7 Great Tools Small Businesses MUST Use

Most small businesses have nimble bare bones teams that get an astonishing amount of work done every single day. They are used to stretching a bit more, staying at work a bit longer and (usually) putting in a lot more effort than teams in large organizations.

However, working (or running!) a small business does not have to be so punishing. With technology by your side, there are tons of everyday business activities that you can and MUST automate to achieve greater efficiencies. Who knows, with all the spare time that these tools will give you, you might just start a new line of business!

So here goes.

1. Google Analytics

Every business, big or small has their own website today. If you have a website, you cannot NOT have Google Analytics or GA as it is “fondly” called by long time users. According to Builtwith, 66.2% of the top 10,000 sites in the world use Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is the eyes and ears of your website. It tracks in minute detail what people are doing on your site, which pages they land on initially, which pages do they leave from, which parts of the world do they come from, what time of day and so on.

This virtual gatekeeper, is a necessary resource as it tells you whether your site is attracting traffic, is the traffic growing, whether that traffic is converting into sales and where the leaks are.

Key Features

  • Basic as well as advanced site analytics – track traffic, sources of traffic, keywords being used to arrive at your site, navigation patterns and more.
  • Create goals and track them for conversions. Conversions could be sales, registration on your site, downloading data, sharing content to social media etc.
  • Create and share tailor-made reports and dashboards. You have the option of saving these dashboards and running them on a regular basis.
  • Track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns by identifying the sources from where conversions happened.
  • GA can be integrated with other tools. Google Analytics works well with other sales and marketing automation tools. It can be linked to your marketing campaigns, CRM software, your social media pages, your Email Marketing Software and so on.
  • Multiple users can access GA simultaneously. Every member of your marketing team can stay hands on with the latest numbers using Google Analytics.

Costs

Google Analytics is completely free. There is a paid upgrade available, but for the vast majority of users, the free version is more than enough.

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2. Optimizely

While Google Analytics gives you data about what people do on your site, Optimizely lets you test how they would behave differently if certain elements on your site were rearranged, modified or dropped altogether.

Optimizely is one of the most easy to use website optimization tools out there, which allows you to test each web element on your site and see which iteration of your web design works best for overall conversions.

Key Features

  • A complete testing suite comes with Optimizely. Test your website in every possible way, ranging from A/B Tests, Multivariate tests, Split tests and more.
  • It is extremely easy to install – no downloads, no 3 day implementation process during which your site is out of commission. A simple line of JavaScript is all that needs to be included on the pages that need to be tested and voila, you’re all set!
  • It can be easily integrated with website analytics tools like Google Analytics, Site Catalyst or KISSmetrics.
  • Modify Optimizely based on your requirements. Unlike a number of other closed box software options, Optimizely allows you to tweak its code any way you want to match your business requirements.
  • Take website modifications live instantly using Optimizely. When you zero in on the best version of your site by testing it using Optimizely, you can take the winning version live right away to 100% of your site visitors. Your developers can take their time to convert the site into the desired version while Optimizely takes care of the live traffic on the chosen version of your site in the meanwhile.

Costs

Optimizely is a paid service with a range of plans available. The cheapest plan starts at $14 per month and can go on to $299 per month for fully customized enterprise edition versions.

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Choose Your Experiment Type

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Preview Mode

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Diagnostic Report

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3. MailChimp

The one marketing tool EVERY small business needs to embrace is email marketing.

Email has many things going for it – it’s cheap, allows you to send out communications when you want, to the exact individuals you want at the best ROI available today.

“Email marketing delivers $67 of revenue for every $1.7 spent.” ~ Direct Marketing Association

You need automated tools that can send emails to thousands of customers at one go and manage your email communication for you. Enter MailChimp. MailChimp is an end to end email marketing suite that allows you to design, test, send out and monitor email campaigns to your subscribers.

Key Features

  • MailChimp is a web based tool – no downloads, no plug-ins. Just log into your account from anywhere on the internet and get going.
  • It allows you to design and test your emails before send out. Use the free templates that MailChimp offers or use your own. Send out test emails to check for content, design or coding errors before the actual send out.
  • Test various elements of the email – subject line, send time, design and layout – on test audiences. This will allow you to pick the best options to get optimal results before sending out the emails to the entire subscriber base.
  • Schedule email send times in advance. This allows email marketing to continue as per schedule, whether or not you are in the office to hit ‘send’.
  • MailChimp goes beyond marketing emails. You can also send out transactional emails, auto responder emails or triggered emails based on customer behavior using MailChimp.
  • Maintain multiple email databases on MailChimp. This is useful if you have different sub brands that have mutually exclusive audiences. It is also useful when you split your original database into different customer segments based on their needs and user behavior.
  • MailChimp equips you with top of the line email analyticsopen rate, click rates, bounces and more. It also links up with your website analytics tools like Google Analytics or SiteCatalyst to track how the users who click through from your emails to your website behave. This helps in tracking conversions from your email campaigns more efficiently.

