Monday, 28 October 2013

Recognising Value - Customer Perception Change

As a child my father said to me "You know the price of everything and the value of nothing" at the time I thought he was just being stingy and not getting me what I asked for Christmas. As I grew older and entered the tough market of having my own business I realised that in consumerism this is so true. People often value items on the price tag, they think because something is "reassuringly expensive" then of course it is worth that.

There are industries where this is more true than others, art being the perfect example where price is king and the higher the price the more desirable the artwork. But with something so personal as art it is a funny business, I would much rather adorn my walls with the work of Mondo who create retro and unusual movie poster art than a Van Gogh, but if I had a Van Gogh then I would be looking to turn it over for a profit. So it no longer becomes art it is simply a commodity. Take for example the recent exploits of the famous Banksy, who sold his original art on the streets of New York for as little as $30 for the buyer to discover in fact the work was an original and worth $20k. It was an experiment in art that he performed but you can be sure that the majority of those buyers will no doubt cash that cheque by selling it and turning a profit. The buyers of that art will assume value will increase until they can in turn make a profit. 

Comics would be another example of this where people buy them, do not remove them from the packaging instead reading it on an online download, because they know the price will increase. It's a different form of investment from share ownership but works on the same principles, perception of price (not value) is key.

Price Comparison Not an exact science

Back to the high street, I often find that consumers now value the price of items based on competition, but do not understand fully the service they are being provided with. If a consumer was to purchase a t-shirt with a slogan on from Primark it would cost them less than £4, should they purchase a t-shirt with a slogan from myself they would pay three times this. Why you may ask? Well simply because freedom of choice, they can have any slogan they like and complete and utter control over it, creative freedom to make a one off item specifically for them. But what if the customer wants exactly the same as an example I have produced, does that make the process any less laborious, the labour any less intensive? No. So the price remains the same. This subtle difference in understanding of a shop is lost on many and the proliferation of multi nationals into our conscience has resulted in a mass price war. Fear not this price war because there are weapons that the little guy has much better than the big guy!

Bartering the last Bastion of the Small Guy

The art of bartering has been lost, seen by many as cheeky or awkward, but this is a weapon that most small retailers retain which their larger counterparts cannot. An employee at Tesco will not give you a discount on a TV, or a yoghurt but the local retailer might. How would you go about advertising this unique selling point? First you must ask yourself if you want to, by advertising this fact are you not simply saying "My price tags are indicative only". The best way to achieve this is by closing the sale on an individual basis, reading customers is a fine art but there are obvious signs when someone is interested in a product. If you see them about to decide against it a quick price drop may sway them into your order book. The trick is always to engage customers, by doing it this way you can clearly dictate this a special offer for them, and not an open invitation to get discounts every time. You may find this one act of generosity actually makes you turn a would be browser into a long term customer.

Price doesn't matter to everyone

In Spite of this potential price competition you may find that the reverse is also the case. Whilst many people want you to be price competitive others will value the aspects that you can provide ahead of the big guys:

- Great customer service
- Personal interaction
- Expertise
- Your brand, shop local and other initatives actively encourage people to shop with the small guys

I often see a customer paying more than I will charge, because they value the item beyond the price I am charging and they are rewarding the work and effort I have executed. A situation I am sure doesn't happen in your faceless multi nationals. This often restores my faith that not all consumers know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Small Business - Fear of Competition?

On high streets across the Uk we see a collection of shops and services for offer, often these services and shops are repeated a few paces further down leading many to believe that High street lacks the imagination of the Internet. With charity shops, cafes and hairdressers littering our high streets the downward spiral of a local thriving shopping area is plain for all to see.

These tough times can often lead many small business to fear competition, perhaps a similar shop has opened nearby and you are worried about vital custom being taken away. These fears are valid, however there are ways which you can actually turn this competition into a positive.

1 - More shops attract more customers

Many people avoid the high street because they think there will be nothing of value there, they would rather shop in large out of town super stores or the Internet. By having an increased number of shops you may actually find your footflow increases.People who cannot find what they want in your competition may approach you leading to direct sales from their customers. Don't be tempted to get into a price war, the damage that will do to your business cannot be reversed, by having low prices the reputational damage of reverting them back to original price will leave you suffering in the long term.

