Free Business Course: Four essential tips for every small business

1. Use email marketing

  • Set up a free account in Mailchimp, create newsletter template and set up a mailing list.
  • Add subscription forms to your website. Create a page designed only for getting people to subscribe to your newsletter. The page will consist of the newsletter subscription form, a free give-away (something of value) and text that encourages people to subscribe.
  • Use social media, blogs, articles, and online marketing to send people directly to your subscription page. E.g. For example, on your Twitter profile have a link to the page and some text saying, ‘why you need a virtual assistant, free report’ or something similar.
  • Add all of your current clients to your mailing list.
  • Send out a newsletter at least once a month with tips, special offers, useful articles and case studies illustrating the benefits of using your services.

2. Drive traffic to your website with these simple ideas

Write a blog once a week. Here’s how to find ideas to blog about:

  • Look at the top ten people in your industry;
  • Sign up to their RSS feed put it in your RSS reader.
  • Follow them on Twitter.
  • Use Google to find ‘Guest blogger services’ and then choose one to work with. Specify what you are looking for and get guest bloggers to post on your blog.
  • Use WordPress plugins like Tweet old post; to automatically tweet your old posts.
  • Four Essential Business Tips by Jim Byrne 1Jim Byrne & Associates
  • Be a guest blogger
  • Be a guest blogger for market leaders.
  • Use http://www.bloggerlinkup.com to find people looking for bloggers or wanting to blog.
  • Use http://www.copyscape.com to check that any articles written for you are original.
  • Write longer articles for busy websites and link back to your own site.
  • Use social media to get traffic
  • Join http://uk.linkedin.com and add your profile in full. Spend some time connecting to anyone and everyone you already know on there. Write recommendations for others in your network and they will return the favour by recommending you, without you asking.
  • Use Twitter and Facebook to create posts that link back to your website. In your profile text always link back to your marketing page and on that page write text that encourages visitors to sign up for your newsletter. Give away something free as an incentive.

3. Organise your business administration

  • Get yourself organised so your admin isn’t getting in the way of your work. For example, find an invoicing application that is easy to use and that you are comfortable with so that your invoices are sent out quickly.
  • If you don’t send out your invoices quickly you will find it more difficult to get paid.
  • Set up a simple four box archive system for your accounts, i.e. Invoices, Receipts, Bank Statements, Miscellaneous. These are physical boxes not online folders.
  • Use http://evernote.com to organise your tasks, to do list, passwords etc.

4. Get small things done cheaply

  • Use services like http://www.fiverr.com and http://www.microworkers.com to get small jobs done. For example if you need a banner designed or want to get some content written for your site. Explore what other people are doing on these sites to get good ideas.

Good luck with your new business!

Free Business Course: Your business website? What the %!*l is it for?

Millions of new websites get built every year by business owners who haven’t thought very deeply about why they want one and what they want it to do for them.

And after it’s up and running those same business owners silently accept that their website gets very little traffic and attracts very little business.

That’s not going to be you! In this course unit we will take the time to figure out just why you should have a website and how you can design it to do a job for you.

Your website is part of your marketing strategy

“97% of shoppers research local products and services online. Your website stands a good chance of being a prospect’s first impression.”

A definition of marketing for service based businesses:

“Marketing for service based businesses: the entire process of building the relationship between your business and your customer or potential customer.”

To market your business successfully – you need to:

  1. Be clear about what you do and what is your unique selling point.
  2. Know who/where your target market is.
  3. Build credibility within that market.
  4. Attract new customers and keep existing customers; and you do that by creating and maintaining business relationships.

Your website is for marketing your services

It is just another tool you use to meet your marketing aims. Think of nothing else when designing or redesigning your website; it’s not just about how it looks (that’s is very important as we will see later – but you aren’t creating visual art, or a set of magazine pages) and it’s not a vanity project to make you look good.

You website needs to:

  • Clearly explain what your service is.
  • Identify your target market (the visual design and content should reflect that).
  • Help build your credibility within that market.
  • Both attract new clients and help you keep in touch with existing clients.

In short – you need to

  • Be clear about who you want to attract
  • Be clear what action do you want them to take

The action you usually want them to take is to register for your mailing list or get in touch via phone, e-mail or your contact form.

You are doing this so that you can keep in touch with them and build a relationship that shows you in a credible light. Remember – we said marketing was about building relationships.

Ok – so let’s take each of these things in turn and look at examples

1.Clearly explain what your services are

Ideally you should be able to express this in no more than a couple of paragraphs. It should be easy to read and easy to understand.

It should also identify your niche, your target market and what makes you special.

Exercise 1: ignoring for now your target market and your unique selling point: write a single paragraph (or at a push two) that says exactly the service you provide. This should be written is such a way that it could become the introductory text on your website.

What makes you unique?

How do you make it sound like choosing you is the only logical choice? Here are some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Features or additional services you add for free
  • The way you deliver your service
  • A unique guarantee
  • Showing that you uniquely understand your potential customers’ problems – and can provide the solutions to those problems
  • Showing clearly how your service benefits your customer? This is the old ‘benefits not features’ mantra: how specific can you be about defining the benefits of using your service
  • Demonstrating that you are the most up to date with new developments in your sector
  • Being the very best at what you do

Exercise 2: Write down the thing that make you stand out. Your unique selling points.