Costs

MailChimp has a free account that works great for most small businesses without the need for an upgrade to a paid version. The free account allows you to reach out to a maximum of 2000 subscribers and send out a total of 12,000 emails per month.

Once you exceed these limits, you can opt for paid plans that begin at $10 per month and get more expensive as your subscriber base grows larger.

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Dashboard

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Lists

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Template editor

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4. QuickBooks

Managing finances is not always an entrepreneur’s forte. Book keeping, taxation, payroll are all fields requiring specialized training and dedicated teams to manage them.

This is not necessarily true with tools like Quickbooks. Quickbooks is an extremely user friendly accounting software designed for small businesses that allows novices to manage complex accounting, invoicing and payment functions with ease.

Key Features

  • Generate and send invoices to clients using Quickbooks’ automated tool. Invoices are archived in Quickbooks for future reference and auditing needs.
  • Elegant dashboards that give you a single screen look at the financial health of your business. Income, expenses, profit or loss – all get captured and displayed in one shot.
  • Get instant alerts on important activities like overdue payments, invoices, or tax returns.
  • Receipts can be scanned and their data will be automatically captured by Quickbooks. No more manual entries of your utility or internet receipts.
  • Generate and send invoices to your clients. Pick from any of the available templates or make your own.
  • Manage payroll and reimbursements. Tax calculation and deductions are taken care of automatically.
  • Sync your company’s bank accounts with the rest of your financial data to make payments faster and frictionless.

Costs

The most basic version of Quickbooks is available at $12.95 per month while the more feature rich versions cost $26.95 or $39.95 per month. You can take Quickbooks for a test run with a free 30 day trial period.

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Main Dashboard

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Sync Your Bank Accounts

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Invoice Creation

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5. Concur

Every small business owner knows the woes of keeping travel, official entertainment, telephone bills and other such expenses under control. There is invariably a bunch of missing receipts, tickets or authorizations that will surface at the end of the financial year, throwing your accounting into disarray.

Concur takes care of this vital but oft overlooked area of expense management. It manages reimbursements, authorizations and payments to employees for expenses made for official purposes.

Key Features

  • An easy to use UI that allows employees to enter their expenses in minutes and create their own expense reports. It also stores expense reports on its system for each employee, making it easy to retrieve records at a later date.
  • Set expense limits for individual employees or for different employee levels.
  • Create travel itineraries and book your travel on Concur and expenses get authorized automatically using the employee’s authorized expense limit.
  • Click a picture of receipts, tickets etc and upload them into Concur and it’ll pull out information from scanned receipts automatically. No more manual entry of expenses with paper receipts.
  • Mobile app that allows your sales teams to book travel, report and get authorization for expenses made ‘on the road’ instantly. The Concur app shows travel itinerary details, directions to your hotel and maps integration so you’ll never be lost on your business trips.

Costs
Concur has versions for every size of organization. A small business can go with their starter small business version that comes at $8 per user per month. The costs involved go up with the number of users, the number of reports the company generates per month and the features that you choose to include in your version of Concur.

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Creating Expense Reports

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Track and review past expenses

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Maps integration with directions to your hotel, airport, train station etc.

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6. Tableau

Every business needs to crunch the key numbers – production, sales, shipments, orders received and so on to see where it stands today and to chart a course of action for the future. Arriving at successful corporate strategy requires the right type of business intelligence and data that will help you make the right decisions at the right time.

Tableau is a beautifully designed, comprehensive, yet easy-to-use business intelligence tool. With its reporting and corporate strategy features, it can give your small business an edge over the competition. Visualize and control key data about your business, identify opportunities and take decisions that get captured into the tool in real time using Tableau.

Key Features

  • Drag and drop various data sets into a single screen to create your own tables and analysis. The dashboards you’ll create are interactive and ‘speak to you’ even as you move data around from one column to another.
  • Pick from a variety of visualization and charting options that offer a birds-eye view or granular details depending on your decision making needs.
  • Unlike most business intelligence tools in the market, Tableau is extremely fast. Every query dives into hundreds of millions of data records and retrieves the data you need in seconds, making the user experience extremely smooth and quick.
  • It can be supported on individual desktops, on company servers or even the cloud depending on your preferences.
  • Sharing data is super easy with Tableau Server. You can publish your charts, graphs and insights on the internet in minutes and your team can access this information anywhere in the world.

