Do you believe in your business?

Why do we do what we do?

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

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

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

Believe in your business

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

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

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

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

Listen to your market

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

Overnight success took 10 years

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

Stick at it – with a plan

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

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

Joined-up marketing with PIMMS – A practical approach

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

Rarely is it focused on both. Why is this?

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

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

Good marketing is joined-up marketing!

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

PLAN

Your Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Goals

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

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

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

Your Proposition

A famous quote from Peter Drucker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Target Market

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

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

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

IMPLEMENT

Knocking on doors

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

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

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

Remember….

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

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

Here are some ideas you may find helpful.

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

MONITOR

Measuring the Process

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

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

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

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

MANAGE

Refining the Process

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

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

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

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

SUSTAIN

Stick at it

I have said it several times:

Marketing is a Process, NOT an Event

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

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

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

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

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

Want to know more? Get in touch

Where does marketing fit in your business?

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

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

Take this one:

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

He goes on…

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

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

The reality is that marketing IS your business!

Is it that simple?

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

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

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

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

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

Some food for thought….

Free software. What’s the catch?

It has long been said that…

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch”

…yet all across the internet, there are offers of free software and applications including:

  • Website software
  • CRM (Customer relationship management ) systems
  • Email marketing tools
  • Cloud accounting
  • Social media platforms

These can all be really valuable tools to assist in running your business. Many are sophisticated applications that have taken thousands of programming hours to build. How come they are being offered for free? What’s the catch?

The short answer is there may be no catch. However, the important thing is to remember that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. People and companies offering ‘Free’ software all get something out of it.

What does Free mean?

To understand what it is they get, we need to look at the different types of Free.

  1. Try before you buy

    You can use this software for a limited time before you have to make the decision to buy a licence to keep using it. This can be great to check if it meets your needs before you have to commit but there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, the Free Trial period may be quite short so, unless you are using the software regularly, you won’t really have time to properly assess it. Second, it can take a while to set up and get used to some systems so you might find the free trial is over before you are ready to make a decision.

  2. The Free version

    This time, the free version is not time-limited but it is functionality limited. The software app comes in multiple versions with only the paid options having more sophisticated functionality. In my experience, the functionality in eth free version is always too restrictive and there is a key feature that I need which I have to pay to get!

    Sometimes Try before you buy software might have full functionality for a limited period then drop back to more limited functionality. If the limited functionality works for you then this type of software can be a great option.

    Bear in mind that free software normally includes little or no technical support.

  3. Open-source software

    The Open Source movement is an altruistic band of programmers who believe software should be free for all. they will write applications then release them for anyone to download, use and adapt. There many, highly sophisticated software applications available as open-source (Linux and WordPress to name 2). The main catch with open-source software is that the support tends to be technically based (tech support for techies!). If you can work with this, open-source software has some great opportunities.   By its very nature, open-source software evolves and can even simply stop being developed. To address this, some key open source code has been commercialised where a company will take free code and develop it into their own commercial software which they sell and support.

  4. They want something from you!

    OK, you might not be paying money to use an application but you are paying in another way – with your data! It looks free but it isn’t. Search engines and social media are the biggest players here. If you want to know more, take a look at The Great Hack – a Netflix documentary investigating the story around Cambridge Analytica. It’s fascinating but a little disturbing.

The internet thrives on monopoly

The fundamental nature of the internet is as a data communication platform. It thrives on everyone being able to talk to everyone else. Inevitably if you are developing software applications, the chances are you want as many people as possible to actively use it. In fact, there is normally a minimum critical mass of users that you must reach if you are to be successful.

To achieve this critical mass it can make commercial sense so long as you are confident your app really delivers value.  To keep your software free encourages people to use it. Once you have built your user base (and got people committed!) you can then start the process of monetising.  I have also seen situations where lots of different companies launch different apps into a particular market only to find a single company buying them all up to create a monopoly. In these circumstances, the service to customers can often decline, and/or prices increase.

Using Free Apps in your business

In general, free apps can be a great asset to your business but my best advice is that you should assume that if you are using an app as a key tool in your business, that sooner or later you will be paying for it. And let’s face it, this is no bad thing. Businesses are commercial operations. If you are getting value from another business’s software then it is only reasonable that you pay them for this value. Pay them and you will have a commercial relationship that you both benefit from. You should also see regular updates and proper technical support – both help to keep your own systems running efficiently.

