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Strategy. Choices. And working on what matters…

we-are-our-choices-300x213

I get asked to help clients with their websites all the time.

Websites, because for some SMEs, that’s the sum total of the marketing they do. Or it’s the bit of their business the market notice. Often it’s heralded to be the answer to their business issues. So the conversation tends to start here.

They want to scale up, to start exporting. After all, a slick website is the perfect lead-generator for a business needing to engage international prospects.

There may be an investment in ongoing Google ads …. but bounce rates are too high … from their poorly constructed website, with its text-heavy, much ignored messages.

A state-of-the-art-service is being marketed, but unfortunately the owner has chosen to develop the website for free. And now the site is not delivering as the business has grown.

They used have a strong foothold in the marketplace, but now the market has become more competitive. Again, the website brings market attention to the fact that they’ve lost touch.

Some business owners articulate the need for a customer or marketing plan, others a refinement of their sales pitch.

Commonly, clients speak of the need for a ‘rebrand’. Branding is a much bandied-about term, I speak about it more here. Some mean visual brand; to be perceived online and on publications as a dynamic, professional and ‘serious contender’ in the market. Other times it’s meant as a more fundamental rebrand, a rethink or re-launch perhaps of their business.

Some cite the very common sentiment of ‘feeling lost’ in the noise of their of day-to-day business. The recession is slowly lifting …. trust and positivity are re-emerging. Businesses want to be poised and ready for the impending upswing. But with it often comes decision-paralysis. This is understandable, now everyone has to be a marketer.  With the perceived low costs of digital media, the potential for a dazzling world stage, the well-intentioned advice from family, friends, not to mention online (aware of the irony!). So it’s no wonder businesses are confused.

Many just don’t have the time, the resources or the space to think about where to start.

For me marketing can never fix poor planning, it’s meant to be a critical part of the business planning process. As Bernadette Jiwa puts it

‘Businesses spend a lot of time trying to be seen and heard, rising above the noise …. by creating more noise. Good marketing is often invisible’.

The Iceberg Effect

I see how easy it is for attention to focus on better communications when addressing business issues. But often what they see in competitive businesses is only the tip of the iceberg, the bit above the surface that everyone sees. ‘How can we fix this business issue, surely better communications is the answer’. Not always. This view can be blinkered and could lead the business down the track of keeping everything else as is, same target market, same product offerings but fresh new communications.

 

iceberg

 

Invariably with most clients, I backtrack into Strategy. It remains one of the most overused words in business. For me the less jargon the better.

‘Strategy for me boils down to choices.’

The choices determine the path. Some roads lead somewhere interesting, lucrative, sustainable. Others are short and sweet, leading nowhere.

The choices a business makes about who it will serve and, crucially, who they will not serve. What it will offer? How their way of doing business is unique to them? How it is sustainable? How is it organised to feed off the passions, resources and skillsets of those within the business? Some business owners who are struggling are driving autopilot, to a place they’ve been many times before. It’s so hard to drive the car and take in the landscape, to see the big picture about what is going on. The concentration can sometimes be too linear, riddled with assumptions.  In start-ups, it’s nearly the flipside, the head is awhirl with tons of new stimulus. The non-driver or mentor can be really useful in helping navigate the woods and trees.

strategy

 

The thing is, businesses who excel in communications spend much longer at the bit everyone doesn’t see, the market intelligence or curiosity, the tracking and iterating, the planning and improving, the bit below the surface.

It doesn’t mean the launch has to be held up. I welcome the move in recent years from overly researching and stalling before launching, to refining and iterating quickly when launched. This lean approach to planning and minimal viable products is refreshing and dynamic and has worked well in the tech start-up scene. But it doesn’t mean you should launch without a clear plan. It just means the attention on this area should be maintained once launched. The curiosity and determination to realise the true potential of the business should be pursued to the nth.

That part, whilst not always expensive, takes time, patience, determined focus …. and it has to be said some amount of discomfort. This ability to live with uncertainty and business vulnerability is a major game-changer for me.  Maybe the business has to change more than the owner thought or maybe there are un-admitted weaknesses in the business skills.  Basically more challenging conversations are needed to get to the solutions than first anticipated.

The ability for a business to start in the right place, to address the challenges fundamentally can be the difference. The business offering that’s based on genuine, up-to-date market insights, sustains the business. It then powers the communications, the revenues, the motivations of personnel. Those businesses naturally create great marketing, create communications and naturally attract business to them. The need to push the message out, verses draw attention in changes there and then.

‘Good products breathe life and clarity into their communication’

So in summary, I guess I’m saying that a web developer, whilst at times critical, won’t solve business woes. Nor can focusing on the ‘shiny distraction’ of social media replace the hard strategic choices. Sometimes they only shine a light on business indecision or lack of planning. Don’t get me wrong, the ad, the website, the video, the social messaging … they are all really effective tools at the right point in time. To a clearly sculpted strategic purpose. Trouble is, most businesses want to jump to communications too soon. The foundations of good communications are clear choices. Those clear choices are based on what a business has observed about a market, what they are passionate about, what they have said ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to.

The duck

duckJust as the duck  furiously paddles underwater and appears calm and effortless in our view, so in business the hard work is done out of public scrutiny.

For messages to be simple and powerful, for communications to cut through in an overstimulated market, more thought and some market interrogation needs to happen first.

Start by moving away from the noise, by removing yourself from the day-to-day. Then maybe ask for honest, impartial appraisal.

Seek expert advice where there’s a gap.

@siodhna

 

I offer Clarity Workshops to clients who are confused about where to start in terms of communications or strategic planning. Contact me here for more information.  

Saying Less. Saying More

“Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much.”

―Robert Greenleaf

 

 

Say More with Less

I recently had an extremely conscientious client who was pitching a quality product to new international markets. Her product was superior to her direct competition and, though the first to market, her foothold was well and truly lost. Her website was bursting with information, features and facts. But her targets had neither the time, the inclination nor the interest to wade through it. As they weren’t prepared to spend the time to understand product categories they were unfamiliar with, they were settling for her competitors and inferior product solutions.

Most businesses I work with really struggle to say less.

 

Their web pages, brochures and leaflets are bursting with words.

With features and lists.

They don’t believe me when I say that they expect way too much from their prospects. In terms of understanding what they do and what they sell.

 

Until I research it and ask their prospects to tell them.

Or they research it beyond their circles of well intentioned friends.

Until they hear it from the horses mouth.

 

Surfers take seconds to decide whether you will be their next forgettable business.

SMEs struggle to strip back their key messages to connect.

Connection is based on stripping back business messages to the bare essence; what they do, why do they do it and who are they for.

The reason?

It’s harder to say less.

More than that.

It’s harder to stand for less.

 

It takes much more time to distil down concepts, messages, products and services.

It’s much easier to say more.

And to say you do more.

To throw everything out there and to see what sticks.

 

It’s harder to be more interesting about a more defined idea.

It’s harder to do the stripped-down thinking and talking.

So keen are SMEs to appeal to more people, they unwittingly blur their message.

Making themselves forgettable or invisible.

Making their prospects take on too much of the brain work.

Saying they do more. And more and more.

Diluting their message.

And reaching fewer persuasively.

The bottom line is that your prospects are time poor, suffer from information-overload and are looking for shortcuts all the time.

 

The way communications works is that if you can clearly show that you are the fit  ….  for someone like them ….. with a problem exactly like theirs …then you are in the consideration set.

Do the hard work and give them the shortcut they crave.

Your prospects need to hear about their exact problems … or particular needs UP FRONT from you, not buried in the sea of information you send out. Put simply, if it’s a website it needs to be on the home page. They need to connect with a business who really sees them. Who understands them. Who talks straight to them.

So there’s saying less. And then there’s saying less to less people. Or having a clearer, bullseye target.

Businesses sometimes view advice on ‘target refinement’ as diminishing their market potential. ‘But that will reduce my addressable market, that would do me out of business!’. That depends on how much business you were realistically going to get from that market and how much you might get if you hone and specialise.

With an ‘essentials’ approach to marketing and key messages so you can use the communications toolkit so much more effectively. So when you communicate on websites, email, leaflets, business cards, ads, videos, tweets, Facebook posts and blogs;

Say less. Mean more.

Say less. Sell more.

Say less.

 

@Siodhna

 

Many attempts

Useful Website Briefing Checklist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Useful Website Briefing Checklist

The below is meant to be a helpful checklist. It’s by no means exhaustive for every website, and for other business start-up sites, it’s more than enough. Judge what’s right for your website.

The most important thing is to be clear about the questions I ask below before you ever approach or decide on a developer. Get what you want down on paper. This will help the web developer or designer to understand and quote for the job properly. It will also ensure both of you are on the same page, avoiding misunderstandings at a later, crucial stage. I find a checklist works well for SMEs who don’t always know the questions they need to be asking either themselves or the developer.

Background Information

Is it a new or replacement site?

  • If replacement;
    • What is the current domain (URL) and passwords:
    • Do you require staging site during build?
    • What’s the motivation for website change?
    • If a rebuild of the current site is required – what do you like /dislike about the current site?

Goals

 

  • Be clear about the desired outcomes of the project?  What do you want the website to do? To generate leads via contact forms?  Make the phone ring? Give extra or back-up information? Get signups to a newsletter?
  • Goals should be SMART if possible: specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic and have a timeframe.

