Business in the doldrums? Here’s how to kick start it back into life

If you’ve clicked through to read this article, the chances are your business is a little bit stuck at the moment. The phones aren’t ringing, your inbox is empty and your sales team aren’t delivering the goods. You could of course, put it down to Brexit, or the Election result or even the hot weather, but that doesn’t help to get things moving again. What you need is a plan of action, a business turnaround plan to get you back off the blocks and below we’ve listed some key pointers to help you do just that.

Be Brutal

It’s time to cut needless expenses out of the business to give you more money to spend on creating new business. Here’s what to check:

  • Technology – Are you paying for software you’re not using? Are there cheaper alternatives to the software you do use? Are you getting the best value from your IT support contract? Are there any contracts you can renegotiate?
  • Utilities – Don’t pay over the odds for your electricity, water, gas or internet. Shop around and you could save big
  • Rent and business rates – Do you really need that expensive office in that exclusive postcode? Do all of your employees need to come into the office every day or can you hot desk and downsize your office space?
  • Staff – Is every member of staff adding value to your business? If not, why are they on the payroll? What about your sales team? Are there individuals that always have a deal “just round the corner” that never closes? If so, it’s time to give them a deadline to close their deals or find a new job.
  • Your bank statement – Last but not least, go through your business bank statement with a fine toothcomb. You’d be amazed at what you’re probably paying for on a monthly basis that you hadn’t accounted for. Eliminate all unnecessary expenses and question any payments you don’t recognise.

Go back to basics

For many business owners, the idea of writing a business plan when you’re already years into your journey could seem like a waste of time. After all, you know your business, you know your industry and you know your clients, right? But times change and if that were the case, the business wouldn’t be in the position it’s in today. A business plan forces a business owner (or leadership team) to ask itself questions about the business that are often overlooked. It questions the assumptions a business has been built on and can lead to genuine business insight which can help to reshape the company going forward. Putting a business plan in place with strategic objectives and revenue targets for the next 1 – 5 years helps to focus your mind and your business development activities on achieving those goals at all costs. Most importantly perhaps, it can help to justify any expenditure needed to change the business to meet those long-term objectives. The savings you made in point 1 should go some way to help pay for any changes that need to be made.

Look at the market and adjust your message

Following nicely on from point 2 – if you’ve done your business plan correctly, you’ll have taken a deep dive into your customers, your competition and your industry. That means you will hopefully have identified if your customer’s needs have changed. You’ll also have noted if the industry or most importantly your competition are talking about the product or service you offer in a different way. Ask yourself, is your message and your offering still as relevant today as it was when you set up the business? If it’s not, you need to adapt to survive. Failure to do so will almost definitely result in the failure of your business.

Communicate

Having a business that is not hitting its sales targets is not just a worry for business owners and CEOs. It’s a worry for employees too. It’s important to explain the predicament the business is in to employees, particularly if you’re planning on making changes. Make sure they understand the gravity of the situation and their role in helping the business move forward to better times. By keeping your team in the loop, there will be less pushback about any changes that need to be made and it may even work to your advantage by bringing everyone together to work towards a common goal. Remember, communication is not only about delivering bad news. It’s important to celebrate the good news too so be sure to make public any big business wins.

Put a comprehensive sales and marketing strategy in place

A common theme with many companies that find their sales figures heading south is their reliance on just one method to get new business through the door. Enterprise software companies for example, tend to focus heavily on using sales teams to make outbound, new business calls. E-commerce websites rely heavily on Google Ads, whilst restaurants tend to rely on review sites and online guides. Of course, they use these methods because they work, but they need to be backed up with secondary and tertiary business development channels at the very least. This means that when one method is drying up, the other methods can pick up the slack. A good business will use an array of business development tools including Google PPC, social advertising, blogging, email, events and outbound calling.

Don’t get complacent

So you’ve reshaped the business and things are looking good. Now it’s time to sit back and reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve put in… or maybe not. Industry leading companies are always looking for new ways to drive their business forward. They want to be ahead of the competition, trying new ideas, engaging with potential clients in different ways and innovating wherever and whenever possible. It’s a good strategy to have. The best time to try new things, is when you’ve got cash in the bank to absorb anything that doesn’t work out. If it does work out, you’ll be in even better shape should you run into difficult times again in the future.

7 things you need to do to your website right now

So you’ve just had a brand new website built and you’re ready for launch. It’s packed full of glossy images. Stacked full of information about your company and jacked up to the nines with widgets to let people follow you, sign up to your newsletter or even book a meeting. It’s all very exciting and you’ve led the project from start to finish. You really feel it shows off, not just your creative genius but also the values and the personality of the brand it represents. But before you hit the “launch” button, there’s a few things you should be checking to make sure your website doesn’t end up doing more damage to your brand than good. Things which you’d be amazed how many businesses fail to do.

Check for spelling and grammar errors

For every website that is spelling and grammar error free, there will be five more websites that are littered with literary mistakes and that’s bad for business. If you’re building an all singing, all dancing website, it can be easy to get caught up in the aesthetics and the functionality and forget to proof read the information your website displays. For best practice, get at least two other people to proof read the entire website before going live. If you’ve already gone live, go back and do it anyway.

Check for inaccurate or outdated information

Yes, this might be a shiny new website, but for many, the temptation to copy and paste at least a few paragraphs from the old website will be strong and why not. After all, the company has probably not changed much over the years so where’s the harm? Well, if your website contains statistics or outdated processes from a decade ago, it’s not going to look very relevant today. Similarly, expressing pride for winning an award back in 2012 isn’t going to make you look like a very forward thinking company. But what’s more important than both of these however, is if your website mentions laws or regulations that have changed. You could become liable if a visitor comes to your website for advice and then suffers because of it.

