THIS BLOG IS NOW CLOSED

January 25, 2013

Watertight Marketing - by Bryony ThomasThank you for following the Clear Thought blog. It is with much excitement that this blog is now shutting up shop. But, have no fear – the marketing clear thinking continues over at my new website: watertightmarketing.com

This coincides with the publication of my book of the same name. Bringing together my last 16 years of marketing and my last four years of blogging, I have put together a comprehensive, end-to-end guide for anyone who wants to put a marketing operation into their business that supports every step of a sale. If you’re interested in finding out more about this, you can:

Thank you for your company over the last few years. I hope to keep your interest over at the new site.

Bryony ThomasBy Bryony Thomas – a no-nonsense marketer who helps businesses make their marketing pay. Author of Watertight Marketing.
Drop me a line on Twitter: @bryonythomas

 


DO sweat the small stuff

August 9, 2011

MosaicI once had a boss whose favourite saying was “Don’t sweat the small stuff” – it irritated me then, and it irritates me now.

I do, of course, get the gist – we all need to priotitise and focus on what’s important. I also completely agree that 80% on-time can be better than perfect, but late. However, I firmly believe that when it comes to building a strong and consistent reputation for your business, paying attention to small details is extremely important. All the little things come together, a bit like a mosaic, to form the overall picture of your business.

This came to mind yesterday when chatting to a client about their email signature. We’re currently supporting a small business through their first real branding exercise. We’re working with an excellent branding agency and last week the client signed off the key bits and pieces that will form their core material and their brand guidelines.

One of the items on their list to look at was their email signature. A suggestion had been made, but they weren’t keen. It wasn’t displaying well on a Blackberry and the client felt it was unprofessional. It got me to thinking about why we’d come to this later in the process. We’ve looked at letterhead, business cards, handouts, etc… but in many ways their email signature is more important than all of this. It’s seen by clients, prospects, employees, potential employees, suppliers – many times a day, every day. So, it really is important that it looks polished and professional.

If you think about your business from the perspective of what most people encounter, most often, then some of the seemingly small and insignificant things become much more important. And, could probably do with a little consideration and possibly some polish. The sorts of things that come to mind are:

  • Your email signature
  • The way your telephone is answered
  • Your on-hold music
  • The display in your reception area
  • Your invoices and the covering notes that go with them
  • Your login / logout screens for online services
  • Your service emails
  • The spelling, grammar and formatting on your website, emails and day-to-day documents

I’m sure there are many, many more. Naturally, the list for your business will be specific to you. But, it is definitely worth looking at how all these small things come together to create an impression of your business. Look from the outside… how do people make contact? What do they receive from you? How does it look when it arrives with them?

All the little things come together to create the bigger picture. So, I say… DO sweat the small stuff. Just make sure it’s the small stuff that matters – and that’s the stuff that real people, really encounter when dealing with you and your business day-in, day-out.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

You may also be interested in:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Social media marketing has four key tasks…

July 27, 2011

Social media marketing can seem like a bit of a minefield. It can also seem like there’s a dizzying amount to learn before you can even get started. But, it really breaks down into four activities – which are common across almost all the platforms in some way or another. Master these, and broadly speaking, you’ve mastered social media marketing.

Task One: Connect

There is no point saying anything if there’s no one to hear you. Step one is to build up some connections. All the platforms let you connect with other people. On Facebook it’s Friends and Page Likes. On Linkedin it’s Connections and Group Membership. On Twitter, it’s Followers and Followees. On YouTube it’s Subscribers. And, so on. Every platform will give you a facility to connect with other people. Many also allow you to organise those connections according to the type and depth of your relationship with them.

So, your first social media task is to work out who you want to connect with and start to reach out. As a practical to-do, this could be as simple as following up meetings with a Linkedin invitation instead of a ‘lovely to meet you’ email. As you get more sophisticated, you may want to start organising your connections in some way that helps you to assess the relative depth of that relationship. There are some great tips on this from Heather Townsend, author of the FT Guide to Joined Up Networking, in her post ‘When does a contact become a connection?’.

Task Two: Converse

Your second task is to talk to people. Now, I know there are people who use social media in a more of an observer capacity. But, if you’re going to make powerful use of the networking potential, you’ll need to be more active.

So, imagine you went to a networking event and there was a delegate list of 100 people. Would you consider all 100 to be connections of yours after the event? I doubt it. But, the 5 or 6 people who were at your table for lunch, that you chatted to and exchanged cards with – well yes, they are certainly on their way to being a connection. The difference – a two-way exchange. A conversation.

The same is true in social media. To genuinely connect you need to have a chat with people. Mentioning someone or passing on their materials isn’t a two-way chat. A social media conversation would be something like:

  • Someone Tweets a post, you read it and reply asking a follow-up question, they answer your question by reply, and the conversation flows from there.
  • Someone posts a question in a Linkedin group, you answer it, they follow-up saying thank you.
  • You join a structured social media chat like #watercoolermoment on Twitter, or a forum discussion.

Task Three: Share

So, you’ve connected, you’ve started chatting – what next? Well, it’s sharing. Social media is fast replacing search as the way that people find their online resources. I use my social connections as a bit of a filter on the world. They find, read and share great stuff – which means they’ve saved me time in finding it myself. It’s one of the main reasons I follow certain people. And, you need to be that trusted resource for your connections.

Sharing genuinely useful and interesting material shows the breadth of your knowledge, and assuming that a good proportion of what you share is other people’s material, it shows that you are well connected and generous in the credit you give others. A share in social media is something passed on without immediate expectation of anything in return. You just think people will find it useful. And, it is really important that you do it in this spirit. It’s what I call commercial karma, and in my experience goodwill always pays back in spades. So, in social media sharing looks something like this:

  • Posting useful hints and tips that people can access without any login or payment.
  • Posting links to articles you enjoyed or found useful.
  • Posting details of other people’s events or promotions.
  • Posting details of other people’s vacancies, etc.

Task Four: Broadcast

Last, and most definitely least, is broadcasting. And, this is talking about yourself. Now, I’ve put posting your own hints and tips as a share – but don’t over do it. Someone who talks about themselves all the time is really very dull. But, what you really must keep to a minimum is banging on about your products, your services, your awards, or anything where people need to log-in or pay you to access. As a rule of thumb I’d keep this sort of stuff to below 20% of your overall activity. If you’re having conversations and sharing good stuff, sales conversations will happen and you won’t need to force them.

And, of course, you must always listen…

Of course, all of this is predicated on being a good listener. To decide whether you want to follow someone, you need to ‘listen’ (i.e. read back through some of their stuff), to what they have to say. To have a valuable conversation, you need to listen. To know what people would be interested in seeing you share, you need to listen. And, for your broadcast messages to be something people respond to, you have to first listen to what they want.

Whatever the platform, whatever you’re marketing, mastering these four tasks – within the context of being a good listener – will always put you on the front foot in terms of mastering social media marketing for your small business.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

You may also be interested in:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Content Marketing Ideas… GHI

April 28, 2011

Frequent, high quality content, is great for keeping your company front of mind. You can pop a link on your Linkedin status so that you show up in people’s news streams, add the details to your newsletters, or simply add the link to your email footer.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg on what you do with it… however, it’s often coming up with the stuff that proves a challenge. It can be tough to constantly come up with talking points and conversation starters. So, we put our thinking caps on to come up with at least one topic for every letter in the alphabet to get you started. Here are three more ideas to kick you off…

GuestGuests: Inviting a guest to provide content can be a win, win, win. Let’s say one of your clients offers a complementary product or service. They could write you a guest blog, which appears on your site, giving you SEO phrases, conversation starter and a bit of variety, and they also get a bit of exposure. You can also offer your material as guest content to others. And, it’s not just blogs – could you co-host an event or offer a joint promotion?

Hobbies: Does what you do hook into any key hobbies? Do people who enjoy that hobby hang out somewhere specific online, or attend specific events? Can you attend, provide tips, leave comment or theme a product or service to a specific hobby?

Inspiration: Everyone likes to be inspired. Being inspirational isn’t something easily done to order, but talking about something that’s inspired you, or inviting people to do, so can be really engaging. If you’re a business owner, a post about what inspired you to set up your business is usually a good read. Asking others about their inspiration can help you to understand them better too.

See the other posts in this series: ABC | DEF | JKL | MNO | PQR | STU | VWX | YZ

These are just three ideas from amongst 120 that we’ve packed into our 26-page guide, The A-Z of Marketing Thought Starters, available in full to subscribers to our email newsletter.

Please sign-up to get your copy.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Content Marketing Ideas… ABC

April 14, 2011

We talk a lot here about maintaining marketing momentum, and about having a fresh stream of interesting and relevant content to use in social media marketing.

But, it can be tough to constantly come up with talking points and conversation starters. So, we put our thinking caps on to come up with at least one topic for every letter in the alphabet to get you started. Here are just three ideas to kick you off…

Ambitions: Sharing your personal and professional ambitions can do a number of things. Public declarations often help people to focus on making things happen. You will often find people willing to help you with your challenges. And, people often share their ambitions with you in return. It might be that what you do professionally (and for a profit) can help them. Or, you might know someone who could help, and vice versa.

Birthday CakeBirthdays: Birthdays are great – there’s your company’s Birthday, Birthdays of key people in your organisation. You can also use famous Birthdays as a thought starter. Imagine it’s Marilyn Monroe’s Birthday and you run a fashion or jewellery company… what do you think she would have liked as a gift from your catalogue? Who’s famous or influential in your industry – when’s their Birthday and how could you mark it?

Case studies: We can’t emphasise this one enough. Demonstrating what you do with a real case study is an absolute must. Whether it’s business-to-business, or business-to-consumer, people like to hear about the experiences of people like themselves. The ideal format for case studies these days is a video interview – direct from the horse’s mouth. But don’t forget a version that people can print off and read on the train, or turn into a slide for a sales presentation.

See the other posts in this series: DEF | GHI | JKL | MNO | PQR | STU | VWX | YZ

These are just three ideas from amongst 120 that we’ve packed into our 26-page guide, The A-Z of Marketing Thought Starters, available in full to subscribers to our email newsletter.

Please sign-up to get your copy.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


The buying decision – it’s a Quick Step not a Power Walk

April 13, 2011

Dance StepsRegular readers of this blog, or anyone who’s seen me speak, will know that I’m a big fan of the six step model for mapping out a buying decision. That is, when a person is deciding to buy something high value, high risk, or high involvement, they go through six different stages. The particular model we’re fans of here at Clear Thought is one from Kotler that maps a person going through a process a bit like this:

  • Awareness: Knowing who you are and what you do
  • Interest: Seeing something that’s relevant to a thought or issue they’re having
  • Evaluation: Working out if you meet their criteria
  • Trial: Getting a sense of what it’s like to work with you
  • Adoption: Coming on board as a customer
  • Loyalty: Buying more and telling the world how great you are

To ensure a watertight process that delivers solid sales results, the marketer needs to provide a tool or a technique that acts as a stepping stone from one stage to the next all the way through that decision. But, what’s really important to bear in mind is that this process is much more like dancing the Quick Step than it is pounding a Power Walk.

What you’ll find a potential buyer doing is taking two steps forward, one step back, going off to the side, back again, etc. Depending on what you’re selling, this process can take six minutes or six months. What you’ll also find is that you’re rarely the only dance partner they’re flirting with.

So, what does this mean to the marketer? It means that you need to be flexible and responsive to where a person is at any given moment, and give them options to step forwards and backwards elegantly at will. To do this, you need a variety of content and tools at your disposal to bring into play at different times. And, if you need to keep someone dancing for six months, there will be a lot of little steps to move them through the whole process.

In practice, this means having a regular stream of activity made up of a mix that spans the whole process, for example:

  • Awareness: Press coverage, social media reach, referrals, networking
  • Interest: Blogs, how-to guides, snappy videos, email newsletters
  • Evaluation: Case studies, lengthier papers, web seminars
  • Trial: Demonstrations, hosted events, pilot programmes, free trials
  • Adoption: Hospitality, proposals, contracts, personal selling
  • Loyalty: All of the above in the context of a relationship

It’s also important to note that you may not know where someone is in their decision. This is particularly true if you have a larger audience, or if people buy online without talking to someone. They may only be a number on your web analytics until they pick up the phone or pop in their credit card details. So, you need to make sure that appropriate fresh material is there when they want it… which might be at any time.

This is just one of the reasons that your small business needs to maintain your marketing momentum. You really don’t want to drop someone half way through a dance. It’s not a great way to win Strictly and it’s certainly not a great way to win a customer.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If you liked this, you may also enjoy the following:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Are you sacrificing relevance for convenience?

April 4, 2011

RobotI used to find the news stream in Linkedin really useful and interesting. People posted something new about what they were up to, an article they’d written or something else work related once or twice a week. Then, along came the function to run your Tweets into Linkedin status and bang went much of the relevance I previously found when logging in to Linkedin. It got me thinking, with so many services now allowing you to pre-schedule and merge various streams of activity – where’s the balance between relevance and convenience?

We’re not averse to a little time-saving and pre-planning in your social media marketing. Far from it. We’re big advocates of  effective use of the excellent systems that allow you to set-up various social media interactions ahead of time. Perfect if you have half an hour in the week when you can focus on this.

