Blogging for business

 

 

 

Why should a business bother to blog? Does it add value and if so what sort of value? How do you even begin to measure return on investment of a blog?

These and other questions will be part of a 25 minute presentation on the 20th June on business blogging at our employers forum.

A few facts to start with are that “companies that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those who dont”. Hubspot. There are over 9 million blogs out there and over 40,000 new ones pop up each day. Many are completely irrelevant to business but there are some great business blogs and new ones start up every day.

What is a blog? The term was coined from the word web-log and is a web page made up of short frequently updated posts that are arranged chronologically like a journal. They give information, opinion, ideas and expertise to customers, friends, employees or interested people.

Blogging is a low cost way to build your presence online, grow a community, communicate with employees and show off your expertise. You can become an authority and a voice through which others can understand not only your product or business but the personality behind your brand.

It is all about connecting and making meaningful relationships around issues you want to discuss and your audience is keen to understand and contribute to. What sets a blog apart is that is has a unique and personal voice for your business as opposed to static web pages and is a dynamic and easily updated way for communicating what is going on in your business or area of expertise.

To write a blog you dont need any particular technological wizardry but a genuine desire to communicate. You can have multiple authors in your company contributing and internal and external links. It is an instant and informal way of updating and distributing information unlike any other.

Ali Handscomb of GTR Coaching will be discussing blogging for business at our employers forum on the 20th June. 11.45 am for Noon start till 2.00 pm at Lancashire Digital Technology Centre Bancroft Road Burnley BB10 2TP ring 01254 505050 to book your free place.

 

Apprenticeships

Written by Amy King

Being a Business Apprentice is a learning curve that is great for anyone wanting to learn and work at the same time. The choice to become an apprentice was difficult to make, I had the grades to go on to university but that itself would pose problems from funding and accommodation, to getting work afterwards. The work based learning route seemed the most responsible step forward, I could learn and work at the same time as well as gaining valuable life experience and I could always go to night classes to gain a degree, more importantly the chance of employment is a lot higher for an apprentice over that of a graduate.

When you start your apprenticeship you won’t be expected to work miracles, and the jobs given to youwont be too hard. As you learn and grow in your new job, you will then be given more challenging tasks so that you can learn more, but still no miracles!! Now here are my top tips to surviving as a Business Apprentice.

Don’t be afraid to ask! People don’t mind if you ask question. If you are stuck, have forgotten something or just want to know more then you can ask someone. It is part of their job in taking on an apprentice to support and help you; they won’t think you’re stupid, just learning. Everyone has been in your position at some point, as either an apprentice or starting in a new job, and it could bring back fond memories for them.  One of the best ways to learn things is to ask!

Be a sponge. Knowledge is your friend so soak it up. Learn, listen and ask questions; you don’t have to cram it all in at once and you won’t have an exam on it so if you forget something it doesn’t matter. But try to pick things up as it’s easier to learn things from the start than be stuck a few months down the line. Ensure that you take notes; a few bullet points will do as you can always refer to these again.

Plan ahead. During the day, write all your tasks down and note your things to do. If someone gives you a job, then write down the specifics, and ask for more details if needed. It will make your day and any tasks easier.

Friendly and happy to help. A smile spreads and even if you feel scared it will help you, people smile back and you will start to feel more comfortable in your new role. As you help others, you will learn more about their job and the workplace around you, and you will also make friends. More importantly BE YOURSELF! Your personality defines you and at first you may be nervous, but as you come out of your shell people will get to see you for who you are.

Be calm and relax. Don’t panic; just breathe and think. Things are not be as bad as they may seem and you can always ask for help. Go home at the end of the day and leave your work at work, relax and get a mug of hot choc.

I hope my pointers can help you, I know they have helped me. Other colleagues will help and support you with ideas of their own on how you can survive. One thing that I can say is that I am very happy to be a Business Apprentice.

Sparkly, Twinkly and Glittery

We have blogged before about the great work that the SAMS team do at the Energy Zone in Blackburn.

