7 tips small business owners can implement to help combat stress

how to combat stress

 

There are plenty of wonderful upsides to being your own boss. You’re in control, you set the hours and often you’re doing what you love or following a dream. Of course, it would be unrealistic to paint everything as rosy. Alongside all the great things that come with owning your own business there are also plenty of challenging aspects you have to deal with. The responsibility of sole management and shouldering all the worries, coupled with spending hours working alone can sometimes cause stress, lack of motivation and make you feel isolated.

We take a look at some useful tips to help you deal with stress when it raises its head. Obviously we are not suggesting stress can be erased completely, after all it is part and parcel of owning a small business, but hopefully by implementing a few of the tips we’ve outlined below it will help you manage stress better to reduce its overall impact.

7 tips to help manage stress at work

71% of small business owners experience high levels of stress.”

Being you own boss, juggling lots of balls and carrying the full weight of success and failure on your own shoulders is undoubtedly stressful at times. Indeed, stress is a key issue for small business owners and solo entrepreneurs. The very nature of small business ownership opens you up to higher levels of stress. At its worse it can lead to exhaustion, depression and hinder your ability to run your business.

Eradicating stress completely is probably unlikely. However learning to identify what triggers stress and taking steps to manage it can make it big difference to how you cope during stressful periods.

1.Learn how to identify stress triggers

Of course different people will have different stress triggers but one of the major triggers is the feeling that you lack of control over a situation – from deliveries not arriving in time, other people’s behaviour and even the weather (the list goes on and on).  Accepting that there are certain things you will never be able to control and finding ways to manage them as best you can when they arise will help you better cope when things are out of your immediate control.

Most of us have an idea of what it is that really our stress levels through the roof. For me it’s having too much on my plate to the point I can’t see the wood for the trees. I’ve learnt that on those days I’m far from at my best. Such days don’t go away but by recognising this I’ve learnt to try to pre-empt the impact by planning ahead where I can.  If I know I’ve got a ridiculously busy day or week coming up then I try to see if there is anything within my control that I can do beforehand to alleviate some of the pressure.

Point is, if you can learn to recognise what makes your stress levels rise you are better able to work on positive ways to manage it.

2. Recognise the first signs of stress

Recognising the first signs of stress can help you manage your symptoms before they take over and damage your health and your ability to successfully manage your business. Stress can take different physical and mental forms. Some common signs include:

  • A feeling of being unable to cope
  • Anger and aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeplessness
  • Demotivation
  • Exhaustion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low mood

Recognising that you may be suffering from higher than normal levels of stress will help you take steps to address those symptoms or if needed get help from your GP.

3. Re-evaluate your time-management skills

 

effective timemangement

It probably feels that time management is wheeled out every time stress at the workplace is mentioned – so forgive me if you’ve read it all before! However putting effective time-management into practice really can help you reduce your stress levels and means you’re less likely to find yourself  working ridiculous hours to get things done. Examples of good time management techniques include;

Plan. Schedule 30 minutes a the beginning of each day to plan what you’ll be doing that day.

Prioritise. Divide your tasks into things that are critical (they absolutely have to be done today), essential (are important to the smooth running of your business but aren’t as urgent as your critical tasks and then everything else (nice but not essential tasks). Deal with critical first, then move on to essential and finally tackle everything else once the ‘critical’ and ‘essential’ tasks have been dealt with.

Remove distractions.  When you have critical or urgent tasks that need your full attention, remove all potential distractions. Put your phone on silent (people can always leave a message) and sign-out of email, instant messenger and social media.

Allow for interruptions. When planning your day allow some additional time for interruptions when you will need to be unexpectedly pulled away from the task at hand.

Organise your workspace. A messy workspace will hinder your attempts at effective time-mangement. So keep your work space organised and clutter free.

4.Outsource where you can

If you are a start-up with a very tight budget, outsourcing may seem like a no-go option. However, you don’t have to outsource something major to benefit. Is there something you could delegate to help out more at home so you not fretting about cleaning the house or making the dinner on top of everything else. Try looking at it from a business perspective as well. Is your time being well-spent? For example are you spending time stuffing envelopes instead of getting on with sales calls which could generate new business?

As a small business owner you are probably juggling lots of hats. Take a step back and see if you can relinquish some control to someone else – perhaps in an area you don’t enjoy or to someone  who is better placed to do it than you? Freeing up this time will leave you more time to focus on other important areas.

5. Look after yourself

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” Helen Keller

Taking care of your mind and body is essential to keeping your stress levels down. Healthy eating, exercise, getting enough sleep and relaxation time are essential. Being able to draw the line is also important – work cannot be all-consuming as it is simply unsustainable in the long run. Taking good care of yourself is intrinsically linked to feeling positive  and the more positive your feel the more optimistic you are about work and the world around you.

positive thinking

Practice positive thinking. Think about all the great things you’ve achieved, remind yourself why you wanted to be your own boss and what you love about your business. Positive thinking can have a significant impact on how you deal with challenges.

6. Realistic goal setting

There is a tendency for us to heap pressure upon ourselves to achieve goals and we are often overly hard on ourselves if we don’t always attain them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aiming high, just make sure that when you are setting goals against which you are measuring yourself and your business, you are being realistic. Otherwise you are simply setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even started. A good goal should be a challenge but ultimately achievable.

