SEO and Social Media

Do you take the time to promote your content on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram? Do you hope that this will boost your search engine rankings?

There are experts out there who think trying to boost your search engine rankings this way is a waste of time. However, there is a link between social media and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but it isn’t very clear unless you try to understand the relationship between the two. I’m going to have a look at what you need to do to get search ranking from your social presence…and so bring traffic to your website.

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According to Google, social media is NOT a factor that directly affects your SEO ranking, but there is evidence that things like ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are somehow related to your ranking. However, social ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ are definitely a direct ranking factor for Bing…go figure!

How does social media affect SEO?

Let’s say you write a blog and write a sentence about your latest blog and post the URL link to it on your Facebook page.  It gets lots of likes and shares. Social media is built for people to share content, so the more people that share it, the more visibility your post will have. If friends of friends see your post and then click on the link to your actual blog (the URL), this will take traffic to your website or blog site, so they are linking to your site and it’s that linking to your site that is a major factor in SEO ranking. I know…a bit confusing!

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So how can you optimize your social media for SEO?

  • First of all, do you have several social media sites…Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest? Make sure that you have a consistent profile image so you are more recognisable. Complete all the profile or bio section, making sure it is totally relevant to your business, whilst being attractive enough to appeal to your audience. Include a link to your website and, if you have a newsletter sign up page/opt-in or a particular product campaign on the go, do a link to that too.
  • You hear this all the time, but it is so important…be consistent with your posts and post regular updates. This will be different depending on what social media site you use, for example on Twitter you need to post several times a day, but you don’t need to do this with Facebook or LinkedIn. So post according to guidelines for each different site.
  • Create great posts. Use eye-catching images/photos that attract attention, craft a good catchy headline and actually ASK for a share. This is good optimization and it has been proven that these techniques work.
  • The question I’ve been asked a lot lately is around the use of hashtags. Can they help with SEO? Hashtags are keywords, so yes, they can help to categorise your content and help social media users find it. But, hashtag use is different on every social media site…they are used extensively on Instagram, for example, but not so much on Facebook, although it is becoming more popular.
  • Take a good look at your website and ensure that your website content is optimized for social sharing. Here are a few tips to encourage visitors to share your content.
    – Create quality content with a great headline
    – Optimize content keywords
    – Include eye-catching images/photos
    – Make sure you have a call to action
    – Add social media sharing buttons to all your content – if you make it easy for people to share your content, they are more likely to do it.
    – Videos are huge at the moment and show up in search results, so introduce the odd video into your content.
  • Don’t forget about all of the above – it’s not enough to do it all and then walk away and leave your sites to their own devices. You need to constantly be there to engage with people who comment on your content – answer any queries, comment on their smartphone-1894723_640comments and respond to any reviews you get. You can also connect with influencers related to your content – like and share their content, make comments on their pages. If you belong to groups relating to your niche, take part in conversations, give advice, answer questions – interact with people. Your responses and interaction help social media algorithms recognise that your content is active, which in turn, improves its reach. And KEEP POSTING – social media moves very quickly and it’s easy for posts to get lost among all the others.

Like everything else when running your small business, social media is a crucial part of getting your messages, services and products out to the masses. It takes time and effort to make it successful, but stick with it and it will work.

Now, please share this article if you have found it useful and take a look at my other blog posts to find more articles to help you market your small business.

 

SEO & Hashtags FAQ

If you run your own small business, you probably use social media sites to promote your products or services. We all know that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important in promoting your website and blog content, but what about hashtags…do they help?

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What are hashtags?

Originally hashtags were used to help filter and organise conversations on Twitter, but they are now used on several social media platforms. I’ve mainly seen them on Twitter and Instagram, but have also noticed that they are starting to appear on Facebook and are on LinkedIn too. A hashtag is the sign # followed by a phrase such as marketing, so would be #marketing. It’s a category that posts relating to that subject can be streamed into; anyone can use it for their content, be it a blog post, an Instagram or Facebook post.

How can I use hashtags on social media?

A really easy way to get started is by using popular hashtags. One hashtag that I see regularly on Facebook and Instagram is #throwbackthursday or #tbt. This is used as a weekly theme by some Facebook groups where people and brands share things from instagram-4259655_640their past. The posts may be business related or completely personal. This is one of the popular hashtags used on Facebook on a regular basis.

There are different hashtags depending on what niche your business is in. For example if you are in the fitness business, you might use #fitnesstips #fitinspiration or #gymspiration to name a few….or if you are in marketing, you could use #marketingtips #marketingstrategy. There are thousands to choose from and research on what are the best hashtags for you to use for your business is crucial.

How many hashtags should I use?

How many you use depends on what social media platform you are posting on. Twitter allows space for hashtags, but it is best practice to stick to 2-3. Facebook is a tricky one – it’s best to post within a group where the hashtag is promoting a special day, such as #throwbackthursday rather than randomly adding hashtags to your posts – if you do, only use a couple as, at the moment according to Social Media Today, using hashtags within Facebook posts may actually prevent you from appearing in search results.

On the other hand, if you use Instagram, the world is your oyster where hashtags are concerned…you are encouraged to use as many relevant hashtags as possible.

So what do hashtags do for my business?

Hashtags are a great way to build your brand, boost a marketing campaign or sales campaign, and launch a competition or to just keep in touch with your target audience.

Using hashtags in tweets and on Instagram can really increase awareness of your business and engagement with you and your products/services.

icon-2486501_640They are an effective way to build your brand, for example use them to launch new products/services, share your promotional material or for just generating interest in what you do.

Hashtags are also great for creating a buzz with your website, spreading news and information about new products, events that you’re involved in or just creating hype for your business.

How do I find the right hashtag words?

It really is as simple as putting a search into Google. Just type in ‘popular hashtags for XXXXX’ whatever business you’re in – fitness, food, crafts, artist, and so on… a list of hashtags will come up. If you are using them on Instagram, as soon as you type the first hashtag, you will also see a list of other similar tags which you can also use. Try and avoid really long hashtags. When writing posts using hashtags, don’t forget to put links to your website as this will encourage more traffic.

Can hashtags help me find my target audience?

Yes, they can! For the purpose of this question, I’m going to talk about Instagram.

