Hello to anyone who has just come across from She Knows Parenting where I contributed to an article by Deanna Slettern.
I blog about small business help and copywriting on this website. Please feel free to check out past posts. You can also check out my other blogs under my Portfolio page at the bottom. These are not so regularly updated, but I still enjoy writing them. Please feel free to leave a comment to let me know that you came.
This week I have an extra teenager in the house: a French exchange student. She has been here for one night and is obviously finding the whole situation very strange as she does not speak a lot of English. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of pointing and many mispronounced words and she has gone off to school this morning, no doubt looking forward to sharing her experiences with her friends in her own tongue, but it got me thinking. How often do we make sure that our message is coming across clearly and succinctly? Or is our message misunderstood?
Naomi Dunsford of Itty Biz wrote a blog post last autumn. She suggested that small business owners needed to ensure that their customers knew what they were selling and that it was important that they check that they get their message across. This led to a post on this very website where I made sure that I explicitly explained what my message is and what services I offer.
Check the Message of Your Website
It can be a bit difficult to examine your own website and promotional literature subjectively, so you might wish to enlist the help of trusted friends. Ask them to look over your work and check it through while considering the following questions:
What is the message of this writing?
Is it clear from the writing what is being sold?
Can you easily find which company is selling the product on the information and can you find their contact details?
Do you have any questions about the product or service that have not yet been answered?
The answers may surprise you. Use their responses to inform your work when you next redesign the leaflet or website. Add information, make sure that the contact details are clear and ensure that your message is coming across loud and clear.
Just as important as your website and promotional literature is how you come across when writing professional communications. I had a message from a potential client recently. He had been contacted by several copywriters after he posted about a job on a forum. He had chosen to answer me because some of the communications he had received from other people had contained spelling and grammatical errors. If you are a copywriter, then your work must always be proof-read and checked thoroughly. Even I let errors go occasionally, but I do my best to ensure that the work is as perfect as possible.
Emails can seem impersonal, brusque or even rude! If you have a tendency to write short emails, then it is best to have someone to check over them that you have got the tone right. There are probably more misunderstandings over emails than anything else. Don’t forget to use a spellchecker, but always read through yourself as well – spellcheckers do not pick up words that are spelled correctly but in the wrong place.
Pick your words with care, check that what you have written is as grammatically correct as you can make it and proof-read before sending out email will all help to ensure that your communications are professionally produced.
Make sure that your company is sending the right message to your customers to ensure that there is no misunderstanding about what you can offer them.
Many people have job uncertainty at the moment and the option of working from home begins to look more attractive. You can’t fire yourself and the prospect of giving yourself a disciplinary warning seems unlikely!
Joking aside, however, the decision to start your own business cannot be taken lightly. You would be well advised to look into the idea thoroughly before taking any steps to become self-employed. If you need the wage you earn to cover the costs of day to day living, then you will need to consider carefully what you need to live on and what you will need the business to make a month. You need to consider a pension, National Insurance and tax. The tax office in the UK requires you to register within three months of setting up in business. You will be responsible for finding your own customers and clients and you will need to keep your cashflow going.
If you are still reading this, undaunted, then you truly have got the bug and there may be no hope for you. Here are some of the things you will need to consider when setting up your own business:
Check out your competition. Is there a need for your kind of business and what are you going to do to compete with them?
Make That Sale
The hardest part of any business is getting the customers through the door or on the website. You will need to be your own sales person, so get used to talking on the phone, designing leaflets and buying business cards.
Get a Website and Your Own Domain Name
Having your own website is essential. It is best if the domain name describes what you do in some way although the more obvious names will be taken. Try to find a name that your customers will search for when they are looking for a business like yours. Bear in mind that a website is a long-term investment and that unless you employ an expert, you are likely to be blogging to yourself for a while.
Sell, Sell, Sell
After getting customers through the door, the hardest part is getting that sale. Make sure that your shop or website is bright and appealing. Don’t forget promotional offers can tempt customers to buy and make sure that it is as easy as possible for a customer to buy from you. A website should include big 360 degree pictures of products and accurate descriptions. Logical departments for products and a search facility can also help.
Offer great customer service to keep your customers coming back for more. Ask for feedback and post reviews. Keep in touch with customers via a newsletter so that you can offer more promotions.
Keep your website fresh and up to date. Don’t let yourself get in a rut. When you can afford it and the business is bringing a little money, hire a graphic designer and have some custom designs made so that you can build your brand.
Starting up a new business is an exciting decision. When the excitement dies down, make sure that you have thought everything through and planned thoroughly to ensure that you will be a successful business owner.
I have written some articles on this subject on Suite101:
Remember the Google algorithm, now nicknamed ‘Panda’ which was rolled out in March to the USA and now last month to the rest of the world? The implementation of the algorithm has caused much interest in internet marketers and some consternation in the websites it has affected but now results are beginning to come in to show how much websites have been affected by the changes.