7. Tackle isolation

“52% of all small businesses are home-based.” –Forbes

There is no doubt that being a small business owner can sometimes make you feel a bit on the lonely side. In the UK two-thirds of businesses are owned and run by just one person and 52% of small businesses are based at home. When you are feeling stressed it really helps to be around other people for support. If you work in a busy office and have a bad day you can often unload to your colleagues However,  if you work from home alone you don’t always have that opportunity.

tackle isolation at work

Have a think of ways you can introduce a bit more interaction into your busy working day. For example.

  • Hot desks. There are more and more co-working spaces popping up. Here you can hire a workspace. Even if you can only afford to do it once a week it means that you’ll be surrounded by individuals in a similar situation as yourself who will also probably appreciate a bit of company whilst working.
  • Join local business networking groups. This is a great way to meet other likeminded local business people who probably have to deal with similar issues as you.
  • Attend events relevant to your business and if appropriate think about opening a pop-up shop every so often.
  • Get outside at lunch for a walk or to have your sandwich.
  • Go for a coffee and take your emails with you – emails are something you can often answer on the move. You are out and about amongst people and are getting some work done at the same time!

Of course, it’s unlikely that whatever you put in place is going to eradicate stress completely as it is often part and parcel of owning a small business, but by implementing even just a few of these tips it may help you bring stress down to a more manageable level.

Ultimately keep reminding yourself of all the great benefits being your own boss brings and remember to look after yourself and pat yourself of the back every now and then as never forget that as a small business owner, you are absolutely vital to a thriving economy.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on managing stress at the workplace, so please do leave a comment. 

Sharing Your Business Story: Why and How To Do It

Sharing Your Business Story Why and How To Do It

Who doesn’t like a good the-underdog-wins story where everything works out for the best in the end? However, the old adage ‘it’s easier said than done’ applies everywhere, especially if you’ve experienced this kind of a situation firsthand.

Typically, humans tend to downplay their struggles, failures and inhibitions, and hide their fears to the greatest extent possible. We prefer to project ourselves as successful, inspirational and happy-go-lucky individuals, who have everything going for them. In a scenario where everyone pretends that all is hunky-dory, the true story of your trials and tribulations is sure come as breath of fresh air, especially to those looking for inspiration.

A story with a universal appeal is bound to be valuable. Through your story you get the opportunity to tell your audience that the road to success is rocky and uncertain, rather than straight and levelled.

The Importance of Brand Stories

It’s no secret that the customer is the king. After all, he is the one with purchasing power. Customers are constantly on the lookout for credible content that helps them make buying decisions.

Did you know that 70% of consumers look to blog posts to make such decisions rather than ads?

They read the content provided on your company’s website, refer product reviews on third-party sites, and any other source they can find online before buying from you. This is done to know more about the product, its value proposition and reliability.

Your story can become incredibly powerful when you explain your journey to your customers as it will connect you to them on an emotional level.

Businesses and Stories

Your customers may not care much about your marketing goals, but they will appreciate a great story from you. Any business that can give them this stands to benefit greatly.

Social media can be tremendously helpful in achieving this. Customers are already present on social media and are comfortable engaging with companies, who are equally active in putting up their content on such networks. As the majority of companies publish their content, only those who are able to craft compelling stories, instead of just dishing out a mountain of facts and figures, have a better chance at succeeding.

Mentioned ahead are a few undeniable reasons you should share your business story with the world:

1. Establishing Brand Identity

With the help of stories, you will be able to transform the ostensibly vague core values of your organization (for example, hard work and ethics) into tangible and measurable attributes.

Almost all organizations have a bigger organizational narrative with small stories to sustain, restate, and personalize it. These smaller stories are consistently shared to create, strengthen and explore your brand. It is your organization’s values, mission and activities that form the central theme of its narrative.

2. Establishing Your Authority

Good stories that reinforce that your brand is, in fact, the solution to your customers’ problem can help you influence them positively, thereby establishing your authority in the market.

Craft your content in a manner that positions your brand as the preferred one. Highlight the strengths of your offerings in a way that lets your brand stand out from among the competition. And win!

3. Engaging Audiences

You want your audience to feel an emotional connect with your brand, which is why it is important to tell them stories about the people who make your organization the success that it is. This includes your employees, clients, investors, partners, and so on.

People like to engage with humans and not with undefined entities. When you share your story, you enable your audience to hear, understand and remember your organization better. Further, because stories are more comprehendible than random information and numbers, it becomes easier to share them.

Bear in mind, however, that one story can give rise to new stories i.e. your customers will probably draw out another story from the one you tell them. This is where the importance of having multiple channels of communication (for proper flow) comes into the picture. Once you have them in place, you can ponder over other questions related to the emerging themes and the kind of stories enabling real engagement.

4. Sharing Knowledge

As a brand, you’re bound to have tremendous knowledge and learning, which can be presented in a practical and sustainable structure. Doing so can also help you connect information, which can otherwise seem incoherent. Stories can elucidate numerical data, yield insights, and draw out lessons more easily.

5. Becoming the Guiding Light

Sharing true stories will enable you to build credibility which, in turn, will deepen the trust your internal and external stakeholders have in you. Stories make for fantastic mediums to foster communication through which people get heard. It also helps smart entrepreneurs decipher the meaning of projects and offerings.

Leaders/mentors in organizations that share their story are often adept at relating their projects and challenges to the narrative of the organization.

In fact, stories are more important to leadership than we know. Of course, there needs to be one strong narrative that weaves the various abstract and patchy bits together. This will help you communicate your company’s visions, ease out the complexities, and inspire change.

