8 of my top articles, all in one place…

8 of my top articles, all in one place…

One of the things its easy to forget when you’ve been blogging for a long time is all the great posts and content you’ve put together over the years. All that effort you put in, potentially lost in the mists of time.

Unless a user finds your posts by a search engine, its unlikely they’ll navigate back over years worth of content – lets face it, who has the time for that?

There is an easy solution to this though – A ’round up’ post. A collection of posts from your blog linked to from another post just like this. It could be your ‘favourite 5 articles’, ’7 posts you’ve written on a  particular topic’, it could just be a random mixture you want to highlight for another reason.

So with that in mind, here is one from me.

I use a tool called Postrank (owned by Google) to help me work out which of my posts are well received and which flop. It scores on all sorts of metrics like comments/shares etc…

So here are my top 8 posts of all time according to my post rank stats – enjoy:

1). Here’s a great way to loose some customers – I got quite miffed one holiday in Cornwall a year or so ago and decided to rant a little on my blog. Right or wrong, this post topped the charts!

2). Do what you do best and delegate the rest – A post about my framework for delegation, essential as your company grows.

3). 7 Super useful resources for busy business owners – Gotta love a list of useful resources. It seems other people did too.

4). Facebook Places – Are you Aware – One of my most commented on posts so it clearly hit a nerve. A post about thinking before you ‘check-in’

5). If I were a solicitor… – Here’s a post for all solicitors thinking about how to use social media. Loads of great ideas, crowd-sourced from others as well.

6). The sale ain’t made ‘til the bill is paid! – Putting together a policy on money and collecting it is essential to any business, large or small. This post gives some hints and tips on this topic.

7). 5 traits successful business owners have – This one got a lot of traction. The title speaks for itself.

8). Cash Flow is King! Guide to setting up a cash flow forecast - My most visited post (and one of my oldest) by a long way. It proves that if you give a bit of value away you get search engine listings and lots of traffic in return.

Now Your Thoughts

  • If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog and have others you think I’ve missed out please do highlight them.
  • Have you thought about doing a round up post yourself? Its really quite fun to reminisce…

Photo courtesy of Fabio Marini under creative commons

p.s You can now add your email address to my ‘newsletter’ signup. I’ll be adding value to this group of people as often as possible – they will receive things from me that others don’t have access to, so please signup today.



p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically.

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

Do you look for Opportunities or Obstacles?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I took the www.Kolbe.com personality test a few weeks ago and it showed that I have an extremely high level of what’s called ‘quick start‘ in their system. I love new ideas, vision, creation of new concepts, problem solving and thinking outside the box. On the flip side, I’m pretty awful at ‘follow through‘ which means I need people around me who can take on these new ideas and make them fly.

One of the things I know I do is to look for and see opportunity in everything around me, so this got me wondering if other entrepreneurs and business owners are wired in a similar way.

Since thinking about this I’ve analyzed a lot of the conversations I’ve had with other people to see what I might have done or said in their position and I noticed something very interesting. A select few people seem to walk around looking for opportunity. Any conversation, problem or challenge presents a chance to do something different. In my game it might be to sell something new to a client for example. Others seem to see obstacles – they start their sentences with things like, “We probably can’t do that because…”, “I’m not sure they’d want that”, “I don’t think that’s a good idea”.

Is one way right and one wrong? I’m sure theres a place for both and sometimes I know I need grounding so it’s probably no bad thing to be challenged every now and again. I do however truly believe that entrepreneurs look for opportunity in everything. Safe doesn’t work for them. They don’t need the comfort of knowing what’s round the corner or doing the same thing day in day out.

Earlier in the year I attended LikeMinds in Exeter and saw Luke Johnson (Channel 4, FT Columnist, Pizza Express, Strada, The Ivy…) speak about what makes an Entrepreneur. It was absolutely fascinating and resonated with me completely. Here are some of the words Luke used to explain the psyche of this type of person:

Grit, determination, discipline, optimism, hard working, going against trend, desire gain rather than fear loss and relentless.

He then used a phrase I loved: “The future belongs to the optimist” – How true.

When asked how he has been so successful, he simply said he has always been alive to the opportunities and that it’s often random interactions that open doors. A mantra I certainly live my life by.

This was proved to me once again this week, when after a very long day at work, the last thing I felt like doing was attending an evening do but I knew I needed to make the effort and within 5 mins of walking through the door, two huge work opportunities presented themselves out of no-where. If I’d not gone that night, I would have lost both.

