Lockdown. Is there a silver lining for business?

These are strange times.

Everything, including the world of business, has been thrown up into the air. As they land, things have changed – or have they?

Yes, we are being asked to work from home if at all possible and always ‘socially separate’ but the vast majority are healthy, and the measures in place are designed to keep us that way, hopefully avoiding unbearable pressure on the NHS, keeping resources available for those who are in need.

Running a business has challenges all the time, COVID-19 is just another one that happens to be affecting most people all at once. If I have learnt one thing from over 30 years in business it is that challenges encourage adaption and adaption can deliver real benefit.

So how can you adapt to see the real benefit for your business when the dust settles? Here are my thoughts….

1. Don’t panic

Suddenly being told you can’t go out to business and finding clients cancelling or postponing the projects you rely on is a real shock. It is easy to be like a startled rabbit in headlights and just freeze. Perhaps this is a natural reaction but take a deep breath and count to 10. Business is a long term proposition and any successful business should plan for knock-backs. The unexpected can happen at any time. It is good to have a ‘rainy-day’ fund. The rainy day is here but there is no need to panic. Better to plan.

The essence of business is cashflow. So perhaps the first step is to address cashflow concerns. The government has already stated that they want to protect businesses from the impact of Covid-19 and have announced extensive measures to provide direct financial support through a mixture of Grants and Loans. Details are still sketchy but probably the best source of information is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

This page is being updated pretty regularly.

For the self-employed it has just been announced (in the past few minutes!) that support will be broadly in line with that already announced for emplioyees on PAYE. Implemetation will inevitably more complex.

Beyond direct government support, you may also be able to make arrangements with customers and suppliers to ease you own financial path. Banks, lenders, mortgage companies etc. are all offering support.

Naturally, some businesses are more vulnerable than others but as the adage goes: Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Don’t panic. Don’t be the rabbit in the headlights. Take control and make a plan (where have I said that before!). Your plan can be your salvation.

2. Work on your business

It is often quoted by SME owners that they are too busy working in their business to work on their business – not any more!

The optimists can see the current situation as a real opportunity. Your business fundamentals haven’t changed. If you had a good business on 1st March, you can still have a good business when the crisis abates. OK nobody knows the full timescales but taking a 3-6month view seems reasonable in the light of the available evidence.

Once you have your plan to ride out the storm, you can look ahead and work to make your business a better business, ready and stronger for when the economy reopens.

3. Tap into your expertise/experience

We all try to  run our business in the best way possible but inevitably you sometimes have great ideas but never find the time to implement them. Now you can!

Also so you may see ways that others operate and think ‘That’s a good idea, I could learn something from this‘. They may be customers, suppliers, competitors, or others. There can often be ways you see others operate that could work in your business and make your business better.

Now you have the time to tap in to this knowledge/expertise and do something about it! Have confidence that your successful business in February is still sound – and now you have time to make it better. The work that isn’t being done now will need to be done later so make sure you are ready for it – and ahead of the pack.

4. Stay engaged with your customers and markets

When things get difficult, inevitably, business owners tend to focus on their own needs but, as I have talked about above, it is great if you can get your head around accepting the short-term situation and return to thinking longer term. Don’t forget the infinite game that we are still playing. Many people may be focused on their own needs but it is still good to talk.

Stay engaged with your contacts. There are lots of ways to do this and technology offers some great opportunities. We look at some in this post.

Remember though that engagement doesn’t mean selling. Many businesses blur the lime between marketing and selling, seeing any communication as sales promotion. I don’t belive that now is the time for the hard sell. It is about us all trying to work together to get through. Better to focus on help and support. Make sure people know where you are if they need you.

Try to be helpful. Many business owners are understandably anxious. A bit of altruism in challenging times can pay real dividends in the long term. We all know we are in business. Our business is our livelihood and we don’t suddenly have to do everything for nothing. It is about mutual support and balance.

5. The way ahead

Things have changed – there is no going back.

The current pandemic was previously only in books and Hollywood – now it is real and affecting everyone.

We should be thankful that it isn’t worse than it is. SARS and Ebola are significantly more deadly even if they proved easier to contain.

