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.

4 steps to a professional Podcast

Over the last few weeks we have been focusing on Podcasting. BSA Marketing now produce a bi-weekly podcast looking at micro business and SME Marketing.

If you have something interesting to say, then podcasting could be a great medium to get it out there. With this in mind and following on from my recent introduction to podcasting, I thought it would be worth putting together a simple 4 step guide to producing a professional podcast.

Content

This is the biggie. Having the right equipment is important if you want your podcast to sound professional. But whether anyone will listen to it is down to what you have to say, and how you say it.

Before diving in, I would recommend going onto iTunes, and listening to a few well established podcasts to learn from them.

Next check out this recent post on our Blog – Podcasting for business In which we go through some of the basics for creating engaging content to promote your business.

Equipment

A good sounding podcast needs the right equipment, but need not cost the earth. There are loads of articles on the web, covering equipment. Just google “10 best … for podcasting” and you will find plenty of advice. But it can be confusing and often conflicting, so I thought I would simply outline what we use to produce the Marketing Matters podcast.

Microphones – We use a mix of Sure SM57 & SM58 mics. Our favourite is the SM58, as it incorporates a pop shield so simplifies things a little. But both are great mics for the task. The SM58 comes in at around £85 new and can be picked up second hand on e-bay for around £50.

Recording Device – In my experience, this was the tricky one, as there are so many options. Digital recorder, USB mixing dsesk, USB audio interface, the list goes on. Deciding which to go for was a challenge. In the end we went for a Zoom H6 digital recorder. This will accept 4 channels out of the box, and is expandable to 6 channels. It is compatible with both condenser and dynamic mics (SM58 are dynamic), and can either be used stand alone, recording onto SD card, or as an audio interface into a PC Mac or Ipad (Be aware, ipad is limited to 2 channels).

We went for this solution, primarily because it allows recording of all channels independently, so if you have multiple presenters in your podcast, you can record them separately, giving much more flexibility in the editing/mixing process. The H6 comes in at around £260, but again can be picked up for less on Ebay.

Whilst you can pick up a USB 12 channel mixer for significantly less than this, with a mixer, the podcast has to be mixed live, and output as a stereo mix to USB, thus giving much less flexibility when it comes to editing.

Editing – The final part of the process is to adit the recordings into the final podcast. For this we use the Free Open Source program Audacity . Whilst the Zoom is bundled with both Cuase LE and Wavelab LE, in our experience Audacity does a great Job.

Publishing

Once you have your podcast as a digital audio file, the next step is to publish it. Again, there are many options for this, but we went for Soundcloud. It’s well know & supported, and it’s free to use. It’s simply a case of opening an account, uploading your files and making it public.

You can check out out The Marketing Matters podcast on Soundcloud here

Distribution/Marketing

Once you have published your podcast you need to submit it to podcasting libraries so that people can find it. Again the options are endless here. To get started, we recommend submitting your podcast feed to Stitcher and iTunes

In both cases, you will need to apply for a listing, and wait to (Hopefully) be approved before your listing will show up on podcasting sites

Networking – the next step

In this article, we looked at a range of ideas about using networking as a joined-up part of your business marketing. An underlying theme was that it takes time to build networking relationships. It is better to have 3 or4 in-depth conversations rather than rushing round to as many people as possible telling them what you do and swapping business cards. They won’t appreciate it and it probably won’t help your business grow – and isn’t that what it is all about?

It might make sense to have 3 or 4 good, engaging conversations during a typical networking session but there might be 20, 30 or even more people in the room.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could speak to everyone?

In our networking-in-a-joined-up-marketing-world article, we have already talked about the Hit and Run approach and how it is best avoided. So what should you do if you want to have a wider impact?

It’s simple. Take the floor and speak to everyone at once.

Speaking to everyone – even if you only get a short time – can be a great way to make an impression and build awareness of you and your business. It is also a great springboard to future one to one conversations. If someone feels they know a bit about you they are more willing to talk with you.

