The customer journey that wins customers

It doesn’t matter if you’re a big company, or a small business, we all must think about what our customers want and how we get them from that first stage, where they’ve just heard about your business, to the purchase and advocacy stage.

This is called the customer journey, and by making a journey map, you can plan your customers’ route, ensuring you meet their needs along the way. Does this sound complicated? Are you glazing over? It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

Knowing what your customers want

The first stage starts before your customers even know you exist. This is the part where you do your research to find out what people want and need from a business like yours…and knowing your ideal customer.

Let’s take sports trainers as an example. You could say that your ideal market is everyone, but it’s important to niche down to a narrower market in order for you to be able to target them with your content. So, are you going to concentrate on comfort, or go for pure fashion? Are you going to target younger people or older people? What colours do you want to go for? What style? So, before you can look at the customer journey, you need to know exactly who your customers are. You can do this by looking at your current customers, look at the insights on your social media pages and the analytics from your website.

Build a few buyer personas, so you know what your customers like, what they want and what makes them buy.

Stages of the customer journey

Stage 1 – Awareness

This is where your customers first hear about your business or have their first experience of what you offer. They see this largely through your marketing. It might be they google a product of yours and it appears on a search engine like Google. Google could point them to your website or online shop, it might show them your business profile on Google, or show your social media pages.

They may see a physical flyer, pick up your business card at an event, see an advert in a local magazine, or it might be someone you get talking to, who asks what you do. They also may hear about you through word of mouth from their friends or relatives.

Where and how you market your business will depend on their age and lifestyle, so that’s why knowing your target market is so important. If you are marketing to an older audience, for example, some of your marketing would probably be through Facebook. But if your audience is much younger, you would use as many social media channels as you can, especially TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. The younger generation spend most of their free time online, so that’s where you’re most likely to find them.

Typically, people must be exposed to your business at least eight times before they start to recognise it, so it’s not a quick process.

Stage 2 – Consideration

This is where your potential customers are looking at what you have to offer and are thinking about whether your products or services fit the bill for them. Do you solve a problem they have and are you the person to go with over others they’ve seen?

Basically, are you worth investing in?

Your customer reviews and testimonials are what makes a difference in this stage. They want to see social proof that you’re as good as they’ve heard you are.

This is also where blogs come into their own – articles that potential customers can read that give proof that you know your stuff. The same applies to email newsletters. They may even sign up to your newsletter months before they become a customer.

The other thing that influences potential buyers at this stage is what they can see. Good images of your products, with good descriptions, telling them the benefits of your products – how they help, what they do and how potential customers can’t live without it! How will your product or service make their lives better?

So, good images and video on your website, online shop and social media are crucial.

Stage 3 –   Purchase

They’ve liked what they’ve seen, are convinced you are the right person to buy from and they go to your website or online shop to buy.

At this stage, it’s vital that your website or shop is easy to navigate, that it’s easy to pay for what they want, and everything is crystal clear as to what they can expect from you.

If they ask questions at this stage, getting a timely answer is an absolute must. Customer service is also an important part of the customer experience and their journey and can make the difference between getting that actual purchase or them going away and never returning.

Stage 4 – Service

Service is about going that extra mile for your customers. That age-old adage that says the customer is always right must come into play here, whether you agree or not. If your customer service hits the mark, you won’t go far wrong.

Things like a quick and efficient delivery service, securely and nicely packaged. You can’t always control the postal service and delivery times, but so long as you get an order out quickly and stay connected with your customer, this will go a long way to enhancing their customer experience.

If something does go wrong, don’t try, and hide it – be up front with your customer and admit to any mistakes and take immediate steps to rectify it. This is where communication is key – replying to emails, replying to complaints quickly, trying to resolve any issues to keep things running smoothly.

Similarly, if you have customers who are happy and tell you they are happy with your service, reply to them too and thank them for their comments. Always reply to every comment on your social media posts, every email you receive and reply to any message you get on social media. If you come across as genuine and friendly, and as a business who really cares and values its customers, things will go well.

Stage 5 – Loyalty

Loyalty is as it suggests – encouraging customers to be loyal to your brand and business. It’s about encouraging them to come back for more.

Gaining new customers is something we all aspire to, but retaining your existing customers is also crucial to the success of your business. So how do you keep that loyalty?

Send thank you cards with their order and maybe offer a small discount for their next order or add in a little small gift.

Introduce a loyalty scheme, with a card, so each time they buy from you, they get points. When they reach a certain number of points or have bought from you a certain number of times, they get a free gift, or a voucher valued at a certain amount that they can spend on your products or services.

Don’t ignore your customers once they have the product they’ve ordered. Leave it a couple of weeks, then message them to ask how they’re getting on with your product and how it’s working for them. Don’t be afraid to ask for a review.

Quite naturally, we don’t always think to leave a review if we’re happy with something – people typically only think about reviews if they have a bad experience. Sometimes a little prompt is all they need to leave a review on your social media page or website.

Invite them to follow you on social media, read your blogs or sign up to your newsletter.

Stage 6 – Advocacy

Advocacy – where the customer becomes your fan and tells everyone about how wonderful your products and services are. They use their experience with you and your business to shape other potential customers’ opinions. They might comment on your posts or share posts on social media.

