Copyright? Royalty free? Public domain? Why can’t I just go on Google images and use any photo?

I’ve decided to look at the issues we can face when just using any image we happen to find on Google images for our blogs, Facebook pages, Instagram or on our websites. This has been brought to my attention by a friend who has had this problem recently and been fined. You could also find yourself with a fine if you don’t know about the rules surrounding use of images you might find on Google, for example.

When I first started blogging, I thought I could just log into Google images and use anything that came up…anything that caught my eye. Luckily I learned before I published my first blog that this isn’t the case and you can get into serious trouble if you just use anything. And there are some great sites out there where you can get free images without the worry of being fined….and they have fab images.

Copyright

copyright-850371_640Have a go yourself, just log into Google and type in ‘Images of cats’ for example…then click on one of the images. Yes, you can copy and paste the image…it doesn’t stop you from doing so, but it is illegal. If you look at the image you have clicked on, there is a caption under it saying, “Images may be subject to copyright.” It is up to you to check before you use anyone’s photo. However I found this was a bit of a hassle, because it can take a lot of research, going to page to page, until you find the information you are after.

The Wikipedia definition of ‘copyright’ is this:

“Copyright is a law that gives the owner of a work (like a book, movie, picture, song or website) the right to say how other people can use it. Copyright laws make it easier for authors to make money by selling their works. … If someone copies a work without permission, the owner can say they infringed their copyright.”

The Simple English Wikipedia goes into a bit more detail…

“With copyright, a work can only be copied if the owner gives permission. If someone copies a work without permission, the owner can say they infringed their copyright. When this happens, the owner may sue for the amount that should have been paid. Most cases are handled by civil law. In more serious cases, a person who copies a work that is protected under copyright could be arrested, fined, or even go to prison.”

Royalty-Free Images

Another thing you may see is that an image you want to use is ‘Royalty-free’, so does this mean it’s OK to use this one then? Actually no! The term, ‘Royalty Free’ is a type of license used by stock photography agencies to sell stock images. It’s usually just a one-off fee and you can use photos under a certain set of restrictions.

Again, Wikipedia gives the definition:

“RoyaltyFree Images. … The “free” in royaltyfree does not mean there is no cost for the license, but instead refers to being able to freely use the image without paying additional royalties. A small-business owner, for example, may opt to pay a one-time fee for RF images for his website.”

Public Domain Images

free-2751473_640These are the kind of images I now use on my blog and for some of my website images.

Good old Wikipedia describes these kind of images as:

“A public domain image is defined as a photo, clip art or vector whose copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. These images can be used by almost anyone for personal and commercial purposes.”

There are lots of public domain images sites on the internet. I use www.pixabay.com  a lot, as there is a good range of photos and cartoon images that I like. I also use www.unsplash.com too, which is similar.

When you go into these sites, you can search for any subject matter in the search line. When you click into the image, there is a ‘free download’ button to press. And underneath this button is the Pixabay License details. It usually says ‘Free for commercial use’ and ‘No attribution required’. I always check that this is written about the image I want to use, then I can just go ahead and download and use.

Other sites to consider are:

  • 1 Million Free Pictures – there are no copyright or other issues with this company as they make their own images and put them on their site and offer them free of charge to the public. Great if you want to get your logo up and running and can’t find an appropriate image.
  • The British Library is another site that has no copyright issues. According to the site, there are over a million images available for personal or commercial use – free of charge.
  • Public Domain Archive is a site managed by a professional photographer. There are thousands of images, both contemporary and vintage, on a range of topics, such as sport, animals, architecture etc. Photos are free to use for personal or commercial use and new photos are downloaded every week.
  • Negative Space is a great site for free high-resolution images, so perfect for using on your website or blog.

These are just a few of the sites available, and ones that I am familiar with, but there are loads more out there to choose from.

If you have a favourite site you use, please share with me so my readers can take advantage of the site.

World Well-being Week – feel isolated working from home?

World Well-being Week will provide the opportunity for all participants to promote an overall awareness for the various aspects of well-being, including social, physical, emotional, financial, career, community and environmental well-being.”

This is a fantastic initiative that encourages employers to look at the well-being of their employees; teachers to encourage their pupils to look at their well-being and professional bodies from all walks of life to think about all aspects of what they do. It cat-691175_640doesn’t necessarily mean work/life balance, although I’m sure that is part of it, but also focuses on mental health, the community and the environment.

It got me thinking about my own situation and how I can look at my own well-being and think about others in my situation. I work from home in a very rural area of France. I do have friends here and we meet up from time to time, but for the most part, I am in my own home, on my own, for up to 12 hours a day. I admit to talking to my cat and the chickens…and sometimes the wall…and always to myself! But working from home can be a very isolating place.

When you first give up work to go it alone, it’s exciting…you never have to return to your old job; if you have children, you don’t have to worry about childcare during school traffic-843309_640holidays; you don’t have to sit on a motorway, or get stuck in traffic every morning/evening; the world is your oyster, you can do what you want, when you want. But…well…it doesn’t always work out that way. These things are definitely a plus and whoever you work for might get increased productivity, a lower turnover and lower overall costs if you work from home, but there are some downsides. And it’s vitally important to maintain a work/life balance, as when you are working from home, with little distraction, it’s all too easy to work much longer hours than you would if you were employed.