Audience

 

  • Who is the audience? Do you have an ideal customer profile? Be as clear as possible here. The ‘everyone is my target‘ approach only serves to reduce your chance to convert your best prospects, not increase them. You need to design messages, content, products and services that serve this core target best. Appeal to your core target and the revenue will follow.
  • Have you a secondary audience? Is your audience different from your customer? (for example a band might want to appeal to fans as well as to producers, non-profits may target donations and a second audience might be sponsors)
  • Does your business have a male/female bias? Is there a geographic focus; city or country target? Is there an age range?  Are there shared interests or dislikes within this target segment? Get this description down on paper, this will be your target customer and very useful to third parties you may work with. Everyone from logo designers, web developers to external consultants.
  • How will they use the website?
  • How will they hear about your website? (articles/ reviews/ contact details/pricing?) Do you have a marketing plan? The saying ‘Build it and they will come’ does not apply to new websites.

Content

  • What content will be needed for the site? Draw up a plan for each page. At a very basic level you need
    • A ’home’ page, with important key messages.
    • ‘About us’ page; one of the most important, visited and overlooked pages on a website! It’s the history of the ‘When’, the ‘Why’ and the all-important ‘Who’ of the business set-up. It’s important to give some sense to the visitor of who you are and what you are about. Read more about effective business storytelling here.
    • ‘What you do’ – A short succinct summary, with products/services offered. What your business does as well as the problems       you solve.  See suggested P. A. L approach to this below.
    • ‘Contact us’ page. Put in all the details. Have a business-like email address, preferably related to your domain name.  Don’t just have contact form, give emails it might be preferable to some enquirers. Have you a landline as well as a mobile? Looks better and a preferred method of contact for some. Have you an office or at least a virtual office address? This is all part of your business       branding.
  • List the total subject areas you might cover –
    • From most important to least, focus on topics and clusters (which can then become the site map). Have you research on the market? What are people discussing about your business category? What questions are they asking
    • Will site be designed with Search Engine Optimisation (i.e. ease of being found on search engines) in mind? See SEO section below.
  • Is there content available to tell the story (photos, videos, text, diagrams, etc.). What content/images/logo/video already exists and what needs to be developed? Read more about how to use tools and techniques to support your online business storytelling here.
  • Who is going to write the content?
  • Scope – will the site be expanding vastly or piecemeal in the future and is there a vision for this yet by the owner?
  • How is content to be maintained after the launch? Will the developer train the business owner how to make changes to      text/images/page?
  • Are page layout and changes charged by the hour by the developer? If so, what’s the rate?

Communication & Messages

I am splitting this out from content section as it is so important and often overlooked. What should the site communicate?

  • What are the primary objectives for the site? There will be a lot of things that an owner/manager wants to communicate on a  site but what are the key messages or prioritisation of messages?
  • What should visitors of the site come away with?
  • What are your headings? Sections?
  • There are a number of approaches to messaging that I use. The easiest one I use is the P.A.L. approach  (Pain, Aspirin, Legacy). Here is a link to a video which  explains this here. If you want more information on Business  Storytelling online I talk about in more detail here.

Search Engine Optimisation and SEO

 

    • Is SEO or ‘being found easily on the search engines’ required? If not why? There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found.
    • SEO keyword research is hugely important as it  affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your  site. There were a lot of SEO tricks in the past – and still used today – where site content was written purely to be found by search  engines like Google. Best not to do this. Write your content for your audience, what problems they have or services they need. Keep SEO       strongly in mind, but don’t let SEO drive your content completely as you will lose the interest and attention of your targets. A key metric in tracking your engagement from Google Analytics is how long visitors are spending on your site and of course how many lead to sign ups/enquiries/sales/downloads. Visits are vanity if they don’t lead to sales.
    • You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you.
    • You need a Gmail account first.
    • Knowing your keywords and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
    • You should be able to see what search terms or keywords that your target market is using to look for services in the regions you are checking. Examples  of keywords used in Google searches are ”web designer Galway” or ”personalised baby gifts” or “hairdresser in Swords”, or  “affordable marketing advice SME” or “emergency plumber Cork”.
    • You should also be able to see how searches are  made on Google using these words and how ‘competitive’ these terms are (i.e.       if many or few businesses are trying to get their websites to rank highly on Google for those exact terms.)
    • NOTE: A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your       brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch. It is also noteworthy that  You Tube contain lots of educational videos ‘how to’ videos on Google Keyword Planner and WordPress SEO if you ever need additional support.
    • Have you considered the SEO implications of your domain name? Eg are you choosing a name for your domain that sounds good    or that will help you get found? There’s no hard and fast rules –  for example I chose www.inspiredthinking.ie but names like webdesigndublin.ie or physio.ie do support overall SEO goals.
    • Do you need a WordPress SEO plug-in? WordPress have reasonably priced ‘All in One SEO plugin’ for approx. under $50 which       should be given serious consideration. This means you can optimise the  site yourself with some basic training from the developer.
    • How is the success of this keyword research and optimisation (SEO) measured after the website build ? Will you as owner be able to track using Google Analytics? Will the designer install this for you? Is there a charge?

 

Features required

 

  • Downloads – do you want to enable documents or slides to be downloaded when someone enters their email address, for example?
  • Is a ‘Contact us’ form required?
  • Do you want to have a blog that feeds new blog postings onto home page?
  • Do you want to collect email addresses in exchange for a presentation download?
  • Do you require Google Analytics to be set up?
  • E-commerce
    • Do you require payment online? Eg Paypal, Visa.
    • Have you investigated the various shopping cart  options, open cart, zen cart and do you know independently the pros and       cons of those you have shortlisted? Do your research at this stage. Losing a customer due to poor shopping cart experience is both common and reckless! It takes so much marketing effort to get them to this point.
    • Other e-commerce capabilities incl. a sub-set of specific features, i.e. having specials, discounts, featured products, customer reviews, etc.).
  • Do you want a blog section? What will you blog about? Again refer to SEO and keyword planning.
  • Is there a members-only content area? (paid or free)
  • Do you want advertisers or sponsors?

 

Call to Action

 

  • What do you want people to do when they get to the site? Buy from the shop / complete enquiry form /call / read lots of articles / sign-up to the newsletter/ RSS/ Go to Facebook and like page?
  • What are the 2 most important calls to action that will be on the home page?

 

Social Media and Sharing

 

  • Where do your target audience(s) spend time online? What social networks?
  • What links do you need for sharing your content (links on the site or blogs to LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • What Social Media presence do you have (or need) – and how is that going to be presented on the site (Will you use Social Media Widgets to show Facebook Like box, Follow us on Twitter, or include the latest updates from your social media streams etc.).

Look and feel/Design Assets

 

  • Logos, colours, style guide, existing marketing materials
  • Is there ‘a look’ or design that the owner is going for? Can other websites be referenced to give the designer an idea?
  • Could the web developer show the owner a selection of the pre-designed WordPress templates that      he/she would recommend so the owner can choose? Some examples of good WordPress templates are here;

 

http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2013/02/twitter-bootstrap-templates.html#SiteTemplates

 

http://www.thinkthe.me/articles/20-modern-one-page-wordpress-themes/

  • Some of the most unprofessional sites I’ve seen have a mish-mash of font types and colours. With pre-designed templates these days, your website doesn’t need to rely so heavily on the design skills of your designer.
  • Images: Images work so well in breaking up copy and  engaging site visitor. Has your developer the know-how on how to get you free (or royalty free) images or will they recommend ‘better images’ where you must pay a small once off charge (eg €25) that suits and brands your business better. Though free, some of the non-descript, forgettable photos you see on sites (and bank posters!) these days do little but turn people off your site. These images may have a small charge attached but can instantly say something about your business. Will your developer give you feedback on images you have sourced, or go the extra to find a better one? Know limits of their spec upfront.
  • Three to five websites with design ideas that you like (can be from your industry or another)
  • Competitor’s websites (three to five)

Practical Issues

 

  • What’s your budget? Is it realistic for the features and functions you want??
  • In my experience you don’t get much for €300-400 and what might seem like a bargain might be pain in the long run when you want      after service or extra work. Budget at least €700-1200 for a simple starter site with ecommerce site being at least double depending on      features required. They can be cheaper if you upload the products yourself. These are rough benchmark prices, you need to pay more for    enhanced design and features.
  • Is there priority issues highlighted by the developer once briefed, and can parts be staged if the budget doesn’t cover the total wish-list?
  • Timeline – how long and what’s the deadline?
  • How will the site be tested and who will do it? Does it need to be?
  • Who will decide the site is ready to go before launch?

 

 Technology issues

 

  • Domain name account details, hosting, etc. Who does it, how much does it cost and when does it need to be done in order for your web developer to start work on the site.
  • Who registers the domain name address? Who engages with Company’s Registration Office and why would you need to? Here’s a useful link for start-ups.
  • Where will be the site be hosted? Who will host your website? Are you picking this service based purely on price or have you      had a recommendation. I’ve seen many SMEs run into trouble having a poor hosting service provider.

