Archive for November, 2010
A couple of weeks ago I was asked by another freelancer my advice on the easiest way to expand the functionality and the increase the Unique Selling Point (USP) of a product or service with the minimum of effort. That was a fairly open question (and a fairly big question at that), but it just happens that I had already given the question some thought for one of my own projects.
The requirement is that no matter if you have a product (be it a physical product, a software product on a phone, or a web based application) or a service you provide, it would be great to be able to rapidly expand its scope, functionality, usefulness and therefore saleability with the minimum of effort and cost. But how can you do this?!?
The answer is… integration. By integrating your products and services with other products and services, the scope of your own product expands rapidly to include a lot of the functionality of the other integrated products. Let me explain…
Lets say you have a software product you market which provides office collaboration facilities (storing documents, sharing information, tasks etc). That’s all great, but now imagine you add some code to integrate with some of the cloud To Do list managers such as Google Tasks or ToodleDo. Now when users create collaboration tasks or notifications, they can be sent to the cloud and appear in their Google tasks list or ToodleDo task list systems. But the increase in functionality is exponential – because Google Tasks and Toodledo themselves integrate with other applications, so now your office management application feeds tasks out to the cloud, which then integrates with iPhone or android applications, with more functionality, which themselves integrate with more functions and applications, and so your USP increases with no further effort by yourself.
The same is true for services. If you provide say accounting services, and your service provides the ability to integrate with other accounts services (say a company which does payroll services, or book-keeping or asset management), the bolt-on service dramatically adds content, value, functions and sales value with no effort by yourself. Your USP and sales message is so much stronger for the minimum of effort.
Of course, there are two tricks to such integration…
First, picking your integration or collaboration partners. You need companies, services and products that not only fit with your services and products, but who will themselves integrate out to further increase your reach, but at the same time will not draw your customers away from your original functionality.
Secondly, is to make your product or service integratable. Tempt other companies to integrate to you but developing hooks into your product or service either via software Application Programming Interfaces (API;s) for software or an openness and wiliness to work with people for services. Of course the secret to this is to advertise such API’s and integration openness on your product or service web site.
If you happen to follow me on twitter, you will have seen that I have been on holiday in Kenya. Whilst I was there, I landed 2 new sales – actually the quotes had been sent out just as I was flying out on holiday, but I got the email confirmation whilst I was out there. In my business we have a rule – we get a new sale and we do a little dance to celebrate. As both emails arrived, my wife and I did the ‘new sale boogie’ on the beach with cocktails in hand – nice!
So how did I find these new customers? Google Adwords! Let me give you some numbers for the adwords campaign since I started it in early September…
- Adword Campaigns running (groups of search terms) : 9 – see the screen shot of my ad groups
- Total impressions : 9,988 (as at the time I type this now)
- Total Clicks from ads : 60 (again, as of now)
- Cost of the clicks : £163.57
- Enquires from clicks : 23
- Confirmed Sales : 2
- Ongoing conversations : 7
- Value of the 2 sales in total : £34,600!!
Not a bad return – £35,000 of sales value from £163 marketing cost and 6 or 7 hours of time. So I am here to say, Adwords does work….. if you do it right.
I have posted about Adwords before, saying it can get out of control – and it can. It’s like a wild animal, you have to keep your eye on it, keep grooming it (refining the styles, ads, words, etc), pull it back when it goes too far, and most of all, get it house broken when you first set it up.
Yesterday I wrote about defining your ideal customer – and this is the most important bit. Once you have your ideal customer defined, you can then plug this into adwords – for EACH AND EVERY advert group you run, set the restrictions as much as possible on things like view times (mine run Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), location, language etc.
Other things I recommend when using Adwords are:
- Use Adword rotation – don’t just have one ad per group – have 3 or 4 to rotate, turn off the google optimisation of placement (where it only uses the best), use them all, see which is the worst performing, then change the words to make it more attractive.
- Change the bid amounts to be lower than the suggested average Price Per Click (PPC) – you will still get exposure and clicks, but for less money.
- Turn off (in the settings) under Networks the Search Partners – stick to the main Google Search. Also, change the Display Network option to Relevant pages only on the locations you manage (so google takes account of your previous location/language settings)
- When you get an enquiry from your call to action on your web page – follow it up as soon as possible. Whoever tries to contact you, they will also be contacting other companies so you want to be the first to respond.
- If you have never set up Google Adwords before, get a book on how to do it properly (or sub-contract the set up).