When you’re posting for your particular niche or business, you need to find the keywords that will be specific to your business. So, a generic term like ‘photographer’ or ‘blogger’ just won’t cut the mustard. You need people to be able to find out more about you, so for example on my Instagram account, I will post #marketingincharente as I am a Marketing Consultant and I live in the Charente…you get the idea! Or if you are a café, you could specify something on your menu, #fullenglishbreakfast and maybe the town you’re in. It’s more specific.

Being specific is what will help your target audience find you.

How many hashtags should I use?

  • Using Instagram again as an example, you can use up to 30, but generally I use between 11-20.
  • Use 4-5 really popular hashtags – general ones like, for example, #smallbusiness or #socialmedia.
  • Use another 5-7 that are moderately popular but not necessarily absolutely your niche.
  • Lastly use 4-5 very specific hashtags – the target keywords that your audience might be looking for. These generally don’t have a lot of content associated with them.
  • Use 1-2 branded hashtags that are only for your branded content.

The reason you use all these different types of hashtags is to keep your content in view for as long as possible. The most popular will bring a brief flurry of activity, then the moderately popular hashtags will kick in and your content will stay active on those for a few hours. Then your more niche specific hashtags will be noticed.

Of course, you will also receive activity from your followers, so you are still reaching out to your existing potential customers, as well as new ones.

Can I set up my own hashtag?

The simple answer is ‘yes, you can!’

hashtag-1120301_640But, there is a but! You cannot legally own a hashtag. If you find one that hasn’t been used, which will take a lot of research, you can register it. However, even registering the hashtag will not stop other people from using it – it’s not like owning a website domain. Registering just means you’ve staked a claim to that hashtag and adds you to the hashtag directory, where you can go into a bit more detail as to what the hashtag is for…you can write a description.

How do I register my hashtag? 

Once you have found a new hashtag relevant to your business, you can register it on sites like Hashtags.org

As soon as you have registered it, use your hashtag ALL THE TIME! Use it a lot…as much as you can! At first you will be the only one using it, but after time you will find others using it for articles, posts or blogs that talk about the same subject.

Do hashtags help with SEO?   

Again, the simple answer is ‘yes’. Hashtags are basically keywords, so they help you to categorise your content and help social media users to find it. Using hashtags in your social media posts will give you more opportunities to have your content in Google search results.

Finally, just be aware that hashtag use varies greatly with each social media platform so you need to be mindful of which platform you’re on!

Happy Hashtag Hunting! Let me know how you get on.

Improve the on-page SEO on your website

SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a term that refers to the way you can increase the traffic to your website. SEO involves making sure that the content you are publishing is rich in relevant keywords and phrases…and the way you organise headings, subheads, bullet points etc.

In simple terms, it’s the name given to the activity that endeavours to improve search engine ranking, in order for more people to come to your website and engage in your content.

On-page SEO

When you search for something on Google, you expect to find it almost instantly from the search results that appear. If you’ve asked a question, you expect that question to be answered in a few seconds. So, as a crafter of content, you want to help the person searching for your subject matter find it quickly and for it to be relevant and answer their search. Those of us who write content use many different types of websites, but no matter whether you use WordPress, GoDaddy, Wix or whatever, the subject matter/page layout is pretty much the same. Here’s a few hints and tips on how to improve the SEO on your website…

Create good title tags and meta descriptions

Title Tags

Title tags and meta descriptions are bits of HTML code in the header of a web page. When someone searches for a particular subject or asks a question on a search engine, search-engine-optimization-2613846_640the title tags and meta descriptions help the search engine understand the content of that page and the title tag and meta description is what is shown in blue link in the search results.

The title tag is what it says on the tin – the title element of a web page/ blog post that summarises the content of that page or post. Search engines expect the title tag to show relevant keywords and phrases that describe what your page/post is about. If Google doesn’t think the title is relevant for the page, it can choose to show a different title instead. So ensure that your title tags on your pages/posts show an accurate, compelling and succinct summary of what that particular page/post is about.

Tips for writing title tags   

  • The title MUST be absolutely and positively relevant to the content it describes on that page
  • Put important keywords/phrases at the front of the title tag to make them ‘pop-out’
  • Be natural – avoid keyword stuffing
  • seo-896175_640Every page on your website needs a unique title tag – avoid duplication
  • If you can fit it in, get your brand name at the end of the title tag – but it’s more important to get your message across first!
  • Keep the title tag to between 60-64 characters – any longer and it will be cut off and will just show an ellipsis “….”
  • Your title tag needs to entice readers in, so it should be eye-catching, exciting, compelling…make your reader want to find out more

Meta description or Meta tags

The title tag is limited, short and sweet, but a meta description (or meta tag as they’re also called) gives you more space to tell people what it is you’re offering – and to create a convincing and persuasive reason to click through to your website or blog.

So how to make that description compelling?

  • Focus on the positives of clicking to your page – use words like ‘your’ and ‘you’ to make it more personal
  • Include any special offers or incentives you might have
  • Encourage the person searching to take action now! Create a sense of urgency
  • Use emotional and psychological triggers

Tips for writing meta descriptions/meta tags

  • Make sure you have unique descriptions for every page on your website
  • Use relevant keywords and phrases – relevant being important here as your description needs to match what the page or post is about.
  • Don’t give away too much, just a teaser to explain what the page is about – tickle the reader’s curiosity!
  • Include a call to action…of course (!)…so your reader knows exactly what they need to do next and what’s in it for them.
  • Keep your meta description to around 150 characters. If you make them too long, search engines will cut off the end of your sentence.

Title tags and meta descriptions don’t play a direct role in helping you get your site to rank higher in search engines, but they are very important for reader engagement and for getting those readers to click through to your website.

Categories and Tags

What is the difference between categories and tags on a blog post?

What are they? How do you use them? Why are they so important?

There is quite a clear difference between tags and categories, but it’s very easy for users to get them muddled up. To be fair, in most instances it won’t matter for the end user, but here is a brief overview…

Categories

seo-592740_640As a general rule, you would use Categories to group the content on your website or blog into eight to ten segments. For example on my blog, some of the categories are Marketing, Small business tips, SEO, Customer Service.

