Halloween, Black Friday Christmas… Ready?

And so it begins… Businesses and consumers find themselves unwittingly invited to the ‘marketing madness party’. How is it for you? ‘Trick or Treat’?

Let’s Get The Party Started

Since the arrival of GDPR in May this year our inboxes should no longer be a cacophony of noise from thousands of uninvited guests. If you are a business, by now your mailing list should only include people that are happy to hear from you, ‘by invitation only’. As a consumer, Halloween/Black Friday/Christmas invites to buy will flood in from businesses on every medium, have you ever felt so popular?!

Halloween Horror

In the UK Halloween has never been the ‘thing’ it is in the US, ho hum, Americans, fill your boots. Unless you are in the fancy dress or confectionery market, the chance to increase revenue is limited, many retailers have their sights set on christmas. Halloween is an opportunity for some social media fun.

Friday  Blackness

Are we ‘over it’ already? Tales abound of retailers performing tricks to tempt people in who quickly discover the whole thing was an illusion. Weeks of hype. scant offers, hordes of people behaving badly and ‘Friday’ is at least a week long. If expectations are not met people will see through the smoke and mirrors. How are businesses to benefit from this odd event? Research suggests people are spending money that they would have been spent anyway but they are taking advantage of discounts on offer. Consumer 1: Retailers 0?  Sugestion: Create authentic offers, publicise them well, take every opportunity to raise your profile and develop loyalty to your brand.
Halloween and Black Friday Trick or Treat image with witches hat and party popper Content Writer Business Support

Christmas Crackers

People will continue to spend at Christmas, it’s what we do. As a business, keep the focus on how you can help your customers. How will your product/service enhance their Christmas/life? Write your product descriptions well, authenticity and accuracy have always been important to your customers, but it has never been more important to Google than it is now.

Get Ready

Prepare yourselves, for many businesses Christmas is the biggest trading period. Learn the lessons from previous years, develop strategies to cope, employ (and train) temporary staff if necessary and ensure you have enough stock to meet demand. Think about your offering. What can you say that will make consumers choose you? Portray yourself well, your website is your shop window, how does it look? Ask for an honest opinion from people you trust then take steps to look and sound your best.

Have a great Christmas!

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What To Do With A Bad Review

Firstly, once a bad review is there, it’s there to stay. There are a few forums with difficult and lengthy processes to dispute reviews but the process is arduous, better to not find yourself in that position but human nature being as it is, there will always be that person that feels compelled to write you a hum-dinger of a bad review. Why?

  • They received bad service
  • Your courier has let you down
  • They are having a bad day
  • Your product did not meet their expectations
  • It is easier to rant from behind a screen than speak to people
Sad face plate with silver knife and fork Bad reviews Business Support

Cute photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

What if the Review is Unfair?

Firstly, acknowledge their feelings, show empathy. Secondly, calmly and clearly show how it is unfair using evidence to back up what you say. Finally, use the chance to suggest something that will make the situation better and demonstrate to others how fabulous you are.

What if the Review is Justified?

APOLOGISE!

If you have promised to fulfil your part of the deal with a valuable customer by providing a product or service but somehow let them down, here is your chance to shine:

  1. Apologise – ‘I am so sorry…’
  2. Acknowledge their feelings – ‘I completely understand why you feel…’
  3. State how you will try to repair the damage (go the extra mile on this)
  4. State what steps you will take to ensure this doesn’t happen again
  5. Thank them for the feedback and the opportunity to improve

A Final Thought

What stimulated me to write this post? I had received wonderful service from a business and felt compelled to write them a good review to show them support. I was astonished to see that in amongst the rave reviews there were two or three one star ‘hum-dingers’. It happens, it could happen to any small business and may be due to factors outside your control. How you deal with it could be your moment in the spotlight, make it count. 

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Small Business – Big Opportunities

Pack in as many opportunities to increase revenue as you can

All I Want is a Few Alpacas

Anyone that knows me well knows about my penchant for alpacas. I dream of sitting writing at my desk, looking out at a small herd of alpacas roaming happily around my (as yet non-existent) land. It’s a pipe dream.

The Reality

Mothers Day (deliberate apostrophe omission) 2018 and my wonderful children presented me with…An alpaca experience! Here I am, with Jet.

A Small Business That Thinks Big

We drove down to Butlers Farm Alpacas I’ll be honest, we were busy so we needed to have the experience and leave. I’m not sure if the alpacas loved it as much as I did but we had a great time. Elizabeth, the owner, began with a few alpacas, and fell in love (with said alpacas), so ended up with 100. Alpacas don’t come free and are not cheap to run properly so the business has had to build around them. As well as running a (usually fully booked) programme of alpaca experiences, annual shearing results in the finest wool which in turn, results in some fine products. The business is making the most of every opportunity.