Working from home also has its distractions…your dog barking, a neighbour popping in for coffee unannounced, family popping round or ringing as they know you’re there. And of course, social media! It’s easy to put Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest on and get lost in it for over an hour without even realising it, so you need to be disciplined.

It’s also been suggested that not being in an office environment can actually hinder your career – out of sight, out of mind – so you might get overlooked for promotions or working on important projects, simply because you’re not visible.

Combatting loneliness

However, I want to concentrate on your well-being if you choose to work from home.

people-1492052_640Most of the time, you will be alone…little interaction with other co-workers, no team to talk to, no one to bounce your ideas around with. In fact, a study conducted by Buffer in 2018, found that loneliness was the biggest struggle among remote workers, with 21% reporting that they’d experienced it. If left, loneliness can lead to depression, which is a common problem for many entrepreneurs who work along on a regular basis. One study found that 30% of entrepreneurs have struggled with depression.

If this rings true with you, there is light at the end of the tunnel as there are loads of ways to avoid loneliness when working at home. Here are a few:

  • wood-bench-986347_640You can work anywhere, so long as there is Wi-Fi. We all tend to huddle in our home offices, but it is just as easy to go to a local café, or even take a break away to a different town…and still work. It is a distraction to be isolated from others, so working from a café or other location, you will meet other people or just be around other people.
  • Work outside. Instead of sitting in your office, why not relocate to your garden, terrace or balcony? You’re still at home, but you are out in the sunshine and fresh air.
  • women-1179435_640Plan a break into your day. Try and get out of the house and your office space once a day. Maybe take a yoga class…you just have to plan it into your day, so you could start a bit earlier on that day, or work a bit later. You could go shopping for meet a friend for a coffee during your break. It will definitely make a difference and a change from the same four walls.
  • Get one of those Wi-Fi portable devices/dongles. This way you can work wherever you like…at the park, the beach, a bar…wherever you fancy working. It comes at a small cost, but it’s worth it for your well-being.
  • entrepreneurs-4208227_640Have a working break. Arrange to have a few days away. Sometimes a change of scenery is invigorating and brings out your creative side. Go to a nice B&B or hotel and enjoy working in a different environment. You could even take a working break in another country, factor in some holiday time whilst you’re there and have the best of both worlds.
  • webinar-4216601_640Have a virtual meeting. If you work as part of a virtual team, or work for a particular person, it’s usual for any interaction to be via email or online chat. So why not arrange a Skype or Face-time meeting. These are great as you can interact with the person on video and it’s like being in the same room. Research suggests that face to face interaction is essential for identifying opportunities for collaboration, innovation and developing relationships and networks.
  • Networking meetings. Another great resource for homeworkers is joining a networking meeting on a regular basis. These meetings generally take place early morning as a breakfast meeting or for a couple of hours in the morning leading up to lunch. It’s worth factoring these into your working life, even if you only go once a month, or once every two months. You’ll meet like-minded people and get the chance to talk to other businesses and share ideas. Networking often leads to collaborations, so what have you got to lose?

Obviously there will be evidence both for working at home and against. It’s really up to you which one you choose to do. It’s worth remembering that you need to be a self-starter, can focus on the tasks you have to complete in a day without distractions and that you are well organised. But all the other aspects I’ve talked about also need to be taken into consideration.

action-2277292_640For me, yes…it can be lonely at times, but I make time every couple of weeks to meet with friends for coffee during the day, or a friend comes to me to lunch or vice versa. I also sing in a band, so I have the weekly evening rehearsal to look forward to and gigs some weekends, so that kind of takes care of my social life. I’d be lying if I said I never wonder what it would be like to go back to a 9-5 office job and, for some it might be an option to do a part time job and work from home too. It’s got to be right for you and your well-being and it’s so important for your mental health to have a work/life balance.

If you have any stories about working from home and how you combat the isolation, I’d love to hear from you…or feel free to share in the comments section.

A picture is worth a thousand words

As a small business owner, most of us use social media or blogs to promote our businesses with our potential and existing audience. But when you know that most audiences engage with your content within the first eight seconds, it’s crucial to draw them in. This is where images are invaluable.

The phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ simply means that an image can convey a point or idea just as effectively as the written word. Images sometimes speak to us and actually say more than any caption you could write. According to Wikipedia, the phrase was first used by a journalist in 1911, so it’s nothing new. A photo or painting can show you certain emotions with one glance.

Images can be calming…quirky…modern…shocking – the media use images to convey their story. What do the images below say to you?

Some are calm images, some a bit scary – they might mean different things to different people, but they are very important in an article or blog and help pull a reader into your writing.

Audiences are lazy and don’t necessarily want to read a full article to get the gist of it – they want information as quickly as possible. However, if you were to write a blog post with just images, it wouldn’t mean a lot; they are important, but they have a supportive role that enhances your writing.