You should aim for at least one category per post. If you forget to add one, it often defaults to ‘uncategorized’, which you really don’t want! It doesn’t make sense to your readers and looks unprofessional.

Tags

A Tag describes a blog post in more detail. So, for example, this blog post – I will use the word ‘tags and categories’ as one of my tags! Although Categories are important to have, you don’t need to have any tags at all if you don’t want to. I like to use them as it gives another way for my blogs to be seen by my targeted audience.

Alt Tags   

An Alt Tag is the name given to the labelling of an image on a website. If you hover your mouse over an image and the image has an alt tag, it will appear. It’s a very good idea to do this as search engines can’t see pictures or photos, so unless you tag them with a keyword or two, the search engine won’t display them to people search for that kind of image or keyword. This really helps with your SEO

Use the right URL to optimise SEO     

webinar-4216601_640A URL is your web address, for example, https://cindyfreelancewriter.com/

It identifies your website and gives a little bit of information about what you do or what your site is about. It is a very minor ranking factor for search engines, but if your URL contains a keyword, it can improve your site’s visibility. So, definitely worth a brief mention!

Have clear headings on your pages    

The main heading on each of your pages tells your readers, (and search engines), what the page is about.

Go through your website/blog site and look at all your headings – are they clear and to the point – do they match what the page is actually about? There is nothing more annoying than thinking you have found exactly what you’re looking for, only to realise that the heading doesn’t match the content.

Do include keywords, but be natural about it and avoid keyword stuffing.

Have quality content 

This goes without saying really. Look at all the content on your pages – does it match the heading? Have you covered everything your readers will be looking for from the heading? Does it include all the relevant keywords and their variations that you can think of and find?

Does it solve a problem for your reader? Does it address a common problem? Is it well written, so as to encourage engagement and is it a compelling read? Have a look at what your competitors do – now you know a bit more about structure, look at the way they include keywords, address problems, how they rank on Google.

Can you do better? Now’s the time to take action. Have a good look at your website pages and blog pages/posts and see where you can start making improvements.

 

Time management tips for your small business

Time management is about how you organise and plan your day and how long you spend on specific activities. I find there is never enough time in the day, but how is it that some people achieve so much more in just one 24 hour period than others?

The answer is managing your time, working smarter, not harder. But how do you do this?

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Let’s face it, running a small business is hard work and you have a myriad of things to deal with, especially if you are a one man band. You have to divide your time between admin, marketing, chasing leads, taking care of your existing customers, managing your website and social media, as well as actually doing the work that makes you a living!

So, how can you manage your time so you can get everything done with the least stress? I guess the first port of call is to look at what you currently do. Make a note of all the tasks you do over the period of a few days. Write down how long each task takes and what it entails. Effectively you are auditing your time. When you look at the results, you will be able to see where you spend your time and how you can improve or change what you do to become more effective, or to give yourself some much needed down time.

Identify what tasks are big time wasters

stop-sign-4647545_640These are tasks that take longer than you thought they would, or tasks that have a high risk of procrastination or distraction. Once you can identify these, you can allocate a set amount of time to doing them each day, so you concentrate on just that task and get it done – with a time constraint, there is less chance of being distracted or of taking too long to do it. Tasks could include email, phone calls, meetings and breaks – they are not productive, so give them a limit.

Avoid multi-tasking

It might seem like the best way to do things to save time. But focusing on one task at a time increases productivity and performance. For example, if you’re working on one task, but still answering email and text messages, even phone calls, means you’re not phone-1586198_640giving any one task your full attention. This can lead to having to revisit tasks as you forgot to do something or made a careless error. In turn, this ends up wasting you more time having to revisit. Turn off email and your phone so you can’t receive messages and emails whilst you’re focusing on a particular task. And put your phone onto answer phone with a message that says you’re busy right now but leave a message and you’ll get back to them within a certain amount of time – could be an hour or just half an hour – whilst you concentrate on getting an important task finished.

Delegate or outsource

If you are a small business and find that you are spending too long on tasks that could easily be done by someone else, then delegate or outsource those tasks. That then leaves delegate-1969952_640you time to focus on the important stuff. Hire someone to either do the  mundane stuff that you really don’t have time for, or for the more complicated things that you don’t know how to do, or that you know will take you too long as you’re not experienced in that area. You can also delegate or outsource tasks you absolutely hate doing. There is nothing wrong in delegating or outsourcing; it simply gives you more time to do the things you enjoy or that need to have your undivided attention.

Organise your office space

If your office space is cluttered and untidy, it can actually hamper your efficiency. If the physical space you are working in is organised, neat and tidy, it promotes a more relaxed mental state that is also decluttered, neat and tidy. There are lots of ways to organise your desk space, from buying colour-coded folders and having an in and out box to ensuring that your waste paper bin is emptied regularly. A cluttered workspace serves as a distraction, so aim for a clean and clear space.

The 80/20 rule

pareto-principle-693315_640The US President Dwight Eisenhower once said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” This is where the 80/20 rule (or Pareto principle) can help…80% of results come from 20% of effort, so it’s important to look at your list of tasks and decide what is actually important and just requires a bit of attention. Spend most of your time on the critical 20% and less on the rest…even if it does seem urgent.

Try the Pomodoro technique

No, I hadn’t heard of this until recently either! Apparently this technique was named tomatoes-1239176_640after a tomato shaped timer (pomodoro is Italian for tomato). You set the timer for 25 minutes, work solidly until the timer sounds, then give yourself a 5 minute break before going back to do another task for 25 minutes. This is a great technique if you struggle with focusing on a task or structuring your time. This is a great method to use if you want to ensure you only devote a certain amount of time to one task or if you have trouble focussing.

Plan in advance  

Planning ahead is always a good way to keep to a schedule. Give yourself a couple of checklist-2077022_640 (1)hours a week to plan what you will achieve the following week – set yourself achievable goals by writing a ‘to do’ list – It’s such a good feeling to tick off the items on the list and to feel you have achieved something. And, make sure that your goals are SMART… Specific/Measurable/Attainable/Realistic and Timely.

Prioritise your tasks

Sort your tasks into one of these categories…

Important and urgent… tasks in this category must be done right away, so focus all your energy on doing these before moving on to others

Important but not urgent…tasks in this category will be those that appear important but on closer inspection, they could be left until a later date if necessary.

