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.

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.

 

Analytics – the key to an effective marketing process

Recently we have been focussing on the value of partnership as a platform for an effective marketing process.

A challenge with partnerships is that many SME business owners like to do their own thing – indeed this can be one of the real freedoms of self-employment

Doing your own thing is great – but this isn’t the same as making it up as you go along. An effective, sustainable marketing process needs a plan. You can share a plan with others who can then support you to achieve your goals.

Sure, plans can be (indeed should be) reviewed and evolved but this process needs to have some structure (particularly if more than one person is involved in delivering on the plan.) No one can mind-read. It isn’t reasonable for one person, even a business owner, to simply change her mind and expect everyone to follow. There needs to be a process.

Why does a plan need to change?

Actually, I think it is better to say that a plan evolves rather than changes because the change comes about through growing experience.

Typically a plan will evolve for one of 2 reasons:

  1. It becomes clear that the plan is going to fall short of delivering on the goals we have set.
  2. A better option comes up, either a better way to achieve our set goals or a way to achieve better goals.

In both of these cases, you need to have some idea of where you are up to. Are you making progress? To know this, you need to be measuring.

It is nearly a year since I last took a look at analytics (not just in terms of Google Analytics but the whole process of measuring where your business is up to) but over recent months we have seen stark evidence of the power (and danger!) of data as much government policy through the pandemic has been driven by very clear goals (reduce transmission, minimise infection, minimise mortality while protecting both the NHS and the economy). All of these goals have been managed by data. the challenge is that, in a world where people are looking for certainty, the data is incomplete, yet decisions still must be made and acted upon.

This is the same as in business. With the (possible) exception of e-commerce order data, analytics aren’t definitive, they are indicative. Analytics suggest trends. They don’t deliver certainty. Even with e-commerce, just because it happened last week/last month doesn’t mean to say it will happen next week/next month. Instead, you should use the indications of the data in conjunction with your own knowledge and experience to make definitive decisions. The data will not normally give you the answer but it can improve your decision making by narrowing meaningful choice. By making decisions from a narrower field of realistic options, it is likely that those decisions will be better.

Using analytics to guide your decision-making process can make that process more effective. More effective decisions are more likely to improve your marketing process.

Analytics in the real world.

I’ll finish with 3 practical tips to help you use analytics in your business to drive a more effective marketing process:

  1. Keep it simple.Analytics systems generate unimaginable quantities of data every day. Don’t get caught into seeing your own data as the be-all and end-all of your business. Analytics is merely a tool (albeit a useful tool!) which should help you run your real business. Keep your analytics goals simple and relevant. It is better to focus on a handful of key metrics that really benefit your business over time, than to blind yourself with data overload in the hope that you might just uncover some ‘magic-wand‘ of information
  2. Use a dashboardThere are numerous dashboard tools out there that can really help keep you focussed on your key metrics. They can take a bit of effort to set up correctly but it is worth it as you can end up with a valuable and practical business management tool. We look at dashboards in more detail in this article.
  3. Remember, business is a process, not an event.When you look at your data dashboard, avoid knee-jerk reactions. The success of your processes become more visible over time – and often in hindsight rather than as you are going along. I regularly find that it is only when I look back over 6-12 months that I really appreciate the progress we have made.

And finally, never forget that running your own SME business is a big commitment of time and effort, so try to enjoy yourself – at least some of the time!

The Power of Dashboards

In the latest edition of our podcast, we talk about the importance of focusing on your business objectives, and using data to inform your decisions, but marketing data is everywhere these days and whilst it allows deep insight into the workings of your marketing campaigns, with this plethora of data comes the issue of information overload. It is often difficult to see the wood for the trees.

In my view there are two key issues:

  1. Data Overload – there are so many metrics available, how do you focus on the important ones?
  2. Data fragmentation – each platform will have its own set of analytics making it difficult to see a joined-up view of all metrics.

As a result, it can be tempting to simply pick the east to access datasets like traffic to your site, or number of shares on your social media, but often these will not be the right metrics to inform your real business decisions. To avoid this we need a way of organising and filtering the data to give you the information you need.

