tool. We look at dashboards in more detail in this article.
  3. Remember, business is a process, not an event.When you look at your data dashboard, avoid knee-jerk reactions. The success of your processes become more visible over time – and often in hindsight rather than as you are going along. I regularly find that it is only when I look back over 6-12 months that I really appreciate the progress we have made.

And finally, never forget that running your own SME business is a big commitment of time and effort, so try to enjoy yourself – at least some of the time!

Partnership for Performance-Case Study

Where clients and suppliers can work in partnership, there is the opportunity to grow a relationship built on confidence and understanding which allows more flexibility. This is the type of relationship that we thrive on. It is based, not particularly on commercial transactions (although being paid for what we do is important!) but more on having a clear understanding of what we are working to achieve with our client and then focussing on realising on these objectives. In this way, our emphasis is squarely on delivering real benefit – as this case study demonstrates.

Covid-19 Lockdown – An opportunity for evolution

Background

Longmark Tax Conferences have been organising and running professional conferences for specialist tax lawyers and accountants around the UK for nearly 15 years. They have built an enviable reputation for delivering high-quality speakers (predominantly barristers and QCs working in dedicated tax practices) presenting on a varied and relevant range of topics.

We were already marketing ith the conference programme for Spring and Summer 2020 already. The Coronavirus Lockdown came as a significant blow.  Consequently, the Longmark management team took the difficult decision to postpone all conferences from the 2020 programme. Recognising that there was likely to be no quick resolution to the pandemic, the decision was taken to explore the possibility of offering a webcast.

Content for the event was not a problem. Longmark has strong relationships with a number of highly knowledgeable technical speakers. As a result, a presenter and topic for the webcast had already been agreed.

Having run conferences for many years, Longmark is well-known amongst legal and accountancy practices across the UK. They have a valuable contact database so, in principle, marketing the webcast should not be an issue. However, there were some challenges….

The problem

Longmark has a well-established process in place for delivering regular conferences. Typical the lead time for this process to run is 3-4 months from setting the conference date, venue, speakers and content to the conference itself.  The established marketing approach included brochure design and print and direct mail.

For the planned webcast, we had only 6 weeks from initial discussions until the date of the webcast. We knew that we needed at least 4 weeks to market the event. There was no time to use print & direct mail. All marketing would be on-line by email.

Furthermore, we had no established webcast delivery infrastructure

To deliver the programme cost-effectively, it was essential that we automate booking, payment processing and delegate access to the webcast. These all needed to be handled online.  We had no systems established for any of these.

What we did have was a strong working relationship established over many years. As a result, we all had the confidence that we could, and would, deliver.

The solution

Webcast delivery

An undoubted feature of the pandemic has been the rises and rise of Zoom video conferencing. Despite an exponential increase in users placing significant demands, the Zoom infrastructure has proved itself up to the task. We agreed that Zoom would be a reliable platform for the webcast delivery, however, it was felt that the webcast offering from Zoom did not meet our needs. Through a partnership with an online webcast specialist, we were able to develop a way of delivering the webcast reliably to the Longmark website. From here we would be able to manage regulated access to the webcast. It was important to ensure that only paid-up delegates were able to watch the webcast.

Joining it all together

BSA combines technical competence with a thorough understanding of marketing and practical business processes

We have been working with Longmark for 10 years. Over this time, we have built a good working relationship with a solid understanding of their processes – and the technology used to deliver these processes. We already host the Longmark website and manage much of the booking administration for the regular conference programme.

Thanks to our existing partnership and knowledge-base, we were able to focus immediately on the webcast challenges. Additionally, using our combination of technical and practical business competences we were able to develop a technical specification for the online booking, payment processing and delegate management systems and how these might be quickly and effectively implemented to allow the marketing for the webcast to go ahead quickly.

We built, tested and launched the online booking and delegate management systems within 2 weeks. Furthermore, within hours of the launch, we received the first bookings.

BSA promoted the webcast through an e-mail marketing programme supported by social media – primarily LinkedIn

The outcome

The systems we had set up ran effectively. BSA’s end-to-end involvement in the technical, marketing and admin processes meant that the inevitable tweaks that were required as the new processes became established were developed and implemented seamlessly to ensure that the marketing and delegate3 registration processes could continue unimpeded.

By the time of the broadcast, we had over 230 registered delegates. The event went out without a hitch and the feedback rated the overall experience at over 95%.

Undoubtedly, the fact that there was an effective partnership between Longmark, the speaker, the broadcast manager and BSA was key to bringing this event in on-plan. It really was thsi partnership that delivered the performance

The long-term benefits

Undoubtedly, the webcast was a success, even as a stand-alone. However, delivering the webcast has also driven longer-term benefits:

Although we expect physical conferences to return as soon as is realistic, this project has shown that webcasts are deliverable and practical for Longmark. Online presentations may offer an additional option for the Longmark business going forward,

The technical systems and processes are now in place. Running future webcasts will be straightforward.

Physical conferences can benefit from the automated booking and registration systems set up by BSA. The new systems can streamline the delegate administration for future conferences. This will prove significantly more cost-effective, reducing event administration costs into the future.

Let Mike Longman of Longmark have the final word….

We have worked closely with BSA Marketing since 2010. During that time they have gained a deep understanding
of our business aims and processes. BSA has become an integrated part of our marketing function. We discussed
our plans with David and the need for us to re-engineer the back end of our website and facilitate online
bookings/payments and host the broadcasting of the online lectures. 