Timings and Project Management

Get an idea of how long the process should take, along with key approval milestones so you can plan development amidst your busy day to day. A common issue I see it the business starting off with great energy, focus and through the process losing the will to finish it properly. Or the process drags on much longer than it should.  Keeping this focus through the project where an independent mentor, confidante or third party business advisor can really add value to the process

@Siodhna

 

 

Hire a Web Designer and a Marketing Consultant? Are you completely mad?

Why would you hire a Marketing Consultant and a Web Designer to create your website?

Squatting 3 Times a Week

 

After all, isn’t adding an additional person to the chain just an additional cost?

On the face of it … yes.  It adds some cost to the project.

But it also adds something else … something essential.

Direction.

A question worth considering before you start creating your website is this … if you are not sure where exactly you are going, does it really matter how quickly or cheaply you get there?

Last year I undertook a project to change some internal walls in my house. I could have tried to source a labourer, plumber and an electrician myself using recommendations, quotes and online sources to inform my decision. For a really complicated change I would have needed an architect but this was relatively straight-forward. At the time I was running my business from home and expecting a baby in a month so I didn’t want any surprises and wanted the job done right. I got a recommended local builder who helped us refine our thinking and gave us a plan for the job. He had experience in the area working on similar houses and budgets. He explained what needed to be done and why. He highlighted key pitfalls with our initial plan, gave us a step-by-step on what was to happen, when and who was involved and finally gave us some rough costs. Once job was agreed he then engaged the necessary subcontractors who understood what exactly what needed to be done as explained by him.  They turned up when they were supposed to and completed the job.

This process is not too dissimilar to that of a business owner embarking in online communications.

For projects outside of your daily business expertise, there’s a need for market understanding and planning. There’s a real benefit to working with a third party who has the overall interests of the business at heart, who has experience of the issues and tasks at hand and in getting results on similar projects. There’s a real benefit to getting this advice or input before any contractors or web developers are engaged in the detail of actually doing the job.

Why is an experienced, strategic, business opinion important before creating or re-designing a website?

  • You need to know this new online investment will grow your business. Getting a website done quickly, in a format that looks good isn’t always enough to deliver results for your business. You need the phone to ring more, enquiries to arrive. Otherwise, it’s just an vanity exercise. An expensive and time consuming one at that.
  • As a business owner or senior manager you don’t always know what gaps you have in your market understanding. You can be too immersed in the busy day-to-day of running your business. External mentors view your business from an experienced, independent standpoint.
  • You need to know your online messages have meaning with their intended target and will spur prospects to action.
  • You want to know you are paying for features and services that will deliver a return for you.
  • You want an independent view on who to work with and what exactly to expect.

After all, online communications is relatively new to you.

I recently wrote a blog on creating an effective website which asks SMEs to consider 10 key things at the outset.

By working with a web designer or developer directly on website creation the job can often seem simpler to manage, quicker and cheaper. In some cases it works very well like this. I’m not saying that by working with a developer only, that your website will always have problems. In fact, this is the approach used by most in the market. It’s just that the online marketplace is becoming increasingly competitive and has recently become saturated with suppliers for all kinds of goods and services. The bar has been raised. Just being online is not enough anymore. You need to be marketing your business effectively online.  You need to stand out and connect with your audience meaningfully and in a way that really connects. Websites can appear slick, but many deliver little value to a business.  They aren’t making the phone ring. They aren’t attracting the enquiries in the numbers the business needs. Or worse, the website is damaging the business’s reputation, turning customers away, coming across unprofessionally, having a confusing layout and messages etc.

If your market doesn’t connect or identify with what you are telling them, then it’s a missed opportunity. There needs to be a moment where they see themselves in what you are saying, as a potential client or customer of yours.

Web developers and business owners range in terms of their market know-how, their copywriting expertise and their willingness to go the extra mile. In my experience here is where the possible friction can lie. I collaborate with a number of experienced web designers and developers in the work I do, and frankly couldn’t do my job without them. I’ve spent a significant amount of time working on online projects and vetting their expertise. Ask yourself, is this something you will get to do?

To aid website planning and your goal of market differentiation, I’ve set out 7 questions that would be worth asking yourself before engaging a developer.  These are based on my experience of mentoring clients of government agencies and advising SMES who have digital and website requirements.

7 key questions you might consider asking yourself before choosing a web developer.

1)    Have you shopped around enough? A good web developer is crucial when creating a new site. It takes a lot of the pain out of the process. Did you get a vetted recommendation or are you using a friend-of-a-friend or a student doing it for almost nothing? Always source 3 quotes from different web developers or designers. Find out what each is good at. What they’ve done before and what they charge. When reviewing quotes ensure you are comparing like with like. To ensure you are doing this write a written website brief using a checklist like this.

2)    Do they require the web content to be 100% finished or ‘ready-to-go’ so they can create the website or will they work with you bit by bit while you develop sections as you go? It’s much better if you are clear on your website content before going to the developer. You can either prepare this content yourself by laying it out on a word document and plan it section by section or engage a third party marketing consultant if you feel you’ve lost your way in terms of business communications. Here’s some thought starters in terms of business storytelling online.

3)    What questions is the web developer asking you up-front about your business? Are they keen to get under the skin of your business? Do they ask you who your audience is, about your key competitors and what the purpose of the site is? Do they ask what you want the key takeout of the site visit should be? (ie enquiries, sign-ups etc) Do they ask you for a written brief for the site? A written brief is something I would highly recommend to ensure there is no misunderstandings or stress at a later stage in the project. This website checklist will help in writing the website brief.

4)    Are you asking your developer to go beyond the call of duty? Be clear about what they understand as the scope of what’s been quoted for. You might be expecting opinion/feedback from your developer that he/she is unable to supply. They might not have the time or expertise to examine your content for sense or value. From my experience most will be happy to chip in and give some opinion based on experience, others will be more focused on getting the job done to an agreed spec as quickly as possible.  If you are relying on their feedback to critique content, are you expecting too much from your developer? Many have technical backgrounds and not business ones. They execute the plan, but you need to be the one who is clear about who is driving it. You need to have a clear plan in order to communicate effectively. Persuasive communications is the responsibility of the business owner or senior management of an organisation, not the web developer.

5)    Getting found on Google/SEO – There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found on Google. You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you. If you leave this to the web designer, you might find it doesn’t get the focus it deserves. Knowing your keywords, and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.

  • Is SEO or ‘being found easily on the search engines’ required? If not why? There’s no point in having a website if it can’t be found.
  • SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. There were a lot of SEO tricks in the past – and still used today – where site content was written purely to be found by search engines like Google. Best not to do this. Write your content for your audience, what problems they have or services they need. Keep SEO strongly in mind, but don’t let SEO drive your content completely as you will loose the interest and attention of your targets. A key metric in tracking your engagement from Google Analytics is how long visitors are spending on your site and of course how many lead to sign ups/enquiries/sales/downloads. Visits are vanity if they don’t lead to sales.
  • You need to understand how Google searches work, what SEO is all about and how to make it work to generate traffic for you.
  • You need a Gmail account first.
  • Knowing your keywords and how to use Google’s Keyword Planner tool is important.
  • You should be able to see what search terms or keywords that your target market is using to look for services in the regions you are checking. Examples of keywords used in Google searches are ”web designer Galway” or ”personalised baby gifts”or “hairdresser in Swords”, or “affordable marketing advice SME” or “emergency plumber Cork”.
  • You should also be able to see how searches are made on Google using these words and how ‘competitive’ these terms are (ie if many or few businesses are trying to get their websites to rank highly on Google for those exact terms.)
  • NOTE: A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch. It is also noteworthy that You Tube contain lots of educational videos ‘how to’ videos on Google Keyword Planner and WordPress SEO if you ever need additional support.
  • Have you considered the SEO implications of your domain name? Eg are you choosing a name for your domain that sounds good or that will help you get found? There’s no hard and fast rules – for example I chose www.inspiredthinking.ie  but names like webdesigndublin.ie or physio.ie do support overall SEO goals.
  • Do you need a WordPress SEO plug-in? WordPress have reasonably priced ‘All in One SEO plugin’ for approx. under $50 which should be given serious consideration. This means you can optimise the site yourself with some basic training from the developer.
  • How is the success of this keyword research and optimisation (SEO) measured after the website build ? Will you as owner be able to track using Google Analytics? Will the designer install this for you? Is there a charge?
  • A decent designer/developer should be able to give you some basic pointers here. If this is not an agreed part to your brief, you need to educate yourself before you start the job. SEO keyword research is hugely important as it affects what sections, pages and titles/headings you will have on your site. More detailed SEO work may require an SEO specialist but this isn’t usually required for a modest online website launch.

6)    Content Management System – Open Source or tied to Developer?

  1. A Content Management System is the platform that allows your website content to be published. You need to ask what CMS your developer is planning to use. Are they planning to build the site using a specific coding language? I’ve heard from SMEs and clients who were disillusioned about their ‘after sales’ service. Some of them I know paid too little for their site and were not entitled to much after care. Others just didn’t understand that if they use a certain content management system, or language, they may have trouble in the future getting other developers to work on it. Or may need to pay that specific developer every time they want to make changes to a site. Business owners can enter unwittingly into lockdowns with a particular developer. It has to be said, this is sometimes because a business owner doesn’t always know what he or she wants or may have difficulty explaining it.
  2. SMEs or organisations may not realise that with some content management systems that they need to pay extra to have the site to appear properly on mobiles. Having your site appear well or responsively on mobiles is becoming a basic requirement now that Ireland’s Smartphone penetration is not far off 70%.
  3. To solve all of the above, one of the best ways to ensure any developer can work on your site in the future is to ensure you use an open source publishing platforms, like WordPress.

