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 :)

8 things that changed my life this year

With the end of the year in touching distance, I thought I’d give you a run down of 8 things that happened to me in 2009 that have changed my life positively. The reason for writing this list is that almost all of it is open to you to get involved with too. If I’ve benefited so much from these things, I hope that at least one person reading this takes action to investigate one or two items on the list and see’s their own life positively impacted. (Admittedly a few are a little jokey but that’s just the way I roll) :)

So lets get on – here are 8 things that have positively changed my life in 2009 (in no particular order :)):

1) iPhone – So I’ve gone on quite a bit about this recently and I do understand it splits opinion with Android lovers so I’m just going to tell you a few quick reasons why this has had such a profound affect on my life/business. First of all, it’s not possible to deny this is a sexy piece of kit and pretty much everything on it has been well thought out from a usability point of view. The phone has made a huge difference to the way I interact with email outside the office as well as social media. A huge amount of the buzz surrounding iPhones is the gimmicky apps that you download and hardly ever use, but if you look carefully you can find ones that really do make your life easier and more efficient. I now do at least 75% of my social media work from my phone, on the move, using dead time that I wouldn’t have used before. Here are a couple of examples of apps that have made a differences to me – Tube Deluxe helped me around London recently giving me more time to catch up on other bits of work. The National Rail app tracks GPS on the trains themselves meaning you can see where the train is at any time on the line – genius. TV Guide gets rid of the need for paper based guides. Natwest now have an app that lets me track my money on the move at anytime. Skype lets me phone other Skype users for free and AroundMe has helped me find cabs/hotels and garages a number of times on the move. CoPilot is better than the inbuilt Sat Nav I have in my own car and Google Maps has walked me to a few places I would have got lost trying to find ‘pre-iPhone’. Remember the Milk helps me with GTD (see later)….I could go on and I know I’ve only touched the surface! If you’re in the market for a new phone and think the iPhone is expensive then (compared to other phones) I would agree, but its so much more than a phone and I know its been worth every penny and much much more. This, for me, is an absolute must have gadget.

2) Jeffrey Gitomer – Sales/Positivity Guru. I was lucky enough to be invited to see Jeffrey earlier this year by owner of TheBestOf – Nigel Botterill. I didn’t know who Jeffrey was at the time but trusted Nigel’s opinion and boy am I glad I did. ANYONE in sales or marketing (yes that means you business owners) MUST go and see Jeffrey if possible. He really is a sales legend. I wrote more about him in this post I wrote earlier in the year. I can honestly say that Jeffrey’s one seminar has made a profound difference to the way I treat the sales process now and the way I teach my sales team to treat it too. His Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude book is also a kick up the backside in the way we view our lives and other people. New staff members in my team will now be given one of these books and asked to read it during their first few months with us. I’ve bought every single one of his books now and strongly suggest you consider doing so too. A complete list of Gitomer books can be found on Amazon by clicking the link in this sentence.

3) Social Media – I don’t really know where to start with this. I was dabbling without knowing it for the last couple of years with sites like Facebook/YouTube and LinkedIn but then in Jan of 09 I found Twitter and my life changed (as well as that of our businesses). The clever integration of Social Media has lead to many new services from Optix Solutions, ending up in new work, new joint ventures and alliances, new friends and a very good ROI (yes we’ve been monitoring it). As anyone who knows me personally knows, I love Social Media – I love the connections I’ve made with people all over the world and the new exciting possibilities it brings to businesses willing to get started with it. Much like the buzz of ecommerce when I started out with my web business back in 1999, Social Media has given me a new lust for the Internet and what’s possible for clever, forward thinking businesses. If you’d like further information of Social Media or would like to contract my services in this area, please drop me an email or connect with me on Twitter (@banksy6)

4) White Tea – Alright so maybe this is a bit of a jokey one but I was getting really hacked off with other teas and my friend David Thomas suggested I got involved with White Tea! I didn’t even know this existed! Now a morning doesn’t start properly without a refreshing cup of this amazing drink! (p.s. don’t boil it for more than 1 minute – it ruins it :))