When writing anything, paragraphs are used to break up the text – in the same way, images should be used to help break up the monotony of just words on a page. If faced with a very long piece of text, in general people are more likely to scroll on through, but if the text is broken up with relevant images that illustrate what the text is about, this makes the text easier on the eye, easier to read and understand.

strawberry-2293337_640

Clear, crisp image!

When writing online, it’s important to have clear images. You can either take photographs yourself (make sure that they are high resolution) or you can use photos from the internet. However, it is very important that you do not breach any laws of copyright, so use a reputable site to source your images. There are several different types of images available…

  • Royalty free – you can usually use these images as you like, but you must not edit the pictures or resell them.
  • Rights managed – With this type of image, you have to buy a single-use license for each image you want. You also have to decide where and how you are going to use that image. As the license suggests, it is for single use, so if you buy it for an article or blog post, you wouldn’t then be able to use the same image elsewhere – you would have to buy an additional license.
  • Public domain. These images don’t have any restrictions, you don’t have to ask permission to use them and, although it’s considered courteous to put an accreditation note on the image, it’s not necessary and definitely not obligatory in any way.
  • Creative Commons. These are images that have been created by someone who wants to have accreditation to his/her work.

There are lots of sites out there, for example,  Shutterstock,  are great for buying images. If you want free images that need no accreditation, check out Unsplash or Pixabay. I use these regularly!

pie-chart-149727_640Images don’t just have to be photographs. If you’re trying to explain something technical, screen shots can be a great way to illustrate what you’re trying to say. And graphs, pie charts and info-graphics all have their place too in helping to make your text stand out and to help you tell your story.

Images are also fabulous at helping you with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you add an image to your blog, put a caption on your image. This caption  or alternative text, as it is more widely known, is what Google uses to crawl the internet looking for images, so descriptive ‘alternative text’ can help Google find your images…and therefore your blog.

ID-100245378Images of people are always popular; as humans we tend to relate to other humans, so the image of someone’s face will pull readers in. There are lots of stock photo images of groups of people and individuals, but don’t use these too often as they are too staged – try and take some of your own. If you’re giving someone advice about a topic, include a photo of yourself smiling and encouraging. Your readers will be able to relate to you and it’s always good to know the face behind the words!

Obviously you don’t want to overdo it. Images should be there to serve a purpose and illustrate a point. You don’t want to shove in a few pics randomly – they need to relate to your content.

Finally, size isn’t everything! You don’t want your images to overpower your words, so keep them to a reasonable size, so your reader can see them without zooming in, but not so big that they take over the text.

I hope this has been helpful. Please let me know if you have any further hints or tips for using images alongside the written word.

Manage your online reputation!

In the dim and distant past, the reputation of a small business was all about word of mouth. With no internet, reputation was based on you…how you conducted business, how you interacted with your customers and how your products hit the mark. If you got a negative comment, you would soon know about it, as most businesses were local, and you then had the chance to fix it.

stock-624712_640Nowadays, most businesses, even very small businesses, have an online presence – be it a website, social media page or advert. Because of the internet, small businesses are not limited to local business; we can sell worldwide and reach millions of people at the click of a mouse…and businesses are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although this is fabulous, in that you can reach millions of potential customers, it’s harder to manage your business’s reputation. If someone has left a negative comment somewhere on the web, you won’t always see it, but it can be just as damaging as a word of mouth negative remark. So how do you manage your online reputation?

Google your name

Have you ever googled your name or business name? Try it and see what pops up…you will be surprised…when I did it, there was information about me and my business, but bar-621033_640also various events I was involved in years ago when I was employed in the UK. Also try entering your name into google images – that surprised me too!

Every single day, thousands of people are looking online for information about businesses or just a particular person, simply by typing their name into a search engine. With information about you and your business in the public domain, managing your reputation is crucially important. It’s not difficult to manage, but it does take time.

What if you find a negative comment online about your business? You’ll probably want to remove it. If the comment is something someone has said about you on their website or blog, contact them direct and politely ask them to remove it.

Set up Google Alert

You can go into Google Alert and request that you get an email notification every time your name is published online. Simply type google.com/alerts into your browser and open the site. Type your name or business name into the search box. Choose ‘show options’ to narrow the search to a specific language/source/region. Then select ‘create alert’ – you can choose to have alerts sent to you daily or weekly…and you can cancel at any time. I’m doing it for a month just out of interest to see who searches my name…could be interesting!

Be active on Social Media

Not all of us want to do this or have time to, but it is worth joining a few social networks – even if you just use them to fully fill out the profile pages. You don’t have to be ID-100167081completely active on them all the time, but if you add content once a month, this can help your online reputation. As well as the usual sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, there is also Tumblr, Pinterest and YouTube, which are great channels to be a part of. I belong to a few of them, but am mainly active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube. One of my goals for this year is to be more active on these and a couple of other sites…even if only adding the odd article or adding a comment to something and why it is interesting to me.

If you do go onto new sites, fill out as much information as you can, especially your name – make sure you use your full name, not nicknames.