It is this that I explore in this post; looking at how a marketing dashboard can go a long way turning your data into actionable and valuable information.

Seeing the Wood, Clearing the Trees

The first thing that a dashboard will do is to allow you to pick out the key analytics, and display them in an easy to read format.

Most people will be aware of Google Analytics. Whilst being a fantastic platform for getting an insight into how people are interacting with your website Google’s data is not that easy to read. The sheer variety of statistics available makes getting a clear picture of you marketing’s effectiveness challenging.

For example, Google Analytics will tell you how many visitors you are getting, and where they are coming from. However, having your website visitor numbers broken down by source and charted month by month, makes it much easier to see what’s going on.

Furthermore, by pulling data into a dashboard, you isolate it from all the other metrics making it much easier to read.

And you are not just limited to charts. You can display data in many different formats, for example, tables, maps, and my favourite; the gauge.

Say for instance you are running a pay per click campaign. You could set up a gauge showing how much each conversion (enquiry for example) is costing you in advertising. Making it very easy to see if you are on target and that your advertising is being cost effective.

 

Bringing it all together

The other issue is the wide variety of platforms and the fact they all have their own analytics systems. Whilst you can see some external data in Google Analytics, this is limited to the number of visits to your site. Whilst key data, I believe you need to be “joined-up”. To achieve this you are going to need stats from the other platforms and having to switch from Google, to LinkedIn to Facebook to Twitter…. to get the information can become tiresome.

Here again, dashboards are great as they allow you to use the APIs supplied by the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn & Facebook to bring their data into a central dashboard. What’s more, the dashboard systems usually have connections set up with the main platforms. So usually all you need to access the data is your login to the relevant platform.

Another great use of gauges is to monitor activity on social media platforms. Say for example you have a target of posting 5 tweets a week or 2 LinkedIn posts per month. You can set up a gauge to monitor the number of posts on a platform in a given period. That way it is possible to check, at a glance, whether you are on target.

Data at your fingertips

Metrics and analysis are incredibly valuable. But remembering what you looked at last time, and how you access the data, means that reviewing marketing metrics often gets forgotten. Usually reviewed only when you have time, or when there is an issue. Dashboards let you to pull out the data you need to inform your decisions, and to present it in an accessible and easy to find format, it will also make it much easier to look at the same dataset over time, allowing you to spot and act on trends that may appear, rather than randomly looking around in Google analytics, unsure if you are looking at the same dataset that you reviewed previously.

There is a bit of work to do in setting up a dashboard. But once done, the data is easily available whenever you need it.  It will also be in exactly the same format as last time you looked.

The system we use – Klipfolio also allows you to permanently display your dashboards on big wall screens, so the data is there for you without even having to go and look for it.

If you would like to explore the power of dashboards, we would love to hear from you. So please feel free to get in touch

 

 

The best technology is effectively invisible

Technology is everywhere! During the past few weeks, it has been the main way that we have been able to stay in contact with one another, yet I’d like to think that actually, the best technology is effectively invisible.

This isn’t to say that we can’t see it, more that we don’t notice it. It is effective. It just works.

Even so, people do normally ‘notice’ technology in the first instance. Top technology companies have turned ‘unboxing’ into an art form. The look and touch of the latest iPhone are carefully designed to make us feel good! This is all very well but ultimately it is what you can do with the phone that matters. A handset is just a tool that allows you to communicate, surf, photograph, or whatever?  The look and feel may be important to start with but, at the end of the day, you just want it to work. It is what you do that matters.

The same is true when it comes to the technology you use in marketing your business. It may be nice to have all the bells and whistles but what really matters is that your customers and prospects, who engage with you, are fully focussed on your marketing message rather than the technology you use to deliver it. You want the technology to be so good that people don’t notice it!

UX is the key – but stay focussed on your goals

User eXperience (UX) is a significant and growing field in the world of marketing. However, like so many aspects of technology in marketing, it is being sold as a design solution rather than a practical solution. Talk of the psychology of colours and the positioning of key elements on forms and web-pages can lead to an expensive bill but (IMHO) is of limited practical value for the majority of SME businesses and websites.

