Embrace change. Make things better

There’s nothing like a refreshing change.

A change is as good as a rest.

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

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

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

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

4 tips for maximising the benefit of change

1 Take some time

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

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

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

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

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

3. Take a holistic and joined-up approach

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

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

Tip 3: Be joined-up in your thinking

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A final word on Lockdown Opportunities 

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

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

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

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

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

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

There must be a better way to do this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dos and Don’ts of Live Chat

When used appropriately, chat on a website is a great tool. But if implemented badly it can also be a real frustration.

Because of this I thought it would be worth giving some of my experiences with chat. Outlining the ways to implement it effectively, maximising benefits whilst minimising frustrations.

Not all Chat systems are equal.

There are a lot of chat systems out there from cheap and cheerful to fully integrated chat, customer service and ticketing systems. The first thing to consider is which one is right for you?

Our experience has been it two systems, Zen Desk and Livechat.  Whilst I am not aiming to create a full review here, I can say that our experiece with both LiveChat and Zendesk have been positive. They are both easy to integrate into a website (Both have wordpress plugins) and offer the features you need to make live chat work. Whilst LiveChat is the more expensive option ($16/month compared with $5/month for the Zendesk entry level), it is the one that most of our clients are using, and has great tools for managing the appearance and functionality of the chat box on the website. Other than the price, we would not hesitate to recommend LiveChat, and if your customers value access via chat on your website $16/month should be a cost effective option.

Chat should not be a messaging system

Ok, I will hold my hands up and say that this is a personal bugbear of mine. Chat should be a live interactive medium, and should only be used if you have the resources to man it. One of the things I like about LiveChat is that it can be set to only appear on your website when you are logged into the system and ready to accept chats. That way, when someone starts chatting on your site, there is a good chance that there will be someone there to answer their questions in real time. If you are not logged in the chat box disappears. In these cases they should have other options like email and enquiry forms to contact you.

Chat boxes should not be intrusive

Another way that I think that chat is misused relates to how obtrusive the chat box is on the site. As a website user, when you need it, it should be obvious and easy to access. But when you don’t, it should not get in the way. By all means include chat pop up box after a user has been on your site for a period of time. But if they dismiss it, don’t keep nagging them. It should be their decision if they need to chat. If they don’t, the chat should not get in the way of their browsing.

Be careful of multitasking during chats

One of the benefits of chat over phone calls is you can multitask. Whilst chatting you can deal with multiple enquiries at once, or work on other tasks whist engaging with customers.  When doing this however, be sure to prioritise the chat and don’t leave customers hanging for an answer to their questions. If you have to go of and find other information, or are going to take more than a few seconds to respond, then let them know.

Use chat bots effectively

Like much technology chat bots can be used or abused. If you are going to use one, I would suggest that you follow two simple rules:

  1. Be transparent – If a user is talking to a bot, make sure they know it. Good chat bots are effectively an “intelligent drill down menu”. They ask users a series of questions to point them to the right bit of information. If they can deliver information the user is looking for, they can be a great way to give basic technical support.
  2. Always offer the option to talk to a real person – Going back to my first point about the fact that chat should be a “live interactive medium”, always give the user an option to talk to a real person. Most people will go onto a chat system with a specific enquiry. If that can be answered by the bot then great. But when it can’t, you need to give them the opportunity to talk to a real person. Not doing this can easily lead to disappointment & frustration.

Follow these two rules and chat bots can be a really useful addition to the chat system.

3 Golden Rules for using Chat effectively

In summary, I will leave you with three golden rules for the effective use of chat:

  1. It’s not a messaging system. If you are not there to chat, don’t offer it on your site
  2. Leave the customer in control- Don’t nag web visitors, if they want to chat they will
  3. Use chat bots intelligently. Focus on the customer experience when deciding to use them.

Follow these rule and chat can really enhance your customers experience, and your ability to engage with them.

 

Talk to your customers – it’s important

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

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

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

1. Be Responsive

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

2. Be Proactive

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

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

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

3. Is your communication effective

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

“We will deliver on Friday”

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

4. Be ready to hold your hands up

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

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

5. Records are valuable

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

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

Build strong relationships – the value will follow.

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

Is a short term cost focus stifling innovation?

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

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

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

The cost of implementation risks repressing business innovation.

A better way…

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

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

1: App Development.