Benefits of WordPress

  • It’s widely a recognised platform globally, it’s simple to understand and easy to use
  • Either you or any future web developer should be able to make changes to your site.
  • The text and image changes are as easy to make as on a word document, anyone can make them with the password and login details. Changes can even be made from your mobile when you are out an about!
  • You can add in standard plugins for SEO which Google really likes. I’ve seen first-hand how easy they are to use and what results they get.
  • These days you don’t need to pay extra for mobile friendly sites. WordPress has a wide selection of great, responsive website designs all ready to go so all your developer needs to do is add in the content in a way that works with the templates. The shape and presentation of the website content responds to what it’s been viewed on (mobile, tablet or PC). Some nice WordPress templates on the links below;

http://www.tripwiremagazine.com/2012/09/responsive-wordpress-themes.html

http://www.thinkthe.me/articles/20-modern-one-page-wordpress-themes/

7)   Third Eye – Extra Proofing

It’s very hard to create the website content and critique it properly as well. You need a third eye or independent party. This is so important and it won’t matter how many times you read it yourself. You may not realise at the outset but creating your website content will really test your patience and resolve by the end of the process. You will tire of looking at it and miss mistakes that others will see straight away. You may have a friend or 2 who may help with spelling mistakes, grammar or copywriting on your site. But who are you asking to ‘vet’ your message clarity or the overall layout of the site?  Great if the person you ask to give feedback has good judgment, is commercially tuned in and digitally savvy.

Better if they can motivate you to make some difficult choices.

What choices you ask?

Instead of letting you create a bland website that says you are all things to all men, or a website that could easily pass for one of your competitors. You need to be challenged to make a stand, to have a market position. To speak meaningfully and clearly to you targets. Your content should attract and connect with prospects in a way that makes you stand out from all the rest who say they do what you do.

A nice, willing-to-please friend doesn’t work so well here. You need straight-talkers. Preferably seeking some viewpoint from your target market (Goes without saying that your husband shouldn’t be the only reviewer for your baby gifting website!)

If you don’t have a network or mentor with these competencies or feel the work needs a more professional touch … find a consultant.

Create the website or online presence that attracts the sort of customer you need to drive your business. Like the builder I hired, it can reduce the headaches in the long run.

@Siodhna

Marketing Small Businesses in Ireland – is all just a load of Social Media?

Marketing has changed ….

Marketing used be dominated by traditional, communications whereby large companies broadcasted their messages – one way – to the masses through newspapers, radio and TV and hoped that the messages would strike a note and that X% of the market would buy. This marketing method was expensive and inefficient and, for most small businesses, it was beyond their limited budgets. It favoured companies who had the resources to consistently invest in marketing. SMEs didn’t have the tools to compete or market themselves on a national stage. Nowadays, audiences in Ireland spend more time online than watching TV. The digital revolution is here. It means that audiences neither have the time nor the patience for old-fashioned ‘interruption’ type advertising. It also represents an unprecedented marketing opportunity for SMEs worldwide. For the first time ever, they have a loud-speaker, access to the market that doesn’t cost the earth.

New marketing

The internet and it’s accompanying search capabilities have brought with it inbound or content marketing which has utterly changed how SMEs market themselves. So instead of TV or print advertising ‘interrupting’ potential customers when they are relaxing or not in the market for your product or service, marketing is now about earning the attention of prospects by engaging them through creation of content that specifically speaks to them about the problems they are having etc. Because content is searchable it catches them exactly when are actively seeking solutions for problems or needs, ie when they are typing their need into Google’s or a Social Media search box. What could be more efficient and targeted than that? This new form of marketing is inbound or permission-based and is done mainly by being engaging (talking about what interests your targets) and making yourself easily found by having a strong online presence, engaging content, decent SEO etc. Another example of permission marketing is when you sign up to a newsletter, become fan of a business on Facebook, or subscribe to a blog. Each time you are giving a business or brand permission to communicate with you and establish a relationship with you. As with people, businesses need to nurture this relationship by building trust and engagement over time. The overly selly-selly or purely self-promotion approach doesn’t work well here. Why? Because people generally don’t like being pitched to, sold to … it switches them off. Think of cold callers, door to door sellers, leaflets you dump. These days people have become experts at screening quickly to avoid what doesn’t interest them.

Social media explained

Although Social Media appears to be a relevant touchpoint for SMEs, it may not be the ‘silver bullet’ some gurus claim it to be. As a business owner myself I have used Social Media with success to promote my business but I hear far too many business owners flaunt it as the low cost, ‘go to’ communications solution. The value of Social Media is in how it connects a business directly to their current and potential customers. Primarily Social Media is used to generate awareness and buzz about products or services a business offers and it can drive significant traffic to its website.

Social media content can be in the form of video, audio, images, links or just plain text that is published and shared in a social or business environment with a view to getting to your customers.

Social Media is one OF MANY online marketing tools that are available to SMEs, but because of the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Linked in it receives a disproportionate amount of attention from business owners I meet. To put some numbers on that usage in Ireland;

  • 1 in 2 Irish have a Facebook account.
  • I in 5 have Twitter account •
  • Nearly 1 in 5 are on LinkedIn

I say it’s one of many online marketing tools because a lot of small business owners aren’t aware of the trade-offs or what they could focus on instead. Having a decent website – one that puts across what you do in an engaging way – can get overlooked in favour of Social Media because of cost and effort. I also see SEO & Search – which remains the single best way drive traffic to a website (leading to enquiries/sales etc) getting less focus than Social Media, again because it takes some understanding and patience to master. Same for email marketing whose conversion effectiveness has quadrupled in it’s in recent times. It can take a little planning to do. Don’t get me wrong Social Media Marketing can have a place for your business. But it needs to be part of a bigger plan.

It has an edge over other forms of marketing because of this basic premise; people read, share and generally engage with type of content that is surfaced through friends and people they know and trust.

However, before you jump into using Social Media to market your SME it is very important to have your thinking straight first.

Some questions to answer before getting started with Social Media

1) Why are you using Social Media? Be honest. Followers and ‘likes’ sound good but don’t pay the bills, if there’s no strategy around them. Are you doing Social Media because everyone is talking about it and the barriers to entry seem low cost?

2) Sometimes businesses aren’t clear about the basics; who they are primarily selling to and how they are different from their competitors. This thinking is far more important to get right. If you are fuzzy whether you are primarily targeting mums or businesses, or whether you are trying to get more repeat customers or more new customers, yet post X times a day to drive ‘vanity’ likes from people who will never become customers then something is wrong.

3) Establish your business objective. Is it;

• Customer service?

• Selling on line and getting customer to pay online?

• Encouraging off line sales?

• Creating sales leads via email/phone?

• Building trust/developing relationships

• Rewarding loyal customers?

• Promotional offers communicated digitally

• Networking – partnerships created through people/companies you meet through social media

• Entertaining past customers? (Can you do better than this?)

• Getting more subscribers to your blog, followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook

• PR through your presence on Social Media which in turn may lead to sales

• Recommendations you received that turned into business

4) What content do you plan to share? Have you a plan? Do you really know what interests your market? Have you done enough research or ‘listening’ to competitors and trends on the market? The power of Social Media is that it’s personable, 2-way, engaging communication. If done right it can really hook in your prospects.

5) Have you found your Social Media voice? What’s your tone like? Are you doing updates yourself? Use the tone of voice that is appropriate to your brand and your customer. Friendly, relaxed, irreverent, professional.

6) Decide how much time you are going to spend on this activity and stick to it. Decide on frequency of posting. Social Media needs to be responsive and spontaneous but you can alleviate the daily pressure through content planning. Use a content calendar to plan content in advance.

There’s been so much discussion on the pros and cons of Social Media. For me it’s success depends on 5 basic things

1) The product you are selling. Is it a consumer product or service? Business or technical product? Is it local service? Hubspot Inbound Report 2012 tells us that , in the main, Facebook works better in converts prospects better on business to consumer sales and Linked in business to business. If your product is very visual, Facebook works well in showcasing it in an engaging way. Remember, it’s much easier to advertise a free family day or educational talk on Social Media, or cultural, late night music in a local café to a local crowd than sell an expensive, technical, difficult to understand product that requires a different mode of communication.

2) The market enthusiasm for the subject. Is it a product with an enthused market who seek out updates, who LOVE to share, comment and interact on Social Media? For example certain Mums on certain baby subjects, particular music fans, active locals, digital marketing enthusiasts? Does the market really like (not just kind of like) to keep abreast of the very latest on a subject?

3) The action you expect. Are you looking to generate awareness or sell? Are you expecting people to turn up to a free event or to buy a product?

4) The readiness of the customer to you and your messages. Are they at ‘awareness’ stage or ‘like’ or ‘actively interested’? You need to court them through this trust process. Is Social Media supplementing other marketing you are doing? Have you also a great website? A planned email marketing campaign? Interesting blogs to share? Social Media on its own has a difficult job to do on someone who is completely unaware of your business, product or brand.