Leaders keep changing and one leader’s hindsight can be another’s foresight. By sharing the story of your struggles, you can greatly help up-and-coming entrepreneurs realize that their struggles are a normal part of the grind that everyone goes through, and there is a way out of it. More often than not, this is all the inspiration they need to weather the storms.

If your stories can provide them with actionable ideas and solutions through which they can solve their problems, they would be even more helpful.

6. Conquering Your Fears

As already mentioned, not everyone is comfortable with talking about their hardships, struggles, weaknesses, and failures. Some, however, find it to be cathartic and extremely gratifying. Getting over the fear of publicly acknowledging to such experiences requires courage. It can earn your tremendous admiration and respect. You never know, being earnest and forthcoming with your audiences about your strengths and weaknesses may just work in your favor!

Conquering Your Fears

Sold on the idea of telling your story but wondering how to begin and take it forward? We’ll tell you all about it.

  • Start by Talking about Your Purpose

In order to tell your story convincingly, you need to know why you are in business and explain this to your audience eloquently. The two questions to answer here are: what is the purpose of your business and what differentiates it from your competitors?

Answering these questions will help you figure out what makes your business powerful and interesting to others. You will be able to set a path for future successes only if you have a clear idea of where you’re coming from. You may not realize this, but customers want to know who they’re buying from. This includes their history, i.e. questions related to the origins of the company.

Smart entrepreneurs understand the importance of establishing a strong and realistic company mission. Businesses also need to have a clear corporate positioning that is in keeping with who they are. It should emerge from a clear comprehension of why they are in business and who they want to cater to.

The mission and vision of a company are a big part of the brand story as they help formulate a practical business strategy. These factors essentially help set the foundation for success.

  • Introduce the Main Characters

It is impossible to have a relatable story without having exemplary main characters, who shape it going forward. Make sure to create inspirational main characters as they will form the heart of your story and encourage your audience to take the desired action. You can do so by identifying real people or make up fictional characters that make your business flourish and use them as your main cast.

  • What Are You Out to Achieve?

The answer to this question will reveal the real reason for the existence of your business. It will also help your audience figure out what issues you’re looking to resolve through your offerings. Show them the bigger picture and let them know that there is a higher cause to achieve.

Are you in the business to inspire people? Do you want to revolutionalize the way your customers live through your products and services? Do you want to make the world a healthier place to live in? Such questions will help you get the perspective you need to grow your story.

  • Bring Up the Roadblocks

Success stories are incomplete if there is no mention of the failures encountered in the journey. Failures are stepping stones to success. Showing people how you failed before hitting the big time and embracing those trials will humanize you and your business and help your customers strike an emotional chord with your business, thereby making your story more impactful.

  • Give Them a Triumphant Conclusion

Leave them with a feel-good factor at the end of it all, where your product or service solves the customers’ problems. The idea is to position your offering as the medicine that cures all their ailments and gives them exactly what they’ve been looking for.

For your story to have the maximum impact, you need to know about the right techniques of storytelling. Here’s more on that:

  • Blogs

Almost all company websites have blogs and yours should too. They make for effective business storytelling vessels. You can get the maximum advantage by telling the story of either your own industry or other associated industries.

Do not forget to create a professional bio for yourself when you start to blog. In fact, your bio should do more than just announce your accomplishments. It should tell your audience who you are as a person.

The rule of thumb to remember here is that instead of talking on and on about what you do, make your blog posts action-oriented so that you can show your audience what you’re all about.

  • Case Studies

Case studies are the classic marketing vehicles for storytelling in business. After all, they do convey a brand’s story. You can make them more creative by adding humorous elements, building tension, and adding various dimensions and points of view to them, rather than keeping them dull.

  • Product Tutorials

Your customers will probably be looking for instructional material to understand exactly how they can make the most of your offerings. You can provide them with an instructional video that does more than just that. Craft an interesting story by making them the hero and the problem at hand the villain, and then position your product as the solution that can help solve the problem. Focus on providing them with material that answers the customers’ “hows” to make effective videos that arouse curiosity about your offerings.

Conclusion

In order to tell your story to the world, you need to know it well enough. Only then will you be able to do a brilliant job of explaining it to others. Ensure that you have your brand’s core value proposition in place, and that everyone associated with you has the same story to tell to the audience. Consistency is key to be able to share your story in an honest and engaging manner.

Image Source: (1, 2)

9 ways small online businesses can generate website traffic without breaking the bank

 

Drive traffic to your website

We all know how tough it can be launching a small business online. More often than not we are constrained by a tight budget and lack of resources. Driving traffic to your website is essential in order to attract potential customers.

In this post we take a look at how to get visitors to your website when faced with a limited budget and when the only marketing resource is yourself.

9 straightforward and cost-effective ways to drive traffic to your website

We’ve outlined nine key actions to help you generate more traffic to your online business and grow your potential customer base. It will mean time and effort on your part but all the actions are straightforward to implement, will help in the long-term success of your business and won’t break the bank.

1. Content

We’ll kick off with content. Content is the linchpin to everything that you do and if you only take one thing away from this post then it should be the importance and value of having high quality content on your website. Your content should be;

Relevant: Your content should reflect the needs and interests of your audience.

Engaging: Does it read well? Is it interesting? Will it catch your reader’s eye with an easy to follow layout, supported by interesting images (try Pixabay for sourcing great images that are free for you to use).

