Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Seven website mistakes that will kill your business

Despite so many people looking for products on the internet, too many firms seem happy for their website to deter, rather than inspire, potential customers.

1. Your website tells what you do, not what you can do for the customer

“We provide bespoke financial advice” is the opening line of one Dorset business website. It might be true, but it’s not the right message. What it should say is something like: “Get a better return on your savings”, or “Don’t be short-changed on your pension”.

Telling the customer what you do is better than nothing, but telling them how you can improve their lives is a much more powerful message.

2. Your website looks rubbish on a mobile

Have you dared look at your website on a smartphone or tablet computer? Others probably have, because it’s fast becoming one of the most popular ways to search online. It doesn’t need saying that a site that won't be popular if looks poor on a mobile device, or is hard to navigate.

3. Your content is out of date

The web is littered with social media accounts and blogs set up by small firms in a fit of inspiration, only to die after a few months. But the bodies are still out there: accounts and blogs where the last entry is dated sometime in 2011, or earlier.

Out of date content doesn’t send out a good message.

4. Your ‘Contact us’ navigation is useless

You might think that saying ‘Contact us by clicking the link at the top of the page’ makes it really easy for the reader to act. No, it doesn’t. Every time you use the words ‘contact us’, make those word a link or display a phone number.

Put a gap in between ‘Contact us’ and the customer actually doing just that, and you risk losing them.

5. Your website is still under construction

Worst case (and it still happens) is your site isn’t there at all. Still bad are the sites that contain the minimum content, but contain links to pages that are clearly waiting to be filled.

You may be planning to add more content, but good intentions don’t get results. Action is required.

6. Your content contains typing errors

Typing errors - that’s the polite way of describing spelling mistakes or grammar howlers. Will a misplaced apostrophe lose you a sale? Yes, it could. You might not notice mistakes, but some people do and for them it’s a real turn-off.

7. Your ‘About Us’ page kills business

Whether you’re a sole trader, a partnership or a limited company, your website should display a business address. Some visitors to your site look for this, because it helps build their confidence in your business.

The same goes for your ‘About Us’ page. People come to this because they want some clue as to who you really are; they’re not looking for yet another sales message. Being a little more open about who's behind the business can win you more sales.

Six reasons why your ‘About Us’ page is losing you business

For more business tips, click here.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Protect your business with simple financial controls

From the moment its cash flow comes close to being out of control, your business is in serious danger.

It’s not a lack of profit that kills firms, it’s a lack of cash.

You know cash flow is heading out of control because you aren’t sure where the money is coming from to pay the next set of bills and you’re scrabbling around, trying to borrow in order to keep trading.

Staying on top of your cash flow isn’t always easy, particularly when sales are down or customers pay late. But it’s less of a headache if you operate some basic financial controls.

Here are some suggestions for simple financial controls that every firm should consider implementing.

1. Plan your cash flow

This is all about predicting where your cash will come from, where it’s going, and how much you expect to have in hand at any point in time.

A cash flow plan involves estimating how much money will be coming in and going out every week for the next few months. You’re not looking at sales or purchases, but at receipts and payments, because these can occur at quite different times.

To be effective, a cash flow plan should stretch several months into the future and be updated regularly, at least every few weeks.

2. Keep an eye on debtors and creditors

Knowing how much you owe, and are owed, is fundamental to good cash flow. Make a point of checking the numbers every week, so as to see how they’ve moved. This can reduce the risk of debts going bad, as it will be easier to spot the customers who don’t pay week after week.

3. Approve every purchase and payment

Money could be leaking out of your business through lots of tiny holes, as the firm commits to all sorts of small purchases here and there. Insisting that every purchase must be approved brings accountability to those with the authority to place orders, and could encourage them to think twice before committing to expenditure.

Similarly, a process of approving every payment makes you more aware of where the money is going and reduces the risks of error, or even fraud.

4. Tighten your grip on expense payments

Incidental expenses are another potential drain on cash flow. They’re often necessary, particularly when you have employees travelling, but without a clear and consistent policy, the business could be paying for more than it needs to.

A good expense policy has specific limits for daily expenditure and clear guidance on what is, and is not, acceptable. This needs to be communicated to staff and backed up by rigorous checks and, where appropriate, rejections or at least discussions about excessive amounts being claimed.

5. Lock up the petty cash

The amounts may be small, but petty cash can be another gap in your cash flow controls. If possible, do away with it altogether. If you must have petty cash, ensure it’s checked regularly and that questionable expenditure is investigated.