Use your own experience of your business, customers and markets. You know what you want to offer and what people are looking for. Make sure you deliver in a straightforward way. This sentiment applies equally to your marketing.

For most of us, we should be focussing on a clear message with well laid out, straightforward navigation to our web content – and no dead ends! You can test this yourself, or ask friends & colleagues to take a look.  There will always be someone who can offer another tweak or refinement but ask yourself if these make any significant improvement. Incremental/marginal gains in UX can be expensively unnecessary.  Don’t try to make your marketing technology perfect. It never will be! What is important is that it works seamlessly.

Website Speed – Fast enough is fast enough

Some people are fixated by website speed tests. Whatever speed-score their website delivers, they want it to be faster. It becomes irrelevant whether the real-world performance of the website delivers a good and positive experience for their site visitors. It becomes all about making the numbers better – even if this delivers no real value or benefit. Are marginal gains in site speed really worth it if?

If I had to pick, I would say that speed isn’t everything – fixation on speed tests isn’t as important as UX – fast enough is fast enough. A slightly slower, well flowing site is better than a fast site with poor logic/navigation that frustrates visitors or leads them to dead ends.

Focus on effective functionality

If users can find a way to break your website, they will!  Better that you break it first. If you have tried to break your new web system, and failed, you can be confident that it is OK to launch on your market.

Even if you have failed to find the flaws in functionality and flow of your website, those flaws will still be there – and the chances are someone will find them, even if they are extremes!

Unless you are anticipating very high traffic on your site from the start (in which case it should be worth investing in some careful and comprehensive testing and a phased roll-out of a new site), I recommend that you make sure that you are ready to handle the process failures and bugs manually in the first instance.

This process has benefit for most businesses:

    1. It is more cost-effective
    2. No need to second guess every single possibility (and programme in solutions from the start that will rarely, if ever, be used)
    3. If you have a good, flexible system, you can always add functionality

Accepting that you will need to keep a close eye on your new system for a while and be ready to jump in and sort any problems that visitors experience, quickly.

I reckon that good system that is live and working for you and your business is more use than waiting until you have perfection before launch. Even if some visitors do experience the odd glitch, helping them quickly with backup and support can send a strong and positive message about your business

…and finally

My tips for effective marketing technology for your business…

  1. Never forget that marketing technology and websites are the means, not the end to achieving your marketing and business objectives.
  2. Start the process then evolve with experience. With development platforms such as WordPress, it is easy to add functionality based on real-world experience.
  3. You can start with a simple system and, over time, evolve it into a sophisticated, yet practical, web-application to help drive your business.
  4. The best technology for your business is invisible to your customers. It just works. It is your business that they see and remember.
  5. Get support from someone who understands both business process and technology. Someone who can support you in achieving your business goals, not just someone who does what you tell them.

Get in touch if you would like to chat.

Are Webcasts a good marketing tool?

During the Lockdown, web meetings, and webinars have definitely come of age, and the number of people selling them as the next big marketing thing has also increased!

Talk to any of these people and they will tell you that they are a must have in your marketing kit bag. But are they?

The simple answer is, as with any marketing tool, “It Depends”. It depends on whether your marketing message would be enhanced by the webinar format and whether your market is likely to engage with the webinars.

Content is King

First lets look at content. The question here is do you have expertise, or access to expertise that people in your market would value. If you do then providing access to this expertise could be a great marketing tool, or in some cases a potential revenue earner via paid webcasts.

Most of the marketing strategies that we use with clients assume that they are experts in their fields, and the marketing is largely about communicating this expertise to the marketplace. So in our world, and in that of many businesses working in niche markets, this means that you can deliver value through your marketing messages. As such webinars may be relevant.

For many niche businesses, this “Expert in your Field” concept should be appropriate, and as such the the webcast as a marketing tool could well have merit. For other businesses, its about asking the question “what value would a webcast add to my marketing?”

What about your audience

So you have material that suits the webcast format. The next question is “What about your market? will they engage with a webcast?” I think that in most cases, if the content is interesting and relevant, then yes they will. The real question is will they believe you when you tell them you have something valuable to say!