Costs

Tableau is a paid tool, but unlike most other tools, it offers a free trial of its full-fledged platform to give you a taste of its real capabilities.

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Opportunity Dashboard

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Sales Performance

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Shipping KPIs

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7. Basecamp

If you don’t use a collaboration tool to work together with the various teams in your organization, do it now! Basecamp is a wildly popular collaboration and project management tool that lets cross functional teams work together on a project simultaneously.

Key Features

  • Create multiple projects and record them all in one place. Basecamp allows you to send messages to your project team, share data and upload files with them in real time. No more missing documentation or last minute scurrying about for lost data.
  • Assign roles to team members using Basecamp. Allow various members to contribute to projects based on the levels of permissions that you can control at your end only.
  • Create project schedules and manage timelines. Track the progress of each project using Basecamp – a one stop shop for your project management needs.

Costs

Basecamp has double the usual trial period – it gives you 60 days to play around with it before you put down your money. Plans depend on the number of projects you’ll manage and the amount of storage space you’ll use. Starting from $20 for 10 projects and 3 GB of storage space, plans become progressively more expensive as the number of your projects and storage requirements grow.

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Manage multiple projects

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Scheduling

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Collaboration

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What Next?

Tools are available for the asking. Even as you wonder which tool would make most sense for your business, somebody somewhere is busy working on the next big challenger to Plain Jane MS Excel.

Evaluate your current business position and take each of the tools listed here for a test drive. Start using the ones that you find the easiest to use and the most important given your stage of business. Once you get comfortable with a handful, move on to the rest and try and incorporate every one of these into your business. It’s not going to be easy. But the business of being in business was never easy to begin with, right?

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Data Protection: a guide for small businesses and start-ups

data protection, data privacy laws

For small online businesses and start-ups collecting data for marketing and sales communications is essential and therefore good quality data is highly valuable. However, there are specific rules and regulations in place that govern how you collect, keep and use data. It is important you familiarise yourself with these since, the last thing you want is to upset customers or face any hefty fines.

This is post provides a basic overview, but I have added in a list of  useful links at the bottom that will enable you to examine the regulations on more depth and look up specifics relevant to your business.

In the UK there are two key acts you should be aware of  concerning data collection, processing and dissemination.

1. Data Protection Act 1998

2. Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act

These basically concern how you:

Obtain ‘personal data’

from your data subject (eg. customer, visitor to your website, prospect). Your data subject should be understand why they are handing over their data and how it will be used.

Process and store personal data 

(modify, keep secure and delete data)

Use personal data

 

1. Data Protection Act 1998

“Data Protection Legislation is enacted to protect the individual, to protect their privacy and prevent the misuse of their personal data” (Chaffey et al, 2009 p.141).

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) effects how you can collect and use data. In the UK, any company that holds personal data on file needs to register with the data protection registrar.  Some small businesses are exempt from registering – you can find out whether you are exempt by taking the ICO’s (Information Commissionaire’s Office) online self assessment questionnaire .

The Information Commissioner has an excellent overview and checklist specifically for small businesses Data Protection Checklists for Small Businesses and SME’s.

There are 8 key principles of the 1998 Data Protection Act which can be summarised as follows.

  1. Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully. Essentially this is a code of practice  that the Information Commissioner suggests to ensure fair and legal data processing. A quick summary of the code includes the following: companies should have a person ‘data controller’ who has overall responsibility for data protection. If you are a small business or sole trader this is likely to be you. Any communications should clearly detail how a ‘data subject’ (e.g a customer) can get in contact with the data controller or their representative. The ‘data subject’ must have given consent prior to any data processing.  Sensitive personal data should be treated with particular care (eg. ethnic origin, religious or political beliefs)
  2. Personal data shall be obtained for only one or more specified and lawful purposes.  You must make it clear at the point of collection how you intend process and use the information. For example whether you are using it for further communications and whether the data will be passed on to any third parties.
  3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive. This is really a balance between what information you need as a company to better understand your customers and not taking advantage of your data subjects rights.
  4. Personal data shall be accurate and where necessary, kept up-to-date.  It is essential that you keep your data accurate (think about how the data is inputted – many mistakes can come from inaccurate keying in) and up-to-date. So if a data subject contacts you with any changes to their personal details, those changes should be implemented quickly.
  5. Personal data shall not be  kept longer than necessary. If your relationship with the data subject ends then you must delete their data. This is a slightly woolly area so I would suggest you use your common sense – for example if you have held the data for years but feel there is a possibility that the data subject will buy from you then the information is still useful. However if the data subject has had no contact for 10 years then perhaps you need to think about deleting it – don’t forget a clean, up-to-date database is likely to be better performing anyway.
  6. Personal data shall be processed in accordance with the data subject’s rights. This concerns the protecting the rights of the data subject with regard to how their data is processed. Examples include,  an individual can request to view personal data held by an organisation (which must be supplied within a 40 day period), data processing should not cause distress ( for example sending out mailshots to someone who has passed away) and unsolicited phone calls or email.
  7. Appropriate technical  and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss, destruction or damage. This is about ensuring that the data you hold is protected by the necessary security measures that will prevent any unauthorised access to the data.
  8. Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic area unless that country ensures an adequate level of protection. Essentially this means that you cannot transfer data to countries outside Europe if they do not have appropriate data processing laws in place – such as anti-spam legislation and regulations surrounding privacy and electronic communications.

