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.

Stop the Sabotage

Stop the Sabotage

I’m not sure why I find myself talking about hotels again is a disdainful manner, but that’s just the way it goes I guess. These are places which are supposed to hold the highest regard for customer service – it’s what much of their success is based upon.

So today I witnessed one of the worst cases of business sabotage I can ever imagine. It literally put shivers down my spine to think of my staff ever doing something similar (I know you wouldn’t by the way guys!!)

I’m standing at the reception of a well respected and fairly top end hotel in Exeter. There is a well-to-do lady talking to the man behind the reception desk. I’m not really a nosy person but I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. This is where the unimaginable happens.

The lady is asking the guy about hotel rates, she’s foreign by the way. The guy, seemingly uninterested responds ‘well it’s cheaper in the week than at the weekend’. The lady responds politely, ‘thats understandable, I’m enquiring for my daughter who would like to stay for quite some time’ – BINGO – Music to anyone’s ears surely…not this guy. He asks how long she’d be planning to stay and the lady responds ‘at least three weeks at first’. This is where it gets really silly. The guy then says to her: ‘Oh if its that long you better do it online as you might get a better deal there’!!!

Folks lets analyze this for a minute – you have a potential punter standing in front of you with their wallet open and ready to sign themselves up for a very long time – I’m guessing this is worth thousands of pounds to this hotel and what do they do, tell them to look online as it might be cheaper. Jeez – If it were me and it really were cheaper online (and by the way I doubt it very much) I’d walk them to the hotels computer and help them look myself. My guess is that it was too much work for this guy, perhaps he’d had a bad day or couldn’t be bothered with this one lady as it sounded like a bit too much work.

My guess is this woman (clearly in a foreign country) will not bother going online but will probably walk down the road to one of the many other great hotels in town. I know I would.

That guy has potentially cost his company thousands of pounds and doesn’t even care. As business owners, what can we do to make sure that our staff are not doing the same to us? Do they care about your business? Do they worry about losing money making opportunities as you do or is it just another job?

Watch out folks – I bet this hotel didn’t even realise that this was going on. Are you certain it’s not happening to you?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Could I be going OTT because I’m naturally a sales person and can’t stand to see a sale lost?
  • What measures do you have in place to stop this complacency in your business?

7 Things That Changed My Life This Year

7 Things That Changed My Life This Year

So it’s that time of year again folks – The snow has rolled in and rolled out again and a new year is round the corner. I can’t believe it was a year ago I wrote my round up post for 2009! For those of you who missed it, I write a summary post each year on the things that changed my life for the better. I hope that in amongst the points, there will be some that you can use to improve your own life for the better, after all this blog is about you guys, not me.

Here’s 2010 coming up.

1) Stephen Coveys Book - 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (aff link)
This book has been around for years and I’ve had it on my ‘to read’ list for some time now. I finally got around to reading it this month and I have to say, of all the business books I’ve read (and I read quite a lot), this one is awesome – a real ‘lightbulb moment’ read. In fact, I felt it was so important, that after reading it, I emailed my staff and offered to buy a copy personally for anyone who wanted to read it. I can’t possibly summarise the whole thing here, but if building your business and relationships is important to you then don’t question it, buy it today (It’s like £7 so don’t hang around) and let me know how you get on.

2). YourJobsBoard - http://www.yourjobsboard.co.uk/exeter/
As a bit of a serial entrepreneur I came up with a new business venture this year which aims to change the face of local recruitment. The search engines are going local – You’ll have probably noticed that Google Places is far more prominent (thats the map and pinpoints) and smart phones can geo-locate you (find out where you are) easily in an attempt to offer up content that’s relevant to your area. For this reason, we have built a truly local Jobsite for our town of Exeter. This aims to take on the faceless national jobsites and provide good quality content for the Exeter area. It focuses on the strong links we have with institutions in the area including Exeter University, Exeter Council, Connexions and all the local recruiters and companies looking to advertise their jobs cost effectively. If you’re based in Exeter then make sure you get your jobs on the site asap as it’s currently free for companies to post. Charities will always be able to post their jobs for free.

