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.

How to attract ‘likes’ to your Facebook page

large-193357_640It is estimated that there are around 40 million people on Facebook, many of them small businesses who use Facebook to promote their business and brand and connect with their customers. So, with this many people out there, why is it hard to attract ‘likes’ to your page? You could go the route of using paid ads, but I’d like to take you through some ideas that don’t cost any money.

Are your posts interesting?

One of the most common reasons why people don’t like certain pages is because they find the posts boring or uninteresting. This is why it’s so important to know your audience and know who you are aiming your marketing to. You need to know what floats their boat. I can’t answer that question for you as businesses have different target audiences, but I can point you in the direction of making your posts more interesting and engaging.

Images/Video

face-1103708_640 (1)Make images a regular feature of your posts…captivating and relevant images can increase engagement and reach on your page and posts. Research has shown that posts with multiple images get more interest, so definitely worth giving that a go.

Video has become very popular too so, as well as sharing photos and images, share a few relevant videos.

Facebook ‘Live’, where you record yourself in real time talking to your Facebook followers, is definitely the way to go too in 2019 and it’s a great way to engage with your followers…and gives you the chance to show them the real you!

Personal stuff

person-1245959_640People like to see the face behind a name, so make sure that you use a good profile picture of yourself.

Don’t go into overload, but also post some personal stuff on your business page, such as:

  • A few photos of your holiday
  • Talk about your favourite things or hobbies
  • Share a photo of your pet

An occasional personal post helps give you the human aspect and people are more likely to engage with you and your brand.

  • Make sure you have completed the ‘About’ section on your Facebook page; ensure your profile section is complete and that you have given your name, address (if applicable to your business or premises) and telephone number. Use relevant keywords in your title and in the ‘About’ section.
  • Fill out as much of the page info as you can; categories, sub-categories, the URL to your website (and vice versa), where you are based, your opening hours – this will all help when people do a Google search.
  • If someone sends you a private message, make sure you reply promptly.
  • Put a link to your Facebook page on your signature on email, on your website, on business cards and any marketing information, such as flyers/posters…and of course on any other social media you have, such as Twitter, Instagram etc.
  • If you write a blog, you can draw attention to your Facebook page by mentioning it in a blog post – make sure it is relevant to your blog post of course!

Competitions, Discounts, Offers, Incentives

  • Competitions are also a great way to entice people in – if you promote your competition on your website or to your customers on your email list, making liking your page a competition entry requirement. And when you announce the result, do it on Facebook ‘Live’ or via video stream
  • Offer an exclusive discount to those who like you on Facebook
  • When you promote new products or services, offer a special discount to the first 5-10 customers
  • Ask existing customers to recommend you to their friends and family and ask for referrals – if a customer refers someone to you and they buy, they get a 10% discount off their next order…or a free gift
  • Give loyalty cards to your customers, so every time they buy from you, they get a mark on their card – when they have bought 10 items, they get a free gift – a bit like the coffee shop loyalty cards!

woman-1169324_640Above all, try and post regularly, so your name keeps popping up on your followers pages – their friends may see your name a few times and decide to take a look at your page.

If you belong to groups, leave comments on posts, and answer any questions people pose, so your name is out there (try and post using your business page, not your personal page).

Keep your posts short and sweet as readers can scan them quickly without having to click on ‘read more’

Use a variety of posts

Finally, have your heard of the 80/20 rule? The idea is to keep promotional content of your business to a minimum, so post non-promotional content 80% of the time and keep promotional content to 20%.

social-media-3758364_640There are loads of different kinds of posts to keep your followers engaged, for example, promoting your blog post, inspirational quotes, top tip, competition and photos of your products.

These are just a few ideas. Don’t forget to look at your Facebook insights…as this gives you valuable information about your page and you can see what posts have been the most popular. You can then tailor posts for future use.

Happy Posting!

Boost your productivity with a clean and clear desk space

I don’t know about you, but I love the spring…seeing everything coming back to life, flowers pushing their way through the ground, lambs in the field next door to me and spring-bird-2295434_640everything feels fresh and new. The only downside is that the grass grows at a phenomenal rate, so I’m out on the sit-on lawnmower a lot! But even that gives me a weird sense of pleasure…my thinking time!

On my last batch of lawn mowing, I was thinking about my writing work, as I often do, and about a couple of articles I’d read recently about how productivity can be boosted by simply having a clean and clear desk space – I guess the this saying sprang to mind, “A cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind”. This rings a bit true for me, because while I constantly make lists about everything, from my daily work ‘to do’ list to shopping to what I need to do around the house and garden, I am a maker of ‘piles’. I have piles of books, papers, a ‘to do‘pile of stuff that needs looking at urgently etc. etc.

Piles of paper

cluttered-1295494_640I’ve always thought that my piles of stuff were a kind of organisation – I know where everything is; it’s my system and it works for me. In reality, it doesn’t, there have been several times recently where I couldn’t find something important…because I’d put it ‘somewhere safe’ in a pile of other paper. I’ve always found what I’m looking for in the end, but this has taken up precious time and effort…if I’d had a designated space for my piles of stuff, I’d know for sure where everything is.

Dump the piles!

It’s quite simple to get rid of the piles of ‘stuff’. The answer is organisation.

