Are your ears and eyes always open?

Are your ears and eyes always open?

A few years ago, at a time when I was still able to drive around in an impractical car (before the requirement for a 5-seater family car), I faced a dilemma one morning when I managed to lock myself out of said motor.

Luckily, my neighbour happened to be the owner of Lockfix24 (a local locksmith’s in Exeter), and after a quick search on Google for his emergency number – he quickly came to my rescue.

Kenny was a complete life saver that day, turning up within the hour and “breaking” me back into my car without leaving a mark. He was reliable, quick and efficient, and I cannot thank him enough for helping me out at such short notice. The thing I didn’t realise at the time was that one day Kenny would be knocking on the Optix Solutions door, asking for our help with his website and digital marketing – something he saw as vital to the success of his business. Kenny is now a happy client at Optix, and drops in on a regular basis to catch up with the team (he usually brings in a treat or two which the team are always delighted about!).

This scenario reminded me that you never know when a chance meeting with someone can end in a business opportunity and that wherever you go, and whoever you talk to you are always representing your business, as are your employees.  I encourage my staff to take a positive approach with everything they do, whether they are talking about Optix outside work, tweeting about something online, or chatting to someone in the street as you just never know.

My wife jokes about how many times I’ve turned a seemingly chance meeting into business for our company but I guess that’s just down to the way I approach every conversation.

If you have your opportunity antenna up and are prepared to talk business at all times then you’ll generate leads. Maybe that’s not important for you. But hey its one of the key reasons my business is now celebrating its 15th year and one I thought I’d share with you all today.

Breathe for Jo

Dear Friends,

Its not often that I’d ask you to support something or give your time to a cause that you might not have any link to but I’d appreciate just 5 minutes of your time to read this and the article it links to.

My good friend Jo Smith has two terminal illnesses, pulmonary hypertension and lymphatic cancer. She is thought to be the only person in the world to have both and sadly one stops her from being treated for the other.

A possible breakthrough treatment has been found in Thailand but 30k is needed to send her there. A campaign has been launched by her friend Lacey and the local newspaper in Exeter. You can read the full story in more detail than I could go into here: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Campaign-launched-save-Exeter-mum-Jo-suffering/story-20935307-detail/story.html

Jo is a loving mother of her 3 year old Rudey and has been a close friend of mine since our early twenties. She is a kind person who doesn’t deserve the cards life has dealt her.

I hope this article reaches out to people, raises awareness and possibly even aids the financial support she needs.

Her just giving page can be found here: https://www.justgiving.com/yimby/breatheforjocampaign

Thank you for your time.

Alastair.

—– Please ignore the p.s.’s below this line, they are part of this theme —–

Remembering You

Remembering You

This is my Grandfather and namesake Alastair Banks. He fought and lived through WW2. He was and always will be an inspiration in my life. This day is for remembering him and everyone else who fought for their countries.

Stop Worrying and Start Living

Stop Worrying and Start Living

I was talking to some of my team yesterday and discussing how, in business, you simply have to face up to tough decisions and things you wouldn’t necessarily want to do given the choice. Last week I wrote about eating the frog which has struck a few chords it seems from comments and emails I’ve had. That technique is a great way of dealing with individual tricky situations but what about stress and hard times in general – how do you deal with that?

In my business over the years, I’ve had to take people through disciplinary procedures, I’ve fired people, dealt with horrendous computer system crashes, irate clients and many many other difficult situations. These have an impact on my general stress levels and work/life balance and over the years I’ve learnt ways of dealing with this. I’m sure you feel and suffer the same and please believe me this is not a post to get sympathy.

Dealing with difficult times is something you have to do if you want to progress in business and guess what, quite often it’s these times that teach us more than the good times so there is a positive spin on this already. In fact I remember someone saying to me once that the clients who moan the most are often your best as they point out the problems within your business. You should thank clients that moan at you – they are teaching you a lot.

I use a few visualisation/positive thought techniques to help me when the chips are down – I’d like to share a couple with you this morning.

What’s the worst that could happen?
In his book, ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ (aff link) Dale Carnegie’s first chapter focuses on thinking about what the worst thing that could happen to you is – Are you likely to goto jail? Are you likely to die? Will you lose your entire business? No? Well let’s start to put a scale of how bad this really is then. By working out what the worst that can happen to you is and dealing with that, you can start to deal with it and move on.