3). Sandler Training
There is always room to improve. The top athletes in the world have coaches so there should be no pride lost in business coaching of any kind. This year we made the jump and I enrolled on the Sandler Sales Management course. Having started my business at the age of 19 and 11 years on finding myself in charge of more than 10 staff, I’ll openly admit that management was not my strong point. I recognised that, so wanted to better myself. I’m now working with a guy called Andy McCreadie in Exeter on a monthly basis, specifically in sales training and sales management. I’ve learnt so much in the few months I’ve been working with Andy, most noticeably about finding the right clients, qualifying, saying no, shortening our sales cycle and understanding that behaviours drive targets, not the other way around. Sandler offer sales training and management courses all over the world. If you are starting a business yourself or even a few years down the line then I can thoroughly recommend the Sandler guys. If you’re in the Westcountry then let me know if you’re interested in meeting Andy and I’ll set it up for you.

4). My MacBook Pro
I can’t say much more than I’ll never go back to a non apple laptop. Nuff Said! Check out their online store for the latest products.

5). Inbound Marketing Practices
I started practicing true ‘Inbound Marketing’ properly this year, having been dabbling the year before. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it’s essentially where you give value away in return for peoples details (which become leads). You entice people to you by proving your credibility and authority. This year we launched two pieces of fantastic Inbound Marketing Collateral. The first was our social media survey. After 6 or so months of surveying businesses, we collated and crunched the data we had and spent quite a bit of money on producing a glossy 32 page booklet displaying the results which we have been giving away freely in both hard copy format to local businesses and online to anyone who wishes to view the information. We also produced a tool for creating a free social media policy you can give to your staff. We simply ask for details of people who download it in return for the document which we brand up with their logo and company details. Since launching this just a few weeks ago and without much marketing, we’ve had over 50 companies use the policy – all bona fide leads for my business. Think what you can give away today in order to build leads.

6). Travelling on Trains rather than Driving

I used to drive everywhere. I love driving. It’s my favourite. However, when I realised how much time I was spending in a car and not able to work, it frightened me. I now travel by train whenever possible and if its at a weekend then the 1st class upgrade is well worth it at anywhere between £5 and £20 extra a journey. This might sound obvious for the train crew already but Im sure there are other people out there with businesses not realising quite how much you can do if you turn to train travel.

7). Lizz
Ok so I included Lizz last year (my girlfriend for those of you who don’t know) but she is so important to my life that I need to include her again. All I’ll say this year, is that once again, I recognised on a few occasions how important it is to have a strong support network behind you when the chips are down. I had a great year in 2010 but we all have off days and sometimes it can get quite stressful. When that happens to me, Lizz is always there for me. Thank you Lizz x

Now Your Thoughts

  • So what changed your life this year?
  • Who and what made an impact on your 2010?

Like Minds & The Social Media Survey 2010

Like Minds & The Social Media Survey 2010

So last week was the Like Minds conference in Exeter, Devon, a bringing together of Like Minded individuals from all over the globe – The topic – Creativity and Curation.

My Online Marketing Agency, Optix Solutions was proud to sponsor the event for the 3rd time running, making us one of the companies to be there in support from the beginning. We also used the platform to launch the results of the Social Media survey we ran earlier in the year. A glossy 26 page booklet with the findings as well as contributions from some of the world’s leading social media minds was presented. More information on the survey and details of how to request a copy can be found here: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/social-media-survey-2010/

It contains insights from the likes of Scott Gould, Trey Pennington, Olivier Blanchard, Julian Summerhayes and a foreword was kindly written by Chris Brogan.

Anyway, here are my take-aways and observations from the fantastic two day conference

1). Exeter is a special place and everyone that came to visit it loved it.

2). Despite Like Minds’ move away from social media to other things, it remains in my mind, a social media conference and when the speakers take on social topics, the audience lights up. I hope the team take this on board for future events.

