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.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Dropshipping - Is it worth doing?

The term drop shipping is like the online equivalent of saying sales agents. Basically you sell other peoples products for a cut of the profits, often the cut is small if the product is a top seller, the better the return the more likely it is to be difficult to sell.

Why has Drop Shipping Grown?

The internet is a complex place, often real world retail and online retail don't go hand in hand. The techniques and skills involved are completely different, with the best sales people in a physical environment not often the best at online sales conversions. This is why having others with the online skills promote and sell your goods for a fee is worthy of considering.

What are the potential issues with Drop Shipping?

As with any deal you enter, due diligence is key. A foreign based drop shipping company may be bad news for customer feedback with long delays and issues with carriage fees. Some drop shippers have even had customers receive invoices for duty to be paid, a surprise bill after the goods arrive is no way to treat a customer. This is the main concern is that you are essentially vesting your interest in the professionalism of the order fulfilling company. 

 Potential uses for drop shipping

Existing E-commerce sites, you may find that you have a small business and take the step of building an online shop, adding content consistently can be difficult if you are limited by the stock levels you have in store. Drop shipping could compliment your existing products well, and worth considering 

Start up business
To help you boost the level of products you have available

Addition to Info website
If you have a well performing information site, having relative products for sale is a nice side earner. Without outlay on stock this can be a great way to increase your income.

Gaining traction in overseas markets
To expand into other areas, having a reliable stockist in those countries would be a great way to expand.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Shocking state of our High Streets

It is a shocking indictment of our strategy for town planning and our inability to provide a marketplace that can have sustainability for smaller retailers, that we have turned to producing fake shops. The idea, coincidentally implemented before the G8 summit, presumably is to ensure any news coverage shows a backdrop of a thriving local economy. But the real situation could not be further from the truth. 

The main shopping centre of most towns used to be known as the high street, a collection of small shops on one or two handy streets in the centre of the village or town. The locals would all use the shops, daily, which supported a number of families and provided much needed jobs in more rural areas, with many younger residents having their first opportunity of employment on a saturday job or part time position. A bustling high street would attract tourists, generate pride, provide greater local investment for charities and social groups, ensure the town was free from litter and criminal damage. But where did it all go wrong? How did we lose this widely valuable asset?

Lack of Planning

The main problem with most Western countries is democracy, this might sound like a ridiculous claim but if you consider the relatively small time each local councilor has in office they are barely able to create a coherent plan for any local town.  This chopping and changing of local government means that planning becomes a jumbled mess of ideas which often produces plans which are at direct odds with each other.

Pursuit of Profits 

They say that capitalism is good for consumers as they are able to get the cheapest price for goods they want, demand is king. However, what this pursuit of low cost entails is larger retailers, outsourcing manufacturing, production and sourcing to developing nations, often using immoral labour practices. They also reduce the number of staff required to run their business, making it

Lack of Investment

Small business finds it hard to get off the ground, most new businesses will fail in the first year, unable and unprepared to deal with the financial loss most businesses incur on opening. Navigating a minefield of stock buying, marketing and fixtures and fittings means that you are often either using savings or having to borrow to get off the ground. Not to mention the mistakes you make along the way, most business will invest in stock or marketing that doesn't provide a return and this is all part of the steep learning curve, but when borrowing from a bank, they may not be so happy to take that risk.

Risk too high

Many people need a catalyst to open a business, even although in any local economy there will be numerous people who have great sustainable business ideas, but there is no way to bridge the gap from idea to reality without taking a huge personal gamble. The age demographic of new business is often weighted towards either younger generations or older generations, those without the financial burdens that a young family bring. By mitigating the risk you would stimulate new business quickly, and at little cost in comparison to the benefits brought to the local economy.

Lack of Pride

Thatcher once said that society no longer exists, and sadly for many towns this rings true to this day. Society needs to have many interested parties, pushing towards creating a safer, friendlier and more sustainable place to live. Business plays a massive role in this, by providing support, advertising and financial payments to local groups that promote, tidy, invest and love the local town. This partnership of local groups with business is a sad loss with the current empty high streets that litter so many towns. A high street can quickly turn into a wasteland of charity shops and bookmakers giving the image of a town which has no pride.

 The negative effect of allowing large out of town developments, poor transport planning and lack of promotion by our government has left us with towns where house prices will lower, due to the lack of attraction to our town, and lack of job opportunities for the residents. This continued race to the bottom in pursuit of profit and cheap prices is a false economy, because those cheap products may save you money now but cost you dear in the future.