Check your links work

Links between different areas of your website are good for SEO and depending on the size and type of your website, your links could run into the tens or even hundreds. But faulty links have the opposite effect. They’re bad for SEO and bad for the customer experience so check every link works before going live. The most common link failures we come across are the social media icons, which often still link to the web developer’s social media sites or don’t go anywhere at all.

…. A further note on social media links

If you have no intention of implementing a social media strategy and will not be using your social media regularly, we would recommend not putting links to them on your website. Social Media is used by prospective clients as a validation tool to aid in the buying process. If you are not using social media, it’s better to not advertise the fact. If you have an existing website with social media links and you’re not using social media, ask your development team to remove them.

Make sure your contact information is correct

Its easily overlooked, but check the website developer hasn’t left a “filler” number in the contact information field or in the footer by mistake? If it looks like the right number, just go through it slowly. You’d be surprised how many times a couple of numbers are the wrong way around or one of the numbers is missing. What about the email address. Is that correct? Is it still in use? Have you tested it recently? It would be a shame if customers are emailing you and their message is going into an online abyss. And of course, don’t forget to test your contact forms too. Do they work? Where do they point to? Will your customer receive an automated responder once they send in a query?

Check it works equally well on a mobile

With well over half of all internet traffic taking place on a mobile device these days, if you’re website is not mobile compatible, your business will seriously miss out. It’s worth remembering that Google rates mobile friendly websites higher than non-mobile friendly sites, so even if your website is viewable but not “mobile compatible” your Google ranking will be affected. And if your web developer says your website is mobile friendly, don’t just take their work for it. It’s up to you to thoroughly test your site. Often developers will use website themes (like a template) which automatically adjusts the website for different devices, however they don’t always work as they should and you might find different parts of your website end up overlapping or become unusable.

Get third party feedback

Last but not least, ask someone who is not immediately involved in your organisation to look at your website and explain to you what you do and the value you offer. So often, the content of a website is written by someone so entrenched in the company and the industry they represent that the message they deliver is not coherent to people on the outside. Remember, your message has to explain to a potential customer, the value you deliver and why they should have an interest in your products or services. It doesn’t need to deliver a detailed historical account of your company or provide in-depth technical specifications for your offering (unless you are an e-commerce site).

So there you go. 7 simple things you can do right now to make your website that little bit better. Of course there are many more and we’d welcome your thoughts and advice, so website guru’s – we look forward to you adding your thoughts in the comments field below.

How to write a killer introductory email pitch

If you’re like me, you probably receive upwards of 10 introductory emails or LinkedIn messages every day pitching all manner of product and services. Do you read any of them? Probably not. I know for a fact that most of mine don’t even get opened because of the email subject line and those emails that do, rarely get read below the first line. That’s not because I don’t need their products or services. In fact, in the time it takes me to hit the delete key I probably don’t even know what half of them are selling. The point is – they are selling and I don’t want to take time out of my busy day to be sold to.

And that’s a problem. What if you or I want to use an email pitch to reach out to relative strangers and stoke up new business? Is email dead? Should we give up before we even start? Not so fast. You see, out of the hundreds of unsolicited emails which arrive in my inbox every month – very rarely, one does catch my attention and I do go onto (i) read it and (ii) take action. So what makes this rare email pitch different from all the others? Here’s a few observations, which if followed – are much more likely to lead to your email being picked up and read.

Get Personal

Blanket, impersonal, generic emails are of no interest to anyone. If you are sending volumes of unsolicited emails (i.e. spam) – don’t. Respect your receiver. Learn a bit about the person, their role and their business through their LinkedIn profile. Be sure to demonstrate that you have spent time doing this in your email. It shows a more considered approach.

It’s not me, it’s you

Here’s a golden rule about introductory emails. It’s not about your products or services, it’s about your reader’s problems and their pain points. If you’ve not spent time understanding the trigger point which makes people think “I need to buy one of those…” about your product or service – do it now. Make everything in your email about their pain and how you can take that away.

Cut the Crap

Have you ever read an email and thought “I don’t even understand what this is about”?  I had a sales email the other day exactly like that. In fact, it was one of the few emails that made me read past the first line, purely because it made no sense whatsoever and I was intrigued to understand how bad the email could get (it actually motivated me to write this). The bottom line is – cut the jargon, the over familiarity and the clichés and tell it how it is. Your reader will appreciate the normality and honestly of what they’re reading.

Don’t do the Loop

There’s a common thought process in sales, that the more you contact someone, the more likely they are to buy from you and to an extent that’s true. However, some very lazy people are taking this to the extreme and simply setting up repetitive, automated email loops containing four or five messages, hoping that at some point the recipient will finally break down and buy (or cry). DON’T DO THIS. WANT TO KNOW WHY? Your domain will be blacklisted. Take a look in your spam filter and you’ll probably see hundreds of emails from people putting this lazy practice into practice. Why are they in your spam folder? Because their domain has been listed as junk. Do you want to risk all of the emails addresses in your entire organisation being listed as junk? If you are sending out junk you deserve to be classed as junk so don’t take the risk.