Urgent but not important…these are tasks that nag at you, but once done have little or no lasting value to your business. These can be delegated or outsourced.

Not urgent and not important…these are low priority tasks that often give the illusion that you’re really busy. Can be done at a later date, when you’re not so busy.

Add the Important and urgent tasks to your ‘to do’ list and tick them off as you do them, then you can move on to the other categories in a more timely way.

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Take time out just for you!

This is often ignored, especially if you work alone on your small business. It’s so important to make sure you have some free time to do the things you love outside of your business. Spend time with family and friends, exercise or spend time in the garden. These down times are especially good for your mental health, can lower your stress levels and leave you feeling energised and ready to tackle those lists again.    

9 ways to keep your customers coming back for more!

Happy customers will love your products or services, they will recommend you to their families and friends…and they will keep coming back for more.

So, how do you get your customers to return time and time again?

The answer is providing excellent customer service. But not just providing excellent customer service, you need to have that genuine desire to delight your customers, making them feel valued and important. Customer service is not about selling your products or services, it’s about the whole experience that someone has when dealing with you; what you make them think and how you make them feel. There are several ways to do this ….and so keep them coming back time and time again.

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Know your products or services  

First of all, you need to know every single product or service that you offer inside out. Know how they work, anticipate what questions your potential customers will ask about each one and know the answers so, when a customers asked, you can immediately reply. Think about what your existing customers have asked you in the past and keep a record. There will always be a list of common questions.

Be approachable   

Customer service is all about being friendly and approachable – it starts with a smile. When I worked for a global corporation, we were told that when we answered the woman-977020_640phone, we must smile as it comes through on the call, even though the customer cannot see you…and it is true.

If you are meeting a customer face to face be welcoming and, if they buy something from you, thank them. This is so simple, but so important – it shows you value your customers and are grateful for them choosing you above your competitors.

Give a little respect!

Sometimes customer service can involve emotions; your customer may be upset, angry, happy, joyful, tearful…you can see every emotion. The most important thing is to keep neutral – NEVER let your own emotions get in the way of seeing your customer walk away happy with the service you have provided. Upset and angry customers can always be turned around by you understanding their issue and asking them what you can do to make it better. This takes me onto…

Listen to your customers

This is probably one of the most basic rules of excellent customer service. Listen intently to what they are saying and be aware of body language as someone can be talking to you as if they’re mildly annoyed, but their body language could be telling a completely different story.

hand-997394_640When your customer tells you something they are not happy about, or makes a suggestion that something you do could be improved, repeat what they have just told you. This shows them that you are listening to them and also that you value what they’re saying. Ask what you can do to rectify a mistake, or complaint….or ask how they think that something you do could be improved. Then it’s important to take the answers on board, write them down and tell your customer that you will deal with it personally and get back to them within a specified time-frame….and make sure you do! If within that time-frame you don’t have an answer, contact the customer anyway, even if just to let them know that you haven’t forgotten them, but that the issue or whatever, is taking longer than you expected.

Respond in a timely manner

If you use social media and customers make comments, respond as quickly and efficiently as you can. The same applies to emails…respond quickly. You may not be able to answer the query immediately, but responding quickly, if only to say you’ve seen their comment/received their email and that you’ll get back to them with an answer.

Ask for feedback on your products/services 

feedback-4746811_640As a small business, it’s important to keep in touch with your customers, so it’s always worth giving a customer a call, or send an email, thanking them for their custom and asking for feedback on the product or service you provided. This often produces very positive comments, which you can then ask them to put into writing or to leave a review or comment on your website or social media page.

You could also conduct a customer survey, use a feedback form … just try and make it common practice to ask for feedback.

Use the feedback you receive

If you ask for formal feedback via a survey or feedback form, it’s important that you act on the feedback you get. Review all the feedback you get, identify areas where you can improve and make any appropriate changes to your business. You may even get an idea for a new product or service you hadn’t thought of from feedback.

Keep your word

If you promise to do something for your customer, do it! Never break a promise or under-deliver. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

There are times when you can’t deliver what you’ve promised…speak to the customer, apologise and explain why and offer an alternative.

Reward your customers

gift-box-2458012_640Customers love to feel valued and a simple way to do this is to thank them for their custom – a simple thank you card sent with their order will go a long way.

It’s also good to encourage them to recommend you to friends and family – how? Offer an incentive. If a customer refers a friend and that friend buys from you, the customer gets 10% off his next order with you or receives a small gift.

You could also run a loyalty scheme or loyalty card – every time a customer buys from you they get points on a card – when the card is full – say having bought 10 items, they get a free gift or their next item up to a certain value, free of charge. Online card companies do this a lot.

Conclusion  

Excellent customer service is all about making your customers happy. If you have happy customers, they will be loyal to your brand, will recommend you to their family and friends and they will definitely be back for more!

If you have any other ideas on how to keep your customers coming back for more, please leave a comment.

GDPR Update

Disclaimer: GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a very large and complicated piece of legislation. I’m not a lawyer. The information in this article is absolutely not legal advice and I cannot be held responsible for its accuracy. Details of where to get the legal information can be found at the end of this article. However, the information provided will give you a starter for ten and give the most up to date information I can find…as at January 2020.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) came into force on 25 May 2018 for European businesses. As a small business, I read everything I could get my hands on to ensure that my business was compliant; 19 months on, there are still hundreds of businesses that don’t comply or who simply don’t know how to.

 

Although the UK is leaving Europe, if a business has any dealings with European countries, or has customers in European countries, they will still be subject to GDPR, so it’s vitally important to understand what you need to do to comply. I know that you’re probably glazing over now and may think it doesn’t affect you and who’s going to know if you comply or not, but small businesses are being investigated and questions are being asked, so it’s worth making the effort to ensure that you are covered…and it’s not too difficult to get your head around.

Is your business GDPR compliant_

How do I know if my business is impacted by GDPR?

Basically, if you control or process any kind of customer personal data then your business is impacted. This could be as simple as keeping your customers’ names and addresses, telephone numbers, IP addresses. Obviously some businesses will keep a lot more, such as medical information, bank account details etc.