2. Your target market?

Be clear about who and where your potential customers are. If that’s clear you can:

  • Ensure the look and feel of your site is appropriate; you don’t want it to look like CBBC’s if you are targeting local garage owners.
  • If your target market is defined as those within a particular geographic area, e.g. Accountants in the Glasgow area; ensure that your website URL, headings, keywords, key phrases and so on include that area name. If I’m looking for someone to help me market my services in Glasgow then I’m more likely to type, ‘Glasgow Marketing Services’ into Google than just ‘Marketing Services’.
  • Being clear about your target market will allow you to tailor your content, your offers and services to a specific group/sector/individual
  • For example you can Blog about subjects of interest to your potential customers; this makes you look like ‘the expert’ in the area. if you can blog consistently and find ‘addictive’ subjects to blog about; people will continue to come back to your site to read your latest thoughts. Don’t use a formal ‘voice’ when you write your blog, be conversational.
  • You can develop and demonstrate your expertise via your site content and publications you produce. For example you can write expert guides that you give away to encourage people to register for your mailing list.
  • Customer testimonials should be by those in the same sector you are marketing to.
  • Testimonials can also come from people who provide the same or similar services to you.. For example if you are a web developer and you are part of a friendly web developer network – you can exchange positive comments within your network. Even your peers think you are good!
  • If you are sociable – encourage the development of a community of readers by regularly asking for their opinions and feedback. Always reply to people who add comments to your pages.
  • If you have the resources and time, make videos and post these on your site. The subject could be anything as long as it is related to your subject area and relevant to the interests of your target market. For example you could create videos containing tips and tutorials related to your area of expertise.
  • A quick way to get a sense of what content your site should contain and how it should be organised is to list and rank your main target group(s) and then list and rank the needs of those groups/potential clients, i.e. the needs that you will meet with your services. This helps ensure that the most important content is easiest to find.

An example

If you have identified your target market to be time-starved small business owners and you run a virtual PA service, what would be the appropriate content for your website?

Clearly there will be the basic stuff; services you can provide; your rates, contact details etc. But there should also be content that is on there because you have a very clear idea of your target market.

Perhaps publications you have written? For example, you know small businesses are always worried about costs – so you could write some publications that address exactly that issue:

  • “Why using a virtual PA can increase the turnover of even a one man/woman business? “
  • “10 reasons business support from a virtual PA makes sense for small businesses?” Features about top tips are particular popular on the web.
  • “Did you know a virtual assistant can save your business money?”
  • You could have a calculator that demonstrates the return on investment when you use a virtual PA: e.g. your time is worth this amount per hour; but you can get a virtual PA for this amount per hour. Highlighting the ‘opportunity costs’ of the business owner doing everything themselves.

Exercise 3: Write down who your target market is and how you can ensure the content on your website is targeted at meeting their precise needs.

3. Build your credibility: a major job for your website

If you don’t look trustworthy; no-one will hang around long enough to give you their email address or purchase your services. Looking credible is central to the success or failure of your website.

How do you use you website to build credibility?

  • Ensure any photographs of people on your site are real people who work in your business – not stock photos. Provide short biogs for you and/or your staff.
  • Add logos of clients you have worked for – particularly those whom you deem to be important in the sector you work with.
  • Take advantage of the idea of ‘social proof’; i.e. ways to demonstrate that other people care about and appreciate what you do.
  • Add a Facebook ‘Like’ button to each of your pages
  • Include testimonials from clients and from important figures in your industry.
  • Add social media ‘likes’, Linked in testimonials, Twitter followers – up-to-date blog with comments.
  • Show the Facebook ‘facepile’ of your community
  • Use articles, news items your have featured in.
  • Add good things people have said about you on Twitter (you don’t need permission to republish a Tweet):

Make good use of any review you have had

  • 41% say they read 4 to 7 reviews before feeling comfortable about a purchase decision
  • 63% are more likely to buy from a website with reviews and ratings

Source: http://www.peopleclaim.com

Exercise 4: Brainstorm ideas for content you can add to your website to demonstrate and build upon your credibility.

Ensure your website is professionally designed!

Visual design is very important: but website design is not about providing cool graphics; it’s about solving problems, usability, readability, accessibility – it is about standing out

There is a study titled “Trust and mistrust of online health sites.” In it 15 participants review health sites that they find via Google. 94% of the factors mentioned for mistrusting a website were design related.

When talking about trusting or mistrusting a site, design related issues were mentioned 15 times more than content issues.

Specific problems included:

  • Boring web design, especially use of colour.
  • Busy layout with too much text.
  • Pop up advertisements.
  • Poor navigation.
  • An inappropriate name.
  • Slow to load.
  • Small print
  • Corporate feel.
  • Poor search facilities.

Poor design means people don’t hang around for long – which means they don’t buy-in to your service.

Good design = trust = more conversions = more money in your pocket

“As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.” Dr. Brent Coker, who studied the impact of attractive websites on human behavior.

Attractive well designed websites look professional and inspire trust in site visitors. In short, design matters.

4. Attract new customers and keep existing customers

Attracting new customers: your website is the central hub of your sales funnel

Your marketing funnel is the system that draws people to your website and channels them towards your contact form or newsletter subscription form.

Encourage signups using:

  • Landing pages: landing pages are pages that only consist of a powerful sales message (which could include a video) and a subscription form. Visitors choices are restricted to either leaving the site or signing up via the form. There are no other links on the page (i.e. no ‘about’, ‘home’, ‘our services’ and so on).
  • Think of your social media pages as ‘the spokes’ of your marketing funnel – your website is the hub. In your social media profile text always provide a link to your site – with an incentive for people to click it (e.g. a free publication); the link goes straight to a page on your website with a signup form for your mailing list.
  • You should have many ‘calls to action’ on your page. Ask people to get in touch (e.g. to take advantage of your current offer) at various points on the page; not just at the end.
  • Use an online mailing list service such as Mailchimp to manage your subscription lists and newsletters. Integrate subscription forms in to your website. If you use WordPress there is a Mailchimp plugin that makes this easy.
  • Use buttons rather than text links for form submit fields. This increases conversion.
  • Keep existing customers; ‘front of mind marketing’
  • Keep in touch with your existing customers and provide them with on-going fresh content on your website. Only by keeping in touch will you be the person who comes to mind when it is precisely your service that they need. If you are not in their mind at that point someone else will be.