Size Matters

When we work with clients to create an email pitch, they often want to squeeze every last possible bit of information they can think of into a message. Who they are, how long they’ve been going, why they’re great, what they offer, what this means, who else they’ve done it for, what else they might be able to do and an infinite number of ways they can be contacted. Your recipient has no time or interest in this. All they want to know is what’s in it for them… and rightly so.  Keep your email pitch short, simple and to the point. Here’s quite an extreme example of a good message that does the trick:

Dear <name> . I notice that you <demonstrate you know who they are> . We help companies do <value add> .  We could <explain exactly how you could improve their circumstance> . Would you be Ok with me dropping you a phone call at some point this week to tell you a bit more / demonstrate our product?

I look forward to hearing back from you shortly,

Provide an Incentive

If you want to add extra spice to your email, try adding a time-limited incentive. Maybe the reader can get a free upgrade to the next service package. Maybe they’ll get entered into a prize draw or receive a tempting discount. The choice of incentive is up to you. Just make sure it’s something that will motivate the recipient to take action. The offer of a free “consultation” is about as popular as a leaky pen.

Be Precise

As I’ve shown in the short email example above, be precise. There’s a temptation with emails to write an elaborate play on words, a war and peace email showcasing your literary prowess. But every unnecessary word your type is taking the reader’s focus away from your message. Be precise in what you’re offering and be precise in what you want. Leave the storytelling for your blogs and other extra-curricular activities.

That’s all from me for now. If you like this article, please share it and if you need help with any area of your marketing, drop us a call today on 0207 458 4788.

Not seeing any results from your marketing budget? Here’s why…

Over the years, we’ve spoken to literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of companies about their marketing and we’ve found they typically fall into one of four categories.

  1. Companies that don’t believe that marketing works
  2. Companies that have no marketing budget but would ‘do’ marketing if they had one
  3. Companies that do have a marketing budget but aren’t getting the required results.
  4. Companies that do have a marketing budget and are getting results from it

If you recognise that your organisation sits firmly in the third category, this post is for you. Below we’ve listed five common reasons why a company’s marketing efforts might not bare any fruit. Don’t forget you can drop us a line at any point if you would like more information or assistance.

Wrong place

It’s a classic. Someone, somewhere at some point in the past said “Facebook works great for our business” and since then you’ve been valiantly pushing out content on ships propellers or the latest bulletproof vests through your Facebook page waiting for phone to ring. There’s a school of thought which says the more places you market to the better… but it’s wrong. That’s only good for a marketing agency’s wallet. Spend your time, effort and money on marketing your business in places where your customers hang out. If that’s LinkedIn, great. If it’s a forum or a specific industry platform, then market to there. Don’t be too quick to jump to assumptions though. You wouldn’t think Instagram for example, would be a good place for a shipyard to market, but Besiktas Shipyard in Turkey has got over 17.6 thousand followers. Take a look.

Wrong Message

Customer-centric marketing is nothing new. It’s about focusing your marketing message (and your strategy) around the wants and needs of your customers to drive engagement. It’s not about pushing out product or company information and explaining why you’re the greatest. Imagine if we were to say that we’re the best marketing agency for small and medium sized businesses in the UK over and over again… you might find that interesting once, but you’d grow tired of that message pretty quickly. Audiences are fickle and it might not be a very “PC” thing to say – but they’re self-absorbed and will always ask “what’s in it for me?”.  Focus your marketing on how your product or service will make your customers feel. What problems does it address? How will it transform your customer’s lives?

If you’ve got your head around customer-centric marketing and it’s still not working – your message can still be wrong, irrelevant or outdated. Market research will tell you the challenges your target market face and what their buying triggers might be with surprising results. One last thing. Keep your message simple. Don’t unnecessarily confuse your audience.

No measurement

Imagine giving someone £25,000 to buy a vehicle for you. A specialist vehicle that had to make a very specific trip and deliver a particularly niche product and your business depended on it. Now imagine after handing over the money and never bothering to check whether the purchased vehicle was up to the job or in fact, completed the job.

That’s the same as spending money on a marketing campaign and not measuring it. How do you know if the campaign is up to the job? How do you know if it delivered results? How do you know if it’s something you should be putting more money into it?

Before starting any campaign, understand what you’re trying to achieve and make sure you’ve got the tools in place to measure the metrics. If a campaign isn’t working, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to bin it and start again from scratch. Sometimes a slight change of wording or a different image is all it takes to turn a campaign around. A good marketing manager will always measure and refine again and again and again.

Poor Website

Marketing forms part of your customer journey. It reaches out to people and draws them in… normally to your website. Your website then furnished your visitors with more information and gets them excited enough about your product or service that they’ll want to purchase or make an enquiry about it. Having a poor website puts an instant stop to the customer journey. We’ve seen some great campaigns recently on LinkedIn ads and we’ve clicked through to see if they can help our business. Often though the campaigns have directed us through to a dated or incomplete website with poor grammar and broken links. LinkedIn marketing isn’t cheap and some companies are spending hundreds, if not thousands of pounds every month directing people through to a website which is turning potential customers away. Before you start any marketing campaign – plan the customer journey and make sure every step along the way leads your customers towards a potential purchase.

No follow up

Following on from our point about marketing being a journey, prospective customers often need a little nudge in the right direction, even if they’ve reacted positively to your marketing so make sure you give it to them. It’s easy to think that a prospect has gone off the idea of buying your product because they’ve not been back in touch, but the truth is – we’re all busy people and we all get distracted. Make it a rule that every marketing campaign is measured and followed up to ensure you’re making the most of your marketing budget. You’ll be surprised at the difference a follow up can make.

That’s all in this post. If you would like more information about the points raised or you would like to talk about how our marketing services can benefit your organisation – get in touch on +44 (0) 207 458 4788. Thanks – and don’t forget, if you’ve found this article useful, someone you know probably will do too so place share.