I enjoy looking for opportunities where others can’t see them, it gives me a buzz. How about you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Which camp do you fall into?
  • Do you agree with me that entrepreneurs look for opportunity?

Feeling Festive

So I’ve woken up this morning and I’m feeling quite festive. The tree went up yesterday and as I opened our sitting room door, that wonderful smell of pine needles flooded out. You just can’t beat that.

Some of you might know that I have a brand called Envirosend, which is awesome email marketing software. You can find out more here: http://www.envirosend.co.uk

For this week only I’m going to offer the complete upfront costs off this system for 3 people who write to me at alastair@iambanksy.co.uk with the reason they should have the system in their business and how they plan to use it to build their business. I’ll draw the names out of a hat if I get an influx of people who are interested.

That’s a saving of just under £600 and includes: Setup/Training (phone) and 1 designed template.

There are just two stipulations:

1). You must agree to pay the £50 we normally give to Devon Wildlife Trust. We don’t want them missing out so this will be your only upfront cost.
2). Let us know how much data you have (must have given you permission to send to them – we don’t do spam at Envirosend)

I look forward to hearing your suggestions and hopefully getting to work with you soon,

Alastair

5 ways to gain better Search Engine Listings

5 ways to gain better Search Engine Listings

Ladies and Gents, this post was originally written for my local paper – The Express and Echo. I felt the content was important to re-purpose for my blog.

I’m going to focus today on Search Engine Optimisation or SEO as it’s often referred to.

SEO is not a dark art. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you put the right things in place, you’ll start to see your rankings in major search engines improve. Where you might want additional help from your agency is when this is critical to your business and requires constant improvement to gain more and more rankings and therefore sales opportunities.

Here are five top tips you can do YOURSELF, today, to improve your rankings.

1). Add a blog to your site. Look at sites like www.wordpress.com which offer free blog software. You can download this and put it on your domain name (web address) and start to reap the benefits of blogging. A blog is given more respect from search engines due to the underlying software and fact that they are often updated regularly (Google loves fresh new content to sink it’s teeth into).

2). Ask for links. A link from someone else’s site to your own is seen as a vote for it. The more good quality links you have coming to your site, the better your rankings are likely to be. Ask yourself who you can approach for a link today – make a list and send them an email – now.

3). Create targeted content. You’ve installed your new blog so what do you write about now? Consider what you want to be found for in search engines. Is it XYZ product? In which case, you need to write about that product and give google and the others the chance to find multiple references of this product within your site. Try and provide value to the user – don’t just tell them why it’s great you’ve got this new product – sell the features and benefits of it for the user. Here’s a few suggestions for titles:

“Why the XYZ is so good in our opinion”
“5 great reasons you should consider buying the XYZ today”
“Review of the XYZ”

4). Page Titles. You see that blue bar at the top of your Internet Browser? That’s your page title. Every page can have and should have a different title. Lazy designers or those without the expertise will probably use the same title throughout your whole site. This is a huge waste and should be changed immediately. Consider again what you want to be listed for in the search engines and then try and make the title of that page match the content on the page as much as possible.

5). Google Product Feed. Ok so possibly not strictly SEO but as it’s part of Google I’ll include it here. If you’re selling products on your site and have a credit card system you can export these products into the Google shopping area. This takes some technical expertise but is well worth investing in, so ask your agency to look into this for you as soon as possible as it can lead to almost instant sales without huge investment. It’s also a great way to get a presence in Google if you’re struggling in the natural listings.

So there we have it folks, 5 lovely tips to take away and action today. I can pretty much guarantee you that if you start to implement these on your site today, you’ll start seeing the benefit very soon.

Image courtesy of Danard Vincente

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any great success stories from your hard work optimising?
  • If you had a top 5 list, would you add something I’ve missed into it?

How to be found in Google

How to be found in Google

When you type your name into Google what comes up?

Are you the 1st result? Are you 2nd? Please tell me you’re on the first page right? No? Really?

When I go for a meeting with anyone, when I listen to someone speak, the first thing I do is Google their name and if they don’t appear at least once on the first page that’s a report card on them I’m afraid. If your job is such that you need to keep out of the public eye then I’d understand but for those of you trying to build businesses and get yourself out there you’re going to need to get yourself out there. Let’s look at a few ways you can do this today.

1). Get yourself a blog. Don’t just add it to a free wordpress or blogger hosting account. Shell out a few pennies and have it hosted properly on its own domain. Consider buying a domain with your own name if it’s still available. If it’s not, then write a great biography page with your name mentioned in it.