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

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

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

2. Collaborative website development

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

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

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

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

Step by step

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

  • Design & Coding
  • Creating Content
  • Managing Data

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

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

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

3. Adapting to lockdown

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

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

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

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

You can read the full story here.

 

Do people really want to work from home?

There is a lot of talk about WFH – or working from home at the moment. And based on the level of resistance to returning to the office when “told” to do so, its certain that people want an alternative to the daily commute. But do they really want to be working from home, or is it more complicated?

I suspect that in reality what people really want is twofold. Firstly to work more flexibly, and secondly to avoid the daily commute. Given this, one obvious solution is to work from home. This certainly delivers these two objectives, but is it really the answer?

Throughout my career I have commuted, including one point where I was doing some extreme commuting between Northampton in the UK, and Aarhus in Denmark.  and I have worked from home! In my experience, neither scenario was ideal. In my current situation, I live and work in Glossop. My trip to work is 3 minutes by car, or more usually a 20 minute walk. To me, this is “Living the dream”, with the best of both worlds!

Working from home has its downsides

Whilst I don’t feel the need to go into the downside of commuting (Though I do know people who claim to enjoy it!) The reality of “working from home” does invite closer inspection!

Whilst everyone is different, in my experience, working from home has three big downsides:

  1. Isolation – working in the office environment, you are surrounded by other people, whilst this makes it easy to interact on work matters, it also allows more general interaction. Those so called “Water cooler moments”, where you can chat to others whilst taking a break from work. Whilst zoom and other video meeting systems can go a long way to replacing face to face meetings required to “do your job” they do not replace more informal conversations so important in building rapport, and enhancing the working environment. In reality, working from home can be very isolating!
  2. The working environment – When working from home, I found the separation of work and home life a challenge! I was lucky enough to have the space to have a dedicated home office, and I would “commute” to that room every day. When I was in the home office I was was “at work”. Anywhere else I was “at home”. This allowed me to separate my work and home life. For many home workers however, this is not the scenario. The “office” is a laptop in the kitchen or dining room table, maybe I am getting old, but for me this is OK for the occasional bit of work that needs doing now, but not an environment that promotes sustained productivity. It can also make it more difficult to create an ergonomically correct environment. Living with a physiotherapist, I know how important this is to health and wellbeing!
  3. Distractions – Again, I was lucky in this aspect. when I was working at home, other occupants were out at work. But trying to maintain focus, when others are in the house going about their day can be a challenge, especially if you add children into the mix.

All in all, I find working from home on a regular basis a challenge!

The middle ground – The new way of “going to the office”

So if you are not wanting to work 100% from home, and not wanting to commute, what is the alterative. The alternative is finding a new place to work, somewhere where you can engage with others and get those “Water cooler moments”, and that are set up to provide an environment conducive to productive work, and a professional place to meet people should you need to, free from the distractions that can be all too common in the home environment. Somewhere that you can access as and when needed. Historically this place would belong to the company you work for, but it doesn’t need to. Increasingly these facilities are found in business centres, shared offices and co-working spaces. Whilst these are widely used by the likes of Start-ups and freelancers, they provide the perfect working environment for all those more traditional jobs that are now being done “from home”.

To conclude – A prediction

I think when all this washes out, the idea of everyone commuting to a central location to work in a corporate office will be seen as old hat. Central offices will be smaller & more flexible. A place to meet clients and for teams to get together when zoom just doesn’t cut it. I think these offices will be smaller and more importantly cheaper.

By not investing in big central corporate offices, this should free up resources to allow workers to access more flexible facilities close to where they live. Whilst they may not be appropriate all the time – even for me working from home occasionally is a great option – they would add useful flexibility to the mix.

In closing, I think its is worth highlighting the fact that this scenario works for part of the workforce, if you are in a job where you are working with “things”, whether manufacturing or distributing them then the traditional, central model may be here to stay. But for everyone else a more de-centralised model may be the future.

As for the city centre infrastructure (Cafes, bars shops and the like) that are now struggling as people avoid the commute. In reality, their customers still exist and still want these services. They have just moved. I am sure that the smart business will follow them!

Never mind the traffic. What’s the message?

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

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

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

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

…but do these necessarily follow? I suggest not.

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

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

Does your website really tell your story?

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

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

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

Your website should be dynamic

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

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

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

Are your site visitors getting the right message?

Don't guess. Measure

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

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

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

The Social Dilemma – Are we part of the problem?