They might talk about this amazing product they’ve bought from you to their friends and family, or they might give great stories about how your service is one of the best they’ve come across.

How customers behave at this advocacy stage is dependent on how they were treated in the other stages. Often it’s down to the overall customer experience they had with you, your brand, and your business.

And there you have it – the customer journey in seven steps. If you’d like help with any of these stages, or want help with identifying your target market, so you are hitting the ground running, give me a call or email me. I’m always happy to help.

Tracking your 2022 small business progress

I can’t quite believe that I’m writing about your 6-monthly business review already – it doesn’t seem like that long ago, we were talking about Christmas and New Year! And yet here we are in July and thinking about how that first 6 months has panned out. Did you achieve your goals? Are things going as well as you hoped it would?

Contrary to some peoples’ beliefs, the 6-month review isn’t about beating yourself up for not achieving what you hoped you would, it’s more about standing back, looking at what went well, and looking for opportunities to take your business forward to success in the next 6 months.

In December, I published a post ‘How to conduct your small business annual review,’ and this post follows on from that, talking more about analysing how you’re doing.

Let’s look at the money!

OK, first things first, let’s get this bit done first. 2022 has not been a good financial year for anyone – inflation is through the roof, there is a war in the Ukraine, which has influenced fuel prices, and food prices are at an all-time high. Add to that, Covid is still raging away in the background. The world is in turmoil and most families are having to tighten their belts to survive. Small businesses have struggled, and still are, struggling to sell as much as they hoped.

Oh dear, this does paint a rather gloomy picture doesn’t it? I’m sounding a bit like Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh stories! I do apologise, but the point I am making is that if your business hasn’t done as well as you had hoped back in December/January, there are reasons for this.

The first thing to do is to look at your predicted sales at the beginning of the year and compare with your actual sales. If you have hit your goal, brilliant, that’s great news. Have a look at why you made the sales when you did:

  • What did you do to get those sales?
  • Did you have any special offers running?
  • Look at where each sale came from – how did they find your business? What made them buy your product? Did they give you a review? If yes, look at your reviews to see if anything needs to change, or if their review suggests a new product.

If you didn’t hit your goals, don’t panic! As I said earlier, it’s been a tough year for all businesses this year, small or large. Have a look at what you’ve done and try to find out why it didn’t work. What can you do more of, or do better, to raise your sales figures for the end of the year?

Analysing your small business marketing

The next thing to look at is your marketing. I know, I can hear you groaning from here! I adore marketing and love getting down to the nitty gritty, but it’s my job and my passion and I realise that not all small businesses share my enthusiasm!

So, let’s keep it short and simple:

  • Look at the goals you set at the beginning of the year. What have you achieved and what still needs more work? Have any of your priorities changed over the past 6 months? Do any of your goals need to change, become more challenging, or do you need to get rid of any that just aren’t now workable?
  • Look at your website analytics. You will have highs and lows on your figures. Look at the dates of the highs and see if they correspond with any particular campaign you may have been running at that time. Do the same for the low points. Then you’ll have an idea of what marketing activity gets people to your website. For example, if things were a bit quiet and you decided to do a Tenner Tuesday, for example, what impact did that have on your website stats?
  • Now look at your social media pages – look at the insights page. Most only go back over the past 3 months. Look at what posts were popular, and why they were popular. What made people engage with them? If you look at your top six posts and stories, you should see what draws people in. It could be that you published an educational video, or you went ‘live’ or published something amusing or inspiring. It always amazes me – what I think will be popular isn’t usually among my top four posts.

    Also, be honest with yourself – if you have more than one social media account, are you using them to the best of your ability and using your marketing tactics for all channels? If you find that one particular channel is not hitting the mark for you, you don’t get much engagement etc, you might want to ‘call time’ on that account. There is no point flogging yourself on a channel that just doesn’t work for you and your business. I tried Twitter and just didn’t like it, and it didn’t work well for me. No matter how much I read about using it properly, it just didn’t resonate with me, so I started to ignore it. In the end, I just binned it – it wasn’t for me – end of!
  • What else helped you with your marketing? Are you a member of any networking groups? These hugely help small businesses in my experience. Or maybe you attend networking groups or meetings in person. If you do, think about how the networking helps your business. Did you get more sales through networking?
  • Similarly, if you have attended any fayres or markets, were they worth the investment to go? Did they work for you and your business? They don’t work for everyone, so don’t feel despondent if you feel that they are not for you.

The next 6 months

Finally, it’s time to look forward. You now have the benefit of hindsight – I always say that hindsight is a wonderful thing!

From the goals you have, or have reset, how are you going to achieve them? What marketing tactics are you going to use to get to where you want to be by the end of the year?

If your business relies heavily on sales at Christmas, now is the time to start advertising, creating ads and campaigns that will see you through to the New Year. In general, people start planning for Christmas much earlier these days, so they can spread the inevitable cost. Once winter is here, with the cost of fuel, bills, and food set to rise in the Autumn, now is the time to hit the market with your wares, or at least be prepared to get your marketing tactics in place for the end of the summer.

We know that there is a huge lull in business during the early part of the year, so now is the time to plan whatever buzz you want to create to keep your business ticking over.

With all this in mind, planning is your best friend. Get that notebook out or set up a spreadsheet – however you like to do things. Plan your goals for the rest of the year, and how you will achieve them.

