SME Marketing

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.


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.


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.



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 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

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.




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.

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.


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?