I was speaking to a client last week, and this topic came up. He recounted a story about a webinar (yes this was a webinar) which on the face of it seemed valuable, but in fact it turned out simply to be a sales pitch for a paid course. The experience has led him to be wary of the marketing hype surrounding the format. The reality is that this is an issue. The use of webinars as a sales tool in this way has devalued them in many peoples eyes. One reason we talk about “webcasts” rather than “webinars” as this puts the focus on the content. Delivering great content, and getting a reputation for doing so has to be part of your strategy in this area.

Protect your Brand

The final thing I would like to cover is how the use of webcasts sits with your brand image & values.

There are many aspect to delivering a webcast:

  • The webcast itself, including technology, branding, and the quality/production values for the feed delivered
  • The sign up process, and how you manage access to the webcast
  • The interaction with attendees during the Webcast including how you handle things like Q&A and Chat
  • The lists goes on

All of these things will impact how the webcast reflects your brand, and all need to be considered. It might be a very easy solution to simply use a tool like Zoom for the whole process, but is that right for your brand?

To give an example; In a recent project for a client, we chose not to use Zoom to deliver the webcast as it was felt that the reported security issues for the system might reflect badly on them, and prevent some people from being able to take part. Whilst security may, in reality, not be much of an issue anymore for Zoom, the perception is there. This coupled with other factors around branding and the signup process led to us not using Zoom. As a result we used a number of technologies & platforms to deliver the webcast rather than a single platform end to end. Whilst more complex, the result was totally in line with their high quality brand. Something that could not necessarily be said of Zoom.

I am not saying that you should never use an out of the box solution. (In some cases it would be highly appropriate). What I am saying is that when selecting how to deliver your webcast, making sure it accurately reflects your brand should be a key factor.

So Are Webcasts a good marketing tool?

Consider all the factors above. If on balance they add value to your marketing, and can be done cost effectively in a way that fits your brand, then yes they are a good tool.

If on the other hand, the conclusion in that they don’t add significant value, or are not a cost effective part of the mix, then maybe they should be avoided. But at least you will have an answer for those trying to sell the concept!

 

Protect your Reputation

In this weeks podcast one of the things we talked about was the importance of reputation when sending emails. In this post I want to explore this a little more deeply. Looking at ways to maintain your reputation, and hence maximise the chances of your emails being delivered.

Why reputation matters

Whether or not your email ends up in the recipients in box is controlled by filters in the sending infrastructure. These use many technical and content factors to determine the likelihood that the email might be spam. One key  factor today is sender reputation. An assessment as to whether the server sending the email is likely to be sending spam or not, and more importantly whether the sender is genuinely who they say they are.  This assessment builds up a picture of the reputation of that sender, and the better the reputation, the more likely it is that your emails will be delivered.

Here I want to look at 3 factors that impact this reputation:

  1. IP Address
  2. SPF/DKIM Records
  3. Your reputation as a content creator

IP address reputation

Let’s take the easy one first. Sending server throughput – The question here is “Is it unusual to be getting high volume emails from this server?” If the answer is yes, it flags up the possibility that the server has been compromised, and is unknowingly sending spam or malicious emails. It is in fact this second group where rather than simply selling something, the purpose of the email is to either deliver a malicious payload, or trick the recipient into revealing personal data & passwords (Phishing emails). Stopping his latter type of mail is the main focus of filters these days, and thus knowing the email is from a legitimate source rather than a hacked computer is important. This is the number one reason that using a dedicated email marketing system like Mailchimp, or mailing manager (The system used by BSA) is important. These systems will regularly be sending not high volumes of emails, and thus filtering algorithms will not see this activity as suspicious, or evidence of a compromised computer.

OK, so you are using a proper server to send your marketing email, but not all mass marketing mail servers are the same. After all, a phisher or spammer could simply set up a server and regularly send large volumes, so that activity in itself is not suspicious.  For this reasons, filters will also look at the identity of the server via its IP address. And in our experience this is one of the key deliverability factors.