We are being forced to think differently. Some things will be harder/slower/more challenging but others will be easier/faster/better. By first addressing the immediate adversities and clarifying your strategy for the coming months (essentially a cash-flow plan) you can then start to look ahead to prepare to your business, ready to make the most of the opportunities when the world re opens to what will be the new normal.

As with any significant change. Some will benefit and some will struggle. A bit of objective thought and planning can help make sure there is a silver lining to this strange, locked-down world for you and your business.

As always, I am happy to talk.

Stay safe and stay positive.

What makes a good client?

When you first start in business perhaps any client is a good client – so long as they pay! While this approach certainly has a focused simplicity, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I have been asking myself what makes a good client for BSA for more than 30 years. I still don’t have the perfect answer. The problem, I now realise, is that my priorities shift. With every change in outlook, so what constitutes my ‘ideal client‘ changes. Talking with others, it would appear that I am not alone in my quest for client perfection! Maybe some objectivity, based on real-world experience, might be helpful.

Client or Customer?

Do you have clients or customers? The way I look at it is that if your business sells products, you sell to customers while if you are more service-based (even if products are part of your proposition) then you sell to clients.  This is a bit of a simplified view but it holds true for most companies. Consequently, it is helpful in this discussion where I am primarily talking about clients – i.e. where the service you deliver is at least a significant part of what you do. Big retailers wax lyrical about the shopping experience  – look at John Lewis’s latest push to develop ‘experience playgrounds‘ – but, in my book,  this is very different to a typical SME service business where having a good relationship ‘fit’ with your clients is pretty much essential.

The importance of fit

A key lesson I learnt a few years ago is the importance of ‘fit’. Like every other company, we have a way of doing business. As a small SME, this way is substantially driven by the people in the business. Trying to work with clients who don’t relate to this approach is fraught with difficulty. Not necessarily impossible but almost always hard work! Conversely, dealing with clients who do connect with our approach gives a great platform from which to grow a solid, long-term business relationship.

The challenge is that I can’t dictate how others think or feel. I can’t make someone relate to our approach. This means that even if someone shows an initial interest in our services, if the fit isn’t there, there is a chance the interest won’t lead anywhere. I used to see this as a negative but now it is definitely a positive.

Of course, this idea only succeeds when sufficient people do connect! It might be a good thing if some potential clients don’t have the fit – but there must be enough others who do!

It’s not about the money

I said at the start of this piece that maybe any client who pays is a good client but, as BSA has evolved, I am increasingly of the opinion that this is the wrong way to look at relationships with clients.

Actually the important thing is that you have a strong relationship with your client based on mutual benefit and respect.  Clearly, a business is a commercial entity so must have a fee structure that works. However, if your focus is on delivering real benefit, this will mean you are directed at delivering value to your clients. They will then be more than willing to pay for your input.

Focus on delivering benefit and the money will follow.

Nothing is forever…

At BSA, we are proud that most of our clients have worked with us for many years. Some for 10 years or more. It is a strong sign that we are doing something right!  Even so, nothing lasts forever. Circumstances change, personnel move on. Just because you stop working with a client doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong, it is just a natural progression. If a good client relationship is based on a good fit, then if things change for either you or your client, it may be that the fit is no longer so strong and it is time to evolve.  This is part of running your own company. What is important is that if business with a particular client does wind down, it shouldn’t impact on your relationship. Even a past-client can be a great advocate of your business for referral to new prospects.

…but try to keep the door open

Even with the natural ebb and flow of good business relationships, we have found it immensely valuable to keep the door open with past clients. Even if there is only a very small, low-cost service you can continue to deliver after the main work has concluded, this keeps the door open and a flame under the relationship. You still have a basis for keeping in touch. Just as the pendulum can swing away from a good fit, so it can swing back again!

At the end of the day, whether at home or at work, good relationships take time to develop and it is in everyone’s interest if they are respectfully nurtured.

Website Hosting – There’s more to it than you think

Marketing today demands a web presence and in my opinion, that presence needs to include a website.

