Communicating

Make your business bloom

As Business Editor of a newspaper, I often received phone calls from people who had started businesses and realised that they hadn’t thought about how to tell everyone. Promotion is vital for start-ups and there are many ways of doing it when you don’t have a big budget. A business will never bloom if it’s kept in the dark.

Maybe you’ve opened a shop or an online store, launched a service or started manufacturing products. You’re good at what you do and you know it, but potential customers need to know too so they start buying fast.

Getting people to notice your business can be a big challenge with so many options available, but which ones should you use? At first, you won’t necessarily know what works best, so monitoring responses as you go along is important.

Start . . .

What’s available? Paid advertising, social media, PR, leaflets and brochures, direct mail, email marketing, blogging, radio and TV, events and exhibitions, networking and more, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to manage or afford everything, even if they do all work.

Contact points

First, it’s good to have contact points for anyone who hears about your business and is looking to find out more or wants to buy. If you’ve got a shop or premises, you can do a lot with signage or otherwise a web site is the most obvious start. While you may want a big, sophisticated site, even a holding page giving your contact details – premises address, email and phone number – will help people to contact you. It’s also easy and free to create a Facebook page or open a Twitter or Instagram account. You can decide whether you want to build your presence on these networks as you go along. You can also give out business cards or printed leaflets to people you meet.

You might not be able to start with all the materials you would like, but, don’t worry, you can always build a bigger, better web site and get better brochures and business cards designed and printed. Few people start businesses with everything they want and marketing usually evolves.

Word of mouth

The main thing is to start, whether it’s simply telling your family and friends. Word of mouth is always effective. The more people who know, the more they are likely to tell people they know and spread the news about you even further. It’s free too and you can do it quickly. You don’t have to sell to everyone, so don’t feel anxious about people thinking you’re putting pressure on them. Think of the excitement you feel at starting your own business and use this to tell people your good news. Many people will be genuinely interested. Of course, if you have a special offer, an event or other activity you think they’ll be interested in, do mention it.

Networking

Networking meetings, where you meet up with other business owners to learn about and support each other, is another form of word-of-mouth promotion. There are usually one or two groups meeting in most areas and costs will vary from the price of a breakfast at an early morning meeting to annual membership, which could require you to attend  regularly. Do bear in mind the commitment to attend weekly or monthly. Networking works well for some types of business and some people love it, while others can’t stand it. Most groups allow you to go along as a guest for one or two meetings to try it out.

When it works well, you can build a far-reaching network so that when you talk to fellow networkers, they can recommend you to all their contacts with the potential to reach hundreds and even thousands of people.  

PR and advertising

Unless you need just one or two customers, it’s likely that you’ll need a lot more people to know about your business. Also, your market might not be local and need you to reach customers across the country or abroad. That’s where you’ll need to distribute publicity or advertising messages through printed newspapers or magazines or on the internet via your web site, social media services and directories.

There is so much you can do here, from free activities, such as sending a press release and photo to your local newspaper, to complex internet advertising campaigns. If you have little budget, you can run social media campaigns yourself, writing your own posts and sharing photos or video. Many small businesses do this themselves very professionally, although it does take a lot of time and effort. You may also want to advertise in local magazines or newspapers or in industry publications.

Persistence and patience

Whatever you choose, be persistent and patient. If you are extremely lucky or establish your expertise quickly, you’ll get an instant response, but for most of us it takes time to establish awareness of a business.

Whatever you do, keep doing something. If one activity doesn’t work, give it a chance. It’s unlikely that people will respond to or even notice one advert, social media post or other form of contact. They’ll need to see your brand again and again before they remember you.

Complexity

You can carry out most of these activities simply at first and develop them as your business grows, eventually reaching a stage where you need to employ specialists to build web sites, manage online advertising and handle the complexity of more advanced promotional activity.

But when you’re starting out, it’s important to get your business out there as soon as you can. Only then can it start to bloom.

• Robert Zarywacz writes for and about businesses as a partner in Zarywacz. His experience includes Technology Correspondent for a business magazine and Business Editor of a local newspaper. He co-developed the pressme service of fixed-price article, blog and press release writing for small businesses.

z2z.com opens fixed-cost copywriting online store

pressme | z2z.com

We work with all sizes and types of businesses and know that small businesses and SMEs need effective copywriting and promotion as much as big businesses. This is the reason we have launched our new pressme online store where you can buy fixed-price copywriting services.

Realistic copywriting service

pressme copywriting services are straightforward and transparent – for when you want a single article or a series of articles, blogs, case studies or press releases.

They are realistic too. Yes, in an ideal world we would all sit down and plan everything, but the reality of PR, marketing and communications is that opportunities often present themselves without warning and we have to decide whether to take them or let them pass. Grasping these opportunities inevitably means working to tight deadlines with no time for meetings, just pressure to get effective content written in time. That’s what pressme offers you.

Write up article – when you already have all the information

The pressme Write up article service gives you the option of providing all the information yourself, as you probably have most, if not all, of it already. Copywriters often say they want to go away to research and think while their meter ticks, but sometimes clients have all the information and want it shaped into a readable article that does the job. The pressme Write up article service does this for you.