How did they do it?
My Grandfather was in World War 2. He landed in D-Day and was blown up and shipped back to England pretty quickly. He also served in the desert and received the military cross for bravery. I remember fondly as a child, he used to recount stories to me of his time during the war. I learnt some very valuable lessons from him. None more so than just getting on with it. He lived through some awful conditions but never once moaned about them or felt he’d be dealt a tough hand. He taught me to get on with things and face up to the fact that life isn’t always peachy. I miss him dearly now and thank him for some of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learnt.

What would others do?
Last year I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Floyd Woodrow – One of the SAS’s youngest recruits at 22 years of age. He now runs a ‘performance optimisation’ company working with business and sports leaders. He talked about leadership that day and one thing in particular stuck in my mind. When faced with a difficult situation he uses a number of techniques. One is to touch his ear which he has linked mentally to pleasant visions and ideas and the second is to consider what others would do in his situation. Faced with a tricky decision he quickly sums up what 4 or 5 other people he highly respects would do and then makes his mind up. Perhaps a useful tool for you to use? You can follow Floyd on Twitter.

I have to say folks, on reading this back to myself this post feels a little negative but it’s really not meant too and I don’t feel at all down today – I thought it would be a good follow up to eating the frog and hopefully give you some ideas for techniques to use when you’re next feeling like things are against you. After all, if you’re down, think of all the people around that you will also bring down with you.

Chin up and keep smiling :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • Do you have any techniques for keeping your chin up during adversity?
  • What keeps you going?

6 tips for using LinkedIn effectively

Used well, LinkedIn can be an incredibly powerful tool for your business, however almost everyone I meet admits to not really understanding the platform. In professional services this is prolific, it appears firms are saying that staff should be using the tool but not actually helping them work out how to get the most from it. This seems very odd.

In this post I’ve outlined 6 tips for effective use of the platform, I hope it helps you.

1.    Complete your profile fully
This might sound obvious but the majority don’t. Anything less than 100% complete is too little. Having a fuller profile helps others find you. You need to include information on your previous positions as well as your current company – think of it as an online CV if you will.

2.    Start finding people
Numbers matter on LinkedIn – A slightly controversial comment perhaps but this is not just for ego. The more people you are ‘connected with’ the better the chance of working the tool you’ll have. Start searching your local area and contacts and asking to link with those people you know and trust. Over time you will naturally start to build this number quickly but in the beginning you need to give it a bit of a push.

3.    Get found on Search Engines
Make sure your profile is set to ‘full’ – you can do this in the edit profile settings section. LinkedIn is very well respected by Google so the chances of you showing up in the results if you are active are that much higher. Do you rank in Google for your own name (I hope you do because your prospective clients will be searching for you)? If not, get working this site. A quick search on my name Alastair Banks actually shows two results on LinkedIn in the top 10 meaning I get even more bites of the ‘search cherry’.

4.    Did you know LinkedIn has other Search Engine (SEO) value?
In your profile you are able to link to 3 external sites – perhaps your blog or company website. Many people don’t realise these links have SEO value, so you need to make sure you name the link and include a keyphrase that is descriptive of your website or business. Check my profile to see how I do this.

5.    Do your homework
I use LinkedIn to find people that I’m meeting. The power of a little knowledge on their education, company history and interests can be the difference between winning a pitch or not. Bonding is such an important part of sales that you shouldn’t overlook this.

6.    Ask for Recommendations
You can ask for recommendations from your contacts. Don’t be embarrassed, get on and do it. Someone saying something nice about you is that much more powerful than you saying it yourself. The more you can get, the better and don’t forget to return the favour when someone is nice enough to recommend you. :)

This really is the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to this powerful social networking platform. I strongly recommend integrating this into your everyday work.

If you want to know more about how to to do this then I’ll be running a new LinkedIn course on the 9th of November in Exeter with my good friend Julian Summerhayes where we’ll focus on how to get leads and sales from this fantastic tool. Sorry for the shameless plug but this course really is a great chance to tap into our knowledge at a low cost. The value of what you’d get from it far outweighs the small cost for joining us that day. Places are limited so make sure you get in quick: http://areyoulinkedin.eventbrite.com/

Hope to see you there :)

Now Your Thoughts

  • What are your views on LinkedIn?
  • How does it fit your strategy?
  • I’d love to hear success stories you can attribute to the tool

Facebook Places – Are You Aware?

A bonus post from me today but one that I feel is very important for the reasons I’m about to go into.

At the weekend, a friend came over to my house. He decided to ‘check-in’ to my house using Facebook places and invite me. Where’s the harm in that right? Well Facebook Places will geo-locate your smart phone device and show a map of where you are to all your friends. He had told over 1000 people on his Facebook profile where I lived. You’re hopefully starting to see where I’m going with this. If people know where I live it’s not the end of the world but if people are going round checking in to their friends houses & their own houses regularly then this concerns me. A lot of data is being built up about where people are and are not.