Is your business going nowhere?

I was speaking to a fellow business owner during the Christmas break and as normally happens when you meet someone in the same predicament as yourself, we ended up talking about our businesses. I spoke of the successes we’d had in 2016 and our aggressive growth plans for 2017. Meanwhile she spoke of a difficult year past and the likelihood of another difficult year ahead. Her business she felt, was going nowhere fast and on further questioning, it was easy to see why and best of all, how to turn the business around. So if you’re in the same predicament, thinking that your business is in for a tough year and feeling like your treading water or worse still, getting swept off downstream – here’s a few ideas to help turn it around.

Know your business

The first thing I did was to ask what the most popular products were and what the most profitable products were. Were they the same? If not, how can you make your profitable products more popular or your popular ones more profitable? By having intimate insight into your clients buying habits and understanding exactly what you make on each product or service you sell, you can get a better idea of what needs to happen to make more money in your business.

Get rid of loss leaders and replace with profit winners

Following on from the above, if you’re offering products that lose the business money or merely break-even, get rid of them. Similarly, if you’re offering products and services that no-one is buying, bin them too. Expand on the products and services which are the most popular and most profitable.

Don’t do freebies

If you’re a service provider (or a software provider), the chances are you regularly get asked to do stuff for free on the promise of future work. DON’T DO IT! Some people run their businesses by going round to service providers and asking for free stuff on the premise of future work that they have no intention of giving. If someone asks you for a freebie, tell them you’d be happy to offer the equivalent value of the freebie in the form of a discount on future invoices after the first month. If they’re really serious about forming a long-term relationship, they’ll be happy to snap that offer up. If they’re not and simply want a free ride, they’ll walk away. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Make a Plan

One of the most amazing aspects of my conversation with this fellow business owner was that her business was 5 years old yet she had never made a (i) business plan or (ii) a yearly sales and marketing plan. The result was that she was still paying herself below minimum wage and continuing her business in the hope that things would turn around.

  1. THINGS WON’T TURNAROUND UNLESS YOU MAKE THEM
  2. HOPE IS NOT A STRATEGY

Take a snap shot of your business today. How many clients do you have? What’s the average spend per customer? What’s your client retention rate? How much profit are you making off how many sales? Now ask yourself, what are your targets on these points for the year ahead and how are you going to do it? Put a plan in place, pin it to your wall and follow it. Do you need more marketing, more events, better products, better aftersales, more repeat business? How will you do it?

NO PLAN = NO IMPROVEMENT.

Motivate and reward yourself

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes. For me its regular exercise and the promise of a new tattoo or a weekend away if I hit a key revenue or profit target. If you work from home, think about investing in a hot desk so that you can get some social interaction with other small business owners. If you sit at your desk all day, think about going for a midday run or doing an exercise session off your iPad. What about new skills? Would a training course help you to make your business better? There’s plenty of free or extremely cheap training available on the internet if you know where to look and websites like Eventbrite will point you in the direction of meetup groups and training seminars. Look to the future, don’t live in the past or even the present. If you hit your aggressive growth targets, how is that going to feel? How are you going to reward yourself? Won’t that feel amazing? Make it happen.

Know when to quit

Some of you might be surprised by this. After all, who likes a quitter? The reality is though, if you’ve done the sums and your business isn’t viable or you’re really not enjoying it – throw in the towel. Don’t keep ploughing your valuable time and money into something which isn’t going anywhere. Seasoned entrepreneurs will tell you that they’ve had businesses which have either not made it out of the starting block, or have cost them dearly and lost them money later down the line.

FAILURE IS NOT FAILURE…

Yes, you read that right. As someone who has had an expensive failure in the past, I’ll be the first to say the £10k I lost on a previous start-up was £10k well spent. The lessons I learnt from that have been invaluable in making a success of businesshands today and if I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Just to add some colour to my £10k loss – the company failed because I didn’t put a plan in place. I didn’t calculate how much profit I would be making from each customer and how many sales I would need to make for the business to sustain me and fund its own expansion. When I finally did the calculations and realised it was going to be impossible to make a living from it, I closed the business down within 24 hours and walked away.  Painful yes, but it would have been far more painful to live in denial and continue for months, maybe even years before finally throwing in the towel.

If you’re a business owner or senior director and need help with your business, we’re here to help. Not only do we offer a comprehensive outsourced marketing department service to get your business seen and heard by the people that count most, but we also offer strategic marketing advice. For more information, call us on 0207 458 4788 or email us at info@businesshands.co.uk.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share this article if you’ve found it useful.

10 Ways to Increase Sales in 2017

Yep, we know – there are probably a million articles on the net this week about how to increase sales in 2017. But this post is different – why? Because it’s actually useful. It’s full of real, no nonsense, genuinely implementable things you can do to increase your chances of getting new business in 2017. Are you ready? Let’s begin.

Revise your message

Take a look at the wording on your website and in your marketing literature. Is it still relevant in 2017? Are your clients still facing the same challenges? Do they still want the same things? What are your competitors saying? Is it time to modernise your message to remain relevant in the year ahead?

Go through your existing clients and upsell or cross sell

It’s a simple as it sounds. Pull up a list of your existing clients and ask what more can you do for them. Can you sell them a higher volume of the same product or do you have an alternative product that they would also benefit from? It might pay to look at their website and their social media and find out what’s going on in the company to give you a better idea of how you can add value. Unless you have hundreds or even thousands of clients, it pays to go through each one and create a unique offer just for them. It may be more time consuming but you’ll see greater returns. Send each client an email with their bespoke offer and follow up 24 hours later with a phone call.