It’s also very important too, that if you do set up social media sites and potential customers contact you or ask questions, that you reply promptly. If you’re on social media sites, people expect you to be sociable! By posting regularly, asking questions, answering questions and giving advice, you’ll be engaging with people and eventually you will find you have a good and lasting relationship with your audience.

Be careful about what you post

There are times when we all take photos on a night out and post them to Facebook … but be wary of doing this as it could seriously affect your business reputation. The problem with social media is that other people can take photos of you and post them without your permission. If you do post pictures, remember to put a privacy setting on them so only attention-303861_640your friends can see them. There is still a problem with this as social media sites are always changing their rules and regulations, so you can’t be sure that privacy settings are really private…or will be in future. I always used to tell my children when they were teenagers – don’t post anything that you wouldn’t mind your grandparents seeing or, for that matter, the whole wide world! After all, it is the World Wide Web!

If someone does post an embarrassing photo of you and ‘tags’ you in it, you can remove that tag … and there is nothing stopping you from contacting the person who has posted it and asking them to remove it.

Encourage reviews

The upside to having an online presence, such as a website or blog, is that you can encourage reviews of your products and services. This is great for your reputation as those that love what you do tell the world about it when they write a good review. feedback-1978036_640However, there will always be the odd person who will give you a bad review or say something negative about you or your business. This is not necessarily a bad thing; the knee jerk reaction is to delete negative comments, but in reality, if you can address the problem publicly, taking a proactive feedback-3683068_640approach, apologising if necessary and offering alternative products or solutions…or asking the person making the comment to suggest how you can address the problem. Often, this shows you listen to your customers and take action, which can only show you in good light. The worst thing you can do is to ignore it and hope it will go away, or delete it. My advice would be to always reply and try and address any issues. Often this turns a negative into a positive.

If you don’t monitor and actively improve your online reputation, you are missing an ideal opportunity to grow your brand, earn respect from your customers and hopefully question-mark-1751308_640build your business.

I hope this article has helped address some of the issues around managing your online reputation. If you have any other tips, please let me know – what would you add to this list?

Did you start your New Year with a bang?

Happy New Year everyone, if a little belated! Did you start your New Year with a bang…
or was it more of a sigh?

color-1229859_640

January and February are notoriously hard for the small business as things are generally chimpanzee-978809_640quiet after the Christmas period and January seems to go on forever…or is that just me? It’s a time when we feel lethargic and I always think January feels like a bit of a let-down after the festivities of Christmas and New Year…..a bit like my Chimp friend here on the right!

Whether you’re busy or not, this is an ideal time to kick-start your business, tell people about what you do, show your products or services and get that business rolling in.

Lots of us make New Year’s Resolutions, but less than 10% will achieve that resolution…in fact by now (end of January) most people will have given up on their resolutions…or at least be finding them hard to keep. So, try and tap into what your customers make resolutions about. If you’re a health and fitness business, for example, some of your customers may want to lose weight and get healthy this year. Ask your customers what their resolutions were and see if you can help them achieve that resolution with your products or services.

media-998990_640

Social Media Marketing Ideas

Social Media is a very popular place to advertise your business – you can use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any of the other many sites. I’m going to look at Facebook and the Facebook business page.  If you have a business Facebook page, contrary to what you might think, people don’t follow you to solely buy your products or services. They like to see a wide variety of posts to keep their interest, so it’s a great idea to have a plan of the kind of things you will be posting month on month.

  • Interesting or entertaining content…this can be fun or factual, but all in a light-hearted way – maybe use memes, jokes, contests, puzzles or just a fun inspired image.
  • Content that inspires your audience – there are loads of inspirational quotations out there – you could google a particular theme and run with that for a month, posting something inspirational once or twice a week. Inspirational posts can also be image based – a breath-taking image, something that makes your audience say ‘Wow!’
  • Educational posts – can you teach your audience something? It could be a ‘how to….’ post; how to crochet a hat; how to make a particular tasty dish – a new exercise to combat belly fat or in my case…how to market your small business. These posts help to set you up as an expert in your field and inspires confidence in what you do.
  • Dialogue/chatty posts – these kind of posts are encouraging your followers to interact with you. Ask a question, and be genuinely interested in the answers you get; run a poll to find out your followers’ opinion on a particular subject; publish a post of something that interests you, maybe your favourite holiday destination, with a caption that says why you like your favourite destination – then ask what your followers’ favourite destination is and why.
  • Personal posts – I’ve read that it’s not a good idea to share too much from our personal lives. However, there is a time and place to engage with your audience on a personal level, to connect with your audience and show them you are a real person! You could share photos of your pet or an event you’ve been to; a place you love to visit and why or maybe what you’d like to do if you won the lottery! This makes you a real person that your customers can relate to, but worth noting to limit these to a couple times a month.
  • Promotional posts for your business… YES, there is space for this too! Share new products or services and how they can help your customers; a discount; buy one, get one free; recommend a friend. Also share customer referrals and testimonials

These are just a few ideas on how you can keep the attention of your customers and attract new ones on Facebook. The important thing is to make a plan with a good variety of posts to keep your customers’ interest and make them want to come back for more. Make it your February resolution to plan your business page on Facebook!

