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.

5 Plugins we use on every website

WordPress is a great tool, but out of the box it lacks some must have functionality. To address this, we install a number of plugins from the off to handle things from design & templating, through to backup and security.

In this post I want to take you through the plugins we use, and why.

Templating & Design

I love many things about WordPress, but the systems for managing editing and laying out the actual content of the site is not one of them. The recently introduced Guthenburg block editor has improved things a little, but it is still far from ideal. If I am being honest, we usually switch it off and go back to the classic editor.

For building page layouts we use a plugin called Elementor www.elementor.com.  According to the stats, it’s the number 1 page builder, with over 5 million active installations. As such it is being actively updated and has a great ecosystem of developers adding functionality. Again, there are many reasons I like this plugin but these are the 3 main ones:

  1. Elementor has great functionality out of the box, but also has a broad ecosystem for extensions
  2. It integrates well with Advanced Custom Fields (Whilst not on this list, ACF is another plugin we use a lot )
  3. It allows you to split the page template design from the content meaning you can give users a clean simple content management system, whilst still having full and separate control over the design

Finally to ask the question “Why do we prefer a page builder to a theme?” The answer is simple. Themes are driven by fashion and tend not to be consistently developed & updated in the long term. They are also often over complicated as they try to appeal to a broad group of potential users. As Elementor is theme independent, it is developed on an ongoing basis, and designs developed in Elementor tend to be more tailored to the needs of an individual site.  All in all, it’s our experience that themes developed in Elementor give more longevity, and a better experience for both site visitors and administrators.

Security

The next plugin we install on every site deals with security and in this area our plugin of choice is Wordfence (www.wordfence.com). We like it as it’s simple to use and very comprehensive. Including as standard features like, brute force protection, bot management, a firewall and malware scanning. Running Wordfence is as simple as installing the plugin and running through a config wizard. Once installed you can forget it as it simply works. Something a security plugin should be.

This is one of the plugins where we use the free version as it gives all the functionality we need. Furthermore, the fact that it has a well established installed base of the pro version means that it is being constantly developed, and here for the long term.

Backup

Just as critical as security is making sure the site is reliably and regularly backed up. For this we use a plugin called Updraft (www.updraftplus.com). Updraft has a great free offering, but in this case we use the pro vision one simple reason: It allows you to schedule backups. Making sure the backups happen regularly is key, so automating the process is important. Other reasons we like updraft are:

  1. It allows you to easily keep off site copies using a range of cloud storage providers
  2. Updraft automatically prompts you to do a backup whenever you update plugins, themes or the WordPress core
  3. In our experience it is very reliable & “Just works”

All in all, whether you go for the free of paid version, updraft is a great backup tool.

Forms Builder

There are a lot of good forms plugins for WordPress, but we have opted for Gravity forms (www.gravityforms.com). Again this is a paid plugin but is is very feature rich, integrates well with Elementor and has great functionality. It also has a powerful API for integrating forms with other systems – Mailchimp for example.

If I am being truly honest, they only thing I don’t like about Gravity forms is the limited options for styling forms without resorting to custom CSS. This is however a limitation they are aware of and are, by my understanding working on better functionality in this area. That said, even now and with this limitation, Gravity forms is a great tool and one we would not be without.

SEO

Last on the list, but by no means least is the SEO function. For this we use a plugin called Yoast (www.yoast.com). Yoast is a great plugin as it puts the process of optimising content fully in the hands of the person writing the content. It has an easy to use traffic light system to indicate how well optimised a page is. Along side this it gives helpful and easy to understand tips on how to improve your optimisation.

Furthermore, it gives the user easy access to the page meta data like titles & descriptions. These, whilst important to SEO, are often hidden and difficult to edit. Yoast brings these aspects to the forefront, making then a simple part of the page editing process.

This is another one where we use the free version. Unless you are working in highly competitive areas or have more complex optimisation needs, the free version does everything you need.

Other plugins worth a mention

The above are plugins that we install as a matter of routine on all our site. There are a couple of others that we also find very useful and worthy of mention:

  1. Advanced custom fieldswww.advancedcustomfields.com. This allows you to add custom content field to posts and pages. Thus making it easy to structure your content and make page layout and editing much more simple. In our view its this one that turns WordPress into a proper content management system.
  2. Admin Columns Prowww.admincolumnspro.com. This is a bit more niche, but if you do a lot of editing of content in the back end of WordPress, it make the process much more enjoyable & efficient.