‘Happy Meal’ your offering

This is an extension on the idea about and is a great way to increase sales and cross sell your products. Just like we do here at businesshands, why not try bundling a selection of your products and services together at a discount price and offering this as a package to your customers. This works well if you have a large client / prospect database. Try to create 2 or three different bundles to meet different needs and budgets.

Lure your old clients back

If you lost some clients in the past year or two, now is the time to put in a quick call or email. Acknowledge them as a previous client, ask them about their plans for 2017, find out about their current arrangements and if they’re happy with them. Next be brutally honest and ask them if you could do anything to bring persuade them to give you another shot, what would it be?

Turn your invoice into a sales tool

This is a real winner. Add a special / time limited offer to the bottom of every invoice you send in 2017 and we guarantee it will deliver results.

Ask for referrals and recommendations

Don’t be afraid to ask clients with whom you have a good relationship to recommend you to their connections, whether that be clients or suppliers. You may want to put a referral scheme in place. There’s been a lot of negativity around these schemes but done well, they can become a real business development asset for your business. Here at businesshands, we offer a 10% referral payment to our existing clients (in the form of a discount on their bill) if we get a new client based on their recommendation. We only pay out when the new client pays their first invoice. Our referral scheme is mentioned at the bottom of every invoice as are the T&C’s around it so our clients get a reminder of the scheme every month.

Invest in a quality social media strategy

Here’s two questions for you. (i) Is your business on social media? (ii) Has social media delivered any value to the business? Your answers are probably (i) Yes and (ii) No. We talk with countless start-ups and SMEs every month who are not getting anything out of their social media. Done well though, social media could be one of your greatest business development assets. If it’s not working in your business, get an agency that specialises in it to help you out… preferably us of course!

Do 5 prospecting calls every day

Nobody likes to make sales calls but if you really want to see your business pipeline skyrocket it’s a necessary evil. Try doing your sales calls first thing in the morning before opening your emails or getting distracted with other convenient tasks. 5 calls can take anything from 10 to 30 minutes of your time after which you’ll be free to carry on with your normal daily activities. Best of all, if your morning calls go well, you’ll be set up for a great day ahead. If you’re selling B2B (business to business) – you can create your prospects list from research on LinkedIn and prepare the day before.

Combine blogs and LinkedIn

If you’re a B2B business and you’re not writing regular high quality blogs/articles – you should be. Blogging is not only great for your SEO but it helps to define who you are as a brand, it helps to show your expertise and it helps to demonstrate you can solve your (potential) customer’s problems. A great way to maximise the visibility of your blog and get it in front of people who will find value in it, is to set up a LinkedIn InMail campaign. This will allow you to introduce your company to a very specific list of people which can be filtered by Job title, seniority, company size, location and many other factors. If you’d like to know more about this option – get in touch.

Exhibit

Exhibiting at a trade show is a great way to gather new leads and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  We have just booked a stand at a local trade show in February for just £130 + VAT. Don’t be afraid to haggle on price and plan the event carefully. You’ll need to think about what you do in the build up to the event, what you’re going to do and say at the event and then how you’re going to follow up afterwards.

So there you go, 10 ways for your business to increase sales in 2017. And because we’re full of new year’s cheer, here’s another one on us…

Network within your industry

Networking events might seem superficial but they’re not just about finding new clients. These events provide a great platform to make more contacts within your industry and make more people aware of your business. By growing awareness of your brand, you’re more likely to receive referrals and who knows, you may even be able to build a partnership with another non-competing business in your sector to help sales really take off.

If you would like any more information or advice on the above tips, why not give one of our team a call today on 0207 458 4788. Thanks… and don’t forget – if you’ve found this article useful, please share it with your network.

Start-ups – Don’t crash your plane

As businesshands comes closer to turning four years old, I’ve been mulling back over the journey and the emotions that I’ve experience since it started out. It occurred to me that having a start-up is a bit like flying a plane… or more appropriately – finding yourself in the pilot’s seat of a plane at 15,000 feet with no engines running… that’s just about to stall.

That’s pretty much where it started for me. Tired with office politics and frustrated with my role, one day around four years ago I just quit. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but when I did it – it was so sudden it even surprised me. I was in tech sales and for anyone that’s worked in technology sales, you’ll know that once you quit – your company doesn’t want you hanging around on the off chance that you’ll lure their customers away or steal all of their customer data. So there I was, not long after the words came out of my mouth, buzzing off down the London streets on my scooter, wide eyed wondering what I’d just done and most importantly, what I would do next.

It took a month of figuring out that I didn’t want to work for anyone else again. During that time, I’d interviewed for jobs I didn’t want and unsurprisingly, not gotten any of them. So I decided to set up my own company and that was the moment I took control of the aircraft at 15,000 feet with no engines that was just about to stall. The 15,000 feet represented the total value in cash of everything I owned and all of the credit I had left on my credit cards at that point.

As any business owner will tell you, starting a business is harder and more complex that you might think (just like flying a plane). If you’re a product based business, the product development phase can be lengthy and difficult. If you’re a services business, it could take you an age to figure out who your customer is and what you need to offer them. And that’s just the basics. Like finding and pressing the button to start up the engines, you’re still in a stall hurtling towards the ground, burning through your budget and unless you can figure out how to turn that plane around fast you’re going to crash.