For example:

  • Scheduling Tweets to go out at intervals throughout the week.
  • Scheduling a blog post to go live when you’re out of the office.
  • Setting your emails to go out at times appropriate to the time zone of the recipient.

However, as with so much marketing science and technology – there’s an art to getting it right. We advise all our clients to think carefully about the balance between automated and real interaction.

What’s the problem with social media automation?

It’s not very friendly…

There is a danger in automating all of your activity. The whole point of social media is to be sociable. It’s an excellent medium for expressing a bit of personality and humour. And, it really is true that people buy from people they like, so being friendly and approachable is a key ingredient in effective marketing.

This is precisely why you need to take care with automation… most people don’t find robots very friendly. It’s well worth making sure that you don’t come across as one. If you have too much automated activity, your company risks being seen as a bit cold and mechanical.

You miss the chance to respond…

The other great thing about social media is that you can chat with people. You know, have a conversation. This means being there to pick up on a thread and converse with someone in that moment. If you’re only ever scheduling your activity, you miss this golden opportunity.

Let’s give an example. I often see Tweets as status updates in Linkedin, and I reply to them, also in Linkedin. But, because the sender used Twitter to post the comment, they forget to check the other places they’ve automated it to go out… missing out on the chance to pick up a thread in the other settings. And, of course, if you don’t spot a reply until hours later, you can bet that the responder has moved on from whatever they dropped you a line about earlier. You also miss people asking questions or mulling something over, where you could’ve given a highly relevant response.

You lose track of which audience wants what…

If your Tweets stream into Linkedin and the other way around, then I assume you’re completely happy for both audiences to get exactly the same material?

Personally, I’m not sure about this. My Linkedin connections, who see my status updates, are all professional contacts – who I doubt are interested in some of the lighter banter I put on Twitter. If they are, they can connect with me in both places. I keep them slightly separate. On Linkedin, I’m imagining that people are in a work frame of mind. On Twitter, I imagine that there are those who are at work, but I also know that many people use Twitter as a lighter distraction at lunchtime or in breaks – so I’m in a bit more of a break room mode in that context. The same is true of Facebook and other platforms – people are likely to be in different contexts and mindsets in different settings.

Adapting your material to suit a specific audience is a cornerstone of good marketing practice that shouldn’t be lost in the system.

What to automate and what to personalise

We think that the following things are perfectly reasonable for an automated approach:

  • Event reminders in the lead up to a specific date.
  • Opening and closing times.
  • Service announcements (like maintenance schedule, etc.)
  • Links to blog articles from your back catalogue.
  • ‘Did you know’ fact-style items.

We’re not so sure the following should be automated:

  • Anything with a question mark in it… as it’s inviting a response and you should be there to respond.
  • Jokes, again… they normally get a response and can be the starting point for a conversation.
  • Replies… automated replies in social media are really irritating.

And of course, you just can’t automate those happy accidents, when you spark up a conversation with someone. A conversation that often becomes a relationship… that in time brings you a fabulous new customer.

So, take a moment to look at your small business’ approach to social media automation to see if you’re coming across as a robot at times, or if your content is inadvertently cropping up in the wrong context.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If you liked this, you may also enjoy the following:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


How to structure a marketing budget

March 14, 2011

Many of the small businesses we encounter have an adhoc approach to marketing expenditure – simply responding to marketing opportunities as they come along, deciding at that moment whether they have the funds available.

marketing budgetWhether you’re spending £100 or £1m, we firmly believe that having some structure to where you put each penny will help you to:

  • Make sensible decisions about where to spend your money.
  • Track whether your spend is worth it in the long term.
  • Avoid nasty surprises in the form of unexpected costs.
  • Ensure you don’t run out of cash half way through the year.

We look at marketing spend from three angles when working out a budget. The first is in allocating appropriate spend to each step of the buying decision to make sure you have a watertight set-up. The second is in working out your minimum baseline, and lastly making sure you have flex options.

Budgeting across the buying decision

shape of a marketing budget

My previous post ‘What shape is your marketing budget‘ outlined a step by step process for mapping marketing techniques against each step of a buying decision. This is a powerful planning approach gives you a stepping stone that takes someone from initial awareness right through to profitable loyalty. By looking at what task each marketing technique fulfils, and the level of influence it has at each step of the process, you end up with a template for apportioning your marketing money across the whole buying decision. This is the first step to structuring an effective marketing budget for your small business.

Establishing your baseline

Regular readers will know that we bang on about maintaining marketing momentum. If you market yourself in peaks and troughs, your business will have the same stop-start rhythm to it. Not only is this approach exhausting, it’s wasteful and ineffective. You’re much better off to establish a baseline set of marketing activities that you undertake consistently. Things that will happen, come what may. I’d go so far as to say that I’d rather most businesses spent less on marketing, if they only did so consistently. Marketing is like exercise, it pays off most if you take a little and often approach (rather than binge and purge). So, there are three things to consider when establishing your marketing budget baseline:

How much can you afford to spend every month for a year?

Whilst larger businesses might have the luxury of a more strategic approach to budgeting, in a small business setting, working out what you know you can commit to spend every month is a good starting point. As a rule of thumb, across the few hundred businesses I’ve encountered in my marketing career, 3% of revenue is about what companies spend to maintain market share, and 5% of targeted revenue is a sensible marketing budget if you’re going for growth.

What’s the ‘silver’ level spend for each step?

Having undertaken the budget shaping exercise, we typically look at each step in the buying process and work out a Bronze / Silver / Gold pricing level for each one. By which I mean, what’s the minimum, ideal, and luxury version of each technique. Let’s take PR as an example. Bronze is you buying a book on PR and putting aside a day per quarter to generate some press coverage; ideal might be retaining the services of a freelance PR expert one day per month; and, the luxury approach might be upping that time and supplementing with regular original research to generate your own headlines. For case studies, bronze might be a simple write up on your website; silver might be a professional video with your client; and, gold might be a high profile speaking event at which your client shares the stage with you. Once you’ve worked this out for the techniques that make up your watertight marketing operation, we suggest you go for Silver if you can, which gives you a baseline for your marketing activity.

Make allowances for maintenance

Most nasty surprises can be avoided with a little bit of forethought. When it comes to marketing budgets, the key area that people forget is in maintaining things like their brand, website, event material, printed stock, etc. Of these, I’d say brand and websites are the biggest culprits. Often a business feels that they’ve ticked this job off. Let’s say you have a new website built in one financial year, you’d be naive to think you’ll never need to spend money on it again. Foundation pieces in a marketing toolkit (brand, website, database, collateral, etc.) should be treated a bit like an employee (with a salary, training budgets) – you’ll need to nurture and maintain them to keep them well-oiled.

Pre-planning some flexibility

There’s nothing more predictable than the fact that there will be things you can’t anticipate. So, plan for it. There are two key ways of doing this:

Have a contingency budget

Put aside an affordable amount for unplanned expenses or opportunities. Interestingly, it’s the opportunities this really matters for. Most small businesses will find money for an emergency if they really need to. But, having a pot of cash to dip into to maximise on a marketing opportunity is never urgent, so is less likely to actually happen. Things will come up, like an ‘issues jump’ in PR, or a great event you hadn’t spotted. And, if not, you can always put the money towards a really innovative Christmas campaign at the end of the year.

What’s the step up or step down?

You’ve already done the hard part on this by working out Gold / Silver / Bronze options. This means that if you’re above or below target in terms of income you can change tack to the lower or higher level alternative. With our clients, we call this this the A, B, C activity plan. Each quarter, we review our cash position to decide which plan we go with for the quarter ahead. This maintains marketing momentum, whilst flexing the budget. If you don’t have this to hand, you’ll often find that an arbitrary decision is taken to cut something at about the level you need to save – which can leave you with a hole in your sales funnel. Or, conversely, if you find that pot of gold, you can end up doing something frivolous, rather than augmenting what you’re already doing.

So, there it is… our recommended three steps to structuring an effective small business marketing budget. We hope you find it useful.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If you liked this, you may also enjoy the following:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Pricing experiment – was it worth it?

March 10, 2011

So, we’re a fortnight on from running our first ever ‘pay what you think it’s worth‘ event. And, the burning question is – was it worth it?

We’ve run a handful of public workshops over the last 18 months, with varying success. And, I wanted to test a few things out and make a decision as to whether an open training offer was a good idea for Clear Thought. Our consultancy work is specifically for medium-sized businesses. Typically 20+ employees with a seven figure turnover.

But, we get lots of enquiries and newsletter sign-ups from smaller businesses and sole traders who need the same advice, but don’t have pockets to match. Open workshops is an obvious way of meeting this need, where we can impart more generic advice for them to take back to their businesses.

We’ve tried pricing full-day workshops from £95 to £250. And, we’ve achieved groups of between 5 and 15 people. I wanted to see if we could get more of a crowd, and work out what people are willing to pay.

First off, we teamed up with a complementary expert, Lee Cottier from Think Productive, to add some further value. Having identified that time is often what holds small businesses back from marketing, we felt that combining a workshop with what you should do and how to make time for it would be particularly beneficial. Then, we decided to be bold on the pricing. We went for a £5 booking fee, and then a top-up after the event of their choice. The rationale was that their top-up payments would give us a benchmark on pricing.

Did people like the idea?

Yes! We were aiming for 20 people. We had 26 people register and 24 people turn up on the day. That’s an increase on the numbers that we’ve previously attracted to public workshops. So, I think the low fee definitely reduced a few barriers.

In terms of the day itself, it was the first time we had presented this specific content, so it was a bit experimental. Indeed, I think we felt more able to be experimental because of the fee structure. The majority of attendees gave glowing feedback. The couple who were less effusive felt that they suffered from information overload. All of the people who took the time to feedback gave us really constructive ideas for enhancement too, which is really valuable in itself.

Some of the comments received:

“As a business owner responsible for marketing in a competitive environment, I found the workshop very motivational and easy to grasp. It helped me feel excited again about ‘getting out there’ and whilst I have knowledge of marketing techniques it was great to come away with new ideas and to be reminded of how a simple framework and ‘little and often’ efforts make it all manageable when trying to juggle the to-do list.”

“A very professionally delivered overview of the science, practicalities and etiquette of marketing. With some great practical tips.”

“I thought overall the workshop worked well, but I think there was perhaps too much content for the time allocated. There seemed a constant rush to move onto the next point rather than develop the current one. I appreciate that there is always a balance to be struck between detail and volume, but personally I would have preferred slightly less content but more detail and time spent on each recommendation raised. I thought the handouts were excellent though; very precise and informative.”

Did we make any money?

If we don’t count the time that Lee and I put into preparing the material and presenting on the day, then yes. We made a very small three figure sum. Of the 24 people who came along, 15 have paid a top-up fee to date. So, with a bit of gentle nudging we might get this figure up. If we do count our time, then we made a whopping loss! Providing we re-use the material, then we’re ok with that.

What have we learnt?

Here’s a summary of the learning from this experiment:

  • Perfect for testing: It’s a great model for testing new workshop ideas. You feel more able to be experimental and people seem more willing to give more detailed feedback, perhaps in lieu of payment.
  • Great for awareness: The pricing approach made promoting the event much easier. It gave us a hook for a press release which was well covered locally, and it was picked up virally in social media.
  • Gets the numbers up: As an addition the the awareness point, you will get more people in the room. So, an event like this would work well as a way of marketing your business.
  • It’s not a money spinner: You won’t make your millions this way. People will use it as a way of getting a freebie.
  • Get IOUs on the day: We followed up with an email afterwards, I think we would have had more top-ups if we had asked people to complete an ‘I owe you’ on the day. This would also reduce PayPal fees, and follow-up admin.
  • An add-on purchase: The event would have been perfect for driving people to purchase some online materials as a follow-up, like an eBook or deeper self-serve online training.
  • Benchmark price: I think  it’s around the £100 mark for micro businesses. Between £250 – £500 for larger businesses.

Would we do it again?

Yes. I’m thinking about an event with this pricing structure quarterly. Perhaps with different complementary experts each time. But, before we do I’m going to spend some time working on those add-on purchases to make sure that there’s less of a hole in our bucket. After all, I really should practice what I preach!

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


How to hire a social media consultant as part of your marketing strategy

February 24, 2011

This is a guest post from Chris Street, aka Bristol Editor. With many of our clients struggling to find time to do the doing on social media marketing for their small business, we asked Chris what he thinks a client should be looking for if they choose to outsource this to a social media consultant.

Social Media MarketingChances are, if you’re a marketing agency director, PR agency account director, solo entrepreneur, or marketing director of a small to medium-sized business, you’ll have been dipping into social media platforms and hopefully getting engaged by now.

One of the biggest issues I regularly come across for those involved with, or looking to get involved, with social media for business usage is that of not having enough time to do it thoroughly, or not having enough expertise to get engaged effectively.

Agencies, in particular, are having trouble providing powerful social media services for their demanding clients – as they are so busy doing the daily stuff, many have been left well behind the curve on blogging, social media, and micro-blogging developments.

Solution? Hire a social media consultant. Well, yes, but the starting point should always be from the position of having a full marketing plan in place. Executing a social media campaign without the appropriate marketing strategy in place is tantamount to commercial suicide.