Keeping in touch via a regular newsletter; that after all is why you attracted them to your site in the first place; so you could get them on your mailing list – and develop a long-term relationship, this allows you to demonstrate your expertise.

In conclusion

Marketing for services based businesses is all about building and maintaining relationships with customers.

The aim of your website is to get that relationship started; to do that you need a site that inspires trust. Ideally to the point where visitors are happy to register for your mailing list, email you or fill in your contact form.

If people visit but don’t get in touch then your website is not doing its job.

Free Business Course: How does your business grow?

We can’t all be natural born business superstars – but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow a successful business; we can – because we are all capable of learning.

In this chapter we will try to understand a very basic question of how a business grows.

So how does a business grow?

In ‘Customer Pillars’ (which you can download free from www.famee.org) Curt Clinkinbear writes that if you want to double your business income you need to do one of the following:

  • Double the amount you make from existing customers.
  • Double the number of customers you have.
  • Double your prices.
  • Or a mixture of all of the above.

That’s as simple a description of how a business grows that you are ever likely to get – though of course that’s not the same as saying that that growing your business is easy. Of those options, the quickest and least painful way to grow your business is by concentrating on your existing customers.

1. Plan to double the amount you get from existing customers over the next year.

Most businesses know that they should concentrate more on their existing customers; they have read that it’s easier to sell to an existing customer than find a new one. However, even knowing that, they still tend to spend more money and energy trying to find new customers. This is a mistake.

Before chasing new customs you should be thinking about how to provide greater value to those you already have; do this and your business will grow naturally.

In Customer Pillars Curt tells us that we should be spending at least 50% of our marketing and sales time and money on our existing customers (and 25% trying to re-activate and sell to lapsed customers).

When you have existing customers who feel they are getting value from the business relationship and feel that you are genuinely keen to help and to provided the best possible services or products – those customers become your sales force. New customers will result from your sales force evangelising about you and your business.

The folding bike-maker Brompton does not advertise, instead they rely on their happy bike owners to tell their friends and to drive sales.

“Our idea of marketing is to produce a great product and look after the customer,” says Mr Butler-Adams. “Do this and they become evangelical about you.” Will Butler-Adams, the boss of UK folding bike-maker Brompton

Retain existing customers and grow revenue from those customers

  1. Review your customers to be clear which customers are you best and most profitable; these are the customers you will concentrate your energy on.
  2. Strengthen the relationship with your existing customers: keep in touch with them more often and try to ensure you have a clear idea about what their needs are and how you can meet them.
  3. Develop new services or product you can sell to them.

When reviewing your customers:

  • For all of your active customers calculate what their average yearly spend has been?
  • For each customer calculate what their overall spend has been and what their average yearly spend is. This will tell you who your best clients/customers are – and therefore who to give most attention to.
  • Group your customer database in to active and lapsed customers (have you invoiced them in the last year? If not think of them as lapsed).
  • Group your customers in as many different ways as you can; e.g. in my case that could be: sector, size of budget, number of staff, geographical area and so on. This will help you get a better understand of what sector you are in; which will help you when you are trying to get new customers.
  • Now work out your customer retention rate, i.e. how many customers who bought one year didn’t buy the next. If you combine this with the record of how many new customers you got across the same period you will have a clear picture of how/why your business is growing or not growing. Clearly if you losing customers quicker than you are gaining them that’s not a good sign.

TAKE ACTION: Create way to record the results of the above exercise; maybe an online task management services or a simple offline workbook.

The more successful you are at retaining customers and growing revenue from them, the less pressure you have on your business to keep chasing new customers.

As Curt Clinkinbear imaginatively puts it; keeping existing customers is like closing all the leaks in a damn; as water flows in the level rises; water flowing in is you getting new customers; sealing the leaks is you taking actions to retain your existing customers.

You do this by providing better and more services to existing customers and by re-establishing contact with lapsed customers.

Re-activating lapsed customers

In your earlier exercise you worked out the average spend of your customers; so if you can make even a small number of lapsed customers in to active customers again you can easily calculate how much this will add to your revenue for the year.

Your profits should increase as your overall revenue increases. However, that is not guaranteed; your costs may also be going up. So ensure you are keeping a record of the extent your profits are increasing (or decreasing) as a result of new business. There will be no point in have more customers or providing more services if that isn’t leading to more profit.

Think, what can you do for your existing customers that you are not currently doing.

  • What services and/or goods are they buying from your competitors; can you provide the same thing only better?
  • What can you do to help them grow their business or make things better for them?
  • Can you help them be more efficient or make their processes easier?
  • Can you add value to the things they offer to their clients/customers?
  • Can we do anything to reduce their worries and fears?

TAKE ACTION: Choose three of your most profitable customers and Try to find answers to each of the above questions.

Ok here’s an example from my own personal experience. I’m in the Web design and development business, I specialise in accessible website design and my target group is non-profits. So what new services can I develop and sell to my existing customers.

First I can research other web design agencies in the same sector and take note of what they are offering

  • Usability as well as accessibility testing
  • Some provide free fundraising tools
  • Online Marketing tools
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) service
  • Help with Newsletters and newsletter setup.
  • Security related products/services?
  • Website redesign
  • Mobile and tablet site design
  • App development
  • An on-going support service
  • Online training courses
  • WordPress related services
  • Branding development and support
  • help with pitching for funds
  • Providing reduced rates for charities
  • Content reviews and rewriting
  • Web site maintenance, upgrades, and complete redesigns
  • Web site usability audits
  • Web site planning, mapping, and design briefs
  • General web site consultancy
  • Help with Fundraising campaigns
  • Mass mailing and marketing
  • Membership management
  • Event administration and publicity
  • Case management
  • Community building: seminars
  • case management softwares

There are some things in this list I don’t do – so armed with the knowledge of what other companies are offering I can now make appointments to visit my best customers to look for opportunities to help them achieve their aims.