And this is a problem overlooked by many start-ups and small businesses today. Simply having a good product or a service is not enough for your company to succeed. It took businesshands about 18 months before it levelled off from its initial dive. With my credit card maxed out, luckily my car had been worth a little more than I thought and that bought me a few hundred extra feet in the stall. Ever since then we’ve been climbing. Slowly at first but as the months have rolled in we’ve risen faster and faster and today I can say, we’re actually having a pretty pleasant flight. So from someone who has been through the experience, here’s some tips on how to wrestle back control of your start-up and hopefully help you fly off into the sunset.

  1. Don’t build your product or define your service offering until you have done extensive market research. It doesn’t have to be expensive research. Attending free or low cost networking groups and getting feedback on your ideas is a good start and will save you time and money later on.
  1. Complete market and competitor analysis before you begin. Again, you can do this research yourself. Understanding the market and your potential competitors will tell you whether your idea has legs and can be a success. Is the market hungry for your idea? Are there already hundreds of companies in this space? What are you offering that’s going to differentiate you? These are just some of the questions you need to be asking.
  1. Do your figures. Even if you’re not ready to do a formal business plan, ask yourself these four basic questions.
  • How much will my product or service cost me to deliver (add a least 25% to any estimate to account for marketing, personnel and other bills)
  • How much will my product or service sell for?
  • How much of my product or my service will I have to sell to make a living?
  • Is that achievable?
  1. Don’t spend any money unless you have to. No luxuries, no office space, no fancy stationary or separate mobile phone for work. Spend nothing unless it is necessary for the start-up to progress.
  1. Save half of your budget at least for sales / marketing /business development activities. There’s nothing like having a decent product or service but not having any money to spread the word. It will take more than a couple of months of marketing budget to get your business off the ground.
  1. Build/plan a structured sales and marketing journey for your business and stick to it. Sporadic sales and marketing activities cost money and deliver very little. Consistency is king when it comes to closing sales.
  1. Build a structured customer journey for your existing customers. This ensures they will get a consistent and quality service. It will minimise customer attrition whilst also ensuring you identify as many upselling opportunities as possible. Remember it’s far more expensive to attract new customers than it is to sell to existing ones so keeping them happy needs to be part of your business strategy.
  1. Pay yourself as little as you can afford to live on for as long as it takes and plough every bit of spare cash from new sales straight back into your sales /marketing /business development activities. Don’t be tempted to slack off on this, even if you’re going through a busy period.
  1. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Stop thinking about what you want to deliver and start asking what your customers need.
  1. Speak to other people in start-ups. Get together regularly to discuss the progress you’re making and the challenges you’re facing. Having someone to speak to who is outside of your immediate start-up world will bring new ideas and a different way of thinking. Most importantly though it will improve your morale and give you the drive to continue pulling your start-up plane out of it’s scary initial dive so you can begin planning a route for the long haul.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this article don’t forget to share it and of course make sure you visit our marketing services page to find out what we could be doing to help your business.

How to grow a small business without funding your expansion through debt

 

If you’re a SMB or start-up owner, you’ll be very familiar with the problem of how to grow a small business. You don’t have time to focus on growth because you’re too busy serving customers, but if you don’t serve your customers – you won’t have the money to grow your business. It’s a catch 22 situation so what’s the answer? Here’s a few ideas…

Put your prices up

Yes, that sounds odd but if you have plenty of clients coming to your “door” and simply don’t have time to serve them all, it’s time to put your prices up. Even if you don’t have customers clambering through your (virtual) shop windows to buy your products or services – a price rise is more than likely, something you could still put in place. It’s the paranoia of small business… not having the infrastructure and marketing clout behind them to compete with bigger businesses, that makes them want to charge less but the reality is – your products and services are just as valuable as those offered by bigger business and you should charge appropriately. Still not sure? Do some market research. Phone up your competitors and get some quotes and you’ll see more often than not, that your prices are well below market rates.

Bring your costs down

Sounds obvious, but it’s not just about getting the best price for raw materials to make your products. Think about electricity, heating, water, business rates and rent. Do you really need a large, posh office in a top postcode if you don’t typically entertain clients at your premises? Are you heating rooms in your building unnecessarily or leaving the heating on overnight when you’re not even there? What about your energy suppliers… are you sure you’re getting the best deal? How about subscriptions to software that you have taken out? Do you still use that software? Is it value for money and is there another platform that can do it better? A great way to bring your costs down is to go through the monthly business bank statement and question every item on the list. Ask yourself; Why is it on there? Does it need to be? Does it add value to the business? Can it be done better or cheaper elsewhere? Once you reduce your costs, you’ll have more money in the bank to consider bringing someone else on board and begin to expand.

Make better use of your time

Have you ever attended a meeting and come away thinking “well that was a waste of my time”? Me too. In fact, if you analyse that enormously hectic weekly schedule you set yourself – you’ll probably find there’s quite a few activities in there that are not adding any value to your business. When it comes to client meetings, don’t agree to meet just because someone asks to do so. Qualify your meetings first. Ask (i) Is there a genuine need for my product or services (ii) are there timescales in place for that need to be fulfilled – is there a project or a deadline for the need? (iii) Is the person that’s asking for the meeting the right person to be having the meeting with or do I need to suggest other people attend as well (iv) what do they want to get out of the meeting? Set an agenda and set objectives so you know that if you do attend the meeting, your time will be well spent. Don’t be afraid to say no to a meeting if you don’t think it serves a purpose. I’ve probably turned down around twenty meetings this year because I could not clarify the purpose and the value of them. Time is THE most valuable commodity in a small business. If you can free up time to work on your business, then you can figure out the best way to help it grow.