2). Get active on Twitter and LinkedIn. These two sites are huge and very well respected by the likes of Google. When you signup try and choose a name which is something to do with you if possible. If not then make sure you at least give the network your full name where it asks for it. Create a biography page/section that describes you, your location (because people will use that to search too) and your interests if possible. Now get active on these channels. Engage with people on Twitter, link people to things of interest that you find and connect with people on LinkedIn – be proactive, don’t just wait to accept peoples invites and wonder what to do then.

3). Get listed on your company website – Does your company site have a team page you can be added to? Does it have a blog you could write for? Ask the powers that be how you can be featured more online and if you are the powers that be, make this happen :)

4). Write for your local paper or at least get them to write about you! Local papers are also well respected in search engines due to the amount of fresh content they are churning out and size of their sites. A few stories every now and again could see you getting listed in Google more often. If your story is good enough the paper will want it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get after all!

So there you have it, a few ways to start improving your ‘googleability’ (not sure if I just made that up or not). If you’re looking for the edge over your competitors this point should really be up near the top of your to do list.

Image courtesy of Molly Stevens

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any other suggestions for helping get listed in Google?
  • Have you used the search engine giant to do research yourself?

8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

Some of you might be wondering why I’m writing about email marketing today – it’s old hat isn’t it? With all this new social media buzz, there is surely no place in the world for email marketing is there? Well I believe there is and I intend to tell you why and how you can use it to grow your client base today.

Let’s settle one thing quickly – if you’re reading this, thinking about buying a database from someone on a street corner (or even  a more reputable source) then this article probably isn’t for you. I’m focusing today on using your own valuable data, built up over years possibly.

I want to start with a story. About a year ago a guy approached Optix having met me 6 years ago at a networking event. I’d agreed with him to receive the Optix newsletter and we both went our separate ways. Optix kept in touch with him by way of our monthly newsletter and recently he became one of our largest clients. He’d watched the business grow and liked what he’d seen.

Here are a few sure fire ways to use email marketing to help your business grow:

1). All about the data – A good email marketing campaign revolves around good data. Make sure yours is clean or you’ll just be throwing money away.

2). Build your data – what can you give away to build a database of leads/contacts/prospects? This year we launched our free social media policy generator: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/free-social-media-policy-generator/ – A tool of real value which also helps us build leads – true ‘Inbound Marketing’.

3). Split Test your email subject lines – A good email marketing system will split test campaigns for you. It will take 50% of your database and send two different subject lines, content variants or from names and then track the most successful delivery rate, then send the winner to the other 50% – using this will give you better open and click through rates.

4). Spam & Client Testing – Emails show up differently in different email clients. Now email is consumed more and more on mobile devices you need to make sure your email is designed and developed for all these variants. This again is something a good system should be able to do for you. If not, make sure you ask your designers to consider this.

5). Deal with bounces – If an email bounces (doesn’t reach its destination) it can be for a couple of reasons. A soft bounce may infer a problem with the routing of an email to someones email box/server and is likely to be ok next time round. A hard bounce means that email doesn’t exist any longer and should be cleaned from the database – no point spending money on people that won’t ever answer!

6). Use Autoresponders – When you signup to something on a site have you ever received an email a few days later which follows it up…and then again a week or so after that? You’re part of an autoresponder system. Clever marketers know that it takes a few ‘touches’ to get to a sale but tracking and sending emails to everyone that signs up with your site manually would be far too inefficient to deal with so autoresponders help to do this for you. Used cleverly, these are extremely powerful tools

7). Segment your data – If you’re blasting everyone in your database in one go you’re probably not getting the most from it. Segment your data into interests/purchases made if you’re running an ecommerce shop or even simple things like male/female if this makes a difference to your customer. For example, I’m not hugely interested in the latest dresses from Reiss (a favourite shop of mine) but they don’t send me that because I’m segmented in their database.

8). Tie into your Social Profiles – If you have a fantastic Facebook page and a tremendous Twitter presence then make the most of them. Ask people to sign up for your updates – if you don’t ask you don’t get after all. Don’t bombard them but a few calls to action every now and again is fine.

It’s time to get clever with your email marketing – it’s still one of the most powerful tools in the online marketing toolbox.

Oh and if you’re looking for a provider, we have our own that you can find out more about over at http://www.envirosend.co.uk

Image courtesy Ramberg Media Images

Now Your Thoughts

  • What’s worked or not worked for you when you’ve marketed by email?
  • Got any tips for the other readers?

Here’s a Great Way to Lose Some Customers :)

Here’s a Great Way to Lose Some Customers :)

Never, ever, step outside your own rules/boundaries….