Although most of my customers are not businesses and are not trying to grow in the conventional sense, they do all have targets to meet – whether that be numbers of volunteers or numbers of people given assistance, or number of people trained or finding work, or number of people given information. This therefore should be something I can focus on, i.e. how to assist them in meeting their targets as outlined in their funding applications.

I can become aware of their targets and think about how I can help them meet them or how they can provide greater value to their target groups and networks.

My aim is to:

  • improve communication with my clients and prevent them from going elsewhere.
  • Think about how I can help them be better at what they do
  • Increase the trust in my business and what it provides
  • Sell more of what I already sell.
  • Expand my products/services in response to their needs.

“The company that best understands their customers and prospective customers is in the best position to be the industry leader. So define, study, and learn to gain greater knowledge of and intimacy with your customers.
“. Curt Clinkinbear Customer Pillars

To sum up, before you even start to think about strategies to attract new customers make sure your current customers are happy and that you are providing them with all the services or products that will help them meet their goals. Do this well and your own business will naturally grow.

In the process of keeping your existing customers happy you will discover a lot of valuable things that should help you in your marketing – when you spend that 25% of your marketing time trying to get new customers. For example you will have a better idea of what your customers needs are and what services you can provide to meet those needs.

Free Business Course: Find your market

You’ve decided what business you are in, now you need to narrow your target market

Once you have decided what business to be in, your next step is to decide who you will be doing it for, i.e. try to narrow your target market as much as possible. You can’t market to everyone. There are many, many potential market sectors for your services; far too many for you to market effectively to them all.

A light bulb dissipates energy across a wide area/a laser is focused on a small area; you want your marketing to be more like a laser than a light bulb – and for that to happen you need to have a clear idea of who your customer is. The following points will help you find the specific/narrow target group.

Find your market:

The first thing to do is to write down all the potential market sectors for your services then consider each in relation to the following questions. These questions are taken from the book Marketing Your Services by Anthony O. Putman

Mark each of the sectors you are considering out of 10 for each checkpoint; it should become clearer what market sectors to ignore and what to concentrate on.

Can they afford you?

  • Do they have a big enough budget to make it worthwhile you doing work for them. Tip: check your local Library Business Service; the Mitchell Library in Glasgow for example can provide turnover information for Scottish Businesses.
  • A third of all business are bust within two years, half are gone within 5 years. One of the main reasons is an inability to make a profit. One business owner I spoke to decided to close down his printing business because he was working 12 hours a days, six days a week and was barely breaking even; he had masses of work but wasn’t making any money. He was doing that work for local businesses not prepared to pay more than the bare minimum for printing services.
  • I provide services to non-profits/Voluntary Sector which is a very competitive market. Grants and subsidies from Government in the UK amounts to #66.2 billion a year, Central government contracts delivered by the voluntary sector amounted to #4.4 billion. (ONS United Kingdom National Accounts – The Blue Book, 2011 Edition). In relation to website design and development work most charities and voluntary sector organisations make provision in their budgets for the development and maintenance of their websites. As a business I’m always trying to work my way up the ‘food chain’, i.e. work with larger and larger organisations who have larger budgets.

Will they pay a premium for better service?

  • Are they only looking for the cheapest – or are they willing to pay extra for the best.
  • If you market yourself as ‘the best’ and prove that to be true in practice – you can command a premium price for your services.
  • Larger organisations with bigger budgets tend to be more open to paying for quality and paying for services beyond the basics.

Are there enough of them?

  • Is this target market big or is there only one potential customer in your area?
  • In relation to the market I operate in, if I just look at Charities alone, in February 2009, there were 170,905 charities.(UK Civil Society Almanac 2012 published by NCVO www.ncvo-vol.org.uk).

Can you reach them?

  • You won’t be able to build a relationship with them if you can’t communicate with them.
  • I worked in the Voluntary Sector before I set up my web design agency – so I had a ready made network and an understanding of the culture.

Are you credible in their eyes? Will they take you seriously?

  • Building your credibility will be an important aspic of your marketing. I was aware of this early on and decided that as part of my marketing I would become a publisher author, provide free weekly website accessibility tips, create training courses and generally try to ensure that potential customs perceived me as the expert in the area of accessible website design.

How much competition is there for the work?

  • In most sectors there will be a lot of competition; if there isn’t competition that probably means the sector isn’t worth being in. Your job is to stand-out from the competition. You do this, not by offering better features, techniques or better presentations; but by the managing the impression buyers get of you from the very first meeting, email or telephone call. You always need to appear generous, knowledgable, professional, ethical and reliable.

Do they have a need for your service? And do they know they need it?

Are the in the right area? In Glasgow? Edinburgh?

How will the the type of organisations you do work for reflect on you?

  • One of the things people are impressed by is the type of organisation you have previously provided services to. I’ve provided advice to local government, national government and The European Union on website accessibility and I’ve also did work for many of the larger Voluntary Sector organisations; this helps make people feel more secure when they are considering buying my service.

Free Business Course: Find the thing that makes you special

Ok you’ve decided what business you are in and you have decided that market you are aiming to compete in. So now you need to figure out how to stand out so that people give you the work (and/or customers) rather than the next person. There are many many many Website Designers, Bookkeepers, Translators, Dog Walkers, Printers, Florists, Coffee Shops and so on. Why should a customer choose you?

Well because you will find a way to make you unique and stand out from the crowd. The easiest way to do this is to specialise even further and look to sell into even more of a niche market. For example, My work resolves around everything to do with website design and development; but I realised early on that that wasn’t going to be enough to get me work; no matter how good – or how many testimonials I got or how much money I spent on advertising.