Today I am asking for more help from the business community and as a start have a look a the picture below.

 It looks nothing but it could be anything. The team at Sams know how to work with this kind of waste material and turn it into something lovely with children from the local area at craft evenings and clubs, at events and for schools. When you visit the Energy Zone you not only can choose to join up and get materials for crafts but you can get advice on what to use things for from the friendly and helpful staff.

The kinds of things which happen at the Energy Zone can be diverse as cooking, knitting, painting and growing and planting. There are sessions on many days of the week for many different client types. On a Wednesday we have started a new event aimed at the elderly, carers and people with special needs from 11.00 – 13.00.the week is busy and varied with sessions for Kids on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. These sessions support the local people in a huge variety of ways, from healthy living to meeting new people and friends.

For businesses which are involved by donating scrap materials it can form part of the triple bottom line which can be an elusive but worthwhile part of corporate social responsibility. Some companies call it People, Planet and Profit. Donating to the scrap scheme is part of the people and planet part of the business. In the current economic climate it can be easy to cut corners and concentrate solely on the profit side of things but the others matter too and SAMS is one way of doing something which really helps local people and also gets rid of scrap material for your business in an ecologically sound way.

So here is what those three cones made with a little imagination and some fabulous material donated from local business.

If you want to donate contact the team on 01254 291276 we will be thrilled to take your waste from you particularly if it is glittery, sparkly or twinkly.

Sales and Marketing mistakes

 

 

There are loads of derogatory and sometimes racist sayings about salespeople such as “having the gift of the gab” or “selling snow to the Eskimo’s” or even “selling sand to the Arabs “. In today’s competitive environment it is important to make the most of every opportunity, so here are a number of basic errors for you to look out for and avoid. Here are five basic mistakes to avoid:

  1. Wrong level of detail: – there are times when your prospect only wants the high level information, and times when they need absolute facts and specific details. This can often be observed by the attendees at a meeting, board level titles and senior managers are often only interested in the high level information, whereas operational people want absolute detail.

    If you are not on the same wavelength as your prospect you are more likely to deliver the wrong level of detail.

  2. Presenting your offer: – stop regularly and check your prospect has not fallen asleep on you. Regularly confirm with the client they are comfortable with the information and the details you are sharing with them. Give them time to ask questions and think through the impact of your offer and be ready to address any concerns they raise immediately.
  3. Being Irritating: – avoid being rude through looking out of the window, doodling, playing with pens, jingling coins or keys in your pocket. Watch out for the “fill in words” that we all fall back on in times of stress such as Err, and Hmm. They are ok in moderation but become irritating if used more frequently. If necessary practice with colleagues or in a mirror to become more confident in what you are talking about.
  4. Strong opening and closing statements: – After the meeting preamble and when you are ready to begin have an engaging and powerful statement that relates specifically to them and their situation. This demonstrates you have done your homework and are interested in them and not just focused on winning the order.

    5.Technology traps: – to many salespeople rely on PowerPoint presentations which is fine if it for sharing information, but avoid “death by PowerPoint” at all costs. Use technology to support your selling effort, but make sure you connect with the audience through traditional flip charts and engaging question and answer sessions.

    Geoff Gwynn who wrote this blog is delivering a one day marketing workshop for CBPartners at Blackburn Enterprise Centre on the 27th March.

    Geoff Gwynn is an experienced business development practitioner and Fellow of the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management (FInstSMM) with over 25 years experience in sales, marketing and business development. Geoff has worked with organisations of all shapes and sizes, from pre-revenue start-ups, ambitious SME’s, publicly listed Fortune 500 and multi-billion, global organisations – ALL with one common goal. “Increase sales revenues”.

     

     

What does local really mean?

 

 

Sometimes when I go shopping I see signs for things that are grown locally and think that means actually in Lancashire or really in about a 10 mile radius but apparently it means the UK. Many big supermarkets even use the word local in their title as though it means the produce is local as well but really it just means we are amongst you.