  • Go through the piles of stuff and organise the paper into an order – you might have bills to be paid, articles to read, stuff that needs filing. Whatever it might be take a few minutes to sort things out. Use a filing cabinet or shelving system to organise yourself – maybe use box files or lever arch files to put the same kind of thing in one place.
  • Have an inbox with things that need doing today, such as bills you can pay online, a reminder to email someone or ring someone. When those things have been done, file them away.
  • Throw out anything you don’t need – there’s bound to be things you no longer need or use, so bin it!
  • computer-2593921_640Go paperless – in our world of recycling and conserving the environment, it amazes me how many people don’t do online banking, for example. It’s so much easier that sifting through page after page of bank statements, when you can do it at a click of the mouse. I do appreciate that not everyone is computer savvy, but as much as possible, get rid of everything ‘paper’ that you can.
  • Schedule in a 15-20 minute session a week to clean your desk and surrounding work space. This will help you keep things organised and won’t allow you to let your piles build up again!
  • If you have documents that you need to keep, scan them into your computer and save them in a file. These things don’t have to take up valuable space on your computer, you can use one of the many free cloud storage devices, such as Dropbox, G Drive or iCloud.
  • If you use an office desk, take everything out of the drawers, be ruthless and throw away anything that you no longer need or use – if you have anything with personal information on it, burn it or shred it. Organise your drawers, so you will know where everything is at a glance.
  • If you have loads of electronic devices, chances are you’ll have a spaghetti-like muddle of cables and wires. That can be distracting or sometimes, even dangerous. Get them organised using a cable organisation system or those plastic ties. There are loads of products to help you with this – simply Google search or look on Amazon.

background-2091_640Finally, I just LOVE stationery! I have an abundance of pens, pads, staplers and little gadgets, but do I really need them all? I like to have them, but I don’t necessarily need them all on show on my desk, so if you’re the same, it’s time to find a place to put them…in a drawer, or in a box within a drawer, so you know where they are. Actually, having all my bits and bobs in a box within a drawer means I can buy some more stationery (!)…the little boxes to put everything in! Probably not a good idea, but works for me!

How does this boost productivity?

paperclip-168336_640A clean and clear office space will help you feel more organised and motivated, whereas a messy space makes for muddled thoughts and needless stress.

A cluttered desk also serves as a distraction, so if it’s clean, you can be more focused on what you need to do.

approval-15914_640Stress plays a bit part in most of our lives, and a huge pile of paper can make you feel that the hill is too big to climb; it’s overwhelming.

So, with a clean and clear desk space, you can start the day knowing where everything is, knowing what is a priority for the day and you’ll be able to be more focused on what needs to be done.

What do you do to help keep your desk space uncluttered and keep your mind clear to focus on your work? I’d love to hear from you!

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?

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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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

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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!

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  • 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.

 

How to market your business without using Social Media

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Facebook and how it might affect business Facebook pages. However, whilst social media has its place in marketing your small business, it isn’t the only way…there are several other ways, some easy, some fun and some that need a bit more work. Even if you decide to use other forms of social media, give a few of these a go!

  • Attend a conference specific to your business and meet other like-minded people
  • Network…try and get to a networking event. action-2277292_640You may find someone or a few people who you could collaborate with. For example if you’re a hairdresser, you might want to team up with a make-up artist, so you can pull together a package for weddings or prom events. You can put a link to their website on yours and vice versa.
  • Do you know your target market? If you do, find out where they hang out and target those areas with some striking flyers or posters. Of course, always make sure that you have permission to put up posters and leave flyers.
  • Always have a stock of business cards with you and hand them out to everyone you speak to. I’ve met people in a supermarket queue or Dr’s waiting room that I’ve got chatting to and given them my card…there’s always an opportunity! Don’t be afraid to ask if you can give someone your card – you never know when they might need your service. Be as creative as you can with your business cards so they really stand out from others.internet-1181586_640
  • If you don’t have a website, now is the time to think about getting one. There are several good, free website hosting sites that are straight forward enough for you to do yourself…or you can call in an expert to help you…and don’t forget to make sure it is mobile friendly!
  • A newsletter is a great way to keep in touch with your customers and to let them know about new products, popular products and to entice them with special offers.faces-63516_640
  • Have you told all your family and friends about your business? It’s obvious, I know, but there are always the odd Aunt or cousin you haven’t seen for a while, who may need your services…or may know someone who does.
  • Have you ever thought about a loyalty card? You’ve seen them in coffee shops – you buy ten coffees and then get one free. Offer your customers something special – a free gift or money-off voucher for continually coming back to you for business.
  • Pull together a free pdf or other resource that would be of interest to other people in the same business as you that they would benefit from and share with others. This is something that can take a bit of time and effort to develop, but it can really be worth it if you get it right.
  • Ask for recommendations from your current customers and use them in flyers and marketing material…don’t forget to add to your website.
  • Ask local newspapers, magazines or publications if you can be interviewed about what you do and promote it via your website.
  • blog-428950_640If you’re a blogger, arrange to interview an influential person in your niche…someone who is an expert or leading authority on the kind of thing you do. You could interview them as a podcast or use it for a blog post. Either way, once published, that person will tell his/her contacts about the interview and point them to it…and you will get more traffic to your blog/website and the possibility of them using your products or services.

Finally, have a good look at your website or get a friend to have a look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. Revamp, update  and refresh any old information – you may even want to think about a re-brand with fresh, engaging and eye-catching business cards, flyers, posters etc. This is not only a great way to attract new customers, but also to bring back old ones.