Celebrate!

And lastly, DON’T FORGET TO CELEBRATE! Celebrate all you have achieved so far – pat yourself on the back, give yourself a round of applause and shout about your successes on your social media pages. Any win, no matter how big or small, is a win. Take the chance to be proud of yourself and your small business. It’s all yours and you are the one who works hard to keep it going.

Good luck to each and every one of you.

If you need any help with your marketing, or with reviewing what you’ve done, or are just feeling generally overwhelmed and don’t know which way to turn, give me a shout. I’m happy to help.

cindymobey@outlook.com       

How to conduct your small business annual review

If you haven’t already thought about what you want your business to achieve in 2022, now is the time to review the past year, so you can plan for next year.

It’s a bit like having your annual performance review when you work for an employer, only you conduct it on your small business. When you run your own business, you need to keep track of so many things, it’s normal for things to sometimes slide. But as we are getting close to the end of 2021, it’s important to be thinking about what your goals will be for next year and how you’re going to achieve that. But you can’t do that until you know how you’ve done this year.

Your business performance review should cover everything your business has been through over the past 12 months and include your successes as well as those not so successful moments.

Look at your 2021 goals

Did you write down your goals last year? If you did, did you achieve what you set out to do?

This is the time to look at both your short term goals for last year – and the more long-term goals to see where you are. You could ask questions such as:

  • What went well in 2021?
  • What challenges did you face?
  • What didn’t go so well?
  • What did you learn from the things that didn’t go so well?
  • Did you learn any new skills or take any courses?
  • How can you repeat the successes you had for next year?
  • How can you avoid any mistakes you made this year?

If you employ anyone, such as VA, it’s time to have a conversation with them and ask them the same questions. You can brainstorm ideas, give, and receive constructive criticism for improvements and come up with a few good goals for 2022.

Look at your business practices

All of us small business owners offer either a service or products to our customers. This is the time to look at how your business practices are working…and if you are aiming all your sales/content etc. to the right audience.

  • Look at your customers. Do you know what your customers’ pain points are? Do you know what your customers’ needs are?
    Once you know this, you can identify how your business is going to provide solutions.
  • Are you giving your customers a good service? If you set your standards high at the beginning of the year, are you still delivering the same standard of service at the end of the year?
  • Are your products or services good value for money?
  • Look at feedback and reviews from your customers so you can identify what products or services were most popular and why.
    If you can identify why a particular product or service is so popular, you can look at how you can replicate that in 2022.

Look at the financials

We all hate looking at our figures, but it’s important to make financial evaluations to determine where you are…if you’re making a profit etc.

Cash flow is the obvious one. You take money in; you pay money out. Sales and expenses are important to understand how you’ve done this year. Compare your sales and expenses to the previous year and see where there are improvements, or losses. Doing this, you’ll be able to have an idea of what you might be able to do next year.

What do you pay out? All businesses must pay out to buy materials, stock, stationery etc. Are you getting the best deals for those items? Have they increased in price this year? Do you need to take that into account for next year? You might need to raise or lower your prices to compensate.

Look at your business insurance. This is often overlooked. Does it cover you for everything you need to be covered for or do you need to have a conversation with your financial adviser?

Are all your relevant licenses and safety certificates up to date?

Expansion – As your business grows, you may have to think about expansion. Do you need to take on an assistant? Do you need bigger premises? Do you need to have a larger stock to cover your increasing client base?

If you are expanding quickly, now is the time to be thinking about employing an accountant ready for those all important, but pain in the wotsit tax returns.

Look at all your social media data

This might seem obvious, but if you’re on social media, it’s really important to look at all your insights for the year. Here are the areas that are worth looking at:

Engagement – yes, you might be getting loads of ‘likes’ on your content, but does it actually get followers to click on your website, or your profile. And do you get sales from those clicks?

You can use this information to help you look at your marketing strategy for next year.

Location – you can see where your followers are from in your insights. We often assume our most engaged followers are local and buy from us. You might be surprised…and if you find you have a following from another country or area, you can customise your content accordingly.

Feedback/Reviews – You will be able to see if any customers have left reviews or feedback on social media, but what about all the other people you’ve sold to this year. If you haven’t had complaints from them, you can assume that they must have been happy with your product or services. You could send out a survey to ask questions about your products or services. If a customer has bought a specific item, ask them what they liked about it. If you put a clause in the survey to say that you can use comments on your website or for promotion – any complimentary reviews you get, you can use. (I still always check if it’s OK to use anyway, but worth including the wording.)

You could offer an incentive to reply, such a 10% off voucher to use in January. This is a brilliant way to get more replies as people just love getting something for nothing – a freebie or money-off voucher.

Take note of any feedback you get and act upon it. If there is a criticism, ask more questions so you can understand what a problem might be – you may be able to solve it simply and quickly with a tweak to your products or services.

Visibility – Where did your customers find you? Did they discover your business on social media? Did they come across you on a Google Search? Was it a personal referral or something else?

This is useful data as you know which areas to work on and you can see which area works best. Every business is different, so what works well for one, won’t work well for another.

Market analysis   

When you first started in business, did you do a business plan or marketing plan? If you did, you will have conducted research into your ideal market. However, this can change so quickly, so it’s always worth including this in your review.