With a solid marketing plan in place, it is often advisable in the early stages of executing social media messages on behalf of your company, your products and your services shouldn’t be a daunting task.

Hiring in the right social media consultant to guide you through, however, can be a fraught experience if you’re unsure what to look for.

Here’s a few tips from me on how to hire well – or, to put it another way, my…

6 P’s of things to look for when hiring your social media consultant

Remember, it’s their job to make you look absolutely brilliant online, and draw attention to your door:

1. Passionate
Is the social media consultant passionate about social media? Are they passionate about getting you results on social media platforms? Can they demonstrate their passion for social media? I give all new clients full access to my social media profiles.

2. Professional
Is the social media consultant professional in their outlook to social media platforms? Have they delivered professionally for other businesses and agencies on a variety of relevant social media platforms? Is their own social media presence professional? My social media presence is consistent across a number of social media platforms.

3. Prompt
Is the social media consultant prompt in the social media presence? Are they blogging, tweeting and adding powerful content promptly, consistently and with a proven track record? Is their social media promptness provable for other existing clients? I’ve been blogging since 2005 and engaging businesses across the social media environment ever since. I tweet daily and blog weekly – without fail.

4. Personable
Is the social media consultant personable? Is it apparent that they have a social and professional personality which will translate well for your business or rosta of agency clients, if you put them in front of them? Is their personality appropriate for social media engagement on your behalf? As an editor of more than a decade, I’ve interviewed and worked with pretty much every personality type you can imagine. And, yes, some of them were a nightmare. The majority, however, were fantastic.

5. Practical
Is the social media consultant a practical deliverer? Can you see a track record of ‘sleeves rolled up’ by them? Are you confident that they will work hard, consistently and diligently on your behalf on social media platforms? I always deliver personally, not via a team abroad. My charges are based on a personal, practical, 1-to-1 working relationship.

6. Price
Now, although we’re all looking for a bargain, is your social media consultant too cheap? After all, if they charge peanuts, what do you think the results will be? Are you looking for a cheap, non-effective social media presence, or have you allocated a workable budget for your social media consultant to deliver on your behalf? I usually charge a (reasonable) set day rate and take it from there. It’s not cheap, but it saves the client time, energy and effort they can then spend more profitably elsewhere.

With a solid marketing strategy in place, hiring an effective social media consultant should be a painless, time-effective and productive addition to your contemporary marketing ix.

But remember – none of this acts in isolation. Nothing beats an integrated, multi-channel approach to modern marketing. Relying on social media mediums only is limiting the success of your potential marketing reach.

Ensure that your products and services are working across multiple marketing channels. Monitor and measure them all, and ensure your social media consultant is working alongside your overall marketing aims and objectives for the campaign or campaigns you have in place.

With the right consultancy, social media should prove to be a powerful weapon in your ongoing marketing arsenal for 2011 and beyond.

Bristol EditorChris Street has more than 12 years’ experience delivering within online and offline media, and worked as a features editor and business editor for Northcliffe Newspaper Group at the Bristol Evening Post offices in his early editorial career. Previous projects have included editing business magazines, Managing Editor for a Bristol-based publishing firm, launching online portals for corporates in the City, managing blogs for businesses since 2005, delivering media relations strategies for companies including Apple and Mitel Networks, copywriting for firms such as NFU Mutual and Calor Gas, as well as launching social media service divisions for digital marketing and PR agencies nationwide. You can find out more about him at www.bristoleditor.co.uk.


Three clients we won through Linkedin

February 15, 2011

Online networking is close to the top of my list of tips for businesses that want their marketing budgets to go further. And, in a business-to-business context LinkedIn is probably top of my list of specific platforms to master. Whether you’re a sole trader or freelancer, a small business stretching a modest marketing budget, or a sales person in a large corporate, time spent on LinkedIn can definitely be a profitable investment.

I see scepticism from many quarters. Many people don’t believe that senior decision-makers can be reached in this way, or that any projects with significant fees attached are ever discussed in these settings. So, here are three specific examples of clients I’ve secured for my marketing consultancy business through leads that originated in LinkedIn. The cumulative fee income across these clients stands at over £170,000. And, here’s how they came our way…

Responding to a group discussion: Clear Thought completed a 12-month marketing transformation for small business ISP, Gradwell in December 2009. They were our very first client. The lead for this major project came from LinkedIn. Managing director, Peter Gradwell, posted a discussion in LinkedIn group for marketers in Bath & Bristol, to which I responded. He then invited three of the respondents to present in person, from which we were appointed.  (See full case study)

Showing up in advanced search: Another of our 12-month clients, Connect Assist, also came to us as a lead through LinkedIn. The company CEO picked up the phone to his chairman to talk through their requirement for strategic marketing consultancy. He, in turn, spoke to his public relations consultant. She recognised that to fulfil the requirement she needed some strategic marketing input and used LinkedIn to search for ‘marketing strategy’ within 20 miles of Bath. My profile came up and she dropped me a line via the website that was listed on my profile. We submitted a successful joint proposal, and have subsequently been retained to oversee a marketing transformation programme. (See case study)

Staying in touch with old contacts: Those are both examples of leads from previously unknown contacts. But, don’t discount people you’ve known for a while. One of our smaller strategic marketing projects was a start-up launch for events compliance specialists, Relevant Risk. This project came our way from a contact I’d stayed in touch with – MD, Alison McDougall, since her previous company delivered an event for my team when I was marketing director at Experian. When we made contact on LinkedIn, I wasn’t running Clear Thought, and she wasn’t running Relevant Risk. Following my LinkedIn status updates through the news feed as a connection, Alison had seen our case studies, blogs and service updates, and that one of her ex-employees was now with us – and when the time came to launch her business, she got back in touch. (See case study)

So, how’s your Linkedin profile looking? Is it working hard enough for your business?

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Pay us what you think it’s worth – a pricing experiment

January 20, 2011

So, if it’s good enough for Radiohead, posh London restaurants, and local entrepreneur Robert Craven

For our next training event, The One Day Marketing Plan, we’re trialling a bold approach to pricing.

A very bold approach.

You buy yourself a £5 entry pass (which doesn’t even cover the cost of the lunch) and after the event we’ll follow-up asking people to pay us what they think the day was worth.

Why are we doing it?

There are a few reasons. Not least that we simply wanted to take money out of the equation. The workshop itself shows people how to invest time, rather than money, in marketing their small business. And so, the ‘pay us what you think it’s worth’ underlines the point, all people need give up is their time.

Secondly, we wanted something interesting to talk about… and putting our heads on the block like this is certainly something to talk about. There are loads of training courses people can go to, and whilst we’re confident that our content stands us apart, the pricing strategy certainly does!

Lastly, the experiment will help us to understand what people are really willing to pay. Granted, a few people will no doubt use the option to get themselves a cheap day’s training. But, we’re hoping that most will give us a genuine view of what they’re happy to pay. This will tell us whether these events are worth putting on again in future, and at what price.

Are we crazy?

Possibly. The workshop is a full day run by two experts in their field – each with hefty day-rates for their consultancy services. We also need to spend time preparing the material, promoting the event, etc. And, of course there are the venue costs. Depending on numbers, if this backfires, we’ll be standing to lose between £200-600 in venue fees… and upwards of £2,000 in opportunity cost.

Would you like to know how it goes?

So, it’s an experiment. We’re going to give it a go. Keep an eye out towards the end of February, when I will write up the results – warts and all.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Who do you connect with on Linkedin?

January 18, 2011

We’re big fans of Linkedin, and using it is high on our list of top tips for effective small business marketing. But, the way that people use it seems to be changing and I’m wondering (out loud) what the criteria should be for connecting with someone.

Linkedin invitesThe system tells me that I first set-up my online presence with Linkedin on 9th August 2004. Since then, I’ve diligently invited people with whom I have a genuine professional connection, i.e. they were a colleague, a client, a supplier or someone I’d met in a professional capacity. Of my 600+ connections, there are fewer than 20 who would not immediately know me if I were to pick up the phone. It really is my ‘little black book’ of people I know and could call on in a professional capacity.

So, along comes Twitter and the social networking frenzy, and up goes the number of pretty random Linkedin invitations. I probably get 5 or more invitations a week, with little more than the auto-generated text by way of introduction, from people I’ve shared a discussion with in one of the groups, or exchanged a few tweets on Twitter. And, I’m not sure what I think about these invitations. I tend to drop them a line back explaining that to keep my social media manageable and authentic I keep Linkedin for people with whom I have a genuine professional relationship. It’s not to say that there aren’t people who I’ve originally met through Twitter, subsequently formed a more solid business relationship, and then added to Linkedin – but surely there has to be a difference between people you chat to on wider social platforms, like Twitter, and people who become a Linkedin connection?

What do you think? How do you decide who to connect with on Linkedin these days? Am I maintaining my professional integrity or missing out on great new connections?

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Plan ahead to keep your marketing content current

January 4, 2011

In an always-on, socially-connected, world – keeping your marketing content fresh and up-to-date is really important. Whether it’s your latest blog, a timely offer, a themed promotion or competition – having something that is current means that your business looks up-to-date and on-the-ball. And, for social media interaction, always has something to hand to get conversations started.

Plan AheadA bit of pre-planning can help you achieve this. It might sound strange, but you really can get the bones of a content plan in place for the next 12-months right now. Then, closer to the time you won’t be faced with one the scariest things in the world… a blank sheet of paper!

So, for businesses in the UK, here’s a 2011 rundown of marketing thought starters for the next twelve months.

January: Fresh starts, resolutions and planning the year ahead

How about issuing a year-ahead calendar of key dates in your industry, or making some predictions for the year ahead? January can be a great month for offering introductory sessions, or year-ahead planning tools.

February: A month for lovers and relationships

With Valentine’s Day falling in February, many can use the day to offer related merchandise and offers. Even if your business has nothing to do with love… you could use the theme to talk about effective relationships, or commercialism…

March: Tax planning, green shoots, Mother’s Day and official start to Spring

For many businesses the end of the tax year also marks the end of their own financial year. For anyone in a B2B context, this offers an opportunity to start a conversation. What could you offer to help their year-end go more smoothly, or to plan for the next financial year? The Spring theme of green shoots can serve as a conversation starter in any business.

April: New financial year, bank holidays and a royal wedding

April marks the beginning of a new tax year, and often brings in new company rules or taxation – is there something you do that could help people with this? Do you provide services that can help people through the Easter Bank Holidays – like phone answering, or childcare? Easter Egg hunts can be lots of fun. And, of course, if you run out of ideas you can always get in on wedding fever… what with Prince William’s nuptials falling at the end of the month.

May: More holidays and a referendum

May sees more Bank Holidays, issuing tips on productivity to manage the workload around holidays, or technology tips for out of hours services can be really helpful. Alternatively, how about thinking up some fun stuff people could try on their days off. Oh yes, and we’ll be asked to vote on voting… I’m sure there’s a blog in that somewhere.

June: Festival season, Father’s Day and fancy hats

With Glastonbury King amongst them, June is the busiest month for music festivals. You could issue packs of festival merchandise, survival guides or ideas for fun alternatives for those not going, or not interested. There’s also Father’s Day, and Royal Ascot amongst other diary dates.

July: Wimbledon finals, summer sun, barbecues (hopefully!)

Will we see a British Champion? Possibly… but either way, there’s always something to comment on, from the price of strawberries to the choice of footwear. It might also be time to think about holiday planning guides, offers, and the ultimate BBQ pack.

August: School holidays, holiday ideas, the last bank holiday of summer

August can be a tough month for anyone trying to hold down a full time job and entertain children on their school holidays. Anything you can do to help them will go down well… activity packs, ideas for cheap days out, etc.

September: Conference season and back to school

September is when things seem to get serious again. Back to school is perennial theme that will have mileage for some businesses. And, with the political parties and trade unions starting their conference season, there’s sure to be something worth talking about.

October: Conferences continue, clocks go back, Autumnal colours, ghosts and ghouls

As the nights draw in helpful reminders on the time shift, or ideas for the extra hour can be useful. Photo competitions as the trees put on their Autumn show can be great, and Halloween provides an opportunity for a bit of fun.

November: Fireworks, warmth, and remembrance

With Winter in full swing, tips on keeping warm and reducing energy bills often gain coverage. And, of course, there’s bonfire night to light up the skies. It’s also a time to remember, with Armistice Day, the Royal Legion Poppy appeal and remembrance Sunday.

December: Retrospectives and festivities

A time for looking back and learning lessons. ‘Best of’ lists can be a real winner, as well thinking about what you’ve learned from the the year just gone. And, of course the festive season provides ample talking points from snow, elves, gifts, family, people less fortunate and so much more.

These are common themes that most businesses could use as a starting point. The idea is not to trot out the same old lines, but to have a think about an original angle on something that is already currently front of mind. It would also make sense to map out any key dates important to your industry – awards dates, key events, etc. and think about how you could use heightened awareness to get a conversation started. Get ahead, plan it now! So, if you’re ever stuck for an idea… start here.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Top 10 Small Business Marketing Tips of 2010

December 20, 2010

So, it’s that time of year again… when we take a look at Google to tell us which of our small business marketing articles have been most enjoyed in the past year.

According to unique page views, the following blog posts from the marketing Clear Thinkers have been the most popular of 2010. It seems that lists of 10 and three are your favourite formats, and that blogs we wrote last year are still going strong giving relevant advice to small business marketers every day.