5) Special interest sharing? Are you aiming for your content to be shared by someone genuinely interested in it or are you relying on re-tweets from the Twitteratti or serial ‘like and share’ Facebook competition enterers? It’s OK to rely on friends and family at the beginning but this network will soon run dry. Try to find your true fans.

Time is Money

To conclude, although low cost on the face of it, Social Media costs time and for small business owners and it can be very expensive in terms of the time you need to allocate to. This time could be used making business leads elsewhere. Social Media can be shiny, interesting and distracting and it can lead you down the wrong path. But it also could be the perfect connection you need to make with your market. All I recommend is that you ask yourself some of the questions I’ve highlighted.

@Siodhna

Use Stories in Your Marketing Communications to Get Noticed & Remembered

 

‘We see the world not as it is, but as how we are’

– Anais Nin

Want to stand out from your competitors? …. but don’t know where to start? Is marketing something that you feel is out of your comfort zone? How do businesses go about differentiating themselves in a crowded market?

It’s simple.

Share your story to connect better to your customer and you will build your business.

What’s your business story? Can you craft the story of exactly what it is that you do? Can you create your story so that you can connect better with your target market?

Psychologists, neuroscientists and more recently marketers have become fascinated with storytelling. Storytelling is a critical skill for business communication. Did you know that 70% of what we learn is through stories? Stories are how we make sense of the world and crucially for business, it is what we remember.

Apparently, inside our brains, we have ‘story templates’ ready and waiting to insert the information we receive. If this information is presented in a story format it sticks better. Think of information you take in from presentations, websites and conversations. It’s not the facts that stay with you long term, it’s the stories. Often they aren’t seen as stories, they are sometimes merely situations painted or real life examples that we identify with. Anais Nin said that ’we see the world not as it is, but how we are’. It’s these emotional brain connections – as marketers, as strategists and business owners – that we try to appeal to when presenting businesses to the market.

Marketing is based on the notion that if people really knew what you did, what you are really good at, they would want to buy from you. Marketing isn’t a blunt instrument that paints all customers the same or that sees everyone equally as your potential customer.  I hear ’everyone is my customer’ quite a lot from clients when I first meet them. The logic, I know, is to think you are increasing your chances of sales but in fact you are reducing your likely conversions. You need to be clear about exactly who you are targeting first, then figure out what matters to them. If you don’t know enough, or have a lot of old assumptions, then get out of the office and find out. Get into stores, on the internet, snooping your competitors, questioning your customers. Do some work on it. You need to know this in order to craft your story.

In the stories a business tells – be it on a website, promotional leaflet or sales email –  customers need to identify with the problem being solved.  They need to see themselves as the customer you describe, as the person who needs that exact problem solved. Most business websites set out talking about their services or product features instead of the customer’s problem. They fail to connect and inspire action.  They use too much jargon, come across bland or forgettable, or worse sound just like their competitor. When they do talk about themselves they can do it coldly – they think ‘professionally’ – but without any real impact. I’m always trying to get clients to put more of who they are and who their clients are into their communications. OK, you won’t appeal to everyone, but that’s the point. You appeal better to the customer you are trying to attract. The ‘about us’ section is one of the most important pages on a website. It’s one of the most visited pages on a website. You want the prospect to think ‘she’s like me’ or ‘I like that’.  ’That’s my exact problem’ or ‘that business is for me’. This is the connection that inspires action.

So in summary, the benefits of using storytelling in your business communications are;

  • Story puts a human face on information. Jargon without human connection is forgettable.
  • Story improves the overall comprehension of what it is you do and can simplify complex ideas.
  • Stories are memorable – they help support the retention of the business information and as well as the retelling of it.  
  • Effective stories persuade. Good sales people will tell you that people buy on emotion & justify their purchase after on logic.
  • Stories help to sell your business without the hard sell.

How can I find the story I need to tell?

Because we are so wrapped up in the details of our business it’s often hard to see what story we need to tell about our business.  Sometimes an outsider can see it better. Or even better a good customer. Someone removed from the day to day running of the business. When you’re too close to something you often can’t see it.  There are different types of stories we can tell in business

  • Your Back Story; How you got started, your eureka moment if you had one.
  • The Passion Story: Why you love what you do. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • The Personality Story: Your approach to how people might work with you.
  • The Customer Story: Who are your customers? What work have you done for them? How do your customers talk about the help you’ve given them.
  • Employee Story: How employees/co-workers explain the business – the’feel’ or culture of the business

How to tell your story?

There are a number of tools and techniques in telling compelling business stories across. Some are free to activate, they just take some research and thinking time to develop. Others need some funding. There’s one or two options to suit your business:

  • Websites Introducing your business to prospects? What’s the best way to do it online or at network events? The best way by far is to talk about the problem the target customer is having (preferably clearly, quickly and succinctly). Here’s a simple approach put forward by Mojo Life  that you might consider using. Instead of talking only about what you do, a long list of services (which can switch people off) you can use a technique called P.A.L. People are always more interested in what you have to say, when they see themselves in the story. They connect more with it. So PAL is about 3 things;
    • Pain – This states the problem or challenge faced by the target audience. In case of my business for example,  it’s businesses who struggle with effective communications, who are overwhelmed by new media and online marketing options, and who are too busy in the day-to-day to work on growing their business.
    • Asperin – is what you do about it, your experience, your way of doing business. Have you a proven ability to transform businesses or problems?
    • Legacy – This is the ’happy ending’ you create for customers. Why they are ‘better off’ having worked with you. This could be an aspirational future you pain for them.
    • What’s important to note in the PAL approach is that most of it is about the customer, their current and future state. Too many SMEs just talk about themselves!
  • About us’ sections that have ’soul’. You’re a human being, and so is your customer. The about us is one of the most important and neglected pages on a website. Here’s a nice example of an engaging about us page that draws you in and gives you a real sense of the owner behind the business. Three Thought Bubbles.
  • Videos are so effective in conveying business story in an compelling, memorable, sharable way. Here’s a great example of a UK business doing just that; Mojo Your Business.
  • Customer testimonials in old fashioned text, on LinkedIn or even better video/audio.  Hearing your story through your customer is gold. I have some testimonials for how I work here. Case studies or real market examples of what you do are excellent ‘stories’ for business to business.
  • Email marketing’s effectiveness has quadrupled in recent years. it’s because there is consent in being contacted, people have given their email because they are interested in something you do or info you have. Nurture relationships by connecting often with customers and prospects by sharing educational stories, recent successes, news, inspiring stories. Consider newsletters, nowadays there’s great tools like Mailchimp & Newsweaver which have some degree of design for engagement and measurability for tracking effectiveness. Veronica Maria Jarski runs an engaging blog via her newsletter
  • Portfolio pictures, photos, images, Infographics to paint picture that will be remembered.
  • Audio interviews with engaging, relevant content. Audio podcasts are making a comeback! It puts the human side of your business across in a way that stands out. Here’s a Galway accountancy business called Bradan Consulting using audioboo to tell it’s story in 2 minutes.  This was crafted, recorded and edited by Weave a Story
  • I also plan to run a series of Marketing over Coffee podcasts in the future. This can be used for  ’how to’ guides, new launches, interviews, blogs. I am in the process of recording these.
  • Online slideshows, presentations can add to your story better than just text … especially if you are on a budget.
  • PR – local and national news – stories shared online and in traditional media can reach big audiences.
  • Customer generated content – It’s much more powerful to hear about how you rate or work from your customers. Ratings were Airbnb’s strongest card in instilling trust. Do you have recommendations on your business or customer testimonials? I share my endorsements here in ‘How I work’. Endorsements on LinkedIn,  feedback, comments, retweets all help spread your story to new audiences.
  • Guerilla marketing,  unexpected or out of the ordinary marketing. This can be low cost and very effective. For example a dance school flash mob launching a new product.

These are just some ideas. Even if you take just one idea and try to activate it. Telling your business story well is such an effective marketing tool. It helps you stand out in a crowded marketplace.  It’s all about human connection. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should always be inspiring.

Share your story. Connect better with your customer.  Build your business.

@Siodhna

Creating an Effective Website

Inspired Thinking logo

Marketing is based on the notion that if a prospect knew the truth of your business, what you’re really good at, that they’d want your service, your product, or they’d want to work with you.

So many websites I see say little more than ‘I’m just like my competitor, just with a different name’.

Boring is invisible. Or at least forgettable.

Stand out. Be Remembered.

Remarkable businesses get talked about. They get their marketing done for them by their happy customers.  

Marketing has changed. It used be all about outbound messaging, it used be where the big companies could afford to play. There has been a seismic shift in marketing whereby TV and print advertising is not as effective as it once was. People are spending more and more time online. New marketing tools are now available to SMEs, who can now use targeted, cost effective, measurable means of communicating to their chosen audience. So instead of interrupting people with ads for things they don’t want, SMEs can now present their businesses to potential customers at the very moment they are considering that product or service area. There has also been a shift from attention bought to attention earned. This is all based on the concepts of Inbound Marketing and Search Marketing.