Taking the floor

There are numerous different formats for business networking and most include one or more opportunities to take to the floor. It is rare that a networking session doesn’t include at least one of th following:

The 60 Seconds Slot

In small, local networking groups, it may be that the opening activity is to go around everyone in the room, giving each person a minute to introduce themselves. This is practical in a small group but if you network there regularly, you may well get a chance to speak with most people you don’t know anyway.

It is in the bigger group where the 60 Seconds gets more interesting. A common routine is to invite everyone who wants a 60 Seconds slot to put their business card ‘into the hat’ at the start of the event. There is then a random draw of 5 or 10 cards and these people get the opportunity to address the whole audience.

You should always put your card in the hat  

Not only should you always be in the hat (you won’t get picked every time!), it is also worth preparing what you are going to saying your 60 seconds. Many groups are quite strict on the timing and it’d be a real shame if you didn’t get to your main point before the bell goes.

On the subject of preparation and what to say, please read on below. Just because you have the floor for a minute doesn’t mean your audience will listen to you. They need to be engaged.

Speaker Slot

As well as the 60 Seconds slots, most networking groups have one or two main speakers. Somebody has to do it so why not you? As a main speaker, you are likely to get longer (10-15 minutes is popular) and may even have the chance to use slides to illustrate your words.

Getting a speaker slot is often no more difficult than approaching the organisers and asking! It normally makes sense to avoid asking on your first visit! Attend a few sessions, get to know a few people (especially the organisers) and then ask. It’s amazing how many people don’t ever ask so it is likely your offer will be gratefully accepted. HOWEVER, it is even more important as a main speaker to plan what you are going to say and do your best to engage your audience. Succeed, and you can build a reputation as a good speaker. Future opportunities to ‘take the floor’ will get easier. Fail and you may start to find that the speaker slots are all ‘already taken’.

Sponsorship

Some of the bigger (more professional?) networking groups offer the opportunity to sponsor their sessions. Sponsorship is a way to ‘buy’ a speaker slot. This may not be as idealistic as the previous 2 approaches (or as long as a main speaker slot) but if a networking group is prestigious and the audience is particularly well aligned with your target market, sponsorship may be worth considering. Let’s face it, if the organisers can get people to pay for an opportunity to speak, why would they give it away!?

Even if you are paying, don’t think you have carte blanche to push your business in a 10-minute sales pitch. Planning your presentation is vital.

What to say – be relevant

OK you have the floor. They are all listening to you. Now is your chance to sell.

Err – NO!

Speaking at a networking event should not be a sales pitch.

It may not even be enough to talk about the things you do – even if you think they are interesting. I was recently at a local networking meeting with around 30 local businesses, all SMEs. The main speaker spent 15 minutes telling us all about the software his company was developing to help major organisations reduce energy bills. He openly admitted that they were only interested in working with companies who had annual energy bills in the millions. I found his talk kind of interesting from a technical point of view but I didn’t really understand why he was there? There seemed to be no ‘business fit’ with his audience.

First and foremost, your presentation should be engaging, interesting and relevant to your listeners. The clever bit is to work your marketing message into your interesting presentation so that by the time you finish, people will be engaged with you and also see how what you do might be of benefit to them. Achieve this and you don’t need to sell. People will start to want to talk to you to find out more. Maybe not all of them and maybe not straight away but the seed is sown.

Now all you need to do is keep networking and stick to your engaging principles. Success will follow….

The Three Basic Functions of Marketing

Peter Drucker famously said:

 "Business has only two basic functions - marketing and innovation. "

Putting together out latest podcast had me thinking a lot about design and its place in the marketing mix. And I have come to a conclusion:

Marketing has only 3 basic functions Creativity, Design & Content Generation

In the connected world, if you communicate your company or brand effectively in a way that resonates with your target market, the message will spread.

Delivering this is almost entirely down to the content you create, and the way that content is presented.