5) GTD – Getting Things Done is a global phenomenon and I never knew about it – until this year. I hold my hands up to the fact that in the past I have struggled hugely to keep all the balls in the air. As a multi-business owner, at any one point I have literally hundreds of things on my to-do list and I’d tried just about every time scheduling/work practice known to man – all to no avail. I had the messiest desk in the office (a source of constant banter for my employees). I never understood how anyone could have a clean desk if they were busy – it escaped me. Then in early 2009 two people I have a lot of respect for in Exeter – Scott Gould and Adam Stone recommended I read Getting Things Done by David Allen. Wow – what a fantastic book/system. It’s given me the tools to operate (most of the time at max efficiency and with a ‘mind like water’ – so I’m at my most creative) This is a very important thing to master as a business owner or you get dragged down in the minutiae of everyday life. I now have a clean (ish) desk and a system that allows me to keep on top of the hundreds of things I have on my plate at any one time. Every business owner should buy this book now.

6) Lizz – Lizz is my girlfriend and one of the points in this list which I hope you won’t be able to take advantage of :) I was a proper bachelor, living the high life for the last 10 years, since leaving university. While busy building a business, I had a lot of fun outside work with friends and family. A couple of years ago my present girlfriend Lizz came along and this year we moved into our first house together. I’ll admit, I was quite apprehensive about losing my independence but moving in with the love of my life (get your puke buckets ready) was the single best thing I did this year. Having a strong support network around you in life when you run a business is one of the most important things you can build. Someone you can share the hard and good times with…find yourself a Lizz if you haven’t already.

7) Apple Mac Shop – This year I got involved in the Apple brand for the first time. I bought an iPhone, we got a Mac Book Pro at work and through this I started to spend some time in the Apple shop in Exeter. I love the place so much so I wrote an article about the experience I had in another blog post.

8 ) Beacon Breakthrough – This one applies to those of you starting up/setup in the South West in the UK. This year, James my business partner and I found out about a new scheme for businesses aiming at becoming Beacon companies for the SW, the turnover threshold of which is £1.5million. For more information on the Beacon scheme check out their website. The Beacon breakthrough forums are aimed at companies that wish to take that next step and learn how already successful companies operate in every area from board setup to marketing to goal setting and planning. It’s a fantastic course and offers amazing value to participant companies. If you’re based in the SW, I would strongly suggest that you put yourself on this course next year as the differences it’s made to my web business are nothing short of phenomenal.

That concludes my line up for 2009. If there is one thing I’m going to be concentrating on next year it’s acting on things (minimising procrastination). I’ve learnt a huge amount this last year and changed my business in many ways because of the things I’ve learnt, books I’ve read and courses I’ve been on – I’d urge you to look down the list again and see if there is anything you can get involved in yourself and please let me know if you do and of course, how it worked for you :)

See you in 2010

Scott Gould vs Alastair Banks – A Case Study

Ok – back to me again! I have to warn you I’m feeling a bit mischievous today, hence the title!

I realise that this blog will be read by people that don’t know either Scott or I so before I go on, I just want to give you a quick heads-up on who Scott is. He runs a relatively new (2008) ‘Experience Marketing Company’ in Exeter called Aaron & Gould. You don’t need to know us either – what underlies is an important message for new business owners or people trying to make a name for themselves.  That’s probably all you need to know. Let’s move on….

Did you know that most business owners (SMES) are more often than not, sales people? They have to be in order for their businesses to succeed. They normally can’t afford to pay someone to go out and sell for them so they have to sell themselves (this is why some of my networking/sales posts are so critical if you’re starting up). There is nothing wrong with this – it’s how I started and it forms the basis for my post – you see times have changed in business and it wasn’t until I met my new pal Scott Gould that I realised quite how much (Well I realised but this really brought it home).

When I started Optix Solutions I shamelessly gave out my business card to everyone I met – The way I saw it, the more people that knew about Optix the better. In certain circles I was known as the networking king – visiting every meeting I could, wherever it might be and giving away more and more business cards. In fact this got to the point where even my best friends, who didn’t know me through work circles, lovingly gave me the nickname of ‘business card’ :) Happy Days! To be honest, I still live by this mantra – you never know who someone might know, so what are you waiting for, exchange contact details and see where it goes. In fact, only last week I sat on the buffet service on the train back from London and met a senior partner from Deloitte, a guy from Reuters and a product designer. The guy from Deloitte asked for my card and the chap from Reuters and I exchanged details – all over a meal and a two hour train journey from London to Exeter – The point is, that might not go anywhere – but equally I may well have my biggest sale next month from it. If I hadn’t exchanged cards, it certainly wouldn’t have given me any chance at all.