Explain to employees that your business can’t function without cash. Make it everyone’s responsibility to guard the firm’s bank balance, because it’s in everyone’s interest not to have a crisis which could threaten your future.

More tips: do you know why you lost that sale?

Click here for more business tips.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dorset Seafood Festival is a winner says The Independent

Despite being one of the newer celebrations of food on the national calendar, the Dorset Seafood Festival has been placed among the top ten in the UK.

That’s according to a recent listing by national news organisation, The Independent.

Run by the Weymouth Harbour Traders Association, the festival is a charitable event raising funds for The Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. It also promotes Weymouth’s historic and picturesque harbour.

Every year, visitors flock to Weymouth to sample the bountiful array of Dorset fare on offer. Much, although not all, is seafood, drawing on a relationship between land and sea that stretches back centuries.

On the news that a respected national newspaper had shortlisted the Weymouth event as one of the top food festivals in the country, Roger Dalton, Chairman of the Dorset Seafood Festival said: “It is great to see that we are so highly regarded."

"This is good news for our sponsors, the stall holders and, of course, the organising team. Most of all, it is really good to see a Weymouth event up there with the UK’s biggest and best.”

Nigel Reed, Chairman of Weymouth BID Ltd, the town’s proposed Business Improvement District, said: “This is fabulous news for Weymouth and an indication of why a ‘yes’ vote is so important in the current BID ballot. We need more quality events like this and the BID will help achieve this.”

Click here to see the full listing from The Independent.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Martin's energised his Dorset cycling tours

Few can be unaware of the joys of cycling in the countryside, with all the sights, sounds and smells that are missed when you’re enclosed within a car.

However, the idea of slipping into tight Lycra vest and shorts and puffing and panting to get to the top of our lovely Dorset hills is not everyone's idea of a good time.

That was the starting point for a new venture by Martin Gershon, the owner of Marshwood Trails, a business established in the spring of 2012 to offer guided electric bike adventures in some of the loveliest parts of the West Dorset countryside.

Martin realised that many were deterred from cycling locally because they were worried about the amount of effort required to pedal in hilly West Dorset. Electric bikes were the answer.

Also referred to commonly as an e-bike, this amazing machine is a traditional bicycle that incorporates the assistance of an electric motor, allowing riders to travel further with much less effort than if under their own power alone.

Martin said, "It really is incredibly exciting how electric bikes are transforming cycling, opening it up as an activity to people who would never previously consider having a go. Our electric bikes are top-of-the-range models that are tough, reliable and ride brilliantly. You can select exactly how much assistance you want the motor to provide, although you do still have to pedal. They can be ridden all day without the need to recharge the battery and have proved themselves in the Alps, so Dorset hills are well within their capability."

Marshwood Trails' guided tours have been designed to show guests the very best that West Dorset has to offer. Destinations include the stunning Marshwood Vale fringed by Iron Age hill forts, the short but perfectly formed Bride Valley, the glorious Hardy Country and the rocky Isle of Portland.

Although a new venture, the tours have already been featured on ITV and in a number of national press articles. Guests consistently rate them as 'Excellent' on Trip Advisor.

Martin said, "The routes for our guided electric bike tours have been carefully selected to ensure guests, whatever their age or fitness level, have a great day out. It’s definitely about the experiences along the way,  not the number of miles covered, so the pace is gentle and the distances travelled are always to everyone's comfort."

Prices for a half-day guided tour start at £30 which includes bike, helmet and pannier hire. Large groups can be accommodated, so the tours are ideal for special family events and corporate activity days.

Marshwood Trails also offer electric bike hire for those wanting to explore without a guide, as well as 'try before you buy' taster sessions for people considering an electric bike purchase. More details about all Marshwood Trails' activities can be found at www.marshwoodtrails.co.uk or by calling Martin on 07796 135256.

Discover other Dorset start-up stories here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bizoh opinion: Poor marketing is damaging Dorset firms

By Andrew Knowles

Too many of our small firms are struggling, or even dying, because they refuse to invest in marketing.

I’ve lived in Weymouth for less than three years and I’ve already seen a host of bright, ambitious businesses pop up, only to wither away within months. You can probably names some of them, or you’ve seen the same happen elsewhere across the county.

Behind every failed business is a disheartened individual, couple or even family. Dreams have become ashes, relationships are strained and there’s often a legacy of debt.

Is it too bold to say that their problems could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, with some decent marketing advice and action? No, I don’t think it is. I’ve been close enough to some of these businesses to see their reluctance to spend on marketing.