I often come across small businesses where the owner will adapt the way they work to keep within the limitations of ‘free‘ software. In my experience, this is normally a false economy. Invest in a proper, supported software solution. It is much more efficient. You can focus on running your business rather than spending time adapting to stay free. Most software fees are really quite modest. If you feel it is too expensive, are you really getting good value from that app?

In summary, free software can be a great benefit to a business – particularly in the early days. However, it is important that you understand the possible implications of ‘Free’

…and don’t expect it to be free forever!

The value of process in an SME business

One of the real benefits of running your own business is the freedom to do what you want when you want. OK, we all have to obey the laws of the land and pay our dues to HMRC but if you wake up one day and think –

Today I want to take my business this way….

…you can do it.

It means you can respond quickly to opportunities when you seem them in a way that would be challenging or even impossible to a large corporation.

Of course, you are responsible for actually making it happen and the results that you get when it does but you are free to choose.

This agility can be very attractive to your customers as well. The freedom to be flexible to their needs can make your business a more attractive proposition. However, there are limits.

Agility has a downside

If you aren’t careful, your flexibility means you can end up starting from scratch on every task you undertake. This might be great for your customers in terms of the highly bespoke service they receive but having to do everything from afresh is hard work – and time-consuming. Not having processes in your business can stifle your success.

While SMEs succeed through flexibility and agility, big business succeeds through effective process. Whatever you may think about your Telecoms provider or Utility company, they aim to deliver their service as cost-effectively as possible to as many customers as possible. There is no room for real agility. Big company success derives from building a well-trained workforce focused on repeatedly delivering to customers through well-designed and consistent business processes. Even the small players in these markets are quite big and are often backed by huge investment as they grow and work to become established – and profitable!

Learning from the big boys

So, if processes are central to the success of many big corporations, is there anything here that could be valuable to the SME world? Of course there is!

Even the smallest business has routine.

  • Picking/Packing/Despatch in E-commerce
  • Bookings and client communication in personal services and consultancy
  • Accounts and administration in every business! – Often dealt with by handing over to your accountant
  • Even the creative world of marketing can benefit from process – more of this later

The value of process for SME businesses

The more time/money you spend on the routine stuff, the more it impacts on your ability to deliver great service to your customers – the agile stuff.

By finding better, more efficient ways to do the routine is a key step in growing your business effectiveness.

Don’t just pass the job to an outsider

There are plenty of people who offer to take tasks off your hands but often this can just mean you shift from spending a lot of time on something to spending a lot of money on it.

This isn’t to say outside help is a no-no. Wouldn’t it be better if you could just find a different way of doing something so it was done more efficiently, either by you or your service supplier. The important thing is that you understand the processes so that you know what you are paying for if you use an external resource.

Developing your own processes enhances your business

By developing (and understanding!) processes that allow you to do the routine stuff as efficiently as possible, you can drive some real efficiency. Tasks can be completed by people who simply know how to run the process, they don’t need the knowledge and experience to make decisions on the fly. Also, you can effectively use and manage external help. Process can also save time. This can be particularly significant if you work by yourself. It is less a case of trying to pass tasks to others and more about reducing the time it takes you to do the routine stuff, so freeing up time for more creative activity!

Remember that it can be well worth investing in process. I come across many businesses trying to run everything using free software and apps. They end up making compromises in their business processes to stay within the limits of the free stuff. Being ready to invest some money in setting up your processes using paid-for software and apps (which normally come with much better support) can save significant time and stress in the long term!

Remember marketing?

For many SME businesses, marketing can slip to being the ‘Cinderella‘ activity. Often, marketing is ad-hoc and ‘make it up as you go along’. With this approach, it can be easy for marketing to slip down (or even off) your to-do list. Not doing marketing has no impact on anyone except you so it is easy to let it go when you are under pressure from customers and too busy doing your accounts.

According to business management guru Peter Drucker, marketing is one of the 2 most significant functions of a business so not doing is often a recipe for failure. Not only do efficient processes free up time which can give you more opportunity to focus on marketing, but you can also go one step further and develop processes to help keep your marketing up your priority list.

