30th January, 2017 No Comments
You’re probably thinking PR is just for big companies with tens of thousands of pounds to spend getting the right spin in the newspapers and not for small businesses. However, to move your business forward you need to bring in more sales, and by increasing awareness of your business and brand you drive sales. Therefore, for small businesses where every penny counts, you need cost-effective PR.
This is exactly what those big companies spend their big budgets doing; and it’s also exactly what a small business should be very focussed on too.
People talk of cash flow shortages as being the main reason for failure, and certainly businesses that can’t manage their cash flow are treading a thin line. The real reason most businesses fail to reach their full potential though is that their potential customers don’t know they are there, and those all-important sales in the business plan simply fail to materialise.
That’s where PR comes in.
When many small businesses are challenged on what their marketing and PR plan is, too frequently you get blank looks. If you are lucky you will be given a copy of their latest newsletter to existing customers. There is rarely a coherent strategy to make the most of social media, traditional media, and advertising campaigns, none of which need to be expensive or complicated, but all of which are absolutely critical in promoting the business brand.
The way to look at it is that advertising is a way of the business buying some space to tell the world how good it is, which is fine, but it can be expensive, and in today’s cynical world too few people believe or trust the marketing spin.
Social media is smarter and more effective, as it is usually free, and whilst the initial input is from the business, when others ‘share’, any comments gain credibility. But it can be damaging when the trending turns against the business rather than for it.
Traditional media on the other hand is much more controlled, and has the benefit of an independent third party making the comment or recommendation in their article, as well of course as it being free.
So, you might like to consider using an inexpensive, but helpful, PR platform, such as JournoLink, to manage a small business PR strategy and engage with journalists and bloggers. It need not be a luxury available only to big companies. It should be an affordable and critical piece of the success jigsaw.
Submitted by Ben Caine, Client Manager, JournoLink
2nd September, 2016 No Comments
“What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Oliver W. Holmes Jr. (Civil War veteran, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1902 to 1931)
It’s that time of year again when most of us return from, or head off on our summer holidays; a much needed escape from the office and chance to reset the work/life balance.
Have you considered, however, the benefits a holiday could bring to your work place? We are living in turbulent times with a lot of uncertainty, so this is a golden opportunity to step back and reflect.
As employers or employees, we all enjoy (and need) time away from the office, whether it is a day indulging in day time television or two weeks on a secluded beach somewhere hot. In fact, many of us return feeling refreshed and recharged, but how long does it take to get absorbed back in to the daily routine on your return? 10 minutes, 2 hrs, 3 days… a week?
Well, why not take some of your holiday enthusiasm and introduce it into your business. Of course the emails, mail and meetings will all need to be dealt with when you return, but there is no better opportunity than the ‘post-holiday calm’ to take a step back, take stock and plan for the future.
How long have you been fire-fighting the daily tasks and problems without focussing on the bigger picture? Are you wasting time and money by doing things the hard way? Are your employees motivated? Are you maximising the benefits of customer relationship management? The relaxed approach you take to tasks after a holiday is the ideal way to deal with any outstanding issues that you may have been putting off.
It is also important to share your goals with your staff that may well have their own ideas after their own re-energising break.
However, it is also important to leave the office behind when taking a break. Many of us are guilty of going on holiday physically but not mentally. Does ringing work from the beach or checking emails on the hotel computer sound familiar? It is very difficult to switch off completely, but when you succeed you will return to the office completely refreshed!
It is also important to have a long break when possible. Many experts believe that the benefits of a longer holiday, say one, two or even three weeks is far more beneficial than two or three days here or there. After all, it may take you two days to relax and wind down!
With a little bit of forward planning, our summer holidays can not only re-charge our batteries – but can re-charge our future business too.
Written by Carole White, Chief Executive of TEDCO Business Support, delivering business support in the North East of England.
24th August, 2016 No Comments
At the beginning of this month. Tara Gillam, Head of Enterprise at Business West (the Cavendish partner delivering business support in the South West) touched briefly on business plans and validating the content. Here, Mike Gibbs Business Advisor at NBV, reiterates Tara’s sentiments and looks at why the business plan is such an important document.
So, you are all excited about starting your new business when you are asked the question ‘Have you written a business plan?’
And what goes through your mind? “Oh no, that thing, I know I am supposed to have one, but I can’t be bothered.”
You think to yourself “I have all the information I need in my head! What do I need to write it down for?” Very few of us have the ability to completely plan a new business and keep the details stored in the brain, most of us need to get those thoughts onto a piece of paper, the very act of which will trigger all sorts of other ideas you would have missed if left in your head!