 

data protection, marketing consent2. Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations Act

In 2002, to further support 1998’s Data Protection Act, specific regulations were introduced to protect consumers with regard to controlling the distribution of electronic communications (eg email and SMS).  There are regulations specific to the type communications you are looking at so it is important to take a look at the Act in full. However some key points of importance here include:

 

 

  • Having an Opt out / unsubscribe  option in all communications. Customers should be able to unsubscribe from future communications quickly and easily. For example, you should always include a clear unsubscribe option on all your communications and ensure this is followed up by suppressing any such opt-outs on your database.
  • Contact details must be provided. You must by law, have a contact details by way a recipient can get in contact – such as a valid address or phone number.
  • The sender must be clearly identifiable. Essentially you should in no way attempt to conceal or disguise your identity.
  • For unsolicited electronic communications the recipient must have given prior consent.  Often you see this implemented at the at the sign up stage with a simple tick box where the recipient can choose to Opt-in (he/she proactively consents to receive further information) or Opt-Out ( he/she refuses the offer to receive further information). For example:

Would you like to receive further communications by email Yes 〈  〉  No 〈  〉

As we mentioned earlier it is worth reading the regulations as there are slightly different rules for individual subscribers, company subscribers and existing customers, so check what is applicable to your business. For example existing customers you can use what is known as a ‘soft opt-in’ which differs from the formal ‘opt-in’. This is where you can send emails or SMS messages if you have:

  1.  obtained their contact details from a sale (or sales negotiation) of a product or service
  2. you are only marketing to them about similar products or services
  3. you gave them the option to opt-out of the marketing when you first collected their details and give them the opportunity to opt-out (unsubscribe) in subsequent communications.   

Also, this guide focuses on regulations within the UK, so if you are outside the UK then you need to look at the  regulations for your own country for example in the US there is the CAN-SMAM Act 2003. A useful summary of spam and privacy regulations for individual countries can be found at SpamLaws.com .

Finally it is also quickly worth mentioning the CAP UK Advertising codes. This code stipulates a number of rules of best practice concerning advertising, sales promotion and direct marketing.  Such as being responsible, non-offensive and not misleading. It also has more specific rules pertaining to specific industries and advertising to children. Again, it is something worth taking a look at.

Hopefully this should give you a brief overview of  key data-protection and privacy regulations in the UK. Outlined below are some useful links that will provide you with further, more-in depth reading.

Useful references

ICO.org. Getting it right. A brief guide to data protection for small businesses

Information Commissioner – Data Protection Principles :

ICO Marketing Guidance for Privacy and Electronic Communications

Direct marketing, Data Protection Act and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications

The Data Protection Act 

Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP),  UK Advertising Codes

Email Marketing – When to use opt-in and when to use opt-out

Spam Laws Guide to different countries regulations

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment

 

How Content Strategy Plays a Major Role in Your Branding Efforts?

content marketing

Does your business have a content strategy yet?

If it doesn’t, you are losing out on a wonderful opportunity to improve brand awareness, reputation and authority. It is important not to confuse content strategy with content marketing although both are connected.

While content marketing is the process of placing quality content in front of your target audience to build deeper relationships, content strategy is a ‘mindset’ that according to Kristina Halvorson, the founder of Brain Traffic includes “planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”.

Without a content strategy in place, there is very little chance your content marketing efforts will succeed. Your content strategy helps your business create a framework wherein your business and the needs of its customers are constantly evaluated to improve content production and the content processes that help produce this content.

The whole idea behind drawing up a content strategy is to ensure that the content is able to drive your brand‘s engagement with its target audience and takes your brand interaction to the next level.

Content Strategy and Your Brand

84 percent of marketers who aren’t finding success with their content marketing efforts say they do not have a documented content strategy in place.

Learning – Content strategy is of critical importance to brands if they are serious about their content marketing efforts.

Think about content strategy as something that helps you maximize the potential of your content. There are businesses/marketers, who think just writing content (high quality content) will help you rank in search engines, enhance the reputation of your business and help people identify your brand.

