Can you afford to alienate your customers and prospects?

In case you missed it we had a General Election here in the UK last week; the outcome was rather unexpected. Since the result was declared my social media channels have been full of rants from disappointed Labour voters.

This sign outside a Sussex business has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

This sign outside a Sussex business has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

I have seen posts describing Conservative voters as thick, cruel, unkind, self-centred,self-serving, stupid and more. Many of these posts are from people who run their own businesses. This photo has been shared widely. I am astounded! Can any business person afford to limit their potential clients to those sharing similar political views? I think not.

Now I absolutely respect an individual’s right to hold strong political views and to express those views and to get involved in party politics if so desired. However, I feel that it is unwise to mix business and politics, especially for owners of small businesses who rely on a personal relationship with their customers. However I don’t think there is any place for insulting people who may not vote in the same way as you do. In my view it’s a quick way to lose customers.

We have to remember that we have little control over social media or what Google shows our potential clients. We might restrict who has access to our social media accounts but we can’t control what those people share, retweet or quote. That rant might be the first thing that our dream target customer finds when checking us out on the Internet. That might be enough for them to dismiss us as someone they want to work with. So please, if you want to grow a business, think carefully about what you post in a public domain, think even more carefully about how you post it and before you click post or tweet just take one more look to be on the safe side.

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How not to build your audience!

London's Southbank is always teeming with people.

London’s Southbank is always teeming with people.

I love London’s Southbank! The area between Westminster Bridge and the Royal Festival Hall is always brimming with people from all over the world. They come to visit the London Eye, the London Dungeons, The Aquarium and the many events in and around the Hall, as a result the area attracts dozens of street performers each vying for attention. This weekend one got my attention for all the wrong reasons and there are some lessons in marketing here for small business owners!

My attention was aroused when I heard a man say, ‘Give me more space, I’m allergic to children’! Now that might be his idea of a sense of humour but it’s not one that is easily understood by everyone, even if language is not a barrier. He continued in a loud voice, ‘I’m an entertainer and I need an audience, so stop what you’re doing and come here and watch me’. I didn’t see a great rush of people to join him and I certainly didn’t stop long enough to see if he got his wish.

Now I’m sure you will have spotted that this ‘entertainer’ made all the classic mistakes of making his message all about him and not about his target market. He didn’t even begin to answer the question his targets were thinking ‘What’s in it for me?’

You’re probably thinking that no small business owner would take this attitude but I beg to differ. Every time we make our website about what we offer rather than how our target can benefit we are, in effect, doing the same thing as this entertainer. If our copy is all about ‘we’ and not about ‘you’ we are making the same mistakes. If our one minute pitches don’t explain how are targets will benefit from working with us we are little better than this man.

So if you are marketing a small business the key question your target market wants answered is, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Fail to answer that question and, like this entertainer’s prospects your target will carry on walking until they find the next supplier who is demonstrating what’s in it for them. Is it time to take a look at your website or your marketing materials to make sure you’re not inadvertently shouting, ‘Stop, look at me!’ 

My word for 2014: Influence

After much thought and deliberation I have finally chosen my word for the year… drum roll… and it is ‘Influence’.

This poster will remind me what I am trying to achieve.

This poster will remind me what I am trying to achieve.

I have chosen the word because it is both a noun and a verb and it describes what my marketing and training business should be doing. It is a word that applies to all aspects of my life. I want to influence my husband and children to live their dreams and also to help me to achieve my goals. I want to influence my clients to go for their goals. I want to influence prospects to take specific action. I want to influence the staff and governors of the school where I am Chair of Governors to push the boundaries of what we can achieve. I want to influence my Young Enterprise group to dream big.

I have chosen the word because I want to increase my sphere of influence. This will lead me to some specific goals to be completed by December 31st 2014:

  • I want to help at least 100 people to start a business.
  • I want to sell at least 500 training programmes to small business owners.
  • I want to be featured in at least 6 magazine or news articles reaching a small business owner readership
  • I want to appear on at least one radio or TV programme on a start up or small business topic
  • I want to break the 2000 followers barrier on Twitter and have at least 2500 followers in the small business community. Please help by following me @Glenda_S
  • I want to engage with at least 250 small business owners via my Facebook page. Please like and join the conversation at www.facebook.com/thetrainingpack
  • I want to complete at least 15 speaking engagements at networking groups and conferences with a small business owners target market
  • I want at least another 100 people to follow and engage with this blog
  • I want to publish at least one guest blog a month

I hope you will help me with my quest. I know that I have many more readers of this blog than comment here. I know that I may them think, I hope that I influence them to take action. If you can help me to achieve any of the objectives above do please get in touch, I need your help and hope I can do something for you in return.

If business is tough is diversification the answer?

Here in Britain the economy is apparently growing at its fastest rate for three years, yet some of the business owners I speak to say that life is tougher now than it has been at any time since the banks crashed. At the same time I’ve been reading a couple of articles about businesses diversifying. So are you seeing an uplift in profit, turnover or at least enquiries or should you be looking at diversifying?