3). Steve Moore of the Big Society can write a well crafted speech in front of a couple of hundred people in less than an hour, just before he goes on stage – he is also extremely funny and tells amazing stories.

4). The new immersive format in the mornings rocked – I got most of the value from these sessions this year.

5). Did I mention that Optix Solutions released the results of the Social Media Survey 2010 :)

6). Benjamin Ellis is one clever guy and if you want to talk Psychology then he’s your man. Thanks Benjamin

7). Joanne Jacobs predicted in her immersive that by 2012 the web will be viewed by mobiles more than desktop computers, so companies better get their websites mobile friendly. She also said that we’ll see a shift of users to people that currently don’t really use the internet at work (like handymen) – the Internet on their mobiles will become very important for their work

8). Was great to see Jon Akwue back again and even more fantastic that he read the Jeffrey Gitomer book I gave him last time recently and enjoyed it :)

9). Wikis are a great way of sharing social strategy with staff internally, allowing everyone to collaborate and understand what the company is trying to achieve

10). Cofacio is a new Help Engine which is very cool – You can offer help and ask for help and earn points which are used to help good causes. You should signup now

11). Shaa Wasmund has done a lot with her life and not let anything get in her way. She rightly points out that if you don’t try you’ll never know what could be. She’s also incredibly positive – a massive plus in my book

12). James Whatley talked about gaining success in Social Media (and other places) by ‘Displacing the market’ – I.e. trying to do something different to the norm. I love this and will use it often – thanks James :)

12). Robin Wight is a fashion icon (and very clever guy) and I want his shoes!

If you’ve not had the chance to be a part of a Like Minds Conference until now then I wholeheartedly recommend you do your best to get to the next one – you won’t regret it.

Now Your Thoughts

  • What were your highlights – I know the organisers read this blog so it’s a great place to share
  • Have you read the survey – what are your thoughts on the results?

From a stable job to a start-up business

This week I spent some time interviewing friend and now supplier of my firms book-keeping services, Ben Didier about starting his own business earlier this year.

Why did you choose to go it alone?

I have always wanted my own business, ever since I was young.  For me it was the plan from the start – College then Uni then business and management experience – then my own business!  It has been far from plain sailing but that is near enough the route I have taken.  I actually wrote down the reasons for taking the step when I started, as I knew there would be tough days ahead and I needed to be clear about why I was doing it. Here they are:

1.       Create something of my own that I can build and develop.  I get a real sense of achievement from that and hopefully, eventually it will produce a strong income.

2.       Set my own terms of working.  I want the freedom to choose my own projects and working methods.  On the other side the responsibility and risk that comes with this it is not for everyone and not all circumstances – sometimes you can’t afford to take the risk.

3.       Direct risk and reward.  I want to get the direct benefit of my actions and decisions, and am also prepared to accept the consequences of those when it doesn’t work out.  Employment can shield you from both sides of this, to an extent.

What attitude do you think you need to go it alone?

The single most important part of starting out on your own is – Wanting itResilience is the first quality of business – because if you give up before you have had chance to make it – then you wont.   People outside of business often focus on their service or product when thinking about starting up, rather than about winning work.  This can prove a shock when starting out, as business is primarily driven by winning customers – and looking after them!  Winning the work requires determination as it takes time, people aren’t always ready for what you offer at the time you offer it, and there are always many set-backs.  If you can’t get beyond those mentally, then business may not be for you.  As a bookkeeper I would always say you need to be interested enough in the figures to ensure that more money is coming in then going out!

What was the scariest thing about doing it?

The unknown market –“ is there the appetite for the services I want to provide in the area?”  You never really know until you actually start.  I had planned to get a part time job if the clients did not materialise quickly enough, and had cut my personal outgoings to the bone, so I had considered the risks carefully.  I knew sales may takes some time and wanted to survive long enough to be able to build a reputation and client base – the low overheads were crucial to this.

How you are getting on?