If you are creating a website you need to consider your hosting. With this in mind, I thought worth putting together a quick guide to choosing the right hosting for your website:

The 4 Tiers of Hosting

Not all hosting offerings are alike, and in most situations a case of “You get What you pay for”. In broad terms I would say there are 4 main tiers in terms of hosting service.

Tier 1 – Free with your domain name

Hosting provided on this basis will be very basic, and I would suggest that you should be very carful before taking this option.

If cost is a real constraint, I would recommend going down the hosted service route and build your site using one of the online site builders. Whilst use of these is a whole different post, a couple of the leading ones are:

  • Wix.com
  • wordpress.com

Whilst these will be limited in terms of functionality, they are inexpensive and take care of all the hosting issues.

Tier 2 – Basic Shared Hosting

This is the base level if you take your website seriously and want to have a level of control over functionality.

Find a good host & it can be great value for money.

The downside here tends to be security & performance. Being a shared system, your site’s performance can be impacted by others on the server. For most basic sites, this should not be an problem. However as a site gets more complex (for example incorporating a web shop or is getting more traffic), performance can be an issue.

The BSA Option

BSA marketing Offer public shared hosting on the 20i platform. We offer full telephone support, as well as WordPress updates & regular site backups as part of our package

BSA Cost – from £15+VAT per month

Tier 3 – Hosting on a Private Shared Server

The next level up is to put your site on a VPS (Virtual Private Server). Whilst this is still a shared platform, all the sites will be managed by your web company giving them total control over their impact on the performance of the server. Because of this the performance levels and security for sites hosted on this platform are significantly better than basic shared hosting.

The BSA Option

BSA run VPS servers for the use of our clients. This is hosted on a totally redundant cloud system delivering high levels of performance and reliability. Being a shared platform, other sites on the server can still impact the speed and security of your site. However because all of the sites are closely managed & monitored by us the risks of this are minimised.

One other issue with running a VPS is that as a stand alone system, you are responsible for the technicalities of running the server. However for our clients, we handle all of this, delivering the benefits of a VPS without the associated technical headaches.

BSA Cost – from £45+VAT per month

Tier 4 – Hosting on a Private Server

The top tier of hosting is to put your site on its own server. This gives you 100% control over the environment. Also, because the server is hosting your site(s) exclusively, the performance of your website is never impacted by others.

If your website is mission critical, and you want total confidence in its performance and security, then this is the way to go.

The BSA Option 

BSA offer private servers, again hosted on a totally redundant cloud system delivering high levels of performance and reliability. However, with only your site on the server you have 100% control over the environment. As such we can set this up exactly to your specification. Because our systems are cloud based, they are highly scaleable, so should your requirements grow, your server can expand to fit, without the need to move to a new server.

Furthermore, on our private server we include advanced features as standard including:

  • Hourly snapshot backups – if there is an issue, we can always recover your site to a state no more than 60 minutes ago
  • Proactive Resource monitoring – We constantly monitor server resources so if there are issues, these should be picked up and addressed before they impact the performance of your site
  • Hardware Firewall – All access to the server other than public access to your website, is locked down to minimise the risk of security breaches, further optimising the performance & stability of your site

BSA Cost – from £160+VAT per month

Hosting The BSA Way

As with everything we do, our objective in delivering hosting solutions is to offer a first class technical solution in the context of your wider marketing & business needs.

Our aim is that you should never have to think about your hosting, safe in the knowledge in that we are. Leaving you to focus on your business.

Furthermore, we aim to ensure that wherever possible, technicalities should never get in the way of your marketing objectives.

Contact us to find out more

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.

  • Do you need a new website?
  • Our SEO can get you the best search rankings
  • 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

Keeping Track of your Marketing

In his post What do you want from your marketing?’ David discussed the importance of taking a long term, process-focused view of Marketing. Looking at what you are trying to achieve in business, rather than at the more immediate issues marketing issues:

  • Building a new website
  • Getting to the top of Google
  • Sorting out my social media
  • etc

Whilst looking longer-term is a sound approach, it does raise a couple of issues:

  • The approach takes time, and so needs to be managed
  • The ultimate goal is a long-term one, consequently, it can be more difficult to measure the day to day

The answer is planning. Having a process through the year to manage this complexity, and to ensure that you remain on the right track.