‘Marketing Automation’ is a real buzz-phrase just now but I think this is more about marketing service suppliers (well, some anyway) dangling a carrot of the (non-existent) marketing magic wand in front of frustrated business owners, than a fully hands-off marketing solution.

I don’t believe that real marketing can be entirely process-driven. Effective marketing needs creativity. However, creativity is primarily around your marketing messages. Communication of those messages is a prime candidate for a process.

If you find you struggle to get your marketing messages out to your markets, maybe process can help break the blockage and make things happen.

Process is undoubtedly a valuable tool in the business arsenal but remember:

Focus on efficient, sustainable process, not just getting the job done.

What’s your style? #2 – Colour

At its heart, Marketing is about communication and joined-up marketing is about making sure all the elements of your communication work together in harmony.  

The way your marketing message is presented has a big impact on the effectiveness of your communication. Let’s take very simple example…

YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO FOCUS ON THIS 

…than this

In a previous article here, I talked about the power of fonts to define a style for your brand, now let’s look at how colour adds to the picture.

Why colours matter in marketing

What do you think of when you hear the word “love?” Whether positive or negative, it probably conjures a stronger emotional response than when you hear a phrase like “house brick.”

Emotions are powerful and (whether we like it or not) drive our decision making. As a brand, you want to cultivate a strong emotional connection with your customers. The problem is you can’t tell your company’s entire story in a logo or website header—but branding colours provide a shortcut straight to your customer’s hearts.

Colour theorist, June Mcleod, has written extensively on the link between colours and our emotional state, particularly in her book Colour Psychology Today. Just like the words “love” and “house brick” elicit different emotions, colours like red and blue both create different human responses as well. Even more interesting, the same colours tend to provoke similar responses in different people; in other words, yellow evokes similar feelings in people from Manchester to Mombassa. This extends even to shades of individual colours, so deep dark blue and light sky blue will also have different effects.

Of course, colour theory goes a lot deeper than “pink is a pretty colour.” Psychologists link it to the very evolution of humans; connections with certain colours developed after years of associating them with particular objects. A blood red, for example, puts people on alert for danger nearby; the browns of dirt and rotten food tend to be unappetizing.

This isn’t always accurate—after all, farmers (and chocolate lovers) might love the colour brown, and let’s not forget humans evolved to see the colour blue only in recent millennia—but when considering millions of years of biological conditioning, it’s easy to see how affiliations to colours goes beyond mere preference… something humanity has known for quite some time now.

Even the most cold-hearted business-person can’t ignore the science between the psychological effects of branding colours. With mountains of evidence, it’s not a question of do brand colors work?, but how do I make brand colors work for me?

What are your style colours?

How potential customers feel about your brand has more pull than what they think about your brand. Join this with the fact that we know certain colours evoke certain emotions and bingo: your style colours have the ability to impact your sales or performance even more than the products or services you offer!

Furthermore, repetition of the same colour can strengthen brand awareness. When was the last time you saw a Coke can that wasn’t red or a Twitter bird that wasn’t sky blue? (Certainly the marketing world learned its lesson from Heinz’s tragic foray into purple ketchup.) Given enough exposure, colours become part of a brand, so you want to encourage this association by using your brand colours consistently.

By being consistent with your style colours your brand’s association with those colours, and by extension strengthen brand awareness as a whole.

What this all amounts to, at least for branding and style, is that you must choose your branding colours carefully as they’ll have a direct influence on your brand identity. Yellow may be your personal favourite colour, but it might be the worst for your business goals. But before you even get into which colours you want to represent you, first you must decide your ideal brand personality.

Choosing your branding colours is easy if you know what you’re trying to communicate. One of the earliest steps in building a brand is determining your brand personality. Essentially, you want to think of your company like a person: who are they? What’s important to them?

Once you established what your brand personality goals are, how do you determine which colours will work best? It starts with first learning the emotional associations of each colour.

A quick guide to colour associations

I’ve talked quite a lot about the theory for branding colours — let’s get specific. Here are some guidelines to work with…

  • Red — passion, importance, attention
  • Orange — playfulness, friendly, vitality
  • Yellow — happiness, optimism, warning
  • Green — nature, stability, prosperity (growth)
  • Light Blue — tranquillity, trust, openness
  • Dark Blue — professionalism, security, formality
  • Purple — royalty, creativity, luxury
  • Pink — femininity, youth, innocence
  • Brown — rugged, earthy, old-fashioned
  • White — clean, virtuous, healthy
  • Grey — neutrality, gloom, subdued
  • Black — powerful, sophisticated, edgy

Don’t forget this list is simplistic. You can easily find a lot more detail through a quick web search.