Pulling together your marketing strategy for 2019

2018 is fast coming to a close…can you believe it? If you haven’t already started to think about it, now is the time to be planning what you’re going to do with your business next year. It’s also a time to look back on what has happened this year – what worked well, what didn’t. So, before Christmas is here, it’s time to take stock, get your thinking cap on and decide what you want your business to achieve next year.

OK, what’s first?

The Seven Ps

If you haven’t already got a mission or vision statement, now is the time to write one. A mission/vision statement is just a couple of sentences stating what your business is, who you’re selling to (your target market), what you’re selling and what makes you stand out from the crowd. Once you have this, you can start working on how to market your business…to help me focus on every aspect of my business, I use the seven Ps…

money-2696234_640

  1. Product(s) – what is it about your product that makes your customers want to buy it? Do you need to change your products in any way to meet your customers’ needs?
  2. Pricing – how do you aim to compete with your competitor’s pricing? Do you want to match it… undercut them… or do you want to charge more for a more quality product and service?
  3. Place– where and how are you going to sell your products? Do you sell them yourself or outsource them to retail outlets?
  4. Promotion– how are you going to let your existing and potential customers know about your products? This includes thinking about advertising, PR, direct mail and personal selling.
  5. People – this refers to who works for your business, including yourself! Do you create the right impression and provide excellent customer service, so your customers have a good customer experience? I’m sure you do, but never forget to keep learning, training yourself and any employees to develop relevant skills to deliver your brand and excellent customer service.
  6. Process – this includes the processes involved in delivering your products to your customers. Are you easy to do business with? Is it easy for customers to find your products? If you have a website, is it easy to navigate? Are your contact details prominent, so you are easy to contact?
  7. present-2891870_640Physical – everything your customers see and feel when interacting with your business. This can be from the physical environment of your shops, office or wherever you provide and showcase your products or services, to meeting you face to face and how you come across to them, how you act and relate to your customers. It also includes your packaging and your branding.

Set your objectives

Now you can plan the future of your business. What objectives do you want to achieve? Get yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down with your laptop, tablet or good old pen and paper, so you can write each one down.

Each objective should include a description of what you intend to achieve, a goal if you like, and should include numbers to aim for. For example you might want to sell more of February-Stok-Photoa particular product, but just saying you want to sell more isn’t enough – you need to be specific, so you have something concrete to aim for. For example, say you have a crafting business and you make rag dolls. An objective might be to sell 40% more rag dolls in 2019, than you did in 2018. This gives you a solid and specific objective.

Don’t be tempted to write a long, long list of goals or objectives – aim for a maximum of five to six or you will find it all overwhelming and you won’t achieve any of them. As you achieve each objective throughout the year, you can add more then.

beard-2286440_640Once you have your list of objectives, put them into a timeline – what you want to achieve and by when. This makes it much easier for you to review at a later date. I usually put a date in my diary at the beginning of the year to review my business objectives every three months…of course, I’m not always brilliant at keeping to that date, but by having it in my diary, at least it’s a reminder and I do review things…even if it’s a couple of weeks after the date I originally set!

How will you achieve your objectives?

Now, go through each objective in turn – you already know what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. Next on the list is how you are going to achieve each of those objectives. Let’s go back to that earlier example – you want to sell 40% more rag doll-1043499_640dolls over the next 12 months. You know what you want to do – you know when you want that result. How are you going to sell that extra 40%? These could be some of your options…

  • Get your rag dolls into a retail outlet, café or craft shop
  • Start selling your dolls at a local craft market or at craft fayres
  • Start an online shop on Etsy or Ebay
  • Sell the dolls using party plan – people have an evening at their own home and invite their friends. You show the dolls and potential customers get to see them, touch them and hopefully put in an order

Put all your objectives, what you want to achieve, your timescale and how you’re going to do it into your timeline. This makes it easier for you to see at a glance what your business and marketing plan is for next year for each of your objectives. It also makes it easier for you to review at a later date.

Measure your success

tape-measure-1186496_640The last thing on your list is how will you measure the success of each of your objectives? Sticking with the rag doll example, this is an easy one – each quarter, measure how many more dolls you have sold compared to the same time last year. To achieve your 40% increase over the course of the year, you need to see a steady increase in sales from the new selling strategies you’ve put in place.

I hope this has helped you to start planning your business and marketing strategy for 2019.

If you would like to receive a free Goal Setting Timeline template, please fill in your name and email below and I’ll be happy to send it to you…Happy Planning!

9 ways to connect with your customers and grow your business

Do you want to grow your business
now and into 2019?

Every year millions of us make New Year’s Resolutions – but nine times out of ten, by the end of January, those resolutions are a distant memory. If you run a small business, or indeed any business, I’m sure that a business resolution is to grow your business year on year. So, rather than only make resolutions in January, why not think about it now? Start putting plans in place to connect with your customers in a more effective way – if your customers feel a connection with you, trust you and get great customer service, your business will grow.