An Easy Upsell

I entered the obligatory ‘Disney style shop’ at the end of the experience in my usual mindset of ‘just look, I’m not falling for it’ but honestly, this shop was full of beautiful, quality products from the alpacas I had just spent time with. We were introduced to the range and left to stroke them at leisure, no pressure to buy but Elizabeth’s appreciation of the quality was infectious.

Come and meet my socks…

All natural alpaca wool so they can officially be worn for days without washing (I’ve stretched it to two and she is right, they would go on) and my feet are kept at a perfect temperature whatever the weather, it works for the alpaca so it works for me. They weren’t cheap but honestly, I wish I had bought a drawer full. Perhaps what I should do is get myself a few alpacas so I have a constant supply.
Stripey Alpaca Wool Socks
Running a small business? Sock it to ’em!
Well done to this thriving business, passion and expertise are fuelling steady growth, while the business offers authentic quality products, every opportunity is maximised.
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How Good Are You With Money?

How to Keep Out of Your Overdraft

Today marks 10 Years since the financial crisis brought upon us all as banks took excessive risks. I thought I would share something very simple, the best ideas are. Straight off the bat, credit for this idea goes to our local financial advisor, Stephen Graham

Steve came to visit to run through our finances, make improvements and find us a more competietive mortgage product. He achieved all of those things in one visit. Over a cup of tea he described the system he had used for many years to manage the family budget. No fancy App, no spreadsheet, no accounting software involved.

9 Steps to Better Finance Management

  1. Analyse each outgoing, is it necessary? Could you be paying less?
  2. Reduce costs where you can (change providers, stop unnecessary luxuries)
  3. Add up your outgoings
  4. Add up your income
  5. Subtract total outgoings from total income
  6. On a set day each week, draw that amount of money out in cash, no more
  7. This is the money you have available to live on
  8. If you an make online purchase, put that amount of cash in to next week’s pot
  9. Next week draw out the total minus the cash in your pot

By physically seeing the cash you have available to spend it is far easier to appreciate the reality of your financial situation. Virtual numbers in a bank account are ever-changing and difficult to visualise, it is easy to over-spend. This is a great lesson in finance management, if this was part of the school curriculum we might have far fewer people in debt.

Financial Management for Small Businesses

In business or personally, understanding your financial limits is crucial. Clearly a business cannot deal in cash, but the theory is the same. Get yourself into a position of knowing precisely the money you have to spend. So many businesses fail because they spend money they simply do not have. If you speculate to accumulate, do so wisely and do the research to know that your ‘gamble’ has a high probability of success.

£5 Note rolled up ways to save money and not overspend My Words Work For You Business Support

Pile on the pounds 

Photo by Philip Veater on Unsplash

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Is Advertising An Invasion of Privacy?

Do You Feel Stalked By Adverts?

Last week,  at 11:33pm, a client emailed me via 123 Reg Webmail to ask if I was available to work in Manchester for a week. The next morning I awoke to a Hotmail from Trivago, subject line, ‘Heading to Manchester?’

What happened to privacy?

If Customers Want It, They’ll Buy It, If They Don’t, They Won’t

Yesterday we browsed around a few shops, the aim of the day was pleasure as opposed to achieving the items on our vague list. We wandered in and out of several shops, picked up a few things, had coffee and cake. Now imagine if we arrived home to find we had been followed by every business owner. There they are on our drive, stuffing their flyers into our hands and through our letterbox.

At this juncture I refer to Jac Rayner’s Tweet:

“Dear Amazon, I bought a toilet seat because I needed one. Necessity, not desire. I do not collect them. I am not a toilet seat addict. No matter how temptingly you email me, I’m not going to think, oh go on then, just one more toilet seat, I’ll treat myself.”

I know, I know, this is normal now, advertising got cleverer, businesses got much smarter…OR DID THEY? I created a quick poll asking how people felt about this kind of advertising…‘Does this stalking/advertising work for you or does it annoy you?’

The results: 

  • 90 respondents said this advertising annoyed them
  • 5 Respondents (two of whom were married to each other) said it worked for them

So 95% of people surveyed are annoyed by this advertising, are they likely to buy?

The 5% who said ‘It works for me’ included people who do this for their clients for a living.

(94.7 rounded to 95, 5.2 rounded to 5)

An Invasion of Privacy

It might be normal now, but it does not make it right. It also doesn’t make it effective. Do businesses seriously believe that showing me they are snooping (yes, snooping) into MY private emails, then trying to shove their products/services into my face will make me choose them? It might work with a few people (maybe around 5%), but I can tell you, the majority of people find it annoying, and an invasion of their privacy. Would we allow these businesses to come and open our post? No! Why do we allow them access to our private email?