Marketing Planning – The BSA Way

As we always try to practice what we preach, I decided to look at how BSA Marketing manages this complexity. Something we do through a planning process that has three elements:

Annual Planning

Once a year, we go away for a working weekend. The aim of this time is to give space to allow ‘Big picture’ thinking. It is this activity that too often gets drowned out by the ongoing business of the day today.

The objectives of our annual planning are:

  • Review our long terms goals (financial & otherwise). Are they still relevant and what progress has been made over the last 12 months?
  • Set long term objectives for the year – Where is the focus to be over the coming 12 months?
  • Create a broad action plan to deliver these objectives.

Out of this session will come a document that describes the direction of travel for the business, and the planned objectives and activities for the next 12 months, and beyond.

Monthly Review

On the back of the annual planning meeting, we meet monthly to review where we are. The objective here is to reflect on the big picture plan and to create and review more immediate action plans that are going to bring the big picture to fruition:

  • Review financial performance, are we on track?
  • Review activities, are these happening as planned, and are they delivering the expected short term results?
  • Is there anything that has arisen that will impact the plans/direction of travel agreed at the start of the year?

It is during these meetings that, as appropriate, we manage/review the marketing activities (website/social media/search marketing) that ultimately drive us towards our long term objectives.

Weekly Reviews

The final piece of the jigsaw is a weekly review meeting focusing on the day to day. Establishing what are the priorities for the coming week. One objective here is to keep the meeting focused and short so that, given its frequency, it does not become a distraction.

It is at this point the planning within BSA meets the activities that we are undertaking for clients, as this element of the planning process is aligned with our weekly client review. In this way, the BSA marketing process is fully embedded into day to day management processes.

A Sustainable Process

Any planning process needs to be sustainable. Only then is it likely to keep going and become a core part of managing a business.

For us, this sustainability comes from having a structured process that punctuates the business year.

Regular weekly and monthly meetings are kept short and focused. Where possible, embedding them into everyday processes. The annual planning is deliberately taken out of the routine, making it an event in itself. Done correctly, the big-picture planning weekend highlights the progress that has been made, allows us to set clear plans for future progress, and is also very enjoyable!

7 plugins to make your WordPress website slick

Just before Christmas, I talked about how getting the right hosting arrangement can help make your website easier to manage.

Taking this idea further, how can you make your WordPress site really slick, secure and easy to use?

Limitations of the WordPress core

Whilst WordPress is a great Content Management System, the functionality of its default installation is a little limited. However, these limitations can be readily addressed by installing some key Plugins.

You should remember that adding plugins to your website puts extra demands on your hosting infrastructure. WordPress can be resource hungry so it is important that the plugins you use really deliver on functionality.

In this post I look at plugins that build real, core functionality into a website, addressing 7 fundamental criteria that come together to deliver a really slick, reliable website experience for both site administrators and site visitors.

Whilst many of these plugins are paid for, pro versions, we believe they all offer good value. Furthermore, because we rate them, we include the cost of access to the pro versions for most of these plugins with our hosting packages.

1. Page Layout & Design

Plugin – Elementor

The wordpress core offers limited capabilities for changing the layout & design of the site. In reality, in our experience, VERY limited. Hence the traditional need be to use a theme to help you on your way.

However, as we talked about in a previous post, themes have issues. For this reason, for our default setup we use a very simple theme (we use one called Underscores). We then use the Elementor Plugin to develop the layout. Whilst using a page builder like Elementor, can have a minor impact in performance, in our experience this is negligible, and far outweighed by the benefits.

Whilst there is a free version of Elementor, we use Elementor Pro with its enhanced features & better access to support. A single site licence is $49 per year. However access to Elementor Pro in included in all our hosting packages.

2. Site Backup

Plugin – Updraft

Its no secret that the popularity of WordPress makes it a potential target for hackers. However it’s open source model means that continual updates, ensure that security issues are fixed very quickly. This results the need continually update your site. One of the best ways to significantly reduce risks in this area is to have a robust backup routine. Ensuring that your site is regularly backed up means that should an issue arise from a code update, rolling back to the old version is a simple process.