Fantastically!  Having started in January this year, after 8 months I now have 8 clients I provide services for every month and have worked on some other interesting projects.  I am independent and self-sufficient which is great.  One good thing about bookkeeping is the regularity of the work, this reduces pressure to get new sales all the time, so I can focus more on looking after the clients I have.  A commercial perspective on internal finance in producing the figures is really helping the owners I work with to make more informed decisions – so there the feeling of delivering something of value which I also get a great deal out of.

Now Your Thoughts

Have you made the leap from a stable job to a startup? Want to add anything to the post that you’ve learnt along the way?

You can find out more about Ben and his services on his website: http://www.bookkeepingssw.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: @bookkeepingben – I can’t recommend him highly enough :)

7 Things a Startup Company Should Think About

7 Things a Startup Company Should Think About

This morning I was thinking back to when I started my web design business in Exeter and how much both the business and I had changed. Back then, there were three of us, all very wet behind the ears (that’s a really odd saying isn’t it!). We were at University at the time (Exeter) and all studying computer science. We had made a conscious decision to start a business but to be honest not really thought much about how or who we needed to talk to. We were lucky to have my Dad around who acted as a mentor and pointed us in the right direction but it got me thinking about other people not lucky enough to find good, trustworthy advice, so easily. There must be lots and lots of people in the same position as we were, at University or leaving school, thinking about starting up and having great ideas but not knowing where to start. I’m sure there are many great fledgling businesses stifled at this point which is a real shame. In this post I’m going to skirt over a few things we did when we started up – I’m hoping this will be useful to some of you out there in a similar position to me, 10 years ago. In future posts I may well delve deeper into certain areas but if you know of anyone thinking about starting a business from University or School then please send them in the direction of this post. :)

1). Come up with a company name – Might sound obvious but when you make a success of it then this will stick and be quite difficult to change. A lot of people ask me where the name Optix Solutions comes from and to be perfectly honest here is the answer:

  • 4 guys sitting in a university bedroom chatting about setting up in business
  • Probably a few beers had been sunk (we were students after all)
  • One said, ‘Web Design is quite visual’
  • Another said ‘Optical – that’s visual’
  • ‘Optical Solutions’ someone shouted out
  • ‘How about Optix Solutions – that’s a bit more street!’

So there you have it – easy as that! Now as it happens I quite like our name and its worked well for us but given the chance again I probably would have put some more thought into it and considered the future when it started to become a known name in our town – I’d urge anyone going through this process to do the same.

2). Register your domain name – I pondered over which should come first – this point or the next. I decided on domain names because of the difficulty of getting good ones these days. In an ideal world your domain name would:

  • Be Short(ish) – although almost every permutation of 3 and 4 letters have been taken
  • Protect your brand – register .com / .co.uk / .net and any other relevant endings for your type of business
  • Try and avoid hyphens where possible – they are difficult to spell out over a phone and confuse people
  • Not point traffic at competitors or unsavoury sites – If you can’t get all the endings for a domain you want, make sure you check what is on the ending that’s already registered. Users make mistakes and you want to see what site you’ll be sending traffic too – I’ve seen some terrible examples of this happen to people I know

If you’re not sure on domains then take advice and talk to people that know about them. At Optix we regularly advise on domains and register on our clients behalf. Give our office a call on 01392 667766 if you want some friendly help.

3). Register your company name – Once you have the name you should probably do a few things based on where you want to take the business. I’m a firm believer in starting by creating a limited company where you’re protected as the business owner. You probably don’t know if you’re going to make a success of it, so the more protection the better. If you’re on a shoestring, then you might not be able to afford to speak to Solicitors at this stage, but in an ideal world you’d want to check there are no trademarks or other legal issues you could come up against later, when you become well known. A solicitor will be able to run quick checks on names to let you know whether this is likely to be an issue. As a startup I never saw the importance of this but as I’ve become more business savvy and seen examples of people having to change brand and company names that they’ve poured thousands and thousands of pounds into, because they never made these checks, I now understand the need for it. Registering a company name is something you need to do at Companies house – there are plenty of agents out there that will do it all for you for about a hundred quid – We used a company called Jordans who were excellent.