- Keep control of your costs. If you link your Adwords into an online accounting system (such as the fabulous FreeAgent), your costs will be imported for you and will detailed in the accounting analysis.
- If you run Google Analytics, link the Adwords to Analytics (in the Analytics site) – this will then provide further information on which search terms and adverts are working best, bounce rates per advert etc. All of this can be used to refine your adverts and improve the return on investment.
If somebody asked you to define your ideal (or target) customer, could you do it? Have you even given it any thought, or is it one of those business concepts which are there for the big boys, and you are really looking for anybody, anywhere, that has money to spend and needs your service or product?
The reason I ask, is that earlier in the year, I had to define my ideal customer – for a number of marketing activities, and it was a difficult exercise for me. I provide IT database software services to companies with… well…. databases. Should that not do? Does that not cover it (I asked)? Actually, no – it turns out that being vague is one of the worst answers. Without defining the target, how could I hope to know my customers when they come along, or hope to get my message across to the right people.
Take for instance, the concept of location. That’s a fairly easy one I guess for most people. They will say that their target customer is say, in their own country, or if you are completely virtual -anywhere in the world. But let’s think about this. If it’s anywhere in the world, do you want to deal with people in countries that can’t speak English? And what happens if it all goes wrong? Do you really want to travel around the world to sort out a problem for a few hundred pounds of sale value?
So I started to get specific. I realised that because 90% of the time I have to meet the customer at some time, I didn’t really want to travel to Scotland, or Wales, or Ireland, or even spend 7 hours travelling too far north for a prospect sales meeting. So I worked out that for me, my ideal customer lived within 127 mile radius from my home office. I know that sounds specific – and it is. 127 miles from me, is 2 miles off of the French coast, yet includes major UK cities – London, Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton etc. 127 miles can be travelled in a couple of hours. If I said 130 miles, I would be getting prospects in Northern France, if I said 120 miles, I cut off half of Bristol and Birmingham.
Once I had this concept sorted, the rest fell into place. Other categories which I then defined were:
- Language – English speaking
- Company Size – over 30 people, but less than 200 (don’t want to waste time on small SME’s with little budget, nor go for the bigger companies that the big consultancy companies target)
- Industry – Private sector or NHS (my services don’t work for charities, or government offices, etc)
- Turnover – from £100,000 up to £5m – again see the company size logic
- Type of person I need to speak to – IT manager, information manager, Development Manager, CEO or MD
- Working Hours – Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (don’t want to be working for companies that only operate at weekends, or out of hours)
- Requirements – Must use databases such as SQL Server or Oracle, maybe smaller databases like access, Informix or DB2
I could go on, but suffice to say that by defining as many categories as I could, and then refining them down as much as possible, when my ideal customer appears I know them and know that I can work with them.
Now it could be argued that by creating restrictions (such as location) I am reducing the number of potential customers, but then do I really want to travel 600 miles to Scotland or Ireland to try and sell my services, when there is a person 40 miles from the prospect who has a better chance of the sale and less costs to service them?
Tomorrow, I will talk about how I used the above information for land £10,000’s of revenue for less than a £100 investment.
If you haven’t spend the time to define your ideal or target customer, take 10 minutes and define them now. I promise, it’s worth the effort.
I have just returned from a wonderful 3 week holiday to Kenya. It was great not only because of the wildlife, relaxation and the time away from small business hassles – it was also good because it gave me 3 weeks to reflect on my small business and where I wanted to grow.
During these 3 weeks, I found myself propped up in a bar in Nairobi, chatting with another business owner (also on holiday) who was doing very well for himself. We got chatting about business (as you do) and I asked him the question I always ask other business owners – “what is the one tip you would give small business owners”. Unlike other answers I have heard which talk about cash flow, or invoicing, or getting your USP sorted, this one had a different answer. Which was…
Don’t be scared of the word NO!
Without repeating the entire conversation here, he went on to explain that without doubt, the biggest problem small business have is staying true to themselves, staying on target to their goals, and not being dragged into directions and projects that do not fit with that the company does. Therefore (he explained), if you are not happy with a project, if a customer wants too much, if a work co-worker walks in and asks for help (interrupting you), if an employee pushes the bounds or you feel you are being pulled in the wrong direction, don’t be afraid to say “No”. Many small businesses are just so grateful for the money or so scared of making the wrong move, they will agree to anything or at least try to turn it into an advantage for them, even though the right move was to just say no and walk away.