In many areas of life we are implored to cut our carbon footprint and do more things at a local level but what does that really mean?

Local should be about things being nearby but when it comes to health it often means the town centre. It should be about community and the views and flavour of our immediate area but who knows what those views really are?

How do we get to really involve communities and make sure the local voice is heard? Is it that actually we will hear those who are most vocal or is there another way to let people have their say and engage in community projects and change?

Democracy doesn’t really mean anything unless and until that happens. Local government should be just that local and it should be about what is really happening to us as people who live in the community.

These are big questions particularly when as a business, charity or social enterprise you want to really engage at a local level. Meetings will only go so far because many people simply dont go to them any more. Reaching out and really engaging takes many routes and should involve as many communication strategies as can be employed.

At our Big Local launches Facebook was the people’s choice of communication tool for keeping in touch and understanding what is going on but that may reflect the people who attended the launch. When people use it to chat that will show it works but in the meantime we will keep it going.

Ultimately being local takes hard work and patience. I am reminded of a story I once heard where a woman working in one of the reservations in America was trying to work with native Americans who had alcohol problems. She set up a meeting place and time and let people know, people who had said this was what they wanted. No one came. She didnt care and sat at every meeting for months and into a year and finally they came and the meetings are now flourishing.

What she showed was that she would stick it out and that she wasnt there for the short haul or even because she was a do gooder but that she meant her intervention to work and she would stay the course no matter what. People were impressed.

Local is hard but worth it in the long term. It is a long term strategy and should be done with patience and care.

Awards are important

 

 

CBPartners is up for the not-for-profit award in this years Red Rose Awards and I thought it might be a good idea to consider why awards are good for business. Sometimes going for an award can seem like a lot of work for very little return but actually the return can be measured in a number of ways.

1. Getting an award is good for employees

Staff in a company who have won an award feel that their hard work has been recognised. There is an increase in team spirit and pulling together for something worthwhile. Staff can also feel that their work has been stamped with approval and it can generate an  incentive to continue the good work. Getting an award can allow a team to pause and reflect and consider where to go next.

2. Getting an award is good for customers

It is always hard for people to really know if something is good before they buy it or access a service and awards are one way of showing that quality is part of the service or product they are consuming. Having an award can also enable customers to feel a shared sense of pride in a business because they will be champions for a good service or product.

3. Getting an award is good for partners, investors and suppliers

An award can provide credible third party endorsement of your product or service and for your suppliers it may also reflect on their help. A company which uses a network of associates may also use awards to pull that network together in a shared sense of achievement and recognition. Partners can see that there is third party endorsement of business success and a commitment to excellence in the business they support.

4. Getting an award is good for raising profile

Awards are always good for raising profiles of business because they can be used in marketing and PR and for any publicity material. Ceremonies for awards can also be a place to meet influential people who may be great for getting your business on the map.

5. Getting an award is proof of excellence

Many awards have a number of excellent businesses vying for them. They can be a means of assessing your business strength against others in a similar field  and providing comparisons with others in your sector or that of other sectors.

Business awards are a time for celebration and reflection, taking stock and considering the next phase for a company or organisation. Most of all they are a wonderful pat on the back by someone outside the organisation for a job well done.

Leadership in a small business

 

 

 

 

Most commentators on Leadership talk about leadership as though it can only occur in the context of large organisations but what happens when you are working with other person or indeed on your own? Do you still need to lead or can you just let things wash over you?

Leadership is a state of being rather than a position and first and foremost it is about personal standards and expectations. When you are leading a team it is easy to see how creating a vision, setting the path and winning hearts and minds is important but on your own it is also easy to think these things dont matter as much.

I would argue that they do matter and that they are as much a part of finding your niche and creating a dream for yourself which is about passion and commitment as at any other time.

Small business leaders have a different set of rules to follow but they need to truly understand where they are headed, what their goals are and their ultimate aspirations. Running a small business takes focus and courage particularly in the current economic climate and both of those are leadership qualities.