4). Find a good Accountant/Bookkeeper – The number of small business owners that I meet that try and do their own books and accounts is unbelievable! Why would you do that? It’s hard enough running a business as it is without then having to work out a whole new world of numbers that go with it. Oh, and then there’s the small point about getting it wrong as well. You don’t want that to happen or you could end up with all sorts of problems to deal with. There are plenty of fantastic bookkeepers and accountants around who are setup to help start-ups. You won’t need someone in full time, you’ll probably only need that person one or two days every week/month at first, to enter data and help with things like Tax and VAT. For under £20 an hour (bookkeeper) that is money well spent in my opinion and one I truly feel any small business needs to budget for. Accountants are more expensive and I would advise trying to find one you can pay for monthly rather than getting lumbered with a large bill when accounts come round each year – this will help cash flow and save you from a yearly heart attack each time you file your accounts.

5). Find a good Solicitor – Like Accountants, Solicitors are a necessity for some things. You can probably word your own terms and conditions and contracts if you want but you’ll be on thin ice if anything happens and you need representation. When you get into the world of leasing or buying, you’ll have to employ a solicitor to assist you anyway. My advice is get in with a firm early. There are lots of firms out there who will offer you 30mins to an hour free and my advice would be to go and speak to a few and choose someone you like and has a good reputation. We work with a firm call Ashford’s whose head office is in Exeter but they work all around the world. The guys at Ashford’s are fantastic and I can recommend them wholeheartedly – They’ve acted for me on a number of things, all business related.

6). Talk to local business advisors – Some love em, some loathe them, but my experience of organisations like Business Link has been relatively positive. Find a good advisor at this organisation and they will really help you succeed in business and here’s the best thing for you start-ups – its FREE! Yes the magic word! Because of the fact its free they are usually stacked out which is why I always recommend you find yourself  mentor as well and pay them (See this post about mentoring). Give Business Link a call and they will help signpost you if they can’t answer questions themselves.

7). Find a good Bank Manager – Notice how I say Bank Manager and not just Bank? Your relationship with your bank manager will be critical to your success. You never know when you’ll want that overdraft extended or perhaps the limits on your card increased, or even just a better rate on something. Well this will almost certainly come down to your relationship with your bank manager. Go to each bank and spend some time with the commercial managers there and choose on relationship and gut feel (throw in some sense on what they are offering too of course). We love our bank manager at Optix (bet you don’t hear that said very often!) – If you’re in Exeter then I would be delighted to make the introduction to him should you so wish.

It’s funny how things flow back to you when you start writing about the past. Start-up can be a really exciting time – just make sure you’re not too proud to get as much advice as possible and soak it all in. As ever, I wish you the best of luck.

Is your marketing material all about you?

Is your marketing material all about you?

I learnt a valuable lesson about marketing once which fundamentally changed the way I view the composition of marketing material for my businesses. This was the lesson: It’s not about me/my business, it’s about the needs of my prospective clients. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it’s all to easy to talk about yourself when putting together this material. I challenge you to look at your own material now (yes this minute – go and grab it) with a subjective head on and consider how it would read to someone you want as a client. Have you told them how great you are? Have you told them how much experience you have, how many years you’ve been in business and the fact that you’re one of the best in your area at what you do? Is this the main message? Guess what? Your prospective clients don’t care. They have their own issues, their own challenges and their own needs to satisfy. They don’t care if you’ve got over 50 years combined experience in your market, they probably don’t care if you are the number one company offering XYZ in your area! These maybe useful to know and perhaps you should have these as after thoughts but they shouldn’t be your main message. What you actually need to do is define the audience you’re trying to reach, why they might need to buy what you offer and then heres the clincher – solve their problem for them (or at least tell them that you can solve it somehow).

