It’s high time I posted up my first post of the year, particularly given today is the last day of January. Really where did this month go..? I usually start the year with a post about kicking the year off but this year I’d like to just post up a list of really interesting resources I’ve found for small business recently.
small business management
I read an incredibly interesting and inspirational book recently about crowdsourcing. Written by Jeff Howe, the Editor of Wired magazine, it is full of case studies of how crowdsourcing is breaking down traditional corporate structures and ways of working, producing innovative ways of developing products, building communities, engaging with customers and more. Essentially new ways of doing business.
Kick Starting 2009
I decided that to stave off the January Blues I’d take a holiday in the first couple of weeks of the year and head to a place where the sun actually shines and where the sea temperature would be a little over freezing. The best bet to avoid a long haul flight and to keep my carbon footprint fairly neutral was Egypt. So salam alaikum my Egyptian friends.
Whilst I was away, I had the time to plough through a few books and to get my thinking straight for what is probably going to be a seriously challenging year. What better place to start than the biographies of world famous entrepreneur Richard Branson and of Dragon’s Den favourite James Caan. Certainly in my eyes two of the finest British born business leaders today. I took a lot out of both books in terms of ideas about how and why to run a business, some of the goals to aim for, but most importantly, the motivation to keep at it. When times get tough, it can get extremely tempting to think about your business and perhaps shelve your entrepreneurial plans. After all, how tempting is this for a beach…
With the year almost a month old now, I figured it really was time to get my first post up for the year. I’ve written in the past about new year business boosters and I thought I’d kick 2009 off with five New Year recession busters.. yes, it simply rolls off the tongue. I realise there are probably many thousands of posts like this out there, but still, I may have some slightly different ideas up my sleeve.
So here goes, here are 5 ideas to help steer you through the recession, which in the UK at least was officially recognised today.
1. STOP reading the newspaper and watching CNN, or the BBC. OK so we all know that the economy is pretty bleak, but what can you actually do about it apart from putting the maximum effort into your business. It’s much easier to do this if you aren’t bogged down in talk of recession, falling house prices, job losses and the rest. To quote Chris Cardell
“The greatest threat to your business over the next year is not the economy. It’s fear. While we do need to address the recession head on – the fear mongering in the media is extremely unhelpful.”
2. Watch your overheads and look for cost savings. Ok, so it’s hardly visionary stuff, but take a careful look through your expenses and see where you can weed out some costs savings. Do you really need the water cooler, is it still worth paying for the extended warranty on your PC, why is it your petty cash is always empty half way through the month, are you sure you want to be paying for your employees personal calls… you get the idea. Only spend on the essentials for servicing existing clients, or winning new ones.
3. Make everyone a sales manager. How many people in your team are responsible for selling? My advice is to make everyone responsible, from your secretary, to your cleaner, to the financial controller and the shop floor worker. How do you do this? The first step is to provide everyone with the information they need to sell, i.e. provide a little training. The crucial next step is to incentivise everyone to sell. In today’s economic climate that shouldn’t be too hard, just provide some financial incentive e.g. a bonus for every employee linked to a certain profit level or sales performance. Make sure of course everyone understands the ramifications of falling sales to them!
4. Build a smart marketing programme. You might already have a marketing plan in place, but review it carefully and look for any items linked to measures around brand building, or tactics where results may be difficult to measure or more long term in nature, such as public relations. Refocus the plan to include tactics that are more likely to induce a sale, such as special offers and sales promotions, telemarketing, direct mail or sales led events and exhibitions.
5. Segment and target. Or divide and conquer as you may know it. Essentially look to reach out to those target customer segments who are more likely to have some budget available. For example, people working in the public sector who will find their jobs fairly secure thanks to huge investments in public sector projects from governments around the world. At the same time, build on your areas of expertise and don’t try to sell you wares to too broad an audience – the costs of doing so will be enourmous. Focus on you core target customer segments.
6. Don’t forget to keep reading the marketingblagger.com. Yes, I know that’s six and a little bit cheeky, but like most of you, I’m genuinely running a small business and also work with plenty of other small businesses. As such, I’ll keep sharing ideas and posting up experiences here a lot more regularly. I’m planning on finishing my 101 Shoestring Marketing ebook soon, along with posting up some inspirational ideas from small businesses everywhere. A great example is the photo below, which I’ve been meaning to write about for a long time. Hats off to anyone who can tell me why you think I like this marketing idea so much..
Well, I wish everyone a huge amount of success in 2009. It’s not going to be easy but I love a challenge, to quote a colleague of mine from Granit, a London based architecture practice.
What Can President Obama do for Your Business
Ok so I won’t pretend to be able to predict how President Elect Barack Obama will impact your business world, but I would like to offer my congratulations to the new President and all of the American people for what will undoubtedly be an exciting time of change.
Also, a huge well done to John McCain. What a fantastically gracious runner-up! If you haven’t already seen them, here are both of their speeches…
How a Smartphone Could Help Your Business
Sitting on the tube and looking at my Palm got me to thinking how great this little gadget is. I can read, write, send and receive my email, write documents, presentations and spreadsheets, stay in touch with my clients and administer my blogs and websites. All this and a lot more while I’m on the move.
It has really made me think about the importance of having a mobile strategy in place for my business, in fact for all businesses. The use of mobile devices is only going to increase, with all of the big analyst houses expecting the market to grow exponentially.