Shareable: Your content should inspire people to share it with others. 94% of people who share posts do so because they think it might be helpful to others.  

Try enhancing the content of your site with visual content. Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. Think about implementing:

  • Images and photos to support text
  • Videos
  • Infographics

2. Blogging

Following on from content, blogging is one of the best ways to ensure your website is being regularly updated with fresh, relevant content. This is key to driving traffic to your website. Every time you publish a post it provides additional opportunities for your business to appear in search engines results pages. As nicely put by Hubspot – “The only thing blogging costs you: your time.”

 

blogging

Blogging also has the added advantage of offering long-term benefits. Each post you publish will  continue to pull in traffic for months to come. Indeed, Hubspot notes that 70% of the traffic it receives each month to its blog comes from posts that weren’t published in the current month.

3. Referrals

The great thing about referral marketing for small businesses is it inexpensive  and effective. Essentially you are getting current customers to help drive traffic to your business by using word of mouth to promote your products and services to friends and acquaintances.

The key things when it comes to successful referrals is:

  1. Ask your customers. Interestingly, the majority of customers who have had a positive customer experience would be happy to refer a friend and yet only a small proportion do. So you need to actively encourage your customers to recommend your business to friends and family.
  2. Make it easy. You don’t want make your customer jump through hoops to make a referral, so make it as straightforward as possible for customers to refer a friends. Try introducing a refer a friend scheme that incentivises both the customer that provides the referral and the friend they refer.

4. Search Engine optimisation

44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine. 

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) essentially involves making your website search engine friendly and people friendly. It involves researching the right keywords and phrases to generate traffic and improving your site structure to make it easy for search engines to find their way around. Much of it links right back to ensuring your content is relevant, engaging and shareable to your customers.

To find out more about getting starting with Search Engine Optimisation then checkout these two comprehensive guides to getting started with SEO.

  1. MOZ: SEO: The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization 
  2. Google: Search Engine Optimization Guide

5. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)

OK, PPC such as Google Adwords will involve you parting with some money however, with pay-per-click advertising you can set your budget to what you can afford to spend and you only pay when someone actually clicks via the advertisement to your website. The key to successful PPC advertising is spending time researching the best keywords for your business – they need to be specific and relevant. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great free tool to start with (you just need to create a Google Adwords Account). It will help you identify keywords and phrases and let you know approximate cost-per-click.

With a bit of playing around and practice Google AdWords is pretty easy to use. Checkout Google Adwords Support will help guide you through the basics of getting started.

 

6. Social Media

80% marketers felt social media increased website traffic 

social networks

 

Social media plays an integral, supporting role in driving traffic. It is a great way for you to promote your content with customers and in turn, makes it very easy for customers to go on and share that content on with their social media contacts.

It is a good idea to start out establishing your business profile on the main networks such as Facebook then concentrate your efforts on the key social networks used by your target audience. For example if you business is jewellery you may find your focus on more visual networks such as Pinterest or Instagram, whereas if you are professional services you may find more of your target audience using LinkedIn or Twitter.

Remember to add social media buttons to your website, blog posts and email communications. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your content with their friends.

7. Email

Email is one of your most cost-effective tools with a healthy ROI. Use email to stay and front of your customers and drive traffic to your site. Share content such as promoting your product and services, blog posts, news articles, infographics and events – all linking back to your website. Focus on building up a quality email list of relevant and permission based contacts as ithe quality of your data will reflect the effectiveness of your traffic :

  • Create a newsletter sign-up form on your website (think about incentivising sign-up to boost response).
  • Gather names through events you attend, run quizzes and contests offer promotions.

8. Mobile responsive

Ensuring your website is multi-device compatible is essential for getting more visitors to your website. Your website should display equally well whether it is being viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile.

responsive design

More and more people are using mobile devices to search the web. Indeed research shows that 60% of web searches in 2015 were conducted from a mobile phone or tablet. Put simply if your website doesn’t view well on a mobile device, people simply won’t take the time to engage with your website. Added to this, if your website is not responsive then it will effect your search engine ranking on mobile searches.

9. Share your URL

Finally make sure you share your website URL at every opportunity. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it is overlooked. Display your website address wherever you can – no matter how insignificant it may first appear: For example;

  • Advertisements
  • Brochures
  • Flyers
  • Letterheads
  • business cards
  • Email signatures
  • Invoice and order acknowledgements
  • Promotional material
  • Packaging.

Of course everything we’ve mentioned in this post will entail time and ongoing effort on your part, however they are all effective and inexpensive ways to drive traffic to your website – with long-term, sustainable results.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience of driving traffic to your website, so please do leave a comment.

Small business guide to successful content curation

contentcuration

 

We all know just how important creating unique, fresh and relevant content is for your online business. However for small business owners content marketing can be a real challenge due to time pressures and lack of resources.  Content curation can be a great way to support your overall content marketing strategy and help maintain a successful online presence.

What is Content Curation

In a nutshell content curation is the collating, organising and sharing of other people’s content. It  is usually third-party content  relevant to your audience’s interests. First things first, content curation is not the same as content marketing and in no way replaces it. Content curation should be looked at as a way to enhance your existing content as part of your overall content marketing strategy.

And don’t worry, by sharing other people’s content your audience won’t think you can’t create interesting content of your own. On the contrary, it shows you are relevant, understand the industry you are in and are confident enough in your own small business to share ideas and information from a third party.