How much should you pay a marketing consultant?

Marketing ConsultantsA post from Bryony looking at typical day rates for marketing providers, what you should expect for your money and top tips for making sure you’re getting sensible advice. The post includes questions to ask to make sure you’re getting value for money.

How to write a marketing brief

Marketing BriefAn ever-popular blog from Cheryl, penned last year, but no less relevant today – giving you a 10 step guide to writing a marketing brief to significantly increase your chances of getting great work from your marketing suppliers.

 

Three reasons to present as a team

Inclusive LanguageIn this post Cheryl explains how using inclusive language can provide three critical benefits; maintaining team morale, enabling succession planning, and reducing customer churn. She goes on to provide five key tips for a more inclusive brand tone of voice.

One piece of content, 20 ways to use it

Recycling Marketing ContentAnother popular article that has stood the test of time since being written last year. Bryony lists 20 ways to squeeze extra value from a single piece of marketing content. Useful advice for anyone wanting to make their marketing budget, and product messages, go further.

10 signs that your business needs strategic marketing advice

Marketing StrategyIt can be hard to wade through the mass of marketing advice, most of which is highly tactical. This may be useful in day-to-day execution, but it won’t do the trick if you’re trying to fill a strategic gap. Bryony outlines 10 signs that your small business is suffering the effects of a poor (or non existent) marketing strategy.

10 marketing resolutions for a new decade

Marketing ResolutionsIn our very first blog on 2010, Cheryl outlined 10 areas of focus to getting your small business marketing onto solid foundations. If you didn’t do these this year, why not make them your list for 2011?

10 tips for proofreading marketing content

ProofreadingIt’s amazing the judgements people will make about your business on the basis of a simple typo. Avoid embarrassment and damage to your small business reputation with these 10 proofreading tips from Cheryl.

What should you include in a professional profile?

Content MarketingIn a socially-networked business world your professional profile may be the first thing people see, is it up to scratch? Bryony asks key questions and lists the core items that you should include in the professional profiles of all your key people.

Three ideas for the back of your business card

Business CardThe back of your business card is valuable space – what are you using yours for? In this highly practical post, Bryony provides three ideas to turn the back of your business card into a powerful marketing tool.

 

Mind your meta data – how hidden web copy impacts social media success

Website Meta DataOne of our more technical posts, Bryony takes a moment to explain how incomplete or irrelevant meta data on your small business website can seriously hamper your success in social media marketing.

We’re delighted that you’ve continued to enjoy, use and share our blog posts in 2010, and we look forward to giving you more essential small business marketing tips and advice in 2011.

Please do use the comment function below if there are any specific marketing questions you’d like us to address next year.

Blog posts are by Cheryl Crichton and Bryony Thomas | Marketing Clear Thinkers | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | www.clear-thought.co.uk

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


The marketing confessions of a window cleaner

December 13, 2010

You never really know where your next new business opportunity will come from. But, what’s certain is that the more conversations you have about what you do, the more opportunities you’ll uncover.

And so…
Window Cleaner…I recently changed my window cleaner from a traditional ‘ladder-and-sponge’ type of service to a small business offering a ‘hot-filtered-water-up-a-giant-brush-on-a-pole’ service. This was more to do with the fact that it was the only service on offer in my area, but that’s not the point.

The point is that I got chatting the tradesman about the difference in his method and the old ‘flat-cap-Joe’ type. I asked him why he thought his system was better, and whether he was a franchise or not (he had decent kit, a smart uniform and a professionally branded van).

He commented that these weren’t the normal type of questions he gets from his customers, but he explained his set-up anyway, and by return asked what I did for a living.

I told him. We help small businesses with big ambitions to get their marketing sorted.

It was right then, I watched him have a light bulb moment. He told me that the couple that ran the franchise were developing a new business proposition on a national scale, and were currently considering its marketing. Hum! ‘Interesting’ I thought.

To cut a long story short…
The outcome of our chat was that he put me in touch with said business owners. A week later we were having a new business meeting about how Clear Thought could help their business grow with some marketing clear thinking.

This could happen to anyone, whether you are the service provider, or service user. A new business opportunity could materialise at any moment, from any direction, and without warning.

How I was ready
I know that not everyone is naturally chatty (those who’ve met me will know that I am), but in case you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s some tips on being better prepared:

  1. Always have a practiced short summary about your business memorised (an elevator pitch). This means that at a moment’s notice, and without hesitation, you will always be able to talk about exactly what it is that your business does.
  2. Always have a pre-prepared selection of questions that will help you find out more about the kind of things that might be on their mind. Then you can deduce if your product or service can help them. Sometimes just asking the right questions can turn a casual chat into a serious conversation.
  3. Be totally up-to-date with your back-catalogue of literature or online content. Now you can easily point them at a relevant article or case study to substantiate your proposition (I also keep business cards all over the house, my hand bag and my briefcase which point people at our website in particular).

And finally…
Being a small business ourselves, finding leads and turning them into sales is always on a Clear Thinker’s mind. It’s what we preach and it’s what we practice.

I’ve heard sales trainers tell people to “always be selling” – I’m not sure I agree. If someone really isn’t buying then you’ll quickly become a bore and party invites will dry up pretty smartish. I’d say it’s “always be listening” and if there’s a genuine interest and opportunity, be ready to have a conversation. Because from conversations come opportunities, and from opportunities come sales.

Cheryl Crichton, Marketing ExpertBy Cheryl Crichton | Associate Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @cherylcrichton | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

For more small business marketing tips, particularly on networking – you may like these:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Reduce, re-use, recycle – a philosophy for small business marketing

December 1, 2010

The three Rs of the green movement can just as easily apply to effective small business marketing. Keeping these three things in mind if you’re a small business with ambitious growth plans can help your precious funds go further.

Reduce: find your key messages and stick to them

Efficient MarketingSaying less, more often, is the key to being heard. If you are consistently associated with specific things, then your company will be front of mind when that thing pops into someone’s head. If your business says one thing one day, another thing another day, then people are less likely to have a clear idea of what your company actually does.

Groups of three work well:

  • What are the three things you want to be known for?
  • What three core subjects is your company the expert for?
  • Decide what they are and stick to them.

You can talk around the subject, but you need to stay broadly on the topic. To give you an idea our three are: 1) Marketing that supports every step of the sales process, 2) Squeezing every penny from every marketing pound, and, 3) Marketing for business growth.

Re-use: the art of ‘pimping’ your content

Intelligent re-use of marketing content has three key benefits: 1) It helps you get more from your marketing budget, 2) It means that people see your message repeated multiple times so it’s more likely to stick, and, 3) It extends your reach by appealing to people who like to consume different media formats (some people like print, some video, some audio, etc.).

This is what John Watton, CMO of Shipserv and 2010 B2B Marketer of the Year, calls this “pimping your content”. And, he’s a master of it. Watch and learn people, watch and learn.

Recycle: if they haven’t seen it, you can use it again, and again

A campaign mindset puts perfectly good ideas out to pasture when they have plenty more life in them. It’s wasteful of the ideas and it’s wasteful of the investment.

Let’s imagine that you run a campaign that includes a great paper written by one of your top experts, you then invite people to a live web seminar with the expert in question. A great lead generation activity. But, just because you’ve done it once, why does that mean you can’t do it again? Why not roll it over every 12 weeks, sending the details to new contacts you’ve made in that time frame? Firstly, they probably don’t even know that you did it before. Secondly, if they do – they almost certainly don’t care. Mailchimp run the same live webinars every week, and it works well for them because they find a new audience each time.

What’s even better these days is that you can set this up to run itself. Using an ‘autoresponder’ or triggered campaign means that you can set-up a whole series of content that is released in a given time period. People sign-up and the system feeds the campaign out to that person from that day. They specify the start time, not you.

So, take a look through your marketing back catalogue… what can you reduce, re-use or recycle?

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Is social media participation determined by personality types?

November 23, 2010

Neil DennyThis is a guest post by Neil Denny, lawyer and social media trainer. We’ve noticed that some people seem like social media naturals, whilst others are immediately sceptical, bordering on hostile. Talking it through with Neil, he wondered if personality types could help us understand how people are likely to participate in social media.

Speaking to groups about social media often elicits fairly fixed responses ranging from the curious to the strongly opposed, from the enthusiastic to the cool.

I recently held a facilitated discussion between lawyers, mediators and financial advisers. Exploring the full range of reactions proved to be quite a challenge. The thought occurred to me whether that maybe each profession had different responses or considerations relating to social media.

I was not convinced that was the problem. Some of the financial advisers were very keen, some were not, and it was the same with lawyers and mediators.

I then got to thinking about personality typing, about Myers-Briggs, Insights, Social Styles, Disc profiling or any of the others.

Could responses to social media participation be mapped out in accordance with similar traits?

If we borrowed a grid to map people along an assertiveness axis, say, and an emotional/expressiveness axis then could we better anticipate how people interact with social media and social media training?

Let us assume that someone who is not assertive, and not particularly expressive is likely to be very quiet and reserved. They are going to be slow to put themselves forward or get online. In training it is likely that they will want to access the information being delivered in plenty of time and consider if fully. And very carefully. They are going to be the slow adopters. Give them a Yammer account to acclimatize.

A gung-ho, inspirational piece of motivation wizardry will only arouse suspicion. We need to go slow, show success stories and explain how the success was achieved.

Now what of the non-assertive, but expressive types? Sometimes these might be referred to as green types. Their sensitivity and willingness to share emotions can make them key team players, but their lack of assertiveness means that they are not natural leaders or managers.

Within social media, they are likely to want to keep control of who accesses their profiles. Privacy may well be a concern, and even an objection. As a trainer within social media we need to emphasise the ability to build meaningful online relationships that may well turn into referrals, or enable in-house collaboration.

A closely guarded personal Facebook account, or a company Facebook profile might fit here.

What of the driven assertive types, but those who are emotionally reserved? A lazy stereotype might assume that these are the traditional managers of old. They are strongly focussed on results.

They want the metrics! How are we going to measure the success of social media?  What is the return on investment? Give me success stories by all means but tell me in pounds and pence. Maybe LinkedIn suits best with its no-fuss, corporate thrust.

And the assertive expressives? Well they are the easy sells. These will be your key sponsors within the group, driving forward innovation and participation.

Social media can be shown to give them an opportunity to be creative and expressive and to acquire a broad platform upon which to perform. Equip them with a few skills, make sure you raise their awareness about appropriate content and watch them fly. Watch their Twitter follower counts soar and marvel at their Facebook friendships blossom.

So what are your thoughts? Does the theory hold water? What types could we identify and what labels might we give each of the above?

Neil Denny is a consultant lawyer, trainer and author.  He writes the Lawyer 1.9 blog and can be found on Twitter as @neildenny


Why marketing is a load of rubbish

November 4, 2010

Ok, so obviously we don’t think marketing is a load of rubbish. But, we understand why so many people do. Especially small business owners, sales people, and our colleagues in finance. It’s because marketing people insist on speaking in their own language. Which is ironic, seeing as marketers we are meant to be the masters of communication.

Imagine going into a management team meeting and saying something along the lines of…

Your Message“We’ve nailed a really great concept, I’m totally loving the big idea, I reckon this campaign will go viral, generating excellent word-of-mouth amongst our advocates. I’m really looking forward to tracking the buzz metrics.”

Those of you who are up to your eyes in the latest ‘marketing thinking’ day-in, day-out might think that sounds great (and many more will roll your eyes in dismay).

But, what’s for sure is that most business people will have heard something like…

Message Received“I’ve just spent a load of money with hand-waving creative types doing something that I think is fun, that will generate little but hot air.”

The problem isn’t confined to marketing. It’s in any expert discipline or established community. Business disciplines, like IT, law, marketing, finance, operations, human resources, etc. all have their own jargon. It’s worth taking a moment to consider whether the people you’re talking to actually understand a word you’re saying. If not, think again. Find someone outside your area to give you some honest feedback – do your words sound like gobbledygook to them?

Now, the keen-eyed amongst you will quickly see that this website has its fair share of marketing jargon. We like to think we make it digestible, but we know that the plain English campaign would take us aside from time to time. The point is to at least consider the language your business is using – because what you mean to say is not always what people hear. We’re not completely anti-jargon, we simply advise handling it with care.

And, if you do need a translation of any marketing rubbish, drop us a line and we’ll decipher it for you!

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Why keep marketing when you’re already busy?

October 28, 2010

5 reasons to maintain marketing momentum whatever your workload

Marketing for growthMany small and medium-sized businesses struggle to maintain a consistent level of marketing activity because energies and resources are diverted to deliver work for paying customers. Indeed, many don’t see the point in spending precious budget, and even more precious time, when they have plenty of work on the go. As a business owner myself I certainly recognise the dilemma and can understand why marketing can slip to the bottom of the to-do list at times. But, if you want to grow your business, you need to maintain your marketing momentum.

Marketing for growth means marketing consistently

Here are five reasons to maintain a steady level of marketing activity for your growing business.