A few of the comments from the respondents to my survey:

  • “I hate it”
  • “I especially find it offensive when it comes from email, as I do find that a complete invasion of privacy.”
  • “Last year I had a miscarriage and for the following 5 months, was constantly shown baby/maternity ads.”

ENOUGH! What happened to being ethical?

A More Sustainable Solution

  • Begin with a great quality product or service that is needed/wanted
  • Create a well-written website that shows the world exactly what you offer
  • Optimise your website for search engines
  • Focus on being the best at what you do
  • Encourage customers to spread the word, nothing is more powerful than word-of-mouth

 

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Is The Fate of Small Business in the Hands of Suppliers?

How Can We Save Small Businesses?

Did you know… in 2017, 5,855 High Street shops closed for business? (Source: The Guardian) The internet has changed our lives for good, bringing benefits and drawbacks to us all. One drawback is the loss of livelihood for the business owners and staff of retail outlets that simply couldn’t survive. If we are to save more small businesses from the same fate, something has to change.

Stock Management to Increase Sales

Years ago, I was a Content Writer for a small toy business. In the beginning we were a team of three, my list of responsibilities quickly grew. Ordering, Buying, Stock Control and more all became part of my job, I wrote about it here. Truthfully, I loved being responsible for the transformation in the business’s performance and I rapidly developed a bad case of ‘stock management OCD’, order what sells, stop ordering what doesn’t, experiment with new lines and make sure what people asked for was in stock. It’s that last bit that I want to talk about today.

Discounts for the ‘Big Boys’, Penalties for Small Businesses

I managed to significantly increase the margin, but some lines put a dent in it. Take for example the Rubik’s cube. Rubik’s Cube was available on Amazon for just less than the price the supplier charged us. In fact, walk round the corner to WH Smith and it was on sale for at least £4 less than our price. The suppliers penalise small businesses for buying in small quantities. We would need to make a loss if we were to be anywhere close to ‘competitive’. Our customers had a choice to either:

  • Pay more out of loyalty
  • Take their custom elsewhere

What would you do?

Rubik's Cube on stand Stock Control Small Business Support

Tricky to get it right but it can be done

Predictably, it became a viscious circle, the games we ordered in small quantities were priced too high (even when making little or no margin for the business) so sales were rare, people associate ‘small business’ with ‘expensive’.

Suppliers Could Support Small Businesses

We watched as toy shop after toy shop closed its doors, they simply couldn’t compete. Did suppliers do anything to help? No, they watched too. What could they have done? They could have levelled the playing field and sold to small businesses at an equally favourable rate. I know these businesses were never going to be able to buy in the same quantities as the supermarket giants but is it not a little short-sighted of them to stick rigidly to their policy of charging more for items ordered in low quantities? The result is they are not selling to those businesses in any quantities now, ‘lose-lose’. Come on suppliers, rather than forcing them out of business, do your bit to support small businesses, it’s a more sustainable solution for everyone.   

 

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Business – When is it Time to Pull the Plug?

When Should a Business Throw in the Towel?

In a departure from my usual posts, I wanted to talk about when (or if) it is time for a business to ‘throw in the towel’. In spite of the negative title, the post is aiming to be supportive, and positive, helping your business to be successful.

Small Business Support

I support small businesses, it is what I do, I strongly believe in their importance to the fabric of society as well as to the economy. We are all observing a dramatic shift in the retail sector as businesses small and large fall prey to the predator that is online shopping. In recent years I, like you, have watched businesses cease to trade, in some cases this was a ‘fait accompli’ resulting from a catalogue of mistakes, in other cases there were factors outside the owner’s control.

Recognise the Signs

Yesterday I was contacted by a local business owner to thank me for the support I had provided as a customer. I had gladly written reviews and provided social media content for the business owner to use. He worked long and hard to make his business a success, and it grew. What happened next was a classic cliché, his work life balance became unbalanced and the negative consequences began to appear. There simply were not enough hours in a day and every hour added to his working day was an hour he couldn’t spend with his young family. He realised the cost and took action, he has sold his business.

‘Get Real’

In the early stage of growth there is often a lag as costs rise but revenue falls behind. It’s a precarious position, I have heard of cases where business owners borrow money in the belief they will be in a position to repay it, only to find they hadn’t done the research or understood the figures, their ambitions were little more than pipe-dreams.

What Could Have Happened?

Crucially as a business grows, owners need to release themselves from the tasks that could (and should) be carried out by others. ‘Free up’ the time to run the business and steer it in the right direction and play to your strengths.

  1. Have a solid plan based on actual results and realistic projections, it is a safer foundation to build upon.
  2. Set regular time aside to get all the free advice and support you can via forums, websites, meetups and local business networks.
  3. Timing is everything, know the right moment to recruit help
  4. Employ people with the expertise your business needs and/or the expertise you lack.
  5. Consider apprenticeships, a cost-effective solution
  6. Consider sharing employees with other businesses
  7. Manage time effectively

What’s the Take-Home?