How can Small Businesses Benefit from Content Curation?

Saves time. Content curation helps support and maintain an active online presence. Especially if you don’t have time to continuously create your own original content.

Helps establishes you as an expert.  Overtime content curation can help build trust and establish you and your business as an authoritative, go-to expert on a specific topic.

Offers value to your audience. If you are offering information that is interesting and of value to your audience, then they are more likely to opt-in to your newsletters and follow you on social media.

Supports SEO efforts.  65% of marketers use content curation to boost ranking. Lots of relevant links will help increase your visibility in SERPS (search engine results pages) 

Builds your brand. What you share is a direct reflection of your brand and can help build your credibility as a business.

How to introduce content curation to your small business:

The key to successful content curation is to put some organisation and strategy behind it rather than the ad-hoc retweet or share here and there. You may already do some basic content curation already, like I say I’m sure you’ve retweeted or shared posts on social media. However to really get the benefits you need to take it to the next level by including a personal touch.  Add value to what you are imparting.  For example include your own comments, insight and thoughts on the information you choose to share with your audience.

Social Mediasocial media content curation

76% of marketers use curated content on social media

Content curation is a great way to keep active on social media and provide your customers with links to information they may find interesting. Retweeting someone’s Tweet on Twitter, RePinning on Pinterest or sharing someone’s post on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn are examples of social media content curation. This is a great starting point and a good way to maintain an active online presence – especially when you’re pushed for time or lack resources.

However as we mentioned earlier content curation becomes even more effective when you bring in your own personal slant on what it is your sharing. For example if you are sharing someone else blog post on social media, add in a few words about what you are choosing to share and why you think you audience will be interested in it.

Newsletters

Content curation can work really well in your company’s newsletter. For example in addition to your own content, you could do a weekly round-blog posts you think your audience will like or a weekly round-up of industry news and views. By picking out the most interesting and entertaining articles and presenting them in a digestible format, you are saving your own audience from having to spend time searching around the web. And, if your audience know they can get great information direct from your newsletter then they are more likely to read it and stay subscribed.

Here is a great example of content curation from WriteMySite’s marketing newsletter.

content curation newsletter

Blog Post Curation

In a similar vein to your newsletters why not try posting a blog post that is a weekly or monthly round-up of useful articles, interesting trends or news relevant to your industry? Organise the content into a theme, add in a great headline,  your own supporting commentary, a call-to-action for your own business and you have a great post.

Look at curated blog posts as offering a valuable service. By collating the information yourself you are in short saving your audience time by negating the need for them to research out the information themselves. Always keep your customer in mind so all your hard work collecting and collating is focused on the right information – information that is of value to your target market.

Collecting and Organising Content

content curationSo where do you start? How do you go about sourcing interesting, high quality, relevant online content that fits the needs of your audience? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sign-up to relevant content specific newsletters
  • Subscribe to industry relevant online publications
  • Follow related shared content on social media

If you are collating lots of different information from various sources then it will make your life easier if you can organise all the information in one place. There are a number of marketing tools that can help you collate,organise and publish content such as – Feedly, ScoopIt and Storify.

If your just starting out then Pocket is a great ‘save for later’ tool.  Connecting the Pocket button will enable you to save to your Pocket account straight from your computer. You can quickly collect links to interesting information with and group and tag articles  for easy reference.

In order for content curation to be successful always keep in mind that it’s about adding value. Ensure;

  • content is high quality and matches the needs and interests of your audience
  • post regularly
  • add a personal note,
  • remember you are sharing information not plagiarising – always give credit to the original source. 

 

We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences of content curation, so please do leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

5 top tips to maximise your online Christmas sales in December

boost online christmas salesChristmas is knocking at the door.

We are already a few weeks into the key Christmas sales period but if you aren’t fully up and running with your Christmas promotions quite yet, then don’t worry there is still time to give those seasonal sales a bit of an extra push. This week ShopIntegrator takes a look at how your small ecommerce business can maximise sales with some easy to implement tips.

Online sales predictions for 2015

If predictions are correct 2015 is looking like another booming year for ecommerce in the UK. Researchers forecast 12% market growth and £116bn will be spent online. With many retailers creating over half of their yearly sales and profits in the three months prior to Christmas, making the most of your online presence is paramount. Indeed, according to the Centre for Retail Research last year in the UK online retail accounted for almost one-quarter (23.4%) of Christmas spending with online sales rising from £14.93 bn (2013) to £17.37 billion in 2014 – a very healthy growth of 19.5%.

5 tips to maximise your online sales this holiday season

The great news is that according to National Federation of Retailers 20% of us don’t intend to start their Christmas shopping until December and actually the busy day online isn’t Cyber Monday but the Monday or Tuesday a week or two before Christmas. So implementing a few tips now could still help boost your profits over the Christmas period.

1. Jolly up your website

First stop is your website. When potential customers arrive at your site you want to keep them in a Christmas frame of mind. Adding some appropriate seasonal graphics and images will help create the right environment to promote your Christmas products. Take a look at Tiffany’s home page. It creates the perfect environment for its brand at Christmas.

christmas homepage

Having a separate Christmas page that showcases the products that make great gifts works really well. Helping customers with the decision-making process is essential so spend some time categorising products into relevant groups. For example:

  • Gifts for Her
  • Gifts for Children
  • Gifts for Teenagers
  • Gifts for Him
  • Gifts that Sparkle
  • Gifts for Food Fanatics
  • Stocking Fillers.

