To Blog or Not to Blog – That is the Question

To Blog or Not to Blog – That is the Question

At Optix we regularly consult on Blogging and help people get setup on the right platforms. We give them tips and advice and away they go. So the question is, should you blog and what benefits will it give you?

If you’re a business owner/startup, a great blog can do a number of key things for you:

>> Position you as an authority in your industry
>> Show you are credible (if you keep it up and have great content)
>> Help you with the practice of ‘Inbound Marketing’ – I’ll explain this below
>> Allows you to build a follower/fan base/database of emails
>> Has huge benefits with the Search Engines – Google loves blogs

I just want to focus today on two of these points, that of Inbound Marketing and the Search Engines.

If you’re going to blog you might need to change your mindset in terms of it’s marketing worth. Blogging is not something that happens overnight. You need to be prepared to blog regularly (I try once a week but if I miss that people notice!) so make sure you can set aside time. Don’t expect to get something from every post, this is a long term strategy. You’re building a base, a home for your material. The concept of inbound marketing is quite simple, give away value to demonstrate you know what you’re talking about and people will come to you. When they respect you and see you as a trust agent you will find people want to use your service. You’ll also find that by increasing your authority, you’re able to increase your pricing. The better you are known and respected, the easier it will be for you to charge a premium.

But here’s my caveat – If you’re going to blog, you need to give it your all. Write every post with passion as it won’t take much for people to turn off…

My second point refers to that of the search engines. There was a time when we were telling clients that their sites will take weeks or months to get listed in search engines. Due to the way blogs work and are built, this time period has been shortened massively. There are still a number of things that stand in the way of your blog and the hallowed first page of Google but the time taken to index a new post can be days rather than weeks. Throw in a bit of search engine optimisation knowledge and away you go, on your journey to real results. :)

So the question for me is not really whether to blog or not to blog, it’s when are you going to start? Oh and by the way, the guys at Optix can help you with that – check out the details here (shameless plug)

So how are you getting on with blogging? Have you started? Is it helping your business? Are you scared of starting?

Turnover for show, profit for dough

Turnover for show, profit for dough

It’s interesting when you think that the majority of people, having been asked the question, “how well is your company doing” or “how big is your company” would probably quote a turnover figure or number of employees. “Hey, I’m Billy big banana’s because I’m turning over 5m a year”, or “Yes, I am the man/woman, I have 100 employees”! I wouldn’t be surprised if the percentage of people in that scenario giving one of those two answers is in the 90%+ region. So how many give you their profit figures or margins? Not that many, maybe because they feel they don’t want to give away sensitive data and there is certainly a case for that but I just find the metrics we all seem to monitor our companies by publically to be a bit farcical.

Lets take a quick example – A 5m turnover company producing a profit of 100k and a 500k turnover company producing 80k – which would you rather have? I know which one I would! Think of the work required, the staffing, the redtape in the 5m turnover business all for just another 20k profit – starting to make sense? Yes I realise that small margin businesses could churn out a scenario like the one above comfortably but I’m trying to give a more general overview for the purpose of this post.

I also think, and this is the main reason for writing this post, that this whole topic has the potential to be a danger to young start-up’s who get caught up in their own hype – thinking they are doing well because of the inflated figures and then coming a cropper because they’ve not concentrated on what’s really important.

So, be careful of not getting caught in the trap of thinking success is in Turnover or how many staff you have. I’ve made that mistake myself on a number of occasions. To be fair, it’s quite easy in our industry to flatter your turnover figures because more often than not digital agencies will pay for online advertising on behalf of clients (services like Google Adwords) then simply bill this straight back to the client. This has the effect of inflating your turnover but doing absolutely nothing for your bottom line. If you’re in digital and want my advice, then I’ve tended to stay away from this altogether as it can cause cash flow issues and as we know “Cashflow is King

It’s vital in any business to keep an eye on management figures regularly. If you’re anything like me, in the early days you’ll probably know everything off by heart because you’re staring at it everyday. As you grow I recommend having monthly management meetings where you keep an eye on cash flow forecasts, monthly P & L’s and breakeven charts. Together, these figures give you a good snapshot of where you are as a business.