In this week’s podcast we discuss the ethics of marketing on social media. This comes on the back of a recent documentary “The Social Dilemma” where ex social media execs from the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook talk about the way that social media company business models are impacting on the way we think and live our lives. In essence the model is that they sell our attention, as users of their platforms, to the highest bidder.

On the face of it this is a great model! It allows them to give away their services to the general public and then to make their money from advertisers. But as users we have to remember that as the saying goes “If you are not paying for the product, then you ARE the product!”

The suggestion made by the documentary was that this model was creating a situation where algorithms driving social media platforms were focused on keeping people’s attention, subtly and gradually changing the way they perceive the world. Creating systems where advertisers could use this process to shift users towards their point of view and make them more likely to buy their products or support their activities. One end game of this is that as users we become simply drones plugged into “The Matrix” with the sole purpose of creating value for the social media platform.

On that basis as advertisers, by buying advertising we are encouraging this business model, and we become part of the problem. But as with most things, it’s never that simple!

Things themselves are neither good nor bad

The way I look at it is that the platforms themselves are not good or bad, they are simply tools that do a job! In principal the idea that you have a tool that allows you to shift peoples perception, drawing them in to your point of view is not an issue and as a marketing tool it is powerful. The idea that you can target people very accurately, allowing you to focus your efforts in directions that are most likely to deliver results, means your marketing will be more effective, and you are less likely to irritate people by pushing your message at people where there is little or no relevance.

These algorithms were set out to do a job and they do it very well. As always with these things, the issue lies with what we do with the tools we are given.

It’s all about motivation

Look at any invention or discovery trough history, drugs, splitting the atom, genetic engineering… the list goes on, and there is a debate as to whether its invention was good or bad for humanity. The reality is that in all cases these inventions have brought both good and harm. But once invented, you can not put the genie back in the bottle. As individuals our responsibility is to make sure that we personally use them for good. We can not control what other so with them. That is the job of regulators and governments.

In the case of social media, as marketers we need to explore our motivations. Our role is to promote our point of view/service/product, and convince others that it is in their interest to buy into what we are offering. The question we must ask is – On Balance:

"Are we doing this for their benefit or our own"

I say “On Balance” as in reality it will be a mixture of the two. In most cases, you go into business because you see a benefit to yourself for doing so. But good business should be  Win:Win, with both you and your customers gaining benefit. In some cases it’s clear cut, but in others is it not.  Especially where you are aiming to convince people that your way is better than the status quo. Here you have to be sure that your way is truly better. And not just “better for you”!

Only you can decide

The bottom line is that as a business owner, only you can decide. The important thing is that you actually recognise the potential issues, and take them into consideration when making your marketing decisions. The social media genie is out of the bottle. As a society, the challenge now is how we use it for good!

The many ways to skin a cat

I am quite an opinionated person, and in my youth, I may have been accused of having an “I am right and everyone else is wrong” attitude to life. 50 odd years down the track, I have finally realised that this is a pretty ineffective approach as in reality, I am rarely right, but at the same time neither is anyone else!  Accepting that there is no right way to approach a problem has made life much easier and made me, I believe, more effective in most things I do.

Understanding the team

I have done a few psychometric tests in my time and used other tools to try to understand how to work more effectively. But the one that has stuck in my mind is Meredith Belbin’s study on team dynamics. In short, it categorises people into one of 9 roles within a team and suggests that to be effective, a team should contain all 9. I am now of the opinion that whilst useful, the idea that people fit into neat pigeon holes does not play out in reality. That said, the idea that having a mix of approaches when tackling a task does have significant merit.

Recognising the value of different

In managing a team, whether formally or informally when approaching a task. The real skill is not in knowing how to succeed on your own, it’s more about teasing out the ideas of the team, and focussing these into a strategy and plan that will complete the task.

Coming back to my original point about no one being 100% right about anything. In a team, different people will approach the task in different ways, the skill of a team manager is to identify which elements add value, and to combine these into a whole solution, whilst at the same time uniting the team behind a common approach.

The folly of focussing on your own approach.

Why, if this is the best way to approach an issue, is so much energy expended by leaders trying to convince everyone to do it their way? Persuading people to do it your way may seem like a fulfilling way to approach a problem, but as the saying goes “No man is an island”.  Understanding this and accepting other ideas may be as valid, or, perish the thought, BETTER, than yours, is a good place to start.

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.