2 - Collaborative working

People are generally friendly and as a new business your competition may appreciate a friendly visit. Perhaps discuss new product ideas, agree boundaries and support each other through website growth and custome referrals. Unless the business is a franchise then they will be open to this kind of approach, and if not you have not lost anything in trying. 

3 - Areas of expertise

A lot of high streets across the Uk have become known for a particular specialism, perhaps your local high street has an abundance of sports shops due to local facilities, or a large amount of galleries and art supply shops. These high streets grow in reputation as more competition enters the market and to be known for a specialism will attract customers from further afield.

4 - If all else fails diversify

If you have exhausted all other opportunities and your customer footflow has dropped then perhaps its time to branch out. Try new products and change away from your existing business model. The cheapest way to do this is by having other local suppliers provide you stock on sale or return basis. Or acting as an agent for a larger business, this will mean litle to no capital outlay to bring in that new stuff and if it works then you can begin to purchase direct from suppliers and increase your profit.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Promotional Items - Give a gift, grow a brand!

Giving gifts may seem like an expensive way to promote your brand but if you are clever it can be the most effective advertising you have ever undertaken. People like to get free stuff, even if the items are only small the gesture of getting something for free is a great way to build advocacy with your potential customers.

Personalisation of gifts is huge, large businesses like Moonpig allow customers to give a gift tailored specifically to the individual recipient. The opportunity to grow your brand can be done via competitions or other prize giveaways but having larger volumes to give away can be much better way to reach a wider audience. Here are some tips to help you decide if this is a venture for you.

Consider your audience

 Firstly think who you want to give free gifts to. Of course if your business has a specific demographic of customer then this will limit your potential targets. You may think the easiest way is to have a give away in store, or on the local street, but this is unlikely to attract anyone who does not already know you exist. Some other potential ideas would be:

Local Office Block - A local large employer will have a captive audience and providing them with mouse mats or mugs for their staff may be a great way to pick up new customers. Not only will you get direct sales but those staff will be staring at your logo and details daily and will act as an advocate when others discuss requiring your services. Items; Mug, Mouse Mats, Pens or Stress balls

Social Clubs - Social clubs are used by the community in many different ways, this means you have the opportunity to have many different types of groups become aware of your services. The main risk with this is that many of the products are simply taken or forgotten about, ensure you agree the placement with the organisors or owners of the social club. Items; Hats, Bibs(for team activity), Glasses, mugs or aprons.

Pubs - Pubs may not be as busy as they were but a lot of potential customers still use them. The best type of establishment would be a Gastro Pub as these are more likely to have affluent and family patrons. Items; Mats, Mugs, Plates, Kids jigsaw or stickers.

Cafe - Coffee shops are the boom industry in the UK and USA, with no signs of decline. As more cultural awareness about excessive drinking becomes known people turn to cafe's for their social meeting places. High foot-flow and large cross section of customers will help reach a good section of your target audience. Items; Mugs, Mats or kids jigsaw.

Churches - Churches are registered charities and often require products to help run fundraising events, a coffee morning sponsored by your business would be a great way to show your care in the local community. This does not need to mean your business is religiously affiliated so it may be worth working across the denominations to ensure this is understood. Items ; Mugs, t-shirts, tabards or hoodies.

The model for this type of giveaway is that you provide a need for these establishments but with your own branding, or perhaps joint branding to help your business identity grow. In the current climate businesses are always looking for opportunities to help support and grow their brand, doing this type of joint venture is a great way to do this.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Mitigating risk of Holidays

The summer for many businesses can be seen as a nightmare of juggling staffing with the increased demands of expenditure. For small business this can prove a bigger headache than medium and large who have the staff size to cover holidays and can work on a rota system to handle the time off. For sole traders or small business this may simply not be an option.

Some tips which may help:

Know your customer behaviour

Knowing your customer demand pattern is key to assessing peaks and troughs in your business. If you have a naturally quiet period then using this time as your main holiday may be a better plan, however if you have other responsibilities such as a family the summer and school holidays may be the only time you can have a family get away. By first understanding your customer behaviour you may be able to work with clients to change there demand which would allow a slower fulfillment, meaning you can take a well deserved break. The issue with taking any time off and closing down your business is that you will not get paid, unlike a salaried position where you have holiday entitlement. Depending on your cash flow accepting a holiday may not be possible is one of the harsh realities of being a business person.