Stay on top of the numbers – don’t stick your head in the sand and hope they are not there…

Have a great week

How Optix Solutions does ‘People to People’

How Optix Solutions does ‘People to People’

Last week I wrote about People 2 People and Personal Branding. A few of you asked how we actually implement this in our businesses so I wanted to highlight this in today’s post – hopefully to give you some food for thought.

I’m going to use Olivier Blanchard’s (The Brand Builder) post on this for the structure of the post (hope you don’t mind Olivier :)) and expand on what we do in our main business – Optix Solutions.

Olivier highlighted 11 points that he felt every P-2-P business should have or at least work towards – let’s take them one at a time:

“1. The P2P business doesn’t hire though job sites or advertising. It hires by inviting candidates already connected to the company through social networks, both online and offline. “

I certainly can’t remember the last time we hired through advertising locally although I have to say that I’m not entirely on OB’s side here for Jobsites but the reason for that will become clear in the next few months. Yes, the old fashioned, faceless jobsite is a dying breed, but I think there might just be room for something new…more on that later :) The last few staff we’ve had at Optix have come through either social networks (or relationships built through social networks) or friends of the people that already work here. How great is that? One of my favourite things about recruiting is when one of the guys that works for me puts forward a friend that ‘really wants to work for Optix’ – that speaks volumes in my opinion.

“2. The P2P business no longer has a Director of Social Media, just like traditional B2B and B2C businesses no longer have a Director of Telephones: Social Media is completely embedded in the organization from an operational standpoint. What does that mean? It means that every department, from HR to Marketing to Product Development to Customer Service to Community Management uses Social Media the way they use any other tools and channels to do their jobs. “

Ok, so maybe we’re not quite big enough to have had an SM director in the first place, but that is probably my hat to be honest (I wear quite a few…and always look dapper ;). We have a number of staff with their own Twitter accounts/Facebook Pages/LinkedIn profiles and actively encourage this. The power in numbers through the business in incredible, all bouncing off each other, looking out for what each other is talking about on SM channels and all working together for the greater good of the company. I actively encourage my clients to consider use of SM in the same way at theirs.

“3. The P2P company doesn’t block FaceBook. The P2P company doesn’t block Twitter. The P2P company doesn’t block LinkedIn.  It doesn’t frown on access to community platforms like Ning. As a matter of fact, the P2P company helps its employees participate in online and offline networks more effectively through training and development instead of trying to insulate them from those “dangerous” online community platforms.”

I think I’ve highlighted this point above as well. Conversations actively go on (on a daily basis between staff about clever ideas for SM channels). We love it.

“4. Within the P2P business, the I.T. department no longer plays the role of cranky gatekeeper when it comes to adopting and deploying digital tools. The I.T. department has morphed into the T.E. department: Technology Enablement. Former I.T. professionals with passive-aggressive tendencies who get in the way of employees using the latest and most effective digital tools no longer have a place in the P2P Business. (Buh-bye. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way back to the ’90s.)”

Probably aimed more at the larger corporate here but once again, IT enablement is what it’s all about. I can’t understand those companies that block Facebook/Twitter etc on their networks – do they not realise that most of this SM stuff happens in the mobile space these days and they can’t block that?

“5. P2P Brand Managers are among the most sophisticated business strategists on the planet. No longer do they mostly be concerned with push messaging, self-serving marketing communications, trade dress and the ever ubiquitous logo redesigns. Their skillset has now exploded to meet the needs of an increasingly complex organization and marketplace.