Instead of using taxpayer money to produce fake shops, they could perhaps offer grants to residents to begin their own business, not only improving the local economy but also making a profit on that investment should the business succeed. Which with the right planning and marketing there would be no reason it shouldn't.

You can read the BBC news coverage of this here

Monday, 3 June 2013

In Store and Online Layout - Tips

The purpose of any retail business is to maximise the conversion rate of your in store footflow or online visitor count. To do this there are some ways you can improve your chances, simple techniques to help your customers find the most attractive products.

Online Store

Driving traffic to your website is only stage one of the game of online retailing, by getting them to click on your link does not generate you any income, and you may find your conversion rate is very low. Even some of the best traffic driving campaigns have proven fruitless for web stores because of the poor layout of their shop, a landing page full of text, with no clear links to products will turn off a large proportion of your audience, you can understand the behaviour of your visitors by looking at your web stats, number of pages visited and length of time will indicate if your landing page is perhaps not capturing the imagination.

  •  Banner - Your top bar should be the graphic and slogan for your business, this will mainly be to let those who visit know what it is your shop is doing. Avoid flash designs with moving parts as these are proven to be bad for eccomerce. 
  • Top Left - The top left is the next place visitors will look, their eyes drawn automatically to this space. It is the area you want to ensure that the customers are captured. Whether you have an amazing deal, sale or some great selling products, this is where they should be placed. 
  • Centre - The central area should be a showcase for both some product graphics and information about your company. The Text ration for an online shop is not the same as a blog and you should not be tempted to overload the text area with repeated information. Include links to relevant CMS pages if you wish to provide more details.
  • Top Right - If they are still on your page by the time they analyse this information then firstly, well done. This should be a section about reassurance, if you have a physical premises then showcase it here, contact details for more info or alternatively some of your last items you sold.

Window Display

Your shop front window is a great way to showcase your products, showing a variety of each item you stock in store. There are two schools of thought when it comes to window display and both can be productive depending on your inventory. 

Showcase Everything - This is the most popular method, a little of every type of product, changed on a monthly basis to keep those who frequent your shop to continue to be interested. Ensuring you have the right display stands is key, to fit all your inventory into a small space without looking cluttered can prove difficult if you do not have display cases, wall fittings or Mannequins.

Entice them to come inside - This method is becoming more popular, it is a teaser of what is in store. Many people cannot process too much information in the 3 second interval it takes them to pass your store, so with the showcase everything strategy you are relying on something catching their eye to make them stop. With this technique you would place an unusual or high end item in the window, targeted at those you wish to come inside to satisfy their curiosity. For Instance if you are a gents clothing boutique you may avoid putting simple jeans and a T-Shirt in your window, instead opting for the most expensive Jacket with bright vibrant colours and unusual design, this will make more people stop and look, even if it is something they wouldn't buy. Unusual is good, the window is facilitating them coming inside your store and should be a showcase for your best items, but don't forget to ensure it is in keeping with the theme of your store, a book store with a Framed Painting in the window is simply misleading.

Themes- Themes are a great idea, if your local community has events coming up why not come up with that theme for your shop window. A local sporting tournament may be a great way to showcase some sporting theme, and you can be sure the local visitors and any tourists will be caught as they walk past. Keeping up to date with your local communities and societies ensures you will hear about these events well in advance and by doing this, you may even have those societies work to promote your business.

Store Layout

The layout of any shop is of course partially dictated by the size and space of your premises but there are standard practices that would help you with conversion rates.

Floor Layout - On Entrance the customer should be greeted by a sale, this will also be visible from outside, which will attract customers in to browse. The other items visible from the entrance should all be your top selling items and general stock. Any items which are slow selling should be put into areas not visible from the shop entrance.

Unusual Display Stands - You can also attract interest with your fitting, having an unusual display stand, perhaps a reconditions boat or recovered drift wood would really make customers interest peak.

Till Placement - Around your till should be small items, impulse purchases which are low in value but attractive, this will generate those last minute panic buys when they come to checkout.

Remember this is only a small part of successful commerce, you should not ignore the importance of customer service, pricing, trends and advertising.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Merchant Payment Terminals - What to Look Out For

As a retailer it is difficult to run a cash only business, everyone expects to be able to pay by credit or debit card. When considering the move into accepting card payments there is a minefield of information to look out for, luckily for you I have created a small checklist to ensure you get the best price. I will also outline what a typical price you can expect to pay is, if you pay higher then shop around and change supplier.