1. Build a steady and predictable sales pipeline

When new business becomes a rollercoaster, it is exhausting. Many small businesses find themselves in ‘feast or famine’ mode consistent marketing can break this cycle. If you know that the buying process in your business takes six days, six weeks or six months, then you know that you need to be generating those initial enquiries six days, six weeks or six months before you actually do the work or deliver the product. Famine happens when you forget to do your prospecting because you’re too busy feasting.

2. You won’t waste resources repeating yourself

You may have heard talk of changing the education system to reduce the long Summer breaks, because it has been shown that children forget what they’ve learned over the long holidays. The same is true of your market. If you haven’t said anything for a while, you’ll forgive people for not immediately recalling who you are and what you do. If, however, you have a programme of regular communications that continually keeps you front of mind, when you do pick up the phone or bump into a potential buyer at an event, you’re one step further on in the conversation because you’ve not had to introduce yourself from scratch.

3. Generate the right kind of work for your business

Yes, there is a right and a wrong kind of work for your business. The right kind is profitable, enjoyable and builds skills and credibility. The wrong kind simply takes up time and barely turns a profit. Being busy does not always equate to being profitable, or fulfilled. By continually presenting your business as the experts in the right kind of work, you’ll get more of it. But, if you all have your heads down simply fulfilling the wrong kind… when will you get a chance to tell people about what you’re really good at?

4. Maintain those marketing muscles

Marketing is made up of many different skills and techniques. If you only pick them up from time to time, you’re likely to need to re-learn what you once knew. What’s more, with digital marketing techniques moving on at a staggering pace, if you look away for more than a few weeks it is likely that some new technique will have passed you by. Regular, consistent marketing activities undertaken throughout your organisation will embed the skills so that it becomes second nature. And, when that happens, it’s no longer a chore – it’s just a great habit.

5. If you generate enough demand, you can put your prices up

Scarcity builds demand. Take the recent strikes in France and the impact on the availability of fuel. If people had simply bought the same as usual, there would have been no shortage. But, the sense of shortage prompted them to stock-up. Now, I’m not advocating scaring people into buying your products, but you’d be amazed how much more people seem to want what you have (and are willing to pay) if it seems like it’s in high demand. Taking this on board, it makes sense to keep marketing even when you’re full to capacity.  

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Get on the front page of search listings without SEO – it’s called blogging

October 7, 2010

This is a guest post by Nikki Pilkington, digital marketing extraordinaire. With many small businesses more than a little baffled by search engine optimisation (SEO), we asked if there were any other techniques that could be implemented more easily to help get a small business up the search engine rankings.

Some say that SEO is a black art, others claim it is a science. If you read all the blogs, ebooks and articles out there, it can seem that SEO is a bit of a minefield There’s META tags and titles, alt tags and content, keyword density and page rank, links and reciprocal links – and that’s just for starters. No wonder the average business is confused when it comes to SEO!

After reading all there is to read, and heeding the warning tales of dire Google penalties if you get it wrong, you could be forgiven for thinking that the only way you’re going to get that coveted front page on Google is by paying an SEO expert hundreds, maybe thousands, of pounds.

Well you’ll be delighted to know that there is another way, and all it needs to take is a little of your time.

What do you have to do?

Start blogging!

OK, it’s not just a case of writing the first thing that comes into your head, but believe me, blogging really can help your search engine positions. Here are 5 simple steps to blogging for search engine positions.

1) Find out what keyphrases your audience are searching for

Use the Google Keywords tool to find out what people are searching for related to your industry. Do you sell a particular range of jewellery or handbag? Look and see what phrases people are looking for regarding those items. A professional service? Find out the issues people are having. Knowing what people are searching for allows you to tailor your blogs to those phrases.

2) Write your blog titles with those phrases in mind

One of the most visited pages on my blog recently is the ‘What size should the new Twitter background be?’ post. With ‘New Twitter’ being launched, I knew that people would be wondering how to redesign their new backgrounds, so I wrote a blog post with that in mind. You can do the same. Solve a problem ‘How to’, ‘How can I’, How do I’ blog posts that answer queries and problems tend to do well in search engines, and bring in visitors.

3) Make sure you use your keyphrase in the body of your post

Don’t just put your phrase in your blog title, make sure it’s used a couple of times in the body of your blog too. That way Google will know that your post is relevant to the phrase being searched for.

4) Update your blog regularly

Google will come back and index content that is updated regularly, so ensure that your blog is updated frequently It doesn’t have to be every day, but a couple of times a week at least is optimal.

5) Link to your blog posts

Tweet them, Facebook them, refer to them from your website – Google follows links, and the more relevant links you have to your post, the more likelihood of it being indexed. Don’t spend hours on this; a few well placed links will do the job.

The simple fact is that Google loves content – and the more keyword strong content you can post, the more chance you have of being indexed and being found by people searching.

Want to find out more about Blogging for SEO? Download Nikki’s free guide: 67 SEO Tips for Blogging Beginners

Nikki PilkingtonNikki Pilkington is owner of NikkiPilkington.com, an Internet marketing agency based in the UK and France, specialising in helping SMEs promote their websites through SEO and Social Media Marketing. She is also author of ebook 299 Steps to Blogging Heaven.


It’s not you, it’s them (usually)

October 4, 2010

Today has been a funny old day, we’ve been busy preparing for a hard day’s training workshop that we’re running all day tomorrow, and I’ve been getting a few things in order for a forthcoming holiday (my first proper break in about 2 years). Delete KeySo, when we received a particularly vile piece of feedback via our feedback button, I have to admit that my smile did fall for a moment… well, about the time it takes to eat a chocolate brownie actually.

And, then I saw a Tweet from a lawyer who is doing great things in social media, saying how he had received some vicious feedback in a LinkedIn discussion. It put me in mind of Seth Godin’s excellent advice on dealing with trolls…  in which he says:

Lots of things about work are hard. Dealing with trolls is one of them. Trolls are critics who gain perverse pleasure in relentlessly tearing you and your ideas down. Here’s the thing(s):

1. trolls will always be trolling
2. critics rarely create
3. they live in a tiny echo chamber, ignored by everyone except the trolled and the other trolls
4. professionals (that’s you) get paid to ignore them. It’s part of your job.

“Can’t please everyone,” isn’t just an aphorism, it’s the secret of being remarkable.

Separate cruelty from constructive criticism

It is, of course, important to distinguish between trolls and genuine and constructive feedback. We do, occasionally, get negative feedback (I know, I admit it… we’re human). Usually this is really useful, and gratefully received. We can always improve – and that is exactly why we have a feedback button on our website. But, when it is vicious and unhelpful you need to find the strength to hit delete and carry on.

Brace yourself… it will happen

The thing is, that if you put yourself up to scrutiny – which is exactly what you’re doing by having a website or posting a blog – then you will at some point encounter nasty people. Even bullies grow up and get jobs. If you engage heavily in social media, then I’m afraid to say that you’ll find them.

If you’re not expecting it, then an ugly side-swipe can really knock your confidence. Surround yourself with a group of people who you trust, and whose opinion you value. Get them to regularly feedback on whether you’re doing good stuff. And, if you are, then hold your head up high and brace yourself… at some point a mean-spirited individual will try to burst your bubble. It is amazing how much nastier people feel able to be through a remote connection, and even more cruel when hiding behind the mask of anonymity.

When it does happen, tick it off as a social media rite of passage and congratulate yourself at having generated an emotional reaction in someone you don’t even know… that’s an achievement.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

What do you do to pick yourself up from negative feedback?

Please use the comment function below to share your tips on dusting yourself off when you’re knocked.


Three great ways to use the back of your business card

October 1, 2010

With digital print bringing down the cost of business cards, and making it easier to update your cards more regularly – perhaps it’s time that you thought a bit more clearly about what you put on the back of yours. Could it work that little bit harder for you?

Business card as a marketing toolOk, so there are some must-have items for your business card – like your name, your company name, your telephone numbers, your email address, your Twitter handle and your website. Then there’s that bit of personality – like a photo, an image, a funky finish or shape. And, then there’s how to use the reverse. Here are just three ideas for making yours into a mini marketing tool.

1. Tell people what you do

Prepare a short piece of powerful copy that tells people what you do. You don’t have long – so make it count. If you watch someone receive a card, they usually read the front and then flip over… you have about 10-20 seconds to catch their eye with something. So, keep it short and punchy. Bullet points work well. At a networking event, this can be great for structuring a short conversation. Point them to the bullet point, then tell them a little story (ideally a case study based one) about each service or product you have listed.

2. Add a QR code that links to a testimonial video

A QR code is like a  bit like bar-code. Readers are readily available for free on most smartphones. This can be used to direct people to a web destination of your choice. How about preparing a short interview with each of your key people, interspersed with testimonials about them, and popping it on You-Tube (as this plays on all smartphones). Add a QR code on the reverse linking to the video for that individual. Now, your business card can act as a little introduction to you, even when you’re not there.

3. Promote your latest offer or download

This is by far our favourite. If you’re running a decent thought leadership programme (What? Why not?!) – then you should have a steady stream of decent content. Typically, this will encourage data capture in return for deeper content. So, why not keep your print runs small, and replace your cards monthly or quarterly with details of your latest material. This makes a great talking point at events, and also gives people a natural next step on having received your card. Even better, why not have a few different reverses with more targeted content (by industry for example) – so that you can reach for the card that is spot on for the person you’re talking to.

Ooh, and before I finish, a wee note of caution on going design crazy… a bit of personality is great. But, think twice about plastic, laminated, or metal cards that have no white space. People, at networking events in particular, often like to make a note on your card as to where they met you and what you talked about. Make it easy for people to do this, it will help them to remember you and stay in touch – which is why you gave them the card, right?

So, imagine that every person in your business is out there equipped with one of these hard working cards. If just 1 in 10 take some action based on what’s on the back… being as you were paying for the print anyway, that’s effectively a freebie!

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

What’s on the back of your business card?

Please use the comment function below to share your tips on making your business card work harder.


Six questions to ask when developing a small business website

September 29, 2010

“It is better to ask some of the questions than know all the answers.” – James Thurber.

I meet a lot of small businesses who are ‘in between websites’ or ‘just about to make some changes’. At Clear Thought we are Effective Websitesalways ‘just about to make some changes’… well by adding some new piece of content or other.

No matter what the reason for the change, or perhaps you are only at the beginning of your website journey, here are 6 critical things should consider to boost the effectiveness of your site. There are loads more, but these will get you started:

1. How easy are you to do business with (i.e. have you got a good method of contact or feedback)?

If your customer service is nothing less than brilliant, no matter how great your product is, people will pick you up on it.

I’m sure there is reams of research out there that talks about things that drive people crazy, but I have no doubt that right up there is ‘not being able to find contact details’ (and by law you have to publish ownership details BTW). At the very least you should have an email address or phone number. Maybe a web form straight into a proactive customer services person. Even better, a live chat function.

And, in this day and age time waits for no one, so if a customer is looking for a response, it had better be within a decent time scale.

With all that in mind, there are some fantastic web feedback tools that you can plug directly into your sales & marketing, or customer service teams. Systems that integrate with your website and enable 2-way dialogue and an almost instant response. How cool would your brand look responding almost in real time? Currently we like: Kampyle, and Get Satisfaction.
Tip: If you don’t have the time or resource to handle lots of direct contact with your users now, then you should seriously think about putting it in your plans – a virtual assistant or call handling service could help here. Make it easy for people to do business with you and embrace negative feedback as much as positive. If you are not managing people’s niggles about your organisation, service or product, the Internet could magnify the issue to your disadvantage (bad news travels fast – really fast on the web). It’s simply a matter of your online reputation.

2. Have you got a way of keeping your site really current and fresh, and is it highly visible to search engines?

Sorry, that’s two questions, but when I talk about these topics, people either glaze-over, or give me a wink. And, they’re completely interdependent, so worth addressing together.

If you totally ‘get it’ that a pristine, relevant and current online presence can be the making of an organisation, then you’ll understand the importance of good web content. It definitely has impact on engagement.

Companies that just talk about how great they are, or worse, have out-of-date content, are missing a trick. Be relevant. Be engaging. Be about your customers.

From a practical point-of-view, how easy is it to update your content, and can search engines see it? Content managed systems are the way forward… web sites that allow business owners to manage there own content and invite user interaction. This means more control.

Systems that allow you tailor your content to be media-rich and search engine optimised (SEO) are what small businesses are using these days.** At the moment we like ‘open source’ built sites that are easy to handover to another expert should anything happen to the original developer. Drupal and WordPress are amonsgt our favourites… much better than a bedroom built job that hooks you in to a specific individual or agency.

** If the terminology in this section is sending you to sleep, or perhaps exciting you, there’s plenty of detail on the internet, but it’s not that important in this context. If you want to know more, or find out if it is important to your business, drop us a line.

3. Is your site’s navigation the simplest and easiest it can be (i.e. can users actually find there way around without actually having to think about it too much)?

We do a lot of work, using specialists, with our clients to get their site’s information architecture correct, and its usability spotless. If people can’t get around your site quickly and logically they’ll be off (that should make you think about your bounce rate***). Good web designers can do a great job of information architecture (IA) and usability, but if they get the crayons out before mapping it all out, then you have a problem. It’s about supporting the customer journey.

*** Bounce rate: Some more techie jargon that analysis tools like Google Analytics use to identify which pages of your site loses users.