Back in 1999, Social Media certainly wasn’t around – in fact, Google wasn’t even around (well, only just). Man, I’m starting to worry that I sound old writing this now. :) I should mention at this point that it took me years to become well known – even in a small town like Exeter. I would guess that it was a good 5 years before I was trusted on the networking circuit.

Now roll on 10 years and I meet this chap, Scott, through our mutual love of Social Media and especially Twitter – I think I’m right in saying that from one of my first tweets about Exeter he popped up with a friendly ‘hello’ and said if I needed any help that I could contact him’ – What a gent! We’ve since become friends and Scott and I have done some work together. Optix also sponsored the fantastic event that he put on a month or so ago – Like Minds.

I’m pretty sure that by his own admittance he would say that at the start of this year, his name was not very well known in Exeter. He was a true start-up, had a few clients and was looking around for work. Through use of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter he was able to connect with quite literally hundreds of people in the Exeter area in a very short space of time. I watched this process for months with great interest. He was essentially doing what I did when I started, but using new technologies and platforms to achieve it – and doing very well at it. For the first part of the year very few people had actually met Scott but many new his name – they’d connected on Twitter and other platforms, but slowly and surely people soon started to meet him at tweet ups and events and then of course he blew everyone away by organising Like Minds entirely using social media (read my article on that here). Now he’s known all over the town – in fact some might say it’s the Scott Gould show at the mo ;) (He will love that one!)

Scott has successfully used modern tools to network the area, gain trust and reputation and he now stands in a great place to capitalise on that and take Exeter, Devon and possibly the World by storm – All in less than a year. I take my hat off to him, I really do. What took me years to achieve, Scott has done in a far shorter period of time. I wish him well.

So to summarise, in case anyone missed the point of this post – Use social media to build your networks locally, gain trust and reputation. Make sure you network online and offline and as much as possible and you’ll reap the rewards in business. To help you along the way I’ve picked out a few of the tactics Scott would have used to achieve what he has – you too can use these, starting today:

  • Follow your local town/city name – Setup a search for the town/city in any of the major tools such as tweetdeck and actively engage with people mentioning the name  – There are also directories like twellow that you can use to find people and now twitter has its ‘lists’ feature, many people have setup local lists which make it really easy to find local ‘tweeps’ – For those of you in Exeter – Here is the search for Exeter on Twitter done for you already.
  • Use social media as an ‘Enabler and Extender’ – Try and take your contact through the following process – tweet/email/call/meetup – You may be lucky enough to do business as a direct result of SM but its more likely that you’ll need to meet up, so use the tools to gently take people more quickly through this processes which might have taken months or years in ‘olden days’ – circa <2007 ;)
  • Have a clear result – Who do you want to attract/connect with?  Have a strategy, even if  its as basic as ‘I want to talk to business leaders/influencers in my town’ – Filter out what you’re not interested in and have a strategy in place.

Scott and I have recently co-founded TAGS Tweetup in Exeter with Dave Thomas – If you’re interested in finding out more then please take a look at our new Tags blog for information about the next event.

Now go and put a brew on and come back ready to use your new found tactics to build your network and of course, as always, please let me know about your success.

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited by thebestof to attend a seminar by legendary American sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer in London. Not really sure what to expect, I booked my place purely on Nigel Botterill’s (CEO of thebestof) account of him. I have a great deal of respect for Nigel as a businessman so knew it couldn’t really go wrong. It was a full day and I came away with pages and pages of notes and action points, all of which I’ve written up today, while still fresh in my mind.

If you’re interested, Nigel also posted on his blog about the event entitled, ‘Are you a Winner or a Whiner?’. Well worth a read.