Partner Up

If customers who use your product or service, typically use another non-competing service as well, it makes sense to partner up and refer customers to each other. As a marketing agency for example, we partner with a web development company. We’ve also partnered with small business hubs and shared office spaces in the past. If you’re able to provide each other with a unique offer to pass on to each other’s client base, that partnership can be a strong differentiator for customers when making their buying decision and that means you need to spend less time on business development /sales activities to hit the same kind  of numbers that you’re already doing.

Use outsourced service providers for a fraction of the cost

Of course we have to say this because we’re one of them but if you don’t have enough cash to employ someone on a full time basis, or you don’t have the cash to be able to employ someone with the right level of skills that you need – outsourcing is the way to go. It’s inexpensive, you typically get a higher skill level and there’s zero risk to your business. If you have a bad month, just give notice on your outsourcing contract or reduce it down to a more affordable level until you can afford to pick it up again. Of course, with sales and marketing, the contrary applies. When clients are thin on the ground, you should be spending more to get clients through the door – but don’t do it blindly. Always hold your outsourced sales or marketing team to account.

In this article, we’ve covered just 5 ways to help you grow a small business without taking on debt. Of course there are hundreds more so why not share your ideas and help other small businesses grow.

Thanks for reading,

PS – If you like this article… don’t forget to share it!

PPS – Find out more about our outsource marketing department services here

7 reasons why B2B businesses with good products or services still fail to win customers

If you’re sitting there now wondering how other B2B businesses are getting clients through their door whilst your phone doesn’t seem to have rung in weeks – the problem could lie in your message. Your website, your blog, your social media, your e-newsletter and your marketing literature (brochures) – these are what your target audience will look at to decide whether they want to become your client and it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at Google AdWords or any other PPC marketing channel, if your message isn’t right – your phones won’t ring.

Below we’ve listed 7 common problems associated with how you choose to communicate who you are to your customers. We’d love to hear your comments if you can come up with more “message faux pas”.

They use complicated language / jargon
Accountants, solicitors and technology entrepreneurs are by far the biggest culprits when it comes to using complicated language but every business sector has its nuances and no business should assume it’s immune. Spending your days completely emerged in your sector means you start to assume that because you use certain language on a day to day basis, everyone outside your sector must know what it is.

If someone comes to your website, reads your brochure or listens to you speak and they don’t understand what they’re reading or hearing, they very quickly either (i) assume that the message is not meant for them or (ii) glaze over and stop listening. Speaking in complex language does not impress potential clients – it’s switches them off (unexplained acronyms have the same effect) so don’t assume knowledge. Try to keep things simple.

They speak to the wrong audience
This follows closely on from the first reason. Many businesses write their website content, the blogs, their brochures and their social media content as if they’re speaking to someone within the same industry… even from the same type of company. They’re not thinking about their audience, what they might be interested in reading or what their needs might be.

They don’t explain what they do
It sounds sooooo obvious but you would be amazed how many businesses don’t explain what they do. Their website and reading literature either completely ignores the need to tell the audience who / what they are, or they get themselves caught up in an “elevator pitch” style explanation which is full of clichés and doesn’t actually mean anything. Take a look at your website and marketing literature now – is it obvious what you do? Being well known in your industry doesn’t mean you’re well known to new potential customers so don’t let this be an excuse not to revisit your message.

They don’t explain the value of what they offer
Explaining what your business does is a good start but if you really want to turn website visitors and blog /brochure readers into potential customers, you need to explain why what you sell matters to these people. How is it going to add value / change their lives or their business? If you had to choose between two accountancy firms; one said “I’m an accountant” and the other said “I’m an accountant and I can help you pay less tax so you’ll have more money to invest in growing your business” – which one would you choose?

Think about your product or service and why people want to buy it. Think about why they should choose you and not your competitor. What makes you different and what makes you the right choice?

They get too technical
If you sell a software or technology product – or you offer complex or technical services to other businesses, you might feel inclined to offer a highly detailed technical explanation of them (i) so discerning customers can understand what they’re getting and (ii) to demonstrate your technical knowledge and abilities. The truth is, unless you’re an online shop selling technology items (laptops, audio equipment, TV’s), providing in-depth technical knowledge of your product or service could be causing more harm than good.

We often work with IT Support companies who insist on having a wealth of highly technical information about computer hardware/networks on their website and further technical information in their blogs on how to resolve key issues. The reality though, is that the person choosing whether to sign a contract with that support company, is unlikely to be making their decision from a technical standpoint. They will be making a strategic decision as to whether your service can meet their business needs. In the case of IT Support Companies, it’s about levels of service, whether you can support their business growth, cutting costs and using IT to gain a strategic advantage. None of that will involve looking at an in-depth technical account of the latest internet router.

This all comes back to point 2 on our list. Are you speaking to the wrong audience? Who is the person that will actually make the buying decision about your product or service? That’s who you need to speak to. If they want more technical information, they can always ask.

They give too much information
This follows on nicely from the point above. Your potential customers don’t need to know absolutely everything about you and your business, they just need to know if you can solve their problems. Instead of going into an elaborate and lengthy sales pitch as to why you’re the greatest, take a moment to identify your target audience(s). Write down a bit about what type of person/ business they are (for example they are a CEO of a £1-5 million technology company). Next write down what their goals might be (for example to increase profits, minimise risk, deliver to shareholders). Now write down reasons as to why they might not be able to achieve those goals (currency fluctuations, unreliable supply chain, cyber threat etc.).