List Quality

For this reason, professional email marketing providers will continually monitor the activity from their servers, to protect their reputation, and will block anyone from sending if they believe them to be acting irresponsibly. One of the key metrics in this analysis is list quality. Their preferred list development process is through double opt in where people add themselves to the list and then confirm the address by clicking a link. There is no doubt that this is the best way to build a list, and in consumer markets should be the core of your strategy. However it is not realistic to expect all lists to be generated this way, especially in many B2B markets where many contacts will be sources through offline mechanisms like networking and exhibitions. In these circumstances where you are adding  contacts manually to an email database, accuracy is essential, as is ensuring that any invalid addresses are removed before importing. For this reason we would recommend screening lists before adding them to an emailing system . Something we routinely do using the kickbox.io tool.

SPF Testing

This one is a little more technical, but I include it for you geeks out there who like to get technical! SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a system that uses a DNS record to authenticate mail servers to send mail for a given domain. An SPF pass tells the receiving email that the domain authorises the sending server to deliver mail mail on its behalf and thus is less likely to be spam. Increasingly big mail handlers like gmail, exchange and Office 365 use this test to help confirm whether an email is legitimate. Testing the SPF is fairly straight forward, but you will need 2 pieces of information (The address you are sending the mail from, and the IP address of the sending server). Once you have these, head along to an SPF testing tool and plug them in. If you get an SPF fail, you will need to speak to your email marketing provider to get this issue addressed, but doing so is usually pretty straight forward. If you would like to discuss how to improve the deliverability of your email campaigns please feel free to contact us, we are always happy to talk.

DKIM testing

Again, this is a technical tool for authenticating the validity of a message. When using DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), a digital signature is attached to each email, that can be checked against a public key held as a DNS record. Checking this key will allow email system to confirm that the parts of the email (including attachments) have not been modified since the signature was affixed.

Thus SPF ensures that the sender is who they say they are. DKIM validates the message has not been changed. Passing both these tests, whilst not guaranteeing deliverability, it will make it less likely that the message will be blocked by spam filters en route.

Whilst I am not going technical detail here, setting both SPF and DKIM is fairly straight forward through addition of a couple of DNS records.

Your Reputation

The final factor I want to cover here is the human factor. One element that most spam filters include in their algorithms is human feedback. Most email clients now will allow users to manually flag mail spam or not spam as appropriate. When users take this action, it is fed back to mail providers like Microsoft and Google. This feedback is then fed into their decisions as to what is or isn’t spam. For this reason, ensuring that your recipients welcome your mail is key. Ensure that you deliver high quality, well targeted content to recipients who want to receive it, and you are on the right track.

Of all the elements covered in this post, this is the one that should be given most consideration. The SPF and DKIM are fit and forget. Once implemented they are there and you don’t need to worry about them too much. Making sure your emails are well targeted, relevant and interesting, should be at the heart of your marketing communications strategy. Doing this is the key to maintaining a good reputation. Thus minimising the likelihood that your mail will be blocked by filters.

Content – The elephant in the social media room (still)

Although the essence of marketing is communicating with your target markets, so many SME businesses focus on HOW they want to communicate rather than WHAT they want to communicate. Back in 2016, I wrote this article. While we all embrace the lockdown(!) as an opportunity to work on our business rather than just in our business, I felt now is a good time to revisit the content elephant.

Actually, if you truly know what message/content you wish to communicate to effectively promote your products/services, then deciding HOW to communicate it is relatively straightforward. Undoubtedly you will be constrained by the resources you can afford to commit to marketing. TV advertising is not for everyone!. However, there is an ever-expanding range of online tools (including Websites, Social Media,  Click Advertising, Banner Advertising etc.) that can be accessed and effectively used at low cost, or even for free in some cases if you are prepared to put a bit of effort into learning what to do from the plethora of online tutorials and advice. The challenge is not so much HOW you communicate as WHAT you communicate.

Some people (often the truly successful entrepreneurs) have an innate skill for content.
They are lucky. They have a natural talent and can just do it.

Content creation in the real world

The problem for the rest of us is that when you turn to consider what it is that you want to say, coming up with relevant content can be challenging for many businesses. I think the issue is that deciding on content is a creative risk. There is no-one can tell you what you want to say. You have to think for yourself and there is a strong desire to try to get it right  – there is a focus on trying to be perfect when you can’t! I would go further, I believe that there is no perfect.