Marketing is the first business action

There’s more to marketing than advertising. Marketing is about the relationship between sellers and buyers, and the very first action is to verify if that relationship is even possible. Because if the customers aren’t there, it won’t happen. Too many firms seem to open their doors in the hope that customers will turn up, rather than having genuine confidence in the demand for their product.

Setting up a business is a risk, there’s no getting away from that. Small-time entrepreneurs don’t have a lot of time or money for market research. But there’s a lot to be said for seeking, and accepting, honest opinions. If everyone says “Well, it could work...” they’re also saying “There’s a good chance it won’t”.

If you’re considering starting a business in Dorset (or anywhere else for that matter), I suggest that you talk to the local Chamber of Commerce. Ask them what marks out the start-ups that have found success, or failed, locally. Learn what you can from the experience of others, because it’s cheaper than learning from your own mistakes.

Getting the message out

Customers won’t buy your good idea. They will buy something that benefits them. But only if they know it’s available.

I could (and probably will) write a post about some of the appalling online marketing efforts by local firms. Websites that are unclear, out of date or just plain wrong. Social media campaigns that don’t justify the name because they’re nothing more than a Twitter account with a dozen posts made in 2011.

Every business needs a different marketing mix - that is, the blend of actions that will draw in customers. But too many don’t seem to give much thought to what is right for them. I’ve seen firms print and deliver thousands of leaflets, to no effect. I’ve also seen firms fail to produce leaflets, despite that being a proven marketing route for all their competitors.

My plea to all Dorset firms struggling right now, and to anyone planning to jump into a business, is please spend more time thinking about marketing. Yes, you may have to spend a little money, but that could be a lot less painful than the loss that comes with business failure.

Do you agree that many firms could do better if they improved their marketing? Or do you think local businesses are being damaged by other issues? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Make QR codes work for your business

QR codes, those blocks of apparently random black and white squares, have popped up all over the place in the last few years.

You’ve probably spotted them on magazine adverts, billboards, restaurant menus, business cards and all sorts of other places.

The theory behind them is simple. Snap the blocky image with the camera on your mobile phone or tablet computer and a specific website will appear on the screen of your device.

But like all simple ideas, the practicalities are a little more complex. For your customers to access QR codes, they need a phone with a camera and an internet connection, along with an incentive to take a photo of the code, and often, to find the right app on their phone to make the process work.

Every one of these steps is a potential barrier to customers bothering to access a QR code. But firms are learning to overcome these difficulties. Restaurants find the codes work well on menus, as customers are a captive audience, as they sit at the table, waiting to order.

This gives them time to photograph the code, which often takes them to a page offering a competition or special offer. The restaurant benefits by capturing more information about their customers, by having them fill out contact details as part of the process.

Dynamic ID system using QR codes

Another practical use of QR codes has been provided by QRSecured of Dorchester, supplier of dynamic QR code management systems.

The dynamic ID system provides secure verification of ID cards using QR codes. For example, one of QRSecured’s customers, in the healthcare business, needed a quick and secure process that allowed clients to verify the identity of staff, when they turned up for a site visit. Many of the staff were employed on a short-term basis, so it was important that those they visited had a reliable method of identifying them.

The firm had been using identity cards which included a photo of the employee, but when their contracts expired, some staff did not return these cards. As a result, there was a concern that some ex-employees might be tempted to use them inappropriately to gain access.

By adding a QR code to the identity card, linked to a QR code management system, the firm can maintain up-to-date records on employee status. Those checking the card simply scan the code and get an immediate update on whether the card is still valid. In addition, the card holder’s manager receives an email alert every time a card is scanned.

This is just one example of where QR codes are being increasingly adopted by organisations to solve a specific problem.

If you think QR codes could help your business, contact Geoffrey Boult of QR Secured by calling 020 3002 0539, email [email protected] or visit their website www.qrtaginsights.com.

Have you found another use for QR codes in your business? Share your QR code experience with other Bizoh readers by leaving a comment below.

By Andrew Knowles

Monday, May 13, 2013

Four quick tips for local SEO

A guest post from Decoded Solutions.

Now that Internet access is virtually ubiquitous, with potential customers more likely than ever to seek out local businesses using services like Google Maps, ensuring that your company can be found online is of paramount importance.

What’s more, the higher your placement in these local results, the more reputable you look and the more traffic you’re going to get. Some of these fields can be hugely competitive, but there are a few simple measures you can take to ensure that you are ranking and keep yourself in the running.

Get on Google Places

While Google isn’t the only game in town, it still accounts for around 90% of search traffic in the UK, so getting your business on there is essential. Thankfully, this is made easy by Google Places for Business, which makes managing your listings across all Google services very easy and is believed to be the single most important factor in ranking locally on Google. Once you’re approved, you’ll immediately start appearing on Google Maps and mobile services when people search for local companies in your field.