  • They are now fluent in the four precepts of effective P2P program ownership: Development, integration, management (where monitoring lives) and measurement.
  • They are personally involved and invested in the communities that support and align themselves with the brand(s) they manage.
  • They are now equally involved in every step of the product lifecycle process, from ideation, design, development, manufacturing, testing, launch, and management.
  • They spend at least as much time in the world as they do inside the bubble of their corporate office, because they realize that is where their brand and products actually live.
  • Brand Managers are now mobile. They are cultural anthropologists as much as they are business managers. They look to free themselves from the corporate cocoon as much as possible to keep their perspective fresh and their insights untainted.
  • Brand Managers have become socio-cultural designers. Think about that for a minute and then think about it some more. This is key.”

We’re obviously in the slightly unique situation of working with brand strategists at other companies and so need to practice what we preach. We work with them to make sure the 4 P’s are ingrained in the strategy (In fact, we’ve worked with Olivier and Scott Gould at Likeminds to make sure our strategy offering is effective – we try where possible to practice what we preach)

“6. The P2P business understands how to smoothly blend campaigns with its daily mix of activities. Though it is naive to think that there is no longer a division between PR, Advertising, email marketing, web “marketing”, mobile marketing, customer support and community engagement, these roles and the deliverables they create work seamlessly together.”

As we’ve grown (From 2 to 13 in the last 6 years), we’ve gone through the silo effect and seen the damage this can cause. Dev not talking to Design, Design not talking to Sales, Sales not talking to anyone apart from their customers….you get the picture! Over the last few years we’ve done our very best to instil a culture of ‘team and family’ into the business. We have regular meetings where everyone thinks about client projects, we now have meetings with clients where everyone involved in the project is part of it so there is buy-in to the project. We’re not perfect yet but we’re working bloody hard to get there. :)

“7. The P2P business only uses corporate speak to make fun of corporate speak – and out of a sense of responsibility: Keeping that dying linguistic tradition alive will serve as a lesson to future generations that the world of gray cubicles, and cretinous business language almost destroyed business in the early 21st century. “

Not even going to expand on this one – The days of Gordon Geckko are no longer here…

“8. Employees of P2P businesses don’t hate their jobs. Why? Because they are empowered by their management team to collaborate with employees and the communities they touch. As a result of being clearly aware of their operational boundaries and because they receive ongoing, multilateral support from their organization, they know how to act professionally when dealing with the public.”

I think I mentioned this one earlier. When you have staff referring their friends to work for you, you’ve nailed it. After all, they wouldn’t be a very good pal if they got their mate into a business that sucked would they! We empower all our staff to ‘amaze clients where possible’ – That line is even in our staff benefits package because we want our staff to know that’s what’s important to us as a business…creating fantastic customer experiences.

“9. The P2P business no longer outsources its customer service. Period.”

We never did and we never will. Period :)

“10. The P2P business partners with like-minds. Put simply, it understands that the partners it aligns itself with say at least as much about its brand(s) as it does on its own. Even when partnerships are meant to be purely strategic or tactical, they signal an alignment of values that the marketplace (the community) is quick to take note of and interpret.”

Partners and Likeminds has been a personal goal of mine for 2010. I’ve spent a lot of time this year building relationships, strategic alliances and partnerships with some influential people and companies. As a business we recognise that the public perception of us is paramount to our success and the more people out there working with us on projects, the better. We started the Optix Inside Circle this year where we invited select partners (for strategic reasons) to a morning session where they could meet each other, network and then hopefully learn something of value for their own client base. The first event was very well attended locally and I’m looking forward to developing these events further this year.

“11. In case it wasn’t obvious: People would sell their grandmother to work there. Not just because the P2P company pays well (it might not) but because it is known to be a fantastic place to work, learn, and build lasting professional and personal relationships. People who work there are happier than most, professionally engaged and fulfilled, consider themselves successful (their definition may differ from yours), and wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.”

This is certainly the feedback I’ve had from others…no doubt my wonderful team who are reading this will jump on me as soon as they pickup this RSS feed :)

Here’s to P-2-P Olivier – Thanks for your post.

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 :)

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.