Consequently, instead of biting the bullet and diving into content creation, accepting that it won’t be perfect, it is enticing to avoid the issue and get sidetracked into the HOW.

Let’s learn all about LinkedIn/Twitter/Google Ads etc. – because if we learn this we will be better at producing perfect content.

Tapping into this sentiment, many businesses have grown up offering training and focusing on the HOW. OK, some of these businesses (the better ones!) will include tools and ideas to help with content creation but when it comes down to ‘defining the magic words and pictures’ for your own business, it is down to you.

I believe that most people who take up the training fail to benefit significantly because once they have learnt the skills HOW to communicate, they realise they still need to commit to deciding WHAT they want to say.

What about creative agencies and graphic designers?

Of course, there are also many creative agencies who have skills working in both words and pictures who can help with content creation but they often present a number of challenges:

  • They don’t know your business (at least to start with)
  • You have to give them a brief – so you are still having to set out your own core message
  • They can’t read your mind. What they come up with might not fit with your own thinking
  • Creative development can take time
  • Agencies are selling time so they (particularly the good ones!) can get expensive

Building a relationship with a good creative who understands your business can be valuable but this process normally requires significant investment in time and money.

Focusing on Content – a solution

If you aren’t in a position to invest (considerable) budgets on content creation, it is back to you, I’m afraid, even if you believe you don’t have a natural talent for content.

The answer is simple, even if not particularly appealing. Just do it! Don’t get sidetracked to the HOW. Accept that you need to focus on the WHAT.

OK, you need to focus on your message, but actually, your message does not need to be perfect. Remember that different people receive messages differently so even if you think your content is perfect, others may not agree! What’s important is that you are honest and truly believe what you are saying about the benefit and value you deliver to your customers.

An honest, relevant message with less than perfect delivery can still be powerful and effective.

If you are proud of your message and really believe it then if your delivery isn’t perfect it probably doesn’t really matter.

Like it on not, luck plays a part in marketing

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the key to guaranteed marketing success is to be really skilful at using marketing tools. This is not true.

There are countless examples (possibly most commercial social media!) where people with significant technical expertise communicate messages with the aim of going viral. However, the content withers and dies never to see the light of day because it doesn’t engage.

Equally, Social Media is awash with examples of stories that inadvertently went viral because they happened to really connect with their audience. These stories can start as no more than communication between a few people or posts on a local forum, but they end up with a life of their own and become unstoppable – often with unanticipated consequences – but that is another story.

4 Tips for effective content

Finally, here are 5 tips to get you started addressing the ‘Content elephant’

  1. Take time to ask yourself what it is that you do? Not the mechanics but the benefit you deliver to you customers and clients – maybe you could ask them?
  2. Focus on generating content you truly believe in. Content that truly reflects your business proposition
  3. Test your content. Get critiques from people you trust. Listen to them and be ready to adapt.
  4. Don’t try to be perfect. Perfect does not exist!
  5. Don’t ignore the content elephant. Get your content in place then look at your delivery – NOT the other way around.

If you would like to chat, please get in touch

4 Tools we could no longer live without

As we discussed in this week’s Marketing Matters podcast, one or two things have changed over the last couple of weeks!

One of the biggest changes for many is the need to WFH (work from home), remote from the normal office environment. For us, it’s no different, and I am now writing this post from home.

Up to now, the ability to work remotely was something we did occasionally and if we could not, it wasn’t a big deal! Now it is a necessity. A number of systems, which we had seen as peripheral to our operation, are now key. I thought this would be an opportunity to talk about our experiences with cloud applications and to highlight the four that we cannot live without right now:

1. Office 365

Through Office 365, Microsoft delivers a suite of office programmes as software as a service. Most people’s introduction to Office 365 will be Exchange email + Outlook. This in itself is a great tool, and gives you full access to your email from anywhere with a web connection. Anything you do being synced across all devices. But beyond Outlook, O365 delivers a full suite of programmes that allow you to be location agnostic (functional from wherever you are, as long as you have a connection to the net). Yes, this includes the staple office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc), but it also gives access to tools like One Drive, which gives you cloud access to files, Teams, for on-line collaboration, and many more.