When you start thinking about marketing like this, it requires a different style of thinking, a different outlook on the production of this important material. In my opinion there are far too many companies out there simply ticking a ‘marketing box’. They produce some material saying how great they are, they send it out either electronically or via snail mail and then saying ‘Yeah good job guys, that’s the marketing bit done’. They then wonder why they are not getting results and why the phone is not ringing off the hook. Next time you’re putting together something which is marketing your business, try and think of how it will be viewed in terms of the buyer. If you’re like me then I’m sure that everyday you gets lots of letters, glossy flyers and brochures across your desk – how many of these end up in filing cabinet Z (The bin)? A large proportion I’ll wager? Now think about what made you pull that one thing aside to actually spend some time looking at? I bet it added value for you in some way, or helped towards, or claimed to be able to solve a problem you have? The success in direct mail and e-marketing can be quite low so you need to make sure you make it work for you. It can be expensive after all. If you’re looking for inspiration then I can thoroughly recommend signing upto the Glazer Kennedy Insiders Circle. These guys are legends at preparing marketing material which really works. You can also check them out on their Facebook page or follow Mara Glazer on Twitter. You won’t be dissapointed.

One last tip – Not all of us are or ever will be marketers so when you produce drafts for your next brochure of sales flyer, try sending it out to friends and colleagues who could be potential buyers and ask theem to be as constructive as possible. Be prepared to have it ripped apart and get ready for the critiscm – Don’t get defensive if its not what you want to hear – after all you don’t want to send out something that’s going to get you nowhere do you? The end result will be a more successful campaign and hopefully better conversions into real business.

Most importantantly – Have Fun :)

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.

Bringing Social Media to the Masses in 2010

Bringing Social Media to the Masses in 2010

2009 saw an explosion in the social media world here in the UK. Yes, some early adopters were on a lot earlier than that but the majority of people that were still ahead of the curve, found their feet last year. Personally I found it very easy to get involved in everything going on and each new piece of technology, so much so that sometimes I think many of us (myself included) forgot about the masses of businesses out there looking in, on the social media world and wondering what it could do for them. A lot of these businesses were/are major sceptics and see social media as something only young people or ‘geeks’ take part in. I’ve decided to take stock in 2010 and remind myself of what I’m good at; coaching small, medium and large businesses on how to get the best out of these tools in their everyday business lives. I’m looking forward to talking to everyone from taxi companies in our local town to large nationals about social media and how they can use it to gain exposure and extra business.

I was asked to speak at a Best Of (Exeter) networking event about this topic last night. The audience ranged from people who didn’t know what Twitter was, to advocates of social media and its use in business. I decided to take them on a journey of tips which it made sense to share with you today. If you know SME’s that are aiming to get into social media then please pass on this post….I make no bones about this being basic, but let’s not get caught up in ourselves – the huge majority of people out there still need help from the very beginning.

What follows are Banksy’s 8 top tips for social media success:

1.  Learn about the subject – Don’t stick your head in the sand and hope it will go away – it won’t, social media is not a fad. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we think about marketing and will become part of the main marketing mix for many businesses this year. Find yourself a local course to go on in order to learn the difference between Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you’re reading this in Exeter then my good friend Dave Thomas at Bluegrass IT runs an excellent social media course which will get you upto speed.
Once you’ve done a course…..

2.  Create a strategy – Don’t just fall into the trap of setting up a Twitter account/Facebook page and hoping for the best – It’s important to create a strategy that outlines what your goals are, who your audience is and how you’re going to measure results – only then start using the sites we all hear so much about. Oh and by the way strategy creation and implementation are something Optix can help you with (shameless plug J)
OK, so you’ve gone on a course and put together your strategy now…..

3.  Download tools to help you manage your accounts – Possibly the number one question I get is – How do you have time to do this all? Well it’s about being clever with your time. There are numerous tools available to savvy social media users – one of the best being Tweetdeck – This allows me to post to Twitter/Facebook and LinkedIn at the same time. There is an iPhone app which allows me to post on the train, in the car waiting for meetings and sometimes even walking along :) It really doesn’t take that much time from your day, don’t use that as an excuse!