We love these plugins so much that we actually include a pro licence for all of them with all our hosting packages, so if you use WordPress, and are using any of these plugins, its worth checking out our hosting offering. It may save you money. What’s more, we have a lot of experience in the world of WordPress, so if you are looking for a plugin to deliver some specific functionality, feel free to get in touch. We would be happy to share our experience.

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.

 

Your business philosophy? Does it drive your business?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your business philosophy?  Do you tell people?

My BSA philosophy

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

1. Why do I run BSA?

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

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

2. What is my business philosophy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, I hope so!

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, our philosophy is becoming more apparent.

So what is your business philosophy?

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

Might a partnership with BSA bring something to your party?

Let’s chat and see…

BSA Marketing: What is it all about?

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

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

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

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

The BSA Philosophy

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

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

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

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

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

Getting practical

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

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

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

It’s about the marketing

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

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

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

Getting to why?

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

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Why? : To make your business better & easier

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3 Top Tips for Business Planning

We are looking this week at planning, so I thought it would be worth putting together a few tip to get you on your way.  With a focus on “Keep it simple and don’t forget the basics.” Hereare three simple tips that have come out of  over 30+ years of business planning:

1. Why am I in business?

From the media, you’d think every business owner wants to be the next Richard Branson or Mark Zuckerberg but in reality, many people’s ambitions are not so lofty. Where do you sit?

  1. I want a lifestyle business I want to work when I want to work with minimal stress. I want to earn a living but flexibility and lack of stress are more important than maximising earnings
  2. Small is beautiful I like having a team around me but I want to maintain my work-life balance.
  3. Take on the world Bring it on. I want to be the next Google

All of these are perfectly valid ambitions but clearly knowing which is your goal will significantly impact on your own planning.

2. Cash is King

Turnover is Vanity, Profit is SanityCash is King! If you can pay your bills, you are in business. If not, watch out! A growing business can mean rising turnover hiding a lack of profitability. Conversely, a genuinely profitable business with poor credit control can run out of cash as the debtor-book grows. Managing cash-flow is vital. A business can run out of cash surprisingly quickly. Realistic planning can pinpoint cash-flow weak points, giving time to address future problems in good time, either from internal resources or putting realistic financing in place.

3. Don’t forget the longer term

Do you spend all your time fire-fighting or do you look further ahead too? Whatever your growth objectives, a business with a solid, respected brand that delivers real benefit has inherent value and will serve you well. It doesn’t matter whether your brand is ‘YOU’ or ‘Apple’, if your customers and markets trust you and have confidence that you deliver value, they will want to do business with you. Building trust and confidence takes time so while you rightly have a focus on cashflow and the short term, remember to build for the future as well. We offer a free, no obligation consultation to readers. Do get in touch

Software tools to make your business life easier

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

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

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

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

Cost: more than just money

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

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

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

Technology – we just want it to work!

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

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

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

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

Business needs investment

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

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

A word on Open Source software

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

Focus on what is important

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

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

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

The Danger of Digital

This may seem like a strange title for a marketing blog post. These days, marketing is driven by digital platforms. However, it is the very dominance of digital media that makes them both a fantastic opportunity and a danger.

The Danger of Focusing on Tools

One of the greatest benefits that the digital era has brought to marketing is cost reduction. There is a huge range of communication tools with very accessible pricing structures. Often they can be free if you are prepared to learn and do the work yourself.  But unless you have the budgets to use a big agency with broad marketing & technical knowledge, there is a problem. Digital marketing tools (SEO, Social media, PPC etc) are usually sold by technical experts in the tools. They know which buttons to press but marketing expertise comes in second. They are more focused on driving the use of the tool rather than using it in the context of your marketing objectives.

With the focus on the use of the tools, measurement shifts to justifying their use rather than ensuring that they are meeting your business & marketing objectives. Furthermore, the responsibility for fitting the tools into your wider business and marketing plans falls to you. You may be well-positioned to do this. After all, you know your own your business better than anyone. However, unless you are comfortable with the concept of marketing (as opposed to selling), there are potential pitfalls here too. There is the danger that the focus shifts from driving your business goals to simply justifying the tool(s) being used. These are NOT the same.

The Danger of Delegation

While many digital marketing resources are simple to access and use yourself, their very nature makes it easy to delegate management to someone else. As a result, there are always plenty of service providers queuing up to help you. However, because most of these will be focused on helping you to use the tools, it is easy to lose track of why you are using them.