Working less is an effective way to have fun days out with the family or friends. With technology accessible all over the UK you can stay connected and don't have to venture too far. This will ensure overall control is not lost and should anything untoward occur you are able to hurry back to address the issue. Many people are quick to leave the country for foreign holidays forgetting the wealth of entertainment on their doorstep, not to mention the cost saving that may be necessary during this prolonged recession.

Rely on friends or family

Trust no one, is sound advice if you want to work 24 hours a day but there comes a time when you will need to trust somebody. Having a friend or family cover may mean not all services are available but it will at least allow you a break knowing that they will do their upmost to keep your business ticking over.

Hire the professionals

There are agencies which will help, many offering staff and management to help run the business in your absence. Rather than rely on individuals by outsourcing your cover needs to an agency you can hold them to account and demand the expertise that may not be readily available in your local recruitment pool. There is always a premium to be paid for this type of service but may be worth the cost to ensure piece of mind

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Promotional Branding and Giveaways

Businesses can use a wide array of advertising techniques to gain leverage in their chosen market, from TV, press, Internet and other techniques. Building an affinity with your brand is difficult depending on the niche industry you operate in, why would customers feel any loyalty to you after coming across your advert? 

Perhaps a good solution here is to not only advertise your business but offer something to your customers, during the 90's there was a surge in the number of personalised products offered to customers, remember the drawer full of branded goods you had, pens, notepads, glasses, t-shirts and much more?

Well the boom in personalised goods may have subsided as big corporates move towards a more internet savvy marketing strategy but the technique of producing personalised goods for free giveaways has not ceased. In fact it provides a great way to introduce many customers to your brand. A message that they may even promote by wearing or using your product. This cheap way of producing huge coverage in marketing may seem like an expensive way to market but when you consider the price comparison to other forms of advertising you may be surprised:

100 T-shirts giveaway - £650
Local radio Advert 1 Month - £350
Local Press Advert - £400
Local Tv Advert - £1000
Niche Internet Advertising Campaign - £500 pcm
Niche Social media Advertising Campaign - £500 pcm

When you consider the life-cycle of a t-shirt you can see that the advert will be working for longer than 1 month and the goodwill and buzz created from a giveaway may even attract you free local press and radio advertising, not to mention the potential for virility of social media advertising of the giveaway. In today's marketing you need to fire across many different areas, not concentrate solely on one aspect, this type of promotional giveaway can cover those different areas needed and people love free stuff.

Uniforms and Work-wear

Even small traders, tradesmen and crafters can now get good quality designed work-wear to ensure that they are walking adverts for their business. With a huge selection of different items, from T-Shirts and Hoodies to Vests and Tabards there is something to suit every type of industry.

Why not check out Dunbar T-shirt Shop a custom garment and gift company which can offer you both professional uniform printing and promotional items.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Websites - Are you being ripped off?

How much do you value your time? This is a question all business people should ask, having to make choices about which area to invest their time on is difficult, especially when your to do list is longer than the capacity that you have. Outsourcing work is perhaps an efficient way to make the gap between capacity and workload smaller. There are a myriad of services offered, many are provided by excellent professionals who could certainly improve aspect of your business. However like any industry that grows rapidly online, you find more and more that scams begin to creep into your email, with promises of much with little or no track history or CV. 

The terminology of the entire industry is wrong, with building and growth often touted as the terms on offer. But had a company approach you to build your house there would be clear milestones, a contract and of course that all important warranty. With online service building your website it is clear they may work, but they are far less inclined to give you any type of guarantee with so much of the techniques used to grow an online presence built in quicksand, only one Google update away from falling over completely. 

So these companies target the weak of the heard, the old fashioned retailer who knows little about this new fangled web and can be confused.

When is a Website cost effective

A website is a cheap thing to build, with so many free to use open source templates you would be amazed at how great it can look on a cost of nothing more than a web domain registration and hosting account (around £50 per annum max). Even in the minefield of eCommerce you will find great free to use software to make it an easy to update back office and professional front end that will be sufficient to satisfy customers.