They are wrong.

You need a content strategy in place to leverage the immense potential of this content. A well-defined content strategy gives your content a sense of purpose and its own personality and identity. You must know who your target audience is and the kind of content they are looking for. A strategy is also needed to ensure your content is aligned with your business, its products and services and still caters to the needs of your target audience.

Content strategy also determines your writing style, choice of content format and how you will market this content to ensure your audience finds it when they are looking for it.

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

Not Just Content Strategy but an Effective Content Strategy

A content strategy is as good as its comprehensiveness. The components of an effective content strategy include the following:

  • Defining the Objectives

What are your objectives with respect to your content? Are you using it to build your brand’s niche authority or as a means of boosting your search engine rankings or something else? Also, what is the content format you want to use; will it be videos, blog content, online magazines, tutorials or pod casts amongst other formats?

You need to pick a format that your target audience can easily access and consume.

  • Defining Content Creators

Who will create the content? Will you have an in-house content writing team or outsource your requirements. If you do choose to outsource content creation, you will need to ensure you zero in on the right writer/team of writers.

  • Who is your audience?

Identify your audience, but don’t just identify the audience, you also need to understand them and what they expect from your content. You must also make sure your audience doesn’t receive content that overlaps with your existing marketing communication.

  • Distribution Strategy

How are you going to bring your content in front of your customers?

There are plenty of channels you can choose from, but more often than not, it is the content format that determines the channel you use. Explore the various channels available; make sure you know the strengths and costs of each and also ensure that your customers are active users of these channels. This will help you make an informed decision with respect to the content channel you choose and guarantee you make the most of it.

  • Identify Content Performance Metrics

How do you know your content strategy is working or not? This is where content metrics enter the equation. You need to zero in on the performance metrics of your content that will allow you to measure your success or failure. You must know whether your content is helping satisfy the needs of your customers and if you’ll need to refine your strategy.

At the end of the day you also need to take strategic inputs from every important stakeholder in your business to come up with a content strategy that delivers on your expectations.

Benefits to your Brand

  • Brand Reputation

Your customers are looking for high quality content. The kind of content that is useful, relevant and actionable. They want information that helps solve a problem and if your brand can provide a solution that enables them to take informed decisions, they’ll become loyal followers of your content. What you are also doing is using content as a means to trigger personal interactions with your brand. If they’ve come across a content piece they like and feel strongly about, they’ll comment on it, which can give rise to interesting discussions on your comment feed.

Your content acts as a bridge between your brand and its customers. Your brand comes to be identified with its content and if you consistently produce and publish content that adds value to the lives of your customers, it will be reflected in the enhanced reputation of your brand. Your content will be the ‘go-to content’ for a target audience looking for specific information.

  • Taming Search Engines

Google’s incessant efforts in improving search quality for users have meant it is not business as usual for webmasters and SEOs. They cannot get away with everything that they could get away with, a few years ago. Quality is the name of the game now.

Gone are the days when they could just fill up content with keywords and build links from just about any source and get away with it. What’s more, there was every chance their website would be rewarded with high rankings on SERPs.

Things have changed.

The focus is now on quality and earning natural links from authority online sources. And the one thing that helps make this possible is great content. The more high quality content you publish, the more backlinks you can attract from reputed websites/blogs. And this results in higher search engine rankings, which in turn means more website traffic thus improving your website’s chances of conversions.

And all this because of content!

  • Content for an Active Social Media Presence

sm

Social media marketing is the buzz word these days and why not. Just about every brand is using social media to boost its branding efforts and it is shareworthy content that lies at the very root of every successful social media campaign. When readers like your content, they want to share it with the people they know so that even their friends and family can benefit from this content. This means your content is shared, re-shared and then shared some more. Your content represents your brand, which means it’s not your content but your brand that is essentially going viral.

It’s all about compelling content

Your content strategy will go nowhere if you don’t have a sub-strategy to create compelling content in place. Compelling content is the kind that readers love going through. It’s not about creative excellence but about content excellence.

You need a certain kind of mindset to produce such content. You need to say to yourself that you want to be the leading provider of niche related information to your target customers. If you aim to play a leadership role as an information provider, you will make the necessary effort to satisfy the needs of your customers.

Think of your content like a product and judge its usefulness.  It needs to be high up on the utility scale if you want it to succeed. For this to happen, you’ll need to understand the kind of information your customers are searching for. You need to listen to the conversations happening around your domain (social media networks are great listening posts) and create content that revolves around these conversations.

To create compelling content you must be in sync with what your customers want. So make sure you know everything about them.