This blog has outlined ways to create goals which work and a vision which matters and leading your self and a few others is the next step. As many companies have just sorted their accounts and checked up on their financial health this is a good time to start thinking about how this next financial year will shape up.

Self discipline is a must for a small business leader and vigilance in creating opportunities and making meaningful connections and relationships is another real leadership quality. Our blog this week on being a connector is a case in point. A leader connects they dont follow the linear pattern of networking but they are points in a myriad of relationships which are beneficial on a number of levels.

So take some time to consider this month how you lead both yourself and/or a few employees and what style and culture you instil in your company. Have you created a place you always wanted to inhabit when you built your business or are there things you would like to change? If you are the leader go ahead and change them.

Connect rather than network

One of our earlier blogs gave some top tips for networking. This blog takes the concept a little further with the idea of connecting rather than networking.

Networking can often be about collecting a load of business cards or getting high numbers of followers on twitter, essentially it is about numbers rather than depth. A connector is someone who not only knows a lot of people but knows their stories, names and current challenges or potentials.

They connect people and introduce them to one another rather than collect them and stash then in a box. A connector is someone who is instantly recognisable as a person who seems to make friends and acquaintances with people easily. When you talk to them in a room full of people they seem interested in you and you start telling them things which normally you would keep to yourself. After a few minutes chatting with a connector you are like old friends.

Many connectors are incredibly helpful and reach out and connect with another person in a way which is not about what they are after from a relationship but what they can give. This is a total change from networking with an eye on business because it is also about free and willing help and information. You share. It doesnt mean you dont hold things back but it does mean that where you can help you do and you dont automatically think about a return.

Of course there is competition out there but sometimes it needs to be combined with cooperation and collaboration to be really successful. If we constantly see the people we meet as competition then we are really missing a trick because often we are more powerful together and if we help them they may in return help us right back.

People are often worried about going up to total strangers and saying hello but try it and see if it works. Try to examine what works for you and what doesn’t and above all be interested in the other person. We can all tell the difference between someone who is simply interested in what they can get out of us and someone who is genuinely interested in us as a person. The latter person is a connector.

Connectors are people who stray outside their comfort zones and have a variety of interests, they are collectors and are curious about the world. A connector will be willing to take chances and may have had a varied career path, they will have a lot to offer as well as a willingness to give. They also make links and so will see that someone should meet with someone else simply because they may get on or have something in common not just because it holds a monetary value. A connector can span many areas, niches and cultures as Malcolm Gladwell points out in the Tipping Point.

So next time you go to a meeting with new people, networking event or even a new club or membership group become a connector. Invoke your genuine interest in the people around you, be curious, engage and listen to their story, consider who else they might be interested in and introduce them and see value in the relationship itself rather than what you can get out of it.

Become a Connection Agent.

CBPartners offer several free ways to practice your skills at our HR Forums and our Employers Forums. PLease ring Amin Vepari on 01254 505050 for more information and to book a place on our forums in February.

Marketing for small business – part two

In the last blog we wrote on marketing we talked in a very strategic way about how to get it to fit with your business plans and  what marketing really was.

In this blog we are going to focus on helpful tools which may not cost as much as you think and which after all should be measured in terms of Return on Investment or ROI. At the last Employers Forum Jean Atkinson talked about marketing which inspired these two blogs and her slide on tools is reproduced here as a pretty comprehensive list of the things which can be used to market your business.

DIGITAL
TRADITIONAL
Website
Direct Mail
Social Media ??
Newsletter
Email
Referrals / testimonials / networking
Advertising
Advertising
Affiliate marketing
Case studies
Video
Literature
Web casts / webinars / podcasts
Telemarketing
Viral marketing
Whitepapers
Mobile devices / apps
Trade fairs / exhibitions / events
TV / radio
Public relations
Digital brochures
Special offers / promotions
CD-DVD / USB
Presentations

So which ones are best and which should be used? I will talk about only a few.