Websites act as hubs for companies of all shapes and sizes. It’s your shop window. As a small business, your website can be THE MOST CRUCIAL (sometimes the only) means of marketing or branding your business.  One homepage flaw may turn away a valuable potential customer.  A poorly designed website could cost you thousands of euros upfront, but more concerning is the loss of potential revenue you may experience from its poor design, function and copy. These are losses SMEs sometimes never become aware of. So here’s some tips I’ve collated to help you avoid the pitfalls.

Top 10 Tips to Creating an Effective Website

1. Time – make sure you make some

Busy, busy. It’s the new black! The day-to-day is relentless for SMEs. I know, I run one too. Busy pays the bills. But to grow your business to the next level you need to work ‘on’ your business as well as ‘in’ it. How will you know how much better you can do if you don’t make the time to stand back from the daily operations. The website development process can (at times) be tedious and time consuming. It can take anything from a week for a super urgent job (be prepared for pay for a very speedy turnaround!) to a number of weeks. I normally say to clients that if they apply themselves to creating some time to work on it, from beginning to end they should allow 4-6 weeks to be realistic. How many hours it will take in those weeks depends on the type of site, the ‘readiness’ of the content, the number of pages, the layout, sophistication of design etc. Even if you are not ‘building’ the site yourself you need to research the market, create the content, proof it, plan the layout etc. The copywriting and proofing will always take longer than you think it will. Your web developer usually won’t take responsibility for this. Some even look for ready-to-go content for the price quoted (especially if rock bottom). Even if they do work with you on developing the content, they are not paid to know your business, research your market etc. You’ve heard the phrase ‘what goes in, comes out’. Whilst some developers are more business-savvy than others, they are not usually marketers and they are often keen to get the job completed within a timeframe. I meet enthused clients time and again who run out of steam, time and focus at crucial stages on the project. Strategically ’bully’ this time into your diary. You’ll end up learning so much. At the very least don’t plan to engage 3rd parties when you’re not ready or at key busy periods.

2. Do your Research

Not doing enough research in advance of creating a new or redesigning an existing website is the most overlooked aspect of creating an effective website that I come across in SME marketing. Use every means at your disposal to understand the market you operate in. The customers AND the competition. The longer you are in a business, the more assumptions you might make and they can cause you to miss something really significant. These long standing assumptions can be a major barrier to real progress in marketing SMEs. When planning or rethinking your website, come at it fresh, almost like an outsider who knows very little about your business. To really do this you might need to get other people’s opinions. Best if you can get the potential customer. Actively do some investigative work to get into this mindset. Carefully research your target audience or the specific niche you’re trying to reach. Try not to fall into the trap of thinking everyone is your audience. By trying to target everyone and please the masses leaves you end up reaching none properly. Use your research as a foundation for the web design process. Use the internet, contacts, networking, friends, check out stores, and especially look into getting feedback from the potential customers groups you are aiming to target. If you’re looking to reach Mums or women then check out the blogs about what they are talking about, design and branding is often important, consider colour schemes and imagery, if its teen you want to appeal to ensure you cater to mobile compatibility or look for a responsive web platform. As for an older target market, perhaps have larger font sizes and simplifying the user experience to help with faster navigation. Goes without saying that the content and key messages need to resonate or have meaning to your target market. They need to say, ‘that business is for me’.

3. Try to find a decent budget for the website

I’ve come across far too many small businesses who ended up with a horrible or clunky website after hiring a cheap designer. You may have had a fraught relationship with your developer or they didn’t have the expertise to deliver what you need. Branding and perception is important. Some developers may think it’s ok to have lots of different fonts, garish colours and clunky layout, but if you are targeting a niche that doesn’t think that meets their standard, then you are taking yourself out of the consideration set. When it comes to launching a new website or redeveloping your current one, do your research. Get 3 quotes at the very least from 3 types of developers. Get an education on what’s available. Some developers have great design capabilities, others are SEO focused. Choosing the right web designer or developer could make or break your website. It’s also best to keep in mind that being too ‘money-focused’ can skew the whole process in the wrong direction. WordPress ‘ready to use’ templates have been great in levelling the design playing field so check these out before making a decision on look and feel of website.

4. Ensure your content isn’t stale

Getting everything up on the site factually and grammatically correct can feel like a major achievement. But it’s only the beginning. The website content needs to really earn the attention of your prospects in order to be a success. It needs to be fresh. Stale is grey, forgettable.  If nobody has cared to update the site in months or years how is it deserving of your targets time? An enticing and effective website should contain the latest information about your products, services and company as a whole. To be a results-focused marketing tool, your website needs a fresh feel in terms of content, your customer may assume you’re not innovative enough. Update frequently if you can with new products, updates, blogs and trends. If you have a blog on your website, aim to update it a least once a month – even once a quarter to begin with – to help drive visitors to your website and improve your search engine optimisation. Only 6% of businesses in Ireland blog, if you do it at all you are getting well ahead of your competitors. Another interesting point to note on content is that 70% of what we remember is from stories. You can inject some effective storytelling into your content to make it memorable. I’ve written more about using video, images and customer stories here to use online content to connect better with your customers.

5. Craft your key messages

So many websites have cluttered websites. In trying to say too much, they end up not saying anything at all. Lots of businesses don’t say upfront on their homepages what it is that they do – succinctly, simply and with meaning. They often bullet a list of features, or services using too much industry jargon. They might have tons of copy on their site but no key messages that stand out. The design of your website should allow you highlight key points and the content needs to speak with impact to your target market. The content needs to demonstrate the types of problems your targets have. Or the needs you can satisfy. Can your targets really see themselves in what you’ve written? With messaging and communications less is often better.

6. SEO  ‘Build it and they will come’ doesn’t apply to new websites

There’s absolutely no point in having a great product, a lovely website if nobody ever sees it. I’ve met a lot of clients who said they have paid for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but have no idea on what they got for it or how to improve it. Take my advice, getting found on Google is an area where 3rd party expertise is required. If you don’t want to pay advice, get trained on it. Take a course, online or offline. If you want to get to page 1 on Google for your chosen area, there are 2 ways to do it

1) Organically which takes commitment, planning (keyword phrases), trial and time.

2) Paid Search is quicker but can be expensive (eg Google ads etc).

This is an area deserving of it’s own blog which I will pick up on again.

7. Think twice about doing it DIY

Web design in my opinion is better left to the pros. I’ve seen so many sites with amateur looking mixed fonts, garish lettering or shouty primary colours and a layout that simply doesn’t look professional. It’s because the business owner is learning on the job, doing something he or she isn’t a specialist at. While a DIY initiative may seem necessary to accommodate your small budget, you’re probably not going to do your small business justice on the web. Your website will be the first chance many of your customers have to interact with your brand; presenting a DIY experience may turn them away. Your time is valuable and should be treated as such. If you are going to invest an inordinate amount of time in learning web development, put a value on the time. If you are determined to do it yourself, then use WordPress. They have a range of templates that are ready to go.

8. What’s the customer journey on your website? 

There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer making a purchase than a shopping cart that crashes. Or attempting to click through links or social buttons and finding error messages. This may leave your customers wondering what’s going on with your website. Not to mention, you also missed out on a chance for your customer’s sales at the last hurdle, or to learn more about your company. First impressions matter, targets don’t have the patience or time for slow or badly planned websites. Don’t allow your customers slip away when you have them interested. It’s a mortal marketing sin. You can get really tired of re-reading your own site so get some honest friends to feedback to you. Ireland’s Smartphone penetration is approaching 70% but so many websites are not designed for viewing on anything but a PC. Again WordPress have ‘responsive’ designs for PC, Smartphone, Ipads etc. The layout of the site changes and responds to the size of the screen it’s been viewed on. It’s real progress as in the past developers would charge extra for creating mobile compatible websites.

9.  Have you neglected the ‘about us’ page?

The ‘about us’ section is one of the most visited and important pages on your site. Put more of ‘you’ into it. How did you get into this business, what inspired you? What you are passionate about, what are your values, your vision for the business. The ‘about us’ section is the next best thing to the person meeting you.

10. Have you a clear ‘call to action’?

A potential customer has come across your website. What do you want them to do once they hit your homepage? Show them the next step, which may be buying your product, subscribing to your newsletter, or contacting you. Ensure your content answers your user’s question of “What’s next?” so that you can help them navigate accordingly. The most effective call-to-action takes place immediately on the homepage or in a centralized point on every page on your website.

The Digital economy in Ireland is going to double in the next 3 years. Don’t squander this opportunity to take advantage of one the greatest business shifts of our generation.

@Siodhna

Is Branding really relevant to Small Irish Businesses?

 

 

 Is Branding really relevant to small Irish businesses?

 

 

First off, recession aside, it’s not all about big budgets. Just because you run a small business doesn’t mean you can’t build a brand. SMEs can sometimes overlook the importance of brand building or feel that brands are for big businesses with college know-how. This is a mistake. Your SME business could also be a brand whether you know it or not. And if planned correctly it can help you grow your business sustainably.

There are a lot of myths and misunderstanding around branding. First of all … what is it all about? Is it a logo? A tagline? The look or typography on your marketing literature? The advertising you do? The events? Does it include the look of the website?

What is branding anyway?