GDPR is just about protecting those individuals, (your customers) from having their data fall into the wrong hands. The two key principles are that businesses must have appropriate, legal reasons for processing personal data and a business can only collect personal information for a specific purpose and it is only to be used for that purpose.

The good news is that for businesses with fewer than 250 employees, you are not required to keep records of your processing activities, unless it is regular activity, concerns sensitive information or if the data could threaten someone’s rights.

Most of us who have a small business hold some form of personal information about our customers – it might just be an email address or name and postal address, so there are some things to do to be GDPR compliant. There are very steep fines for those who don’t.

How to comply

  • Your responsibility
    There are two words to describe the person who is collecting and processing data…
    web-3963944_640Data Controller – the person who decides how and why personal data is collected. This is usually the business owner, as in my case. This person must ensure that the business is compliant, including transparency, data storage, data confidentiality and accuracy of data collected and stored. The Data Controller is also responsible for reporting to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) if a data breach occurs or if data is lost or stolen from your business..or report to CNIL if you are in France.
    Data Processor. This person (in my case it’s me too as I don’t have any employees!), is responsible for processing personal data, which includes anyone who has access to your customers’ personal information and uses it – say, for creating and sending marketing emails or sending out your newsletters to your customers. The Data Processor is responsible for ensuring data is processed in line with GDPR requirements and they should record processing activities, as well as ensuring appropriate security of the data they handle.
  • You need to understand your data
    – Do a thorough check on all the data you keep on your customers (and employees if you have them) – both past and present.
    – Decide how much data you really need. GDPR states you only need to hold data that is absolutely necessary, and for as short a time as possible. If you have old Excel spreadsheets with old customer data, you could be falling foul of the rules, so get rid of anything you no longer need.
    -If you have data that is defined by GDPR as ‘special categories of personal data’, you must have explicit permission from that person to hold that data about them. This includes political affiliation, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, trade union membership, racial and ethnic origin. The reason you must have permission to keep this data is that if it got into the wrong hands, it could be misused to discriminate against an individual.
    – You need explicit consent from anyone whose information (no matter how much or how little) you are going to store.
  • Your data consent policy also called Privacy Policy
    You must get clear and explicit consent from your customer that they are happy for you to obtain and store their personal information. It must be clearly explained keyboard-895556_640 (1)what personal information you want to collect and why, and how it will be used. The individual must agree and if they don’t, you must not collect and store their data under any circumstances. This includes conditional data collection, such as where you offer a freebie on your website to get people to sign up to your newsletter and then use that data for marketing your products or services.
    You must be able to show that you have obtained consent for the data you hold. Not having a record of consent leaves you open to fines.
    You must also provide an easy way for your customers to opt out of anything they’ve agreed to in the future. So, for example, if you send out a newsletter, there must be a box or email address shown that clearly states that the customer can unsubscribe to it at any time.
  • Old data
    If you already have a database of customers and their information, or you take over a business from someone else, including their customers, GDPR requires you to re-consent all of those customers. This means you must contact every single customer you have information on and ask their permission to continue to store and use their data.
    If they do not consent – and this includes anyone who does not respond – you must delete their data.
    The same applies to any old data you have on anyone – if you no longer need it, it must be deleted.
    binary-1327493_640For us small businesses, you need to have a policy that states how long you will keep a customer’s data if they are not continuously engaging with your business. For example you could say that any data you hold will be deleted after 12 months, if that customer has not engaged with your business during that 12 month period.
    It’s a good idea to set up regular data reviews to ensure data is not kept longer than necessary.
  • Data storage and security
    GDPR covers data, no matter where it is stored – be it on email, in customer databases, mobile phones, cloud-based service etc. As a small business, you need to create a data processing and storage policy. This should specify where customer data is secured, how it is protected, such as encrypting data and securing your website with SSL, and who has access to it (most likely your data processor to get email addresses, names etc) and for what purpose (could be to send out a newsletter for example).
    If you transfer data from one person to another or share with third parties, you need a plan for how the data is moved (such as on a USB stick or laptop) as this is a huge risk – having data encrypted can help alleviate the risk, but my advice would be – don’t move it!
  • Large businesses need to appoint a Data Protection Officer, but for the purpose of this article, talking to small businesses like myself (less than 250 employees), we would be exempt from this.
    If you do have employees, especially if they have access to customer data, they need to be trained on data handling and security.
  • Requests for access to data
    Any EU citizen can request access to all the data you hold on them – known as a Subject Access Request (SAR). This can be anything you hold, from name, address technology-3219129_640and email address, to any references made to them in email messages, websites, electronic notes etc. If you’re a small business, this won’t be too difficult, but for huge businesses, it would be very time consuming to go through hundreds of documents and data entries. That’s why it’s so important to know what you hold on your customers and where. If a customer makes a SAR, you have 30 days to comply, so good to have a plan in place.
  • Are your suppliers GDPR compliant?
    Small businesses often rely on contractors and suppliers. Even if your business is GDPR compliant, you must ensure suppliers and contractors are also GDPR compliant.
    Please note: Small businesses are exempt unless you’re working with a larger business that has more than 250 employees, in which case you can fall foul of GDPR if the larger business is not compliant. The quickest way to find out is to ask suppliers to complete a GDPR compliance form detailing how they handle data, security and storage procedures…and what type of data they handle. You can send them a GDPR compliance checklist for small businesses for them to complete. Ensure contracts specifically refer to a supplier or contractor being GDPR compliant. Include the right to audit their business if needed, such as making an on-site visit to review their data processing arrangements.
  • Create data processing notices
    Data handling must be fair and transparent, so you need to create a document explaining how your business deals with data. Known as Fair Processing Notices (FPNs). It all sounds complicated but an FPN is just about giving people clear information about what you’re doing with their personal data.
    You FPN should describe why you are processing their personal data, including that you have their consent via an opt-in or sign up to a newsletter for example.
    If you are sending their personal data to a third party, such as another customer, employee, supplier, you need to state this on the FPN.
    You also need to say how long you will be holding onto their data, known as the ‘retention period’.
    Finally, you need to state that all your customers should be aware of the existence of their personal data rights – this should be pointed out to your customers.