Diversification can take many different forms. We can look at diversifying into new markets, selling to people beyond our immediate locale or even internationally. We can look at new routes to market, for example adding an online arm to a traditional bricks and mortar business. We can consider adding additional products and services into our current offer.

From construction to library management, a natural progression?

One of the articles I was reading was about John Laing selling its integrated services arm to Carillion. Now this may mean nothing to you so let me explain. John Laing has been providing Library, Leisure Management and other services to public authorities for some time but John Laing started as a construction company. Carillion has also grown from being a construction company. Both of these businesses specialised in public sector construction, diversifying into the management of services which the public sector is keen to outsource may be seen as natural progression. I guess it’s a case of ‘we’ve built it so now we can manage it’.

In selling their integrated services arm Adrian Ewer, chief executive of John Laing, said: “Our decision to dispose of JLIS underlines our commitment to our principal investment and asset management activities. JLIS has made significant progress over the last few years, but it no longer fits within our core strategy. We are confident that under its new ownership, the business will see future growth within the public sector and benefit from being a part of an integrated support services company.”

So John Laing has now shed some of its diversified business in order to concentrate on its core activities. This may be a route that small business owners should also consider. When the going is tough in our particular sector we can look to trade in new markets or we can seek to branch out into new territories. When things look up again we may wish to sell our new business and go back to our core service. We may wish to sell our core business and concentrate in the new area or we may wish to keep both going.

The challenge for the small business owner.

Is it sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees?

Is it sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees?

I know it is more difficult for the owner of a small business. We spend all our time trying to keep our businesses afloat. It can be really difficult to find time to think clearly and to see the wood for the trees. We may be too close to the problem to see the opportunity. That’s when it can pay to bring in a consultant or to find a mentor. We need someone who can challenge our thinking and our behaviour. We need someone who can give us a fresh perspective. We need someone who can help us to recognise how our skills or contacts could be used to diversify into a more profitable area.

If you feel that your business isn’t giving you the returns you deserve why not take advantage of a free half hour consultation? I’ll help you to explore your options and work out your next steps. Book your slot here.

Where is your comfort zone?

As we approach the end of the year where is your comfort zone? If I asked you to compare your comfort zone today with where it was a year ago what would the answer be?

You’ve heard the saying, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you’ve always got’. Well as far as I’m concerned that’s the best you can hope for, in reality you may well find that you get less as other people overtake you. Are you guilty of sticking with the status quo, of doing what you’ve always done because it feels safe? Is your comfort zone in the same place as it was a year ago because you have been too timid to push at its boundaries?

How scared have you felt this year?

I’m not talking about watching a scary movie here I’m talking about pushing at your comfort zone. Have you pushed at physical boundaries? Did you run further than you’ve ever run before? Have you climbed higher than you’ve managed previously? Have you dived from a higher board or swum a longer distance?

Have you pushed yourself to speak in public where you have been too timid before? Have you sung a solo or played a new instrument? Have you walked up to a stranger and started a conversation? Have you stood up to someone who has previously intimidated you?

Have you done something that made your palms sweaty and your mouth dry? Have you found yourself shaking in trepidation? Have you felt the fear but done it anyway? If so congratulations, your comfort zone will now be a bit bigger than it was a year ago.

The importance of risk taking

I freely admit that I’m not the biggest risk taker in the world. I’m quite a scaredy cat when it comes to physical challenges especially. I know I sometimes prevaricate when I should be taking action. I know this holds me back and I know I need to take calculated risks.

I see the same with clients. The clients who want to do one more piece of research, who want to do one more training course or read one more book. The clients who are too afraid of failure to start up their businesses or try something new.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Should this be your new mantra?

Should this be your new mantra?

Think about an occasion when you pushed yourself to do something you were frightened of, what happened? You’re still alive or you wouldn’t be reading this! I suspect that you actually felt better for taking the action. The feeling of succeeding when we have felt the fear can be exhilarating. Can you recapture that feeling from an earlier experience? Can you imagine what it would be like to feel it again?

My challenge to you…

Don’t let 2013 be a year of regret or non achievement. You have a couple of months left to turn it into a triumph. What challenge do you need to accept to finish your year with a bigger comfort zone than you started it with? What is stopping you from giving it a go?

So if you have been putting off starting that business put it off no longer. Go and look for that first customer. Learn as you go. Get yourself a mentor to hold your hand and support you until you find your feet. What’s the worst that can happen?

If you have been putting off growing your business because you were too scared of the commitment of recruiting new staff take on a part timer or an intern on a fixed term contract. Set them some goals which will secure their job for the long term, if they fail then you can let them go at the end of the contract. At least you will have tried. What’s the worst that can happen?

Try that new service on a small scale or for a fixed period. Negotiate sale or return to try out that new product. Test that innovative marketing campaign on a small scale possibly in a split test with a safe campaign used previously. What’s the worst that can happen?