With an Office 365 subscription and an internet connection, you can turn any PC (or Mac) into a fully functional office tool in a matter of minutes, with full access to all your contacts and files.

2. Zoom Video Meeting

2 months ago I had pretty much never used Zoom. Now video meetings are a key part of my working day. We have looked at and tried out a number of video meeting systems (Skype, Zoho Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Facetime etc.) but at the end of the day, Zoom.us is our favourite, and here is why:

  1. It just works – It’s my experience that the technology just works, and does not get in the way of what I am trying to do. In my book this is the number one requirement. If you have to think too hard using a piece of technology, you are probably not going to use it. Whilst there may be a learning curve, once you are used to it, it should just work and in my experience, in this area Zoom delivers.
  2. It is platform agnostic – Unlike options such as Facetime and Skype, where generally all parties involved must sign up to a proprietary system (Microsoft for Skype, Apple/IOS for Facetime) – With Zoom, only the person initiating the meeting needs an account. Whilst other people do need to download a small app (which happens pretty seemlessly) there is no need for all participants to create an account, and it works on pretty much any device, desktop or mobile.
  3.  It has a free option, and some useful paid add ons – With the free option, the only real limitation is meeting length, capped at 40 mins – This will probably be fine for most, but the paid version at £12 per month, is great value if you need longer meetings. What’s more, only the person initiating the meeting needs a paid account to gain this benefit.

….however….

As so often with technology, nothing is perfect. There are downsides, and in the case of Zoom, the downside is their privacy policy, which allows them to collect data from your calls, including videos, screen shares, chat transcripts etc. and to use this data for various purposes. Zoom do say they will not sell your data. Whilst privacy is a concern, it does very much depend on how and why you are using Zoom. For us, and the types of conversations we have, right  now we see it as a good tool with the benefits outweighing the negatives.

For those who want to use a video chat for more sensitive purposes, maybe an alternative tool might be more appropriate. However, in our experience none of the other options deliver comparable performance, functionality or ease of use.

3. Xero Accounting

Historically, we have used Sage Line 50, and recently moved our accounts onto the cloud with Xero.  Sage is a good system, that worked well for us for many years, but it was predominently desk based, and relied on a data file that needed to be moved if you wanted to access it from a different location. Whilst Sage has moved on since we switched and now offer cloud options, Xero is again totally location agnostic, and allows you to manage your accounts from whereever you wish (so long as you are on line!).

Again a priceless facility in these times.

4. Cloud PBX IP Phone system – 3CX

The final one on my list is our phone system. Coincidentally, we switched from an office-hosted ISDN phone system to cloud-based 3cx just two months ago. Boy are we glad we did! 3CX works seamlessly when we are in the office, working as a traditional system with desktop extensions. When we were forced to work from home, switching the extensions to home was a doddle. Again, because everything is hosted in the cloud, all management of the system can be done online, anywhere with a connection to the web.

With the right tools, Working From Home need not be an issue

For us at least, these four tools have meant the switch to Working From Home has been bearable, even if it is taking a bit of getting used to! From the perspective of our clients, it has hopefully been fairly seamless. We are still able to pretty much operate “Business as usual”. In many cases, somewhat ironically, we find we are speaking to to people “face to face” more often than we have before!

I think that some of the changes arising out of necessity in the current lock-down climate will have positive repercussions for our business long into the future.

The Truth about WordPress Security

As you can read in David’s post this week, WordPress is a great tool for small businesses. and is a significant playing in the world of internet publishing. Here are few stats to illustrate my point:

WordPress currently powers:

  1. 60% of all CMS powered websites
  2. 14.7% of the world’s top websites
  3. 22% of the worlds top 1 million eCommerce sites

Finally, there have been over 1.25 billion plugin downloads on WordPress.org.

Add to this the fact that the code is public domain so it can be analysed to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Add all this together and it is no surprise that it has a reputation of being susceptible to hacking.