Here’s Seth Godin’s definition. “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

So a brand is the ‘extra’ people are willing to pay verses alternatives. Why might they be willing to pay this premium? It’s about building an emotional relationship between offering and audience, the X Factor. From the way your phone is answered, how goods are delivered, how you speak to and treat the customer, how complaints are handled … even how invoices are paid. From the events you do (or don’t do!), to the advertising you print, to the look of your place of business, to the tone of all your customer communications. Branding is the sum of all the contacts with your business. You could say every contact your business has externally is an attempt at creating your brand; the good, the bad and the ugly!

How insanely curious are you about finding the exact range your customers want? The small things they value, the interactions they appreciate, the tips they love and the price they are willing to pay?

On a recent trip into town I was heartened by the customer driven initiatives I met in cafes, hairdressers, craft stalls and small retail stores. It struck me that some small businesses really go that extra mile to show their customers that they want them to keep coming back. Whilst others simply do not. They rely on low price, promotions, busy streets and cheap products to draw the crowds. I know from running my own business that (unless you are located on the main thoroughfare for what you sell) it’s a lot more efficient to get repeat business than constantly trying to convert new clients.

To understand what your customers value, the little touches, the things that might cost a little but mean a lot … are the first steps you make in building your brand and crucially takes conversation away from price. So that you don’t need to be the cheapest provider, with the promotions. So you can seek out the customers your business deserves. Who are willing to pay the price premium you want to command. 

So, when I seek a new hair salon, as I have done recently, and I could go to any of the 100+ salons in Dublin, how do I choose a new one? Price? Expertise? Location? Convenience? Recommendations? A mix?  Maybe. But what makes me come back? Indepth stylist consultation and great service delivery, complimentary latte on arrival, surprise toast if it’s a morning booking, expert products cross-sold, loyalty points system that discounts future visits? You can be damn sure I appreciated these customer focused initiatives and will give them my custom from here.

Is Branding worth the effort?

In short yes. The benefits are long term and sustainable. When you craft what your brand is all about;

  • In these price-obsessed times we live in, you get to take the conversation you are trying to have with your target market away from price and the dreaded race to the bottom.
  • People ‘get’ more quickly what your business does and what you are all about.
  • The market stops weighing you up against your competition every single time they think about the category you sell in. They become more loyal to you because you make them feel special, their life easier, better.
  • As a business owner your overwhelming choices in terms of marketing opportunities are narrowed and your communications become easier to plan.
  • Your customers start doing your marketing for you (via old fashioned things like repeat business and word of mouth recommendations as well as social media sharing, online recommendations, endorsements etc).

In my next blog (click here) I lay out 10 simple tips to creating a brand for your business that can be applied to SMEs and larger businesses crafting a new brand or rebrand.

@Siodhna

 

Female led businesses – a ripe opportunity for economic growth?

 

Let’s face it. Ireland needs all the economic upswing, enterprise growth and entrepreneurial talent it can harness at present. A recent UPC/Amarach report projects Ireland’s internet economy to double to 6pc over the next three years, translating into the employment of 18,000 if Irish industry is to keep pace our EU neighbours. So why does over half our population not even represent a fifth of our country’s entrepreneurs?

Women in Ireland continue be less entrepreneurial, tend to have lower confidence and aspirations when it comes to running their own business than their male counterparts who are are 2.5 times more likely to be an early stage entrepreneur than are women, (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2011)

The economy needs enterprise and start-up enterprise needs more women

It seems like a no brainer to me, if we are to meet our online projections, we need both genders creating quality enterprises … at pace. If more Irish women were encouraged and supported into running their own businesses it would add millions to the exchequer, contribute thousands to employment and make significant inroads towards economic recovery. Back in 2007 Mary McAleese stated that “If women in Ireland were to become entrepreneurs at the same rate as men in Ireland, there would be as many new entrepreneurs in Ireland per capita as there are in the United States.”. However, not much has changed since, and with an online gap to bridge (Britain has more than double our internet economy) there’s a risk that we feed economic growth to our international neighbours. Too much of Ireland’s online purchasing today is purchased over US and UK websites.

So, in light of this, and looking ahead to International Womens Day on March 8th, why is it that Irish women shy away from running their own business? Why do we have one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurs in the developed world?

Why the lag in female entrepreneurship?

Yes, the high cost of childcare plays a role, and compared to the US some Irish ‘paid’ employment offers very compelling maternity pay in contrast with what you earn working ‘for yourself’. Add into the mix  that one of the prime motivators for women in starting their own business is because it appears on the face of it to offer more flexibility but the reality of the hours required often differs.

The issue of ‘family responsibilities’ is one where there is a major discrepancy between male and female entrepreneurs, the general thinking being that women are less likely to be willing to spend as many hours away from the family home as men may be. Not always a recipe for fast paced business development, but issues I understand only too well having 2 children myself under 3 years of age.

The GEM also reports that women are 5 times more likely to set up their own business as a result of meeting other women entrepreneurs. It’s well known that women naturally tend to collaborate, share information and support other female entrepreneurs. In a recent article Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook said ‘men tend to attribute their success to innate qualities and skills, women attribute their success to luck and help from others’. The local enterprise boards in Ireland have recognised this need and actively promote excellent business networks for women.

This is not meant as a sympathy plea and I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist. But this drive for more female-led digital businesses is important. A lot of emerging female run businesses are microenterprises and don’t typically don’t fall within the profile for government support who focus on manufacturing, internationally traded services, high potential start-ups etc. Enterprise Ireland has recently launched a feasibility funding initiative … but more supports are needed.

For my part I want to do my bit.

An exciting new community of digital women

Enter #DigiWomen – a project I am supporting along with co-founders Rita Tobin of Asar and Pauline Sargent of Social Zavvy. It’s an exciting initiative that aims to create an interactive, online platform for women running their own digital businesses (ie any female led business with an online presence).

The premise is simple. I meet so many women starting out and there’s a common thread to the challenges. They feel they lack the expertise – be it sales, marketing, technical, communications, design, business development and so on. We want to play our part by starting a series of practical, visible projects to educate and inspire women to scale their businesses. We want to create a connected, educational community of professionals who are interested in supporting other women in reaching their potential, whether that be running a sustainable business, becoming thought leaders for others or becoming a higher performing SME.

DigiWomen will be a free to join, member based online organisation. We have been asking female led digital businesses to become part of the launch by supplying an image of themselves that shows their name, their website and a visual saying “I am a DigiWoman” to digiwomenirl@gmail.com. The official launch is this coming Friday 8th March, International Women’s Day, in Fumbally Exchange and a promotional video will be produced to feature businesses who responded to our #Digiwomen call out. We will also be speaking at Digital Dublin Day in the Mansion House later that evening.

Keep up to date on DigiWomen on Facebook. Or follow the Twitter hashtag #DigiWomen for further news and updates. Our new website will be live from Friday at www.digiwomen.ie.

I’ve heard it said that China is not the next big superpower … and that it is, in fact, women. Strong words.

#DigiWomen – watch this space.

 

 

WAIT, IS YOUR START-UP IDEA GOOD ENOUGH?

First of all – entrepreneur; what does that mean exactly? A person who starts a business where there was none before? Definitely, being a challenger of the status quo is  key along with the trait of being a keen observer. After that, it’s about making well spun, well targeted NOISE about what you do. It’s not much good being a change-maker if nobody ever gets to hear about it, or is interested enough to want to buy it. So my definition would be; Entrepreneur = innovative thinking + marketing.

The biggest failure with start-ups is usually in commercialising the concept or more simply, in not finding enough customers to justify the business. There may be a business, but is it really a sustainable, long term business? Is your passion for your business idea clouding your judgement?

One good way to address the subjectivity issue is to set out your plan on paper.

This is not for your grant or bank loan application but it may form the basis for the financials and strategy that feed into them.

It’s mainly for you to decide if your idea is good enough.

Don’t answer these in your head.

Get a piece of paper and write them down.

Try to complete it in one sitting.

If you can’t complete it or are you missing key information, update it when you can.

Or better, realise that you haven’t thought it through properly.

 

Start-up checklist

  • Do you believe in this project enough? Are you really passionate about it? It’s a lean path at the start and one that requires drive.
  • What are you afraid of? And why?
  • When was the last time you did something for the first time?
  • What is the problem in the market that you are setting out to fix? Or the customer desire you are looking to satisfy? Tip – Make things or sell services that people really want!
  • What are the top 3 benefits your product/service offers customers? No industry jargon please – in the words of your customers if you can.
  • What is this business to be about? What will you not compromise on? Don’t be safe – pick areas you can really own or be known for. This is about uncovering your distinct competitive advantage.
  • Who is your customer? What are the segments groups within your target market? What do you know about them? What do they love/hate? What media do they consume? Is your information recent? Have you actively researched it or are you making assumptions?
  • What are the channels to market or the paths to the customers?
  • Who are key influencers, gatekeepers, authorities?
  • What’s your story? What’s your background? What inspired this business? Your vision, your ethos? What do you really value in terms of the goods/services you supply?
  • What does success look like? What’s really great? What’s good enough? Get these measures down now.
  • Who are your competition? Where are their strengths? What are they weak on?
  • Financials: What are your projected revenues and what are they based on? Costs: Distribution costs, what are the costs of acquiring one customer? Are these one off purchases or likely to repeat? What is the lifetime value of a customer?
  • What does failure look like?
  • What improvements could you make? (ie after looking more closely at your market would you change your distinct position?)
  • What things could you take out or add in that would improve your product/service?
  • List the items still to be decided and put some timelines to them

If you don’t know where to start, begin here.