Why not make that commitment to pushing out your comfort zone by sharing your challenge here in the comments box? You’ll be that little bit closer to achieving your goal and we are a very supportive community. We’ll hold your hand (virtually) and cheer you on from the sidelines. Good luck. Go for it. 

Are you ready for Small Business Saturday?

December 7th sees the first Small Business Saturday in the UK. We’re borrowing an idea from the USA where Small Business Saturday was first introduced in 2010. Reports suggest that last year’s US event made $5.5 billion (£3.5 billion) in sales for small businesses.

The idea behind Small Business Saturday is to encourage buyers to shop local and to support  small, independent businesses, so are you ready to make the most of the opportunity?

Why should you get involved?

In the USA Small Business Saturday gets lots of media coverage both online and on TV and radio and even gets support from the President. In the UK it is being well supported by business organisations, politicians and the media. It therefore makes sense for all small businesses to leverage that amount of interest to promote their own businesses. If you don’t participate you could well lose out to your competitors who will be maximising their involvement.

Time to prepare

Liz Pilgrim of BabyE pulled Ealing's business owners together to support each other even before Small Business Saturday.

Liz Pilgrim of BabyE pulled Ealing’s business owners together to support each other even before Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday takes place on November 30th in the USA and a week later in the UK so now is not too soon to start preparing for it. What are you going to do make the most of the day? Will you be offering any incentives to encourage people to buy from you? Here are some ideas:

  • add an extra service such as gift wrapping
  • offer a money off voucher against a future purchase to encourage people to come back and trade with you again
  • combine with other local businesses to offer a package e.g. the baker, butcher and greengrocer could offer home deliveries using a local taxi company; a nutritional therapist could combine with a greengrocer, health food store or restaurant to promote healthy eating
  • a pub or restaurant could do a deal with a local taxi company to offer a door to door service to get customers home
  • a group of businesses could combine to offer an information product to help customers e.g. a guide to local business or a group of food businesses could produce a recipe book using ingredients they sell
  • an interior designer could work with a florist or craft business to offer a ‘get your home ready for Christmas’ service

Get the word out

There is little point in participating in Small Business Saturday if people don’t know about it. How will you let people know about your involvement? Do you have a database to whom you could send an email? How about producing some postcards or fliers for a door drop or to be picked up in your premises? Why not visit some networking groups with your postcards and a one minute pitch? Again you could combine with other local businesses to share the marketing costs.

Remember, as with all marketing, you will need to repeat your message on several occasions to make sure that your prospects register it. If you are using email send several slightly different messages leading up to the event. Make sure you send one the day before and even a final reminder on the day. If you are using less direct methods do a combination of posters, fliers, word of mouth and try to get some coverage in local media.

Get in the media

It is highly likely that national, regional and local media will be looking for stories before and on the day so make sure you are ready. Look out for #journorequests on Twitter. Prepare a press release and send it to your local reporter. Think about newspapers, online news media, TV and radio, especially local radio.

Make sure that your story is news and not a blatant sales pitch. Emphasis the Small Business Saturday element of the story. Stories that involve several businesses or the community coming together are most likely to be of interest to journalists. If you need help to put a news release together download this guidance note and/or message me via the comments here.

Small Business Saturday represents a great opportunity to promote your business to a new market, make the most of it.

Are you taking enough care of your public relations?

In my view every business needs to take care of its public relations. By that I mean how its customers, prospects, suppliers, staff and others feel and talk about the business. Whilst public relations are hard to control there are some attitudes which will almost certainly be harmful.

As the organiser of a number if business networking events I come across all sorts of attitudes when booking venues, Some couldn’t be more helpful others could hardly help less.

Networking with a welcome drink

Networking with a welcome drink

Recently we have had a hotel, whose restaurant is very rarely busy, turn away a regular monthly meeting of 30+ business owners. Another restaurant has been very dictatorial about the time it will take a booking and have set an unrealistic minimum spend. Clearly neither venue wants the business! I think this is a very short term view.

Admittedly the networking events will not be highly profitable but the other business we might take could be.

In both cases we have found a competitor who is delighted to have our business. Both have been very welcoming with a ‘can do’ attitude and a willingness to negotiate. We will take our growing groups to them each month. What’s more we will go for lunch, coffee, drinks and book our business events there. We’ll recommend then to our colleagues, we’ll Tweet our satisfaction and post happy messages on Facebook. the networking events will not make then a fortune but the other business we give them might.

Are you ever guilty if taking the short term view? When a customer or prospect asks you for a deal do you look at the bigger picture?  Do you think about the lifetime value of that customer? I’m not saying you should sell yourself cheap or do business that will cost you rather than make you money but supermarkets do loss leaders for a reason!

Our networking venues should ask themselves how much they would have to spend on marketing to get 30 new prospects across the threshold. Those 30+ people who were turned away are having conversations with plenty more people, how much damage is that doing? Was turning us away really the right decision, what do you think?