For this, we use a system plugin Updraft. Through Updraft, you can automatically back up both files and database on a regular basis. The plugin will then send the backup files to a cloud storage site. Again, whilst a free version is available, we use the premium version. A 2 site licence is £54 for a year. However access to Updraft Plus Premuim in included in all our hosting packages.

3. Site Security

Plugin – Wordfence

Alongside a good backup routine, a solid security plugin is also a must on a WordPress site. For this we use the Wordfence plugin. Wordfence monitors traffic to your site and deals with suspicious activity by throttling or blocking access as appropriate. It handles a range of attacks from attempted brute force hacks of your login, to those targeting potentially vulnerable code.

Wordfence also allows for the regular scanning of website files. Checking them against original copies to ensure they have not been maliciously altered. Whilst not perfect (hence the need for backups) in our experience, Wordfence does an admirable job of securing a WordPress.

Even better news is that; Unless you need more advanced features like country specific traffic filtering, the free version of Wordfence is usually all you need.

4. Website Forms

Plugin – Gravity Forms

Its highly likely that you will want forms on your website, a contact form at the very least. Whilst Elementor does include form functionality, with the ability to email submissions to a given address, we again find this functionality limited. As a result we use a plugin called gravity forms. In addition to emailing submissions, it will also temporarily store them on the site so that you don’t have to keep referring to emails. It also allows powerful processing of form submission data, including integration with third party apps like email marketing systems.

There is no free version of Gravity Forms, and a single site licence is $59 per year. As with the other plugins on the list, access to Gravity Forms is included in all our hosting packages.

5. E-commerce

Plugin – WooCommerce

The next thing to look at is e-commerce – Whilst WordPress is not by default e-commerce enabled, by adding WooCommerce plugin it quickly becomes a powerful tool for online selling. Whilst not in the same league as dedicated e-commerce platforms like Magento, development costs and flexibility are significantly reduced, making it the perfect solution where you need e-commerce, but don’t want the cost and complexity of something like Magento.

Woocommerce is a free plugin, and one with which we are very familiar, so happy to support it within our packages. Furthermore, Woocommerce is fully supported by Elementor making incorporating e-commerce into your design is moderately straight forward.

6. Data Management

Plugin – WP All Import/Export

Particularly when managing more complex sites like those including e-commerce, managing the sites content within the wordpress backend can become a chore. This is where the ability to easily & flexibly export & import data into the site is vital. The tool we use for this are WP All Export and WP All Import, they allow the export of data to a spreadsheet file, and the import of spreadsheet data back into the site. Furthermore, the import routines allow powerful mapping features to facilitate getting the data into the right place.

To illustrate the power this delivers, whilst working on a recent e-commerce project, a product data reconfiguration job which took around 3 days to do manually, was handled in less than half a day using import & Export.

Again, there is no free version, and, a single site licence is a $169, and whilst this is a one off fee, again, access to this plugin is included in our hosting packages

7. Search Optimisation

Plugin – Yoast

Getting you site indexed by Google is still an important part of any website Marketing Strategy. Whilst the core set up of WordPress is recognised as “Google-friendly” we enhance this using the Yoast plugin.

As well as handling some of the basic SEO stuff like default page titles and description meta tags, Yoast also gives you the oportunity to enter a target keyword. It will then offer guidence on how to improve page optimisation for the given keyword.

Yoast will also help out with readability too. All in all the free version of Yoast is a great tool, but if you want some of the more advanced features, eg multiple target keywords or 301 redirect management, then the premium version will cost you £63.99 per year.

Enhanced WordPress delivers business value

We have been using WordPress for years, and have seen the platform evolve significantly over this time.

The plugin community has also evolved with some great developers offering significant enhancements to the core, backed up by excellent support and regular updates.

Part of our job is to keep up to date with these developments, to ensure our clients get the best WordPress experience. Because we use the platform and these plugins on a daily basis, we know them well. Allowing us to take the hassle out of managing your site, means you can see it is as a marketing tool rather than a technical frustration.

Podcasting for business

I am sure all of you will be familiar with the concept of podcasting, and many, I am sure will be regular podcast subscribers, but have you ever considered podcasting as a marketing medium?