And you’re also thinking “My friends and family have told me it’s a great product!” But friends and family will usually tell you what they think you want to hear, not what you need to hear! Showing your business plan to an independent person will give you honest, unbiased feedback, and will potentially give you ideas for improvement.
Always bear in mind that there are two main reasons for writing a business plan:
1) To help you to lay down a plan now and in the future
It is your route map of how you get from today to some other place in the future and all the things that might happen on the way, and what you will do about them, profitably!
Before you start your business 100% of your customer base is in the hands of your competition, and you need to figure out how you are going to break into their market. Think of your potential market place as a picture, a jig saw, and as you gather little bits of information you can start to paint the picture, you will never get all the information, but you need enough to convince yourself that there really is a business to be done! This is the ‘homework’ doing enough research to suck as much risk out of what you are proposing to do to give yourself a better that even chance of success. If you can’t find that evidence then it is probably best to rethink the whole shebang!
2) To show others how sustainable your business idea actually is
You may need someone else to help finance the project, in which case the plan is going to be the only chance you have to persuade them it is a good idea to lend or give you some money.
If you are going to apply for a loan or a grant the first document you will be asked for is a Business Plan. Often you will not get the chance to explain your business in any other format, so the plan is it! It had better be good or your idea will stumble before it has even started. Put yourself in the position of a bank manager. You may see several plans a week, most of which are barely adequate for the job, but if yours stands out you have a better chance of success.
Templates for business plans can be sourced from several organisations such as banks, the Princes Trust, enterprise agencies and commercial software companies to name but a few. They come in all shapes and sizes, but generally speaking they all want the same information; who are you, what is your idea, what is the product or service, who are you competing with, how are you going to talk to customers and what does the money look like? The more thorough you are in preparing the information the more risk you take out of the project, but business is inherently risky, so the better informed you are the less likelihood of costly mistakes.
Just a thought about templates! If you put your information inside my template, to me it looks like my business. You need the content, so lift the headings from the template and create your own document, personalise it, illustrate it, and make it come alive. You have a vision of what your business looks like; your business plan should reflect that. Difficult to do inside someone else’s template. Think of that old bank manager again, another template, how boring!
Don’t be tempted with doing the bare minimum – the headings and details requested in a Business Plan are there for a reason. If you are going to spend time and money and effort into launching a business shouldn’t it be the best it can possibly be?
As an example the number of times I have seen the answer to the question of ‘Who are you customers?’ as ‘Everyone!!’ Dooohhhh!!! You won’t have the resources to market to everyone, so be more focused, who is most likely to buy your product or service and where will you find them?
OK, so now you have written it, the bank has lent you some money, now we can chuck it in the cupboard and forget it! I wouldn’t; it should be a working document that you revisit regularly to check if things are going to plan. The only thing you can be absolutely certain of with a forecast is that it is wrong! The question is by how much and when!
Get into the habit of taking a regular review of the business and update the relevant parts of your plan accordingly. Once the business is underway you will start to get access to the reality of the results; actual sales rather than forecast, so your knowledge bank builds with experience, and this is invaluable for looking further into the future and anticipating things that will command your attention.
Written by Mike Gibbs, Business Advisor at NBV, the Cavendish partner delivering business support in the East Midlands
Under the Start & Grow initiative, the business start up and growth support programme delivered by Cavendish Enterprise partners, new businesses will get help, advice, and guidance in preparing a business plan to the standards required of most financial institutions and other lenders. To join the Start & Grow programme contact the Cavendish partner working in your region.
1st August, 2016 No Comments
You have a business idea ……….. the inspirational ‘Eureka!’ moment.
And of course you want to get started immediately. But there are a few things you need to consider in order to validate your business idea, as well as the need to produce a supporting business plan. Ask yourself the following;
Is your business original?
Using a search engine and social media sites to search for your idea can show you whether your business is original, but remember to look beyond the first results page.
Researching your competitors is essential if you are validating your business. If there are similar products or services on the market already, having competitors is not necessarily a problem. It just means there is a demand for your product or service and by identifying your competition; it will help you to recognise what differentiates your business.
If you have a unique selling point (USP), you will be able to win and maintain a higher share in the market. You can also learn from other business’s mistakes and successes by understanding how they promote themselves and who they target. Google Trends can also be useful for validating whether you are going into a stable or growing market.
Can you validate the demand?
