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

The best technology is effectively invisible

Technology is everywhere! During the past few weeks, it has been the main way that we have been able to stay in contact with one another, yet I’d like to think that actually, the best technology is effectively invisible.

This isn’t to say that we can’t see it, more that we don’t notice it. It is effective. It just works.

Even so, people do normally ‘notice’ technology in the first instance. Top technology companies have turned ‘unboxing’ into an art form. The look and touch of the latest iPhone are carefully designed to make us feel good! This is all very well but ultimately it is what you can do with the phone that matters. A handset is just a tool that allows you to communicate, surf, photograph, or whatever?  The look and feel may be important to start with but, at the end of the day, you just want it to work. It is what you do that matters.

The same is true when it comes to the technology you use in marketing your business. It may be nice to have all the bells and whistles but what really matters is that your customers and prospects, who engage with you, are fully focussed on your marketing message rather than the technology you use to deliver it. You want the technology to be so good that people don’t notice it!

UX is the key – but stay focussed on your goals

User eXperience (UX) is a significant and growing field in the world of marketing. However, like so many aspects of technology in marketing, it is being sold as a design solution rather than a practical solution. Talk of the psychology of colours and the positioning of key elements on forms and web-pages can lead to an expensive bill but (IMHO) is of limited practical value for the majority of SME businesses and websites.

Use your own experience of your business, customers and markets. You know what you want to offer and what people are looking for. Make sure you deliver in a straightforward way. This sentiment applies equally to your marketing.

For most of us, we should be focussing on a clear message with well laid out, straightforward navigation to our web content – and no dead ends! You can test this yourself, or ask friends & colleagues to take a look.  There will always be someone who can offer another tweak or refinement but ask yourself if these make any significant improvement. Incremental/marginal gains in UX can be expensively unnecessary.  Don’t try to make your marketing technology perfect. It never will be! What is important is that it works seamlessly.

Website Speed – Fast enough is fast enough

Some people are fixated by website speed tests. Whatever speed-score their website delivers, they want it to be faster. It becomes irrelevant whether the real-world performance of the website delivers a good and positive experience for their site visitors. It becomes all about making the numbers better – even if this delivers no real value or benefit. Are marginal gains in site speed really worth it if?

If I had to pick, I would say that speed isn’t everything – fixation on speed tests isn’t as important as UX – fast enough is fast enough. A slightly slower, well flowing site is better than a fast site with poor logic/navigation that frustrates visitors or leads them to dead ends.

Focus on effective functionality

If users can find a way to break your website, they will!  Better that you break it first. If you have tried to break your new web system, and failed, you can be confident that it is OK to launch on your market.

Even if you have failed to find the flaws in functionality and flow of your website, those flaws will still be there – and the chances are someone will find them, even if they are extremes!

Unless you are anticipating very high traffic on your site from the start (in which case it should be worth investing in some careful and comprehensive testing and a phased roll-out of a new site), I recommend that you make sure that you are ready to handle the process failures and bugs manually in the first instance.

This process has benefit for most businesses:

    1. It is more cost-effective
    2. No need to second guess every single possibility (and programme in solutions from the start that will rarely, if ever, be used)
    3. If you have a good, flexible system, you can always add functionality

Accepting that you will need to keep a close eye on your new system for a while and be ready to jump in and sort any problems that visitors experience, quickly.

I reckon that good system that is live and working for you and your business is more use than waiting until you have perfection before launch. Even if some visitors do experience the odd glitch, helping them quickly with backup and support can send a strong and positive message about your business

…and finally

My tips for effective marketing technology for your business…

  1. Never forget that marketing technology and websites are the means, not the end to achieving your marketing and business objectives.
  2. Start the process then evolve with experience. With development platforms such as WordPress, it is easy to add functionality based on real-world experience.
  3. You can start with a simple system and, over time, evolve it into a sophisticated, yet practical, web-application to help drive your business.
  4. The best technology for your business is invisible to your customers. It just works. It is your business that they see and remember.
  5. Get support from someone who understands both business process and technology. Someone who can support you in achieving your business goals, not just someone who does what you tell them.

Get in touch if you would like to chat.

Marketing comms: A process, not event

Over recent weeks we have been talking about Business Philosophy,  a potentially esoteric subject yet, as with most things in business, philosophy only takes us so far. Clearly defining your Business Philosophy can be useful to help clarify what a business stands for and what you are trying to achieve but it stops short of setting out the practical steps of how you plan to achieve your goal.

Driving your Business Philosophy needs action. Navel-gazing isn’t enough!

Marketing communications is key to letting your prospects and markets know about your business. It is not something you do once, it is ongoing.

Getting your consistent marketing message out as widely as possible is a process, not an event,

The problem with a process is that someone needs to set it up and getting running in the first place. If you run your own business, that person is most likely you!