But before we get into what to look out for we should first point out some reasons a card terminal will be good for business, and why it isn't always neccessarily just making life easier for customers.

Benefits to Card Terminals:

- Customer Satisfaction - Your customers will be happy about being able to pay in card, no more quick runs across the road to pick up cash from the ATM. A customer that can use card payment will always be more popular than a cash only business, as cheques have been phased out of existence we can also expect to see a bigger reduction in cash usage.

- Less Banking runs - Banking can be expensive, ordering your float each week and doing the daily bank run can become a chore, you will be able to reduce this frequency by moving to card acceptance. Depending on the average selling price in your shop you will find most transactions over £10 will be done by card, leaving you with only the small change float required.

- Less fraud - Millions of pounds of fraudulant money is in circulation, passing from customer to shopkeeper unwittingly for years. Most commonly this is in the form of £1 coins. If you ever try to bank these there is no compensation, you can't expect to ever see that money returned. With the invention of Chip and Pin you won't have that concern, with any fraud being covered by your insurance.

- Increase revenue - People spend more when using card, they more likely to make multiple purchases and having impulse buy products at the till is a good way to encourage this. A lot of small businesses begin by having a sign that charges for card use under a certain value, this also encourages impulse buys, but also will likely offset the cost of card usage on small profit margin products.

- Improve Trust - A card machine presents a level of trust, a person is more likely to know you are not some dodgy organisation that operates outside the system. Having a card terminal proves you have a bank account and a decent credit history.

Considerations when choosing Payment Terminal

Debit Card Charge - This is always a flat fee regardless of the value of the transaction. Offered in pence you can expect to pay between 10p and 20p per transaction. If you mainly do this type of transaction which is likely for a business moving from cash only to card payments I would suggest you negotiate this down to around 11p.

Credit Card Charge - This varies widely with a decent rate being around 1%, although in recession you can expect to take more of this type of card than you would during growth in the economy. I would say that to negotiate a lower debit charge you can allow this to go up to around 1.3%.

Corporate Card Charge - If you deal with business customers then it is imperative you get the rate for this. Businesses often mistake this for being the same as credit cards, but you will find this rate is likely to be pre set much higher. Ensure that you ask and negotiate although if you don't sell to business customers then it will not be a problem.

Monthly Fee - There will be a monthly fee attached to the rental of the equipment, this can vary from £10 to £40 and will depend on the type you need. I would always expect to pay below £20, and ensure that prices quoted are including VAT, an oft forgotten item when discussing prices. You need to understand the actual cost to yourself.

PCI Compliance - This is a term they try to confuse you with. Read here and understand what it means.

Minimum Usage Fee - This is one of the hidden costs you may not consider but if you work on the assumption of how many card payments you would need to cover this each month it is a good basis to start. If they want to apply a £20 minimum usage fee then at 14p per transaction this would mean 142 transactions each month. If you envisage lower number of transactions then it would be worth accepting a higher individual charge but lower monthly usage fee. For instance if you average 50 transactions 20p with mimum usage of £7 is better than 11p with minimum usage of £15, the former costing you £10 and the latter costing you £15.

Contract Length - Do not get tied into a contract that is likely to expire and cost you for reinstating this, ensure there are no hidden costs when this contract expires.

Service and Reliability - It may seem a risk worth taking to go with a lesser known brand, however you may find support not available when you need it. It could also mean that equipment isn't replaced quickly and you are left with the problems of angry customers. Ask what their support facilities are, and also their replacement guarantee.

Equipment right for you - You can run your payment terminal through the phone line or the internet connection, if your business needs to operate quick then the internet connection is best, however this can present problems depending on the speed and reliability of your internet connection. Phone lines are stable and reliable.

Mobile Card Readers

You may be tempted to try one of these mobile phone attachment options as there is little set up costs with only transaction fees payable. Before you do ensure that you have researched the product and are happy with the limitations. Many do not offer full coverage of different cards, have temperamental technology issues, poor customer service and present an image to the customer they may not be happy with. Plugging their pin number into your mobile phone is not a great way to make a customer feel safe, so although it may work out cheaper, cheap is both applicable to price and image.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Moving to A 7 Day Week - Small Business

A big consideration for business today is to utilise their resources to the full capacity, this not only includes staff but also physical assets; Buildings, Equipment and Stock. Having a traditional 9am till 5pm five days a week means your assets are being utilised for only 24% of the time you are paying for them. It also demonstrates that you are probably not reaching as many customers as you could, those who wish to use your services outside traditional office hours. In retail the idea of working around the clock is old hat, most towns now have a 24 hour shopping centre, staffed by part timers of varying degrees, with shift managers there to ensure everything is done correctly.