Many SME business owners see marketing as an activity that “gets in the way” of the day-to-day; Something which can easily be put to one side when things get busy. Whilst delegating in these circumstances may seem attractive, it can lead to inefficient use of resources. The people to whom you delegate, whilst experts in the tools that are using, may not fully understand your business objectives, and how the tools can best be used to meet these.

The Danger of Metrics

Another great thing about marketing with digital tools is the level of data available to measure your activities. However, this can lead to probably the biggest danger of digital marketing. It can be seen simply as a short term sales promotion tool, simply targeted to “deliver leads”.

The prevalence of metrics means that it can be very easy to test something new. As soon as the metrics indicate that it is not the “Marketing Magic Wand” that you had hoped it would be, it gets written off as not working. In reality, marketing needs to be viewed in the long term. Good marketing is strategic and delivers a framework which makes short-term, tactical sales promotion activities more effective. As such it is more difficult to measure directly. Whilst digital metrics are essential to the process, they need to be viewed in the context of the long-term rather than short-term objectives.

Mitigating the Danger – Have a Plan

The best way to address the danger of digital is to have a plan. Your plan should set out your business and marketing objectives and how you plan to meaningfully measure progress. This information helps to inform your decisions regarding which tools to use and how to use them. Furthermore, your plan will assist when working with partners in managing these tools. It will allow you to ensure that their activities remain aligned with your business objective.

The plan need not be complex, but it does need to be written down and regularly reviewed. You will find a few posts to help you start planning on our blog.

Another way to make sure that digital tools work for you is to find a partner who understands the tools, but who also has a deep understanding of marketing. A partner who takes the time to understand your business, and your objectives. A partner who can work with you to develop a strategy that uses the available tools effectively to support you in meeting your business development goals.

If you would like to talk to us about how we may be able to help with your marketing – Get in touch.

 

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.

When did GDPR become all about email marketing?

First of all, let me state for the record. I think that on the whole GDPR is a good idea. Putting control back in the hands of the data owner (what the regulation is all about) is a good thing. However, a recent article in the Guardian:

Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts

Got me thinking about the way it is being promoted, and the fact that the focus seems to be on email address lists rather than the broader and more subtle personal information that is gathered, held and used by many organisations. Uses that have significantly greater privacy implications than who has my email address & how they use it. Over the last couple of months, I have received a torrent of emails asking me me to re-subscribe to lists. Whilst the intentions of these people is admirable (if misguided – according to the Guardian).  I, like most people, am lazy, and as a resuch have not responded to any of them (A recent statistic suggested that resubscription rates are on average, <10%), even though many of them are companies I have bought from or registered with in the past. The upshot of this is that all of these people will stop sending me information, even though many of their emails, I would consider “of interest”. Let’s face it, I would have unsubscribed if I really didn’t want their stuff. Furthermore as a consumer, they have needed my consent to email me for a number of years (under the excising e-privacy laws) anyway! But what about all the people, who have got my email address from who knows where, and are already not complying with the e-privacy laws. Those people not-unsurprisingly have not asked me to re-subscribe and will continue to send me emails. So one result of GDPR is that the proportion of these less interesting emails in my inbox will increase. But what about the new teeth That GDPR has given the ICO? Won’t that mean they can shut down these people with massive fines? In principal, yes it does. but in reality, tthe ICO have had sanctions including the ability to levy fines up to £500,000 since 2003 under the existing PECR, a regulation that already requires consent for email marketing to private individuals With this in mind,  I would hope that they will be using their resources to work with/go after people who are really abusing personal information, gathering it in a more covert way, and using it to target you in ways that you would not expect, ways that create real privacy issues. Lets face it, GDPR, was never really about stopping unsolicited email, it was about putting in place a framework of regulation to address issues like social media data harvesting/mining, to force companies to be open an honest about what data they collect & and how they use it, and at its heart, to put the control back into the hands of us the data owners. In reality technology has pretty much dealt with the issue of unsolicited email. I use exchange/Office 365, and I now unwanted Marketing emails/spam are not an issue for me as Microsoft’s systems handle them admirably. Google’s Gmail system is equally good at managing the issue. So why has GDPR become all about re-subscribing to marketing lists? In my opinion, who has my email address, and who uses it to market to me is the least of the privacy issues on the net at the moment! For me, it just means I will stop getting emails that i might have found interesting. Oh well I guess that just the price of being lazy! I will finish by stressing that this is just my opinion, and I guess time will tell what the real impact of GDPR will be. Let’s hope going forward the focus will be of solving the very real privacy issues associated with the ways we use technology in 2018 and beyond. .