Facebook has a prolific younger audience and Facebook Places is nice and shiny to them – they want to play with it and rather than using it for the commercial benefits it might have, they are using it to check-in to homes a lot. How many parents out there don’t realise that their house’s whereabouts is being flagged up to potentially thousands of people online? What about those parties that were gatecrashed years ago – how much easier will that be now?

I’m an avid user of Foursquare (another Geo-Location tool) and have been for a year or so. The difference with this tool is that Foursquare was used by an early adopter audience which probably had a slightly more mature demographic to it’s user base who might think through the ramifications of checking in to their own and friends houses. Facebook has just opened places upto 500 million people across the globe and I truly believe that we need to educate people as to it’s use. You might remember that people were talking about Foursquare and burglaries a while ago (I wrote about it here) – this, in my opinion is far more worrying.

If you have a family (especially kids) using Facebook, guide them on the use of Places and spread the word.

Now Your Thoughts

Are you using Places? Did you even know about it? Am I getting worried for no reason?

Personal Branding in a ‘P2P’ World

Personal Branding in a ‘P2P’ World

After a couple of very hectic weeks and then a fantastic week’s holiday I need to get back into my regular Friday blog post. I intend to start that again today.

Just before I start, If you were confused by ‘p2p’ in the title it stands for People to People. More on that later.

I want to take a look at something that’s become very important to me recently – personal brand. In my opinion one of the biggest changes in marketing this last year or two (since social media) is the move from business brands to personal brands. There has been a lot of talk about whether you should promote your business through social media channels using a business account, or through personal accounts from staff within the company, or even a combination of the two. I’ve been sitting back studying the trends for quite a while now and have formed my own opinion on this given everything I know and have witnessed through the last year or two. I’m going to use Twitter for this post as it’s probably one of the easiest social media channels to look at.

So if you’re starting up a business or are simply just getting into Social Media how should you create your accounts? I believe there are a few good (not right or wrong) ways of doing this. My view is to research others then adapt these to my own requirements. Here are my recommendations for accounts to look at:

Take a look at the Ford US Twitter account – There is a guy called Scott Monty who heads up social media and under the Ford account, shares the responsibility for tweeting with a number of other staff there. They differentiate the tweets by using the ^ symbol followed by the initials of the staff member there. This has the immediate impact of personalising the brand. The bio clearly defines who does what so when communicating with them you feel like there is a personal touch (shown below):

“·  Bio Drive One. This account is run by @ScottMonty (^SM) & @GwenPeake (^GP), Digital Communications, @JWard35 (^JW) @MSchirmerFord (^MHS), Product Communications”

ASOS the famous online clothing retailer take this a step further and encourage staff members to have their own accounts, preceded with ASOS_ – They appear to then build their own networks while subtly promoting ASOS if there is the opportunity (but not shoving things down people’s throats). This is another great way of spreading a brand message using a personal touch.

Dell Outlet use Twitter for coupons and promo codes for their outlet store. They were famously one of the first major brands to come out in public with a true social media ROI. They have other accounts for customer service and engaging users although interestingly they appear to now be engaging much more on this Outlet account (maybe someone had a word!). There is speculation over whether a social network should be used for pure sales like this and I certainly wouldn’t advise you try this if you’re in an SME without brand power like Dell, but clearly its working for them so one to watch.

At Optix Solutions we have a number of accounts – The main Optix account is used to promote client websites, site launches and news from the business. It’s definitely been harder to build followers on this account but we do see it as another strand to the businesses marketing mix. We also do our best to show our business personality promoting things like new staff, goals, achievements and events that we put on – like #optixhatday (where all the staff had to wear a hat) and #optixhawaainday (where we dressed in colourful clothing because of the rubbish summer we had). We then encourage our staff to create their own accounts and build their own networks. This is really important as a business because of the power in numbers. The more people we are talking to locally, the more know us, the more likely we are to pick up the opportunity to quote on work as and when it happens. None of these accounts directly sell, they simply build relationships.

Olivier Blanchard (The Brand Builder) wrote a fantastic post on a new classification of business p2p (person to person).

I completely agree with Olivier’s post and am really looking forward to doing business in a new ‘p2p world’ but for these companies to exist and flourish it’s vital that some of the more old school way of thinking is put aside and staff are empowered to concentrate on their personal brands.