Tips to Keep in Mind While Implementing a Content Strategy

When you work out a content strategy for your brand, the next step is to implement it. But before you do, you need to keep a few tips in mind:

  • Content strategy requires different sections of your business to work as a team. Whether it’s your web design team, copywriting team, web development team, the public relations team or your marketing team – every single one of them should work together to make a decisive impact.
  • Understand that you are in it for the long haul and immediate results might not be forthcoming.
  • Make sure your writing matches the understanding of your target audience. The literacy levels of different people that belong to the same target audience group are different. So choose a writing style that can address the least common denominator in your audience. Writing not only includes the way you write but also the ideas you come up with and the research you do.
  • Make sure you stick to your strategy and not veer away from it during implementation. Otherwise it makes your job more difficult.
  • Your style must be your own. The tone and voice you adopt to make your point must reflect your brand personality. Do not ape somebody else’s writing tone or style. Create one of your own and work towards refining it every step of the way.
  • Mix up your formats but make sure you focus on your strengths. If you do not have the expertise to come up with some solid video content, don’t.  On the other hand, if your forte is topical white papers make sure you get one out on a regular basis. The idea is to not make any half-baked efforts with respect to the content you publish. Your customers are looking for the best information available and which makes good use of its content format; you need to be able to deliver the goods all the time. So don’t take chances.

To Conclude

Content strategy and your branding efforts need to keep pace with each other. In fact, for many brands it is content that is acting as the main fuel of their marketing efforts. It is a purely content driven marketing strategy and more often than not it is delivering the results they are looking for. Content helps your brand come out looking like an expert and somebody who has the ability to deliver on the expectations of its customers. This in a nutshell is why content strategy needs to be a part of your branding efforts.

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Building a marketing database: tips for small businesses and start-ups

database marketing, build a marketing databaseGrow your online prospects with a marketing database

Building and maintaining a marketing database is an absolute essential for any successful business – small businesses and start-ups included.  A good database should be the cornerstone of  your marketing communications, enabling  you to open up better, and consequently more productive communications with your customers and prospective customers.  It will help you effectively target your marketing communications to your customers – be it to gain new business, engage,  cross-sell, upgrade, inform, entertain or create loyalty.

When you are just starting out creating a marketing database your primary focus should be centered around:

  1. capturing and gathering useful information about your customers and prospective customers
  2. getting permission from your existing and prospective customers to contact with further communications.

This permission-based approach enables you to target your communications appropriately to achieve better response.

“The permission marketing concept suggests that communications requested by customers have a greater impact and higher response rates than the many unsolicited communications which bombard us each day through print, mail and TV.” Dave Chaffey, Smart Insights

So where to start?

Database marketing has become so sophisticated (think Supermarket loyalty cards like TESCO’s Clubcard) that many small businesses and start-ups can be put off getting their database started. Worries over how  complex databases are to set up, the cost of sophisticated contact management software, concerns over outsourcing and maintenance can inhibit new businesses getting their database off the ground. However when you are just starting out you should just be focusing on what you need now and what you can afford.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting out with a simple excel spreadsheet. You can always decide to move to a more sophisticated contact management system or outsource to a database company at a later date. So don’t be put off building yours just because it isn’t going to be an all singing, all dancing database. Building a basic database with key customer information is still a worthwhile and cost-effective activity that will provide a solid foundation of prospects and customers for you to build upon as your business develops.

What information should you capture?

There is all sorts of interesting information you can capture about your customers, enabling you to learn more about their behaviour and needs. From basic demographics (age, gender, income) to  purchasing history such as products or services they have bought  from you or shown an interest in, lifestyle interests and so on. You can then use this data to segment your audience into related groups and target your communications more effectively.

However, when you are initially setting up your database focus on what information you actually need now.  This will depend on your business and what type of communications you are intending to send out – for example is it just email communications  or are you sending out direct mail promotions?  Spend some time deciding what customer information is going to be the most value to you. Basic  fields to start populating your database with  may include some or all of the following:

  • Email address
  • First name
  • Surname
  • Salutation
  • Job Title
  • Company name
  • Company Address
  • Home address
  • Mobile
  • Prospective customer / customer / lapsed customer
  • Date record was entered

 

How to encourage people to hand over their personal details and give you permission to contact them.

Once you’ve set up your database you need to think about how to get your customers and prospective customers to hand over personal information and give you permission to contact them with further communications. You may have a few loyal customers willing to pass over personal information just by asking for it, however the reality is that most people are only going to provide it if there is something in it for them.