We have already blogged on Social media for small businesses and whilst many businesses think they have to have twitter or facebook they need to consider the time involved and ask what will be different shoudl they use these medium. The positives of using social media are that it increases your reach, gives you an easy way to listen to customers and can lead to more specific targeting and market research.

Websites are very important but for businesses struggling to find funding a facebook site can be tailored to your own company using logos and banners and Linkedin is even better for a company site. Some businesses even use blogging sites such as wordpress instead of paying for a web designer and someone to maintain and manage it. Having a web site which just sits there doing nothing is a waste of money.

Word of mouth is extremely important and therefore knowing how your customers feel about you is increasingly part of using testimonials and referrals. Once again Linkedin can come up trumps on this one by asking customers to write a recommendation and this can then be used in other ways as well.

Email marketing can be cost effective but can also pose potential problems if people have not opted in and you can easily fall foul of the data protection act so it is best to ensure you know what you are doing and use a reputable firm. It is simple to use but once again you need to ensure your email is catchy and not just seen as spam. Give potential customers some information which is important to them.

There is still a place for leaflets and posters of course you can also hold open house events and invite people to come and spend time at your business or have a tour of your facility. You can run contests but make them imaginative and make sure you have prizes which dont take a million years to reach the person who wins.

Becoming a sponsor or donor is also marketing and ensures you are known for philanthropic reasons as well as business. It can help your triple bottom line as well. Other things which may cost little are things such as declaring your own special day so for example saying Tuesdays are Sugarfree for a dental surgery and then letting the local press know what you are doing.

Use your imagination with your marketing and be creative. Dont just go for tried and tested tools and techniques but think of what will make you stand out and be different. Always measure the results because if there is no return on your investment (even if that is only your time) it should be scrapped.

Lastly good relationship building takes time and so patience is needed. Our strongest relationships are those which are built over time and are consistent, trusting and flexible and the same is true for business relationships.

Many thanks to Jean Atkinson from Eden Marketing for the use of her slides from our Employers Forum. The next Forum will be on the 28th February and is free thanks to our sponsor Blackburn College. The Forum will focus on Accelerating Business Growth, Funding sources and Finance. For more details please ring Amin Vepari on 01254 505050

Marketing for small businesses – Part one

When you are starting up in business and worrying about how to make the payments for your overheads marketing can seem a world away from reality but it is something we all do every day in business.

Selling yourself and your products or services to customers is marketing; networking is marketing; chatting on the phone about your business to friends is marketing and lastly and most importantly listening to your customers is marketing. Unless you know what your customers think about you it is impossible to improve your product or service in a constructive way.

Good customer service and great impressions of your products and services are at the centre of good marketing.

So how do you start out?

1. Think about how you currently market your business. You need to know what you already do which is marketing and also consider your financial health, current clients, potential clients, competition, referral sources, staff and time. When you know all these things you can think about what you are doing well and what needs to change in order to make things better. A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis is very helpful here.

2. Consider your long term goals – what do you really want from your business? How much money do you want to make, how many hours a week do you want to work, what types of clients do you want and how large do you want your business to be? You may also consider whether or not you want more staff or if you want a national or a local reach.

3. Create a plan for each of your goals and more importantly a call to action. What are you actually going to do to achieve the business you envisage?

4. Consider your marketing tools – what do you do already to market yourself and what could you do? Can you conduct a survey of customers for example using something like Survey Monkey which is free and easy to use? Should you concentrate on emails, social media, leaflets or face to face networking? Can you utilise your local press or write articles for the paper or a magazine? There are a myriad of things you can do to increase both customer satisfaction and to extend your customer base which are neither costly nor involve outside help.

5. Dont forget that marketing is the means to building the business you want but not the end. Ultimately you want to build a sustainable business or grow a business to sell on. Do not spend time, money  and energy on something if it does not progress you towards your goals and dont be sucked into doing the same thing everyone else is. Dont be afraid to be unique and to be yourself after all your business is about you.

So before you consider which tools you are going to use and how to get ahead with your business do some of the hard thinking yourself and answer some of the questions here.