For more detailed information on GDPR…

Click here if your business is in France (in English!)

Click here if your business is in the UK.

8 reasons why you need a marketing plan

A marketing plan helps you develop your products and services that will meet the needs and wants of your target market. Marketing helps your customers see and understand why your products/services are better than or different from those offered by your competitors.

8 reasons why you need a marketing plan

  1. Why do you need marketing?

Marketing is what builds the relationship between you, your business and your customers. If you are a small business, it is vital to build a sound relationship of trust and understanding with your customer. This makes them loyal to you and your brand and loyal customers will not only give you repeat business, they will have enough confidence in you to try out new products or services. They will also recommend you to their friends and family.

Marketing also massively increases the visibility of your brand, so you are more easily recognisable.

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  1. Identify your target market

How do you identify your target market? Take a look at your existing regular customers. Who are they? What are they interested in? What are their problems that you can solve? What other needs do they have?

For example, if you sell baby products, your target market will be parents, parents to be, grandparents etc. You could also target baby shower events and children’s events; childminders; nurseries; soft-play areas; local Mum and baby groups; exercise classes for Mums to be or Mum and baby classes. The list is endless.

Have a look at your competitors – how do they meet the needs of your target market? How can you do it better?

  1. Conduct a SWOT analysis

SWOT stands for internal Strengths and Weaknesses, and external Opportunities and Threats. Pulling together a SWOT analysis can help you analyse where your business, its products/services, fit within the market and looks at your unique selling position. It can also help you find out how you can improve your business; what you’re really good at and what other businesses do.

Strengths – what do you do well in your business? What do you do better than your competitors?

Weaknesses – What do you need to improve on to remain competitive? What do your competitors do better than you? What is holding you back?

Opportunities – What current trends could lead your business to have increased sales? What can you use to your best advantage?

Threats – What could harm your business? What are the advantages that your competitors have over your business?

I have a FREE worksheet that you can download to help you…Conduct a SWOT Analysis 

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  1. Look at your competitors

List your competitors – who are they? If you analyse your competitors, you can find out how they work, what they do and compare them to your business.

What products or services do they sell?

Do they offer a similar product or service to you?

What do they offer their customers?

What do they do to engage with their customers?

Where are they? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

How do they market their products/services…e.g. social media, advertising etc.

The more information you can get about your competitors, the more chance you have of identifying where you fit into the market place and what opportunities are available to you.

  1. Decide on your goals

Once you know where your business stands in the market place and who your competitors are, you can decide what goals you want to set for your business. What do you want to achieve over the next 12 months?

Make your goals specific – instead of saying, ‘I want to sell more products’, look at your products and decide exactly how much more you want to sell. They might come under different categories. Go back to the baby product scenario…you might sell baby massage products, so a goal could be ‘Increase sales of baby massage products by 20% compared to last year’. You then have a definite goal to aim for…and it’s easier to review every few months because you calculate if you are on track to achieve your goal.

Aim for 4-6 short term goals – things that are fairly easy to achieve. You can always add more throughout the year if you achieve them.

Aim for 2-4 long term goals – things that are a bit more challenging. If you find that one of these goals is too challenging part way through the year, you can always break it down into smaller, more achievable chunks. 

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  1. Set your marketing strategies

Once you have set your goals, you can start looking at the short term goals in more detail. What activity is going to help you achieve that goal? What price or process will help you achieve your goals?

When you are trying to decide on which activities to use, choose those that best suit your business and your customers. For example, an advert in a local magazine or newspaper won’t necessarily reach your target market if they are primarily young adults, who generally don’t read this kind of thing. It’s a good idea to go for a few activities that complement each other. For example if your products/services can be for any age, you might go for an advert in a magazine, but also use social media or maybe local radio. You might sell your products at a market or craft fayre, so advertise the event on social media and do links to your products.

  1. Set your budget

It’s important to know how much you can afford to spend on marketing as not all marketing is free. You need to think hard about how best to spend that budget so you get the maximum benefit. Only spend on your current marketing goals, so that budget is used to help you achieve those goals. Advertising on Facebook, Instagram or in magazines all come at a cost, but if you are reaching your target customers, it will be worth it.     

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  1. Ensure your marketing plan is kept up to date

Reviewing your marketing plan on a regular basis is very important so that you not only know if you are on track to achieve your goals, you might also identify new trends in the market that means you have to tweak a particular goal.

It also serves the purpose of scrapping anything that you know isn’t working or changing a goal if you need to.

Looking at your plan helps you to measure how you’re doing against your plan and whether you will be successful.

Now you know why it’s so important to have a marketing plan, it’s time to jump into action!

Click here for your step by step guide to pulling together your marketing plan, You’ll also find a marketing plan template with the guide.

 

10 reasons why you need a business plan!

I’ve had a few people ask me recently, “just why is it so important to have a business plan?”

Well, a business plan serves two crucial core purposes; it provides a financial validation and it also serves as a roadmap to keep you on track all year.

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By financial validation, I mean that your plan gives both you and any outside funding institution you may need for loans etc. a strong indication as to whether your business venture will be a success. If you are doing a business plan for this purpose you would add in specific detail regarding how you run your business and whether you will get a return on any investment that, say a bank, will loan you and of course that you are financially viable enough to be able to afford loan repayments.

The second core purpose, the roadmap, is the area I will be looking at in more detail as this is what most small businesses (who don’t necessarily need financial input) think that a plan is not a necessity. And some small businesses manage completely fine without a plan, but I feel it is important as it lays out your action plan; details all the milestones and successes you have established and gives timescales for when you expect to complete certain tasks. It gives you a clear path to follow and keeps you focussed on achieving the goals that you have set for your business.

So, I’m going to focus on what a business plan does for your business and why it’s important.

10 reasons why you need a business plan (2)

 

To demonstrate that you’re serious about your business. This just puts it down in writing that you are committed to building your business and how you’re going to go about making it a success.

goals-2691265_640To ascertain your business goals or milestones. Your business plan will make you think about what you want to achieve with your business and where you see yourself in a year’s time… in five years’ time or more. You can plan not only your long-term goals, but also some quick wins and short term plans. They are significant events that you want to achieve, such as building a website, launching new products/services, producing a brochure and also things like getting your first 100 or 1000 followers on social media.