Style colours – How many?

If you’re going for a single-colour brand, the hard part is already over. But for most businesses, you’ll want a more involved colour style. The key with multiple colours is to make sure they combine in the way you want.

Of course, there’s no one right way to pick your branding colour style. This said, the process can be daunting and confusing, so a little guidance is helpful. Here are 4 steps you can use as a framework.

1. Work to 3 colours

Your base, accent and a neutral. Brand colour schemes can have up to 4 colours depending on the type (see below), but even monochrome schemes will require some variation in hues for different purposes.

2. Choose your base

Of all your brand’s personality traits, your base colour is the most important. It should reflect not only your brand personality’s most dominant trait but also appeal to the target market you’re trying to reach. You’ll choose the remaining colors based on how well they match with this one.

3. Choose your accent

Your accent will be the colour you use the most after your base colour. This is a bit trickier than choosing your base colour because your accent colour must also pair visually with your base colour.

4. Choosing your neutral

Your neutral colour will most likely be a background colour, something chosen to avoid attention. Typically these are white or different hues of grey, but beige and off-whites work too. Some people use black or other very dark colours, but be careful; these can be too dominant and overpower any colour scheme they are part of.

Connected Colours

Throughout the process of choosing your style colours, you have to ensure your colours work together? A colour wheel is a great tool for helping to pick the right colours. This article tells you more.

Using a colour wheel in different ways can help to bring your style colours together. Here are 4 options:

  1. Monochromatic — When you have one personality trait that you want to focus in on, a monochrome scheme will emphasis the meaning of that one brand colour. While great for minimalist brands, the challenge here is differentiating the hues enough that your marketing doesn’t become visually stunted.
  2. Analogous — Colours next to each other on the colour wheel have harmonious relationships since adjacent colours usually have similar emotional connotations. Analogous schemes are safe bets, but as such not the best for standing out or drawing attention.
  3. Complementary — Colour complements — or opposites — are colours directly across from one another on the colour wheels. Because they’re opposites, they bring out the best in each other when paired; you see complementary colours a lot in sports teams. Complementary colours are great for dynamic, stimulating visuals, but be careful of copycatting another brand since they’re so popular.
  4. Triadic — A stable branding colour scheme, triadic colours draw in equal parts for three different sections of the colour wheel. Triadic schemes are stable like analogous themes, but offer a more stimulating variety like complementary schemes. The hardest part is getting the three colours to coincide with the traits of your brand identity.

How your branding colours combine will come up again and again in many different aspects of your business. Your brand colour style determines the look of your website, logo, social media, adverts, brochures etc. Choose them all carefully.

And finally…

If you want some help to get you going on defining your base colour as a starting point to your style colours, check out this quiz I found. It may be a little basic but it is based on solid theory.

If you’d like to talk further about your style colours as part of a joined-up marketing approach, please get in touch.

What do you want from your marketing?

I recently had a meeting with a new prospective client. As the meeting ended and we agreed to take the next step, he said something interesting:

“You guys seem to know what you are talking about.”

He went on to say that, over the past few weeks he’d had meetings with several ‘Marketing‘ companies who all gave the same impression. When it came down to it:

  • They were pushing their own solution
  • They didn’t really understand his business
  • They were more focused on what they wanted rather than what he wanted

A Step Back

Now, let’s take a step back and look at what might’ve happened.

First, these other companies did manage to arrange a meeting. Something about what they were offering in the first instance did its job. So what went wrong? I suggest that the problem is the same as what is at fault (IMHO) in much SME marketing.

Marketing is too often seen as an event rather than a process.

Many business owners see marketing as a problem that needs a fix. As a result, they believe they need someone with a fix for their problem.
They don’t see marketing as an integral and continuing function of their business.

Many marketing service suppliers tap into this situation by concentrating their promotional efforts in telling potential clients they have a fix for their (perceived) problem.

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  • We can get you to the top of Google today
  • Maximise your ROI
  • A new App for your business?

You know the sort of thing.

On the last one, how many SME businesses really need their own App?!