Changes Caused by the Update
If the USA version of the change had one effect, it instantly knocked back articles by Suite101 and Hubpages. These websites have traditionally been used by internet marketers to backlink to their websites to enable them to rise in the search engine rankings. The problem was that although these websites were moderated and edited, the articles on them went back to the beginnings of the website. There needed to be some changes and both websites have implemented stricter edits and have begun to delete older and perhaps less useful articles. The change did not affect all websites however such as Ehow which also contained a lot of content.
The version rolled out to the rest of the world showed that Google had listened. Ehow lost some of its traffic, but so did UK tech websites and price comparison websites. Ebay improved their ranking as did UK newspaper websites.
Improving Search Results
The stated aim of the update was to improve the Google search and eliminate duplicate content. For years internet marketers have suggested that the best way to get quick results have been to submit the same or very similar articles to article websites such as Ezine and Technorati in order to gain back links. The articles can be submitted for free and are allowed links. Members of these websites can copy these articles for their own use and therefore spread the links over the internet. The problem is that many of these articles are simply copied, spreading duplicate copy over the web.
Using these articles allowed website owners to populate their websites quickly with copy for the price of a link and it seemed a win-win situation. The problem occurs when a user searches for information and the same article on several different websites is returned.
Say No to Duplicate Content
Duplicate content has never been a good idea. There is so much rubbish out there on the internet that it can be hard to find the right information that you are looking for. Google is going to continue to update the algorithms and try to eliminate websites that it perceives as being nothing less than spam.
The message is clear: by all means add content to your website. Regular, relevant content added to a website will help it to rise in the search rankings but make sure that it is original and useful information in order to ensure that your website is not hit by further updates.
Can Google detect which content is original? (onecoolsitebloggingtips.com)
I loved the Royal Wedding last Friday. The family sat down together to enjoy the day. The bride was beautiful, the dress was gorgeous, the groom was handsome in his uniform and the bridesmaids were cute. The bride and groom appeared to thoroughly enjoy their day and the beginning of their new life together. Most of the people I know sat down and enjoyed the wedding as I did.
Starting a new business can be a little like a wedding.
It’s a lot of work, but you are looking forward to the end result. There’s the excitement of the new ideas that can come tumbling out barely fully formed, there’s the joy of the fun stuff like researching new products, designing new websites and perhaps looking for new premises. There’s the not so fun stuff such as visiting the banks and informing HMRC. Overall it is a time full of promise, full of adventure and full of trepidation.
Then you have to deal with the day to day stuff of running a business. In the service industry, you have to continually find new clients. On an e-commerce website you have to keep your search engine optimisation working as well as you can to bring clients to your website. If you have opened a high street shop, then you need your customers to come through the door. You have to keep your cashflow going and your overheads paid. The shine begins to wear off.
Before you know it, you are struggling to find clients, the website is failing to meet its targets and you are not ranking for any of your keywords in the Google top ten pages. Or you’re faced with a sink full of dirty dishes while your new husband goes off for a sulk over the way you cooked tea…! (It could happen)
What Can You Do?
What you do next will show the stuff you’re made of and whether you’re really cut out to be a business owner. You need to find a way through the slump times and discover a way to bring customers thronging to your door once again.
You can share your problem on the business forums and ask advice from some of the old hands there. You may be able to find a customer or two lurking there as well.
You may wish to read up on your problem. Subscribe to one or two recommended blogs and see what the experts suggest.
Linking and networking with like-minded people can bring help so that you can get your head clear and understand the steps you need to take to remedy the situation.
You may decide to hire somebody like a copywriter or a web designer to ensure that your content and your website are as fully optimised as they can be.
Proactively seek clients, especially if you are in a service industry. Go where your clients hang out and join in discussions. Post your availability and let people know that you are able to help.
Use social networking to increase your customer awareness. Tweet, update your status on Linked-In and keep your Facebook page up to date.
Use a promotional offer to encourage people to buy. Use leaflets to target customers.
Check that your e-commerce website is working as well as it can. Ask friends to check it out and follow up on their comments.
Try a website such wecandobiz.net which encourages networking.
Many of these ideas suggest asking others for help. It can be so encouraging to talk to someone who has gone through this before and is able to share their experience. It can be lonely to be a small business owner, particularly one that is a sole trader. By seeking others out and getting involved in communities then you can find a place to share your problems and also help others.
Don’t give up. Keep going and use every bit of your resources to keep your desire to work for yourself alive. Try and remember a little of the excitement of the first days to help you find the resources to get through these dark days. Every business has its ups and downs – that’s what keeps most of us interested.
Oh – and never burn the dinner when cooking for your new husband!
Have you had some difficulties with your business recently? Perhaps you have just come through a difficult patch or you are feeling low at the moment because things are not going the way you would like. Comment below for a sympathetic ear.