  • This is where you’ll look at your customers’ needs and how you can best serve them. Have your customers’ needs changed since the last time you looked?
  • Look at your existing customers – what do they like/dislike. Is there something they need that you can supply – or do they have a problem that you can solve?

Check out your competitors

This is always worth doing to see what they are up to and how you can compete.

  • Can you offer something unique, that they don’t offer?
  • Is your customer service up to scratch?
  • Look at why your customers choose you over your competitors and make sure you include something around this advantage in your marketing plan for next year.

Celebrate your successes

The point of doing a review is to find out how your business has done against the plans and goals you set. But it’s also important to celebrate all your hard work. Shout about any wins you’ve had and let your customers know how successful your business has been.

You could share the highlights of your year in a social media post for example. Then also give your audience a little teaser about what’s to come in the New Year.

Your 2022 strategy

Once you have completed your 2021 review and have all the data, you’ll be in a better position to know what works well for your business and what doesn’t.

With this in mind, you can now go on to plan your business and marketing strategy for 2022.

If you have some big or challenging goals you want to aim for, why not think about breaking them down into more manageable chunks?

Good luck with your marketing planning and strategy. If you would like a free marketing strategy workbook, that takes you through your marketing plan, step-by-step, please click on the link below and sign up to my monthly marketing tips email. You will receive your free workbook into your inbox.

As always, if you need any help, please feel free to contact me…my inbox is always open.

Discover the secrets of delegation for small businesses

Unless you’ve actually owned your own small business, it’s difficult to tell someone what it’s like – you need vision, passion, a huge helping of optimism and lots of positive energy to start a business from scratch. Then you have to maintain a high level of dedication and work hard to pull everything together. There is so much to think about, from sorting out your products/services, your brand, website, social media marketing, online marketing, ads, as well as running your business and all the day to day things that entails.  

Most of us who own a small business launch ourselves headlong into everything, have our fingers in every pie. But even during the early stages of your business, it’s often worth getting some help with some aspects, such as building your website, designing a logo and advice on building your brand. However, I know that most of us will try and do everything ourselves and eventually there will come a time when you find you can’t do everything on your own AND keep your business successful and thriving.

It’s impossible to work 24 hours a day, so there comes a point where something has to give. You either have to think about what you can stop doing, or you have to think about delegating some of the tasks you’re either not that good at, or don’t like doing, or simply need someone with more expertise to get it right. It can feel like a tough call to make as your business is, in many ways, your baby. I understand that only too well, and delegating or outsourcing some of the work means you have to give up a certain amount of control over that area.

How do you decide what to delegate?    

First of all, why is delegating so important to you and your business? The most important aspect must be that it makes financial sense – that you’ll make more money by passing a task on to someone else, than if you tried to do it yourself.

Most businesses think nothing of employing someone to do their accounts or tax return. Most are happy that they are handing it over to a professional and you trust them to do it properly. It’s the same principle with the other aspects of your business that you want to pass onto someone else.

Another thing to think about is the stress factor. If you try to do too much and are working long hours, six to seven days a week to keep your business running, you are in serious danger of suffering from burnout. As well as making you physically and mentally ill, it can leave you feeling trapped, detached from the very business you love and with no motivation to pull yourself back up again.

You are the leader, the boss, of your business. If you had an employee who was not coping with the sheer amount of work he/she had, what would you do? You would most probably remove some of the stress that person was under by giving some of their work to someone else to relieve the stress they were feeling.

As the leader of your business, you need to make the best use of the resources you have. Your time, energy and enthusiasm MUST be spent on working on the most important and core parts of your business.  

OK, time to put your thinking cap on. First of all, do not pass on any tasks that are the absolute core of your business – things that you need to have absolute control over and MUST do yourself. Think of a big company like DELL or Apple. They come up with the innovative ideas for their products that fit their brand and also work on the design, so they know exactly what they want and what it will look like. But they don’t manufacture the devices themselves – that is outsourced.

For a smaller business, it could be that you design and produce something yourself and you get involved in everything around that. But you may not have the expertise or time to spend on social media, your blog, your website or sending out your monthly newsletter. That’s where you can get someone else to do that for you.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of passing work on to someone else.

Advantages

  • You get to work with experts, who will bring a fresh perspective to your business and may come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of.  
  • Work will get done more quickly by passing on things that are time consuming.
  • It gives you the chance to focus on the skills you bring to your business – strengthening the processes that make your business work.
  • Some of the risk is shared – by delegating certain processes or maybe a campaign, you will benefit from their ability to plan and alleviate potential risks.
  • It’s always going to cost less to outsource small pieces of work than hiring someone on a permanent basis.
  • If you decide to outsource work overseas, due to time zone differences, a certain amount of work will get done whilst you are sleeping!
  • You will be able to do more effective and targeted campaigns and projects that you wouldn’t normally have the time to take on.
  • Finally, you get peace of mind knowing that you have hired a reliable individual or agency and that the tasks you have assigned will be handled in a professional and efficient manner.