How would a small company compete, given that the initial likely return will be a lot less than a large organisation. The transition to longer working hours has to have some tangible benefit for you to move in that direction, there are a number of different ideas to consider, some will be pull techniques (increasing your customers) and some are push techniques (moving workload to those other periods).

Pull Techniques

Move Demand - Advertise the convenience of operating at these increased hours. Show customers how they can benefit from using your services, moving the existing customer base to new hours. This will facilitate the reduction of staff at peak times to pay for the staff to be available at the new increased hours. The graphs below demonstrates this point

.Attract New Business - Attracting new business that was previously unable or unwilling to use your service due to the operating hours is another good option. This would mean that they would need to know your new operating times, so consider a launch event, an advertising campaign or even a direct mailshot to previous enquirers.

Incentivise New Business - If you find new business slow on the uptake stack the cards in your favour, take a drop in your margin to help boost the demand. A perfect example of this is the Orange Wednesday campaign that is one of the most successful initiatives to get movie goers to the cinema on a Wednesday, a traditionally slow day.

Push Techniques

Move Non Essential Work- Paperwork, accounts, office admin, performance reviews, meetings and all other non customer generated workload can be moved to these additional operating times, making it easier for you to not feel like you are simply losing money by operating longer. Reducing the workload at peak times will also mean you could make workforce savings.

Add New Services - If you wish to expand then diversification is never a bad idea, taking on new projects, products or services will help to boost your income and it will also attract cross sales from new customers. Ensuring the offering is easily bolted on to your existing operation is essential.

Train Workforce - Utilise the first few months to train staff, working on their development during these quieter periods, either learning new skills or furthering existing ones. This helps both improve morale and encourage longevity as employees feel more loyalty to your business.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Collaboration - Why Today's Business need to work Together

Collaboration has been around since medieval businesses models first hit our villages. In today's world partnerships, collaborations, Networks, Friends or the myriad of other terms are used to describe when people help each other. These terms are often dressed up as fancy and elaborate schemes that promise to give you hundreds of pounds of business.

The idea is simple, I have a business selling something your customers may want, but you don't provide, therefore that customer is referred to use my services and in turn I would recommend your services to my customers who may be in need. Clear and easy to understand at it's base level. This collaborative approach to working, is immeasurably easier to do if you have a physical location, becoming a big fish in a small pond is easy to do, being a big fish in a national, international or global pond is far more challenging. The main difference is that to break into the scene, the higher up you go, becomes exponentially more difficult.

An illustration as to why this is both neccessary and frustrating; If Amazon was run by one person, and you called them on the phone and arranged a lunch to discuss your business. Agreeing at the end of the lunch they would help to promote your small seaside town gift shop and in turn you would recommend your customers use their online services two things would occur. Firstly you would not even register on their books in terms of referrals, it would be so miniscule to them in turns of sales that they wouldn't waste time in meeting you for lunch. Secondly your business would fall over within minutes, you would sell out of all your products and you would probably have a website downtime lasting weeks. This is because their power is far superior to your own, their influence and reach is millions every day, which shows why there is a Network for each different level.

Whilst this advice is based mainly towards a business with physical location you may still find some of the advice transferable to your online or non domiciled business.  This advice also assumes you are already utilising your own Network, which consists of friends, family and previous colleagues.

The five stage attack to Networks:

- Social Media groups - these are the bedrock of any supportive campaigns for marketing. To not be part of the local community, and be prepared there will be more than you originally thought, is business suicide. You must get involved, keep up to date and ensure that at every opportunity people are talking about your service or products.

- Local Traders Association - There will be a local association, set up mainly to represent the traders interests when discussing items with local authorities and to do some collaborative marketing. If there isn't one then set it up, this is a vital part of any town. You may be put off by meeting the competition but remember competition is not always bad for business, it can in fact improve your foot flow and subsequently your sales.

- National Traders Association - There are organisations like the BNI which run collaborative Networks across the UK to help business market collaboratively and generate direct sales for other members. With over £1billion worth of business handed off through these groups it is well worth considering.