Not only will this inspire customers, it can push them along the road to making a decision. For a successful example checkout notonthehighstreet.com’s christmas page.

 

online christmas sales

 

2. Spread christmas cheer on social media

Social media is a great way to communicate with your customers during the Christmas season. As a marketing tool it is low-cost and a very quick way to get your message across. Use social media to inspire with creative gift ideas, highlight any special offers and promotions and communicate helpful information such as reminders about key christmas delivery dates.

And don’t forget social media is the perfect channel to spread some Christmas cheer amongst your customers. It’s a chance to be a bit lighthearted and tap into all the seasonal excitement. Try running a festive contest, create christmas mood boards, share seasonal quotes and offer handy Christmas related tips and advice. To build engagement further open up discussions with fun questions like ‘What was inside your Santa’s stocking when you were a child?”.

Pinterest is all about the visual so a strong presence works particularly well this time of year. Create special Christmas boards and pins to showcase your wares.

Here are a couple of Pinterest examples from notonthehighstreet.com and Stella and Dot.

pinterest christmas boards

 

 

christmas pins on pinterest

 

3. Open a yuletide Facebook StoreOpen a Facebook shop

Think about opening a Facebook store in time for Christmas. With over 1.55 billion monthly active users it’s an excellent way to introduce an additional sales channel for your seasonal products. The great thing about a Facebook store is that you can strike whilst the iron is hot. Rather than having to whisk engaged customers off to your website to make a purchase you can sell to them directly off your Facebook page.

It doesn’t take long to set up a Facebook page either. Checkout ShopIntegrator’s guide to opening a Facebook shop.

4. Ho Ho Ho your emails

Get busy with your email marketing this christmas. Email is an essential part of a small business owners marketing toolkit. Flexible and cost-effective it one of the most effective ways communicate with your customers this season.

Gift ideas. You’ve probably already categorised your gifts on your website so now is the time to use email to inspire customers with your gift ideas. Here is a great example of an email I received from online clothing retailer Boden that does just that.

Boden: It’s just not Christmas without new pyjamas

christmas email

Countdown: Creating a sense of urgency in your emails as Christmas approaches is a great way to encourage conversion. Try sending out emails that count down the shopping days until Christmas.  Here is a fun and creative example from gift retailer notonthehighstreet.com.

notonthehighstreet.com: Nine more sleeps till the unwrapping starts

urgency emails

Last minute shoppers. There will always be a healthy proportion of shoppers who will leave everything to the last-minute. Offering guaranteed delivery a few days before christmas is very attractive to just such customers. Just be absolutely sure you can keep that delivery promise!

Sending an email to  customers reminding them of your last posting dates to guarantee a Christmas delivery is a good way to encourage those who are thinking of making a purchase to get on and do it.

Seasons greetings to your customers. After all the sales promotion emails it is a nice idea to send out a little christmas spirit  to show your customers you appreciate them. Sending out an e-card to customers and suppliers adds a personal touch and reminds then that they are important to you.

discounts, coupons and voucher codes5. Happy holiday promotions

At such a key time of year online businesses are all competing to win customers. A great short-term sales tactic way to boost your seasonal sales conversions is through offering special holiday promotions such as online vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons.

We all love to feel we’ve got a bargain especially during Christmas when it feels like money is literally flying out of our wallets. Special offers such as online discount vouchers can help encourage us to take our shopping cart to the checkout – especially if there is a deadline looming for the discount.

There are all sorts of variations you can use – popular ones include:

  • Free delivery and returns
  • Buy one get one half price
  • Save 25% 
  • Spend over £100 and get £10 off
  • 3 for 2 offers

Just remember if you are offering discounts to make sure you have done your sums first  and have read the guidelines laid out by the British Code of Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing.

Hopefully we’ve given you a few easy to implement ideas to help give your ecommerce sales a bit of a boost during what we hope will be a busy and profitable season for online businesses.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on maximising sales at Christmas. So please do leave  a comment.

 

 

Google Adwords: 7 beginner tips for small businesses and start-ups

If you are a small business looking to dip your toeGoogle Adwords into online advertising then Google AdWords is a good place to start.  PPC (pay-per-click) search engine advertising can offer an affordable advertising option for your business. But how do you get the best ROI when you are competing against big businesses with sizeable budgets? We take a look at 7 helpful tips to ensure small businesses and start-ups get the most bang for their buck.

Google is probably the most well-known and popular search engine so it makes sense to start your online advertising journey through Google AdWords.  In a nutshell, Google Adwords works by enabling you to bid to place you advertisement in front of  someone searching through keywords related to your product or service. You only pay when someone clicks through from the advertisement to your website.

Here is an example of ads that crop up when I typed ‘ Online French courses’ into Google. The ads are marked and appear to the side and at the top of the natural search results. Where you advertisement ranks depends on a combination of your CPC (cost per click bid)  and your ‘ Quality Score’ (relevance to the search, the quality of your landing page and click-through rate).

Example of google adwords ads

Benefits of Google AdWords to small businesses:

  1. You only spend what you can afford. There is no minimum spending commitment  so you can work out a budget to suit your individual business.
  2. You only pay when someone clicks through the advertisement to your site.
  3. With a bit of practice Google AdWords is pretty straightforward to use with plenty of guides to help you through setting up your account and getting your first campaign off the ground. Checkout Google Adwords Support.
  4. You can measure the success of your ads so you can continuously experiment and make tweaks to improve performance.