To understand and know your competition. A business plan forces you to look at your competition – analyse how they work, what they do that makes them stand out in the crowd, look at their products and how they advertise them, package them etc.

customer-563967_640To understand and know your customers. Planning makes you look at your customers; who are they? Why do they buy your products and why do they buy when they do? Do they belong to an average age group or geographic region? An in-depth customer analysis will help you understand what makes your customers tick and how you can better serve them and give them what they want.

To assess the feasibility of your business. Is your business viable? A feasibility study involves researching your target market and your competitors and will let you know if your business venture is likely to be a success.

money-2696228_640To determine your financial needs. Do you need to raise money to buy stock and how are you going to do this? Are there training opportunities for you, so you can learn more about what you do, that incur a cost? How will you factor this in? If you need a big financial injection, you will need to look at loans or investors…your plan will then need to be very specific around how you will be able to afford this kind of investment and what your return will be.

To reduce the risk of looking at the wrong business opportunity. If you do all your research, you will be able to clearly see if a particular business opportunity is going to be feasible, if there is a market for your products/services or whether an alternative route/opportunity might be better for you.

To push you to research your market and really get to know it. Researching your market will help you understand the latest trends in your particular area. Is this market growing or receding? What is the biggest threat to your business/industry? What is the size of your target market and how do you get your products/services in front of them? Your business plan will help you gain a greater understanding of the ‘what, when, where, who and how’ of what your business will face.

stamp-143192_640To pinpoint your brand. Creating a business plan makes you focus on what your brand is; helps you describe your business succinctly and decide how you will position your brand to your customers and target market.

To measure the success of your business. This is the bit that most of us forget about when running a business. It’s important to have measures in place so you know if a particular product or strategy is working. It gives you the option to change your strategy or break it down to make it easier to manage. By writing down the goals you want to achieve, you can look at them every month or quarter to see how you are doing against what you wanted to achieve at the beginning of the year…and adjust things accordingly – this might include removing certain goals, changing them or adding new ones. But if you don’t measure, you don’t know!

Your business plan is about what you want to do. It’s always a work in progress and once you have one and use it, you will wonder why you didn’t do it before!

Find out more about what to include in your business plan in more depth and how to do it …10 essential tips in making a good business plan

And click on this link for your free basic business plan template/instructions Business Plan

If you need any help or advice, please feel free to get in touch.

What marketing strategies are going to be popular for your small business in 2020?

With 2020 just around the corner, it’s time to think about what you want to achieve with your small business next year and to focus on your marketing strategy.

2020…the start of a new decade… and it will be no surprise to know that digital marketing is going to continue at pace to be the most popular form of marketing. With technology continually moving forward, it’s so important to keep on top of what’s new and how you can use it to promote your business.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing just means online marketing, using digital technology on the internet or on mobile devices. There are several digital marketing channels and I’m going to look at a few of them, with ‘marketing into a new decade’ in mind!

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Business website – Even if you have a great following on social media, it can’t replace having a business website. This is the home or hub of your business, the one place online where you are completely in control of everything you want to say about your business. It can be as simple or as fancy as you like…but the one MUST-HAVE is that it needs to be mobile friendly, as most people use mobile technology to scour the internet.

seo-592740_640SEO – or search engine optimization. This is the process of increasing traffic to your website. This includes using the right keywords, your social media presence, references to your website from external sites, to name a few. In 2020, this is going to be vital to keep ahead of your competition.

Local search engine optimization – as most people have mobile phones and use them ‘on the go’ they will be looking for local businesses when they are out and about. Google’s search results now apparently favour websites that are optimized for local search by including location information and location-related keywords. You can also claim your business location on local search directories, such as Google My Business. Just ensure that whatever local directories you choose to be a part of, that your details are exactly the same, including spelling, on all directories – not 10 High St in one and 10 High Street in another.

Email Marketing – these days nearly 7 out of 10 businesses use email marketing and it is the third most popular digital marketing method. Around half of the population check their email on mobile devices and research shows that a third of emails opened are opened on mobile devices. So, if you going the route of email marketing, think ‘mobile’ – keep emails short and clear with a clear call to action. Use white space to make it easy for ’click here’ buttons or links.

online-marketing-1246457_640Content marketing – this is about blog posts, e-books, infographics, videos etc. that you share digitally. The goal of content marketing is to entice users to view your content and take action, clicking your call to action button. For example, you might write a blog post about ‘How to insulate your house for winter’. The call to action button might be ‘Contact us to get a free quote to insulate your house this winter.’ And research is showing that rather than having lots of short blog posts, people prefer longer, more relevant information that answers their questions and is of value to them.

Pay-per-click advertising or PPC – PPC digital adverts appear when you do an internet search – if you have a PPC ad with terms that someone is searching for, your ad will come up. The name PPC comes from the fact that you only pay for the ad when someone clicks on it. You sometimes see this on Google and on some social media sites.

adult-3086300_640Voice Search – By 2020 it is expected that voice search will account for half of all Google searches. So how do you make sure your business is found? Good SEO will help, but it might be a good idea to create an FAQ page on your website answering questions that people might ask about your products or services. Make the questions sound the way that people talk. For example, if you own a fish and chip shop, people are more likely to ask ‘what chip shop is open right now?’ rather than the way they’d type a search into a search engine…opening times of fish and chip shop.

Google My Business – if you have one of these listings, regularly add new photos, posts, offers etc. and ensure your description is current. Add as much information as you can to it. Make sure that there is a link to your website and in particular, your reviews page – this promotes consistency across channels.

film-596519_640Online Video – Today’s generation prefer to view video footage to get answers to everything they want to know. YouTube is the second most popular website, pipped at the post only by Google. Videos that show someone how to do something, help solve their problems, etc. is definitely the way to go in 2020.

Tell your story – consumers love real interaction with businesses. They want to know the face behind the name, so think about how you can be transparent about your business and values. Live stream on FB, short informational videos, behind the scenes videos all help to create a feeling of intimacy with your customers – and that can help build a bond with your target market.