4. Is your site compliant?

If one of the objectives of your site is ‘data capture’ have you considered your users’ privacy? You’ll need to be thinking about the Data Protection Act, the Disability Discrimination Act… and, most importantly, the expectations of your users.

These days users absolutely expect to have to give something to get something. At the very least an email address in return for an account, download or eNews subscription.

But, just because they have given you their email address does not mean they have given their permission for you to contact them again. More importantly, you must ask yourself if your data capture policy is spotlessly compliant. Have you got a privacy policy? Have you got your permission marketing options sorted out? Have you got an unsubscription function? Have you got your website terms & conditions water tight? Are your promotional rules clearly displayed? Don’t make it hard – duping people into permission isn’t a good start to a relationship.

If you can’t answer yes to all these questions above, you could be opening yourself up to some pretty negative interaction, or worse legal disputes.

The trick is to invite users into your community and have them manage their own profile and subscriptions. Just another reason for them to come back.

5. Has your site been fully user tested?

6. Is your site ripe for social media?

OK, so at the risk of this blog turning into a discussion paper, I’m going to keep the detail for these final two questions back. If you want to know more, please email our site, or drop me your email address on twitter (@cherylcrichton) and I will send them to you. Also, please feel free to ask your own questions.

And finally…

Is your website being fully supported by a strategic and integrated marketing effort, and what content do you have that can be re-used else where? (Sorry, that’s actually another two questions).

There are some fantastic websites out there produced by some fantastic thinkers and doers. However, there are many many more that fall a long way short. I can’t count the times I have seen website produced ‘by design’, or where the mechanics or task of the site has not been thought about properly. Getting your online presence wrong can be like slapping people in the face when they walk through your (virtual) shop door.

Cheryl Crichton, Marketing ExpertBy Cheryl Crichton | Associate Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @cherylcrichton | www.clear-thought.co.uk

 

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

What turns you off on a website?

Please use the comment function below to share your thoughts on what you like or loathe about the websites you visit.


Sponsorship – not just for big business

September 16, 2010

This is a guest blog from Jackie Fast, managing director of Slingshot Sponsorship. With most people thinking of football teams, large sporting events and big budget deals, we asked Jackie how small businesses can make the most of sponsorship opportunities.

How small businesses can use sponsorship effectively as part of their marketing mix

Sponsorship gives the impression that only international brands and high salary footballers can benefit from these strategies, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Sponsorship by its nature is a partnership opportunity for two organisations to create synergy. Synergy creates savings for both businesses and so should really be something every company should undertake – especially in an economic climate such as ours.  Small businesses are even better organisations to undertake sponsorship initiatives as they are more flexible providing them the opportunity to leverage their sponsorship activation strategy when and as it is needed with the opportunities that arise.

Small business sponsors supporting the community

Sponsorship works for businesses who understand their target audience. This needs to be the starting point. Once you understand your target audience, you then have to consider where this audience communicates and how you can communicate with them. Community sponsorship programmes are a great starting point, especially in the ways of sport.

Many school and community sporting events/teams are desperate for sponsorship to provide their athletes with new equipment. Sponsoring these teams can be a cost-effective way to build brand awareness to your community. This works especially well if you are a business who deals with customers within your area – such as restaurants, flower shops, etc. If you considered the amount of people who are attending the games (both home and away!) and compare that to an advertisement spend in your local paper, I’m sure you will see the benefits. In addition to providing a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme for your company and its employees.

Getting involved with community sponsorship programmes such as sport can also bring an additional element of staff engagement to your business. If this is your objective, speak with the organisers of the event(s) you are sponsoring and see what opportunities you could create. It might be that your local pizza shop provides pizza for the team when they have won a game or that your staff help out at practice. This will give your staff the opportunity to be a part of something bigger – part of the community and part of your company – through your sponsorship.

Contra agreements to provide your services can make your budget go further

Your business offers a great service or product, which others need. A great way to get involved with sponsorship with little investment would be to provide your services or products for free in return for sponsorship of an event/programme or perhaps your branding within their communications to their clients. The key to choosing the right sponsorship contra agreement is to make sure that the event you are sponsoring has a large enough audience for you to gain the benefit of reaching them.

Another great example of SME sponsorship is from one of our current sponsors Phil Stannard Associates. A small A/V company, but with great potential, they approached the DMA Awards to get involved. Through a contra deal, they are now the Judging Event Sponsors – an event that brings together 200 of the most influential people in the marketing industry. With no financial investment, they are able to showcase their services and their equipment to the people that are most likely to purchase from them in the future providing them significant ROI moving forward.

These are just a couple of the thousand ideas that are out there on how SME’s can integrate sponsorship within their organisation and utilise the benefits that many of the top brands receive, just at a smaller investment level. If you ever need further sponsorship tips, be sure to check out our Top Sponsorship Tips on the Slingshot Sponsorship website.

Jackie Fast - Slingshot Sponsorship

Jackie Fast is managing director of Slingshot Sponsorship, a specialist sponsorship management and consulting agency. By formulating the right sponsorship and activation strategies, we help secure sponsorship funding for organisations, ensure brand sponsorships are engaging, and help marketing agencies realise your client’s sponsorship objectives. Our current sponsors include professional associations, international agencies, sporting teams, environmental initiatives, and musicians.


What should you include in a professional profile?

September 7, 2010

A key paragraph introducing your company is a must – but don’t ignore the professional profiles of your key people. Anyone who is out there networking, making calls, or working with clients is representing your business. A well written professional profile is an essential part of your sales and marketing toolkit.

Engaging your audienceDone well, it can bring your company to life and demonstrate your credentials through your people. Done badly and people either don’t know, or don’t believe, that you have a great team. We advise that people invest time and energy, and possibly a little copywriting assistance, in preparing a template profile (you may hear this referred to as a boilerplate) that can then be used in the following places, amongst many others:

  • On your LinkedIn profile
  • In your proposals where you outline the team
  • On your website
  • As a footer on press releases
  • As a speaker profile if you’re hosting or speaking at an event
  • On directory websites
  • On trade association websites

Key elements of your professional profile template

To get you started, have a think about answering the following questions:

  • What do you do and for whom?
  • How long have you worked in your industry?
  • What is your particular expertise or specialism?
  • What were the moves / highlights in your career?
  • What impressive clients have you worked on?
  • What examples do you have, with proof, of what you can deliver?
  • Have you received any awards or accolades?
  • What qualifications do you have?
  • What are your values – why do you do what you do?

We would suggest that you start with a 200 word profile and then re-purpose it into the various formats, by cutting in down, to use in the various contexts. We would also recommend that you incorporate key search terms for online profiles. However, in doing so, don’t lose sight of how it reads to a real person.

Here are some examples of my own profile in different settings:

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

Do you have examples of any great professional profiles?

Please do use the comment function to share your own examples of professional profiles that you think tick the box.


What makes a good business blog?

September 1, 2010

One of the things that can really hold a business back from making effective use of social media is a lack of content. We recommend posting a new blog article at least weekly – it gives you stuff to Tweet, updates for your LinkedIn status, fresh content in which to seed SEO phrases, etc. Business BloggingWhich is all well and good, if you can think of what to write!

Blogging basics

This seems to go well for the first month or so, as you work through the first batch of ideas… then ideas often start to run dry. So here’s a quick run-down on what you should aim to hit to get a blog post out there that people want to read, and feel inclined to pass on. The bare essentials:

  • Limit your posts to 500 words maximum, our rule of thumb is about ten minutes to read… about long enough to read with a cuppa.
  • Break your post up on the page into headings and bullet points to enable quick scanning.
  • Make it useful – give some advice or insight that is genuinely useful to the reader.

Blog ideas to get you started

We get our best ideas from the questions we’re asked by clients. If you find yourself answering the same question often, then you’ve found a great blog topic. One technique that I find handy is after a networking event, client workshop or coffee meeting, I take five minutes to jot down anything in the conversation I’ve just had that could make a good blog topic. Here are a few thought starters for blog structures that always work well:

As well as the five minute review of interesting conversations, we suggest that our clients have an area on their intranet, or desktop, to jot ideas as they come to them through the week… train journeys always work well for me. And, a bit of teamwork to share and enhance ideas works brilliantly too.

You don’t need to start with a blank sheet of paper

You may not know it, but you already have loads of great blog material. Take a look through your back catalogue for things you’ve previously prepared that could be re-purposed into a blog. This blog is being written using a training handout we often use. Think about:

  • Presentations you’ve given
  • Reports you’ve prepared for clients
  • Proposals you’ve prepared
  • News coverage you’ve achieved
  • Case studies you have
  • Campaign material you’ve prepared – like papers
  • Training material you’ve created

A business blog is an excellent way of getting the word out, demonstrating your credentials, and of drawing people into conversation with your business. And, from conversations come sales – so, what’s stopping you?

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

What sort of blogs do you like to read?

Please use the comment function below to share your thoughts on what makes a good blog.


Brand guidelines, why are they so important?

August 12, 2010

This is a guest blog by Andy Fuller, graphic designer and owner of Designbull Ltd. Clear Thought asked Andy, what is the importance of brand guidelines to small businesses?

Have you ever received a business card from someone at a networking event and then viewed their website afterwards only to find it looks different to their card? Not a great first impression for a business and would you be confident referring them on to someone?

Having a strong, consistent visual identity for any small business is essential in today’s marketplace. It reinforces the trust you have with your customers and makes you stand out from your competitors.


Your logo, business cards and stationery, to your website, emails and advertising should all follow a similar style which amplifies your organisations aims. So how do you make sure your brand keeps consistent as your business grows? Well, this is where brand guidelines work. They are essentially a useful set of rules and guides that explain how your brand work. They can include examples and template designs which can be given to web designers, printers, or press publications to help, for example, layout an advertisement, and apply your logo, or colour values for accurate duplication of your brand.

Using the example of a recent project undertaken jointly by Clear Thought and Designbull for a company named Relevant Risk, typical brand guidelines for a small business can include information such as:

  • Brand message or mission statement. This can also include examples of the ‘tone of voice’ or style of writing.

  • Logo usage. How and where to use the logo, and what not to do. Minimum sizes and also spacing.

  • Colours. Showing primary colours (usually two) and secondary colour palettes, with their colour breakdowns; CMYK for print, RGB for screen or TV and HEX (short for Hexadecimal; the six character code for the colour on the web).

  • Fonts used. If a font has been designed specifically for the company logo, then this follows through to it being used on their company literature. Can include variations of the font family and default fonts for web-use.

  • Photography/image style. If commissioning a photographer or illustrator, their style will be designed uniquely to fit a companies brand style. More commonly, royalty-free imagery can be purchased for small companies on a budget, which, if chosen correctly, can include a good selection from one source.

Additional information can be included, such as website icons and site accessibility, signage to vehicle livery.

For an idea of what a standard set of brand guidelines can look like for a small business, please download the document produced in the joint project we worked on for Relevant Risk. Download PDF 1MB »

Andy Fuller runs Designbull Ltd, specialising in branding and design for small organisations.  For the past ten years he has been passionate about helping small businesses develop their brand through print and the internet.  He believes that excellent customer service paves the way to quality customer experience.

Thanks to Alison McDougall, owner of Relevant Risk, for permission to use the Relevant Risk guidelines as an example.

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like to read:


Squeeze every penny from every marketing pound

August 9, 2010

Bryony will be giving a talk called ‘Squeezing Every Penny from Every Marketing Pound’ at the womenmeanbiz networking lunch on 3rd September 2010 at the Aztec Hotel in Almondsbury.

This event is in the past. The presentation slides are now available.

womenmeanbizFor every paid marketing activity, there are tens of free activities you can add to make your spend go further. With a bit of discipline and elbow grease you can make every marketing penny go much further for your business.

Here are just a few ideas for ways to augment the impact of some typical marketing activities:

Hosting an event if you’re planning a seminar, lunch event or other marketing event, here are three things you can do for free to increase the reach of your event:

  • Add the event to LinkedIn
  • Add the event details to calendars of organisations you may be a member of (e.g. Bristol Media, Chamber of Commerce)
  • Tweet the details with links to registration page
  • For more ideas, please attend Bryony’s talk on September 3rd

Offering a discount – if you’re offering a discount on a product or service, you could:

  • Prepare a specific code that you use on Twitter
  • Add a refer-to-a-friend form
  • Issue a press release
  • For more ideas, please attend Bryony’s talk on September 3rd

Sending a direct mail piece – if you’re sending a mailing, why not think about also:

  • Looking up recipients on Twitter and Tweeting them about it
  • Blog about a related subject in the week the the DM lands
  • Picking up the phone for a follow-up call
  • For more ideas, please attend Bryony’s talk on September 3rd

These are just a few ideas for increasing the effectiveness of your paid marketing activities with no cost tactics. There are hundreds more, and once you get into the habit you could be doubling the impact every pound you spend in a matter of weeks.


Getting the most from business networking (3/3)

August 5, 2010

Part 3 – Key things to do after a networking event:

Ok, so you’ve been to a breakfast meeting, a networking lunch or seminar, and you met some interesting people – what should you do now that you’re back at your desk? These are the things that have worked for me over the years.

Sort through the contacts you made: After an event I sort the people I talked to into four groups:

hand on computer mouse1) Add to database.

2) Add to database and ask for email permission.