Know and understand your customers
Your existing customers are your ‘bread and butter’. You already know that they like your products or services, but do you actually know them and understand why they buy what they do from you? The simplest way to get this information is to ask them! Send a

woman-3083378_640

Ask your customer for a review

survey telling them you value their opinion and ask what they like or dislike about your products/services.
If a customer has not given you a review, send them an email and ask them if they would, or if they prefer not to put a review in a public place, ask them if they would share their views with you on email. Good or bad, we can all learn from feedback.
As a ‘thank you’ for completing a survey or giving a review, you could offer them a discount when they next buy your products or use your services. Customer loyalty is absolutely crucial to your business and this will encourage just that!

Be accessible to your customers
This goes hand in hand with point number one and really speaks for itself. The one thing I hate when I ring a company to ask about their product or to find out more information, is reaching that robotic automated response. I’m more likely to hang up than I am to

sculpture-2275202_640

Listen to your customers

wait. It’s so important, especially for small businesses, to be accessible to customers. They want to speak to you, a real person, and have a friendly chat and get advice, or to place an order. It might not be you, but maybe someone who works for you, but try and ensure your customers speak to a real person. It helps build good relationships and trust and, when the conversation is over, they leave with a good feeling, instead of frustrated at having to ‘press 1’ for this or ‘press 2’ for that. Make sure that your contact details are easy to find and in a prominent place on all correspondence, social media and your website. If customers can’t find you, they’ll go somewhere else.

Make use of Social Media sites
Nearly everyone these days, from youngsters to pensioners are online in one way or another. Make sure your business has a social media presence, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or one of the many other sources. Check your social media pages a

man-1718099_640

Answer comments on social media sites

few times a day, reply to any comments or questions on your business pages. Listen to other businesses and what they have to say and comment on their pages. Engage generally with as many people as you can – this will help you understand behaviours and new trends, which you may be able to tap into.
The most important thing on social media is to stay focused – don’t get drawn into online arguments on your business page – keep it professional. Keep your page upbeat and positive.

Spend time networking

people-2557396_640

Attend a networking event

It’s important to meet other like-minded people, so try and attend a couple of networking events and meet other small businesses. Networking events are great for sharing business cards and flyers, talking about what you do and finding out what others in your area do. Fantastic for building new relationships, networking helps you connect with potential customers, employees and collaborators and even investors.

Collaboration

handshake-2009195_640

Collaborate!

This follows on nicely from networking. Find people you can collaborate with – for example, if you’re a hairdresser, you might want to link up with a make-up artist, so if you get booked for a wedding or special party, you can recommend a make-up artist…and vice versa. You can also share links to your websites on each other’s pages.

Incorporate visual marketing into your strategy
Use good images, live stream chats, webinars, videos and infographics to help promote

clapperboard-162085_640

Make a video

your business. Technology is always moving on and 2018 has seen a huge surge in this type of marketing. Don’t get left behind. There are loads of sites that offer free images or you could do a ‘live’ Facebook broadcast – it doesn’t have to be long. If you want to really connect with your customers, you could invite a small group to join you in a video chat to discuss what they like about your business and what might be improved. This would give you invaluable information.

Give away free stuff!

gift-1760869_640

Give a gift!

Everyone loves a freebie. You could give a few samples of a new product and ask your customers to trial it and give feedback. You could simply give a free gift to loyal customers or offer them a discount for a limited amount of time. This makes them feel valued, it nurtures your relationship with them and keeps them coming back for more. They’re also more likely to recommend you to their family and friends

Keep in touch with customers
Try and find a regular way to keep in touch with your customers. This could be a monthly newsletter or email, a courtesy call after a sale or after they have used your

computer-1185626_640

Keep in touch with customers

service. Think about it – if you bought something from a small business and a month later they rang you to see how you were getting on with that product, it would make you remember them in future. A balance needs to be struck as you don’t want to be a nuisance, but a simple courtesy call can make all the difference and shows you care. If there is a problem, it gives you the chance to solve it and so delight the customer even more. They will remember this kind of service.

Adapt and measure your business as it grows
We get our customers from many different places and ways – don’t forget to look for new ways to contact potential customers. Look at old business plans as there may have been

tape-measure-1186496_640

Measure to see what works and what doesn’t

something that didn’t work for you in the past that might now be perfect.
Don’t be afraid to stop doing something if it’s not working for you – it’s no good flogging a dead horse. Put it on the back burner to return to at a later date.
Don’t be scared to try new marketing ideas, learning about new social media channels, do a course on how to do video for your business. You will never know if something works if you don’t try.
And ALWAYS measure what you do to see what works and what doesn’t. Monitor where your customers come from so you know what marketing sources work best for you.

Finally, decide which way you’re going to take your business for the rest of this year and into next, write them down and update your existing business/marketing plan and incorporate into next year’s plans. If you don’t yet have a business/marketing plan, now might be the time to start!

If you have any observations or questions, please contact me – I love to chat about different approaches to customers and marketing.

An introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

“SEO is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or
a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results
– often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘earned’ results.” 

Wikipedia

If you mange or promote any online content, such as a website or blog, then it’s important to know about Search Engine Optimization. In simple terms, this is how your content gets recognised and found by search engines, such as Google or Bing.