On the downside Google Adwords is not something you can quickly knock up and then leave to tick over by itself. It takes a while to get the best results and a fair amount of on-going commitment to get a good return on investment. You’ll need to spend time researching the best keywords, monitoring performance and tweaking your ads.

Here are 7 helpful tips to ensure your small business or start-up get the most out of Google AdWords

Google search engine1. Keep things simple to start. You’ll wield better results by keeping things simple at first and getting the basics right before progressing to more advanced options.  As we mentioned earlier it will take a bit of practice to get the hang of things and a fair amount or adjusting and tweaking to get the best results. With a small budget and a number of other roles to juggle it is a good idea for small businesses to  begin by advertising on Google Search before advancing on to Google Display Networks (these are other Google owned properties like YouTube and Google Partner sites like The New York Times). This way you have a better feel for what keywords are performing better before investing more of your hard-earned cash.

set a budget for adwords2. Set a sensible daily budget. Don’t be tempted to spend more than you can afford. Think carefully about what a click-through is worth to your business. For example how many click-throughs become prospective customers? If you want to find out how to work out your maximum bid then have a read of this article by Marketing MO ‘How to Calculate your Max Bid Price’. Alternatively (although not recommended for any length of time) if you are finding it a bit daunting initially and your pushed for time, you can try Google’s automatic bidding option. You set yourself a 30 day budget and Google Adwords will set your bids for you. As you get more confident you should move to manual bids which will give you far more flexibility to optimise your performance.

3. Spend time on keyword research.  Having relevant, specific and targeted keywords is essential to the performance of your advertising and consequently your ROI. It really is important you invest time researching the best keywords for your business.

Keyword planner. Google’s keyword planner is the best place to start. Input the keywords that you think customers would type into a search engine to find your business. The keyword planner will provide a list of similar keywords and tell you whether the competition is high, medium or low and what the approximate cost-per-click is. The key for small businesses is to be specific. It is far better to have fewer clicks with people who are genuine prospects than lots of irrelevant traffic coming to your site.

Group your keywords. It can be a good idea to group your keywords into keyword groups. I’ve put a very basic example below, but it can be a good way to help you structure your campaigns into relevant groups for better targeted advertisements.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 11.08.40

Longtail keywords. These are specific words or phrases and are usually lower cost as there is less competition for them. People are more likely to use them when they are nearer to the point of purchase. If we use the example above, the term silver jewellery is very generic so you could narrow your keywords down to something more specific- silver diamond engagement rings Hertfordshire. Of course it will take some time getting the right long tail keywords for your business but if you target them correctly you can get higher ad rankings without the big price tag.

4. Be as targeted as you can. As we’ve seen with keywords the key to using Google AdWords successfully is to be specific and targeted rather than taking a broad brush approach. Not only will it keep your costs down it will help you bring in more targeted traffic. You click-through rate may be lower but the quality of your visitors is likely to be higher. Here are some options that will help you more closely target your advertisements.

Location targeting: You can choose what geographical location to show you ads – by country, region, city or within a radius around a specific location. For example if you ran a pet grooming service you would be able to target the location where your customers live.

Custom ad scheduling: The default option for AdWords is to have ads showing all day and at all times. However, if you know your customers are likely to be active only during business hours then you can schedule ads to only appear during 9.ooam – 5.00pm.

Keyword matching options: Google AdWords matching option will help you manage the searches that trigger your advertisement. For example a broad match will bring in more traffic but the traffic is likely to be less targeted. Whereas exact match is more restrictive and will bring in fewer clicks but your traffic may be a better match for your business. There are a range of options:

  • Broad match
  • Modified Broad Match
  • Phrase Match
  • Exact Match

Checkout Google AdWords support to select the right matching options for your business.

good copywriting
5. Compelling copy for your PPC ad. With limited words to play with you need to make every word count. You can see from the example below the structure is fairly straightforward. You have a headline of a maximum 25 characters, your URL address, description line 1 with a maximum of 35 characters and description line 2 with a maximum of 35 characters.

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 14.01.02You need to make you PPC ad compelling as possible to your target audience and relevant to the keywords you are bidding on. Try to include at least one keyword in your headline. A useful copywriting model to keep in mind is AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Use your headline to grab attention, your description lines to create interest and desire – for example describe your product or incentive. Always finish with a call to action.

6. Optimise your landing page.  Your landing page is really important and needs to be relevant to your advertisement and the search query your visitor typed in. If it’s not your visitor will simply leave. There is no point spending you money on advertising if your landing pages are irrelevant or ill-thought out. Poor landing pages can be the reason behind low conversions and a high bounce rate. So spend some time getting your landing pages spot on.

7. Monitor performance. To get the best ROI make sure you keep on top of how your ads are performing. Monitor your CTR (click-through rates)and make adjustments to your ads as you go along, depending upon what you find is (or isn’t) working. Keep updating your keywords lists, removing any keywords that are performing poorly.  The more you measure and tweak the better your ads will perform.

Google AdWords can be a great way for small businesses and start-ups to drive traffic to their website and grow business. However to make the most out of Google AdWords and to get the best ROI it will need you to invest time and effort into making it work for you business.

We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences of using Google AdWords, so please do leave a comment.