We set the BSA team a tight deadline to devise, test and implement the new system and they went above and beyond to not
only meet the deadline but also offer much needed hands-on support with our delegate queries as our first live webcast took place.

The webcast was a great success, and it was reassuring to have BSA partnering with us on this new venture. 

We couldn’t have done it without them.

Contact us to discuss how a partnership with BSA can help your performance

Just do it! – The value of (effective) implementation

The COVID pandemic has turned the economy upside down. As in any period of major upheaval, some businesses  (Zoom and Amazon spring to mind!) that do very well, while others (most small businesses and certainly those operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors) have seen turnover fall off a cliff. For both Zoom and Amazon, they were fortunate. Their existing business models happen to be well suited to delivering services to people and markets in lockdown.

What is more interesting is the way that some businesses, faced with a huge decline, or even effective closure, of their existing business models, have used their capabilities, resources and market knowledge to adapt to the new economic environment. Additionally, given the speed with which lockdown was imposed, it has tended to me SME businesses who have the potential to be most agile, who have reacted most quickly,  and are starting to see the benefit.

Agility with a short or long term view?

Many business owners recognise the need for change. Facing the reality of the pandemic, they are coming up with new ideas. Furthermore, they have acted. They have implemented their new ideas.

This said, I have seen businesses adapt in 2 distinct ways:

  1. Switch to a model simply to stay viable.
  2. Use lockdown as the incentive to develop a business which works in the short term but can have real benefit long into the future.

People in the first group are really just hanging on, waiting for things to return to ‘normal’. The problem is that no-one knows how long this might be. Certainly, all the indicators are looking encouraging at the moment but even so, the easing of the lockdown comes with warnings of the importance of continuing to maintain social distancing and quarantine for those who can’t. All this, and a spike in COVID cases could see lockdown being reimposed overnight.

I suspect that elements of lockdown will be with us for some time yet. It could be a long wait for normality.

Moving your business into the future

For other businesses, the lockdown has been a catalyst for real change. By embracing the challenges of the current climate and using them to ‘think differently’ some business owners are evolving their businesses in ways that mean they will never look back. Implementing changes effectively and sustainably can be made easier by working with reliable partners. We are proud to have supported numerous clients moving their businesses forward into the future. Let’s have a look at a few:-

1. The Retailer

Our client runs a retail business. Part of the business is a farm shop which means they were allowed to remain open during lockdown. However, in practice, business turnover dropped dramatically and footfall to eth shop was not sufficient. The business had a website which included a modest e-commerce facility but this was always an add-on to the main retail business. Up to the start of lockdown, online orders were running at only 1 or 2 per day. Look what happened in March….

From a ‘norm’ of 30-40 orders per month in January & February, order levels rocketed to 400 in March and nearly 600 per month since then. June is on track to sustain this jump inactivity.

The 10-fold increase in on-line orders created significant logistical challenges across the business. By providing effective website hosting and technical support, we were able to ensure that the website absorbed the huge growth in traffic and continued to perform effectively.

We are now looking forward to developing and implementing new marketing programmes over the coming months to continue the benefit to the business of a new online customer base.

2. The Conference Organiser

As an organiser of specialist technical conferences around the UK attracting up to 150 professional delegates, our client faced particular challenges to their business. Events arranged for the Spring had to be postponed. Also, it is looking increasingly likely that it will be impractical to host any further regional events before next year. Faced with potentially zero income for 2020, the owners decided to take their business online. Following initial discussions in mid-May, we set 25th June as the date for the first live webcast. We are working closely with our client and within 4 weeks we have delivered:

  • A complete online delegate booking & payment management system
  • Secure management of delegate registration
  • Secure, controlled access to the webcast feed
  • Ongoing technical support for the registration booking & payment system
  • Ongoing marketing management and support for the event

All of the above is seamlessly integrated into the existing website. This is a real testament to the power and flexibility of WordPress.

Proof of the pudding

From the initial marketing launch of the event, there are now over 180 delegates registered, including people attending from as far away as Australia! While our support has helped deliver effective systems facilitating the event, we mustn’t forget that the key is top quality content. The webcast is being delivered by a highly respected leader in his field, our input is to make the online management system straightforward and effective so that it almost appears invisible. Read more about invisible technology here.

Into the future

The switch to online webcasts is undoubtedly a direct outcome of the lockdown. However, there are significant differences between a webcast and a ‘live’ event where there are valuable networking opportunities as well as the technical presentations. The plan is to restart the regional events as soon as practical but webcasts are likely to offer an additional service (and revenue!) channel into the future.

A couple of others….

The engineering service

Our client wanted to take his service offering into Europe. He saw the relative quiet of lockdown as the ideal opportunity to work with us. As a result, we have updated his website to deliver full multi-lingual capability and translated the site into German as a first step into Europe. The plan is to add more languages in due course. This staged approach allows planned expansion in a managed way.

B2B E-commerce

Our client has developed a range of high-quality workbenches and CNC tool storage systems designed for engineering businesses and specialist hobbyists. We have worked with them to build and launch a full e-commerce website from the ground up.

Just do it! The value of effective implementation

The above are just some examples of how we work closely with clients to make things happen. Our goal is to help clients make their businesses better and easier.

We work with our clients to understand their business ideas and objectives. We then design, implement and deliver effective marketing and technical solutions to meet these objectives. Our services are the means, not the end.

We help make implementation happen. It is making it happen that gets results.

Please get in touch to discuss how we can help make sure your business development happens