Disadvantages

  • You do lose some control over how the tasks you assign are being monitored and performed, but so long as you take this into account when hiring and understand how the other person/agency works, it shouldn’t be a big issue.
  • Make sure you read all the terms and conditions of whoever you hire. Some big agencies have very long contracts and you could find yourself with hidden costs if you don’t read all the small print. With an individual, the terms and conditions tend to be more straight-forward.
  • Be aware of data protection. With the new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations), you need to be very vigilant if you are outsourcing tasks that use your customer data. You need to be aware of the privacy rules – always worth thinking about, although most individuals offering freelance work/agencies will be aware of the rules and regulations, so always worth checking.
  • Although rare I’m sure, some individuals/agencies will be more interested in the money they are earning, than giving a good quality service…as I say this is rare and most are reputable, but just something else to be aware of.
  • If you are outsourcing or delegating work overseas, you will need to check that anything you ask them to do doesn’t get lost in translation. Make sure they understand exactly what you expect and by when. And you need to be aware of the different time zones for anything that is needed by a particular deadline.

In conclusion, if you are looking to get more stuff done in less time, so you can concentrate on the core aspects of your business, then delegating tasks or outsourcing projects or campaigns might be the best way forward for you and for your business. 

Which Social Media Platform?

There are so many Social Media platforms to choose from – how do you know which one will be right for you?

The most popular, according to a report by eBizMBA Rank in September 2016, is Facebook, which is hardly surprising as it is very user friendly. The report gives other top platforms too – let’s take a look…

facebook-2048127_640Facebook – The top of the pile with an estimated 1.1 billion unique monthly visitors. Facebook is a social networking site that enables people to connect with friends and family, sharing photos, videos and status updates/messages. It can be used for fun or for business. It is estimated that over 1 million small businesses use Facebook and is very popular with small business owners in France.

film-589490_640YouTube – After Google, YouTube is the largest search engine with an estimated 1 billion unique monthly visitors. It’s where most people go to watch or share video content. It covers every single subject you can think of from popular music videos and films to Joe Bloggs down the street falling off his skateboard! Anyone can post personal videos or share content.

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Twitter
– With 310 million unique monthly visitors, Twitter is a real-time public network, where you often see breaking news first! Twitter limits its users to 140 characters per post, but businesses still use it to interact with clients and pass on information.

linked-in-2668687_640LinkedIn – This is a social networking site for professionals. With 255 million unique monthly visitors, LinkedIn members post a profile of themselves, very much like an extended CV. Users can promote themselves and their businesses, connect with other businesses and even apply for jobs or ask for work.

pinterest-1183717_640Pinterest – This is a fairly new concept, but with 250 million unique monthly visitors, it is fast becoming popular. It’s an image-based visual platform that allows its visitors to create digital bulletin boards where businesses can pin their content. As more than half of its members are women, it’s a great place for businesses whose target audience is largely female should think about being a part of.

google-plus-940316_640Google Plus + – Google Plus or Google+ is an interest based social media platform with 120 million unique monthly visitors. You can post photos and status updates on your profile or you can post to specific communities or groups. Specific communities are set up for different subjects so you can post blogs to specific themes. There’s multi-person messaging, text and video chat called Hangouts and you can run events. It’s a very versatile platform.

instagram-1581266_640


Instagram
– This is a visual platform, much the same as Pinterest, with an estimated 1 million unique visitors. Posts are mostly connected to travel, food, fashion and art and it has video and photo editing features.

 

reddit-1460603_640Reddit – This is a little different to the other sites – it is still popular, with an estimated 85 million unique monthly visitors, but the content is voted on by the visitors to the site. It is still a social media site, more of a community where posts are identified by topics, such as technology, music, etc. Users submit links and posts that are of value are ‘upvoted’ and those that aren’t are ‘downvoted’. The voting determines where the post sits on the site – however if your post/link hits the front page, it is seen by hundreds of thousands of people – sending a huge percentage of them to the linked website!

vk-3696008_640VK – I have to admit to not having heard of this one! VK is short for VKontakte – a social media networking site where members can add friends, gain followers and post photos. However it is a largely aimed at Eastern European visitors, particularly Russian. In fact it is the most popular site in Russia.


flickr-881367_640Flickr
– This is an imaging and video hosting platform. It is very popular for those wanting to share and embed photographs. With an estimated 65 million users, it is still up there with the best!

As you can see, the top sites are a varied bunch, but all are designed to help people interact with others and share information, photos, videos and messages. If you have a small business, they are a great way to get your brand name, products and services out there. I would probably choose to stick with the more popular sites, but of course it’s up to the individual which site you’d like to choose – just be aware that some may not be as good as others.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about and learning about the different sites and I’d love to know which is your favourite? Put a comment in the box below to let me know which one you like best and why…and if you’ve been inspired to try something new!

How to promote your small business online

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In this day and age, where technology is easier than ever to access and where most of the population use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Google+ or one of the many other social media platforms, you can’t afford not to have your business online. If you have a small business, it’s also worth considering setting up a website. These are the two online vehicles I’ll be talking about in this blog.

Why have a website?

id-100249653Having an online presence not only puts your business in front of a huge, global audience, it can help you get more sales and enable you to become more ‘real’ to your customers. The internet never takes a nap, gets distracted or falls asleep, so once you have your online presence, your business has the potential to be working for you 24/7. Customers can see your products and services in their own time, whenever they feel like it, so whether they work 9-5 and go online in the evening or whether they are night-shift workers and search for what they want during their break (at three in the morning), they can find you. More importantly, if you sell products and have an online store, a customer can order from you as soon as they feel the urge…they don’t have to wait for a shop to open at 9am, by which time they might have changed their mind. And they don’t have to travel to get what they want – whether you live in their neighbourhood or whether you lives hundreds of miles away, they can still buy from you.