Aren Grimshaw of Tonick Media summed this up for me at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter. He said, ‘The simple way of describing the use of social media in businesses is to draw the analogy with the traditional village shop where you walked in and the owner knew your name, what you bought each time and probably asked how your partner and kids were at the same time’. It’s all about personal service and personal connections. Nail this and you’ll nail social media channels like Twitter :)

These maybe basic, but for the starters amongst you here are my ‘Banksy’s top 5 tips’ for working on your personal brand online:

1). Use a picture of your face on social networks – where possible use the same picture across the networks for consistency. Some people like to show themselves doing something they enjoy (like sport) – This is fine if you can see the face too. It’s important to personalise a medium which could be seen as fairly impersonal. Don’t hide behind a silly avatar. I like to recognise who I’m talking too and then when I meet them in real life I know instantly who they are.

2). Be likeable – This goes for all walks of life – on and offline but is so important. Consider what people say about you when you’re not in the room – if you’re not sure or are worried about this, you may just need to think about your attitude a bit and work on it.

3). Be Helpful – Don’t spend all day talking about yourself or trolling other people. No one likes listening to someone else go on about themselves all day or belittling others. Consider what you can do to help your friends, family and colleagues now. Go and do something memorable for them this minute. Give value without expecting anything in return – it’s a philosophy that will stand you in good stead. On social media platforms like Twitter you need to make sure you’re retweeting people, thanking them when they retweet you and point your followers in the direction of information they would find useful.

4). Mix it up – Business and Pleasure – In my opinion it’s much easier to relate to someone if they are a mixture of business and pleasure. It’s far easier to get on with someone if you can uncover things that they like to do outside work and perhaps common interests.

5). Attitude – Ok, so maybe this is covered by some of the points above but it’s just so important to everything you do and how far you’ll go. Do you wake up in the morning full of life, go to work and love what you do? Attitude is catching – make sure you surround yourself with positive people where possible, they will rub off on you and help you succeed. In the same way, negative people will drain you – rid your life of these people.

So if you’re going to be a p2p company as Olivier’s blog sets out, you need to make sure you and all your staff (if you have them) adopt these values early and make sure they are ingrained in the fabric of your organisation.

Bonjour

P.S. We’ve partnered with the forward-thinking team at Like Minds to produce a White Paper on how businesses are (or aren’t!) using Social Media and we would love for you to be a part of it! All you need to do is take a few minutes to fill out the survey here: http://bit.ly/9FUt8W.

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

Likeminds

No post from me today as I’ll be attending #likeminds in Exeter, Devon – Hope to see many of you there :)

http://www.wearelikeminds.com

Intelligence the Key to Taking E-Commerce That Step Further

Intelligence the Key to Taking E-Commerce That Step Further

Sorry for missing yesterday’s post folks. I referenced a mastermind group I’d setup with a few other business owners in Devon in my post earlier this year – well yesterday we descended on Bovey Castle on Dartmoor – a truely inspirational venue, perfect for reflection on business and setting goals for the future. I’m now fully energised again and ready to work at my optimimum level again.

This weeks post was originally written for The Web Squeeze a few weeks ago and has been received really well so I thoughtmy iambanksy readers might like to read it. Enjoy.

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the driving force, the buzzword that gets e-commerce specialists excited, and the latest online market figures make it easy to understand just why.

2008 saw a single year increase in online sales of 16% across the market. Since 2000, Internet sales have risen by 3,500% to £42bn and it’s expected that by 2010 this figure will have climbed to a staggering £72bn.

Statistics like these prove that traditional concerns around issues such as security, limited or inaccurate product information and delivery logistics are on the wane and shows just how vital it is to business to put themselves in a position to capitalise to the full.

However, this is also about a seismic shift in consumer habits on the back of an ever more sophisticated online culture. Our confidence in, and dependence on, online technologies, from desktop computers to mobiles and handhelds, is greater than it has ever been before.

Forward thinking businesses are recognizing this and also realising that the disciplines of analysis and adjustment associated with CRO are techniques just as relevant in all areas of measuring the success of a web presence. Each business is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

Nothing should be left to assumptions. Don’t assume something is working – measure, analyse and build until you are sure it does.

In a large competitive market, just a fractional increase in market share can represent a significant boost to profits.

The e-commerce ‘boom’ showed how incredibly easy it is to establish an online shop, just as the subsequent bursting of the e-commerce ‘bubble’ demonstrated the harsh realities of creating a success of one.

CRO is more likely to become achievable if a business understands that their online stores have a much greater value than simply being a means of processing direct online sales.

The key to making the very most of your online store is to make it ‘intelligent’. There are an ever increasing number of excellent analytic tools that can provide the sort of data and insights on customer habits and regular reviewing of this allows the online store to tell you its own weaknesses to be corrected and strengths that can be built on as part of ongoing optimisation strategies.

