Off the Edge
Off the Edge is a marketing blog written by Sharon Wilding and Jim Hunt of THE PURPLE EDGE and occasional featured guest authors. It aims to provide thought-provoking and useful content on marketing and business issues. Please feel free to comment on our musings, and if there are subjects you want to discuss further then please get in touch.
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Have you ever thought that getting in the paper would be good publicity for you? Have you had great successes - or struggled? Although it has the attraction of promising to be free, public relations, and more particularly press releases, can be a rollercoaster emotionally to get right!
Public Relations (PR) specialism of marketing. This is the discipline that endeavours to position your brand positively in the mind of the public and particularly important stakeholder groups. There are a number of ways of achieving this but the use of the press and broadcast media communicating positive stories is probably the most common and well understood one for SMEs.
The great thing about news stories is that they can get you coverage without you having to pay for advertising. It's not all good news though. Since you are not paying for the publicity you can't control the message. Many a business has found that its carefully crafted press release has been taken and a completely different a [read on...]
Sometimes my blog is educational, sometimes opinionated, and sometimes meandering thoughts. This is mostly the latter! I've been musing about the biggest challenge that small businesses face. Is it cashflow? Finding new customers? Competition?
All these are undoubtedly challenges, but from working with a large number of small businesses over the past few years (and being one too) I have concluded that the biggest challenge to overcome is the feeling that you have to do everything yourself. Getting over this hurdle can be tough mentally and financially, but from my observation it's the ones that do succeed that go on to build the strongest businesses.
Why do we insist that we have to do it all? A number of reasons:
- We are afraid to trust someone else, even when we know they are better qualified
- We worry that the investment of time to brief/train someone else will be too much of a distraction - it's quicker to do it ourselves!
- We don't have enough money - maybe some day ...[read on...]
We have chickens at home. For a city boy born and raised they are odd creatures but not unpleasant. Obviously the biggest upside, no actually the only upside, of keeping chickens, is the eggs. I love eggs - they are the perfect food. A ready supply of fresh free range eggs is a delight which I can't find the words to describe.
We also discovered that they are a useful source of additional income too. A friend of our takes half a dozen a week and insisted on paying £1.50 for them. That's £6/month which I'm sure you will agree is not to be sniffed at. Especially when the only cost is chicken food which costs quite a small amount, you might almost say it's chicken feed but that would be a bit obvious.
Anyhow I'm sure you are thinking by now: "OK, thanks for the insight into your private life Jim, but what's this got to do with marketing?"
Well I was cooking dinner for my son and his friends tonight (they're in the middle of a rush of 18th birthdays and frankly it's li [read on...]
Have you heard about the Government's Growth Voucher Programme? I came across it a couple of weeks ago (I can't even remember how), but of course now I'm aware of it, I seem to see it everywhere! And, happily, I've succeeded in gaining accreditation as a small business adviser in marketing.
So what is it all about? And could it help you?
Expert advice can help you grow
Currently 95.5% of firms employ less than 5 people, and the Government sees helping these small businesses to grow as critically important to the future of the economy. The programme is actually the largest business research programme that the Government has ever initiated - testing how best to help small businesses grow through the use of subsidised advice.
The programme has come about because they identified that small businesses in the UK do not seem to appreciate the benefit of advice - unlike our counterparts in the USA, apparently. Over there it is typical for a small business to actively seek advice, build the advice into plans, act on it, and even be prepared to pay for it! Our preference is to grab a 10 minute chat over a pint and rush onto the next thing!
"Businesses that seek external advice and information are 14% more ambitious and 50% more successful than those who don't" (BIS, 2010)
I think it's true that many of us are nervous of paying for advice - fearing that we will be ripped off in some way. The internet and latest content marketing techniques have probably fuelled this problem by making us think that most stuff we need we can get for free anyway.
But I also recall reading that businesses that pay for advice are more likely to take action as a result - presumably because we don't like to waste our money!
So maybe the premise of the research study is a good one!
How does the Growth Voucher programme work?
It is a lottery in effect. The Government is aiming to distribute 20,000 growth vouchers of up to £2,000 each to businesses in England randomly chosen from the online applicants.
The vouchers must be used as 50% payment for strategic (not practical) advice that will lead to growth. This is not about something for nothing - it's important that you have some skin in the game to make sure you value the advice enough to take action.
What's strategic? I think this may prove hard to define exactly, but generally strategic means that you are looking at how to achieve long-term aims. The general objective is to get you to do something that you haven't done before by giving you the additional expert advice and support and the confidence to act.
It's not all about marketing of course, there are 5 different areas that small businesses can get expert advice on:
- finance and cash flow
- recruiting and developing staff
- improving leadership and management skills
- marketing, attracting and keeping customers
- making the most of digital technology
Because it is a research study businesses will be asked to take part in surveys to find out how the programme has helped you.
Expert advice in marketing
If help in marketing is the area that you identify for your strategic and expert advice, what might you look to spend it on?
Marketing, attracting and keeping customers
'Marketing and customer service'
Advice in this area aims to help businesses develop effective marketing strategies, and to ensure that they provide the right product/service at the right price, in the right place, at the right time. The advice could be used for market research, targeting existing and potential customers, using social media to extend your reach into new markets, developing pricing strategies and closing sales.
So, setting a growth target, and taking a long-term view, the marketing advice would seek to identify what actions you could take (that you are not doing currently) to get you to your target.
How do you find an adviser?
Taking on board the worries about finding someone you can trust, the Government has devised an accreditation scheme to ensure quality control for advisors who can work for Growth Vouchers. They must:
- Have 3 years experience of advising small businesses
- Be a member of a recognised professional body
- Have professional indemnity insurance
There is also the opportunity for clients to rate advisors on the website so that others can read the reviews and use the information to make their own choices. The reviews are limited as yet, because the scheme is so young, but this should provide good guidance and reassurance for purchasers.