The Cycle Of Problem and Fix

A client of ours has a view on marketing. He regularly rolls his eyes to me and says:

It’s all just smoke and mirrors…

…and I can see his point. Marketing suppliers who take the approach of offering the fix can actually be quite successful in generating enquiries and interest in their services but too often, particularly with supplier focus on generating enquiries rather than delivering service, the initial promise doesn’t fully live up to expectations.

In the long run, the fix fails to fully solve the problem so it returns and the cycle starts again. The service supplier now needs new enquiries to add new business as the short-term fix ends. Or the client decides they aren’t getting what they are looking for and so choose to look elsewhere. We know – this was the BSA business in the 1990’s!

So what is the answer?

Even though an SME business owner recognises the need for external marketing support, it is too easy to make a critical assumption: that the business owner understands their marketing needs and is simply looking for a solution. Our prospect knows and understands their problem so let’s simply offer a fix.

If the customer really does understand their issue (as is often the case with larger businesses with their own in house marketing team), then fair enough. However, in the SME world, this approach often doesn’t work in the long run.

At BSA Marketing we aim to take a different line. We recognise that you are the expert in your own business and we are the marketing experts. With this combination, you know what you are trying to achieve in your business, but don’t necessarily know the best, workable marketing approach to reach your goal.

We recognise that…

Marketing is a process, not an event 

By practically integrating ongoing marketing activity into your business, together with effective monitoring procedures, and then ultimately taking responsibility to make sure things get done, we create and sustain a measurable, planned process to make effective marketing happen.

The (initial) downside

The BSA approach certainly has a downside. It appears a more complicated way of doing things.

Rather than just offering you the fix you think you want for your problem, we first work with you to understand your business and aspirations so we can give relevant advice and agree with you what you need in a considered plan to take your business marketing forward effectively. We then take the responsibilty to make this plan happen.

This does mean that initial discussions and planning can be challenging, but the extra short-term effort is definitely worth it.

The long term evidence

I mentioned earlier in this article that, back in the 1990’s our business model (centred around B2B telemarketing) meant new clients would initially like what they were hearing and sign up with us. Although we no longer offer telemarketing as a service, I still believe the telephone can be a powerful marketing communication tool ‘when used in the right way and with the right objectives‘. The issue was that we weren’t clear enough about what were the realistic expectations of telemarketing. When a project ended, we always parted on good terms (and clients often came back to us for other work later) but the fact was that the relationship did not sustain as an ongoing process. We needed change.

Drawing on our many years’ experience we began the process of repositioning the BSA proposition in the late 1990s. Over the past 20 years, we have grown a solid portfolio of clients where the most common feature across them is sustained relationships.

We have clients who have been with us for all of those 20 years and most of our clients have been with us for 5 years or more. We don’t believe in long-term contracts. Our relationships with our endure because this is what everyone chooses.

I realise that our approach does not suit everyone but the evidence is that when we start to work with a client, they tend to stick with us.

I guess we must be doing something right. Want to talk? Contact me here

Your website in 2019

Your website in 2019

Over the past few weeks, we have had a number of clients contact us all saying the same thing, they want to refresh their website. All of these set me thinking about websites and how they fit into a business.

Things have changed a lot over the past few years. Up until quite recently, a business website was normally either a static ‘Brochure’ site or a data-driven e-commerce ‘Shop’. These 2 options have merged and nowadays, virtually all websites are data-driven, whether or not you actually sell products or services online.

Here are some ideas how you can check your website is fit for 2019.

Your shop window

It is a bit of a cliché but your website IS your shop window. Whether you are a fully-fledged online shop, a business professional, or a sole-trader just launching your new venture, when prospective customers/clients want to know more about what you offer, the first place they visit is your website. It is vital that your website ‘tells the story‘ of your business that you want your customers to hear.

Look is important but experience is more important

I was in a meeting recently (with one of the clients I talked about above) talking about a new website, and the primary thing they wanted to know was ‘what is the new site going to look like?‘ Now, don’t get me wrong, a website needs to look right – that is, it needs to look right for its business. It is a part of ‘telling the story’ – but it is only a part.

The reality with modern business websites is that the majority are built around pre-designed templates. There is relatively little bespoke design work going on – design is expensive! The thing that makes a website stand out is good images. Understanding what photography you want and commissioning a professional photographer can be the most realistic approach to getting a website that works for you visually.