3) Add to database, ask for email permission and connect on LinkedIn.

4) Add to database, ask for email permission, connect and invite for coffee.

Update your contacts database: Add everyone whose details you took to your database, making sure that you note where you met them. Even if you don’t think you’ll get in touch, keep a note of the contact, you never know who people know! There are some great tools out there for this, we use Highrise from 37 signals. When we add a contact, this is the data we look for (most, but not all, you can find on the card they gave you at the event):

  • Name, address, telephone number(s)
  • Website address
  • Twitter – company and personal
  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Their company on LinkedIn
  • A photo – you will find this on LinkedIn, Twitter, their website.
  • Tag or note when and where you met. Additionally, jot some details about what you discussed.
  • Appropriate segmentation tags that we have defined in our database – e.g. client-side, supply-side, seniority, industry, geography, etc.

Ask for marketing permission: As we add people to our database, we tag them with an ‘Opt-in’ flag for that month. At the end of the month an email goes out from our emarketing tool (Mailchimp) that asks them to opt-in to receiving email from us. We never assume permission – firstly because it is rude, and secondly because  it’s against the law (Data Protection Act).

Connect with key people: Of the people you met, think about which ones you’d like to stay in touch with, and drop them an email – ideally the next day so that they remember you. I combine this with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. When (if) they accept the connection, I tag them in LinkedIn with details of where we met and see if we know anyone in common.

Set-up one-to-one meetings: For those with whom you had really relevant conversations or some real common ground – set up a coffee. For this I suggest picking up the phone. I set aside one morning per week for networking coffees. This is blocked out in my diary and is precious.

One of the great things about the two tools I’ve mentioned is that they work really well together. Mailchimp imports from Highrise, and Highrise automatically adds a note if a contact opens or clicks an email that has been sent in Highrise. On the profile in Highrise (if you’ve noted their Twitter account) you see their latest tweets. These things are great for making sure that if you pick up the phone to them, you know what they’ve been up to lately.

Networking takes a lot of your time and energy – and yet so many people simply go along and see what happens. Clear Thought’s business over the last two years has been built exclusively through smart integrated online and offline networking. I hope that the tips in this three part article help you to get more from your business networking.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

How do you follow-up after a networking event?

Please use the comment function below to share your tips on following-up after a networking event.


Getting the most from business networking (2/3)

August 4, 2010


Part 2 – Making yourself memorable at a networking event:


This is a guest post from Melissa Kidd of Coaching Creatives. Melissa coaches people to develop the right relationships and a memorable message to improve lead generation. Networking, in the real world, should definitely form part of your small business marketing strategy. We asked Melissa, once you are at a networking event, how can you make yourself memorable?



Let’s face it, we meet a lot of new people at networking events and unless key people remember us and the value that we create then it can be a waste of time. So when we get to an event, what can we do to make sure we’re remembered?


  • Be helpful. Networking is largely about helping others – always be thinking how can I help this person? It’s a simple truth: we do business with those that we know, like and trust.
  • Attention is the most precious thing. We get it and keep it by being relevant. This means we need to tailor what we say according to whom we are talking to. So ask lots of questions, listen carefully and leave standard “elevator” pitches in the elevator.
  • Be prepared. That said, people are going to ask you what do. Your first sentence needs to draw people in. We need to have a number of ways of describing how we add value. We want people to ask questions because they’re genuinely interested.
  • Set out to be clear, not clever. The trouble with being an expert is that we forget what it’s like not to know stuff. Remember people are busy. People are lazy. They just don’t have the time or inclination to work stuff out.
  • Problems. It’s a good idea to talk about the kinds of problems that we can solve. This is because problems are where people live. They are recognisable. And, if we can show through stories and examples how we solve them, we’ll be more referable.
  • Be passionate. When we love what we do it shows. It’s memorable. But be careful – if we’re always the one doing the talking we might be having an impact that we didn’t intend. Remember: two ears one mouth – use them in that order!

And here are a few practical tips from Bryony too:

  • Have an outfit with two easily accessible pockets (large enough for biz cards) – keep the cards you give out in one pocket and put the cards you receive in the other.
  • Take a pocket-sized notepad and a pencil (pencils don’t leak or run out).
  • Look like you do in your online profile picture – wear the same colour, have your hair the same if possible.
  • Don’t get drunk!

If you’d like some advice on how to make yourself memorable – particularly answering the what do you question, then please get in touch with Melissa, who specialises in helping professionals bring in more business by word of mouth. Her workshops and one to one sessions deconstruct a typical networking conversation and show you how to apply the 6 proven principles to make yourself more memorable. For more information check out her website www.coachingcreatives.co.uk or give her a call on 0117 315 85 31

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like to read:

What do you do to make networking events work for you?

Please use the comments function below to share your own tips.


Getting the most from business networking (1/3)

August 3, 2010

Part 1 – Six things to do before a networking event:

Networking, in the real world, you know face-to-face, should definitely form part of your small business marketing strategy. But, we’ve all been there, at some evening seminar, networking lunch or other business event – only to find ourselves suddenly struck dumb for anything to say that sounds remotely professional. Or, looking around the room desperately hoping to catch a kind eye. Or faffing around in a pocket or a bag for a business card that is more than bit dog-eared.

To avoid these, and a number of other similarly embarrassing networking faux pas, here are a few things that have worked for me over the years.

Find relevant events: keep a track of events in your industry and make sure that you only attend those that are completely relevant. A handy free way to do this is to run key organisations web feeds into a reader, like Google Reader or Netvibes. For a little money, you could brief a virtual assistant, or get a licence for a service like Year Ahead to alert you to events in your space.

Find out who is going: Ask for a delegate list, look at online bookings (many list attendees online). See if the event is listed on LinkedIn, where people may have marked themselves as attending. Tweet that you’re going and ask if anyone else is.

Find out about them: Look up the attendees’ profiles on LinkedIn, Google them, look at company websites, and see if you can find them on Twitter.

  • Narrow it down: From this, work out which 5-10 people you would really like to talk to at the event and research them a little further.
  • Get the detail: If they are on LinkedIn, do you know anyone in common? If yes, perhaps you could pick up the phone to that person to get a little more background. If they’re on Twitter, follow them and look through their old Tweets. Note a few key things to talk to them about at the event. There’s nothing more flattering than being able to compliment someone and ask an insightful question… “Hello {Name}, I recognise your face from Twitter. I was interested in your Tweet last week asking about XYZ. It was a great question, what sort of response did you get?”
  • See if you can find a photo. On their LinkedIn profile, Twitter profile, web page or on a Google image search. It will be handy for spotting them in a crowd.

Reach out to other attendees: Tweet that you’re attending, pop it on your LinkedIn status, asking if any of your contacts are planning to go. If so, perhaps you could go together – an instant ally. If people you don’t already know respond and you want to hook up with them, set-up a specific time you’ll meet them at the event – say, at the registration stand.

Prepare a call-to-action: If you’re a regular blogger, or have a thought leadership programme in place, you have a ready-made opener. You know that people are going to ask “So, what do you do?” – the ready-made elevator pitch is one thing, even better is something really current and useful – have it prepared in advance. For example,

“I run Clear Thought, we provide marketing support for small businesses – we’re the marketing director that small businesses can’t afford on payroll, but can’t afford not to have on the team. At the moment we’re doing an awful lot on social media, in fact I’ve just published a presentation of top tips on the subject, would you be interested in receiving a copy?”

Now, here’s where you really stand out! They say, “Oh yes, that would be great” and you pull out a business card with a bit more detail and the URL to the download on the reverse… “Do you know anyone else who would be interested? – perhaps you’d like to take a couple. Do you have any useful pointers my business could benefit from?”

This means that need to have prepared a specific business card, with the download details (or blog, or video, or case study, or whatever) in advance. Most online digital print for business cards is about 5-7 days, so you’ll need to think about this ahead of time.

Quick re-cap on those six key points:

  1. Find out who is going
  2. Work out who you want to talk to
  3. Find out about them
  4. Work out an opener for your conversation with them
  5. Pre-arrange a couple of people to hook up with whilst you’re there
  6. Have a call-to-action with hand-out in your pocket

In Part 2, I’ll give you my own top tips for face-to-face networking and we’ve also invited networking expert Melissa Kidd to provide tips on how to stand out whilst you’re there, and in Part 3, we’ll share powerful follow-up techniques.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you my also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

What do you do to prepare for a networking event?

Please use the comments function below to share your own pre-event tips.


Tech Startup School – Autumn 2010

July 15, 2010

Bryony Thomas, Chief Clear Thinker at Clear Thought Consulting will be hosting the ‘Social Media for Marketing’ course as part of this unique event series that aims to help aspiring and early-stage tech entrepreneurs start or grow their own tech businesses.

In particular:

  • The 6 core events will help you develop your business idea into a viable outline business plan,
  • While the 5 skills workshops will give you a range of personal skills that are particularly important for early-stage tech entrepreneurs

At each event we will signpost relevant resources and information that you can access to learn more and get further help on that event’s topic.

You will get the greatest help in developing your business idea into a plan if you attend all, or most, of the 6 core events. However you are free to choose to attend whichever events you feel will benefit you most.

Expected pricing is:

  • Entrepreneurs: £12.50 inc. VAT for each event (or £50 for all 6 core events)
  • Non-entrepreneurs: £25 (or £100 for all 6 core events)

If you are interested in attending one or more of these events please register for a ticket below. We will contact you in late July or early August when EventBrite pages are ready for each event and you can then buy tickets. Register your interest here »

This event series is jointly run by BCS (British Computer Society) and BEN (Bath & Bristol Enterprise Network).

 


7 tips to make your email sign-up process work harder

July 31, 2012

If you have an email newsletter that goes to subscribers, it’s worth having a little look at the sign-up process to see if you can make more of it. It should be an enjoyable process for the subscriber, and a useful process for your sales team.

1. Provide a genuinely useful subscriber offer

A simple way to increase subscriber numbers and get them engaged with what you do is to prepare a highly relevant piece of content that’s exclusively available to email subscribers. How-to guides are particularly powerful. A guide should be something that gently demonstrates your credentials, but is helpful in and of itself. It should not be a sales pitch. Ours is an ‘A to Z Guide of Content Marketing Ideas‘.

Tip: If you’re giving away a download, show an image of the front cover. This increases clicks as it seems far more tangible.

2. Tailor the content in the double opt-in emails

Thank youEmail marketing best practice is to secure a double opt-in where a subscriber receives an email on which they click to verify that they do indeed want to receive your email. When they do this, they will typically receive a welcome email or be directed to a thank you landing page. That’s a lot of emails. Make them matter. Don’t just use the default text… take some time to craft them into friendly and useful pieces of communication in their own right. After all, this may be a person’s first real engagement with your business.

Tip: The same applies to the unsubscribe emails. Make them gorgeous. Leave a good impression.

3. Introduce your key people

Showing a bit of personality is really important to making a real connection with people. Take a moment in your welcome email to introduce the people who write your newsletter. People like real people. We suggest using a decent photo, sharing a short biography, links to some of the best content from that person and any social media links where they can be contacted.

Tip: Use the same photograph on your newsletter biography as on your social media profiles to build familiarity.

4. Highlight the most popular or useful content

When people sign-up to your newsletter, it shows they’re interested in your content. But, as a new subscriber they may not have seen some of the great pieces in your back catalogue. Pull out a few of the most popular, or most useful, material from your blog, SlideShare, YouTube, etc. to add to the welcome email they receive.

Tip: Review your web metrics to see which posts lead to the best sales conversion or other site goals – highlight those.

5. Provide access to an archive

Pulling out a selection of key content for your new subscriber is helpful, but they may also like to take a look around for themselves. Make sure they can access an archive of the previous emails that have been sent to existing subscribers.

Tip: Using a professional email system, like Mailchimp, will automatically create an archive for you.

6. Set-up an appropriate auto-responder

Signing up to your email newsletter shows a level of interest in your business. If you have an effective product ladder in place, you should have some sort of introductory offer or tool that subscribers may find useful.

Within a seven to fourteen days of subscribing, it could be appropriate to direct people to this. If your offer is well structured, this shouldn’t be a hard-sell. Clear Thought client, Ascentor, have made a useful online tool available that lets people check their exposure to information risk – this is the ideal ‘next step’ offer that might work well in an email that automatically goes out to new subscribers a week after they sign-up (an autoresponder).

Tip: Autoresponders can also be used to create powerful subscriber or customer content… like a 90 Day Plan, or Getting Started Guide. The click data is extremely useful for sales or account management follow-up.

7. Always have that month’s newsletter set-up as an auto-responder

And, of course… there’s the content they actually signed-up for in the first place. If you send a monthly email newsletter, for example, you should always set-up that month’s newsletter up as an autoresponder to any new subscribers in that month.

We recommend setting this to go to them the day after they sign-up, with a little introductory text that thanks them for recently subscribing and tells them that this is the current newsletter, with a heads-up as to when they can usually expect to hear from you.

Tip: Add this to your email newsletter checklist so that it doesn’t get missed.

We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them. Every single interaction you have with anyone in your market should be a positive one. Even the humble ‘please verify your email’ message. Make it work harder!

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Does your information deserve a graphic?