 

How to create a successful brand for your small business or ecommerce start-up

branding for small businessesMany small businesses have been up and running a good while before their thoughts turn to brand building. Even then branding ends up slipping to the bottom of the to-do list. Of course, with the 101 things small business owners are faced with on an every day basis this is understandable. Yet it is important not to underestimate the importance of good branding.

In order to be successful long-term, branding needs to be at the heart of your business. Working on creating a proper brand presence early on can pay dividends in the long run. Why? Because the impression you make as a business as critical to your long-term success and this is tied intrinsically into branding.

What is a brand?

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. Jeff Bezos, Founder Amazon

Your  brand is essentially the set of ideas your business stands for in people’s minds. Recognisable visually such as through a logo, your brand is also shaped by your actions as a business.  A successful brand will help differentiate you from your competitors, build loyalty, increase traffic, create brand advocates and help connect people emotionally to your business.

For example I have being buying Converse All Star for well over 20 years. Not solely because of the trainers themselves but because over years I have connected emotionally to the brand through a sense of belonging becoming a loyal returning customer in the process.

brand loyalty

 

Defining your brand

Branding itself is a massive area indeed, large companies have  dedicated people such as brand managers and brand directors working on their brand full-time. As a small business owners we obviously don’t have that luxury, yet with a bit of time and effort we are quite capable of building a successful brand for our business ourselves. Before you embark on building your brand presence you need first to spend some time thinking about the fundamentals of your brand.  Considering the following questions will help you get you off to a solid start.

  • What is your purpose as a business?
  • What are your businesses core values?
  • Who is your target audience and what are their needs?
  • What do your customers think when they think of your business?
  • What differentiates your business from that of your competitors?
  • And most importantly, what is it you want your customers to think when your business comes to mind.

7 essential tips small business can use to build their brand

The great news is you don’t need a huge budget in place to build your brand. You will however need to invest some time and thought into establishing a solid brand presence.

excellent customer service1. Offer a positive customer experience.

72% of consumers say customer service is central to brand loyalty.  

 

I mentioned earlier that branding is closely associated with the impression you make as a business. Central to this is offering your customers an all round positive experience from start to finish. Ensuring that your customers experience a seamless journey – from navigating your website, browsing products, using your shopping cart, making a payment, shipping and delivery to exemplary customer service – is essential if your want to building a positive impression and healthy reputation.

2. Use content to build your brand

Authentic, relevant, quality content is integral to building your brand. Content that reflects your brand identity and is relevant to the needs of your customers will build brand engagement, brand loyalty and brand trust.

80% of consumers say that the authenticity of content is the most influential factor in their decision to become a follower of a brand.

Focus on providing a variety of engaging, value added, visual and non-visual content for your customers. For example;

  • Blog posts
  • New articles
  • How to Guides
  • Online Tutorials
  • Webinars
  • Infographics
  • Competitions and Quizzes.

3. Create a brand personality

People prefer to do business with other people. For small business owners your brand personality is likely to be you – it is what you do on behalf of your business. Think about the tone you use when you write, how you interact on with people on the phone, what things you post on social media and what visual images you use. Remember what you are submitting is a reflection of your business and your brand values.

Try using your ‘About Us’ page to give customers a feel for the people behind the business. ‘Meet the team’ or ‘behind the scenes’ can give a face to your business and help people build an emotional connection to your brand. Take a look a Stella and Dot or Riverford’s About Us videos.

Use Social media to build brand awareness4. Use Social Media

71% of people say they are more likely to make a purchase from a brand they follow on social media. 

Social media is a great platform to build awareness of your brand. Firstly consider not only the platforms your target market are likely to be using but also which platforms best support your brand image. For example Facebook is probably a safe starting point for most businesses as it is has huge and diverse audience, if you are heavily imaged based then look at Pinterest and Instagram and if you are B2B then you probably want to be on LinkedIn. The point is to give it some thought before you leap in.

The content you post should reflect your brand image and support your brand values. The more valuable it is to your customers the higher the likelihood is that it will be shared.

5. Brand trust

A successful business with a loyal customer base will have worked hard over time to establish brand trust – think John Lewis, FedEx, Apple and Amazon. As a small business and start-up the best way to start developing brand trust is, as we mentioned earlier in the article, through providing a consistently positive customer experience.

When you are starting out it is also a good idea to include various trust signposts that will signal to new customers that your business is trustworthy. For example:

  • Security logos and Trustmarks
  • Customer testimonials
  • Awards or accolades
  • Customer reviews
  • Transparent information on delivery and returns 
  • Exemplary customer service
  • Easy to find contact details and registered address
  • Links to official organisations and associations

6. Visual identity

Building a recognisable visual identity is essential to establishing a  brand. Firstly create a great logo and use it everywhere. Think also about your visually branding in terms of fonts, colours, style and feel. This should be applied to all your marketing materials both online and offline. If you keep these things consistent you will start to establish visual brand recognition.  It is a good idea to create a set of visual brand guidelines and standards – such as how your logo can be used, what font should be used and the Pantone reference for your brand colours.

7. Be consistent.

brand consistencyApparently it takes between 5-7 brand impressions before someone remembers your brand. Therefore staying consistent is absolutely essential if you want to establish your brand in the mind of customers.  Consistency will reinforce your brand identity making your brand recognisable and differentiating you from your competitors. Mixed messages and inconsistent branding will only leave customers confused about your business with no reason to invest in what you have to offer.

 

 

We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences on building a brand for your small business, so please do leave a comment.