However, as is evident in the current pandemic situation, the default position for most people is to look for direction from others.

It is easy to sit back and pick holes in the decisions of others and explain, after the event, how they could have done it differently. Yet the simple fact is that, as a starting point, somebody has to decide to do something – and then make it happen!

If it is your business, and your marketing, you have to start the process.

There should be time for subsequent review and refinement. This is the process. But you must start somewhere!

In summary, developing any process has 5 steps:

  1. Know what you are trying to achieve
  2. Know where you are starting from
  3. Understand factors that can influence your process
  4. Plan and implement your process
  5. Stick at it!

Let’s take this summary and apply it to marcomms….

The Marketing Communications Process

    1. Know what you are trying to achieve – What do you want to communicate, to whom and what outcome are you hoping for?

      • Take time to clearly define and understand your business proposition – As we have discussed before, it is easy to skirt around this and launch straight into ‘doing something‘.
      • Action without a plan puts focus on being busy rather than focusing on achieving results – a risky approach.
      • If you truly understand your business proposition, it makes planning easier as you have a framework to apply.
      • Who do you want to communicate with?
    2. Know where you are starting from – What do you have to work with?

      • What resources (typically time and/or money) do you have available to invest in your process – be realistic!
      • Do you have knowledge/experience of previous marketing activity that you can learn from?
      • What do you want to say?
    3. Understand factors that can influence your process

      • Your Business Philosophy is a key element here. Your philosophy will constrain the options you have available. You should only do what is right for you and your business.
      • How does your target audience communicate?  Knowing your market will help define the most suitable communication channels.
      • Will your message engage, inform and resonate with your target audience?
      • Will people be motivated to act on your message to help you achieve your goal?
    4. Plan and implement your process

      • Select your communication channels and set out a plan for relevant messages over time – Build a content calendar
      • I recommend using your website as your core message platform then use 2 or 3 channels (email/social media etc.) to spread the word.
      • Don’t forget offline. In this digital world, mail, telephone and face to face can all be powerful options
      • Build messages that reflect your philosophy and goals that are designed to resonate with your target audience
      • Do it and stick at it
    5. Stick at it!

      • Objectively review and analyse progress, and refine the process as you proceed.
      • Be realistic.
      • Avoid knee-jerk reactions
      • Be ready to give your process time.

Finally, in a single sentence…

The right message through the right channels to the right audience, consistently = success!

Your business philosophy? Does it drive your business?

Building and running a business is challenging and can be hard work, but it can also be very rewarding.

We all do things for a reason. Running a business is no different. Here are 3 questions:

  1. Why do you run your business?
  2. What is your business philosophy?
  3. Does your business philosophy connect with your customers?

Of course, a business philosophy should aim for personal success and fulfilment, and providing for you and your family. However, it is important to balance your own wishes with a desire to deliver real value to your customers and clients. Furthermore, getting this balance right can be the key to long-term success where everyone wins. Too much focus on either your own needs or those of your customers upsets the balance and the business risks failure.

An honest and well-balanced business philosophy can also be a great marketing asset.

What is your business philosophy?  Do you tell people?

My BSA philosophy

To explore this idea further, I think it is only fair to look at my own philosophy for BSA in terms of the 3 questions I pose above

1. Why do I run BSA?

To be honest, running BSA was unexpectedly thrust upon me back in 1986 following the sudden death of my father. I never took the decision to start a business. I literally woke up one day to find myself in charge!

The following few years were stressful I didn’t have a plan. I had a team to motivate and expenses to cover – not to mention a mortgage! In the end, I did the only thing I felt I could, I put my head down and got on with it! Although I was only too aware of the bills and wages that needed paying, my philosophy from the very start was that the best way to meet my own needs and obligations was to deliver the very best we could for our customers.

2. What is my business philosophy?

34 years later, we are still here so I guess we have been doing something right!

At its heart, my business philosophy is all about partnership.  In my experience, simply supplying a service to a client at arm’s length works well as a one-off but is less effective when we are trying to build a longer-term relationship. Our aim is to engage with our clients to deliver real benefit – to improve your business. We can only do this if we properly understand a client’s own philosophy and objectives.

I am proud that we have been working with most of our clients for many years. A client relationship can be based on no more than proactively and intelligently hosting a website. With other clients, we are actively developing and implementing ongoing marketing communication programmes, including exploring, developing and advising on new ideas and opportunities.

We bring together our own experience and skillset to work in partnership with the knowledge and capabilities of our client.  Getting the partnership right means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. My business philosophy is focussed on getting the partnership right.

We want to really help our clients, both in planning AND implementation. It is important that we help to make things happen, all as part of a bigger picture to drive and improve your business.

It is not about turnover. If a partnership is right, it is right, however modest or great it may be.

3. Does the BSA business philosophy connect with our customers?

In short, I hope so!