A website gives potential customers the chance to check you out. What do you sell? What services do you offer? What is your business all about? What are you like? Your website builds your brand – online reviews from satisfied customers conveys the message that you are trustworthy; that your products or services are good; fills them with confidence in choosing you above your competitors. Your website can do all this…without you having to be there!

If you haven’t got a website yet, but would like to, click here for a very helpful site, which takes you through the process, step by step.

Social Media

id-100255669Using Social Media is the most common way to let people know your business exists and to build your brand. Social Media networks have millions of customers passing through them every single day – some of them will be your new customers. If you run a social media campaign for your business, or publish useful and high quality content on a regular basis, you can slowly, but surely build your online reputation. I don’t mean constantly bombarding people with images of your products with the hard sell, but taking the time to tell your audience what your product or service can do for them. Solve a problem, answer a question, show them that your products or services are worth buying or using and why.

However, Social Media is not a quick fix for your business – it’s an easy way to promote what you do, but it takes time and effort on your part to make it work and to build up your businesses reputation. Also, once you are on a particular social media platform, you need to monitor it to make sure you answer any questions or queries someone may have posted and to deal with any potential complaints or negativity.

Top 10 sites   

id-100282617Once you have decided to go the social media route, you just need to decide which one or two to go for. There are loads to choose from, but here are the top 15 sites, compiled in September 2016 by eBizMBA Rank – a US company. http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites

  • Facebook
  • You Tube
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Google+
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • VK
  • Flickr
  • Vine
  • Meet-up
  • FM
  • Classmates

You don’t need to use them all – it’s better to pick a couple and be brilliant at knowing how that one works for you, than to be on several that you know little about.

Email Marketing 

Email marketing, simply put, is the method companies use to send a message to a group of people using email. Sometimes it is used to send out adverts or maybe to inform id-100426841customers about a new product. However it is effective for small businesses to use this method to send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter. This can be written in a friendly, chatty way and is a great way to stay connected to your customers. You just need to collect email addresses of new and existing customers and, most importantly, ask them if they would like to receive your newsletter. You MUST have their permission to do this, so good to have a form they can complete online on your website to ask to subscribe. You can then use it to let them know about any special offers or discounts, inform them about new products and generally tell them a bit about your business and how it works. It’s a great way to stay in touch with customers and build customer loyalty.

These are just three ways to promote your business online. Which method do you find the most effective for your business? Please comment in the box below.

Images courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net   

Marketing your small business with little or no money

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When you run a business, be it a large corporation or a small home-based business, we all know that at some point we have to dig into our pockets and spend some of our hard earned cash on marketing. But if you’re feeling the pinch, or are just starting out, here are a few tips on how to market your small business with little or no money.

ID-100110228Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google + are all social media sites that can help you market your business for free. Set up an account and get going. Not only can you share details of your products and services, but you can also personalise to show your human self…what you like, what your interests are. Share articles of interest and inspirational quotes, pictures…anything that you think people will like to see.

Email – in order to use email, which is free, you need to collect email addresses of current and potential customers. How do you get email addresses? Give away something for free – people love free stuff. It doesn’t have to be a physical thing; you could give away free information. For example if you are a crafter, you could give away a free information sheet on how to crochet, sew a simple item. The only proviso is that people sign up for your monthly/quarterly newsletter – then send them your newsletter, which is packed full of information about your business, special offers and details of your products or services.

Ask existing customers to refer you to friends and family – offer an incentive for them to do this. For example, you could say that for every five customers that they refer who buy something from you, they will receive a 10% discount.

True stories – Use a real example of a problem you’ve solved for a customer, with a quote from them about how great you are! Turn this into a blog post, an article on your website or add it to your newsletter.

ID-100349134Survey your customers – Send your existing customers a survey. Ask them about the products or services they have bought from you. Ask them what they like best about your products/services and use the information you gain to improve your offering or to promote your business. At the end of the survey, ask if it is ok for you to publish any of their comments….if they say ‘yes’ you have more recommendations and possible stories. And report your survey results in a blog or an article.

Write a blog – Keep in the forefront of your customers and potential customers’ minds by writing a regular blog. There are lots of free hosting sites out there – it just takes your time to get it up and running and to blog on a regular basis.

Have a website – It’s always good to have a website, where people can easily find you and see all your products and services in one place. Make sure it is easy to navigate and engaging.

Free directories –As well as all the directories that you can pay to be in, there are loads of free directories out there. Get your business listed in all the free ones you can find.

Attend networking events – Sometimes these events are free and sometimes you have to pay a small fee to join in. Attending these events is important as you’ll meet other people with small businesses. The purpose is usually to share information and experiences. If there are none near you, how about setting up one in a local community centre or pub?

ID-10035801Enter a business award competition – There’s nothing better than being able to say that you’ve won an award in a specific competition. Even if you don’t win, but are shortlisted in the top ten, it’s still something to shout about. If you do happen to win, you can advertise the fact on your social media pages, on your website, in your newsletter etc. You could also put it in your signature.