A lot of these free to use templates are idiot proof, with step by step guides to making the best of the chosen package. So how long would it really take you to get up and running, well that would depend on your amount of effort, but it could easily be achieved within a day. For those with some web experienced this would be a lot less.

Why outsource SEO

 SEO is an entirely different kettle of fish from simple web site building, getting your website to have traffic can be a long term plan which won't bear fruit for months or years. So you need to start improving your online presence now. The best reason to outsource this work is because it is time consuming, but I would suggest outsourcing elements of this work, don't be tempted to get a one strategy company to work on this as the negative affect long term will outweigh any short term gains.

Below are some items you could outsource and what you may wish to consider:

- Content Marketing - the writing and placing of articles with links to your website. This can be done cheaply, but remember cheap price will mean cheap quality. Guest blogging is an established technique now so you can commission articles to be placed on RELEVANT websites to help grow your search rankings. Articles can be as little as £2 up to £500 for the top end of the market. The low end will likely never get you real organic traffic but simply act as a link.

- Social media - updating Facebook, twitter, pinterest, Google+ and all the other social media platforms is perhaps the most time consuming and difficult. Making sure your content is engaging and keeping track of what works and what doesn't is a laborious task. But many businesses prefer to keep this in house as you then have a better finger on the pulse of those engaging with your business, which can feed product purchasing, pricing, and promotions.

- Directory listing - You've got to be in it to win it, so the saying goes. Getting your company details listed on directories is a one off job, that can easily be outsourced to an individual at a low cost rate. Its a standard template of brief description, picture and opening hours with contact details.

- Press releases - Any new product launches or promotions should have a press release, which may sound very grand but if you have a good relationship with your local paper and radio it needn't be difficult. There will also be numerous niche and local community groups that would be interested in this information. Getting the wording right can be the most challenging part.

You should also be ensuring that you are actively engaged with other local companies, and grow your online presence with any help given to local charities etc advertised online.

What to watch out for?

I am completely sick of watching businesses exploited by the techniques used by some online professionals, with no accountability for the longevity of the website and the relative success of any online venture. It would be a far greater investment for your company to either improve training (many councils even offer this free of charge, just visit your local business gateway advice centre) or take on an employee with the skills needed. A long term relationship is the biggest requirement of any outsourcing to ensure that any techniques used to help now, will not fall foul of any Google updates which can take upto a year to really hit your traffic noticeably. 

- Don't ever sign up without a contract
- Don't ever pay up front
- Do ensure you have clearly defined milestones
- Try to negotiate an incentive based payment term for any online work
- Avoid any foriegn based companies offering services
- Try to work with local people, at least you can go round to their house should it all go wrong
- Perhaps use your contacts to find a reliable company

Marketing - Piggy Back a Success

Companies spend millions on Marketing, with the barrier to entry for smaller business so high many do not even attempt to enter the world of marketing, instead relying on good customer service and word of mouth to grow their customer base. As a company grows the expectation and demand becomes large that often the only way to better those corporate behemoths is to rely on better customer service. But often businesses will piggy back marketing onto the back of a specifically clever concept. 

Take for example the recent campaign by coca cola to promote bottles with names, crowds of school kids rumagging through display stands at local shops was surely an accident of planning that perhaps they had not considered but such is the public imagination that this clever but simple idea really took off.

Personalisation of goods has long been popular, with personalised gifts and garments booming as that extra little effort is clearly able to set the giver apart from the rest. Cleverely Irn Bru the viral advertising guru's piggy backed their campaign with a series of funny Scottish names on the bottles, names associated with perhaps the more chav-tastic elements of society.

The secret to the success of this campaign by Irn Bru on a limited budget in comparitive terms was that they used the annoyance that this advertising had caused. Capturing all the people who were sick of the constant tweeting of bottles of coke with peoples name, or facebook picture of their personalised bottle. This anti sentiiment that grows on the back of any large advertising campaign is often a great way of getting a clever and witty response to go viral with little effort. A large social media platform shared, and engaged with this advert boosting the sales of the Scottish firms orange nectar.

This just goes to show that an advertising response is often just as influential as the original advertising concept, and can give smaller companies a foothold in advertising they may not have otherwise had.