I don’t often blog negatively but we’re away in Cornwall this week, staying in an idyllic house in a place called Polzeath. The family come away every year to the same house which is near a well known hotel called The St Moritz. Today I witnessed a great way to lose customers and wanted to share it with you.

So here’s what happened. There is a party of 10 of us deciding whether to go for a swim over at the hotel. 4 of the girls are getting beauty treatments at the hotel tomorrow so a few of us pop over first and ask if the group can have a discount on the swimming today.

Officially the hotel offer people having treatments 50% discount on the swimming so we’re going to see if they’d be kind enough to extend that to the rest of us. The guy on the reception tells us that everyone can have the discount and so, very happy, we pop back to the house and round up the group. Everyone bounces over to the hotel happy as larry and the girl on reception tells us she’ll get the manager who we had originally spoken to.

The managing director appeared 5 minutes later and in no uncertain words tells us that everyone pays full price and only the people paying for treatments get it half price. He says this without any consideration or thought for what sits in front of him (10 new customers for a start). In fact he goes on to say, ‘you can’t expect me to give the benefit to everyone – I’m afraid the person you spoke to didn’t have authority to say that, I’m the managing director and I say everyone not having treatments pays full price’

So lets dissect this in case you want to use this tactic to lose some of your customers.

  • We wanted to use a facility that sits there and costs money whether people are in it or not.
  • The whole time we were there we only saw about 10 other people (we were there for at least 2 hours).
  • He took about £100 off us instead of £50. I very much doubt we’ll be recommending the hotel or it’s facilities now.
  • We could have gone back there everyday this week for all he knew – at a fiver per person, per day that would have been some good business for him.
  • He was unwilling to budge from the rules he’d laid down.
  • In this social, sharing world, it was pretty easy for me to write this and share it to thousands of people

Now some of you might be saying – but what if others found out, would that cause him a problem? Maybe, and if that was really going to be an issue I think the way the situation was dealt with could have been better even if the outcome wasn’t the one we’d all wanted. Communication is everything in business – your customers are your new marketing.

If you’re wondering how I would have approached the situation – here’s how: I would have told us that the first guy had made a small mistake but that on this occasion I was willing to stick by it. I might have made a little joke about not telling anyone and I’d have had 10 happy customers without a bad taste in their mouths and returning every year.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What fantastic strategies have you found for losing customers?
  • Do you have a different view on this? Was the guy right for sticking to his own rules?

7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

7 Super Useful Resources for Busy Business Owners

We’re all busy right? In the fast-paced life we lead, it’s great when a tool comes along that helps us run our business more efficiently – the trouble is there are a lot of them out there which have little or no benefit to users and in fact end up wasting us a lot of time.

Every now and again I come across websites that are really helpful and increase my efficiency dramatically. I want to share a few of these with you today. It would be great if you could share any gems you’ve found in the comments so this post becomes a really useful resource for others.

So here are some tools that you can start using immediately.

Nudge Mail – I love this tool and as I get to know more about it I use it more often. This clever system allows you to email it (without any kind of signup procedure) with a date or time that you want the email sent back (i.e. a nudge). The possibilities are endless. I think I might write a more detailed post about it in the future. If you practice GTD this is a great tool for you.

Evernote – There’s not much you can’t do with Evernote. Setup folders for documents, scans, emails, clips from webpages, images and pretty much everything else you might want to organise. If you need a central place for putting things in ‘the cloud’ this is as good as any.

Remember The Milk – Online to-do lists. I’ve set mine up in GTD style. You can email directly to this online system which means when it gets there you can categorise it. I use a tagging system that helps me pick tasks I want to do according to my mood (i.e. If I am in the mood for lots of sales calls – I have a tag for calls)

Adwords Keyword Tool - If you blog then you need to consider what people might be searching for in the likes of Google. This useful tool is great for finding out what people are ‘actually’ searching for, not just what you think they might be doing. Simply take your findings and make sure you craft your titles and articles around them.

Dropbox – Emailing large files can be a real pain. Email servers normally have a limit of about 10mb on them and quite often you might need to get larger files to other places. I recommend dropbox which is free for upto 2gb of storage.

Survey Monkey - Are you looking to run an online survey? Perhaps you want to get feedback from clients. Survey monkey is a great website which makes building a survey very simple and gives you fantastic feedback data and graphs the other side.

Eventbrite – Running a seminar or event and want to invite people? Want to charge but don’t have your own credit card facility? This website allows you to create an event and set a price (can also be free) and invite people to book online. It takes all the hard work out of it for you.