The likelihood is that you’ll need to entice customers in with an incentive to reward for them for taking the time to handover their personal details. Long forms can be really off-putting so I would  suggest you consider focusing on getting their email address first – you can then get more detailed  information from them at a later date  – once you’ve built up more of a relationship.  If you need your customers to complete longer forms then think about an incentive that will motivate them to do so – of course you’ll get a higher uptake if you offer something relevant to your customer base and the industry you are in. For example:

  • 15% off plus free delivery and returns when you sign up to email newsletter
  • Download free whitepaper or ‘how to guide’
  • Free entry to a webinar
  • Free gift or e-voucher
  • Enter a competition

Quality data is worth its weight in gold so offering an attractive incentive is going to be cost-effective in the long-term.

Managing and maintaining your database

Having a up-to-date, useful database is essential. There is absolutely no point having a marketing database full of contacts who are completely disinterested in your business as not only will you annoy people by sending them irrelevant information, you are wasting money maintaining their records and skewing your response rates.

Keep your database clean, relevant and up to date and it will be far more efficient.

Make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your emails and make sure you remove them or suppress them from your database as soon as they request it.   Email database addresses decay by an average of 22.5% over a year  so this it important to keep information as up-to-date as possible. And of course the longer time goes on the more likelihood your data becomes inaccurate and this is when errors are most likely to occur.

And finally, don’t forget to make sure your are up-to-date on data protection laws, your contacts have opted-in and you are following good practice with regards to data privacy.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Marketing Metrics for Modern Strategies: Three Basics for Measuring Your Marketing Investment

ROI Marketing Metrics

You know you should be measuring the value of your marketing, but youre not sure how to go about doing that, exactly. Fortunately, marketing is a science, not a guessing game. You can measure it like you would anything else. Heres how. 

 

Identify Your Revenue Attribution

Marketing companies, like Yodle.com, recommend that you focus on your revenue attribution when tracking and measuring sales and marketing investment. In other words, where do your sales come from? If you pump a lot of money into your Adwords platform, do you know whether its paying off? It is paying for itself? If you dont know this, you should.

Likewise, you should have an understanding of the weighted-average ROI for all marketing and sales initiatives. So, If 60 percent of your marketing dollars are spent on pay-per-click, you should have a system in place to measure the total efficacy of your marketing dollars, with 60 percent weight given to the PPC platform.

You’ll also need to make sure that your shopping cart software is capable of integrating third party tracking scripts into the order completed web page to pass back sales metrics to your Adwords marketing platform to accurately track ROI.

Does all of this sound complicated? It can be, and thats often why small businesses hire a marketing firm to do this for them. Marketing is a skill – a vastly under-appreciated skill. Its not something that most people can successfully do all by themselves.

Coordinate Your Sales Team

Sales and marketing departments rarely talk to each other, even though theyre on the same team. Heck, their jobs depend on each other. So, show them exactly how dependent they are on each otherssuccesses. Tie compensation and bonuses to their counterparts success.

Show the sales department the impact they have on their marketing brothers, and vice-versa. Once each department fully understands the impact on the other, you can then better coordinate marketing dollars between the both of them. Instead of competing against one another, they will trade off finite marketing dollars and work together to allocate those dollars for maximum revenue and profits, regardless of how much each department gets.

Use Data To Drive Marketing

Sometimes, its hard to know what the data is telling you. It is, after all, just numbers on a screen. But, with that in mind, there are some things you can glean from your data sets. One of those things is the click-through rates on links, open rates of emails, sales, and visitor flow.

Of these, visitor flow is the least understood, but possibly the most helpful analytic you could measure and analyze. Visitor flow means how visitors move through your site. So, for example, if a visitor lands on your homepage, and goes to your Aboutpage, and then stops at your order page without ordering anything, something between the homepage and the Aboutpage prevented the sale.

Of course, theres always the possibility that the price was too much for the customer, but that raises the question: why was the prospect not sold?Maybe you need to sculpt your Aboutpage and homepage to better anticipate shopping cart abandonment or bouncing on the sales page. Maybe you could take the links to the sales page off the Aboutpage, if theyre there. Or, dont allow people to click directly to the order page if theyre on the home page. Or, create a pre-sellon both pages or at least one of those pages.

Guest Author: Loretta Martinez Loretta has decades of experience in marketing. With innovations and trends keeping her busy, she often blogs about the basic tips and tricks to successful marketing plans.

Building an online brand: 5 tips for start-ups

online branding, brand imageWhat is a  brand?

The concept of branding has been around for thousands of years, originating around 2000 BC when the ancient Egyptians branded their livestock. We are all very familiar with some of the world’s most powerful and recognisable brands such as Coke, Hoover, Disney, Apple, Kellogg’s, Microsoft and MacDonald’s – to name just a few.  When we think of them we will have a pretty specific idea of what those brands represent and what feelings they evoke. A formal definition of a brand can be summarised as:

“The set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it – a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience.” Chartered Institute of Marketing

Your brand is essentially how your customer perceives your business.  Your brand is not just your business logo rather, a number of attributes that mesh together and elicit an emotional response from your customers towards your business and its products and services.