Eligibility for Growth Vouchers
To be considered for a Growth Voucher your business must:
- have 49 employees or less (including any employees of companies that own a stake in your business)
- be registered in England
- have been trading for at least one year
- not have paid for business advice in the last 3 years
- be independent (i.e. no more than 25% is owned by other businesses or organisations)
That must include the majority of the small businesses in England!
Should you go for it?
If you meet the criteria above then why not give it a go? It only takes a few minutes to complete the application so it you're unlucky in the lottery you've not lost too much time.
Sometimes it does take a fresh point of view on our businesses to wake us up to doing something differently!
But consider also if you are ready, willing and able to take action as a result of the advice you receive. I'll be following the results of this study with interest because in the many years that I've been working with small businesses the willingness to take advice is not in question but, despite what I said above, in my experience the ability to act on advice is a fundamental barrier!
I have really enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics. Once again I have become a huge fan of sports, the rules of which I have only the most tenuous grasp. And while there have been issues about Russia's hosting of the games, at least Sochi's time zone is kinder than Vancouver's last time. I haven't therefore had to sit up until the wee hours biting my fingernails as I watch grown men earnestly shoving big rocks down sheets of ice aiming to smash someone else's big rocks around the place helped by their mates doing more sweeping in an "end" than they would do at home in a month of Sundays.
The sports I've enjoyed most though are some of the newer sports such as the snowboard slopestyle and the half pipe, both skiing and snowboard. For the uninitiated the slopestyle is an event which takes place on a course with obstacles such as railings which have to be skidded down and jumps which have to be, well, jumped. It can either be a race - first to the bottom wins or it can be done [read on...]
When it comes to marketing, SMEs have never had it so good! In the old days everything you wanted to do, from research to promotion, meant you had to fork out a lot of cash to hire an agency to get surveys carried out or to get ads produced and booked.
In the online world life is a whole lot easier.
Nowadays there is a raft of easily accessible tools to help you DIY, many of which have zero start up costs:
- Online market research tools
- Instant website and blogging platforms
- Email marketing programmes
- Social media for all types of target audiences
- Search engine optimisation tools
- Paid advertising, e.g. Google Pay Per Click, that anyone can set up
- Analytics to give you realtime feedback
And anything you don't know how to do you can just Google the answer and find hundreds of websites or videos that will give you the training and skills you need.
Online - an essential strategy
The web is the first place most customers turn to solve their problems these days so why wouldn [read on...]
This week I've been thinking a lot about the effective use of budgets. Every magazine seems to be following up on it's new year resolutions and chasing advertisers with unrepeatable offers. Google is telling me all the campaigns we manage are constrained by budget and if we only doubled the spend we'd get so many more clicks.
The whole world is after my budget - and my client's budget. So how do I know where to spend?
Obviously you start with effective segmentation and working out media and mechanisms for communicating with you targets - that's a given - we all do that don't we....
But once you've decided on a Google Adwords campaign, some radio advertising or an ad in the parish magazine, what next? How do we know that those phone calls or visits to the website came as a result of the money we invested. More importantly how do we know if we should continue to invest in these things?
If your business is completely on-line it's relatively easy - one of the benefits of eMarketing [read on...]
How are you faring on your New Year's Resolutions? Is the resolve holding up or have you crumbled? It's not too late to change your ways you know!
A recent US survey gave the top 3 small business worries as:
- Finding new customers
- Affording employee benefits
- Keeping current customers
1 and 3, you will have spotted, are marketing issues. So if you relate to these worries too then it is time you resolved to get your marketing plan in shape.
Finding the time
We all have 24 hours in the day - top CEOs, entrepreneurs, manual workers, all of us. So how come some people seem to get more done? The critical difference is how you prioritise, i.e. what you choose to spend your time doing.
Ultimately we all do what we believe is most important. If you are not finding time to create a plan to grow your business then the harsh truth is you are not making it important enough. You have to truly believe it has to be done, then you'll find the time.
If you do manage to find the time [read on...]
As always in January the talk is of new year resolutions and a fair few of those will be related to working smarter in business, maybe to doing more marketing to boost business growth. When it comes to making time for marketing, however, the complaint from a lot of small businesses is that there is just not enough time when they're busy with clients, and when they're not busy marketing doesn't produce results fast enough.
Resolutions are all very well but unless you change something about the way you work you will never break out of this feast or famine routine. We recognise and sympathise with this problem - even though we spend our time helping others improve their marketing we suffer from the same small business pressures as the rest of you. How can we clear the decks and make time for our marketing - or any major goal or project that is eluding us?
So, to tackle this problem, January has found me unsubscribing from a lot of the regular stuff that lands in my inbox and gets [read on...]
We've all heard the old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This strikes me occasionally when I talk to people about their marketing but I was reminded this week how important it is.
I was talking to a woman who as usual was looking for more sales. I asked about things they had done in the past and what worked well and what didn't. She told me that 18 months ago they had used some Google Adwords (pay-per-click) advertising and that had generated quite a lot of enquiries and some substantial sales.
I asked why they stopped and she told me that they were busy enough and didn't want to generate so much business that they couldn't manage it all and start letting people down.
I followed up by asking when sales had started to slow down and was told that it was about 9 month ago. "So did you switch the Adwords campaign back on?" I innocently asked, assuming the answer yes. You guessed it.
"No." came the reply.
"Why not?" I asked slightly confused.
"Well we were spending quite [read on...]