Have you found this post useful? This is the sort of thing I’ll be sharing more regularly with my friends who signup to my email list. It would be great to see you there – just pop your name and email addy in to the box on the homepage on the right hand side.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What tools do you use to increase efficiency? Let’s share and make this a useful resource in itself

How to make your website a lead generating machine – 3 easy steps

How to make your website a lead generating machine – 3 easy steps

How are you generating leads for your business? Is it hard work? Lots of networking and meetings right? Would you rather be ‘found‘ by potential customers? Well that’s where the practice of inbound marketing can be very useful. Hubspot in the US were the company to coin this term and their website is a perfect example of how to practice lead generation. In fact, they now get over 27k leads a month because they are so successful at this. Guess what, it’s not that hard to do in your business – In this article I’m going to teach you how.

At Optix, we practice Inbound Marketing but on a much smaller scale. I’m going to take you through a recent example which I hope will get you thinking about your own business and how you could do something similar.

We’ve been writing social media policies for clients for some time now. We decided to release a free ‘cut-down’ version of a policy which anyone can download and use. All we ask is that the user gives us their name, company name and email address. We also ask a couple of basic questions about the companies use of Social Media. The website then builds the policy on the fly and emails it to the user. Within the first month of this going live two amazing things had happened:

Over 50 companies downloaded the policy and gave us their details – all leads for my sales team.

We started to appear within the first 5 results of Google (They are very good at finding useful sites) for some really key terms like:

So how can you do this in your business? Here are three easy steps:

1). Consider what you can give away of value online. Can you create an ebook or a whitepaper or could you even do what we did and create a tool of value? Try and think ‘out of the box’ – don’t talk about yourself or your product directly, think about something of real use to your potential customers.

2). Put this on your website on a ‘landing page’ dedicated to that content and ask the user for some basic details in return for access to this valuable content – ideally if you can, blog about it and spread it using social media platforms like twitter, facebook and linkedIn.

3). Work out a ‘multi-touch’ (different ways of talking to the prospect – i.e email, phone, meeting – I’ll credit Scott Gould and Kristen Sousa for that one :)) plan for keeping in contact with the users who download it. Consider auto-responders if you don’t have much resource in terms of sales teams.

So there you have it, consider what you can create today and start to create compelling landing pages for capturing the details.

Now Your Thoughts

  • Can you share examples of where you’ve seen other companies do this. We can all do with inspiration :)
  • Have you dabbled with this type of marketing before? Let’s hear your thoughts.

The No 1. Trait I want from my staff

Someone asked me today, “Alastair, what’s the number one trait you expect or want from your staff”. Hmm interesting – this made me think very hard. Some of the obvious ones sprang to mind immediately:

  • Honesty
  • Integrity
  • Skilled
  • Motivated
  • Hard Working

They all came close.

Do you know what I ended up answering and on reflection still consider up there at the top? (enough to write a post about it! at least!)

Someone who ‘Accepts Responsibility’

What do I mean by this?

This person never blames anyone else, they accept responsibility themselves in a positive way and offer a solution which they learn from and better themselves with. In sales especially this is very important and easy to explain using the following example:

Sales person A returns from a pitch, and say’s the following: “Boss we didn’t get it because the customer doesn’t have the money just now – times have been tight because of the recession and the chips are down – it’s hard out there right now.”

Sales person B returns from the same pitch and say’s, “Boss I didn’t get the pitch for these two reasons – I didn’t qualify the person hard enough, so hadn’t realised they didn’t have the right budget for our product and I didn’t build a good enough relationship with the decision maker. I tell you what though, I’m not going to make the same mistakes again and I’ll nail the next one Boss.”

Who accepted responsibility in that scenario? Who would you rather have working for you? Yes of course, the second guy right?

This doesn’t just apply in sales, it happens in all areas of business and I personally want to surround myself with people who have the ability to accept responsibility. If someone comes to me and says they made a mistake but they’ve learnt or they know how to fix it then that’s a HUGE tick in the box. If they come to me blaming someone else or some external factor then it has the opposite effect.

There is a great article on the Livestrong Blog which goes into far more detail about the topic and is well worth a read if you agree with my points above: http://www.livestrong.com/article/14698-accepting-personal-responsibility/

Now Your Thoughts

  • Don’t forget that when you employ people, you are looking for things like this from an early stage – what sort of questioning could you use to coax this kind of personality trait out of someone?
  • What would you say the No1 trait you look for in your staff is?