Express & Echo Entrepreneur and Employer of the Year Awards!

Yesterday I learnt that I’ve been shortlisted for the Entrepreneur of the year award at my local paper’s business awards, and my company, Optix Solutions has been shortlisted for the employer of the year award. A proud moment for both the company and me personally.

Now the personal award is in the lap of the judges but the other award is being put out to public vote and is being judged on number of tweets received in support.

It would mean a lot to me if you’d just take a minute to vote for Optix Solutions here: http://www.exeterbusinessawards.co.uk/shortlist/employer-of-the-year/

I try not to ask for much from you, so that when things like this do come up, you’ll consider reaching out and helping me :)

What would be even sweeter is if you’d consider sending a tweet to your followers asking them to vote aswell. I’ve even written something for you here:

“Please follow and vote for @optixsolutions in their local award for employer of the year. They really deserve it :) http://bit.ly/10T1zyH”

If you’re in any doubt, we’ve backed up our claim to glory with a blog post here

Thank you all. I promise I’ll be back with educational content again soon.

WordPress Themes that are great for Search Engine Optimisation

WordPress Themes that are great for Search Engine Optimisation

Last year I changed my blog over to the Generate Theme on the ‘Genesis framework’ offered by the guys at StudioPress. A number of people have asked me why I chose it, so today I thought I’d explain my reasons. Its also worth me saying that the links in this article are aff links because having had personal success with this combination, I signed up to help promote the StudioPress option to others. It’s important to say that I wouldn’t be doing this if I weren’t getting value from this myself.

Firstly, a wordpress theme actually sits on top of a framework and having done a lot of research into companies offering good solutions for both, I decided to take the recommendation of Chris Brogan who at the time, also used this combo. I believe he’s on a custom theme on top of Genesis now.

SEO: One of the main reasons I chose this framework was for its optimisation (SEO) value. Here’s an excerpt from the studiopress website explaining why it’s so good.

“State of the art code and smart design architecture make it easy for search engines to see what you’ve got. With automatic updates to the Genesis Framework, you never have to think about it again. Your code will always be up to date and fully optimized.”

And boy is it…Having added this article to my blog today, it was almost certainly appear in Google within a couple of days, sometimes I’ve seen it enter their index the same day.

Design: Once you run the Genesis framework you can use a number of what they call ‘child themes’ on top of it which means that I can have a different look for my blog without the need for a designer or developer at a touch of a button.

Support: If you need support then the guys over at StudioPress are second to none. That’s worth paying for in my opinion.

Security: In terms of security, they’ve employed security experts to help with locking down the insecurities that wordpress can suffer from. Obviously nothing is totally infallible but they’ve down what they can to make this the best they can.

There are also a plethora of other custimisation/widget options which I won’t bore you with today.

If you’re looking for framework to go with then I can definitely recommend genesis or any of the studiopress products. For more info on the themes they offer, make sure you check out their great theme chooser.

[Read more…]

Using Social Media to Enhance Employability

I’m really excited as tomorrow I’m going to be spending the morning with students at Exeter University, talking about Social Media and how it can help their job prospects. We all know its a tough world out there right now and getting a job is a lot harder than when I left the same University, 12 years ago.

I’m excited because when I was there, I didn’t have any of the tools available to these guys to help my search for work. Those who want to give themselves a head start in life really do have a fantastic opportunity to do so.

So here are my top tips to any student looking to use Social Media to enhance their employability potential.

1). Without wanting to start on a negative note, the first place to start is understanding privacy settings and what employers these days use the web for – Googling your name. Have you Googled your name (that’s mine by the way) to see what turns up? Have you checked to see what information people can turn up on you on Facebook without being logged in, or through a profile that is not friends with yours? If not, I suggest you do, because rightly or wrongly prospective employers will be doing so.

2). Right lets get positive now. If I could give one piece of advice to a prospective employee it would be to start blogging. How many CV’s do you think every job you go for is going to attract? How many of them link to a blog which shows off their knowledge, thoughts & personality? Not many I bet you. So here’s your number 1 chance to stand out. With tools like WordPress so easy to use (and free), you can start a blog today, while you’re at Uni and demonstrate to future employers 1000 times more about you, than you can on your CV.

3). Start listening & learning. Use tools like Twitter to start searches for people tweeting in the area you’re looking to get work. Build up a picture of who is about and begin to engage with them. Getting to know a prospective employer before you’ve even applied for a job could just give you the edge you need when it comes to interview time.

4). More Learning. Really?!? Yup ‘fraid so. The workplace is very different to Uni life. Find industry experts and influencers in your field of choice and follow them on sites like Twitter. Learn from them, create your own posts about the things they say on your newly formed blog. Find the thought leaders out there and start to build up real world knowledge of what business is really going to be like.

As an aside, if you’re into Business & Marketing here are a few great people/companies to start with:

Chris Brogan
, Seth Godin
, UnMarketing
Mashable & Econsultancy

5). Make LinkedIn your corporate network. In the business world many of us use LinkedIn as our corporate network. We keep personal stuff to Facebook so that’s not much use to connect with us on. Twitter is more difficult to build close connections on quickly, it takes time. Start to add people you meet at job fairs/events/shows/out networking and build your numbers. Know people in the local business community (family/friends etc)? Add them too. Numbers lead to leverage in LinkedIn and as you take your profile wherever you go in your working life, you should start to see this as one of your most valuable assets.