Social Media

follow-1210793_640No matter what channel you use, have a business page and plan what you are going to do and when. Try and plan a host of different posts to keep your customers coming back for more. Use video, audio with pictures, product posts, competitions, polls, quotes, funny stuff and serious stuff. Make things as visual as possible and plan to post regularly and consistently. You can look at your insights to find out who looks at your posts and when is the best time for you to post. Plan to post at least three times a week, more for visual channels like Instagram.

Messenger is also a great tool for customers and customer service. You can speak directly to your customers in real time, answering any questions or talking to them about a product they’re interested in.

In conclusion, marketing in 2020 will continue to move and change at a fast pace. Be willing to adapt to the change, embrace the new technology where you can and have fun making video content and thinking of ways to be more creative with your marketing. Your business will continue to develop and grow and you will find yourself attracting great, quality customers in your digital world!

If you would like a free consultation about how digital marketing could help your business in 2020, click here.

How to run a Facebook Christmas Campaign to sell your products

Christmas is usually the most important time of year for anyone who sells products or services. With around 93% of people owning a mobile phone or device, millions of them will be logging into Facebook (FB) looking for gift ideas, Christmas related posts and funnies. So it makes sense to use FB to reach some of this massive audience with your posts.   

christmas-2618269_640Christmas is the season of giving and all over the world, people get excited about everything that surrounds this magical time of year. So, let FB be your ‘Santa’s little helper’ and get started now on your Christmas campaign.

If you market your business, you’ll know that a giveaway is the way to get better engagement, more followers and sales. But as everyone who markets their business also knows, you need to stand out from your competition. So how can you run a successful Facebook Christmas campaign?

As an example, let’s say you run a jewellery business, selling jewellery that you make. You sell online via an online store and to the public directly through your market stall. You have a website where people can see your products and you have a business FB page.

What are you hoping to achieve by running a Christmas campaign?

  • Increase your sales of jewellery online and face to face
  • Raise the profile of your business (your brand)
  • More people looking at your product range on your website
  • More ‘likes’ on your FB page
  • Increase the enquiries you get about your jewellery

Now you know what you’re hoping to achieve, you can get started.

Your target market

The first thing to look at is your target market. Who do you want to sell to? What do they do for a living? What can they afford to buy and where do they live. You can get this by looking at your current customers and also look at who engages with your social media pages, your website and/or your blog.

If you have a FB business page, you can look at FB insights. This does take a while to get your head around if you want to fully analyse everything, but as a basic guide…Go to the Overview tab to export your FB Insights data. A pop-up box will appear with three choices…Page data, Post data and Video data. If you click on each of these in turn, you will be able to see key engagement metrics for your page. Facebook do a guide for more in depth information – click here

If you use Instagram, you can also look at their guide for analysing insights on your Instagram account. And you can use data and the details to run a Christmas campaign on Instagram too. Click here to see how to look at your Instagram insights.

cat-1898637_640You will have your unique brand for your products or services, but it’s a good idea to look at branding your products for Christmas and apply that branding to your FB posts and your website/blog. Famous brands do this every year, for example, television programmes such as Dr Who, will have a Christmas special episode, fast food outlets will use Christmas themed wrappings for their burgers, pizza etc. and there will always be a popular musician who will release a Christmas album, such as Cliff Richard! Everyone jumps on the bandwagon at Christmas, so why shouldn’t you too?

When you advertise your products for Christmas, give the ad a Christmassy theme, spice up your website or blog with some Christmas pages and look at packaging your products with Christmas paper, ribbons or offer a gift wrap service (either free or for a small charge).

Your campaign     

It’s up to you when to start your campaign, but generally campaigns start around the September/October point.

As I’m specifically talking about a FB campaign, let’s look at what kind of posts you can put up to attract business. The important thing to remember is that, although you want to be selling as much as you can during this period, it’s also important that your customers get something of value, something that makes a difference to their lives – what’s in it for them? How will they benefit from your campaign? So how can you do all this and still make a profit? Here are some ideas…

Offers/discounts

Everyone loves a bargain, so run a special offer for Christmas on a particular product or service. Make it clear that it’s for the Christmas period only.

sticker-473635_640Offer gift cards so customers can buy a gift card to give to family and friends.

You could run a ‘buy one, get one free offer’ or ‘buy one, get the second half price’ for a limited time. Big companies like Boots the chemist, do this every Christmas with their ‘buy two, get the third free’ offer.

Run a ‘recommend a friend’ offer – if one of your customer’s recommends a friend, then when that friend buys something, your customer gets a free gift or a money- off voucher.

Competition

Run a Christmas themed competition with a special prize – make sure that the prize is appealing and worth entering the competition for. You can do the results of the competition ‘live’ on FB or via a pre-recorded video for more impact…and you could do the same with the run up to the end date of the competition – for example, ‘only one week left to enter our fabulous competition to win a xxxxx’.

Share Christmas themed updates     

You can add value to your customers’ lives by sharing Christmas themed updates. For christmas-dinner-3011500_640example, if you are a restaurant, you could share your Chef’s favourite Christmas dish, dessert or menu; Hairdressers can share easy to do hairstyles for Christmas parties; Beauticians can offer special packages so your body/face/nails/feet etc. are ‘Christmas ready’!; If you sell make-up, you can push your glittery make-up or maybe publish a video on how to do your Christmas party make-up. You get the idea!

You could also share Christmas themed things on your FB page that are just useful and nothing to do with your business, such as ‘how to gift-wrap your presents with style’ or ‘how to decorate your tree’. These kind of posts have the potential to draw in a new audience who may then go on to look at your products/services.

As well as these posts, you could also post inspirational Christmas quotes, ask a question posts, nostalgic post and Christmas trivia related posts – maybe a ‘did you know….’ kind of thing.

You can also produce a FB ad for the Christmas period – socialmediatoday.com have a great article on how you can do this in detail, so have a read.

How many times a week should I post on FB?

The recommended number of posts is once a day and post in the afternoon to reach the maximum number of people. The minimum suggested is three times a week and maximum number, ten times a week. You can do all your posts in advance for the following week and schedule them to automatically appear at a certain time every day.

You don’t need to use all of the ideas I’ve talked about, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and that you will crack on with producing your Christmas campaign and I wish you luck with lots of sales and engagement!