My background included working in the Voluntary sector, in education and working with disabled people I decided that I would specialise not just in website design but in ‘accessible website design’ and that I would narrow my target market to the not-for-profit sector, i.e. charities, public/voluntary sector.

I then set about become ‘the expert’ in the area of accessible website design; the goal being that any time a not-for-profit organisation was thinking about a website designer and they were also thinking that why would like to ensure that their site was inclusive and that they weren’t breaking any equality laws – they would think automatically of me.

To get to that point does of course take a lot of work. This was the pre-twitter and Facebook era; it wasn’t going to be easy to ensure that people would hear about me and the work I do. My initial marketing plan revolved around my need to demonstrate my expertise:

  • I created an automated mailing list that people could subscribe to that wold provide them with a free website accessibility tip every week
  • I published a book; which was easier than it sounds as it consisted of all website accessibility tips that I had been sending out each week; once I had enough I just gathered them together and published the tips as a physical book; if i did it today I would probably publish it as an e-book. I have also published many guides and e-books on my own behalf and on behalf of other organisations (e.g I wrote the Accessible Websites Guide for The Scottish Accessible Information Forum).
  • I provided free help to local accessibility related and Voluntary Sector organisations; e.g. I joined their committees as a volunteer.
  • I spoke at conferences about accessible website design.
  • I started up a networking group for other people interested in accessible website design.
  • I created a training course which I offered free through the networking group
  • I provided advice related to accessible website design to local, national and European government.
  • I gave feedback on the development tot the W3C Accessibilit Guidelines version 2 – via my role at the Guild of Accessible Website Designers.
  • I set up a mailing list and sent out newsletters to subscribers – providing tips and news related to accessible website design and my related services.
  • I visited as many people as I could in my target market, ie. I went to visit charities, voluntary sector organisations and education sector contacts (mostly research projects as they need websites about their research).
  • I was lucky enough to win some awards that I could then use for marketing purposes.
  • When Twitter and Facebook came along I started using them to send out my tips and to spread news about things related to accessible website design. Of those two I now mainly use Twitter as I found Facebook didn’t work for me – and there are only so many hours in the day. I decided to concentrate on just one social media outlet.

I still do quite a lot of these things now as marketing is an on-going process. I tend not to speak at conferences any more and the networking group I started (which at one point had 400 members across the world) – ran away with itself and ended up taking up too much of my time. It was too successful in it’s own right but became a drain on my time and resources rather than a help.

I passed the administration to another organisation who didn’t actually pay it any attention once they had it; so it has since withered on the vine – so to speak.

Anyway enough of what I decided to do – I mention it just as an example. I genuinely believe that If I hadn’t decided to specialise and serve a narrow niche early on in my business I wouldn’t have survived; being a website designer and developer just isn’t in itself special enough to compete with all the other website designers.

During a chat at one of our CafePreneur meetings wanted to find ways to ramp up her photography business but was still falling back on work related to her Chemistry degree. One suggestion was to use that skill to specialise in science photography – or more specifically photography for the chemistry industry (I’m assuming there is such a thing). This would set her apart when selling to clients working in that business; do they go with the generic photographer or the photographer that knows all about the subject area being photographed?

So don’t just be a wedding organiser be a natural wedding organiser, not just a Florist but a Florist who’s specialises in weddings, not just a Bookkeeper but a bookkeeper who specialises in bookkeeping for dentists, not just a Translator but a specialist in translation of legal documents, not just a coffee shop but a coffee shop specialising in artisan roasts and so on….

Author of The Long Tail Chris Anderson called The Long Tail says the future lies in niche products and services.

“We are now a nation of niches. There are still blockbuster movies, hit TV…shows and top-selling CDs… The action is elsewhere, with the country watching cable shows or reading blogs that play to a specific audience.”

Free Business Course: Find your niche: become a specialist

I have learned a lot from the book, ‘Get Business To Come to You – A complete Do It-Yourself Guide to Attracting All the Business You Can Enjoy’ by Paul and Sarah Edwards. There are quite a few ideas in this section that are drawn from that. I recommend getting a copy yourself as it’s full of fantastic ideas and insights.

One of the first things that the book explores is the idea that many businesses fail simply because they aren’t focused enough.

Are you working in lots of businesses?

Do you hope that you can make money by doing a variety of different things and targeting lots of different markets? Are you are waiting see what takes off; maybe you think being flexible will open up more opportunities for you?

If so – STOP! You need a complete rethink.

If you are spreading yourself thinly across several activities the truth is that you are likely to struggle to get any work at all. You will probably be perceived as a jack of all trades and a master of none; be seen as unfocused and probably thought of as someone with quite shallow knowledge and skills in each of the areas you claim to work in. It doesn’t matter whether that is true or not – what matters is how you are perceived by potential clients.

Are you a graphic designer who also does house sitting, bookkeeping and pet walking? That sounds ridiculous, but I’ve met many self-employed business owners who have several business cards in their wallets; ready to present the appropriate one to whoever they meet at a networking events.

Inevitably after they present the first business card – talk about that business and if they sense that you aren’t in the market for what they offer – they will tell you that ‘that’s not all I can do… I also do….’.

At this point you are thinking, ‘hmm a bit unfocused and desperate for work’. That’s not the sort of first impression anyone wants to give to a potential customer.

Don’t be a generalist

Nobody wants to employ a generalist; what they want is someone who is an expert in their field – someone who has experience and is known for doing what they do – and doing it well. Potential clients/customers will instinctively feel that they will be able to rely on someone who is an expert in a narrow area.

In order to get a continuous flow of well paying work potential clients need to know what business you are in.

You want people to seek you out because they need a specific service and they’ve heard you are the best person for the job.

You won’t be ‘the chosen one’ – because you are the cheapest; or because you advertise more; not because you talk yourself up more than everyone else – but because they have been told that you are who they need to speak to.