Even cracking photography is only part of the story. If your starting point is simply ‘What’s it going to look like?’,  you have missed asking the most important question:

What do I want my website to do?

Another way of asking this question is to think about the experience you want your site visitors to have and what actions you want them to take.

Different pages, different objectives

The most important page in your site is the first page people see. While this is normally your ‘Home Page’, it might not be. A website can have an array of ‘Landing Pages’ all designed as a different first step in a website experience. As it is the most common, let’s look at your Home Page.

I believe a website homepage needs to do 2 things:

  1. When a new visitor arrives and takes a look at your home page, they are looking for something. At this point, they will only give you a few seconds to come to the conclusion: It looks like I’m in the right place. This isn’t to say they can see exactly what they need, rather that they have confidence they can find it in your site.
  2. Once your visitor is happy that they are in the right place they then need to know where next?  What is the next step to find exactly what your visitor is looking for.

This second step is likely to be a link to another part of your website so at this point, your home page has done its job. Beyond the home page, you should be aiming to assist and guide your visitor to their goal, as quickly and efficiently as possible.

It’s not about you

I’m sorry, but you aren’t as important as your customer – at least not in their mind!

An effective website really embraces this concept and focuses on engaging with visitors drawing them in, rather than talking at them. Of course, yours is a commercial operation and your goal is to do profitable business with your customers. You need to weave your sales proposition, features and benefits into your engagement.

This way you lead people to buying from you rather than you selling to them – almost always a more effective approach for a long and mutually beneficial relationship – the best sort!

The calls to action

No website is perfect, nor can you second-guess the requirements and expectations of every single one of your site visitors. Hopefully your site does deliver for most visitors so, when they find what they are looking for, you must have a clear call to action telling them what to do next in the process of doing business with you.

For the minority who lose their way on your site, the importance is options. If a visitor feels that you look like a good option for their needs but they just can’t find what they want, offering ways to make bespoke enquiry, (maybe by email, telephone or chat system) can be key.

Let’s face it, unless your website is an online shop where people can place orders, the primary goal of most websites is to generate an enquiry!

Your website is a process, not an event

Change is constant. In 6 months, your business will be different to what it is today. 6 months later it will be different again.

Will your website adapt to keep up? Too often the answer is No. I started this article saying a number of clients had approached us looking for an updated website. This is what happens. A website is seen as a project. You build a site and launch it. Although there is normally talk about content management, in my experience, this rarely leads to anything significant.

The event of a new website launch slips behind the natural process of business evolution.

By seeing your website as a process from the outset creates a platform where website support, maintenance and update is built in. The evolution of your website becomes a natural element of the evolution of your business. You won’t need to be looking for a new website in 3 or 4 years’ time. You’ll already have one!

If you would like to talk to us about your website as a process for 2019 and beyond, please get in touch.

Is your Marketing Working?

This might sound like a simple question but before you can answer it for your business, you need to ask yourself a different question:

What are my marketing objectives?

In many owner-managed businesses, there is a very close relationship (even overlap) between marketing and sales. Marketing performance is measured in terms of enquiries and/or orders. It is seen as a means of generating sales.

While sales promotion is certainly an aspect of marketing, it is only one end of a much wider spectrum. I wrote about the Marketing Spectrum in this article. Understanding this spectrum makes it easier to put your marketing efforts in the context of your business as a whole rather than just as a route to short-term sales. Also, by recognising aspects of marketing that are focussed on building your company’s brand and image in your marketplace, you can make your sales-promotion efforts more effective.

Potential customers who know you better will have more confidence in doing business with you.

So, is your marketing working?

You need to know your marketing objectives but inevitably, you should have a handle on whether your marketing is working. If it is, you want to manage it (and maybe do more?). If it isn’t, you need to understand why not and then use this knowledge to do something different, and hopefully more effective.

Of course, you can always compare sales revenue against marketing effort/cost. This may seem obvious but it has drawbacks:

  • The time between starting marketing and seeing sales can be quite long so you may be putting resources into poor marketing for longer than you need.
  • If you have repeat customers, it is harder to relate lifetime value to sales promotion
  • Just because somebody isn’t buying now, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in what you offer. Maybe you need to work to buidl the relationship first?