Right, you’ve got your tools downloaded and ready to go – now you need to build a following/fans…

4.  Network Locally – Setup local searches on Tweetdeck for the town you live in – I’ve met more people in the last year through social media than through any other method. Exeter (my town) has a vibrant community of 500+ members. If you start to follow people tweeting about your town and talking to these guys and adding value to them, just watch your number of followers and fans rise (don’t get too caught up in the numbers game – its far more about quality than quantity)

Now you’ve got a following – what can you do with it? Here is one tip…

5.  Use it for Research – People get caught up in the sales side of social media a lot – ‘Is it bringing in business?’ Well one of the main benefits in my opinion is the power of research. I needed a Hotel Booking System last year and tweeted about this to my following – within a few minutes I had 4 or 5 good quality recommendations for companies to use and people to speak to. Go back to the olden days (2008 and before :)) and I would have asked a search engine, got a lot of results I didn’t know anything about and hoped for the best. A change in the way we search is coming….

6.  A specific tip for LinkedIn – You can use LinkedIn to find people (This breaks down the barrier of the gatekeeper) It tells you if anyone in your network knows this person and gives you a way of asking to be introduced via your contact. The more savvy sales people among you will see this as a fantastic resource. I was reading about a local company that had gained investment the other day and as an entrepreneurial type, I figured that had potential for Optix – Invest means a change of website/online strategy I hoped. I typed the company name into LinkedIn and BAM – MD/FD/MarketingD profiles and one of them knew someone I knew! I asked for the connection and we are now speaking….that all took me about 5 mins by the way. Would you rather be cold calling or being clever with social media tools?

7.  Monitor – Even if you’re not convinced social media is for you, it’s happening out there – I monitor my name/my business name/my staff and terms including the services we provide. It may produce opportunities for me or at least tell me where I’m being discussed in a conversation and if I need to be involved.

8.  Create a staff policy – If your staff are out there on the Social Media platforms you need a policy to help them understand how you expect them to engage with others and how they can help your business. A cohesive team effort by staff on social networks such as Twitter works wonders and helps re-enforce your brand. At Optix we have about 6 of our staff all working together to promote each other and the business on the networks, we link to this from our company team page here: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/team-optix/

So that concluded my own tips but hey, this is social media so I wanted to do a little experiment to show the group that people were out there and ready to help. So last week I tweeted the following:

“Hi All, I’m running a talk on Social Media for SME’s this week and have had the idea of crowd sourcing  some advice. If you could give one tip for a company looking to get into Social Media, what would it be.”

All the post’s below show people from as far away as America taking their time to help me with this talk in Exeter – This was social media at work:

  • If small business: start with a commitment to listen and seek understanding above all else. No crass self-promotion. – Trey Pennington – Greenville in the states
  • Manage your time on it explicitly. It can be addictive! :)Martin Howitt (DCC)
  • Be yourself, communicate back and embrace – Matt Young – Heart FM
  • Social Media doesn’t exist in isolation. Make sure it’s consistent (tone / message) with your other communications – Jon Alder – Alder and Alder
  • Research & appreciate the difference between each SM channel b4 you jump in, consider your strategy for each. Be yourself. – Sarah Knight – Sarah West Recruitment
  • Do your research: Can SM help you to achieve your business objectives, is your audience using it, and if so, where are they – Gemma Went – Red Cube Marketing
  • Strategy & policies are very important. Be authentic. Ask your customers what THEY want from you :)Kristen Sousa – Optix Solutions
  • Don’t just imitate – lift restrictions for *your* audience, without overestimating participation levels – Scott Gould – Aaron & Gould
  • Keep it real and have a believable personality, it’s ‘social’ media at the end of the day, not just about business. – Mark Cotton – SW Head of Big Lottery Fund
  • My advice – understand how/why others use it, but do what feels right for you – Patrick Smith – Joshua PR

Although basic advice for many of you reading this I’m hoping to bring social media to the masses in 2010. If you’re someone looking for help in this area then please contact Optix to see what they can do for you – see you on Twitter :)

5 Excellent Experiences

Not enough people write/talk about excellent experiences in my opinion. It seems its much easier to write negatively about poor quality & service than it is to praise people. This is such a shame – if you read and hear negative comments everywhere then its going to have a negative impact on your own attitude. Today, I want to tell you about 5 excellent experiences I’ve had recently – perhaps you and your business can learn from these and maybe even implement some changes which will see real positive impact for you.