July 11, 2012

One my favourite books is ‘Information is Beautiful‘ by David McCandless. He powerfully demonstrates how the way you present information has a direct correlation to how much people engage with it. Whilst this isn’t a new idea, the marketing world has recently cottoned on to just how powerful with the advent of the Infographic as key content.

Essentially, an infographic is an interesting visual representation of information. Charts and graphs are fine, but people have seen them before. They don’t make people think. If you can find a way of presenting information that makes people think about what that information means, you’re onto a winner.

When Clear Thought client, Ascentor, recently conducted an extensive survey of how and why people would sabotage their employers by way of their information – an infographic was the perfect vehicle for communicating the findings. You can tell people that their employees represent an information risk. But, showing them is much more compelling. When an infographic is good, it really draws you in and brings the information to life, in a way that a bar chart just won’t.

One of my favourite graphic devices from the fuller piece was a ‘Wanted’ poster that brings together the data to show the most likely culprit for this sort of activity…

Infographic

See the full Information Saboteurs infographic.

What makes a good infographic?

Process flows and facts & figures work particularly well for infographics. There needs to be enough information to give variety and depth, but not so much that it has an ‘information overload’ effect.

We worked with Oli Corse at Creatrix Marketing on the piece for Ascentor. He gave us his three top tips for effective infographics:

  1. Keep it simple – don’t over complicate things otherwise you’ll turn your readers off.
  2. Stick to a few colours – if you use too many it will look messy and be hard to emphasise important points.
  3. Make sure the information is relevant! It doesn’t matter how good it looks, the priority for the reader is the content.

Thinking about visual content

Infographics are just one form of visual content. With Pinterest and Instragram bringing visuals to the fore in social media, investing in excellent visual content for your small business can really help to get the message out, and draw people in to thinking about your offering. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Cartoons to get an idea across (I’ve just started doing this on my speaker site – see example)
  • Interesting photography of your people or products
  • Visual give-aways that people want (See Trollbeads desktop calendar)
  • An illustration element to your branding (3Sixty do this with panache)
  • Caricatures of your key people
  • Photo albums from your events or office

As a starting point, Hubspot’s recent download ’55 brands rocking social media with visual content’, will give you some ideas. Don’t be put off by the big brands being used in this. You don’t need a huge budget. It may be as simple as a digital camera… which you probably already have on your phone.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

If this blog is of interest to you, you may also like to read:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.

Do you have examples of any great visual content?

Please do use the comment function to share your own examples of visual content or infographics that you think tick the box.


When and how to say no to new business

June 25, 2012

Saying NoI’ve often heard people say that having too much work is a nice problem to have. Maybe that’s true. But, it is definitely a problem. Learning when, and how, to say no to a potential new customer is an important skill for any growing business. Doing it, and doing it with grace, can actually enhance your reputation. Doing it poorly can put your company’s goodwill at risk.

Why turn work down?

It’s important to understand situations in which your company should turn down a potential new customer. Here are three key scenarios where I firmly believe that it’s better not to take on the business:

  1. Undermines your standard of delivery: if you have so much work that you’re unable to meet, or exceed, the customer’s expectations, don’t take on any more work. It really is better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.
  2. Not the right fit: really successful businesses know when a customer is right for them. Often this is about whether the people involved are going to get along. It is really important that you think carefully about the kind of individuals that your business is best matched to. If the personalities don’t fit, the relationship will never be right.
  3. The wrong kind of work: this is the most important of them all. Taking on work that doesn’t progress your business is wrong for them, wrong for you, and wrong for your bottom line. Defining the right and wrong kind of work is a key strategic differentiator. My rule of thumb is that it either needs to make a serious profit, or I need to be immensely proud of the work that I’m doing. If it does neither, I don’t do it. Take a moment to work your rule.

Once you’ve worked out the situations in which it’s best to say no, you then need to think about how you might do so.

How to turn down work

When somebody wants to work with you, turning them down can leave a bad taste. In a connected world, it’s really important that everybody has something good to say about their interaction with your company. If you’ve decided that the work that you’ve been asked to do isn’t quite right for your company then you need to say no without causing offence. Some key ways to do this:

  • Point them at some useful advice: if you have a blog, pull out any key material which you think could be useful with helping them with whatever it is they’ve asked you to do for them.
  • Direct them to online resources: these are third party resources and you should have a collection of information that is related to your area of expertise that you can point people to.
  • Refer them to a trusted supplier: it’s important that you build relationships with competitors and complementary businesses to your own. You should have someone that you turn to when that piece of business is a bit too small for you or a bit too large, or not quite your cup of tea. If you are able to hand them onto someone that can do them an excellent job, this will reflect well on your business.
  • Stay in touch: just because you weren’t able to help someone out now, it does not mean that you may not be able to in the future, or that they may not be an excellent referrer for your business. Whenever someone has enquired about your business, even if it does not result in a paying customer, it should result in a new person on your little black book (or LinkedIn as it’s know these days). Make sure you ask them if it would be OK to stay in touch.

Nobody is nobody

There are businesses who simply ignore enquiries from people who don’t meet their qualification criteria or are off-hand in the way that they decline that piece of work. Really, there are. Don’t be that business.

It’s extremely important to remember that everybody is somebody. Not least as a valuable human being, but in a social media enabled business community, the world is getting smaller by the day. And, you need to be very aware of word of mouth. You don’t know that the person that just contacted your business isn’t the best friend of your ideal customer. It’s also worth bearing in mind that many of the best businesses have started in bedrooms. That call from a one-man-band who wasn’t worth your time could just be the next Mark Zuckerberg.

I’m also a great believer in serendipity. The more people you have genuine conversations with; the more chance there is of that unexpected connection that really takes your business forward. It’s what I call Commercial Karma.

When it comes to deciding what work to take on, think about work that you know your business does brilliantly. If you only take on work where you know that you can excel, then you know that there will be good things said about you. Always be polite and pleasant to whoever might be getting in touch with you. And always pass work on to someone it will be right for. For me, this means operating an abundance mentality – there really is more than enough work to go around. Passing business on to a competitor has never done me any harm. In fact, I’d say the goodwill has come back by the bucket load.

So remember, that there really are times when saying no to potential new business is the right thing for your business. Just make sure that the way that you say it is not the wrong thing for your company’s reputation.

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk

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Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Marketing advice from real MDs…

June 1, 2012

It’s all well and good taking advice from a marketing expert, but what about your peers? Small business owners and managing directors are often, rightly, sceptical about acting on what they hear from a consultant. So, we thought we’d ask some successful MDs we know a quick question…

What one piece of marketing advice would you give a small business owner looking to step up their new business efforts?

Peter Gradwell

Peter Gradwell, MD of small business ISP and VoIP provider, Gradwell, whose business goes from strength to strength and secured over £1m funding in the midst of a downturn, kept his advice short and sweet:

“Just concentrate on telling the story about why your great product solves a real problem.”

See also: Gradwell marketing transformation video interview

Karen Dunne-Squire

Karen Dunne-Squire, MD of Sales Outsourcing Specialists, went for real practicalities with her top tip:

“Have a strong brand and reinforce it everywhere… the visual image that you create for your business with logo, name, strap line, quality of marketing collateral etc. goes a huge way to the opinion that people form of you.”

Trollbeads

Richard Moorfoot, MD of Fable Trading Ltd the UK’s Distributor of Trollbeads, takes his advice right back to the thinking:

“Working hard on the wrong strategy will get you nowhere. Plan and plan again what you want to achieve, choose the right partners to help you deliver and provide sufficient resource / finance to give it a chance.”

See also: Creating an online community for Trollbeads

These three managing directors have successful businesses that have not just survived, but thrived, in these tough times. So, it’s advice worth listening to.


7 tips for flawless print production

March 20, 2012

‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’.

Print productionWith the advance of the Internet and digital print – you can practically ‘do-print-yourself’ these days. But, I wouldn’t always compromise your design and print quality for that ever alluring cost saving. A badly designed piece of print, or one of poor production quality, could actually turn your customers off (or worse, damage your reputation).

So with so much online activity around these days, is there still a need for print in SME marketing? We at Clear Thought think so – if the face fits, so to speak.

It’s just a case of getting the balance right

Integrated has always been a buzz word in sales and marketing. And integrating your online and offline material is important. Your online activity should always be complemented by some hard copy collateral – even if just some decent business cards, case studies or press releases. People like a little ‘leave behind’ at the end of a meeting.

Of course, it all depends on your product or service. If you trade online and abroad, all your collateral could very well be digital (website, PDFs, webinars, E-News). You should still be mindful of what it looks like when people press the print button themselves. If, however, you are constantly in front of customers, run training courses or hold face-to-face sales meetings for example, you’ll always need a bit of print.

Here are 7 tips to getting the best from your design and print suppliers.

1. Shop around

My mantra on this one is: get three quotes. But, don’t do that until you’ve asked around your network as to which designers and printers are producing good work at the moment. Getting three quotes will also reassure you that prices are competitive.

Top tip: Printers use different size presses. So, always ask what size they have, and confirm that it’s truly suitable for your job. If you insist on using your favourite printer they might be more expensive than the rest because your job is too small for their press, both in dimensions and quantity.

2. Clarify payment terms

If you haven’t used a particular supplier before, always check their payment terms. Quite often before an account can be set up, printers require the first order to be paid by credit card. Also, you may be asked for credit references, which could hold up an urgent job. So be prepared.

Top tip: Always ask if delivery is included. If you are using a fulfillment house, don’t forget to have them confirm postage costs (discounts usually available). It is also worth checking whether the items you are ordering are zero rated for VAT, or not.

3. Don’t skip the brief

Don’t just pick up the phone and reel of a list of random thoughts as to what you think you’re looking for – spend a little time writing your brief. Don’t make assumptions and try to also include what is ‘out of scope’ to avoid misunderstandings.

The more info in, the better the results out. A miss-brief can be costly and laborious. By the time you’ve amended the same piece of work 15 times you’ll be puling your hair out and so will your suppliers. See: What to include in your marketing brief.

Top tips: Always build-in some contingencies for both time and money. And, always order a few extra copies of things than you think you need. This is especially important for for direct mail in case any get spoiled during fulfillment. Also, don’t forget to ask about sustainable or recyclable stock.

4. Go pro

Even if you think you can do it yourself, spend a little of your money on profession advice. One option is to find a specialist Microsoft designer who can provide you with Word or PowerPoint templates that you can re-use yourself after the original draft is approved. These are also perfect for quality onward digital printing. See: How to create powerful sales tools from your desk.

Alternatively, for future updates, you could ask your printer to amend artwork rather than going back to the graphic designer. Sometimes they will do this included in the print cost if the adjustments are minimal. The question is… will they be sympathetic to the original design? Brand guidelines can help here. See: What to include in brand guidelines.

Top tip: Always ask for the master artwork files from your designer so that you can keep them on file. They should be happy for you to have them, after all – you’ve paid for them.

5. A fresh pair of eyes

This one is simple. Before you ‘go to print’, have someone else look at the design or artwork. They just might just spot something you haven’t, and that could avoid a costly reprint.

6. See it in person first

Once printed, if you are not entirely happy with the end result, ask for a reprint. Never have someone else dispatch any mailing on your behalf without seeing it first. And, don’t just look at the top copy in the box – delve deep and do some random quality control inspections.

7. Spare copies

I mentioned this earlier, but always order at least extra 25 file copies (on top of a 10% ‘overs’ quantity in case of mishaps). You’ll be surprised how many times you get asked for a ’spare copy’.

And finally, if you have a team, make sure they know each piece of collateral or literature that you produce piece inside out. If a customer calls with a query, they need to know the content.

NB: Digital print seems to be favoured more and more for SME marketing as it is ideal for small print runs. However, there are other print methods available such as Litho and Off-Set Web depending on your needs.

At Clear Thought we specialise in putting the right team together for the job and briefing them properly. So if you’re stuck for a team of your own, we’d be happy to point you in the right direction. Alternatively, there are lots of briefing templates on the Internet, so have a go at using some of them, or ask us about ours.

Cheryl Crichton, Marketing ExpertBy Cheryl Crichton | Associate Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd |@cherylcrichton www.clear-thought.co.uk

For more small business marketing tips, you may like these:

Clear Thought Consulting works with small businesses, equipping them with the marketing strategies, suppliers, skills and set-up that they need to become bigger businesses. We do this by planning and delivering 12-month marketing transformation programmes – supporting a small business through a step-by-step process to making marketing pay. We firmly believe that when you can’t out-spend your competition, you have to out-think them.


Babies and books…

March 15, 2012

Our daughterRegular readers of the the Marketing Clear Thinking blog will have noticed a bit of a drop off in activity in recent weeks and months. This is for the best of reasons. I’m currently settling into my new role as a Mum to our beautiful daughter (pictured). I’m also busy finishing my book, Watertight Marketing, which will be released later this year. So, to give both of these babies the attention they deserve, I am currently not taking on any consulting work, and my blogging capacity is likely to take a dip.

Normal service will resume towards the middle of this year (2012). In the meantime, I do hope you enjoy some of the pieces from the archive. Here are a few of my personal favourites to keep you entertained…

Bryony Thomas, Marketing ExpertBy Bryony Thomas | Chief Clear Thinker | Clear Thought Consulting Ltd | @bryonythomas | www.clear-thought.co.uk


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