- Professional Body Membership - To become a global player you must be recognised as the pinnacle of your area of expertise. There are officially sanctioned organisations for all niche markets, to become a member may involve many checks and you may not already qualify, but once in you can be assured that it will not only boost your business trust level, it will also improve your Networks.

- Working Partners - Once you are at a very good level you may find business approach you to do partnership schemes, to bundles packages together of products from different businesses, to cross brand promote and also to incorporate your services into an offering they retail. This would all be a good way to expand sales, but be wary of doing your homework, a good partner will boost business but a bad partner will tarnish your own brand.

The Benefits

- Increased sales - Direct sales handed off from other people in your Network.

- Increased sales - Indirect sales from increased brand awareness

- Improved reputation - A mark of trust to be in company of other traders who have loyal customers.

- Improved business process - Identification of any areas of improvement by having someone in your Network can be helpful. They may come across something that benefits you greatly, a new type of equipment or new way of operating, and they consider telling you because there is an open dialogue.

- Information - Local information is hugely important for planning, perhaps new construction activity is being conducted, a local celebration is to happen or a new shop is opening.

- Support - When times are tough it can feel very difficult to be the sole bearer of the stress, having a close Network can help to solutionise those problems and ease the burden.

- Identifying Opportunity - When someone is new to an idea they instantly have lots of greats thoughts about different ways of doing things, this freshness can really invigorate your own offering.

How to Assess the best Network

- Do your homework - Ensure the time spent building the Network will be sufficient to see a return. Dont force a Network that does not compliment your own.

- If its free then join - Free is the best price because there is no risk.

- If it costs money research - like anything if you are spending cash ensure you know what your getting, ask to see copies of accounts to see where the money goes when it is provided to a central organisor. A profitable  Network is not necessarily a bad one, however it does leave you open to scams, of which there are many.

- Look for proliferation of competition - If your competitors are doing something it's worth checking out, even if just to identify the idea is not right for you.

- Look for signs of Age - An older Network is better in the sense that they will have experience, but you may find there are barriers to engagement, for instance established members may not want you to come up with any new ideas, at least until you have served your time.

- Don't waste your time - Meetings need to have a purpose, it is all very nice to have meal and discuss business with new potential friends, however there must be a purpose or end goal.

In the end as business owners we all want the same thing, which is to have a profitable market share that provides you with a secure and stable lifestyle. You ambition is only hampered by your own lack of knowledge, there are literally thousands of people making ridiculous sums of money selling goods and services that are completely useless, much poorer quality than your product or service and this is because they know how to gain market share. The most powerful way of growing is to rely on the support of others, to build friendships that can provide you with support. Starting a business is a lonely process, growing it needn't be.

Articles submitted by Dunbar T-Shirt Shop; a Garment printing business that provides work-wear and printed gifts for all occasions.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Charitable Giving - Marketing with Ethics

Paying for advertising on TV allows companies to generate more dumbed down reality talent shows, Advertising in newspaper allow for more phone hacking and photo's of the latest celeb putting their garbage out, advertising on the radio funds multi million pound record companies to generate more profit by exploiting artists, see the trend here? Well basically all worthwhile marketing channels have been monopolised and account for multi billions pound companies to increase their shareholder wealth.

So if you wish to take a different approach to marketing why not try charitable giving?

There are ways in which you can garner both exposure and trust from potential customer, without having to hand over your cold hard cash to a private organisation. Here are the steps to consider when looking for ethical advertising.

Think about your cause
Choosing a good cause may sound easy, but you need to look beyond the natural big charity choices, local charities or causes may in fact be much better idea. You may even wish to choose more than one, say 12 and then give them a month each year for the charitable donations. If you link it to sales then you are linking the donation to your success. 

Contact them 
Having a dialogue is important, charities promote a lot in the media and they may be a way of improving your own coverage. Newsletters and press releases happen often for events, so why not agree to provide goods or services for a fundraiser to get the ball rolling.

Promote the fact
Don't be shy, you are doing something really worthwhile. Having the fact promoted will not only raise the awareness of the charity with your customers but it will also attract other interested parties. A poster in the window, a notice on the back of the reciepts are all valid ways to promote the policy of donating.

Support fundraisers
Always try to get involved with fundraisers, it may not get you direct sales but it can really help to promote your brand and attract new customers. Fundraisers often take form of market stalls, so this would even give you an opportunity of making sales.

The end goal of all advertising is to increase brand awareness and increase sales, charitable giving will put you at the forefront of peoples mind, attract business you haven't reached and also boost your standing in the local community.