To get to the point you need to become well known in the right places; and develop a good reputation. Do that and word of mouth will bring you all the work you need.

The authors of ‘Get Business To Come to You’ are perfect examples of their own message, they had been trundling along doing various semi-successful activities but it wasn’t until they fully focused on helping the small businesses that they becomes super successful themselves,

“We knew we had to make a choice, and so with some discomfort we put these projects away in the back of a filing cabinet. But we have never regretted making these difficult decisions, because once we committed to focus our work together on providing information and resources on self-employment, almost as if by magic, our careers took a significant leaf forward and have unfolded in rewarding ways. Of course it wasn’t really magic. It was commitment, dedication, hard work, and determination. It was because we were giving this one goal and this one dream everything we had to give.”

‘Getting Business To Come to You’ was the main book I read when I started up my own business. I took their advice and I can tell you that it works. Here are some testimonials I’ve got from clients,

“Our charity scoured the myriad of adverts offering accessible website designs; but which one, at what cost, a series of never ending questions, search after search.

One name Jim Byrne kept appearing, not in the form of advertisement and promises, but praise for the work he does in development, design and tutorials on accessible website design. ” Terry Moseley President British Disabled Angling Association

“When we were looking for someone to design our new website we literally looked the length and breadth of the country but Jim’s understanding of the sector and his superlative technical skill made him stand out from the crowd! Eleanor Brown Project Co-ordinator Lead Scotland, Get Connected and Lead

How do you make the choice about what to concentrate on?

Unfortunately there’s no guaranteed techniques to help you make a choice; you have to make a decision after considering the pros and cons as you see them. Ultimately the decision will be based on your gut instincts.

An idea that has helped me when trying to make a decision – is the notion that there are no wrong choices – they are all right – but each takes you down a different path. Each path will bring its own opportunities and it’s own adventure.

If you really can’t decide on just one thing; maybe you need a logical ‘umbrella title’ that explains a related set of skills and services

Maybe one single activity can’t make make enough income to sustain a business; consider how related activities can be marketed under a single umbrella title; just ensure that they would logically go together in the minds of potential customers.

A personal assistant for example will be expected to have many different skills as would a business designed to help other business startups. People will feel they know what these jobs are; they would have no problem in understanding that you specialise in helping new businesses.

Things you might want to think about when considering your choice of business:

  • Of all the things you are working on which one are you most enthusiastic about?
  • Which one do you already have skills and experience for? Maybe one of your potential businesses is training; are you a good communicator? good at putting you ideas down in writing; good at making complex ideas simpler and clear to understand?
  • Which business elicits un-asked for compliments from clients/customers?
  • What business do you already have the largest network of contacts in?
  • Which business opportunity has the biggest potential demand for your services? Clearly you don’t want to start a business in something that nobody wants. However, don’t choose a business solely on the grounds that you will make the most money from it. If can’t get enthusiastic about it neither will any of your potential customers – and the rewards will remain potential and never be actual.
  • What business are you prepared to commit to long enough that you make an impact; to the point where people know your name and automatically think of you first.

The benefits of specialising in just one business:

  • You can focus your energies on a single activity. You will have the time to become the expert you claim to be.
  • You can charge more for your services; people are prepared to pay for a specialist. The last thing you want to aim for is to be the cheapest, as that just means you need to work longer hours to make a living.
  • You will be clear about what you do and so will your potential customers.You will be abel to explain why you are the best choice.
  • You can be the guru at the centre of your own network of contacts and clients.
  • It will be easier to create your marketing plan; your target market will be more focused.

As a specialist – you should also think of yourself as an expert and a ‘thought leader’ in your area. The ultimate expression of this approach can be found in the book, ‘Tribes’ By Seth Godin which is about leadership, and finding your community of followers. In the context of your business your job is to attract followers of your ideas, your values. Ultimately those followers will buy your services or purchase your products. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead.html

Unusual niche’s to inspire you

Emma Jones founder author of ‘Spare Room Start Up’ uncovered these unusual niche businesses, Designer Pet Wear, Green Union – specialist in Green Weddings .

I’ve also heard of businesses that sell CD’s containing songs and music aimed at dogs. if you met someone at a networking group who wrote songs for dogs would your remember them? I bet you would and you would probably tell everyone you met about them for the next few days.

How to find your niche

When deciding what it is you are going to specialise in you are looking for an area that provides and intersection between your interests, your experience and your opportunist.

Your interests

  • What areas of work do you find interesting and/or challenging?
  • What type of people do you like working with?
  • Is there something you’d like to do that will make you feel that you are making the world a better place?

Your Experience and resources

  • What experience, contacts and skills do you have?
  • What existing networks do you have?
  • Are you aware of legislation that creates a need in the area you would like work in.

Opportunities

  • If there is legislation related to your niche can you create a need for your work based on compliance with that legislation?
  • What are those people in your target market complaining about; can you help?
  • What industry trends are creating new opportunities and new needs?

Write down answers to the above questions and then look for overlaps between them. To give you an example, I’m interested in design, computers, computer programming, social equality and I like the approach and attitudes of people who work in the not-for-profit sector.

I have a lot of experience in computers – having started as a computer programmer back in the late 70s and early 80s. I also have qualifications in computer as well as more arts based subjects. I also worked in the Voluntary Sector for a number of years providing training to disabled people. While working in that sector I got to know a lot of people which meant I had a network of contacts.

The introduction of first the Disability Discrimination Act and later the Equalities act means that organisations have a legal obligation to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated again, including on the web. It’s agains the law to have a website that isn’t accessible to disabled people.

Putting all of these things together the niche I choose to pursue was accessible website design aimed at the not-for-profit sector as it fitted my skills and my existing networks.