1). Apple Shop – Exeter – Ok so it doesn’t need to be Exeter but that’s the one I go to regularly. From the moment you walk in the door you are greeted by two members of staff, this makes you feel welcome and in the mood for buying…how easy is that for a retail business!  Then, if you’ve not been to a store before, on your first purchase, you find that you can pay for your goods with any of the roving shop assistants – yes you don’t even have to walk to a till anymore (and they email you your receipt)! I’d urge anyone that’s not been to an Apple shop, even if you’re not an apple fan to go in and experience the whole model – I believe that any business owner can learn a lot from Apple and the store model is really quite something.

2). Reiss – Exeter – I popped into Reiss the other day to look around. Admittedly there were only a few people in the store but the member of staff gave me his full attention and rather than the boring, typical, ‘are you ok there’ and getting the just as typical ‘yeah I’m just looking’ response he started to suggest what might look good on me and what goes with other things I’d shown an interest in. He asked what sort of thing I was looking for and then helped me with suggestions – needless to say, he made a sale! It constantly amazes me how many staff in retail shops are from the same mold – if you want to make sales, differentiate yourself and watch your numbers go sky high. In this case, I was so impressed with this guy that I purposely asked for the manager of the store and told her about how well treated I’d been and how good a member of staff that guy was – I just hope it made it back to him.

3). Appliance Care – Exeter – Some say that if you take your broken TV to a centre like this then you expect to have it repaired :) Yes, I agree, but it was the circumstances around this visit that amazed me. Samsung suggested I used this independent company. They didn’t know I was turning up. I arrived at about 9:30am on a busy Monday morning and they asked me to leave the TV with them. To be honest I thought it was likely to be gone a day or two but at 11am I had a phone call saying, ‘Mr Banks, your TV is ready’ – Awesome.

4). The Georgian Townhouse – Newark – When I’m travelling on business I’m not fussy about where I stay – generally I’ll get to my destination late, be up early and off again. All I need is a clean place to put my head with breakfast in the morning and decent parking. I travelled up to Newark this week to see a client near Nottingham and Linda, my PA, booked me into a Georgian townhouse. It was absolutely lovely! All the little details had been thought of: outstanding quality beds, amazing linen, spotless/minimalist decor, a breakfast fit for a king with a choice of everything you could imagine, a communal room for working/reading in (which I used in the morning), bottles of mineral water in the room when you arrived, good quality soaps and shampoos (not that cheap tat you often get) and lovely hosts. That night (B & B) cost me just £65! I will now tell everyone I know going to Nottingham/Newark to stay there and all because of the small details….look out for them in your business, they can mean the difference between someone passing your name on or not.

5). Giraffe – Exeter (and other outlets) I enjoy dining at Giraffe in Exeter – Its one of my favourite choices for coffee if meeting people and the food is great if you want to eat as well. However, its not so much the experience of the outlet I want to mention today – its the experience of the marketing that Giraffe’s (obviously clued up team) carry out. They have embraced the power of the web for one – They have a great website and twitter feed (where they actually engage with their customer base). They understand the power of email marketing, regularly sending out offers for dining – two for ones are not uncommon. Most of the guys in my office subscribe to these updates and when the offers come in, the guys are out the door and down to the local outlet for a spot of lunch – that’s what its all about. I tell you what, there are not very many places doing this kind of thing out there, lets hope more wise up to this clever and cost effective marketing soon. Well done Giraffe :)

I hope you’ve found my top 5 excellent experiences fun and useful – I would strongly suggest that you see if any of these ideas can be rolled out in your business and one day, someone like me, might just blog about you – After all, if you have a website you want to get listed in the search engines, you’ll know its all about the link juice baby! :)