Now that you have a good understanding of who you are trying to talk to, you can begin to see how your product or service can become important to them. You can understand why they might need it to solve their problems and you can write very targeted (and brief) messaging which shows you understand them and most importantly, that you can help. Leave the lengthy “cover every eventuality” written pieces to you competitors.

They don’t push their message out to the right locations… or don’t push it out at all
If you’ve spent so much time getting your message right, you’ll want to make sure people read it. Oddly, there are many companies who still believe that simply having a website is enough. If people search for a product or service, you’ll miraculously come up near the top of the pile and hey presto… you’ll be inundated with sales. Sadly, that’s not the case. It’s also not the case that you can pump a load of money into Google AdWords and expect great results. Our experience has led us to believe that Google AdWords actually delivers one of the lowest returns on investment (ROI) when compared to other popular advertising mediums.

So where should you be advertising your product or service? Well, that all depends on where your target customer “hangs out”. If you sell to other businesses, LinkedIn is generally a foregone conclusion. If you sell visually appealing products or what you do could have quite a “geeky” (for want of a better term) following – Instagram works well. There’s been some great examples of electricians and network engineers photographing their wiring/ cabling projects and gaining HUGE followings. Engineering and architectural projects can have similar success. Houzz is a must for anything relating to home and garden design. Twitter is a really great all-rounder and Facebook works particularly well for venues (pubs, restaurants etc.) and events.

Outside of the traditional social media channels, don’t forget advertising (or at least having a presence) on specialist forums and of course, sending out a regular e-newsletter.

The most important thing to remember when you embark on pushing out your message, is measurement. Don’t assume something will or won’t work until you’ve tried it. If we received a pound for every time someone said to us “we don’t think Twitter is for us” – we’d be knee deep in pound coins. The truth is, for the majority of our clients, Twitter becomes either their no.1 or no.2 marketing channel. Understand what you expect to achieve from your advertising, be prepared to try new ideas and if something is not working, stop spending time, effort and money on it and look for something better.

So there you go. 7 reasons why B2B businesses with good products or services still fail to win customers. Can you think of any more? We’d love you to tell us about them in the comments below.

Thanks for reading

PS – Don’t forget to like and share if you’ve enjoyed this article.

Meet your end of year target with this to-do list

With the summer holidays now coming to a close, it’s time to turn our attention once again to business and helping you get more of it through the door. With that in mind, here’s a helpful to-do list to help you meet your end of year target.

Set your objectives

Sit down and confirm your objectives in writing. What is your revenue target? How many sales does that equate to? What must the average sale value be for you to achieve your target? Define lower and higher sales value thresholds and calculate how many sales of each you would need to still achieve your goals. Don’t just pick numbers out of thin air – use historical data from previous sales to understand your average transaction size.

Plan how to maximise your average sales value

There are two ways to increase sales revenue.

  • Increase the average deal size
  • Increase the number of sales you make

If your revenue targets are looking challenging or quite simply, if you want a better chance of hitting your targets – you’ll want to put a strategy in place to maximise the value of every single transaction. Look at the portfolio of products or services you sell and ask yourself…

  • Can I cross-sell purchases of product/service A and also sell them product/service B?
  • Can I upsell them from product/service A to a product/service A+
  • Can I create a value bundle by combining a selection of my products to increase the overall transaction size? (the profit per item may be less, but the overall profit will better)
  • If you have customers that pay on a monthly basis, can you create an offer to persuade them to purchase a years’ worth of product/service up front?

Plan who you are going to be selling to

You’ll need a separate strategy for each of the following:

  • New customers who you want to sell in to
  • Existing customers who you want to sell more to

Existing customers are traditionally “low hanging fruit”. They already know and trust your brand and you simply need to get them to spend more. Think time-limited money-off vouchers, seasonal related campaigns (Halloween, the day the clocks go back, Diwali etc.), weather / news related offers and general “thanks for being a loyal customer” deals.

For new customers, ask yourself:

  • Where am I going to find them?
  • What am I going to do when I do find them?
  • What is my “multi-touch” strategy to bring them down the sales funnel (people rarely buy from a company the first time they see / hear from them so you’ll need to have a consistent marketing strategy in place to build trust before a sale will take place)

Build your strategy

No single activity on its own will “bring in the goods” so you need to think about your sales and marketing mix. Will you need to make outbound sales calls? Will you be writing regular content (this is pretty much a “must” for all businesses)? What does your social media campaign look like? Will you be using paid advertising (AdWords / Social PPC)? What about social and blogger outreach? Don’t forget email marketing. That’s a lot of things to think about and a lot to figure out if you’re to make it a success.

Decide if you have time or if you need help

There’s no point in doing the above half-heartedly.  You need to commit serious time and energy to both the planning and implementation stages if you’re going to pull this off. Random unstructured content or social media posts don’t work. Neither does the occasional half-baked sales email, so if you think you can “wing it” as and when you have a bit of spare time, let us save you the effort by assuring you that challenging revenue targets cannot be achieved unless you put your sales and marketing strategy at the very top of your agenda – day in, day out until the end of the year.

If you don’t have the time, the skill-set or the inclination to do this in-house, that’s where we come in. Here at businesshands we offer a comprehensive outsourced marketing department service which includes everything from in-depth marketing strategy through to content creation, social media, email campaign management and much more besides.

Want to know more? Contact us this week on 0207 458 4788 to get you sales and marketing strategy in motion and don’t leave it a moment more. They say time is money and in this case, the greater the delay in starting your strategy – the greater the loss in revenue to your business before the end of the year.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you like it and you’ve found it useful – perhaps your contacts will too so don’t forget to like and share it.