You can reduce the risk of selling something that nobody will buy by validating the demand for your product or service and its market. Compiling a list of potential customers will also help to reduce the risk of low traffic in your initial few months.
A way to find out if customers would be willing to pay for your product or service is to set up a free landing page. Useful sites for free landing pages are Strikingly and Launchrock. Strikingly uses no code and you do not need any design experience to build a page. Launchrock is also easy to use with a block-based builder and custom HTML blocks.
Landing pages will usually feature a short snippet about your product or service with ‘coming soon’ or ‘in development’. The key is to make your landing page attractive to capture the email addresses of visitors. You can see how many people are visiting your site by using an analytical tool such as Google Analytics, or by creating a sign-up form using sites such as Wufoo. This sign-up form will ask people to leave their email address if they would like more information on your idea or your launch. If lots of people visit the site, you will know people are interested in your idea.
Another way to validate your business is to send out surveys. By using tools such as SurveyMonkey, you can send it out to all your contacts and get it shared on social media. It is important to ask the right questions so you can gather as much information about your idea as possible. Examples could be:
• Would they buy the product or service?
• Do they like the name of the product/business?
• How much would they pay?
The answers to these questions can help shape the final launch of your idea and give an indication of how successful the idea can be in comparison to how many people are engaged.
Have you produced a business plan?
Your business plan is the document that allows you to turn your thoughts and ideas into a business. It may seem like an intimidating task but it is a valuable document outlining your business strategies and makes you think about every aspect of the business to understand it thoroughly.
As your business progresses, your time working on the business will become more limited as you spend more time in the business. Consulting your business plan can allow you to make more informed and effective decisions and ensure you are keeping on track.
Also, a business plan is vital for anyone seeking or thinking of seeking finance, now or in the future. Banks, investors and other lenders will expect to see a business plan and will not provide capital without one. It provides them with an overall understanding of the business and the likely returns. Keep you business plan active so you are able to refer back to it and keep business progression on track.
Are you asking for help?
There is nothing wrong with asking for help when you are starting a business.
There are numerous services to provide you with the support and guidance you might need. Industry experts can help you understand how to make the most of opportunities and further identify the needs your target market. A mentor is a valuable asset to anyone starting a business and this avenue shouldn’t be overlooked. A mentor can give you one-on-one support and provide you with dedicated advice and guidance.
Another great way to get your business off the ground is to attend seminars and workshops which can help you develop necessary skills and knowledge. You can get support for your start-up through the Start & Grow programme which is tailored specifically to your needs and your business idea.
Written by Tara Gillam, Head of Enterprise, Business West – delivering business support in the South West
27th May, 2016 No Comments
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” Isaac Newton.
Pause for a moment and think about your business. Maybe things are going along nicely; the orders are coming in, customers are satisfied and the staff must be okay as they aren’t complaining. You are doing a great job – well done you!
When you are the boss, who do you talk to about the next step, your vision, and your plans? Being in charge can be a lonely place and even the most self-assured person can sometimes waiver.
You are in a strong position, but maybe it’s time to consider raising the bar further, upping your game, getting ahead of the rest. It is very easy to do what you have always done, especially if it’s working. To be the best however, may require a bit of support. Usain Bolt is a fantastic athlete, but he still has someone working with him to ensure his optimum performance. He described ‘the times when you want to doubt yourself’ and the value of the support from his mentor. You may be a fantastic operator but could you benefit from the wisdom of mentor to drive you further forward?
True mentoring has amazing business and personal benefits. Not to be confused with an advisor or a counsellor, the right mentor will not tell you how things should be done but will inspire, share wisdom and reinforce your self-belief. There is a real benefit in connecting with someone who may have met similar challenges and who can save you time by sharing their story, perhaps stopping you from making the same mistake as they did. Another powerful benefit that emerges from the mentor/mentee relationship is access to the mentor’s personal networks, which can be invaluable – in businesses the ‘know who’ can be as important as the ‘know how’.
The trick is in finding the right mentor, chemistry is everything. You need to be very clear about expectations from both sides, avoiding any potential conflicts of interest. A mentor should be prepared to share experience freely and voluntarily and this relationship takes time to build. It is a challenge, but there are some fantastic examples around. The UK is packed with some very talented caring business people who are happy to share their wisdom and experience.
You’ve got nothing to lose; you could grow your business and develop yourself in ways that you have not considered. All it takes is investment in time, a leap of faith and the rewards could be significant.
Written by Carole White, Chief Executive, TEDCO Business Support delivering business support in the North East