Research and write – full article production

And if you do need full research and interviews, the pressme ‘Research and write’ product offers the complete process from scratch to completed article.

Copywriting for any business

Is pressme only for SME’s? That’s why we originally developed it, but we can see that it is useful to any size of business, so we will be delighted to write for any size of client using our pressme copywriting services.

A striking image

Image is everything. On Instagram, Facebook, everywhere you look, we are bombarded with images.

An outstanding image will catch your attention, but it has to be different to stand out from the thousands of other images you see every day.

That’s why the images you use on your web sites, for your PR campaigns and in your social media posts are so important.

Aircraft | Zarywacz @ z2z.com | copywriting, journalism, editing, PR, proofreading, events

Sorry, a plane just flew over then. I took a photo of it for you to see.

Of course, there are lots of freely available images, including clipart and some stock images, as well as stock photos you can buy, but do ‘idealised’ images make you look genuine?

Perhaps the worst use is of images of people to suggest a company’s staff. Why not use photos of real employees? Certainly, portraits of named employees with a short profile create more confidence that a business is genuine.

We’d always recommend using a professional photographer for portraits, although the high quality of phone and digital cameras does mean that anyone with an eye for imagery often has a good chance of taking a good photo. Then there are those photo opportunities which you can’t plan – look out for these and snap them with your phone or camera before they disappear.

In my journalist roles, I was always thrilled when I received a press release with a striking photo. Sometimes it meant that the story got prime position on the page because of the image. Editors want articles to look good in addition to being well written, entertaining and informative.

With a little thought you can come up with lots of interesting images for your blogs, social media, web sites and press releases.

Give us a ring if you want to chat about it – here’s our phone:

telephone | Zarywacz @ z2z.com copywriting, journalism, editing, proofreading, PR

Oh, the dialling code is 01271.

✪ Robert Zarywacz is a partner at Zarywacz. Tweet at @robert or call 01271 879100.

 

Not looking too good

Robert and Simon ZarywaczWhen you send a press release to the media, do you send a good quality photo with it?

By good quality, I mean a portrait shot taken by a professional photographer who understands lighting or, at the least, a clear photo taken on a camera at a high resolution.

In my role as a business writer for a newspaper, I still receive poor quality photos, some taken on mobile phones with low resolution cameras. Sometimes even marketing and PR professionals send these, which astounds me. When this happens, I have to ask them to send a better quality photo.

A high resolution, well composed photo with interesting subject matter can be very powerful. It can persuade a journalist to include an article based on the press release simply because they want to include the image.

Another good practice is to send the photo as a separate JPEG file and not embed it in a Word document or PDF. Often this results in a call or email to send the original file.

As to the composition and lighting, I’ll leave that to the professional photographers, whose expertise and art I admire.

A good photo will make you look good and it’s easy to arrange with a bit of thought and planning.

Here’s one of the z2z brothers.

Overcome fear to tell your story

All businesses need to create a presence so that customers know that they are there. Whether this is through marketing and advertising or from word-of-mouth recommendations, awareness is essential for getting work.

I find that many people are still wary of trying out many of the marketing tools that are available to them. In my role as a business writer for a local newspaper, I often receive phone calls starting with a business owner saying gingerly “I don’t know if you’ll be interested in this . . . ” and then going on to tell a cracker of a story. Of course, the opposite of this is the business owner who sends in press releases regularly with ‘news’ that is only of interest to them. I believe many businesses have good stories to tell and need the confidence to tell them.

While an effective PR consultant can help, businesses without a budget can . . . and do . . . achieve media exposure through their own efforts. With thought and planning, a clear idea of what you want to achieve and a focus on what you will and what you won’t talk about, public relations can be a very cost effective tool.

This applies not only to PR but also to blogging, social media and more. Perhaps you see your competitors getting exposure and feel that you offer a better service than they do, but how will people find that out? Often a voice can tell us that “no one wants to hear about that”, but it’s probably that we’re afraid of standing up and telling our story, a bit like the fear of public speaking.

I’m often encouraging people to talk about their businesses because so many are fascinating and deserve wider exposure. With social media, colleagues and associates can help to share your stories and support you.

There really are many opportunities to tell your stories and people who want to hear them.

Robert Zarywacz is a copywriter and journalist who has written thousands of magazine and newspaper articles. He also researches and writes press releases, case studies and newsletters for clients as well as managing social media and PR campaigns at z2z.com. Robert is the business writer for the North Devon Journal, chairman of COMBEbusiness and courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. Follow @robertz on Twitter.

Write clearly to avoid the reality gap

Sometimes we can spend too much time worrying about the latest Google update, smartphone or OS version and forget that effective communication – for that’s what all these tools are there to support – often needs to be clear and simple.

This runs throughout our lives, as I found when I was booked into my local hospital for a medical procedure. I had a preparatory appointment with a nurse to brief me and took home a leaflet giving detailed instructions. I also had a preparation to start taking on the day before the procedure.

On that day, I found some of the information from the nurse, the leaflet and on the box containing the preparation conflicted. It was a Sunday so I used my common sense to work out the problem: a minor niggle that didn’t matter much.