Why establishing your brand is so important

Creating a brand identity is important for your business therefore, it shouldn’t fall to the bottom of your list of priorities to be   dealt with in a few years time when your business is more established. Small online businesses and start-ups need to begin to develop their brand from day one since, branding can help:

  • Increase your sales
  • Set you apart from your competitors
  • Establish trust in your products and services
  • Build on-going, loyal relationships with your customers

 

6  Simple tips to help build your online brand

When you are beginning to build up your business online, there are a number of ways to help you start building your brand presence. These tips don’t just help your brand, they also make good business sense as they reflect sound online business practices.

1. Improve your customer’s online experience

onlime customer experienceBranding is all about customer experience. When a customer visits your website what experience will  he or she get – positive or negative? First impressions are extremely important so try to think about your customer’s online journey – from start to finish.

For example when a customer lands on your website is it professional looking? Have you paid attention to detail making ensure there are no spelling mistakes, broken links or out-of-date news?  Can your customer navigate around your site easily to find what they are looking for? If you customer needs advice or help will they receive good customer service and a quick response? Is your online shopping cart and checkout secure, efficient and easy to use?

Customers who have a good experience more likely to leave with a positive image of your business and therefore far more likely to come back than a customer whose experience has been poor.

trustmarks, online trust marks2. Conveying and building customer trust

A fundamental part of branding is customer trust. Right from the very start you need to be looking at ways to establish your online business as trustworthy. A long-established, credible brand is able to convey trust to its customers simply through the power of its brand image. Unfortunately however small businesses and start-ups don’t have that luxury so you will need to work harder to establish trust and make customers feel secure on your site.

Use trust signposts to help make a customer feel secure. This can help a customer feel comfortable parting with money or personal data and give them confidence in the quality of  your product or service. Examples of trust signposts could be:

  • Trustmarks  and security logos
  • Customer testimonials
  • Awards
  • Product reviews
  • Visable returns policy
  • Easy to find contact details and registered address
  • Links to official organisations and associations

 

brand personality, competitor advantage3. Give your business a personality

Having a brand personality can help set you apart from you competitors giving you a competitive advantage. People want to deal with people and so giving your business a personality is a great way of building your brand identity.  Businesses that have a human element are more likely to be able to build an emotional connection with their customers and consequently generate loyalty with strengthened customer relationships.

Use your social media to give your business a human face. This is where social media comes into its own, it gives you the chance to interact directly with your customers and build a two-way dialogue. Blogging and email are also great tools to use to help get your business personality across to customers.

online customer engagement4. Content is central to customer engagement

You want your customers to love your website and all it has to offer. Content is integral to successful customer engagement, which is in turn is central to building your brand. Quality content will engage your customer, bring them back for further visits, reinforce your brand as professional, informative and authoritative and help with your SEO which increases your brand awareness and recognition.

So think about ways to keep your online content fresh and informative to help engage customers. For example this could be through implementing things like new feature and product updates, informative articles, video tutorials, weekly newsletters, blogs, social media competitions and press releases.

brand recognition5. Build brand recognition through consistency

When you are starting out building up your online business, it is important to implement some consistency across certain areas so as to reinforce brand recognition.

Did you know that it takes at minimum 6-7 brand touches before someone will remember your brand?…Consistency is key when it comes to social branding. Consistency doesn’t have to equal boring. It simply means you have a consistent representation of who you are, what you do and how you portray it to the world.” Social Media Today

For example starting at a basic level, keep your logo consistent and use it on everything associated with your brand. Make sure it is present and consistent from your letterheads to your social media pages. Try to also use a consistent colour theme. For example Cadbury’s purple is so synonymous with the brand that you almost don’t need to see the word Cadbury to recognise it. So keep the colours on your website, social media, blog, email newsletter, flyers, banner advertisements and so on as consistent as possible to increase recognition of your brand.

You all so need to be consistent when it comes the message you are conveying to your audience. Of course your tone and approach will change depending on your audience and communication channel, however your underlying brand message and brand values should remain consistent – you shouldn’t be sending out mixed messages about your business.

By starting to think about your brand at the very beginning and implementing some of these simple tips, hopefully it won’t be long before you create a solid, recognisable business brand  to your customers – increasing sales and growing loyalty.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic, so do please leave a comment.

  • Coca-Cola image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Unique sphere image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Branding Written on chalkboard image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG /FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Trust image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Heart Apple Image courtesy of Claire Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net