Check your marketing

Here are some key marketing tools . Against each I have given some tests you could apply. I’m sure you don’t use all of them but pick the ones you do.

1. Are you proud of your website?

Your website is likely to be your key marketing tool. You shoudl be proud of it and want people to visit for the best information on what you do and how you help people. Even if you use Social Media and other marketing tools online or offline, your website is where people will go to find out more. It is also the platform when you have full control over what you say and how you say it.

2. Is your Search Engine Optimisation focussed on rankings or traffic?

Most SEO companies offer to ‘get you to the top of Google‘. They leave it to you to make the connection that if you are at the top of Google more potential customers will visit your site and then contact you. This connection is not necessarily valid. Rather than being focused on search ranking, you should be focused on traffic. Being #1 on Google is irrelevant if no-one visits your site! If more people are visiting your site, your business is more visible and this is (part of) the marketing process.

3. Is your Pay Per Click under control?

Pay per click (most commonly, Google Ads PPC) can be very effective as a marketing tool or an expensive ego trip. (Let’s face it, this is where most of the Google $billions come from!). The key to PPC is monitoring and control. If you have it under control, you should know the exact cost of each ‘conversion’ (i.e. Sale, enquiry, sign-up, site visit, or whatever it is you are measuring). If you know the cost, you can decide whether you are comfortable with it. If you don’t know, you should!

Note: 2 and 3 above both just ways to drive visitors to your website. If your website isn’t telling the right story (see #1 above), good traffic will be getting the wrong message. Website analytics is the key tool to monitor how visitors find your site and then what they do when they get there.

4. Is your Social Media up to date?

When did you last post on your Social Media platform(s)? How does this compare with your competitors? If you are up there with them, or even leading the way, that’s fine. If not, maybe you could think about how you can get more active. Alternatively, ask yourself whether Social Media is the right approach for you?

5. Are you getting Social Media engagement?

How much engagement do you get back from your Social Media followers? You may be regularly Tweeting, posting etc. but it is only worth it if people take notice. Bear in mind that people visiting your website as a result of your Social Media activity may not show up as ‘Likes’ or Comments’. Again, website analytics is your friend for teh full picture.

These 5 are just some ideas as to how you can check whether your marketing is working. The answer will be extremely valuable in helping you drive effective marketing.

Here are 4 more:

  • Are you tracking responses to all your online and offline advertising?
  • Are your PR articles being published?
  • Does your PR deliver a balance between paid adverts and editorial?
  • Do you follow up on your quotations and enquiries?

There is no magic wand

Remember there is rarely (if ever) a quick fix magic wand to a marketing problem (read more about this here). Marketing should be integral to your business and you shoul be in control. Uncontrolled marketing is likely to be:

A: Expensive
B: Disappointing
or
C: Both!

A final thought

In the end, it is your business and you are in business to succeed (whatever this means to you!). It might be sufficient to ask yourself:

Am I comfortable with my marketing?

If your answer is yes, then for now maybe you can focus on other priorities.

If your answer is no, can I suggest you do something about it!

Remember, I am always happy to chat.

A better approach to website development

3 stages of website development

Creating a new website for your business is important. However, the normal approach to building a new website can create issues down the line, particularly for owner-managed SMEs who don’t have the necessary technical resources in-house.

We have discussed in other articles how, for many businesses, their website is a vital shop window. Even if potential customers normally come from Word of Mouth or other referrals, your website is almost always used as a way of checking you out.

Your website should continually be updated to reflect your business as it is today, not when the site was launched. Regular new content particularly News and Blog articles can be dated. They demonstrate that you are active and that your site is being kept current.

Alongside this, the more long-lived content such as the products /services you offer, the sectors you supply and information about the business and staff all needs to be monitored and kept up to date. Think about your business as it is now and how this compares to where you were 12 months ago. My bet is that your business has moved on and evolved. Has your website kept up? Your website should be dynamic-just like your business.

Why is it then that so many projects to develop a new website are seen as an Event rather than a Process?

I believe the answer lies in the way most website projects are handled. Let’s have a look at this and then discuss if there might be a better approach…

The 3 stages of website development

Normally a website development project goes through 3 stages:

  1. Design
  2. Build
  3. Use

1. Design

We all want our new website to look great so it is important to start with a good ‘look’. Effective design is a skill. It always intrigues me how graphic designers can come up with ideas that just look ‘right’. This has always been the case for printed design. The advent of websites added another layer of challenge – creating a design that will work effectively as a website. You don’t need to know how to build a website to achieve this but you do need to understand how a website is built and so what design elements will work – and what won’t!