Those who treat an online store simply as a static sales point are missing a huge opportunity to generate fresh sales from new and existing customers.

The journey between an initial visit and a completed sale can yield a great deal of information about your customers, their habits, where they came from, their likes and dislikes and ultimately what their experience of engaging with your business online is like.

A clearly focussed and customer-driven online store is vital in building brand loyalty and staying ahead of the competition. The bottom line is that those who engage in the changing dynamics of selling online will generate more revenue than those who do not.

If analytic data from your online store is going to have any genuine value it must be built on firm foundations, in other words, the fundamental basics of an online store need to be in place.

Using analytics for conversion optimisation is about fine-tuning and development, and you can’t fine-tune or develop a model that does not work in the first place.

Begin at the beginning, even if you have a well-established website, or sites, already. Make sure that usability is and remains at the heart of it. A small adjustment that enhances your customers experience of using the site may pay big dividends. Again, we go back to the mantra – measure, analyse and build.

Product information pages and purchasing forms must load quickly and be easily navigated. Forms and payment fields should be clearly titled and constructed and display essential information on the likes of shipping and billing in a prominent, logical, and easy to follow way.

There should be as many secured payment options as possible and plenty of calls to action. There is no point in having fantastically engaging sales pages if the customer can’t find the ‘checkout’ or ‘add to basket’ buttons.

If the online store satisfies these basic requirements then the data it yields can give you genuine insight into your customer‘s journey though your online store. From it you can act on two distinct fronts; optimising conversion and increasing sales through some seriously targeted marketing.

The essence of conversion optimisation is no great mystery. The point is to guide as many people as possible all the way to clicking the ‘place order’ button as smoothly as possible, at the same time ensuring that by the end of the process your brand and products have been enhanced in the customers’ eyes.

If they have arrived via a search engine, knowing the key phrases they used to get to you is invaluable in building effective Search Engine optimisation strategies and content. If they have followed a link from elsewhere – supplier database, social network, customer’s website etc… – you should know exactly where and how.

There is no better test of the robustness of your sales process than looking at customer abandonment. Latest data capturing techniques can model the journeys of all those who visit your site and show you exactly at what point during that journey they jump ship.

Armed with this information you can revisit this part of the site, take some independent soundings as to why it isn’t working (sometimes you are too close to the whole thing to see what might be obvious to an outsider) and tweak as necessary until the results improve. Every obstacle removed smoothes the path to higher sales.

The data your online store can provide is also invaluable when it comes to joining up and targeting marketing campaigns and strategies.

A proven way of retaining existing customers is ‘right touch’ marketing – complementing online advertising by introducing new products or services to specific customers who have bought or registered an interest in related items. Think along the lines of Amazon’s highly success ‘Customers who bought this also bought these’.

Going a step further, you can also introduce VIP shopping for regular retail and wholesale customers, an excellent means of increasing sales while imbuing a sense of exclusivity in the brand.

New product or service launches can be targeted at an audience who have already demonstrated interest in a particular area of your business. All this information can be provided by your online store if you make use of the ever growing number of analytic tools that make it an intelligence gatherer and provider rather than simply a processor of credit card details.

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If you enjoyed this article you may well be interested in a fantastic article our head of development at Optix Solutions wrote on the use of voucher codes in ecommerce.

Recession – Cost Cutting Exercise or Opportunity to Make Your Mark?

Not a long post today but it’s about a topic that I’ve discussed a lot of over the past six months so I decided today to put pen to paper on it just in case it can help any small to medium sized business owners out there.

Recession or any kind of slack economy is, in my opinion, a real chance for clever businesses to really lever themselves into an industry leading position. This is of course as long as they can keep cash flowing themselves!

The main reason I believe this, is that many of your competitors are cost cutting, thinking that’s the answer to the dreaded ‘R’ word. So while they are less prominent, you need to step up and take advantage. You’ll almost certainly be able to get better deals on marketing opportunities at these times too so make use of them. Get your name out there more than they are, and get ready to clean up on the business that is still looking for your products/services.

Another reason it’s a great time to ramp everything up is because some of your competitors will almost certainly disappear completely so make sure you’re ready to pick up some customers from those businesses that found things too difficult when they are looking for a new supplier.

A quick word of warning – recessions mean more new start-ups as people who are made redundant take the opportunity to set up new businesses, so just make sure your business is lean and ready to take opposition from younger, hungry companies. Just work out what differentiates you and be ready to tell everyone from the roof tops.

A slow economy is an opportunity for us entrepreneurs – work out how you can take advantage now :)