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.