What are the implications of all this to your business then? Here are a few ideas for you to think about…
1. Do you have a mobile plan for your workforce? Can they collect email and work remotely and therefore provide you with greater levels of productivity? Will a smart phone add that extra flexibility and drive up performance.
2. Do you have a backup plan in place in case one of your team mobiles gets stolen, not just for the hardware, but also the potential loss of data and employee down time?
3. Are your communications mobile friendly? For example, do you include a logo in your email footer that will soak up mobile bandwidth?
4. Is your website compatible with the major handsets or do you offer a .mobi version?
5. Does your mobile phone tariff allow you to send and receive email / data without incurring excessive charges? Can you make and receive calls via Skype, the voice over IP provider, to save with costs for international calls?
6. Are you operating with the best handsets? The common perception that the Blackberry is best for business may just not be accurate. I use a palm which is more cost effective, at least in my circumstances, and well within the reach of the average phone user.
7. Are you able to synchronise your smartphone with your email, calendar, to do client and share with your team? Would this help you to work together more smoothly?
(All written between Edgware Road and Parsons Green on the London Underground District line)
5 Top New Year Business Boosters
Let me start by wishing you all a very Happy New Year. I hope you have a fantastic, prosperous and enjoyable 2008, I certainly hope to be doing so!! (yep that’s correct, this was first drafted in the first week of January, but I’ve only just found the time to finish it off).
As per usual at this time of the year I’ve been bombarded with adverts for joining my local gym, losing a few pounds of weight, cheap credit cards and all sorts of offers for sorting out the physical, mental and financial hangover from Christmas. This is all well and good as after all, December in London is party season and it’s fair to say my wallet, liver and rapidly growing spare tyre all took an absolute hammering.
However for us small business owners, its also a time to think about your businesses health. So without further ado, here are 5 things you can do to get your work year off to a healthy flyer:
1. Plan some yearly goals
It’s always tempting on that first day back to carry on where you left off on Christmas eve – ploughing through emails, answering customer queries etc etc. However this is probably not the best way to get back into work, after all you now have a unique opportunity to plan ahead, think about what you want to achieve with your business and set up some SMART targets (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound). Build in a marketing plan around your business targets, for example if you want to grow your business, what communications vehicles can you use to support this growth?
2. Reward your team
The first few weeks back after Christmas are notorious sickie hot spots, so do what you can to ease your staff back into the world of work. Last year I wrote about rewarding your employees to stave off the January blues and I stand by my suggestions – it doesn’t have to be an overly costly experience, just a small gesture. Check this out for some ideas. Remember, people are just as important in your marketing as products, or promotions or your place of work.
3. Call you 5 most valuable accounts
Take the time in the new year to catch up with your biggest clients. They may well be knee deep in planning themselves, but a quick call to catch-up and to ask ‘what’s important for you this year?’ will stand you in good stead to ensure you are both on top of their mind and that you understand their needs well. I heard the CEO of Xerox speak last year and her words still echo in my mind:
Success is based on the value you bring to customers – they have to be the centre of your universe
4. Call any problem creditors / debtors
January is often a time of financial difficulty. This can be bad for both debtors and creditors. If you have overdue invoices call those clients and find out what’s going on. It is better to know in advance what the likelihood of you getting paid is and by when – that way you can plan your cash flow more accurately.
If you are in debt and you can see trouble in your cash flow forecast, call your creditors early. They would all prefer to get paid late than not at all and it will do you no harm to foster a good relationship.
5. Try something new
As a small business owner, you probably don’t have huge budgets for marketing communications programmes. But it’s surprising what you can achieve for relatively little. if you haven’t already, consider trying some Payper click advertising, or holding a small sales promotion, or calling your local paper to tell a journalist about some news. The key is to try something you haven’t done before and to take a multilevel approach.
I heard a Dale Carnegie presentation not so long ago and these words still make me think regularly:
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get, what you’ve always got
Well there you go. Long overdue, but some ideas for how to move your small business ahead this year. Remember, even Richard Branson started out selling student magazines from a basement and look where he is know.
I was presented with a very powerful marketing concept for small companies the other day. It’s not a new fangled phenomenon, or something that will cost you a lot of money, or even a tactic that requires anything more than common sense. I want to term this concept “attitudinal marketing” but I suspect this already refers to some form of market segmentation. Forget it, I’m calling it attitudinal marketing anyway.
Small Firms – Get Tough on Late Payers
Do you ever have problems getting people to pay up? Are you a small company playing with big boys who often take a leisurely stroll to find their cheque book? You’re not alone.
Exhibitions and Tradeshows
Exhibitions and tradeshows can be a very effective tool for generating new business. But, they’re expensive. You have to pay to attend, to resource the stand in man hours, to provide all the materials you need on the day etc etc. It is not a cheap marketing vehicle that’s for sure.
So it’s very important that you plan your participation well. Have a look at this article on the Small Business Brief website by ‘The Tradeshow Coach’ Susan Friedmann. Susan has written 27 top tips for making the most of tradeshows:
27 Exhibiting Do’s and Don’ts
To add my top tip to Susan’s 27, it would be to plan your participation at trade shows at least a year in advance. Put a calendar of the major events in your industry together, attend any you haven’t been to before and make sure they reach your target audience – sometimes the sales hype you hear doesn’t accurately reflect who you are likely to meet.
Once you know which show to attend, get your budget organised and book on to the priority shows. Always negotiate with the vendor, you may be able to get a better price if you ask. And finally, on the day remember you are there to talk to customers, not chat on the phone or collect emails – this always looks terrible and will certainly turn potential customers away from your stand.