However, he said it was a bit more complex than this. No (he said) was a harsh word – a brutal full stop of a word. “No” can cause resentment, embarrassment, arguments and hostility. So when using the No word, the other word to use is “Because”.
Because is the reason. Because tells the story and keeps things friendly. Because makes it a professional decision.
If a conversation went along the lines “Can you create a product for me? No!”, it’s the end of the conversation. But, if the answer is “No, because this is not what we do, but let me point you to somebody who can” – this sets your credibility and keeps the door open for doing what it is your company does best.
Dan Quayle – Trenton, New Jersey, USA – June 15, 1992
A quick one from me today, but a risky one!!! I could be the kettle calling the pot black!
A week or so ago was sitting on the London Underground, reading a couple of advertisements (not much else to do on the tube). I had to read both advertisements twice. The first one was for an on-line dating agency and had as part of the text, “…we will find you perfect match…”. Take your guess at what the missing word was from “a”, “your”, “no”, “somebody’s”. The next advert was for a tech college, and had so many buzz words, extra long sentences and repeated words, it made no sense at all. It included the phrase “We ensure that no matter if you are a QMC or HND, our MTEs will elevate your skill status beyond the average return for the SEE for the exam year”. Catchy!!
Both ads must had been printed thousands of times, been placed in hundreds of tube trains and posters in tube stations. It would have cost both companies thousands of pounds. Yet the adverts were junk.
Now we all make mistakes. I am sure that this blog is full of typos, grammatical errors, spelling errors and such. But, and here is the point, this is not my revenue generating work. Any specifications I produce, quotes I generate, emails I send get checked, double checked and if somebody else is available, gets a 2nd opinion. This not only helps check that I don’t have any obvious errors, but that it can be understood by somebody who does not speak the tech language I speak.
If somebody had run these adverts past somebody else, these basic errors would have been spotted, corrected and I am sure made more of an impact.
So who is checking your work?
Working on your small business can be a juggling act; unless your company has grown to include lots of staff to run different functions for you, we can easily find that we have to wear too many hats every day. Marketing, accounts, legal, sales, and even the cleaner. Oh, and don’t forget the work for customers and on products that can actually generate revenue.
One of the most well known and respected is Getting Things Done. If you want to get organized but don’t know where to start Dave Allen’s book will give you the tools to ‘Get Things Done.’ The book recommends a set of principles, habits and a filing system which encompasses everything that you want to do from the mundane ‘I must get new tyres for the car’ to the important major projects at your small company. If you have a hectic lifestyle this system will remind you that your library books need renewing or that the car is due for its MOT as well as that you need to write the first draft of a report for a customer or you want to email a friend to ask if they would like to go to a concert. You can concentrate on making that phone call or writing that report without worrying about all those other things that you need/want to get done. His system even finds room for long term ‘dreams’ which are not possible at the moment such as learning a second language, writing a book or travelling to China.
So when I’m not at my desk making phone calls, writing letters, or reading emails I can relax knowing that everything is in my filing system, calendar or in-tray. If I need to go into town to pick up some milk a quick check in the appropriate file will remind me I’ve also got some dry cleaning to pick up or whatever else needs doing in town. Setting up the system takes time and effort but it works. Dave Allen recommends clearing two whole days to clear an office and your mind of clutter and put it into a system which reviewed regularly. I didn’t have two full clear days and did it over a couple of weeks but my home office has stayed tidy, organised and fully functional since and other areas of my home/life are being transformed.
This is a practical book with lots of useful ideas for increasing productivity in all areas of life and reducing stress but if you are prepared to implement the whole system it can be life changing.
As the Christmas adverts start to appear on TV, the shops fill with tinsel, and Band Aid (do they know it’s Christmas) is playing in every shop you enter, it’s hard not to stop and scream ‘You do know there is still two months to go don’t you?!?!?!?’. But all of these do remind us that Christmas is just around the corner. And as we move into the winter months, the big question is not ‘Will it snow as much as last year’ but more…. If it does, what will you do about it?!?
Last year’s snow caused chaos! Cars were stuck in drifts or unable to move from driveways, railways ground to a halt, flights were cancelled and for a few weeks, the country ground to a halt. This is of course great if you work for somebody else, a few days stuck at home building snowmen with the family is great fun, but when the missed work means loss of revenue for you personally, it’s not so great. So what plans have you made for this year’s disruption?