These are just some of the ways you can market your business. If you have other free or very cheap ideas on how to market a small business, please feel free to share…

Images courtesy of 1) Master isolated images 2) fantasista 3) nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

How to make your business stand out in the crowd

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Starting a business, any business, is a fairly easy process. Anyone can get business cards printed and hand them out, but how do you stay in business? People have so many choices these days. There are so many different places to spend their hard earned cash. How can you make them pick your products/services? How can you make your business stand out from the rest?

Know your competitors

In order to stand out from the rest you need to know what the rest are doing; what they stand for; what they offer; how they are different to you.

ID-10058182Think about some of the big brand names in the marketplace, such as Virgin or MacDonald’s. How do they make sure they stand out from their competitors? What do they do differently?

Now, think about what makes you buy a particular brand over others. Try this small exercise….pick three brands that you buy regularly (could be a toothpaste, a skin care product, cleaning product, item of make-up). Why do you buy that particular brand over others? Is it simply because they’re cheaper? Is it because the latest advertising for that product encouraged you to try it? Or is it a brand you’ve always bought as you really like it? If this is the case, what makes you really like that brand?

Stand out from the rest

Once you know what your competitors are doing and why they stand out; once you’ve looked at some of the big brand names and what makes them different; and once you’ve looked at what you buy and why, you can look at your own products or services and see how you can make your brand proposition more appealing.  If you have a particular target ID-10036600market, such as women over 40 for example, think about how you are going to get your products/services in front of that specific group. Where do this group go? What do they do? Could you advertise where you’ll know they’ll be….leave business cards and flyers?

What about your online presence? Do you have a good looking website, Facebook page or online shop? Is your brand attractive? Would it encourage someone to try your products? What would encourage you to buy your products or services? #

Seven areas to focus on

As I see it, there are seven main areas to focus on to make your business stand out from the crowd.

  1. Know what your customers want, and wherever possible, give it to them
  2. I’ve talked about this before in previous articles, but make your customers feel valued, care about them and give them a good experience every time they contact you – excellent customer service is a must in every business.
  3. ID-100370861Do something to entice people – a free first consultation, a free gift or trial – everyone likes a something for free!
  4. Set yourself up as an expert in your field – solve your customers’ problems
  5. Advertise – give out business cards, flyers or brochures. Advertise in free directories and pay for the odd ad in your local paper
  6. Be interesting and informative on your social media sites….NEVER be offensive. It can take years to build a good, loyal customer base and one wrong comment to tear it all down.
  7. Ask your existing customers for feedback…and use it to promote your business. Use the positive feedback on your website, your Facebook page – anywhere potential customers may be looking. And if you do get negative feedback…address it IMMEDIATELY!

ID-100209829At the end of the day, people have money to spend and just want to spend it. Generally, they don’t care how long you’ve been in business. They care about how your product or service is going to help them – it’s up to you to show them that you mean business! That YOU are the company to choose.

 

Images courtesy of 1) Mr GC 2) Master isolated images 3) Stuart Miles 4) stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Do you speak the same language as your customers?

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To be successful in business, you need to really understand your customers, know their likes and dislikes. But in this age of increasing technology, are you losing the basics on how to speak the same language as your customers?

Why is it so hard?

  • Due to the internet, social media and ‘easy to navigate’ online stores, your customers and potential customers have a huge array of choices, as well as the cost comparison sites to help them. Customers have more power than ever before.
  • ID-100164372Customers tend to be less loyal and much less trusting these days. They will think nothing of flitting from one company to another, depending on who is the cheapest…and easy access to the media means that they read a lot more about customer experiences so are more suspicious than they used to be, the trust has waned.
  • Customers are constantly bombarded with data on their social media sites and through spam email, causing an overload, which makes it harder for them to make decisions about what they want.

When you weigh all this up, it’s not hard to understand why you don’t know what your customers want.

How to find out what your customers want

The quickest and easiest way to find out what they want is to simply talk to them…yeh, just talk to them – why is something so simple being forgotten?

When was the last time you picked up the phone to speak to your customers without a hidden agenda….just to say ‘hello’? So, why not arrange to meet some of your customers face to ID-100372771face – arrange a coffee morning. Show them that you care about their custom and that you’re genuinely interested in them and their businesses. Ask them how they approach problems in their business and ask them to describe how they deliver value to their customers. Listen carefully to their replies.

Ask them to describe your products and services? Are there any particular words and phrases they use? Ask them what they think of your competitors – listen to how they describe them, what words and phrases they use. Take note of their language and how they describe things and use the information to adapt the language of your marketing, use their way to describe your products….if you’re using their language, they will more easily identify with you.

If you talk to your customers on a regular basis, asking them questions about the products they’ve bought (not necessarily just from you) and listening to what they have to say; their ID-100291427worries, concerns and frustrations, you will learn what makes them tick. Listen to the questions they may have about your products and services, including any objections or criticisms, and ask them how you think you could solve any problems.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but for the small business, talking to customers can have a huge effect on how customers view you and your business. Everyone likes to feel valued and, by talking to your customers, you’re showing them you care about them and their opinions. If you also go ahead and put some of their suggestions into practice, they will feel even more valued…and are more likely to be loyal to you and your business. So, cut out the fancy, long  words and heavily descriptive text, just describe who you are, what you do and who your products and services are aimed at.