Once you have a design, this stage is complete. Until you need to change your branding or ‘look’, the work of the designer is done.  They can move on to their next project.

2. Build

Building (coding) a website is a completely different job to designing a layout. It is (normally) done by different people. These days, very few websites (particularly in the SME arena) are built from scratch. They are almost always built on an established website development platform. WordPress (our favourite!) is head and shoulders the leader in this field. Even so, building a website that is easy for visitors to use and navigate (and owners to update) can be technically quite complex.

Another aspect of site-build that often gets sidelined is what you want to show and say – the content. I explore this further later on.

The initial site-build stage is a ‘project’. However, as a site is used and the business develops, there is almost inevitably the desire to add and develop new functionality and sophistication.

3. Use

The ‘biggy’! A website is a business marketing tool. While the initial design/build can run for a few weeks or months, the Use stage will run for a few years. So why is it that most website developments are seen as a project that ends with the site being launched?

Here are my thoughts…

I want my new website to look modern, attractive and creative. The first thing I need to do is engage a designer to develop a ‘Look’ for my site. However, I don’t want the cost of a dedicated graphic designer to create a look that then has to be passed to a specialist web development company to take the design and convert it into web code, functionality and pages. To get around this, many (most?) ‘web-design’ companies tend to combine the design and coding functions under one roof. By using one of these suppliers I can commission a design and build project. I can let them get on with it, approving things on the way as necessary.

This approach looks sensible, combining stages 1 and 2 and then delivering me a website I can use. However, the reality can be quite different.

Web development in the real world

A website is for life, not just for Christmas! – OK, not exactly, but you get my point. The issue is that a website can be designed and built without any real focus on ‘Content’. I regularly come across frustrated web design companies who will start a project and get to the point that they go to their client and ask for relevant content for th new site only to be told:

Can’t you just take the content from the old site?

To a point, yes; but this suggests there has been no real thought about how the shiny new website is going to be used as an ongoing marketing tool for the business.

Furthermore, strong imagery is increasingly important in website development. Most businesses simply don’t have a library of relevant, high-quality photos. Sometimes it is possible to use photos and graphics from the growing choice of royalty-free image libraries but other times you really do need bespoke photos from your own business. Organising photography takes time – and can be an unbudgeted expense. Not an ideal scenario.

By combining design and build (stages 1 and 2), the website gets launched (maybe with slightly incomplete content?) and the web design company moves on to the next project while the site owner is left to get on with stage 3.

Because many web design companies are focussed on a ‘project’ approach, making updates and minor changes to existing sites can be seen almost as an irritation. This approach can be slow and costly for the site owner.

We regularly talk to people who are frustrated with a website that is 6-12 months old. they want to update and make changes but support can be patchy, costly – or both! As a result of cost and/or poor support, too often a site is left and not developed/kept up to date

An alternative approach

I believe these days a better approach is to look at Stage 1 (Design) by itself and combine Stages 2 and 3 (Build and Use) in a collaborative way. The site is built so that day to day updates can be handled in house ant little or no cost while support is on hand for the more technical developments which are required every now and again.

With this strategy, a website can be used with ongoing support from the site builder who understands the technical structure and functionality. the website becomes a process, not an event. Most routine updates can be done in-house with support as/when necessary, while more significant site developments and enhancements can be planned and executed alongside the ongoing use of the site to market the business.

But what about the design? A new site needs to look great.

A few years ago, the phrase ‘website template’ was normally followed by jeers of derision. Website templates all look the same – and you can tell! Not anymore! There are now 1000’s of professionally designed templates available and most offer lots of opportunities to customise. Once you have added your own pictures, words and other content, your site is as bespoke as if you had paid £100s or even £1000s just for the design.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you engaging a graphics professional to design a fully bespoke site look fore your bsuiness. This is something we do regularly for clients who need that little bit extra.

With the combined ‘Build + Use’ approach, you create a dynamic marketing communication platform supported by technical know-how that a business can use and evolve to deliver a current and effective ‘shop window’ that stays up to date and of which they can be proud!