TAKE ACTION: Do the above exercise and find your unique niche even if you are already in business; it may reveal new opportunities or a new market you should be targeting. Try to be as creative as possible, both in revealing hour interests, experiences and opportunities and in how these could be combined in a business.

Free Business Course: Change your mindset from worker to entrepreneur

The entrepreneur Nigel Botterill tells the story of the day that his entire approach to building his business changed; he was asked by a local business friend what – in his opinion – was the most important thing to concentrate on to grow his business? He thought about it and said it was probably getting new customers and keeping existing customers.

To his relief his friend said that that was correct. However, his pride at getting this right was short lived, as he was then asked what he had done that day or in the last week to get new customers or keep existing ones? Nothing was his reply – he’d been ‘too busy’ with all the other day to day stuff of running his business.

Business owners are often ‘too busy’ working to find the time to figure out how to grow their business. Nigel Botterill’s solution was to commit to putting time aside every single day to ‘work on his business and not just work in it’. In practical terms that meant he committed to spending the first 90 minute of each day working out how to get more customers and keep the one’s he had – and to find new ways to market and develop his business.

This is not a new idea; this approach was outlined in the classic 1985 business book, ‘The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It’ by Michael E. Gerber

The book notes that most business owners build their business on the back of a skill or a passion they have (e.g. jewellery design, art, plumbing, alternative therapies, tailoring, cooking) and that they get so consumed by doing the work that they don’t have the time (or the skills) to run and grow their business, i.e they are ‘technicians’ but to be success they also need to be entrepreneurs and managers.

The solution as far as Michael Gerber was concerned was to run a small business in the same way McDonalds runs their fast food outlets, i.e. document every task carried out in the business so that it could be run by someone other than the owner. This would free them up to think about and develop their business. Michael Gerber could clearly see that unless the business owner could absent themselves from the everyday tasks they wouldn’t be able to do they things required to make the business successful.

Read a summery of the E-myth here

It’s time to look up from what you are doing

Not every business is suitable for documentation as described by Michael Gerber; but one thing that every business can take on board is the idea that they need to look up from ‘doing the work’ to spend time thinking about how to develop and grow their business.

TAKE ACTION: Decide from now on you will ‘work on your business not just in it’. In order to find the time to do that you will need to develop a new habit, i.e. the habit of taking time out every morning to work on your plans for getting new customers and keep existing customers.

This won’t be easy, because the everyday work will always be making demands on your time; however you need to find a way to do it and continue to do it. Apparently it takes at least 20 days to create a new habit; but once it does become a habit it will no longer be difficult to fit into your schedule as it will just become another normal part of your working day.

Things to do

At this point you may be thinking, ‘well what are these things I should be thinking about and doing during that ‘time out’ period?’

The truth is that there will never be a shortage of things you can do. This training course is full of ideas you can put into practice; and there are shelves full of business books packed with valuable advice and techniques for developing your business. In fact that is a task in itself; reading inspiring books and biographies of successful business people you admire.

I run a group called CafePreneur which I set up as a support group for small business who run their business from home or from local cafe’s. One of the exercises we do is to decide upon actions to take in our development time. I provide as starter list of things to do – many of which I’ve learned from Nigel’s own list of morning ‘to dos’. You might find the following exercise and list of tasks useful as starting point:

TAKE ACTION: Develop the habit of working on your business every day

Choose one (or more) tasks to do each day for the next twenty one days. You will do this during the time you will set aside each morning specifically to think about and grow your business.

Example tasks:

  • Contact a person/business/publisher/funder who is a potential client/helper/mentor. Arrange to meet them for a chat.
  • Register for a mailing list service (e.g. Mailchimp) and set up an account.
  • Create a professional looking newsletter template.
  • Import all current customers/clients/contacts into your mailing list database.
  • Send a newsletter (always finish every newsletter with a ‘call to action’ and an appealing offer).
  • Review all of your customers in terms of how much they make or cost you both in money and time. Think about what to do about the time wasters and how to deepen the relationship with your most valuable customers.
  • Arrange to visit your 10 best customers/clients/contacts.
  • Write 30 tips to send out automatically each week (to subscribers) for the next 30 weeks. Your newsletter service will provide an ‘autoresponder’ facility to automate the entire process.
  • Think about what you need to do to become ‘the expert’ in your market niche.
  • Write a book? Write articles for the press? Be a media contact? Get accredited? Win prizes?
  • Get your website redesigned so that it acts primarily as a lead generator for your business. If you don’t have a website get one.
  • Look at your website and see if it is obvious how visitors get in touch; can you see the phone number and a link to your contact form?
  • Add case studies to your website.
  • Create a ‘leads funnel’, i.e. a way capture people’s contact details, e.g. a form on your website that people fill in because you are giving them something of value. Use Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn to feed people into your leads funnel.
  • Spend some time thinking about where you want your business to be and look like a year from now. Think about the steps you need to take to get there.
  • Decide what niche you are working in and what makes you special. Write it down and build all your marketing materials around it.
  • Describe your ideal customer/client (size, budget, sector, culture).
  • Ask for testimonials from your customers/clients/publisher/readers.
  • Add your testimonials to your website and marketing materials.
  • Email or phone current clients and ask them if they would recommend you to their contacts.
  • Find a complementary business interested in sharing their/your mailing list and newsletter content. Arrange to meet with them to discuss it.
  • Incorporate social media into your website. I.e. widgets for my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.
  • Learn how to use Google Adwords or find someone who can help you use it.
  • Look for a business mentor. Get in touch with them to ask for a meeting.
  • Find out how or if you can use Pinterest for your business.
  • Add your business to the Google map on home page of Google – via Google’s Places for Business.
  • Write positive recommendations for the people you know on LinkedIn.
  • Develop a premium product. 20% of your clients/customers will buy your premium product.
  • Write a simple guide relating to your area of expertise.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t got a LinkedIn profile, set one up.
  • Get a professional profile photo taken.
  • Create a signup form on your website and give something of value away to encourage signups.
  • Find appropriate out-sourcers to do the things you don’t want to do or can’t do yourself (try Fiverr.com or Elance).
  • Use Twitter for marketing. Read about how to do it at http://amzn.to/OmHXwC (an e-book written by myself and Jeremy Webb) -download the free copy from your members area in Best In The West.
  • Sign up for Social Oomph or Hootsuite – and schedule appropriate Tweets.
  • Arrange a visit to your local Library and request a tour of their business resources. Use their database of businesses to get a list of potential customers.
  • Think about ways you can develop services or products that will give you a ‘recurring income’.
  • Design a postcard you can use to market your services or product.
  • Get it printed and deliver it to potential clients.
  • Read a chapter of a business development book.