ID-10075421Nothing will increase the popularity of your brand than speaking plainly in language your customers can understand.

Good luck and get listening to your customers – they will teach you how to speak their language and give your business the ‘thumbs up’!

 

Images courtesy of 1) Feelart 2) kapongza 3) Stuart Miles 4) kookkai_nak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

 

8 ways to get organised

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When I worked for a large company in the UK, I was mega organised. When I first moved to rural France and started as a freelancer, I become the opposite. There always seemed to be so much to do, it was difficult to focus on one thing at a time. I soon realised that if I was going to be more successful and work well from home, I needed to be more organised. I always have a list of things going around in my head, and my partner says I constantly ‘narrate my life’, saying out loud what I need to do next. I think that this is because I have so much to remember that I try and organise myself out loud!

So, after putting on my thinking cap, it seemed the obvious way forward was to go back to what worked well for me in a company environment – not all would work, but these are the areas I came up with that would work for me….I hope it helps you too!

To do list

ID-100211895When I worked for a large company in the UK, I always worked from a ‘to do’ list. It is what it says on the tin. Make a list of all the jobs you need to do, either on a weekly or daily basis. Don’t write it on a scrap of paper – get an exercise book, put the date at the top and write your list, ticking off each one as you do it. It’s a great feeling of achievement to put a tick against an activity that’s been done.

Set a deadline  

ID-100259578For each task you have to do, set a deadline. Look at your to do list and give each item a realistic deadline – the key here is about being realistic. Try not to be too optimistic as you want to be sure that what you estimate is achievable.

Prioritise your work

Once you have your to do list and have deadlines set against each task, the next thing to look at is what is most important or urgent. Prioritise your list so you keep on top of things.

One step at a time

ID-100272144Do you have a big project with a looming deadline? Sometimes, this can feel overwhelming. If this is you, try chopping the project into bite sized chunks. This makes everything seem more manageable and you feel much more in control.

Set your hours

Working from home, it’s a good idea to set the number of hours you want to work every day. If you don’t do this, you will constantly be distracted by ‘Oh, I’ll just put the washing on’, or you’ll go to get a coffee and think, ‘whilst I’m here I’ll just wash up’. All these ‘I’ll just…..’ stop you from getting on with your work.

Decide on the number of hours you will work every day and try to stick to it. The number of hours and how you decide when to start and stop will depend on what you do for a living. I know that I have to feed and sort out the chickens and the cat, wash up breakfast things and have a quick tidy up before I can start work. I also like to shower and get dressed – I just can’t work in my PJs! So I rarely start work before 9.30am – 10am…and that’s OK as that’s what I need to do. Everyone is different, so do what is best for you and your situation.

Multi-tasking

ID-100261047If you start a number of jobs, you’ll probably find you don’t get any of them done. Prioritising tasks will help with this, as will having a list. Try and complete a job before going onto something else. As I write for a living, I will write one piece from start to finish, including the research. Then I’ll save it and come back to review it the following day. It’s easy to look at that to do list and do all the quick and easy stuff and leave the more involved stuff for another time. This works for some – for me, I’ll try and mix it up a bit. I know that I’m more focussed in the morning, so I tend to do the more complicated things then. Later on, I will do some of the easier things and will often revisit something I’ve written the day before.

Interruptions and distractions

It doesn’t matter how organised you are, you are always going to get interruptions, especially if you work from home. The phone might ring or a friend might turn up unexpectedly. If you need to get a particular ID-10013560piece of work done urgently, put your answer machine on and if you don’t have one, ignore the phone ringing. If I have something urgent to do, I let my friends know, so they don’t disturb me. However, the things I find most distracting are Facebook and email. If my Facebook is switched on in the background, it continuously pings and alerts me to messages or notifications …. I just can’t leave it – I HAVE to look! So, when working to a deadline or on something that needs all of my concentration, I log out, then the distraction is taken away. The same applies to emails. If I know I have new emails, I just HAVE to look!

So, I work for a couple of hours, then have a cuppa and check emails and Facebook, or ring back anyone who might need me on the phone. Then it’s back to work again and everything is switched off once again.

Review your work  

No matter what kind of work you do and how busy you are, you need to book a meeting with yourself to review how things are going! How often you do this will depend on what you do, but make sure you set ID-100294530aside a half day, at least once a month, to look at your to do list. What have you achieved? What went well and what didn’t go so well? What still needs to be done? Is there something you keep putting to the bottom of the pile? It could be something you are not confident with, something you are struggling to start or just that you don’t want to do it. If this is the case, it might be worth looking to outsource this…let someone else take the strain, someone who is more of an expert than you are.

By reviewing your work you will learn what kind of work you find easier and what needs more concentration, so in future you can prioritise more effectively.

Managing your workload will alleviate some of the anxiety and you’ll know exactly where you are and what you’re doing. I hope this blog has given you some ideas and pointers to being more organised. If you work from home, I’d be very interested to know how you organise your day.

 

 

 

 

Images courtesy of 1 – 3) Stuart Miles 4) iosphere 5) Danilo Rizzuti 6) Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net