How to start a business in 2016: Client Relationship Manager David Reed gives his insight. The final half of this two part feature.
The previous article looking at the topic of starting a business in 2016 was one which began analysing the situation from the very bottom up, examining factors such as funding options, basic business structures, the use of technology to streamline processes and lower costs and the vital topic of the hiring, training and retention of staff. Whilst it’s clear that these are the building blocks any firm and lasting business foundation will be crafted from, the temptation which has to be avoided is to concentrate solely on these ‘basics’ and trust that more subtle skills, attributes and practices will emerge as time goes by. The truth of running a business – as anyone who’s ever even attempted to do so will attest – is that the day to day firefighting, micro-managerial minutiae and sheer mundane slog of keeping things moving forward tends to preclude the kind of fine tuning that can make the difference between mere survival and genuine success.
The key to avoiding this scenario, one in which the effort of simply staying afloat leaves you too exhausted to fully exploit the potential of the business which you’ve created, is to lay the groundwork for the more finessed and subtle factors at the same time as you’re creating the basic structures and processes. Aspects such as online and offline marketing and the possibility of partnership working need to be evaluated and planned for at the same time as you’re creating chains of supply, evaluating premises and setting up the information technology systems you’ll be operating via, in order to ensure that they are ready to roll out and start drawing in the custom you’ll depend upon from the very beginning.
The worlds of social media, content marketing and web based solutions can become such all-encompassing concerns of anyone creating a modern business that more traditional forms of marketing often tend to be left by the wayside. Even the world’s largest businesses, however, still focus much of their attention upon offline and less technological forms of advertising and marketing, and these options are particularly attractive when utilised by smaller businesses which might be more reliant, in the early stages at least, on local markets and customers. It should also be borne in mind that that the ‘older’ forms of marketing are often easier to grasp if your expertise lies in the nuts and bolts of your business itself rather than the methods employed to promote it to the world at large. At some stage, the use of professional marketing expertise might become an issue, particularly as your brand grows and you reach out to online as well as offline audiences, but in the beginning the simplest and most easily grasped types of content can often be the most effective.
The kind of printed marketing you produce will depend upon the type of business you’re running, the brand message you wish to convey and the budget which you have to spend on producing the content. Given that, particularly in the early days, this budget is almost bound to be somewhat constrained, a vital factor of any printed marketing campaign will hinge upon carrying out the sufficient market research in the initial stages. Something as simple as posting leaflets through letterboxes could end up being a complete waste of time and money if you haven’t gone to the trouble of ascertaining the rough demographic makeup of the area in question. If you’re dealing in a product or service aimed at the family market, for example, the realisation that you’ve just spent a morning posting content into flats, houses and bedsits mostly utilised as student accommodation will be more than a little frustrating, not least because you’ll see little or no return on investment. The nature of your printed content should reflect the brand you’re selling; it may be a simple case of conveying basic information such as opening times and prices, or you might wish to create something more subtle, which acts as a method of capturing a sense of who you are as a business. Whether that means targeting the top end luxury market, or selling yourself as quirky outsiders, all of your printed matter should sell the same image and convey a unified sense of branding.
In the early days of your business there’s a very strong chance that you’ll be targeting customers who are geographically fairly close to you. In terms of the service industry, for example, this is a given, but even in the era of the global marketplace many goods and items are more easily provided, marketed and shipped within a relatively small locale which will, if all goes to plan, gradually expand outward. In terms of advertising, therefore, it seems only sensible to take as much advantage as possible of the many local media outlets which are bound to be available. On the simplest level this can mean advertising in local free sheets and newspapers and on local radio stations, but a ‘media strategy’ of sorts will also prove to be useful. Whilst this sounds, on first hearing, like the kind of thing which high powered PR companies are appointed to deal with, it can encapsulate anything which projects a positive image of you or your business out to a wider audience. This might mean coming up with a solid reason for local media to want to speak to or write about you, such as a staff charity fundraising effort, a sponsorship deal with a local good cause such as a youth club or sports team or even something as simple as a marketing tie-in with a time of year such as Halloween or Easter. As long as the story is positive, provokes interest in your business and gets your name in front of prospective customers it should prove highly effective, and one of the key factors to bear in mind is that local media – often cash strapped local media – have hours and columns to fill, and will therefore often be as keen to find a good reason to feature your business as you will be to provide one. If you can position yourself and your company as being the local ‘experts’ on a particular topic or marketplace, then you may find yourself in the position of being actively courted by local media, rather than vice versa.