My take home message is, no business is worth the sacrifice of your health and well-being, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Do everything you can to run your business well, take all the support you are offered, beware of people who promise the earth and charge accordingly, mistakes are OK, but learn from them. If you have a quality offering that is in demand you have the fundamentals in place. It is now a case of getting all your ducks in a row ready to fly.  I wish you every success.

Ducks in a row Small Business Support

Get Your Ducks in a Row

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Link Building Like a Pro

Top Tips For Sustainable Link Building

Thankfully, gone are the days of creating spurious links from dubious directories in order to climb the Google charts. To reach page 1 of Google, you are competing in a field of millions. The take home message is, be good at what you do and offer a service or product that people want or need. I attended an excellent course in Cambridge last week organised by Optimisey, (slips in a well-earned and relevant link to Optimisey) I thought I would share some of the top tips provided by guest speaker Stacey MacNaught with you.

  1. Do not subscribe to free directories
  2. Write great features for reputable and relevant websites
  3. Make your product/service desirable
  4. Find out what relevant publications are going to focus on and offer useful/interesting/well-written articles at the right times for publication
  5. Research relevant keywords to work out what people are searching for
  6. Offer your suppliers a testimonial including a link to your site
  7. Keep it real/natural
Links in a chain Link building Business support for websites Cambridge

Photo by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash

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Your Business From a New Perspective

Reinvigorate Your Business

We recently had a visit from a garden designer. From the moment I booked her I began to see my garden through a stranger’s eyes, it wasn’t a comfortable experience. In my defence, I am busy, but I must confess, since the moment I knew she was coming, the tidy up began. As I stood beside her discussing plans, the thought entered my head that inviting a fresh pair of eyes has caused me to look at my garden afresh. Imagine if businesses did the same.

Cast A Critical Eye

Remember Sir John Harvey Jones MBE? Imagine you have invited him in to act as ‘Troubleshooter’, as you prepare for his arrival, what do you see? This accountability and exposure certainly sharpens the senses. Suddenly you see the business from a new perspective. Issues you have accepted are no longer acceptable, problems on the back burner, flare up and add to the heat of the situation. You begin to find solutions. Why didn’t you do this when the problems first arose? Maybe it was easier to ‘let it ride’ thinking it could be dealt with when you had more time.

Critical eye on business Small Business Support Cambridge

Photo by Perchek Industrie on Unsplash

Speaking From Experience

I was invited in to a retail outlet by the owner of a small business to suggest and make changes. The changes were glaringly obvious to me, and to the owner as soon as I highlighted each one. Each change brought about an improvement in the business, so why hadn’t he done it before? He simply hadn’t stepped back and looked at his business with a critical eye, or invited anybody else to do it. We had a lot of fun doing it and the rewards were great.

How to Reinvigorate Your Business

  1. Choose an honest, straight talking person with appropriate knowledge / logical thinking
  2. Invite them to cast a critical eye, viewing things from the customers’ perspective.
  3. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism
  4. make changes, and track their effect on the business

More on ‘accountability’

Contact me here to chat more on this topic

 

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A Choice To Look

A Choice To Look, Life in Cambridge Revealed

‘A Choice to Look’ is a short film produced by Varsity’s Joe Cook and Abdullah Shah. This powerful film highlights issues faced by Cambridge residents brought about by the growing divide between ‘Town and Gown’. The effects are far more profound than mere lifestyle, there is a difference of 10 years in life expectancy between the rich and poor living in Cambridge. Residents and independent businesses cannot afford the high (and rising) rents demanded by the universities who own most of the land. The landscape is changing, and we can’t blame it all on Amazon.

Inequality of Opportunity

Waseem Yaqoob, Branch Secretary, Cambride University College Union Lecturer, describes May balls as ‘grotesque signifiers of the inequality of opportunity that exists in our society and in Cambridge’. He is right. The university is driving property prices higher than is achievable by all except the elite. While one in ten residents of Cambridge earn less than £150 per week, the average rent is £303 per week. Local food banks have seen a 50% increase in food given out since 2015.

It’s A Question of Choice

David Runciman, Head of Department of Politics and International Studies, refers to the ‘blind spots’ of things we don’t recognise and don’t see, admitting, ‘We are not as smart as we think we are’.  Julian Huppert, Director of Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge tell us, ‘there are lots of things the university CAN do’. Yet thus far, in the main, they choose not to. Instead of focusing on developing relationships with huge organisations overseas purely for their own benefit, the universities could choose to look closer to home and improve the lives of those on their doorstep, in some cases, quite literally on their doorstep.

Homeless Person-black-and-white-Sleeping Rough

I’ll give the last word to Phil Allmendinger, ‘There has to be growth for everybody, not just for the university’.

 

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