You are an expert in your field

If you are selling your services as a professional in your field, selling products ink a particular niche, then you are likely to be an expert in that field. Furthermore, a key aim of your marketing should be to communicate that expertise to the market. To date, we have used and advocated the written word and images in the form of email, social media and to perform this task. But in reality, the written word is only one of the available media. One of the first verbal media that people consider is video, but in our experience, when dõne well, video is expensive and time-consuming. Whilst it has a place on the marketing mix, delivering video content in the volume demanded by the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be a challenge.

Enter the Podcast.

Podcasts have two key advantages over video

  1. They are less complex and less time consuming to produce
  2. Like radio, they do not demand the listeners’ total attention, they can be “consumed” whilst doing other things

5 Podcasting Tips

With this in mind, here are 5 tips to get you started in Podcasting: 1. Focus on your expertise – Expertise is cited as one of the key factors in a successful podcast. As communicating your expertise is a primary objective of your marketing, this should not be difficult. Ultimately the aim of your podcast should be to share your knowledge and expertise with your listeners. 2. Keep it conversational – Listen to any good podcast, and it is a conversation rather than a monologue. The usual format is 2 or 3 people “chatting” on the given subject. The team is often made up of a couple of core presenters, with regular invited guests (see below). In reality, the really engaging podcasts are so because of the chemistry between the presenters. 3. Don’t be afraid of Guests – Guests on podcasts are a great addition. They add variety from episode to episode, they also give you a great opportunity to engage with others in your industry and build relationships. Guests can also bring more specific expertise to a subject. 4. Get the right equipment – Like anything, professionalism is much easier with the right tools. A good microphone (Ideally 1 per presenter) a small mixing desk, and a multi-track recording device are a minimum. They need not be expensive, and the entire kit can be picked up for less than a couple of hundred pounds on eBay, or maybe £500 if you want to buy new. For the actual recording, we use an iPad app DAW Multitrack costing around £25. The final production and mixing can be done using Audacity – a great, free open source sound editing package. 5. Commit – As with any marketing, it gets better and more effective with time. Just doing a single podcast is, from a marketing perspective, of limited value. To be effective, it needs to be a regular sustainable, event.

Publishing your podcast

So you know have your finely crafted podcast as an MP3 audio file. How do you make it available to the public? There are 2 simple steps to this process:

  1. Publish it online – There are many services that allow you to do this, but the one we use is Soundcloud. It’s well known & supported, and it’s free to use. It’s simply a case of opening an account, uploading your files and making it public.
  2. Submit your feed to one of the podcasting directories. There are many of these out there, and there is nothing to stop you submitting it to multiple directories. To get you started, here is a list of some of the main ones

The Marketing Matters Podcast

Recently, BSA has been hosting a monthly Business Hour on Tameside Radio. The interest in this has encouraged us to take the leap into podcasting. The Marketing Matters podcast aims to be a down to earth, chat about issues affecting SME owner managed businesses, focusing, of course, on Marketing. Episode 1 is now available. Have a listen, and let us know what you think.

Data….What does it mean for your business? – Part 1

Over the past few years, data has rarely been out of the news. Whether it is the trials and tribulations of leaks and data breaches or the incredible advances in technology, medicine and sport achieved as a result of measuring and analysing, there is no question that data is a vital element of life in the 21st century.

So what has all this got to do with me running my business? Most people will be aware of the increasing demands made by Government. They want us to supply more data to them more quickly. Essentially so they can tax us more efficiently and collect money owed more quickly!

But I’m not here to rant about the impending MTD (Making Tax Digital) changes, or indeed anything else. On the contrary, data can be a valuable asset to help us run our businesses more efficiently and cost effectively.

The bottom line is this:

Knowledge is power

Knowing the numbers

Most useful data boils down to numbers. Knowing the numbers gives you the power to control your business more effectively. So where are these numbers and how do I use them to help me manage my business?

In this article, it isn’t realistic to go into a lot of detail. Instead, my aim is to give you some ideas and food for thought that you can explore further. Naturally, I would be happy to talk with you one-to-one if you wish.