Importantly, it puts the management of your business’ details in your hands. While Google is usually clever enough to find information like opening hours on your website, Places lets you be proactive when it comes to advertising your latest services.

Be social

Facebook and Twitter are increasingly popular business destinations and your interactions with customers do contribute to your rankings in search engines. But be sure not to overlook Google+, which may not be as popular but is being pushed hard by Google. It’s not a coincidence that businesses with a presence there will be the ones appearing near the top of the local search results, as in the image attached to this post.

Engaging with people across all social networks is to be encouraged, both from a traditional marketing and an SEO perspective. Search engines treat people sharing and linking to your content as a kind of vote for your popularity and will bump you up the rankings accordingly. Every time someone does that, it gives you more exposure to all their contacts, who could end up being your new best customers.

Encourage reviews 

Once you’ve completed the above two steps, combine them by encouraging your customers to leave reviews on Google+. The number of reviews is listed right there in the local search results, and if you’re a customer and you see one Italian restaurant with 20 reviews and one with none, which one are you going to look at first?

There are plenty of ways to get people to spread the word about this. Why not put a QR code on your business cards that links to your profile page? (There are dozens of websites that will generate one for you.) Make sure you respond to existing reviews as well, including helping to straighten out negative ones, as this kind of customer engagement will only count in your favour. Just don’t be tempted to incentivise reviews too aggressively. That’s a violation of Google’s guidelines and you could get penalised if you’re spotted.

Keep your contact details prominent 

Obviously, without your address and contact details on your website, your customers can’t find you. But is that information on every page? Keeping it in the same place across your website – for example, in the header or footer – will ensure that search engines know where you’re located. What’s more, it’ll get you ranking on local variants of all your keywords by default, since anything Google picks up on your site is automatically going to have ‘Bournemouth’, ‘Dorset’ and the like on the page with it.

It bears mentioning that you should keep them updated wherever your company is listed. Your website is easy enough, but don’t forget to tell Google Places, directories like Yelp and 192, social networks, the Chamber of Commerce, or any industry directories you belong to that you’ve moved. Search Google for your business at your old address to pick up anything that’s drawn your address from elsewhere and drop them a line with the new info.

Without needing to invest a huge amount of time into your search engine optimisation, these tips will ensure you’re visible, and coupled with designing your site around Google’s best practices, you should see your search performance boosting your traffic and therefore your business.

About Decoded Solutions: Decoded is a bespoke software development house in Bournemouth, specialising in database systems for companies in a wide range of industries.

For more tips from Bizoh, visit our business tips page.

Do you have any SEO tips to share? Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dorset business networking group offers practical support

The 'wicked issue' discussion
Business networking isn’t all about growing your list of potential customers. While some groups, like the recently profiled BNI, focus on referrals, others approach networking from a different perspective.

KM4B, meeting once a month at Kingston Maurward college near Dorchester, is one of these. At its heart is the ‘wicked issue’ discussion, an opportunity to source valuable advice from others, in a round table discussion.

KM4B is a new networking meeting, picking up from where BusinessXchange left off, after the withdrawal of Business Link funding. It’s run jointly by Kingston Maurward and Laura McHarrie of The Hidden Edge.

The power of the ‘wicked issue’

Feedback from participants in wicked issue discussions suggests that the advice they receive can be worth literally thousands of pounds in time saved and opportunities discovered. The price is a modest charge to attend the breakfast and a willingness to be open.

Laura describes a wicked issue as “something that keeps you awake at night, either because you’re so excited, or because it’s something you’re really worried about”. Examples include the obvious: “How do I get more sales?”, the technical: “What’s the best free cloud-based CRM system?” and the human: “What do I do with my overly-demanding customer?”

The issues are discussed in small groups of about five or six people, with everyone being given the opportunity to offer a point of view based on their experience. The benefits of pooling knowledge in this way can be enormous, particularly for very small firms where time is a precious resource.

Don’t forget the famous Kingston Maurward sausages

The ‘wicked issues’ discussions aren’t the only highlight of KM4B meetings. They start with an excellent Kingston Maurward breakfast, one of the best on the Dorset networking circuit and complete with sausages made from the college’s very own porkers.

Meetings also include a short, topical presentation on a subject that’s highly relevant to local businesses. Everyone attending is encouraged to consider how to apply what they’ve learned by participating in a facilitated discussion of the issues raised.

Regular attenders at KM4B will tell you they love the creative buzz generated during the meeting, and the wealth of new ideas they take away with them each month.