But whilst making those plans, why not take a few more steps. Snow is seasonal – it may affect us for a week or two. So whilst making those snow plans, why not see if there are other ‘just in case’ plans for your business which you can put in place.
A good starting list for thinking about includes:
So let’s start with the snow plans. As I predict it’s going to be bad again like last year, I am going to be stocking up early with salt and sand bags to keep in the garage just in case. Last year’s snow meant shops ran out in record quick time, so just now – whilst its plentiful and cheap, half a dozen bags can be stored in the garage (it doesn’t go off, so can sit there for years until its needed). But better than that, I have worked my schedule so during most of December and January I will be working from home, so no travelling for me. What about you – can you change your schedules to remove the need to travel?
None of us like the idea of falling ill. Of course, the odd bought of flu or cold will always happen – but what happens if things are more serious? A broken leg, a broken arm, or something worse? If you don’t have any plans in place yet, it may be worth looking at private health cover to get you on your feet as soon as possible (you don’t want to be stuck in an 18 week NHS wait queue), and of course critical illness insurance cover for the lost revenue when you are not working. But please have somebody with some experience read the critical illness contract as some do not cover freelancers, contractors or the self employed.
Prevention is better than cure, so are you doing anything to maintain your level of fitness and health. For most small business owners, they are their own most important asset, so is there anything you can do to stay fit, happy and healthy. Memberships to gyms can be paid for by your company (although it is a taxable perk), so it may be time to get yourself into shape and protect your investments.
Loss of Assets Plans
What happens if you lost an asset you need for your business? What happens if you crash your car (is there a spare car you can use to get to those meetings, do you have the number of a rental company to hand)? What about computers? Please tell me that you have the data backed up somewhere and you take backups on regular occasions (daily or weekly minimum). What are the important assets for your business, and what are your backup plans for those assets? Think about computers, printers, mobile phones, cars, offices, your house and of course your business data.
Loss of Resource Plans
Now what about resource that is no longer available – can you create a backup plan for that? It’s useful to keep a handful of freelancers or contractor contact details to hand that you can call on when resource is needed. This includes a backup plan for yourself – you never know when a family member will need your help or you have to drop everything to help somebody out – who can you pass your work onto in an emergency?
Loss of Internet Plans
For most small businesses, the internet is one of the heaviest forms of technology that they use. But internet connections do go down, telephone lines do get accidently cut by engineers working on roads, exchanges do sometimes catch fire. What are your backup plans for loss of the internet? Is there a list of internet cafes you can use in an emergency? Is there a way of getting hold of the emails that normally go to your phone or exchange server?
General Backup Plans
Then of course there are the general backup plans, plans that cover a wide range of options. These may include call answering services (to take the calls when you can’t), communication options such as skype (for when communication is an issue or you cannot move), online presentation systems, online storage and backup (such as dropbox) for keeping copies of work.
Clearly, none of us wants anything bad to happen. But some things (like snow) are more likely than others and having a backup plan means that when the unfortunate does occur, you are not left scrabbling around – you have a plan and you know what you are doing.
Emails are a bit like a virus; every day you get more and more of them, they sort of breed and multiply. Before you know it, your intray is full every day not only with work related emails, but also from those ‘useful’ notices from vendors that you may or may not have bought something from in the past, and now get regular emails with their special offers.
If you are anything like me, those emails can be annoying. Yes, it’s fairly easy to hit the delete key and remove them, but imagine how many deletes you have to press over time, how much time is wasted on the purging of those emails, and the wasted thought process of going through them every day.
As I move towards my annual ‘big holiday’, I move into what I call my email purge week. For one week, every time I get an email I actually stop to think about whether it adds value. If it doesn’t, I don’t just delete it, but I remove it for good. Either by using the ‘unsubscribe’ button at the end (if they have one), or replying with a ‘stop emailing me please’ email of my own, or finally, adding them to my black list so that the sending is blocked from the email address forever.
It is especially useful when you go abroad with a smart phone for checking on your business emails. You pay to receive emails, so there is nothing more annoying than paying the few pence/cents to download some sales spam from a frequent spammer telling you there is 10% off a product you purchased 5 years ago for your mother on her birthday.
When you return from Holiday or after the purge week, your email box will be a lot cleaner, and you will have more free time with dealing with real work rather than email weeding. Yes, the emails will build up again as you purchase more things on the internet, but that’s why I email purge every year.