Now I’m not going to try and break down a whole day into one post, so I thought I’d pick up a few of the key points for you, especially if you’re in sales yourself or are starting/just started a business.

People buy people – we know that right? Well I guess most do but I’m sure sometimes we forget. Jeffrey pointed out on MANY occasions that ‘sales’ is quite simply about being friendly – to EVERYONE!

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!

If you make yourself an industry leader in your sector, so indispensible that people want to buy from you, then the time spent doing that will be far better used than making sales calls and giving people your brochure (Jeffrey refers to this as puking on people lol – he also has a fantastic New Jersey accent which I really wish I could convey in this article). So the main premise of the day was to stop thinking about how to sell to someone and starting thinking about how to make them buy. I’m afraid though that this isn’t easy, it takes hard work, something many sales people simply aren’t willing to put in. Do you think just because it’s a Saturday it means I’m not going to blog about work! If you have that mentality, this probably isn’t for you – and neither is a career in sales!

A few top tips from the day that I’ll certainly be actioning myself in the coming weeks:

>> Get creative – Your business card should be a talking point – If the person you give it to doesn’t say ‘wow – cool card’ rip it up and start again!

>> Get video testimonials from clients – This is 100 times more powerful than saying how great you are yourself. If you can walk into your prospects and show them other happy clients waxing lyrical about you you’re on a winner.

>> Talk to your customer’s as if they were your Grandma – I personally love this one. He literally says, add ‘, grandma’ onto the end of any line you’re about to say to a customer and if it doesn’t sound right, don’t say it!

>> Use Social Media – It ain’t going away – THANK YOU JEFFREY – ‘nuff said! J

>> Become your client’s friend – if you make a sale, you make a commission, if you make a friend you’ll earn a fortune. A nugget of gold.

If you get the chance to see Jeffrey then don’t question the money – you’ll make it back 100 fold. You can see and get more information about him on his website here: http://www.gitomer.com or follow him on twitter here: http://twitter.com/gitomer or become a fan on facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/JeffreyGitomer

I have already (before the event) purchased a number of Jeffrey’s books and would whole heartedly recommend you consider buying them.


The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness – You can buy it from Amazon here.

Little Gold Book of Yes! Attitude: How to Find, Build and Keep a Yes! Attitude for a Lifetime of Success

I’m now off to buy these other books in his range (I didn’t even know these ones existed until yesterday!):

Social Media ROI and Likeminds – WOW

Friday the 16th of October saw Exeter welcome a new social media conference to the Westcountry – Like Minds. My company were lucky enough to be one of the local sponsors and our logo sat impressively on the big screen behind the speakers alongside the like of Magners and Starbucks – not bad exposure I say :)

The reason for this post is to try and reach a few more people and explain the power of using social media in your business. I’ve also been flying high on a wave of social media love since the conference on Friday and want to tell the world about it :)

A few facts first:

  • The conference tackled the issue of ROI in Social Media
  • There were over 200 people there
  • Over 500 watched the conference on Ustream – A live stream of the event – still available here
  • People interacted with the conference in real time from all over the world – Even Stephen Fry the Twitter God dropped in digitally to say ‘Hi’ to everyone there!
  • The twitter fall, which was projected onto the screen while panelists were talking had thousands of tweets on it
  • Two of the keynote speakers flew from America especially to talk at the conference
  • Another keynote speaker – @darenBBC worked for the BBC for some time and was instrumental in putting Microsoft and IBM together as well as working on the iplayer!
  • The last keynote speaker – @mazi is in charge of social media for SKY!

Now here’s the thing – The two guys in charge of this whole event @scottgould and @drewellis didn’t even know each other this time last year! They met on Twitter and through a building of trust using social media, became closer until they decided to launch likeminds together earlier in the year. Now take into account that every single one of the sponsors bought into the event and the organisers purely because of social media. None of us knew Scott or Drew this time last year but like they had done, we had met through our love of social media and innovative thinking. Amazing as this all sounds, its even more amazing to think that this WHOLE event was put on and organised using social media – not a single bit of traditional advertising was used – Scott interacted with and finally met @treypennington and @thebrandbuilder on twitter (our two American friends) and after a visit earlier in the year by Trey, they agreed to talk at the conference – Another victory for social media.

Now Exeter is not known for its conferences or foresight when it comes to technology so to get the numbers mentioned together in a room was a remarkable achievement. I’ve been working in Exeter for over 10 years now and never seen anything like it.

If you want to see the interest in the conference and everything it’s generated since, take a look at the hashtag #likeminds on twitter here. An amazing event experience.

Social media has the power to break down barriers like nothing I’ve experienced before, for example I sat next to one of my competitors all day as we tweeted and retweeted each other on the twitter fall. We then shared dinner that evening (with others I have to say ;)) and it just made me marvel at how important getting ‘like minded people’ together really is. We have undoubtedly become closer due to social media and I’m thankful for that. I also met a lot of fantastic new people at the conference and cemented relationships with others – I literally cant wait for the next one.

Likeminds in itself was a testimony to what social media can achieve if implemented correctly. The return on investment for all involved was huge.

If you’re not using Social Media in your business yet then I strongly suggest you start thinking about it. Of course, if you’re stuck, then Optix Solutions can give you a helping hand :)

#Likeminds

Just a very quick update to say that I’m really looking forward to the South West’s first Social Media Conference today which i’m extremely proud Optix Solutions are sponsoring.

With a large attendance expected, Like Minds looks set to show the rest of the UK just how leading edge the South West can be.

If you can’t make it then they are live streaming the event from their website here: http://alikeminds.org/

I’m sure there will be a huge amount of twitter activity so keep up-to-date with that on #likeminds hashtag – lets see if we can make it trend ;)

Look out for me, @banksy6 – come and say hello – I like to think of myself as a friendly chap :)

See you there!

Social Media in Business

Even by the internet’s rapid standards, the rise of Social Media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Stumbeupon has been nothing short of meteoric.

With hundreds of millions of people worldwide using social networks regularly (Facebook now has 200 million active users) and their popularity continuing to grow on a daily basis, they represent a massive marketing opportunity to switched-on business.

In Exeter, Social Media is taking off with a large group of users networking regularly together. Next month sees the first social media conference in Devon organised by my friend @scottgould. Optix Solutions are amongst the sponsors and are very excited about hearing and meeting @treypennington and @thebrandbuilder who are both flying over from America especially for the event. Tickets by the way can be bought here: http://alikeminds.org/

The big question for me, is still whether or not a brand can embrace Social Media as well as a person can. I believe there is room for both and there is no question that many high profile businesses have done extremely well from Social Media. Dell, Starbucks and Google all use Twitter well but is there a case for smaller SME’s to make it work for them?

My Opinion: YES! MOST DEFINATELY and I’ve experienced this with my own business. However, whether you run a business or a personal account there are certain ways to go about things and certain etiquette you need to get used to. Within Optix, we encourage our staff to have their own blogs/twitter accounts/social media pages and without a question of doubt this has lead to stronger relationships with our clients who are also using social media and to new work and relationships with people we would almost certainly never have come across without it.

Here are the twitter feeds of some of the guys in Optix (oh and Optix own one is @optixsolutions – we use this for info on our business, special offers, news and site launches):

My Own Twitter Account: @banksy6
Al Gleave (Bus Dev): @alpenwest
Kris Sousa (Sales/Support): @kristensousa
Nick Watson: (Developer) @nickizzle

There is so much I could say about Social Media and Twitter in particular but I’m aiming this at new business owners and entrepreneurs so lets just set you along the right path with some good solid advice on why you need to start thinking about Social Media in your business.

Here are Banksy’s top 5 tips for making social media work for you.

1). Allow people to share your business successes and stories with others – FOR FREE! You can do this by adding a tool to pages on your website that allow anyone surfing, to very quickly share your content with others. Popular tools include Share This and Add This both of which do the job more than adequately. If you’re not sure what I mean by this then take a look at the Devon Air Ambulance website that my company Optix Solutions have just launched and scroll right down to the bottom of the page. You will see a green icon with ‘share this’ written next to it. Click it and see how easy it is to share that website on Facebook/Twitter and many, many other websites out there. Think now of the power of just one or two users sharing that website with potentially hundreds or maybe even thousands of trusted contacts and friends that they have on their own networks. Its almost a no-brainer to have this added to your website these days. If you don’t know how to add it or need help then drop me a line :)

2). Build contacts, relationships and networks online – I’m sure if you’re starting a business, in your early years as a business or an entrepreneur of any kind, you are probably networking offline? Am I right? Well Twitter and other social networks allow you to find people with similar interests and values and then connect with them. The rest is up to you as it would be offline. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a short-term gain, its not. Invest in social media and you’ll reap the rewards later.

3). Leverage social media for your other forms of marketing – Social Media is a great way of generating traffic for your blog or website. Users may then go on and look around other services you have to offer on these websites. In fact, although this blog is starting to get a good reputation with the search engines, the largest referrer of traffic to it each time I post is Twitter. This is because I put the word out to my network each time I post and people visit….which is great:)!

4). Become known as a ‘thought leader’ – This is really about building authenticity in your brand – be it personal or business. It’s a brave/stupid person that tries to sell directly from social media – it just doesn’t work. You need to show others that your posts/tweets/content can be thought provoking and hopefully interesting  so they will engage with you if they feel it’s right to do so. Don’t push marketing material out to them too much or you’ll simply lose followers and contacts.

5). Even if you don’t believe in social media yourself, others do and they could be talking about you or asking for help. There are a myriad of tools out there which allow you to monitor mentions of phrases, including your own brand. I for example, have tools set up to monitor mentions of my company name as well as my own name. Our company monitors local tweets, and anything to do with people looking for web design work.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this is not meant to be, in anyway a full break down of social media and what it can do for you, its merely a teaser. I do hope in the future to focus on the individual networks and go into a bit more depth for you on how to get the best from each of these, however in the mean time I recommend reading the Chris Brogan’s blog post on social media here for some great tips:

http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ways-marketers-can-use-social-media-to-improve-their-marketing/

Consider today what you want to achieve from social media, consider your audience and which sites they might be using and then put together a plan for yourself and of course, if you need help – drop us a line. Good luck.

Web Design Company in Exeter – Early Optix

A lot of people have asked me how Optix Solutions came to be, so I thought I’d write a quick post on how it happened.

The year was 1999 and myself, James and two friends were all studying computer science at Exeter University. The course didn’t actually include web design although one of our lectures did look at web technologies and  of course we used the net for much of our research. Now bear in mind these were pre-google days! I know, hard to imagine isn’t it! I think Google may have been invented but it was all about AltaVista in those days. Its funny because QXL seemed bigger in the auction world than Ebay then as well. How times have changed! :)

I find it hard to remember back to how the conversations about starting a business began but with a father who is a business mentor/coach by trade I wouldn’t mind betting that I had something to do with the idea! Originally four of us discussed the idea of starting a web design business but we were in our second year at the time and I think the fact we had exams and lectures to worry about meant that one of the guys wasn’t really ever going to committ. The three of us that did take it more seriously did everything we could to tap up family and friends for business and started to build a portfolio. We owe so much to these clients who gave us a chance and allowed us to build a reputation in order that we could go out and start showing other businesses what we could do. As we progressed through our 3rd year we had some big decisions to make. As IT graduates, 20k+ starting salaries in London and other places around the UK called and by this time we had realised just how hard this ‘business malarky’ was going to be. When we started out, it was around the time of the dot com bubble and we all thought we could make a lot of money out of web design. Very naively we hadn’t quite taken into account just how hard a business is to run.

Why Exeter? I’m originally from Chelmsford in Essex, James is from the Isle of White and our third director hailed from Oxford so there was no particular place to go back and start up and so we decided to stay in Exeter. By this time we were also being supported by Exeter University and in particular the business division in the Innovation Centre on the main campus. They were really behind us and again we owe a lot to their support.

Pretty much the day after we graduated and all our friends were still celebrating their degree results we started Optix proper. The three of us managed to rent a largish house in central Exeter near the Imperial with four bedrooms  – one each and one that we setup as an office. We had three desks in triangle shape with a printer in the middle perched on a set of drawers. There was barely enough room to get to each of the desks to sit down! Now this was the days of dial-up and as we had no money we could only afford to get one phoneline in which meant we had to share this between the phone (used for incoming and outgoing sales calls), the fax (yes they were used quite a bit in those days) and the dialup for all three of our computers! As a web design company this was really quite tricky :) I remember constant battles for the line as someone wanted to upload a a new design, another needed to research something and I wanted to make calls to try and get some business in. It all seems quite comical now but I remember just how stressful it could get.

We stayed at that house for about 6 months and were then forced to move. We went into the serviced offices in Exeter Queensgate House – The South West Business Centre. I remember that day fondly as Mike Purton took a punt on us and gave us the office in the attick (about 4 floors up). I don’t think Mike and his team really thought we were going to be there long but we ended up being there (in two different offices) for about 8 years :) As a startup business with very little money it’s hard to comitt to long leases so look for these kind of serviced offices in your town (you just pay one bill every month to include your rent/rates/electricity/water etc) It’s also a case of ‘easy in/easy out’ where you only have to give 30 days notice if you need to move – a must for cash strapped businesses.

So thats the story of ‘early Optix days’ folks. I hope that if you’re reading this at University or school and thinking about starting your own business it gives you the inspiration to give it a go and of course if I can help you in any way please drop me a line.

Interview with Banksy and James

This post was done last year for our ninth birthday at Optix. As we turn ten next Monday I thought I’d revisit the interview for those that missed it.

Interview with James Dawkins and Alastair Banks of Optix Solutions:
It’s hard to believe that Alastair and James were merely 20 years old when they joined forces to start Optix Solutions in 1999. Since then, their strong business acumen and un-reserved commitment to exceeding customer expectations has helped develop Optix Solutions into a professional Web Design and Internet Services Company with a dedicated team of Business Development Managers, Web Designers, Web Developers and Search Engine Optimisation Consultants – working with some of the UK’s leading organisations!

In this interview we look back at how together, Alastair and James, have achieved their success.

Q. What inspired you to start Optix Solutions?

James: Quite simply – not wanting to work for someone else!

Alastair: I’d agree with James here – we felt there was a gap in the market and didn’t want to work for anyone else after finishing University.

Q. What’s the most rewarding part of running Optix?

Alastair: There are so many! I still get a massive buzz from developing relationships and helping clients – but seeing a team develop around James and me is also very rewarding.

James: Seeing all of the hard work we devote to our clients pay off! Like winning the award for Best Franchise Website Design with Urban Planters last year was fantastic, and being nominated for the Business Enterprise Award by the Federation of Small Business this year demonstrates recognition for our continuous progression as a company.

Q. What has been the most significant change on the web since Optix was founded in 1999?

Alastair: Firstly we went through the ‘Dot Com Bubble’ in 1999/2000; we saw e-Commerce start to take off through the early noughties and now Social Media is off the scale… It’s quite amazing! Have I mentioned TravellersConnected.com? (TravellersConnected.com is a Social Networking site dedicated to helping Travellers find a Travel Companion and all other Travel related advice and information. Both Alastair and James are founding members of the site which was established in 2004 and is today recognised as one of the 100 Best Travel Sites by the Times Online!)

Q. How have you been able to succeed in such a competitive market?

James: Selecting a hard-working team, trying to stay ahead of the game and looking after our clients as best as possible!

Alastair: As James said, developing a great team, looking after our clients and regularly consulting with an experienced Business Adviser have definitely helped us succeed.

Q. How do you hope Optix will develop over the next 9 years?

Alastair: We’d both like to see another office and perhaps more spin-offs like TravellersConnected.com to get our teeth into. I think when you’re entrepreneurial you’re always looking for the next opportunity.

James: An Optix sponsored race car!

Q. What do you look forward to most at the start of a work day?

James: The truth is no day is ever the same, but it’s always great hearing from our clients – so I guess we look forward to embracing the unknown and pushing the boundaries.

Alastair: Definitely, couldn’t have said it better myself James.  I knew there was a reason I went into business with you.

Q. Any last words?

Both: Watch this space!

Its Networking, not Netsitting or Neteating….

So this is the first ‘REAL’ post then and hopefully the clue is the title….

I wanted to cover the one area of business I consider the lifeblood of any small company trying to build their business – Networking.

Networking is the process of getting out and meeting other business people at breakfasts, lunches dinners and other functions…..true networking in my opinion is an art form. The most important thing to remember about it (and where I feel that so many go wrong) is that it’s not a short term solution to getting business, it’s about building relationships over time. Being seen at the same events regularly will help build trust in you as a person (your personal brand) and the company you work for. In some cases I’ve only started getting leads from people that have known me for 3+ years, purely because it’s taken them that long to see that my business is one that it wishes to work with. You must work at networking….

There are loads of opportunities in life to network. In fact if you wanted to, you could network every day of the week…and then at the weekend too, in fact I’m regularly told that I never stop networking :) When in start-up phase you need to put yourself about (quite literally) – get out there as much as possible, invite yourself to everything you can and ask others where they network. DON’T BE SHY. If you want to find networking groups in your locality then Google it. If you’re in Exeter and reading this then here is a list of local networking groups for you to try: networking groups in exeter

Ok, so now you’ve found your groups lets go networking….

It can be a pretty scary prospect going to a networking group – a room full of people you don’t know can seem quite intimidating. Thoughts like ‘who do i speak to first’ and ‘how to do I interrupt them to start a conversation’ all spring into your mind. This is especially true when you’re starting up and don’t know anyone – these feelings are entirely natural and are probably being felt by many other people in the room. Don’t worry though, it gets easier….

To help in your quest I’ve put together Banksy’s top five tips for networking:

Tip 1 – Quite simply, get there early!!! It’s not hard when you think about it, if you get there early, the room isn’t full and it will be the other people that have to come in and worry about who to speak to and how.

Tip 2 - Have a plan before you go. If you can, try and get a list of who is going to be there. Make a target list of who you want to speak to and remember that you can always ask the organisers to introduce you to someone if you don’t know what they look like.

Tip 3 - You’re not there for the food and drink, you’re there to do business (hence the title of this post)…Don’t just sit there and eat your food and drink your drink in the corner…get out there and NETWORK. The quality of the lunch or breakfast should come a distant second to whether you can make some good contacts.

Tip 4 – Listen. This is probably one of my most important tips. No one likes a person who turns up and talks at them…me me me….it’s quite a turn off. Try asking the person you’re speaking to about themselves and their business and only talk about your business when they ask (they will get round to it…unless they are completely egocentric :) ). Try some of the following posers – and please, please, please sound like you’re interested:

>> So what business are you in?
>> How long have you been going?
>> Is business good at the moment?

When I’m networking and asking these questions I’m always thinking about my own business and how I can create an angle on what I do when I’m finally asked about it. Then, if clever, I can relate my own business to theirs and suddenly the selling process becomes much easier. (As an example: If I find that I’m talking to an estate agent and business is not great at the moment, when I get asked about Optix I can tell them that I look after other estate agents in other parts of the country and what has worked well to bring them new business through the web – immediately they are interested and you can move to the follow up…)

Tip 5 - Follow Up – If you go to an event with people where you collect business cards then make sure you follow up. Send a quick email saying how nice to meet them it was. If you’ve told anyone you’ll call them then make sure you do (and within a couple of days so it’s still fresh in their minds).

Networking can be one of the most powerful ways of bringing in new business. Optix went from 2 to 8 staff on the strength of networking alone. I made sure that I was at every event I could be in the early days, now I try and make sure all my staff are doing the same.

For some groups that I have personal experience of check out:

•    BNI (worldwide) – My Local chapter in Exeter has its own website here: BNI Chapter in Exeter
•    Business Network (South West)
•    Chamber of Commerce (check your local area – Here is Exeter Chamber of Commerce) Optix also design and maintain Barking and Dagenham Chamber of Commerce Website
•    TBX (Devon)
•    Best Of (Exeter)
•    XYBC – Exeter Young Business Club

Quick Update to Post: Check out All Networking in a couple of weeks time here – Over 750 people now registered: www.allnetworking.co.uk

So now that you are armed with my top tips, get out there – don’t be shy and network until you’re blue in the face – I KNOW it will work for you. Let me know how you get on…