But how valid is this reputation? Below, I look at the reality of WordPress security, and look at 4 top tips for keeping your site safe.

The reality of WordPress security

There is a flip side. It’s ubiquity on the web, and the open nature of its code, are also key to it remaining secure.

Because it is so widely used, there are a-lot of developers interested in keeping it secure, and thwarting hackers. As a result there is an army of people communicating about and fixing vulnerabilities as they are identified. there are also great tools for being kept up to date and alerted whenever a vulnerability is identified, and informing what fixes are available. The result of this is that usually the window for hackers between a vulnerability being identified & fixed is narrow.

Another consequence of the wide use of WordPress is that it mean the economics of creating world class security plugins for the system are attractive, and as a result, there are a number available at either no, or low cost. the plugin we use is Wordfence.  Wordfence is available as a free of  paid for premium plugin.  In our experience, the free version does an excellent job of protecting and monitoring the health of your WordPress site.

Keeping your site secure

With all of this in mind here are my 3 top tips for keeping your site secure:

Keep your site up to date

This is the number one way to keep your site secure. In our experience, security issues usually occur where sites are running out of date code. Experience that is backed up by the stats which suggest that over 60% of compromised sites are out of date.

One of the great features of WordPress is the easy of keeping it up to date. Updating plugins, themes and core can be done at the click of a button. Whats more, use a backup plugin like Updraft plus, you will be prompted to perform a backup before you do the update. As a result, if you experience any issue with the update, rolling back is again a click of a button. Just one footnote on plugins. The need for reliable updates means you should always consider the support available when you install a plugin. If you are installing a mission critical plugin, it is always worth considering the paid version, as this will usually come with enhanced support. Furthermore, the fact that developers are earning an income will incentive the update process for then

Use a good security plugin

We use Wordfence on all our WordPress sites. Wordfence performs 3 useful tasks:

    1. Brute force protection – Wordfence will monitor attempts to login to your site, and restrict or lock out visitors whose login activity is seen as suspicious. It will also monitor visitors generating a lot of “Page not found” errors as this can often be an indication of a hacker trying to find vulnerabilities on a site.
    2. It provides an Application Firewall. This is a set of rules. This monitors all attempts to run code on the site, and passes them trough an algorithm to identify suspicious activity. Again any activity deemed to be a threat to the site is blocked before it ius run. Furthermore, the algorithm is constantly updated by Wordfence based on what it learns from the 1000’s of sites running the plugin. The speed with which this is updated being one of the benefits of the paid version of WordPress. However in our experience the free version does a respectable job in this area.
    3. It will scan your site for anomalies. Most compromises to sites involve adding or changing the code running your website. To protect against this Wordfence will scan the site for suspicious files. It does this by comparing the code on your site to the original code published by WordPress & plugin developers. Where it identifies unexpected code, it will send you an alert. In circumstances where your site has in-fact been compromised. fixing it is usually simply a case of restoring a recent, clean, backup. This brings me to my third tip.

Implement a backup routine

Make sure your site files & database is regularly backed up. By doing this, you ensure that even if your site does get compromised, you can make repairs without too much disruption.

For this task we use the UpdraftPlus plugin. This will automatically take backups of your site as scheduled by you. It will also automatically copy backups to a cloud storage system like Google drive or Dropbox, so that even if your web server is irrecoverably compromised, you should still have the necessary data & file to get up and running on a different server. We recommend backing up the database daily, and the site files weekly, we then keep a minimum 30 days worth of backups, just in case you take a few days to identify an issue.

Harden your login

The final tip is around login credentials.  Be sure to use secure passwords on your site (WordPress will monitor these as you set up users). Its also a good idea not to use “admin” as your default username as this is the first one a hacker will use when trying to get in by brute force. You can select your admin username when you set up WordPress, and if you are using admin, Wordfence will help you to change it easily.  Wordfence also offers the  facility to implement 2 factor Authentication (2FA) should this be deemed to be appropriate.

Be vigilant, Stay Secure

In our experience, if you follow the tips above, then in the real world, WordPress is a great and  secure website development tool. Add this to the benefits outlined in David’s post, and you have a fantastic & flexible tool for promoting your business.