I was getting concerned because the leaflet said the procedure would take 30-40 minutes to complete and, knowing that it was likely to be uncomfortable and that sedation would not knock me out completely, I braced myself for this mentally. I felt it was going to be tough. As it turned out, just before my turn the doctor mentioned that he was timing each procedure for a study and that the average time was 6-7 minutes: I breathed a sigh of relief.

I am glad to say the procedure was quick, painless and the results were fine. However, I had approached it in completely the wrong frame of mind as a result of the details in the leaflet.

Such gaps between perception and reality can be created by any written instructions. Whether we’re selling a flat-pack wardrobe, an electrical gadget or a holiday, it can be easy to plant the wrong impression in a customer’s mind. Once planted, that seed can grow into a dream or worry that bears no relation to the real product, service or experience.

For businesses selling products and services, this can create unrealistic expectations, impossible to deliver; for doctors it can cause unnecessary worry in patients.

Consistency and clarity are essential when writing instructions or descriptions. Not only do they prevent confusion and wrong impressions, they help to create happy customers . . . and patients.

Take good care of content

Way back in 1985, in the infancy of online media, I helped build a kind of web site. I say kind of web site because the internet as we know it had not yet been developed. A colleague and I at British Airways built what we called an electronic brochure in Prestel, the BT videotext system. Like Ceefax and Oracle but far more responsive, we created 7,000 screens, or pages, of information uploaded into this early system.

Much of my contribution was to summarise every air fare charged from the UK to 140 destinations and to describe the features and benefits of the classes of service, eg Economy, Business, First and Concorde. I also published the complete USA Flydrive holiday brochure online and each month changed the Concorde on-board menus. At that time 95% of UK travel agents used Prestel and I seem to recall we achieved some 500,000 page views a month.

Then I obtained another promotion and moved department. Unfortunately, Prestel was ageing even then and was being superseded by more sophisticated computerised travel reservations systems and, ultimately, by the internet.

I suppose one day those 7,000 pages of information were turned off and discarded. They were customised to fit the 40-character x 22-line screens with no photo facilities, primitive graphics and limited colour choices. Compared with the simplicity of technology like WordPress, it could be excruciating work to fit everything on to one screen with no scrolling.

This brings me, after meandering via 140 destinations it seems, to my point that content is invaluable. While learning to use social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ is important now, how long will we use continue to use these? What will we use in two or five years? How will we maintain our changing online presence, develop our brands, port our important content to new formats, evolve our messages and presentation, and keep it all fresh, compelling and useful?

I’ve often wondered what happened to those 7,000 pages when Prestel’s screens went blank. Did they just fade or float off into the ether?

Why start at the end when producing long documents?

What’s the best time to manage production of a long document? All too frequently, reverse engineering is required when questions that should have been asked before writing started are asked just before the document is due to go to print.

What style do we want? How can we manage content written by multiple authors? Do we need consistency in how industry terms are written? Does it make sense?

A style guide and an active editor can manage all this.

When all these questions are addressed at the beginning, they can guide contributors to write in the desired style and put in place a process to manage production and flag any problems before it’s too late. Brand names can be written correctly, capitals used consistently and the document can appear as a unified article that makes sense rather than many separate ones joined together in confusion.

Does it matter?

Yes, if you want to get the best value from all the resources invested. If employees are putting a lot of time into writing and if money is being spent on design, printing and distribution, I’d want to see the most effective document possible. Most importantly, I’d want a document that was useful to readers and gave them value.

Where this doesn’t happen, many things have to be corrected at the last minute. Rather than polishing the material, it has to be patched so that it is at best ‘satisfactory’.

You can find tips and advice on managing long documents at editorialresources.co.uk.

Make it easy for readers to find and understand messages

Running a business is a complex challenge. Whatever the size of organisation, many processes need to run smoothly, while a number of statutory bodies require tax, accounting, health and safety and many more regulations to be observed.

How do you get your people to know this and recognise the importance of compliance?

Many organisations create manuals and intranets outlining important procedures, but do people read them?

Making information accessible is important if employees are to use materials in the course of their work. People need to know they can find the information they need fast.

Easy-to-use indexes and navigation

Readers will find a manual more useful if it is structured so that they can find what they need fast in contents or index pages or flick through the main body and see what they want in a heading.

An easy-to-navigate intranet or web site will also be more useful if viewers can find what they’re looking for fast.

Clear explanations

Once a reader has found the information they want, they have to be able to understand it. People tend to consult reference material when they don’t understand something and need an explanation. To provide what they want, manuals and web sites need to provide clear explanations without using jargon and without waffle.

If people can’t find what they’re looking for once or twice, they probably won’t bother trying a third time. And if they can’t understand explanations when they do find the right section, they’ll think the material is a waste of their time.

More importantly, if staff cannot understand important processes or regulations, what impact will it have on your business? Could it reduce productivity or, worse, prevent the business from meeting legal requirements?

Useful resources improve business

If you are going to the expense of creating reference material for employees, you’ll get the best value if they find it easy to use and it helps them do their jobs. It’ll also help maintain productivity and ensure your business meets any legal obligations.

%d bloggers like this: