Social media

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.

Likes, loves, shares plus recommendations

What is it like? Would you recommend it? What are the plusses? Don’t you just love it? Will you share it?

Is it just a numbers game?

I’m not sure I know what any of these mean any more as we’re constantly asked to give approval for a blog or a photo of a ‘cute’ animal or to recommend someone for services that we have not actually used.

I ‘like’ to give recommendations where I know a person or have had an excellent experience from a business. I am happy to ‘share’ content that I find entertaining, amusing or useful and hope others will too.

I find I have now stopped saying ‘I love’ things and pause before saying ‘I like’ something.

Perhaps it’s because ‘loves’ and ‘likes’ are precious and I don’t want to throw them away.

How about you?

 

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?

When was the last time I followed my own advice?

Sometimes when I read blogs I think I’m back at school. It seems I’m always being told “three things you must do” or “You shalt do this”, especially in the world of social media. Really?

It’s a bit like going a on a training course and remembering that you know nearly everything the trainer tells you, but that you need refreshing and, more importantly, need to put it all into practice.

We seem to be becoming a world of advisers, but is anyone taking any of this advice?

Giving advice is easy, following it is the difficult part.

Of course, much of this advice is marketing disguised to advertise a blogger’s own services. And why not?

The trouble is that I start to feel sore after being beaten with a stick too often.

That is why I want to ‘share’ and ‘like’ things I see rather than berate readers for what they’re doing wrong. Who do I think I am I to do that?

So my advice . . . to myself  . . . is to . . . take my advice . . . and put it into practice.

It’s all change in social media

The Google+ redesign is the latest change to shake up social media users. Some like it, some don’t, but what matters is whether people continue to use Google+ and more people take to it. It’s the same with other social media services.

It’s surprising that many people still don’t take change in their stride. I admit to being able to remember when, in the mid-1980s, some travel agents objected to having their dumb terminal travel reservation systems replaced by PCs. They had become attached to these boxes and didn’t want new boxes to replace them.

Since then we’ve gone from DOS to Windows, seen the Mac OS, Linux and mobile operating systems arrive, flocked online to build html web pages, then abandoned them for content management systems and are now immersing ourselves in social media services.

I’m sure social media won’t be the final development or change we see. Computing and communication change daily: a new feature appears and a familiar one disappears. Changes are not always for the better, but those who make them hope they are. Where these make life easier and are useful, people tend to go along with them; where they make usage impossible, people can respond by abandoning that service.

Do I like the new Google+? I liked the clean design of the previous version, but I’ve just written a workshop on using Google+ and find I am now using it more. For me, it is becoming more usable.

I’m glad that the new version was released before I wrote the workshop, but it has reminded me that the material I’ve written now will soon have to change to reflect future developments. Nothing stays the same.

Who do you trust?

When you’re looking for information on a product or a service, who do you trust?

There’s lots of opportunity for reviewing businesses online now, but I hear more and more from people I know provide good quality service who feel they are being unjustly criticised and have little recourse to a fair response to posts on big review or shopping web sites.

I know when researching my own purchases that wading through some of the reviews, many of which are a waste of everyone’s time, has not helped me.

For my most recent equipment purchase, I contacted two people I knew and trusted who already used the product. They gave me excellent advice, I bought the product and am very happy. I have got to know both these people through networking and social media.

In future I will ask individuals I know for their opinions.

Who do you trust for advice?

Make it easy

With businesses pumping out so much information in press releases, newsletters, blogs and tweets, how much of it is clear?

Clarity is important when readers have so much to read. If they can’t understand something, it needs to be very important for them to take the time to re-read it or contact you for clarification. Most likely they won’t bother and will move on to the next item, possibly from a competitor. If that is easy to read and understand, you’ll have lost out.

When you’re close to your business, you understand the complexities: how everything fits together. It won’t be so clear to someone who doesn’t know your business. Often, people give up if they find something confusing.

Sometimes it isn’t necessary for customers to know about complex issues which are important to the internal processes of your business. If that’s the case, don’t mention them or you’ll add unnecessary complexity.

Where you do have to mention complexity, such as different brands or subsidiaries dealing with different products or services, make sure that these are explained clearly. If not, customers won’t know who to contact about what and they could feel it is easier to go to a competitor.

Why am I writing this? Because I am trying to write about a company which appears to have a similar sister company offering a similar product and I have had to ask them to clarify the set-up. Not everyone would bother to ask.

How to write the best social media profile . . . for you

Many of the best marketers learn the rules of marketing so they can break them to stand out from the crowd. Social media is a lot newer so the rules are still being written, if it’ll ever be possible to have rules in such a fast-moving, constantly shifting environment.
So how can you write an effective personal profile to post on social media sites?
It’s about you . . .
Whereas you’re probably used to writing about your business, not yourself, social media is about people. Potential followers will want to know about you, the person, and a combination of your business and personal interests, experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be the most unlikely topic that connects two people and creates a valuable business relationship, so your profile has to be as open as possible while remaining within the safe limits of what you are prepared to publish online.
. . . connecting with other people
You want to connect with other people. If you have a social media strategy, you’ll have already identified the type of person you want to attract and what interests they have. Perhaps you’re looking for new clients, suppliers, business partners, advisers, a business support network or friends in the same field. If you’re using social media for business, then your goals will probably include one or more of these.
By entering relevant keywords in your profile you can make it easier for your targeted group to find you in searches, while your profile’s content and style will then attract them to follow or contact you. The ideal reaction is “he sounds interesting” or “I need to connect with her”. If you achieve these, you’ll attract your target group to follow you by choice without using automated following tools.
Developing your personal style and tone
A quality portrait photograph and suitable logos to brand your business create a good visual first impression. Your text has to go beyond this to convince readers that you are a genuine, approachable and valuable contact.
Developing the right tone of voice is important. You want people to hear in their minds how you would greet them in real life at a business meeting or other event. You’ll probably want a mix of professional and friendly, although depending on your business sector people could expect you to be more formal/informal, conservative/modern or representative of the way people talk in your industry.
This is a very personal choice and you will have to decide what is suitable. Remember, nothing is set in stone and if you find your profile does not work effectively at first, you can refine it or even re-write it completely. Sometimes experimenting can be useful to discover what works and what doesn’t.
One thing to consider carefully is the use of humour. Everyone has a different sense of humour and what you find funny may strike others as anything other than funny. Humour can be very effective in communicating, but needs to be handled very carefully. There seem to be more failed comedians using social media than successful ones.
Heading
Where a site lets you post a heading, this gives you the opportunity to summarise yourself in five or six words. You could say “an accountant with 20 years’ experience”, but that sounds boring. “Award-winning accountant who understands business” suggests you are a leader in your field and are able to get beyond numbers and filing tax returns. “Approachable accountant helping Berkshire businesses” shows that you are easy to work with and serve clients in a specific place.
As with tone, your heading is a matter of personal choice. There are many different approaches, but all of them enable you to highlight the one or two most important characteristics you want readers to notice. Most sites let you edit your profile, so you can change your heading to reflect a change in interest, different times of year or events.
Profile text
What do you write when faced with an empty dialogue box? Well, what are you trying to achieve through your social media strategy? Who do you want to attract? What is it you want to interest them in? What balance of business and personal information do you want to give? The answers to these question will help you sort the information to include.
Also, how do you intend to participate in a specific service, such as twitter, or on a forum? Will you write tweets giving out advice, find people to help on a specific issue, publish blogs on a specialist topic? Will you be projecting a business persona or are your opinions going to be purely personal? Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field or do you just want to talk to people for fun? Again, these are serious questions that need to be answered if you want to achieve specific aims.
Even if you want to establish yourself as a serious expert, it’s going to be you talking, not your business. So write in the first person as if you were speaking, using I, rather than in the third person, using he/she/it, which is usually the case in business and could sound overly formal here. However, you probably don’t want to repeat I, I, I all the time as it will put many people off. If the profile has separate personal and business sections, you can write about the business as ‘it’ or ‘we’ in that section.
Highlight your achievements and expertise, but think how you would view someone who arrives at a business meeting, then launches into how successful they are, what awards they’ve won and much business they’ve got. Be careful that your achievements do not come across as bragging.
How will you know if what you’ve written is suitable? Let a trusted colleague or associate read it and give you constructive criticism. They could have some very good ideas for improving it. Don’t worry about criticism, because writing about yourself is one of the most difficult things anyone can do and probably the reason why so many people put off writing profiles.
Also, check you grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you can, ask someone else to check it: a fresh eye is more likely to pick up typos.
What’s the best length?
Some profiles limit how many words you can enter, so use this to focus on what you really want to say. If there is no limit, it’s still a good idea to be succinct. If you have several things to talk about, split these into sections. If you’re able to use html in the profile, you could create basic navigation so people can click on a heading to go to that section. However, if it’s too long, people could just give up. The best balance is where you write enough for a reader to find you interesting: not too little and not too much.
How do people find you?
Many social media services and sites feature keyword searching, so include relevant words to feature in search results. Think about what words and phrases your targets are likely to enter in the search box. Again, if you can use html, you could use the keywords to link to your web site to drive more web traffic to it.
Where do I start?
Taking this all into account, why not start writing your profile now? If you can’t decide on which approach is for you, look at other people’s profiles for inspiration. How do those in the same industry write their profiles? Don’t copy them, but decide what you like about them and what you don’t like. Adopt the approaches you like and apply these to writing your own original profile.
Let’s get personal
Remember that your profile is about you: it’s personal. It’s there to make you stand out, so the more individual you can make it, the more readers are likely to find it interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as most sites let you edit your text. There are millions of profiles out there, so if you discover a unique way to present yourself that works well, then use it.
Do you have your own profile tips?
There are so many personal choices to be made when writing your profile. What do you find works particularly well? Please share your experience and tips.

Many of the best marketers learn the rules of marketing so they can break them to stand out from the crowd. Social media is a lot newer, so the rules are still being written, if it’ll ever be possible to have rules in such a fast-moving, constantly shifting environment.

So how can you write an effective personal profile to post on social media sites?

It’s about you . . .

Whereas you’re probably used to writing about your business, not yourself, social media is about people. Potential followers will want to know about you, the person, and a combination of your business and personal interests, experience and expertise. Sometimes it can be the most unlikely topic that connects two people and creates a valuable business relationship, so your profile has to be as open as possible while remaining within the safe limits of what you are prepared to publish online.

. . . connecting with other people

You want to connect with other people. If you have a social media strategy, you’ll have already identified the type of person you want to attract and what interests they have. Perhaps you’re looking for new clients, suppliers, business partners, advisers, a business support network or friends in the same field. If you’re using social media for business, then your goals will probably include one or more of these.

By entering relevant keywords in your profile you can make it easier for your targeted group to find you in searches, while your profile’s content and style will then attract them to follow or contact you. The ideal reaction is “he sounds interesting” or “I need to connect with her”. If you achieve these, you’ll attract your target group to follow you by choice without using automated following tools.

Developing your personal style and tone

A quality portrait photograph and suitable logos to brand your business create a good visual first impression. Your text has to go beyond this to convince readers that you are a genuine, approachable and valuable contact.

Developing the right tone of voice is important. You want people to hear in their minds how you would greet them in real life at a business meeting or other event. You’ll probably want a mix of professional and friendly, although depending on your business sector people could expect you to be more formal/informal, conservative/modern or representative of the way people talk in your industry.

This is a very personal choice and you will have to decide what is suitable. Remember, nothing is set in stone and if you find your profile does not work effectively at first, you can refine it or even re-write it completely. Sometimes experimenting can be useful to discover what works and what doesn’t.

One thing to consider carefully is the use of humour. Everyone has a different sense of humour and what you find funny may strike others as anything other than funny. Humour can be very effective in communicating, but needs to be handled carefully. There seem to be more failed comedians using social media than successful ones.

Attract followers with an interesting heading

Where a site lets you post a heading, this gives you the opportunity to summarise yourself in five or six words. You could say “an accountant with 20 years’ experience”, but that sounds boring. “Award-winning accountant who understands business” suggests you are a leader in your field and are able to get beyond numbers and filing tax returns. “Approachable accountant helping Berkshire businesses” shows that you are easy to work with and serve clients in a specific place.

As with tone, your heading is a matter of personal choice. There are many different approaches, but all of them enable you to highlight the one or two most important characteristics you want readers to notice. Most sites let you edit your profile, so you can change your heading to reflect a change in interest, different times of year or events.

Shaping your profile text

What do you write when faced with an empty dialogue box? Well, what are you trying to achieve through your social media strategy? Who do you want to attract? What is it you want to interest them in? What balance of business and personal information do you want to give? The answers to these question will help you sort the information to include.

Also, how do you intend to participate in a specific service, such as twitter, or on a forum? Will you write tweets giving out advice, find people to help on a specific issue, publish blogs on a specialist topic? Will you be projecting a business persona or are your opinions going to be purely personal? Do you want to establish yourself as an expert in your field or do you just want to talk to people for fun? Again, these are serious questions that need to be answered if you want to achieve specific aims.

Even if you want to establish yourself as a serious expert, it’s going to be you talking, not your business. So write in the first person as if you were speaking, using I, rather than in the third person, using he/she/it, which is usually the case in business and could sound overly formal here. However, you probably don’t want to repeat I, I, I all the time as it will put many people off. If the profile has separate personal and business sections, you can write about the business as ‘it’ or ‘we’ in that section.

Highlight your achievements and expertise, but think how you would view someone who arrives at a business meeting, then launches into how successful they are, what awards they’ve won and much business they’ve got. Be careful that your achievements do not come across as bragging.

How will you know if what you’ve written is suitable? Let a trusted colleague or associate read it and give you constructive criticism. They could have some very good ideas for improving it. Don’t worry about criticism, because writing about yourself is one of the most difficult things anyone can do and probably the reason why so many people put off writing profiles.

Also, check you grammar, punctuation and spelling. If you can, ask someone else to check it: a fresh eye is more likely to pick up typos.

What’s the best length for a profile?

Some profiles limit how many words you can enter, so use this to focus on what you really want to say. If there is no limit, it’s still a good idea to be succinct. If you have several things to talk about, split these into sections. If you’re able to use html in the profile, you could create basic navigation so people can click on a heading to go to that section. However, if it’s too long, people could just give up. The best balance is where you write enough for a reader to find you interesting: not too little and not too much.

How do people find you?

Many social media services and sites feature keyword searching, so include relevant words to feature in search results. Think about what words and phrases your targets are likely to enter in the search box. Again, if you can use html, you could use the keywords to link to your web site to drive more web traffic to it.

Where do you start?

Taking this all into account, why not start writing your profile now? If you can’t decide on which approach is for you, look at other people’s profiles for inspiration. How do those in the same industry write their profiles? Don’t copy them, but decide what you like about them and what you don’t like. Adopt the approaches you like and apply these to writing your own original profile.

Let’s get personal

Remember that your profile is about you: it’s personal. It’s there to make you stand out, so the more individual you can make it, the more readers are likely to find it interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment, as most sites let you edit your text. There are millions of profiles out there, so if you discover a unique way to present yourself that works well, then use it.

Do you have your own profile tips?

There are so many personal choices to be made when writing your profile. What do you find works particularly well? Please share your experience and tips.

NDBA Business Action magazine available online

We are pleased to publish Business Action magazine on behalf of the North Devon Business Alliance (NDBA), the voice of North Devon Business.

The North Devon Business Alliance has been established by experienced North Devon business owners and executives to represent the interests of all businesses in the area and, through supporting existing businesses and encouraging start-ups, to develop the full potential of the local economy.

It has been formed by businesses in North Devon to champion business in North Devon and wants the area’s economy to thrive so everyone can enjoy the benefits of living and working in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

The magazine is being formally launched on Friday 28 May 2010 at an NDBA event in Bishop’s Tawton, North Devon where printed copies will be available.

Keeping up with change

Sometimes it’s easy to think that everything is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up with every new development. While there certainly is lots of change, when you look closely often the fundamentals have not changed much, if at all.

In terms of communication, that is certainly true. There are so many twitter and social media tools being launched, some of them very useful, that deciding which ones to use can be a challenge. I know I can’t use them all so I decide which ones offer the features I want and are easy to use.

Ultimately, all these tools are there only to help us communicate effectively. Knowing what we want to say and how to say it so that other people understand us remains the primary task. Everything else is secondary. Yes, tools can boost efficiency and effectiveness, but if the signal we send out is garbled, all they will do is amplify confusion.

 

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