We recently did some customer research and, while the results highlighted some novel and valuable opinions, the core response does fit with my philosophy. Our clients see BSA as experts who effectively integrate this knowledge with the expertise of our clients to work together to deliver a better outcome for us both.

However, this led to another consideration: do we tell our prospective customers about our philosophy? I’m afraid to say that when we took a critical eye to our core marketing message on our website – we came up short. We had fallen into the classic marketing trap of discussing features rather than benefits!

I am a fan of the saying that ‘Every Day is a Schoolday’. No matter how much you know, there is always the opportunity to learn

Needless to say, we took the opportunity to make some changes.

Hopefully, our philosophy is becoming more apparent.

So what is your business philosophy?

So, what is your business philosophy? Does it effectively drive your business?

Might a partnership with BSA bring something to your party?

Let’s chat and see…

Content – The elephant in the social media room (still)

Although the essence of marketing is communicating with your target markets, so many SME businesses focus on HOW they want to communicate rather than WHAT they want to communicate. Back in 2016, I wrote this article. While we all embrace the lockdown(!) as an opportunity to work on our business rather than just in our business, I felt now is a good time to revisit the content elephant.

Actually, if you truly know what message/content you wish to communicate to effectively promote your products/services, then deciding HOW to communicate it is relatively straightforward. Undoubtedly you will be constrained by the resources you can afford to commit to marketing. TV advertising is not for everyone!. However, there is an ever-expanding range of online tools (including Websites, Social Media,  Click Advertising, Banner Advertising etc.) that can be accessed and effectively used at low cost, or even for free in some cases if you are prepared to put a bit of effort into learning what to do from the plethora of online tutorials and advice. The challenge is not so much HOW you communicate as WHAT you communicate.

Some people (often the truly successful entrepreneurs) have an innate skill for content.
They are lucky. They have a natural talent and can just do it.

Content creation in the real world

The problem for the rest of us is that when you turn to consider what it is that you want to say, coming up with relevant content can be challenging for many businesses. I think the issue is that deciding on content is a creative risk. There is no-one can tell you what you want to say. You have to think for yourself and there is a strong desire to try to get it right  – there is a focus on trying to be perfect when you can’t! I would go further, I believe that there is no perfect.

Consequently, instead of biting the bullet and diving into content creation, accepting that it won’t be perfect, it is enticing to avoid the issue and get sidetracked into the HOW.

Let’s learn all about LinkedIn/Twitter/Google Ads etc. – because if we learn this we will be better at producing perfect content.

Tapping into this sentiment, many businesses have grown up offering training and focusing on the HOW. OK, some of these businesses (the better ones!) will include tools and ideas to help with content creation but when it comes down to ‘defining the magic words and pictures’ for your own business, it is down to you.

I believe that most people who take up the training fail to benefit significantly because once they have learnt the skills HOW to communicate, they realise they still need to commit to deciding WHAT they want to say.

What about creative agencies and graphic designers?

Of course, there are also many creative agencies who have skills working in both words and pictures who can help with content creation but they often present a number of challenges:

  • They don’t know your business (at least to start with)
  • You have to give them a brief – so you are still having to set out your own core message
  • They can’t read your mind. What they come up with might not fit with your own thinking
  • Creative development can take time
  • Agencies are selling time so they (particularly the good ones!) can get expensive

Building a relationship with a good creative who understands your business can be valuable but this process normally requires significant investment in time and money.

Focusing on Content – a solution

If you aren’t in a position to invest (considerable) budgets on content creation, it is back to you, I’m afraid, even if you believe you don’t have a natural talent for content.

The answer is simple, even if not particularly appealing. Just do it! Don’t get sidetracked to the HOW. Accept that you need to focus on the WHAT.

OK, you need to focus on your message, but actually, your message does not need to be perfect. Remember that different people receive messages differently so even if you think your content is perfect, others may not agree! What’s important is that you are honest and truly believe what you are saying about the benefit and value you deliver to your customers.

An honest, relevant message with less than perfect delivery can still be powerful and effective.

If you are proud of your message and really believe it then if your delivery isn’t perfect it probably doesn’t really matter.

Like it on not, luck plays a part in marketing

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the key to guaranteed marketing success is to be really skilful at using marketing tools. This is not true.

There are countless examples (possibly most commercial social media!) where people with significant technical expertise communicate messages with the aim of going viral. However, the content withers and dies never to see the light of day because it doesn’t engage.

Equally, Social Media is awash with examples of stories that inadvertently went viral because they happened to really connect with their audience. These stories can start as no more than communication between a few people or posts on a local forum, but they end up with a life of their own and become unstoppable – often with unanticipated consequences – but that is another story.

4 Tips for effective content

Finally, here are 5 tips to get you started addressing the ‘Content elephant’

  1. Take time to ask yourself what it is that you do? Not the mechanics but the benefit you deliver to you customers and clients – maybe you could ask them?
  2. Focus on generating content you truly believe in. Content that truly reflects your business proposition
  3. Test your content. Get critiques from people you trust. Listen to them and be ready to adapt.
  4. Don’t try to be perfect. Perfect does not exist!
  5. Don’t ignore the content elephant. Get your content in place then look at your delivery – NOT the other way around.

If you would like to chat, please get in touch

Reflections on Lockdown

It has been an interesting 3 weeks. On 17th March I was sitting in a hotel in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. I had been out of contact on an amazing trip to Galapagos since the beginning of March and now, I was trying to get home as the normal world started to unfold around me. I didn’t appreciate the full impact of what was to come. As it transpired, I caught the last scheduled international flight out of Ecuador before everything closed and the tragedy of coronavirus in Ecuador started to hit the news the following day.

I was lucky. I made it back to the UK relatively easily. There are still thousands of travellers trying to get home and I wish them well.

Lockdown Realty

Once home it was back to the office and a return to work – or so I thought! The following day, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities across the UK were ordered to close, and then on 23 March, the lockdown was imposed.

It'll be OK. I can work from home. It wouldn't be the first time.

When I have worked from home in the past, it has never been for any length of time; the odd half-day or day here and there. We are fortunate that we have good internet connections and VPNs allowing full access to our work systems and data. With our growing use of cloud-based technologies (I talked about our move to Xero accounts a while ago) and our switch to a VOIP telephone system in January, BSA is technically well placed for remote working. It is the emotional and mental challenges in this surreal environment that are having a significant impact.

Am I on holiday?

Having just returned from an actual holiday, my first feeling was that I was still on holiday!  I always find it a challenge to get back into the work routine after being away. Now there was no routine to return to! No office to visit, no working day at the office. Am I still on holiday?

Yet there is work to do! Marketing and staying engaged with your customers and contacts is important, particularly in these strange times. We have clients who are very busy, actively involved in the fight against the pandemic and other clients who are seeing their e-commerce sites which, to date had been a minor supplement to bricks and mortar retail businesses, suddenly becoming the heart of plans to sustain business during the lockdown.

There was clearly no time for holidays! BSA’s experience and practical support are in demand.

Let’s Zoom

Two years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make more use of remote meetings technology – I really don’t like driving to meetings if I can avoid it! 3 months later, after numerous unsuccessful trials with Skype, I gave up. The technology wasn’t up to the job. I don’t know whether it was the software, the bandwidth, the internet connections, or what, but it got in the way of the meeting. Remote meetings were on the back burner.

Although I had heard of Zoom, up to 3 weeks ago I had never used it. I was still disenchanted about the whole remote meeting thing. But with the lockdown, travelling became virtually impossible and so if I was going to meet with people, it would have to be on-line. Remote meetings were back on the agenda. I tried 4 or 5 different tools and by some margin, the best is Zoom. What a revelation, it just works. I have been involved in meeting with up to a dozen people for up to 2 hours. OK, there has been the odd occasion when the line quality wasn’t brilliant but overall, it looks like remote meeting has come of age – and just in the nick of time!

I am sure that even when the coronavirus lockdown of 2020 slips into history, online meetings are here to stay as a feature of the modern business world.

The new normal

While lockdown persists, I am seeing a sense of common purpose, a new normal. Sure, we are all still in business and it is vital that the economy is not allowed to stall. It remains appropriate to charge for products and services but this is a time for support, not profiteering. Some businesses are booming while others are struggling. A bit of flexibility, support and give & take can hopefully level things out for everyone while we try and make sense of our circumstances.

In fact, perhaps this the basis for good, sustainable business at any time?

Personally, one of the biggest challenges I am finding is to know what day it is! I have always tried to work Monday to Friday then have the weekend off. But do we still have weekends? I am starting to wonder! Does this matter? don’t get me wrong, having time off from work is essential (IMHO!) but does it need to be a working week followed by a weekend?

Working from home makes it easier to be flexible. I am trying to take time every day to get out and explore my local footpaths. this is time I would previously be stuck at my desk but it feels good to swap this for an hour or 2 work on a Saturday or Sunday, if necessary. I am seeing a new flexibility – I can work by hours not days.

This approach may be more challenging for employees – though flexitime has been a ‘thing’ – particularly in larger companies – for many years. Maybe our lockdown experience is showing the way for more flexibility in smaller businesses too.

I am sure that none of the things I am talking about here are new. People work in many different ways but alongside the challenges of lockdown, I am seeing some real positives and opportunities to do things different – and better. I am looking forward to exploring the new future.

I’d be interested to hear your experiences of the lockdown. Feel free to drop me a line – or why not join me on zoom for a chat.

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.