Other things impact your success:

  • The ability to meet the expectations you create
  • How you treat your customers
  • The tools you use to communicate your message
  • A business model that allows the process to be sustainable

Are these all important, but without creativity, design & content, success will be much more difficult

Peter Drucker is not suggesting that Innovation & Marketing are the only things you need to create a business. He is suggesting that these are the things that deliver real value & differentiation to the business.

In the same way, I am not suggesting that Creativity, Design & Content are all you need in marketing. Clearly, you also need the tools to communicate your message and the drive to get your message out there. Let’s face it, there is no point in having a truly innovative idea, and then not telling anyone!

Marketing needs to be a comprehensive and joined-up process but, like Peter Drucker’s Innovation & Marketing, it is the Creativity, Design and Content that add real value and meaningful differentiation.

But what about data analysis?

Sometimes it feels the world is dominated by Big Data with the measurement and analysis of pretty much everything.

Yes, understanding your market through knowing the numbers is critical. However, the real value is added by innovation in the way that the data is used, the new insights that this can give, and the creativity in turning this into real marketing value.

Creativity is king

Whilst creativity, design & content generation may be the 3 core functions of Marketing, if I had to pick one, it would be creativity.

In my experience in marketing over the last 30 years, real creativity is rare. There are great designers, copywriters, photographers and videographers, but the ones that really shine are those with the confidence and skill to break the rules & do something completely different. The same is true of wider creativity. Great marketing comes when someone thinks differently about how to engage with their market place.

All the tools needed to turn the idea into reality can be bought, but that original creative idea is priceless.

On that, I will leave you with some thoughts from John Cleese – one of the great creative minds of our time:

A B2B social media strategy that works

To be effective, social media needs to be highly interactive and also needs a constant stream of posts to keep your feed “live”. Within the SME arena, where often there is no dedicated social media resource within organisations, finding time to consistently feed social media with relevant posts can be challenging.

Help is at hand – Or is it?

One answer to this dilemma is to use a third party to support you activities. Whilst this can be a viable solution, it does have its drawbacks. At its best social media posting needs to be interactive and personal – it needs to be a conversation between your company and social media users engaged with your brand. On this level, it’s a challenge for a third party to know enough about your business to deliver this type of content. Here, the best person to post is yourself and we are back to square one.

The answer – Divide up the task in hand

Whilst a third party may struggle to handle the more detailed activity, they can create a “baseline” on which you can build the more interactive stuff outlined above. The fact is that not all social media content needs to be personal and conversational. Part of the purpose of social media posts is to develop and present your brand position and posts that deliver this can usually be handled by a third party that knows your business. This “baseline” of activity can then be augmented by the more detailed/conversational posts handled by someone within the organisation as and when they have time. Safe in the knowledge that at times where there is little activity in this area, the social media feeds will be kept live and up to date.

Maintaining the baseline

To illustrate this approach, I would like to take a little time to explain how we handle Social Media in partnership with our clients. In most cases, our job is to maintain a baseline of activity that re-enforces their brand, and helps tell their company story. This will usually be a mixture of third party content from agreed sources, and original material developed in conjunction with clients (usually in the form of blog posts that can be published on their website, and shared on Social Media.) Typically we would be aiming to post anything from daily, on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, to maybe weekly or even monthly on LinkedIn. With The likes of Facebook combing in somewhere in between. This activity forms a “baseline” of activity that can then be supplemented by posts direct by the client as and when they have the time and something to say. Irrespective of this activity, feeds stay relevant and up to date, accurately supporting the companies brand image.

A social media partnership that works

This collaborative approach works well ensuring that anyone browsing the feed to “check out” a company will get the right impression. without the need for day to day activity from within the company. Activity from within the company, when it happens, becomes the icing on the cake. Whilst this approach will not work in every situation, it does make a good starting point without the need for significant investment in internal capabilities. If anyone would like to explore how social media can be made to work for them, get in touch we would love to hear from you.

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.