Over 2 articles, I will look at areas of business which apply to everyone. Both are lucrative sources of data to help you with your business:

  • Accounts
  • Marketing

This time, I am looking at probably the primary source of hard business data – your accounts.

The Business Value of Accounts Data

In my 30+ years in business, I have stood by one fundamental

If I am in control of my accounts, I have control over my business.

If ever things are not going so well (it happens!), then my business may struggle. But at least I will know why it is struggling, giving me more chance to do something about it!

I have come across many businesses where ‘accounts’ is just something that has to be done once a year so that the legal requirement to submit a tax return and pay what is due can be ‘ticked off’. Normally, this is done by handing over one or more boxes of documents, possibly along with a few spreadsheets, to an accountant who then charges a not-inconsiderable sum to make sense of it all!

How does it work if you don’t know what you are owed or what you owe? Which customers pay quickly and who never pays? I really don’t understand how a business that doesn’t know its finance data can survive! Too often they don’t!

Knowing your accounts

If you haven’t done it already, take a look at one of the growing number of cloud accounts packages out there. I told the story of our own experience moving from 20+ years of Sage Accounts to the brave new world of Xero in this article. Now, another year on, I am even more pleased that we made the move. We always handled day to day bookkeeping in-house but what used to be a bit of a chore has become almost unnoticeable. It pretty much just happens now.

Look at how much you pay your accountant and compare with the cost of a cloud accounting system (some even offer a free option for very small businesses). I’m not suggesting that an accounts package can (or should) replace the advice of your accountant but they can certainly take away a good deal of the donkeywork. I find Xero so intuitive that what used to be 2-3 hours a week of bookkeeping is now down to less than an hour and even that time can fit into snippets of 5 or 10 minutes which would otherwise be dead time. I can check and process a couple of regular invoices while I wait for the kettle to boil!

Speaking to friends and clients, I hear similar stories about the other leading cloud accounts systems. They are all easy to use from your PC and have good Apps so you can even keep on top of your accounts from your phone while you are out and about.

Accounts data to help your business

Here are my top 3 ways that having control of accounting data can really help your business

1. Cash

Running out of cash is the number one reason that businesses fail. Furthermore, profitable businesses can still run out of cash.

By keeping your accounts up to date with Sales and Purchase invoices as you create them (easy on the cloud!) and regularly reconciling with your bank statement (almost automatic!), you will know how much cash you have, and – most important- how much of it is yours.

2. Credit Control

You can run out of cash simply because your money is in someone else’s bank account! Knowing who owes you money and getting them to pay is a great way to avoid cash flow problems. Many cloud accounting systems have add-on apps to help with all sorts of things – including credit control. Like accountants, solicitors have a role to play in business but there is often a lot you can now do for yourself without the expense of a legal claim.

3. Business Planning

  • Which customers are your most profitable?
  • Which products or services deliver the highest margin?
  • Do you have customers that actually cost you money to do business with them?

The answers to these questions can deliver real insight into your business. If you know and use your accounts data as part of your day to day business, you have access to the information you need to help you plan the way ahead.

We talk regularly about the importance of business planning. Being able to plan based on proven, reliable data, make your plan real. Too much reliance on speculation can create a plan that looks great to start with but is very challenging to stick to. OK, sometimes educated guesses are necessary, it’s is part of the business risk-reward, but successful businesses normally hedge their bets!

Next Time

Next time I will look at how marketing can deliver data to help you understand how your marketing is working and whether it is actually doing good for your business. This isn’t always as easy as you might think. In fact, often the most important thing is being able to see what is NOT working for you and your business. Then you can stop and do something else instead.

Data….What does it mean for your business? – Part 2

Marketing Data

Knowledge is Power

Last time I started to look at how even in the smallest business, knowing your accounts numbers can be immensely valuable in having control of your business. This time I want to continue the theme looking at how marketing data can be a valuable asset to help us run our businesses more efficiently and cost-effectively.

The Business Value of Marketing Data

In my last article, looking at the business value of accounts data, the focus was, quite naturally, on numbers. Marketing data is not quite so straightforward. Indeed, for many SME business owners, the primary measure of marketing is ‘How many leads did I get?’ 

This focus on leads is perhaps understandable as converting leads to paying business is the shortest route to justifying your marketing expenditure. However, as I have said many times before, there is more to marketing than lead generation. Sure, a good marketing process will generate leads and business opportunities but that process is fundamentally about something else.

The marketing process requires 3 elements:

  1. A clear business proposition that delivers demonstrable value
  2. A well-defined target market
  3. Effective communication of that proposition to that market

Get these 3 right and your market will see and understand how your offer is of value to them. They will be engaged with you and they will buy! Not all of them and not all of the time but when the time is right, they will buy.

In essence, marketing is about engagement. Get the right engagement and the leads and opportunities will follow. If you can measure how much engagement you are getting from your marketing, you are in a strong position to manage a flow of enquiries.

Knowing your marketing engagement

One of the features of the modern, digital business world is the availability of data. Unfortunately, all too often this data is used by specialist companies to blind you with science. 

For many business owners, the words of their digital marketing supplier don’t really help, leading to them thinking:

It all sounds very plausible and important but, to be honest, I don’t really know what you are talking about!

If you use the internet (Website or Social Media) as a key marketing tool, getting a handle on some valuable marketing data doesn’t need to be daunting. Here are my top 3 ideas that should be available to you and your business.

1. Analytics.

EVERYTHING that happens on the internet is monitored by someone! If you have a website, the lovely people at Google are monitoring your website – and they will give you access to that data for free. Google Analytics is a great tool. There are similar (though less comprehensive) analytics tools available for Social Media platforms too.

The danger with analytics is the sheer volume of data – you can get lost. To keep things simple, start by tracking some key numbers. You might need a bit of help to set things up but once you are sorted, keeping track shoudl be simple.

Visitors – how many visitors came to your site last month?

Compare this with the previous month, or the same period last year. Are the numbers going up or down? Up is good! Now you just need to try and get an idea whether your visitors are the sort of people you are looking for. This isn’t so easy but some more data can help…

Sources – Where are your visitors coming from?

If your market is the UK and lots of visitors are from other countries this isn’t so great. Analytics allows you to filter out the data you aren’t interested in so you can measure the numbers that matter.

Pages – Which pages do they visit and how long do they stay?

Visitors from your target region who spend time looking at a few pages on your site look like they are finding stuff of interest to them – sounds good!

Bounce Rate – A bit more technical but useful to understand.

If a visitor arrives at a page o your site and leaves from the same page this is a bounce. Normally a bounce rate of up to 50-60% is OK, Higher than this suggests maybe you should be looking at what you say on your website.

These are just a few of the stats delivered by analytics but I am sure you can start to see how understand some of these gives real insight and suggests areas where your website is stronger – or weaker.

2. Hard Data v Soft Data

Analytics is hard data – numbers that go up and down. Soft data is different. At BSA we send out regular e-newsletters. Sure we monitor the hard data of how many times our newsletter is opened and how many clicks we see on links. This is interesting but just as valuable is the soft data – feedback and comments we get from readers – often when we meet them through networking etc. To be told someone reads our articles and finds them useful and interesting is really valuable data.

Opportunities to gather soft data to mix with your numbers can help tell a great story.

3. Quality v Quantity

Just because you don’t have thousands of visitors to your website doesn’t mean the data isn’t valuable. Many SME businesses work with clients and customers who give a lot of repeat business. Keeping loyal customers is more important than getting lots of new customers. It may be that your business only needs a small number of new customers each year to show solid growth. In this case, even a small number of good quality website visitors might indicate a strong marketing position.

In my book, quality is ALWAYS more important than quantity.

Are you comfortable?

This is perhaps the best measure of your marketing. If you are comfortable with what you are doing in your marketing and what you are seeing out of it then stick at it! If you aren’t comfortable then try to get your head around what it is you aren’t comfortable about and do something about that!

When your issue is ‘I’m not getting enough leads’ then maybe you need to figure out why not so you can do something about it. The best way to do this is to get some data that you have confidence in! You might not like what it tells you but it does signpost what you can do to get your marketing delivering.