TAKE ACTION: Decide how long your are going to spend each morning working on your business and commit to it. Start tomorrow morning.

Free Business Course: Learn to love yourself

Your attitude to yourself will have an impact on how you interact with other people; if you can’t love yourself, or don’t even like yourself – others will also find it harder to love and like you.

The very best person I’ve came across who can help in this area is Fiona Harrold – one of the UK’s leading personal coach’s. Buy Fiona’s ‘Be your own life coach’ book – or even better – get a hold of her ‘falling in love with yourself’ recording. I guarantee you’ll find it a life-changing experience.

Free Business Course: Explore Your Attitudes To Money

Many people in business are confused and conflicted about the very idea of having a lot of money; they have unconsciously attitudes that hold them back from acquiring more than a certain amount.

Being rich has for some people, negative connotations; connotations that are constantly being re-enforced by the media. Often the implication is that a rich person is a ‘mean money grabbing individual’ who doesn’t pay their taxes, someone who got rich not because of their talents but through subterfuge of some sort.

If you think ‘having money is bad’ then does that mean if you are successful in you business you will become a bad person. Surely that makes no sense at all? Let’s face it, who is going to strive to be successful in their business if they are going to turn into someone they don’t like.

In this section we will be asking you to explore your own beliefs around money and prosperity and to understand how, or if, that is holding you back from being more successful.

Revealing your money attitudes

Think about how you speak about money and wealth and how those around you when you were growing up spoke about money and wealth. If you see someone getting into a very expensive car do you have negative thoughts about that person? Do you resent them or alternatively do you admire then and think they must have worked hard to be able to afford that car?

When you were growing up was your mother always fretting about money and telling you that they couldn’t afford things? Where your parents always scrabbling around for money for a bus fare, or was money never a consideration because your parents always had more than enough?

As an example that might help when setting down your own thoughts, here is what I came up with when I did this exercise myself; it revealed some deep-seated ideas that were limiting my own potential.

An example: my beliefs about money

I recognise that in the past my income and my capacity to feel comfortable with prosperity has been limited by my outlook and beliefs; my subconscious seemed to have decided where my natural place is in social and material hierarchy. In terms of income; that manifests itself in the income my business generated.

When I look at my life, the jobs I’ve done and my income level, I’ve tended to fall within a certain bracket; roughly speaking, a lower middle-class income level.

The most stark example of this can be seen when I set up my business; I quite quickly got to a point where I was earning more or less the same as I had been when I was employed (I had previously been employed as a lecturer); and that I found it difficult to go beyond that income level.

I had excuses; related to things like, ‘well if my business starts to reach a certain income I’ll need to start dealing with additional administration, complexity and costs’; I was constantly thinking about the trade-off between the energy and time required to run a bigger business and the impact that it would have on the ‘non-work’ aspects of my life, i.e the music I write and play and my family life.

These are excuses, however, they are excuses that spring from my attitudes and beliefs rather than excuses related to any practical difficulties related to growing a business.

My attitudes have been shaped by my upbringing and my environment. The potential income of my business should not be related to these things – but it is clear to me that they are and that I need to work to counteract those beliefs and attitudes.

Certainly in the past’ ‘lack’ has been my default setting; my family background is one of worry about money. But at the same time my mother was an ‘aspirational’ individual, though my dad was ‘a worker’ and had neither a prosperity of poverty mindset; life was just what it was; and you got on with it was his attitude.

Change your limiting beliefs

Once you have recognise your limiting beliefs you are in a position to change then. Rachel Elnaugh the entrepreneur who was one of the original Dragons on Dragons Den suggests a good exercise for this – which is to write all of your limiting beliefs on the one side of a line drawn down the middle of a piece of paper and then write a statement to the right of that line that neutralises that statement and rephrases them in a positive light.

For example, If you grow up in a world where you were constantly hearing the phrase ‘We can’t afford it’ – change this to – ‘I’ll find a way to afford it’, if you are are always feel in that, ‘there’s not enough to go around’ change this to ‘there’s always enough for everyone’. Whenever you hear yourself using one of your negative phrases, instantly replace it with the more positive version.

Wealth versus Prosperity

Although it is valuable to uncover your attitude towards money; and the way that may be holding your back. Ultimately success Is not all about money: many rich people are not happy, they can never be satisfied no matter how rich they become. Money is only one aspect of a richer life; I find it is useful to think in terms of ‘prosperity’ rather than money. Being prosperous means being successful in many areas of life not just in material wealth.

Free Business Course: Find inspiration in others

Get inspired by those you respect and hold in high regard; people who are role models for the way you want to conduct yourself and the sort of success you want.

Buy their biographies read their stories learn from their lessons- try to meet them if possible; follow them on Twitter; friend them on Facebook.

ACTIVITY: Make a list of the people who you want to find out more about; they don’t need to be business people. The could be people who have inspired you in other areas. Read their biographies and you will get a fresh burst of motivation to reach your own business and personal goals.