It’s hard to quantify the power of good word of mouth, or to formalise the manner in which you can promote it amongst your customers, but what is not in doubt is that a personal recommendation from a satisfied customer to a prospective customer is still one of the most powerful marketing tools in the box. It’s the ‘anti-marketing’ approach to marketing, and reaches out to people in a manner which few other forms can hope to emulate because it’s delivered by a party – such as a friend or family member- who clearly has no ulterior motive. There are two ways to try to ensure this and the most obvious is simply to make sure that you always do your very best in terms of customer service. This may sound simplistic but it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that all of your processes should be aimed toward maximising the experience of the end user, and to use excuses such as overheads and time constraints to explain away a service which is only just about as good as it has to be. Good word of mouth can even be delivered by a formal process, to a degree, by running promotions via which those existing customers who recommend you to new customers receive rewards in return.
The topic of online marketing is one which is huge and growing exponentially on a more or less daily basis. As much as many business leaders – except, of course, those working within the tech fields – may wish to be able to concentrate on the kind of offline concepts discussed above, the fact of the matter is that for the vast majority of businesses the lack of an online presence could prove fatal. If a customer looking for what you provide can’t find you within seconds via a huge range of devices both mobile and desk based, then the brutal truth is that they’ll simply stop looking. Your website needs to be one which combines usability with at least an effort to express the ethos of who you are. In the beginning, you might create something yourself using sites such as WordPress but, moving forward, the chances are that you’ll want to place your website in the hands of professionals capable of fine tuning it to express precisely what you wish to say. The temptation to hand it over to the office IT expert – even if they have little or no expertise in marketing – may seem great but, bearing in mind that your website is more likely than ever to be any customers first point of contact, it should be resisted.
Purchasing a domain name related to your business will allow you to control your online presence in a manner which social media, useful though it undoubtedly is, can’t match. By creating your own online presence linked securely to your domain name you’ll always retain total control over the material which you’ve created rather than, as can be the case, suffering at the whim of a larger corporation.
The use of social media by businesses tends to be a reflection of the advantages which start-up businesses naturally have over their larger competitors. Worldwide or national corporations may be bigger, with a firmly established market place and a much larger budget (yes, there is a ‘but’ coming), but they lack the agility, flexibility and speed of customer interaction which smaller businesses can boast. All of these are best reflected, captured and exploited via social media. Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter will allow you to establish a genuinely open dialogue with your customers and create the kind of bond which larger business can have to spend many millions on branding to create. They also allow you to react instantly to events and any changes in circumstances, taking advantage of opportunities which a larger business – with its layers of bureaucracy and convoluted decision making processes – would be much less able to exploit.
The business world can seem a large and fairly daunting place for any start up business, and one way of working around this can be to work in partnership with other businesses. Whilst working together with those you might consider competitors can seem counter intuitive, it can be hugely effective provided the right partners are selected. This generally means one of three things:
- Working with partners who have skills, or market access which you lack (in return for the things you have which they lack), or who can simply aid the bottom line through the pooling of costs and resources
- Working with partners who bring a shared ethos and approach towards your field of expertise
- Working with more direct competitors in the form of a consortium capable of dealing with larger tasks or contracts than any individual member would be able to tackle alone
In many ways, partnership work is something which you will probably engage in whether you directly intend to or not. The nature of business is such that you’ll be engaging with other businesses up and down the supply chain and the way in which economies of scale naturally work means that these business are likely to be close in size, shape and operational structure to your own.