Whether you’re a sole trader or part of a larger business operating in Dorset, KM4B could offer tangible benefits and allow you to widen your contact base without any pressure to sell, or be sold to. That said, regular attenders develop a trust which often leads to referrals, or to them doing business together.

For more information contact Laura McHarrie of The Hidden Edge.

If you've experienced KM4B and the 'wicked issue' discussions, please share your opinion by leaving a comment. Thank you! 

Visit our list of Dorset business networking groups.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Free ebook gives Dorset entrepreneurs start-up business tips

Record numbers of people are starting their own business.

Some are turning a hobby into an income stream, others are taking the plunge of leaving (or being pushed) from full-time employment into working for themselves. Start-ups are everywhere and many will become major contributors to the Dorset economy of the future.

One of the challenges when starting you own business is the feeling of isolation. 

Wouldn’t it be good to put yourself in the shoes of another Dorset business and find out what they would advise their younger selves on how to build a successful business?

That is exactly what new website IfYouCouldGoBack.co.uk looks to achieve by asking established business owners from the local community, if they could go back in time, what three things would they advise their younger selves to grow professionally and personally. The answers are delivered in the form of an ebook, available free from the site.

British entrepreneurs broke records in 2012 with start-up numbers up by 10% to 484,224 businesses (over 440,000 in 2011) according to StartUp Britain.

Produced by Bournemouth creative marketing company, The ID Group, the free ebook is intended to be used as a resource for budding entrepreneurs and start-ups, helping them to benefit from the experience of local business owners.

MD, Mark Masters, commented, “If we can learn from those who have built solid businesses in the area and take on-board what they would advise their younger selves, it can become quite a powerful tool, in terms of decision making and looking to establish your business in the marketplace.”

“There are 4.8 million private businesses in the UK, 99.9% being small to medium sized companies. If we can take advantage of the knowledge from those that have ‘been there, done that’ then it can perhaps build stronger foundations in an ever more competitive world.”

The ebook is available to download from www.ifyoucouldgoback.co.uk and features interviews from business owners such as Jonathan Sibbett (Sibbett Gregory), Gary Neild (Blue Sky Financial Planning), John Corderoy (Breeze Volkswagen), Brian Maidman (Maidman’s/Store & Secure) and Barbara Cox (Nutrichef).

Visit our other business tips pages for more valuable information.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Networking with BNI in Dorset

When you start business networking, you’ll quickly run into lots of people who are members of, or used to be members of, BNI.

Self-styled as ‘The world’s biggest referral marketing organisation’, BNI holds thousands of meetings around the world each week, and several of these are in Dorset.

Their approach has a distinctive style - a curious blend of assertive self-promotion, betraying its American roots, and British reserve. It’s a style that seems to work, if a recent visit to the breakfast meeting of the Olympic Weymouth group provided an accurate representation.

A clear focus on getting results

Every BNI group, or chapter, only allows one member per trade or profession. So there’s one accountant, one builder, one independent financial advisor and one florist. It’s expected that everyone else in the room will keep their eyes open for opportunities they can pass on to their peers in the group.

This referral process is more than just passing on the plumber’s phone number to someone who may need their help. Every opportunity is documented on a referral slip that’s passed on at the meeting and the chapter keeps a copy.

There are several benefits to this. A referral has to be reasonably serious if it’s written down, although the writer can grade it as being anything from ‘hot’ to ‘tepid’. The recipient has a written record, with details of who to contact to pursue the business. And the chapter can ask whether anything became of the referral, and how much it was worth to that member.

Following a pattern to find business 

At every BNI meeting, each member, and guests, can promote their business for one minute. This ensures everyone in the group has a clear picture of the services offered by others, making it easier to promote fellow BNI members where appropriate.

A couple of members also get to speak for a few minutes more, allowing them to explain more about why and how they run their business. There’s also a short, informative education session.

Not everyone who’s come out of BNI found it useful for them. It’s said that the trades can do very well from it, and it can be successful where you strike up a rapport with someone in a related business with whom you can regularly share referrals.

Many find the structure works for them, justifying the fees and the commitment to attend a meeting almost every week.

If you want to know more about BNI, visit their website and tap in your postcode to find a local chapter. BNI chapters in Dorset include Weymouth Olympia, Harbour Poole, Badger at Blandford, Bournemouth Bay and Minster at Wimborne.

Does BNI work for you? Please share your experience by leaving a comment.

Visit our list of Dorset business networking groups.

(Photo by Ewan-M, from Flickr - used under a Creative Commons licence.)