How will I know if I can be found?

That’s easy…simply type in your business name or your website URL into google search and see what comes up. If your website or links to your business show in the results, you are in the Google index.

What if nothing shows?

If the results don’t find you, then your site is not in the Google index. Google crawls billions of pages so I guess that sometimes it will miss a site, but if nothing shows it’s often for one of the following reasons…

  • You might only just have launched your website, so if that’s the case, Google hasn’t yet had time to find it – so try again in a few weeks
  • Your site design may make it difficult for Google to crawl the content easily
  • Google may have received an error when attempting to crawl your site
  • Your site isn’t very well connected from other sites on the web

How to get your site on Google and Bing

It’s free and very easy to register your business and be included in search engines.

How to rank higher on search engines

Keyword test

keywords-letters-2041816_640OK, so you’ve tested whether you can be found, you’ve registered your business to make it easier to be found in search engines. Now you need to look at your website and ensure you have the right keywords and phrases in place.

  • It’s time to do some brainstorming – put yourself in your customers’ shoes – if you were looking for your services, what would you type into the search bar? Make a note of three or four things you’d type in – ask your friends and family what they’d search for and make a note of those too. The chances are some will be the same or similar and you’ll quickly see which words or phrases are most likely to be searched for.
  • Now, type those phrases into a search engine and find out where your website comes in the results. If you can’t find it after 10 pages, no one else will either. If you can, note down other sites that come up on the first page of each query/keyword or phrase. Are they similar to your business? Are they competitors? Are they local to you or national businesses?
  • Now it’s time to pick your top keywords/phrases…be realistic about these words as some will be very competitive and there will be loads of other businesses using the same keywords/phrases to keep their website at the top of the list.
  • Next, ensure your homepage contains those keywords/phrases. For small businesses who generally have one main page, add a couple of sentences that naturally describes what you do and weave in those keywords or phrases…but make sure it still makes sense. You don’t want an overload of keywords which don’t mean anything to your customers.
  • Then, wait for a couple of weeks and go back and search again on those keywords/phrases and see if your ranking has got nearer the top.

Page or blog post

  • In order to show your customers you know all about the products or services they are interested in, write a new page or a blog post about that subject, again weaving in the keywords. This doesn’t have to be long…just a short 200-300 words. Keep the text straight forward and easy to read and don’t use the keywords more than two or three times.I used to work in a big office and when I had to explain something, I’d always think, ‘how would I explain this to a friend over a drink in a pub?’ I still do this and find it easier to write.
  • Then use your social media sites to post links to your new page or blog post. This serves two purposes; search engines will track these links back to your website, so improve your rankings; it’s a great way to let your customers and friends involved in your business
  • Ask your friends or any contacts you have to post something about you on their website – ideally using your keywords – you can do the same for them. This is known as a ‘link exchange’. It is not ethical to do it loads of times, but as long as it is relevant and provides value to your or your friend/customers business, it will work to help your rankings.
  • Search engines like sites with external links sending them to other sources or websites.

 Don’t get consumed with SEO!

composing-2391005_640

  • Although SEO is important in helping you get your website recognised on search engines, don’t let it overtake everything you do, so that your content becomes just a bunch of words. You still want pages, articles or blogs to be interesting to read, so you still need to keep your reader at the heart of what you write. This is what content marketing is all about; writing for your audience, but being aware of keywords. It’s also good to write content that has a long sell-by date – something that doesn’t ‘get old’ too quickly.
  • Also, keep an eye on those competitor’s sites that you identified and see what they do on their site and on blogs etc. to keep their rankings high.
  • Use internal links too. For example if you’re writing a new blog or article that includes a reference to something you’ve written about before, include an internal link to that previous blog or article. This not only helps rankings but also helps your readers find more useful or related content.
  • Use images and ensure that your images have labels or tags, which include your keywords

Finally, have fun with your website and don’t get too obsessed with SEO. It is something that takes time, it’s not something that gives instant results. It’s a long term strategy that you can keep chipping away at. And never rely totally on search engines to get business…what would happen if search engines were abolished? Would your business still be able to operate? Things are always moving forward and changing, and whilst SEO is important, don’t get too obsessed with it and still have fun with your website and enjoy your writing.

Embrace your business…and love it!

It’s very exciting to set up your own business…if you’ve not worked for yourself before, it’s quite an adrenalin rush. There is so much to do…setting up your ideal working environment, buying the equipment you need and arranging it and of course getting those first customers and interacting with them. Whether you offer a product or a service, you have so many choices open to you. You choose when you go on holiday, what your days off are, what hours you will work, do you wear casual clothes or smart clothes? I guess the answer to most of these questions lies in what you actually do, but you get the gist of it…you’re upbeat, positive and full of energy.

However, after the initial rush fades away, reality sets in. You may still be very positive and proud of your business, but there may be challenges you weren’t expecting. There will be things you don’t like doing, activities that you find deadly dull and there will be some things you find impossible to do yourself. It might be you don’t have a particular technical skill and there may be things that test your patience and clients who you find challenging! But you ARE still doing what you love to do and it’s important to keep the focus on that when times are tough. But there are things you can do to help alleviate the stuff that you hate or find too difficult or challenging.