6). Be Proactive – When I’m looking to recruit, I want someone that stands out. I want someone that makes the effort to go the extra mile. I want someone that doesn’t just send me in a CV and hope for the best. Recruitment is expensive for us company owners. You can not only save us money but show you’re different by finding me on LinkedIn and sending me your details. Ensure to tell me not just about your skill set, but why you want to work for me, what you can bring to my company and why you’re different. You’ll be ahead of 95% of other candidates already and if you’ve done everything else I’ve said above I may not even bother seeing anyone else!

Guys, if I were looking for a job now I’d be really enthused by all the ways I can make myself stand out. The question is….are you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Have you got any more tips for the stars of the future?

The Secret to Great Customer Service

The Secret to Great Customer Service

Be where your customers are… Mind-blowing isn’t it. I hope I didn’t set your expectations too high with that title! :)

When I’m discussing social media communications with clients, one of the concerns they often have is that their customers may not be active in these spaces. It’s a valid point and one that is worth spending some time on. I was recently talking to a client of ours in the plant hire business. They weren’t sure if Twitter was going to be of use to them as a business. As we discussed this in their boardroom, a client of theirs pulled up outside in a van and walked into the hire showroom. This was clearly a ‘man and his van’ outfit. Lets call him Derek’s Diggers for the purpose of this post.

Derek and his small business are going through a tough time at the moment. Work is not easy to come by, there is an awful lot of competition and he needs as many ways of reaching his target audience as possible. You can bet he is probably networking, putting leaflets through doors, maybe cold calling and in this day and age if he isn’t active on sites like Twitter yet, you can bet he will be within a year or so. For the small to medium business without large marketing budgets, social media is seen as a relatively cost effective way of marketing. In the majority of cases these sites have free signup so Derek can start to build his following and create business opportunities in a tough market.

I asked my client if they had an email database of their clients? The answer was yes… I went onto explain that looking after clients in social media space provided another, excellent way of reaching out to these important people. By finding and following these companies/individuals on sites like Twitter, they could spend time understanding their prospects businesses, adding value to the relationship with them and ultimately build stronger and better relationships. The penny started to drop.

Your clients may or may not be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, Google + or LinkedIn, but before you discount any of them from your comms mix, make sure you spend time finding out. I truly believe its hard to put a value on retention of current clients, not to mention finding the new opportunities that lie within these exciting online platforms.

Why not spend some time today seeing who’s active locally on Twitter: https://twitter.com/search – Use the advanced options to play with your postcode settings. Try your clients names, both personal and company (I find searching for these in Google is often easier than Twitter itself). Once you’ve found your clients, put them into a list using a tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and keep a close eye on what they are saying, so you can be the first to congratulate/help/just say hi occasionally. Do the same on LinkedIn, Facebook and G+ and I assure you, you’ll reap the rewards over the long haul.

Now Your Thoughts

•    Where do you find the majority of your clients hang out? Is one platform better than another for you?
•    Do you have any other tips for client retention?

This blog is now featured on Alltop

This blog is now featured on Alltop

Howdy folks, you may just have noticed this lovely badge to the right hand side of my blog. If you don’t know, Alltop aim to bring the best blogs to our attention in a number of different categories. I’m incredibly chuffed that they’ve added mine to the ‘startups’ section.

If you’ve not visited Alltop before then I encourage you to do so – there is soooo much great content to feast yourself on.

While you’re there you can create your own ‘MyAlltop’ page and add feeds (including mine hopefully) to your dashboard.

If you know of other blogs you think should be included then you can submit them here: http://alltop.com/submission/

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.

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.

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?

Managing Support and Maintenance, A Crowdsourcing Post

Managing Support and Maintenance, A Crowdsourcing Post

Today I want to throw something out there to discuss, I’m hoping we can get some useful dialogue going around one of the most tricky subjects for business owners in tech businesses – that of maintenance and support. This is the first crowd-sourcing post I’ve tried so let’s see how it goes :)

In my industry (web design and online marketing) this is a particularly difficult topic to cover. Do you charge for bugs or problems that arise in websites a year after they were built? When Microsoft bring out a new browser and a site changes in appearance who covers that cost? If something isn’t picked up at testing stage, (because let’s face it you’re never going to be able to test something so extensively you can guarantee you’ve picked up everything) who pays then? Should web companies offer warranties? These are all questions businesses in the web game have to deal with. I’m sure that in any tech based industry where you provide a product you have to ponder similar issues.

Perhaps the easiest model to relate to is that of the car industry and how they deal with their new car sales. In talking with a number of business owners recently I’ve seen lots of other business models, all with slight nuances. It’s been fascinating and if I could share them all with you I would but many were offline conversations. So I thought the next best thing would be to build a useful post of advice and help from influential business owners around the globe who can add their two pennies worth on this topic.

If you’re not in a business that has to worry about this topic but have sat ‘the other side’ perhaps you’d like to give us your opinion on how you think business in these industries could deal with these issues – that would be just as valuable.

So let’s hear your ideas. Please share this post if you know others that might be able to add their advice and let’s discuss.

Photo courtesy of Em2me

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?