The upfront thinking is crucial when starting a business.

Give this stage the focus it needs and you will find decisions much easier at a later stage.

‘Whatever you can do – or dream you can – begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ Goethe

A meaningful, punchy elevator pitch

Do your marketing messages do anything for your business?  Do you go to network meetings and stumble across your words when asked to publicly introduce yourself? I’ve done it. Is your website, flyer or promotional literature a never-ending list of all the services you can provide? Again, I’ve been here.

Do you go on (and on) when someone asks you to explain what exactly you do? Covering everything from where you come from, how long you have been in business, where you are based and a long list of generic, forgettable services?

What’s the one thing you want to say?

If you had the chance, what silver bullet message would you communicate to turn prospects into customers? In other words what’s your 30 second elevator pitch or your business one-liner?

This is a question I ask my clients when trying to work out the best communications strategy for their business.

I usually get lots of answers, not one. Bullet points of well meaning, generic messages that could easily be that of their competitor. Often overly formal, impersonal, sometimes techy. Always needing more work.

I don’t say this lightly, like it’s something that’s easy to do. It’s not.

There are those who might say “if you could say what you do in one line, then it’s not worth doing!!” I take the point, but only concede that OK, it can be two.

If you don’t put out a clear, easy to remember position about your business then someone else will, Chinese whispers style. If you don’t think you have a story, think again, it’s what people say to each other about you. Better to take control and craft the message than leave it to others. Better to be known for one thing that sets you apart.

It’s usually after I meet a client and have a good chat with them about their business, asking some probing questions do I get to the crux of this.

I understand why this happens. I run my own business, and know that business owners are busy running their businesses, fulfilling orders, meeting deadlines to really stop and think about this.

Besides, it’s not exactly easy to get down to the one thing you are really good at doing. It’s hard to say why you are REALLY different from your competitors – who say they do exactly what you do. It can be frustrating when the first answer that comes to mind isn’t the right one. The right summary may not always be immediate and can take a little research to get it right. Sometimes other people who know you well can see it clearer, or your best customers will say why they use you. If it was easy, everyone would nail it. But the reward for those who do it well is getting noticed more. Surfed more. Bought more. Recommended more.

What is marketing all about anyway?

Related to this is the common misunderstanding about what ‘marketing’ actually is. It’s what a lot of people commonly view as advertising. First of all, let’s say what it’s not. It’s not a blunt instrument that tries to talk to everyone, talking to a diverse audience en masse. A common misunderstanding is to think that you are reducing the size of your potential market by appealing to a niche segment, when in fact you are doing the opposite. If you have a service or product that appeals to a certain segment of the market more than others, then focus on that segment. What problems or needs do they have that you can help them with? How can you show them your business is for them? Marketing is knowing the customer and market you operate in, inside-out, and using that knowledge to grow your business. It’s based on the notion that if someone knew the truth of your business, what you’re really good at, they’d want your service or product, they’d want to work with you.

In Summary:

To arrive at your one liner, your tagline, your flyer headline or website home page message – think about a couple of things;

  • Get an outsider opinion about what you are good at. Better again, research it, have your happy customers tell you.
  • Know who you are talking to. Your market is not everybody.  You need to pick an audience your business appeals most to in order to craft the message that will mean something. What does this customer value? What really annoys them? How do they use this product or service? What’s their story? Do you really know? If not, you need to ask them, walk in their shoes.
  • Will your target customer really identify or connect with the problem you are highlighting? Can they see themselves your one liner or homepage message? Would they think, ‘Yea, that’s me, I have that problem!’
  • Are you talking about yourself in your communications more your customer’s problem or need?
  • Start somewhere, you can always refine and improve it. It’s something I’ve done over time.

In summary, if you’ve got 30 seconds, say what the customer needs to hear, i.e. the problem you can help them with. 

Síodhna McGowan – Inspired Thinking – helping SMEs who struggle with their communications by shining a light on what they do best so they can grow their business. 

Will Digital Marketing become known as just Marketing in the future?

I read a piece in Marketing Week recently with this heading and thought it worth sharing. I think the topic and the informed comments on this piece (link below) make it all the more interesting.

http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/story.aspx?storycode=4005302&PageNo=2&SortOrder=dateadded&PageSize=10#comments

I’m not a big fan of wordy definitions but it helps to set up a context here. Marketing is everything you can do to understand your target market, and it is using that knowledge to grow your business by telling your business story better to your customers … in a place they can find, a language they understand and a style that has impact. The place is the only difference whether communications online or off.

Your marketing – whether online of offline – should consider the following.

  1. You as business owner being insanely curious about what segments of the market convert better to what you sell and why.
  2. Cultivating that never-ending curiosity for what’s really working in your market, what your target market wants/needs/loves/hates. Trying new things, measuring their impact, adjusting, trying again.
  3. Generating interest from your audience.
  4. Even better, becoming ‘remarkable’. As in, ‘worth making a remark about’.
  5. Being clear about what it is you do, so they understand how you can help.
  6. Getting your message across quickly and in a way that has impact. This may not always be written copy, it could be expressed through customer service standards, staff training, product range etc
  7. Allowing them identify with or see themselves in your communications – getting them to think, ‘that’s for someone like me’.

Digital can’t fix bad planning. Nor can it hand you the strategy to make decisions.  It can, of course, do the communication in;

  1. a highly targeted way
  2. can do it quickly
  3. with great impact
  4. and – rather compellingly for SMEs – in a reasonable, affordable way, making it the popular choice it is today.

I predict the Digital revolution to continue to morph, disrupt and take a disproportionate amount of business’s planning time over the coming years. It is the media of the future and, however unhelpful, the distinction between online and offline options will most likely continue.

There are more important points, however, for business owners and managers to mull over. Less about ‘the where’ or communications form and more about ‘the what’ are you talking about.  Stephen Covey was a great business leader and once said ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’.

Can you explain what you do in a meaningful way in less than 60 seconds? Do you explain the problems your business solves for your customers in your communications? The benefits it can deliver them? Do you try to tell your story in a memorable way that your potential customers might notice? Do you say how you are really different from those who say they do what you do? Do you spend time thinking of how to connect more meaningfully? How could you make your messages more trustworthy, believable or authentic?

After ‘the what’ …. then it’s about ‘where’ and ‘how’ you do it. Digital marketing descriptions are broad and each lever can work differently or require different time/money investment from Paid, Search, SEO, Email, Content, Blog , Video, Audio, Social Media etc.

My background is FMCG marketing and I know that traditional marketing has peaked and had its glory days. It had become a numbers game with the bigger companies winning out due to sheer investment and oftentimes innovative businesses got left by the wayside due to lack of funds. One big positive from the digital revolution has been  the gift to every small business of its stage and it’s voice. This has been, on one hand, revolutionary …a great leveller and extremely positive for Irish industry. But on the other it has been its undoing in terms of poorly planned marketing. So many businesses clamour for a piece of the digital pie for no better reason but than that ‘my competitor is doing it’. Better for SMEs to focus less on the fact that it’s inexpensive and more on what they want to say.

Strategy, customer understanding and business story need more focus. The smoke and mirrors and mystifying wizardry of digital marketing should settle soon so that all that’s left are the basic questions of communication; who, what, when, where, why.

Online or offline marketing needs less distinction and debate, and your simple business story a lot more.

@Siodhna

Marketing Over Coffee – Some articles, videos and blogs I’ve found interesting

 Strategy

Inspired Thinking

Business Storytelling

Digital

Blogging

Social Media

Start-ups

Irish SMEs need to harness the digital revolution

As Irish consumer move online will small business benefit?

It was estimated that €420m was to be spent online over Christmas in Ireland, half of which was to be spent on non-indigenous e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon.

Irish businesses need to be reaping more of this ever growing online spend. To do that they need to have their website designed properly, SEO optimised, mobile friendly with slick checkout facilities if payment required.

Traditional Irish SMEs have failed to pay attention to digital economy and less than 21pc of Irish businesses having the ability to pay online on their website. Visa Europe say by 2020 they expect half of all Visa transactions to be made on a mobile device. Carat Ireland say that those using smartphones to check or source product information stood at a whopping 81 per cent! We know that well over 50% of Irish mobile users have a smartphone and this is predicted to go to 70% in coming months.

According to a recent Amarach report, the internet economy accounts for 3% Irish GDP and this is set to double to 6% by end 2016. So online spend will move from €3.7bn in 2012 to €5.7bn (that’s 7pc of all consumer spending).

Our nearest neighbours are bounding ahead of us and claim 8% of its GDP comes from the online economy. According to BCG by 2016 the UK’s digital economy will represent twice that of Ireland’s (12.4% GDP).

The Amarach report predicts this ‘catch-up’ could mean jobs – and predicted increased employment of 18,000 – if Irish society can keep pace with the digitisation levels of UK or Scandinavian counterparts.

One thing’s for sure, the Digital Revolution is here … and here to stay. The question for you – is your business positioned to reap the rewards?