Delegate activities

id-10040854If you are a creative person, you may find that everyday jobs like email, accounts, taxes, marketing, social media or marketing, a distraction from what you want to be focussing on. Hiring someone to do those jobs for you is a great option, and hiring in an expert gives you peace of mind that everything will be done to a high standard and you can stop worrying about it.

Step back

Take time out, at least once a month, to step back and look at what’s working and what’s not in your business. Can you streamline some of the things you do to make your business more efficient? Take time to plan what’s coming next, add new goals to your business plan as you achieve your old goals.

It’s also important to take a break from your business – when you work for yourself, you rarely take time off as you’re constantly thinking about it. So, book some time away, have a holiday and switch off from work. You will return refreshed and raring to go.

Join groups

heart-3147976_640Running your own business can be very isolating and this can be depressing if you were previously used to working in a busy environment. There are always local groups of small businesses who get together to network, have lunch and generally chat about their businesses. Join some of those groups and meet other people … it’s highly motivating to talk to someone who is enthusiastic about what they do and that energy is contagious and will help you to revive your excitement about your business.

Learn a new skill

If there’s something you’ve been meaning to do, but just haven’t gotten around to, now’s the time to look at it. If you need to learn a new skill, get out there and do it…be it an online course or a short course at college or in a specialised work environment. This also gets you meeting other like-minded people and will bring a new facet to your business.

New possibilities

Is there something new you can do with your business? Is there a new market you can get into or new products or services you could introduce. There’s nothing like a new challenge to inject a bit of excitement and help calm down that restlessness.

Put the spark back

new-years-eve-1283521_640When you’re first in business, it’s like being in love. Exhilarating, exciting, stimulating. Then, after a while, it might feel like your business is losing its appeal, it’s become humdrum and a bit boring, as reality of day to day life sets in. It’s hard work and maybe not as financially rewarding as you hoped…and it makes you tired and irritable.

heart-268151_640So what’s the secret to rekindling the love for your business? Remind yourself of all the good things…make a list of all that’s good about your business, the positive things it brings you. What really matters to you and what ignited that spark to be in business in the first time? And finally, never lose hope, being in business for yourself isn’t a bed of roses, but with a little bit of patience and effort, you can learn to love it again and keep it alive and kicking.

What are your top tips for putting the spark back into your business? I’d love to know, so please feel free to contact me.

 

Is your mind-set holding you back?

think-2661191_640I came across an article online the other day about a slimming club. It gave the most amazing stories about people who had lost a lot of weight by changing the way they think about food. Then it occurred to me that this mind-set could apply to marketing. We’re all guilty of thinking that the hill is impossible to climb and that, in itself, puts obstacles in our way.

After doing some research, I found that there are some marketing mind-set mistakes that are quite common – they’re definitely among the comments I’ve heard when talking to people with small businesses.

  • Marketing is mysterious and unpredictable. Lots of people feel that marketing is just something they can’t get their heads around. It’s something you either can do or can’t and it’s too hard to do it effectively.
  • Marketing doesn’t work for my business. Most of the time, this is not that it doesn’t work, it’s just that you may have the wrong approach or you’ve tried so many different things and had little success. This is a hard one, because it will feel that no matter what you do, nothing seems to work.
  • I’m rubbish at marketing. I’ve heard this loads of times from customers who come to me to help them. But the truth is that everyone can learn and improve by learning new techniques, sometimes very simple ones. There are very few small businesses who start out as great marketers…they just learn over time what works best for them and their business…and learn as much as they can about how to get better results.

self-esteem-1566153_640

Change your marketing mind-set to achieve more    

Do any of the mind-set mistakes above strike a chord with you? If they do, you are one step closer to more marketing success – once you have identified what it is that is holding you back, you are ready to think about a new mind-set approach.

  • No matter what kind of business you have, be it a crafting business, shop owner, builder, hairdresser…you need to realise that as a business owner, you are constantly looking for new customers and trying to attract new customers, so you are already in the marketing business. You are a marketer!
  • Secondly, it’s important to believe that you can become more effective at marketing your business. You can learn how to do this, it’s not an impossible feat. It’s about being positive. I remember when I worked at a big insurance company in the UK in slogan-707017_640the Marketing and Communications department, I wanted to go for a promotion. In a meeting with my boss, she told me that if I wanted to go further and get my next grade, I needed to act like I already had that grade. So I looked at the criteria for the next grade and started learning how to do some of things that required and started acting like I was doing the job. After a relatively short time, I was promoted – my behaviours had changed and, instead of sitting there wishing I was the next grade up, I worked and thought as if I was already there. Applying this to small businesses, by learning the right marketing behaviours and practicing them, over time you will become more successful at marketing.
  • The most important point is that marketing your business is the key to growing your business. As you become more efficient and effective as a marketer, your business will naturally grow.

A good start is to write down what your current mind-set is regarding marketing and then look at what you can do to improve your mind-set and change your current behaviours. If you need help with your marketing strategy, please feel free to contact me … I’ll be happy to help you.